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.

Pandora’s Box volume 1: Pride


By Pagot & Alcante, coloured by Christophe Araldi and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-81-6

European comics have never been afraid of progressive ventures or ruffling feathers and have a wonderful way of confronting headline-grabbing issues in a manner certain to keep a broad assortment of readers intrigued and engaged.

Pandora’s Box is the ambitious brainchild of Belgian author Didier Swysen – under his nom de plume Alcante (Jason Brice, Rani, La Conjuration de Cluny) – and boldly blends Doomwatch-style contemporary scientific, imminent society-changing concerns and carefully calculated technological extrapolation. These are then framed against a metaphorical backdrop of classical mythology and delivered as foreboding warnings to the political and plutocratic powers-that-be…

Couched in evocatively near-to-now science fiction terms, the series comprises eight self-contained tales, 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 tale features a different illustrator. Initial tome Pandora Box – L’orgueil was deftly and subversively rendered in the superbly understated line-work of Didier Pagot (La Dame qui est une Rivière, Les Traine-Ténèbres, Transgénèse) and coloured by Christophe Araldi, recounting how a man with a mission compromises his ethics and endangers his soul for the sake of a putative legacy…

In a secret location a heavily-pregnant woman is rushed into the emergency room and delivers a very special baby. After checking the newborn boy, Dr. Mathias Turpin dismisses the attending staff so that they never learn what becomes of the exhausted mother…

It’s election year in America and incumbent President Narcissus Shimmer is in the fight of his life for a second term. His reforming programs, the American People and his immortal legacy depend on another four years to finish his grand work…

Less than a week before the crucial vote, polls have finally put Shimmer ahead of his ruthless opponent Costner and the challenger has resorted to desperate tactics: hiring private detective Ron Grubb to dig up dirt which will end the President’s campaign…

Although less than keen, the money offered is irresistible and Grubb quickly uses his formidable intellect, infallible instincts and vast network of resources to uncover a potential scandal. For some reasons Shimmer has been given billions in campaign contributions from the biotechnology industries. A potential bribe…?

Moreover, even in these crucial final days, POTUS keeps slipping his Secret Service detail and fanatical, brilliant campaign manager Claire Dale to visit Geo-Center: a small, expensively discreet gynaecology and maternity hospital.

The first thought is that Shimmer has fathered a child on a mistress: a tempting possibility for a straight-laced straight-shooter famously estranged from his drug-addict son and standoffish wife…

Further digging reveals Geo-Center is run by Mathias Turpin: a maternity specialist whose real life’s work is cloning. Of course, human cloning is illegal but…

With an horrific notion forming, certainty comes after Grubb secures a clandestine blood sample from Shimmer and has it tested.

The President has been sterile for decades and is dying. Only a bone marrow donation can save him. Has his drive to complete his life’s work pushed the dedicated humanitarian into compromising all his principles and breaking the law? If so, how much further will he go to achieve victory and keep his secrets?

Rather than reporting his latest suspicions to the vile Costner, Grubb opts to get his own hands dirty and infiltrate Geo-Center, but events there are already spiralling out of control and a bloody confrontation leads to a horrific conflagration and one final test of all the key players’ moral fibre…

Dark, bleak, painfully astute and fearfully prophetic, this examination of the depths men will stoop to in pursuit of their “destinies” also shows how heroes come in many guises and, that for almost everyone, there is an ethical Rubicon they cannot cross…
© Dupuis, 2005 by Pagot & Alcante. All rights reserved. English translation: © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Breaking The 10 volume 1


By Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-021-8

Scottish émigré and citizen of the world Seán Michael Wilson has a splendid and well-earned reputation for “Deep” comics that tackle real issues (Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover {with War on Want}, Goodbye God? – an Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion with Hunt Emerson) but is equally adept at more straightforward and hugely entertaining strip material (The Story of Lee, AX: Alternative Manga).

Here, those seeming opposites collide and combine in a superbly engaging and wickedly barbed tale of lost love, disillusionment and grief-filled reaction that is both hilariously acerbic and potently thought-provoking.

Aiding and abetting a great deal of impious soul-searching is award-winning manga illustrator and poster artist Michiru Morikawa – who worked with Wilson on Yakuza Moon, Demon’s Sermon, Musashi and The Faceless Ghost – and lends a fine gloss to the proceedings which begin with a robbery…

Devout Christian David is still reeling from the death of his wife and child when he decides to confront God and force him to explain his actions and motivations. With no other recourse the aggrieved sinner starts methodically breaking the Ten Commandments – beginning with ‘Thou shalt not steal’ – but is utterly unaware that two antithetical gentlemen are watching him…

Before long they are at his door, introducing themselves as Mr. Black and Mr. White; offering counsel and unwelcome advice the bereaved David doesn’t want to hear. Nor does he believe they are the supernatural advocates they seem to be as, whilst they bicker over him, it becomes clear to the apostate that they don’t yet know what his game plan actually is…

As David continues his celestial attention-getting campaign in ‘Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s… (house; thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is neighbor’s)’ through a spot of coldly calculating seduction, White maintains his surveillance whilst Black slacks off and disappears.

Everything is not as it appears: White may well be the agent of an Interventionist creator, but his opposite number claims to be a simple disciple of a modern humanist rationalism rather than an operative of the Infernal Antagonist…

David doesn’t really care: his first two assaults upon scripture have won him nothing but fleeting physical pleasure so he ups the ante by robbing and desecrating a church before ‘Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy’ finds him contemplating how best to offend all the Abrahamic religions when there’s already seven-day shopping and the entire world has pretty much abandoned the concept of holy days…

The subversive private war takes on a far more public aspect when the bereft zealot creates an obscene statue and posts pictures on the internet, inviting the world to worship Graven Daven, the Indecent Idol in ‘Thou shalt not make for yourself a graven image’

As fanatics of every stripe converge on his house, David ignores his constant prating gadflies and tells all in a candid TV interview, and, with the entire world caught up, subsequently moves on to the darker fringes of his scheme.

Firstly he destroys the gullible couple next door by shattering the edict ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbors’ before – with God still a no-show and with no hint of an apology or explanation forthcoming – planning his end-game.

It starts during a quiet little chat with the gobsmacked Mr. Black about the big one… the one about killing…

To Be Concluded…

Thought-provoking and deceptively low-key, this repurposing of an age-old question is unlike earlier graphic novels addressing this timeless theme (Eisner’s A Contract with God or Truth Faith by Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece come immediately to mind) as the focus and driver is more about human pain rather than indignation or betrayal. Moreover, by introducing a third philosophical force to counter both God and the Devil, Breaking the 10 moves the debate into fresh territory regarding what makes human beings moral.

Fresh, challenging and superbly enthralling, this is a book no saint or sinner should miss.
© 2016 Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa.

Breaking the 10 volume 1 will be in selected retail outlets from June 29th and released on July 21st 2016. It can be pre-ordered now and is also available in all e-book formats.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Deliverer


By Nemanja Moravic Balkanski & various (the Publishing Eye)
ISBN: 978-0-986844-01-0

As I’ve often stated, some comics creators seduce and beguile whilst others choose to inform and affect with confrontational shock tactics. One of the most evocative and uncompromising efforts that I’ve ever seen came from Belgrade émigré Nemanja Moravic “NeMo” Balkanski. Don’t just take my word for it, track down his stunning FIB Chronicles, compiling much of his early material. …And now he’s done it again…

Balkanski was born in Belgrade in 1975 and, after indulging in and mastering a multitude of artistic disciplines from comics to graphic design, theatre arts to film-making, and poetry to performance, emigrated to Vancouver in 2007. When not working as an Art Director or storyboard artist for big and little screen productions he continues to produce thought-provoking comics.

It has all clearly been an inspirational experience and NeMo – a skilful plunderer of social tropes and cultural memes – has absorbed the meat and ephemera of his new environs to produce a stunningly confrontational allegory and state-of-the-union fairy tale with plenty of bite.

Canada, not long from now: society is on the edge of collapse and has been for as long as anyone can recall. And that’s not long: crass, shallow media has all but lobotomised the people, making them sensation-seeking celebrity-hungry drones told how to think and act and especially what to buy from the rich bastards to own everything.

King of those rats is the aged billionaire whose Watchmaker Labs and Watchmaker Studios strives tirelessly to mechanise and monetise every last iota of humanity and spirituality. They have already successfully commoditised sport and sex and are close to replacing their fragile flesh-&-blood customer base with mechanical hybrids…

A land like that expects its citizens to do nothing more than work and be consumers, so it employs a certain kind of lawkeeper: semi-cyborg sadists like Canuck, macho psychotics such as talking police dog Le Chien, lickspittles like Token Indian Winnetou and even sometimes starry-eyed do-gooders like hapless Mountie Sergeant Prickstone, but they’re just not enough to keep order in a city which – although tacitly owned by Watchmaker – still moves to its own decadent rhythms…

When uncompromising natural force Cayenne the Shark eats half of Vancouver – despite the army of gigantic robotic buildings and trucks slowly superseding humanity – a new kind of champion emerges.

The Deliverer used to bring pizza to the slavishly mass media-addicted self-medicating hoi-polloi, making money to buy time with certified sex-worker Lula, but as the end rushes closer he finds that selfishly helping himself is actually working to repair the world…

Clearly the world is made up of far more than what Watchmaker can grasp in his withered, grasping hands and as Prickstone and the Deliverer join the Vancouverite Underground to help the declining First Nation regain their stolen mystic Mojo a concatenation of unlikely circumstances look like turning them into Canadian humanity’s last hope of survival…

Abstruse, blackly humorous, shockingly explicit, complacently violent and bleakly hilarious, this disquieting parable uses the modern go-to story form of the summer Action Blockbuster to tenaciously attack media mass-produced self-image and the casual hypocrisy which runs the world and picks enough scabs off that you simply have to stop and think.

This substantial full-colour landscape-format  hardback is another strident, sardonically whimsical cartoon diagnosis of the state of our society: a uniquely entertaining read the brave and bold and reasonably old must not miss…
© 2015 The Publishing Eye.

Why not scope out the official website and trailer at http://www.thepublishingeye.com/books/the-deliverer/

Skydoll: Decade


By Barbara Canepa & Alessandro Barbucci (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-736-7

Astoundingly barbed political and anti-consumerist satirical allegory Skydoll has been appearing sporadically since 2000. It’s the other work of frequent collaborators Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa (whose usual offerings include more family-oriented fare such as W.I.T.C.H. and Monster Allergy) and – although rendered in the subtly seductive anthropomorphic style developed and signifying decades of wholesome Disney cartooning – is a superbly strident attack on corporate consumerism, the media’s mesmerism of the masses, political expediency, religion and the power of the Catholic church, all wrapped up in the raunchy, beguiling trappings of super-sexy science fiction shenanigans…

Now most of the components thus far generated have been beautifully bound up in a gloriously oversized (284 x 212mm) full-colour hardback edition.

The subversive odyssey begins with the prose ‘Preface: ten years of Skydoll’: a bold declaration of intent by The Authors before we speed straight into the fantastic fantasy with ‘Volume 1: The Yellow City’ which introduces fetching, wind-up automaton Noa, asking God for a little fair treatment whilst working at the insalubrious Heaven Spaceshipwash. She’s not like the other beautiful dolls working there. Although she still needs to be wound-up every 33 hours by her owner, this alluring automaton seems to have a memory that doesn’t erase itself after a couple of days. This means she keeps thinking of difficult fresh questions to ask…

Furiously shoved back to work, Noa ignores the fabulously bland and vapid blatherings of TV talk show monolith Frida Decibel blasting out from every home and public broadcast screen, telling the populace of Papathea how good everything is now that they only have one Popessa in the buxom form of the divine Ludovica.

Once upon a time there were two True Vicars of God: Agape who embodied spiritual love and Ludovica who personified its physical expression. When Agape mysteriously vanished her corporeal partner became sole arbiter of the galactic empire the church controls, commencing a campaign of craftily concocted public miracles to pacify the increasingly irate and disillusioned populace.

It’s not really working though, and a rising tide of rebellion and resentment is just beginning to pop…

Our story really begins when two of Ludovica’s “Diplomatic Agents” stop at Heaven to get their starcraft properly shined before heading out on their top-secret mission. Old Jahu is especially keen on the diversion: everybody knows lusting after or even indulging in pleasure with a Doll doesn’t count as sin. The Popessa said so…

However, whilst lathering up the ship of some fervent fundamentalists at the head of the queue, Noa accidentally kicks off a small riot, even as across the city Ludovica’s latest manufactured miracle kicks into high-gear with mesmerising effect…

By the time the barrage of supernal glitz and gaudy glitter subsides, Jahu and young idealistic Roy are well on their way. They have no idea there’s a dazed and surprised stowaway aboard, with her crucial, life-sustaining key still negligently left in her back…

And on the rapidly dwindling planet behind them, Ludovica fumes. Despite getting rid of her rival, the sole Popessa’s grasp of power is still uncertain. The people still hunger for vanished Agape and there are rumours of rebellion. The anxious, power-mad pontiff has no idea how close to home the sedition reaches…

Aboard ship Roy has made a startling discovery. Unable to help himself, he turns the key in the inert innocent’s back and restores temporary autonomy to a vivacious creature he can’t help but like…

Doctrinaire Jahu is less sanguine but the mission is too important to delay. They can always dump the doll on the way home…

Noa is eternally curious, asking questions about everything. She is inexplicably especially moved by an illicit image of Agape the voyagers encounter in a space restaurant. It somehow triggers strange and terrifying visions and Roy has to physically restrain Noa. What happens next is regarded by the astounded onlookers as a miracle…

The story resumes with ‘Volume 2: Aqua’ as hints begin about Noa’s destiny and the unseen sponsors who seem to be guiding her destiny. The Popessa’s missionary ambassadors meanwhile land on the world without males: one successfully propounding a third spiritual way…

Governed by planetary Guru Gaia, the women of Aqua are steadily gaining support across the universe, supported and funded by their range of wellness centres and luxury goods which everyone wants to try. Roy is there to build diplomatic bridges between the Popessa and the completely antithetical Aquans in the cause of peace. He has no idea that Jahu’s orders are a little different. He always knew the only way to deal with heretics…

Noa inveigles her way into the official conference: she’s hopeful these strange women will have some insight into her own rapidly-expanding consciousness. She is stunned by what they do know and their connection to missing Agape.

And as Jahu goes about his bloody work, back on Papathea, bloody revolution breaks out…

The intrigue expands in ‘Volume 3: The White City’ when Roy, Jahu and the constantly-growing Noa return as triumphant heroes. When officially interviewed by the ubiquitous Frida Decibel the web of intrigue and damnation expands to encompass some very unexpected personalities, even as the empire stands poised on the edge of Armageddon and real miracles start happening in the most unlikely places…

A broad, vast, clever and frustrating unfinished epic, Skydoll is still unfolding at its own tantalising pace. There has however been plenty of sidebar and ancillary material released such as ‘Volume 0: Doll’s Factory’ which offers a sequence of prequel events to flesh out the main characters in another stunningly captivating art package.

Here a strange woman visits a factory and places something miraculous inside a doll in its final stages of manufacture, whilst ‘Heaven’s Dolls’ rewards the reader with information on the world and empire of the Popessa, affording insights into other Dolls such as Lovely Lou, Juicy Lee, Sandy Blue and God himself – proving just why he needed killing…

There’s also a hilarious Sky Doll ‘Psycho-grapho Test’ to further reveal how life and society really work…

This immaculate confection culminates in a huge collection of ‘Homages’: a breathtaking gallery of tribute images of Sky Doll and her chums by a staggeringly talented cast of fellow artists comprising Claire Wendling, Karla Diaz, Benjamin, Marguerite Sauvage, Mijin Shatje, Cyrille Bertin, Tony Infante, Bengal, Claudio Acciari, Tony Sandoval, Amélie Fléchais, Giovanni Rigano, Sefora Pons, Gradimir Smudja, Aurore, Augustin Rolland, Nenent, Guezav, Pierre-Mony Chan, Lucy Mazel, Véronique Meignaud, Matteo De Longis, Xavier Collette, Anne Cresci, Lilidoll, Jérémie Almanza, Lostfish and more.

Completing and concluding religious experience is a comprehensive feature ‘About the Authors’ and a page packed with ‘Acknowledgements & Credits’.

A phenomenal work-in-progress, Sky Doll is a superbly engaging exploration of erotica, iconology and idolatry: one no fun-loving, deep-thinking lover of comic iconoclasm should miss.
Sky Doll and all contents are © Editions Soleil/Barbucci/Canepa. This translated edition © 2016 Titan Comics.

Sky Doll: Decade will be in UK store from March 15th 2016.

The Puma Blues: The Complete Saga in One Volume


By Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli with Alan Moore and an Introduction by Dave Sim and Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-846-79813-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic, Enthralling, Exciting… 10/10

During the 1980s the American comics scene experienced an astounding proliferation of new titles and companies following the birth of the Direct Sales Market. With publishers now able to firm-sale straight to specialised, dedicated-retail outlets rather than overprint and accept returned copies from general magazine vendors, the industry was able to risk and support less generic titles whilst authors, artists and publishers could experiment without losing their shirts.

The huge outpouring of fresh material deriving from the Direct Sales revolution resulted in a plethora of innovative titles and creators – and let’s be honest – a host of appalling, derivative, knocked-off, banged-out trash too. Happily I’m the boss of me and I choose to focus on the great stuff…

The period was an immensely fertile time for English-language comics-creators. Comics shops – run by people in touch with their customers and who actually read and loved at least some of what they sold – sprang up everywhere and host of new publishers began to experiment with format, genre and content, whilst eager readers celebrated the happy coincidence that everybody seemed to have a bit of extra money to play with.

Consequently the new kids were soon aggressively competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown resigned to getting their sequential art jollies from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics. European, Japanese and even Canadian material began creeping in and by 1983 a host of young companies such as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First, Renegade and many others had established themselves and were making impressive inroads.

Most importantly, by avoiding traditional family-focussed sales points like newsstands, more mature material could be produced: not just increasingly violent or sexually explicit but also far more political and intellectually challenging too.

Subsequently, the “kid’s stuff” stigma afflicting comics largely dissipated and America began catching up to the rest of the world, at least partially acknowledging that comics might be a for-real art-form.

New talent, established stars and different takes on old forms all found a thriving forum and marketplace desperate for something a little different. Even tiny companies and foreign outfits had a fair shot at the big time and a lot of great material came – and, almost universally, as quickly went – without getting the attention or success they warranted.

One of the most critically acclaimed and enthralling features was published by the Moses of Independent creators, Dave Sim.

Sim had begun self-publishing Cerebus the Aardvark in 1977 and pretty much trail-blazed the entire phenomenon for the rest of us. Passionately, stridently non-“mainstream”, he soldiered on in complete control of every aspect of his creation and periodically began publishing other titles by creators who impressed him or he simply liked. Eventually, however, Sim ditched a coterie of fine and uniquely different books that were nurtured by his Aardvark-Vanaheim outfit, leaving them with his ex-wife’s new company Renegade and re-concentrated all his efforts on Cerebus once more.

And then in 1985 a couple of casual acquaintances showed Sim the opening instalment of something called The Puma Blues

The full story – including how that strangely compelling, so-slowly and dreamily unfolding eco-fable became a helpless hostage and collateral casualty in the one-man publishing house’s lengthy battle with an international distributor determined to dictate how creators did business – is related in painful, sordid detail in Sim’s Introduction for this stunningly impressive archival edition – complete with his equally stunning pin-up of the series’ iconic signature invention…

This monolithic monochrome tome gathers and reprints every published issue of The Puma Blues comic (except the non-canonical Benefit Issue #21 which was rushed out in solidarity by incensed fellow creators to generate publicity, support and funds) before finally, after almost 25 years, reuniting writer Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli to complete their story…

The aforementioned hostage was an eerily beautiful disturbingly pensive oddment which debuted as a black-&white title in June 1986; marrying then-escalating ecological concerns and tropes of science fictive paranoia with scrupulous soul-searching and the eternal quest for place in both family and the world…

The Puma Blues is a tale more about the Why and How of things rather than the usual What of plot and character, so this overview will be brief and short on detail: trust me, you’ll be grateful for my forbearance when you start reading the magnum opus yourself…

Accepting the premise that all Science Fiction – whenever it’s created – is always about Right Here, Right Now, the abiding undercurrent of The Puma Blues is an inexorable slide to tragic, unfixable, unwanted change.

Since the 1970s and proceeding ever more unchecked into the 21st century, nations and human society have been plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated – if not actually caused – by a world-wide proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid bosses and governments. You could call it retro-futurism now, but tomorrow – as seen from 1986 – at least in terms of society was for many a foredoomed and hopeless place.

Looking at my TV screen or out of a window, I’m not sure that Murphy & Zulli weren’t fundamentally right and doubling as prophets when they set their gentle epic fourteen years into the future…

2000 AD and government agent Gavia Immer (look it up, they’re being very clever) is monitoring changes to flora and fauna in the wilderness Reserve around Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts on behalf of the US military.

Still a beautiful, idyllic landscape dominated by ancient apex predators such as mountain lions, despite the perpetual acid rains, ozone layer breaches and the radioactive toxins left after White Supremacists nuked the Bronx, the harsh area monitored by the solitary researcher is the site of some radical changes…

Gavia’s job is not just clerical. His mission is to periodically test the fluctuating PH levels of the lake in between the state’s continual chemical readjustments of the body of water and, whenever he discovers a mutant species – whether “animute” or “biomute” – he has to utilise state-of-the-art technology to instantaneously ship the specimens to a US-Sino laboratory/Reserve somewhere in China.

That hasn’t prevented the hauntingly lovely flying mantas from proliferating and dominating the skies above his head, however…

Gavia’s only contact with the rest of humanity is his TV screen. It delivers reports, interviews and pep talks from his superiors and allows him to talk to his mother. That gives the solitary agent plenty of time to brood about his father’s death and their unresolved issues.

The fanatical film-maker has been gone four years now but Gavia is still drowning in unresolved conflicts, which is probably what prompts his mum to forward tapes of all the strange documentaries he neglected his wife and son to make…

Is Gavia imagining it or is he actually gradually divining some inner cosmic revelation from his dad’s tapes and theories? Their examination of recent historical events draw solid links between the declining state of the world and a (frankly baffling and seemingly implausible) connection to patterns of UFO sightings.

Surely though, his father’s clearly growing obsession with the strange “alien” creatures popularly known as “Greys” must only have his metaphorical way of searching for incontestable Truth?

Nonetheless they slowly begin to have a similar effect on the thinking of the equally soul-searching son…

There’s certainly plenty of room for new answers: the growing dominance of the flying mantas is clearly no longer a secret – as Gavia learns to his regret – after an old soldier and radical “neo-Audubon” named Jack invades the Preserve looking for proof of the flying former fish. Despite himself Gavia lets the affable old coot stay; a decision he soon has cause to regret…

And as animals old and new jostle and tussle to find their niche in the new world order, Gavia sinks further into his father’s videotaped philosophies until he has his revelation and takes off into the heart of America to find out how and why things are falling apart…

Proffering an increasingly strong but never strident message of environmental duty and responsibility, The Puma Blues outlined its arguments and questions as a staggeringly beautiful and compelling mystery play which ran for 23 formal issues, a Benefit special designated “Eat or Be Eaten” and a tantalisingly half-sized #24 before the exigencies of publishing made it extinct.

Before it was squeezed out of existence the saga was collected as two trade paperbacks – Watch That Man and Sense of Doubt – but this monumental tome finally completes the story and then offers a passionate defence and valiant elegiac testimony in ‘Acts of Faith: a Coda’ by devoted follower and occasional contributor Stephen R. Bissette and even finds room to reprint two items from the aforementioned Benefit Issue: a page from ‘Pause’ by Murphy, Zulli & Bissette plus the eerily erotic ‘Acts of Faith’ by Alan Moore, Bissette & Zulli exploring the mating habits of those sky-borne Birostris (look that up too, now I’m being clever…)

The long-delayed walk on the wild side finally concludes with the quasi-theosophical ‘Mobile’: the full contents of Puma Blues #24½ mini-comic by Murphy & Zulli.

Haunting, chilling, beguiling and intensely imposing, this is a massive accomplishment and enduring triumph in comics narrative.
© 2015 Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli. Introduction by Dave Sim © 2015 to be reciprocally owned by both Stephen Murphy & Michael Zulli. Afterword © 2015 by Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserve.

The Puma Blues is available in comic shops and online around the world now. It can be pre-ordered online for a December 25th release in the UK.

Gag on This: the Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues


By Charles Rodrigues, edited by Bob Fingerman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-856-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sick, Sick, Sick – the ideal antidote to Seasonal Saccharine Overload… 9/10

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century, but when papers and periodicals began abandoning en masse the grand tradition of spot gags in the 1980s he and his illustrious compatriots began to fade from cultural consciousness. Now it seems almost nobody remembers him but thankfully companies like Fantagraphics are doing their bit to recall and immortalise him and them…

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

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, whilst maintaining his contributions to what seemed like every publication in the nation buying panel gags: 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.

The quiet, genteel, devout Catholic’s lasting monument and undisputed magnum opus, though, was the horde of truly appalling sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful one-offs he crafted on a variety of favourite themes 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 with sickeningly brilliant results which were recently compiled preceding edition Ray and Joe

Here bracketed by a copious and informative biography by Editor Bob Fingerman and a heartfelt ‘Introduction’ by brother-doodler and sometime Cartoon Editor at the shockingly indulgent Lampoon Sam Gross, this monumental monochrome collection – presented as a sturdy hardback digest tome – features a staggering selection of explosively hilarious, wittily twisted visual broadsides gathered into a smart procession of tawdry topics…

After starting out lambasting our most basic drives in ‘Dirty Cartoons for Your Entertainment’ and ‘A Peeping Tome’, focus soon shifts to weird fantasy in ‘Moon Madness’ and contemporary traumatic tropes in ‘Assassin’ before going too far, too soon with some ‘Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print’

Because one can never get enough, it’s quickly back to basics with ‘Cartoons of a Sexual Nature’ after which other appetites are quashed with ‘Cuisine de Machine’ exposing the horrors only automats and vending machines can inculcate whilst ‘Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?’ deals with freaks and outcasts at their most intimate moments of weakness…

Some truly outrageous innovations are launched and sunk in a large section devoted to ‘Entrepreneurs’ before controversy is courted – and subsequently walks off with a huge settlement – in ‘Goddam Faggots!’ after which more societal hypocrisies are skewered in ‘Handicapped Sports’ and things get good and bloody in ‘Hemophunnies’.

Rodrigues was blessed (or cursed) with a perpetually percolating imagination and eye for the zeitgeist, so the contents of ‘The Celebrity Memorabilia Gallery’ are truly baroque and punishingly peculiar whereas ‘Hire the Handicapped’ merely offers genuinely groundbreaking solutions to getting the less-able back to work before this selection of Good Works concludes with much needed advice on ‘Good Ways to Kill: A Rock Performer!’

Trenchant observation informs the visual catalogue of ‘Man in Morgue’ but it’s just sheer bad taste in play with follow-up chapter ‘Man in Toilet’ and macabre relationship counselling for ‘Men’s Liberation’ (in dealing with wives or mothers).

At the halfway stage of this colossal collection there’s time for ‘More Handicapped Sports’ before poking fun at the blind in ‘Out of Sight’, exploring the particular wrinkles of ‘Senior Sex’ and dutifully re-examining ‘The Seven Deadly & Other Sins’ – which you will recall include Pride, Envy, Anger, Covetousness, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Anti-Colostomyism, Conformity, Vomitry, Bitchiness and Dalmatianry – and then galloping off at a strangely artistic tangent to present ‘Sex Cartoons Drawn With a Hunt Pen’

Scenes (never) overheard at the ‘Sex Change Clinic’ naturally segue into an itemised itinerary of disasters involving ‘Sex Robots’ and naturally culminate in ‘More Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print’ and another period of play for ‘Handicapped Sports’

All aspects of human misbehaviour appealed to Rodrigues’ imagination and many are featured in ‘Sexentrics’ and its playful sequels ‘Sexports’ and ‘Sleazy Sex Cartoons’, all of which quite naturally lead to ‘Life on Death Row’

Unwholesome variety (and a penchant for conspiracies) is the spice of ‘A Group of Cartoons Requested by S. Gross’ before deviating eastwards to expose ‘Soviet Sex’ and heading back to jail to walk ‘The Last Smile’.

Shambling into the hilarious last lap we endure some ‘Tough Sex’, show ‘Cartoons About the Blind (The Kind They Wish They Could See)’ and get gritty in ‘Sons of the Beaches’ before heading to the ‘…Circus!’ and ending everything with ‘Those Darned Serial Killers!’

These horrific and hilarious assaults on common decency celebrate and commemorate a lost hero of popular cartooning and consummate professional able to turn his drawing hand to anything to get the job done. This is another astoundingly funny gag-art grimoire brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy will want to miss.
This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Book. All strips and graphics by Charles Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction © 2015 Sam Gross. Biography © 2015 Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.