Pyongyang – A Journey in North Korea


By Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly Books/Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-22407-990-7

The world is always on the brink of extinction. That’s just the way it is. However, it’s perhaps comforting to be reminded that even the most demonised of boogeymen are fundamentally human too. So let’s take a peek at some graphic reportage from a temporary insider once au fait with and allowed access to a nation currently running equal first in the highly-competitive “Earth’s craziest ruler” stakes…

The only things I knew about North Korea I picked up from too many comics (mostly American) and television, so this engaging book was a rather surprising delight. As much lyrical travelogue as pithy autobiography, it relates the bemused culture shock of inveterate traveller and Canadian animator Guy Delisle, who, whilst possessing a French work-permit, was invited behind what was once dubbed “the Bamboo Curtain” to train and supervise Korean artists as a film production supervisor.

Cheap animators, as you are probably well-aware, are one of the few resources that North Korea can use as a means of securing capital from the decadent West – well, at least at the time this anxious odyssey was recorded…

What Delisle discovered and illustrates here both reinforces and explodes much of the modern mythology surrounding the world’s only communist dynasty.

Using a simplified, utilitarian style he depicts and deconstructs an utterly alien environment that is nevertheless populated with people who are so very similar to ourselves, even though the citizens do their utmost not to let it show. Pyongyang is stuffed with nuggets of revelation, dryly observed by the innocuous author.

Gently-paced and often dream-like in quality, the humorous tone and genteel accessibility of the illustration accentuates an oddly-strictured, constantly buttoned-down sense of foreboding.

Allowed only one book (in his case, perhaps unwisely, Orwell’s 1984) which must be donated to the State on leaving the country, and a CD Walkman (as personal radios are banned) Delisle’s airport interrogation is sheer mental torture.

Only once we’ve been thoroughly immersed in the culture and experienced the personal foibles of the limited number people he is allowed to meet does the placidly compliant Delisle surprise us by revealing that he risked everything by rashly smuggling in a tiny radio so he could get more than state-controlled information – and entertainment!

Subtly playing with the ominous reputation of part of “The Axis of Evil”, Delisle has produced a readable, gentle, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect.

In this period of heightened thermonuclear tensions, this is a tale more timely than ever.
© 2003, 2005 Guy Delisle and L’Association. All Rights Reserved.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons


By many & various, edited by Craig Yoe (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-150-3

After watching far too much news, I dug this book off my shelves. It seemed somehow appropriate…

You’ll hear a lot about the pen being mightier than the sword regarding The Great Anti-War Cartoons, but sadly it’s just not true.

Nothing seems able to stop determined governments, outraged religions and/or rich, greedy – and apparently duly elected, raving mad – bastards from sending the young and idealistic to their mass-produced deaths, especially those innocents still afflicted with the slightest modicum of patriotism or sense of adventure.

Our own currently escalating and deteriorating global situation (but isn’t it always?) proves that mankind is always far too ready to take up arms, and far too reluctant to give peace a chance, especially when a well-oiled publicity machine and vested media interests gang up on the men and women in the street going “yeah, but…”

We’re all susceptible to the power of a marching beat played on fife and drum…

At least here amongst these 220 plus cartoons and graphic statements we see that rationalism or conscientious objectivity or pacifism or even simple self-interested isolationism are as versed in the art of pictorial seduction as the power and passion of jingoism and war-fever.

All art – and most especially cartooning – has the primitive power to bore deep into the soul, just as James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic Uncle Sam poster “Your Country Needs You” so effectively did to millions of young Americans during the Great War.

How satisfying then to see his is the very first anti-war cartoon in this incredible compilation of images focusing on the impassioned pleas of visual communicators trying to avoid body-counts or at least reduce bloodshed.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons gathers a host of incredibly moving, thought-provoking, terrifying, but – I’m gutted to say, ultimately ineffective – warnings, scoldings and pleas which may have moved millions of people, but never stopped or even gave pause to one single conflict…

Editor Craig Yeo divides these potently unforgettable images into a broad variety of categories and I should make it clear that not all the reasons for their creation are necessarily pacifistic: some of the most evocative renderings here are from creators who didn’t think War was Bad per se, but rather felt that the specific clash in question was none of their homeland’s business.

However with such chapters as Planet War, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, The Gods of War, Profiteers, Recruitment and Conscription, The Brass, The Grunts, Weapons of War, The Battle Rages On, The Long March, Famine, The Anthems of War, The Horrors of War, The Suffering, The Families and Children of War, The Aftermath, Victory Celebration, Medals, Disarmament, Resistance and Peace we witness immensely talented people of varying beliefs responding on their own unique terms to organised slaughter, and for every tut-tut of the Stay-at-Homers there are a dozen from genuinely desperate and appalled artists who just wanted the horror to end.

With incisive examinations of shared symbology and recurring themes, these monochrome penmen have utilised their brains and talents in urgent strivings to win their point (there is also a fascinating section highlighting the impact and energy of the Colors of War) but the most intriguing aspect of this superb collection is the sheer renown and worth of the contributors.

Among the 119 artists include (120 if you count Syd Hoff and his nom-de-plume “Redfield” as two separate artists) are Sir John Tenniel, Caran d’Ache, Bruce Bairnsfather, Herbert Block, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ron Cobb, “Ding” Darling, Billy DeBeck, Jerry Robinson, Albrecht Dürer, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Rube Goldberg, Honore Daumier, Goya, George Grosz, Bill Mauldin, Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Thomas Nast and most especially the incredibly driven Winsor McCay.

I’ve scandalously assumed that many of the older European draughtsmen won’t be that well known, despite their works being some of the most harrowing, and their efforts – although perhaps wasted on people willing to listen to reason anyway – are cruel and beautiful enough to make old cynics like me believe that this time, this time, somebody in power will actually do something to stop the madness.

A harsh, evocative and painfully lovely book: seek it out in the hope that perhaps one day Peace will be the Final Solution.

The time has never been more right for cynics like me to be proved wrong…
The Great Anti-War Cartoons and the digitally remastered public domain material are © 2009 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.

Explainers


By Jules Feiffer (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-56097-835-0

Jules Feiffer has always been much more than “just a comic-book guy” even though his credits in the field sound and are suitably impressive. As well as working with Will Eisner on The Spirit, he created his own Sunday strip ‘Clifford’ (1949-51) before eventually settling at the The Village Voice.

Novelist, playwright, animator, children’s book creator (why isn’t there a single-word term for those guys?) and screenwriter, he turned his back on cartooning in 2000, but the 42-year run of his satirical comic strip in The Village Voice ranks as some of the most telling, trenchant, plaintive and perspicacious narrative art in the history of the medium.

The strip, originally entitled Sick, Sick, Sick, and later Feiffer’s Fables, before simply settling on Feiffer was quickly picked up by the Hall Syndicate and garnered a devoted worldwide following.

Over the decades the strip has generated many strip collections – the first book was in 1958 – since premiering. The auteur’s incisive examination of American society and culture, as reflected by and expressed through politics, art, Television, Cinema, work, philosophy, advertising and most especially in the way men and women interact, informed and shaped opinions and challenged accepted thought for generations. They were mostly bloody funny and wistfully sad too – and remain so even today.

Fantagraphics Books began collecting the entire run in 2007 and this first volume of 568 pages covers the period from its start in October 1956 up to the end of 1966. As such, it covers a pivotal period of social, racial and sexual transformation in America and the world beyond its borders and much of that is also – sadly- still painfully germane to today’s readers…

Explainers is a “dipping book”. It’s not something to storm your way through but something to return to over and again. Feiffer’s thoughts and language, his observations and questions are fearsomely eternal – as I’ve already mentioned, it is utterly terrifying how many problems of the 1950s and 1960s still vex us today – and the Battle of the Sexes my generation honestly believed to be almost over still breaks out somewhere every night.

Best of all, Feiffer’s expressive drawing is a masterclass in style and economy all by itself.

If you occasionally resort to Thinking and sometimes wonder about Stuff, this book should be your guide and constant companion… and it will make you laugh.
© 2007 Jules Feiffer. All Rights Reserved.

Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman: The First Jewish Superhero


By Siegel & Joe Shuster with Thomas Andrae, Mel Gordon & Jerome (Feral House)
ISBN: 978-1-932595-78-9

The comics industry owes an irredeemable debt to two talented and ambitious Jewish kids from Cleveland in the right place at the right time who were able to translate their enthusiasm and heartfelt affection for beloved influences and delight in a new medium into a brand-new genre which took the world by storm.

Writer Jerome Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were a jobbing cartoonist team just breaking into the brand-new yet already-ailing comicbook business with strips such as ‘Henri Duval’, ‘Doctor Occult’ and ‘Slam Bradley’. When they rejigged a constantly rejected newspaper strip concept for a new title they manifested the greatest action sensation of the age – if not all time…

Superman captivated depression-era audiences and within a year had become the vanguard of a genre and an industry. In those early days, the feature was both whimsical and bombastic – as much gag strip as adventure serial – and it was clear the utterly inspired whiz kids were wedded to laughs just as much as any wish-fulfilling empowerment fantasies.

As even the most casual scholar knows, Siegel & Shuster were not well-served by their publishers and by 1946 no longer worked for National Periodicals (today’s DC Comics). In fact, they were in acrimonious litigation which led to the originators losing all rights to their creation and suffering years of ill-treatment until an artist-led campaign at the time of the 1978 Superman movie shamed the company into a belated reversal and financial package (consisting mostly of having their names returned to the character’s logo and company medical benefits).

Long before this however, the dynamic duo produced an abortive “Last Hurrah”: another unique character based on early influences, but one who sadly did not catch the public’s attention in those post war years when the first super-heroic age was ending.

Based broadly on Danny Kaye, Funnyman was a stand-up comedian who dressed as a clown and used comedy gimmicks to battle criminals, super-villains and aliens: first in six issues of his own comic-book and then as a Daily and Sunday newspaper strip.

A complete antithesis to the Man of Steel, Larry Davis was a total insider, no orphan or immigrant, but a wealthy, successful man, revered by society, yet one who chose to become a ridiculous outsider, fighting for not the common good but because it gave him a thrill nothing else could match.

The series was light, beautifully audacious, tremendous fun and sank like a concrete-filled whoopee cushion.

In this smart paperback compilation – also available as a digital or perhaps hee-heBook (sorry, simply couldn’t resist. Should have, but couldn’t…) – social historians Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon carefully re-examine the strip in the much broader context of Jewish Identity and racial character, with particular reference as it applies to Jewish-Americans, and make some fascinating observations and postulates.

Following an intriguing preface by author, writer, editor and comics historian Danny Fingeroth, this book assiduously dissects the history and psychology of the Judaic experience in a compelling series of astoundingly illustrated essays gathered under the umbrellas of Gordon’s ‘The Farblondjet Superhero and his Cultural Origins’ and Andrae’s ‘The Jewish Superhero’.

The former (and Farblondjet translates as “mixed up” or “lost”) probes ‘The Mystery of Jewish Humor’, ‘The Construct of Humor in Everyday Jewish Life’, ‘The Old Theories: ‘Laughter-Through-Tears’; ‘A Laughing People’; ‘Outside Observer’ and ‘The Badkhn Theory’ (Badkhn being performers hired to insult, offend and depress guests and celebrants at social gatherings such as weddings or funerals).

‘Characteristics of Modern Jewish Humor’ are subdivided and explored in ‘Aggression’, ‘The Yiddish Language’, ‘Self-Mockery’, ‘Inversion and Skepticism’, ‘Scatology’, ‘Gallows Humor’ and ‘Solipsism and Materialism’ before Gibson’s compelling, contextual potted-history concludes with ‘American-Jewish Comedy Before 1947’ (the year Funnyman debuted),‘Weber and Fields’, ‘On the Boards’, ‘The Borscht Belt’, ‘Cartoons and Jokebooks’ and ‘Hollywood Talkies and Syndicated Radio’.

Then, in ‘The Jewish Superhero’ Andrae examines Siegel & Shuster’s possible influences; everything from German expressionist cinema masterpiece ‘The Golem: How He Came into This World’ to real-life strongman Sigmund Breitbart, a Polish Jew who astounded the world with his feats in the early 1920s. On his American tour Sigmund appeared in Cleveland in October 1923. Siegel, a local resident, would have been nine years old which as everyone knows is the real “golden age of comics”…

‘Funnyman, Jewish Masculinity and the Decline of the Superhero’ explores the psychology and landscape of the medium through the careers and treatment of Siegel & Shuster in ‘The Birth of Funnyman’, ‘The Body Politic’, ‘The Schlemiel and the Tough Jew’, ‘The Decline of the Superhero’ and ‘Comic Book Noir’ before going on to recount the story of the newspaper strips in ‘The Funnyman Comic Strip’ and ‘Reggie Van Twerp’ (a last ditch attempt by the creators to resurrect their comic fortunes) before the inevitable axe falls in ‘End Game’

Thus far the engaging tome acts as a compulsive and hugely informative academic work, but in ‘Funnyman Comic Book Stories’ the resplendent fan fun truly takes hold with a full colour section reproducing a selection of strips from the 6-issue run.

‘The Kute Knockout!’ (Funnyman #2, March 1948) pits the Hilarious Hero against a streetwalker robot built to seduce and rob Johns after which ‘The Medieval Mirthquake’ (Funnyman #4, May 1948) propels the Comedy Crusader back to the time of Camelot. From the same issue comes ‘Leapin’ Lena’ as Funnyman tackles a female bandit who can jump like a kangaroo and #5 (July 1948) has him chasing a worrying new crime gimmick in ‘The Peculiar Pacifier’.

Also included are the striking covers of all six issues, the origin of Funnyman from #1, lots of splash pages and a selection of Shuster’s Superman art, but the most welcome benefit for collectors and collectors is a detailed précis of the entire run’s 20 tales.

The same consideration is offered for the newspaper strips. As well as similar synopses for the Sundays (12 adventures spanning October 31st 1948 to the end of October 1949) and Dailies (another dozen larks spanning October 18th 1948 to September 17th 1949), there are11 pages of full-colour Sunday sections and the complete black and white ‘Adventure in Hollywood’ (December 20th to January 12th 1949) to adore and marvel over.

Like Funnyman himself, this book is an odd duck. Whereas I would have loved to see the entire output gathered into one volume, what there is here is completely engrossing: a wonderful appreciation and compelling contextualization of genuine world-altering pioneers. This is a fabulous package with an appeal that ranges far beyond its possibly limited comic-fan audience.
Siegel and Shuster’s Funnyman © 2010 Thomas Andrae and Mel Gordon. All rights reserved.

Wildcat: Health Service Wildcat


By Donald Rooum & “Victoria N. Furmurry” (Freedom Press)
ISBN: 0-900384-73-5

The truly amazing – and most disheartening – thing about Donald Rooum’s immaculate Anarchist cartoon strip is not the superb drawing talent displayed, nor even the staggeringly broad range of subjects that fall under the bellicose scrutiny of his coterie of lampooning and lambasting characters.

It is simply and sadly that the issues he and his occasional collaborators highlight and skewer just never, never go away. The names and faces of the political mountebanks and industrial scoundrels may change but the mistakes and problems they create just keep going.

Take this particular collection of strips, originally released in 1994 and dedicated to “the daft doctrine that people trained in making profits can provide a better Health Service than people trained in caring for the sick” as a particularly telling case in point.

…And now, a whole bunch of regime-changes later I’m telling you to buy the book again, because the “all-the-same-as-each-other sods” we let govern us are still at it…

Victoria N. Furmurry was a long serving Health Service worker. She spent decades doing her job and even managed to enjoy a rather successful sideline as a professional comic book writer.

She was eventually compelled to combine her two jobs here in a desperate attempt to highlight the problems that beset the new management structure and system.

The obvious pseudonym was also necessary. Among the new crimes in the service were “bringing the service into disrepute” for which read ‘complaining or disagreeing’ and the truly Orwellian “causing the management to lose confidence in you as an employee”, both of which constituted “Gross Misconduct” and were grounds for instant dismissal. Understandably, she took the advice offered and kept her head down whilst delivering the fusillade of brickbats and jabs for the erudite and talented Mr. Rooum to render and compile in this slim monochrome tome.

Twenty-three years later and nothing has really changed and the care provision offered is actually under even greater threat and more insidious assault. When was the last you checked if your local hospital still has an A&E or Maternity unit?

Market principles still rule the Health Service, the wrong people still give impossible orders and profit handsomely from their ineptitude, the workers at the sharp end are still ignored and blamed, and ultimately it’s All Our Fault for letting ourselves be ill or injured, or old or incurably poor…

So why not pick up this slim book of scathing and deadly funny indictments and at least give an alternative treatment a shot. After all, isn’t laughter the best medicine?
© 1994, 2007 Donald Rooum and “Victoria N. Furmurry”. All Rights Reserved.

THRRP!


By Leo Baxendale (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-051-3

Whilst tapping away at my keyboard, I’ve just heard on the radio (I’m real old school, me) that the irrepressible, irreplaceable Leo Baxendale passed away earlier this week. Thus, I’m postponing today’s posting to re-run this old saw. The book is still readily available and if you haven’t seen it you bloody well should.

Leo Baxendale was educated at Preston Catholic College, served in the RAF and was born on 27th October 1930, in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire – but not in that order. His first paid artistic efforts were drawing ads and cartoons for The Lancashire Evening Post but his life and the entire British comics scene changed in 1952 when he began freelancing for DC Thomson’s star weekly The Beano.

Leo took over moribund Lord Snooty and his Pals and created anarchically surreal strips Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Three Bears and When the Bell Rings – which metamorphosed into the legendary, lurgie-packed Bash Street Kids thereby altering the realities of millions of readers.

Baxendale also contributed heavily to the creation of The Beezer in 1956, after editorial and financial disputes, moved to the London-based Harmsworth conglomerate Odhams/Fleetway/IPC in 1962.

South of the border his humorous creations included Grimly Feendish, Sweeny Toddler, General Nitt and his Barmy Army, Bad Penny and a whole host of other sparkling oiks, yobs and weirdoes who made the “Power Comics” era such a joy to behold.

During the 1970s and 80s he foisted Willy the Kid on the world and created his own publishing imprint – Reaper Books. He also sued DCT for rights to his innovative inky inventions: a seven-year struggle that was eventually settled out of court.

Other notable graphic landmarks include his biography A Very Funny Business: 40 Years of Comics and I Love You, Baby Basil in The Guardian.

Leo was a one-of-a-kind, hugely influential and much-imitated master of pictorial comedy and noxious gross-out escapades whose work deeply affected (some would say warped) generations of British and Commonwealth kids. We’ll not see his like again.

I’ll return to him with a more considered appreciation later in the year, but for now why don’t you think about picking up THRRP!?

Released in 1987 this oversized (292 x 206 mm) softcover monochrome tome is something of a lost classic: a gloriously grotesque, pantomimic splurt-fest of broken winds, oozy organs, drippy bits and broad, basic belly-laughs which depends less on narrative convention than on warped-yet-timeless juvenile invention and forward progression to revel in the most lunatic slapstick ever to grace the music-hall or comic page.

Whilst not as groundbreaking as Plum, Minnie, or The Bash Street Kids nor as subversive as Wham, Smash and Pow creations such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, The Swots and the Blots or The Tiddlers, or indeed, as outlandish as George’s Germs or Sam’s Spook, nevertheless our premiering pulsating protagonist Spotty Dick and the stomach-churning, utterly repulsive inhabitants of Planet Urf unforgettably cavort through a cartoon-mire of silent adventures – like mimes made of mucus – in a manner no snotty, grotty school-kid of any age could resist.

An absolute treat from the absolute master of British tomfoolery. Let’s get this back in print now.
© 1987 Leo Baxendale. All rights reserved.

The Boondocks: Because I Know You Don’t Read the Newspapers


By Aaron McGruder (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-0609-7

Unlike editorial cartooning, newspaper comic strips generally prosper by avoiding controversy. Other than a few notable exceptions – such as the mighty Doonesbury – daily and Sunday gag continuities aim to keep their readers amused and complacent.

Such was not the case with Aaron McGruder’s brilliant and much missed The Boondocks.

The strip ran from February 8th 1996 and ended – despite promises of a swift return – with the February 28th 2006 instalment. You might have seen the adapted and animated version on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim a few years ago…

The feature was created for pioneer online music website Hitlist.com and quickly began a print incarnation in Hip-Hop magazine The Source. On December 3rd, the feature began appearing in national periodical The Diamondback but, after an editorial bust-up, McGruder pulled the strip in March 1997.

Nevertheless, it thrived as it was picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate. Launched nationally, The Boondocks had over 300 client subscribers, reaching – and often offending – millions of readers every day. Such was the content and set-up that the strip was regularly dropped by editors, and complaints from readers were pretty much constant.

What could possibly make a cartoon continuity such a lightning rod yet still have publishers so eager to keep it amongst their ever-dwindling stable of strip stars?

The Boondocks was always fast, funny, thought-provoking, funny, ferociously socially aware and created for a modern black readership. And Funny.

The series never sugar-coated anything – except harsh language – whilst bringing contemporary issues of race to the table every day. This was a strip Afro-American readers wanted to read… even if they didn’t necessarily agree with what was being said and seen…

The narrative premise is deceptively sitcom-simple but hides a potent surprise in its delivery. Huey Freeman is an incredibly smart and well-informed black youngster. He spent his formative years on Chicago’s South Side, immersed in black history, the philosophy of power, radical and alternative politics and The Streets.

His little brother Riley is mired in Hip-Hop and the trappings of Gangsta Rap. Yet suddenly one day they are both whisked out of their comfort zone as their grandfather Robert assumes custody of them and moves the entire family to the whiter-than-white suburb of Woodcrest in semi-rural Maryland.

It’s mutual culture shock of epic proportions on both sides…

Huey (proudly boasting that he’s named for Black Panther co-founder Dr Huey Percy Newton) perpetually expounds his radical rhetoric and points out hypocrisy from the well-meaning but inherently patronising all-Caucasian township but saves equal amounts of hilarious disgust and venom for those overbearing, overhyped aspects of modern Black Culture he regards as stupid, demeaning or self-serving…

Riley mostly likes scaring the oh-so-polite white folks…

In this initial monochrome paperback collection – re-presenting material from April 19th 1999 to January 29th 2000 – includes a potent Foreword from Hip-Hop Activist and Media Assassin Harry Allen on the way we’ve all managed to stop actual progress on the issues of race by politely agreeing not talk about them – the property values start to wobble just a bit when Huey and Riley arrive in Woodcrest.

The place really freaks them out: the air is clean, there are no tagged walls or take-out stores and old white people keep coming up to say hello…

Th first semblance of normality occurs when another new family moves in next door. Thomas and Sarah Dubois are woolly liberals: yuppies and lawyers and Woodcrest’s first interracial couple, and – although she doesn’t understand any of the stuff Huey taunts her with – their daughter Jazmine is the suburb’s third black child… ever…

She never thought of herself as any colour, but Huey is determined to raise her consciousness… when he’s not taking her establishment-conditioned dad to task on what colour he actually is…

Huey’s far less keen on the attentions of Cindy McPhearson, the little girl from school who has fully embraced TV’s version of Black Culture. She wants to meet – or be – Snoop Doggy Dogg. She hasn’t heard the term “Wigga” yet and Huey ain’t doing nothing but avoiding her: a tricky proposition as she sits behind him in class asking dumb questions.

The boys enrolling at Edgar J. Hoover Elementary School caused few sleepless nights for Principal Williams but he cleverly borrowed a few videos (Menace II Society; Shaft’s Big Score) to get him up to speed on the special needs of “inner city ghetto youth” and is confident his terrified teachers can handle any possible hurdles the variance in backgrounds might cause…

Don’t go away under the misapprehension that The Boondocks is a strident polemical diatribe, drowning in its own message. First and foremost, this is a strip about kids growing up, just like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes. Some of the most memorable riffs come from the boys’ reactions to the release of the Star Wars: Episode 1 (although admittedly, Jar Jar Binks gets a fully-deserved roasting for his ethnic Minstrel performance), the worthlessness of high-priced merchandise and the insipid, anodyne street names. At least here, Riley and his paint spray cans can help out…

As the year progresses we also see outrageous takes on Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as the boys’ investigation of the Santa Clause and Kwanza scenarios and their own hysterical Inner City, Keepin’ It Real alternative to all those manufactured holidays and causes…

Smart, addictive and still with a vast amount to say The Boondocks is a strip you need to see if you cherish speaking Wit as well as Truth to Power…
The Boondocks © 2000 by Aaron McGruder. All rights reserved.

Now Who Do We Blame?


By Tom Toles (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5558-3

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been bravely scurrilous, boldly impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all the iniquities they were held responsible for.

These devils with pens and brushed pictorially harangued the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Truth be told; before printing these astute arty types probably scrawled their picture-perfect opinions upon cave walls in moose blood…

The cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

Unlike the “scritti politici” of radicals and revolutionaries, with this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds a pictorial pest’s mill. That has never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

As it’s still too soon for a collection of cartoons about the 45th President (is it? Is it really?), here’s a superb collection from possibly the greatest modern gadfly of the Land of Free Speech and drawing: a period when George W. Bush was popularly regarded as the worst President in US history…

Thomas Gregory Toles was born in October 1951 and attended the University at Buffalo; The State University of New York where he graduated magna cum laude just as the social unrest of the early 1970s began to engender dangerous responses from the powers that be.

A progressive thinker, Toles worked as a writer for The Buffalo Courier-Express, The Buffalo News and The Washington Post and also created such strips as insomnia-inspired feature Randolph Itch 2 AM, and kids comic Curious Avenue.

In 2002 Toles was invited by The Post to replace their veteran and venerable star cartoonist Herblock, and his work now appears in over 200 papers throughout America and is syndicated internationally by Universal Press Syndicate

His cartoons are stark simply-rendered, diabolically ingenious and include a commentary doodle in the bottom corner to punctuate and reinforce his often excoriating and frequently crushing message: a potent Greek Chorus of worldly-wise disapproval…

Toles has been awarded a National Cartoonist Society Editorial Cartoon Award, a Herblock Prize and a Pulitzer (he’s also been a runner up numerous times) but received a cartoonist’s ultimate accolade from the Pentagon in 2006 when the Joint Chiefs of Staff uniformly protested in writing to one of his panels. As always in these cases, they seemed to have missed the point of the cartoon comment entirely…

As previously stated, this slim guided missile of satire skewers the last Republican recumbent Incumbent, but the devastating delivery and incisive inscribed insights are still in operation today, notching up WMDs (Witticisms of Mirthful Demolition) against the current White House Boarders and it surely can’t be too long before I’m reviewing something a little more contemporary in an embarrassing shade of orange…

For your delectation and deliberation, here are stinging pinpricks and blistering broadsides handily grouped into easily assimilated sections beginning with ‘Politics and the Election’ with Potus and Co. feeling the full weight of the cartoonist’s surreal wit whilst true bile and outrage are saved for a selection of gags outing the imbecility of prejudice regarding ‘Gays and Religion’.

‘Laws and Regulations’, ‘Press and Media’, ‘Health and Education’, ‘Science and the Environment’ and ‘Social Security’ are all fully investigated and deconstructed next, forcing me to wonder if these categories and the stupidities and venalities lampooned in them will also appear in any book featuring Prez 45…

Especial bile and vindictiveness is saved for the experts infesting ‘The Economy and Budget’ chapter but the best is left for last as ludicrous excuses for the timorous and shameful atrocities perpetrated by the nation’s self-proclaimed guardians and defenders are brought under the pen-&-ink microscope focused on ‘Security’ and ‘WMD and Beyond’

Funny, angry, gleefully cynical and Really Angry but Funny, Now Who Do We Blame? is a perfect example of the cartoonist as social commentator – if not actual reformer – and Tom Toles is a truly insightful and gifted gentleman whose work you should familiarise yourself with right now, if not sooner.
© 2005 Tom Toles. All rights reserved.

Candorville: Thank God for Culture Clash


By Darrin Bell (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-5442-5

Darrin Bell likes to keep busy. As well as this bright, breezy yet controversial strip, he works as an editorial cartoonist and storyboard artist even whilst crafting a second modern newspaper mainstay in the form of aspirational lifestyle comedy Rudy Park.

Bell – born January 27th 1975 – is black and Jewish and hails from Los Angeles, which probably accounts for his smooth handling of and fascination with issues of race, gender and social inequality, which form the backbone of his gently chiding, wittily observational cartoons.

After attending University of California, Berkeley and gaining a degree in Political science in 1999, Bell began freelancing for papers such as the Daily Californian, Los Angeles Times and other periodicals. In 2001 he created Rudy Park and in 2004 added a second string to his bow by re-imagining his old college paper strip Lemont Brown as a wily critique on modern times and mores.

This it does by confronting issues of bigotry, poverty, homelessness, biracialism and personal responsibility through incisive yet mellow humour all the while disguising the political sallies in the ongoing saga of a wishy-washy would-be writer, his wannabe gangsta childhood chum and traditionally go-getting (platonic) Latina best friend.

Daydreaming Lemont and short-tempered, ambitious, upwardly-mobile Susan Garcia are both blithely unaware that they are ideal romantic soulmates and many episodes follow their slow, innocent dance towards that eventual realisation…

Now nationally syndicated, Candorville has become a crucial part of the daily lives of millions of young Americans, offering commentary on existences just like theirs, mirroring their dreams and concerns whilst exploring mixed culture relationships in a land that supposedly embraces multicultural, multi-ethnic and many-gendered freedoms whilst refusing to acknowledge that not everybody is happy with that state of affairs and wants to turn back time to the good old conservative days…

Following Lemont’s Foreword ‘Why’ the strips unfold fully formed as the introverted, undiscovered wordsmith wryly observes constant evidence of casual and institutionalised ethnic prejudice in play all around him: moments of intolerance frequently exacerbated by his boyhood pal Clyde – AKA C-Dog – who fully embraces the flashy contemporary hoodlum image of black rappers – bling, shades, bad language and “kill the cops” t-shirts – whilst indulging in (extremely) petty crime…

Both Lemont and Clyde are products of broken homes, with fathers who abandoned them early and mothers who took up the slack. Lemont’s mother, however, put her boy through college and now exerts a demonic passive-aggressive hold on him that sours much of his self-indulgent, poetically angst-ridden life as the classic misunderstood, undiscovered writer…

She wants him to get a job and a girlfriend and is relentless in expressing her desires…

Lemont’s existence is made up of ghastly blind dates, hostile dads and disastrous pick-ups punctuated by a succession of crappy jobs to support his efforts to pen the Great American novel.

He is almost addicted now to the disillusionment of rejection letters and briefly-crippling bouts of self-doubt whenever Susan reads one of his stories and wears that “I don’t get-it” look…

Garcia wants him to succeed, but not as much as her, even though Susan’s rapid advancement at the Ad Agency is continually stymied by glass ceilings, an unscrupulous, penny-pinching boss and an assistant who constantly tries to sabotage and supplant her…

Clyde just wants to be rich and famous and scary, but secretly his heart’s not in it and actual violence is just beyond his nature…

Against that comfortably familiar backdrop, this first collection of strips (of six compendia thus far) allows Bell to lampoon and lambaste Consumerism, the shame of homelessness, the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, police treatment of minorities, Religion, the myth of Success, TV-manufactured paranoia, Capitalism, Sensitivity Training as a replacement for actual understanding of different ways of life, Globalism, Political Correctness and its detractors, the failures of the banking system, Fox News, exporting jobs overseas and childish aspirations as well as finding time and space to revel in the timeless traditional comedy themes of unrequited love, hypochondria, dating, parental approval and social status…

And day by day the dance goes on…

Smart, wry, sardonic and engagingly sarcastic, this conscience-tinged cartoon sitcom is a splendidly even-handed liberal riposte to the increasing Right-driven American political scene, but also offers heart-warming characters and an engaging, funny story thread for lovers of cartoon continuity.

Not all dissent is strident and not all resistance is futile…
Candorville © 2005 Darrin Bell. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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