Peach Slices


By Donna Barr (Aeon/Mu)
No ISBN:                    : 978-1-89225-325-5 (2006 Director’s Cut edition)

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of Erwin Rommel, the legendary German soldier universally hailed as “the Desert Fox”.

Set mostly in Africa during World War II, this priceless gem of a series effortlessly combines hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, with stories describing the dalliances and daily tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel. This younger sibling also served, albeit as an unwilling but dutiful cog in the iniquitous German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although in his own ways as formidable as his beloved brother, the caring, gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence. Thus, he spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and ever-so patient with and to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate all-encompassing conflict.

It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th harbours the very worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact, the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace, but arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt.

This is a man (we’re at least assured of that!) of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This eccentric aggregation of extras, excerpts and exotica was first released in 1993, re-presenting extraneous material from a variety of sources and covering the period 1987-1993: as much an affectionate art-book as delicious dose of non- or mis-canonical hi-jinks.

The entire package was subsequently re-released in 2006 in a Director’s Cut edition which added issue #25’s WWI Transylvanian Hammer-Horror pastiche ‘Beautiful’ to the mix and includes reminiscences, background commentary and creator-kibitzing regarding all the esoteric tales and titbits.

The gloriously visual treat begins with an Unused Pin Design and a splendid Badge Design from the San Diego Comic-Con 1989 after which a quartet of stunning and bizarre Beer Labels (for ales created by micro brewer Wendell Joost in 1988) precedes ‘Peach on Earth’ from A Very Mu Christmas 1992 – one of the very best Christmas stories ever produced in the notoriously twee and sentimental comics field.

Set in the harsh December of 1945, it follows the demobbed and repatriated Pfirsich as he wanders through his broken and occupied homeland, avoiding trouble and American troops but not the gnawing starvation and freezing snows which would kill so many returning, defeated German soldiers. On the verge of despair and death the Peach is brusquely adopted by a strange, brittle and utterly fearless little boy who has only known the Fatherland in the throes of decline, but still looks eagerly to a brighter tomorrow…

This is followed by a rather risqué Rosen Kavalier pinup from Paper Phantasies (1991) and an unused strip originally commissioned by Rip Off Press after which ‘Whipping Boy’ offers a full-on adult escapade of the unconventional lovers as is ‘I Am What I Am… (I Think)’. This was a “Desert Peach Pitt Stop” that also languished unpublished until this collection preserved it.

Bits ‘n’ Pieces was a short-lived self-published magazine the indefatigable author used to disseminate assorted works which never made it into the regular, normal-length Desert Peach title.

‘The Veteran’ comes from the first issue in 1991, returning focus to the motley cast of the hapless 469th for a deliciously philosophical foray starring a most peculiar and innocent warrior named Thommi, whilst, following a frolicsome Desert Peach pinup from the 1989 Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special, ‘Hindsight’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991) dabbles into personal politics before ‘Reflections’ from #3 offers a few New Year’s observations on the cast and stars from Barr herself.

The 1991 San Diego Comic-Con booklet provided another beguiling Pinup before ‘Udo and the Phoenix’ (from Xenophon #1, 1992) relates another tale of the spirited Arab horse accidentally owned by Udo and cared for by the equally magnificent Pfirsich.

Next ‘Reluctant Affections’ (from Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991, before being redrawn as ‘Pigeonholed’ for Gay Comics #16) explores a tender, fragile moment and adorable chink in the macho armour of uber-Mensch Rosen…

‘The More Things Change’ from benefit book Choices in 1992 debates the abortion issue with characteristic abrasive aplomb after which ‘Sweet Delusions’ (Wimmin’s Comix #16 1991) gets down to the eye-watering nitty-gritty of Rosen & Pfirsich’s love life and ‘Wet Dream’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #3 1991) follows up with more of the same in a hilariously wry maritime moment.

Barr’s creations are never far from always internally consistent flights of extreme fantasy, as deliciously seen in glorious diversion ‘The Oasis’ (Centaurs Gatherum 1990) with Pfirsich and brother Erwin finding a militarily priceless waterhole with a fantastic secret and forced to spend a truly outrageous time trapped as hybrid half horses…

This captivating chronicle concludes with a selection of ‘Peach Pits’ miscellanea: illustrations, roughs and small press items culled from the Desert Peach Musical books, T-shirts and posters. There’s some fascinating rough layouts from the aforementioned ‘Peach on Earth’, an unused page from DP #17 (the superb ‘Culture Shock’ as seen in The Desert Peach: Marriage & Mayhem) and assorted stuff from Zine Zone #13, 1992. Even more extras comprise covers from Germanophilic Amateur Press Association magazine ‘Krauts’ and shirt designs before the whole outrageous affair ends well with an implausibly “true tail” starring half-horse Stinz Löwhard, Pfirsich and Erwin in a ‘Character Revolt’ from 1987’s Fan’toons 19.

Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging: bizarre (anti) war stories which rank amongst the very best comics of the 1990s. Even now they still pack a shattering comedic kick and – if you’re not quite braced – poignantly emotional charge.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continued as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs as well as grown-up comics in general.

All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have any facility with the digital world they can still be found. You might want to start with these addresses: http://www.donnabarr.com or http://thedesertpeach.com and if you just have to own your own Peach product http://www.lulu.com/desertpeach offers a huge double collection that also comes as economical loadable files and The Desert Peach (plus Stinz and Bosom Enemies) are all re-printed with colour extras at http://www.Indyplanet.com at marvellously economical rates.

So you should do all that, Macho Schnell, before the month is out!
© 1987-1993 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

Anarcoma


By Nazario, translated by David H. Rosenthal (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-000-0

It’s Pride Month and I’m keen to celebrate how far we’ve come as a species and society. Nevertheless – and just because I hate responding to complaints – here’s a note of warning: this book is filled with graphic sexual acts, full frontal nudity and coarse language. If that causes you any offence don’t buy this book and don’t read this review. The rest of us will manage without you.

You know what it’s like: sometimes you’re just in the mood for something challenging, different or just plain nasty, and nothing better sums up that feeling than this startling pastiche of film noir chic transposed into the even grimmer, darker and nastier milieu of the gay-underworld of post-Franco Spain.

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a right-wing general who ruled the country from 1947 until his death in 1975, “on behalf” of a puppet monarchy helpless to resist him. His repressive, Christian-based attitudes held the country in an iron time-lock for decades as the rest of the world moved an around him.

Vera Luque Nazario was an intellectual, college professor and cartoonist living under the fascist regime, yet fiercely inspired by the freedom and exuberant graphic license displayed in American underground commix, especially the works of R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and possibly Spain Rodriguez.

In a totalitarian state that openly advocated the “curing” of homosexuals, Nazario founded an artist’s collective or “contracultural group” in 1971 to produce home-grown underground commix (El Rollo Enmascarado, Paupérrimus, Catalina, Purita and others) frequently incurring the wrath of the Francoist censors and police. Nazario’s work received far fairer treatment outside Spain, appearing in such groundbreaking mature magazines as It, Actuel, Oz, Gai Pied and L’Echo des Savanes.

When Franco died the country opened up and there was a tumultuous cascade of artistic expression. Extremely strident adult material designed primarily to shock began appearing in new magazines such as El Víbora, Cannibale and Frigidaire. After years of covert comics creation, multi-talented artisan Nazario eventually moved into design and record cover production. In later years he concentrated on painting and his first prose novel was released in 2006. Since then he has become a darling of Spain’s intellectual, educational and art worlds, with his works becoming museum works and national treasures.

In 2016 he published his autobiography The Daily Life of the Underground Artist and the long-awaited third part of Anarcoma as literary release Nuevas aventuras de Anarcoma and Robot XM2. This year at France’s annual Angoulême Festival Anarcoma was nominated for the heritage category, marking it as a work of global importance and influence.

The shocking cartoon rebellion began as strip in a porn magazine, but that quickly folded and Nazario transferred the feature to El Víbora in 1979, revelling in homoerotic excess in a magazine with no censorial boundaries. It ran for years and this long out-of-print hardcover translation was but the first collection of many – but not, sadly, in English translation.

Symbols of freedom never came more outrageously formed than Anarcoma; a spectacularly endowed, star-struck trans private detective who hangs all-out in the notorious red-light district of Las Ramblas.

A stunning blend of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall she works as prostitute and club entertainer while pursuing her dream of becoming a real gumshoe like the ones in the American movies she adores…

Life is complicated: ex-army buddy Humphrey is her current her boyfriend, but he won’t leave his wife and kids. Moreover, Anarcoma’s hobby has won no friends among both the cops and the criminal gangs run by the ruthless Captain Seahorse. Worst of all, there are even weirder and more dangerous folk lurking around…

After a series of profound prose appreciations from Alberto Cardín and Ludolfo Paramio plus a thoroughly absorbing cartoon cast-list, the ultra-explicit adventure begins…

The city is in turmoil: Professor Onliyu’s latest invention has been stolen. Nobody knows what it does but everybody wants it. Anarcoma thinks she has a lead…

The trail leads through all the sleaziest dives and dens, implicating almost everybody at one time or another, but when the manic religious order The Black Count and his Knights of Saint Represent and feminist paramilitaries Metamorphosina and her One-Eyed Piranhas start their own conflicting campaigns for the missing machine, Anarcoma is distracted and almost loses her life to mysterious sex-robot XM2.

Luckily her charms extend and affect even artificial he-men…

Outrageously imaginative, dauntingly brutal and sexually graphic, this devastatingly ironic genre amalgamation is audacious and bizarre, but unflinchingly witty as it probes the role of hero in society and eulogises the heady power of liberation.

Anarcoma was first released in 1980, but even by today’s evolved standards the incredibly violent and satirically, staggeringly baroque pastiche is a shocking, controversial piece of work. Raw, purposefully shocking and wickedly delightful, this is a perfect walk on the wild side for people with open minds and broad tastes.
© 1983 by Nazario. English edition © 1983 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

The March to Death – Drawings by John Olday


By John Olday, edited by Donald Rooum (Freedom Press)
ISBN: 978-0900384806

We tend to remember World War II as a battle of opposites, of united fronts and ubiquitous evil; of Us and Them. In these increasingly polarised days where any disagreement or demurring opinion on any issue is treated as heresy punishable by death or flogging, it’s valuable and comforting to be reminded that even under the most calamitous conditions and clearest of threats, dissent is part of the human psyche and our most valuable birthright.

The March to Death was an unashamed political tract, a collection of anti-war cartoons and tellingly appropriate quotations first published in 1943 by Freedom Press, the Anarchist publishing organisation.

Comics strips and especially cartoons are an astonishingly powerful tool for education as well as entertainment and the images rendered by German emigré John Olday (neé Arthur William Oldag) were, are and remain blistering attacks on the World Order of all nations that had led humanity so inexorably to a second global conflagration in less than a generation.

He drew most of the images whilst serving in the British Royal Pioneer Corps before deserting in 1943. For that he was imprisoned until 1946.

The accompanying text for this edition was selected by his colleague and artistic collaborator Marie Louise Berneri, a French Anarchist thinker who moved to Britain in 1937.

Still readily available, the 1995 edition has a wonderfully informative foreword by cartoonist, letterer, and deceptively affable deep thinker Donald Rooum which paints the time and the tone for the young and less politically informed. This is a work that all serious advocates of the graphic image as more than a vehicle for bubble gum should know of and champion.

Makes you Think, right. Hopefully it will make you act, too.
© 1943, 1995 Freedom Press.

Kabul Disco Book 1: How I Managed Not to be Abducted in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Mark Bence & Fabrice Sapolsky (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-868-6

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Fallacious – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a superb case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts. It is also the initial release of trans-Continental publisher Humanoids’ new Down-to-Earth, Real-World graphic novel imprint Life Drawn.

This fabulous monochrome travel memoir is the debut episode in a sequence by French writer/artist Nicholas Wild and details his globe-trotting quest for employment: a worthy endeavour which took the wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005.

Remember This: there’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters and our side – there’s no leeway to not take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend if you slip up and start thinking of rivals or adversaries or opponents or even those who disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas…

‘Part One: A Winter in Kabul’ follows the culture-shocked scribbler as he arduously transitions to a country in the throes of enforced reconstruction and modernisation, joining the somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO Zendagui Media as they work to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations.

Wild’s proposed task is to help define the fancy notion of democracy for the still-largely illiterate populace through comicbook versions of Afghanistan’s new Constitution…

The artist’s early difficulties in adjusting to the primitive conditions and superb gift for wry commentary then afford the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple as Wild succinctly unpicks Afghanistan’s convoluted history through the 20th century via a cartoon political primer that brilliantly defines how the place got to be such a corrupt mess. I certainly wish I’d had more comics like this when I studied modern history…

Days pass and Nicholas settles in, toiling against impossible deadlines, conversely feeling locked in or anxiously exposed whenever he goes exploring; always aware that in this place foreigners go missing every day…

Although the security situation remains tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing in the stunning Bamiyan Valley…

All too soon the job is done and Wild is afraid he’s going to be let go…

‘Part Two: No Spring in Kabul’ finds Wild on April 1st 2005, happy to be retained, albeit on a 3-month contract as a graphic designer for Zendagui’s new project. The brief is to supply materials for a US military-sponsored push to recruit native Afghanis for the new National Army. The thought of crafting military propaganda is not a comforting or comfortable one…

Spiced with further insights about his improbable and unpredictable bosses and new eating experiences, the real kicker is meeting new recruit Laurie White: a political communications expert who worked with the 2000 Bush Election Campaign…

Trips to the University of Herat and enjoyable days amidst the villagers soon cement the visitor’s sense of belonging but that all takes a hard knock as the political situation intensifies and overconfidence leads to Wild getting lost in old Kabul…

When a fresh kidnapping results in a full lockdown for Zendagui staff, Laurie teasingly reveals the true story of Bush’s “victory” in Florida but once the panic subsides it’s back to work. Even though Al Qaeda and the Taliban are ramping up their activities, Nick is sent to the far end of the Jalalabad Road to observe the filming of a recruitment ad even as Laurie is despatched to consult on the new voting form for a nation of more than two dozen different tribes and sects who don’t speak the same language and can’t read…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction piling up but progress somehow being made until it’s time to go home again…

But is it for good?

Although rendered in beguiling black and white, Kabul Disco also provides a stunning, full colour ‘Bonus Section’ comprising candid personal photographs of Wild’s stay, plus extensive examples of Yassin & Kaka Raouf: the 10-volume educational comicbook he illustrated to explain the new Constitution for the newly democratised country.

Captivating, warm, funny, scarily informative and unobtrusively polemical, Kabul Disco is a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature. I can’t wait for the second volume scheduled for later this year – although I’m just going to have to.

Moreover, the quality of this book augers exceedingly well for Life Drawn’s other imminent releases (Vietnamese Memories: Leaving Saigon by Clément Baloup; Louisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel &‎ Mariko Tamaki; Madame Cat by Nancy Peña): a barrage of personal stories certain to challenge any comics fan’s definition of fantastic fiction and true-life drama.
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 1: Comment je ne me suis pas fait kidnapper en Afghanistan, © 2007 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

The Massive: Ninth Wave


By Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Jordie Bellaire, Jared K. Fletcher & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-009-0

Between April 2012 and 2014, prolific scripter, artist and games designer Brian Wood (X-Men, Aliens, Conan, DMZ, Demo, Northlanders, Channel Zero) crafted a chilling and potent post-disaster tale of failed activist sea captain Callum Israel: a man driven to ply the seas of an ecologically broken Earth, searching for lost sister ship The Massive.

Full of missing comrades, the other vessel had vanished during the final collapse, perhaps taking with it the reasons why the world had suddenly tipped too far and toppled into environmental, political, financial and social Armageddon.

Israel had been leader of the Marine Conservation Direct Action Force and helmed the converted eco- trawler Kapital. Before the end of all days, his days had been spent with a band of equally dedicated and extremely capable non-violent volunteers, all working on the very edge of ecological terrorism: foiling and confounding polluters, climate change deniers, world leaders and money maniacs.

That had been backstory during the ongoing odyssey, whereas this new trade paperback volume (re-presenting the 6-issue miniseries The Massive: Ninth Wave) collects in a mass-market edition 2015’s prequel series that followed the series’ culmination. Here Israel and his band of beaten survivors still go about their unlawful pursuits in their hopeful heyday: racing around a still viable Earth to confront and frustrate the greedy bastards pushing our planet over the edge through corrupt actions, callous neglect and sheer indifference…

Following Wood’s ruminatory Introduction, a compelling string of self-contained, stand-alone tales relentlessly unfold in a perfect storyboard for TV’s next big, sensationally hard-hitting drama series (no, I’m not saying it is happening, just that it should…), rendered by returning team of illustrator Garry Brown, colourist Jordie Bellaire and letterer Jared K. Fletcher.

The suspenseful action opens with the infamous and preeminent global environmental rescue group seemingly in a stalling pattern. As Callum Israel and his deputies debate ultra-billionaire industrialist Bors Bergen at sea and beyond all international scrutiny, Ninth Wave operatives Rimona, Max, Lars and Purge covertly land in Germany and get to work beneath the most opulent and prestige-packed housing enclave of Berlin.

Bors thinks his money buys unlimited influence and insulates him from the repercussions of his shady deals, but the Ninth Wave see further targets where the money man sees resolute allies. The eco-warriors’ point and their ‘Manifesto’ is potently proved with one simple act of innovative plumbing that reduces the callous Croesus to the global media’s latest scandalous, shamed pariah du jour…

Callum’s non-violent principles are then tested to the limit when he joins maverick Park Ranger Amanda Gray of Canada’s Ministry of Forests to thwart far more bloodthirsty eco-terrorists determined to sabotage and eager to kill loggers during a forest clearcut operation in ‘Para’.

A two-pronged assault defines the next tale as Israel fights in court to prevent the destruction by commercial exploitation of a precarious island habitat and its iconic wildlife. In the meantime, his go-team resort to far more traditional tactics and ‘Occupy’ the embattled Arctic atoll. Then the ruthless money guys send in security teams, Blackhawk copters and napalm… just as the Ninth Wave veterans expected…

‘Hunted’ hones in on the total absence of enforceable law at sea beyond national borders as an outlaw vessel responsible for crimes ranging from illegal fishing to human trafficking seizes and holds hostage the Ninth Wave volunteers attempting to stop them. With all authorities refusing assistance, Callum’s people are forced to prove that “non-violent” doesn’t mean “helpless” or “toothless”…

After saving and relocating a boatload of war refugees, Callum and his people face the full might of the US government in ‘Blacksite’ when the superpower subsequently accuses the eco-warriors of harbouring and covertly transporting fugitive terrorists…

The powerful blend of activism, agitprop, realpolitik and dark drama concludes with a refreshingly personal social apotheosis as the team target a rich American who’s paid a fortune to shoot a certain lion in an African Preserve. ‘Oasis’ shows that in conservation there are no small or acceptable wrongs and weapons exist far crueller and more effective than guns…

With covers by J. P. Leon, this slim, seductive and deliciously uplifting book is a sublime beacon of hope and promise as we all watch the world get ever more unpalatable and potentially uninhabitable… And the Doom Clock continues to inexorably count down…
The Massive™ © 2015, 2016, 2017 Brian Wood. All rights reserved.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets


By Hergé (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)                    978-1-40526-651-2 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Hergé completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination – and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette (written by the staff sports reporter) when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues? And also, perhaps highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930.

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

Arriving in Russia, the dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by the Soviets to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular feeling and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse –  a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen to gel on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast and flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters. This is a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself is very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something… an intriguing hint of things to come.

Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in both hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and not ideal for the stated target market of eight years old and up), this is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai.
Text ©1999, 2007Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.

Growing Old with B.C. – A 50 Year Celebration


By Johnny Hart (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 978-1-905239-63-4 (HB)                    978-1-933160-68-9 (PB)

John Lewis Hart was born in Endicott, New York in 1931, and his first published cartoons appeared in military newspaper Stars and Stripes while he served with the US Air Force during the Korean War. On returning to Civvy Street in 1953, he sold a few gags to The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers Weekly and elsewhere, but had to earn a living as a general designer.

In 1958, for some inexplicable reason, caveman jokes were everywhere in magazines and comics (even latterly creeping onto TV and into movies). Despite all the dawn-age foofaraw, General Electric draughtsman and still-wannabe cartoonist Johnny Hart hadn’t sold a single one. He also desperately wanted to create a syndicated newspaper strip but couldn’t think of an idea.

And then one of his co-workers said why not do a strip feature one about Cavemen? Just like Alley Oop, but different…

Hart took a good look at the state of the world, and especially the people around him and the wryly outrageous social commentarians supporting and harassing hapless nebbish lead B.C. quickly took shape…

The concept sold instantly to the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate and the strip rapidly became a global hit, with the first of 41 collected editions (Hey! B.C.) released in 1959.

In 1964 Hart started collaborating with fellow cartoonist Brant Parker on a new strip. The Wizard of Id also became a monster hit. The features won Hart an astounding host of awards over the years: making him one of only 4 American cartoonists to produce two strips appearing contiguously in more than 1000 newspapers.

Hart died of a stroke on April 7th 2007. He was working at his drawing board. Brant Parker passed away eight days later.

Hart became a devout Christian during the mid-1980s – something which increasingly and controversially manifested in later strips – but his urgent need to preach and share took a long time to impact the trenchant, whimsically surreal wit and primal by-play of his primordial playpen…

B.C. is a modern everyday kind of guy: a general slob just getting by, but he has some odd and interesting friends breaking up the monotony of the pre-civilised world. These include self-proclaimed genius Peter, superstitious misogynist Wiley, proto-prime nerd Clumsy Carp, pre-human missing-link Grog, uber-sarcastic Curls and rakish lady-killer Thor.

Apparently, all of them are based on actual people – life-long friends of Hart’s – and their candid reminiscences provide a charming and poignant insight into the life of one of the most revered and successful cartoonists of modern times.

Other materialised regulars include a variety of talking beasts and inanimate objects: chatty, snappy dinosaurs, ants and ant-eaters, clams, snakes, turtles, birds and an apteryx – but I’m guessing they never had analogues with day-jobs in Eisenhower’s America…

This magnificent tome – available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions – offers a decade-by-decade selection of the best and most memorable B.C. strips, supplemented by a listing of its many awards, and comes stuffed with photographs and observations. This is a delightful commemoration of a truly great and very funny strip.

Hart died during the finishing stages of this book’s creation, making this the best way to celebrate his achievements. His legacy of brain-tickling, absurdist lunacy will never date, and creative anachronism has never been better used to raise a smile or an eyebrow in this lush collection of timely and timeless fun.
B.C. © 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc. B.C.© 1958-2006 John L. Hart Family Limited Partnership.

The Boondocks: Fresh for ’01… You Suckas!


By Aaron McGruder (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-1395-8

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, complacent and mostly uncomplaining.

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 3rd December, the strip started appearing in national periodical The Diamondback before, following an editorial bust-up, McGruder pulled the strip in March 1997.

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

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 perfectly honed for a modern black readership.

And it was Funny. Very, very Funny.

Most amazingly, after all these years, it still is, even though – not so shockingly – the social ills regularly highlighted in its panels remain undiminished to bedevil the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave…

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

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

His little brother Riley is mired in Hip-Hop and the trappings of Gangsta Rap. Yet suddenly one day they are both uprooted and 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 all sides…

Huey (proudly boasting that he’s named for Black Panther co-founder Dr Huey Percy Newton) perpetually expounds his strident brand of radical rhetoric and pointedly calls out hypocrisy from the well-meaning but inherently patronising all-Caucasian township, but also finds equal amounts of hilarious disgust and venomous opprobrium for those overbearing, overhyped aspects of modern Black Culture our young rebel deems stupid, demeaning or self-serving…

Riley mostly likes scaring the oh-so-polite white folks and dreaming of the days he’s gonna have fast cars and shiny guns…

The Norman Rockwell picture-postcard setup 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…

The first recognizable semblance of normality occurs after another new family moves in next door. Thomas and Sarah Dubois are dyed-in-the-wool woolly liberals: yuppies, lawyers and Woodcrest’s first interracial couple.

Moreover, – and although she doesn’t understand any of the stuff Huey taunts her with – their daughter Jazmine is the suburb’s third black child… like, ever…

Even though Jazmine never thought of herself as any colour, Huey is determined to raise her consciousness… when he’s not taking her establishment-conditioned black dad to task on what colour his soul actually is…

Huey’s far less keen on the stalker-like attentions of Cindy McPhearson: a girl from school who has fallen under the mesmerising spell of network TV’s version of Black Culture. She wants to meet – or actually be – Snoop Doggy Dogg. Cindy hasn’t heard the term “Wigga” yet and Huey ain’t doing nothing but avoiding her: a tricky proposition since she sits behind him in class asking ever-dumber questions.

The boys’ enrolment at Edgar J. Hoover Elementary School caused many 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 now assured that his terrified teachers can handle any possible hurdles the vast variance in backgrounds might cause…

In this second monochrome paperback (or eBook) collection, the class, race and generational conflict resumes with Huey and Grandpa squaring off over beloved cultural icons such as Otis Redding against Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, before a new school year and an imminent Presidential Election throw a whole new swathe of injustices and potential disaster in Huey’s face…

However, the media’s dumbing-down of all important issues, the cultural atrocities playing on the radio from Woodcrest’s “only black station” or the excruciating embarrassment of poor Mr. Petto negotiating the hurdles of trying to teach Black History Month classes are as nothing compared to Cindy’s latest obsession: dreary, corporate music sell-out Sean Puffy Puff Daddy Combs…

Huey’s trenchant, non-stop spleen and ire eventually find suitable outlet after he creates his own newspaper – The Free Huey World Report – but just as the saccharine oppression seems most potent: when Huey and Riley have apparently assimilated as much as they’re ever going to in whiter-than-white Woodcrest, another black kid transfers to the school and tips the balance of power again.

Michael Caesar is from Brooklyn and brings his own unique attitudes to the ever-destabilised status quo and is more than happy to spend some time working to bring about The Revolution…

Peppered with hilarious and outrageous commentary on the many forgettable candidates in the 2000 election (anybody remember Alan Keyes or Ralph Nader?), highlights here include Huey agreeing to teach clueless Thomas Dubois to access in his inner blackness, Riley’s constant applications to join the NRA (because they can probably get him guns) and Huey exposing subliminal messages in candidate George W. Bush’s campaign ads…

And then Grandpa Robert sells out: beginning a part-time job with the Census Bureau, taking names and spying on the people as an agent of the counter-revolutionary, pro-establishment forces of oppression…

Don’t go away with the misapprehension that The Boondocks is a declamatory 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 ongoing travesties of the revived Star Wars franchise or black actors in superhero movies; Cindy’s wholehearted adoption of television advertising tropes and sacrosanct cultural touchstone “The Blues” and Huey’s procrastinating war with himself over mowing the lawn…

Bonkers, hilariously sharp, charmingly 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 © 2001 by Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Breaking the 10 volume 2


By Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-117-8

If God exists, why does he hate us?

It’s a question that has been asked countless times and – naturally – there has never been a universally satisfactory answer, but it’s made for plenty of philosophical and theological debate. It’s also provided many superb dramatists, satirists and comedians with a platform to create challenging and engaging stories of what might happen when the specimens in the cosmic Petri dish start complaining about the way we’ve been treated…

Scottish émigré and citizen of the world Seán Michael Wilson is a past master of “Deep” comics confronting real issues (Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking; Goodbye God? – an Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion with Hunt Emerson) but is equally at home with more mainstream strip material such as The Story of Lee, Sweeney Todd or AX: Alternative Manga.

In the first volume of Breaking the 10 he combined fundamental life questions with an enticing manga sensibility to craft a powerfully absorbing tale of crushed hope, bitter disillusionment and grief-filled reaction. Simultaneous funny and thought-provoking, Breaking the 10 shared the tale of bereaved survivor and (formerly) devout Christian David

Compounding the heretical soul-searching here is award-winning illustrator Michiru Morikawa, who previously collaborated with Wilson on Yakuza Moon, Demon’s Sermon, Musashi and The Faceless Ghost and affords a sleek, seductive pictorial allure to the sordid affairs…

When David’s wife and child were cruelly taken from him by a hit-&-run driver, the tragic survivor broke inside. Grieving and enraged, he demanded a meeting with God and a chance to force Him to explain His actions and motivations. With no response to prayer and no other recourse, David resolved to become a sinner, methodically and systematically breaking the Ten Commandments.

Regardless of the harm he inflicted upon others around him, the aggrieved apostate meticulously contravened the first five – Thou shalt not… steal; …Covet your neighbor’s house, wife, male servant, female servant, ox, donkey, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s; Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; Thou shalt not make for yourself a graven image’ and ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbors’ – despite the unwarranted and repeated interventions of two strangers fostering their own agendas…

As the campaign of heresy unfolded, these two antithetical gentlemen moved from merely watching David to actively offering counsel and unwelcome advice. Mr. Black and Mr. White are as different as two people can be: each propounding a harsh, doctrinaire and unequivocal stance at opposite ends of the emotional and religious spectrum…

David listens but will not heed either one, nor does he believe them the supernatural advocates they seem to be. Whilst they bicker over him or debate with him, it’s clear that they don’t know what the true game plan actually is and – as his celestial attention-getting antics escalate – they are proved to be utterly ineffectual in influencing him one way or the other…

Nothing is as it appears: White may well be the agent of an Interventionist creator, but his opposite number claims to be a simple disciple of a modern humanist rationalism rather than an operative of any supernatural Infernal Antagonist…

David doesn’t really care: his first assaults upon scripture might have offended all the Abrahamic religions and gained him a certain notoriety in the media but he’s no closer to God than before. It’s time to up the ante and hope the intransigence silence ends before he gets to the Tenth Commandment…

In Chapter one, while still pondering his course, David is approached by Mr. Black who helpfully points out that the sinner is labouring under an accounting error and has actually broken six Commandments thanks to how he dealt with the Coveting one. David will not hear it, and carries on planning how best to tackle ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, but the heated arguments Mr. Black makes are irrefutable…

With his mind shredding as much as his life has, David heads for the local church for ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’, but is intercepted and physically contained by Mr. White. Shrugging off the beating, David fitfully shares his doubts with the scripture-spouting intercessionary: in a world where profanity and blasphemy are commonplace and ubiquitous how can he break this one? Lulled into a discussion on how politicians might use god and religion to further their own ambitions, Mr. White inadvertently gets lured onto other Christian “hot-button” topics and provides David with his answer and plan of attack, leading directly into the truly appalling and sacrilegious actions necessary to destroy the edict ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’

With God still a no-show David then must steel himself for what is an incomprehensibly difficult task. Having overcome his scruples to harm innocents is one thing, but the things he says to his own parents before satisfactorily flouting ‘Honor your father and your mother’ leaves him dazed and furious…

With only one Commandment left unsullied, David again demands his meeting with the Supreme Being and is astonished when he finally has a vision. Sadly, after debating with God he wakes up in hospital and cannot accept that his unsatisfactory hallucination counts…

After Black and White contentiously visit him and sow more discord and confusion, David realises he must go the distance…

This is in many ways the most straightforward Commandment to break. Obtaining a gun, David heads for the local primary school, with ‘Thou shalt not kill’ burning in his brain…

Merging theosophy, political critique, a razor-sharp crash-course in ethics and responsibility whilst confronting faith, rationalism and religion in a genuinely funny and scary tragedy of everyday melodrama, Breaking the 10 asks hard questions in a deceptively easy-going manner.

Moreover, unlike previous graphic novels addressing this timeless theme – such Eisner’s A Contract with God or Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece’s True Faith – David’s eventual epiphanies and ultimate fate come more from pliable, tractable human nature than resolute divine order or intervention

Enquiring, engaging and utterly entertaining, this is a parable no saint or sinner should miss and every questing thinker should consider.
© 2018 Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa.
Breaking the 10 volume 2 will released on February 2nd 2018 and can be pre-ordered now. It is also available in all e-book formats.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The World of Pont


By Graham Laidler, with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Nadder Books)
ISBN: 0-90654-038-0

Graham Laidler was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne-on July 4th 1908, son of a prominent painter and decorator. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory school and Glenalmond in Perthshire, he was 13 when his father died and the family relocated to Buckinghamshire. Always captivated by cartooning, he channelled his artistic proclivities into more traditionally profitable avenues to support his widowed mother: training as an architect at the London School of Architecture from 1926-1931.

Perpetually dogged by ill-health, Laidler moonlighted as a cartoonist and in 1930 began a long-running domestic comedy strip entitled The Twiffs for The Women’s Pictorial. In 1932 he was diagnosed with a tubercular kidney and advised to live in healthier climates than ours. By August of that year he had sold his first cartoon to that most prestigious bulwark of British publishing: Punch.

Laidler was so popular that editor E.V. Knox took the unprecedented step of putting him under exclusive contract. With financial security established and his unique arrangement with Punch in place the artist began travelling the world. On the way he drew funny pictures, mostly of “The English” both at home and abroad, eventually generating 400 magnificent, immortal cartoons until his death in 1940, aged 32.

A charmingly handsome and charismatically attractive young man, Laidler visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America and many other exotic, exceedingly not British places. He won his nickname and nom-de-plume in Rome during an incident with two “Vestal Virgin” travelling companions after which he was forevermore “Pontifex Maximus” or “Pont” to the likes of you and me…

His greatest gift was an almost-surgical gift for observation of social and cultural minutiae: gleaning picaresque detail and broad attitude which he disingenuously translated through his gently humorous graphic commentaries into simultaneously incisive and genteel, baroque and subtle picture-plays encapsulating the funniest of moments on every subject pertaining to the great Enigma of Being English in Public and Getting Away with It…

His work was collected into a number of books during his lifetime and since, and his influence as humourist and draughtsman can still be felt in many areas of comedy and cartooning.

Although he excelled in the strip cartoon format, Pont’s true mastery was in telling a complete story with a single perfect drawing. His carefully crafted images exemplified the British to the world at large and – most importantly – to ourselves.

During World War II the Nazis, with typical sinister efficiency, used his drawings as the basis of their anti-British propaganda when they invaded Holland, further confirming to the world the belief that Germans Have No Sense of Humour.

As Pont, for eight far-too-brief years, Graham Laidler became an icon and global herald of English life and you would be doing yourself an immense favour in tracking down his work. If you like Ealing comedies, Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, St. Trinian’s and the Molesworth books or the works of Thelwell, Ronald Searle or Flanders and Swann, you won’t regret the effort.

Incomprehensibly, despite his woefully small output there still doesn’t seem to be a definitive archival collection of Pont’s work. One again I implore any potential publisher reading this to take the hint, but until then, for the rest of us there’s just the thrill of the hunt and the promised bounty in seeking out slim tomes such as The British Character, The British at Home, The British Carry On, Most of us are Absurd, Pont or this particularly rare magical compendium.

The World of Pont is the perfect primer of his historical hilarity; sampling the best of Laidler’s drawn divinations from his themed Punch series’ ‘The British Observed’; ‘The British at War’; ‘Popular Misconceptions’; ‘The British Woman’ and last but certainly not least, ‘The British Man’.

If you love great drawing and excoriating observational wit you’ll thank me. If you just want a damn good laugh, you’ll reward yourself with the assorted works of Pont.
© 1983, 2007 the estate of Graham Laidler.