Heartburst – A Marvel Graphic Novel

By Rick Veitch (Marvel/King Hell Press)
ISBN: 0- 939766-82-5  King Hell edition ISBN: 978-0-98002-060-1

Once upon a time Marvel led the publishing pack in the development of high quality original graphic novels: mixing creator-owned properties, licensed assets like Conan, special in-continuity Marvel Universe tales and even new series launches in extravagant over-sized packages (a standard 285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm based on the globally accepted European album format) which felt and looked instantly superior to the standard flimsy US comicbook no matter how good, bad or controversial the contents might be.

This terrifically appetising tale, developed under the company’s creator-owned Epic imprint in 1984, was one of the most experimental of those heady early days: a bold and impressive allegory of and attack on the assorted bigotries still too proudly cherished and even boasted of by so many in those distant days… in the 21st century we’re far less concerned with what you buy, pray to, look like or sleep with, aren’t we?

The drama begins with ‘Heartbeat’ as on a far-distant Earth colony circling Epsilon Bootis the theocratic authorities are in a state of constant crisis. In the centuries since humans first landed they have polarised into a closed, dogmatic and militaristic society, devoted to the worship of gods who regularly and actively communicate with them.

They have no truck with heretical Earth scientists like Miss Rimbaud whose explanation that the Holy Sponsor’s electronic teachings are merely old TV broadcasts. They don’t want to hear that those 1950s attitudes are discredited now. They absolutely won’t tolerate any hint of ending their campaign to sterilise and eradicate the native Ploo…

The indigenous natives are in dire distress: beautiful, friendly bright green beings, sexually and genetically compatible with humans and permanently emitting an aphrodisiac musk Terrans cannot resist. If the race is to be kept pure the Ploo simply cannot be allowed to survive…

Young Sunoco Firestone (most humans have good scriptural names like Pepsi, Schlitz or Bilko) is present when his uncle Inquisitor Xerox interrogates Rimbaud. Her story strikes a disturbing chord in the lad, already pushed to breaking point by recurring dreams of a magical well and a cosmic voice calling to him… When he sees a forbidden Ploo exotic dancer in a banned sector of town Sunoco is irresistibly drawn to her and the biologically inevitable happens…

Obsessed with his alien soul-mate Maia, shaken by his delirious fall into miscegenation and terrified because the Sacred Broadcasts have suddenly stopped, Sunoco snaps and abandons his life, joining Maia as a traveling entertainer, experiencing daily delight as the world rapidly goes to hell and beyond. But even though free, happy and proud; with Maia pregnant the dream voice won’t leave him alone, hinting at some incredible celestial destiny whilst the eternally vigilant gene-police are stepping up their pogroms and getting closer to the desperate fugitives…

With ‘Heartrhythm’ the forces of oppression close in and the lovers are separated as Sunoco is captured and the planet descends into outright civil war with the faithful eradicating the last Ploo and their turncoat human lovers. Broken and desperate Firestone agrees to become a spy for the human army, but when he meets the enigmatic Rimbaud he changes sides once more and finally discovers the secret of the voice and a fantastic universal power that will shape the destiny of two worlds in ‘Heartburst’

Rick Veitch is a criminally undervalued creator, with a poet’s sensibilities and a disaffected Flower-Child’s perspectives informing a powerful social and creative consciousness and conscience. This spectacularly mind-bending romp synthesizes the total late 20th century American experience from the bland triumph of cultural imperialism to the spiritual disenfranchisement of Vietnam whilst telling an uplifting story of love and hope – a really neat trick if you can do it…

This sly, dry, funny, impressively adult and breathtakingly reflective full painted yarn proves that he can and Heartburst should be on the must read list of any serious fan…

In 2008 Veitch released a remastered, slightly smaller-dimensioned edition under his own King Hell Press imprint. Heartburst and Other Pleasures also includes three short graphic collaborations with those other outré  masters of unconventional love Alan Moore and Steve Bissette: including ‘Mirror of Love’, ‘Underpass’, ‘Try to Remember’ as well as unseen art-pages. This too is well worth  tracking down or you could simply order direct from the man himself by typing www.rickveitch.com into your favourite search-engine, remembering always to keep a credit card handy – preferably your own…
© 1984, 2008 Rick Veitch. All Rights Reserved.

Twilight of the Assholes: Cartoons and Essays

By Tim Kreider (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-398-9

This book is intended to make adults laugh and think. If the title isn’t clue enough, please be warned that these pages contain nudity, sexual imagery, intentionally insulting images of political figures and rational opinions clothed in harsh language and thought-provoking political comedy.

If that sort of thing offends you or you believe that blasphemy is a sin and/or a crime, read no further and don’t buy this book. The rest of us will just have to manage without you.

The early years of the 21st century were plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated by a hideous global proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid rulers and governments who finally elevated politicians to that phylum of useless tools and pimples on the butt of humanity once only occupied by lawyers.

Since then bankers, astrologers, wedding planners, doorstep evangelists, celebrity gossip columnists and all types of psychics have joined their rarefied ranks and I’m thinking I need to cut down on coffee or tighten my critical parameters…

When George Dubya Bush acceded to the throne of America there were a lot of apologetic liberals and whooping goons. There was also cartoonist Ted Kreider.

Born in 1967 and raised on comicbooks whilst actually paying attention in school, Kreider is an erudite and passionate man with thoughtfully reasoned opinions on politics, religion and the human condition among many other things. He is also an extremely gifted writer and cartoonist who began self publishing in 1994.

By 1997 The Baltimore City Paper had picked up his deliciously polemical panel strip-with-accompanying essay ‘The Pain – When Will it End?’ and they were closely followed by the Jackson Planet Weekly, Illinois’ Indy in Bloomington-Normal, The New York Press, The Stranger, Philadelphia Weekly plus other independent and alternative papers. In September 2000 Kreider began releasing the material as a webcomic.

Although a self-confessed left-leaning Democrat, that hasn’t ever stopped him punishing his own camp’s many gaffes, goofs, lies, embarrassments and ideological idiocies. Like our own Gerald Scarfe and Steve Bell with Margaret Thatcher, Kreider was lucky enough (if you discount elevated blood-pressure, maxed-out sense of disbelief and perpetually outraged moral compass) to have been given the gift of a perfect incumbent target in the Bush administration of 2000-2008 and the greater, right-wing anti-intellectual, Christian-fundamentalist crusade/pogrom that brought them to power.

Along the way Kreider also managed to incense other churches and faiths from Catholics to Moslems, all manner of bigot from racists to homophobes and outrage proponents of all those other aspects of modern US society that makes all us non-Americans nervous and giggly in equal measure.

Subtitled ‘Volume II of the Chronicles of the Era of Darkness 2004-2009’ this weighty and hilariously biting collection of gags and commentaries covers the – to Kreider especially – incomprehensible re-election and second term of the Republican Saviour and his dark apostles Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice and the rest, whilst still finding room and Reasonable Cause to pictorially pummel Chinese expansion, assorted religions’ definitions of life and attitudes to sex, aspects and definitions of Freedom, geopolitics and Big Oil, Intelligent Design, the new Russian Empire, Secret Fantasies of the rich and statesmanlike, Crackpot Theories and all sorts of Science: from the author’s spirited defence of Pluto’s planet-hood to Human-Animal Hybrids, Parallel Universes and new roles for the Giant Squid…

With stunning examples of the cartoonist’s eternal roles as social conscience, intellectual champion, puncturer of pomposity and lampooning last bastion of grace under oppressive political pressure, Kreider boldly kicks the shins of the smug over-class and stamps on the toes of all the entrenched whited sepulchres and obnoxiously applied shibboleths that made him annoyed and ashamed of huge swathes of his fellow Americans. Not that Britain or any other colonial power has any moral high-ground to sneer down from…

The work covers the period November 4th 2004 to October 29th 2009 and includes the shocked rapture of a Democratic win and the nation’s first non-white president – and ends with a shaky dawning suspicion that all politicians might just be the same…

Particularly effective are ‘Jesus vs. Jeezus’, ‘The Conservative Christian’s Guide to Compassion’, ‘I “heart” Saddam’, ‘The War on Christmas’, ‘Americans vs. ‘Muricans’, ‘What is Freedom?’, ‘Me & George, We Got Problems’, ‘Silver Linings of the Holocaust’, ‘What You Can Do to Fight the War on Sex’, ‘Everything I Know I Learned from the Bush Administration’, ‘Secret Vices of the Liberals’, ‘Republican Sex Toys’, ‘God: Republican or Democrat?’, ‘After All the Money’s Gone’, ‘We Even Yet?’ and the 5-part ‘Contributions of the World’s Religions’ but there’s guaranteed to be something to shock  or offend everybody here – you might even be compelled to think for yourself and question a little bit more…

Excoriating, withering humour and viciously necessary satire tellingly rendered and savage yet personable and winningly intimate reportage make this one of the best cartoon coshes ever applied to the politics of this century.

His previous collections include The Pain – When Will It End? (2004) and Why Do They Kill Me? or: Scream, Honkey, Scream (2005), and I look forward to more from Kreider in the sorry certainty that people won’t get less stupid, rulers can’t change their spots and religions will never stop dictating what their followers can think or feel…

Cartoons and text © 2011 Tim Kreider. All rights reserved.

Will Eisner’s New York the Big City

By Will Eisner (Kitchen Sink Press)
ISBN: 0-87816-020-5  Hardcover: 0-87616-019-1

William Erwin Eisner was born in 1906, on March 6th in Brooklyn, and grew up in the ghettos of the city. They never left him. After time served inventing much of the visual semantics, semiotics and syllabary of the medium he dubbed “Sequential Art” in strips, comicbooks, newspaper premiums and instructional comics he then invented the mainstream graphic novel, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics.

In 1978 a collection of four original short stories in comics form released in a single book, A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. All the tales centred around 55 Dropsie Avenue, a 1930’s Bronx tenement, housing poor Jewish and immigrant families. It changed the American perception of cartoon strips forever. Eisner wrote and drew a further 20 further masterpieces opening the door for all other comics creators to escape the funnybook and anodyne strip ghettos of superheroes, funny animals, juvenilia and “family-friendly” entertainment. At one stroke comics grew up.

Eisner was constantly pushing the boundaries of his craft, honing his skills not just on the legendary Spirit but with years of educational and promotional material. In A Contract With God he moved into unexplored territory with truly sophisticated, mature themes worthy of Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald, using pictorial fiction as documentary exploration of social experience.

Restlessly plundering his own childhood and love of human nature as well as his belief that environment was a major and active character in fiction, in the 1980s Eisner began redefining the building blocks unique to sequential narrative with a portmanteau series of brief vignettes that told stories and tested the expressive and informational limits of representational drawings on paper.

In New York the Big City he took nine themes pertaining to life in the Big Apple and pictorially extemporised combining drama, comedy, politics, adventure and fantasy: producing urban art-music from Blues to Punk, Soul to Ragtime and Gospel to sweet, hot Jazz – all with a pencil and brushes.

Many of these enticing, entrancing micro-plays are silent; but whenever necessary and apropos Eisner’s ear for idiom and inflection made miracles and his affection for the ambient sounds of the streets always underscores the harsh, happy and wholly immersive experience of living for The City.

Delivered in monochrome line and seductive grey wash tones the impressionistic voyage begins with The Treasure of Avenue ‘C’ which explores the all-encompassing maw that is a street grating with ‘The Ring’, ‘The Money’, ‘The Weapon’, ‘The Key’ and the connective punch-line ‘The Treasure’. ‘Stoops’ similarly examines the lives that pass before the ubiquitous front steps of tenements, beginning with ‘Witnesses’, ‘Supper Time’ and ‘Home’ before concluding with a description of ‘Stoopball’.

Each individual section is preceded by a moving and expressive tone-painting of the unmistakable cityscapes, and none more powerful than the view from an “El” train that introduces ‘Subways’. Included are ‘An Affair on the BMT Local’, ‘Theater’, ‘Art’, ‘Night Rider’, ‘Blackout’ and ‘The Last Man’. Wherever people congregate there is ‘Garbage’ and Eisner’s sly, witty but compulsively human commentary comprises a look at ‘Cans’, ‘Trash’, ‘The Source’ and ‘Waste’ whilst ‘Street Music’ more closely scrutinises the makers of the messes in ‘Love Song Fortissimo’, ‘Pianissimo’, ‘In Concert’, ‘Opera’, ‘Aria’, ‘Decibel’ and the hilarious ‘Rhythm’.

‘Sentinels’ tackles the monuments of street furniture with ‘Hydrant’, ‘Wayside’, ‘Fountainhead’, ‘Fire Alarm’, ‘Mailbox’, ‘Dead Letter’, ‘Last Minute Mail’, ‘Signal’, ‘Lamppost’, ‘Ringeleivio’, ‘Sewers’ and ‘The River’ whilst ‘Windows’ uncovers all the world’s secrets with ‘A View of Life’, ‘Crows Nest’, ‘Observer’, ‘Fire Exit’, ‘Privacy’, ‘Disposal’, ‘Peeper’, ‘Prisons’, ‘Worm’s Eye View’ and the powerfully evocative ‘Sermonette’.

‘Walls’ are everywhere and here they describe ‘Space’, define ‘Freedom’, delineate a ‘Maze’ and ‘Man’s Castle’, act as a ‘Bulletin Board’ and offer ‘Enclosure’ and ‘Escape’. Moreover ‘Walls Have Ears’, promote another kind of ‘Privacy’ and provide a unique ‘Backdrop’, before re-enacting ‘Jericho’ and becoming ultimately the ‘Last Frontier’.

In NYC everything revolves around ‘The Block’; it is ‘The Old Neighborhood’, home of the ‘Neighborhood Girl’ from ‘Our Block’ on ‘The Good Street’ where ‘Aliens’ get a particular welcome. Eventually though, the homeliest slum inevitably becomes a ‘High Rent District’ and even ‘The Belmont Avenue Gang’ has to yield to the inexorable force of ‘Gentrification’

Eisner’s elegiac fascination with city life, deep empathy with all aspects of the human condition and instinctive grasp of storytelling produced here another magnificently mortal and compellingly mundane melodrama, moving and uplifting and funny and deeply, wistfully true.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be amazed…

As ever the Medium is the Message, especially when the artefact is such a substantially solid tome delivering comics gold in beguiling, incisive black and white – and once again I’m smugging it up because my hardcover with tipped in illustrative plate has proved to have been well worth the initial investment as Will Eisner’s New York the Big City is a veritable cartoon touchstone of all that’s best about the art of cartooning.

Whether it’s your first or ten thousand and first time of reading, this is a tome every comics aficionado will treasure forever, so any edition you can get, you really, really must…

Art and story © 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986 Will Eisner. © 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. All Rights Reserved.

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 www.johnnyryan.com 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.