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.

The Best of Neat Stuff


By Peter Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 0-930193-53-9

Having had such a great time reading Other Stuff the other day I’ve decided to finally spotlight an old and cruelly out of print tome from 1987 that I’ve been meaning to rave about for simply ages: one packed with the superb but far too seldom seen formative appearances of such landmarks of pop culture as Buddy Bradley, Junior and Studs Kirby

Peter Bagge is prominent these days as a fiery, laser-mouthed, superbly acerbic and well-established, award-winning cartoonist, animator and musician, responsible for incredibly addictive, sharply satirical strips examining contemporary American life, but once upon a time he was just another strident, gifted jobbing cartoonist trying to make a living.

Born in Peekskill, Westchester County, New York on 11th December 1957, he was one of four kids in a ferociously Catholic military family. Like esteemed colleague Robert Crumb a generation earlier, Bagge escaped that emotionally toxic, fight-filled environment as soon as possible, moving to New York City in the mid-1970s to study at the celebrated School of Visual Arts.

He soon dropped out, however, and began working in the vibrant alternative publishing field, producing strips and panels for Punk Magazine, Screw, High Times, East Village Eye (where the first Junior strip debuted), World War Three and others.

Meeting like-minded artists he began self and co-publishing comics and when Crumb saw copies of Comical Funnies – produced with new friend John Holstrom – Bagge was offered space in and eventually the Editorship of the seminal magazine Weirdo in 1983.

He augmented his 3-year tenure there with various paying gigs at Screw, Swank, Video X, Video Games Magazine, The Rocket, Bad News and elsewhere.

In 1984 Bagge relocated to Seattle, Washington State and began his association with alternative/Independent publisher Fantagraphics. The following year his spectacularly idiosyncratic cartoon magazine Neat Stuff launched as a thrice-yearly vehicle of outrageous personal expression and societal observation. His stark, manic, topically surreal strips starring old creations like Studs Kirby, Junior, Buddy Bradleys and Girly Girl soon made him a darling of the emerging West Coast Grunge scene.

Neat Stuff – and its eventual successor Hate - quickly made Bagge a household name… at least in more progressive households…

Neat Stuff ran from 1985-1989 and was a perfect pioneering vehicle for the burgeoning graphic novel market. This early compilation came half-way through the run, dazzled for a little while and then disappeared. Even though much of the anthologised material has since been reprinted in solo editions dedicated to specific members of the eclectic cast, I for one would dearly love to see the series revived, revised and released in some sort of definitive edition…

This glorious monochrome, album-sized compendium of seldom-seen strips is stuffed with deliciously fluid drawings and razor-edged, broadly baroque comedically absurdist observations with incisive, deeply intimate questioning quandaries and observations on living. Don’t panic though: it’s much more fun than it sounds, and the constant confrontations with a changing world everybody was – and still is – increasingly out of step with make for terrifically mature reading fun…

Following Robert Crumb’s informative Introduction ‘Peter Bagge – The R. Crumb of the Eighties’, the crazed cartography begins with a selection of Studs Kirby strips starting with ‘A Few Words from Studs Kirby’, after which philosophical diatribe the quintessential Reagan-Era Oaf establishes his credentials in ‘Studs Kirby Gets Drunk by Himself’ before being sucked whole into a changing consumer society when ‘Studs Kirby Gets Cable TV’

Girly Girl may be the little lass next door, but that’s simply one more reason to move house. The hyper-active, impulse-control challenged tyke debuted in appalling style with pals Chuckie Boy and the Goon on the Moon in ‘Uh Oh, Here Comes Girly Girl’, before springing back undaunted to take on the rise in civilian journalism (or is it just spying on people) in ‘Candid-Camera-Star-Search-Solid-Gold-This-Is-Your-Life-Lip-Sync-Contest-In-Reverse’ and then proved once and for all just why she will never be ‘Little Miss Popularity’

Bagge’s greatest hit was always the horrifically dysfunctional traditional values family The Bradleys and these painfully hilarious early forays prove why as ‘Ye Gads, It’s The Bradleys!’ introduces drunken ogre Dad, shrewish Mom and their ghastly progeny Buddy, Babs and Butch who quickly show their true worth as ‘Mother’s Little Helpers’

Buddy and his shiftless pal Tom take centre stage in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Refuge’ when the worthless firstborn goes looking for old LPs at a second-hand record shop, before little Butch passes on the cruel life-coping skills he leaned from his big brother in ‘The Trickle Down Theory’

There then follows a joyously eccentric interlude as we happily focus on sheer exuberant graphic madness with a page of nine ‘Neat Stuff Trading Cards’.

Sheltered Momma’s boy Junior finally leaves the happy maternal nest – although hardly from choice – to find shelter in a far-from-innocuous boarding house in ‘The Cabbage’, where he swiftly packs in a lot of insalubrious second-hand living whilst under the scurvy wing of landlord Mr. Frank.

However ‘The Road to Manhood’ is perilous and soon Junior is going backwards not forward…

Chet and Bunny Leeway debuted in Bad News and eventually became the family stars of Adobe’s Website (see Other Stuff for details), but in the first two untitled strips here those ordinary suburbanites merely discuss domestic matters in their usual manner (kids; never, never, never try this at home – yours or anybody else’s) and assess each other’s musical gifts before Chet discovers the allure of Malls in ‘Life’s A Bitch And Then You Die’.

There’s also a selection of Miscellaneous strips included here beginning with the darkly obsessive ‘Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Going Crazy’, after which ‘Bang the Head that Does Not Bang’ discloses the truth about dads and the teens they ferry to rock concerts, and ‘Minimum Wage Love’ offers insights into mating rituals and first jobs.

It isn’t pretty and the Bitter to Sweet ratio is heavily disproportionate…

There’s more magnificently liberating graphic license on show in ‘Wheeeeee! Whoaa! Woops!!’ whilst dark meta-real revelations abound in the too-true-to-be-factual story of school pressure in ‘The Reject’ – a strip first seen in Weirdo

Also on show: a fulsome and fascinating background feature – complete with early illustrations – in Origins – an Explanation of the Characters in Neat Stuff, as well as a peachy keen sketch and Bagge Biography to slavishly enjoy in the concluding About the Author featurette…

Bagge has always been about skewering stupidity, spotlighting pomposity and generally exposing the day-to-day aggravations and institutionalized insanities of modern life, and these strips offer a beguiling peek into his formative process: a treat no cartoon-loving shibboleth-tipping rebel should miss…
© 1987 Peter Bagge. Introduction © 1987 R. Crumb. All rights reserved.

Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff


By Peter Bagge with R. Crumb, Alan Moore, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Johnny Ryan, Danny Hellman, Gilbert & Jaime Hernadez, Joanne Bagge & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-622-5

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

But the graphic ridiculist also has a commercial impetus, whimsical nature, politically active side (as cartoonist and societal commentator for the Libertarian publication Reason) and a secret life outside comics.

Thus this glorious compendium of seldom-seen strips from a variety of publications has been compiled by Fantagraphics, in a (mostly) full-colour softcover collection stuffed with deliciously fluid drawings and razor-sharp polemic, broadly comedic or surreal observations and, as ever, sharply incisive, highly rational and deeply intimate questioning quandaries and observations.

Bagge’s oeuvre is skewering stupidity, spotlighting pomposity and generally exposing the day-to-day aggravations and institutionalized insanities of modern urban life and these strips, from such diverse sources as his own Hate Annuals, Hate Jamboree, Weirdo, El Rios, newspapers such as The Stranger and LA Times as well as publications like Magnet Magazine, Spin, Razor, Discover, Details, Toro, Vice and software company Adobe’s website from the 1980s to the present, offer a fascinating insight into his world, working as they do under the constraints of a client’s prerequisites…

They’re still all outrageously hilarious and powerfully effective though, even when filtered through the lens of cartoon collaborators such as the sparkling pantheon featured here…

Following an extensive, detail-packed explanatory Introduction, the madness begins to unfold in a section collecting all the adventures of classy, racily moderne young broad Lovey (first seen in Hate Annual #1, 2, 4 and 5 and The Stranger from 2000-2004) beginning with ‘Gender-Bending Hyjinx’ progressing to the gloriously distasteful ‘The Gaggle and the Gimp!’ before revealing ‘The Real André’ and indulging in ‘A Party to Forget’

The music scene gets a wry shellacking in Rock ‘n’ Roll – covering material from 1995-2012 – which opens with a string of ‘Musical Urban Legends Presents’ single-pagers from Magnet including ‘Gnomes are Real’, ‘A Winning Formula’, ‘Dinner with Brian (Part One)’, ‘The Stuff of Genius’, ‘What Price Love?’, ‘Dinner with Brian (Wilson, that is) Part 2’, ‘Little Richard in “Ménage a Whah?!”’, ‘Kiss my Baby’ and ‘Start Spreadin’ the News’ whilst ‘Man with a Vision’ lampoons youthful ambition in a smart strip which originally debuted in Spin.

The chapter then closes with a trio of Beach Boys-themed bad vibrations as ‘Murry Wilson: Rock ‘n’ Roll Dad’ appals in ‘Turn Back the Hands of Time’ (co-created with Dana Gould), meets Charles Manson in ‘Helter Skelter, My Ass’ and treats his son ‘The Meal Ticket’ just as you always suspected he did…

The promised Collaborations cover the period 1996-2002 and mostly come from Hate, finding Bagge working in various roles such as scripter of ‘Me’ illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez, and illustrator of ‘Go Ask Alice’, written by Alice Cooper and appearing in Spin.

‘Shamrock Squid: Autobiographical Cartoonist!’ was drawn by Adrian Tomine, ‘The Hasty Smear of my Smile…’ exposing the sordid life of the Kool-Aid Man was written by Alan Moore & inked by Eric Reynolds, whilst ‘Life in these United States’ was rendered by Daniel Clowes and debuted in Weirdo.

Iconoclastic Johnny Ryan drew ‘Dildobert Joins the Al-Qaeda’, the autobiographical delight ‘What’s in a Name?’ was illustrated by Danny Hellman, sordid strip spoof ‘Caffy’ was drawn by R. Crumb, ‘Shamrock Squid in Up the Irish!’ was inked by Eric Reynolds and the hilarious ‘The Action Suits Story’ was illustrated by Jaime Hernandez.

There are a number of strips throughout the volume gleefully dissing long-time inker and collaborator Jim Blanchard in such cruel and revelatory epics as ‘Backyard Funnies’ written & pencilled by Reynolds, ‘Don’t Knock It If You Haven’t Tried It’ (written & drawn by Pat Moriarty), ‘Bleachy Blanchard’ written & drawn by Kevin Scalzo, and ‘Harassed Citizen’ written & drawn by Rick Altergott. There’s also the scathing solo effort ‘That Darn Blanchard’ in the introduction pages too…

“True” Facts covers educational (sort of) features such as biographies of scientists from Discover Magazine in 2009. These highlight Robert Brown in ‘I’ll Second That Motion’, Wallace “Gloomy Gus” Carothers in ‘It’s a Wonderful Legacy’, reveal what ‘Mendeleyev Predicts!’, heralds Joseph Priestly as ‘Phlogiston’s Last Champion!’, details Major Walter Reed’s ghastly experiments in ‘Yellow Fever Fever!’ and celebrates ancient Moslem savant Taqi al-Din in ‘Oh, What a Spin I’m In!’

From 1998 ‘So Much Comedy, So Little Time’ (from Details) exposes the festival circuit whilst the autobiographical ‘East Coast, West Coast, Blah, Blah, Blah…’ came from Road Strips in 2005 and ‘Partying with the “Dickster”’ revealed a truth about Vice President Cheney in a 2007 strip from the LA Times… as did radio expose ‘At the End of the Day…’

‘Stuff I Know about Belgium, by Some Dumb American’, which originated in El Rios in 2010, the savagely self-excoriating ‘What Was Wrong With Us?’ from 2002, the incisive ‘Game Day with the Quarterback’s Wife’ (Toro, 2004) and ‘The Expert’ (Vice, 2006) all explore humanity’s foible-besmirched mundanity, and this collection more or less concludes with a series originally shown as entertainment content on Adobe’s homepage in 2000 before being reprinted in Hate Annual #6.

Restored and re-coloured by Bagge’s most consistent collaborator – his wife Joanne -

The Shut-Ins follows the slow seduction and fall of computer illiterates Chet and Bunny in ‘Meet the Shut-Ins’, ‘Meet Santiago’, ‘Pretty Flowers’, ‘Make the World Go Away’, ‘The Great Indoors’, ‘Withdrawal Symptoms’, ‘Life Among the Earthlings’, ‘A Short-Lived Recovery’, ‘Our Babies’, ‘Irrigation Blues’, ‘The Funeral’, ‘No Good for the ‘Hood’’, ‘The Meg Ryan Factor’, ‘Oh, What a Night!’, ‘Taking Stock’, ‘Slowly He Turned’, ‘Rich, Rich, Rich!’, ‘Dot Com Casualties’ and ‘Can I Interest You in Some Fairy Dust?’

Even after all that the cartoon craziness goes on as the designers squeeze in two more lost classics -‘Crazy Exes’ from Spanish GQ in 2000 and, on the back cover, ‘Good Ol’ Posterity’ from Artforum

Challenging, hilarious, wonderfully shocking and always thought-provoking, Other Stuff in another superbly engaging and entertaining book from a brilliantly inspired social commentator and inquisitor; impassioned, deeply involved and never afraid to admit when he’s confused, angry or just plain wrong. This wonderful use of heart, smarts and ink is one more reason why cartooning is the most potent mode of expression we possess.
© 2013 Peter Bagge, except as noted on the strips themselves. All rights reserved.

Complete Crumb Comics volume 2: Some More Early Years of Bitter Struggle – New Edition


By Robert Crumb & Charles Crumb, edited by Gary Groth with Robert Fiore (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-93019-362-1

This book contains controversially clever ideas, outrageously rude drawings, intemperate language, positive drug references and allusions, godless questioning of authority and brilliantly witty, culture-reshaping, personal accounts and opinions.

If you – or those legally responsible for you – might have problems with any of that, please skip this review and don’t buy the book. I’m sure we’ll all know better next time…

Robert Crumb is a unique creative force in the world of cartooning with as many detractors as devotees. His uncompromising, excoriating, neurotically obsessive introspections, pictorial rants and invectives unceasingly picked away at society’s scabs and forever peeked behind forbidden curtains – and all apparently for his own benefit – but he has always happily invited us to share his unwholesome discoveries with anybody with the time and temperament to look…

Way back in 1987 Fantagraphics Books began the nigh-impossible task of collating, collecting and publishing the chronological totality of the tireless artist’s vast output and now, after far too long out-of-print, those engrossing cartoon compendia are being reissued. The earliest volumes have been constantly described as the least commercial but now, with Crumb at last an acknowledged global art-treasure, those volumes are back for your perusal…

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’ shattering problems, and comics were always paramount amongst them.

As had his older brother Charles, Robert immersed himself in the strips and cartoons of the day; not simply reading but also feverishly, compulsively creating his own. Harvey Kurtzman, Carl Barks and John Stanley were particularly influential, as were newspaper artists like E.C. Segar, Gene Ahern, Rube Goldberg, Bud Fisher, Billy De Beck, George (Sad Sack) Baker and Sidney Smith as well as “straight” illustrators like C.E. Brock and the wildly imaginative, frantically surreal 1930’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts.

Defensive and introspective, the young Robert pursued art and torturous self-control through religion with equal desperation. His early spiritual repression and flagrant, hubristic celibacy constantly warred with his body’s urgently growing base needs and desires…

Escaping his stormy family, Crumb married young and began working in-house at the American Greeting Cards Company. He also found like minds in the growing hippie and counterculture movements where he discovered LSD. In 1967 he upped sticks to California to become an early star of the burgeoning Underground Commix scene. As such he found plenty of willing “hippie-chicks” eager to assuage his fevered mind and hormonal body whilst he gradually reinvented the very nature of cartooning with such creations as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Devil Girl and a host of others.

The rest is history – or perhaps, sociology…

The tortured formative years provided meat for the first collection (The Early Years of Bitter Struggle) and those revelations resume right here, right now as the second volume continues the odyssey to acceptance after ‘The Best Location in the Nation…’; a comprehensive reminiscence and introduction from lifelong confidante Marty Pahls who describes the swiftly maturing and deeply unsatisfied Crumb’s jump from unhappy home to the depressing, dispiriting world of work.

‘Little Billy Bean’ (April 1962) reprises the hapless, loveless nebbish of yore whilst ‘Fun with Jim and Mabel’ revisits Crumb’s first bulky, morally-challenged domestic amazon, after which the focus shifts to her diminutive and feeble companion ‘Jim’. Next, an almost fully-realised ‘Fritz the Cat’ finally gets it on in a triptych of saucy soft-core escapades from R. Crumb’s self-generated Arcade mini-comic project.

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.

His most intimate and disturbing idiosyncrasies regarding sex, women, ethnicity, personal worth and self-expression all start to surface here…

Working in the production department of a vast greetings card company gave the insular Crumb access to new toys and new inspiration as seen in the collection of ‘Roberta Smith, Office Girl’ gag strips from American Greetings Corporation Late News Bulletins (November 1963-April 1964), followed here by another Fritz exploit enigmatically entitled ‘R. Crumb Comics and Stories’ which includes just a soupçon of raunchy cartoon incest, so keep the smelling salts handy…

A beautiful 10-page selection of sketchbook pages comes next and then a burst of black-&-white and full-colour covers: the satirical 1960 election duel of Kennedy and Nixon, an Arcade gag, 13 letters to Pahls and Mike Britt disguised as ‘Farb’ and ‘Note’ front images as well as a brace of Arcade covers and the portentously evocative front for R. Crumb’s Comics and Stories #1 from April 1964.

The rest of this pivotal collection is given over to 31 more superb pages culled from Crumb’s sketchbooks; a vast and varied compilation that ably displays the artist’s incredible virtuosity and proves that – if he 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.

Crumb’s subtle mastery of his art-form and overwhelming drive to expose and reveal his most hidden depths and every perceived defect – in himself and the world around him – has always been an unquenchable fire of challenging comedy and riotous rumination, and this evocative tome is crucial to understand the creative causes, if not the artistic affectations, of this unique craftsman and auteur.

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 and all the other books in this incomparable sequence as soon as conceivably possible…

Art and stories © 1969, 1974, 1988, 1996, 2013 Robert Crumb. All rights reserved. Introduction © 1988 Marty Pahls.

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey (a Parody)


By Camaren Subhiyah & Kyle Hilton (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-3434-2

Parody has been a major staple of the comics and cartooning world ever since the days of Hogarth and Cruickshank, so it’s marvellous to see that our colonial cousins are keeping the home fires burning in this sublimely over the top tribute to blockbuster British Television export Downton Abbey, which mingles devastatingly wry observation with outrageously surreal exaggeration to top-hole effect.

I’m not actually a follower or fan of the source material but I know great art and witty writing when I see it, and this supremely daft delight certainly rings both those bells…

The aristocratic Crawhill family has occupied stately Devonton Abbey for centuries and now – in April 1914 – the current Earl Richard is master of a house that consists of his unfortunately American wife Cora, wilful daughters Margaret, Cynthia and Flora. Also firmly in residence is his formidable mother the Dowager Countess Viola; an acid-tongued basilisk who knows all the family’s secrets and is the true ruler of the richly furnished and well-upholstered roost.

Below stairs, although head butler Mr. Larson runs the estate’s affairs, lamed valet and under-butler Jack Gates is also privy to much that goes on and is far more important that most realise…

With the winds of a Great War mustering on the idyllic horizon, unscrupulous German Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow pays a formal visit. The filthy Boche spy and warmonger is well aware that Devonton and its façade of foppish, old-world primness and decadence conceals the clandestine HQ of the British Empire’s Secret Intelligence Service and their exotic super-powered operatives, but has not reckoned on the sheer pluck and determination of the bionic Agent Gates, nor his mysterious handler Agent Hera

Still, all does not goes as anybody planned and the mad Hun expires before disclosing any useful intelligence. The covert operatives continue blithely on preparing for the visit of Austro-Hungarian Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, unaware that traitors and agents of the Kaiser have penetrated into the very heart of the household.

Lord Richard and Lady Cora are far more concerned with prestige, aristocratic rivalries, maintaining the proper niceties regarding their property and their deucedly useless daughters – all far too wrapped up in their silly “causes” such as animal husbandry, parties, any husbandry, marrying cousins, the estate Petting Zoo, Trousers For Women and such déclassé tosh and taradiddle – to concentrate on the things that truly matter.

Happily above and below stairs Lady Viola and Gates are on the case, ensuring the succession of Devonton and safety of the nation by bringing in new if not actually blue blood…

A touch of Bullshot Crummond, a dash of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and just a hint of Blackadder, not to mention heaping helpings of Richard Hannay and his illustrious True Brit ilk, all served up with lashings of superbly silly hijinx inform this brilliant bash at the award-winning show, with Steampunk plotlines working in perfect tandem with deliriously funny and absurdist stabs and japes involving the perfectly rendered cast of that most proper of serials.

If you love the show enough to see it successfully spoofed or just love outstanding comedy adventure this is a pictorial billet doux to a bygone era that you won’t want to miss…
© 2013 Kyle Hilton and Camaren Subhiyah. All rights reserved.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle volume two


By Michael Kupperman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-615-7

Sometimes words mean nothing, pictures tell every story and stuff is funny just because it is. That pretty much sums up the work of absurdist Pop Culture Pirate comedy legend Michael Kupperman, whose graphic samplings of old comics, strips and magazines fill the pages of the too-infrequent comicbook Tales Designed to Thrizzle.

Kupperman is a cartoonist who clearly loves to draw and has no difficulty isolating the innate insanity of modern living as well as the way we regard our own past – especially the not-so-important bits – which he delivers in a surreal graphic deadpan style that would turn Buster Keaton grey with envy.

He created the strips Found in the Street and Up all Night, has worked for The New Yorker, Heavy Metal, The Wall Street Journal, The Independent on Sunday, LA Weekly, The New York Times, Libération, Fortune, Screw, Saturday Night Live and many similar reputable venues as well as in such comics as Hodags and Hodaddies, Hotwire, Snake Eyes, Zero Zero, Blood Orange and Legal Action Comics.

Kupperman’s first book Snake ‘n’ Bacon’s Cartoon Cabaret (2000) led to his breaking into the heady world of adult animation and he has been a much in-demand illustrator for other people’s book.

In 2011 he released the astoundingly madcap Mark Twain’s Autobiography: 1910-2010, but Tales Designed to Thrizzle has always been his most personal vehicle of expression, allowing him to play his abstractedly stylish mind-games against a dizzying cultural backdrop of Men’s “sweat mags”, True Confessions pulps, cheesy old comics, B-movies, cheap advertising, and a million other bastions of low-class Americana, all given a unique twist and spin by a man whose skull is clearly too small for his brain…

After far too long an interval, this second classy hardcover collects issues #5-8 in scintillating high-energy colour and opens with ‘Mandate the Magician’ learning a lesson in karmic humility, after which the hilarious cautionary tale of ‘Fart Boobs’ teaches us all why it’s unwise to mock an alien’s name, and a swift succession of short pithy strips introduce ‘Journey into Adventure’, ‘The Librarian in the Tuna Casserole’, ‘The Hoardy Boys’ and superstar team-in-waiting Twain & Einstein who realise ‘Good Grief! Still More Wuthering Heights’

Many of the pages here are gloriously outré and absurdist graphic sight-gags: sham small ads and faux covers for comics and magazine which really shouldn’t be allowed: utterly daft delights such as ‘Remember the Past?’, ‘Ever-Approaching Grandpa’, ‘Sherlock Holmes versus Jungle Boy’, ‘Tales of the Intestinal Submarine’, ‘Johnny Exposition’ and ‘Show Me Your Weiner!’ but Kupperman is also a dab hand with words and typography as seen in his hilarious biography feature ‘Remember Them?’, the anti-melodic ‘Hum Along With your Grandkids’ and the Twain & Einstein prose vignettes ‘Albert Einstein’s Flashback Scheme’ and ‘Chasin’ the Dream’

The pairing of the separated twins – at least as he draws them – clearly inspired Kupperman. After a succession of covers for Twain & Einstein comicbooks, the tale of ‘Mark Twain, Hollywood Detective’ pits the venerable satirist author and his pal the Father of Modern Physics against the seamy underworld of Tinseltown as both gumshoes and superheroes in a manic melange of genres and loving pastiche of the long-forgotten 1960s Archie superhero revival of Jerry Siegel & Paul Reinman…

Following an inappropriate letters page and ‘The Twain Files: 1975’, ‘Buzz Aldrin’s Strange Missions’ leads inevitably into ‘Real Old-Timey Horror’, with ‘Birth of the Monkees’ and EC homage ‘Legs to Die For!’ before exposing ‘Ben Franklin: Inventor of the Bar Code’.

‘The Odd Couple of Draculas’ holds some ‘Astonishing Heroes’, the saga of ‘Gladiator & Snivolus’ and ads for ‘Weird Sandwich Magazine’ whilst the astonishing extended epic of ‘Jungle Princess’ reveals how one could balance being a White Goddess with editing a high class fashion mag, and ‘Willie Wealth – the Rich Little Rich Boy’ learns to his cost that money isn’t everything – like proteinaceous for example – before ‘All About Drainage’ takes the lid off the ultra-sexy and glamorous sewage biz…

After discovering ‘Books are Stupid’ and that ‘Women Love Men in an Apiary Hat’ the Twain & Einstein movie ‘So Boldly We Dare’ is adapted into wholesome picture form, after which ‘Cowboy Oscar Wilde’ and some important supernatural commercial messages lead to the public service announcement ‘Old People! You need Insurance!’

Cute ‘Mr. Flopears’ and his little hostage situation segues seamlessly into ‘The Ghost’ and ‘Wonder Book Junior’s “Ride of a Lifetime”’, before ‘Scary Bathtub Stories’ discloses the horrific tale of the ‘Bath of Death’ and the wondrous wares of ‘Hubert’s Shower World’, but the real thrills only arrive with the “Bell Comics” reprint of ‘Quincy, M.E.’ – including the martial arts secrets of ‘Catare’ – which crosses over (literally) into two-fisted ‘Saint Peter Comics’

Kupperman even dabbles in fumetti strips such as his photo ad for ‘Quincy’s Box of Things You Can Shout’, nicely breaking up the surrealist flow before the coroner and the first Pope slip into movie madness with ‘Quinception’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs 2 – featuring Snake ‘n’ Bacon’ and another fumetti interlude ‘A Voyage to Narnia’

‘The Hamanimal’ almost brought low a prominent citizen even as crime dog ‘McArf’ stood resolute against all scum and Twain & Einstein faced shocking revelations in ‘Family Affairs’ before more Quincy, old Saint Peter, Air War Stories and Hunchback & the Hydrant covers give way to ‘Gordon Ramsay’s Fairy Tale Toilet Kitchen Nightmares’, even more outrageous covers and the tales of ‘Buddy Baker in the 25th Century’, ‘Billy & the Giant Gangster’ and ‘McGritte, the Surrealist Crime Dog’.

Just for fun you can enjoy a capacious section of ‘Red Warren’s Train & Bus Coloring Book’ (not recommended for the faint-hearted, weak-stomached or rationality-challenged) whilst ‘Murder, She Goat’ deals with the quite understandable concerns of stock characters when crime novelist Jessica Fetcher comes to town, after which a concerned stylist asks ‘Do You Have Thin, Wispy Pubic Hair?’ and we learn all about ‘Great Men of History: Bertrand Copillon, AKA “The Scythe”’.

As our inevitable climax nears, we learn more secret history in ‘Moon 69: The True Story of the 1969 Moon Launch’ – with crucial testimony from President Nixon, Aldrin & Armstrong, reporters Woodward & Bernstein, Quincy and Lieutenant Columbo – before more unseemly ads and one final appearance of Twain & Einstein in ‘Homework? No Work’ brings everything to an irresponsible close.

Also containing loads more stuff I’m too nice to spoil for you and too nervous to mention in even digital print, this implausible challenging and deliciously demented box of screwy surprises is an absolute panacea for all real life’s sundry woes and downers: brash, challenging, brilliantly imaginative and always funny.

This is a book for every grown-up, occasionally immature, couch-based life-form in need of a hearty guffaw every now and then – but much more now than then…
All characters, stories and artwork © 2012 Michael Kupperman. All rights reserved.

American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar – New Revised Review


By Harvey Pekar, R. Crumb, Gregory Budgett, Gary Dumm, Gerry Shamray,
Kevin Brown, Susan Cavey & Val Mayerik
(Ballantine Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84023-787-0

Before finding relative fame in the 21st century, Harvey Pekar occupied that ghastly niche so good at trapping the truly creative individual: Lots and lots of critical acclaim, and an occasional heart-breakingly close brush with super-stardom, without ever actually getting enough ahead to feel secure or appreciated.

One of those aforementioned brushes came in 1980s with the release of a couple of compilations of selected strips by mainstream publisher Doubleday that even to this day are some of his most powerful, honest and rewarding “literary comics” ever seen. By mercilessly haranguing, begging and even paying (out of his meagre civil service wages and occasional wheeler-deal) any artists who met his exacting intellectual standards, Pekar all but created the comics genre of autobiographical, existentially questing, slice-of-life graphic narratives whilst eking out a mostly lonely, hand-to-mouth existence in Cleveland, Ohio.

How the irascible, opinionated, objectionable, self-educated music-mad working stiff came to use the admittedly (then) impoverished comicbook medium to make a fiercely vital social commentary on American life of the ordinary Joe is a magical journey in the plebeian far better read than read about, but I’m going to have a crack at convincing any holdouts anyway.

Moreover, by the time you’ve seen this I’m already on to my next crusade…

This compendium combines and re-releases those seminal tomes in one big, bold edition and was released to tie-in with the award-winning 2003 indie film biography American Splendor, and opens with the superb contents of the 1985 release American Splendor: the Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, beginning by reproducing the introduction by early collaborator and modern Media Darling Robert Crumb before proceeding with a seductive welter of elegiac, confrontational, compulsive, challenging, painfully frank and distressingly honest observations that collectively changed the way English language comics were perceived, received and even created.

Rendered by Crumb, the excoriating graphic self-analysis begins with ‘The Harvey Pekar Name Story’ as the obsessive yet passive hunt for other people with the same name briefly gripped the self-confessed compulsive personality, whilst ‘The Young Crumb Story’ gave us Pekar’s take on the cartooning career of his collaborator, after which ‘A Fantasy’ again revisited the artist’s relationship with the writer: Pekar uncomfortably bragging over how he had browbeaten and gulled Crumb into drawing his scripts – and still was…

Gary Dumm illustrated the bizarre ‘Ozzie Nelson’s Open Letter to Crumb’ (written in 1972) describing the faded TV celebrity’s snotty pep talk to the cartooning degenerate, after which Crumb returned to deliver self-abusive insight as Pekar revealed ‘How I Quit Collecting Records – and Put Out a Comic Book with the Money I Saved’.

Greg Budgett & Dumm handled many of the most searingly honest introspectives such as ‘The Day Before the Be In’, the equally forthright and painful personal history sequels ‘Awakening to the Terror of the New Day’ and ‘Awakening to the Terror of the Same Old Day’ or the nigh-spiritual rationalisations of ‘Short Weekend – a Short Story About the Cosmic and the Ordinary’

One of the most impressive facets of Pekar’s tales is the uncompromising depiction of the people he encountered in work or socially (if such a term can apply to such a self-admitted “judgemental jerk”) and the frankly brutal way he attempts to keep narrative polish out of his graphic reportage.

Incidents such as ‘A Compliment’ or ‘Jivin’ With Jack the Bellboy as he Goes About… Hustlin’ Sides’ and ‘Jack the Bellboy and Mr. Boats’ – all illustrated by Crumb – recount episodes with co-workers undistinguished, unremarkable and free of all dramatic embellishment or grace-saving charisma… but they are intoxicatingly real and appealing.

‘Read This’ (Budgett & Dumm) tells how even cynics can be surprised by people, whilst the Crumb-illustrated ‘Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines’ is as gently hilarious as their ‘Ridin’ the Dog’ vignette of cross-country bus travel is contemplatively reassuring.

Innovative Gerry Shamray tackled the wordy self-examination of life’s pointless frustrations in ‘An Argument at Work’ and the cathartic ‘Working Man’s Nightmare’ with aplomb and smart sensitivity, before Crumb resurfaced to draw an incredible familiar and unwelcome situation as the obnoxious ‘Freddy Visits for the Week End’. Regrettably we all have friends like him…

Pekar’s disastrous history with women was a frequent theme and ‘Ripoff Chick’ (by Budgett & Dumm again) showed why and how. The only difference between the author and most men was that he admitted up front that he wanted sex without complications or commitment…

‘One Good Turn Deserves Another’ (Shamray) invites us to share a typically penny-pinching secret, before Dumm tackled a quirky friendship and the perils of well-intentioned matchmaking in ‘Leonard & Marie’, and ordinary folk got tied up discussing theology and politics in Shamray’s wryly related ‘Noah’s Ark’. The artist then effectively encapsulated ‘Class Antagonism’ before Jewish intellectual Pekar again examined his ethnic and cultural roots by revisiting his relationship with Old World Hebrew ‘Emil’ (Dumm & Budgett) and the danger of first-hand accounts in the Crumb-illustrated ‘The Maggies (Oral History)’ and Shamray’s death-camp memoir ‘Kaparra’

Crumb then turned in his most claustrophobic and impassioned drawing for the vibrant manifesto ‘American Splendor Assaults the Media’ after which the immensely stylish Kevin Brown limned a tale of frustrated selling out as Harvey attempted to schmooze up-and-coming movie star Wallace Shawn ‘Grubstreet, USA’, after which the first volume ended on a high of sorts with Pekar via Crumb temporarily resolving a ‘Hypothetical Quandary’.

The philosophising, reminiscing, ruminating, observing, eulogizing, questioning and fictively projecting promptly continues in From the Streets of Cleveland Comes… American Splendor: the Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, resuming the painfully honest – and to us here and now perhaps often unsettling and disquieting – accounts of normal lives with the Crumb-crafted classics ‘Pickled Okra (Okry)’, ‘Lunch with Carmella’, ‘Rollins on Time’ and ‘Visualize, Actualize, Realize’ – all containing commonplace friendly interactions with Pekar’s African-American co-workers that would make many genteel folk wince today…

A prospective hot date turned into a gruelling and pointless exercise in furniture moving in the Budgett & Dumm saga ‘Guerrilla Theatre: July ‘74 – on the Corner’ with a punch-line not apparent until their ‘On the Corner… a Sequel: June 1976’, after which inker turned illustrator to relate the nostalgic revelations of young lust in the 1950s on the ‘Roller Coaster to Nowhere’, but some measure of cosmic karma was achieved decades later when Pekar finally achieve his  childhood goal of owning ultra-hip and so, so cool ‘Stetson Shoes’

‘Mrs. Roosevelt and the Young Queen of Greece’ and ‘Busman’s Holiday’ by Dumm & Budgett celebrate the simple joy of guys simply sitting around shooting the breeze, whilst Crumb’s delicious treatment of Pekar’s love for old fashioned Jewish kvetching makes ‘Miracle Rabbis – a Dr. Gesundheit Story’ a minor masterpiece of comics.

‘An Everyday Horror Story’ (Shamray) then recaptures the tension and terror of Pekar’s first brush with serious illness – or so the author thought.

Always a healthy, vigorous but exceptionally excitable shouty man, Pekar got properly sick for the first time in his life and faced the very real prospect of never being able to speak again. This exceedingly gripping account perfectly presents all the fear, frustration, metaphysical pleading and moving emotional and practical support Harvey’s friends and then wife provided – and what happened next…

‘Alice Quinn’ drawn by S. (Susan) Cavey then detailed a portentous meeting with the girl who got away before Shamray’s powerfully captivating ‘I’ll be Forty Three on Friday (How I’m Living Now)’ offers a rare moment of optimistic clarity, and Cavey’s ‘Jury Duty’ shows how even the most earnest hopes and honest ambitions can worry the bejeezus out of “normal” folks…

For most of his life Pekar was that rarest of creatures – an un-typical American who chose not to drive (for good, sound and to my mind admirable reasons). Thus he often spent time cadging lifts and fretting about the etiquette of returning favours to his civilian chauffeurs. In ‘A Ride Home’ (Cavey) the impatience and anxiety grew momentarily too much, whilst in Dumm’s ‘Free Ride’ a long-standing arrangement with a previously admired old Jewish guy escalated into something ferociously passive-aggressive, quite strange and impossibly worrisome…

The same traumas afflicted Pekar when he foolishly bought his ex- wife’s automobile only to find it a cursed Jonah, which plagued him for many snowbound months in ‘Old Cars and Winter’ by Cavey. The superb and vastly underrated Val Mayerik joined the select band of artistic collaborators with the gloriously uplifting ‘A Marriage Album’, depicting life with beloved third wife with Joyce Brabner, and explored Pekar’s wild street-fighting juvenile days and later proclivities in ‘Violence’, whilst ‘History Repeats Itself’ offered a moment of resigned contemplation over teen spirits courtesy of Seán Carroll.

Mayerik contributed a final brace of gently contemplative pieces beginning with ‘A Matter of Life and…’ which saw an older, calmer author recap his life with a little more kindness than ever before, whilst an uneventful bus ride found Pekar gleaning a wealth of down-home ‘Common Sense’ from a voluble instructor driver before this masterful meander through a truly unique mind concludes with Crumb and the perfect solution to life’s ills with ‘Mr. Boats’ Miracle Cure’

With art by individualistic collaborators who were never content to stay in their Comfort Zones but always endeavoured to make their contributions unique unto the story, and selected from a most adventurous and historically creative decade, these tales of working life, self-esteem, achievement, failure, religion, the media, Nazi atrocity, guilt, acceptable bigotry, proudly defended ignorance, friendship, aloofness and the art of understanding women are timeless slices of life’s dreary brilliance.

As a man who constantly assessed and re-examined his own creative worth and self, Harvey Pekar opened up his life to the world and changed it by being ordinary and average.

…Except he never was, as this superb insight into the mind and heart of a truly original comics creator will attest. This splendid, engrossing book offers readers a chance to see the humour, confusion and frustration of being an American thinker in a world that simply doesn’t value brains and spirit anymore – and I fear that’s going to be one of humanity’s eternal verities…

© 1976-1986, 2004 Harvey Pekar, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2: Bona Fide Balderdash


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6

Tragically this review copy didn’t reach me in time for a Christmas recommendation, but that’s okay as books of this calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you should just hit the shops or the online emporia of your choice and grab this terrific tome now…

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m happy to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on short cartoon films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take sides, Kelly moved back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney funnybook license amongst others at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material. For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their funny pages careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge…

When The Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate and launched on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family).

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers throughout 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies, and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second of a proposed full dozen volumes reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, possibly the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office – a ritual which inevitably and coincidentally reoccurred every four years whenever the merely human inhabitants of America got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering – but it’s also remarkable to note that by the close of this two-year period Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The likes of Solid MacHogany, Tammanany Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, the sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, bull moose Uncle Antler and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others would pop up with varying frequency and impact over the next twenty years…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184x267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952 – all faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents. Supplemental features comprise a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly, more invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ by and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier.

In his time the satirical mastermind unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and Pa of some guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery of course includes the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the rest, covering not only day to day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of  points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing to name but a few…

As Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, this tome offers a magical, magnificent treatment of all the problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics: dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the Presidency…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, vivaciously portray through anthropomorphic affectation comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human, and he used that gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight – and we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent second edition should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.