The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the cover and the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contain nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homo-sexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

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

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer 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 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.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody…

Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

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

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and 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, and each chapter offers a wealth of strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

Our history opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and unto college but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ from Gothic Blimp Works #1, ‘River City Shoot-Out’from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all from 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’ for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ from Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970 and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ from Insect Fear #1, ‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’ and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop out life style, all topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also provides ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’,‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ whilst Zap #5 1970 barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’, a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of counterculture thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate his creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974) which also provided a quartet of single frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’, a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadres like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including the eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975, illustrations for William Burroughs’seminal short story‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’(Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, the front and back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork,‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1, (1971), eight-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. 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 one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Buddy Buys a Dump: the Complete Buddy Bradley Stories from “Hate” volume III


By Peter Bagge with Joanne Bagge (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-745-1

Peter Bagge is best regarded these days as a fiery, cauldron-mouthed, superbly acerbic and well-established award-winning cartoonist, animator and musician, responsible for incredibly addictive, sharply satirical strips examining contemporary American life, through a small but memorable cast of sharply defined characters compellingly reflecting his views.

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

He soon dropped out and began working in the vibrant alternative publishing field, producing strips and panels for Punk Magazine, Screw, High Times, East Village Eye, World War Three and others.

Meeting like-minded artists he began self- and co-publishing comics, and when Crumb saw copies of Comical Funnies (produced with new chum John Holstrom in 1981 and the birthplace of the unsavoury star of this collection), Bagge was offered space in and eventually the Editorship of the seminal commix magazine Weirdo in 1983.

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

In 1984 Bagge relocated to Seattle, Washington State and began his association with alternative/Independent publisher Fantagraphics. The following year his spectacularly idiosyncratic cartoon magazine Neat Stuff launched as a thrice-yearly vehicle of outrageous personal expression and societal observation.

His stark, manic, topically surreal strips, starring old creations like Studs Kirby, Junior, Girly Girl and quintessential ineffectual rebel Buddy Bradley swiftly turned the cartoonist into a darling of the emerging West Coast Grunge scene, and before too long Neat Stuff and its successor Hate made Bagge a household name… at least in more progressive households…

As the 90’s became the next century, Bagge’s quasi-autobiographical Buddy starred in a succession of titles and strips (collected in Buddy Does Seattle and Buddy Does New Jersey); the cartoon character’s excitable existence mirroring typical life in that chaotic lost decade. In 2001 the author began releasing Hate Annuals wherein, amongst other strident graphic treats, middle-aging Buddy was seen having fully transitioned from angry teen slacker to working dad with a family to support…

This deliciously hilarious and painfully uncompromising full-colour collection gathers those traumatic middle years of Harold “Buddy” William Bradley Jr.- originally seen in Hate Annual #1-9, 2001-2011 – and opens with ‘Are You Nuts?’ as the irascible everyman is almost beguiled by crazy friend and occasional co-worker Jay Spano into buying a dilapidated aquabus and going into the guided-tour business in scenic New Jersey.

Naturally, his certifiably crazy wife Lisa has a few opinions on the matter…

A year later ‘A-Rod Goes to the Moon’ featured the catastrophic day when the Bradley women go for a “Ladies weekend” and leave Buddy in charge of not only his own baby boy, but sister Bab’s maladjusted brood. Soon however with half the kids in the neighbourhood tagging along, Buddy realises the depths of his folly and opts for a tried and true solution to his unwanted responsibilities…

‘The Domestication of Lisa Leavenworth-Bradley’ focuses on the little woman’s obsession with homemaking and search for a way to occupy her dull, dire days which translates to Buddy having to look for a better place for them to dwell, whilst in ‘Buddy Bradley gets a “Real” Job’ the old collectibles shop gets so stale that our hero takes gainful employment as a UPS delivery man.

However the shocking scams and appalling attitudes of his fellow honest workers soon drive him back to the relatively honourable profession of trading in junk, nostalgia and dreams…

‘Fuddy Duddy Buddy’ saw a drastic change in the visual aspect of the family man as, after a medical scare, he shaved his head, began sporting an eye-patch and took to wearing a naval captain’s cap. He also made a move to the nastier part of Jersey to fulfil his lifelong dream of running a rubbish dump…

With Lisa and toddler Harold safely if reluctantly ensconced in the big house attached to the tip, ‘Skeletons in the Closet’ then focuses on Buddy and Jay’s shift into the surprisingly lucrative scrap metal business, and the resurfacing of the most unsavoury of Buddy’s siblings and their childhood hoodlum friends. It seems folks are asking unwelcome questions about old Stinky Brown (a pal of Buddy’s who disappeared years ago), prompting gun-nut brother Butch Bradley and his cronies to move the body… but only finding that someone had already taken it…

‘The Future’s in Scrap!’ surprisingly finds Buddy and Jay prosperous if shabby partners in an exponentially expanding business, whilst ‘Lisa Leavenworth-Bradley Discovers her Creative Outlet’ details how the bored mother seeks out a fresh hobby and new friends only to finds herself embarrassingly embroiled in an all-girl band with strip club ambitions…

With things looking pretty sweet and stable in ‘Heaven’, the abrasive, raucous comedy takes a darkly observational turn in ‘Hell’ when Lisa drags the family back to Seattle to meet her ferociously religious mom and obnoxious dad.

It transpires that the parents she despises are both in dire health and legal straits and, after meeting her creepy fundamentalist foster brother and sex offender cousin, Buddy realises why his wife became the neurotic mess she is.

When Buddy and Harold return to the East Coast Lisa isn’t with them…

Everything wraps up without really ending in ‘Fuck it’ as, whilst Lisa struggles to cope with her folks’ decline in Seattle, back in the Garden State the man and his boy make big dramatic and definitely felonious changes to their lives…

Just like the eponymous star character, the hopefully still unfolding story of Buddy Bradley has slowly matured from razor-edged, broadly baroque, comedically clamorous observations and youthful rants into sublimely evocatively enticing treatises on getting by and getting older, although the deliciously fluid drawings and captivating cartoon storytelling remains as fresh and innovative as ever.

Bagge has always been about skewering stupidity, spotlighting pomposity and generally exposing the day-to-day aggravations and institutionalized insanities of modern life, but the strips in Buddy Buys a Dump also offer a beguiling view of passion becoming, if not wisdom, certainly shrewd appreciation of the unchanging verities of life: a treat no cartoon-coveting, laughter-loving rebel should miss…
© 2013 Peter Bagge. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Trans-Dimensional Zombie Bummers volumes 1 & 2


By Maree & J.A.H.N.
ISBNs: 978-1-4947-1244-0 & 978-1-4947-2240-1

In Britain we have a glorious tradition of Gentlemanly Amateur Excellence. In the Good Old Days we decried crass commercial professionalism in favour of gifted tryers: Scientists, Inventors, Sportsmen – even colonialists and missionaries – all those who in their time eschewed tawdry lucre, hefty development budgets and “Practicing Beforehand” (“…which ruins the fun”) in favour of just getting on with it and pluckily “Having-a-Bash”.

And a surprising number of those local heroes soared, like Charles Darwin, Robert Boyle or Henry Fox Talbot, and the tradition continues to this day like Trevor Baylis (inventor of the clockwork radio) and has spread to other areas of endeavour such as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards or our many self-publishing stars like Eddie Campbell or John Maybury.

With such antecedents it especially generates a manly pang of pride in me when that “Can-Do Spirit” results in good comics…

So despite both creative participants here having non-resident status I’m doing them the honour of according them Notional Nationality status for the duration of this review – or as long as they can handle it…

Candidly drawing on Britain’s the venerable tradition of appalling bad-taste, surreal zaniness and shameless, protracted double entendres, Trans-Dimensional Zombie Bummers takes the topical taste for Zombie Apocalypse fiction and convincingly tweaks, twists and tortures (not to mention folds, spindles and mutilates) the genre and zeitgeist with wit, remorseless, sarcastic invention and cynical, surreal socio-political shots to the ‘nads.

The physical editions (the tomes are as available as Kindle editions and in other formats) are big black-&-white paperback tomes (280 x 207mm) stuffed with sly, wry innuendo and, whilst artist J.A.H.N. might have benefited from better reference material and more drawing time in places, author Maree’s trenchant pacing and remorseless parody riffs carry the tale along with frantic, furious, madcap pace…

The end of everything begins in volume 1: The Thin Goo Line where, in a faraway dimension, the world has collapsed into disaster. On this parallel Earth, vain and foolish geneticists meddled with male mating urges and accidentally spawned a virus which turned men into unthinking, out-of-control anally-fixated undead rapists. Of course, it killed them first…

In the wink of an eye civilisation fell, but one scientist built a trans-dimensional portal, intending to escape, only to fall foul of the rectal Armageddon at the very last minute and on landing transformed in another London as a fully-fledged trousers-down crusty carrier…

In the essentially Third World London Borough of Sutton, the brain-dead and preternaturally horny Apocalypse-beast arrives and immediately assaults an unwary Irishman outside a local hostelry.

Instantly infected, the traumatised Son of Erin is comforted by Basil, Rupert and Mandingo (an out-&-proud Gay Black Police Detective); passing homosexual partygoers who take pity on the stunned and shell-shocked (and dying/mutating) Kerryman. Feeling very out of sorts he goes with them for a medicinal drink or ten at their favourite night-spot…

The taint he carries works with terrifying rapidity and within hours the first victim has himself infected hundreds of eager and willing fun-seekers at the wild and woolly club…

Meanwhile his trans-dimensional transgressor has continued its own mindless rampage, only to be arrested by unbelieving coppers who catch him/it having his way with a doubled-over store mannequin. The green and mouldy incoherent invader is thrown into a cell and largely forgotten as reports rapidly come in concerning a rash of unwholesome acts in the streets…

At Sutton police station “old school copper” (for which read brutal, bigoted, bullying undiagnosed psychopath) Inspector Jake hears of the plague of Sodomy and sends his boys out to crush it, but his Manor is not a happy, rich, fashionable borough like utopian paradisiacal neighbour Croydon and he expects terrific resistance from the surly, unruly multi-cultural hoi-polloi who dwell there…

People like class-traitor Julie, a blue-blooded lass and latter-day chav, married to staunch socialist-liberal ex-aristocrat Dale, wine critic for the Workers Revolution newspaper.

She has unspecified connections to the highest in the land but prefers to slum it with her commie-pinko chums, or ultra-extreme Politically Correct roving reporter Bunting Bell of the BBC.

Jake almost prefers the deranged, greedy fundamentalist cant of Pox News journo P. Chariti, eagerly spreading panic around the globe by perpetually broadcasting scenes of what she is sure is the biblical End of Days.

Julie’s first clash with the Priapic perambulators forces her to reveal her deadly proficiency in ninja fighting arts and, barely escaping the shamblers, she dashes home to save her man from another clutch of zombies even as Inspector Jake’s attempts to reclaim his streets goes very badly wrong and his diminished force of rozzers retreats back behind the firmly clenched doors of the police station.…

With the crisis growing and an exponentially growing wave of bumbies roaming the streets, Mayor Hussein broadcasts a call for all uninfected residents – whatever their gender, race or orientation – to take refuge at the huge and sturdy Grand Mosque on Winnie Street and Jake and his men make a desperate dash to comply.

A couple of social classes away at 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister David Cameroon, Chancellor Assbourn and Homely Secretary Terry Pays are aroused from their posh-boy (and girl) games and appraised of the growing disaster somewhere in one of the poor bits of town…

As the situation worsens the triumvirate of Toffs endure a bollocking in Parliament, and wishy-washy Cameroon decides that they need to be seen doing something. However their publicity-junket to the front lines goes horrifically wrong when their helicopter goes down in hostile territory.

Trapped in Sutton and surrounded by insatiable undead rear-enders, Pays is beginning to regret her obsessive purge of police numbers when the political poltroons are surprisingly saved by turban-wearing, sword-wielding worshippers from the Mosque.

Temporarily secure behind its stout walls, they are soon joined by infamous police-hating lawyers Micky Manksfield and Inman Khant who have rushed to Sutton to make sure the rampaging monsters are not brutalised and framed by the cops…

With the country’s governors lost, Parliament is in uproar and ripe for takeover. The blow comes when Britain’s real masters brutally emerge from their shadows and cow the pewling Parliamentarians at the point of their guns.

The scraggy, reanimated remains of Dorris Stokes, Mary Whitehouse, Claire Rayner and Fanny Craddock are scary enough, but when their squad leader exposes herself as the terrifying Maggie T, the Mother of all Parliaments rocks with horror, shock and – from the simpering mummies-boys of the Tory back-benches – fawning adoration and relief…

At the Winnie Street Mosque, the deflated, unsuspectingly ousted government’s very worst enemy has just fought his way through the anarchy-riven borough to join the unsullied survivors, but Radical Scots Islamist Georgy Goaway and his Unregulated Mini Scab Taliban are not there to save their scalps: quite the opposite in fact…

And back in Proper London, Maggie is back to steer the country through its greatest crisis, but as dawn breaks over Sutton nobody is aware that the Ironed Lady is herself in the clutches of a far darker mistress…

The lewd lunacy escalates into even crazier political capital and horrific hoots in the concluding volume – Trans-Dimensional Zombie Bummers 2: In Sutton, No-One Can Hear You Cream - with Jake deploying the nauseating Police Community Support Officers whilst Maggie activates the Metropolitan Police’s long-hidden, obscenely secret doomsday weapon (the last working member of the notorious Special Patrol Group, or Bob as likes to be called) before, in the dead zone, Julie reveals her own clandestine links to Britain’s real rulers and the zombie bottom-feeders try to break out of Sutton and spread their atrocious acts into Croydon and other, lesser realms…

Appallingly bad-taste, brutally non-PC, simultaneously fancifully macabre and punishingly politically astute, this extremely funny story takes on a far more powerful significance if you actually live in or around London.

Although drenched in local colour gone wild and geographical in-jokery of a highly refined kind, this is a tale totally unfettered by the strictures of good taste: sardonically blessed with chapter headings such as ‘Play Fisty For Me’, ‘The Evil Head’ and ‘The Porking Dead’ (apparently some of these are under revision so I’ve spitefully chosen not to share them you: get your own copies) whilst always carefully balancing political pokes with blisteringly vulgar sallies at the insanity of modern life.

Shamefully, laugh-out-loud, spit-take, blasting-coffee-from-your-nose funny and happily reminiscent of Robert Rankin’s wonderful Brentford Triangle novels (but with pictures and many, many more bottoms) and as addictively addled as Whoops Apocalypse (Andrew Marshall & David Renwick’s sublime satirical TV show, not the bowdlerised movie adaptation), Trans-Dimensional Zombie Bummers is the kind of story only certain people will want – or be able – to read, so I hope you’re one of us and not one of them…

It doesn’t say so but I’m going to assume © 2013 Maree & J.A.H.N. or maybe © 2013 Trans-Dimensional Zombie Bummers. All rights reserved in either case.

Fight the Power – a Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples


By Seán Michael Wilson, Benjamin Dickson, Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, Adam Pasion with additional cartoon by Polyp (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-122-5

Politics is composed of and utilised equally by firebrands and coldly calculating grandees, and that’s probably the only guiding maxim you can trust. Most normal people don’t give a toss about all that until it affects them in the pocket or impacts their kids and, no matter to what end of the political spectrum one belongs, the greatest enemy of the impassioned ideologue is apathy. This simple fact forces activists and visionaries to ever-more devious and imaginative stunts and tactics…

However, all entrenched Powers-That-Be are ultimately hopeless before one thing: collective unified resistance by the very masses they’re holding down through force of arms, artificial boundaries of class or race, capitalist dogmas, various forms of mind control like bread, circuses and religion, divisive propagandas or just the insurmountable ennui of grudging acceptance to a status quo and orchestrated fear that unknown change might make things worse.

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial, social or especially political arena is almost irresistible…

The compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political or social component. That’s never been more evident than in this stunning and scholarly new graphic anthology detailing some of the most infamous and effective instances of popular protest.

In Britain the cartoonist has always occupied a perilously precarious position of power: with deftly designed bombastic broadsides or savagely surgical satirical slices instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor …or sometimes just the plain and simple facts of the matter…

For this universal and welcomingly basic method of concept transmission, levels of literacy or lack of education are no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised, sanitised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words, and as William the Conqueror saw with the triumphalist Bayeux Tapestry, picture narratives are worth a few million more…

Following a thought-provoking Introduction by author, journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali, this procession through the history of dissent compiled and scripted by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson begins with an agenda-setting ‘Prologue’ – illustrated by Adam Pasion – which can best be described without giving the game away as “Uncle Sam, John Bull and the Statue of Liberty (AKA ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’) walk into a bar…”

Their heated discussion on the value and need of people using their right to dissent is then captivatingly illustrated through a series of erudite, fascinating, shocking and even funny tutorial episodes beginning with a compelling account of ‘The Luddites and the Swing Riots, 1811-1832’ written by Wilson and rendered both palatable and mesmerising by comics legend Hunt Emerson.

The artist then turns his talents to recreating the horrific events and aftermath of ‘The Battle of Peterloo, 1819’ from Dickson’s script before, with Wilson, cataloguing a wave of ‘Colonial Rebellions, 1836-1865’ which the British Empire dealt with in its traditional even-handed, temperate manner (and in case you were wondering, that’s called “sarcasm”…)

Wilson & Pasion then detail the global impact of the ‘Irish Rebellions, 1791-1922’ whilst Dickson & Emerson’s account of ‘The Suffragettes, 1903-1918’ actually follows the story of Votes for Women right up to the present. The practically forgotten and brutally savage sagas of ‘The Australian General Strike, 1917’ (by Wilson & Pasion) and the equally appalling landmark events of ‘The Boston Police Strike, 1919’ – as told by Dickson & John Spelling – reveal the pattern of modern labour conflicts with working folk ranged against intransigent and greedy commercial interests.

The age-old struggle escalated during the ‘UK General Strike and the Battle of George Square, 1918-1926’ (Wilson & Spelling) and reached an intolerable strike-busting peak in Ohio during ‘The Battle of Toledo, 1934’ (Wilson & Spelling): a struggle which cemented management and labour into the intractable ideologically opposed positions they still inhabit today…

The championing of Human Rights is commemorated by Dickson & Pasion in ‘Rosa Parks and the Bus Boycott, 1955-1956’ and a deeply moving account of ‘The Trial of Nelson Mandela, 1964’ whilst the modern American soldier’s method of combating unwelcome or insane orders is reviewed in the brilliantly trenchant ‘Fragging’ by Wilson & Emerson…

Back home and still etched in many peoples memories, ‘The Poll Tax Riots, 1989-1991’ offers a surprisingly even-handed account of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest political blunder by Dickson & Spelling, before hitting today’s headlines with the origins and outcomes – to date – of ‘Occupy, 2011-’

Returning to that bar and Lady Liberty, Dickson, Wilson & Pasion then draw a few telling Conclusions to close the cartoon course in mass resistance, after which the writers discuss their process in Authors Notes: Why This Book? before then listing the truly phenomenal rewards of all those campaigns and protests with a long list of Rights Won (ranging from Women’s Suffrage to the universal formal acknowledgement of the Human Right to Protest).

Understanding the value of a strategically targeted chuckle, this fabulous monochrome chronicle concludes with one last strip as Dickson & Emerson hilariously reveal ‘The Four Stages of Protest’ courtesy of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. Of course cartooning can only accomplish so much and whilst Fight the Power! recounts a number of instances where physical and intellectual action were necessary to achieve or maintain justice, at least our art form can galvanise the unconvinced into action and help in the useful dissemination of knowledge about protest: the Who, Where, When, and How.

If you don’t understand What or Why then you’re probably already on the other side of the barricades…
© 2013 Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson. Illustrations © 2013 Hunt Emerson, John Spelling and Adam Pasion. Cartoons © 2013 Polyp. All rights reserved.

This book was reviewed and scheduled before the announcement of the death of Nelson Mandela. After briefly considering postponing the posting I’ve decided to go ahead. If you can’t understand why perhaps you should think really hard about what he stood for and what Fight the Power! is about.
Win – proudly wearing his little red rebel’s hat…

VIP – the Mad World of Virgil Partch


Edited by Jonathan Barli (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-664-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: impossibly inventive – an all-year-round treat… 9/10

Virgil Parch is another of those almost forgotten key men of comedy cartooning: a pervasive creative force working away for years, making people laugh and slowly, steadily changing the very look and nature of the industry.

Although largely unremarked upon and unremembered these days, Virgil Franklin Partch II (1926-2004) is probably one of the most influential – and most successful – American cartoonists in history.

His arch, absurd, rude, sly, subtle, skewed, whacky and astoundingly unique gags, strips, stories and animated shorts were generated with machine gun rapidity from a seemingly inexhaustible well of comedy excess, which could be rendered in a variety of styles which completely revolutionised the American publishing from the moment in 1941 that the artist switched from Walt Disney Studio ideas man to freelance gag-maker.

He is most well regarded for his cavalier abandonment of traditional form and anatomy. Partch is the guy who liberated gag-cartooning from the bonds of slavish attention to body detail: replacing broadly human shape and proportion with a wildly free and frenetic corporeal expressionism – perhaps even symbolism – which captivated legions of fellow artists and generations of fun-starved readers. He’s the guy who made 19 fingers on one hand work…

This superbly comprehensive and lavishly huge (260x315mm) landscape hardback art book/biography (in monochrome & full-colour) covers his life and career in scrupulous detail through a wealth of his best cartoons – many shot from original art – and includes oodles of roughs, sketches, layouts and doodles, all accompanying the bright and breezy life-history by James Barli, and all augmented with loads of intimate photos.

The joyous journey begins after a heartfelt Introduction by stylistic and thematic heir Peter Bagge with ‘Partch ad absurdam’: broken down into easily digested chapters beginning with ‘Prologue: Under the Volcano’ which introduces the man’s remarkable forebears whilst ‘The Call of the Wild’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’ details his early life and the eclectic education which led to his joining the fabled Walt Disney Studio in its golden, pre-strike prime.

‘Brave New World’ and ‘The Divine Comedy’ reveal how the assembled animators’ habit of pranking each other with gag cartoons led friend Dick Shaw to dispatch many of Partch’s drawings to magazines such as Collier’s and The New Yorker in 1941, whilst ‘A Farewell to Arms’ covers the new family man’s stint in the Army where his gift was exploited by Forrest J. Ackerman, beginning his own stellar career as editor of Army newspaper Bulletin

On demobilisation Partch’s path was assured and he became the most prolific gag-seller in America: it was almost impossible to find a magazine or periodical that didn’t carry one of his cartoons, and when Playboy debuted in 1953 there was one of his women sharing cover-space with Marilyn Monroe…

As seen in ‘Point of No Return’ and ‘The Genius’, whilst working as an animator (for Walter Lantz on Woody Woodpecker) and as a cartoonist for leftwing New York newspaper PM, Partch started a constant stream of book collections in the fifties which captured and reflected the risqué, hard-drinking sophistication of the era as well as simultaneous lives as an ad man and writer for other draughtsmen, and worked with futurist economist William J. Baxter on a series of prognosticative books which warned of such nebulous dangers as out-of-control capitalism, the Military-Industrial Complex, “1 Per-Centers” and even Global Warming…

His passion for sports – especially sailing – is covered in ‘Three Men in a Boat’ whilst in

‘As a Man Grows Older’ changing times and the urgings of old pal Hank (Dennis the Menace) Ketchum provoked the restless creator to launch his comicstrip Big George! whilst increasingly becoming a cultural ambassador for his craft and art form. He also upped his range of commercial and design projects and invented the grittier strip The Captain’s Gig.

The rise and rise of Virgil Partch is covered in ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ whilst ‘Epilogue: the Death of Virgil’, like a bad punch line, recounts the truly stupid and meaningless end of a legend when both the artist and his wife perished in a car crash on August 10th 1984…

The Unknown Quantity then focuses on his astounding output through ‘A Partch Picture Gallery’ subdivided into ‘Cartoons from PM, ‘War in Pieces’ (military madness), surreal and absurd ‘Reality Bites’ and the boozy world of ‘Cork High and Bottle Deep’.

His laid back view of sex is recapitulated in ‘The Eternal Chase’ and ‘Battle of the Sexes’ whilst ‘The Sporting Life’ and ‘Partched’ focus on his other overweening interests…

His graphic expertise and design triumphs are celebrated in ‘Covered’ and ‘(m)Ad Man’, his skewed view of the world’s leaders in ‘Political Partch’, after which a selection of his articles and stories kicks off with ‘The Private War of Corporal Partch’, before ‘The Vipper Comes to Town’, ‘Bourbon and Watercolors’, ‘Vacation for Vipper’ and ‘Inland Cruise of the “Lazy B”’ bring this glorious tribute to times past and an incredible artist to a close.

Virgil Partch was blessed with a perpetually percolating imagination and a unique visual point of reference which made him a true catalyst of cartoon change, and Fantagraphics Books have once again struck pure gold by commemorating and celebrating this lost legend of graphic narrative arts.

Most importantly this is an astoundingly funny collection: the vast accumulation of funny drawings and clever stories still as powerfully hilarious as they ever were, and all brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman no connoisseur of comedy can afford to miss.
© 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All text © 2013 Jonathan Barli. All images © their respective copyright holders. Introduction © 2013 Peter Bagge. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

Really.

I mean it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

School Spirits


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody is Stupid Except for Me and Other Astute Observations


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu volume 2


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2004, 2013 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.

See also www.MIZUNO-JUNKO.com