Dark Hunger


By Christine Feehan, adapted by Dana Kurtin, illustrated by Zid & Imaginary Friends Studios (Berkley)
ISBN: 978-0-42521-783-2

Hard though it might be for us to imagine, there are people who go months at a time – even longer in rare cases – without reading a comicbook or graphic novel. Unbelievably these sad unfortunates derive their regular fun-fixes from other forms of entertainment such as TV, movies or even prose stories, so it’s just as well that every so often a brave creator from that side of the tracks makes moves to cross-pollinate by turning their favoured medium of creative expression into something we panel-pushers are more at home with.

Christine Feehan is an extraordinarily prolific and successful author of romantic fantasies and paranormal thrillers. Since 1999 she has produced a wealth of novels, novellas and short-stories, many of them for five distinct series which – like the book under review here – often interact with each other.

Her “Carpathian” novels deal with a savage but noble subspecies of vampire who eschew killing their human “blood donors” and hunt their murderously traditional cousins, determined to eradicate the monstrous horrors to extinction.

Amongst their many gifts are virtual immortality, shape-shifting, telepathy, flight, fantastic strength and speed and the power to manipulate lightning, but like all their kind they cannot abide sunlight…

Carpathians are an endangered species with few females, and if a male cannot find a “lifemate” he gradually withers; first losing the ability to see colour and experience emotion. Eventually all he can feel is the thrill of killing and he turns into a full, ravening undead vampire or commits suicide by “greeting the dawn”…

This intriguing manga-style tome from 2007 adapts the 14th Carpathian yarn and originally appeared as a text tale in the anthology Hot Blooded in 2004, describing how dedicated animal rights activist Juliette Sangria meets her ideal man whilst raiding a hidden testing facility deep in the heart of the jungle…

With her younger sister Jasmine, Juliette raids the high-security Morrison Laboratory intent on releasing the many endangered big cats held there, but the pair have no idea what other horrors the lab perpetrates until Juliette discovers a beautiful, exotic man chained in a cell…

Riordan De La Cruz has been a long-suffering prisoner of vampire and human scientists who run the lab, poisoned, tortured and humiliated until he considered ending his own immortal life. However, when the woman touches him he feels a burst of power and emotion. Viewing colours for the first time in ages, the Carpathian realises that somehow he has found his one and only: his lifemate…

In a fit of passion, he bites her and, refuelled by her blood, destroys the facility…

With Jasmine apparently still inside…

Flown to safety in his arms, Juliette’s heart and mind are reeling with the intensity of the inexplicable passion she feels for this sublime stranger, but as the night passes and Riordan explains his history, nature and powers she realises his absurd assessment is true; they are bonded for ever…

With the vampires in hot pursuit the couple flee and, of necessity, Riordan feeds on her again, before, to restore his beloved, sharing his own invigorating blood with her. However Juliette has a fantastic secret of her own and when Riordan burrows into the Earth at dawn she reverts to her animal form to search for her lost sister.

Juliette is a Were-Jaguar and her people do not marry. Their males are cruel brutes who beat and force themselves upon were-females they capture. Propagation is usually by rape and with Jasmine and her cousin Solange unaccounted for, Juliette is terribly worried. Whilst the physically comatose Riordan speaks to her telepathically, Juliette searches all day and when he comes to her at night they discover a partially destroyed hut where Were-women were recently held…

The trails lead in different directions and male Jaguar tracks are everywhere, but as they ponder how to proceed a Master Vampire attacks and Riordan is severely hurt driving it off. Giving her blood to save him, Juliette is aware that she is changing. Soon she will be unable to walk in daylight too…

As Riordan sleeps Solange appears, recounting that the were-males are holding Jasmine in a distant cave. Unable to tolerate the sun in human form, Juliette becomes a cat for the last time and with her ferocious cousin heads for a showdown…

The frantic Carpathian, psychically bonded to her, desperately urges Juliette to wait for sunset but they cannot and rush the assembled brutes. The alpha male rips Juliette’s throat out, and as she lies dying Riordan appears in a clap of thunder and wielding lightning like a whip…

To save his lifemate, the enraged hunter converts her fully, forcing the Jaguar-essence from her torn body but giving her the mystic arsenal of a full Carpathian. When they next emerge from the nourishing jungle Earth they will hunt together, determined to destroy forever the unholy alliance of humans, Were-men and the Master Vampire…

Despite being squarely aimed at the broadly female and teenaged Supernatural bodice-ripper market, this strange romance has strong thread of action and good steady pace underpinning it, so lads too will get a big charge from the book, whilst hopefully traditional prose readers tempted by the adaptation will be impressed enough by the clean, slick black and white visuals to give other graphic novels a go…
© 2004 Christine Feehan. All rights reserved.

Re-Gifters


By Mike Carey, Sonny Liew & Marc Hempel (Minx/Titan Books edition)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-579-8

In 2007 DC comics attempted a bold experiment in building new markets by creating the Minx imprint: dedicated to producing comics material for the teen/young adult audience – especially the ever-elusive girl readership – that had embraced translated manga material, momentous global comics successes such as Maus and Persepolis and those abundant and prolific fantasy serials which produced such pop phenomena as Roswell High, Twilight and even Harry Potter.

Sadly after only a dozen immensely impressive and decidedly different graphic novels Minx shut up shop in October 2008, markedly NOT citing publishing partner Random House’s failure to get the books onto the appropriate shelves of major bookstore chains as the reason.

Nevertheless the books which were published are still out there and most of them are well worth tracking down – either in the US originals or the British editions published by Titan Books.

My particular favourite is the second release: a magnificently beguiling and engaging black and white, cross-cultural romantic martial arts melange by writer Mike Carey and artists Sonny Liew & Marc Hempel.

The trio’s glorious offbeat and upbeat Vertigo miniseries My Faith in Frankie is generally regarded as a prototype for the Minx model, and that quirky quixotic brilliance is in full flower in this tale of feisty yet desperately dutiful Korean-American teen Jen “Dixie” Dik Seong who channels her suppressed aggression into hapkido and her blossoming crush on hunky Adam into daydreaming, clumsiness and humiliating imbecility…

A klutz in real life, Dixie is a demon in martial arts battle, but as her best friend and dojo-mate Avril is keenly aware, the flummoxed lass’s poor head is stuck in the clouds these days…

It’s hard enough for Dixie to juggle school, a quick-fire temper, her precious heritage and loving-but-generally clueless parents with burgeoning hormones and astoundingly annoying younger brothers; without the added distraction of infatuation with a rich, self-absorbed white boy who is also her only serious rival in the upcoming National Hapkido Tournament.

After a chance encounter with mouthy street punks and bad boy Dillinger, Dixie blows all her savings and the Tournament entrance fee which her father gave her on an ancient warrior statue for Adam; leading to a huge fight with Avril but which actually succeeds in getting the boy to notice her.

So much so, in fact, that he wants her advice in getting snooty babe Megan to go out with him…

When Dixie discovers that a business loan for her father from traditional Korean bankers depends on her performance in the tournament, the furious and lovelorn girl is forced to battle for a wild-card place in the event by joining a knockout “Street Sweep Competition” against half the kids in Los Angeles… including the dire and dangerous Dillinger…

Moreover, Adam has finally got into Megan’s good books – and other places – by re-gifting Dixie’s statue to the most popular girl in school…

Re-Gifters is a bright, witty, sublimely funny and intriguing coming of age comedy which follows all the rules of the romance genre but still manages to inject a vast amount of novelty and individual character into the mix: a perfect vehicle for attracting to the medium new and youthful readers with no abiding interest in outlandish power-fantasies or vicarious vengeance-gratification – and yes, that does mean women…

Track this down and read a genuinely different kind of comic book – but do it before some hack movie producer inevitably turns the tale into just another teen rom-com…
© 2007 Mike Carey, Sonny Liew & Marc Hempel. All rights reserved.

Setting the Standard: Comics by Alex Toth 1952-1954


By Alex Toth, Mike Peppe & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-408-5

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist. His earliest dreams were of a strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family-values based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

At age 15 he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and after graduating in 1947 worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, the Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other features. On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) and found nothing had changed…

Continually trying to improve his own work he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and many more) into Standard Comics: a comics house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside fellow graphic masters Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito and particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe, Toth set the bar high for a new kind of story-telling: wry, restrained and thoroughly mature; in short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance.

After Simon and Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, regularly turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) he illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others. On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth split his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key (Zorro and many movie/TV adaptations) and National (assorted short pieces, Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly. Soon he moved primarily into TV animation, designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook. He redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included Torpedo and the magnificently audacious Bravo for Adventure!

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006.

After reprinting an extensive interview with the artist from Graphic Story Magazine conducted by Vincent Davis, Richard Kyle and Bill Spicer in 1968, this fabulous full colour chronicle reprints every scrap of Toth’s superb Standard fare beginning with impressive melodrama in ‘My Stolen Kisses’ from Best Romance #5 (February 1952), after which light-hearted combat star Joe Yank nearly lost everything toBlack Market Mary’ in the debut issue of his own title (#5 March 1952).

Perhaps a word of explanation is warranted here: due to truly Byzantine commercial considerations all Standard Comics started with issue #5, although the incredibly successful Romance comics were carried over from their earlier Better Comics incarnations such as New Romances #10 (March 1952) for which Toth illustrated the touching ‘Be Mine Alone’ or the parable of empty jealousy ‘My Empty Promise’ from #11.

The hilarious ‘Bacon and Bullets’ offered a different kind of love in Joe Yank #6 (May) – a very pretty pig named Clementine – after which witty 3 pager ‘Appointment with Love’ (Today’s Romance #6 May) provides a charming palate cleanser before the hard-bitten ‘Terror of the Tank Men’ from Battlefront #5 (June 1952) offers a more traditional view of the then raging Korean War.

‘Shattered Dream!’ (My Real Love #5 June) is an ordinary romance well told whilst ‘The Blood Money of Galloping Chad Burgess’ (The Unseen #5 June 1952) reveals the sheer quality of Standard’s horror stories and ‘The Shoremouth Horror’ (Out of the Shadows #5) that same month proved Toth to be an absolute master of terror.

‘Show Them How to Die’ (This is War #5 July) is a superbly gung-ho combat classic whilst the eerie ‘Murder Mansion’ and ‘The Phantom Hounds of Castle Eyne’ both from Adventures into Darkness #5 (August) once more demonstrate the artist’s uncanny flair for building suspense.

The single page ‘Peg Powler’ (The Unseen #6 September) is reprinted beside the original artwork – which makes me wish the entire collection was available in black and white – after which the experimental ‘Five State Police Alarm’ (Crime Files #5) displays the artist’s amazing facility with duo-tone and craft-tint techniques before the salutary ‘I Married in Haste’ (Intimate Love #19, September) takes a remarkably modern view of relationships.

Science Fiction was the metier of Fantastic Worlds #5 which provided both the contemporary ‘Triumph over Terror’ and futuristic fable ‘The Invaders’ to finish off Toth’s September chores after which ‘Routine Patrol’ and ‘Too Many Cooks’ offered two-fisted thrills from This is War #6 (October).

‘The Phantom Ship’ is a much reprinted classic chiller from Out of the Shadows #6 and October also offered the extremely unsettling ‘Alice in Terrorland’ in Lost Worlds #5. Toth only produced four covers for Standard, and the first two, Joe Yank #8 and Fantastic Worlds #6 precede ‘The Boy who Saved the World’ from the latter (November 1952) after which service rivalry informed ‘The Egg-Beater’ from Jet Fighters #5.

The cover of Lost Worlds #6 (December) perfectly introduces the featured ‘Outlaws of Space’ after which the single-page ‘Smart Talk’ (New Romance #14) perfectly closes the first year and sets up 1953 which opens strongly with ‘Blinded by Love’ from Popular Romance #22 January) in which the classic love triangle has never looked better…

This was clearly Toth’s ideal year as ‘The Crushed Gardenia’ from Who is Next? #5 shows his incredible skills to their utmost in one of the best crime stories of all time. ‘Undecided Heart’ (Intimate Love #21 February) is a delightful comedy of errors whilst both ‘The House That Jackdaw Built’ and ‘The Twisted Hands’ from Adventures into Darkness #8 perfectly reveal the artist’s uncanny facility for building tension and anxiety.

The cover to Joe Yank #10 is followed by the splendid aviation yarn ‘Seeley’s Saucer’ from the March Jet Fighters (#7) whilst the clever and racy ‘Free My Heart’ from Popular Romance #23 (April) adds new depth to the term sophisticated and ‘The Hands of Don José’ (Adventures into Darkness #9) is just plain nasty in the manner horror fans adore…

‘No Retreat’ (This is War #9 May) offers more patriotic combat, but ‘I Want Him Back’ (Intimate Love #22) depicts a far softer and more personal duel and ‘Geronimo Joe’ (Exciting War #8 May) proves that in combat there’s no room for rivalry.

Toth was rapidly reaching the peak of his design genius as ‘Man of My Heart’ (New Romances #16 June), ‘I Fooled My Heart’ (Popular Romance #24 July, and reprinted in full as original art in the notes section) and both ‘Stars in my Eyes’ and ‘Uncertain Heart’ from New Romances #17 (August) saw him develop a visual vocabulary that cleanly imparted plot and characterisation simultaneously.

He often stated that he preferred these mature and well-written romance stories for the room they gave him to experiment and expand his craft and these later efforts prove him right: especially in the moving ‘Heart Divided’ (Thrilling Romances #22) and compelling ‘I Need You’ from the September Popular Romances (#25).

‘The Corpse That Lived’ was a historically based tale of grave-robbing from Out of the Shadows #10, whilst the deeply affecting ‘Chance for Happiness’ (Thrilling Romances #23 October) is as powerful today as it ever was. ‘My Dream is You!’ (New Romances #18) offered a fresh look at the old dilemma of career or husband whilst a far darker love was displayed in ‘Grip on Life’ (The Unseen #12 November), but true love actually triumphed in ‘Guilty Heart’ from Popular Romance #26.

Another ‘Smart Talk’ advice page ends 1953 (New Romances #19 December) and neatly precedes an edgy affair in ‘Ring on Her Finger’ (Thrilling Romances #24 January 1954), after which ‘Frankly Speaking’ from the same issue leads to a terrifying historical horror in ‘The Mask of Graffenwehr’ (Out of the Shadows #11).

February produced a fine crop of Toth tales beginning with charming medical drama ‘Heartbreak Moon’ (Popular Romance #27), spooky mining mystery ‘The Hole of Hell’ (The Unseen #13), one-page amorous advisory ‘Long on Love’ (Popular Romance #27), the lesson in obsession ‘Lonesome for Kisses’ and two further advice pages ‘If You’re New in Town’ and ‘Those Drug Store Romeos’ all from Intimate Love #26.

These last stories were eked out in the months after Toth had left, drafted and posted to Japan. However, even though he had presumably rushed them out whilst preparing for the biggest change in his young life there was no loss but a further jump in artistic quality.

One final relationship ‘Smart Talk’ page (New Romances #20 March 1954) precedes a brace of classic mystery masterpieces from Out of the Shadows #12: ‘The Man Who Was Always on Time’ (also reproduced in original art form in the ‘Notes’ section at the back of this book) and the graphic wonderment regrettably concludes with the cynically spooky ‘Images of Sand’ – a sinister cautionary tale of tomb-robbing…

After all this the last 28 pages of this compendium comprise a thorough and informative section of story annotations, illustrations and a wealth of original art reproductions to top off this sublime collection in perfect style.

Alex Toth was a tale-teller and a master of erudite refinement, his avowed mission to pare away every unnecessary line and element in life and in work. His dream was to make perfect graphic stories. He was eternally searching for “how to tell a story, to the exclusion of all else.”

This long-awaited collection shows how talent, imagination and dedication to that ideal can elevate even the most genre-locked episode into a masterpiece the form and a comicbook into art.

All stories in this book are in the public domain but the specific restored images and design are © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Notes are © 2011 Greg Sadowski and the Graphic Story Magazine interview is © 2011 Bill Spicer. All rights reserved.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula


Adapted by Roy Thomas, Mike Mignola & John Nyberg (Topps/Titan Books edition)
ISBN: 978-1-85286-474-3

Vampires have never been more popular and the undisputed icon of the cult-fiction genre is indisputably Dracula. One of the best looking graphic novels ever to feature the immortal undead Count came from Topps Comics in 1992 when they produced a four part adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s flawed film masterpiece.

Whatever your opinions of the movie, the brutally dark story of love, reincarnation and second chances did generate an exceptionally impressive comics interpretation by master adapter Roy Thomas and moody Meisters-of-the-Macabre Mike Mignola & John Nyberg…

This stripped-down UK edition released by Titan Books opens with the prologue wherein Christian knight Vlad Dracula returns to his castle after a magnificent victory against the invading Turks in 1462, to discover that his beloved wife Elisabeta is dead. The tragic beauty committed suicide when she received a malicious message stating that her husband had been killed…

Grief-stricken, the bloody warrior Vlad turns his back on God and Man…

May 1897 and Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania following the loss of his colleague R.M. Renfield  to facilitate the voyage of aged wealthy Count Dracula to the thriving modern Metropolis of London. He stumbles into a scene of unbridled terror…

Meanwhile in the heart of the Empire his fiancée Mina Murray indulges her wildly wanton friend Lucy Westenra as the famous beauty strings along three ideal suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Texan Quincy P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood, the future Lord Godalming.

Mina is a perfect double for the long dead Elisabeta and when Dracula, freshly arrived in England and already causing chaos and disaster, sees her he begins to seduce her. He is less gentle with Lucy and his bestial, bloodletting assaults prompt her three beaus to summon the famed doctor and teacher Abraham Van Helsing to save her life and cure her increasing mania.

Harker has survived his Transylvanian ordeal and hurriedly marries Mina in Romania. Enraged, Dracula renews his assaults and Lucy dies to be reborn as a predatory monster. After dispatching her to eternal rest, Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward and Quincy Morris, joined by the recently returned and much altered Harker and his new bride, determine to destroy the ancient evil in their midst…

Dracula however, has incredible power and centuries of experience on his side and taints Mina with his blood-drinking curse, before fleeing back to his ancestral lands. Now the mortal champions must follow and excise his awful power before Mina – now aware of her previous existence as Dracula’s wife Elisabeta – succumbs forever to his unholy influence…

Dark, moody, visually stunning and compulsively frenetic, this interpretation is a memorable and intensely fulfilling iteration on a modern myth and one that no fan can ignore.

The Titan version of this lost gem is probably the most readily available but the two Topps editions are still around if you’re persistent. The first printing also contains in its 112 pages an introduction from Coppola and an afterword by the film’s writer James V. Hart (whose other credits include screenplays for Contact, Tuck Everlasting, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hook and Muppet Treasure Island amongst others, whilst the 120 page Previews Exclusive Edition tops that (sorry, my will was suborned by irresistible malign forces) by including a poster, behind-the-scenes glimpses at the film’s creation and cards from the spin-off Dracula Collectible Card set.
© 1993 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ordinary Victories Complete Set


By Manu Larcenet, colours by Patrice Larcenet, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/ComicsLit)
Complete Set ISBN: 978-1-56163-600-6.  Vol. 1 ISBN: 978-1-56163-423-1 Vol. 2 ISBN: 978-1-56163-

One of the very best European comics series of recent times is now available as a complete bargain-priced banded set.

Ordinary Victories examines the introspective and incidental life of neurotic, left-leaning, change-dreading Marco Louis in the years before the conservative/centrist Sarkozy government came to power. In mesmerising, eulogistic and winningly comedic narrative and alternating modes of illustration ranging from brashly big-foot to sensitively realistic, the soul-searching isolationist examines himself, his past, his art and his family and consequently finds a future he can at least settle for…

The four albums released in France translate to two solidly satisfying tomes here and opens with Marco, who has been subject to devastating panic attacks for years, not getting through to his therapist before giving up visiting his happy, married and well-adjusted brother to get high, chill out and reminisce.

Marco is just the kind of guy who lets life get to him. Visiting his over-protective mum and frail dad only heightens his general tension, but he does get a hint of parts of his father’s life he never before knew.

Returning to his isolated rural cottage and Adolf, his maniacal cat, Marco tries to get back to his photo-journalism job, but the despair and hatred he feels for the whole rat-race won’t go away. Wracked by anxiety and nightmares Marco takes his cat for walks in the woods where he encounters an abusive, trespass-obsessed farmer and a wise old gentleman.

When Adolf is savaged by a dog Marco meets a charming vet who inexplicably likes him, but life compensates for the nice event by getting Marco fired…

Unemployed but obsessed with his art, Marco still resists change: Emily is making noises about moving in together but the potential commitment terrifies him. He certainly can’t handle her outright demands for a baby…

The country seems to be heading for outright fascism too, his neighbour is a maniac and when he visits the old gentleman Marco discovers an unsettling connection to his dad’s mysterious war service. His paranoia goes into overdrive when he finds out what kind of a soldier old man Mesrin was and with his world spinning the angst-wracked artist is compelled to change or die…

The second part of volume 1 is ‘Negligible Amounts’ and sees the now officially-paired couple Emily and Marco visiting his parents where the son learns some unpleasant truths about his father’s health. The once vigorous and sharp-witted ship-worker is fading…

Marco’s shots of the dying Shipyard win him a Paris gallery show, but meeting his artistic and creative heroes proves a painful experience. Still the promise of a book might boost his reputation and save his dad’s old work comrades from redundancy, even if some of them are already talking of closures, unemployment and even changing their political allegiances…

With Right-wing radicalism in the streets and racism in the air Marco and his brother are pretty glum and soon after pretty drunk. When another panic attack hits hard the photographer only narrowly avoids an extended stay in a psychiatric unit… and then he gets the phone call about his father…

Volume 2 of Ordinary Victories opens with the eponymous ‘What is Precious’ as Marco slowly adjusts to his father’s death, getting even closer to Emily… at least when her incessant demands for a baby aren’t freaking him out.

With a book deal and a new analyst, things seem to be progressing but the contents of his dad’s diary provides fresh material for passive hysteria, as does his previously indomitable mother’s new attitude. Unable to stand the strain any longer, Marco confronts Mesrin and demands to know just what ghastly atrocities the old man and the deceased ship-builder actually committed…

The final chapter ‘Hammering Nails’ opens with new mum Emily and their delightful daughter Maude providing new and different anxieties for Marco, especially since he finally agreed to move the family into a bigger house…

The Shipyard is in its final days and as Marco photographs the resigned but striking workers his thoughts are more confused than ever. Everybody else either accepts or fights life’s vicissitudes: why can’t he do either?

There’s yet another election coming and everybody thinks a great change is coming – but for Marco that’s never been a comforting notion…

This is a subtle, funny and deeply contemplative tale, deftly understated and compellingly seductive. A commonplace guy handles nothing we blokes haven’t all faced and reacts pretty much as any guy would: astonished to make it safely through another day, always astonished that our partner seems to love us, claims to know us and yet stays anyway. Ordinary Victories is about frustration, loss, disappointment, and yes, occasional triumphs. These books are wonderful, sublime, magical comics and you really should read them…

© Dargaud 2005, 2007, 2008 by Larcenet. Translation © 2005, 2008 NBM.

Teen Angst: A Treasury of ‘50’s Romance


By Everett Raymond Kinstler, Matt Baker & various, compiled and edited by Tom Mason (Malibu Graphics)
ISBN: 0-944735-35-5

Ever felt in the mood for a really trashy read? These tacky tales of love from another age are a delicious forbidden and oh, so guilty pleasure

There’s no real artistic or literary justification for today’s featured item, and I’m not even particularly inclined to defend some of material within on historical grounds either. Not that there isn’t an undeniable and direct link between these enchantingly engaging assignations and affairs and today’s comic book market of age-and-maturity-sensitive cartoons and, when taken on their own terms, the stories do have a certain naively beguiling quality.

The story of how Max Gaines turned freebie pamphlets containing reprinted newspaper strips into a discrete and saleable commodity thereby launching an entire industry, if not art-form, has been told far better elsewhere, but I suspect that without a ready public acceptance of serialised sequential narrative via occasional book collections of the most lauded strips and these saucy little interludes in the all-pervasive but predominantly prose pulps, the fledgling comic-book companies might never have found their rabid customer-base quite so readily.

This cheap and cheerful black and white compilation, coyly contained behind a cracking Madman cover, opens with a couple of fascinating and informative essays from Tom Mason whose ‘Bad Girls Need Love Too’ provides historical context whilst and Jim Korkis covers the highpoints of the genre in ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ and provides background for some but sadly not all of mostly uncredited star turns revived here.

Creative credit for most of these torrid tales is sadly lacking but the unmistakable fine line feathering of Everett Raymond Kinstler definitely starts the ball rolling here with a selection of his exotic frontispieces from Realistic Romances #2 and Romantic Love #7 (both from September-October 1951) and Realistic Romances #4, February 1952 before segueing into the equally stirring saga ‘Our Love was Battle-Scarred!’ (Realistic Romances #8, November 1952) – a tear-jerking tale of ardour amidst the air-raids whilst ‘Jinx Girl’ from Realistic Romances #7, (August 1952 and possibly drawn by John Rosenberger) follows an unlucky lassie’s traumatic tribulations until her man makes her complete and happy…

From that same issue comes ‘Triumphant Kisses’ a cautionary tale of a small town spitfire who would do (almost) anything to get into showbiz and ‘Dangerous Woman!’ (Romantic Love #7) – a parable of greed and desire from the great Matt Baker.

That gem-stuffed issue also provided the scandalous ‘I Craved Excitement!’ whilst Realistic Romances #6 (June 1952) revealed the shocking truth about the ‘Girl on Parole’ by Kinstler. There’s a lighter tone to ‘Kissless Honeymoon’ (Realistic Romances #2) whilst Baker excels again with the youth oriented sagas ‘I Was a Love Gypsy’ and ‘Fast Company’ from Teen-Age Romances #20, February 1952 and Teen-Age Temptations #9, July 1953 respectively.

Somebody signing themselves “Astarita” drew the brooding ‘Fatal Romance!’(Realistic Romances #2) and the war reared its opportunistic head again in ‘Lovelife of an Army Nurse’ (Baker art from Wartime Romances #1 July 1952), whilst ‘Make-Believe Marriage’ from the same issue examined the aftermath on the home-front.

‘Thrill Hungry’ (Realistic Romances #6) showed it was never too late to change, ‘His Heart on My Sleeve’ (Teen-Age Temptations #5) displayed the value of forgiveness and ‘Deadly Triangle’ (Realistic Romances #2) warned of the danger of falling for the wrong guy…

‘Notorious Woman’ (Teen-Age Temptations #5) continued the cautionary tone whilst ‘Borrowed Love’ (Realistic Romances #2) and ‘Confessions of a Farm Girl’ (Teen-Age Romances #20) end the graphic revelations in fine style and with happy endings all around.

These old titles were packed with entertainment so as well as a plethora of “mature” ads from the period the book also contains a selection of typical prose novelettes, ‘I Had to be Tamed’, ‘Reckless Pasttime’ and ‘The Love I Couldn’t Hide’ which originally graced Teen-Age Romances #20 and 22.

Hard to find, difficult to justify and perhaps hard to accept from our sexually complacent viewpoint here and now, these stories and their hugely successful ilk were inarguably a vital stepping stone to our modern industry. There is a serious lesson here about acknowledging the ability of comics to appeal to older readers from a time when all the experts would have the public believe that comics were made by conmen and shysters for kiddies, morons and slackers.

Certainly there are also a lot of cheap laughs and guilty gratification to be found in these undeniably effective little tales. This book and the era it came from are worthy of far greater coverage than has been previously experienced and no true devotee can readily ignore this stuff.
© 1990 Malibu Graphics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Story of Lee volume 1


By Seán Michael Wilson & Chie Kutsuwada (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163- 594-8

Here’s a lovely simple treat for romantics everywhere and manga fans in particular and, like the subject matter itself, the product of more than one country. Written by British émigré and current resident of Japan Seán Michael Wilson and illustrated by Manga Shakespeare artist Chie Kutsuwada, The Story of Lee follows the budding romance of a dedicated but restless Hong Kong girl as she meets and falls for a young Scottish poet and teacher.

Lee is a young woman with frustrated dreams dutifully working in her father’s shop in Hong Kong. The situation is uncomfortable: the elder means well, but he disapproves of almost everything she does and is not reluctant to tell her so. Even as he chides and disparages Lee his constant pushing for her to achieve something whilst staying true to his old-fashioned ideas is pulling her apart. Moreover, Wang, the nice, proper Chinese boy he perpetually and insistently forces upon her, is creepy and just turns her off.

Lee has a secret: she is a closet poet and besotted with western culture, particularly pop music. In these unwelcome fascinations she is clandestinely supported by her frail and aging grandmother and her unconventional Uncle Jun, a globe-trotting playboy who long ago abandoned convention and tradition to follow his dreams to America.

Lee is 24 and being gradually worn away when the gorgeous temporary teacher Matt MacDonald wanders into the store. He is Scottish; polite, charming, exotic and, as Lee discovers when empting the wastepaper basket, a sensitive and talented poet…

Soon Lee is defying her father as her relationship with Matt inexorably deepens, but when tragedy strikes her life is further complicated as Matt prepares to leave for home. And then he drops the bombshell and asks her to go with him…

Never strident but compellingly seditious, this charming tale uses the powerful themes of cultural differences, mixed-race-relationships, family pressures and the often insurmountable barrier of generational gulf warfare to weave an enchanting tale of desire, duty and devotion.

It all ends on a gentle cliffhanger and I can’t wait to see how it all resolves in the next volume… So will you when you pick up on this mature, addictive story.

©Seán Michael Wilson & Chie Kutsuwada.