By Donna Barr (Aeon/Mu)
No ISBN: 2006 edition: 978-1-89225-325-5
The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of Erwin Rommel, the legendary German soldier universally hailed as “the Desert Fox”. Set – usually – in Africa during World War II, this priceless gem of a series effortlessly combines hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, with stories describing the dalliances and daily tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel; dutiful albeit unwilling cog in the iniquitous German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.
However, although in his own ways as formidable as his beloved elder sibling, the caring, gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence. Thus he spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and ever so patient with and to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate global conflict.
It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th houses the worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.
Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…
The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace, but arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt, a man of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.
This eccentric aggregation of extras, excerpts and exotica was first released in 1993, gathering extraneous material from a variety of sources and covering the period 1987-1993: as much an affectionate art-book as delicious dose of non-or mis-canonical hi-jinx. The entire package was subsequently re-released in 2006 in a Directors Cut edition which added issue #25’s WWI Transylvanian Hammer-Horror pastiche ‘Beautiful’ to the mix and included reminiscences, background commentary and creator kibitzing regarding all the esoteric tales and titbits.
The gloriously visual treat begins with an Unused Pin Design and a splendid Badge Design from the San Diego Comic-Con 1989 after which a quartet of stunning and bizarre Beer Labels (for ales created by micro brewer Wendell Joost in 1988) precedes ‘Peach on Earth’ from A Very Mu Christmas 1992 – one of the very best Christmas stories ever produced in the notoriously twee and sentimental comics field.
Set in the harsh December of 1945, it follows the demobbed and repatriated Pfirsich as he wanders through his broken and occupied homeland, avoiding trouble and American troops but not the gnawing starvation and freezing snows which would kill so many returning, defeated German soldiers. On the verge of despair and death the Peach is brusquely adopted by a strange, brittle and utterly fearless little boy who has only known the Fatherland in the throes of decline, but still looks eagerly to a brighter tomorrow…
This is followed by a rather risqué Rosen Kavalier pinup from Paper Phantasies (1991) and an unused strip originally commissioned by Rip Off Press whilst ‘Whipping Boy’ is a full-on adult escapade of the unconventional lovers as is ‘I Am What I Am… (I Think)’ a “Desert Peach Pitt Stop” that also languished unpublished until this collection preserved it.
Bits ‘n’ Pieces was a short-lived self-published magazine the indefatigable author used to disseminate assorted works which never made it into the regular, normal-length Desert Peach title. ‘The Veteran’ comes from the first issue in 1991 and returned focus to the motley cast of the hapless 469th for adeliciously philosophical foray that starred a most peculiar and innocent warrior named Thommi, whilst, after a frolicsome Desert Peach pinup from the 1989 Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special, ‘Hindsight’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991) dabbles into personal politics before ‘Reflections’ from #3 offered a few New Year’s observations on the cast and stars from Barr herself.
The 1991 San Diego Comic-Con booklet provided another beguiling pinup before ‘Udo and the Phoenix’ (from Xenophon #1, 1992) related another tale of the spirited Arab horse accidentally owned by Udo and cared for by the equally magnificent Pfirsich, whilst ‘Reluctant Affections’ (from Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991, before being redrawn as ‘Pigeonholed’ for Gay Comics #16) explored a tender, fragile moment and adorable chink in the macho armour of uber-Mensch Rosen…
‘The More Things Change’ from benefit book Choices in 1992 debates the abortion issue with characteristic abrasive aplomb after which ‘Sweet Delusions’ (Wimmin’s Comix #16 1991) gets down to the eye-watering nitty-gritty of Rosen & Pfirsich’s love life and ‘Wet Dream’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #3 1991) follows up with more of the same in a hilariously wry maritime moment.
Barr’s creations are never far from always internally consistent flights of extreme fantasy as seen in glorious diversion ‘The Oasis’ (Centaurs Gatherum 1990) with Pfirsich and brother Erwin finding a militarily priceless waterhole with a fantastic secret and forced to spend a truly outrageous time trapped as hybrid half horses…
This captivating chronicle concludes with a selection of ‘Peach Pits’ miscellanea: illustrations, roughs and small press items culled from the Desert Peach Musical books, t-shirts and posters. There’s some fascinating rough layouts from the aforementioned ‘Peach on Earth’, an unused page from DP #17 (the superb ‘Culture Shock’ as seen in The Desert Peach: Marriage & Mayhem) and assorted stuff from Zine Zone #13, 1992, covers from Germanophilic Amateur Press Association magazine ‘Krauts’ and shirt designs before the whole outrageous affair ends well with an implausibly “true tail” starring half-horse Stinz Löwhard, Pfirsich and Erwin in a ‘Character Revolt’ from 1987’s Fan’toons 19.
Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging; bizarre (anti) war stories which rank amongst the very best comics of the 1990s. Even now they still pack a shattering comedic kick and – if you’re not quite ready – poignantly emotional charge.
The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continue as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…
Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs and grown-up comics in general. All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have a Kindle, Robot Comics released individual comicbook issues, and for anybody with internet access and refined tastes there’s always the webcomic to fall back on…
© 1987-1993 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.
Christmas miracle moment: Just as we were preparing to post this, the multi-talented Mirth-Meister herself dropped us an update on availability and I’m not mean enough to keep the contents to myself in this season of sharing.
So to see Peach magic for yourself check out websites http://www.donnabarr.com or http://thedesertpeach.com and if you just have to own your own Peach product http://www.lulu.com/desertpeach, offers a huge double collection that also comes as economical loadable files and The Desert Peach (plus Stinz and Bosom Enemies) are all re-printed with colour extras at http://www.Indyplanet.com at marvellously economical rates.