The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer volume 5: The Strange Encounter

By Van Hamme & Benoit, coloured by Madeleine De Mille and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-75-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Dashing Deeds in the Grand Manner… 8/10

Belgian Edgard Félix Pierre Jacobs (1904-1987) was one of the founding fathers of the Continental comics industry. Although his output was relatively modest compared to many of his iconic contemporaries, Jacobs’ landmark serialised life’s work – starring scientific trouble-shooters Professor Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake – practically formed the backbone of the modern action-adventure comic in Europe.

His splendidly adroit, roguish and thoroughly British adventurers were conceived and realised for the very first issue of Le Journal de Tintin in 1946, and quickly became a crucial staple of life for post-war European kids – much as Dan Dare was in 1950s Britain.

After decades of fantastic exploits, the series apparently ended with the eleventh album. The gripping contemporary adventure had been serialised between September 1971 and May 1972 in Tintin, but after the first volume was completed Jacobs simply abandoned his story due to failing health and personal issues. He died on February 20th 1987, never having returned to or completing extended adventure Les 3 formules du professeur Satō.

That concluding volume was only released in March 1990 after veteran cartoonist Bob de Moor was commissioned by the Jacobs family and estate to complete the tale from the grand originator’s pencils and notes. The long-postponed release led to a republishing of all the earlier volumes, followed in 1996 by new adventures from two separate creative teams hired by the Jacobs Studio.

The first was the L’Affaire Francis Blake by Jean Van Hamme & Thierry “Ted” Benoit which settled itself into a comfortably defined and familiar mid-1950s milieu whilst unfolding a rousing tale of espionage and double-dealing.

The tale controversially omitted the fantastic elements of futuristic fiction and fringe science which had characterised Jacobs’ creation, whilst focusing on the suave MI5 officer rather than bombastic, belligerent boffin and inveterate scene-stealer Mortimer…

The same was broadly true for the follow-up release, published in 1999, although references to the space race and alien infestation did much to restore the series’ credentials regarding threats in uncanny circumstances in The Voronov Plot by Yves Sente (Le Janitor, Thorgal) & André Juillard (Bohémond de Saint-Gilles, Masquerouge, Mezek)…

Those charges can’t be levelled against Van Hamme & Benoit’s next outing. L’Étrange Rendez-Vous was released in 2001, the 15th official Blake and Mortimer tome and deftly combining elements of pure science fiction with sinister Cold War machinations and even the uncanny return of a former arch-fiend!

The story begins in October 1777 when British survivors of the Battle of Saratoga are fleeing for their lives. That night an uncanny light show shatters the sky and when it ends Major Lachlan McQuarrie has vanished, never to be seen again…

In Colorado 177 years later, another trio of light beams terrifies ranchers and cattle and investigation reveals the freshly expired and unaged cadaver of a British major in full War of Independence livery…

The case is discussed by Professor Philip Mortimer and his close friend Captain Francis Blake of MI5 as they wing over the Atlantic on separate missions to America. Blake has unspecified business with his US counterparts, whilst the boffin is travelling for a far more personal reason. Tried in absentia for desertion, Lachlan McQuarrie has been the black sheep of the Mortimer family for almost two centuries. Now, having been asked to identify the body recently recovered, the Professor harbours hopes of cleaning a stain off the clan’s escutcheon…

When they split up at the airport Mortimer heads to the SUFOS (Section of UFO Studies) Lab in Kansas whilst Blake heads to Washington DC. The scientist is accosted by rowdily over-friendly physicist Dr. Jeronimo Ramirez whereas the security man’s reception is far more dangerous since mysterious men in dark glasses trail him before targeting him with incredible futuristic weapons in an ambush he barely survives…

Meanwhile in Kansas, the Professor and Section Director Dr. Walter Kaufman convene and confirm with astonishment that the body under discussion is indeed McQuarrie. Born in 1743 he appears to have died of asphyxiation in the last couple of days. He still looks to be 34 years old.

Amongst his possessions is a leather baldric with a hastily inscribed but baffling message – “Yellow King, 8061, Danger, Light, Plutonian, H, Poplar Trees, Temple 1954”. Also found with the body was a strange pair of dark glasses and a metal rod that projects an unknown energy causing unconsciousness…

And thus begins a twist-packed, fast-paced mystery yarn of time-travel invasions, alien incursions, atomic armageddon, nuclear piracy and a bizarre scheme to resurrect and reinstate the most despised despot of the 20th century, with Blake and Mortimer battling separately on two fronts to save not only the precariously imperilled present but also prevent the worst of all possible futures from coming to pass…

Balancing suspenseful drama with blazing action, and fantastic science with scurrilous skulduggery and paranoiac espionage, this wild ride is a splendid tribute to 1950s B-Movie sci fi such as Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers: a devilishly devised conundrum overflowing with period style and grittily terse adventure. The Strange Encounter is another superbly entertaining addition to the captivating canon of the Gentleman Adventurers and one no fan of comics or entertainment should miss.
Original edition © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 2001 by Ted Benoit & Jean Van Hamme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Tex: The Lonesome Rider

By Claudio Nizzi & Joe Kubert. English-language adaptation by Pete Carlsson & Philip R. Simon (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-620-4(HC)                      eISBN: 978-1-63008-169-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure Poetry in Perfectly Rendered Motion… 10/10

One of the most popular western strips ever created, Tex premiered in September 1948, the brainchild of writer Gian Luigi Bonelli and artist Aurelio Galleppini. Very much an Italian synthesis of the classic Hollywood western, the strip is both mythically traditional and unflinchingly dark in a way US material wasn’t until the advent of the filmic “spaghetti westerns” of the 1960s and later. Gosh, I wonder if there’s some kind of connection there?

Bonelli was a prolific writer of books, articles screenplays and comics for more than fifty years and artist Galleppini eventually dropped a prestigious career as a book illustrator to draw approximately 200 issues of Tex and four hundred covers.

Comics featuring Tex Willer and his legendary allies Kit Carson, Kit Willer and Tiger Jack have been translated far and wide for decades, scoring big not only all over Europe but also in Brazil, Finland, Turkey, India and elsewhere. Guest artists for specials have included Ivo Milazzo, Jordi Bernet and the masterful Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America where he grew up a Brooklyn kid. Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious prodigy began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager.

Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943. A canny survivor of the Great Depression, Joe also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until in 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets (1965-1968). From then, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks. He also drew his fair share of westerns such as DC’s incarnation of Firehair, Tomahawk and Son of Tomahawk. He later created a host of superb. Hard-hitting mature reader graphic novels such as Fax from Sarajevo, Jew Gangster and Yossel: April 1943.

In his quiet moments he also created and ran the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, training and mentoring a host of new funnybook superstars beside many of his fellow comics veterans.

Hugely popular and venerated in Europe, Kubert stretched his wings in 2000 by adding Tex to his list of achievements, written by Claudio Nizzi for Sergio Bonelli Editore’s premier Tex Albo Speciale/Texone imprint. Nizzi began writing comics in 1963, and created many popular series – such as Larry Yuma, Captain Erik and Rosco & Sonny – before moving to Bonelli in 1983 to craft stories of Mr. No, Nick Raider and Tex.

As is the case with all such long-lived action icons, the working premise of the Western Wonder is devilishly uncomplicated. Former outlaw Tex Willer clears his unjustly besmirched name and joins the Texas Rangers. He marries an Indian maiden and becomes an honorary chief of the Navajo (called “Eagle of the Night”) after she dies.

Over the years, Tex travels far and wide to dispense justice and has encountered every kind of peril you might have seen in western films, but like any great comics character also has a few outlandish arch-enemies such as evil prestidigitator Mefisto, piratical foreign prince Black Tiger and master of disguise Proteus.

After being published to great success and acclaim as The Four Killers in Italy in 2001, this particular tale finally became available to English speakers in 2015 as a sturdily redoubtable hardback (and latterly, ephemeral eBook) packing the entire pulse-pounding saga into one fearsome fable of electrifying energy and dogged determination…

Following an informative and appreciative Foreword by co-translator and letterer Pete Carlsson, the drama opens with the aging lawman approaching the remote farm of his old friends the Colters. He will not get there in time…

On finding the slain and defiled bodies of the family, doctored to appear the victims of an “injun” outrage, Tex reads the trail signs and deduces the killers are three white men and a renegade Indian, before setting off to arrest them. At this stage he is ready to let the law judge them. However, after being ambushed and thrown him off a cliff, the miraculously still surviving manhunter is ready to do whatever is necessary…

When the killers split up, the patiently remorseless peacekeeper becomes repeatedly embroiled in the webs of brutal violence the quartet spin around them and many more people will die before justice is finally served…

Raw, primal and visually grandiose, Tex: The Lonesome Rider is a stripped-down epic of the genre in the manner of Unforgiven and Once Upon a Time in the West; a masterclass in civilisation triumphing over chaos and greed, played out in a pitiless arena shaped by Big Sky Country aesthetics with the iconic scenery honed by a matchless craftsman into a major player and contributor to the mood of the story.

This is the genre at its most potent, pure and powerful: perhaps the best and credible cowboy comic you’ll ever see.
© 2001, 2005, 2015 Sergio Bonelli Editore. Licensed through Panini SpA All rights reserved.

Mr. Monster Presents…The Secret Files of Dr. Drew

By Jerry Grandenetti, Marilyn Mercer, Abe Kanegson with Will Eisner, compiled and edited by Michael T. Gilbert (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-532-0 (HC)                    978-1-62115-999-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Moody Magnificence… 9/10

Superheroes pretty much carried the American comicbook business in the early years, but after WWII the Fights ‘n’ Tights boom started to fade and new kinds of champions from more traditional forms rose to the fore.

As had happened following the end of the Great War, the public’s entertainment appetites turned from patriotic adventure to crime and supernatural themes with funnybooks quickly cashing in on the trend.

Alongside dedicated horror anthology titles, regular comics publications also dabbled in monsters (such as The Heap in aviation adventure title Airboy for example) and a new kind of two-fisted ghostbuster began manifesting in lots of different publications.

One of the very best was sagacious supernatural sleuth Dr. Desmond Drew who appeared bimonthly in Ranger Comics from June 1947 to August 1951: 14 captivating cases crafted by Will Eisner’s top creative crew, writer Marilyn Mercer, artistic wunderkind Jerry Grandenetti and master calligrapher Abe Kanegson.

Although never a breakout hit or cover feature, the startlingly effective tales – spanning Ranger Comics #47-60 – were frequently reprinted before publisher Fiction House finally closed its doors. The adventures had a life-altering effect on modern comics auteur Michael T. Gilbert who claims these eerie escapades as a major influence on his own Mr. Monster character.

The hows, whens and whys of the Ghostbreaking Guardian – as well as his eventual fate – are all unravelled in the fascinating and abundantly illustrated ‘Introduction: The Secret Files of Dr. Drew!’ Scrupulously compiled by Gilbert for this superb hardcover archival collection (also available in eBook editions) the history lesson is the perfect aperitif before the fabulously chilling and enthralling tales are disclosed here.

Once you’ve absorbed all there is to know from a fan man devoted to sharing his great knowledge, the curious Case Files commence with an arcane parable of greed and vengeance as – preceded by a 2-page cartoon intro from Mr. Monster himself – ‘The Strange Case of the Absent Floor!’ (Ranger Comics #47, June 1949) opens…

The “Stalker of the Unknown” was visually based on actor Basil Rathbone in his role of Sherlock Holmes, and arrived sans origin tale: fully-formed with much idiosyncratic baggage to flesh him out. From his foreboding mansion atop brooding Bone Hill the consulting detective of all things unnatural would sally out in an old-fashioned horse-drawn buggy to tackle ancient horrors in the new Atomic Age especially in the twisted streets of the city stretched out below his daunting abode…

This initial escapade finds him rectifying a long-standing miscarriage of justice after an elevator operator begs him to investigate a previously unsuspected floor in the old Wainwright Building: an edifice which never boasted a thirteenth storey until the night an oddly dressed couple boarded his lift…

Incredible peril lurked much closer to home in ‘The Philosopher’s Stone!’ (#48, August) since Drew actually owned the potent talisman. However, as he could never get it to work, the doctor had no qualms in lending it to his old friend Gordon Kyle. When Kyle was then found instantly aged into decrepitude, a frantic hunt for a remorseless ancient predator began…

A young woman paralysed and in utter agony draws the ghostbreaker into battle against a vicious spurned lover employing ‘The Witch’s Doll!’ (#49, October) to gain vengeance, before ‘The Devil’s Watch!’ (December) pits Drew against his greatest adversary when he attempts to deny the Devil a legally-purchased old soul which just happens to now reside in an innocent young musician…

When an ethereal fog heralds a spate of debilitating sickness, victims – all male – are heard to utter ‘The Gypsy Girl!’ (#51, February 1950) before sinking into death. It takes all of Drew’s resources to connect the outbreak to a witch-burning three centuries previously, and achieves critical personal importance after he learns that his own ancestor had been one of the witnesses at Gypsy Anna’s trial. Thankfully, fate and wisdom provided the key to banishing the vengeful ghost in the nick of time…

The hardest part of his struggle against a Balkan bloodsucker haunting a movie set is being dragged out of Bone Hill and flown to Hollywood in ‘The Mark of the Vampire!’ (#52, April) but his clash with bizarre cult ‘The Order of Elusa!’ (Ranger Comics #53, June) proves far more arduous as the primordial murderous sect is located at the bottom of the sea and the immortal wizards almost seduce and corrupt the paranormal paragon with his greatest weakness: ancient, undiscovered secret knowledge…

When an aqueduct project falters, the construction bosses call in the dark detective to dispel a shipfull of land-locked phantom buccaneers in ‘The Pirates of Skull Valley!’ (#54, August) after which ‘The Curse of the Mandibles!’ (#55, October) finds a desperate client trying to prevent his imminent murder by a spirit which has decimated his entire family over centuries.

The true culprit behind the string of deaths is even stranger and more incomprehensible than can be imagined…

‘Sabrina the Sorceress!’ (#56, December) is a common criminal charlatan but when the fake medium is accused of murdering her client she suddenly faces true supernatural terror beside – and despite – Dr. Drew, after which the man of mysteries saves an anxious bridegroom from dying at the hands of his spectral bride in ‘Druid Castle!’ (Ranger Comics #57, February 1951).

Summoned to the local penitentiary, the thaumic troubleshooter faces body-snatching refugees from the fourth dimension in ‘The Dartbane Horrors!’ (April) before voyaging to Paris to clash with despised rival psychic Salazar whilst solving a string of murders perpetrated by an unworldly fiend who favours ‘The Ancient Reek of Brimstone!’ (June). The Keeper of Knowledge ends his comicbook crusade in London, bringing a theatrical monster to justice with the assistance of a ghostly actress who holds the crucial secret of ‘Sandini’s Trunk!’ (Ranger Comics #60, August 1951).

This fabulous book harbours further delights such as reminiscence-packed reverie ‘The Jerry Grandenetti Interview!’ (conducted by Gilbert before the master draughtsman died in 2010) as well as ‘The Secret Files of The Spirit’s Ghosts!’: a section copiously investigating ‘The Creators!’ and even laying to rest a true enigma of comics history by explaining the abrupt disappearance of Abe Kanegson who completely dropped off the map in 1950 and was never seen again by his comics colleagues!

Rendered in the unmistakeable style of classic Eisner Spirit episodes, with mature scripting from Marilyn Mercer (who left comics to become a writer, journalist and fashion editor) and Kanegson’s flamboyantly expressive lettering graphics, these are astonishingly compelling comic treasures no fan of the medium or lover of sinister suspense should dismiss. There’s even a selection of Ranger Comics covers and original inked art.

Eerie, gripping and timelessly enthralling, this is a minor masterpiece of monster-mashing comics fiction and one you’d be thrice-damned and really quite accursed to miss.
Mr. Monster Presents…The Secret Files of Dr. Drew™ © 2014 Michael T. Gilbert. Introduction, Jerry Grandenetti interview and creator biographies © 2014 Michael T. Gilbert. All rights reserved.

Monet: Itinerant of Light

By Efa & Salva Rubio, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-139-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect Present for Art and Comics Lovers… 10/10

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most engaging yet; powerfully deconstructing the hard, shockingly unconventional life, artistic torments and eventual triumph of mercilessly driven painter and truth-seeker Oscar-Claude Monet (14th November 1840 – December 5th 1926).

This treatise is crafted by Salva Rubio: an award-winning screenwriter, historian and novelist with a penchant for past times and period themes. He is besotted with the work of Monet – as is his collaborator. This is his first graphic novel.

Ricard Fenandez quit school to found the fanzine Realitat Virtual before becoming an animator and freelance illustrator. His prior comics work includes Les Icariades (with Toni Termens in 2001) and self-penned Rodriguez and L’Âme du Vin. He is passionate about art history and signs his many, many works “Efa”.

When you see the name Monet you probably think “Water Lilies”, but there was so much more that went on before those days of placid triumph. Here, with the master’s catalogue of paintings inspiring a vivid and vivacious pictorial biography, the tale of an uncompromising, obsessed genius who battles the haughty, stratified status quo with a small band of fellow world-changers unfolds…

Starting from a point in 1923 when Monet was recovering from eye cataract surgery, the man addicted to “capturing light” casts his mind back: reviewing years of abject poverty and lack of success. Struggling as a despised rebel battling a hidebound artistic intelligentsia to establish a new manner of painting and new way of seeing, suffering heartbreaking loss while raising two families, in conflict with his own allies in the Impressionist Movement as much as the reactionaries of the art world, all Monet wanted was to explain light and colour through paint and canvas.

The obsession cost him friends, family and a fortune; forcing him to move his usually-neglected loved ones from country to country one step ahead of creditors, enemies and even wars…

Despite the human cost, Monet believed it was all worth it. You can make up your own mind after reading this staggeringly lovely, uncompromisingly forthright visual synopsis of his chromatic crusade…

The scintillating history lesson leads off with a Preface from Hugues Gall (Director of the Claude Monet Foundation and the Giverny Museum) and is closed with Rubio’s Afterword ‘Monet’s Mirror: Behind the Canvas’, and additional material includes a Bibliography, Creator Biographies plus a vast illustrated text feature reproducing the dozens of paintings and photographs which informed Efa’s visual odyssey. All scenes are fully annotated and contextualised for greater understanding.

A minor masterpiece and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any art historian studying the Impressionists and modern art, Monet: Itinerant of Light is a magic window into another world and one you should seek out at your earliest convenience.
© EFA/RUBIO/Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S.A.) 2017. © 2017 NBM for the English translation.

Monet: Itinerant of Light is published on November 1st 2017 and is available for order now.
For more information and other great reads see

Monsters! and Other Stories

By Gustavo Duarte (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-309-8 (PB)                     eISBN: 978-1-62115-886-8

In comics, Less Is More.

There are already pictures. They should be clearly understood. Deathless prose so often just gets in the way…

This stunning compilation of Brazilian graphic raconteur Gustavo (Bizarro, Guardians of the Galaxy) Duarte’s earlier works is a sublime masterclass in cartoon humour: three engrossing mini-epics hallmarked by breakneck pace, captivating atmosphere, escalating surreality, inspired sight-gags and superb drawing.

Following an effusive Introduction extolling the virtues of pantomimic comics and the sheer wonder of silent comedy from indisputable maestro Sergio Aragonés, the twisted triptych of hilarious terror tales opens with ‘Có!’ (2009): a sardonically sinister saga of pig and chicken rearing practises, alien abductions, existential confrontation and the unmitigated horror of extraterrestrial metamorphoses…

Moodily unfolding next, ‘Birds’ (2011) pecks at the cutthroat business world. A sinister murder mystery ensues, swiftly degenerating into a bloodbath where only Death holds true dominion…

Concluding this quiet extravaganza is the bombastic ‘Monsters!’ (2012): a manic celebration of Kaiju (that’s city-stomping, rampaging giant beasties to you and me) as a recreational angler reels in a colossal lizard to tear up the town. As the creature inevitably attracts gargantuan rivals ashore for a showdown and the human populace panic, an elderly gentleman patiently gathers ingredients for a very ancient and special potion…

This manic, mostly monochrome tome is the acme of artistic thrills and chills, perfectly capturing the addictive wonderment of monster stories.

Less is More. Silence is Golden. Read this Book.
™ & © 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014 Gustavo Duarte Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents The Witching Hour volume 1

By Alex Toth, Bob Haney, George Kashdan, Ed Herron, Jack Miller, Carl Wessler, Dennis O’Neil, Steve Skeates, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Jack Oleck, Mike Friedrich, Alan Riefe, Dave Kaler, Phil Seuling, Jack Phillips, Murray Boltinoff, Sergio Aragonés, Nick Cardy, Carmine Infantino, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky, George Tuska, Wally Wood, Dick Giordano, Joe Orlando, Bob Brown, Gray Morrow, Murphy Anderson, Pat Boyette, Bill Draut, Howard Sherman, Howard Post, Jerry Grandenetti, John Celardo, Art Saaf, Jack Sparling, Michael Wm. Kaluta, José Delbo, Lee Elias, Sid Greene, Jeff Jones, Tony DeZuñiga, Bernie Wrightson, Jim Aparo, John Calnan & many & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-85768-196-6

American comicbooks started slowly until the creation of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and invented a new genre. Implacably vested in the Second World War, the Overman swept all before him (and the far too occasional her) until the troops came home and more traditional genres supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Although new kids kept up the buying, much of the previous generation also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years altered the psychology of the world, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) reflected this. As well as Western, War and Crime comics, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another periodic revival of spiritualism and interest in the supernatural led to a wave of increasingly impressive, evocative and even shocking horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (The Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown acting as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken or control with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on an increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948 – although Adventures Into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon, who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 before launching a regular series in 1951.

By this time Classics Illustrated had already long-milked the literary end of the medium with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented the Romance comic (Young Romance #1, September 1947), but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (launched in 1950) and its boldly obscure psychological drama anthology companion Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The company that would become DC Comics eventually bowed to the inevitable, launching a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

When the hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (feel free to type Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 into your search engine at any time… you can do that because it’s still notionally a free country at time of writing) was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules.

HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, which nevertheless dominated the market until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had started to creep back after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing The Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom and a slew of other costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which even forced dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character split-books.

However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and at the end of the 1960s the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed, leading to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles at that time but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the supernatural, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.”

Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Thrillers

With Tales of the Unexpected #105 and House of Mystery #174 National/DC switched to anthology horror material before creating an all-new title to further exploit the morbid fascination with all thingies fearsome and spooky (they even resurrected the cancelled House of Secrets in late 1969) for those heady days when it was okay – and profitable – to scare the heck out of little kids by making them laugh.

Edited until #14 by Dick Giordano, The Witching Hour first struck at the end of 1968 (with a February/March 1969 cover-date). From the outset it was an extremely experimental and intriguing beast and this amazingly economical Showcase Presents collection reprints the first 19 issues, completely covering the first three years as the fear fad grew to become the backbone of DC’s sales. It is perhaps the most talent-stuffed title of that entire period…

Hopefully, as DC continues its archival conversion of Silver Age classics into new full-colour and digital editions, this collection will be available too in all its gory hues and glory…

In this graphic grimoire the traditionally cool and creepy horror-hosts who introduce such spooky fare are three witches. Based as much on Macbeth as the ancient concept of Maiden, Mother and Crone this torrid trio constantly battled to outdo or out-gross each other in the telling of terror tales. Moreover, Cynthia, Mildred and Mordred – as well as shy monster man-servant Egor – were designed and usually delineated by master artist Alex Toth; making framing sequences between yarns as good as and sometimes better than the stories they brazenly bracket.

One minor quibble: records from the period are not complete and occasionally a creator is unknown, but this volume also sadly misattributes the artist too. I’ve attempted to correct the mistakes when I’m certain, but please be warned and beware – I’m not always right either…

Following a stunning Nick Cardy cover, Toth starts the ball rolling by introducing the sinister sisters and their ongoing contest before Dennis O’Neil & Pat Boyette relate the story of a time-travelling tap-dancer in ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’.

Toth then writes and illustrates a compelling period piece of peril in ‘Eternal Hour!’ and Jack Sparling relates the eerie fate of wave-obsessed Stanley’s search for ‘The Perfect Surf’.

Toth’s scary sisters then close out the premier issue (with, I suspect, additional inks from Neal Adams), but still find room for ‘Silk Gauze’, an informational page by persons unknown which first appeared in Tales Unexpected#126.

Although attributed to Toth, #2’s introductory episode is by his old Standard Comics stable-mate Mike Sekowsky (inked by Giordano) and leads into Sparling’s dream-chiller ‘Scream!’, after which young José Delbo delineates shocking period tale of slavery and vengeance ‘The Trip of Fools!’ before Sid Greene’s short ghost story ‘The Beat Goes On!’ and Sparling’s ‘Once Upon a Surprise Ending!’ end an issue regrettably short on writer credits.

Following another Sekowsky/Giordano intro, Toth & Vince Colletta illustrate Don Arneson’s medieval mood masterpiece ‘The Turn of the Wheel!’, whilst Alan Riefe & Sparling told a decidedly different ghost-story in ‘The Death Watch’, after which Steve Skeates & Bernie Wrightson reveal a very alterative fantasy hero in ‘…And in a Far-Off Land!’, followed by the first of a series of short prose vignettes: an anonymous fright-comedy entitled ‘Potion of Love’.

Toth illustrates the sisters’ ‘Witching Hour Welcome Wagon’ (a useful identifying rule of thumb for the uninitiated is that the master usually signed his work – and was allowed to…) after which new kid Gerard Conway spectrally scripted ‘A Matter of Conscience’ for art veterans Sparling & George Roussos. Another anonymous prose piece ‘If You Have Ghosts’ precedes a smashing yarn entitled ‘Disaster in a Jar’ by Riefe & Boyette and Conway scripts period witchfinder thriller ‘A Fistful of Fire’ for Delbo – a vastly underrated artist who was on the best form of his career at this time.

Toth’s Weird Sisters close out that issue and eerily, hilariously open #5 before Wrightson lavishly embellishes a nifty but uncredited (as is every script in this one) nautical nightmare ‘The Sole Survivor!’, followed by text-teaser ‘The Non-Believer!’ and Boyette’s stunning, clownish creep-feature ‘A Guy Can Die Laughing!’

Stanley Pitt & Giordano’s dating dilemma ‘The Computer Game’ was one of the first to explore that now-hoary plot., and after Toth signs off the witches, there’s an added one-page black-comedy bonus from Sid Greene with ‘My! How You’ve Grown!’

Sekowsky & Giordano limned Dave Kaler’s take on the sisters’ intro for The Witching Hour #6 after which a far darker horror debuts as ‘A Face in the Crowd!’ by Conway, Mike Roy & Mike Peppe, wherein Nazi war-criminal and concentration camp survivor meet in an American street; Marv Wolfman & Delbo described a tale of neighbourly intolerance in ‘The Doll Man!’ and ‘Treasure Hunt’ by Skeates, John Celardo & Giordano showed why greed isn’t always good. Also included were Conway’s prose tale ‘Train to Doom’, ‘Mad Menace’ – a half-page gag strip by John Costanza – and ‘Distortion!’; another Greene-limned one-pager.

Toth & Mike Friedrich were on spectacular form for #7’s intro and bridging sequences, whilst Bill Draut was compulsively effective in prison manhunt saga ‘The Big Break!’, whose scripter Steve Skeates also wrote modern-art murder-mystery ‘The Captive!’ for Roussos. Then Friedrich & Jack Abel advise a most individual baby to ‘Look Homeward, Angelo!’. Whilst text piece ‘Who Believes Ouija?’ and Jack Miller & Michael Wm. Kaluta’s gothically delicious ‘Trick or Treat’ round out the sinister sights in this issue.

Sergio Aragonés & Neal Adams provide the witch-bits for #8, bracketing their own satanically sardonic ‘Above and Beyond the Call of Duty!’, as well as ‘Three Day Home Trial!’ (Aragonés & Cardy) and staggeringly inventive ‘Computerr’ by that man again and Toth.

‘The Career Man’ is a witty but anonymous prose piece and the issue closes with a Twice Told Tale by Ron Whyte & Sparling, as an urban myth is revealed in ‘The Sign of the Hook!’

Toth & Draut began #9, after which Bob Brown & Murphy Anderson illustrate ghostly tale ‘The Long Road Home!’ and, after text story ‘The Dark Well’, peripatetic, post-apocalyptic, ironic occasional series ‘The Day after Doomsday’ (by Len Wein & Sparling) makes a welcome appearance.

Delbo delightfully delineates a terrifying tale of Old China in ‘The Last Straw’ and, after George Tuska takes over the Weird Sisters link-segments, a doomsday debacle closes the dramas with a ‘Trumpet Perilous!’ drawn by Sparling & Abel.

The witches opening issue #10 are once more by Toth & Draut, promptly followed by a magnificent illustration job by the great Gray Morrow on regrettably uncredited ‘A Warp in Time… Loses Everything!’ after which the all-word ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ precedes Conway & Toth’s superb forbidden romance ‘Hold Softly, Hand of Death!’. Tuska handles the Sisters before Sparling’s faux-fact page ‘Realm of the Mystics’ ends this excursion into the outer dark.

Toth drew the intro and Jack Oleck’s ‘The Mark of the Witch’ (inked by Draut) in #11, whilst – following text-tale ‘Retired Undefeated!’ – Tuska inspirationally illustrates creepy chronal conundrum ‘The Sands of Time, the Snows of Death!’

The Witching Hour #12 is similarly blessed, as after a sinisterly sexy Skeates/Toth intro, the devilish duo then describe an horrific ‘Double Edge’ battle between witch-queens and valiant mortals, followed by a Machiavellian actor’s ‘Double Take’ (Skeates & Tuska) and a demonic duel and ‘Double Cross!’ by Skeates & Gil Kane. The ever-anonymous prose piece is the mordantly merry ‘The Dead Can’t Talk But…’

Giordano’s last issue as editor was #13, which opened in grand style as fellow comicbook hosts Cain, Abel and the Mad Mod Witch (from Houses of Mystery and Secrets and The Unexpected, respectively) attend ‘New Year’s Eve at the Witching Hour’ (illustrated by Neal Adams), followed by a marvellously experimental and effective psycho-thriller by Alan Gold & Gray Morrow entitled ‘The Maze’: a far more traditional but no less scary story ‘The Accursed Clay!’ (Miller, Sparling & Frank Giacoia) and the just plain strange tale of ‘The Rush-Hour Ride of Abner Pringle!’ by Wein & Delbo.

As an added treat the text token is ‘The Witching Hour Mistree’ by that shy but not retiring rogue Egor…

When veteran editor Murray Boltinoff assumed the reins with #14 (April-May 1971) an element of experimentalism was surrendered but the more conventional material was no less welcomed by the horror-hungry readership: more proof, if any were needed, that artistic endeavour and envelope-pushing aren’t to everybody’s taste.

George Tuska replaced Toth as regular illustrator of introductory and bridging sections, but otherwise most fright-seeking kids could hardly tell the difference.

The all-science fiction issue’s terror-tales open with a beautiful yet oddly-stilted yarn from Conway and Jeff Jones who explore the solitary burdens of ‘Fourteen Months’ in deep space, whilst ‘Which Witch is Which?’ (by Kaler and drawn by Stanley & Reg Pitt) depicts the comeuppance of an intergalactic Lothario.

As “Al Case”, Editor Boltinoff provides text feature ‘Dead Letter Office’ before the issue ends on a classic visual high note with ‘The Haunted House in Space!’ illustrated by the dream team of Al Williamson & Carlos Garzon.

After the usual grisly graphic girl-talk TWH #15 starts with a murder masterpiece from George Kashdan & Wally Wood revealing ‘Freddy is Another Name For Fear!’, after which Al Case scripts ‘End of a World’ before Phil Seuling & Gray Morrow steal the show with the fearsome fable of the ‘Bayou Witch’ and Case & Art Saaf ring down the curtain with ‘I Married a Witch!’

Issue #16 saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages – as did all DC titles for the next couple of years – opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience.

The mysterious magic began after Tuska’s punchy prelude with cautionary ‘Never Kill a Witch!’ by Carl Wessler, John Calnan & Bernie Case, after which Boltinoff – as Bill Dennehy – provides a slick, edgy reinterpretation of a classic fairytale for Morrow to lavishly limn in ‘The Spell of Sinner Ella!’, before switching back to his Case persona for the Tony DeZuñiga illustrated duelling drama ‘You Can’t Hide From Death’.

The classic reprints began with ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’ (drawn by the legendary Lee Elias from House of Secrets #58), followed by a Joe Orlando illustrated, Charles King scripted text piece ‘Last Meal’ and Howie Post and Draut’s ghoulish period parable ‘The Curse of the Cat’ which both came originally from House of Mystery #177.

Kashdan & Heck open #17 with a modern magic myth in ‘This Little Witch Went to College’ after which a classic 1950’s fear-feature from Sensation Mystery Comics #109 saw Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella devastatingly depict the ‘Fingers of Fear!’ whilst from House of Secrets #46, Howard Sherman delineated ‘The Second Life of Simon Steele’. Dennehy, Calnan & Colletta provide a new yarn with an old moral in ‘The Corpse Who Carried Cash!’ before Wessler & mood-master Jerry Grandenetti fantastically finish the fear-fest with ‘The Man in the Cellar’.

The same team open #18 with ‘The Worm that Turned to Terror’, a schizophrenic slice of domestic hell followed by ‘The Diggers!’: a nasty, vengeful yarn from Bobs Haney and Brown with Giacoia inks that encompasses half a century of French war and regret.

Tales of the Unexpected #13 was the original source of both the Ed Herron/Jack Kirby conundrum ‘The Face Behind the Mask’ and the Herron/Cardy creepy-crime caper ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Supernatural’, after which modernity resumes with Jim Aparo’s ‘Hypnotic Eye’ and Kashdan, Calnan & Colletta’s cautionary tale ‘When Satan Comes Calling!’

The final issue in this superbly spooky compendium is The Witching Hour #19 which – after the customary Tuska drawn kaffeeklatsch with Mordred, Mildred and Cynthia – commences in a stylish, sparkling Jack Phillips & Grandenetti chiller ‘A Tomb for the Winning!’, swiftly followed by ‘The Four Threads of Doom’ (by anonymous & Cardy from Tales of the Unexpected #12) after which a different anonymous and Tuska provide a fresh new thriller in ‘Stop Beating, Heart! You’re Killing Me!’.

One final Cardy reprint ‘The Lamp That Changed People!’ (House of Mystery #20) follows before this wonderful debut volume of witchly wonderment concludes with Kashdan/Elias shocker ‘What Evil Haunts This House?’

These terror-tales captivated reading public and critics alike when they first appeared and it’s indisputable that the supernatural sector saved DC during one of the toughest downturns in comics publishing history. Now their blend of garish mordant mirth, classic horror scenarios and suspense set-pieces can most familiarly be seen in such shows and series as Dimension 404, Goosebumps, Horrible Histories, and their many imitators.

If you crave beautifully realised, tastefully gore-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly cartoon chaos, stay up past The Witching Hour as long and as often as you possibly can…
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Thorgal volume 4: The Archers and Alinoe

By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-067-0

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series of all time, Thorgal accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series, and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, dire magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013 when Xavier Dorison became chief scribe. In 2016, he and Rosiński released the 35th epic-album Le Feu écarlate.

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan, but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985 American publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover book translations (that’s where I first encountered The Archers) but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original Belgium series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s fourth double-album edition (comprising 7th saga Alinoë and 8th epic Les Archers from 1985 and 1986 respectively) finds Thorgal Aegirsson and his new family trying to rebuild their lives in splendid – and secure – isolation…

What Has Gone Before: Thorgal was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne. For his entire childhood Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety…

Alinoe opens on those idyllic shores as Thorgal notices his rapidly growing boy Jolan has somehow learned how to write the runes of the Viking people. The lonely lad has been growing increasingly strange of late, relating things he cannot possibly know, and the parents are painfully aware that the blood of alien supermen runs in his veins…

Short on supplies, Thorgal ships off to the mainland for a few days intense trading, leaving Aaricia and Jolan to fend for themselves, and almost immediately strange events begin to trouble the apprehensive mother…

Firstly, Jolan claims he has been playing with a strange, green-haired boy named Alinoe. Aaricia is prepared to chalk that up to a life starved of companionship, but the new, strangely inscribed bracelet her son wears is certainly real enough, and when Jolan suddenly changes his story she begins to fear the worst…

Carefully spying on her boy, she soon discovers that Alinoe is a solid breathing boy, but a mute, mysterious and increasingly menacing one…

After cornering the green-haired stranger, she is horrified to see the stranger commit suicide and utterly terrified when Alinoe returns and attacks her in the homestead. Slowly the realisation creeps in that the demon child is a manifestation of Jolan’s latent telepathic powers, but things rapidly escalate when the creature grows beyond the boy’s conscious and unconscious control, manifesting as a real and present danger to both mother and child…

A classic horror yarn with a startling and stunning conclusion, Alinoe neatly segues into a bold action romp as The Archers switches to the mainland where bold bandits Kriss of Valinor and Sigwald the Burnt swipe a holt relic from a Caledonian tribe before heading south.

Thorgal meanwhile is again making a supply run from his island home but has the dire misfortune to encounter a savage squall…

Close to drowning, Thorgal is saved by a bombastic youth who braves the storm to guide him to land. Tjall the Fiery is a likable rogue who takes the stranded, suddenly impoverished viking to see his uncle Argun; a brilliant weapon-smith and armourer known to all as Tree Foot.

A master maker of unique arrowheads and other clever gadgets, the old man has a potential solution to Thorgal’s plight. An archery contest in nearby Umbria offers enough gold to buy a new, weapons and supplies. With nothing to lose, the shipwrecked mariner considers the proposition but only agrees after sinister Sigwald and Kriss drop by Tree Foot’s forge in search of fresh weapons.

The bandits make a big impression on Thorgal, but Kriss makes an even bigger one on lusty, impressionable young Tjall…

Later, after setting off for Umbria, the archers encounter the bandits once more: captives of a band of vengeful Caledonians seeking redress for a stolen religious relic. Thorgal’s scheme to free them is almost flawless, and only founders because outraged, liberated Kriss demands reparations in blood…

Following an utterly unnecessary slaughter the thieves and heroes have a falling out over Kriss’ mad behaviour…

The tournament in Umbria is a masterclass in martial skill, competitor-skulduggery and regal cruelty with the local king delighting in humiliating and endangering his contestants in equal measure. However, after days of competition the purse is finally awarded collectively to Tree Foot, Thorgal, Tjall and Kriss, but the bandit – never a fan of sharing – quickly absconds with it all…

Unsurprised but resolute, her fellow champions set off in pursuit only to find their quarry and Sigwald have been cornered by another, far larger band of Caledonians. The barbarians only want their holy gem back and a rightful measure of retribution: All Thorgal and his companions have to do is ride away…

How can they choose any other course but the most sensible one?

Fierce, funny and phenomenally gripping, this cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive tale offers a keen insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly reluctant hero.

Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?
Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1985 Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard). English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories

Adapted by Gou Tanabe, translated by Zack Davisson (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-312-1

If you’re one of those people who’s never read a manga tale, or who’s been tempted but discouraged by the terrifying number of volumes these tales can run to, here’s a delicious feast of fantasy fables complete in one book revealing all that’s best about comics from the East in one darkly digestible big gulp.

Most manga can be characterised by a fast, raucous, even occasionally choppy style and manner of delivery but this volume of emphatically eerie adaptations is atmospheric, suitably scary and marvellously moody: just as you’d hope when recreating classic tales by the undisputed master of supernatural terror…

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a frail, troubled and particularly ill-starred man. Born August 20th 1890, he was truly afflicted with the hunger to write but only achieved any degree of success after his death in March 1937 – following a life of desperate penury – from the complications of intestinal cancer. Once he was gone, his literary star ascended and posthumous publications made him a household name who changed the face of fiction forever.

His stories have deeply affected generations of readers all over the world. One person particularly moved is international literary specialist Gou Tanabe who has previously adapted the works of Maxim Gorky and Anton Chekov to manga form.

Perfectly capturing the relentlessly oppressive and inescapably sombre sense of approaching fatality that permeates most of Lovecraft’s potent prose, ‘The Temple’ was written in 1920 and first published five years later in the September issue of Weird Tales. The adaptor’s mildly updated version originated in esteemed anthology magazine COMIC BEAM in March and April 2009. It details the depredations of German U-Boat U-29 and the doomed fools who man her.

After a particularly rewarding campaign Commander Karl Heinrich Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein and his officers are taking the night air when they notice a dead British mariner gripping the sub’s handrail. Whilst trying to unlock the death grip and discard the corpse, one of them salvages an ancient artefact – a small carved head – and pockets it.

From that moment on their mission is doomed…

Soon, madness and mishap plague the vessel. Death decimates the crew and inexorably the survivors drift ever deeper into depths both physical and metaphorical. When only one remains, he finds the U-boat drawn to a fantastic city and magnificent temple sunken beneath the waves, filled with statuary like the little head in his pocket…

Just as he raises his pistol to end the horror, the shattered sole survivor sees shining lights in the sunken edifice…

Lovecraft penned ‘The Hound’ in September 1922 and Weird Tales published it in 1924. Gou Tanabe’s chilling interpretation debuted in the July 2014 online edition of Comic Walker. The tale is grim, grisly, exquisitely decadent and supremely shocking, detailing the extravagant excess of English gentleman grave-robbers and diabolist magical parvenus St. John and our unnamed narrator.

Bored and indolent, they renew their sordid, blasphemous hobby in a Dutch boneyard, exhuming an arcane trinket from a grave sealed for half a millennium and reap a ghastly bounty after releasing a vengeful howling horror…

After its first foray into the material world the surviving dabbler attempts every stratagem to escape or expiate the beast, and finds some things have no use for apologies or reparations…

Concluding this first (hopefully of many) Lovecraft treasure trove is another export from Comic Walker (August 2014 this time).

‘The Nameless City’ was written in January 1921 and published ten months later in The Wolverine. Tapping into the then-vogue for arcane exploratory adventure also favoured by the likes of literary horrorist brethren Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, and latterly August Derleth and Robert E. Howard, here Lovecraft shares the story of an itinerant western wanderer (think Indiana Jones without a sense of humour or chance in Hell) who survives the Arabian deserts only to stumble upon a previously unsuspected deserted conurbation suddenly exposed by the roaring eternal winds.

Genned-up on local legends, the explorer cannot resist entering the vast metropolis. However, as he plunges deeper within, he finds thousands of boxes like a legion of coffins and realises the occupants are far from human. They may not even be dead…

Enthralling, understated and astoundingly effective, these classic tales – printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format – have been reverently adapted and packaged in an inexpensive, digest-sized monochrome paperback that will delight avowed aficionados and beguile terror-loving newcomers alike.
© 2014 Gou Tanabe. All rights reserved. This English-language edition© 2017 Dark Horse Comics, Inc.

The Lyrical Comics of Dillies Set: Betty Blues; Bubbles and Gondolas; Abelard

By Renaud Dillies & various translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Pack ISBN: 978-1-68112-106-2

Renaud Dillies belongs to that cool school of European artists who are keenly aware of the visual power imbued by using anthropomorphic characters in grown up stories – a notion we’ve all but lost here in Britain, and one primarily used for kiddie comics and pornography in the USA and Asia.

Dillies was born in Lille in January 1972, the inveterate dreamer, artist and storyteller in a brood of five kids. Music was a big part of his parents’ lives: British Pop – especially The Beatles and John Lennon – and Jazz: mostly Big Band, Swing and Satchmo. The impressionable lad listened, learned and inwardly digested…

After college – studying Humanities, Graphic and Decorative arts at Saint-Luc School of Fine Arts in Tournai – Dillies began his comics career, like so many others, at Spirou. He drew backgrounds for prolific cartoonist Frédéric Jannin (Rockman, Germain et Nous and many more) whilst also inking Frédéric “Clarke” Seron on sublime sorceress comedy Mélusine.

The young creator soon blended his twin passions for comics and music in his first solo work. Betty Blues – published by Paquet in 2003 – consequently took the “Best Debut” award at that year’s Angoulême Comics Festival.

He followed up with Sumato, Mister Plumb (with Régis Hautière) and Mélodie du Crépuscule (Melody of Twilight) before switching to publisher Dargaud in 2009. Here he devised Bulles et Nacelle ably assisted by colour artist Christophe Bouchard (available in English and reviewed below as Bubbles and Gondola) and, in 2011, created Abélard (again with Hautière and also available in translation from NBM/ComicsLit, as well as part of this gift-set package.

During this period Dillies still toiled as a jobbing Bande Dessinée creator. Under the pen-name “Jack” he drew comedy sports features Les Foot Maniacs and Tout sur le Rugby for Bamboo and illustrated some of Arboris’ erotic short stories for the series Salut les coquinas.

With three of the very best of these eccentrically exotic confections now available in a supremely economical shrink-wrapped gift-set, you’d be crazy to not make the acquaintance of such a scintillating scribe/scribbler…

Betty Blues
Coming from the same dark place and cultural wellsprings as Benoît Sokal’s wry, bleak and witty Inspector Canardo detective duck tales, Betty Blues is both paean and elegy to the unholy trinity of Modern Cool and Shattered Idealisms: Noir, Jazz and Lost Love, all focused through the mythologising lens of cinematic Fifties Americana.

The tragic, flawed star of this intoxicating fable is Little Rice Duck, possibly the greatest bird ever to blow a trumpet in the seedy clubs and wild environs of the West Wood. Starring at the nightspots and making music are his life, but his hot girlfriend Betty is getting pretty tired playing second fiddle to his art.

She’s a pretty bird who needs lots of Loving Attention, the Good Life and Expensive Champagne, so on yet one more tedious night when Rice is deep in the spotlight blowing hot and loud, she calamitously listens to an unctuous, sleazy fat cat at the bar who offers her plenty of all three before sneaking off with him…

Her disappearance hits Rice as hard as he subsequently hits the bottle, and his all-too-late regrets shake him to the core. Going downhill fast, the despondent and always-angry little guy throws his magnificent trumpet – the thing which has cost him true love – off a high bridge and hops a train heading “anywhere but here”…

The hurtling horn hits a boat-riding sap and thus begins to affect the lives of a succession of other poor schnooks whilst, elsewhere uptown, Betty begins to reconsider her hasty decision as the downsides of being a rich guy’s trophy – or pet – start becoming apparent…

For Rice, the end of the line finds him deep in a forested nowhere-land dubbed “Kutwood” where he is befriended by the owl Bowen who is both lumberjack and radical environmental terrorist.

Slowly the broken musician is drawn into the affable agitator’s world of violence, sabotage and anti-capitalist polemic, but all he is really thinking about during so many late-night conversations is the tatty old trumpet nailed high up out of reach on Bowen’s cabin wall…

And Jazz: sweet, hot Jazz music…

Back in the city Betty starts to fear for life, soul and sanity on the chubby arm of her mercurial plutocrat-cat, as the portentous trumpet begins to reshape the lives of many ordinary folk innocent and venal. And then one day Betty meets an old friend of Rice’s who tells her he’s gone missing…

Sad, grim, brooding and surprisingly suspenseful, this captivating riff on complacency, ill-considered aspirations and lost chances is beguilingly constructed and subtly realised, with a smart undercurrent of bleakly cynical humour counter-pointing the Noir flavour and motif of inescapable doom.

Betty Blues will delight mature readers with a well-honed sense of the absurd and an abiding taste for the dark…

Bubbles and Gondola
A penetrating examination of the creative urge and the price of following a muse, Bubbles and Gondola follows the strivings of a mouse named Charlie who is gripped by an insatiable hunger to write great things. To better accomplish this, the mouse resides in a bleak windy garret in splendid isolation, ignoring the distractions of the world, and spending his brief moments of down-time strumming his guitar.

He constantly reminds himself that “solitude is cool” but as a crippling writer’s block increasingly torments him and the outside world insufferably impinges on his tortured brooding, Charlie’s views begin to imperceptibly shift.

That sense of change intensifies after a small blue bird named Mister Solitude starts to repeatedly show up uninvited. The debilitating ennui seems to abate – just a bit – and the author even leaves his lonely den on occasion just to watch a festival or dine with family… However, the unwanted but comforting creature eventually becomes a casualty of the writer’s creative frustration and vanishes after a bitter clash in the attic. Conflicted and inexplicably bereft, Charlie seeks help for his avian companion, but cannot find his solitude anymore. The mouse is compelled to search high low for his supposedly unwanted comrade, embarking on a life -changing odyssey…

A beguiling argosy and visual tour de force allegorically challenging preconceptions about work-life balance and simple human companionship, Bubbles and Gondola is a delicious treat tinged with bittersweet revelation.

Far more poignant and concealing a far more painful message, Abelard is ostensibly a simple fable of unrequited love in simpler times. The eponymous hero is an impressionable young chick living in a swampy backwater. He has a hat which grants him a prophetic epigram every day, but other than that he is quite unremarkable.

The little lad’s life changes forever when a group of rich city types in search of good fishing briefly vacation in the morass he calls home. Although she barely notices him, Abelard’s meeting with the so-sophisticated Eppily sets the poor young fool on a path he cannot escape…

Her companions seal his fate by trying to let the lovesick fool down easily. Fyodor warns the chick that girls like Eppily can only be seduced by those who offer her the moon or suchlike. Abelard has never heard of a metaphor…

Determined to win his true love, buy unable to supply the goods, the little dreamer hears the older swamp inhabitants discussing the news from America. Two ingenious fellows have invented a flying machine. That’s Americans for you: before long they’ll be wanting to go to the moon…

With love as his spur and a suitably encouraging message from his hat, Abelard turns away from the swamp and starts walking westward…

His patient peregrinations bring him into the company of a band of gypsy performers and he shares their life and the painful prejudice they endure. Eventually he leaves them, unwilling to accept the reading of the heartbroken fortune-teller who peers into his tomorrows…

A lonely nomad, he goes into a bar and meets a bitter, broken, belligerent bear. Foul-mouthed surly scrapper Gaston has seen it all, hates everyone and has nothing but bile for the entire world.

He, too, once knew an Eppily…

Against all odds the old warrior and untutored waif implausibly unite and head for America together, taking ship on a migrant vessel where fate plays the cruellest trick on them…

Ultimately both travellers get to fulfil their dreams, but not in way they ever expected or wanted…

Beautiful, moving and eternally optimistic in the face of crushing experience, Abelard philosophically examines the unrelenting trials of life and demonstrates the power of hope and poetic idealism against insurmountable odds.

This trio of anthropomorphic tales comprise a masterclass in graphic narrative used to explore the nature of humanity: offering pride, wonder, resilience and heart as an antidote to the worst reality can challenge us with. They are also stunning lovely to look at and every fan of art or storytelling should see so for themselves.

Betty Blues © 2003 Editions Paquet. English translation © 2013 NBM.
Bubbles and Gondola © 2009 by Dillies – Dargaud Benelux. English translation © 2011 NBM.
Abelard © – 2011 Dillies – Hautière – Dargaud Benelux. English translation © 2012 NBM.

The Wendy Project

By Melissa Jane Osborne & Veronica Fish (Super Genius/Papercutz)

When does a favourite story or plot become an actual artefact of culture accessible to all? What separates last year’s fictional trope (dystopian future oppresses valiant outsider teen; alienated kid courted by supernatural lover; magic exists but the authorities have been covering it up) from fundamental narrative memes that underpin all aspects of societal development (underprivileged hero overcomes great odds to win a birthright; loss of loved ones leads to path of vengeance; clever child becomes powerful adult by overcoming adversity)?

When you read a fantastic saga of mortal valiantly heroes slaying a marauding dragon, has the author accessed a rich and ancient cultural heritage or just swiped a scene from a Tolkien tale?

In today’s mass entertainment-driven world, certain classic stories – such as Romeo and Juliet, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz – have been constantly referenced, either overtly or surreptitiously, for a number of commercially sound reasons: assured consumer familiarity; brand awareness or simply that the originals were so masterful that we just don’t want them to end.

In 2015 Emet Comics released a beguilingly fresh riff on J. M. Barrie’s immortal paean to childhood Peter Pan, contrived by actress/writer Melissa Jane Osborne (Oma, Campus Crush) and illustrator Veronica Fish (Spider-Woman, Archie, Slam).

The Wendy Project was one of the most beautiful and evocative releases of the year, marrying inescapably recognisable fantasy landmarks with elements of family tragedy in an often distressing coming-of-age story.

The entire enchanting emotional rollercoaster ride is now available in a compact paperback edition from All-Ages and Young Adults graphic novel publisher Papercutz and will – if there’s any justice – soon be a household name in its own right.

Let’s be straight here: this story is the flip side of the coin. The issue at hand is not a fantastic journey to a place of wonders but what happens to the family if children are lost…

One night in New England, 16-year old Wendy Davies is driving her younger brothers home when the car crashes into a lake. As she loses consciousness, the aghast older sister thinks she sees little Michael being carried off into the sky by a flying boy…

The investigation proceeds and even after leaving hospital Wendy clings to her conviction that her brother is still alive. After all, the police still haven’t found his body…

Middle sibling John is no help. He hasn’t spoken since the crash but Wendy knows he shares her secret…

Still deeply traumatised, Wendy’s parents move her to a new school and a therapist cajoles the girl into starting a journal of words and pictures to help her process her grief. Wendy knows what she knows, however. The flying boy is real and taken Michael so she must find them and bring her brother home again.

As days pass Wendy starts to see that many of the kids at her school in new yet familiar light. Are they part of the plot to keep Michael from her? And then slowly but with escalating frequency and power, the two worlds of New England and Neverland begin to blend and merge…

Mimicking the style of Wendy’s own pencil, pen and crayon recollections and interpretations, Osborne’s “awfully big adventure” is rendered by Veronica Fish in mostly monochrome tones with emphatic and explosive bursts of radiant colour as the fantasy – or is that a greater reality? – intersects with her process of recuperation or acceptance. The conclusion is one no participant is ready for…

So, when is it acceptable and even necessary to stand on the shoulders of narrative giants and play with their magnificent toys?

When you can burnish the legend by looking with fresh eyes, add lustre to the original canon and make new wonders for new and old readers. The Wendy Project does just that and is a book you must read.
© 2017 Emet Entertainment LLC. & Melissa Jane Osborne. All Rights Reserved.