The Complete Crumb Comics volume 8: The Death of Fritz the Cat – New Edition

By R. Crumb & guests (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-56097-076-7

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions. It also painfully displays a genius grappling with his inner demons in a most excruciatingly honest and uncomfortable manner.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – have a problem with that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book.


I mean it…

Robert Crumb is a truly unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. From the first moments of the rise of America’s counterculture, his uncompromising, forensically neurotic introspections, pictorial rants and invectives unceasingly picked away at societal scabs, measuring his own feelings and motives whilst ferociously ripping way civilisation’s concealing curtains for his own benefit. However, he always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who would take the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the Herculean task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output, and those critically important volumes are being currently reissued for another, more liberated generation.

The son of a career soldier, Robert Dennis Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943 into a dysfunctional, broken family. He was one of five kids who all found different ways to escape their parents’ highly volatile problems, and comic strips were paramount among them.

Like his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the comics and cartoons of the day; not just reading but creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also comic strip legends such as E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud (Mutt and Jeff) Fisher, Billy (Barney Google) De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney (The Gumps) Smith, as well as classical illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative and surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive, introspective, frustrated, increasingly horny and always compulsively driven, young Robert pursued art and self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy warred with his body’s growing needs. …

To escape his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised.

A few dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, evolving on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This eighth volume mostly covers – in chronological order – material created and published in 1971 (with the merest tantalising smidgen of stuff from 1972), when the perpetually self-tormented artist first began to experience creative dissatisfaction with his newfound status as alternative cultural icon: a period when the no-longer insular or isolated artist was at his most flamboyantly creative, generating a constant stream of new characters, gags, commercial art jobs, short strips and with longer material popping up seemingly everywhere.

It was also the moment when he began to realise the parasitic, exploitative nature of many of the hangers-on exploiting his work for profits which he never saw himself – particularly filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, whose phenomenally successful movie of Fritz the Cat prompted Crumb to kill the cunning kitty character off…

That and more are all faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for another rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (as always) the pictorial material itself is both engrossing and astoundingly rewarding. But please don’t take my word for it: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a passionate if meandering photo-packed Introduction from wife and collaborator Aline Kominsky-Crumb – whom he first met in 1971 – the stream of cartoon consciousness and literary freewheeling begins with the salutary tale of ‘Stinko the Clown in Stinko’s New Car’ from Hytone, rapidly followed by the strange romance of ‘Maryjane’ originally seen in Home Grown Funnies, which also provided the (now) racially controversial and unpalatable ‘Angelfood McDevilsfood in Backwater Blues’ – with that horrific homunculus The Snoid – and twisted “love” story of ‘Whiteman Meets Big Foot’

The underground Commix scene was awash with artistic collaborations and a selection of jam sessions kicks off here with ‘Let’s Be Realistic’ from Hungry Chuck Biscuits wherein Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney & Bruce Walthers surreally free-associated, whilst in Mom’s Homemade Comics Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers & Dennis Brul joined forces with the bespectacled outsider to make some ‘Kumquat Jam’

From ProJunior, ‘Perdido Part One’ and ‘ProJunior in Perdido Part Two’ saw the Dagwood-esque everyman experience the growth in social violence courtesy of Crumb and fellow legend S. Clay Wilson.

All on his own again Crumb captured the appalling nature of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash!’ (from Thrilling Murder) and crafted a lovely ‘Nostalgic Books catalog cover’ for their Summer/Fall 1971 issue, after which a tranche of material from Big Ass #2 (August 1971) starts with a paranoiac perusal of ‘The Truth!’, before another obnoxious jerk resurfaces to dominate sexy bird creatures in ‘Eggs Ackley in Eggs Escapes’ even as the intimately contemplative domestic explorations of  ‘A Gurl’ dissolve into the raucous, earthy humour of ‘Anal Antics’ to end the first black and white section of this challenging chronicle.

A vividly vivacious Color Section celebrates a wealth of covers, opening with ‘The Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog’(March 1971), followed by ‘Home Grown Funnies’ and its angsty back cover strip ‘The Desperate Character Writhes Again!’. Moving on, ‘Big Ass #2’, ‘Mr. Natural #2’ – front and back covers – leads to ‘Bijou Funnies #6’ and the rainbows end on the sublimely subversive front for ‘The People’s Comics’.

A return to monochrome provides two more strips from Big Ass #2 beginning with the savagely ironic ‘A Word to you Feminist Women’ and the cruelly hilarious ‘Sally Blubberbutt’ after which the contents of Mr. Natural #2 (October 1971) unfold with ‘Mr. Natural “Does the Dishes”’, before ruminating and sharing more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont in ‘A Gurl in Hotpants’.

This leads to ‘Sittin’ Around the Kitchen Table’ and meeting ‘The Girlfriend’, after which two untitled Mr. Natural graphic perambulations result in a cult war with the adherents of the aforementioned Snoid and everything ends with the sage and his buddy The Big Baby being released from jail to go ‘On the Bum Again’

From Bijou Funnies #6 comes another taste of ‘ProJunior’ as the poor shmuck seeks employment to keep his girlfriend quiet, whilst the jam feature ‘Hef’s Pad’ (by Crumb, Lynch & Skip Williamson) exposes the darker side of selling out for cash and fame…

A strip from Surfer Magazine vol. 12, #6 trenchantly heralds the advent of work from 1972 when ‘Salty Dog Sam “Goes Surfin’!”’, whilst the cover of Zap 7 (Spring issue) and the Nostalgia Press Book Service Catalog cover neatly segues into three superb landmark strips from The People’s Comics beginning with a deeply disturbing glimpse inside the befuddled head of the “Great Man” in ‘The Confessions of R. Crumb’.

That poignantly outrageous graphic outburst leads to a cruelly sardonic polemic in ‘The R. Crumb $uck$e$$ Story’ which merely serves as a sound narrative investment for the shockingly self-satisfied, liberating cartoon catharsis achieved by killing off his now-unwelcome signature character in ‘Fritz the Cat “Superstar”’

If Crumb had been able to suppress his creative questing, he could easily have settled for a lucrative career in any one of a number of graphic disciplines from illustrator to animator to jobbing comic book hack, but as this pivotal collection readily proves, the artist was haunted by the dream of something else – he just didn’t yet know what that was…

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his every hidden depth and perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and untamed self-analysis, and this terrific tome shows him at last mastering – or at least usefully channelling – that creative energy for the benefit of us all.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…

Let’s Be Realistic © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Crumb, Jay Lynch, Jay Kinney, Bruce Walthers & R. Crumb. Kumquat Jam © 1971, 1992, 1997, 2013 Denis Kitchen, Don Glassford, Dale Kuipers, Jim Mitchell, Pete Poplaski, Wendel Pugh, Jay Lynch, Dave Dozier, Bruce Walthers, Dennis Brul & R. Crumb. All other material © 1971, 1972, 1992, 1997, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.

School Spirits

By Anya Davidson (Picturebox)
ISBN: 978-1-939799-02-9

Sometimes art – and especially comics – defy dull ration analysis and, just like the music your parents didn’t like, grabs you way below any conscious level. Such is the case here as prodigious printmaker, mini comics auteur and cult musician Anya Davidson (Barbarian Bitch/Kramer’s Ergot, Child of the Sun, Coughs & Cacaw) who at last breaks into the big leagues with a cool, cruel monochrome hardback which lifts the lid on those terrible teenager people with a wry and macabre quartet of tales defining modern School Spirits.

Through freewheeling progressions, flashbacks, daydreams and conceptual digressions, David carries her girl of the moment Oola and BFF Garf through vicious, monstrous, demonic, occasionally surreal stream-of-consciousness hallucinatory everyday escapades which eerily recapitulate and invoke the best of underground commix and modern independent cartoonists from S. Clay Wilson to Johnny Ryan…

It all begins with a quick pictorial introduction in ‘School Spirits Picturebox Brooklyn’ before ‘Ticket Thicket’ introduce our cast when radio DJ Weird Wally Walczac galvanises a generation by offering a pair of phone prize tickets to the hottest gig in town: Hrothgar’s Halloween concert…

At ‘Vinyl Command’ we get a quick glimpse at the imagined, nigh-mythological life of the rock god Renaissance Man who wrote Blasphemous Corporeal Stench and Rotting Abortion before Oola wakes up and faints, after which the largely silent ‘Battle for the Atoll’ reveals the powers and mysteries of Primal Woman and leads us to a seat of learning…

‘No Class’ opens with a frantic chase before retreating to school where Oola’s hunger for knowledge and passionate drooling over class stud-muffin Grover is ruined by mouthy dick Jason, who spoils Art and Ceramics only to die hideously in our heroine’s fevered thoughts…

Further bouts of noxious reality – such as the affair between teachers Miss DeLeon and Mister Kirbowski – fall prey to imagination and horny supposition, all similarly despatched and destroyed in dreamscape, until break when the girls can continue planning the big magic spell they’re concocting to really shake up the town…

And thus the time passes progress until the day of the gig when Oola is caught shoplifting and stabs a guard before fleeing into another miasmic multi-reality chase which culminates at the life-changing Hrothgar show ‘In the Great Riff Valley’

Like some fervent Archie Comics of the Damned, School Spirits readily blends the profane with the arcane, and the regimented tedium of waiting to be in charge of your life with the terrors and anticipation of the moment it all becomes Your Own Fault, in a rollercoaster ride of eclectic images Davidson describes as ‘“Beavis and Butthead” meets James Joyce’s “Ulysses”’. What I know is this: the pace, style and sheer ingenuity of this book is brutally addictive and, despite constantly playing with the vertical and horizontal holds of Reality, never slips up and never loses narrative focus.

Strong, stirring stuff, full of sex and violence, and outrageously amusing all round.
© 2013 Anya Davidson. All rights reserved.

Ray & Joe: the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics

By Charles Rodrigues, Bob Fingerman & Gary Groth (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-668-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sick, sick, sick – the perfect antidote to seasonal cheer overload… 9/10

Although largely unremarked and unremembered these days, Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is probably one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century.

His surreal, absurd, insane, anarchic, socially disruptive and astoundingly memorable bad-taste gags and strips were delivered with electric vitality and galvanising energetic ferocity in a number of magazines. This was most effective in Playboy, The National Lampoon (from the debut issue) and Stereo Review – and the pinnacle of a career which began after WWII and spanned nearly the entire last half of the 20th century.

After leaving the Navy and relinquishing the idea of writing for a living, Rodrigues used his slice of the G.I. Bill provision to attend New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School (now the School of Visual Arts) and in 1950 began schlepping gags around the low-rent but healthily ubiquitous “Men’s Magazine” circuit.

He gradually graduated from girly-mags to more salubrious publications and in 1954 began a lengthy association with Hugh Hefner in his revolutionary new venture. He still contributed to what seemed like every publication in the nation using panel gags: from Esquire to TV Guide, Genesis to The Critic.

He even found time to create three strips for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate – Eggs Benedict, Casey the Cop and Charlie.

Undoubtedly, though, the quiet, genteel devout Catholic’s lasting monument is the wealth of truly appalling sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful strip-series he crafted for The National Lampoon, whose editor Henry Beard sought him out in the earliest pre-launch days of 1969, and offered Rodrigues carte blanche, complete creative freedom and a regular full-page spot.

He stayed aboard from the 1970 debut until 1993, a mainstay of the legendary comics section…

Bracketed by informative text pieces ‘Introduction: An Appreciation of a Goddamn Great Cartoonist’ and ‘Biography: Charles Rodrigues’ by passionate devotee Bob Fingerman, the parade of diabolical disgust and fetid fun begins with the eponymous ‘Ray and Joe – the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend’ which follows the frankly disturbing buddy-movie path of Joe – whose death doesn’t upset his wife as much as you’d expect.

In fact when the cadaver’s former pal meekly inquires, she’s more than happy to let Ray keep the body. After all, it’s cheaper than a funeral…

There’s no agenda here: Ray just wants to keep his friend around, even going so far as to have him embalmed and put on roller skates. Of course most people simply don’t understand…

Rodrigues broke all the rules in these strips: taste, decency, even the contract between reader and creator. Often he would drop a storyline and return to his notional continuities at a later date. Sometimes he would even stop mid-episode and insert a new strip or gag if it offered bigger chortles or shocks…

Next up is ‘Deirdre Callahan – a biography’, the gut-wrenching travails of a little girl so ugly she could cause people’s eyeballs to explode and make almost everyone she met kill themselves in disgust.

Of course such a pitiful case – the little lass with a face “too hideous for publication” – did elicit the concern of many upstanding citizens: ambitious plastic surgeons, shyster lawyers, radical terrorists, enemy agents, bored, sadistic billionaires in need of a good laugh, the mother who threw her in a garbage can before fully examining the merchandising opportunities…

The artist’s most long-lived and inspired creation was ‘The Aesop Brothers – Siamese Twins’ which ran intermittently from the early 1970s to 1986 in an unceasing parade of grotesque situations where conjoined George and Alex endured the vicissitudes of a life forever together: the perennial problems of bathroom breaks, getting laid, enjoying a little “me time”…

In the course of their cartoon careers the boys ran away to the circus to be with a set of hot conjoined sisters, but that quickly went bits-up, after which the sinister carnival owner Captain Menshevik had them exhibited as a brother/sister act with poor Alex kitted out in drag.

There’s a frantic escapade with a nymphomaniac octogenarian movie goddess, assorted asshole doctors, Howard Hughes’ darkest secret, a publicity-shy rogue cop, marriage (but only for one of them), their appalling early lives uncovered, the allure of communism, multiple choice strips, experimental, existential and faux-foreign episodes, and even their outrageous times as Edwardian consulting detectives.

This is not your regular comedy fare and there’s certainly something here to make you blanch, no matter how jaded, strong-stomached or dissolute you think you are…

As always with Rodrigues, even though the world at large hilariously exploits and punishes his protagonists, it’s not all one-sided. Said stars are usually dim and venal and their own worst enemies too…

Hard on their four heels comes the saga of ‘Sam DeGroot – the Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine’ an plucky unfortunate determined to make a contribution, hampered more by society’s prejudices than his own condition and ineptitude.

After brushes with the mob and conniving billionaires’ wives, no wonder he took to demon drink. Happily he was saved by kindly Good Samaritan Everett, but the gentle giant then force fed him custard and other treats because he was a patient urban cannibal. Thankfully that’s when Jesus entered the picture…

During the course of these instalments the strip was frequently usurped by short guerrilla gag feature ‘True Tales of the Urinary Tract’ and only reached its noxious peak after Sam fell into a coma…

The artist was blessed or cursed with a perpetually percolating imagination and also crafted scandalously inaccurate Biographies.

Included here are choice and outrageous insights into ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Abbie Hoffman’, ‘Chester Bouvier’, ‘Eugene O’Neill’ and ‘Jerry Brown’ as well as ‘An American Story – a Saga of Ordinary People Just Like You’, ‘The Man Without a County’ and ‘Joe Marshall Recalls his Past’

The horrific and hilarious assault on common decency concludes with a selection of shorter series collected as The Son of a Bitch et al, beginning with the exposé of that self-same American institution.

The Son of a Bitch’ leads into the incontinent lives of those winos outside ‘22 Houston Street’, the ongoing calamity of ‘Doctor Colon’s Monster’, the domestic trauma of ‘Mama’s Boy’ and the sad fate of ‘The “Cuckold”’

‘The Adventures of the United States Weather Bureau starring Walter T. Eccleston’ is superseded by ‘Mafia Tales’ and ‘VD Clinic Vignettes’ after which ‘A Glass of Beer with Stanley Cyganiewicz of Scranton, PA’ goes down smoothly, thanks to the then-contentious Gay question addressed in ‘Lillehammer Follies’, after which everything settles down after the recipe for ‘Everett’s Custard’

Fantagraphics Books have again struck gold by reviving and celebrating a lost hero of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration of a mighty talent. This is an astoundingly funny collection, brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy can afford to miss.
All strips and comics by Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction & Biography © Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations

By Peter Bagge with Joanne Bagge & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-656-0

You probably know Peter Bagge as the fiery, wise-mouthed, superbly acerbic cartoonist responsible for incredibly addictive strips about the spoiled underbelly of American life which featured in such wonderful magazines as Neat Stuff and Hate, the inimitable Buddy Bradley stories or even his forays into the more-or-less mainstream such as DC’s Yeah!

But the savage graphic absurdist also has a politically active side. As both cartoonist and societal commentator he has produced strips and pictorial essays for the Libertarian publication Reason, a task joyously undertaken for more than a decade.

In 2009 a collection of his best strips (perhaps strip “op-ed” columns would be a better description) was released by Fantagraphics, and a more powerful argument for the concept of Free Speech you could not find anywhere.

Now that scintillating thought- and, if it’s doing its job right, expletive-provoking tome has been reissued, bolstered by a further 20 pages of unseen material as a superb hardcover compendium of insightful and sometimes controversial deliberation, observation and – when necessary – condemnation…

In a largely full-colour format, Bagge’s deliciously fluid drawings and razor-sharp polemical inquiries, rationalistic, deeply intimate quandaries and disbelieving observations skewer, spotlight and generally expose day-to-day aggravations and institutionalized insanities of modern urban life in 50 strips ranging from one to four pages in length.

Following faux EC cover ‘Tales of the Exploited’, cautionary tale ‘Common Misconceptions about the Other “L” Word’ and an introduction from Reason’s Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie, the draughtsman’s contacts begin with a section devoted to (Stupid) War and judiciously deployed strips ‘Observations From a Reluctant Anti-Warrior’, ‘The War on Terror Never Ends’, ‘The Right to Own a Bazooka’ and ‘Confessions of a Lazy Anti-Warrior’ whilst (Stupid) Sex demands ‘Swingers of the World, Unite’ before fully exposing ‘The War on Fornication’

(Stupid - you get the idea, right?) Arts covers such broad topics as ‘Just Say No to Live Clarinets’, ‘Now That’s Entertainment!’, ‘“Real” Art’, ‘Christian Rock’, ‘Sluts For Jesus’ and ‘The Life Cycle of a Hack’ whilst the nation’s true spiritual underpinnings are examined in Business via the results of extensive research into ‘Malls’, whilst advising ‘Just Say No to Intellectual Property!’ and confronting ‘Your Friendly Neighborhood Tyrant’.

After further observing ‘Everyone’s a Winner’, ‘Latin Laissez-Faire’ and ‘Fine Dining at Shell’, the subject shifts to Boondoggles such as ‘My Very Own Monorail’, ‘Let’s All Give Money to the Rich Man!’, ‘Amtrak Sucks’ and ‘Detroit’, before Tragedy rears its subjective head with ‘A Menace to Society’, ‘The Beast That Will Not Die’, ‘Bums’ and ‘Caged Warmth’

As you’d expect there’s lots to say about Politics beginning with ‘In Search of… an Honest Republican’ and ‘Confessions of a Serial President Hater Anti-Warrior’ before expanding to include ‘Let Us Deliberate..’, ‘Fascists Have Feelings, Too’, ‘In Search of… the Perfect Human’, ‘When Libertarians Gather..’ and ‘Shenanigans!’.

The most visual vitriol is reserved for Our Stupid Country, beginning with a dose of ‘Brown Peril’ and asking ‘Who’s to Blame for 9/11?’ before going on with ‘Ex-Pats Say the Darnedest Things’, ‘Junkie Logic’, ‘Celebrate Diversity’, ‘Do Your Own Thing Unto Others’, ‘Principal Stalin’, ‘Fair-Weather Idealists’, ‘…Or Don’t You Care?’, ‘The Nerd-ification of America’, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’, ‘What We Believe’, ‘What We Believe (This Month Anyway)’ and ending of course at ‘The Home of the Brave’.

This stunningly impressive collection closes with a dose of (Smart) Biography as Bagge recounts over twelve glorious pages the incredible life-history of brilliantly abrasive critic, journalist, author, proto-feminist, progressive social rebel and confrere/editor of Ayn Rand in ‘I.M.P. – an Abbreviated Retelling of the Life of Isabel Mary Patterson’ before the idol of the conservative Right and inventor of Objectivism gets her own brief workout in ‘Will Everyone Please Stop Freaking Out Over Ayn Rand?!?’

Bagge gives a damn good satirizing to such topics as Drugs Policy and attitudes, gun control, organized religion, birth control, sex education and abortion, teaching and schooling, homelessness and even Libertarianism itself – and assuming you’re too busy to look it up, we’re talking about a philosophy not a political party – although sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Libertarianism in its broadest form is simply the advocacy of Free Will and a belief in personal action and responsibility as opposed to the surrender of decision-making to others (for which take as given that we’re usually talking about Big Business and governments, not your Mum).

Challenging, iconoclastic and thought-provoking (or else what’s the point?) this is also a superbly entertaining and funny book. Bagge is the perfect inquisitor; impassioned, deeply involved and not afraid to admit when he’s confused, angry or just plain wrong. This wonderful use of brains, heart and ink ought to be compulsory reading before anybody is allowed to vote or even voice an opinion (now there’s a topic for discussion…)

All contents © 2013 Peter Bagge and Reason magazine, except Introduction, © 2013 Nick Gillespie. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for starting a family argument, that most precious of seasonal traditions… 9/10

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu volume 2

By Junko Mizuno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-743-3

If you’re over a certain age or have eclectic tastes in art and music you might feel a pang of nostalgia at the work in this second intriguing, coyly adult collection, featuring Manga sensation Junko Mizuno’s most subversively compelling creation.

Since her emergence in 1995, the author has become renowned – perhaps infamous – for mixing childlike innocence with grim, gory action and unwholesome or stridently clashing, wildly inappropriate content in a sub-genre now dubbed Gothic or Noir kawaii (where kawaii describes cutely drawn protagonists and subjects).

Moreover the skewed sensibilities of her work in such Manga as Cinderalla, Hansel & Gretel, Princess Mermaid, Pure Trance and Momongo no Isshō (the Life of Momongo) has exploded out of the comics ghetto to be embraced by a larger audience with art exhibitions (Heart Throbs and Tender Succubus), art-books (Hell Babies, Collector File and Flare) and high-end designer toys for adults which include plush animals, vinyl figures, stationery, postcards, stickers, original art T-shirts and even a line of condoms and erotic paraphernalia.

Her shojo (“stories for girls”) derived style also borrows heavily from the iconic imagery of the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the Graphic Psychedelia which grew out of Pop Art, with huge eyed, large-headed poppet girls, drawn to look young or, more accurately, actively, innocently, illicitly under-aged: living in simplified environments where detail is reduced to bare minima.

Her stories are always sharply at odds with her drawing style, like cartoons for toddlers involving unpleasant visits to the gynaecologist or being consumed by cannibals, and much of her material incorporates splashy full colour despite the overwhelming preponderance of black and white material in Japan.

Once Upon a Time on a cute pink planet invisible to human eyes lived a race of beautiful naked young women and one very lovely, placidly carnivorous purple Space Hippo.

Of course, there was also Pelu: a fluffy excitable ball of fuzz who incessantly questioned the idyllic existence. From the Hippo Pelu learned of Earth where there are two sexes, and of his own origins, and immediately the little puffball determined to visit the planet of humans and father a baby so he won’t be alone any more…

The journey led to a number of salutary adventures for the naive ET, whose venerable progression from wide-eyed Innocent to sexual enlightenment did not provide contentment or that longed-for child.

On Earth the fluffy naif closely observed a host of human interactions whilst always politely asking if anyone would like to be made pregnant – but love, hate, jealousy, pride, ambition, self-loathing and even murder were all hard to grasp until Pelu befriended hobo alcoholic Su-San who became a valued comrade and teacher…

This second monochrome tome continues the elucidatory explorations and peripatetic pursuits of the lonely heart “lad”, beginning with ‘Bubble Princess Transformation’ wherein the amorphous alien becomes enamoured of a beautiful sex-worker in the final stages of gender reassignment and presides over a rare happy-ever-after rather than the regulation “happy ending” after which the 2-part ‘I Married a Puppet Master’ delves into even stranger territory.

Good wife Murako spends her idle moments knitting glove puppet friends, but is increasingly worried that husband Mamoru’s job is affecting his health. She is utterly unaware one of her creations has befriended the oddly similar new neighbour Pelu…

However, when Mamoru is callously transformed into a living doll by his bosses at Big Pharmaceutical, Murako is shocked into stunned inactivity… but not knitwear nightmare Koro who recruits Pelu to help obtain a brutal revenge…

Back on the streets again Su-San and Pelu are then approached by a sexy hostess for one of those unique television competition game-shows in ‘Surprise! Japan’s New Record’ but, after the little visitor’s stunning victory leaves them flush for a change, things get very odd…

Another 2-parter, ‘The Secret of the Flower Garden’ finds the spherical sex-pot approached by lovely Tsubomi with a rather unlikely proposition. Soon Pelu is regularly servicing her, her mother and grandmother, in a secret villa beneath a soda factory, just helping a family of hereditary nymphomaniacs, blithely unaware that understanding man of the house Kiyoshi is a bit of an amateur film-maker…

Eventually, still without progeny, Pelu is discarded for a fresher, less exhausted replacement and returns to best buddy Su-San, just in time to fall in love again…

‘Sigh of the Kappa Girl’ is a bittersweet tale of unrequited love as poor Kappa-ko is ditched by boyfriend and prospective husband Makoto. His family want their boy to marry someone else – anyone else actually – as they have an old-fashioned prejudice against Kappas.

You can see their point of view: although she is sweet and sad and gentle, most of the magical water demons are mischievous, cunning flesh-eaters, living in the city’s tainted rivers and watercourses. Seeking solace with Pelu, the betrayed girl steals his heart away but soon leaves him for another…

The saga takes another strange turn in ‘The Niece from Outer Space’ when a young princess from the pink planet comes to visit her far-voyaging uncle. Melu is even more innocent than Pelu but too soon adapts to Earth’s ways – especially after gorging on human food makes her body grow up faster than her mind. Soon she’s hanging out with the wrong crowd (homicidal quintuplets and their abusive, exploitative father) and Pelu is too late to prevent a miraculous tragedy…

This extraordinary collection concludes in poignant heartbreak as Pelu and Su-San become ill on the streets and the little stranger loses his best friend forever to the ‘Homeless Paradise’. The only glimmer of light in the sobering tale for Pelu is meeting Su-San’s estranged daughter Noriko Saotome and learning something of his forever-gone companion’s sorry past…

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu continues the potentially shocking saga of an incorrigible innocent abroad, with seductive fantasy underpinned by a subtle sinister subtext and an overt narrative informed by the naivety of “Swinging Sixties” sexuality.

Everything, especially the legion of pretty  girls, is drawn in the style of early Playboy icons, in the brand of  cartoon stylisations that featured in movie title sequences like What’s New, Pussycat? or Yellow Submarine. Anybody British who remembers the children’s animation Crystal Tipps and Alistair, or the hippo from Rainbow, will feel a frisson of nostalgia – which is of course the point. The art is an irresistible velvet trap designed to reduce readers to a receptive state in which the author can make telling points about contemporary culture.
By co-opting children’s entertainment Mizuno addresses fundamental aspects of human existence in a form designed to shock, subvert, upset and most importantly provoke. So, if some thought on the readers’ part extends beyond our visceral gut-reaction to nude innocent girls and the idealistic purity that used to be associated with such imagery, then she’s done her job…

This is a supremely edgy fantasy with a lot to say about society and relationships – similar to but utterly different from Robert Heinlein’s groundbreaking social satire Stranger in a Strange Land, and will one day I’m sure, have just as much impact.

© 2004, 2013 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.

See also

Helter Skelter Fashion Unfriendly

By Kyoko Okazaki (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-93565-483-4

Following her debut in 1983, producing erotic material for the men’s markets, Kyoko Okazaki established a reputation for challenging, controversial, contemporary manga tales before gradually shifting her focus to produce stories specifically for and about women (such as Pink, Happy House and River’s Edge), focusing with unflinching intensity on their social issues and the overwhelming pressures of popular culture in modern Japan. You can find out more about this pioneering creator here.

From 1994-1995, and following her immensely successful strip Tōkyō Girls Bravo in mainstream fashion magazine CUTIE, Okazaki created a biting expose of the industry – and its casualties – in Shodensha’s Feel Young anthology.

Heruta Sukeruta took the author’s concerns, inclinations and observations into realms tinged with dark speculation, but the episodes never seemed too far-fetched or distant from what we all believed models and managers and clients actually experienced…

Liliko is the undisputed top model in Japan. The Lily’s face and body are everywhere, selling products and lifestyle to men, women and especially young girls. She is an unchanging paragon of look and style and has been so for absolutely ages.

In fact, nobody seems to know quite how long – except ruthless model agency president Mama Tada – and only Liliko’s long-suffering gofer/manager Hada and make-up artist Kin Sawanabe have any inkling of the real person under the gloss and glitz and glamour…

Despite her star status Lily is incredibly unhappy: bored, paranoid, burned out and increasingly obsessed with her inevitable usurpation by some fresh young “Next Year’s Model”…

Knowing her days are numbered, the fragile yet hard-as-nails supermodel is frantically chasing singing and acting gigs, capitalising on her celebrity. Sadly, lacking any discernible talent, she’s only getting ahead by sleeping with all the money-men involved…

When not drugged up, stressed out or screaming, she finds some measure of contentment in the arms of Takao, handsome, spoiled heir to the Nanbu department store fortune (and the man she plans to marry) or in degrading and debauching the obsessively devoted Hada.

Liliko’s biggest problem is an incredible secret that could shake the nation. All her beauty and success come from a series of cosmetic procedures, carried out by a renegade plastic surgeon at an exclusive clinic that caters to the most powerful and influential people in the world.

Long ago a desperate girl with a sordid past met Mama and agreed to a complete, full-body series of operations. Now only her bones and some meat is her – all that glittering skin and surface is a fabrication, maintained by constant use of addictive drugs supplied by the dowdy doctor in charge to fight implacable tissue rejection.

Sadly, after years of use even these experimental remedies aren’t as efficient as before and Liliko’s look is breaking down and fragmenting…

She is by no means the only client of the clinic, and following a spate of suspicious deaths and the trail of illegal aborted foetal organ traffickers, police prosecutor Asada has begun to put the pieces together. However even he is not completely immune to the Lily’s allure…

In the face of increasing breakdown, Mama brings Kin up to date and makes him part of the conspiracy, whilst arranging with “The Doctor” to perform still more operations on her fragile star…

Liliko’s damaged psyche endures even greater shocks when her fat and dumpy little sister turns up. Having impossibly tracked down her sublime sibling, little Chikako is sent away with stars in her eyes, a dream in her heart and newfound determination to be beautiful too, whatever the cost…

Chemically deranged, paranoid and alternatively wildly uncontrollable and practically catatonic, Lily goes off the deep end when Takao admits that he’s marrying an heiress for dynastic reasons but will still, of course, have sex with her in secret…

Having already seduced Hada and her boyfriend in a moment of malicious boredom, Liliko induces them to take revenge for her bruised pride and events quickly spiral into an inescapable crescendo of catastrophe that extends far beyond the intangible world of image and illusion into the very bedrock of Japanese society…

Harsh, raw, brutal and relentlessly revelatory, the author’s forensic examination of the power of sex, temptations of fame and commoditisation of beauty is a multi-layered, shockingly effective – if occasionally surreal – tale that should alarm every parent who reads it. It is also a superb adult melodrama, tense political thriller and effective crime mystery to delight all broad-minded fans of comics entertainment looking to expand their horizons beyond capes, and ghost and ray-guns…

Vertical are dedicated to bringing the best of Japan’s adult comics to English-speaking audiences and Helter Skelter is part of a line books targeting women readers with challenging material that breaks out of the genre ghettos usually attributed to manga. Helter Skelter Fashion Unfriendly certainly qualifies. The cautionary tale was collected into a Japanese tankōbon edition in 2003, winning a number of awards including the 2004 Osamu Tezuka Culture Prize, and was subsequently adapted into a film shown in Cannes.

Grim, existential and explicit, this is not a book for kids or the squeamish, but it is a dark marvel of graphic narrative and one well deserving of your attention.

© 2003 Kyoko Okazaki. All rights reserved.
This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

The Complete Crumb Comics volume 5: Happy Hippy Comix – New Edition

By R. Crumb & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-930193-92-8

This book contains really clever and outrageously dirty pictures, rude words, non-condemnatory drug references and allusions, apparent racism, definite sexism, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly illustrated, highly moving personal accounts and opinions.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – have a problem with that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book.

Really. I’m not kidding…

Robert Crumb is a unique creative force in comics and cartooning, with as many detractors as devotees. His uncompromising, excoriating, neurotic introspections, his pictorial rants and invectives, unceasingly picked away at societal scabs and peeked behind forbidden curtains for his own benefit, but he has always happily shared his unwholesome discoveries with anybody who takes the time to look…

In 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the nigh-impossible task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the artist’s vast output and those critically important volumes are now being reissued.

The son of a career soldier, Robert Dennis Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943 into a functionally broken family. He was one of five kids who all found different ways to escape their parents’ highly volatile problems, and comic strips were paramount among them.

As had his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the comics and cartoons of the day; not just reading but creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, but also comic strip masters such as E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud (Mutt and Jeff) Fisher, Billy (Barney Google), De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney (The Gumps) Smith, as well as illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative and surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive, introspective and always compulsively driven, young Robert pursued art and self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy warred with his body’s growing needs…

From this point onwards, the varied and exponentially impressive breadth of Crumb’s output becomes increasingly riddled with his often hard-to-embrace themes and declamatory, potentially offensive visual vocabulary as his strips grope towards the creator’s long-sought personal artistic apotheosis, and this third volume covers material created and published between 1960-1966 as the self-tormented artist began to find a popular following in a strangely changing world.

Escaping his stormy early life, he married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He discovered like minds in the growing counterculture movement and discovered LSD. By 1967 Crumb had moved to California and became an early star of Underground Commix. As such he found plenty of willing hippie chicks to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst reinventing the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others. It is from this period that the engrossing, amazing and still shocking strips in this book stem…

He worked on in what was essentially a creative utopia throughout the early 1970’s but the alternative lifestyle of the Underground was already dying. Soon it would disappear: dissipated, disillusioned, dropped back “in” or demised. A few truly dedicated publishers and artists stayed the course, publishing on a far more businesslike footing as Crumb carried on creating, splitting his time between personal material and commercial art projects whilst incessantly probing deeper into his turbulent inner world.

This particular collection covers the period when the insular, isolated Crumb first began to make a name for himself with a flood of gags, posters, commercial art jobs, short strips and longer material popping up seemingly everywhere. All are faithfully reproduced in this compilation – which makes for a rather dry listing here, I’m afraid – but (trust me) the pictorial output is both engrossing and legendary.

Actually, don’t trust me: buy the book and see for yourselves…

After a photo and cartoon-stuffed (from 1968 sketchbooks) Introduction from the old scallywag himself, praising the effects of mind-altering chemicals and recalling the first heady days of Counter-Culture celebrity, the wave of visual excess and literary freewheeling begins with ‘The Old Pooperoo Pauses to Ponder’: a baroque procession of his fun-loving characters rounded off with a micro strip at the bottom, revealing Eggs Ackley’s opinion that ‘This Kid’s a Scream!’, after which Mr. Natural, Angelfood McSpade and all the rest are reassured that ‘You’re Gonna Get There Anyway’ (all from East Village Other December 1-16, 1967).

Next ‘Mr. Natural, the Man from Affiganistan’ shares more timeless wisdom with resident curious “Straight” Flakey Foont (EVO December 15-30 1968), after which a rush of shorts from EVO January 12-17 begins.

‘Sky-Hi Comics’, ‘Then on the Other Hand…’ are followed by ‘Nuttin’ but Nuttin’, ’Here She Comes! It’s Hippy!’ and ‘Junior High & his Sidekick Judy Holiday’ from the January 19-25 edition whilst ‘Those Cute Little Bearzy Wearzies/George Gwaltny’ (EVO January 26-February 1 1968) precedes Natural’s inevitable return to act as guru to ‘Schuman the Human’ from EVO February 9-15th.

The Wise one continues in revelatory style when ‘Mr. Natural Meets God’ (supplemented by) ’Gail Snail and The Walkie Talkies’ from EVO February 16-22, whilst the next weekly issue described how ‘Mr. Natural Gets the Bum’s Rush’, and Schuman declared ‘Let’s Be Honest’ before Crumb confronted the period’s racism head on with customary shocking frankness in ‘Mr. Natural Repents’, ‘Hey, Mom!’ and attendant strip ‘Let’s Have Nigger Hearts For Lunch’ (EVO March 1-7 1968).

Zap #2 June 1968, then provided wry ‘Hamburger Hi-Jinx’ with Cheezis K. Reist and shockingly introduced iconic Bête Noir ‘Angelfood McSpade’ before closing with a warning to avoid cheap imitations from ‘Mr. Natural’.

Bijou #1, from Summer 1968, then supplies a wealth of intriguing, astonishing fare leading with ‘Neato Keano Time!’ before ‘The Big Little Boy’ and ‘Bo Bo Bolinski, He’s a Clown!’ went through their paces. Following that ‘Mr. Spiff’ makes a call and ‘Here They Are! Puppets of your favourite cartoon characters!’ provides paper-dolls of Angelfood and Mr. Natural. The harsh, ironic hilarity all ends with a laidback Bijou Funnies Ad

The inescapably controversial Ms. McSpade and friends then cropped up in ‘All Asshole Comics’ (Chicago Seed, July 1968), after which covers for ‘Nope #6’ and ‘Nope #7’ (both 1968) are followed here by ‘The Zap Show’ – a captivating art jam with Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso & S. Clay Wilson.

A ‘Fritz the Cat title page’ then acts as prologue to an outrageous tale of student terrorism and teen licentiousness in ‘Fritz the No-Good’ (taken from Cavalier, September/October 1968), after which you’ll need to rotate the book to be shocked by the interiors of digest-sized Snatch #1 (October 1968): rude and raunchy spoofs such as ‘The Adventures of Andy Hard-on’, ‘Krude Cut-Ups’ and ‘The Fight’ plus assorted gags like ‘Jailbait of the Month’, ‘Hi, Swingers’ and much more…

A rather lovely ‘Janis Joplin: original cover for Cheap Thrills (1968) is followed by

‘The Phonus Balonus Blues’ and ’Where the Action Isn’t’ (EVO September 27 1968) as well as the cover of that issue – ‘Can the Mind Know it?’

From the October 11 issue of East Village Other comes a barrage of strips: ‘Sleezy Snot Comics’, ‘Mr. Natural’, ‘Booger Buddies’ and more plus an ‘Ad for Head Comix’ whilst the October 18th edition provided both ‘Angelfood McSpade’ and ‘Cum Comix’, and October 25th a ‘Mr. Natural, disguised as a vacuum cleaner salesman, talks to the Housewives of America’ cover.

‘Edgar and Maryjane Crump’ and ‘Crime in the Streets’ both originated in EVO November 1) after which an ‘alternate cover for Zap #3’ segues into the infamous ‘Dirty Dog’ strip from Zap #3 (December 1968).

That underground classic also premiered ‘Mr. Goodbar “Off his Rocker”’, an astounding

‘Atomic Comics Jam’ with S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso & Rick Griffin, grotesque shorts ‘Let’s Eat’ and ‘Mr. Natural’, ‘Hairy’ and ‘Street Corner Daze.’

Another digest-sized landscape section next reproduces the XXX-rated contents of Snatch #2’ (January 1969) including ‘Look Out Girls!! The Grabbies are Coming’, ‘Down on the Farm’, ‘The Family that Lays Together Stays Together’ and far more before an ‘ad for San Francisco Comic Book Company’ from Bogeyman #2, 1969, leads seamlessly into ‘Don’t Gag On It… Goof On It!’ (Gothic Blimp Works, Ltd. #1, March 1969).

The April 1969 ‘cover for Creem #2’ precedes a stunning spoof of Romance comics with ‘The Bleeding Heart Syndrome’ (Tales from the Ozone #1, 1969) before ‘Shoo Shoo Baby’ and ‘The Pricksters’ (GBW #2, 1969) suspends the black and white barrage to briefly usher in a spectacular ‘Color Section’

The polychromatic madness begins with ‘Head Comix covers’ (front and back and 1968), keeping up the pressure with the Zap Comix #2 covers’ from December, as well as a ‘Fritz the Cat cover’, the ‘Cheap Thrills’ record cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company and the December 1968Snatch #1 covers’.

The ribald rainbows end with Snatch #2 covers’ (January 1969) before ‘Flower Children on Broadway’ from Bijou #2 (1969) return us to monochrome merriment, ‘Nutsboy’ (Bogeyman #2, 1969) presages today’s teen obsession with “Slasher-flicks” and ‘Mr. Know-It-All and his pal Diz in What the Fuck’ (with S. Clay Wilson from GBW #3, 1969) continues the dark and bloody mood.

This landmark compilation concludes with Crumb’s contributions to Motor City #1 (April 1969) starting with ultra-independent femme fatal ‘Lenore Goldberg and her Girl Commandos’, after which cool dude ‘The Inimitable Boingy Baxter’ turns Detroit on its head, and mini-mystic Savannah Foomo explores reality with ordinary folk and ‘The Desperate Character’ in ‘Deep Meaning Comics’ and ‘More Deep Meaning Gommigs’, leaving good old Eggs Ackley to wrap thing up in macabre style with ‘Eyeball Kicks’

If Crumb had been able to suppress his creative questing, he could easily have settled for a lucrative career in any one of a number of graphic disciplines from illustrator to animator to jobbing comic book hack, but as this pivotal collection readily proves, the artist was haunted by the dream of something else – he just didn’t yet know what that was…

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and obsessive need to reveal his most hidden depths and every perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always resulted in an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and riotous rumination, and this chronicle begins to show his growing awareness of where to look.

This superb series charting the perplexing pen-and-ink pilgrim’s progress is the perfect vehicle to introduce any (over 18) newcomers to the world of grown up comics. And if you need a way in yourself, seek out this book and the other sixteen as soon as conceivably possible…
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 1989, 2004, 2013 Robert Crumb. All contributory art material and content © the respective creators/copyright holders. All rights reserved.

The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Critical Edition of Ghost World and Other Stories, with Essays, Interviews and Annotations

By Daniel Clowes, with Ken Parille & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-589-1

One of the greatest assets of the comics medium is the ostensibly straightforward nature of its storytelling. With pictures wedded to text, what you see is so clearly what you get. So whenever a master creator regularly, consciously and deliberately subverts that implicit convention the result might be occasionally obscure or confusing, but always utterly engrossing.

At the forefront of comics storytelling for nearly three decades, Daniel Clowes is, for many, an acquired taste. However, once he’s in your brain there’s certainly no shaking the things he can do with pen and ink, motive, character and the special kind of targeted situational magic that inhabits the world of pictures and words in static harmony.

Born in Chicago in 1961, Clowes began his career as a cartoonist with humour magazine Cracked before creating uniquely skewed short comic tales for Fantagraphics. His first piece debuted in Love and Rockets # 13 (September 1985), an introductory prelude to his retro-chic detective magazine Lloyd Llewellyn which launched soon after, running in various incarnations for three years.

In 1989 he created personal anthology vehicle Eightball and began producing a variety of tales – short and serial-length – spanning a range of topics and styles investigating all aspects of cartoon narrative from autobiography to social satire, nostalgic absurdist media-fuelled yarns to surreal, penetrating human dramas, all viewed through the lens of iconic popular cultures and social motifs.

All that material has since been collected in assorted albums with two, Ghost World and Art School Confidential, successfully adapted into critically acclaimed feature films.

His experiences in Hollywood combined with deep-seated childhood influences of noir movies and comicbooks combined and resulted in David Boring – another powerful literary comics statement.

The author is rightly renowned as a founding force in Graphic Novel publishing (a term he actually despises); instrumental in breaking the ghetto walls which had constrained the medium in English-speaking countries since the inception of the comicbook industry by creating popular stories of interest to a general audience of adults and helping the art become a recognised art form.

Now The Daniel Clowes Reader cements that idea by presenting a large body of selected classic works augmented with a profusion of scholarly articles and features, both as salute to Clowes’ achievements and an inexpensive introduction to many of the creator’s most impressive tales.

Subtitled Ghost World, Nine Short Stories and Critical Materials – Comics About Art, Life, Adolescence and Real Life, the book is compiled and edited by Literature Professor and reviewer Ken Parille, with contributions from a host of industry journalists and scholars.

The volume, packed with heavily illustrated text features, opens with an Introduction section offering thoughts and quotes from a multitude of sources in ‘Daniel Clowes on…’, followed by ‘An Aesthetic Biography of Daniel Clowes’ and a formal, informative ‘Introduction to the Daniel Clowes Reader’.

Section I: Ghost World, Girls and Adolescence offers ‘Daniel Clowes’ Introduction from Ghost World Special Edition’ before the entire tale is reproduced cover-to-cover.

In an uncanny comics-style coincidence, I was actually  in the process of completing a much-postponed review of Ghost World when this new edition arrived so, in the interests of brevity and the certain assurance that it needs a fuller appreciation, I’m breaking my own rules by not properly covering the astonishing breakthrough novel here and now.

Come back in a couple of weeks for the full Monty, but for the present just be aware that the story concerns two young slackers Enid and Rebecca who shamble through and survive a climactic change in their lives and circumstances – after which hanging out, talking music, making fanzines and being generally post-ironic no longer grip their attentions quite so forcefully…

Following the two-tone tale is a host of thoughtful and impressive essays and features on it, opening with comprehensive ‘Annotations for Ghost World’ compiled by the author and Parille, after which a full Ghost World Index precedes ‘An Interview with Daniel Clowes’ by Joshua Glenn from 1990.

Adele Melander-Dayton reveals ‘How Ghost World Made Me Brave’, Pamela Thurschwell examines ‘The Ghost Worlds in Modern Adolescence’ through the lens of the tale and Parille conducts a panel-specific literary dissection in ‘Close Reading Clowes’ Dialogue: “You’ve grown into a very beautiful young woman.”’

Kaya Oakes looks at a peculiar 1990s fad in ‘Literature at the Xerox Machine: The Rise of the Zine’ and small-press mogul Gilmore Tamny recalls the story of ‘Wiglet: An Introduction and Excerpts’ in a nostalgia-filled fillip…

The iconic lead character is expanded and probed via ‘Enid’s Bookshelf: Ghost World and Its Precursors with Poems by Russell Edson and Cartoons by Ann Roy’ and ‘Enid’s Record Player: Patience and Prudence and The Ramones’ before ‘Where Are They Now?: An Afterlife for Enid and Rebecca…’ returns a decade later in a fourth-wall bending brace of obfuscatory full-colour strips created for the Ghost World Special Edition in 2008.

This opening sally then closes with a great big ‘Cartooning Glossary for Ghost World and Other Comics’.

Section II:  Short Stories, Boys and (Post) Adolescence marries a number of pivotal Clowes’ quasi-autobiographical tales with more searching literary inquisitions. “Blue Italian Shit” and “Like a Weed, Joe”: The Inner Life of Young Clowes sets up the illuminating monochrome strips – both starring official Clowes stand-in Rodger Young.

Over many years the artist has frequently adopted all manner of cartoon glove-puppets and dummies to act as spokesmodel and mouthpiece for satire, observation and reflection…

‘Blue Italian Shit’ (from Eightball #13, 1994) is narrated by Rodger the old social misfit, recalling his life as an 18-year old virgin in 1979, whilst ‘Like a Weed, Joe’ (Eightball #16, 1995) finds a younger Young in 1974, suffering from what might be first love and simultaneously hanging out with bad influence/white trash Bemis, a best friend he has no affection for but who is at least more fun than his dementia-challenged, daily diminishing grandparent and guardians…

Both episodes are fully annotated and followed by ‘Clowes on Rodger Young, Gender and Autobiography: Excerpts from Five Interviews’ and Scott Saul’s “Etc., Etc.”: the Post-Punk Ballad of Rodger Young (the name was appropriated from a song about a real WWII war-hero who was killed in 1943), before another article by Pirelle introduces the next two strips in this section.

‘“The Party” and “Buddy Bradley in Who Would You Rather Fuck: Ginger or Mary Ann?”: Daniel Clowes vs. The Ironic Hipster’ concentrate on more contemporary sallies.

Rendered in full colour, ‘The Party’ (Eightball #11, 1993) is again cruelly, destructively autobiographical: revealing a harshly self-castigating inner monologue during a celebration both unwanted and unwelcome, whilst in monochrome one-pager ‘Buddy Bradley in Who Would You Rather Fuck: Ginger or Mary Ann?’ (Eightball #13, 1994), Clowes borrows characters from colleague cartoonist Peter Bagge to lampoon commercialism in the “Slacker Generation” with devastating effect.

This is followed by a generalised discussion of Clowes’ unique viewpoint in Against Groovy by Joshua Glenn, further thoughts on commercialism in society in “Me Worry?”/“U Buy”: Clowes and Advertising in the 1990s, before ‘“Black Nylon”: Super-Beings and Psychic Battles’ discusses the artist’s most impenetrable yarn (reproduced in full from Eightball #18 (1995).

‘Black Nylon’ is a dreamy, scary, laconic, terse superhero/noir/psychodrama that should be read not debated, but is followed by a six-stage argument ‘Decoding “Black Nylon”’ and extensive scene-by-scene commentary by Parille.

Section III: Comics, Artists and Audiences develops ideas on the interdependent relationships that inform the creator’s efforts and rewards, and opens with ‘“Daniel G. Clowes®™ in Just Another Day”: Truth, Lies and Autobiography’ before the eponymous strip (from Eightball #5 (1991) mercilessly skewers the 1990s fad for introspective self-expression and, following more annotations, preloads the next strip with the brief discourse ‘“Introduction”: Superheroes, Satire and Sympathy’.

The cartoon tale ‘Introduction’ (from a revised collected edition of the graphic novel Pussey! in 2006) traces Clowes’ career trajectory through comics reader to art-school and beyond, in one of his most forthright and direct autobiographical strips, fully annotated by Parille.

The cartoonist’s unhappy relationship with vocational art training and his days at Pratt Institute is further dissected in ‘“Art School Confidential”: The Cartoonist as Undercover Cop’ before all the horrors and parasites are hilariously, graphically exposed in the full-colour Mad magazine inspired ‘Art School Confidential’ (Eightball #7, November 1991).

‘Changing Faces’ is a packed page tracking the evolution and constant revision of the artist’s past works after which ‘“Ugly Girls”: Looking at Ugly to Find Beauty’ discusses Clowes’ antipathy to manufactured, commercial, cosmeticised, socially-acceptable standards of beauty, before the stunning monochromatic – and annotated – cartoon diatribe ‘Ugly Girls’ (Eightball #8 1992) leads into a lengthy and far-reaching discussion by Anne Mallory and Parille regarding ‘Urban Romanticism, Mad Magazine and the Aesthetics of Ugly (1986-1998)’

‘Six Comic Strips about the “Artistic Triangle: Artist, Art and Audience’ precedes and deconstructs the following short pieces ‘King Ego’ (Eightball #12 1993), ‘Man-Child’, ‘Tom Pudd’, ‘Wallace Wood’ and ‘You’ (all from Twentieth Century Eightball 2002) whilst the extended ‘Justin M. Damiano’ (The Book of Other People, 2008) excoriates the isolating role of critic/reviewer…

‘Modern Cartoonist’ (originally an insert pamphlet from Eightball #18 1997), is Clowes’ manifesto – don’t call it a mission statement – a powerful pictorial/typographic polemic preceded here by the illuminating Modern Cartoonist: The Truth about Comics (again copiously annotated) and leads quite naturally into large tell-all feature Worlds on Paper: An Interview with Daniel Clowes on His Creative Process by Darcy Sullivan as well as A Daniel Clowes Chronology and a list For Further Reading

This is another of those too-rare productions that shouldn’t really be reviewed, just read, with themes of adolescence, maturity, the quest for self and the impending end of life delivered via a landscape of comics, film noir, mock-heroics – and the irreducible knowledge that families make individuals – resulting in a truly personal experience for every reader.

It’s also a solid acknowledgement that only kids’ comics are for kids these days, and confirmation that the medium of cartooning in the English language has at last reached the lofty pinnacle of music, literature and film: popular commercial fields and forms of expression which can encompass and generate, trash, mediocrity and pure capital A Art…

All images and materials © 2013, Daniel Clowes, except where otherwise expressly held by individual copyright holders and used here by permission. The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Critical Edition of Ghost World and Other Stories, with Essays, Interviews and Annotations is © 2013 Ken Parille. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Zippy: the Dingburg Diaries – June 2010-January 2013 (Zippy Annual volume 11)

By Bill Griffiths (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-641-6

Starting life as a subversive and broadly comedic underground cartoon in 1971, Bill Griffith’s absurdist commentary on American society has since grown into such a prodigious and pervasive counter-culture landmark that it’s almost a bastion of the civilisation it constantly scrutinises and castigates.

Almost: there’s still a lot of Americans who don’t like and certainly don’t get Zippy the Pinhead

Legendarily based on the microcephalic Schlitzie from Tod Browning’s controversial 1932 film “Freaks” and P.T. Barnum’s carnival attraction Zip the Pinhead, Griffith’s Muu-Muu clad genial simpleton first appeared in Real Pulp Comix #1 (March 1971) and other scurrilous home-made counter-culture pamphlet publications before winning a regular slot in the prominent youth culture newspaper The Berkley Barb in 1976.

Soon picking up syndication across America and the world, Zippy “dropped in” during the ultra-conservative Reagan years when, in 1985, King Features began syndicating the strip, launching it in the San Francisco Examiner.

Zippy’s ruminations and Dadaist anti-exploits have expanded over the years to include his own nuclear family and cat, and a peculiar cast of iconic regulars such as embodiment of rampant callous Capitalism Mr. The Toad, the star’s antithetical brother Lippy (conceptual and ideological opposite in the grand tradition of Happy Hooligan’s sibling Gloomy Gus, and thus the epitome of the average mainstream US citizen), tired, ink-fingered Griffy – analogue of the cartoonist and even God the creator him/her/them/itself…

The strip follows few conventions although it is staggeringly well-rendered in a bewildering variety of styles. Plot-lines and narratives, even day-to-day traditional gags are usually eschewed in favour of declamatory statements of bizarre, quasi-philosophical and often surreal concept-strings that resemble word (and occasionally picture) association or automatic writing, all highlighting the ongoing tsunami of globalisation as experienced by every acme of our modern culture.

Be it the latest fad in consumer electronics or celebrity fashion and “newsfotainment” the brightly caparisoned denizens of Dingburg USA – an entire town of quaint, genteel, broadly identical like-minded complacent pinheads and happily American consumers – simply lap it all up …

The strip is the home of the damning non-sequitur and has added to the global lexicon such phrases as “Yow!” and “Are we having fun yet?” as the Dingburgers go about their appointed courses, following fads, consuming junk food and drinking Valvoline (kids – do not try this at home or anywhere else!)

Being free of logical constraint and internal consistency, Zippy’s Daily and Sunday forays against The Norm can encompass everything from time travel, talking objects, shopping lists, radical philosophy, caricature, majorly dead minor celebrities, packaging ingredients, political, social and metaphysical ponderings, toy crazes, vintage TV show memories and even purely visual or calligraphic episodes. It is weird and wonderful and not everybody gets it – even those of us who been friends of Zippy’s for years…

This latest volume – featuring material published between June 2010 and January 2013 – is broken into chaptered segments beginning with Dingburg: a free-associating batch of stand-alone instalments acting as travelogue and extended tour of the odd old home town and reintroducing the everyday folk who live there through such appealing situations as ‘Dingamajig’, ‘Dancing with the Czars’, ‘Totally Zygomatic’ or ‘Kitty, Kitty Bang-Bang’

This is followed by a selection of skits and sketches dealing with the community’s Big Issues such as Beatniks, Bowling, Laundry & Food. Here ‘Like, The End’, ‘Bongos!!’, ‘Come Loaf with Me…’ and ‘Crossing the Fowl Line’ inevitably lead to ‘Percolating’, ‘Downers’ and ‘Cracking the Zip Code’ for ‘Persons of Pinterest’ after which follows a number of vignettes delineating the low character of that Bachtrian Bounder Mr. The Toad via such revelatory episodes as ‘Oversaxed’, ‘A Jab at Rehab’, ‘And He Really Memes It’, ‘Banana Oil Well’ and ‘Living the Toad Code’.

As you might suspect, Sunday Color highlights the bigger, bolder, un-monochromed escapades and focuses far more on Zippy and his immediate family. Nonetheless even you won’t be expecting such intriguing experiences as ‘Let a Smile be your Umbrella’, ‘Zippy Receives a Fraudulent Email’ or ‘Zippy’s Three States of Grace…’ Mister, Miss or Mrs. Smartypants…!

More astute readers might gain a smidgen of insight into our dullard star in Zippy Solowith more brief but illuminating strips such as ‘Hook, Line and Thinker’, ‘High Wired’, ‘Goretex Happens’, ‘Backpacking in Bushmillerland’ or ‘Up Stares, Down Stares’ and glean the making of the man from tales of the pinhead as a boy in the pastiche-frenzied Little Zippy with ‘Does Cute Commute?’, ‘Learn, Zippy, Learn’, ‘No Adult Supervision’, ‘Pre-Pubescent Pugilist’ and ‘Science Infliction’

Art, Music & Comics concentrates on the finer things of Dingburg life with glimpses into and instruction on ‘Schnozznostication’, ‘Paleosputnik’, ‘Artache’, ‘Zippy Tone’, ‘Cartoona Obscura’ and playing ‘Peace Accordion’ ‘With a Song in my Brain’ as well a revealing the results of the Annual Best Currently Unpublished Daily Comic Strip of the Past Award…

Zerbina & Other Relationships explores the private life of that very public woman who is Zippy’s good lady wife via ‘No Semolina’, ‘A Whiter Shade of Newsprint’, ‘Crossing the Borderline Personality’ and ‘Love in the Time of Flatulence’ amongst other kiss-and-tell moments.

Roadside devotes time and space to the eponymous protagonist’s peregrinations the length and breadth and especially width of America, fixating briefly upon ‘Square Root Beer’, ‘Breakfast with Mr. Johnson’ and ‘Love in the Outback’

God is always there and this section recounts some of His revelatory interactions with Dingburg regulars ‘Per Diem’. ‘His Favorite Band? Genesis’. He likes ‘Playing Canasta with the Universe’, debating ‘Religious Thimbleism’ and performing tricks like ‘Abracadingburg’.

This massive manic missive from the edge ends with some longer, continued Stories such as an octet of awesomeness entitled ‘The Eightest Stories Ever Told’ before tracing the history of Dingburg from 1840 (‘The Pedantic Era’) to 1958 (‘Before Youtube’), learning Zippy’s automotives tastes in ‘Car Toon’ 1 through 5 and closing with the gritty saga of the Dingburg Normalium “where misfits and difficult citizens are kept”…

Existential ripostes, spiritual revelations, social gaffes and cultural belly-flops are a daily occurrence in Zippy town where the collected musings of America’s most engaging Idiot-Savant are incontrovertibly the perfect cult-strip for jaded smart folks. This latest volume finds cretin and creator on absolute top form and if you like this sort of stuff you’ll adore another heaping helping of it.

Aren’t you having Fun Yet?
© 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Bill Griffith. All rights reserved.

A Cartoon History of the Monarchy

By Michael Wynn Jones (Macmillan)
ASIN: B001H0OAOO           ISBN: 0-333-19805-0

Just picked this up in a second-hand shop and thought of you – well, some of you anyway – on this anniversary day…

We’re far too reluctant in this country to celebrate the history and quality of our own cartooning tradition; preferring simply to remark on the attention-grabbers or impressive longevity of one or two classic and venerable veterans of the pen-&-ink game, when the actual truth is that for an incredibly long time the political art movement of the Empire and Commonwealth – and its enemies – was vast, varied and fantastically influential.

The British wing of the form has been magnificently serviced over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly ideas, repeatedly tickling our funny bones or enraging our sleeping consciences and sensibilities, all whilst poking our communal pomposities and fascinations.

From its earliest inception, satiric draughtsmanship has been used to attack and sell: initially ideas, values, opinions and prejudices or but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks, the sheer power of graphic narrative, with its ability to create emotional affinities, has led to the creation of unforgettable images and characters – and the destruction of real people or social systems.

When those creations can affect the daily lives of millions of readers, the force that they can apply in the commercial or political arena is almost irresistible…

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

For this method of concept transmission, lack of literacy or education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is worth far more than a thousand words…

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

Britain had no monopoly on talent and indignation, and this canny compendium also frequently features European – and latterly American – takes on our scandalous Royals and oddball citizenry…

Released in 1978 and desperately in need of updating and re-issue, A Cartoon History of the Monarchy offers a potted, far from hagiographic history and deliciously skewed view of our Ruling Elite in all their unsavoury glory; an unbroken line of jibes, asides and broadsides gathered from divers sources by jobbing journalist and aficionado of japes, lampoons and sketches Michael Wynn Jones, who here casts a discriminating eye from the reign of Elizabeth I up until just before the Silver Jubilee of the second Regina to bear the name…

Following a handy list of the Kings and Queens of England, the pomposity-puncturing procession commences with The Age of Intolerance, reproducing cartoons and adding commentary dealing with the doings of the ten monarchs from Elizabeth I – George II.

The accompanying essays describe the zeitgeist of those times – the religious question as England, Wales, Ireland and eventually Scotland came to numerous crises regarding succession.

That issue always revolved around whether the land should be Catholic or Protestant. ‘Popes, Plots and Puritans’ led to the final solution when ‘The Men from Hanover’ arrived to settle the matter and fully cement the nation under the Church of England.

The savage sampling of the nation and continent’s opinions are represented here by 26 visual bombards such as the allegorical assault ‘Diana and Callisto’ by Dutch artist Miricenys from 1585, the anonymous ‘England’s Miraculous Preservation’ from 1648 and ‘The Royal Oake of Brittayne’ (from 1649) amongst so many others.

Cartoon grotesques such as ‘Cromwell’s Car’ (1649) or ‘Babel and Bethel’ (1679) appear beside such scandalous foreign attacks as Dutch illustrator Dusart’s ‘Fr. James King’ and the anonymous French pictorial polemic ‘Notice of Burial’ (both from 1690). We British riposted with jeering celebrations of martial triumphs such as ‘The Arrival of William and Mary’ (1689), ‘The Great Eclipse of the Sun’ (simultaneously a topical spin on a solar event in 1706 and the defeat of “Sun King” Louis XIV by the British armies of Queen Anne), and ‘A Bridle for the French King’ from the same year.

Domestic contretemps are highlighted through such draughtsman’s delights as the anonymous 1743 shocker ‘The Hanover Bubble’, Ebersley’s ‘The Agreeable Contrast’ (from 1746 and attacking King George’s brother “Butcher” Cumberland’s treatment of Jacobites after the defeat of the Young Pretender), and the exposure of Popish influence in the Highlands described by ‘The Chevalier’s Market’ from 1745…

Whereas much of this material – both British and foreign – was generally national commentary and straight religio-political assault, by the time period covered in The Wickedest Age: George III – George IV (1760-1830) the cartoon had also evolved into a weapon designed to wound with wit and crush through cruel caricature.

After covering the major crises and scandals of the generally sensible – if parsimonious – third George in ‘The Royal Malady’, ‘“The Dregs of Their Dull Race”’ and ‘Twilight Years’, a veritable Golden Age of popular disapproval and artistic mugging of the Prince Regent and much-delayed, frustrated monarch (and his many mistresses) is covered in ‘The Prince of Whales’, ‘The Secret Marriage’, ‘“Pray Get Me a Glass of Brandy”’ and ‘Delicate Investigations’.

The public disdain of the times generated a fusillade of cartoon prints, represented here by 35 graphic bombards and savage cartoon sallies by names which have become as famous as any ruler. However master character assassins Townsend (‘The Scotch hurdy-gurdy’), George Cruikshank (‘Royal Condescension’), Gillray (‘A New Way to Pay the National Debt’, ‘A Voluptuary under the Horrors of Digestion’), Rowlandson (‘The Prospect Before Us’) and Heath (‘A Triumph of innocence over perjury’) are ably bolstered by lesser lights West (‘The Save-all and the Extinguisher!’), Williams (‘Low Life above stairs’), Vowles (‘The shelter for the destitute’) and Marshall (‘The kettle calling the pot ugly names’) and a few anonymous pen-pricks who nevertheless hit hard with ‘Tempora Mutantor’, ‘The captive Prince’ and ‘Reading of the Imperial decree’ and more.

As periodical publication overtook print-shops as the greatest disseminators of carton imagery, the open savagery and targeted vulgarity of caricaturists was gradually replaced with mannered, if barbed, genteel observation.

Thus The Age of Discretion: William IV, Victoria (spanning 1830-1901) offers a different style of Royal Commentary: no less challenging, but certainly much more overtly respectful when critical. Sometimes, though, this new family-oriented cartooning, even in magazines such as Punch and The Times, simply sunk to fawning veneration as the institution of monarchy became more and more removed from the lives of the citizenry.

William’s times are summed up in text via ‘The Sailor King’ and ‘Reform Billy’ whilst Victoria’s epochal reign and the Parliamentarians who increasingly wielded the decisive power is described through ‘The Queen of the Whigs’, ‘Revolutions are bad for the Country’, ‘The Black and the Brown’ and ‘Years of Widowhood’.

The 36 collected images capture those days of Empire, with Heath, Seymour and Doyle predominant in illustrating bluff sea-dog William’s socially contentious days of Reform.

Victoria’s years, from engaging popular ingénue Queen, through happy bride to politically intrusive grand dame of European Court intrigue, highlights the craft of Doyle (‘The Queen in Danger’, 1837), Leech, (‘There’s Always Something’, 1852), Tenniel (‘Queen Hermione’, 1865, ‘New Crowns for Old Ones!’, 1876), Morgan (‘Where is Britannia?’ and ‘A Brown Study’ – both 1867) and Sambourne (‘Kaiser-i-Hind’, 1876) amongst so many others.

Her latter years also saw a rise in social conscience cartooning as displayed by the crusading Merry with ‘The Scapegrace of the Family’ (1880), ‘The fall of the rebels’ in 1886 and more, or the telling modernist take of Max Beerbohm whose ‘The rare, the rather awful visits of Albert Edward to Windsor Castle’, cuttingly illustrated the rift between the Empress and her playboy heir…

Despite her well-known disapproval, the good-time Prince became an effective king as was his son, both covered in The Edwardian Age: Edward VII – George V, spanning 1901-1936. Their dutiful achievements are recounted in ‘The Coming King’ and ‘The First Gentleman of Europe’ before war with Germany necessitated a family name change for George – ‘The First Windsor’

With kings increasingly used as good-will ambassadors and being cited in scandals that frequently ended in court, the 30 cartoons included in this section include many German pieces from not only the war years but also the tense decade that preceded them, as Imperial Superpowers jostled for position and tentatively used propaganda to appeal to the world’s “unwashed masses” for justification for their aims and ambitions.

Beside veteran caricaturists such as Leech, Morgan, May, Partridge, Staniforth and David Low are merciless lampoons from German cartoonists Brandt, Blir, Heine, Gulbransson and Johnson as well as French illustrator Veber and lone American Kirby.

Our pictorial history lesson concludes with The Age of Respectability: Edward VIII, George VI, Elizabeth II generally skipping World War II, concentrating instead on the openly secret scandal of Edward and Mrs Simpson in ‘Abdication’ before the advent of ‘New Elizabethans’ brought a modern age of rulers as sideshow attractions…

Although Fleet Street chose to whitewash and suppress the affair between a King-in-waiting and the American divorcee, the rest of the world made great play of the situation: as seen here with 11 telling cartoon shots from Americans McCutcheon and Orro, whilst French scribbler Effel posited typically insouciant Gallic ‘Une Solution’ and German-based Gulbransson played up the true romance angle…

In the meantime British cartoonist Low had to be at his most obliquely hilarious, delineating the crisis by not mentioning it, and Punch stars like Partridge steadfastly pursued a line of deferential, tragic sacrifice…

Although there is very little material featuring wartime monarch George VI – a propaganda casualty of the conflict – the last 20 images herein celebrate the changing image of a very public Royal Family as pictured by names very familiar to contemporary cartoon lovers.

The imagery is also contextually far more familiar – and presumably comfortable – to modern tastes as print media generally learned to save their vitriol for politicians and celebrities and reserved only minor chidings and silly teasing for “the Royals”, as seen in ‘Birthday Greetings’ and ‘Under the Splendid Empire Tree’ by Shepard from 1947 or Illingworth’s 1951 panels ‘Family Ties’ and ‘Happy Returns’.

Papers were, however, happy to utilise the monarchy to score points against governments, as seen in an attack on Enoch Powell (Cummings’ ‘Ministry of Repatriation’) and the battle between Rhodesia’s Ian Smith and Harold Wilson lampooned in ‘Your Move!’ by Jak (both from 1968) or the legendary Giles’ ‘New Rent Assistance Bill’ (1971).

Also offering acerbic jollity of a far more blueblood-specific variety are cartoon giants Trog and Waite who join the abovementioned in exploiting the Royal Family’s gift for headline-stealing gaffes in such daring gags as ‘I Suppose we did send them to the Right Schools?’, ‘I Suppose she’ll think these are of the Queen Mother’, ‘More Pay’ and ‘Andrew’s Exchange Student’: coming full circle with the best of Hanoverian excesses scrutinised by a cost-conscious government and public – but this time for rather more gentle laughs…

Appended with a scholarly section of Acknowledgements, Illustration sources and Index of artists, this is an extremely welcoming and effective introduction to the lasting relationship between Royalty, Church and Fourth Estate that offers a fantastic overview of Regal adaptability and cultural life through a wealth of cunningly contrived images and pictorial iconography that reshaped society and the world.

These are timeless examples of the political pictorialist’s uncanny power and, as signs of the times, form a surprising effecting gestalt of the never-happy nation’s feeling and character…

None of that actually matters now, since these cartoons have performed the task they were intended for: shaping the thoughts and attitudes of generations of voters. That they have also stood the test of time and remain as beloved relics of a lethal art form is true testament to their power and passion.

Stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering tastes of comic art no aficionado could resist, this colossal collection is a beautiful piece of cartoon history that will delight and tantalise all who read it and truly deserves to be back on bookshelves…
© Michael Wynn Jones 1978. All rights reserved.