Salvatore volume 1: Transports of Love

By Nicolas de Crécy, colour by Ruby & Walter, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-593-1

Salavatore is a car mechanic: an absolute wizard with all things mechanical but a grumpy sod who dislikes customers so much he built his garage on the peak of a mountain to discourage them. However he is just so good that they come anyway, prepared to put up with the grief and his attitude, if only he would fix their ailing vehicles… and besides, Salvatore has a secret he needs peace and quiet for…

Nicolas de Crécy has released more than thirty albums since he began working in 1990, both one-off books such as Journal d’un fantôme, Escales, Plaisir de myope and La Nuit du grand méchant loup and series/serials such as Léon la came, Monsieur Fruit and Salvatore; the first two of which comprise the artfully arch little romance under review here.

Salvatore is a dog with a lot of pain in his life but has struggled on, buoyed by his artisan’s dedication and sensibility which makes him such an exceedingly good mechanic. One day the tragically short-sighted widow Amandine pulls into his frosty, mountaintop garage with a suspicious knocking in her car engine and his life changes for ever.

As well as practically blind, Amandine is heavily pregnant with twelve piglets (not unknown for a sow of her breed) and something softens within the cold canine. Offering her the unexpected hospitality of his fondue lunch, Salvatore nevertheless succumbs to his one weakness – “borrowing” a surplus part from her vehicle for his great project.

The little dog has a dream and is prepared to sacrifice his principles to achieve it: he once loved and lost a bitch named Julie who moved to South America. Since then he has devoted all his spare time to building a fantastic vehicle to follow her and where undoubtedly, love will reunite them forever…

His super-car is almost ready: the last part necessary can be picked up on the way; all he has to do is reach an understanding with its current owner – a perfectly reasonable bull named Jerome.

Amadine however, has not quite left his life: a practically sightless, heavily pregnant lady should never be trusted to drive a small family runabout down a snow-capped mountain slope…

Her chaotic and magnificently slapstick journey leaves her and the car stranded many kilometres away atop a Parisian rooftop where she prematurely delivers her dozen babies. Horribly one little piggy goes missing on the way to hospital, and one fine day that stray waif will have a huge impact on Salvatore’s fate…

Originally released in 2005 as Transports Amoureux (beautifully coloured by Ruby) ‘Transports of Love’ seamlessly segues here into the second album, Le Grand Départ or ‘The Grand Departure’ with tints and hues provided this time by Walter.

Finally en route to his dream in the almost perfect Julie-Mobile Salvatore has hit a snag. Jerome might be an amenable type but the wife who just divorced him is not. She took the car – including that desperately needed final component – as part of the settlement and had it dismantled as an art installation – or possibly just out of spite.

Amadine meanwhile has broken out of hospital with her eleven piglets, driven by maternal hormones to find her missing baby. The lost cherub has fallen into odd circumstances, amongst sewer scum, political activists and a seductively dark and twisted catwoman siren of the underworld…

Hard-pressed by his defrayed desire for his distant Julie, Salvatore’s ethics have degenerated to the point where he is contemplating fraud and outright theft to get that vagrant last part: luckily he has allied himself with a mysterious and peculiarly moralistic tiny little mute man with a facility for computer science. Perhaps together they can find a way to ease true love’s path…

Surreal and joyously whimsical, but with a delightfully dark edginess, the multi-award winning cartoonist de Crécy has revolutionised French comics with such popular and groundbreaking works as Période glaciaire (released in English as Glacial Period) and this hypnotically addictive sophisticated fable is undoubtedly destined to be just as successful.

Funny, gently adventurous, subversively satirical and yet filled to bursting with empathy and pathos, this beguiling yarn will schmooze itself into your head and make itself too comfortable for you to remove…

© 2005 Dupuis, by de Crécy, Ruby. © 2006 Dupuis, by de Crécy, Walter. English edition © 2010 NBM. All rights reserved.

Fuc_ __u, _ss__le: Blecky Yuckerella volume 4

By Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-415-3

Johnny Ryan is a comedian who uses comics as his medium of expression. Whether in his own Angry Youth Comix, or the many commissions for such varied clients as Nickelodeon, Hustler, Mad, LA Weekly and elsewhere, his job and mission is to make laughter. Depending on your point of view he is either a filth-obsessed pervert smut-monger or a social iconoclast using the same tactics as Lenny Bruce or Bill Hicks to assault the worst and/or most hidebound aspects of society.

His wild, loose cartoon drawing style is deceptively engrossing, and his seeming pictorial Tourette’s Syndrome of strips and gags involving such grotesque signature characters as Boobs Pooter (world’s most disgusting stand-up comedian), Loady McGee and Sinus O’Gynus will, frankly, appal many readers, but as with most questions of censorship in a Free Society, they are completely at liberty neither to buy nor read the stuff.

Ryan dubs his stinging graphic assaults on American culture ‘misanthropic comics’ and one of the most effective has been Blecky Yuckeralla. Originally running weekly in The Portland Mercury and Vice Magazine from 2003 before switching to Ryan’s own on-line site the strip was based on traditional, anodyne comics features and referenced many other popular art forms. This fourth bi-annual collection collects the last 99 four-panel pages up to and including the final episode which ran on on 30th July 2010.

Blecky is an ugly, unsavoury, unsanitary and very stupid girl: a cunning reinterpretation of Ernie Bushmiller’s beloved Nancy strip, with plenty of comics, movies and media pastiches thrown in too. There’s Bucksley – a ghastly, grotesque Richie Rich-clone, nerdy “boyfriend” Wedgie, guardian Aunt Jiggles and a host of guest-victims for the shocking puns and fouls antics of the little girl from hell …or maybe it’s New Jersey.

Here you’ll find gross, vulgar and shocking gags about sex, defecation, farting, bodily functions, feminine hygiene, and even the ultimate modern whited sepulchers, TV, money, religion, politics, race and sexual abuse. There are no safe areas or taboo subjects. Blecky and Co are equally free with cute animals, presidents, film stars, assorted Holy Books and even 9-11…

Depending on who you are and your social outlook this final collection is as brilliant or as appalling as the previous three so if you’re prudish, sensitive or concerned about moral standards – don’t buy this book. There’s plenty of us who will…

© 2010 Johnny Ryan. All Rights Reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures

By Harvey Kurtzman & various (Epic Comics/A Byron Preiss Book)
ISBN: 0-87135-675-9

Creative cartoon genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century. His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking Mad magazine) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was a force in newspaper strips (See Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, a commentator and social explorer who kept on looking at folk and their doings and couldn’t stop creating.

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black and white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while still creating challenging and powerfully effective funny strips such as Little Annie Fannie (for Playboy), The Jungle Book, Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon in 1993.

This intriguing oddment from 1990 saw the Great Observer return to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema and contemporary sentiments in a series of vignettes illustrated by some of the biggest names of the time.

After a captivating introduction from ex-student Art Spiegleman, a stunning pin-up from Moebius and an overview from project coordinator Byron Preiss, the fun begins with a typically upbeat cartoon appreciation from R.Crumb: ‘Ode to Harvey Kurtzman’ which was coloured by Eric Palma, after which the Harvey-fest begins in earnest…

‘Shmegeggi of the Cave Men’ visually revives the author’s legendary Goodman Beaver, dislocating him to that mythic antediluvian land of dim brutes, hot babes in fur bikinis and marauding dinosaurs to take a look at how little sexual politics has progressed in a million years – all exquisitely painted by cartoonist, movie artist and paleontological illustrator William Stout, after which Sergio Aragonés adds his inimitable mania to the stirring piratical shenanigans of the dashing ‘Captain Bleed’ (with striking hues supplied by his Groo accomplice Tom Luth).

Western parody ‘Drums Along the Shmohawk’ is an all Kurtzman affair as the scribe picks up his pens and felt-tips to describe how the sheriff and his stooge paid a little visit to the local tribe…

Cartoonist, fine artist and illustrator Tomas Bunk contributes a classically underground and exuberant job depicting ‘A Vampire Named Mel’ whilst arch-stylist Rick Geary helps update the most famous canine star in history with ‘Sassy, Come Home’.

Limey Living Legend Dave Gibbons utilises his too-seldom-seen gift for comedy by aiding and abetting in what we Brits term “a good kicking” to the superhero genre in the outrageous romp ‘The Silver Surfer’ and the cartoon buffoonery concludes with Kurtzman and long-time associate Sarah Downs smacking a good genre while it’s down and dirty in ‘Halloween, or the Legend of Creepy Hollow’.

But wait, there’s more…

This seductive oversized hardback also has an abundant section devoted to creator biographies supplemented with pages and pages of Kurtzman’s uniquely wonderful pencil rough script pages – almost like having the stories printed twice…

Fun, philosophical fantasy and fabulous famous, artist folk: what more do you need to know…
© 1990 by Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Each strip © 1990 Harvey Kurtzman and the respective artist. All Rights Reserved.

Fearless Fosdick

By Al Capp (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 978-0-87816-108-9

Al Capp’s Li’l Abner is rightly considered one of the greatest comic strips ever created, a devastatingly satirical, superbly illustrated, downright brilliant comedic masterwork which lampooned anything and everything America held dear and literally reshaped their popular culture. Generations of readers took Capp’s outrageous inventions and graphic invectives to their hearts. Many of the strips best lines and terms entered the language as did the role-reversing college bacchanal known as Sadie Hawkins Day and some fictional shticks even became licensed and therefore “real” – just Google “Shmoo” and “Kickapoo Joy-juice” to see what I mean…

Apart from the satirical and funny bits you can say pretty much the same about Chester Gould’s legendary lawman Dick Tracy – a landmark creation which has influenced all popular fiction, not simply comics. Baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps have pollinated the work of numerous strips, shows and movies since then, but the indomitable Tracy’s studied use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crime fighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries such as CSI decades before our current fascination took hold.

In August 1942 Alfred Gerald Caplin, as he didn’t prefer to be known, took a studied potshot at the cartooning game, joyously biting the hand that fed him (grudgingly and far from enough) when he introduced a frantic, barbed parody of Tracy into Li’l Abner, Fearless Fosdick (as depicted by “Lester Gooch”) was a deadpan, compulsively honest, straight-laced cop who worked for a pittance in a corrupt, venal crime-plagued city, controlled by shifty, ungrateful authorities i.e. typical bosses. Fosdick slavishly followed the exact letter of the law, if not the spirit: always over-reacting, and often shooting litterbugs and Jay-walkers whilst letting bandits and murderers escape.

The extended gag began as a sly poke at strip cartoonists and syndicates whom Capp portrayed as slavering maniacs and befuddled psychotics manipulated by ruthless, shameless, rapacious exploiters. It became so popular on its own admittedly bizarre merits that Fosdick’s sporadic appearances quickly generated licensed toys and games, a TV puppet show and a phenomenally popular advertising deal for Wildroot Cream-Oil hair tonic.

The hard-hitting, obtuse he-man hero was the impulsive Abner’s “Ideel” and whenever the crime-crusher appeared as a strip within the strip the big goof aped his behaviour to outlandish degree. When Fosdick married as part of a bizarre plot Abner finally capitulated to devoted girlfriend Daisy Mae’s matrimonial aspirations and “married up” too, even though he didn’t really want to!

Fosdick made the jump to comicbooks; edited reprints of the strip appeared from Toby Press, a promotional comic – ‘Fearless Fosdick and the Case of the Red Feather’ – followed and in 1956 Simon and Shuster published Al Capp’s Fearless Fosdick: His Life and Deaths which forms the basis of the classy Kitchen Sink softcover under review here.

Prefaced with an absorbing and informative introduction by award-winning crime and comics writer Max Allan Collins – who took over Dick Tracy when Gould retired – this magical tome relates five of the very best felonious fiascos and forensic farces beginning with ‘Introducing: AnyFace!’ from 1947, wherein Abner is hired to protect cartoonist Lester Gooch as he crafts the tale of a crook with a plastic face.

The fiend is un-catchable since he can mimic anybody, constantly fooling Fosdick into shooting the wrong guy. Eventually the cop starts killing people preemptively – just in case – but in the “real” world as Abner gets more engrossed in the serial, Gooch, always bonkers as a bag of badgers (because only certified loons would create comics strips) is suddenly cured, casting the conclusion into desperate doubt! Confused? Good: that’s the point!

Next from 1950 comes ‘The Case of the Poisoned Beans’ in which madman Elmer Schlmpf randomly contaminates a tin of “Old Faithful”- the city’s most popular brand of beans. So popular are they that most shops and restaurants refuse to take them off sale and the populace won’t stop buying them. As no panic ensues and indifference rages Fosdick begins shooting citizens who won’t stop eating the beans. Better a safe, clean police bullet than a nasty case of poison…

‘Sidney the Crooked Parrot’ (1953) was once Fosdick’s faithful pet, but living with the obsessive do-gooder turned the bird into a vengeance-crazed criminal genius. Cunningly causing Fearless to lose his job, the bird then organises a campaign of terror, but even humiliated, derelict and starving the unswerving righteousness of the super-cop finds a way to triumph…

‘The Case of the Atom Bum’ (1951) saw the dapper detective helpless to halt the depredations of a radioactive hobo who robbed with impunity since the slightest wound could cause him to detonate like a human atom bomb. Forced to ignore and even – shudder!! – abet the ne’er-do-well, Fosdick was going even more insane with frustrated justice – and then he snapped…

This hysterical black and white collection concludes with the utterly surreal ‘Case of the Chippendale Chair’ from 1948, which begins only after certifiably cured and sane cartoonist Lester Gooch is kidnapped by thugs working for the syndicate who torture him until he is crazy enough to produce Fearless Fosdick once more…

Once more demented, Gooch sets to delivering a startling saga of murder, theft and general scofflawing to sate the nation’s desire for graphic gang-busting with a new mastermind ravaging the palaces of the rich. Who can possibly be behind such brilliant crimes? (The clue is in the title…) and as Fosdick ineptly yet unerringly closes in on the culprit the collateral casualties mount. Still, isn’t justice worth a few sacrifices?

Madcap and hilariously ultra-violent, these eccentric yarns are credited with inspiring Harvey Kurtzman to create Mad and clearly shaped decades of American comics comedy. Fosdick kept on turning up until 1972, leavening the hillbilly high-jinks, satire and social commentary with some healthy recreational slapstick slaughter, justifiable homicides and preemptive cold-case clean-up.

If you have a taste for over-the-top hilarity and stunning draftsmanship this is a book you absolutely must track down. Consider it a constabulary duty to be done…
Strip material © 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1990 Capp Enterprises, Inc. Introduction © 1990 Max Allan Collins. Entire Contents © 1990 Kitchen Sink Press, Inc.

Archie American Series: Best of the Eighties volume 2

By Frank Doyle, George Gladir, Dan DeCarlo, Stan Goldberg & various (Archie Comics Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-58-0

For most of us, when we say comicbooks people’s thoughts turn to buff men and women in garish tights hitting each other and lobbing trees or cars about, or stark, nihilistic crime, horror or science fiction sagas aimed an extremely mature and sophisticated readership of confirmed fans – and indeed that has been the prolific norm of late.

For many years however, other forms and genres have waxed and waned, but one that has held its ground over the years – although almost now completely transferred to television – is the teen-comedy genre begun by and synonymous with a carrot topped, homely (at first just plain ugly) kid named Archie Andrews.

MLJ were a small publisher who jumped wholeheartedly onto the superhero bandwagon following the debut of Superman. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, promptly following with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the common blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips and one-off gags. Pep made history with its lead feature The Shield, who was the industry’s first super-hero to be clad in the flag (see America’s First Patriotic Hero: The Shield).

Even while profiting from the Fights ‘N’ Tights crowd Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market and in December 1941 the action strips were supplemented by a wholesome ordinary hero; an “average teen” who had ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick heavily emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a wholesome youthful everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work. It all started with an innocuous six-page tale entitled ‘Archie’ which introduced boy-goofball Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story as did the small-town utopia of Riverdale.

It was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had graduated to its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and began the slow transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By May 1946 the kids had taken over, and the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its heroic characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming to all intents and purposes a publisher of family comedies. Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies, pop-songs and even a chain of restaurants.

Those costumed cut-ups have returned on occasion (see High Camp Superheroes), but the company now seems content to license them to DC whilst they concentrate on what they do uniquely best.

Archie is a good-hearted lad lacking common sense, Betty the pretty, sensible girl next door, with all that entails, who loves the ginger goof. Veronica Lodge is rich, exotic and glamorous and only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

This family-friendly eternal triangle has been the basis of seventy years of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending comedy encompassing everything from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, as the kids and an increasing cast of friends grew into an American institution. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of the growing youth culture, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of mythical Riverdale a benchmark for youth and a visual barometer of growing up.

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (and annexe) has been the rock-solid foundation for decades of comics magic. Moreover the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Archie has thrived by constantly reinventing its core characters, seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright, flimsy pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture and fashion trends into its infallible mix of slapstick and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix (the company has managed to confront a number of social issues affecting the young in a manner both even-handed and tasteful over the years) and the constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck – who wants to be a cartoonist – his girlfriend Nancy, fashion-diva Ginger, Hispanic couple Frankie and Maria and a host of others such as spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a broad and refreshingly broad-minded scenario. In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle with Kevin Keller, an openly gay young man and a clear-headed advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream kids comics.

This second 1980s compendium collects a few further gems from the Era of Excess: Big Hair, make-up for Men, synth-pop music, Fashion Victims and Fad madness all playing heavily to the crowd and playing very funnily indeed. After an introduction from Glenn Scarpelli, (son of comic artist Henry and himself a recovering child-star of an Eighties sit-com) the merriment commences with ‘Health Nuts’ (from Betty & Veronica #302, February 1981) by Frank Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Rudy Lapick wherein spoiled Veronica pops into the new ultra-swish Health Club to be stylish, but receives a rather destabilising shock after which ‘A Zest for the West’ (Pep #374, June 1981, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg & Bill Yoshida) finds school principal Mr. Weatherbee railing in vain against the inexorable tide of cowboy fashions following America’s rediscovery of all things Country and Western…

Video games and especially Mall Games Arcades began seducing kids at this time and ‘Test Zest’ (Betty & Veronica #312, December 1981 by Gladir & Dan DeCarlo Jr.) found Archie ignoring both his dream-dates for the bleeping boxes. However, where Ronnie spits and pouts, Betty found a way to turn the situation to her advantage, whilst Jughead proved that old-fashioned cunning beats speed, coordination and practise every time in ‘Game Acclaim’ from Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #162 (January 1983 by Gladir, Goldberg & Rudy Lapick).

Another modern mainstay just beginning to proliferate was computers and Mr. Weatherbee made a grave mistake in ‘Input and Output’ (Archie & Me #140, August 1983, Doyle, Dan DeCarlo & Jimmy DeCarlo) when he let that Andrews boy program the school’s first ever bit of kit…

Stories regularly spoofed popular movies, TV shows and bands and in ‘Scheme Scamp’ (Archie #327, January 1984, by Gladir & DeCarlo Jr.) our hero and scurvy rich-kid rival Reggie battled long and hard to secure an interview for the school paper with hot girl band “the Ga-Ga’s” (don’t make me feel even older by having to explain the pun…)

After ‘Krazy Knits’ a pin-up of the Boys of Riverdale modelling chunky sweaters by Dan Decarlo Jr., ‘Cable Caboodle’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #171, September 1984, Gladir & Goldberg) described the joys and pitfalls of the cable TV revolution, and the subsequent ‘A Flair for Wear’ from Everything’s Archie #116, March 1985 by Gladir & Goldberg, found occasional bubblegum pop-stars The Archies (remember the global hit “Sugar, Sugar” in 1969 – well that was technically them) making their first promotional video…

Still focusing on the music scene the Archies support King of Pop Jackie Maxon (think about it: he has sparkly clothes and weird pets) and end up trying to keep his diary out of the hands of sleazy reporters in ‘The Book’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #100, April 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) whilst ‘Fashion Frolic’ (Archie’s Pals ‘N’ Gals #176, July 1985, Gladir, Hy Eisman & Jon D’Agostino) saw Mr. Weatherbee trying to quell the outrageous clothes the kids in the cliques were wearing to class.

‘Dimrider’ (Archie’s TV Laugh-Out #102, August 1985) by Ed Berdej, Dan & James DeCarlo lambasted action blockbusters with chilling accuracy whilst ‘Delightful Dilemma’ (Archie Giant Series #550, August 1985 by Gladir, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & James DeCarlo) returned to the basics of Betty and Veronica duelling over their oblivious “Archie-kins”.

‘Rock ‘n’ Rassle’ from Everything’s Archie #120 (November 1985, Gladir, Goldberg & Sal Trapani) referenced the revitalised, ultra-glamourised “sport” of televised wrestling and Punk hit Riverdale High hard in ‘Out of the Ordinary’ (Archie #354, January 1988 by Nate Butler, Dan DeCarlo Jr. & Jim DeCarlo) when our feckless star fell for leather-studded bad-girl Tina, leading to a startling new look for the freckle-faced fool…

Movie madness once more inspired mockery and mirth in ‘Robo-Teen’ (Laugh #13, April 1989, Gladir, Rex Lindsey & D’Agostino) as Archie suffered a tragic ski-boarding mishap before ‘Shlock Rock’ (Everything’s Archie #143, June 1989 by Gladir, Goldberg & Lapick) wraps up the reminiscent drollery with a barbed satire on the budding MTV generation.

These are some of the most effective and impressive stories from that brutal, bizarre decade, and by always concentrating on fashions, fads, and the eternal divide between rebellious teens and fun-thwarting adults achieves a kind of timeless permanence. Then is still now, due in large part to the overwhelming power of good writing and brilliant art, which will always captivate any audience of any age.

This is gentle fun and charming nostalgic delight for all ages so what are you waiting for? It’s not like it costs “Loadsamoney!”

© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jimbo in Paradise

By Gary Panter (Raw/Pantheon)
ISBN: 978-0-39475-639-4

Gary Panter has been an iconic force in comics and the visual arts since the late 1970s, and his unique distillation of American popular culture through the frenetic lens of his savage design style (alternatively termed “ratty line” or “punk”) has been seen in such varied fields as set design (winning 3 Emmy Awards for Pee-Wee’s Playhouse), interior design, TV and computer animation as well as record covers for Frank Zappa, Red Hot Chili Peppers and many others.

His expressionistic, beautifully ugly, primitivist, high energy anti-art has influenced a generation of cartoonists and illustrators including Matt Groening, whose Simpsons design style owes much to Panter’s innovations in the 1970’s hardcore punk-zine Slash and his contributions to Art Spiegelman’s legendary art comic Raw – from which these wildly eccentric strips are culled.

Long considered a dominant force in punk and alternative comics, Panter is the leading figure of a second generation of “Underground Cartoonists”, doing much to legitimise the movement and elevating this potentially misunderstood arena of graphic narrative to a position of High Art which most mainstream comics have never been able to achieve.

Born in Durant, Oklahoma in December 1st 1950, he became an integral part of the US New Wave movement (not to be confused with our British effete, big-haired, baggy-bloused, excessively made-up electro-pop scene of a decade later). He worked for Time, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker as well creating his own comics and graphic novels such as, Facetasm, Dal Tokyo and Cola Madnes (created especially for the Japanese market) as well as his signature creation Jimbo: a punk icon whose bizarre life was (mostly) explored in the seminal Raw magazine before being collected into the intimidatingly oversized tomes Adventures in Paradise, Jimbo’s Inferno and Jimbo in Purgatory.

Set – not that it’s particularly relevant – in a semi-futuristic, dystopian urban hodge-podge landscape, burly, kilt-clad Jimbo is just getting by and making do, but stuff always happens to him…

First, a new fast-food place opens up near the derelict building he lives in, but the telepathic robots who run it are really creepy and things start going bad when mutants chase him, trying to steal his burger. He takes refuge in the sewers but life doesn’t get any simpler. In ‘Jimbo’s House is Gigantic, but Condemned’ his skeevy pals Gruten, Zipper and Fluke come for a rather destructive visit, before they all go clubbing – giving the artist license to go hog-wild with stunningly complex full-page art-riots. Of course the authorities take a dim view of all the fun the kids are having…

‘Jim30’ begins a aeries of connected vignettes which abandon formal narrative structure as the punky pariah experiences the downside of waking up, making breakfast and bathing before ‘Jimbo meets Rat-Boy’ introduces our non-hero to a kindred spirit – and his disgusting pet…

After a devilish pastiche of the comic strip Nancy ‘Jimbo Erectus’ describes the evolution of the punk sub-species, after which we return to the future where Jimbo has scored with his buddy Smoggo’s harshly take-charge sister Judy. Now firmly entrenched in a “relationship” Jimbo is now confronted by a whole new world of give-and-take – so when giant cockroaches abduct his girlfriend he and Smoggo must rise to the occasion…

Many of these strips are accompanied by an ancillary strip running at the foot of the pages. Now, at the most inconvenient moment, ‘William & Percy’ take over the main page before the dramatic hunt continues…

Disillusioned, our man contemplates joining the army before opting for the natural life of a primitive shaman in ‘Jimbo is Running Sore’ (complete with graphic diversion ‘Klorex & Purox: the Mad Bombers’). After a brief conversation with God the hunt for Judy resumes; an extended odyssey leading to a fantastic barrage of visual extravaganzas that encompass the explosive death of the world and its aftermath: an eye-popping crescendo of apocalyptic imagery that perfectly captures the philosophy of 20th century punk.

If you’re looking for something a little strong, a little strange, perfectly outrageous and boldly experimental this is the ideal introduction to the works of an absolute maestro.
© 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 Gary Panter. All Rights Reserved.

The Ditko Collection Volume 2 1973-1976

By Steve Ditko, edited by Robin Snyder (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 0-930193-27-X

After Steve Ditko left Marvel where his astounding work made the reclusive genius a household name (at least in comicbook terms) he continued working for Charlton Comics and in DC in 1968 began a sporadic association with DC by creating cult classics The Hawk and the Dove and the superbly captivating Beware… The Creeper. It was during this period that the first strips derived from his interpretation of the Objectivist philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand began appearing in fanzines and independent press publications like Witzend and The Collector.

This second softcover book, collected from a variety of independent sources by fan and bibliographer Robin Snyder, represents the remainder of a canon of lost treasures by a driven and dedicated artistic trailblazer whose beliefs have never faltered, whose passion never waned and whose art never stagnated. Produced in bold collage, abstract calligraphic and design essays and a variety of vibrant black and strips in his utterly unique cartoon style, these strident, occasionally didactic, but always bold, impassioned and above all – for Ditko never forgets that this is a medium of Narrative and Art – gripping stories and parables of some of his most honest – and infamous – characters.

The most common complaint about this area of Ditko’s work – and there have been lots – is the sometimes hectoring nature of the dialectic. Nobody likes to be lectured to, but it’s an astonishingly effective method of imparting information: our schools and Universities depend on the form as their primary tool of communication, just as Ditko’s is the comic strip artform.

He’s showing you a truth he believes – but at no time is he holding a gun to your head. If you disagree that’s up to you. He grants you the courtesy of acknowledging you as equal and demands that you act like one. You are ultimately responsible for yourself. It’s a viewpoint and tactic an awful lot of religions could benefit from.

After a new but unused cover piece and an introduction from editor Snyder the polemical panoply gathered here begins with the contents of self-published magazine The Avenging World (1973), beginning with an eponymous cartoon and collage directory of terms-defining vignettes after which some of his most impassioned artwork expands the arguments in ‘The Avenging World Part 2’, followed by the cover of that landmark publication and a highly charged parable ‘The Deadly Alien’.

At heart Ditko is an unreconstructed maker of stories and with ‘Liberty or Death: Libage Vs Chain’ (from the Collector 1974) he returns to the narrative idiom of enigmatic masked mystery heroes for a gripping tale of totalitarian barbarism and the struggle for freedom. ‘Who Owns Original Art?’ is a philosophical statement in essay form after which his satirically barbed ‘H Series: The Screamer’ perfectly marries superheroics, adventure, comedy and blistering social commentary.

After a selection of covers from Wha, the assorted contents follow beginning with hard-bitten incorruptible cop Kage who determinedly solves ‘The Case of the Silent Voice’ despite interference, apathy, malfeasance and the backsliding of his own bosses. ‘Premise to Consequence’ uses Ditko’s facility for exotic science fiction to examine truth and reality and sinister silent avenger ‘The Void’ reveals how even the best of men can betray their own principles.

‘The Captive Spark’ displays Ditko’s beliefs from the birth of civilisation to the sorry present whilst ‘Masquerade’ delightfully follows two journalists as they simultaneously and independently decide to crack a troubling story by becoming masked adventurers. The volume dedicates the remainder of its content to the final amazing exploits of Ditko’s purest ideological champion – the utterly uncompromising Mr. A

TV reporter Rex Graine is secretly Mr. A: white suited, steel-masked, coldly savage, challenging society, ruthlessly seeking Truth and utterly incapable of moral compromise. In most respects A is an extreme extension of faceless agent of Justice The Question as seen in all his glory in DC’s Action Heroes Archive volume 2

From Mr. A #2 (1975) after the gloriously moody cover comes the gripping battle against duplicitous prestidigitator and media-darling bandit ‘Count Rogue’ and his startling solo campaign against ‘The Brotherhood of the Collective’ whose bullyboy tactics include racketeering, slander, murder and imposture. Also included here is the stunning Mr. A page from the 1976 San Diego Comic Con Program Booklet, a tantalising “coming next” page for the tragically unreleased ‘Mr. A Vs The Polluters’ and this collection culminates with a true graphic tour de force as the incorruptible, unswerving White Knight battles the ultimate threat in a wordless, untitled masterpiece fans know as ‘Mr. A: Death Vs Love-Song’ (which appeared in The Comic Crusader Storybook in 1976 and from which the cover of this collection is taken).

I love comics. Steve Ditko has produced a disproportionate amount of my favourite, formative fiction over the decades. His is a unique voice wedded to an honest heart blessed with the captivating genius of a graphic master. The tales here have seldom been seen elsewhere; never often enough and always with little fanfare. If you can find this volume and its predecessor you’ll see a lot of his best work, undiluted by colour, and on lovely large (274x212mm) white pages.

Even if you can’t find these, find something – because Steve Ditko is pure comics.
All works © 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1986 Steve Ditko for The Avenging World, The Collector, Inside Comics, Comics Crusader, Wha, Mr. A, San Diego Comic Con Program Booklet and Comic Crusader Storybook respectively. All Rights Reserved.

Betsy’s Buddies

By Harvey Kurtzman & Sarah Downs (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 0-87816-029-9

Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century. His triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was an innovator, a commentator and a social explorer who kept on creating, kept on observing and with satire magazines such as the black and white magazine Mad (a highly successful format he invented), further inspirations Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while still creating challenging and powerfully effective funny strips such as Little Annie Fannie (for Playboy), The Jungle Book, Nutz, Goodman Beaver and the strip on review here. He died far too soon in 1993.

This superb hardcover volume was collected by that much-missed champion of all things grand, esoteric and/or naughty in comics, Denis Kitchen through his Kitchen Sink Press outfit, and collects the racy, revelatory exploits of young Betsy, a fresh, if not so innocent student in the jaded halls of Academia and the Big City, a full-on, dedicated Sexual Revolutionary – at least by her own lights. Through one and two page exploits (all the colour strips were previously printed in Playboy whilst the black and white adventures have no single source or provenance I can find), this feisty femme – in a still mostly man’s world – endeavours to live her life by her own ready-made rules.

She’s got an apartment, a nudist roommate, a horny law-student boyfriend and enough savvy, modern sense not to tell anybody she’s shagging her English Lit Professor. Her classy, sophisticated, raucous riotous, hilariously true-to-life exploits and uniquely female viewpoint come in no small part from Sarah Downs, who was Kurtzman’s associate, assistant and co-writer in the 1980s, and a highly skilled colourist and teacher of cartooning at the School of Visual Arts.

As well as these delightful adult strips they also produced material for Europe together seen in such classy mature vehicles as L’Echo des Savannes and she also appeared in the Marvel Epic all-star anthology Harvey Kurtzman’s Strange Adventures (coming soon to a graphic novel review blog near you…)

Sharp, sassy, wickedly barbed and penetratingly insightful about the differences that draw men and women together Betsy’s Buddies is an utter delight and long overdue for a fresh edition and another close look…
© 1988 Harvey Kurtzman and Sarah Downs. Entire contents © 1988 Kitchen Sink Press. All rights reserved.

Young Gods & Friends

By Barry Windsor Smith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-491-8

In keeping with the dolorous nature of this time of year I’m concentrating on a few missed opportunities in this period between the dubious joys of Christmas and the nervous anticipation of the New Year so here’s a graphic novel that in some way didn’t live up to all it could have been not because of the material itself but because of the kind of world we live in…

Barry Windsor Smith is a consummate creator whose work has moved millions and a principled artist who has always been poorly served by the mainstream publishing houses. Whether with his co-creation of Sword-and Sorcery comics via Conan the Barbarian or his later work-for-hire material for The Thing (Marvel Fanfare #15 – utterly hilarious), Machine Man, Iron Man, X-Men, Weapon X or the tremendously fun Archer & Armstrong/Valiant Comics work with Jim Shooter, his stunning visuals always entranced but never led to anything long-lived or substantial. And always the problem seemed to be a clash of business ethics versus creative freedom…

In 1995 Dark Horse, an outfit specialising in licensed and creator-owned properties, offered him the carte-blanche chance to do it his way in his own tabloid-sized anthology Barry Windsor-Smith: Storyteller. The magazine carried three features all written and drawn by the artist; The Paradoxman, The Freebooters and Young Gods. Although the work was simply stunning it appeared independent publishers were cut from the same cloth as the mainstream…

It’s not my business to comment on that: I’ve been both freelancer and publisher so I know there are at least two sides to everything (and you can hear Mr. Windsor Smith’s in this superb collection from Fantagraphics) but the series ended acrimoniously in 1997 after nine issues and the stories remained unfinished. This tome, the first of three, collected all the published material of each strip-strand and also includes the chapters still in progress at the time of the split, some new and reformatted material and other extras that fans and lovers of whimsical fiction would be crazy to miss.

But it is still incomplete and that’s a true shame…

Created as a light-hearted and wittily arch tribute to Jack Kirby’s majestic pantheon of cosmic comic deities Young Gods and Friends nominally stars foul-mouthed earthbound goddess Adastra, getting by as a pizza-delivery chick in New York City, but slowly builds and spreads into a mythico-graphic Waiting for Godot as we trace her past, discover warring pantheons that decided arranged weddings were better than Ragnaroks and meet the bold and heroic nuptualists who would do anything to avoid the arrangement: thus becoming delightfully diverted down a dozen different paths as a picture/story oh-so-slowly builds.

As I’ve mentioned the series came to an abrupt halt with the ninth episode, but there was a tenth ready and that is here, as well as material and fragments that would have been finished out the first dozen instalments as well as deleted scenes, fragments, outtakes and reworked snippets.

On a purely artistic level this collection and extrapolation is a sheer delight; with superb art, splendid writing and all sorts of added extras, but the story-consumer in me can’t help but yearn for what might have been and how much has been lost.

Beautiful wry, witty and completely enchanting – and tragically disappointing because of that

™ & © 2003 Barry Windsor Smith. All Rights Reserved.

Dungeon: Monstres volume 3: Heartbreaker

By Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim, Carlos Nine & Patrice Killoffer, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-591-7

This slim tome is yet another instalment in the ongoing, eccentric, raucous and addictively wacky franchise that is the best thing to have happened to fantasy storytelling in decades. The Dungeon saga is subdivided into Early Years, Zenith, and Twilight as well as Dungeons Parade and the Monstres of this particular review.

The inhabitants of this weirdly surreal universe include every kind of anthropomorphic beast and bug as well as monsters, demons, smart-alecs and stroppy women-folk. There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite strange…

The nominal star is a duck with a magic sword which forces him to channel dead heroes and monsters, but at the time of the first story Herbert of Craftiwich is yet to become Grand Khan and supreme overlord of a dying, burning world. For increased clarity a quick glance at Dungeon – the Early Years (Volume 2: Innocence Lost to be specific) would be beneficial.

In ‘Heartbreaker’, the lead story in this beautifully exotic compilation, the setting is the debauched, bureaucratised and grimly frenetic urban hellhole of Antipolis wherein serpentine lady-assassin Alexandra reveals her cynically jaded, tragically baroque past in a bizarrely beautiful account of the inescapable corruption at the heart of the city and its Guilds.

Without warning the tale shifts to her betrayal, incarceration and escape from horrendous suffering and her response to a world that could make her the creature she irrevocably is…

Evocatively illustrated by guest artist Carlos Nine the darkly disturbing odyssey is followed by a flamboyantly bright and deceptively garish self-contained undersea saga ‘The Depths’ which looks like the most pleasing kids fantasy ever…

But it most certainly isn’t.

Set decades later when Herbert is the Khan, it focuses on aquatic princess Drowny (who looks like a wide-eyed purple tadpole) as she narrowly escapes death when a gang of assassins mistake her family’s home for their intended target. With her loved ones murdered Drowny hides in plain sight, disguising herself as one of the intruders. Enduring heartbreak and degradation she accidentally rises to a position of power and influence in the invading army which has struck a foul deal with the Khan’s son to conquer the planet and divide the world above and below between them.

Always looking for a way to return to her own people, when her chance comes, Drowny is faced with a crushing revelation…

Superbly realised – the creators have really thought about how characters would act and interact underwater – the lush colour and incredibly imaginative creature designs of Patrice Killoffer add a cartoon fantasy sheen to the proceedings which utterly belies the stark, horrific tale of the depths a decent person will sink to for revenge…

Comprising two translated French albums ‘Creve-Coeur’ and ‘Les Profondeurs’ this is another strikingly surreal, earthy, sharp, mordant, poignant and brilliantly outlandish tome that’s a joy to read with vibrant, wildly eccentric art moody as Sin City and jolly as Rupert Bear.

Definitely for broad-minded grown-ups with young hearts, Dungeon is a near-the-knuckle, over-the-top, illicit experience which addicts at first sight, but for a fuller comprehension – and added enjoyment – I’d advise buying all the various incarnations.
© 2004 Trondheim-Sfar-Nine-Killoffer-Guy Delcourt Productions. English translation © 2010 NBM. All rights reserved.