Graveslinger


By Shannon Eric Denton, Jeff Mariotte, John Cboins, Nima Sorat & various (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-364-3

The iconography and intrinsic philosophy of the western is so strong that it will readily mix-&-match with any other narrative genre.

Space Cowboys? Done.

Murder mystery? War?

Culture clash; political thriller; buddy movie; coming-of-age-drama; romance; epic quest? All covered in landmark cowboy books and/or film tales.

However – probably due to the brutal nature and subtext of the Wild West mythos – the most effective genre-mash-ups have always involved broad humour or supernatural shock.

Intriguing case in point is this short, sharp saga written by Shannon Eric Denton (The Revenant) and Jeff Mariotte (Desperadoes), beguilingly brought to un-life by illustrators John Cboins and Nima Sorat, with the whole chilling confection coloured by Chris Wood & Carlos Badilla with lettering courtesy of Ed Dukeshire.

Originally released in 2009 as a 4-issue miniseries, the tale is by no means an original one, but is stylishly undertaken (that’s a freebie from a veteran punslinger, folks) and rattles along at a breakneck pace to its gory conclusion…

The drama begins in ‘The Devil’s Playground’ as a strangely gaunt man closes in on a night-time campfire. With little ceremony the top-hatted old timer despatches the man-like things basking in the fire’s glow and dumps them unceremoniously in the coffin on the wagon pulled by his trusty mule Lucifer

In the growing daylight Frank Timmons meets some riders whilst crossing spartan cattle country and learns that a range war is brewing between the independent ranchers and merciless cattle-baron Harvey Newell.

Frank has no time for their petty problems as he is involved in a relentless pursuit. He used to be the undertaker at Gila Flats Territorial Prison and, after a recent incident, has been tasked with tracking down some very dangerous escapees…

As Timmons heads on, one of the cowboys joins him. Will Saylor already suspects something nasty is occurring and, since the manhunter’s course is in a direct line for his own stead – where his wife and daughters are waiting – Will thinks he ought to be heading home…

As they near the ranch Will’s worst suspicions are confirmed. Timmons is no normal bounty killer and the things threatening his family stopped breathing a long time ago. They also seem immune to his bullets and crave living human flesh…

The old man does have a few advantages of his own, however, and before long has the dead men on the run and the women-folk back with the horrified Will…

The hunter’s problems grow in ‘The Undertaker’s Lament’ as Frank shares a few more unwholesome truths with Will, even as miles distant, the bulk of the risen dead Timmons has been following introduce themselves to local tyrant Newell.

Timmons was not a good man when he worked at Gila Flats: abusing his position for profit and living the high life with a local woman named Dorothy. Things started to go bad in 1878 when Frank was cursed by hardened killer Bart Bevard as he fought the noose around his neck. They then got much worse when Frank desecrated the corpse of Mexican witch-man El Brujo to steal the shaman’s fancy amulet.

That night 117 corpses dug themselves out of the Boneyard and went on a ravenous killing spree, slaughtering an entire town… including Dorothy…

And that’s when something truly diabolical spoke to Frank: offering him a deal he could not refuse. Hell wanted its escaped souls back and, if Frank delivered them. he might be reunited with Dorothy…

As Frank and Will reach the local town to spread a warning, they are caught in a lethal ambush. However it isn’t Bevard’s corpse gang but Newell’s bully boys gunning for them. Faced with ‘The Good, the Bad, & the Undead’ Frank needs to make a quick decision about temporarily abandoning his unholy mission…

After an horrific gun battle he manages to convince a few cowed survivors to join him in a raid on Newell’s ranch for a showdown with the human monster before his own final apocalyptic confrontation with Bevard and ‘The Malevolent Six’ zombies he still commands…

And when the shooting stops Frank and Lucifer the mule head for the sunset, painfully aware that they still have 107 more soiled souls to send to the inferno before they can rest…

Simple, straightforward, eerily evocative and leavened with just the right amount of gallows humour, Graveslinger was quickly optioned for eventual movie glory – although to me it smacks more of numerous TV episodes rather than 120-odd minutes of supernatural shoot-outs – but the original comicbook inspiration has all but vanished from sight, despite its welcoming premise, solid action ethic and the vast gallery of guest art (three dozen potent and powerful pieces by the likes of Adam Archer, Bloodworth, Francesco Francavilla, Michael Geiger, Phil Noto, Tom Mandrake and others) that came with the collected edition.

If you’re in the mood for spooky six-gun thrills, Graveslinger is well worth tracking down in either printed or digital editions.
© 2009 Shannon Eric Denton and Jeff Mariotte. All rights reserved

Growing Up in the New World Order – a Storybook for Grown-Ups


By Tom Hoover & Michael Lee (Saga Flight Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-53753-101-4

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and training has been the comic strip. Advertising mavens have, for over a century, exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Moreover, from World War II until the birth of YouTube, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary screeds of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced one or two myself, back in my freelancing years…

In this instance the medium is used with measured economy and devastating effect by writer Tom Hoover and illustrator Michael Lee to craft a fictionalised fable with a very real and dangerously recondite message carrying crucial real-world implications…

Delivered as an inviting science fiction parable, Growing Up in the New World Order details in beguilingly simple manner how artistically gifted youngster Chance discovers his ability to see the hidden and predatory embedded subliminal messages concealed in all the world’s mass-media entertainment systems.

This gift enables him to consciously perceive the constant barrage of subtle suggestions and behaviour-modifying nudges designed to mould the opinions and guide the actions of the entire population…

After all, how else could the world have gotten into such a sorry state where greed trumps survival and manufactured violence as entertainment anesthetises a population intended to keep quiet and consume?

Informed from his earliest years by the non-conformist views and opinions of his grandfather, Chance grows into the kind of gifted peon the hidden manipulators need: able to craft the images and messages neceassry to keep the consumers pacified and compliant, but all the while he is working to his own agenda and timetable, preparing for the moment when his cleverly-concealed secret counter messages and “embeds” will go live and free that mesmerised collective consciousness…

Designed as a trigger for much-needed societal debate on globalism, consumerism and covert cultural/commercial imperialism, Growing Up in the New World Order is a smart and enticing little tale with big ambitions and a book that needs to be seen by everyone – especially the older teens who are going to inherit the mess we’ve all made…
© 2016 Saga Flight Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Lightrunner


By Lamar Waldron & Rod Whigham with Susan Barrows (Dover Comics & Graphic novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80841-3

During the 1980s a burgeoning science fiction and fantasy book market, bolstered by cinematic and television blockbusters, fed into the new creative boom in the comicbook market, giving “graphic novels” their first tentative push into the real, bigger world outside established fandom as part of a greater zeitgeist.

There was also a very real entrepreneurial creative buzz which led to many European and Japanese works finally breaking into the US market, and most importantly, a lot of attention was actually paid to new, home-grown material…

Among the important early players was The Donning Company Publishers; a Virginia-based outfit established in the 1970s who briefly blazed a pioneering trail with their Starblaze Graphics imprint.

Presumably inspired by the innovative breakthrough work of Byron Preiss (Starfawn, Empire, The Swords of Heaven, The Flowers of Hell) Donning invested in lavish, visually impressive volumes targeting a broad crossover market. They began with a volume collecting the first chapters of Wendy & Richard Pini’s independent comics sensation Elfquest, and went on to produced strip adaptations of popular prose properties such as Robert Asprin’s MythAdventures and the co-operative shared-universe fantasy series Thieves’ World.

Along the way they also brought Colleen Doran’s first iteration of A Distant Soil and Phil Foglio’s Buck Godot to a relatively small but crucially mainstream public.

The company’s output was small but highly effective and although the venture ended badly – in court, as many creators sued to regain control of their works – those beautiful, high-quality works proved that bold, (relatively) expensive, high-quality material was the future for an industry and art form that had always cut every corner, paid poorly and worked on miniscule margins…

Lightrunner was very much a product of its time, a riotous intergalactic rollercoaster rocket-ride which began life as a serial in the semi-pro fanzine Visions, and still packs a punch for any fan of brash, flashy space opera.

Now, thanks to the sagacious perspicacity of Dover Books and their continued unearthing of lost graphic gems there’s a fresh edition of a compelling modern classic of the Good Old Bad Old Days to enjoy.

Re-presented in an excitingly oversized (278 x 210 mm) full-colour softcover edition – complete with Chris Claremont’s original effusive Introduction – here is a fabulous futuristic adventure to astound and enthral all lovers of epic bravado and boisterous star-faring fun…

In our far-distant tomorrows, capitalism runs the universe in the form of planetary Corprostates held together by a web of trade undertaken by tachyon-driven solar sailing ships plying the perilous routes of the “Star Stream”.

In that tempestuous time and economic climate the Empyrean Alliance is a tenuous association of Free States; restive, politically insecure and greatly dependent on the trustworthy valour of the apolitical Empyrforce: a US Navy-style peacekeeping force and police militia.

Our tale begins with young Burne Garrett, son of a legendary Empyrforce hero, who failed to make the grade and scrubbed out of his military training. Garrett is a pathetic disappointment to himself and everybody else. Now a lowly PR hack, he is filming the initial tests of a radical new type of faster-than-light starship – The Stream Breaker

When the new super-vessel suddenly comes to eerie life and takes off with him aboard – subsequently vanishing into the unknown – the unwitting fool is suddenly Public Enemy #1…

Framed, lost and desperate, Garrett is soon plunged deep into the seedy underbelly of civilisation; becoming a pawn of pirates and raiders until he is adopted by spoiled, rich wild-child Lanie of Abul Sara (think Paris Hilton in lace-up high heel thigh-boots and a ray-gun… and now stop thinking of that because that’s not how she looks, but what she’s like…).

The fugitive Garrett reluctantly joins the tense and turbulent crew of her beloved star-craft “Lightrunner”… and somewhere along the way he also picks up a pet monkey that might be the mightiest telepath in the galaxy…

Garrett seeks to clear his name, even while simultaneously being hunted by his own deeply disillusioned galactic-hero father and the true culprits of all his woes, who still want the Stream Breaker prototype he has so providentially hidden. Before long, the lad uncovers a clandestine plot of cosmic proportions that might just mean the end of the entire Alliance…

Although the plot and set-up is no longer new or fresh – especially in films and recent shows or in the burgeoning TV SF market – this brash, breezy, spectacle-packed romp still reads incredibly well and looks great.

Fans of this particular form of chase-based science fic-Action will be well rewarded for taking a trip with Garrett & Co courtesy of the fabulous Lightrunner
© 1983 Lamar Waldron and Rod Whigham. All Rights Reserved. This edition © 2017.

Lightrunner is scheduled for a February November 24th 2017 release and is available for pre-order now. Check out Dover Publications, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.

Lobster Johnson volume 1: The Iron Prometheus


By Mike Mignola, Jason Alexander, Dave Stewart & Clem Robbins (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-975-8

Lobster Johnson started out as a moody maguffin in the gloriously expansive universe inhabited by Hellboy, the B.P.R.D. and other assorted marvels from the mind of Mike Mignola.

He was initially introduced after his death: the unquiet spirit of a lost and forgotten 1930s hero who solved his last case from beyond the grave. The character was created as an amalgam and analogue of Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider and all those other uncompromising, two-fisted pulp crusaders who smashed crime and slew monsters…

Whenever a really talented creator or team pay proper attention to little details, the result can generally stand on its own two feet and, after continuing to pop up in further tales, the craftily-conceived Lobster eventually proved popular enough to star in his own string of miniseries, fabulously celebrating the heyday of mass-literacy fiction and hard-core horror-heroes. This first collection gathers the 5-issue saga of Iron Prometheus with script by Mignola, art by Jason Alexander, colours courtesy of Dave Stewart and letters by Clem Robbins.

Leather-clad, gun-toting and implacably invincible, the Master of Justice and his small team of agents wade through a mountain of enemies malign, mystical and/or murderously mundane; delivering a mesmerising wild ride in the manner of a cliff-hanging movie-serial Chapter Play which opens in New York City in 1937…

A worried young man is being hunted by incredible creatures. However, as a brutal yeti attacks, the Lobster intervenes to save the kid but looks like he’s finally met his match. Happily Jim Sacks activates the incredible armoured suit he’s wearing and fries the beast…

Before the embattled Yanks can catch their breath, German agents move in and a pitched battle erupts with the bewildered Jim again displaying the suit’s incredible powers to great effect.

In a brief lull Johnson astounds the kid with his knowledge: somehow the leather-helmeted mystery man knows Jim was a tailor’s dummy and guinea pig for eccentric Professor Kyriakos Gallergas – but not that the inventor and his daughter Helena were recently attacked and made him flee with the outfit to keep it from unspecified enemies…

Before long Sacks is brought to the Lobster’s underground lair, even as in the city above the hero is in Chinatown consulting prophets. They warn of deadly danger, doom and dragons and offer a name to trace… Memnan Saa

Back below Jim is telling all he knows about his mighty Vril Energy Suit – which isn’t much – when the Lobster returns with a lead to a warehouse downtown.

Inside it, a sinister mage is indulging in a spot of torture and suggesting to Gallergas that Helena might be next. After Jim, Johnson and his gang embark on their rescue mission, the VES is again the deciding factor in an uneven battle, but only until the inexperienced Sacks steps into a carefully prepared booby-trap.

This leaves Johnson at the mercy of old enemy Doctor Waxman and a terrifying cyborg thug even as Jim finds himself conversing with Helena in a spectral arctic landscape she calls the Grave of the Emperor of the World

As the Lobster mops up his opponents, in that icy other-place Jim succumbs to arcane assault, but when the sagacious mage turns his attention to the masked man the wizard learns that high explosives carry their own extremely effective magic…

Jim comes to in a Hoboken warehouse and sees with horror what has been done to Professor Gallergas. The monstrously misused scientist reveals the secret of Vril and how his abductors plan to use the ancient energy to awaken an antediluvian evil. The traumatised boy also discovers what has been done to him too, just as Lobster and his team burst in…

As Jim struggles with a brute gradually transforming into a diabolical monster, deep inside that house of horrors Lobster battles a maniac to rescue Helena, but they are too late: the dragon has risen…

The mage wants 368 more just like it but the Vril has unleashed supernatural forces on the side of Good too, and Sacks and the Professor are ready to fight to save their world, even if they are no longer truly part of it…

Johnson is determined to deliver his own harsh brand of justice, but pursuit of the mage leads him into distracting clashes with monsters and zombies which are not nearly as devious as the Nazi agents coolly waiting to ambush him…

Knocked unconscious, the Lobster somehow confronts the mage on an eerie, icy plane before seemingly succumbing to dark rites and awakening in the custody of the German agents who have also been seeking the Vril suit since the beginning. They seem oblivious to the actions of the sinister sorcerer, however, and are far more concerned with taking what fragments of armour they have scavenged and covering their escape by eradicating New York City…

Lobster Johnson has one last play if he is to save himself and the unwitting millions residing in the sleeping city…

Interspersed with compelling faux magazine articles on ‘The True History of Lobster Johnson’ – detailing the various media incarnations of the macabre man of mystery – and topped off with a vast Lobster Johnson Sketchbook section displaying working drawings, roughs, model-sheets and layouts from Mignola, Armstrong and contributing designer Guy Davis; this is a potent and powerful supernaturally-tinged action romp to quicken the hearts of every aficionado of fantastic adventure.
™ & © 2007, 2008 Mike Mignola. Lobster Johnson™ and all other prominently featured characters are trademarks of Mike Mignola.

Galveston


By Johanna Stokes, Ross Richie, Todd Herman & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-93450-668-4

At the beginning of the 19th century, Jean Baptiste Lafitte was a French privateer based in New Orleans – and later Barataria Bay – who famously turned down a huge bribe from the British and instead stood beside the Americans during the War of 1812. His alliance with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans is the stuff of American mythology.

When the victorious Americans then started cracking down on piracy, Jean and his older brother Pierre became spies for the Spaniards during the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), relocating to Galveston Island, Texas and continuing their trade as freebooting privateers targeting Central American ports.

They established a pirate colony called Campeche to facilitate their maritime activities. Jean died – or at least dropped from sight – sometime around 1823.

Jim Bowie is more myth than man. Born in Kentucky around 1796, he was pioneer, frontiersman, law officer, land speculator and quintessential warrior. After accruing wealth and a certain reputation in New Orleans, he eventually relocated to Texas (whilst it was still part of Mexico), married and settled down.

Of all the legends surrounding him the two truest are his proficiency with the lethal “Bowie knife” (created from the fearless fighter’s design by bladesmith James Black) and that he died in Texas at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

With such a historic pedigree and so little verifiable fact, it’s perfectly natural that somebody should place these two bellicose American icons together, and that’s exactly what scripter Johanna Stokes (with input from Ross Richie, Tom Peyer & Mark Rahner) and illustrator Todd Herman – ably assisted by colourists Digikore Studios and Andres Lozano and letterer Marshall Dillon – have done in this light-hearted action-romp which is as much buddy/road movie as pirate yarn or western…

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries in 2009, Galveston begins in the Gulf of Mexico in 1817, where the infamous Jean Lafitte’s crew are trying to kill him. It’s not personal: they simply heard that he’s hidden a huge stash of gold donated by the Emperor Napoleon for helping him escape from France.

Lafitte’s only ally is a wiry American he’d recently befriended: a man named Bowie…

The greed-inciting gold story was circulated by Cyrus Wesley, an old acquaintance from New Orleans and no friend of the pirate captain…

After escaping certain doom through quick-wittedness and a certain amount of chicanery, Lafitte brings Bowie to the prate colony he built in Galveston, introducing him to the glories of the Maison Rouge and the light of his life: a fiery tongued and ferociously independent woman named Madeline Ragaud

She seems welcoming but also brings news of a ship full of spies masquerading as traders. All too soon Bowie is experiencing first hand how his pirate pal deals with real threats to his people…

A bigger worry is Wesley. Acting on behalf of vengeful Louisiana Governor Claiborne, the old enemy has brought a small army of bought-&-paid-for “lawmen” into the shady new town, ready to deal with Lafitte on the slightest pretext. A man of absolutely no principles, Cyrus is, however, quite prepared to let the mission slide… if Lafitte gives him Napoleon’s gold…

It would be a sound bargain if there actually was any bullion, but Lafitte swears all he got for his services was a couple of ornamental cannon. They don’t even work…

Temporarily escaping his problems, the wily pirate accompanies Bowie on his own mission to set up trading ties with the Commanches, but Cyrus’ threat to harm Madeline lingers, prompting Jean to bicker with his buddy and storm off in a fury. By the time Jean gets back to Galveston the settlement is in flames and Wesley is ensconced aboard a warship in the bay…

It’s time for old war-hero Lafitte to rally his piratical troops for a showdown, but he might be less fired up if he knew that his aggravating paramour has despatched a message to even the odds. Hopefully Madeline’s young courier can find Bowie and his Indian friends before it’s too late…

Culminating in a classic and epic underdog vs. bad guys showdown and delivering a marvellously traditional twist in the tale, this rowdy, raucous riot of fun is a sheer delight all lovers of straightforward, no-nonsense matinee thrills.
© 2009 Boom Entertainment Inc. and Johanna Stokes. All rights reserved.

The Lighthouse


By Paco Roca, translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-056-0

Francisco Martínez Roca was born in Valencia in 1969: a time when Franco’s fascist government still controlled every aspect of Spanish life. Roca was part of an artistic explosion that benefited from the dictator’s death and a return to liberalising democracy, with his earliest efforts appearing in La Cupula in 1994. As Paco Roca, he contributed (with Rafa Fonteriz) erotic strips starring Peter Pan and Aladdin to Kiss Comics and with Juan Miguel Aguilera devised experimental 3D series ‘Road Cartoons’ for El Vibora.

His earliest serious works dealt with aspects of Spanish culture and history (El Juego Lúgubre in 2001 – his fictional yarn about Salvador Dali – and 2004’s Spanish Civil War tale El Faro).

These were followed by internationally acclaimed works Hijos de la Alhambra and 2007’s multi-award winning Wrinkles, which was adapted into an equally celebrated and critically-rewarded animated movie.

More astounding stuff you’ll definitely want to see includes Las Callas de Arena (Streets of Sand) and semi-autobiographical Sunday strip Memorias de un hombre en pyjama from newspaper Las Provincias or El invierno del dibujante, about comic creators working for the Bruguera magazine Tio Vivo in the 1950s.

When not astonishing folk with his mastery of graphic narrative and understanding of human nature, Roca can be found making animated films and hosting his own radio show in Valencia.

After the success of Wrinkles it was only a matter of time before his other works started being translated into English, so bravo to NBM for picking up this sublime and elegiacally esoteric little gem…

The Lighthouse is a digest-sized (234 x 157 mm) duotone hardback – or eBook if you’re digitally inclined – which magically celebrates the solace of imagination and recaptures the hope of liberation in a beguiling black, blue and white wave of perfectly sculpted images.

As the Civil War staggers to its end, wounded Francisco flees for his life. The victorious fascistas are gathering up the defeated foe and the wounded youngster has no intention of being interned or worse.

After a bloody and eventful flight, he makes it to the coast and after passing out finds himself bandaged and rested in someone’s bed. He is in a lighthouse, crammed with fascinating remnants and artefacts…

After some cautious poking about, he finally finds a garrulous old lighthouse keeper on the beach, joyously hauling ashore flotsam, jetsam and assorted treasures torn from unfortunate vessels during the last storm.

Telmo is a jolly giant, constantly quoting from his favourite books about the sea, although Francisco – a soldier since he was sixteen – barely understands what the old man is talking about…

The old man’s good humour is infectious and gradually even infects battle-scarred Francisco. Soon the boy-soldier is helping the incessantly cheerful senior maintain the great lamp and sharing his only anxiety, about when – if ever – the light will shine again. The government have been promising a new bulb for years and Telmo is convinced now peace reigns again, that moment will be any day now…

To pass the days the old man combs the beaches for useful finds and tends to his special project: building a fabulous boat to carry him across the waters to the impossibly wonderful island of Laputa

Gradually sullen Francisco – perpetually bombarded by the lighthouse keeper’s wondrous stories – loosens up and begins to share Telmo’s self-appointed tasks and dreams, but that all ends when the boy finds a letter and accidentally uncovers a web of lies…

However, just when the idyllic relationship seems destined to founder on the rocks of tawdry truth, the tirelessly-searching soldiers arrive and a tragic sacrifice in service of those endangered once-shared dreams is required…

A potently powerful tale delivered with deceptive gentleness and beguiling grace, The Lighthouse is both poignantly moving and rapturously uplifting: supplemented here by a lengthy prose postscript.

Roca’s ‘The Eternal Rewrite’ – packed with illustrations, model sheets, sketches and production art – reveals how the author is afflicted with Post-Release Meddling Syndrome, constantly editing, amending and reworking bits of his many publications, each time a new or fresh foreign edition is announced.

This short, sweet story about stories and imagination is a true delight and would be the perfect introduction for anyone still resistant to the idea of comics narrative as meaningful art form… or just read it yourself for the sheer wonder of it.
© 2004, 2009 Paco Roca. © 2014 Astiberri for the present edition. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

The Lighthouse will be published on February 17th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Krazy & Ignatz volume 4 – 1925-1926: “There is a Heppy Lend, Fur, Fur Awa-a-ay”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-386-7

The cartoon strip starring Krazy Kat is quite possibly the pinnacle of graphic narrative 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, 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 the smitten kitten invariably 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 aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to 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 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 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 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. Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical 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 by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting audience. This fabulous forth tome – covering 1925-1926 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 15 x 305 mm) softcover edition returns the strip to its monochrome roots and offers added value as context, background and possible explanations are delivered by the much-missed Bill Blackbeard in his effusive essay ‘By George, It’s Krazy’ before a second text “found-feature” exploits Herriman’s journalistic gifts with contemporary movie reviews delivered by “Thet Ket” in ‘“The Gold Rush” as Seen by Krazy Kat’ and ‘Krazy Kat Sees Miss Davies in “Janice Meredith”’ as both prose and cartoon critiques…

On to the strips then: within this compelling compendium of incessant passions thwarted in another land and time the unending drama plays out as usual, but with some of those intriguing supplementary characters increasing coming to the fore.

We open with the change of years bringing a few weeks’ worth of weird ruminations on the nature of time before Ignatz’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags and his occasional fleecing by Coconino’s copious coterie of confidence tricksters.

Of course the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

As well as increased roles for the Kat’s cousins Krazy Katfish and Krazy Katbird there is more involvement for Joe Stork, who expands out of the exclusive delivery of (generally unwanted) babies into the hooch-dissemination business during those heady days of Prohibition, as well the introduction of tail-less Manx Cat and a Krazy cow.

As expected there is a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration. Moreover in the Jazz Age of Technological Marvels the mouse frequently takes to the skies to deliver his brain-busting bon mots…

The dangerous delights of Piñatas are introduced to American readers and there’s a healthy dose of surrealism after certain elephantine geological features come to life, whilst Krazy’s Kool is at last lost once Ignatz begins baking his own bricks and cutting Kolin Kelly out of the mounting fiscal equation. Once rubber trees start popping up all over the landscape, nobody is truly safe from the consequences of escalating slapstick silliness…

The year then concludes with uncharacteristic chills and spills when Coconino is subjected to sudden squalls of snow which lead inevitably to too much water as 1926 opens cold and crisp and sodden…

Herriman incorporated his love of cinema here by introducing an itinerant film crew to the cast and began playing even more with his audience and the Fourth Wall after one of the cartoon regulars swiped all the black ink leaving the rest of the cast in a deeply diminished state of embellishment.

The infinitely inventive scribbler also created a bigger role for Mock Duck who temporarily quit the laundry business to set up as a psychic prognosticator and surly seer whilst poor Pupp began to slowly gain the upper paw in the turbulent triangular relationship…

Krazy, meanwhile, discovered a previously unsuspected – and apparently genetically predisposed – affinity for lighting and electricity which the rest of the cast were able to share but not enjoy…

Also always on offer are wry cartoon commentaries on the increasingly technological advancement of the nation, seasonal landmarks and the evergreen fodder of unwanted kids and illegal drinking as well as more pomposity punctured and penny-pinching money-making schemes from the town’s great and good always coming to nothing…

…And sometimes plain mischief rules, such as when 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.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal 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, and 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 a most accessible way to do so. Heck, it’s even available as an eBook now so don’t waste the opportunity…
© 2002 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 6: Kidnapping


By Turk & de Groot, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-87-8

An infallible agent of Her Majesty’s assorted security forces, Clifton was created by Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for the weekly Tintin. Our doughty exemplar of Albion debuted in December 1959, just as a filmic 007 was preparing to set the world ablaze and get everyone hooked on spycraft…

After three albums worth of strip material – all compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot left Tintin for arch-rival Spirou and his bombastic buffoon was benched.

Tintin revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene and aforementioned spy-craze, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier). Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until 1971 when Greg – with artist Joseph Loeckx – took another shot. He toiled on the True Brit until 1973 when Bob De Groot & illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois fully regenerated the be-whiskered wonder. They produced ten more tales after which, from 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont (AKA Bédu) limned de Groot’s scripts before eventually assuming the writing chores as well. The series concluded in 1995.

…But Never Say Never Again…

In keeping with its rather haphazard Modus Operandi and indomitably undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed yet again in 2003, crafted now by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue for four further adventures. Although the humorous visual vein was still heavily mined in these tales, now the emphasis was subtly shifted and the action/adventure components strongly emphasised…

Originally released in 1983, Kidnapping was Turk & De Groot’s last collaboration and wrapped up their mock-heroic shenanigans in fine and foolish style…

Bob de Groot was born in Brussels in 1941, to French and Dutch parents. As a young man he became art assistant to Maurice Tillieux on Félix, before creating his own short works for Pilote. A rising star in the 1960s, he drew 4 × 8 = 32 L’Agent Caméléon where he met Liegeois, consequently began a slow transition from artist to writer. Together they created Archimède, Robin Dubois and Léonard before eventually inheriting Raymond Macherot’s moribund Clifton.

In 1989 de Groot – with Jacques Landrain – devised Digitaline, a strong contender for the first comic created entirely on a computer, and co-created Doggyguard with Michel Rodrigue, even whilst prolifically working with the legendary Morris on both Lucky Luke and its canine comedy spin-off Rantanplan.

He’s still going strong with strips such as Léonard in Eppo, Père Noël & Fils and Le Bar des acariens (both published by Glénat) and so much more.

Pompous, irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton is ex-RAF, a former officer with the Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5. He has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rural Puddington and takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth whenever the opportunity arises. He occupies his idle hours with as many good deeds as befit a man of his standing and service. He is particularly dedicated to sharing the benefits of organised Scouting with the young generation…

This rollicking comedy crime caper begins with the old soldier and his fiery, ferociously competent, multi-talented housekeeper Mrs. Partridge preparing for a big camping trip for a motley crew of fresh-faced boy scouts.

Even after his own haphazard preparations are finally completed, Scoutmaster Clifton’s departure is further delayed by the stylishly late arrival of the troublesome son of wealthy and obnoxiously prestigious Sir Abylas Chickenpiece

Finally, however, the troop is under way and before too long they are setting up camp in an isolated patch of woodland. After organising jobs for the lads Clifton begins his own chores, setting tests for the boys trying out to win merit badges and catching a crafty snooze when he thinks nobody is looking…

It’s a very bad move. When the spoiled and appropriately codenamed “Distinguished Peacock” sets off to gather firewood, he’s pounced on by thugs working under the careful instructions of an obsessive porcelain collector who is well aware of the worth of the Chickenpiece Fortune…

A furtive observer to the crime, poor but honest “Thrifty Duckling” sees his companion being abducted and cunningly hides himself inside the getaway car, so when Clifton is made aware of the crisis he feels painfully responsible for the loss of two boys in his care…

Angry and insulted, the irascible Colonel eschews contacting the police and determines to give his remaining charges a lesson in the value of his scouting techniques by tracking the kidnappers to their lair and personally apprehending them.

The only real complication he envisages is apprising the victims’ fathers of the perilous current status of their sons and heirs…

A classic chase, memorable confrontation and Boys Own conclusion is the happy result of Clifton and his diminutive team working together, and when the action ends the reunions and subsequent outdoor celebrations are all any stout-hearted lad could hope for…

Funny, fast and furiously thrill-packed, Kidnapping shows our Old Soldier in his most engaging and flattering light with this craftily-concocted adventure romp in the grandly enticing manner of Charles Crichton’s Hue and Cry or Launder & Gilliat’s The Belles of St Trinian’s; sufficient to astound and delight devotees of simpler times whilst supplying a solid line in goofy gags for laughter-addicts of every age to enjoy.
Original edition © Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA) 1984 by Turk & De Groot. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Wandering Island volume 1


By Kenji Tsuruta, translated by Dana Lewis (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-079-3                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-771-5

Kenji Tsuruta was born in 1961 and studied optical science, intending to pursue a career in photography, but instead made the jump to narrative storytelling as manga artist, designer, book illustrator and anime creator.

A lifelong fan of “hard science” science fiction authors like Robert A. Heinlein and the comic works of Tetsuya Chiba and Yukinobu (Saber Tiger) Hoshino, after years of producing self-published dōjinshi whilst working as an assistant to established manga stars, the 25-year-old Tsuruta began selling his own works in 1986 when his short fantasy serial Hiroku te suteki na uchū ja nai ka (‘What a Big Wonderful Universe It Is’) was published in Kodansha’s Weekly Morning magazine.

Soon after, he began Sprits of Wonder: a dazzling scientific romance of gently colliding worlds. It ran in both Weekly Morning and monthly magazine Afternoon between 1987 and 1996 before making the smooth transition to animated features and an award-winning TV series. Dark Horse Comics published the first translated episodes as a 5-issue monochrome miniseries in 1995-6.

After that the artist pretty much moved out of the manga business, instead concentrating on science fiction illustration and character design; a field of endeavour where he won many awards.

Then on July 13th 2010 Wandering Island debuted in Kodansha’s anthological Manga Box AMASIA before being serialised in Afternoon. The first collection was released in October 2011 and Dark Horse began their English language editions in July 2016.

The slow-moving, elegiac saga is Mr. Tsuruta’s first major narrative work since the turn of the century: a beguiling and enticing modern-day mystery set against a fascinating geological backdrop in a fascinating cultural backwater…

Like Great Britain, Japan is composed of a vast number of islands, many of them located in areas far beyond commercially viable air routes. To cater to those small communities, independent pilots act as postmen, delivery specialists and rapid freight-hauliers.

Freewheeling Mikura Amelia flies an old Fairey Swordfish on her rounds, enjoying a pretty idyllic life as she hops from cetacean research station to trading post to fishing village delivering whatever needs moving for whatever fee she can get.

She used to work with her grandfather Brian Amelia in the family Air Service, but now it’s just her and the cat Endeavour. Her parents moved back to civilisation after the old man died but Mikura loves the freedom of the skies and can’t let go of her grandfather’s great obsession…

Amongst his effects was an undelivered package with her name on it for delivery to Is. Electriciteit – which she translated as Electric Island. There are a few fables about the place, but most people think it’s a myth…

Mikura, however, armed with a keen mind, decades of detailed logs and a strange yearning, becomes as obsessed as her mentor with the mystery. Old Brian vanished trying to find the island, but his logs have entries written after he seemingly perished.

And then one day Mikura actually sees the perpetually shifting, cloud-cloaked atoll – complete with a small town – but cracks up trying to land there. She is rescued by a passing freighter but the frustration of being so close is agonising and unbearable…

She slowly heals and gets back to work and starts to doubt her own memories, but somehow cannot let go. Eventually she puzzles out its secret: Electric Island moves around the Pacific in a complex and convoluted three year cycle.

That only leads to more puzzles, especially after she learns of a friend of Brian’s who shared his fixation: her old English teacher who was actually a brilliant geophysicist…

Another quick trip and one last revelatory interview and at long last Mikura is flying off to a long-awaited rendezvous with the unknown…

To be Continued…

Accompanied by text feature ‘Notes on Wandering Island’, detailing the specifics of floating islands, the antecedents of the series and Tsuruta’s history, Wandering Island is a superbly welcoming introduction into what promises to be a sublime treat for every lover of untrammelled wonder…
© 2011 Kenji Tsuruta/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.

Doctor Who – The Twelfth Doctor volume 1: Terrorformer


By Robbie Morrison, Dave Taylor, Mariano Laclaustra, Hi Fi, Luis Guerrero & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-177-8 (HB)                    978-1-78276-501-1 (SC)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timeless Traditional Treat… 8/10

The comicbook division of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth incarnations of the trickily turbulent Time Lord.

These tales – starring the Peter Capaldi incarnation – comprise the first five issues of the 2014 monthly comicbook with the tetchy Time Lord still gallivanting all over creation with schoolteacher and “Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald.

Scripted by Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante, The Authority) and illustrated by Dave Taylor (Zorro, Batman, Judge Dredd) with assistance from Mariano Laclaustra, colourists Hi Fi & Luis Guerrero and letterers Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt, the deadly dilemmas begin after the Doctor takes Clara skiing on his favourite ice-world. On arrival however they discover the entire planet has been re-sculpted – down to each trademarked palm leaf – into a tropical paradise by Kano Dollar: the Richest Human in the 25th Century.

His team have transformed the entire eco-structure in a sun-drenched paradise for mega-millionaires to romp through, but things are slowly going very wrong on the most primal levels…

When the Doctor begins throwing his intellectual weight around he quickly discovers the terra-formers’ meddling has awakened an ancient threat locked deep in the planet’s bowels for millennia. In the universes earliest era a race of living suns began eradicating races and could only be defeated by an alliance of Gallifrey with the cosmos’ other great races. Now with the Time Lords gone, only the Doctor is left to face a vengeance-crazed solar devil as “Hyperios Rises”…

Having pulled off another miracle, the chronal voyagers use the TARDIS to answer a plea for help from a former Companion. Tragically they arrive too late to save him and trigger a deadly duel in two time periods – Mumbai in 2314 and Madhya Province in 1825 – against insidious alien bloodsuckers seeking ‘The Swords of Kali’

With the assistance of renegade Indian Amazon and harem guard Rani Jhulka, the Doctor strives to prevent a diabolical mass sacrifice orchestrated by the sub-continent’s wealthiest family which will free the thing that created the cult of Thuggee.

The extra-dimensional devil also claims to be death goddess Kali and almost takes another of the Time Lord’s adored partners in peril before the furious time master pulls off his greatest feat of misdirection and save the day…

Sharp, spooky and wickedly witty, this premier volume comes with a vast gallery of alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by Mariano Laclaustra, Brian Williamson, AJ, Alice X. Zhang and Rob Farmer.

If you’re a fervent fan of the television Time Lord, this book – also available as a digital download – might well make you an addict to the print iteration too. Terrorformer is a glorious treat for casual readers, a fine additional avenue for devotees of the TV show to explore and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition April 2015.