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.

Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War on Terror)

By Benjamin Marra (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-878-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comedy as Black as Santa’s Coal for Naughty Kids… 8/10

We live in perilous times and everywhere Terrorists lurk, just waiting to get the jump on us. Everybody knows that…

Mercifully, thanks to the blessed wisdom of President G. W. Bush there are professionals in place to take the war right back to them. Following the attacks on 9/11 the clearly-prescient Dubya, in his infinite wisdom, convened a team of All-American specialists in excessive force and clandestine skulduggery. They were designated as Terror Assaulters: utterly autonomous from government oversight and tasked with ending any and every threat to world Freedom & Democracy by any means necessary…

Thus the scene is set for a sly and ferociously stark satire on the American Public’s simplistic view of its pre-eminent role in a very complex world, conceived and concocted by a master of visual retro-stylisation, deftly utilising nostalgic forms to pillory modern sensibilities and the country’s obsessions with untrammelled masculinity, consequence-free sex, violence and conspiracy.

Benjamin Marra was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1977 and after graduating with a Degree in Fine Arts from Syracuse University studied in Florence (Europe!) where he was clearly seduced away from clear-thinking and right-mindedness. He later studied under David Mazzucchelli at the School of Visual Arts and, as well as running his own self-publishing comics imprint Traditional Comics, works as web designer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media, freelances for advertising companies, Marvel and in publications such as Playboy, Rolling Stone, The New York Times and many others.

Rendered in hard-edged, stiff-figured ink-lines, augmented by dot-screens and flat primal colours like a classic four-colour comicbook from the 1960s or 1970s (and looking and feeling very much like Spain Rodriguez’s iconic Trashman tales), these extremely over-the-top adult escapades are delivered with machine gun rapidity and bleak economy, all softness and nuance carefully excised in favour of inexpressive, declamatory, expository dialogue – like a little boy playing out scenes with action-figures until he smashes them all in his building frenzy…

Our harshly-drawn hero is an emotionless, lethally capable agent codenamed O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War on Terror) whose propensity to find trouble wherever it lurks is only outmatched by his capacity to expunge it with ruthless efficiency. And of course whenever there’s evil and death there also plenty of callous, selfish sex, with whoever is left breathing when all the shooting stops…

Our involvement begins with ‘Cyber Attack Part 1’ wherein a perpetually sunglasses-wearing wonder man invades a nondescript business building in Jakarta and spectacularly kills all the bad guys before his search for ‘Funding’ leads him into a pitched, brutal battle on an airliner jam-packed with hijackers before a profitable meeting with the lizard-men who actually run everything…

Abruptly changing tack, ‘Cyber Attack Part 2’ reveals how, after Terrorists sneakily invade and conquer America, the Terror Assaulters lead the fightback; with the indomitable O.M.W.O.T. at the forefront of battle, exposing a TA traitor who is almost as deadly a fighter as he…

With America free again our ultimate hero then deals with another outrageous attack on decency when ‘Loyalties’ sees him framed for child abandonment by an invisible enemy using the latest gender-bending technologies to trap him in matrimony and a spurious child-support scheme. It’s the Terrorists’ greatest and most insidious and apparently inescapable trap…

Blending rebellious Punk Rock sensibilities with a trenchant, deadpan yet aggressive expressionism and irrevocably linking hyper-violence to loveless, self-gratifying casual sex, this so-very-graphic inquisition into the nature of a society’s obsessions and the excesses of its self-appointed protectors is a blackly hilarious attack on US interventions, NeoCon demagoguery and the self-delusions of the oppressed and near-extinct God-Fearing, White American Male that will delight and amaze all us dubious lefty, liberal-humanist weirdoes…
Terror Assaulter is © 2015 Benjamin Marra. This edition is © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

Lady Killer volume 1

By Joëlle Jones, Jamie S. Rich & Laura Allred (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-757-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wildly Witty and Nostalgically Nasty… 8/10

1962 was a strangely portentous and memorable year.

We all nearly died in a Cuban mushroom cloud; the United States Supreme Court ruled mandatory prayers in public schools were unconstitutional; The Beatles released their debut single Love Me Do; Vivian Vance became the first person to portray a divorcée on an American TV series and paragon of femininity/First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy took television viewers on a tour of the White House.

Way back then in a cosy era of prim, proper and perfectly contented wives and mothers, Josie Schuller is a bit of an oddball – although you’d never know it to look at her…

In a consumer culture when men wear hats and smoke at work, proper ladies are pliable, obedient “homemakers” and appearance and conformity are paramount but Josie is shamefully keeping a secret from hubby Gene, their two adorable kids and even her nosy live-in mother-in-law. The busybody biddy does have her suspicions though: a strange man is always hanging around, trying to talk to Josie when no one’s looking, and Mother Schuller suspects the worst.

Her nasty mind might be relieved to know that her daughter by marriage is not cheating on her beloved son, merely indulging in a little freelance work on the side. The deceitful little minx is actually an assassin and really, really good at her job…

Unfortunately Josie wants to leave the business, but her increasingly obnoxious handler Peck and his boss Stenholm keep piling on the pressure to take on more and more contracts, with no regard to the happy home-life she wants to preserve. Eventually the devotedly domestic death-dealer decides that her dreams mean nothing to her employers and, after she’s despatched to dispatch another lady trying to quit the lethal game, Josie realises that if she wants to retire she’s going to have to remove the organisation that owns her first…

Devised and illustrated by Joëlle Jones, scripted by Jamie S. Rich and coloured by Laura Allred, with an Introduction from crime-writer Chelsea Cain, this wickedly witty satirical blow for femininity and feminism collects issues #1-5 of Lady Killer from January-May 2015, mischievously mauling the virginal, compliant stereotypes handed down to us from the heydays of Doris Day, Leave it to Beaver and The Lucy Show – by way of Mad Men and Red – and resulting in a fast-paced high-octane period thriller which is a joy to behold.

Bedded in with a wealth of additional material – roughs, working studies, faux contemporary ads, cover-&-variants gallery and commentary from the creators in a stylish Sketchbook section – this is a taut and tantalising thriller, packed with plenty of action and suspense delivered with electric élan and perilous panache, to delight every reader who loves their comedy black and their body-counts high.
Lady Killer™ © 2015 by Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich. All rights reserved.

The Erotic Adventures of Space Babe 113

By John Maybury (Soaring Penguin Press)
ISBN: 978-1-908030-16-0

I have to declare an interest before I review this splendid and long-awaited collection. John Maybury is, as well as a fellow survivor of the Comic Creators Guild and my editor on the Guild’s Annuals (still available at most Unicorn Fairs and any Galifreyan used-stuff emporium), one of many people I have taught in more than twenty-five years as a tutor of comic skills at various organisations ranging from the London College of Printing, through the London Cartoon Centre to the Cartoon Art Trust.

I think it’s only fair to state, however, looking at how few of those hundreds, if not thousands, of students have gone on to produce outstanding comic work, that we’d be deluding ourselves in assuming I had any effect whatsoever.

I’ve known John for decades both professionally, socially and on occasion alcoholically and feel the Convent-school-inculcated need to admit this long association. Of course you might say it’s no fault of mine if extremely talented and dedicated people congregate around me like shining planets around a dying sun contemplating becoming a big black hole…

Confession over, and so to work…

The Erotic Adventures of Space Babe 113 is a remarkably original and ferociously addictive landmark of comedic science fiction from a creator not content to simply tell stories, but determined also to constantly challenge himself in the process. Redolent with overtones of Barbarella (Jean Claude Forest’s comic more than the Jane Fonda movie), The Ballad of Halo Jones, Red Dwarf, Little Annie Fanny and a dozen other things I could cite to show off, this is the intoxicating tale of a sexy ingénue on a five-year commercial mission to the stars with a motley mob of misfits on the claustrophobic and muddled European Union ship Marco Polo.

Although nominally the ship’s Catering Officer, Space always seems to get the tackiest jobs – such as testing the fetishistic Off World Battle Garb – during a mercilessly mercantile mission to sign up new trading partners.

Perhaps it’s because she’s a bit of a “looker”, not that academically accomplished and reputedly far from chaste? Whatever the actual reason, the Earth-based overseer of this particular mission – Media Director 667 – has already increased company revenue streams by forward-selling the “adults-only” Ship’s Logs to broadcast franchises and so most of Space’s shipboard duties tend to end with her undraped and panting.

Regrettably for all the cunning entrepreneurs, although free, healthy and over 21, SB 113 has faithfully promised her boyfriend to stay exclusive until they’re reunited, even though that tends to make her a little short on patience and quite ready to stroppily protest the stream of strange orders perpetually foisted upon her by immediate superiors Lesbian Sex Officer Mrrf M’n’cha and Marketing & Sales Officer Star 406

At least she can share her woes with Laundry Officer Rince Cycle 335 – whose sympathetic ear almost makes up for his permanently sneering at her for being a glorified microwave-oven operator…

Not long into the mission the first crisis occurs after cosmic rays mutate the female crew-members’ underwear and only after a valiant struggle are the rampaging killer-skivvies ejected from the ship. Sadly, it does mean that the women might be stuck in Scottish Engineer’s hastily cobbled-together titanium-steel knickers or reduced to going commando, and further danger lurks since not all the deadly drawers have been banished…

Eventually stability returns in time for the planned rendezvous with the fabled ‘Lirka’ and on Marco Polo assorted crewpersons prepare for their first trade conference with the asexual Aardvarks. Tensions are high but at least all are confident that there will be no further assaults from treacherous or homicidal underwear.

Unbeknownst to most of the Terran delegation, however, lead negotiator Star 406 has been secretly instructed to use any means necessary to compel the Lirka to purchase human porn. She regretfully realises that in such an impossible situation she will need every possible advantage and that means the always-aggravating Space Babe 113.

Can two such widely differing species find some common ground to build upon? In the strangest, stickiest manner imaginable the answer is categorically “yes”, but sometimes getting what you want isn’t really a good thing, as can be seen when the conference devolves into a wild, narcotically-deranged strip-poker party…

Barely surviving the catastrophic aftermath of the all-too successful trade-conference with the androgynous ant-eaters, Space crashes a hastily procured escape pod onto a desolate jungle world dubbed ‘Foliage’ where she must eke out a lonely existence and pray for rescue. She has her snarkily sarcastic and judgemental new AI knickers to talk to, but other than them, is she truly alone?

At last convinced that something on the lush planetoid is trying to communicate with her, she undertakes an epic quest and falls for the oldest line in interstellar seduction. Is she the last hope for a dying race to return from the very edge of extinction, or is it just that Earth Girls really are Easy?

At least she’s still kept her promise, if you only count humans…

Rince had also ditched on the green world and before too long he and Space were rescued by U.S. starship George Dubya: a straight-laced, traditional exploration vessel which only releases “Family Viewing” Mission Logs. ‘Stones’ finds Media Director 667 – terrified of lost sales or shared profits – frantically informing his superiors of the disaster before determining to get his star back or get rid of her before the Yanks get all the cash and glory.

He discloses that Space’s knickers have an illegal patch and are operating without the curbs of the Three Laws of Lingerie: if necessary they can be manipulated and compelled to self-destruct…

Things are pretty desperate already aboard the US starship: Space has met the bosom-heavingly gorgeous archaeologist Dr. Standing Stones and, despite a complete lack of qualifications, has claimed to be one herself, ready and so-very-willing to join his expedition to the ancient world of ‘Sand’ spinning beneath them. She is hot, bothered and blithely unaware of EU Commands’ murderous plan, busily losing another ill-tempered battle with her surly underwear which cruelly claims it is no longer her size…

She is plagued by hot, sweaty dreams as ‘Mud’ then sees the history-hunters encountering one of the most powerful and ancient species in existence. Tragically the puissant Grand T’Kleep of Tyracus III understandably takes great umbrage at being used in a most unseemly manner for a moment of urgently needed libidic relief by the soft, curvy one and decides to put her entire race on trial. As the representative of humanity SB 113 must defeat the mighty Bolboi champion in a sacred duel which looks remarkably like mud-wrestling or her entire species will excised from existence 35,000 years before they began annoying proper civilised beings.

Good thing Space was Academy Champion three years running…

Meanwhile on the George Dubya the Americans have cracked the murderous coded message from MD 667 and begin countermeasures…

Chapter 7 slightly diverts to offer an ‘Origin’ revealing how a simple wannabe fashion designer encountered the wrong Careers Bot and ended up an unwilling astronaut Catering Officer, as well as her hidden history with the frustrated creature who became Media Director 667 before ‘Jet’ finds Star 406 fanatically attempting to complete the explosive sabotage mission even as MD 667 – under orders from his own boss – reluctantly leads a rescue mission to pick up his out-of-control minions as a fantastic, millennia-old plan of cosmic fiddling slowly, teasingly unfolds…

With star ships and space stations in imminent danger of destruction the explosive climax sees Space forced into extremely rash behaviour as she tussles with Star to save Dr. Stones and perhaps all of us thanks to ‘Wings’, common sense, good luck and sheer guts…

Raunchy, hilarious, surreal and astoundingly clever, but still deftly striding the right side of the line between charm and prurience, Space Babe 113 is not only great saucy smut and potent parody but also solid, big sky science fiction treated with all the irreverence it deserves and I for one can’t wait for her snooty talking pants to spin off into their own mini-series. Until that moment however this splendid, long overdue chronicle concludes with a few delicious shorts including ‘Space Babe’s Handy Guide to Lesbian Sex for Single Girls’ and ‘The Space Probe: an investigation of the Seamier Side of Sequential Art’.

There is a long tradition of sexy spacewomen in comics, films, TV and even novels and this gently racy, technically torrid tale ranks among the highest in those arenas. The humour is both broad and gentle, with much more of the Carry On movie rather than Emmanuelle about it, although many subversive side-splitters do sneak in, and there are oodles of deep-genre, comic book and computer techie in-jokes for those in the know.

Remember I said he liked to challenge himself? Although able to draw fabulously well in a variety of representational styles, John has sweetened the pot for us all by setting himself a daunting task. This is a glamour book which has successfully abandoned pseudo or mega-pneumatic realism in favour of reductionist abstraction which has echoes of Vaughn Bodé, Alex Niño and graffiti street art. It is to his credit that his diligence has incontrovertibly succeeded. She may just be large blobs of thick black and white, but she is certainly a tasty little minx.

Well-rounded, captivating and impossible to put down. Buy it and decide if I mean her or it, why don’t you?
© 2015 John Maybury. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry Youth Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comic Relief – Drawings from the Cartoonists Thanksgiving Day Hunger Project

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

No, not that one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inner City Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re all stunningly beautiful to look at too…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman volume One

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

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

Well this is embarrassing…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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