The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 2: Demons and Angels


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-844-1

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. Please be aware that means nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy, excess of every kind and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and – I suspect – school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering trailblazer within America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face architect of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted (or perhaps had) to. Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative, lewdly licentious and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze- and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson simply pushed the optics for that sacrament as far as he could, straight into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The contemporary successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down or curbed his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This second intimate, informative oversized (286 x 202 mm) hardback biography/graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, with each chapter offering a wealth of strips, comprising most of his output from the decline of the counterculture in the mid 1970s to the graphic renaissance of the 1980s.

Before our hagiography of horrors resumes, fellow cartoonist, bosom buddy and contemporary fun-seeker Joe Schenkman paints a torrid word-picture in his Introduction: Where Eagles Soar, after which ‘From Underground to Alternative’ describes the slow painful end of Underground Commix and subsequent downturn in the massive sales its iconoclastic cartoonists enjoyed during the 1960s, whilst relating how the true survivors moved into other areas of expression and more legitimate publishing arenas.

The cultural pendulum swing actually benefited the most dedicated and talented artistic visionaries like R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Wilson, and this section looks at our wayward rebel’s easy shuffle into commissioned art, gallery-shows, covers and commercial illustration as well as his return to comicbook notoriety in the 1980s after being sought out by Steve Bissette and John Totleben for their horror anthology Taboo. “Wil-sin” more than lived up to his reputation…

Jam-packed with illustrations, this history is rounded off with more astounding strips and his manic, hyper-complex tableaux-spreads (he called them “Deep Scenes”) including ‘Angels & Devils’ and ‘Wanda and Tillie featuring Jesus’ from Zap Comix #6, (1973), as well as ‘Rough Trade Lib’, the apocalyptic ‘Futuristic Glimpses’ and convoluted shock-spreads ‘Dyke Pirates Rescue Their Captain from the Diabolic Doctors of Dover’, ‘Maarooouufffaaolloo’ from the following year’s Zap #7, whilst 1975’s 2 (Two), originally housed ‘Brutal Youths Trounce Lawful Citizens for Ticket Money’, ‘Suds Smut’, ‘Un Acte’, ‘The Possessed, Exorcists, Demons and Gurus in a Free-for-All’ and ‘The Captain Died Twice’ before the same productive year’s 2² (Two Squared) delivers the epic examination of social atrocity ‘Lester Gass – the Midnight Xenophobe’

The next essay concentrates on the legendary artistic collaborations of Wilson, Spain, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin who periodically and competitively reunited through the 1970s and 1980s to release new material in an occasional anthology like no other.

Zap Forever!’ offers history and insight supplemented by a wealth of Wilson’s stunning and controversial material beginning with ‘Riot in Cell Block Number Nine’ assorted short tales of ‘The Checkered Demon’, ‘Travelin’ Assassin’ and ‘The Sawbones Sews on the Captain’s Ear Following the Fray’ from Zap Comix #9 (1978), ‘The Swap’ and ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ from #8 in 1975, whilst issue #10 (1982) featured the haunting ‘Bums and the Bird-Spirit’ and ‘Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates Sail Again!’

Also rousing ire and poking gorges are vivid Deep Scenes ‘Vampires with Their Dates and Victims Peruse Count von Sangre’s Basement Exhibition of Satanic Icons’, ‘The Checkered Demon and a Couple of Friends Relax in a Rustic Pub’, ‘Rotting Zombies Take Vengeance Upon the Pirates Who Had Shang-Haid Them’ from Zap Comix #11, (1985) offering the artist’s latest obsession and newest entries to his repertoire of grisly characters: zombies!

Back in educational mode ‘Wilson Abroad’ covers the artist’s life in beloved San Francisco bars and forays into book illustration – most notably covers and interiors for archival German editions of writers like William Burroughs – as well as the maverick’s European tours and booze-soaked trips to England and Scotland, augmented by a plethora of fascinating photos and commercial images.

This section includes a barrage of brilliant comics pieces which begin with the infamous Checkered Demon adventure-strip originally serialised in The Berkeley Barb newspaper from 1976-77 and later collected as The Checkered Demon #1 from Last Gasp.

These sordid sorties are followed by ‘The Checkered Demon Meats the Rotting Zombies Countess!’ (Weird Smut 1985), ‘The Checkered Demon Searches for the Perfect Pint!’, (Knockabout #2, 1981), ‘Captain Rosy Namrooth and her Crew Attempt to Prevent the Checkered Demon from Rescuing Star-Eyed-Stella and her Witch Sister through a Hole in the Hull’ (Boiled Owl #3 1981), ‘Give Me Them Pills’ (Jump Start #1, 1983), ‘A Gluetette and her Rotting Zombie Beau Discover the Little Syringe that Nobody Wanted’ (Jump Start #2, 1987), ‘The Checkered Demon and Deke the Blade Find the Dealer Dead in his Dank Little Room’ (Blatch #13. 1986), ‘Last Call!’ (Heck 1989), ‘Gems and Junk’ (Jump Start #2, 1987) and ‘Psycho Fat Boys’ from Too Fun Too Huge #2 1988.

A peek at the frequently controversial coterie of ‘Wilson’s Characters’ grants access to many unseen private works and unpublished material, neatly segueing into a mostly full-colour selection of works including ‘Babbs Crabb and Her Friend Bernice Meet the Male Chauvinist Peg!’ (Barbarian Women #2, 1977), the cover to Barbarian Women #2, front and back covers for The Checkered Demon #1, II (1978) and III (1979), Britain’s Knockabout #2 cover, The Ugly Head 1981 cover plus The Ugly Head from Yama Yama/The Ugly Head, the cover of Zap Comix #9 and front & back covers for both 2 (Two) and 2² (Two Squared) before this eclectic collection concludes with an invitation to view the artist’s middle years of ‘Domestic Tranquility’.

These social interactions are all accompanied by fascinating, rare illustrations such as fliers for ‘St. Pat’s Bash at Dick’s Bar’ (1984) and ‘Dicknic!’ (1987), plus 17 stunning Private Commissions, the cover to crime novel Blind Pig, and an album cover for ‘More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral’ by The Accüsed from 1989, before the lesson endeth with a copious listing of Selected Works by S. Clay Wilson

Erudite, intimately informative yet utterly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by the informationally insatiable Patrick Rosenkranz, offers unmissable insights into of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. Just like its precursor, this is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume Two: Demons and Angels © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2015 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2015 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Angry Youth Comics


By Johnny Ryan (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-867-1

This book is full of rude and vulgar words, nasty sex and terrible pictures. There’s also lots of disgusting violence but that’s generally acceptable to most people.

So, if such adult-oriented material offends you, don’t read this review or the book.

You will however have to find something else to get angry and complain about…

Graphic narrative and cartooning, despite our regular protestations of comprising a comparatively small pond, cover a vast range of genres, formats, disciplines and tastes. From Tintin or Raymond Brigg’s Snowman through the various escapist mainstreams to the edgy, unpredictable and even the downright shocking.

Johnny Ryan is a comedian who uses comics as his medium of expression. Whether in his Prison Pit series, or his many commissions for such varied clients as Nickelodeon, Hustler, Vice, Arthur, National Geographic Kids and elsewhere, his job and passion is to make laughter. Depending on your point of view he is either a filth-obsessed pervert smut-monger or a social iconoclast using the same tactics as Hogarth, Gillray and Cruikshank or more recently Lenny Bruce, Bill Hicks or Frankie Boyle to challenge the worst aspects of our society.

Ryan’s loose cartoon drawing style is deceptively engrossing and engagingly excessive whilst his seeming pictorial Tourette’s Syndrome of strips and gags – involving such signature characters as Boobs Pooter (world’s most disgusting stand-up comedian), Loady McGee & Sinus O’Gynus, Sherlock McRape and the incredible Blecky Yuckeralla (originally seen weekly from 2003 in The Portland Mercury and Vice Magazine before switching to Ryan’s own on-line site) – will, frankly, appal and baffle many readers, but as with most questions of censorship in a Free Society, the naysayers are completely at liberty to neither buy nor read the stuff.

Ryan dubbed his stinging graphic assaults on American Culture and Political Correctness “misanthropic comics” after first coming to public attention through his occasional comicbook series Angry Youth Comix.

Originally produced as self-published minicomics from 1994-1999, the strips were brought then to the attention of Fantagraphics by Peter Bagge and the company promptly commissioned a second volume.

Now this spectacular and colossal (424 pages, 273 x 184mm) monochrome hardback tome gathers all fourteen of those staggering assaults on “taste and decency” (first issued between 2001 to 2008) in one monolithic compendium of raucous, riotous baroque hilarity…

Ryan is a cartoonist with an uncompromising vision and an insatiable desire to shock and revolt whenever he wants to. In his ongoing Prison Pit series he perpetually pushes the graphic narrative envelope and the outer limits of taste with a brutal, primitive cascade of casual violence and there’s plenty of senseless carnage and casual slaughter on show here too, but deftly woven into a never-ending barrage of grossly outrageous confrontations and a barrage of bracing, despicable filth. Or you could just see the funny side of it…

In this non-stop welter of exceedingly excessive force, vile excrescences, constant cultural clashes, scatological salvoes and sheer unadulterated graphic carnage can be seen a never-ending Darwinian struggle of witty license and disgraceful debauchery.

The only truly gratuitous thing however would be a complete listing of strips and gags contained herein, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t especially recommend ‘Loady McGee & Sinus O’Gynus in the Whorehouse of Dr. Moreau’, ‘Marshmallow & Snowflake in It’s the… Ku Klux Kuties’, ‘My Dad Went to a Concentration Camp and it Was Okay’, ‘1976’, ‘Sherlock McRape in Who Hit Nelly in the Belly With Jelly?’ or ‘Boobs Pooter’s Joke-Pocalypse’ …every one an unforgettably disgusting laugh-riot…

Also included in a special full colour section are the 28 brilliantly imaginative front & back covers as well as all the contentious and wonderful letters pages from the magazine’s run to complete your shock-jock flavoured enjoyment…

This is a brutally macabre yet beguiling, loathsomely intriguing miracle of cartoon exuberance; appalling, dismaying, cathartic and horridly, blackly humorous – always forcing the reader to think and challenge their own preconceptions.

Resplendent, triumphant juvenilia and selfish self-interest have been adroitly catapulted beyond all ethical limits into the darkest depths of absurdist comedy. This is a non-stop rollercoaster of brain-blistering profound profanity; pictorial purgatory at its most gorge-rising and compelling.

Not for kids, the faint-hearted or weak-stomached, here is extreme cartooning at its most visceral and pure. Gross, vulgar, shocking strips and panel gags about sex, defecation, bodily functions (particularly the many types of farting), feminine hygiene – and men’s lack of same – comics, toys, knob-gags and even the ultimate modern taboos of religion, politics, race and child abuse are all here and waiting to get you…

And now that we’ve placated the intellectual/moral imperative inside us all, I’ll also affirm that this titanic tome is another, all-out, over the top, indisputably hilarious hoot. Buy it and see if you’re broad-minded, fundamentally honest and purely in need of ultra-adult silliness. If you aren’t any of those things but could stand a good, hearty laugh that might also make you think, then this is also the dirty cartoon joke-book for you.
All contents © 2015 Johnny Ryan (except where it isn’t). This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

Comic Relief – Drawings from the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project


By many and various (Henry Holt)
ISBN: 0-03-009093-8

No, not that one.

Once upon a time there was horrific famine and desperate privation in Africa – and gosh! How that’s changed! – so assorted talented people in the developed world organised themselves to raise money and help fix the immediate problem.

In Britain (Sir) Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure’s Band Aid set the ball rolling and USA for Africa swiftly followed as did many other projects across the wealthy bits of the world. The celebrity action promulgated the idea that us better-off folks – whether pop stars, plain Joe Public or even mere school pupils – could organise, contribute and save lives in deprived, impoverished or crisis-wracked parts of the planet: something governments had neither the stomach, resources nor political will to try…

The comicbook industry on both sides of the Atlantic joined the burgeoning movement, producing benefit publications such as Food For Thought, Heroes Against Hunger and Heroes For Hope, but to my mind the most impressive came from America’s newspaper cartoonist community.

In 1985 Milton Caniff, Charles Schulz and Garry Trudeau picked up their phones, wrote a few letters and talked to some friends and the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project was born.

As explained in the Foreword by Kenny Rogers (spokesman for USA for Africa) and Trudeau’s own Introduction in this sparkling collection, the idea was to have cartoonists across the nation dedicate and tailor their regular strip or panel scheduled for publication on November 28th (Thanksgiving being a perennial event in US strips second only to Christmas Day) to highlight the famine in Africa.

The result was a universal and near-unanimous favourable response – with many politically astute gadflys also taking the opportunity to sock it to arch-conservative President Ronald Reagan who had ignominiously and disingenuously boasted at the time that “there is no hunger in America”…

Whether comedy asides, polemical statements, wry and trenchant barbs in humour strips or telling pokes and heartfelt pleas in drama and action strips, everybody involved turned their livelihoods into soapboxes and asked their readership to “do something…”

The move brought the problems of the world onto the traditionally turkey-laden tables of practically every home in the nation and whilst the net effect was impossible to gauge, a happy by-product was this powerfully evocative tome gathering a legion of brilliant creators and features ranging from global household names to purely local sensations all making a statement that needs repeating as much now as ever…

The sheer star-content is staggering and I’m going to list them all for their honourable service…

Hägar the Horrible by Dik Browne, Gasoline Alley – Dick Moores, Moon Mullins – Ferd & Tom Johnson, Howie by Howie Schneider, Drabble by Kevin Fagan, Robotman – Jim Meddick, The Far Side by Gary Larson, Ziggy by Tom Wilson, Motley’s Crew – Ben Templeton & Tom Forman, Wright Angles – Larry Wright, Steve Roper & Mike Nomad by Saunders & Matera and Babyman by Don Addis.

There’s The Family Circus by Bil Keane, Today’s World – David Brown, Captain Vincible by Ralph Smith, Tiger by Bud Blake, Steve Canyon from Caniff, Adam by Brian Basset, Cathy by Cathy Guisewite, Bringing Up Father by Frank Johnson, Marmaduke – Brad Anderson, (Ralph) Dunagin’s People, Sally Forth by Greg Howard, Agatha Crumm – Bill Hoest, Ellie by Ray Helle and Grubby by Warren Sattler.

A telling editorial panel from Caldwell and a Tom Key Hazel strip leads to Beetle Bailey by Mort Walker, Rose is Rose by Pat Brady and a staggeringly powerful assault on Reagonomics by Tony Auth from that day’s Philadelphia Enquirer, before Nancy by Jerry Scott, Alley Oop by Dave Graue, B.C. by Johnny Hart, Cheeverwood by Michael Fry and Jeff Danzinger’s McGonigle of the Chronicle pack on the pressure…

Those are followed by Scot Stantis’ Sydney, My Grandma… by Donna Sott, Bizarro by Dan Piraro, Popeye by Bud Sagendorf, The Crass Menagerie by Kyle Baker, Willie ‘n’ Ethel by Joe Martin, Leotoons by Leonard Bruce & Charles Durck, Boner’s Ark by Frank Johnson, Tim Tyler’s Luck by Bob Young, Benchley by Jerry Dumas & Mort Drucker and Ask Shagg by Peter Guren.

Jim Unger’s Herman is augmented by Brother Juniper from Fred McCarthy, Arlo and Janis by Jimmy Johnson, Captain Easy by Crooks & Casale, Crock by Bill Rechin & Don Wilder. Mr. Men & Little Miss by Hargreaves & Sellers, Shoe by Jeff McNally and Annie by Leonard Starr.

Bill Lee then shows how to fix the problem The Lee Way, after which Gino by Gene Machamer, Snake Tales by Sols, Mr. Abernathy by Frank Ridgeway, Miss Peach by Mell Lazarus, Eek & Meek by Howie Schneider and Brumsic Brandon Jr.’s Luther all contribute their own individualistic solutions.

Flash Gordon by Dan Barry, Belvedere by George Crenshaw, Off the Leash by W.B. Park, Sylvia by Nicole Hollander, The Small Society by Brickman and Yates, Winston by Burnett & Sajem, Hubert by Dick Winger, Ted Martin’s Pavlov and (Jim) Berry’s World all add fuel to the flames of indignation.

Further insights and titbits are offered by On the Fastrack by Bill Holbrook, Elwood (Templeton & Forman), John Darling by Batiuk & Shamray, Buz Sawyer by Jon Celardo, Henry by Dick Hodgins, Stockworth by Sterling & Selesnick, Grimsly by Harley Schwadron, Winetoons by Robert Platt and Spanish-language feature …Pero Pa’ Lante by Harold Jessurun.

Even more cartoon criticism comes from Funky Winkerbean by Tom Batiuk, Cooper by Mike Keefe & Tom Menees, Doctor Smock by George Lemont and an especially savage observation by Bill Day of the Detroit Free Press are followed by Miles to Go from Phil Frank, Executive Suite by William Wells & Jack Lindstrom, Brenda Starr by Ramona Fradon & Mary Schmich and The Underground Surrealists by Mick Cusimano.

Bob Schwete’s Laugh Time segues into historical panel Return With Us To… Caring (by Bill Owen & Don Sherwood) and a raucously potent Calvin and Hobbes outing from Bill Watterson, plus simian contemplation in William Overgards’s Rudy and subtly telling observations in Schulz’s Peanuts, Dahl Mikkelsens Ferd’nand, Buddy Hickerson’s The Quigmans and from Lee Holley’s teen queen Ponytail.

Dick Tracy is on the case thanks to Dick Lochner & Max Collins, as are Moose Miller by Bob Weber, the inimitable penguin Opus in Berke Breathed’s Bloom County, Animal Crackers by Roger Bollen, The Peter Principle by Peter & Wuerker, Good News – Bad News by Henry Martin, Jim Henson’s Muppets (by Guy & Brad Gilchrist), Downstown by Tim Downs, Arnold by Kevin McCormack and Twitch by How Rands.

Potently earnest pleas from K. Bowser’s Vidiots and Ed Morgan, Jr.’s It’s Just a Game are supplemented with Fenton by Wiley, Wee Pals by Morrie Turner, Farley by Phil Frank, Geech by Jerry Bittle, Frank and Ernest by Bob Thaves, Middle Ages by Ron Jaudon, The Better Half by Harris, Winnie Winkle by Frank Bolle, Marvin by Tom Armstrong and Stan Lee & Larry Lieber’s Amazing Spider-Man.

Still making a scene and making a point the cavalcade continues with Momma by Mell Lazarus, Virgil & Co. by Steve Ansul, Art Sansom’s The Born Loser, Stumpy Stumbler by Emil Abrahamian, Gumdrop by Jerry Scott, Sons of Liberty by Richard Lynn, Tank McNamara by Jeff Millar & Bill Hinds, Bears in Love by Eric Meese, Betty Boop and Felix by The Walker Brothers, Fred Basset by Alex Graham, Wizard of Id by Brant Parker & Johnny Hart and Mandrake the Magician by Lee Falk & Fred Fredericks.

Perennial favourite Love Is… by Kim leads to Kit ‘n’ Carlyle by Larry Wright, Ug! by Tom Wilson Jr., The Phantom by Falk & Sy Barry, Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas, Winthrop by Dick Cavalli, The Girls by Franklin Folger, THE Little MAN by Salmon, Hi and Lois by Mort Walker & Dik Browne, Rip Kirby by John Prentice & Fred Dickenson, Luann by Greg Evans and Russell Myers’ Perky & Beanz.

The damning testimony resumes with Judge Parker by Paul Nichols, The Evermores by Johnny Sajem, Garfield by Jim Davis, Conrad by Bill Schorr, Village Square by Chuck Stiles, ADventures by Vadun, Kudzu by Doug Marlette, Eb and Flo by Paul Sellers, For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston, Apartment 3-G by Alex Kotzky, Trudeau’s punishing Doonesbury of the day, Archie (by an unnamed artist who was probably Dan DeCarlo) and The Neighborhood by Jerry Van Amerongen.

Thereafter Jerry Mancus’ Trudy begins the final servings, followed by Nubbin from Boltinoff & Burnett, Secret Agent Corrigan by George Evans, Hartland by Rich Torrey, Brick Bradford by Paul Norris, Amy by Jack Tippet and a trenchant editorial panel by Ben Wicks.

Barney Google & Snuffy Smith by Fred Lasswell join the party, as do Tumbleweeds by Tom K. Ryan, Sugar by Robert Gill and the shopping list of public awareness picture-strips concludes with Peaches by Paul Ullrich, Blondie by Dean Young & Stan Drake, Quincy by Ted Shearer, Dollar$ and Non$en$e by Mankoff, Health Capsules by Michael A. Petti, M.D., Duffy by Bruce Hammond, Little Farmer by Kern Pederson, Broom-Hilda by Myers, Gil Thorp by Jack Berrill, Tyler Two by Leslie Harris, Bugs Bunny by “Warner Bros”, Rex Morgan M.D. by Dal Curtis and The Smith Family by Mr. and Mrs. George Smith…

This splendid compendium of hearts, mind, hands and art supplies working in concert towards a greater good is still largely available through online sellers and shows just what can be done if we’re prepared to make a little effort.

After reading this review why not track down Comic Relief and – if you’re in the UK – while waiting for it to arrive you can contribute to the British TV extravaganza dominating the airwaves tonight…

© 1986 Henry Holt and Company Inc. All strips, art, text features, and characters ©, ™ and/or ® their respective owners and All Rights very much Reserved.

Inner City Romance


By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-60699-813-7

Please pay careful attention: this book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of coarse and vulgar language that most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such material is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then.

Guy Colwell is an artist, activist and occasional cartoonist whose works are deeply personal and immensely passionate. As such they have often been controversial. An early Underground Commix creator, his output was graphically sexual, ferociously pro-change and subtly anti-establishment.

A conscious objector and political activist during the time of the Vietnam War (the US government preferred the creepily draconian term “Non Co-operator”) he was prepared to serve time at a Federal prison rather than compromise his principles. Already tenuously starting a long and prestigious career as a gallery painter, Colwell’s incarceration was the spark for a second creative path as a cartoon journalist and comics creator.

This superb and long-overdue collection re-presents to Americans (the series has been a perennial favourite in Europe since the 1980s) a seminal 5 issue underground classic he crafted between 1971 and 1978, blending open minded exploration of alternative lifestyles with keen observation of the life of the nation’s disenfranchised and marginalised underclasses, all thoughtfully argued through beguiling depictions of sex, drugs, crime, socio-political rebellion and ecological radicalism.

They’re all stunningly beautiful to look at too…

Lavishly augmented by more than 30 of Colwell’s gallery paintings, candid photos, a selection of his magazine illustrations and even historically significant examples of his time as a courtroom sketch artist, the commemorative celebration opens with a little history and philosophy in ‘Good Times and Bad: The Evolution of Revolution’ by Patrick Rosenkranz – who also scribed the ‘Epilogue’ and an effusive overview of ‘The Artist’ at the end of the book.

The monochrome cartoon blasts from the past begin with the epochal ‘Choices’ from Inner City Romance #1 as three convicts are released on the same day…

Marvin and token white guy Paddy can think of nothing more than getting high, getting laid and making money they way they used to, but for black power activist James – who’s leaving the joint even more radicalised than when he went in – all that is secondary to rejoining his political brothers and sisters and taking the war to “The Man”.

Driving to San Francisco in a stolen car the trio rave on about what they’re going to do and all too soon Marvin and Paddy are indulging in an orgy of sex and drugs.

After touching base with a most willing soulmate at the Street Defense Committee, James eventually rejoins his debauched jail buddies but as he watches their excesses he realises he is at a crossroads in his life…

For many readers the political message was electrically clear, and the astoundingly explicit sexual antics serve here as a nothing more than powerfully distracting sleight of hand…

The comic was a huge counter culture hit (going through four printings) and the saga notionally continued a year later in issue #2 with ‘Radical Rock’

As Rosenkranz explains in a brief introduction, in the intervening time Colwell had been drawing a strip for the newspaper San Francisco Good Times, but when that organ of infinitely free expression folded, he recycled his paean to peace and anti-war sentiment into a new comicbook, adding in powerful overtones highlighting the increasingly oppressive nature of policing in the city.

The result was a strangely intoxicating brew akin to a rock opera with dialogue delivered in scintillating rhyming couplets and quatrains as The People combat authoritarian excesses and illegal imprisonment of activists by attempting to hold a benefit concert in the park.

The “Powers That Be” have their own agenda of course and plan a major bust, but when James is gunned down in the street all bets are off…

The same issue also contained ‘Part Two (Adagio)’ which deftly shifts scene to carnally explore the reactions of the previous generation of poor folks. Colwell has always seen sex as something joyous to be indulged in by young and old, pretty or plain and this moving affirmation that “everybody does it” acts as a powerful counterpoint to the unfolding drama as the creaky lovers are interrupted by news that their son has been arrested and mercilessly beaten.

By the time they get to the police station the drama is set to escalate into horrific tragedy…

Inner City Romance #3 was released in 1977 and is the artist’s personal favourite. Largely devoid of dialogue, it thematically returns to the prison system and follows the escape into dreams of three very different inmates, resulting in some of Colwell’s most inventive, erotic and phantasmagorical artwork…

Issue #4 was released the same year and returned to real-world activism by fictionalising the scandal surrounding the abandonment and eventual eviction of the elderly, handicapped, ethnic minorities and just plain poor residing in the International Hotel, San Francisco.

Colwell’s sensitive take on the Humans vs. Money affair is an intensely evocative and surprisingly even-handed affair, highlighting need for change and the ultimate price of life as a young boy perishes due to the short-sighted addition of ‘Ramps’ to a rickety, ramshackle ghetto complex local government is just too cheap to fix…

With Vietnam over and social crusading giving way to an era of sexual liberation, Colwell’s final Inner City Romance foray explored the liberation of libido in a quintet of short tales which still found space and time to question the effects of freedom and progress on different strata of society. It begins with the unabashed joy of loving in ‘Good for You’ before a different stroke focuses on recreational drug-taking and the budding Punk Scene in ‘DownUp’

Arson and deprivation mark the experiences of a loose association of urban youngsters in ‘Interkids’, whilst the unluckiest woman in town experiences three different kinds of hellish horror when she becomes the victim of ‘Sex Crime’ before the fables conclude with sheer exuberance and impassioned release for two young lovers ‘All Over the Clover’

Still-crusading, he ends the festival of life in this magnificent softcover compilation with a stunning gallery of his best paintings proving that old campaigner never die, they just keep getting cleverer…

For decades the publicity-shy Colwell was thought by his fans and contemporaries to be a black artist, so strident, effective and authentic was his narrative voice. Even today his ethnicity is unimportant; what counts is that he’s human and urgently begs us all to be human too. Why not start a little Inner City Romance of your own and see for yourself?
Inner City Romance © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc unless otherwise noted. All comics stories, illustrations and paintings © 2015 Guy Colwell. All rights reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman volume One


By Harvey Kurtzman (Kitchen Sink Books/Dark Horse Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-61655-563-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Buy It Now, Love It Forever… 10/10

Well this is embarrassing…

About a month ago, after literally years of waiting impatiently, I finally reviewed one of the earliest classics of our art form, impetuously deciding that at least some of you might find and delight in Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book through second-hand and pre-owned suppliers.

Apparently, even as I was whining about the thing not being in print, superbly crafted copies of a wonderful new deluxe hardcover edition were winging their way around the planet thanks to the perspicacity of those fine people at Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink.

That will teach me to actually read some of the online reports and press releases we’re bombarded with here at Grumpy Old Luddite Central…

Still my humiliation is your good fortune as this magnificently oversized (297x184mm) masterpiece is ready to buy and just in time to make this Holiday Season a time of wickedly barbed merriment…

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with “The Great 1960s Satire Boom” producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs – there’s a Christmas Annual out even as we speak…).

Sadly our American cousins were not so magnanimously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty rib-tickling intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it is a very large country of excitable citizens, with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and outright lunatics…

Creative genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

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

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

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug cruelly defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material. That company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s phenomenally best-selling paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable to a gamble…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with far less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books packing bookshop shelves and newsstand spinners were always designed with one eye on the kids’ market.

This new stuff was strictly for adults who would happily follow newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a whole book of them. Duly enlightened, Kurtzman instead returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the aforementioned Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in many fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1986 when cartoonist, publisher and comics advocate Denis Kitchen released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

Adjudged by The Comics Journal as #26 in the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century”, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and this latest edition brilliantly gilds the graphic lily with a host of extra features and treats.

Augmented by a wealth of candid photos, covers and sketches from other works, this new chronicle of craziness offers an effusive Introduction by Gilbert Shelton and a fascinating and informative essay by Kitchen entitled ‘It’s a Jungle Out There!’ which reveals the tone of the times and discloses the background behind the novel novel’s creation.

Also included is the 1986 Kitchen Sink edition’s ‘Intro’ by rabidly devoted fan Art Spiegelman and, after the words and picture-fest concludes, a captivating ‘Epilogue’ ensues in the form of a scholarly ‘Conversation between Peter Poplaski and R. Crumb’

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent, probing questions about the world rapidly changing all around him.

Each tale in the quartet is prefaced by Kurtzman’s own commentary as shared with comics historian Dave Schriener for the 1986 Edition…

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving, hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece (barely) contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

In creating ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for low-rent publishers and bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc.

The quasi-autobiographical, impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative average business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the ends of the Earth…

The cartooning wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre or assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

The tale was inspired by the time Kurtzman spent in Paris, Texas during his wartime service…

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us’n sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, sommin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah some snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turns up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon vi’lint passions is furtha aroused and nuthin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth, ambition and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.
Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (Essential Kurtzman Volume One) © 2014 Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. All contents © and/or ™ their respective creators or rights holders. All artwork and stories © the estate of Harvey Kurtzman unless noted.  All rights reserved.

In a Glass Grotesquely – Selected Picture Stories


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-797-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure and Primal Comics Wonderment… 9/10

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters in Fine Arts, and after beginning a career as an illustrator rediscovered his love of comicbooks. The potentially metafictional self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! and animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia the most well known characters in his gratifyingly large back catalogue.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

In a Glass Grotesquely is his latest irresistible tract of baroque pictorial enchantment, deftly combining his recent 2014 webcomic with a triptych of visceral and saturnine delusions from the end of the last century, all exploring the bleakest corners of the modern world’s communal fantasy landscape and applying his truly skewed raconteur’s gifts to giving us a thrill, a chill and a chortle…

The majority of this spookily sublime confrontation with the cartoon dark side is taken up with the gripping saga of ultimate enemy of America ‘Super-Enigmatix’, a diabolically inspired super-villain determined to avenge himself upon America for slights both imagined and tragically real…

Delivered in punchy alternating doses of surreal full-colour splashes and moody monochrome subplots, the story details how the brilliant weird-scientist, served by an army of beautiful female zealots and hidden race of mole people, tries to destroy modern society, only opposed by disenchanted ex-cop Natalie Charms and a dedicated band of “conspiracy nuts”…

The struggle against a self-created monster hiding behind a smoke screen of urban legend is fast-paced, Byzantine, and insidiously politically charged: a mesmerising chase-caper and delight of post-modern paranoia meeting classic pulp-fiction melodrama…

Like a bleakly mordant reinvention of the Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross, ‘It Will All Be Over Before You Know It…’ is a sequence from single panel black and white epigrams building to a tableau of modern terrors for women seeking work, after which 1998’s ‘Stranger Street’ silently details the building tension as a psycho-killer haunts the streets of an already scary town…

The cracked chronicle then concludes with a Kafkaesque shaggy bird story delivered in barrage of grey wash, as an ineffectual nobody receives – and loses – a once-in-a-lifetime honour in ‘The Prestigious Banquet To Be Held In My Honour’

In a Glass Grotesquely amusingly exposes the seamy, scary underbelly of existence with these enigmatic, clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging yarns blending nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of children scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night and will therefore make an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she’s just you, imaginary or even relatively real…

In a Glass Grotesquely © 2014 Richard Sala. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book


By Harvey Kurtzman (Ballantine/Kitchen Sink)
ISBNs: 978-0-87816-033-4 (Kitchen Sink HB),      338-K (Ballantine original PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Hard To Find – but absolutely worth it… 10/10

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with The Great 1960s Wit Scare producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs…).

Somehow our American cousins were not so copiously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it a very large country with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and lunatics alike…

Creative genius Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the 20th century – even more so than Will Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was a force in newspaper strips (See Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social explorer who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art to share his findings…

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

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

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material.

The company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books always had one eye to the kids’ market.

This stuff was strictly for adults who would happily read newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a book of them. Duly enlightened Kurtzman returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1987 when Denis Kitchen (that much-missed crusading champion of all things grand, esoteric, nostalgic and/or naughty in comics), released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized (214 x 149 x 19mm) collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

It’s still one of the funniest, most marvellous examples of wit and creativity comics have ever produced, as well as Kurtzman’s longest single work and is long overdue for another go-round.

Large sized paperback editions were also released at the time, but are now just as hard to find…

Deemed one of the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century” by The Comics Journal, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and the Kitchen Sink edition augments its reproduction with an effusive and captivating ‘Intro’ from devoted fan Art Spiegelman plus an information-packed ‘Outro’ by editor and comics historian Dave Schriener.

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent probing questions about the world changing around him.

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece barely contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

For ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc. The quasi-autobiographical impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative typical business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the end of the Earth…

The volume wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre and assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, somethin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah a snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turn up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon violent passions is furtha aroused and nothin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.

© 1959, 1986 Harvey Kurtzman. ‘Intro’ © 1986 Art Spiegelman. ‘Outro’ © 1986 Dave Schriener. Entire contents © 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. All rights reserved.

© 1990 by Byron Preiss Visual Publications Inc. Each strip © 1990 Harvey Kurtzman and the respective artist. All rights reserved.

Pogo – The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 3: Evidence to the Contrary


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-694-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Possibly the Best Comic Strip Collection in the World… 10/10

Books of this stature and 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 online emporia and grab this terrific tome right now.

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

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began 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 animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving 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 to 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, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip 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 New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

When the paper folded Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, debuting on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets across the nation. A colour Sunday page launched January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 and thereafter by his talented wife and family until the feature was at last laid to rest on July 20th 1975.

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 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 even began…

In this third and much delayed (due to the sudden death of much missed editor and publisher Kim Thompson) volume of a proposed full dozen reprinting the entire Kelly canon of the Okefenokee Swamp critter citizenry, undoubtedly the main aspect of interest is the full-on comedic assault against possibly the greatest danger and vilest political demagogue America ever endured, but the counterattack against witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy is merely one of the many delights in this stunning mix of free expression and wild and woolly whimsy…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation hardback (boasting three-hundred-and-fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome ‘Daily Strips’ from January 1st 1953 to December 31st 1954, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 4th to December 26th of the same years.

Supplemental features this time comprise a Foreword from ward winning cartoonist Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm), a wealth of deliriously winning unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly and utterly invaluable context and historical notes in R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ which also compellingly, almost forensically, details the rise and fall of rabblerousing “red-baiter” Joe McCarthy and how Kelly courageously opened America’s fight back against the unscrupulous, bullying chancer (and the movement for which he was merely a publicity-hungry figurehead) with an unbeatable combination broadside of ridicule and cool disdain…

The closing regular biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier is supplemented by a comprehensive ‘Index of the Strips’ and a gloriously inspired selection of ‘Noteworthy Quotes’ to fill out the academic needs of the readers, but of course the greatest boon here is the strips and characters themselves.

Kelly was a masterful inventor of engaging and endearing personalities, all of whom carried as many flaws as virtues. The regular roll call (which some commentators reckon to be as many as 1000) included gentle, perpetually put-upon and bemused possum Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous, sensitive Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompously ignorant know-it-all Howland Owl, sveltely seductive skunk Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, long suffering matron Miz Beaver, maternal Miz Groun’chuck and her incomprehensible, bitey baby Grundoon plus all the other bugs, beasts and young’uns of the swamp, but the author’s greatest strength lay in his uniquely Vaudevillian rogues, scoundrels and outright villains.

The likes of Tammanany Tiger, officious Deacon Mushrat, sinister, sycophantic beatnik communist Catbirds Compeer and Confrere, sepulchral Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred were perfect confections to illustrate all manner of pestilential pettifogging, mean manners and venal self-serving atrocities as they intermingled and interfered with the decent folk volubly enduring the vicissitudes of such day to day travails as love, marriage, comicbooks, weather, rival strips, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, cadging food, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other…

In this volume the topics of exotically extravagant conversation include the longevity and worth of New Year’s Resolutions, the scandalous behaviour of Porkeypine’s kissing-thief Uncle Baldwin, a get-rich scheme involving dirt and opening shots at the burgeoning phenomenon of commercial television. However the gradual conversion of the Deacon’s Boy Bird Watchers society into a self-policing vigilante committee looking out for strangers and making sure all the citizens are right thinking and true looking would quickly insinuate itself into every corner of the feature…

The anti-foreigner sentiment peaks following the arrival of Deacon Mushrat’s old pal The Hon. Mole MacCarony; a blind, self-aggrandizing politico determined to root out all (undisclosed) threats, enforce conformity and stamp out the diseases obviously carried by strangers.

The xenophobic dirt-digger was based on Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran who briefly shaped paranoid public opinion on a platform of severely restricting immigration and implementing the speedy deportation of all communists and non-Americans.

Things got much darker – and therefore more effectively ludicrous – with the arrival of Mole’s malicious and ambitious associate Simple J. Malarkey whose bullying tactics soon began to terrify his fellow bigots as much as the increasingly outraged, off-balance citizens…

Eventually the villains fell out and triggered their own downfall with the mortified Deacon sheepishly denying his part in the fiasco. Peace and (in)sanity returned and with sunny days ahead weather-prognosticating frog Picayune debuted, but suffered a great loss when Albert accidentally ingested the amphibian’s pal Halpha – an amoeba who actually did all the meteorological messing about…

Voracious Albert generally swallowed a lot of things, but his biggest gaffe probably occurred after meeting Roogey Batoon, a pelican impresario who – briefly – managed Flim, Flam and Flo: a singing fish acted billed as the Lou’siana Perches

Many intriguing individuals shambled into view at this time: Ol’ Mouse and his tutorial pal Snavely (who taught worms how to be cobras and rattlers), cricket-crazed British bugs Reggie and Alf and family icons Bug Daddy and Chile, but the biggest mover and shaker to be introduced was undoubtedly a sporty Rhode Island Red chicken named Miss Sis Boombah.

The formidable biddy was a physically imposing and prodigiously capable sports enthusiast (and Albert’s old football coach), who wandered in as survey taker for “Dr. Whimsy’s report on the Sectional Habits of U.S. Mail Men” (a brilliant spoof of the societally sensational Kinsey Report on sexual behaviour in America) but her arrival also generated a succession of romantic interludes and debacles which eventually led to a bewildered Mushrat proposing marriage before leaving her in the lurch and disappearing into the deepest parts of the swamp…

Mole had already reared his unseeing head again, causing only minor mischief, but when the marriage-averse Deacon encountered the terrifying Malarkey lurking in hiding with sinister acolyte Indian Charlie (who bears a remarkable resemblance to then current US Vice-President Richard Nixon) the scene was set for another savage and often genuinely scary confrontation…

That’s also exactly what Miss Boombah had in mind as she set out with Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred to hunt down the scoundrel who had left her in the lurch at the church…

Other story strands and insane interludes include such epic mini sagas as the hunt for an abducted puppy – lampooning TV cop series Dragnet – and a long session on the keeping and proper sharing of secrets, much ado about gossip and the art of being a busybody.

Most memorable of all though are Churchy’s sudden predilection for dressing up as pretty little blonde girl, perpetually visiting Martians and poor Pogo’s oddly domestic recipe for A Bombs…

In his time satirical supremo Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast upon many other innocent, innocuous sweethearts such as J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as lesser lights likes Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt), but nothing ever compared his delicious and devilish deconstruction of “Tailgunner Joe” in the two extended sequences reprinted here…

Kelly’s unmatched genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, if not vivaciously, portray through anthropomorphic affectation and apparently frivolous nonsense language comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human.

He used that gift to readily blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre. Generally though he usually toned down the satirical scalpels for the magnificently imaginative ‘Sunday Funnies’: concentrating instead on fantastic and unfailingly hilarious serial fables and comedy romps.

Some of the best he ever conceived conclude this volume, beginning with the epic saga of little faun Melonbone whose search for the Fountain of Youth inadvertently caused Sam Duck to revert to an egg. The distraught drake’s wife was not best pleased at having to hatch her own husband out at her age (she was no spring chicken)…

Churchy and Albert then fell afoul of sharp toothed tot Grundoon as the kid’s inability to converse led the alligator to accidentally swallow his turtle pal, after which the animal crackpots all got very lost for a long time in their own swampy backyard…

Howlan Owl’s latest get-rich-quick scheme – digging to China – resulted in his and Albert’s reluctant consultation of an Atlas and the shocking conclusion that the Russians had taken over Georgia.

The panicked reaction of the chumps then led to their accidentally awakening an oversleeping bear who decided to start celebrating Christmas in the middle of August. Eventually everybody caught up to him just in time for the true Yule event…

After the usual New Year’s shenanigans, 1954 really took hold as everyone’s favourite alligator tried to recount the amazing exploit of ‘King Albert and the 1001 Arabian Knights of the Round Table’ – despite each listener’s evident and express disinterest – before Howlan and Churchy became compulsively embroiled in a furious feud over pugilism.

Soon thereafter Albert was mistaken for a monster after getting his head stuck in a cauldron. Sadly, once the alligator was finally extricated from the calamitous cookpot, other unhappy folk become the infernal alembic’s’s unwilling method of locomotion…

No sooner did that catastrophe conclude than the whole sorry fiasco promptly kicked off again with a lovesick octopus now playing transient chapeau to a succession of unfortunate and duly startled swamp critters …

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 ineffably magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent third tome should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the other two.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the all politically astute critters – “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

Pogo Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2014 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2014 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Hacktivist


By Alyssa Milano, Jackson Lanzing, Collin Kelly, Marcus To, Ian Herring & Deron Bennett (Archaea Black Library)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-409-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Sharing is Everything… 8/10

The world is radically altering every minute but some things never change: eternal verities like oppression and the hunger for freedom, greed and idealism, friendship and betrayal…

Following ‘A Note to the Reader’ from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, an astounding tale begins when a band of desperate dissidents narrowly avoids capture by the draconian Tunisian military. It seems the latest outbreak of popular democracy is doomed to failure until the last rebels of the “Arab Spring” improbably receive a wireless signal from the most notorious hacker collective on Earth.

The message to “.sve_Urs3lf” is accompanied by the updated facility to penetrate the oppressive government’s firewalls, enabling Sirine and her fellow fugitives to break through the dictatorship’s isolating cyber-borders and communicate with other dissidents as well as the outside world…

In San Francisco, the Robin Hoods behind the message allow themselves a glow of pride. Prodigies Nate Graft and Ed Hiccox sit back and watch as the Tunisian people rise, before getting back to their day jobs as the billionaire boy wonders who created and own YourLife: Earth’s most successful and ubiquitous decentralised social network…

Although to the public flashy Nate is cool corporate aplomb and shy Ed the diffident brain-box problem-solver, both young men share the dream of forcing through true and fair social evolution… only these days Graft seems increasingly distracted by the glamour and wealth whilst earnest Mr. Hiccox acts ever-more dissatisfied and impatient with the rate of progress…

As Nate parties at gala benefits and shows off his latest technological tricks, Ed sits alone, tapping keys and making progress on the big picture. Both are utterly unaware that their world is about to spin crazily out of control…

The first move is made by gorgeous Brynn Ori who targets Graft at a party. Her seductive soft-soap come-on soon fades though when Graft refuses to bite. That’s when she reveals her position in the CIA’s Cyber Command and makes Nate a truly tempting offer he really should not decline…

The story she tells is most convincing and soon Nate has even convinced his deeply suspicious partner to accept the offer – and the immense amount of cash Brynn is offering.

Also on the table is full amnesty for their illicit activities and the complete backing of the Government and its formidable resources in a noble mission to truly free Tunisia.

Despite a pointed confrontation between Ed and Brynn the endeavour soon gets underway and before long the military regime is on the verge of collapse thanks to a concerted cyber-attack and the rising of the people…

Unfortunately that’s when Brynn and the US government show their true colours and Nate finds himself at odds with everything he ever believed in.

Not so for his best friend, though, as Ed has already vanished. Despite a world-wide manhunt for America’s “Number One Threat”, he shows up in Tunis, joins Sirine and starts using his unique gifts the way he always dreamed of…

As the uprising gets its second wind, what follows is a tense, diamond-hard and laser sharp confrontation between the old system and the world that’s coming as two friends clash and finally prove which is best – ambition or expediency…

Fraught with action, tragedy, hope and a crazily cathartic conclusion that will delight starry-eyed young idealists and jaded old drama addicts alike, Hacktivist is a truly cooperative effort: the idea of actress, producer, philanthropist and UNICEF Ambassador Alyssa Milano given form by screen writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, illustrator Marcus To, colourist Ian Herring and letterer Deron Bennett whose compelling and groundbreaking miniseries has been lovingly gathered into a superb and luxurious hardcover compilation.

This absorbing, beguiling chronicle comes stuffed with valued added extras such as ‘Hackers on Hactivist’ – an interview with inventor and actual campaigning hacker Pablos Holman – and behind-the-scenes features ‘Building YourLife’ and ‘On Site in Tunisia’ as well as the now-standard biographical info in ‘About the Creators’.

A stunning piece of fictive brilliance work, this yarn might even tempt your mum and dad to dabble about on the web…

Hacktivist is ™ & © 2014 Alyssa Milano. All Rights Reserved.

Storm


By Tim Minchin, DC Turner, Tracy King & various (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5625-3 (tpb): 978-1-4091-5209-5 (HB): 978-1-4091-5210-1(eBk)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a cartoon bible of common sense… 10/10

The world is a magical, wondrous place stuffed with miracles and mysteries.

However there’s not one single atom of it that depends on the eldritch, mystic or supernatural and none of it – or the greater universe around it – is wrought from the efforts of supreme beings or operated on principles of forgotten lore denied us common folk.

It’s all explainable, utterly rational and absolutely subject to revision by us every time we find out or disprove something that previously has been a puzzle. To do otherwise is nothing less than a crime against humanity.

No Gods, no ghosts, no witchcraft, no magic crystals. Got it?

It’s amazing how many people haven’t and how the latest anti-science fad or fashion can cause genuine harm to the world, deprive generally sensible folk of their money and too often make dinner parties a theatre of war…

Tim Minchin is a creative whirlwind and multi-media entertainment polymath originally from Australia who performs musical stand-up comedy, composes award-winning stage musicals like Matilda and acts in hit shows like Jesus Christ, Superstar.

He’s very smart, very funny and doesn’t believe in goblins or faith-healing.

In 2006 his 90-second diatribe ‘If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)’ – a “refutation of the plausibility of astrology, psychics, homeopathy and an interventionist God” impressed and delighted fans. In 2008, after a close encounter with a pontificating new-agey nitwit at a party where the reasonable, rationalist Mr. Minchin politely opted not to contest a stream of bubble-headed nonsense, he took his ire and indignation and turned it into a piece of true inspiration: a beat poem, Socratic dialogue and “anthem for critical thinkers”…

It’s a very funny, edgy slice of entertaining refutation and I-wish-I’d-said-that-ism which was used as the closer for the Ready For This? Tour for more than two years.

In Britain animators/illustrators/producers Dan “DC” Turner and Tracy King saw the show and determined that at all costs they must turn that paean to logic and sense into an animation and, as described in the Introduction by Tim Minchin and the Afterword by Turner and King, after some wheeler-dealing, they did just that.

Storm became an internet sensation with three million hits on YouTube after its launch in 2011, and now the artists and Tim have completely reworked that cartoon sensation into an astoundingly compulsive and scathingly funny graphic novel which opens at an intimate soiree in North London where the narrator and his wife sit down to sup with friends and are force-fed a stream of nonsensical blather by a beautiful girl with a tattoo of a fairy.

Her name is Storm and this time the quiet man she inanely and arrogantly lectures is not going to hold his tongue…

By turns tense, barbed, hilariously evocative and furiously cathartic, this stunning visual feast delivers the barrage of scathing sense we’ve always wanted (but been too polite) to unleash on evolution-deniers, pseudo-scientists, astrological aroma-therapy advocates, vaccination-withholders, ghost-chasers and every other stripe of pontificating irrationalist in a graphic tumult of colour, line and typography that will simultaneously stun and galvanise.

This magnificent reinterpretation also includes a Foreword by Neil Gaiman, Biography pages for Minchin, Turner & King and – because it’s all about the fun – a selection of variant covers by Ricky Earl, Freya Harrison, Andy Herd, Dave “Swatpaz” Ferguson and Stuart Mason & Rachael King which might have graced the issues had this yarn been serialised as comicbooks rather than released as a complete book…

There has been and always will be a valuable and cherished place for fantasy, imagination and all the wild and woolly boggles and phantasms of a rich realm of tradition and ignorance. Indeed I believe it’s absolutely necessary for every child to be fully acquainted with all aspects of fairies and spectres and wish-fulfilling rings and lamps, but there comes a time when they must retire to a place of nostalgia and fun, regularly revisited for amusement but never, never, never used to dictate the content of school curricula, divert funds from genuine medical research or be employed as justification to persecute whole sectors of society or even one single “different” individual…

Storm is an edgy pictorial tour de force that will delight and enchant readers who love the funny and fantastic but never forget where the horizons of fantasy end and the borders of imagination begin…

Text © Tim Minchin 2014. Illustrations © Tracy King and Daniel Charles Turner 2014. All rights reserved.
Storm will be published on October 16, 2014 and available in trade paperback and eBook formats as well as in a 1000 copy Limited Edition Deluxe Hardback with extra content.