Doctor Who Graphic Novel #24: Emperor of the Daleks


By Dan Abnett, Paul Cornell, Warwick Gray, Richard Alan, John Ridgway, Lee Sullivan, Colin Andrew & various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-807-0

The British love comic strips and they love celebrity and they love “Characters.”

The history of our graphic narrative has a peculiarly disproportionate amount of radio comedians, Variety stars and film and television actors such as Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan & Allen, Shirley Eaton (“The Modern Miss”), Arthur Askey, Winifred Atwell, Max Bygraves, Jimmy Edwards, Charlie Drake and their ilk as well as actual shows and properties such as Whacko!, ITMA, Our Gang (a British version of the Hal Roach film sensation by Dudley Watkins ran in The Dandy as well as the American comicbook series by Walt Kelly), Old Mother Riley, Supercar, Pinky and Perky and literally hundreds more.

Anthology comics such as Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Tornado, TV Comic and Countdown among others all translated our viewing and listening favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley their day job into a licensed comic property.

Doctor Who premiered on black and white televisions across Britain with the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’ on November 23rd 1963, and in 1964 his decades-long association with TV Comic began in #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us – under various names – ever since. All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree.

Panini’s UK division is in the ongoing process of collecting every strip from its archive in a uniform series of over-sized graphic albums, each concentrating on a particular incarnation (those in the know refer to them as “regenerations”) of the deathless wanderer. This particular tome reprints tales plucked from the annals of history and the Terran recording dates November 1992 and July 1995.

These yarns all feature the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy – my second favourite after Patrick Troughton – but I’m sure I’ll be advised why that’s so very wrong by somebody in due course…)

This collection features both monochrome and full-colour episodes and kicks off with sinister espionage thriller ‘Pureblood’ (originally seen in Doctor Who Magazine #193-196: November 1992 to January 1993) by writer Dan Abnett and artist Colin Andrew. Here the devious Time Lord and his formidable companion Benny save the last survivors of the Sontarran race from extinction at the hands of their immortal enemies the Rutan – despite hostage humans and a spy in the embattled clone-warriors’ midst. Why save a deadly enemy? Ah well, The Doctor has a rather convoluted plan…

The epic yarn leads directly into the moody ‘Flashback’ (Doctor Who Winter Special 1992, by Warwick Gray and the superb John Ridgway) as we get a glimpse of the First Doctor (William Hartnell, keep up, keep up!) having a potentially universe- shattering falling out with his best friend: a proudly arrogant young Gallifreyan called Magnus (any guesses who he eventually regenerated as?)

The main meat of this massive collection is the eponymous ‘Emperor of the Daleks’ (Doctor Who Magazine #197-202) which reunites the dashing time meddler with his deadliest foe and their deadliest foe: Abslom Daak, a deranged maniac in love with a dead woman and determined to die gloriously exterminating Daleks…

Written by Paul Cornell and John Freeman with art from Lee Sullivan (and one chapter in full-colour thanks to the talents of Marina Graham), the sprawling epic reveals a civil war between the murderous pepperpots’ creator Davros and their current supreme commander, with the Doctor (two of them, in fact) and a motley crew of allies stirring the bubbling mix and nudging the feuding megalomaniacs in a certain direction…

And when the dust settles Richard Alan and Sullivan provide a salutary epilogue in ‘Up Above the Gods’ (Doctor Who Magazine #227, July 1995) as The Doctor explains his actions to Davros… or so, at least, the deluded devil believes…

Warwick Gray & Colin Andrew then introduce a universe where The Doctor perished in his Third Regeneration leading to a cross dimensional incursion by ours, as well as Benny and Ace, to foil the ‘Final Genesis’ of Silurian/Sea Devil renegade Mortakk (from Doctor Who Magazine #203-206) after which the full-colour fun returns in ‘Time & Time Again’ (Doctor Who Magazine #207, by Cornell, Ridgway and hues-smith Paul Vyse) with all seven incarnations of the Gallivanting Gallifreyan in action to retrieve the Key to Time in hope of stopping the Black Guardian recreating the universe in his own vile image…

Abnett and Ridgeway return to the black & white days of Kent in the 1840s for ‘Cuckoo’ (Doctor Who Magazine #208-210) as Ace and Benny understandably revolt when The Doctor seeks to steal the limelight from the first woman palaeontologist Mary Anne Wesley. His motives are quite pure: what the young scientist has found is not a missing link in human evolution but something alien that its descendants are prepared to kill for…

The dramas conclude in fine styles as Gray & Ridgway expose the ferocious spleen of the Doctor in full indignant mode as he becomes an ‘Uninvited Guest’ (Doctor Who Magazine #211) delivering judgement and punishment to a soiree of indolent and callous timeless beings who enjoyed making sport and playing games with “lesser” beings. They soon learned to their dismay that such valuations are all a matter of perspective…

Supplemented with commentaries by the original creators, this is a splendid book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for dedicated fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics another go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv 2014. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British broadcasting corporation and are used under licence. All other material © 2017 its individual creators and owners. Published 2017 by Panini. All rights reserved.

Valerian: The Complete Collection volume 1


By J.-C. Méziéres & P. Christin with colours by E. Tranlé and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-352-9

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that expansive and undoubtedly contentious statement.

Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Don’t take my word for it: this splendid oversized hardback compendium – designed to cash in on the epic movie from Luc Besson released this summer – has a copious and good-natured text feature entitled ‘Image Creators’ comparing panels to stills from the films…

In case you were curious, other additional features include the photo and design art-packed ‘Interview Luc Besson, Jean-Claude Méziéres and Pierre Christin (Part I)’ and bullet-point historical lectures ‘How it All Began…’, ‘Go West Young Men!’, ‘Colliding Worlds’, ‘Explore Anything’ and ‘Hello!’ This is Laureline…’

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling roller-coasting of Méziéres & Christin than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined possible.

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent launched in the November 9th 1967 edition of Pilote (#420, running until February 15th 1968). It was an instant hit. However, the graphic album compilations only began with second tale The City of Shifting Waters, as all concerned considered the first yarn as a work-in-progress and not quite up to a preferred standard. You can judge for yourself, as Bad Dreams kicks off this volume, in its first ever English-language translation…

The groundbreaking series followed a Franco-Belgian mini-boom in science fiction triggered by Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 creation Barbarella. Other notable successes of the era include Greg & Eddy Paape’s Luc Orient and Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane adventures, which all – with Valérian – stimulated mass public reception to science fiction and led to the creation of dedicated fantasy periodical Métal Hurlant in 1977.

Valérian and Laureline (as the series eventually became) is a light-hearted, wildly imaginative time-travel adventure-romp (a bit like Doctor Who, but not really at all), drenched in wry, satirical, humanist and political commentary, starring (at least in the beginning) an affable, capable, unimaginative and by-the-book cop tasked with protecting the universal time-lines and counteracting paradoxes caused by casual time-travellers…

The fabulous fun commences with the aforementioned Bad Dreams – which began life as ‘Les Mauvais Rêves – a blend of comedy and adventures as by-the-book time cop Valérian voyages to 11th century France in pursuit of a demented dream-scientist seeking magical secrets to remake the universe to his liking. Sadly, our hero is a little out of his depth but is soon rescued from a tricky situation by the fiery, capable young woman named Laureline.

After handily dealing with the dissident Xombul and his stolen sorceries, Valerian brings Laureline back with him to the 28th century super-citadel and administrative wonderland of Galaxity, capital of a vast and mighty Terran Empire.

The indomitable girl trained as a Spatio-Temporal operative and was soon an apprentice Spatio-Temporal Agent accompanying Val on his missions throughout time and space…

Every subsequent Valérian adventure – until the 13th – was first serialised in weekly Pilote until the conclusion of The Rage of Hypsis (January 1st-September 1st 1985) after which the mind-bending sagas were simply launched as all-new complete graphic novels, until the magnificent opus concluded in 2010.

(One clarifying note: in the canon “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters. When Bad Dreams was finally released in a collected edition in 1983 it was given the number #0.)

The City of Shifting Waters was originally published in two tranches; ‘La Cité des Eaux Mouvantes’ (#455 25th July to 468, 24th October 1968) and followed by ‘Terre en Flammes’ (Earth in Flames, #492-505, 10th April to 10th July 1969).

Both are included in this compilation and the action opens here with the odd couple dispatched to 1986 – when civilisation on Earth was destroyed due to ecological negligence and political chicanery and atomic holocaust – to recapture Xombul, still determined to undermine Galaxity and establish himself as Dictator of the Universe.

To attain his goal the renegade has travelled to New York after a nuclear accident has melted the ice caps and flooded the metropolis – and most of everywhere else. He is hunting hidden scientific secrets that will allow him to conquer the devastated planet and prevent the Terran Empire from ever forming… at least that’s what his Galaxity pursuers believe…

Plunged back into an apocalyptic nightmare where Broadway and Wall Street are under water, jungle vines connect the deserted skyscrapers, Tsunamis are an hourly hazard and bold looters are snatching up the last golden treasures of a lost civilisation, the S-T agents find unique allies to preserve the proper past, but are constantly thwarted by Xombul who has built his own deadly robotic slaves to ensure his schemes.

Visually spectacular, mind-bogglingly ingenious and steeped in delightful in-jokes (the utterly-mad-yet-brilliant boffin who helps them is a hilarious dead ringer for Jerry Lewis in the 1963 film The Nutty Professor) this is still a timelessly witty delight of Science Fiction which closes on a moody cliffhanger…

Rapidly following, Earth in Flames concludes the saga as our heroes head inland and encounter hardy survivors of the holocaust. Enduring more hardships they escape even greater catastrophes such as the eruption of the super-volcano under Yellowstone Park before finally frustrating the plans of the most ambitious mass-killer in all of history… and as Spatio-Temporal Agents they should know…

Concluding this first fantastic festive celebration is The Empire of a Thousand Planets which originally ran in Pilote #520-541(October 23rd 1969 to March 19th 1970) and saw the veteran and rookie despatched to the fabled planet Syrte the Magnificent, capital of a vast system-wide civilisation and a world in inexplicable and rapid technological and social decline.

The mission is one of threat-assessment: staying in their base time-period (October 2720) the pair are tasked with examining the first galactic civilisation ever discovered that has never experienced any human contact or contamination, but as usual, events don’t go according to plan…

Despite easily blending into a culture with a thousand separate sentient species, Valerian and Laureline find themselves plunged into intrigue and dire danger when the acquisitive girl buys an old watch in the market.

Nobody on Syrte knows what it is since all the creatures of this civilisation have an innate, infallible time-sense, but the gaudy bauble soon attracts the attention of one of the Enlightened – a sinister cult of masked mystics who have the ear of the Emperor and a stranglehold on all technologies….

The Enlightened are responsible for the stagnation within this once-vital interplanetary colossus and they quickly move to eradicate the Spatio-Temporal agents. Narrowly escaping doom, the pair reluctantly experience the staggering natural wonders and perils of the wilds beyond the capital city before dutifully returning to retrieve their docked spaceship.

However, our dauntless duo are distracted and embroiled in a deadly rebellion fomented by the Commercial Traders Guild. Infiltrating the awesome palace of the puppet-Emperor and exploring the mysterious outer planets, Valerian and Laureline discover a long-fomenting plot to destroy Earth – a world supposedly unknown to anyone in this Millennial Empire…

All-out war looms and the Enlightened’s incredible connection to post-Atomic disaster Earth is astonishingly revealed just as interstellar conflict erupts between rebels and Imperial forces, with our heroes forced to fully abandon their neutrality and take up arms to save two civilisations a universe apart yet inextricably linked…

Comfortingly, yet unjustly, familiar this spectacular space-opera is fun-filled, action-packed, visually breathtaking and mind-bogglingly ingenious.

Drenched in wide-eyed fantasy wonderment, science fiction adventures have never been better than this.
© Dargaud Paris, 2016 by Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Jonah Hex volume 7: Lead Poisoning


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet, Rafa Garres, David Michael Beck, Rob Schwager & Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2485-1

When Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti reinvigorated modern Western legend Jonah Hex they deftly blended a blackly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available from the period. They also had the services of extremely talented people such as colourist Rob Schwager and letterer Rob Leigh and the pick of top artists such as European maestro Jordi Bernet who illustrates fully half the gritty tales in seventh trade paperback (or digital, should you be so inclined) compilation from 2009. The contents comprise issues 37-42 of the superb and much-missed iteration…

I first recognised Jordi Bernet’s work on The Legend Testers. By “recognised” I mean that very moment when I actually understood that somebody somewhere drew the stuff I was adoring, and that it was better than the stuff either side of it.

This was 1966 when British comics were mostly black and white and never had signatures or credits so it was years before I knew who had sparked my interest…

Jordi Bernet Cussó was born in Barcelona in 1944, son of a prominent and successful humour cartoonist. When his father died suddenly Jordi, aged 15, took over his father’s strip Doña Urraca (Mrs. Magpie).

A huge fan of Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and particularly expressionist genius Milton Caniff, Bernet yearned for less restrictive horizons and left Spain in the early 1960s to chance his hand at dramatic storytelling.

He worked for Belgium’s Spirou, Germany’s Pip and Primo, before finding work on English weeklies. Bernet toiled on British publishers between 1964 and 1967, and as well as the Odhams/Fleetway/IPC anthologies Smash, Tiger and War Picture Library he also produced superlative material for DC Thomson’s Victor and Hornet.

He even illustrated a Gardner Fox horror short for Marvel’s Vampire Tales #1 in 1973, but mainstream America was generally denied his mastery (other than some translated Torpedo volumes and a Batman short story) until the 21st century reincarnation of Jonah Hex.

His most famous strips include thrillers Dan Lacombe (written by his uncle Miguel Cussó), Paul Foran (scripted by José Larraz) the saucy Wat 69 and spectacular post-apocalyptic barbarian epic Andrax (both with Cussó again).

When General Franco died Bernet returned to Spain and began working for Cimoc, Creepy and Metropol, collaborating with Antonio Segura on the sexy fantasy Sarvan and dystopian SF black comedy Kraken. His other job was collaborating with Enrique Sánchez Abulí on gangster and adult themes tales that have made him one of the world’s most honoured artists, and which culminated on the incredibly successful crime saga Torpedo 1936

The rawhide dramas commence with Bernet in top form as Hex tangles and torridly tussles with a trio of female former circus performers who take up bounty hunting and prove that ‘Trouble Comes in Threes’, after which ‘Hell or High Water’ finds the gritty gunslinger enduring horrific tortures at the hands of a sheriff he once shamed.

The brutal psychopath has no idea what real vengeance feels like until Jonah gives him a fast and final lesson…

Baroque stylist Rafa Garres supplies art and colours for a grim parable examining ‘Cowardice’ wherein a rookie sheriff gets life lessons in doing his job after Hex tracks murderous escaped convicts to a quiet country backwater, after which David Michael Beck depicts a gruesome two-part tale of savage madness.

When Hex and sometime ally/constant foil Tallulah track a serial-killing civil war surgeon teaching other perverts his bloody discoveries, the red-handed butcher displays enough body-shredding acumen to almost end them both. However, even his gory assaults and inclinations to devil-worship of the ‘Sawbones’ are no match for Jonah Hex in a mood to display his all-consuming displeasure and irritation…

Bernet wraps things up in inimitable blackly comedic style as ‘Shooting the Sun’ offers a shocking glimpse at the bounty hunter’s formative years with parental sadist Woodson Hex

Apparently, the abusive behaviour made Jonah the man he is: someone able to turn an inescapable death-trap into a private shooting gallery offering the added attraction of long-deferred vengeance on the bullies who garnished little Jonah’s hellish childhood with extra misery…

With captivating covers from Bernet, Garres and Beck, Lead Poisoning is another explosively grim, yet bleakly hilarious outing for the very best Western anti-hero ever created: an intoxicating blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or cream-of-the-crop comics magic will want to miss.
© 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The Gold Key Years volume 1


By Bill Harris & Bill Lignante with George Wilson (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-005-5

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance ad unswerving quest for justice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician

Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking, and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence that pitted him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing artist Ray Moore the illustration side. The Sunday feature began in May 1939.

For such a successful, long-lived and influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market. Various small companies have tried to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success.

But, even if it were only of historical value (or just printed for Australians, who have long been manic devotees of the implacable champion) surely “Kit Walker” is worthy of a definitive chronological compendium series?

Happily, his comic book adventures have fared slightly better – at least in recent times…

In the 1960’s King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – but immediately prior to that the Ghost Who Walks held a solo starring vehicle under the broad and effective aegis of veteran licensed properties publisher Gold Key Comics.

This superb full-cover hardcover (with equivalent eBook editions for the modern minded) gathers the first eight issues – encompassing November 1962 through August 1964 – and, as explained in fan and scholar Ed Rhoades’ Introduction ‘The Phantom and the Silver Age’, offers newspaper strip tales originally illustrated by Wilson McCoy that had been adapted by original scripter Bill Harris and drawn in comicbook format by Bill Lignante.

The Phantom was no stranger to funnybooks, having been featured since the Golden Age in titles such as Feature Book and Harvey Hits, but only as straight strip reprints. These Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership.

The fascinating history lesson is also augmented by pages of original artwork and ends much too soon for my elevated tastes, but if you’re a fan of pictorial adventure there’s plenty more to enjoy.

Each issue was fronted by a stunning painted cover by George Wilson and the excitement kicks off here with ‘The Game’ (Phantom #1, November 1962) as the international man of mystery encounters Prince Ragon Gil, whose idea of fun is to pit abducted or bribed strangers against ferocious beasts. When an interfering masked man closes down his warped games the eastern potentate swears vengeance and kidnaps the hero’s fiancé Diana Palmer. His plan is to force the interloper to play his savage game, but it’s his last mistake…

That premiere issue concludes with a single-page recap of the legend of The Phantom before #2 (February 1963) resumes the wonderment with ‘The Rattle’ as an exploit from The Phantom’s ancestral past flares up again after tiny bird-riding barbarians start stealing from the local tribes.

The current ghost must crack the casebooks of his forefathers and penetrate a most inhospitable region to get to the bottom of the mystery and bring peace back to the jungle…

A second story taps into contemporary Flying Saucer interest as our hero encounters aliens intent on conquest. Thankfully the purple-clad subject of ‘The Test’ proves sufficient to change their minds…

History’s greatest treasures are stored in The Phantom’s fabulous Skull Cave and the first tale in #3 (May 1963) relates how a rescued white man glimpses ‘The Diamond Cup’ of Alexander the Great and accidentally triggers a greed-fuelled crusade by eager criminals and ambitious chances before the Ghost Who Walks finally restores peace and order…

Rounding out the issue, ‘The Crybaby’ finds frail village boy Cecil given a crash course in confidence and exercise by the enigmatic masked man. The experience is literally life-changing…

In #4 (August) disgraced, fraud-perpetrating witchmen strike back against The Phantom through their manufactured deity ‘Oogooru’, only to be shown what real sleight of hand and prestidigitation can achieve, after which ocean voyager Kit Walker solves the enigma of vanishing villains the ‘Goggle-Eye Pirates’

Two centuries previously The Phantom established a police force dubbed The Jungle Patrol with himself as its anonymous titular head. In #5 (October) those worthy stalwarts are almost outfoxed by a devious gang of bandits known as ‘The Swamp Rats’ until the unseen “Commander” takes personal charge of the mission. The big innovation of the issue is the premiere of a new episodic feature detailing ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood’ as a baby is born in the Skull Cave. Tracing the formative experiences of the current Phantom, the initial yarn follows little Kit from toddler to the dawn of adolescence when his parents regretfully decide it’s time to pack him off to private school in America…

The Phantom #6 (February 1964) leads with ‘The Lady from Nowhere’ as heiress Lydia Land is thrown from a plane and rescued by the masked manhunter. Soon he’s dogging her steps to track down which trusted associate is trying to silence her and steal her fortune…

A life-changing meeting shapes the destiny of the hero-to-be in ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood Part II – Diana’ as Kit falls for the girl next door and makes his mark amongst the cads and bullies of the civilised world…

The peaceful villages of the jungle are thrown into turmoil by the thieving depredations of ‘The Super Apes’ (#7, May) until the Jungle Patrol and The Phantom expose their shocking secret whilst ‘The Phantom’s Boyhood Part III – School’ finds the African émigré making his mark in the classroom, on the playing fields and in the newspapers…

Phantom #8 (August) closes this initial outing with an epic extra-length tale of vengeance as the current Ghost Who Walks finally tracks down ‘The Belt’ and the villain who killed his father and stole it…

Straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure has always been the staple of The Phantom. If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional nostalgia-fest you won’t want to miss…
The Phantom® © 1962-1964 and 2011 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

The Drops of God volume 1


By Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto translated by Kate Robinson (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-27-8

Every so often a graphic novel jumps the ghetto walls and makes a splash in the wider world and this intriguing manga monolith is the latest: eschewing the usual icebreakers of horror, sci fi or blood-soaked action to target the lofty and insular world of the high-end vintner trade and the obsessive fascination of oenophilia (I’m chucking in a bunch of technical terms all enticingly explained in the book, but you can cheat and use your search engine of choice).

Created by brother and sister thriller-writing team Shin & Yuko Kibayashi (Kindaichi’s Case Files, GetBackers) under their nom de crime Tadashi Agi and sensitively illustrated by Shu Okimoto, Kami no Shizuku debuted in 2004 in Kondansha’s Morning with book compilations beginning a year later.

The siblings are also two of the most influential wine connoisseurs in the world and their expertise and passion shine through every page of this monolithic manga tome which took the wine world by storm and won the Gourmand and Cookbook Award in 2009 – presumably a first for any work of fiction, let alone graphic novel. It was described by Decanter Magazine as “arguably the most influential wine publication in the past 20 years.”

Of course, all I care about is comics, but even on my terms this is a thoroughly entertaining, immaculately realised soap/thriller drama that would make fans of Jackie Collins or Dick Francis rethink their allegiances.

The tale stars follows prodigal son Shizuku Kanzaki; raised from birth to follow his father’s obsession only to rebel and seek his own path until tragedy and circumstance pull him back to his destiny, …

The first eighteen chapters of the delectable saga are contained in this first English translation, beginning with ‘The Scent of a Hundred Flowers’: introducing apprentice Sommelier Miyabi Shinohara who almost shames her wine-bar/restaurant employers in front of a prominent – but boorish – wine snob until a dashing young man saves the day with a bit of daredevil decanting…

It transpires that the lad is a small cog in a vast beer-making concern and has never tasted wine: a shocking admission since Shizuku is the son of global superstar of wine criticism Yutaka Kanzaki

It seems old man Kanzaki had great hopes and aspirations for his son, training the boy from birth in flavours, odour detection and discrimination like a vintner version of Doc Savage, but the boy rebelled and rejected his father’s passion.

The situation changes when Shizuku is informed of his sire’s death and a unique will…

‘A Prayer to the Fruitful Earth’ reveals the elder Kanzaki had a vast and valuable private collection of stellar vintages and has left them, his house and a fortune to his wayward son under a bizarre condition.

The heir must indulge in a duel with dark prince of wine-tasters – and inheritor of Kanzaki’s mantle as greatest critic in Japan – Issei Tomine in a dozen blind tastings of the greatest vintages in the collection – the “Twelve Apostles” – as well as the mysterious thirteenth bottle known only as “the Drops of God”. To the one who most closely agrees with the master’s own description goes everything…

At first Shizuku doesn’t care, but the arrogance of Tomine and a burning desire to understand the father who pushed him to such extraordinary lengths moves the orphan to an alliance with Miss Shinohara. Her crash-course in the history, lore and philosophy of the wine industry and craft in ‘The Profound and Subtle Queen’ as well as his first ever actual taste of the magical elixir precipitates a major transformation in the lad…

For reasons even he doesn’t understand, the neophyte decides to accept the challenge of the Drops of God in ‘Over the Bed Wafts an Aroma of Awakening’. Thus begins his education, inestimably assisted by his incredible sense of smell, expanded palate and physical skills he never even knew he possessed, all courtesy of his early training.

In episodes with such evocative titles as ‘The God of Burgundy’, ‘A Maiden Fleeing through Strawberry Fields’, ‘Tasting in the Park’ and ‘Cradling God’s Blessing in Both Hands’, what follows is a dazzling display of hard fact and the theosophical fervour of the grape-grower’s art, seamlessly blended with a canny melodrama of rivalry, redemption and (perhaps) burgeoning young love as Shizuku discovers the obsessive power of his father’s life.

With surprising intensity the cast expands as the story unfolds: the nigh-mystical nature of wine is seen to mend fences, restore lost lovers and even diagnose illness in ‘Draining the Glass of Reunion’, ‘A Maiden Smiling in the Strawberry Fields’, ‘The Sweet Dessert of Parting’ and ‘The Ones Who Watch Over’.

Even Shizuku’s career alters as he transfers from sales to the Beer company’s small and struggling wine division where he finds that even all he has learned is not enough after falling foul of snobbery and bigotry in ‘At All the Battles’ Start’, ‘A Lovely Cruel Flower’, ‘Tough Love for a Saucy Lolita’, ‘The Mystery Man of the Wine Division’ and ‘Merry-Go-Round’

Meanwhile Tomine has begun to stack the odds in his favour by introducing a seductive secret agent into the lives of Shizuku and Miss Shinohara during ‘A Fantastico Night’, wherein some nasty facts about the true character of the Prince of wine-critics is exposed…

As much religion and philosophy as science and art, the cachet and inherent excitement of the wine trade transfers readily and effectively in this tale to make for a superbly readable tale for older readers.

The Japanese excel at making superb comics which simultaneously entertain and educate (check out economics textbook Japan Inc. by Shotaru Ishinomori to see what I mean) and the powerful, evocative imagery used to capture the sensorial effect of wine on the tongue and myriad fragrances in the nostrils is staggeringly effective – a brilliant use of the disciplines as only comics can muster them.

This is an astoundingly compelling comics-read and might well be the perfect gift for all those people you thought you couldn’t buy a graphic novel for…

This black and white book is printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format – even if you pick it up as a digital edition.
© 2011 Tadashi Agi/Shu Okimoto. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1929-1930: A Brick, A Mice, A Lovely Night


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-529-8

Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; an immensely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and became an undisputed treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz (as it is in these fabulous commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics) is a creation which can only be appreciated on its own terms. Over delicious decades of abstracted amazement the series developed a unique language – both visual and verbal – whilst abstrusely exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody except a few local newspaper editors…

Sadly, however, it certainly baffled far more than a few…

Krazy Kat was never a strip for unimaginative people who won’t or can’t appreciate complex multi-layered verbal and/or 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 thriving cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his whacky domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Krazy Kat officially 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 intervention 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 others) all adored the strip, many regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama sections 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 evergreen and deceptively simple: Krazy is a rather effeminate – not to say gender-indeterminate – dreamily sensitive and romantic feline hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse. It’s the old story of opposites attracting but here the oodles of affection are unreciprocated and the love is certainly only going one way…

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

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, who is completely besotted with Krazy, professionally cognizant of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from removing his diabolical and irredeemable rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma…

Collaboratively co-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; wandering hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury conman and trickster Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable – often unintelligible – Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy 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 Kokonino (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 themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“Soff, soff brizz”, “l’il dahlink” or “Ignatz, ware four is thou at Ignatz??”).

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. Oft times Herriman even eschewed his mystical meandering mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops…

There have been numerous Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered and reclaimed by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience.

This captivating chronicle – covering 1929-1930 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) monochrome softcover tome – as always offers added value as context, background and other cartoon treats. Here Ben Schwartz critically appraises the exalted eccentric content of the material in ‘The Court Jester: Hearst, Herriman, and the Death of Nonsense’ whilst the much-missed Bill Blackbeard delves deeper into the feature’s background in his Introduction essay ‘The Man Behind the Pupp Behind the Mouse Behind the Kat: George Herriman, 1880-1944’; paying particular attention to the sublime scribbler’s relationship with other cartoonists of the era such as Jimmy Swinnerton, Tad Dorgan and a young upstart named Elzie Segar…

On to the strips then: within this strange brew of eccentric emotional overload, the perpetual play unfolds as always but with one major evolution as Herriman begins to indulge in extended storylines and continuing continuity…

The emphasis is strongly on bricks and how to get them in the early episodes with the law mostly having the upper paw. The mouse regularly ends up banged up in the county hoosegow as Krazy pines for passionately propelled portions of brick-shaped symbolism even whilst further pursuing that dream of a singing career.

Ignatz, as ever, hunts for the perfect projectile – heavy, accurate and of negligible cost – but hasn’t learned that nothing comes for free as he regularly falls prey to mountebanks, charlatans and fortune tellers…

Brickmaker Kolin Kelly gets into a shooting war with the region’s other baker – bread pundit Kikkero Kooki – and their search for ammunition leads to much more projectile peril.

Bull Pupp is wiser to the Mouse’s modus operandi these days, prompting Ignatz to take to the skies in a variety of unlikely aircraft and as always there are strictly visual pun sessions to play well against the numerous slapstick antics, as Ignatz devises ever-more complex schemes to bounce his earthen wares off the Kat’s bean whilst the weird landscapes and eccentric elemental conditions as ever add to the humorous inspiration with apocryphal wind witches and snow squaws constantly making their invisible presences felt…

Joe Stork continues to divide his time between the delivery of babies and other, less legal packages and there’s a many a jest regarding the total illegality of easily obtained hooches and fire-waters…

As 1930 dawns change is in the air and – after a series of wintery japes and a surprise eruption of local volcano Agathla – strange yet comfortably unchanging Kokonino get its biggest shake-up of all when amorous predator Monsieur Kiskidee Kuku hits town and make a determined play for the sentiment-starved Kat…

Having made allies of Ignatz and Offisa Pupp, the rascally gallic rogue turns the heads of many of the female inhabitants incurring the ire of many males, but the bounder is also an expert fencer so reprisals are grudging and muted…

Before long one of those troublesome continental ménage-triangle deals is in play and fireworks start brewing before the affairs of dishonour are all settled…

…And always irresistible mischief truly rules, whenever Herriman pictorially plays hob with the laws of physics, just to see what will happen…

Wrapping up the cartoon gold is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’ (providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed) plus a foray of final fillip offering an example how certain papers played with the layout of the strip to enhance its popularity and a genuine historical find: the sheet music to 1911’s Krazy Kat Rag

Herriman’s masterpiece is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips. If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this companionable compendium is a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2003, 2008 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

I Hate Fairyland volume 2: Fluff My Life


By Skottie Young, Jean-Francois Beaulieu & various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63215-887-1

Fairy tales are so ubiquitous that you could – inaccurately (Go, Pedants!!) – describe them as part of our DNA. Some people claim to have grown out of them whilst others take them to heart and make them an intrinsic aspect of their lives, but we can all feel them (the stories, not the readers) lurking in our subconscious, sharpening axes, heating up steel dancing shoes or honing Great Big Teeth…

Well, maybe some of the readers…

There’s this guy… Skottie Young?

He’s someone with feet firmly planted in all camps and well able to alternatively embrace the enchantment of imagination and give it a hilariously iconoclastic, mean-spirited boot in the backside at the same time.

Surely, you’ll have seen his glorious, multi-award winning interpretation of Baum’s Oz books produced for Marvel, his spectacular run on Rocket Raccoon (and Groot) or at least chuckled over his outrageous funny baby superhero covers…

Maybe you’re aware of his collaboration with Neal Gaiman on Fortunately the Milk.

If not, there’s so much more in store for you after enjoying this second collected slice of mirthful mythic malevolence and mayhem…

I Hate Fairyland is a truly cathartic little gem: a mind-buttering romp of deliciously wicked simplicity and one I heartily recommend as a palate-cleanser for anyone overdosing on Princess Parties, cotton candy and glitter…

Once upon a time little Gertrude wished she could visit the wonderful world of magic and joyous laughter and her wish was inexplicably granted. There she met happy shiny people, fairies, elves, giants, talking animals and animated trees, rocks, stars, suns and moons and just loved them all.

Resplendent Queen Cloudia made her an Official Guest of Fairyland and invited her to play a game. When she wanted to go back to her own world the six-year-old simply had to find a magic key and open the door to the realm of reality. The fabulous Fairy Queen even bestowed upon Gertrude a quaint talking bug as guide and helpmeet. Oh, and a magic map of all the Known Lands…

That was nearly thirty years ago and although Gert’s body didn’t age a day her mind certainly did. In fact, it got pretty damned pissed-off at the interminable, insufferable chore that looked like never ending…

As an Official Guest of Fairyland, Gert was not allowed to die and took to expressing her monumental frustration in acts of staggering violence and excess as she hunted for that fluffer-hugging key…

With no other choice, Gert and dissolute death-craving intellectual insect Larrigon Wentsworth III toiled ever onward in search of the way home, enduring horrific – but never permanently fatal – injuries and venting their annoyance (and other creatures’ vital fluids) on whoever got in the way.

Eventually even Queen Cloudia had enough but could do nothing whilst Gert maintained her Official Guest of Fairyland status… a privilege that could not be revoked…

Covertly commissioned barbarians, assassins and evil witches all filed to remedy the situation. Between the protection spell and Gert’s own ingrained propensity for spectacular bloodletting, nothing in the incredible kingdoms could stop her…

And then, just when a truly amazing idea got hatched… it got even worse.

Due to circumstances beyond anybody’s control Cloudia’s rule ended and Gert was stuck ruling the saccharine-sweet hellhole she so despised…

As we resume cartoon communication Queen Gertrude has been in charge quite long enough. Even wanton slaughter in her personal gladiatorial games and random acts of magic-fuelled drive-by exterminations cannot offset the unending tedium of the paperwork necessary to run the Realm and ‘Gert of Thrones’ is desperately looking for a way out of the endless responsibilities of rule. And then, for the first time in decades, fate falls her way and Gert is offered a way out…

It doesn’t end well for her subjects, though…

On the loose again, Gert returned to her former anti-social ways unaware that destiny was shaping a really big metaphysical cowpat for her to step in. It begins sometime in the real world she so wants to rejoin where a little kid in a dragon costume finds himself in dire need of a pitstop. Tragically for Duncan and Fairyland, that rush to the outhouse results in a little unwanted trans-dimensional tourism. Gert meanwhile has put out feelers (and many other strange critters) to locate a way back to earth. The most likely method involves the urine of mighty flying saurians but as that is the rarest thing in the Realm, it pretty fortunate that Duncan still frantically trying to unzip his costume materialises just then and learns the downside of ‘How to Drain your Dragon’

Desperate enough to consult a soothsayer, Gert later learns of a possible escape route but glazes over the bit where the future-reader says Duncan will be the greatest monster the Realm ever saw. Eager for release – any form of release – the ex-queen finds herself fighting a chilling army of videogame foes in the oddly electronic ‘Tower of Battle’ and handed the drubbing of her unending life. The victorious games-master gives her high heave-ho but keeps little Duncan…

After losing a high stakes card game Gert then has to enter her own infinitely capacious magical Hat of Holding in search of an item to pay off her debts. Unfortunately, thanks to her slovenly habits, that means dealing with the infestation of marauding Lynts which has built up amidst the decades of “acquired” artefacts, treasures and people who have annoyed her resulting in a pretty messy case of ‘Splat in the Hat’

Closing up shop for the nonce is a tale of salutary warning as Gert and Larry enter a mystic manse to be confronted by a choice of two portals, one leading to her heart’s desire and the other to an outcome of horrific consequences. Never big on thinking things through, Gert is stymied…

You’d think she might listen to her shattered and battered future-self, suddenly come back from a apocalyptically hell-shocked dystopian tomorrow with a message of warning and explicit instructions. You would? Then you really haven’t grasped the gist of this savagely surreal saga, have you?

And yet… somehow… To Be Continued…

Collecting issues #6-10 of I Hate Fairyland, (from March-October 2016) the sublimely subversive saga continues courtesy of Young, colourist Jean-Francois Beaulieu and letterer Nate Piekos of Blambot®: a cornucopia of cartoon ultra-violence and side-splitting mythic irreverence hilariously utilising the most imaginative and inspired use of faux-profanity ever seen in comics. There’s even a bunch of variant covers to drool over, if your nerves and stomach can stand it…

This is an unmissable wakeup call for everybody whose kids want to be little princesses and proves once and for all that sweet little girls (and probably comics artists) harbour hidden depths of depravity and barely-suppressed aggression…
© 2016 Skottie Young. All rights reserved.

Lieutenant Blueberry: The Man with the Silver Star


By Charlier & Giraud, translated by R. Whitener (Dargaud International)
ISBN: 2-205-06578-5

Franco-Belgian comics have enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the mythos of the American West and responded by generating some of the most beautiful and exciting graphic narratives in the history of the medium. They have, however, had less success creating characters that have gone on to be global household names.

One that did has made that jump is Michel Charlier & Jean Giraud’s immortal bad-ass Blueberry

Sadly, although many publishers have sporadically attempted to bring him to our thrill-starved shores, there’s no readily available complete catalogue (yet) of the quintessential antihero in the English language. So here’s another ancient but superb album for you to track down. At least these gems still turn up in back-issue bins and in second-hand or charity shops…

Jean-Michel Charlier is arguably Europe’s most important writer of realistic adventure strips. He was born in Liege, Belgium in 1924 and like so many groundbreaking comics creators, began as an artist, joining the staff of Spirou in September 1944, contributing aviation illustrations and a strip about gliders co-produced with Flettner. In 1946 Charlier’s love affair with flying inspired him to co-create fighter-pilot strip Buck Danny, providing scripts for star turn artist Victor Hubinon.

Before long – and on the advice of prestigious senior illustrator Jijé – Charlier was scripting full time and expanding his portfolio with many other series and serials.

In 1951 he co-created historical series Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul which afforded dozens of major artists their big break over the years, and supplemented the series with other strips such as Kim Devil (art Gérald Forton), Jean Valhardi and Marc Dacier (both with artist Paape) and Thierry le Chevalier (with Carlos Laffond) as well as popular scouting series La Patrouille des Castors, illustrated by MiTacq.

In conjunction with Goscinny and Uderzo, Charlier founded the business/industry oriented commercial comics agency Edifrance after which he and Goscinny edited the magazine Pistolin (1955-1958) before launching Pilote together in October 1959.

For the soon to be legendary periodical Charlier created Tanguy and Laverdure (with Uderzo and later Jijé), Barbe-Rouge (with Hubinon) and Jacques le Gall (MiTacq). After a trip to America Charlier created arguably his most significant character – and Europe’s greatest Western comic – which would eventually be known as Blueberry.

In later years, the engaging antihero would support his own equally successful spin-off La Jeunesse de Blueberry (AKA Young Blueberry, illustrated by Colin Wilson) but Charlier never rested on his laurels, concocting further grittily realistic fare: historical biographies in collaboration with Hubinon (Surcouf, Jean Mermoz, and Tarawa) and Martial Alain et Christine in Libre Junior, Rosine in Pistolin), Brice Bolt for Spirou with Aldoma Puig, Los Gringos with Victor de la Fuente and many more. He passed away in 1989.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on 8th May 1938. Raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941, he began attending Institut des Arts Appliqués in 1955, becoming friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly Westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants, all in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959 and 1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210. All too soon the ensemble feature threw forth a unique icon in the shabby shape of disreputable, rebellious Lieutenant Mike Blueberry who took over as the star and evolved into one of the most popular European strip characters of all time…

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their ground-breaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

In 1977 Egmont/Methuen had published four full-colour albums which utterly failed to capture the attention of a comics-reading public besotted in equal amounts by Science Fiction in general, Star Wars in specific and new anthology 2000AD in the main…

It’s a great shame: if the translated series had launched even a year earlier, I might not be whining about lack of familiarity with a genuine classic of genre comics…

After serialisation in Pilote the Fort Navajo adventure L’Homme à l’étoile d’argent became the sixth Blueberry album and this translation was released in America and Canada in 1983.

The tale is actually a bog-standard western fable of greedy land-grabbers and a doughty town-tamer but the glimmerings of Blueberry’s unique character shine through the familiar tropes and trapping and make for a rip-raring if perhaps slightly dated read…

Two days ride from Fort Navajo, the sheriff of Silver Springs is gunned down from ambush. He’s the third in a year and the latest to tell the immensely rich and powerful Bass brothers they cannot do whatever they want.

With a cowed township and a bought-and-paid-for Judge in their pockets, the Bass boys and their pack of hired gunslingers think it’s only a matter of time before they own everything, but when pretty schoolmarm Katie Marsh swears to testify to the sheriff’s murder, nomadic old rum pot Jim MacClure convinces the honest members of the town council to send for a certain cavalryman he’s encountered in his sordid past…

After a perilous foray to the fort, the Colonel – after much effort – is convinced to despatch his troublemaking junior officer Lieutenant Mike Blueberry to investigate MacClure’s claims.

Before long the wily trouble-shooter is using all his gifts to rouse and inspire the town’s broken populace whilst whittling down the Bass brothers’ mercenary army. And when they disbelieving villains eventually try to push back, they soon realise this temporary sheriff doesn’t need the US Army to keep the peace and administer justice…

Although perhaps a tad traditional for modern tastes and nowhere near as visually or narratively sophisticated as later episodes, this sagebrush epic of the immortal Blueberry is an engaging yarn rife with gallows humour and packed with action: a stunning confirmation of the creative powers of Charlier & Giraud and potent testimony to the undying appeal and inspiration of the Western genre.
© 1969, 1983 Dargaud Editeur Paris. English language text these editions © 1983 D.I,P. All rights reserved.

Tarzan and the Lost Tribes (The Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 4)


By Burne Hogarth & Rob Thompson (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-320-7

The 1930 and 1940s was an era of astounding pictorial periodical adventure. In the years before television, newspaper strips (and later comicbooks) were the only visually-based home entertainment for millions of citizens young and old and consequently shaped the culture of many nations.

Relatively few strips attained near-universal approval and acclaim. Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Prince Valiant were in that rarefied pantheon but arguably the most famous was Tarzan.

The full-blown dramatic adventure serial started on January 7th 1929 with Buck Rogers and Tarzan debuting that day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever.

The 1930s saw an explosion of similar fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade, still impacting on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality of art, the adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ immensely successful novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As detailed in previous volumes of this superb oversized (330 x 254 mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of a 10-week adaptation of first novel Tarzan of the Apes and was replaced by Rex Maxon. At the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Foster returned when the black-&-white daily expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Maxon was left to capably handle the weekday book adaptations, and Foster crafted the epic and lavish Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks). He then left again, for good: moving to King Features Syndicate and his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – which debuted in February 1937.

Once the four-month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year old artist named Burne Hogarth: a graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts.

Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular comic strip to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect.

This third titanic tome begins with the spectacularly illustrated ‘Jusko on Hogarth: An Education in Form and Movement’ with the fantasy artist harking back to his childhood comics experiences and influences after which the astounding action and adventure recommence. At this time, Hogarth was sharing the scripting chores veteran collaborator Rob Thompson, having only recently returned to the feature after a dispute with the owners. He had moved to the Robert Hall Syndicate for whom he produced seminal adventure classic Drago and then United Features where he created comedy strip Miracle Jones. During that time away from Tarzan, Hogarth – with Silas Rhodes – also opened the Cartoonists and Illustrators School which later evolved into the School of Visual Arts.

‘Tarzan and N’Ani’ (episodes #875-896; 14th December to 1948 to 9th May 1948) offers more raw drama as Tarzan visits old friend Pangola only to find the chief dead and his Wakamba tribesmen under the thumb of apparent spirit warriors and their White Queen.

A little spirited resistance and dedicated investigation by the ape-Man soon reveals crooked circus performers exploiting and enslaving the natives but before he can confront the villains they take his wife Jane hostage.

N’Ani’s big mistake is thinking her captive is a weak and feeble civilised woman…

With the bad guys and their trained big cats dealt with the excitement briefly subsides, but all too soon the Jungle Lord is tricked into boarding a scientist’s reconditioned atomic submarine and whisked away against his will to uncanny uncharted regions in the year-long epic ‘Tarzan on the Island of Mua-Ao’ (pages #897-947 running from 16th May 1948 to 1st May 1949).

After some Nemo-like subsea escapades Tarzan and his unwelcome companions fetch up on a Polynesian mini lost continent only to be captured by the scientifically advanced but morally barbarous Lahtian people. Their slave-owning totalitarian kingdom is ripe for revolution and after our hero and worthy warriors Soros and Timaru escape from the gladiatorial arena they go about arranging one.

Of course, that first necessitates traversing the savage jungle hinterlands, surviving its ubiquitous feline predators and making peace with the dominant Ornag-Rimba and Thalian tribes…

A minor complication occurs when local witchdoctor Totama feels threatened and repeatedly attempts to assassinate Tarzan but the Ape-Man counters every plot and foray in his own unstinting and decisive manner…

Eventually, however, Tarzan has his coalition in place and leads an unstoppable assault against the Lahtians which inevitably leads to a regime-change and his return to Africa…

This titanic hardback tome concludes with a macabre yarn and a radical overhaul of the strip. During ‘Tarzan and the Ononoes’ (#948-972) which ran from May 8th to 23rd October 1949, the traditional full-page vertical format was controversially switched to episodes printed in a landscape format, which allowed a certain liberalisation of layouts but inexplicably made the pages seem cramped and claustrophobic…

Narratively the tone is full-on fantasy as Tarzan swears to dying explorer Philip Ransome that he will rescue his lost daughter from the mysterious creatures holding her beyond the impassable Ashangola Mountains.

That mission brings him into conflict with the Waloks – a tribe of intelligent missing-link anthropoids – and their bitter enemies, a race of depraved monsters called Ononoes. These carnivorous horrors are giant heads with arms but no legs or torsos who have a penchant for human sacrifice. Their next victim is to be an outworlder girl named Barbara Ransome

Grim, grotesque and genuinely scarey, Tarzan’s struggle against the rotund terrors is a high point of the strip and promises even greater thrills in the forthcoming final collection.

To Be Concluded…

Tarzan is a fictive creation who has attained an immortal reality in a number of different creative arenas, but none offer the breathtaking visceral immediacy of Burne Hogarth’s comic strips.

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.
Trademarks Tarzan® and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Used by Permission. Copyright © 2017 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Valerian and Laureline volume 14: The Living Weapons


By Méziéres &Christin, with colours by Evelyn Tranlé; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-319-2

Valérian is possibly the most influential science fiction series ever drawn – and yes, I am including both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in that undoubtedly contentious statement. Although to a large extent those venerable newspaper strips formed the medium itself, anybody who has seen a Star Wars movie has seen some of Jean-Claude Méziéres & Pierre Christin’s brilliant imaginings which the filmic phenomenon has shamelessly plundered for decades: everything from the look of the Millennium Falcon to Leia’s Slave Girl outfit…

Simply put, more carbon-based lifeforms have experienced and marvelled at the uniquely innovative, grungy, lived-in tech realism and light-hearted swashbuckling of Méziéres & Christin’s creation than any other cartoon spacer ever imagined. Now with a big budget movie of their own in the imminent offing, that surely unjust situation might finally be addressed and rectified…

Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent debuted in weekly Pilote #420 (November 9th 1967) and was an instant smash-hit. The feature was soon retitled Valérian and Laureline as his feisty distaff sidekick rapidly developed into an equal partner and scene-stealing star through a string of fabulously fantastical, winningly sly and light-hearted time-travelling, space-warping romps.

Packed with cunningly satirical humanist action, challenging philosophy and astute political commentary, the mind-bending yarns struck a chord with the public and especially other creators who have been swiping, “homaging” and riffing off the series ever since.

Initially Valerian was an affably capable yet ploddingly by-the-book space cop tasked with protecting the official universal chronology (at least as it affected humankind) by counteracting and correcting paradoxes caused by incautious time-travellers.

When he travelled to 11th century France in debut tale Les Mauvais Rêves (Bad Dreams), he was rescued from doom by a tempestuously formidable young woman named Laureline whom he had no choice but to bring back with him to Galaxity: the 28th century super-citadel and administrative capital of the vast Terran Empire.

The indomitable female firebrand crash-trained as a Galaxity operative and accompanied him on subsequent missions – a beguiling succession of breezy, space-warping, social conscience-building epics. This so-sophisticated series always had room to propound a satirical, liberal ideology and agenda (best summed up as “why can’t we all just get along?”), constantly launching telling fusillades of commentary-by-example to underpin an astounding cascade of visually appealing, visionary space operas.

When first conceived every Valérian adventure started life as a serial in Pilote before being collected in album editions, but with this adventure from 1988, the publishing world shifted gears. This subtly harder-edged saga was debuted as an all-new, complete graphic novel with magazine serialisation relegated to minor and secondary function.

The switch in dissemination affected all popular characters in French comics and almost spelled the end of periodical publication on the continent…

One clarifying note: in the canon, “Hypsis” is counted as the twelfth tale, due to the collected albums being numbered from The City of Shifting Waters: the second actual story but the first to be compiled in book form. When Bad Dreams was finally released as a European album in 1983, it was given the number #0.

In recent episodes, the time-bending immensity of Galaxity was eradicated from reality and our Spatio-Temporal Agents – along with a few trusted allies – were stranded on contemporary (late 20th century) Earth…

Now Les Armes Vivantes (the 14th Cinebook translation, first released Continentally in 1990) sees Valerian and Laureline forced to use their last assets – a damaged astroship, some leftover alien gadgets and their own training – to eke out a perilous existence as intergalactic, trans-temporal mercenaries.

Despite the misbehaviour of a few fractious inter-dimensional circuits in the much-travelled ship, tour celestial voyagers are en route to distant and disreputable planet Blopik where Valerian has agreed to hand-deliver some livestock-improvement supplies.

Moralist Laureline is deeply suspicious of the way her man is behaving: it’s as if he’s doing something he knows she will disapprove of…

After a pretty hairy landing, she explores the burned-out pest-hole on her own and makes the acquaintance of a trio of unique individuals: intergalactic performers stranded in their worst nightmare – a world without theatres and an absentee manager…

Before long they are all travelling together. The showbiz trio – malodorous metamorphic artiste Britibrit from Chab, indestructible rock-eater Doum A’goum and the indescribable Yfysania are looking for a venue to play and an appreciative audience to admire them, whilst taciturn Valerian is simply seeking the proposed purchaser of the wares in his case.

Laureline is, by now, frankly baffled. The centaurs who inhabit Blopik only understand and appreciate one thing – combat – and the planet’s cindered state is due to them setting fire to everything during the annual war between rival tribes. She can’t imagine what such folk would want with farming gear. For that matter, she also can’t imagine why Valerian keeps arguing with whatever he has in his travel-case…

Eventually, however, the alien Argonauts all reach a grassy plain to be met by a bombastic centaur general. By “met”, I actually mean attacked without warning, but the astounding abilities of the performers soon gives pause to the hooved hellions and warlord Rompf agrees to parlay. He’s a centaur with a Homeric dream and Shakespearean leanings as well as the proposed purchaser of the bio-weapon in Valerian’s case. The thing has come direct from Katubian arms dealers and Laureline is appalled that Val has sunk so low and been devious enough to keep her out of the loop…

Rompf has declared War on War. He wants to unify the tribes of Blopik by beating them all into submission and needs the flame-spitting, foul-mouthed Schniafer couriered here by the shamefaced former Spatio-Temporal peacekeeper. However, now that he’s seen what the offworld clowns can do, Rompf wants them too…

The various vaudevillians are not averse to the idea, but pride demands they put on a show too… and they even have ideas how Laureline can be part of the fun.

…And that gives Valerian a chance to redeem himself too…

This charming caper allowed writer Christin and artist Méziéres’ to reposition their tumultuous team in a new and rapidly evolving narrative universe and again ends with our heroes stranded on present-day Earth, with no idea what the future – any future – may hold.

Smart, subtle, complex and hilarious, the antics of Valerian and Laureline mix outrageous satire with blistering action, stirring the mix with wry humour to forge one of the most thrilling sci fi strips ever seen. If you’re not an addict yet, jump aboard now and be ready to impress all your friends with your perspicacity when the film comes out.
© Dargaud Paris, 1988 Christin, Méziéres & Tranlệ. All rights reserved. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.