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.

Frankenstein: The Mad Science of Dick Briefer


By Dick Briefer & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-688-4                  eISBN: 978-1-63008-186-7

The Golden Age of American comicbooks is usually associated with the blockbusting birth and proliferation of the Superhero, but even at the headiest heights of costumed crusader craziness other fantastic fantasy fashions held their own. Some of the very best – like Jack Cole’s Plastic Man and the unlikely weird warrior under discussion here – also managed to merge genres and surmount their origins through astounding graphic craft, a healthy helping of comedic legerdemain and a deft dose of satire…

Richard Briefer was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan on January 9th 1915. He was a pre-Med student who also studied at the Art Student League in New York City and got into the fledgling comicbook business in 1936, working for the Will Eisner/ Jerry Iger shop after selling work to Wow, What a Magazine!, and others.

He adapted literary classics such as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and, as Dick Hamilton, created early super-team Target and the Targeteers for Novelty Press. Briefer wrote and drew Rex Dexter of Mars, Dynamo, Biff Bannon, Storm Curtis, Crash Parker and more for a range of publishers. For Timely he co-created The Human Top and, as Dick Flood, produced anti-Nazi strip Pinky Rankin for The Daily Worker; the newspaper of the American Communist Party.

Another criminally near-forgotten master craftsman, Dick Briefer is best remembered amongst comics cognoscenti these days for Frankenstein; a suspense strip which debuted in Prize Comics #7 in December 1940 before gradually evolving into a satirical comedy-horror masterpiece which offered thrills and chills whilst ferociously sending up post war America.

A truly unique vision, Briefer’s Frankenstein ran intermittently until 1954 when the toxic paranoiac atmosphere of the anti-communist, anti-comics witch hunt killed it.

The author moved into advertising and latterly portraiture and, despite numerous attempts to revive the strip, never published any more of his absurd and acerbic antics…

Dick Briefer died in December 1980.

Here, however, as part of the wonderful Dark Horse Archives series, you can enjoy the superbly surreal strip in all its manic glory from its horrible heyday; either as this sterling and sturdy full-colour hardback or as an eBook.

Re-presented for your delectation are the contents of Frankenstein #1-7 (spanning January 1945-May 1947) with Briefer at the peak of his powers, writing and drawing the deliciously demented delights that have made him a legend amongst comics creators if not the general public.

After gleaning a few salient facts from appreciative devotee John Arcudi in his Foreword, and relishing some ultra-rare original art from Briefer and Alex Toth, the merry madness begins with issue #1 as we reveal ‘Frankenstein’s Creation’

When a bored mad scientist reads an old book he decides to create his own version of the infamous creature. Sadly, despite scrupulously following the recipe, the malevolent modern Prometheus’ secret formula only manifests a loving, protective nature in his super-strong homunculus and the hulking Frankenstein monster soon becomes a boon to his community and embarrassment to his malignant maker.

Left to his own devices, the artificial Adam is then drawn to the quiet little everytown of Mippyville where the populace are fighting off a supernatural invasion of atrocious arcane predators. ‘Frankenstein and the Ghouls and Vampires’ sees the creature – originally mistaken for a “Bobbysox” pop singer by the town’s screaming teenagers – hilariously clean up the infernal infestation before setting up home in a ramshackle abandoned mansion.

Only one thing is missing to complete his dreams of domestic bliss but, after a brief dalliance with the local spider saleswoman results in her becoming ‘Frankenstein’s Wife’, the man-monster soon learns why a hasty marriage often leads to repentance at leisure…

Mippyville is a place that just attracts weirdness, and the first issue concludes with another mad doctor as deranged surgeon Professor Hugo von Hoogenblotzen kidnaps Frankie and attempts to graft him to an elephant in ‘Frankenstein and the Manimals’

The second issue begins with ‘Frankenstein!’ – a quick recap of past events – before our unlikely hero tracks down a mad mass-murderer who wants others to suffer for his art in ‘Frankenstein and the Statue Maker’ after which the animal-loving oaf is accidentally mistaken for a mere beast and purchased by a moody millionairess. She puts him on a leash to one-up her pals in the Exotic Pets Club but ‘Frankenstein’s Job’ soon teaches them all the true value of animal companionship…

Eventually restored to his own home, ‘Frankenstein’s Ark’ then sees the towering titan re-enact the building of the fabled lifeboat to save his animal chums but end up clashing with a hoarding hermit and his mutant allies…

Issue #3 (July/August 1946 and with scripting assistance from Bruce Elliott) introduced ‘Frankenstein’s Family’ as the big guy won gainful employment as a junk man whilst his new boss tinkered with salvaged machines from a devil doctor’s lab. This resulted in an army of molecularly-unstable juvenile duplicates of Frankie and a great deal of gross chaos…

A legion of escaped horrors attacked Mippyville in ‘Frankenstein and the Monsters’ only to find the town’s ghastly defender too much to handle whilst in ‘Frankenstein and the Mummies’ a quick jaunt to Egypt finds the monster befriending a quartet of ancient, entombed pharaohs before ‘Frankenstein and the Time Machine’ apparently sends the credulous colossus into the furious future and perilous past. This time, however, all is not as it seems…

The regular cast expanded in the fourth issue (September/October 1946) as ‘Frankenstein and Awful Annie’ finds the mellow monster aiding the local purveyor of potions and charms to the city’s supernatural community when her long-lost son wants to come home for a visit. He then makes another odd acquaintance when ‘Frankenstein Meets the (Terrible) Werewolf’ which debuts the gentlest magical man-eater on earth…

Another whirlwind romance goes awry after ‘Frankenstein Sees the Effect of the Youth Restorer’ and makes an amorously ill-advised move on a once-elderly neighbour, before his mystic mates throw the monster a birthday party in ‘Frankenstein and the Sorcerer’ and almost start a magic war that only subsides after the gentle giant accidentally lands a job as a photographic model…

Briefer was an inveterate tinkerer, always looking for innovative new ways to present his mirthful material, and Frankenstein #5 (November/December 1946) trialled a new format of interlinked yarns beginning with ‘Act 1: How I Rehabilitated Maladjusted Ghosts’ as the monster became a troubleshooter for the restless dead and unmasked a murderer.

In ‘Act 2: How I Had (and Lost) a Pet Dinosaur’ he accidentally hatches an antediluvian egg and manages to switch it with a parade-balloon doppelganger whilst ‘Act 3: How I Became a Genii in a Magic Bottle’, saw the monster mysteriously abducted by a street-corner hustler before escaping to save the town from a malicious malady in concluding ‘Act 4: How I Conquered a Terrible Plague’. The experiment was dropped for a more traditional anthological format in the sixth (March/April 1947) issue…

Here the madcap merriment opens with ‘The Last Smile’ as Frankie is mistaken for an escaped murderer and placed on death row after which he hunts down ‘The Ghostnapper’ abducting spirits and stealing their big white sheets…

The rising cost of funerals informed the riotous case of ‘One Small Bier’ as the monster tries a new career as a mortician before heading into the country to investigate accursed, self-propagating automobiles going on an uncanny ‘Joyride’

The final issue reprinted here comes from May/June 1947 #7 and opens with ‘Silas Grunch Gets His’ – co-written with Ed Goggin – as a conniving miser tortures kids by building a funfair children can’t get into… until the Big Guy steps in…

The monster plays cupid and brings two bizarre, lonely people together in ‘The Strange Love of Shirley Shmool’ and romance also informs Frankenstein’s laying of ‘The Curse of the Flying Dutchman’ when the giant goof opens a Lonely Hearts Agency and matches the immortal wanderer with the girl of his nightmares…

This leads to a clash with atom-age seductress ‘The Lorelei’ and a hideous trade of jobs and gender roles before politics rears its ugly (multiple) heads as Frankenstein is convinced to run for President of the Magician’s Guild only to endure the voodoo ‘Pins and Needles’ of a frustrated rival…

A truly unmissable treat from a singular and utterly eccentric creative force, Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein is remarkable work by a one-of-a-kind creator. If you love to be scared, love to laugh and love comics, this is a book you must see.
Frankenstein: The Mad Science of Dick Briefer. Dark Horse Books® and logos are registered trademarks of Dark Horse Comics, Inc. All rights reserved.

America Gone Wild! – Cartoons by Ted Rall


By Ted Rall (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978- 0-7407-6045-7

You might have seen this quote before. Doesn’t mean it’s not still true…

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow.

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…

For as long as we’ve had printing there have been scurrilous, impassioned gadfly artists commentating on rulers, society and all iniquities: pictorially haranguing the powerful, pompous, privileged and just plain perfidious through swingeing satire and cunning caricature. Sometimes these artists have been just plain mean…

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.

For 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 gadfly’s mill. That’s never been more true – or more dangerous – than in the United States of America in the last three decades…

Frederick Theodore Rall III is interested and engaged and knows the risks.

Born in 1963, he is a respected and despised columnist, freelance editorial cartoonist, graphic novelist and war correspondent who homes in like a laser-sight on social ills, cultural stupidity and the venality of power elites – celebrities, businesses, organisations, religions and especially political demagogues. He is always accused of being a Liberal, and always hated (and probably feared) by whoever is in Office at the time…

Although his work has been seen in numerous publications such as Rolling Stone, Time, Fortune and the New York Times, this particular collection features cartoon panels and strips taken from a range of syndicated sources as well as publications such as the Charleston City Paper, Gear, Men’s Health, The Village Voice and Mad magazine amongst others: all crafted during the last Republican incumbency: a time of madness, war, terror, torture, hypocrisy and sheer greed.

It’s an era the new American president promises to in large part restore…

This sublime Weapon of Mass Deliberation comes as square, monochrome paperback (224 x 224 mm) and variable-sized eBook (now that’s democracy for you!) fronted by an evocative Foreword from our own pen-pushing one-man protest movement Steve Bell before Rall’s Prefaceincluding a Behind the Scenes Look at my Most Controversial Cartoons – offers background, context, reasons for his artistic decisions.

This includes intimate details and a truly terrifying selection of death threats, internet abuse messages and apologies from folks who were enraged at Rall’s screed du jour. Other inclusions show that many thought they were mad at him only to discover how they’d been misled, massaged or merely lied to by the mainstream commercial news outlets.  Surely not…?

Ted Rall pulls no punches and that attitude has won him a raft of awards, the loathing of fanatics of every stripe and persuasion plus lots of apologies whenever his peculiar passion – seeing all sides of issues which are almost never binary equations – is finally accepted by a public which usually only hears about his cartoons from agenda-based media outlets such as Fox News or New York Daily News.

This collection actually lets you see what trolls, drones and professional complainers are so disgracefully quick to react to: representing some of Rall’s most potent, memorable and effective graphic broadsides and strip scalpel-slashes from the war years of the G. W. Bush Administration. These include but are far from restricted to pithy exposés of media-hungry ‘Terror Widows’, ruminations over ‘The War on Judgment’ and explanation of resource-management in ‘Here’s Where We’ll get More Troops’

Some of the compulsive commentator’s most life-endangering panels are included here too. ‘Reagan in Hell’ generated an appalling storm of poison for the artist, as did ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabinet or, Black Man’s Burden’ and ‘Appropriate Punishments for Deposed Bushists’, but the most important thing to remember throughout this collection is that the picture and words result from genuine concern from a very smart, talented and INFORMED individual who actually bothers to check facts before sounding off…

Also making this final cut are such slyly fervent strips as ‘Free Speech Maniacs’, ‘Just Get Over It!’, ‘Let’s Meet Other Heroic Government Workers’, ‘Proxy Politics’, ‘Republicans on the Rampage!’, ‘Why we Spy on Americans Instead’ and ‘Ordnance sans Frontières’; satirical assaults like ‘Special Privileges for Blacks’, ‘Society at a Glance’, ‘The Left Gets Organized’, ‘Jury Selection Made E-Z’ and ‘Understanding Editorial Cartoons’ as well as less-emotionally charged, surreal snipes and contemporary cultural critiques including ‘Enroll in School of Bodily Fluid Arts’, ‘Jihad Slacker’, ‘Sometimes Love is Not Enough’ and ‘Freedom Marches On’

Presumably just to prove he’s not always proselytising, there are also splendid selections of comics on life-style, work and relationships from Men’s Health and outrageously strange strips from Mad focusing on high school (7 Periods) and superheroes (The Adventures of Fantabulaman) to keep you laughing when you’re not shouting or crying.

This is a superb slice of “Look Back in Anger” by an immensely talented proponent of the art, dedicated to the most revered principles of cartoon dissent and journalistic calling-to-account. His recent stuff is even better. As a new era dawned in US politics he released a “manifesto to topple Trumpism”. I can’t wait to see that as a graphic novel…
© 2006 Ted Rall. All rights reserved.

Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking


By Brad Evans, Sean Michael Wilson, Inko, Carl Thompson, Robert Brown, Chris Mackenzie, Michiru Morikawa & Yen Quach (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-318-2                  eISBN: 978-1-78026-319-9

Our particular branch of the arts depends rather heavily on the loving depiction of violence in all its forms, but it’s unlikely that most of us ever give it much rational and cohesive thought. How wonderful then than somebody actually has and kindly put it all together in a series of irresistible comic essay dialectics.

At least in terms of entertainment, there seems to be an unquenchable – almost compulsive – need to see conflicts resolved through force and problems solved by the imposition of will upon dissenters. Justifications for these acts can always be found if one looks hard enough…

Violence isn’t just a perfectly choreographed punch in the jaw or a sublimely balletic spin-kick, it’s also oppression, subtracting choices, dismissing someone’s opinions, denying them education or agency and so many other things we allow our leaders or even our friends and associates to do to – and “for” – us on a daily and incremental basis. The effects, however, are cumulative, vast and lasting…

Here a number of thinkers, theoreticians, activists and educators have their works and key achievements précised and propounded via a series of short strips seeking to highlight different ways to address our species’ second most primal drive.

Adapted and scripted throughout by Dr. Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson, the thought-provocations begin with ‘Brad Evans: Thinking Against Violence’. Illustrated by Inko, they collaboratively restate a conversation between the political philosopher/critical theorist and a journalist as he sought to explain his thesis that the media feeds and is dependent on violence for its own survival.

Chris Mackenzie then limns a visual discourse on how observation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann led to a new theory on human nature, the power of delegated authority and impact of surrendered autonomy in ‘Hannah Arendt: The Banality of Evil’, after which ‘Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth’ (with art by Carl Thompson) describes how the psychologist re-examined the effects of colonialism on both masters and subjects.

A landmark shift in critical thinking and educational doctrine is scrutinised in the Inko-illustrated ‘Paulo Freire: The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ before a theoretical icon is revisited and the unshakable link between liberals and State violence is revealed in ‘Michel Foucault: Society Must Be Defended’ (illustrated by Robert Brown).

A Humanist examination of the cultural biases that colour and inform the West’s view of Eastern cultures is disclosed in ‘Edward Said: Orientalism’; with Thompson’s art working to explain the knottier points of history and entrenched racism. Then Inko makes her final artistic contribution in ‘Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others’ as the theoretician deconstructs and adjudicates on the misleading truths and overwhelming potency of carefully selected, deliberately disseminated images utilised by media and governing authorities…

‘Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent’ (Thompson again) explores the misnomer of a “Free Press” and reveals how a commercial media system can only act as a propaganda tool of whoever’s in charge, whilst Michiru Morikawa portrays ‘Judith Butler: Precarious Lives’; explaining how knee-jerk responses to atrocity fail through her theories on Normative Violence, Subversion and Liveable Life, after which Yen Quach depicts the arguments of Italian philosopher ‘Giorgio Agamben: Sovereign Power/Bare Life’ which posit that the job of democratic politics is to prevent the development of conditions which lead to hatred, terror and destruction, not merely to respond to and control them after they’ve occurred…

I’m not smart enough to do much more than parrot the phrases of these brilliant concerned individuals but I strongly urge you to read this collection – especially Henry A Giroux’s Foreword ‘How do we educate about Violence?’ which offers terms of reference, context and chilling insight into the state of play between Us and Them…

Supplemented by ‘Biographical Notes for the Writers and the Artists’ this is a compelling and challenging collection that needs to seen by everybody in power or comfortably submitting to it…
© Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson.

Chance in Hell


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-833-6

There’s fiction, there’s Meta-fiction and then there is Gilbert Hernandez. In addition to being part of the graphic and literary revolution that was Love and Rockets (where his incredibly insightful tales of Palomar and later stories of those characters collected in Luba gained such critical acclaim) he has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Grip, Birdland and Girl Crazy; all marked by his bold, instinctive, compellingly simplified artwork and a mature, sensitive adoption of the literary techniques of Magical Realism. In comicbook terms he has evolved those techniques and made them his own.

A seemingly tireless experimenter and innovator, in 2006 Beto began to acknowledge some of his cinematic and literary influences such as Roger Corman, John Cassavetes, Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson: breaking new ground and reprocessing cultural influences that shaped many of us baby-boomers.

In Luba and other tales of Palomar we often glimpsed the troubled life of her half-sister Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, lisping psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and former B-movie starlet of such faux screen gems as Three Mystic Eyes, Blood is the Drug and Love From the Shadows. In her fictive biography Fritzi had begun her film career in a brutal exploitation pic called Chance in Hell

Hernandez began “adapting” those trashy movies as fully realised graphic novels.

He started with Chance in Hell – although Fritzi only had a bit part in it – and crafted a bleak, violent yet strangely contemplative tale about a girl born into the worst of lives: one which she eventually escaped from if not necessarily grew out of…

Released as a digest-sized monochrome hardback, this sordid saga opens in a place we’ve all seen if not experienced…

Barely a toddler, Empress had already endured the worst the apocalyptic slum could muster: starvation, rape and casual murder as she blithely questioned the other juvenile scavengers in search of “Daddy”…

Even after being “adopted” by one of the boy-gangs her quest continues, punctuated by hunger, violence and the constant attention of well-to-do, predatory men from the city intent on slaking their particular peccadilloes on a child nobody values…

When a misunderstanding results in an ever-escalating slaughter, her protector dies and Empress is spirited away to the city by one of those prowling vultures in suits.

Some years later, exuding the confidence of wealth and experience, Empress is constantly drawn to the Red Light district where the flashy pimps and their human wares ply a never-ending trade. She’s barely a teenager and doesn’t seem to care about the lucky life she leads. The man who ultimately took her from the wastes where the city has always left its unwanted children is decent and honest: a poetry editor. She has never had to feel the terror and pain inflicted on so many others from her station, but still she is restless and increasingly rebellious…

Empress wants to be with the dangerous under-people; the debased and violent survivors. She despises her guardian’s hopes and aspirations that she will one day “rise above”…

Even though her current existence is a comparative paradise, she is drawn to those elements which exemplify her traumatic early years and when she discovers the sordid, sexual secret of her adoptive father something primal resurfaces in her…

Abandoning everything she knows, Empress seeks out a church-run Safe Haven for Girls and grows to womanhood in vague, regimented security. Even after settling down with a good man and becoming a suburban housewife, her disconnection and discontent remain. When a face from her past resurfaces so does her primal conditioning and she seeks out the formative places of her childhood. Tragedy follows tragedy and when the notorious “babykiller” of her youth escapes justice, her mind begins to spiral…

Whatever you’re assuming happens next, you’re almost certainly wrong…

Raw and disturbing yet thoroughly engaging, this tale within a tale eschews all the traditions of dramatic plot for casual causality: stuff happens, we react, more stuff happens, people die, the world goes on…

And yet beneath it all there’s shaded but potent criticism of how we allow our society to treat individuals, and hard questions asked about what we actually mean by the terms “caring” and “humanity”…

For all its experimental veneer and political subtext, Chance in Hell still has all Hernandez’s signature elements: matter-of-fact sexuality, sharp dialogue and sly surrealism to elevate it above the vast body of such fiction. This is a tale no thinking fan of the comics medium should miss…
© 2007 Gilbert Hernandez. All rights reserved.