Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking


By Brad Evans, Sean Michael Wilson, Inko, Carl Thompson, Robert Brown, Chris Mackenzie, Michiru Morikawa & Yen Quach (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-318-2                  eISBN: 978-1-78026-319-9

Our particular branch of the arts depends rather heavily on the loving depiction of violence in all its forms, but it’s unlikely that most of us ever give it much rational and cohesive thought. How wonderful then than somebody actually has and kindly put it all together in a series of irresistible comic essay dialectics.

At least in terms of entertainment, there seems to be an unquenchable – almost compulsive – need to see conflicts resolved through force and problems solved by the imposition of will upon dissenters. Justifications for these acts can always be found if one looks hard enough…

Violence isn’t just a perfectly choreographed punch in the jaw or a sublimely balletic spin-kick, it’s also oppression, subtracting choices, dismissing someone’s opinions, denying them education or agency and so many other things we allow our leaders or even our friends and associates to do to – and “for” – us on a daily and incremental basis. The effects, however, are cumulative, vast and lasting…

Here a number of thinkers, theoreticians, activists and educators have their works and key achievements précised and propounded via a series of short strips seeking to highlight different ways to address our species’ second most primal drive.

Adapted and scripted throughout by Dr. Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson, the thought-provocations begin with ‘Brad Evans: Thinking Against Violence’. Illustrated by Inko, they collaboratively restate a conversation between the political philosopher/critical theorist and a journalist as he sought to explain his thesis that the media feeds and is dependent on violence for its own survival.

Chris Mackenzie then limns a visual discourse on how observation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann led to a new theory on human nature, the power of delegated authority and impact of surrendered autonomy in ‘Hannah Arendt: The Banality of Evil’, after which ‘Frantz Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth’ (with art by Carl Thompson) describes how the psychologist re-examined the effects of colonialism on both masters and subjects.

A landmark shift in critical thinking and educational doctrine is scrutinised in the Inko-illustrated ‘Paulo Freire: The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ before a theoretical icon is revisited and the unshakable link between liberals and State violence is revealed in ‘Michel Foucault: Society Must Be Defended’ (illustrated by Robert Brown).

A Humanist examination of the cultural biases that colour and inform the West’s view of Eastern cultures is disclosed in ‘Edward Said: Orientalism’; with Thompson’s art working to explain the knottier points of history and entrenched racism. Then Inko makes her final artistic contribution in ‘Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others’ as the theoretician deconstructs and adjudicates on the misleading truths and overwhelming potency of carefully selected, deliberately disseminated images utilised by media and governing authorities…

‘Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent’ (Thompson again) explores the misnomer of a “Free Press” and reveals how a commercial media system can only act as a propaganda tool of whoever’s in charge, whilst Michiru Morikawa portrays ‘Judith Butler: Precarious Lives’; explaining how knee-jerk responses to atrocity fail through her theories on Normative Violence, Subversion and Liveable Life, after which Yen Quach depicts the arguments of Italian philosopher ‘Giorgio Agamben: Sovereign Power/Bare Life’ which posit that the job of democratic politics is to prevent the development of conditions which lead to hatred, terror and destruction, not merely to respond to and control them after they’ve occurred…

I’m not smart enough to do much more than parrot the phrases of these brilliant concerned individuals but I strongly urge you to read this collection – especially Henry A Giroux’s Foreword ‘How do we educate about Violence?’ which offers terms of reference, context and chilling insight into the state of play between Us and Them…

Supplemented by ‘Biographical Notes for the Writers and the Artists’ this is a compelling and challenging collection that needs to seen by everybody in power or comfortably submitting to it…
© Brad Evans and Sean Michael Wilson.

Chance in Hell


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-833-6

There’s fiction, there’s Meta-fiction and then there is Gilbert Hernandez. In addition to being part of the graphic and literary revolution that was Love and Rockets (where his incredibly insightful tales of Palomar and later stories of those characters collected in Luba gained such critical acclaim) he has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Grip, Birdland and Girl Crazy; all marked by his bold, instinctive, compellingly simplified artwork and a mature, sensitive adoption of the literary techniques of Magical Realism. In comicbook terms he has evolved those techniques and made them his own.

A seemingly tireless experimenter and innovator, in 2006 Beto began to acknowledge some of his cinematic and literary influences such as Roger Corman, John Cassavetes, Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson: breaking new ground and reprocessing cultural influences that shaped many of us baby-boomers.

In Luba and other tales of Palomar we often glimpsed the troubled life of her half-sister Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, lisping psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and former B-movie starlet of such faux screen gems as Three Mystic Eyes, Blood is the Drug and Love From the Shadows. In her fictive biography Fritzi had begun her film career in a brutal exploitation pic called Chance in Hell

Hernandez began “adapting” those trashy movies as fully realised graphic novels.

He started with Chance in Hell – although Fritzi only had a bit part in it – and crafted a bleak, violent yet strangely contemplative tale about a girl born into the worst of lives: one which she eventually escaped from if not necessarily grew out of…

Released as a digest-sized monochrome hardback, this sordid saga opens in a place we’ve all seen if not experienced…

Barely a toddler, Empress had already endured the worst the apocalyptic slum could muster: starvation, rape and casual murder as she blithely questioned the other juvenile scavengers in search of “Daddy”…

Even after being “adopted” by one of the boy-gangs her quest continues, punctuated by hunger, violence and the constant attention of well-to-do, predatory men from the city intent on slaking their particular peccadilloes on a child nobody values…

When a misunderstanding results in an ever-escalating slaughter, her protector dies and Empress is spirited away to the city by one of those prowling vultures in suits.

Some years later, exuding the confidence of wealth and experience, Empress is constantly drawn to the Red Light district where the flashy pimps and their human wares ply a never-ending trade. She’s barely a teenager and doesn’t seem to care about the lucky life she leads. The man who ultimately took her from the wastes where the city has always left its unwanted children is decent and honest: a poetry editor. She has never had to feel the terror and pain inflicted on so many others from her station, but still she is restless and increasingly rebellious…

Empress wants to be with the dangerous under-people; the debased and violent survivors. She despises her guardian’s hopes and aspirations that she will one day “rise above”…

Even though her current existence is a comparative paradise, she is drawn to those elements which exemplify her traumatic early years and when she discovers the sordid, sexual secret of her adoptive father something primal resurfaces in her…

Abandoning everything she knows, Empress seeks out a church-run Safe Haven for Girls and grows to womanhood in vague, regimented security. Even after settling down with a good man and becoming a suburban housewife, her disconnection and discontent remain. When a face from her past resurfaces so does her primal conditioning and she seeks out the formative places of her childhood. Tragedy follows tragedy and when the notorious “babykiller” of her youth escapes justice, her mind begins to spiral…

Whatever you’re assuming happens next, you’re almost certainly wrong…

Raw and disturbing yet thoroughly engaging, this tale within a tale eschews all the traditions of dramatic plot for casual causality: stuff happens, we react, more stuff happens, people die, the world goes on…

And yet beneath it all there’s shaded but potent criticism of how we allow our society to treat individuals, and hard questions asked about what we actually mean by the terms “caring” and “humanity”…

For all its experimental veneer and political subtext, Chance in Hell still has all Hernandez’s signature elements: matter-of-fact sexuality, sharp dialogue and sly surrealism to elevate it above the vast body of such fiction. This is a tale no thinking fan of the comics medium should miss…
© 2007 Gilbert Hernandez. All rights reserved.

Flood! – A Novel in Pictures


By Eric Drooker (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-729-4 (HB)                    978-1-59307-676-4(PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Book to Truly Immerse Yourself In… 9/10

In the comics biz it’s not too often that something truly different, graphically outstanding and able to subvert or redirect the medium’s established forms comes along. Moreover,

when it does, we usually ignore it whilst whining that there’s nothing fresh or new in view.

Happily that’s not what happened with Eric Drooker’s Flood! – A Novel in Pictures when in was first released in 1992. A New York City native, Drooker is a legendary left-leaning activist, thinker and creator of street art who attended Downtown Community School in the East Village and studied sculpture at Cooper Union before becoming a designer and illustrator.

His covers for The New Yorker are unforgettable, as are his ferociously expressive, eye-catching pieces in The Wall Street Journal, Heavy Metal and World War 3 Illustrated. His drawings and paintings – especially from his graphic novels – have been used in videos for Faith No More and Rage Against the Machine whilst the animated film Howl was the culmination of his extensive collaboration with the poet Allen Ginsberg (Illuminated Poems, Howl: a Graphic Novel).

Drooker’s political stance and creative influences make his pictorial narratives such as Blood Song: a Silent Ballad both contentious and greatly favoured by a readership ranging far beyond the usually cloistered and comfortable confines of the regular comics community.

He has won an American Book Award, Inkpot and Firecracker Award and the artwork for Flood! has been inducted into the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.

Drawing on his earliest influences and following the Depression Era-traditions of artists and printmakers such as Frans Masreel, Lynd Ward, Otto Nuckel and Giacomo (please link to White Collar Sep. 28 2016) Patri, Drooker’s first graphic novel is produced in linocuts and spot-colour: consisting of three discrete sections or chapters created between 1986 and 1992.

These symbolic, spine-tingling observations and tumultuous progressions are generally dispensed without words as lone protagonists – or perhaps alienated, excluded victims – struggle to survive and find meaning in a world that just don’t care. The Man in View restlessly moves past centres of employment which shut down when you’re not looking, trudging cold, mean, directionless streets and alleys at the bottom of canyon-like skyscrapers or riding bleak subways while the pitiless skies look down and just keep spitting more and more rain…

Following a damning indictment of the modern world and warning of the social apocalypse to come from Luc Sante in his trenchant Introduction, the journey into oblivion begins with ‘Home’ as a simple worker discovers he’s no longer wanted and slowly makes his way back to the little he still possesses, and sees the city and his life in a new way…

That peregrination takes him below the city in ‘L’: into the tunnels trains share with lost, abandoned and forgotten people reduced to their most primal elements…

‘Flood’ then takes us to a lonely garret where an artist and his cat toil to finish a treasured prospective masterpiece as the waters rise all around them. The deluge is here and everything’s about to change forever…

It’s time for one final excursion out into the drowning city…

This is a parable of immense depth and potency; made all the more effective by Drooker’s intense visualisations. We all know the sheer power of images over words, but they also impart greater liberty as the reader’s mind is free to attribute as much meaning to the narrative as their own experiences will allow. The result is sheer poetry – and possibly prophecy…

Flood! – A Novel in Pictures is into its fourth edition now (five if you count the eBook) and this latest release from Dark Horse is a deluxe (167 x 235 mm) hardback in black-&-blue-&white which also includes a revelatory conversation with the artist first seen in Comics Journal as a much longer ‘Interview with Eric Drooker’.

Conducted by Chris Lanier and supplemented with a superabundant wealth of sketches, full pages, roughs and illustrations it adds great insight to what has gone before and sets us up nicely for Drooker’s even better second work – Blood Song: a Silent Ballad

Scary, beautiful and irresistibly evocative, this is a dream vision you must see and will always remember.
Text and illustrations of Flood! – A Novel in Pictures © 1992, 2002, 2007, 2015 Eric Drooker. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2001 Luc Sante. Comics Journal interview used with permission.

Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in the Cubicles


By Jeff Nicholson (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80286-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Self-Exploration and Terrifyingly Revelatory Erudition… 9/10

To cheekily hijack a common aphorism, Comics Will Eat Itself whenever an opportunity occurs. The way creators, readers, devotees and collectors respond to the medium is infinitely fascinating to us and has formed the basis of many stellar strips and novels: not just in the arena of Graphic Autobiography but also in other picture/prose genres…

For a brief while and every so often, Jeff Nicholson was a comicbook creator. His most well known works are probably 1980s self-published satirical parody series Ultra Klutz and the award-winning Colonia. After this last concluded in 2006, Nicholson quit comics.

Somewhere in between those two radically different creations, he produced one of the scariest yet most compelling ruminations on the experiences and compulsions of making picture stories and working as an artist-for-hire ever put to paper.

From 1990 to 1997 Through the Habitrails appeared episodically in Steve Bissette’s groundbreaking horror anthology Taboo and there has never been a better examination of an (extra)ordinary guy being creative on command, turning visual tricks and drafting wonders whilst under corporate pressure and an obsessive personal need to make art…

Moreover, he crafted the experience as a mesmerising blend of autobiography and toxic, paranoid terror-tale; rendered even more isolating and crushing by adopting a fiercely bleak science fictional tone and deeply symbolic method of illustration…

After Matt Fraction qualifies the vicissitudes of the modern work experience in his ‘Foreword’ Bissette’s Introduction offers history, context and untrammelled appreciation in ‘Never on Monday: Through the 21st Century Habitrails’ and ends by explaining how Nicholson was persuaded to return to his sinister seminal work to update – if not placate – his growing legion of (perhaps unwanted) admirers…

Lettered throughout by Chad Woody, the cartoon catharsis begins with ‘Increasing the Gerbils’ as a literally faceless wage slave – drawing to order in a corporate studio which is only a small division of a massive mercantile monolith – describes his increasingly intolerable life. The office is crammed and ponderously industrious and incorporates tubes and tunnels in the walls where creepy rodents run maze-like from room to room: a Byzantine and barely explicable connection with the serried, unknowable Powers That Be…

None too slowly, the line between employee and subject beast of burden begins to blur…

Another unwholesome aspect of the job is how Management wanders the halls, arbitrarily tapping the workers and consuming their vital spirit, as grimly revealed in ‘It’s Not Your Juice’

The steps taken to remain an individual are touched on in ‘No End’ and pitifully laid out in ‘Jar Head’ as the worker describes the use and variety of intoxicants used by the not-quite-captive Creatives to maintain output before his attention shifts to describing the fate of ‘The Doomed One’: the worker who did not bend to an oppressive, self-selected yoke but instead tried to rebel. Her fate was incomprehensible and appalling but not unexpected…

Such pressure to perform can not be endured forever and our pictorial peon eventually found release in walking and wandering in his downtime. The shocking repercussions of ‘Escape #1: “El Muerte”’ were expansive but still tantalised him with a promise of better… once he returned to work…

Not all needs can be met by the benefits of being a corporate drudge. Nevertheless, it’s the most likely place to meet potential mates. When ‘Futile Love’ happens and goes horribly wrong, naturally it provokes another deviation from protocol and ‘Escape #2: “The Dry Creek Bed”’ quietly carries him far away but ultimately only back to where he started from…

The unshakable drive to resist only brings uncomfortable attention from the managers who simply demand ‘Be Creative’, but after another pointless close call the worker heads home and in a barren wasteland discovers a possible answer to all his problems: a weapon he secretes as a tiny, prospective notion of rebellion he chooses to call ‘Animal Control’

With a glint of hope and a possible ally in reserve, the thought that one of his fellows might be untrustworthy begins to dominate, but the truth about and fate of ‘The Infiltrator’ leaves nobody wiser or happier…

The hunger for space and wish for clarity push the artist into ever-greater unsanctioned ventures but ‘Escape #3: “Concow”’ again proves that no matter how far you go, what awaits is never going to be a welcome surprise…

A near-escapee who was dragged back into the fold attempts to rationalise his twice-lost liberty with the suffocating security of wage slavery and constant draining by creating an exposé. Sadly his assumptions about the value and efficacy of his ‘Dark Spiral’ can only end one way and the artist must resort to collusion with his dark side as delineated by ever-encroaching sometime ally ‘The Gerbil King’

With work and notional reality fully at war, a catastrophic climax approaches as ‘Jimmy’ enters his life and changes everything forever…

Was that all a little vague? I certainly hope so because this is something you really need to work your way through on your own. The tone fits though: don’t read this unless and until you’re psyched up and suitably apprehensive…

The material has been collected a number of times since it first appeared but this superb Dover Edition offers what we smart-arse cognoscenti never expected: a continuation of the tale and dialogue with the creator from a place and position far less dark than that animal-infested region of the 1990s.

Preceding an ‘Afterword by Jeff Nicholson’ and the now-mandatory ‘About the Author’ feature, the comics self-diagnosis concludes with ‘Epilogue 1: Beyond the Habitrails’ and ‘Epilogue 2: Ghost Town Studio’: bringing us up to date in an equally abstracted but far more upbeat manner and supposing that at the end of some tunnels – or tubes – there can be light, not darkness…

Barbed with allegory, using metaphor like a scalpel and employing all the darkly surreal glamour and oppressive verve of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, this potent dose of exploratory surgery for the soul simultaneously dissects why comics are made and why some of us must make them whilst telling one of the scariest tales of modern times.

Although certainly an acquired taste, Through the Habitrails is a must-see, never-forget graphic novel for anybody with a vested of intellectual interest in the Ninth Art.
© 1994, 1996, 2016 by Jeff Nicholson. Foreword © 2016 Matt Fraction. Introduction © 1996 Stephen Russell Bissette. All rights reserved.

Prez volume 1: Corndog-In-Chief


By Mark Russell, Ben Caldwell, Mark Morales, Dominike “Domo” Stanton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5979-2

I’ve been saving this fabulously funny, viciously satirical gem for the closing moments of an actual election, and now that my interference can’t possibly affect what has become the strangest and most contentious campaign in US history and the icing on the Great Big Cake celebrating the utter devaluation of democracy, I think it’s well past time to offer the world a different vision of leadership and governance before it’s too late…

It won’t change anything in the grand scheme of things, but at least we can comfortably shout “I told you so!” from the comfort of our cynicism-lined bunkers…

The original Prez was a hippie teenager created by comic book royalty. In the early 1970s Joe Simon made one of his irregular yet always eccentrically fruitful sojourns back to DC Comics, managing to sneak a bevy of exceedingly strange concepts right past the usually-conservative powers-that-be and onto the spinner racks and newsstands of the world.

Possibly the most anarchic and subversive of these was Prez, which postulated a time -approximately twenty minutes into the future – where teenagers had the vote and elected a diligent, naively idealistic young man who was every inch the hardworking, honest patriot every American politician claimed to be…

In 2015 that concept was given a devilishly adroit makeover for the post-millennial generation and the result was this superbly outrageous cartoon assessment of the State of the Nation.

As is the nature of the most effective social commentary (Slaughterhouse Five, Make Room! Make Room!, Stranger in a Strange Land, A Clockwork Orange, Rollerball, Judge Dredd, American Flagg!); although external trappings are futuristic and science fictional, the meat of the matter is all about Right Here, Right Now…

Originally released as the first six issues of a proposed 12-issue maxi-series, Prez: Corndog-In-Chief is written by Mark Russell (God Is Disappointed in You) and illustrated by Ben Caldwell (Justice League Beyond, Star Wars: Clone Wars). For a previously agreed fee, inks were provided by Mark Morales, Sean Parsons & John Lucas. Special mentions and congratulations should go to colourist Jeremy Lawson and especially letterers Travis Lanham, Marilyn Patrizio & Sal Cipriano whose efforts in supplying screen furniture, hilarious newsbleeds and strapline commentaries added so much to the overall feeling of helter-skelter information overload.

Take Note: on no account skip or skim the texts that scuttle across the bottom of these pages – just like a proper 24-hour TV news feed. Also, don’t read them whilst eating or drinking either. Laughing out loud and ejecting matter out of your nose is undignified and embarrassing…

In Washington DC the fix is always in. It’s 2036 and the election of the next President is being quietly decided by an elite group of Senators known as “the Colonels”. Ultimate powerbroker Senator Thorn is addressing a crisis: the sitting incumbent has been scandalously “outed” and has withdrawn from the race with a week to polling day.

All alternatives for his position are pitiful and frankly embarrassing…

In Eugene, Oregon, 19-year-old Beth Ross is cleaning the grills and manages to deep-fry one of her pigtails. Naturally, her friends have the incident posted on the internet in seconds and she goes viral as “corndog girl”.

As the days count down the two main political parties swing into panic mode: sucking up to every media darling, publicity whore and news outlet in a frantic bid to get their particular privileged rich white guy elected. Thorn diligently pursues his own, welfare-cutting, businessman-rewarding, military-expanding schemes. He’s not that fussed about winning. He can do deals with anybody…

Beth meanwhile is considering going on a game show. It’s the only way to pay her father’s hospital bills. He’s dying of the new form of cat flu ravaging the nation and winning Double Dare Billionaire is the sole option left to her.

She doesn’t even make the final cut. It’s probably for the best: the winner had to shoot himself on live TV to get his cash…

Hacker Collective Anonymous meanwhile has started an internet campaign to get Corndog Girl onto the electoral ballot. Since Congress voted to allow Corporations the right to vote, all age restrictions have been abolished. Moreover, in a move to get people to participate, Congress has allowed the public to vote on Twitter…

Deeply embarrassed and paying no attention, Beth is astounded when she wins Ohio by a landslide and becomes a genuine contender…

‘The Democratic Circus’ has been a complete disaster for professional politicians. The Electoral College system has produced no clear winner and thus – due to the arcane and archaic rules of the process – moves to the House of Representatives where each State has one vote.

Thorn is finally in his element but has grievously underestimated the overwhelming personal greed of each Senator he tries to bribe. When the dirty pool, double-dealing and horse-trading reaches its peak his frustrated targets turn against him and before long the incorruptible (he knows because he and many others have already tried) Beth Ross is the Most Powerful Woman in the World.

In ‘Adventures in Cabinetry’ suddenly everybody in DC is breaking down her door, but the guy she listens too is Preston Rickard: the most despised man in politics. He suggests he be made Vice President. It’s the only way to save her life. No-one will have her assassinated if he’s next in line…

And so it goes as Beth, emboldened by idealism and the pointless death of her father, resolves to actually fix America. The first thing to do is select a cabinet of actual smart people and experts and join forces with the most brilliant inventor in the world.

Fred Wayne is also the world’s richest man: his unique algorithm made him enough cash to buy Delaware and disappear. With the advent of President Ross, however, Fred is once more interested in the world beyond his so very impassable doors…

Ross’ inauguration has everything: threats, more bribe offers, a spectacular assassination attempt and her first crisis. ‘The Beast of War’ details how increasing global tension results in a wave of bloodbaths.

America’s armies have been largely replaced by drones and robots; piloted by nerdy couch-potato slackers working from their own front rooms. Sadly, their tendency is to treat work like a gaming session, so with casualties from US drones skyrocketing, the Military-Industrial Complex are eager to move on to the next plateau.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the intelligent AI guiding robotic Sentry War Beast – as designed by Preferred Contractor Securi-Tech – is lethal, indestructible and has ideas uniquely her own.

Thorn cannot see a downside but he’s about to be very surprised again…

‘Apologies in Advance’ sees Beth decommission the entire drone Sentry Program and go on a world tour, apologising in person to every country the USA has subverted, invaded, insulted or strong-armed over its brief but checkered history. That brings its own dangers and ramifications but a domestic catastrophe is looking to be even more serious. Human deaths from feline flu are rocketing but “Big Pharma” wants certain promises before it will seek a cure. Their smug bubble bursts when President Ross again comes up with novel solution and makes a truly tough decision in ‘Beware of Cat’

To Be Concluded…

Collecting Prez #1-6 – plus a short vignette of how Ross survived being shot down over the South Pacific seen in Sneak Peek: Prez #1 – this remarkable tome is peppered with delicious ironies and superb prognostications on the state of the union. Sinister undercurrents are provided by a cabal of masked billionaires in a Special Interest Group providing suitable Machiavellian menace whilst the progress of canny, sensible neophyte Ross pokes gaping holes in ideological Sacred Cows and sacrosanct ruling policies that have become the fundamentals of modern political thinking.

Most importantly Prez: Corndog-In-Chief offers a grimly hilarious and outrageously sardonic glimpse at how far it’s all gone wrong. To sweeten the pill it does come with a slush-fund filled with bonus features like a covers-& variants-gallery by Caldwell, Morales & Bret Blevins; Caldwell’s Prez Sketchbook, plus character designs, roughs, unused colour cover ideas and pencils by Dominike Stanton and Caldwell.

Funny, angry and delicious, this trenchant tale is one no fully enfranchised fan should miss.
© 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Archie: Obama & Palin in Riverdale (Archie & Friends All-Stars volume 14)


By Alex Simmons, Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli & Digikore Studios (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 987-1-87979-487-0

For nearly three-quarters of a century Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome fun, but inside the staid and stable company which shepherds his adventures and bears his name there has always lurked an ingenious and deviously subversive element of mischief as well a keen eye for a headline.

Ever since they launched as MLJ publications in the Golden Age’s dawning, family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci-fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s cleanest-cut teens.

As you probably know by now, Archie has been around since 1941, spending most of those seventy-five years chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and life-long rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle his every move and bring down the freckle-face…

As crafted over the decades by a legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully logged innumerable stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small-town Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends and movements with which to expand upon their archetypal brief. In times past they have strengthened and cross-fertilised their stable of stars through a variety of comic property team-ups such as Archie Versus Predator, Archie Meets the Punisher or Archie Meets Vampirella as well as notionally real-world characters as typified by Archie Meets Glee or Archie Meets Kiss. Every kind of fashion-fad and youth-culture sensation have invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

That willingness to dip traditional toes in unlikely waters led in 2010 to the publishers taking an extremely bold and outrageously controversial step which turned heads in all the right places and hopefully nurtured the political sensibilities of many kids who might well be voting in this year’s Presidential Elections…

Mr. Obama has long been out of the closet in regards to comics (apparently he collects Spider-Man and Conan) and after his election in 2008 got to guest-star in a load of different titles. I’ve no idea what Sarah Palin’s position on funny books is, but she too has been the star of a whole bunch… although mostly as a star-spangled bikini-clad bimbo toting swords and big guns.

She was represented in a far more even-handed and respectful manner when she and the President appeared in Archie #616-617 (December 2010 and January 2010); a tale gathered in this slim paperback collection with the similarly-themed contents of Veronica #199 (March 2010) to form a fabulous dossier of democracy and fair play for beginners, coincidentally packed with lots of laughs and a few salutary tips on electioneering.

As written by Alex Simmons, illustrated by Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski, lettered by Jack Morelli and coloured by Digikore Studios, the Machiavellian games begin with the two part ‘Campaign Pains’ as Archie and Reggie clash in a debate as part of their efforts to become Student Body President.

Their clearly different styles of presentation don’t sway many potential voters and Veronica, as Archie’s Campaign Manager, decides its time to bring out the big guns: Money, Power and Influence. Reggie’s manager is little better. Trula Twyst is a ruthless psychology student eager to push people’s buttons just to see how they react…

Having already once met Barack Obama, and after kitting out Archie in new duds, Ronnie blags her way into a Presidential event and manufactures a photo-op between the Most Powerful Man in the World and the most naïve kid in Riverdale. She then uploads it and lets the little people in Riverdale make their own assumptions…

At Mantle Campaign HQ, Trula knows a winning ploy when she sees one and decides to fight fire with fire; orchestrating a similar sneaky session for Reggie with blithely unaware Governor and potential future Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Once more a dubious association with celebrity enflames the youthful voters of Riverdale High, but when the professional politicians see how they’ve been shabbily misrepresented by school kids. they both head for the sleepy town to make their disapproval known…

As Obama and Palin arrive, so do the news crews and all too soon a shambolic media circus ensues. Terrified, Archie, Ronnie, Reggie and Trula head for the hills but eventually realise the only solution to their problem is to face it head on, take their medicine and make reparations.

…And that’s when everybody learns a few useful lessons about reasoned discussion and plain dealing…

Following amazingly clear, concise and compelling biographical features on ‘“The Chicago Kid” Barack Obama’ and ‘“The Thrilla from Wasilla” Sarah Palin’, the cartoon tomfoolery resumes by harking back POTUS’ first appearance in Archie Comics with ‘Ms. Lodge Goes to Washington’ from March 2010 and Veronica #199, by Parent, Koslowski, Morelli & Barry Grossman.

Here our junior stars enjoy a class trip to Washington DC; seeing the sights and learning some civic history. However, when a tour of the White House leads to Veronica intruding on a press conference and accidentally impressing the President, she is so moved by the moment and on the trip home she resolves to help him fix the economy…

Her plan is to hire all her friends, creating jobs whilst escaping her own chores, but as ‘No She Can’t!’ proves, adult problems are seldom simple and never end well when Archie and the gang are involved…

Including a cover and variants gallery, pin-ups and a large selection of roughs, cover sketches and parody covers, this is a splendidly witty slice of all-ages comedic fun with the added bonus of introducing the basics of political thought to youngsters in a manner both considered and effective.
© 2011 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution


By Stan Mack (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-697-6

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and training has been the comic strip. Advertising mavens have, for over a century, exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary screeds of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced one or two myself, back in my freelancing years…

Here the medium has been used by an acclaimed master to comprehensively recapitulate the most pivotal period in the history of democracy in a manner both inviting and astoundingly effective – as is clear by the pages of testimonials from satisfied teachers…

Former art director for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Stan Mack is also a writer, artist and cartoonist with a long history of turning strips into documentary, commentary and reportage: see for example his controversial Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies (Village Voice), Stan Mack’s Out-takes (Adweek) and books like Fight for Freedom, Hard Time, Janet & Me, The Road to Revolution, and The Story of the Jews: A 4,000-Year Adventure.

In 1994 he released a stunningly addictive pictorial treatment of those convoluted times, characters and events which explosively combined to create the libertarian utopia of the United States of America. The recently re-released saga examined background and context, laid out key events and the causes of them: tracing the tricky path from sidelined and dissatisfied colonial possession to new nation and it was done with wit, understanding and a determined effort to demystify and desanctify the affair, undoing two centuries of spin and revisionism…

It all starts with a charming Introduction, explaining the origins of this superb monochrome hardback tome (164 mm x 240 mm) and tale: laying out the ground rules for use and the ethos behind the project.

Thereafter the fact-packed fun unfolds in section one ‘1761-1775 Monarchy and Mobs’ which covers – in smart, snappy, efficiently short and phenomenally memorable vignettes – ‘1761 The Writs of Assistance’ and ‘1763 The Colonies’ setting the scene whilst the heinous money-making schemes of English bean-counting Prime Minister George Grenville (whose swingeing taxes and tariffs kickstart the rebellion) are seen in action through ‘1764 Sugar Act’ and ‘1765 Stamp Act’ before his successor ramped up the grief with ‘1767 Townsend Duties’ resulting in ‘1770 Boston Massacre’

Thus we come to the truth about the ‘1773 Boston Tea Party’, and the ‘1774 1st Continental Congress’ before at last shedding blood at ‘1775 Lexington & Concord’

Throughout the chapter and the book Mack is scrupulous in pointing out that all the talk of equality, liberty and self-determination only applies to white males, not slaves (or freed Africans), Indigenous people and women; the results of which we are still living through and something that still needs addressing…

The second section then counts down ‘1775-1781 Redcoats & Guerrillas’, ‘1775’s ‘2nd Continental Congress’, ‘Bunker Hill’, ‘George Washington’ and the potential escalations at ‘Ticonderoga/Canada’ as well as 1776’s ‘Declaration of Independence’, before following the war from ‘Long Island to Trenton’.

A catalogue of battles follows: ‘1777 Saratoga’ and ‘1778 Valley Forge’; ‘1779 Trouble at Home’, ‘1781 West Point’ before examining ‘1780 War in the South’ and ‘1781 Yorktown’.

The third and final section explores how the war was won but victory led only to factional infighting: a cold war for hearts and minds between Federalists and Constitutionalists such as Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison Jr. on one side and conservative Anti-Federalists on the other. Seeing as all the familiar names are on one side; guess who won?

Apparently each faction was as concerned with wealth as well-being and freedom…

In ‘1782-1789 Profit & Virtue’ explores the changing state of world trade with the new nation, as the architects of America focussed on consolidation in ‘1782 The Confederation’, almost having their work undone by ‘1786 Shay’s Rebellion’ finally leading to ‘1786 Constitutional Convention’ and ultimately the ‘1789 Bill of Rights’

Potently enthralling, beguiling succinct and astoundingly matter-of-fact, Mack offers an eyes-wide-open account of events and motives that make this book an absolute must-have for any student, political exponent or tub-thumping pub expert.

And it’s bloody well drawn and rather funny too…
© 1994, 2012 Stan Mack.

White Collar – a Novel in Linocuts


By Giacomo Patri (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80591-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: An Epic Reminder that not everyone enjoys the same joys and benefits we do… 10/10

We tend to think of graphic novels as being a late 20th century phenomenon – and one that had to fight long and hard for legitimacy and a sense of worth – but as this stunning over-sized (286 x 218 mm) two-colour hardback reveals, the format was known much earlier in the century… and utilised for the most solemn and serious of purposes.

White Collar was created by jobbing illustrator, artist, educator and activist Giacomo Patri in 1937: encapsulating the tenor of the times as America endured the Great Depression with a view to inspiring his fellow creatives…

Unable to find a publisher for his shocking and controversial pictorial polemic, Patri and his wife Stella self-published their first edition, but happily found publishers for subsequent releases, if not the huge, hungry, underprivileged and angry audience it deserved…

Patri (1898-1978) was born in Italy but raised in America. Living in San Francisco from 1916 he overcame the handicap of polio and worked at many menial jobs until his interest in art carried him through the California School of Fine Arts. Thereafter he became an illustrator for the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers.

Patri had been interested in social justice and labour issues since the late 1920s and once the Depression struck those beliefs only crystallised. Manual or “blue collar” workers had long organised and unionised to secure their bargaining rights and fair wages and Patri saw that office workers like himself were as likely to need such power and autonomy too. This book was his way of convincing them…

A compelling Introduction by his descendents Tito Patri & Georges Rey offers context, historical background and technical information on the production of linocut art as well as revealing how the creation of such cheap, language-transcending visual tracts became a relatively common method of dissemination.

Also included is the story of the artist/author’s troubles during the repressive, red-baiting Joe McCarthy years and beyond…

Following the salutary lesson is the Original Introduction by fellow artistic agitator and creative pioneer Rockwell Kent before Patri senior’s endeavours to arouse his fellow illustrators and clerical staff unfold in 128 bold images of stark metaphor and rousing symbology: an astounding visual record and call to arms tracing one family’s struggle between 1929 and 1933, delivered with beguiling subtlety and shocking silent potency in plates of deepest black or startling orange.

The ‘Novel in Linocuts by Tito Patri’ is dedicated “To the great progressive Labor Movement, the Congress of Industrial Organisations” and remained both obscure and controversial for years not just for its left leaning content but due to its uncompromising depiction of the abortion catch-22: a truly heart-rending depiction of a family too poor to survive another mouth to feed but without the cash to pay a back street quack for an [illegal] termination…

Stirring, evocative and still movingly inspirational as the world staggers closer and closer to replicating those dark days of Haves, Have-Nots and Why-Should-I-Cares?; this magnificent rediscovery closes with a final assessment and plea from cartoonist, designer and contemporary activist Peter Kuper in his trenchant Afterword and the Original Epilogue by John L. Lewis…

Inventive, ferocious in its dramatic effects, instantly engaging and enraging, this is a book long overdue for revival and reassessment and one every callous “I’m All Right” Jackass and “Why Should I Pay For Your…” social misanthrope needs to see or be struck with…
© 1987 by Tamara Rey Patri. Introduction © 2016 by Tito Patri. Afterword © 2016 by Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Yuge! – 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump


By G. B Trudeau (Andrews and McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44948-133-9

According to one of the two frontrunners in an upcoming electoral contest somewhere over the Pond, Garry Trudeau is a “sleazeball” “third-rate talent” who draws “overrated” comic strip Doonesbury, which “very few people read.”

He lives in New York City with his wife Jane Pauley, who “has far more talent than he has.”

For those who prefer recorded facts to illiterate, made-up gibber-jabber from the terminally biased and proudly uninformed, Garry Trudeau converted his comicstrip Bull Tales – which ran in the Yale University student newspaper Yale Daily News from 1968-1970 – into a satirical, comedy commentary on politics and contemporary society. He then managed to make it one of the most popular syndicated strips in the world…

“Starring” an everyman liberal college grad, Doonesbury debuted on October 26th 1970, and consequently got to immortalise, lampoon and pass judgement on some of America’s least finest moments and personages, casting a jaundiced eye over domestic and global events and converting them into wry, trenchant comedy gold. He is despised by many conservatives and immoderates on the Right of America’s political spectrum…

Over the years, as well as amusing millions of folks over there and around the world, the strip has aroused the ire of plenty of political, sporting and media figures – you can call them celebrities if you’re so inclined – whilst winning the cartoonist acclaim, fame and praise from some quite unlikely sectors of the society he perpetually regards with his gadfly’s eye.

Trudeau’s strip was the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, and he was awarded Certificates of Achievement from the US Army for strips dealing with the first Gulf War. In 1995 he won a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society and in 2006 was given the US Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service for strips about his character BD’s recovery following the loss of a leg in Iraq.

His Mental Health Research Advocacy Award came from the Yale School of Medicine for his depiction of mental-health issues facing soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Doonesbury strip proceeds in real time and his large, broad cast of regulars has aged over the decades, whilst always interacting with the causes célèbres of the moment. As such, he has made a fair few enemies by enlisting many real-world oafs and bugbears amongst his long-lived itinerary of returning characters.

Generally these flesh-&-blood interlopers are represented by an icon – such as a waffle for Bill Clinton, a lit bomb for Newt Gingrich or a Stetson (later a Roman helmet) for George W. Bush – but that’s not always the case.

One of the most vocal – if not necessarily intelligible – over the years has been Donald J. Trump (who is usually depicted as a decadent, fat old white guy) and this superb collection gathers most of the best moments of cartoon lampoonery from three decades of less than cordial interaction.

It all begins with a Preface describing a rather fractious relationship and just why “The Donald” had to become a semi-regular in a comedy feature. The moneyed bully has never been slow to react to perceived criticism, and he and his lawyers first became acquainted with Doonesbury after Trump’s original timid “Kidding, I was only kidding!” dalliance with running for President in 1987.

That came to nothing but the big wind kept blowing and Trudeau kept pointing out a life of hubris, bad taste and excess played out on the screens and in the headlines of the Land of the Free.

Divided into discrete decades, Trudeau’s razor-sharp wit and crushing comedy critiques are re-presented here in full colour, spotlighting the vaulting ambition, sordid deals, shady landlord practises, tawdry hucksterism, serial misogyny, juvenile sexual bragging, grotesque bullying and blind narcissism of “the most unqualified candidate to ever aspire to the White House” over the numerous occasions he almost ran for office before bottling out at crunch time.

Capping all that cartoon japery is this time when he finally put other people’s money where his mouth is and found himself actually in contention for the most important job in the world… one even his own bewildered, terrified party faithful don’t want him to have…

And the best of all is that Trudeau has had an unwitting collaborator for so much of this material. Most of the baffling blather on those world balloons coming out of cartoon Donald’s mouth originated with the big orange blowhard himself…

Outrageous, alarming, more informative than any cartoon collection has a right to be and side-splittingly funny, Yuge! is a devastating tool of political instruction and character assessment which even the most deplorable basket case can enjoy, because it has loads and loads of really good simple pictures in it.

Most of us in the rest of the world can’t vote in November’s election, but we can all buy this book and make it a global bestseller. That’s the only real way to make your voice heard in a modern plutocratic democracy…
™®© 2016 G. B. Trudeau. All rights reserved.

Pandora’s Box volume 2: Sloth


By Radovanović & Alcante, coloured by Usagi and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-006-1

Pandora’s Box is the impressive conception of Belgian author Didier Swysen under his nom de plume Alcante (Jason Brice, Rani, La Conjuration de Cluny). The format is a sequence of eight stand-alone stories, all informed by burgeoning ethical issues we’re daily dealing with and each revealing the ultimate cost of succumbing to one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” that have afflicted humanity since that fabled box was first breached…

Each headline haunted epic blends Cassandra-toned contemporary societal concerns with technological extrapolation, framed in modern terms and images against a backdrop of a tale from classical mythology offered as foreboding metaphorical prognostications to the political and plutocratic powers-that-be…

Utilising disturbingly familiar yet widely disparate hot-button topics, the stories are linked only by the fact that each individual protagonist is accosted and warned by an arcane and peculiar bag-lady prior to the denouement…

Each tale is illustrated by one of a truly international pantheon of different artists. Second saga Pandora Box – La pareses references the fall of Troy and was deftly delineated by Serbian illustrator Vujadin “Vuja” Radovanović (Čuvari zaboravljenog vremena, Džo XX, Candide ou l’optimisme, de Voltaire) and coloured by Usagi, recounting how a magnificent hero responds to the passing of time, the failure of his powers and fading of his cherished glory…

Paris Troy has been the fastest man alive for a decade: a multi-gold medal winning Olympian and pristine example of all that is honourable and magical about sporting endeavour. Now as the sprinter recovers from a thigh injury in preparation for the next Great Games, an obnoxious rival is all over the media, baiting the runner and winning races, edging ever closer to Troy’s cherished world record.

The thought of someone like Ace Achean stealing his place in the world disgusts Paris, but is it the only reason he finally listens to his brother’s loathsome suggestions?

Hector Troy might well have been even faster than his sibling, but since he was caught doping and barred from competition, no one will ever know for sure. Now, with his confidence ebbing due to the injury or perhaps some psychological block, and Achean baiting him and threatening to take his sponsorship deals, Paris turns his back on a lifetime of proudly clean living and succumbs to Hector’s temptations.

It doesn’t hurt so much after he learns that his supplier is also helping Ace keep his edge…

And then, with the Olympics open and Troy doped to the gills, the once noble sportsman discovers he’s been lured into a moral maze and inescapable trap by someone who has hated him for years…

With his life, fortune, reputation and legacy all at stake and nothing but shame, humiliation and disdain in his future, Paris seems to have no way out…

Stark, powerful and expressive, this tale of great temptation not resisted shows how a good man can be pushed to despicable extremes and is a potent metaphor for so much that’s wrong with the modern word of intoxicating celebrity and quick fixes…

A powerful fable with an uncompromising message, Pandora’s Box – Sloth is as much a salutary warning to ponder as a story to enjoy.
© Dupuis, 2005 by Radovanovic & Alcante. All rights reserved. English translation: © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.