The Plain Janes


By Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg (Minx Books/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1115-8

In 2007 DC comics had an honest go at building new markets by creating the Minx imprint. Dedicated to producing comics material for the teen/young adult audience and especially the ever-elusive girl readership, the intent was to tailor material for readers who had previously embraced foreign material such as manga and momentous global comics successes like Maus and Persepolis and the abundant market for prose serials/pop phenomena as Roswell High, Twilight and even Harry Potter.

Sadly after only a dozen immensely impressive and decidedly different black-&-white graphic novels, Minx shut up shop in October 2008, magnanimously 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 tomes that did reach the bookshelves 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.

One of the most impressive – and the title selected to launch the line – was The Plain Janes, written by Young Adult fiction author Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool) and illustrated by Jim Rugg (Street Angel, Afrodisiac, One Model Nation).

Their impressive collaboration captivatingly turned the hoary new-kid-in-town trope on its head, wittily blending loss, crushing on the wrong guy and teen rebellion into a tale of dogged determination to overcome all obstacles and establish your own place in the world…

When the bomb went off in Metro City young Jane Beckles was one of the lucky survivors. Her near-death experience obsessed her parents, however, so they closed their successful hairdressing business and headed across country to the somnolent safe suburb of Kent Waters.

Jane didn’t want to go but wasn’t consulted. The introspective aspiring young artist was most upset about deserting the man she called John Doe: the still unidentified victim who was found near her, and remained in a coma to this day.

Jane used to visit and talk to him, and when her family moved she took his sketchbook, promising to fill up the pages in his honour and bring it back to him…

Pokey provincial Buzz Aldrin High School was everything she dreaded, but after doggedly declining the entreaties of the Cool Girls’ Clique, the displaced person found solace in the gruff and initially hostile company of three other self-identifying outcasts: aspiring actress Jane, science nerd Jayne and sporty girl-jock Polly Jane

Main Jane describes her concerted efforts to unite and join the trio of loners in her letters to sleeping John, and slowly assimilates – at least at the fringes – into the school social hierarchy.

Whilst watching how her new comrades were daily frustrated in their efforts to succeed in their chosen areas of endeavour, and doodling in John’s sketchbook, Jane conceives a notion and enlists the assistance of her namesake outsiders in a bold and subversive new undertaking…

One morning sleepy Kent Waters wakens to find a guerrilla art project in their ordered tidy environs: the site of a proposed strip mall has been transformed into a pyramidal playground – one signed by “People Loving Art In Neighborhoods”.

The mysterious operatives of P.L.A.I.N. follow up with bolder and more baroque projects – filling the town fountain with bubbles, inundating the animal shelter with cuddly toys – and soon the sleepy hamlet is abuzz with only one topic…

However the campaign quickly polarises the populace along generational lines, with the high schoolers avidly following the cool pranks, and adults like Jane’s increasingly paranoid and PTSD-wracked mom seeing it all as the start of more serious, terrorist-inspired anarchy…

And then one night everything gets more complicated when surly transfer student Damon catches the guerrilla girls setting up another of their inspired installations. Although he says nothing the P.L.A.I.N. Janes are rattled, and the situation worsens next day when overzealous Police Officer Sanchez addresses the entire school, accusing students of causing the disorder and delivering ranting, thinly veiled threats…

After initials qualms the Janes retaliate by turning his police station into a garden gnome sanctuary. The war of wills escalates…

Main Jane meanwhile is developing feelings for Damon, and thinks it’s mutual (but who can tell with boys?)…

The campaign is now enticing all the kids in town to perform meaningless acts of unified and unqualified self-expression and Sanchez has all after-school clubs and activities suspended. When that doesn’t break the student body’s spirit, with the full support of the parents he imposes a mandatory after-dark curfew on all teenagers.

Jane has bigger problems: when her latest letter to John comes back unopened she fears the worst and convinces Damon to drive her to MetroCity in a stolen car…

And in Kent Waters, with New Year’s Eve approaching, the Janes and the entire teenage population gather to plan the greatest art attack of all…

Don’t be fooled by seeming plot similarities to Footloose; The Plain Janes is a clever, warm and beguiling tale of self-expression, personal ambitions, friendship and growing up which confronts and counteracts the hackneyed and stereotypical Stifling-Parents versus Right-On Rebel Kids genre to tell a compassionate, moving story with no easy answers condescendingly served up but plenty of questions and passion on show…

This gloriously understated marriage of smart narrative and sublime cartooning is a perfect vehicle for attracting new and youthful readers with no abiding interest in outlandish power-fantasies or vicarious vengeance-gratification (yes, that does mean girls) to our medium, and whilst Minx may be gone, the stories the company released changed comics for good and for ever.

Why not track them all down and enjoy a genuinely different kind of graphic reading experience?
© 2007 Cecil Castellucci & Jim Rugg. All rights reserved.

Numbercruncher


By Simon Spurrier & P.J. Holden with Jordie Bellaire (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-004-7

I’ve made a resolution to be more terse and concise in my reviews. Let’s see how long that lasts…

Sometimes a story just cries out to be told – especially if your tastes run to the sentimentally cynical, soppily savage or wide-eyed and jaded. If that’s you, Numbercruncher is just what you need to confirm all your suspicions about life whilst having a really good time.

The tale – by Simon Spurrier (Judge Dredd, X-Men: Legacy, Six-Gun Gorilla and others) & P.J. Holden (that man Dredd again, Rogue Trooper, Battlefields, Terminator/Robocop and more) – began as a creator-owned project in Judge Dredd Megazine before being expanded into a 4-issue miniseries from Titan Comics. Now it’s available as a splendid hardback packed with clever, controversial notions that will delight and astound lovers of metaphysical whimsy, romantic fantasy and unnecessarily extreme violence.

Like The Wizard of Oz and especially A Matter of Life and Death, this story is told on two separate levels of existence and differentiated by full-colour earthly sections and black-&-white views of the Afterlife. Unlike them, it’s a nasty and wittily vicious piece of work; just like handy geezer Bastard Zane, operative #494 employed by The Divine Calculator to enforce the Karmic Accountancy and keep souls circulating through the great cosmic all.

The Universe is just numbers and God is a mean, pedantic bean-counter, only concerned with the smooth running of his Grand Algorithm. Unfortunately, it all starts to fall apart when Zane is tasked by the weaselly Big Boss with stopping an in-love and dying young mathematician from gaming the system.

Genius Richard Thyme, in his final seconds of mortal life, has a Eureka moment and divines the true and exact nature of everything – and how to manipulate it…

Armed with such inspirational knowledge, Thyme’s soul arrives before the Writer in the Grand Ledger and wheedles another spin on the Karmic Wheel – Reincarnation.

Brilliant Richard had been utterly in love with a dippy hippy chick named Jessica Reed, and bargains for another chance at a life with her, and mean, petty-minded Divine Calculator gleefully accepts the proposition.

Thyme will be reborn, with all memories intact, but when this second life ends his soul will be employed by the Karmic Accountancy Agency as a collector just like Zane. The standard term of employment is for eternity – unless he can convince somebody to take his place. The indentured operatives call it “Recirculation”…

There is only one get-out: a “Zero-clause” which means that if Thyme can live a life completely and totally without sin, his contract is null and void. But who could possibly live a mortal life without the slightest transgression…?

Of course, The Accountant doesn’t play fair: stacking the deck so that reborn Richard is unable to even get near his lost love until it’s too late. However when Zane finally shows up in 2035AD, eagerly expecting to close the case-file and retire with Thyme taking his long-suffering place in The Register, the frustrated, cheated genius plays his own trump card.

He’d always expected to be short-changed and made his own Karmic deal. By selling his contract to another Accountancy operative, he had bought another life. And as the psychotically furious Bastard Zane soon sees, Thyme has pulled the trick over and over again. No matter how often Richard dies, he’s already being born again somewhere else…

With the mathematician’s sold-and-resold soul promised to practically every agent in the Afterlife, Zane’s only hope of retirement rests in killing the kid’s each and every reincarnation whilst simultaneously slaughtering all the Karmic operatives who have been suckered into a deal with the lovesick little sod…

And on Earth, despite perpetual setbacks, each brief existence inches Richard slowly closer to Jess. That should make his eventual capture inevitable – but even here the genius has an incredible Plan B in operation which even the Supreme Architect of the Cosmos didn’t see coming… one which could well undo the Algorithm underpinning Everything That Is…

Poignant, funny, outrageously gory, gloriously rude and wickedly clever, this is a ferociously upbeat and hilariously dark black comedy no insufferable incurable romantic could possibly resist.

Moreover, for all us dyed-in-the-wool comics freaks, there’s a host of background features included,

Interspersed between a gallery of covers and variants – plus unused iterations – and loads of original art, roughs and sketches, the ‘Author’s Note’ takes us behind the genesis of the tale, which is further expanded upon in ‘A Comic for Talking to God – an interview with Brian Truitt of USA Today’.

A discussion and explanation of Jordie Bellaire’s colouring process is the focus of ‘Working Flat-Out’ and ‘Birth Placement’ details the procedure for creating a cover, before the usual Creator’s Biographies ends things on a knowledgeable note.

Love, Death, Sex, more Death, Rebirth, lots of Death and Numbers: there’s your Meaning of Life right there…
™ & © 2013 Simon Spurrier & P.J. Holden. All rights reserved.

Numbercruncher is scheduled for release in January 2014.

Heroic Tales: The Bill Everett Archives volume 2


By Bill Everett and others, edited and complied by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-600-3

Thanks to modern technology there is a superabundance of collections featuring the works of too-long ignored founding fathers and lost masters of American comic books. A magnificent case in point is this second superb chronicle revisiting the incredible gifts of one of the greatest draughtsmen and yarn-spinners the industry has ever seen.

You could save some time and trouble by simply buying the book now rather than waste your valuable off-hours reading my blather, but since I’m keen to carp on anyway feel free to accompany me as I delineate just why this tome needs to join the books on your “favourites” shelf.

He was a direct descendent and namesake of iconoclastic poet and artist William Blake. His tragic life and awe-inspiring body of work – Bill was possibly the most technically accomplished artist in US comicbook industry – reveals how a man of privilege and astonishing pedigree was wracked by illness, an addictive personality (especially alcoholism) and sheer bad luck, nevertheless shaped an art-form and left twin legacies: an incredible body of superlative stories and art, and, more importantly, saved many broken lives saved by becoming a dedicated mentor for Alcoholics Anonymous in his later years.

William Blake Everett was born in 1917 into a wealthy and prestigious New England family. Bright and precocious, he contracted Tuberculosis when he was twelve and was dispatched to arid Arizona to recuperate.

Thus began a life-long affair with the cowboy lifestyle: a hard-drinking, smoking, tall-tale telling breed locked in a war against self-destruction, described in the fact-filled, picture-packed Introduction by Blake Bell which covers ‘The Early Years of Comics: 1938-1942’, ‘The Birth of Marvel Comics’ and ‘The Comic Book Production System’, before ‘The Heroes’ precedes a full-colour selection of incredible prototypical adventure champions with a brief essay on the set-up of Centaur Comics, Novelty Press, Eastern Color Printing, Hillman and Lev Gleason Publications…

Accompanied by the covers for Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 2 #3, 5 and 6 (March, May & June 1939, Centaur) are three outer space exploits of futuristic trouble shooter Skyrocket Steele, whilst Tibetan-trained superhero Amazing-Man offers a transformative triptych of titanic tales spanning war-torn Europe, augmented by the covers to Amazing-Man Comics #9-11 February-April 1940.

Everett’s deeply held western dreams are covered next with a brace of rootin’ tootin’ yarns starring Bull’s-Eye Bill from Novelty Press’ Target Comics #3-4 (April & May 1940) whilst from #7-9 (August-October 1940), the author smoothly switched to sophisticated suspense with master of disguise The Chameleon crushing contemporary criminals in scintillating escapades from Target Comics’ answer to The Saint, the Falcon and the Lone Wolf.

Thanks to his breakthrough Sub-Mariner sagas Everett was inextricably linked to water-based action, and Eastern Comics hired him to create human waterspout Bob Blake, Hydroman for the bimonthly Reg’lar Fellers Heroic Comics. Here, spanning issues # 6-9 (May-November 1941, with the covers for #6 and 7), are four spectacular, eerie, offbeat exploits, covering an extended battle against foreign spies and American Fifth Columnists, after which Red Reed in the Americas! (created by Bob Davis & Fitz) offers the first two chapters in a political thriller wherein a college student and his pals head South of the Border to fight Nazi-backed sedition and tyranny in a stunning tour de force first seen in Lev Gleason’s Silver Streak Comics #20 & 21 (April & May 1942).

A section of Miscellaneous and text illustrations follows, blending Western spot drawings with the eye-catching covers from Amazing Mystery Funnies volume 2 #18, Target Comics #5 and 6, Blue Bolt (vol. 1 #11, vol. 2 #1, 2 and 3) and Famous Funnies #85.

The Humorous and More describes Everett’s forays into other markets: niche sectors such as licensed comics, comedy and romance, and even returns to pulp and magazine illustration as he strove to stay one step ahead of a constantly shifting market and his own growing reputation for binges and unreliability.

‘What’s With the Crosbys?’ is a superbly rendered gossip strip from Famous Stars #2 (1950, Ziff-Davis) whilst a stunning monochrome girly-pin-up of ‘Snafu’s Lovely Ladies’ (from Snafu #3 Marvel, March 1956), and the cover of Adventures of the Big Boy #1 (also Marvel, from the same month) lead into the Back Cover of Cracked #6 (December 1958, Major Magazines) and other visual features from the Mad imitator as well as the colour cover to less successful rip-off Zany (#3, from March 1959).

Everett’s staggering ability to draw beautiful women plays well in the complete romance strip ‘Love Knows No Rules’ (Personal Love #24, November 1953 Eastern Color), and this section concludes with a gritty black and white title page piece from combat pulp War Stories #1, courtesy of Marvel’s parent company Magazine Management, September 1952.

The Horror concentrates on the post-superhero passion for scary stories: an arena where Bill Everett absolutely shone like a diamond. For over a decade he brought a sheen of irresistible quality to the generally second-rate chillers Timely/Atlas/Marvel generated in competition with genre front-runners EC Comics. It’s easy to see how they could compete and even outlive their gritty, gore-soaked competitor, with such lush and lurid examples of covers and chillingly beautiful interior pages…

Following a third informative background essay detailing his life until its cruelly early end in 1973, a choice selection of his least known and celebrated efforts opens with tale of terror ‘Hangman’s House’ (Suspense #5, November, 1950): a grim confrontation with Satanic evil, followed by futuristic Cold War shocker ‘I Deal With Murder!’ and a visit to a dark carnival of purely human wickedness in ‘Felix the Great’ (both culled from Suspense #6, January 1951).

Adventures into Weird Worlds #4 (Spring 1952) offered a laconic, sardonic glimpse into ‘The Face of Death’, whilst from the next issue (April 1952) ‘Don’t Bury Me Deep’ tapped untold depths of tension in a moodily mordant exploration of fear and premature burial. Hard on the heels of the cover to Journey Into Unknown Worlds #14 (December 1952) comes one of its interior shockers as ‘The Scarecrow’ helped an aged couple solve their mortgage problems in a most unusual manner.

The Marvel madness then concludes with a cautionary tale of ‘That Crazy Car’ from Journey into Mystery #20, December 1954, concluding a far too brief sojourn amidst arguably Everest’s most accomplished works and most professionally adept period.

This magnificent collection ends with a gallery of pages and one complete tale from the end of his career; selected from an even more uninhibited publisher attempting to cash in on the adult horror market opened by Warren Publishing with Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

Skywald was formed by industry veteran Israel Waldman and Everett’s old friend Sol Brodsky, tapping into the burgeoning black and white market with mature-reader and supernatural magazines Hell-Rider, Crime Machine, Nightmare, Psycho and Scream. Offered an “in” Everett produced incredible pin-ups (included here are three from Nightmare (#1, 2 & 4, December 1970-June 1971), ‘A Psycho Scene’ (Psycho #5, November, 1971) a stunning werewolf pin-up from Psycho #6 and one of revived Golden Age monstrosity ‘The Heap’ from Psycho #4.

Most welcome, however, is a magnificent 10-page monochrome masterpiece of gothic mystery ‘The Man Who Stole Eternity’ from Psycho #3, May, 1971.

Although telling, even revelatory and concluding in a happy ending of sorts, what this book really celebrates is not the life but the astounding versatility of Bill Everett. A gifted, driven man, he was a born storyteller with the unparalleled ability to make all his imaginary worlds hyper-real; and for nearly five decades his incredible art and wondrous stories enthralled and enchanted everybody lucky enough to read them.

© 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Text © 2013 Blake Bell. All art © its respective owners and holders. All rights reserved.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for art lovers, Marvel Zombies and addicts of pure comics magic… 9/10

Blue is the Warmest Color


By Julie Maroh, translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger (Arsenal Pulp Press)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-514-3

There is already a large amount of chatter about the film Blue is the Warmest Color. Since winning the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival there will be much more. Sadly the buzz around the big screen interpretation – it is not an adaptation – will almost certainly concentrate on the excessive and prolonged lesbian sex scenes (decried and disowned by graphic novel author Julie Maroh) rather than the story.

We do comics here and, despite the undisputed boost a media-sensational movie provides, it’s the words and pictures on paper that matter to me and hopefully to you too…

And what a wonderful marriage they make in Maroh’s moodily pensive exploration of prejudice and acceptance in a straightforward but devastating coming-of-age love story.

Le bleu est une couleur chaude was first published in France by Glénat in 2010, five years after Maroh originally began the tale as a 19-year old student studying Visual Arts and Lithography/Engraving at the Institut Saint-Luc and Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts (Brussels).

The collected album won the fan-determined Fnac-SNCF Essential prize (Audience Award) at the 2011 Angoulême International Comics Festival, subsequently garnering many more international accolades.

The story opens as Emma returns to a house she was unceremoniously banished from decades ago. Beloved Clementine is dead, but her last wish was that her one true love have her journals; books which described the thoughts and fears, ambitions and dreams of a confused 15-year old girl who struggled to accept her nature in a toxic school and home environment where loving someone of your own sex was considered an abomination…

Emma stays overnight in a home scarred by tragedy and steeped in tension, repentance and still-undispelled animosity, reading of how, in 1994, fraught and frantic high schooler Clementine saw a girl with blue hair and just couldn’t forget her…

This is a beautiful, simple and evocative story about how two very young people fell in love and what eventually happened to them. It’s not polemical or declamatory and doesn’t have points to score. That the Romeo and Juliet are both female is sublimely irrelevant except in the ways and manners it shaped the problems the lovers had to overcome…

Depicted alternately in a beguiling wash of misty full colour and stark dichromatic tones, the images are subdued and enthralling, not dynamic or overblown, and although there are some explicit love scenes, they are vital to the tale’s context and utterly subsumed by the overwhelming tide of elegiac sadness, political and social turmoil and doom-laden mystery which permeates the proceedings.

This is a masterful and compellingly human story that will astound lovers, loving grown-ups and all lovers of comics narrative.

Yes, there is a movie, but for pity’s sake read this first…

English Language edition © 2013 Arsenal Pulp Press. First published in French as Le bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh © 2010 Glénat Editions. All rights reserved.
Blue is the Warmest Color will be released on September 12th 2013.

TEOTFW


By Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-667-6

What follows is perhaps the best graphic novel I’ve read this year. However it utilises the kind of uncompromising language almost every young person is familiar with and uses daily but which can still offend many others.

Although I believe you’ll be missing out on a supremely rewarding and exciting comics experience, if four letter Anglo-Saxon terms upset you, please stop reading here.

Each generation has its icons of rebellion with unique touchstones of self-expression. The stunning minicomics and creations of Charles Forsman (check out his wares at oilyboutique.bigcartel.com/artist/charles-forsman‎ or type Oily Comics into your preferred search turbine) are inarguably at the forefront of the 21st Centurians’ societally-challenging artistic outbursts…

In The End of the Fucking World Forsman has depicted a situation as old as the species but as fresh as this year’s daisies – tragically tinged with the savage nihilism and hopelessness that afflicts America’s – and the World’s – youngsters…

Forsman is a multi-award-winning gradate of Vermont’s celebrated Center for Cartoon Studies (founded at White River Junction by James Sturm and Michelle Ollie in 2004), and this darkly beguiling monochrome pocket paperback (166 x 128mm) collects a tale first serialised in the author’s self-published 8-page mini-comic Snake Oil between September 2011 and February 2013.

Delivered in a devastatingly subdued and underplayed cartoon primitivist manner, the tale for our times opens in ‘Hard to be Around’ with James relating when and why he realised how different he was as child: his behaviour, the things that interested him, the shocking way he self-harmed…

At sixteen he met Alyssa and established a relationship. It didn’t seem much like love but she wanted to be with him and tried hard. Then he violently left home with her in his dad’s car…

Alyssa’s internal monologue in ‘Fire on the Outside’ describes her burgeoning emotions after they crash the car and keep going on foot. They’re both searching for something intangible, but settle for another stolen vehicle…

James then takes back the narrative, matter-of-factly describing how they break into a professor’s house and set up ‘Home’. He recounts with equal detachment the horrific things he finds there…

Alyssa thinks they’re ‘Safe and Sound’ and begins to dream of finding her long-gone dad. She disastrously introduces James to booze and dances for him, but he still can’t connect with her physically…

Switching point of view with every chapter, the tale proceeds. When the owner at last arrives home Alyssa has no idea how much danger she’s in until James casually kills him in ‘Fast Friends’. She doesn’t react much when the boy performs a strange ritual in ‘Worse Probably’ and only when a policewoman shows up does James come truly alive.

For the love-sick girl, as she desperately flees with her man, realisation slowly dawns …

The hitchhiking fugitives are picked up by a creepy old man who soon learns how dangerous kids can be in ‘Mother’ after which Alyssa makes them change their appearance in ‘Tulsa Goodbye’.

James then takes on the wrong opponent in ‘Protector’ and learns a strange truth about his connection to Alyssa…

‘Forever’ finds the kids separated and Alyssa caught shoplifting before they implausibly reunite, after which ‘Drowned Deeper’ reveals the fate of James’ mother so long ago, but it doesn’t stop them searching for the isolated young girl’s ‘Dad, Father’

That quest successfully accomplished, the three strangers cautiously settle in together, unaware that the policewoman is hard on their meandering trail. She had her own unique connection to James’ first kill and the manhunt is obscenely personal to her…

Despite every misgiving James is oddly satisfied ‘Living with Dad’ and Alyssa’s damaged old man tentatively accepts the boy, but then it all goes wrong in ‘Father Fucker’ and James is compelled to make an impossible gesture before fleeing the cops and the fanatical policewoman.

It ends as it always had to in ‘Forced Feelings’ but a kind of resolution is achieved in the untitled epilogue that closes the tale in unsettling anticipation of the future…

This is a magnificently dark, degraded and hopeless exploration of young love and the searching struggle of youngsters for their place in The Now, so often painfully gleaned through illicit glimpses of the experiences and actions of their progenitors.

Isn’t every kid hungry to understand the parents who made them, yet so often disappointed and even betrayed by them?

Not every kid does it like Alyssa and James…

Brooding, compelling and appallingly plausible, this is a book you and every 13-year old should read – even if it is the most adult graphic novel released this year and preachers, teachers, nuns and politicians tell you not to…
The End of the Fucking World © 2013 Charles Forsman. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics. All rights reserved.

Jinx book 2: Little Miss Steps


By J. Torres, Rick Burchett & Terry Austin (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-42-6 (HC)                    : 978-1-936975-41-9 (PB)

For most of us, when we say comicbooks, thoughts either turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed at an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of already-confirmed fans.

For American comics these days that is indeed the norm. Over the years though (and throughout the rest of the world still), other forms and genres have continued to wax and wane.

However one US company which has held its ground against the tide over the years – supported by a thriving spin-off television and movie franchise – is the teen-comedy powerhouse that created a genre through the exploits of carrot-topped Archie Andrews and the two girls he could never choose between – Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge.

As decades passed, other companies largely ignored the fact that girls read comics too and, in their frantic, slavish pursuit of the spandex dollar, lost half their potential audience. Girls simply found other ways to amuse themselves until, in the 1990s, the rise of manga painfully proved to comics publishers what Archie Comics had always known.

Ever since that pivotal moment Editors have attempted to recapture that vast missing market: creating worthy titles and imprints dedicated to material for the teen/young adult audience (since not all boys thrive on a steady diet of cosmic punch-ups and vengeful vigilantes) which had embraced translated manga material, momentous comics epics like Maus and Persepolis or the abundant and prolific prose serials which produced such pop phenomena as Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter.

Archie thrived by never abandoning its female readership and by constant reinvention of its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages: shamelessly co-opting pop music, youth culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of major issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years), and the constant addition of timely characters such as African-American Chuck and his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario.

There are non-sensationalised interracial romances, and in 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle for a family-entertainment medium with the introduction of Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.

Where once cheap, prolific and ubiquitous, strip magazines in the 21st century are extremely cost-intensive and manufactured for a highly specific – and dwindling – niche market. Moreover the improbably beguiling and bombastic genres that originally fed and nurtured comicbooks are increasingly being supplanted by TV, movies and assorted interactive games media.

Happily, old-school prose publishers and the still-fresh graphic novel industry have a different business model and far more sustainable long-term goals, so the magazine makers’ surrender has been turned into a burgeoning victory, as solid and reassuringly sturdy Comics-as-Books increasingly buck the slowly perishing pamphlet/papers trend.

Publishers like Archie…

Jinx: Little Miss Steps is the second outing for a venerable child-star of the company given a stunning makeover and refit courtesy of a multi award-winning creative team. Writer J. Torres (Teen Titans Go!, Degrassi: the Next Generation, Alison Dare, Days Like This, Lola – a Ghost Story and others) and celebrated artists Rick Burchett & Terry Austin are responsible for turning adorable six-year old tomboy Li’l Jinx into a genuine icon of, if not role-model for, modern teenaged girls in a style and manner at once astonishingly accessible and classically captivating.

You might be familiar with the precocious and feisty Li’l Jinx who debuted in Pep Comics #62 (cover-dated July 1962). Created by Joe Edwards, she debuted as the publisher began dropping superheroes such as the Shield and Black Hood to specialise in kid-friendly humour features. Over the next few decades she appeared in her own title, as well as Li’l Jinx Giant Laugh-Out and assorted anthologies such as Pep and Archie Giant Series Magazine.

Like Edwards’ own son, her birthday was on Halloween, and the writer/artist put much of himself into the strip. A boisterous, basically decent, sports-loving, mischievous tyke (in the manner of our Minnie the Minx), when not romping, cavorting and tussling with other kids such as Gigi, Greg, Charley Hawse, Russ, Roz and Mort the Worry Wart, Jinx almost exclusively interacted with her long-suffering dad Hap Holliday. Her mother was seldom seen…

She faded away gradually during the 1980s as teenagers and Turtles supplanted younger characters in Archie’s stable.

She was revived and given a thorough 21st century upgrade for a new serial in Life With Archie (beginning in #7, March 2011) a growing girl just starting high school. She hadn’t lost all her rough edges though…

After a handy ‘Cast of Jinx’ page, this superb sequel – available in both paperback and hardcover editions – opens with the stroppy lass freaking out because she’s going to be late for a meeting with her mother. Jinx has lived with her dad ever since her parents divorced and almost never sees Mery Holliday anymore…

A busy ER nurse, Mery disappoints her daughter again at the last minute so, after fruitlessly reaching out to her already booked and busy friends, the frustrated Jinx settles in to watch an old movie with dear old Dad…

She’s still fuming at Rose Valley High on Monday, and when the gang start talking about baseball tryouts she goes ballistic at the injustice of the fact that girls aren’t allowed to audition. In high school only boys play B-ball. Girls have to play Softball…

Already in trouble with Coach Boone for trying to join the all-male Football squad, Jinx’s day is further spoiled when the sports master pre-emptively warns her not to cause any further disruption. The guys don’t get it: sure, she’s better at sports than any of them, but that’s the rules.

Anyway, her mother was a Softball superstar in her day, so why shouldn’t she be content to be the same?

Later, when her mother again cancels at the last moment Jinx blows her top…

Her female friends don’t really understand either and Dad is baffled when his despondent daughter just seems to give up. It takes a bizarre pep-talk from shallow fashion-plate frenemy Gigi to bring Jinx out of her funk and, after a confrontation with Boone that she could never have predicted, Jinx gets her shot at joining the Baseball squad…

Gigi and Roz are pursuing more traditional roles, joining the committee to organise the Freshman Dance, but their attempts to socialise and civilise Jinx end in bloodshed and embarrassment. There’s even more such in store as the recovering tom-boy becomes increasingly aware that her old sandlot pals Greg and Charley are starting to think of her as something other than the one who beats them at every game and sport…

Gigi of course is delighted: there’s never enough teasing and bitchiness to test her verbal venom and well-manicured claws on…

At the Baseball tryout things go very badly. When Jinx loses it and beats up Charley, she not only falls foul of viperish Principal Vernon, but worse yet, her mother is there to publicly shame her in front of everybody…

Dad is more understanding but knows there are traumas and repercussions still to come. Although the infuriated Jinx refuses to take her mother’s calls she cannot avoid Mery when the entire family is called into Vernon’s office. Afterwards mother and daughter reconcile and make yet another date to spend time together. Later Dad confides that one reason his ex-wife has been constantly postponing seeing Jinx is that Mery has a big announcement she’s afraid to make…

He won’t however tell his irksome, impatient child what it is.

Gigi has some disquieting ideas about what such a personal parent-related revelation might be, but the glamour girl’s attention is focussed on her latest party idea – making the upcoming school soiree a Sadie Hawkins Dance. That, she gleefully explains, is where the usual system is reversed and the girls have to invite the boys…

It’s just one more thing to aggravate and annoy the surly tomboy as both Greg and Charley unsubtly start pestering her to pick one of them. With the lads making complete idiots of themselves Jinx dodges the hot potato by inviting an unsuspecting rank outsider, but still has to cope with the breathtaking bombshell her mother drops when she finally turns up for their family day…

With Greg and Charley in ridiculous macho overdrive Jinx starts to wonder if there’s something wrong with her. After all she’s great at sports, hates girly things like fashion and make-up, loathes dresses and can’t wear anything but sneakers.

Putting all that together with hating boys, and Jinx has to wonder if perhaps she’s gay but really doesn’t know it yet…

Clever, witty and intoxicatingly engaging, Jinx is a superb example of what can be accomplished in comics if you’re prepared to portray modern kids on their terms and address their issues and concerns. Without ever resorting to tired soap opera melodrama or angst-ridden teen clichés, Torres has delivered a believable cast of young friends who aren’t stupid or selfish, but simply finding their own tentative ways to maturity. The art by Burchett and Austin is semi-realistic and shockingly effective.

Compellingly funny, gently heart-warming and deftly understated, this is book that will certainly resonate with kids and parents, offering genuine human interactions rather than manufactured atom-powered fistfights to hold your attention. It especially gives women a solid reason to give comics another try.

As added extras this tome also includes a host of bonus features such as background on Joe Edwards’ classic strip: comparing the teen ‘Jinx’ with ‘Li’l Jinx’, as well as the changing faces of ‘Dad’, ‘Jinx, Charley & Greg’ and ‘Jinx and her Mother’.

For aspiring creators there are also a few secrets shared as ‘The Concept of Mery’, ‘The Concept of Mari’ and ‘Behind the Scenes with Jinx Covers’ provides artistic grist for anybody inspired enough to make their own stories.

Sheer exuberant fun; perfectly crafted and utterly irresistible.
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Will & Whit


By Laura Lee Gulledge (Amulet Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-0546-5

We’re well into the 21st century now (with no foreseeable chance of ever getting back to sensible proper times) and yet there still aren’t enough good comics for girls.

Yes, they’ve pretty much sewed up the prose-reading marketplace, but within the realms of pictorial sequential narrative the stories are still all pretty much geared up for adolescent males (for which assume any boy from 11 to 108) with material devised to puff up chests, pump up adrenaline and set testosterone a-bubbling.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying females don’t enjoy Sturm, Drang, angst, mindless fighting and overblown physical carnage, only that they can appreciate other aspects of storytelling too. Oranges are not the only projectile to leave a nasty bruise…

Happily, life is not always about battle, struggle, self-doubt, terror and glorious triumph, so it’s wonderful when creators like Laura Lee Gulledge come along to shine a different light into our shadowy ghetto.

Born in 1979, Gulledge is a multi-disciplinary artist who has worked in Education, Scenic Painting, event production and drama, and seamlessly broke into comics with her beguilingly intimate and aspirational visual testament Page by Paige in 2011.

Will & Whit also highlights her penetrating insight and absorbingly imaginative grasp of purely visual metaphor by relating the Rubicon-crossing moment of a young woman coming to terms with personal tragedy and inescapable adulthood, aided only by her own gifts and the truest of friends…

‘Sparks’ introduces 16-year old Wilhelmina “Will” Huckstep who lives with her free-spirited Aunt Elsie; helping run the small town a second-hand shop called Foxxden Antiques during the most eventful summer of their lives.

Artistic, contemplative and backward-looking, Will is introspective and traumatised by bad memories. She thinks of herself as a “passed-down sort of girl”, obsessed with old things and memories, deathly scared of the dark, making lamps as homespun therapy and casting the most interesting and scarily expressive shadows in the world.

Ella Foxx is worries about her ward. It’s just the two of them these days and Will has grown into a tense, insomniac borderline workaholic, even now in the laziest days of summer vacation.

However this year Will is finally going to escape from her Shadow…

It starts in ‘Bright Ideas’ as she visits her best friends Autumn and Noel in nearby Charlottesville. All Will’s pals are creative too. Autumn – daughter of two pushy Indian doctors – is a brilliant puppeteer whilst easy-going Noel is a cordon bleu chef.

It’s his cool little sister Reese’s thirteenth birthday and they plan to make her a full member of the gang… if she’ll only put down her cellphone for five minutes.

After a lazy day on the river, Will idly wishes for more such days of old-fashioned “unplugged adventure”…

The first ominous news reports about Tropical Storm Whitley begin terrifying folks in ‘Shedding Light’ as Will minds the store and three obnoxious kids come in to check out the “junk shop”.

Snotty Ava, Blake and Desmond are putting on an Arts Carnival in an abandoned building and they’re looking for props, but the poseur tension dissipates after Desmond recognises “Willy-Nilly” as an old chum from Elementary School.

Soon the kids are leaving with loads of great stuff and Will has volunteered Autumn as a performer. Of course the diffident Asian-American girl is not keen but, after Blake ladles on the charm in ‘Foreshadowing’, Autumn’s head is turned and her lifelong silent crush on Noel utterly forgotten…

Des is keen on Will performing too, but she demurs. After all she just makes lamps…

As the storm finally hits in ‘Out Whitted’, Noel is starting to realise what his complacency and lack of boldness has cost him. Even though Ella is in her element making plans and simply coping, Will is concerned that the hurricane is going to cause a blackout, leaving her stuck in the terrifying, all-consuming dark …

All over the region friends and strangers are battening down the hatches and, determined to deal, she occupies herself making a lamp that will save her, but Will’s mind keeps going back to the crash that made her an orphan…

That rash dream of an unplugged life comes true in ‘Will Powered’ as, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, folks come to terms with the lack of electrical power. The kids organise a giant Blackout Bonfire party and cook-out where Noel shows off his culinary craft and bends Will’s ear about their love-struck BFF before forcing her to confront her fears and take control of her imagination.

However, when Ava organises games in the wood, the junior master chef stumbles over Blake and Autumn taking advantage of the cloak of night and realises how much worse than the unknown reality can be…

‘The Dark Side’ finds the phone-less Reese displaying astounding insight as her brother mopes, and her casual conversation with Will prompts the lamp-maker to make an artistic leap in the dark. Soon however Will is consoling Autumn, whose time with Blake ended almost as soon as it began.

Ava and Desmond need help too. With power gone they need someone innovative with light to help the show go on…

Everything comes together ingeniously and perfectly in ‘Shadowboxing’ and leads to a deliciously authentic but satisfying happy ending with all mysteries and conflicts resolved in ‘Illuminated’ and ‘Epilogue’

Comics as a English-language medium has had many worthy stabs at producing material for the teen/young adult audience and especially that ever-elusive girl readership, ranging through translated manga material, targeted tales from DC’s Minx imprint and evergreen Archie Comics situation comedies, but the lasting hits have always come when creators ignore editorial and marketing demographics and simply concentrated on telling an honest, absorbing story.

That’s why Maus, Persepolis, Hereville and Castle Waiting worked and how Fables, The Tale of One Bad Rat and The Ballad of Halo Jones found an unexpected, devoted female following, and it’s also why this aspirational, incisive, moving, funny and satisfyingly human yarn should find a permanent place beside those celebrated classics.

Text and illustrations © 2013 Laura Lee Gulledge. All rights reserved.
Reviewed from an uncorrected proof copy. Will & Whit will be published on May 7th 2013.

Clubbing


By Andi Watson & Josh Howard (Minx/Titan Books edition)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-580-4

In 2007 DC comics had a worthy go at 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.

One of the most engaging was Clubbing, from Andi Watson & Josh Howard, which stylishly and wittily blended teen rebellion and shopping-culture insouciance with murder-mystery and supernatural horror in an audacious and winning black and white, cross-cultural romantic romp in Wordsworth Country…

Charlotte Brook has been a bad girl. London’s most self-absorbed fashionista, social butterfly and shopping diva, “Lottie” got caught using a homemade fake I.D. to get into an out-of-bounds West End nightclub and ended up coming home in a police car…

Her outraged but rather disinterested parents simply bundled her off for the summer to the wilds of the Lake District where her dull grandfather and good old Grandma Aggie are going to put her to work in their new Golf resort.

Faced with the dire prospect of months of rain, no Wi-Fi coverage, Golf, Women’s Institute do’s, old people, hicks and yokels, golf and mud and golf, Lottie is far from happy, but as always Aggie’s ubiquitous cakes and cuppas go some small way towards assuaging the agony.

Granddad Archie Fitz-Talbot’s time is constantly taken up with the on-going and behind schedule conversion of his posh old country club into a major modern sport and leisure venue and, after only one wind-blown, rain-sodden tour in the most fabulous outfit from her stylishly inappropriate wardrobe, Lottie realises that she’s actually in hell.

Her poor beloved shoes are all doomed too…

The local teens are a dire lot, rough, rude and pretentious; more interested in gore, blood and faux Satanism rather than music and fashion – like any self-respecting Goth should be – and as for the nice young man Aggie is trying to set her up with, Lottie wouldn’t be seen dead with a guy who loves fishing and golf no matter how good looking he is…

Howard is the least of her problems. In their affable, comfortable way, Archie and Aggie are determined to torture her to death: they feed her wholesome stodgy food, drag her all over the place on walks and trips through the beautiful countryside, take her to W.I. galas and, horror of horrors, ask her to work in the gift-shop with ghastly golf pro Tom Hutchinson – at least until she accidentally burns it down…

Things get decidedly strange after Lottie clashes with officious wizened-ancient employee Mrs. Geraldine Gibbons over towels in the gym, and again at a W.I. cake-baking contest. The old biddy has a real bee in her bonnet and babbles on about secrets and hidden truths and is clearly bingo-wing bonkers…

Lottie begins to suspect otherwise when she and the slowly growing in coolness Howard find the old bat’s strangely mutilated body in a water-hazard on the Links…

Some of those sinister secrets start to emerge when the shaken teen then discovers old Archie is a bit of a player – Urgh! wrinklies indulging in illicit lurrve – and might need to get rid of the occasional octogenarian bit of rough, but something just doesn’t add up and before long Lottie and Howard are grudgingly, disbelievingly swept into a bizarre and baffling mystery with demonic cults, a horrific monster menace from beyond Reality and staggering personal implications for Lottie and her entire family…

Clubbing is a sharp, witty, subtly funny and intriguing coming of age horror-thriller-comedy which follows all the rules of the teen romance genre yet manages to inject a huge helping of novelty and individual character into the mix: a perfect vehicle for attracting to our medium new and youthful readers with no abiding interest in outlandish power-fantasies or vicarious vengeance-gratification – and yes, that does mean girls…

This snazzy so-British reading rave also includes ‘Lottie’s Lexicon’: a cool guide to speaking young Londoner, full creator biographies and three tantalising preview segments from other tempting MINX titles.

Track them all down and enjoy a genuinely different kind of comic book…
© 2007 Andi Watson and DC Comics. All rights reserved.

The Silver-Metal Lover


By Tanith Lee, adapted by Trina Robbins (Harmony/Crown Books)
ISBN: 0-517-55853-X

During the 1980s, comics finally began to filter through to the mainstream of American popular culture, helped in no small part by a few impressive adaptations of works of literary fantasy such as Michael Moorcock’s Elric or DC’s Science Fiction Graphic Novel line.

Cartoonist, author and comics historian Trina Robbins joined the throng with this deceptively powerful and effectively bittersweet romance adapted from Tanith Lee’s short tale about an earnest young girl in a spoiled, indolent world who discovered abiding love in the most unexpected of places.

In the far-flung, ferociously formal and civilised future everything is perfect – if you can afford it – but human nature has not evolved to match Mankind’s technological and sociological advancements.

Jane has everything a 16-year old could want but is still unhappy. Her mother Demeta provides all she needs – except human warmth – whilst her six registered friends do their best to provide for her growing associative and societal needs. Of her carefully selected peer circle, Jane only actually likes flighty, melodramatic needily narcissistic Egyptia – whom Jane’s mother approves of but considers certifiably insane.

In this world people can live in the clouds if they want, and robots perform most manual toil and tedious services, but it’s far from paradise. Humans still get suspicious and bored with their chatty labour-saving devices and the monumental Electronic Metals, Ltd strive constantly to improve their ubiquitous inventions…

One day Jane agrees to accompany Egyptia to an audition and the fully made-up thespian is accosted by a rude man who mistakes her for a new android. He wants to buy her.

Ruffled by the rude man’s manner, Jane’s attention is then distracted by a beautiful metal minstrel busking in the plaza. The robot’s performance and his lovely song move and frighten Jane in way she cannot understand, and when S.I.L.V.E.R. (Silver Ionized Locomotive Verisimulated Electronic Robot) affably introduces himself the flustered girl bolts, running for the relative security of the nearby home of sardonic friend Clovis, where the beautiful tart is in the process of dumping another lover. He proves unsurprisingly unsympathetic to Jane’s confusion and distress, telling her to go home where, still inexplicably upset, she tries to talk the experience out with her mother. Impatient as always, the matron simply enquires if Jane is masturbating enough before telling her to record whatever’s bothering her for mummy to deal with later…

Sulking in a bath Jane is awoken from a sleep by the ecstatic Egyptia who has passed her audition. Bubbling with glee the neophyte actress demands Jane join her at a big party. Avoiding a persistent old letch who is creepily fixated on the fresh young thing, Jane stumbles again upon S.I.L.V.E.R. and once more reacts histrionically to his singing.

As he profusely apologizes for the inexplicable distress he’s somehow caused her, Jane realizes the disturbing mechanical minstrel has been rented by Egyptia for quite another kind of performance later… a private one…

With a gasp of surprise Jane at last understands what she’s feeling and kisses the alluring automaton before fleeing.

Her mother is as useless as ever. Whilst futilely attempting to explain her problem but failing even to catch Demeta’s full attention, Jane gives up and claims she’s in love with Clovis just to cause a shock…

The next day the heartsick waif visits the offices of Electronic Metals, Ltd ostensibly to rent the droid of her dreams – as a minor she has to lie about her age – but is sickened when she finds him partially dissembled whilst the techs try to track down an anomalous response in his systems…

Despondent, she is astonished when Machiavellian Clovis intervenes, renting S.I.L.V.E.R. for Egyptia and convincing the too, too-busy starlet to let Jane look after it for her…

Alone with the object of her affection, insecure Jane’s imagined affair quickly becomes earthily, libidinously real but the honeymoon ends far too soon when Clovis informs her the rental period is over. Crippled by her burning love for the artificial Adonis, Jane begs her mother to buy him for her. When the cold guardian refuses the obsessed child at last rebels…

When Demeta disappears on another of her interminable business trips Jane sells her apartment’s contents, moves into the slums and desperately claims her dream lover with the ill-gotten gains…

Following a tragically brief transformative period of sheer uncompromised joy with her adored mechanical man, reality suddenly hits the happy couple hard as Demeta tracks Jane down and smugly applies financial pressure to force her wayward child to return. Undaunted, the pair become unlicensed street performers and grow ever closer but even as Jane grows in confidence and ability, becoming fiercely independent, public opinion has turned against the latest generation of far-too human mechanical servants. When Electronic Metals recalls all its now hated products, the improper couple flee the city. However the heartless auditors track them down and reclaim Jane’s Silver Metal Lover…

Lyrical and poetic, this is a grand old-fashioned tale of doomed love which still has a lot to say about transformation, growing up and walking your own path, with Trina Robbins’ idyllic and idealised cartooning deceptively disguising the heartbreaking savagery and brutal cruelty of the story to superb effect, making the tragedy even more potent.

Regrettably out of print for years, this is a comics experience long overdue for revival – perhaps in conjunction with new interpretations of the author’s later sequels to the saga of love against the odds…
Illustrations © 1985 Trina Robbins. Text © 1985 Tanith Lee. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Young Love


By Robert Kanigher, John Romita Senior, Bernard Sachs, John Rosenberger, Werner Roth & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-060-2

As the flamboyant escapist popularity of superheroes waned after World War II, newer genres such as Romance and Horror came to the fore and older forms regained their audiences. Some, like Westerns and Funny Animal comics, hardly changed at all but crime and detective tales were utterly radicalised by the temperament of the times.

Stark, uncompromising, cynically ironic novels and socially aware, mature-themed B-movies that would become categorised as Film Noir offered post-war society a bleakly antiheroic worldview that often hit too close to home and set fearful, repressive, middleclass parent groups and political ideologues howling for blood.

Naturally the new forms and sensibilities seeped into comics, transforming two-fisted gumshoe and Thud-&-Blunder cop strips of yore into darkly beguiling, even frightening tales of seductive dames, big pay-offs and glamorous thugs. Sensing imminent Armageddon, the moral junkyard dogs bayed even louder as they saw their precious children’s minds under seditious attack…

Concurrent to the demise of masked mystery-men, industry giants Joe Simon and Jack Kirby famously invented the comic love genre with mature, beguiling explosively contemporary social dramas that equally focussed on the changing cultural scene and adult themed relationships beginning with the semi-comedic prototype My Date in early 1947 before plunging into the real deal with Young Romance #1 in September of that year. Not since the invention of Superman had a single comicbook generated such a frantic rush of imitation and flagrant cashing-in. It was a monumental hit and the team quickly expanded: releasing spin-offs such as Young Love (February 1949), Young Brides and In Love.

Simon & Kirby presaged and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not only with their creation of the Romance genre, but with challenging modern tales of real people in extraordinary situations – before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years. Their small stable of magazines produced for the loose association of companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines blossomed and wilted as the industry contracted throughout the 1950s.

All through that turbulent period comicbooks suffered impossibly biased oversight and hostile scrutiny from hidebound and panicked old guard institutions such as church groups, media outlets and ambitious politicians. A number of tales and titles garnered especial notoriety from those social doom-smiths, and hopeful celebration and anticipation amongst tragic, forward-thinking if psychologically scarred comics-collecting victims was quashed when the industry introduced a ferocious Comics Code that castrated the creative form just when it most needed boldness and imagination. We lost and comics endured more than a decade and a half of savagely doctrinaire self-imposed censorship.

Those tales from a simpler time, exposing a society in meltdown and suffering cultural PTSD, are mild by modern standards of behaviour but the quality of art and writing make those pivotal years a creative highpoint long overdue for a thorough reassessment.

The first Young Love ran for 73 issues (1949-1956) before folding and re-launching in a far more anodyne, Comics-Code-approved form as All For Love in Spring 1957.

Unable to find an iota of its previous and hoped-for audience it disappeared after 17 issues in March 1959 before resurrecting as Young Love again a year later with #18.

It then ran steadily but unremarkably until June 1963 when the experiment and the company died with #38. Crestwood sold up its few remaining landmark, groundbreaking titles and properties – Young Romance, Young Love and Black Magic being the most notable – to National/DC and faded from the business…

The new bosses released their first edition in the autumn of 1963 as part of their own small, shy and unassuming romance ring and carried on with it and a coterie of similar titles targeting teenaged girls (for which read aspirational and imaginative 8-12 year olds) for the next fifteen years.

The savage decline in overall comicbook sales during the 1970s finally killed the genre off. Young Love was one of the last; dying with #126, cover-dated July 1977.

This quirky mammoth monochrome compilation gathers the first 18 DC issues (#39-56 spanning September/October 1963 to July August 1966) but, although beautiful to look upon, is sadly plagued with twin tragedies. The first is that the stories quickly become fearfully formulaic – although flashes of narrative brilliance of do crop up with comforting regularity – whilst the second is an appallingly inaccurate listing of creator credits.

Many fans have commented and suggested corrections online, and I’m adding my own surmises and deductions about artists whenever I’m reasonably sure, but other than the unmistakable, declamatorily florid flavour of Robert Kanigher none of us in fandom are that certain just who was responsible for the scripting of these amatory sagas.

Likely contenders include Barbara Friedlander, Dorothy Woolfolk, George Kashdan, Jack Miller, Phyllis Reed, E. Nelson Bridwell and Morris Waldinger but I’m afraid we’ll never really know.

C’est l’amour…

The heartbreak and tears begin with the introduction of a soap-opera serial undoubtedly inspired by the romantic antics of television physicians such as Dr. Kildare (1961-1966) and Ben Casey (1962-1966), written in an uncomfortably macho “me Doctor Tarzan… you Nurse Jane” style by Kanigher and illustrated with staggering beauty by John Romita Senior.

‘The Private Diary of Mary Robin R.N.’ followed the painful journey and regular heartache of a nurse dedicated to her patients but fighting her inbuilt need to “settle down” with the man of her dreams – usually a big-headed, know-it-all medic who had no time to waste on “settling down”…

The serial opened with ‘No Cure for Love’, a two-part novelette in which the newly qualified Registered Nurse started her career at County General Hospital in the OR; instantly arousing the ire of surly surgeon Will Ames whose apparent nastiness was only a mask for his moody man-concern over his poor patients.

However even as he romanced her and she dared to dream, the good doctor soon proved that medicine would always be his first and only Love…

I’m not sure of the inker but the pencils on ‘You’ve Always Been Nice!’ look like Werner Roth in a novel yarn of modern Texans in love that pretty much set the tone for the title: Modern Miss gets enamoured of the wrong guy or flashy newcomer until the quiet one who waited for her finally gets motivated…

‘The Eve of His Wedding’ by Bernard Sachs went with the other favourite option: the smug flashy girl who loses out to the quiet heroine waiting patiently for true love to lead her man back to her…

In #40 Kanigher & Romita asked ‘Which Way, My Heart?’ of Mary Robin and she answered by letting Dr. Ames walk all over her before transferring to Pediatrics, but still found time to fall in love with an adult patient – but only until he got better…

Filling out the issue were ‘Someone to Remember’ by Bill Draut which saw sensible Judy utterly transform herself into a sophisticated floozy for a boy who actually preferred the old her, and ‘The Power of Love’ (incorrectly attributed to Don Heck but perhaps Morris Waldinger or John Rosenberger heavily inked by Sachs?) in which Linda competed with her own sister over new boy Bill

Although retaining the cover spot, the medical drama was relegated to the end of the comic from #41 on and complete stories led, starting on ‘End With A Kiss’ by Mike Sekowsky & Sachs, wherein calculating Ann almost married wrong guy Steve until good old Neil put his foot down, whilst for a girl who dated two men at the same time ‘Heartbreak Came Twice!’ in a tale that was almost a tragedy…

Mary Robin then cried – she cried a lot – ‘No Tomorrow for My Heart!’ as Will Ames continued to call when he felt like it and she somehow found herself competing with best friend Tess for both him and a hunky patient in their care. She even briefly quit her job for the man of her dreams…

The superb John Rosenberger inking himself – mistakenly credited throughout as Jay Scott Pike – opened #42 with ‘Boys are Fools!’ as young Phyllis was temporarily eclipsed by her cynical and worldly older sister Jayne until a decent man showed them the error of their ways. Vile Marty then used unwitting Linda as a pawn in a battle of romantic rivals for ‘A Deal with Love!’ (Rosenberger or Win Mortimer & Sachs?).

With a ‘Fearful Heart!’, Mary Robin closed up the issue by accidentally stealing the love of a blinded patient nursed by her plain associate. When the hunk’s sight returned, he just naturally assumed the pretty one was his devoted carer…

Young Love #43 opened with the excellent ‘Remember Yesterday’ (looking like Gil Kane layouts over Sachs) in which Gloria relives her jilting by fiancé Grant before embarking on a journey of self-discovery and finding her way back to love, after which the Sekowsky/Sachs influenced ‘A Day Like Any Other’ and ‘Before it’s Too Late’ display the difficulty of being a working woman and the temptations of being left at home all alone…

After that Kanigher & Romita ended the affairs by showing the childhood days of Mary Robin and just why she turned to nursing when her childhood sweetheart became her latest patient in ‘Shadow of Love!’

Issue #44 declared ‘It’s You I Love!’ (Kane or Frank Giacoia & Sachs perhaps?) as wilful Chris foolishly set her cap for the college’s biggest hunk, whilst in ‘Unattainable’ Lorna learned that she just wasn’t that special to playboy Gary even as Mary Robin endured ‘Double Heartbreak!’ when her own sister Naomi swept in and swooped off with the on-again-off-again Dr. Ames…

Sekowsky & Sachs opened #45 with ‘As Long as a Lifetime!’ wherein poor April found herself torn between and tearing apart best friends Tommy and Jamie, whilst ‘Laugh Today, Weep Tomorrow!’ (which looks like Jay Scott Pike & Jack Abel or maybe Win Mortimer) saw tragic Janet see her best friend Margot’s seductive allure steal away another man she might have loved, before ‘One Kiss for Always’ found Mary Robin the patient after a bus crash cost her the use of her legs.

During her battle back to health, and loss of the only man she might have been happy with, the melodrama finally achieved the heights it always aspired to in a tale of genuine depth and passion.

The captivating Rosenberger’s led in #46 as Maria and Mark conspired together to win back their respective intendeds and discovered ‘Where Love Belongs’, after which Mortimer revealed ‘It’s All Over Now’ for Merrill who only got Cliff because Addie went away to finishing school. But then she came back… This surprisingly mature and sophisticated fable was followed by ‘Veil of Silence!’ in which Nurse Robin took her duties to extraordinary lengths by allowing a patient to take her latest boyfriend in order to aid her full recovery…

In #47 ‘Merry Christmas’, by Rosenberger, showed astonishing seasonal spirit as Thea cautiously welcomed back her sister Laurie and gave her a second chance to steal her husband, after which secretary Vicky eavesdropped on her boss and boyfriend and almost finished her marriage before it began in ‘Every Beat of his Heart!’(Mortimer).

Mary Robin’s ‘Cry for Love’ started in another pointless fling with the gadabout Ames and ended with her almost stealing another nurse’s man in a disappointingly shallow but action-packed effort, whilst in #48 ‘Call it a Day’ (Mortimer) found an entire clan of women unite to secure a man for little Alice, after which Rosenberger limned ‘Trust Him!’ wherein bitter sister Marta’s harsh advice to her love-sick sibling Jill was happily ignored, and Kanigher & Romita explored Mary Robin’s ‘Two-Sided Heart!’ after “Bill” Ames again refused to consider moving beyond their casually intimate relationship.

Of course that couldn’t excuse what she then did with the gorgeous amnesia patient with the grieving girlfriend…

Young Love #49 opened with Rosenberger’s ‘Give Me Something To Remember You By!’ as Marge prays that her latest summer romance turns into a something more. Waiting is a torment but ‘Your Man is Mine!’ (Roth) showed what’s worse when sisters clashed and Clea again tried to take what Pat had – a fiancé…

‘Someone… Hear my Heart!’ then unselfconsciously dipped into the world of TV as Mary Robin dumped Dr. Ames for an actor and a new career on a medical show. It didn’t end well and she was soon back where she belonged with the man who couldn’t or wouldn’t appreciate her…

Roth opened #50 with ‘Second Hand Love’ as Debbie dreaded that the return of vivacious Vicky would lead to her taking back the man she left behind, whilst ‘Come into My Arms!’ (Ogden Whitney or Ric Estrada perhaps?) saw Mary Grant visit Paris in search of one man only to fall for another, after which Mary Robin found herself pulled in many directions as she fell for another doctor and one more hunky patient before rededicating herself to professional care over ‘The Love I Never Held!’

She jumped back to the front in #51 and discovered ‘All Men are Children!’ (Kanigher & Romita) when an unruly shut-in vindictively used her to make another nurse jealous, after which Rosenberger delivered a stunning turn with ‘Afraid of Love!’ wherein, after years of obsessive yearning, Lois finally goes for it with the man of her dreams.

Romita then took a turn at an anthology solo story with ‘No Easy Lessons in Love’ as Gwen and Peter travelled the world and made many mistakes before finally finding each other again.

The nurse finally got her man – and her marching orders – in #52’s ‘Don’t Let it Stop!’, but dashing interne Dan Swift only made his move on Mary after being hypnotised! Hopefully she lived happily ever after because, despite being advertised for the next issue, she didn’t appear again.

This abrupt departure was followed by the reprint ‘Wonder Women of History: Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch’ (by Julius Schwartz & John Giunta from Wonder Woman #55, September/October 1952), detailing the life of a crusading social campaigner before Roth – possibly inked by Sheldon Moldoff – detailed how a flighty girl stopped chasing husky lifeguards and found a faithful adoring ‘Young Man for Me!’, and ‘The Day I Looked Like This!’ (by Dick Giordano and not Gene Colan) celebrated the day tomboy Judi finally started gussying up like a girl and unhappily discovered she was the spitting image of a hot starlet…

Issue #53 began with ‘A Heart Full of Pride!’ (Sachs) as naive Mib proved to herself that, just like in school, determination and perseverance paid off in romance, before Mortimer detailed how standoffish Cynthia realised how she needed to play the field to win her man in ‘I Wanted My Share of Love’, after which Romita described the designs of Kathy who discovered the pitfalls of her frivolous lifestyle in ‘Everybody Likes Me… but Nobody Loves Me!’

Bill Draut illustrated the lead feature in #54 as ‘False Love!’ detailed a case of painfully mistaken intentions as gang of kids all went out with the wrong partners until bold Nan finally spoke her mind, whilst ‘Love Against Time’ by Tony Abruzzo & Sachs showed schoolteacher Lisa that patience wasn’t everything, after which ‘Too Much in Love!’ (Romita) seemed to hint at a truly abusive relationship until Mandy’s rival told her just why beloved Van acted that way…

‘An Empty Heart!’ (Arthur Peddy & Sachs or possibly Mortimer again) opened on #55, revealing how insecure Mindy needed to date other boys just to be sure she could wait for beloved Sam to come back from the army, whilst Sachs’ ‘Heart-Shy’ Della took her own sweet time before realising self-effacing Lon was the boy for her, after which the original and genuine Jay Scott Pike limned the tale of Janie who at last defied her snobbish, controlling mother and picked ‘Someone of My Own to Love’.

The romance dance concludes here with #56 and ‘A Visit to a Lost Love’ (Gene Colan) – a bittersweet winter’s tale of paradise lost and regained, after which perpetually fighting Richy and Cindy realised ‘Believe it or Not… It’s Love’ (Abruzzo & Sachs), and ‘I’ll Make Him Love Me!’ (Sachs) showed how the scary Liz stalked Perry until she fell for her destined soul-mate Bud

As I’ve described, the listed credits are full of errors and whilst I’ve corrected those I know to be wrong I’ve also made a few guesses which might be just as wild and egregious (I’m still not unconvinced that many tales were simply rendered by a committee of artists working in desperate jam-sessions), so I can only apologise to all those it concerns as well as fans who thrive on these details for the less-than-satisfactory job of celebrating the dedicated creators who worked on these all-but forgotten items.

As for the tales themselves: they’re dated, outlandish and frequently borderline offensive in their treatment of women.

So were the times in which they were created, but that’s not an excuse.

However there are a few moments of true narrative brilliance to equal the astonishing quality of the artwork on show here, and by the end of this titanic torrid tome the tone of the turbulent times was definitely beginning to change as the Swinging part of the Sixties began and hippies, free love, flower power and female emancipation began scaring the pants off the old guard and reactionary traditionalists…

Not for wimps or sissies but certainly an unmissable temptation for all lovers of great comic art…
© 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.