Guns of Shadow Valley


By James M. Clark, Dave Wachter & Thomas Mauer (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-435-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Forward-Looking Traditional Fun You Must Not Miss… 9/10

Westerns are very much in the eye of the beholder. Some of my very favourites include The Seven Samurai, The Thirteenth Warrior and Outland …and not a six-gun or Stetson in the bunch.

Actually, the form’s all about tone and timbre: motivation and resolution you see; trappings and locations are not as important as the Why and the How…

And as such, they lend themselves perfectly to crossing genres such as detective thrillers or horror. A superb case in point is superbly enchanting superhero shocker The Guns of Shadow Valley.

Concocted by Dave Wachter, James Andrew Clark and letterer Thomas Mauer and originally disseminated as a web-comic which began in 2007, the stunning saga was eventually collected as a sturdy landscape format hardback tome (with attendant eBook edition). It is one of the moodiest, most beautifully realised tales you’ll ever see.

The chills start with a freakish attack on a couple of surveyors foolishly assaying isolated Shadow Valley before ‘Welcome to Malice’ introduces Bill Dawson, sheriff of that lonely outpost of civilisation and a man with a strange secret.

When superfast shooter Frank BreakneckKelley hits town, the laconic lawman and his assistant “Killshot” prepare for a confrontation. Dean Cooper is an unmatchable marksman, and when using his 1874 Sharps Rifle is the most accurate and deadly long-distance shooter in the world.

However, the showdown goes down in a most unexpected manner and the permanently-drunk Kelley ends up in jail. Eventually Bill learns the speedster can outrun his own bullets and stays soused only so that he can slow down enough to interact with other people…

And not too far distant, an atrocity occurs. US Army Colonel Thaddeus Bale lost his left arm in the war and replaced it with a lethally multi-purposed artificial limb. A fanatical zealot, he runs a covert unit with special dispensation from President Grant to tackle problems and crises no decent soldier would countenance.

With his ruthless division of veteran soldiers and malignant metahuman servants Scorpion, Wurm and Shane Langston, Bale claims to be doing the Lord’s work and is getting ever-nearer to Malice, hunting an impossible dream hidden in the remote and forbidding region…

The cast and scope expand in ‘Incident at Holden Pass’ as a stagecoach is hit by something indescribable whilst at a nearby railroad navvy camp, cruel Chinese wizard Feng finally loses the trust and confidence of his super-strong disciple Shoushan.

Back in Malice meanwhile, blacksmith Clyde Elliot is showing off the properties of a strange mineral found in the valley. Clyde is a driven tinkerer and master maker, devising and building incredible devices to solve any conceivable problem. He’s never seen anything like the stone currently in his workshop…

If the sheriff knows what’s going on, he’s keeping it to himself, but that doesn’t stop him bringing Killshot and Breakneck with him when he inexplicably attacks a prison stagecoach to liberate a convicted felon.

Pearl Rivera is a gunfighter and gambler; risky careers for a woman but made a little easier because of her uncanny empathic abilities and talents as a human lie detector. Even she is unprepared for the effect of her runaway armoured coach when it smashes into the startled but ultimately unharmed oriental giant who has recently quit the railroad building business…

And Bale’s column gets closer, now transporting an unearthly child as the sole spoils of his many depredations…

‘Leave the Bottle’ offers hints into an ancient Indian tragedy that underpins all the mysterious events as Bale’s expedition reaches the valley and uncovers some of the mystery mineral. In Malice, wizened Indian outcast Kuecan the Crow haunts the main street whilst, in the desert scrub outside, Bale mystically confers with his true paymaster.

Robber Baron industrialist Thomas Percival Dumont is the most powerful man in America, a position gained by ruthless acts, devious planning and his powers of mind-manipulation. He wants to own and exploit whatever incredible energy-source rests in Shadow Valley and is now close to fulfilling his greatest ambitions. The wicked plotters are unaware that ferocious animal guardians afflicted by an ancient curse are watching them…

The black hats are the first to act as Bale’s sadistic multi-armed mercenary rides into town in ‘Tail of the Scorpion’. The brutal carnage he inflicts in Malice is reflected at the rail camp after Bale hands over his juvenile prize to Feng, but answers are equally unforthcoming. The only real result is a drawing together of lawmen and outlaws in the beleaguered town. Dawson now notionally leads the strangest posse in the annals of the West…

A dawn-age prairie myth becomes chilling reality as the true history of the region unfolds in ‘The Crow, the Coyote, and the Eagle’ with a supernal primordial – and largely mythological – event re-deciphered by modern eyes when the foredoomed Neci Indians, (shapeshifters accursed for eternity and awaiting the return of their tribe’s spirit and soul) finally make their move just as ‘The Best Laid Schemes’ presages the beginning of The End…

Dawson finally comes clean about what he’s been hiding as the forces of evil converge on Malice and battle is joined…

The arcane action escalates to a cataclysmic, revelatory conclusion in ‘Fools of Time and Terror’ before a tantalising ‘Epilogue’ set decades later posits that even when it’s over, it ain’t over…

Along with a Foreword by Gabriel Hardman and Afterword from Dave Wachter, plus full creator biographies, this blockbuster book also offers a large and fulsome Cast of Characters feature providing informative backstory and insight on all the major – and most of the minor – players.

Grandiose, ambitious and utterly compelling, The Guns of Shadow Valley is the best Sci-Fi/Horror/Western/Superhero summer-blockbuster action movie never made. You’d be an absolute gol’ dang fool not to at least read the bloody thing as soon as you can.
™ & © 2014 Dave Wachter and James Andrew Clark. All rights reserved.

Breaking Cat News: Cats Reporting on the News that Matters to Cats


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7413-3                  eISBN: 978-1-4494-7927-5

Cats rule the world. Just ask the internet.

Those of us with moggies also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

However, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her indolent furry overlords earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively and interminably poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling series of strips detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

The history and development of the feature is covered in Dunn’s Introduction (which you can read if your own claw-pawed companions give you some time off) before this superbly engaging full-colour digest-sized (165 x 203 mm) paperback concentrates on crucial domestic and foreign issues.

Drawing attention on the home front are items such as ‘Everything is Broken and We Don’t Know Who Did It’, ‘The Food Bowl is Still Empty’, ‘The People Bought Some Stupid-Looking Thing For the Dining Room’, ‘The Woman is Cooking Bacon’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Use a Laptop’, ‘The Woman is Trying to Make the Bed’ and ‘The People Bought a Different Kind of Kibble’ whilst long-range outside broadcasts confirm ‘The Man is in the Backyard’, ‘The Neighborhood is Under Attack’ and ‘The Trees are Falling Apart’

The rolling news is backed up by In-Depth packages devoted to ‘The People Are Going Insane’ (moving house to us two-foots) and the entire team undertake a dedicated series on a lengthy brush with maternity (‘The Woman is Feeling Under the Weather’, ‘The Spare Room is Filled With New Cat Furniture’, ‘The Woman has a Hair Ball’ and ‘The People are Awake in the Middle of the Night’) to prove that cats don’t just want vapid snippets of information for mayfly attention spans but can also handle complex issues with no simple solutions…

Smart, witty, imaginative and deliciously whimsical, Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh.
© 2016 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Sacred Heart


By Liz Suburbia (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-841-0

What would have happened when you were a teenager and your parents went away for the weekend?

What if they didn’t come back for four years? And what if the same thing happened to every household in your little town at the same time?

Visually, elements of Charles Burns and Johnny Ryan crackle beside graphic echoes of the Hernandez Brothers in a stunning graphic novel debut which tackles that conundrum with perspicacity, near-feral insight, righteous anger and a great deal of sentiment-free warmth in Sacred Heart.

As much mystery thriller as “Having Come of Age” tale, the mesmerising story opens in little everytown Alexandria which at first glance seems to have gotten a little rowdy of late, but for all the late-night drinking, hot-rodding, incessant partying, lewd behaviour and hijinks is carrying on as best it can.

The older teens are looking after the little kids, school is still attended, the local store still carries provisions and life goes on pretty much as before, even though there hasn’t been a responsible adult in situ for years…

Ben Schiller cares for her rapidly maturing – and consequently increasingly difficult – little sister Empathy; her life-long nerdy punk friend Otto still works part-time at the video store – when he’s not stealing girls’ panties – and he and she still watch weird movies most evenings, trading gossip and stories about who they’re currently seeing…

Elsewhere in their unique community, local garage-band The Crotchmen are the only good thing to see of an evening and Erica’s baby still hasn’t come.

Jocks still act like meatheads and the pretty girls still chase them whilst standoffish Ben remains involved but apart. She isn’t ignored or reviled these days as she’s devised a method of tattooing which makes her a vital component of the new society…

Recently though, some of the little kids have been acting a little weird: descending into mysticism and fortune telling whilst default storekeeper Jack Brown is claiming that soon he won’t be able to get any more booze or gas for the town’s remaining functional cars, but of course the real downer is how many of the older teens have been found murdered in the last few weeks…

The kids all seem to accept the growing “Dead Kids Club” as a part of life in their little town, but as the summer of excess rolls on towards Fall, things start to change. Firstly Ben and Otto endanger the perfect friendship by bringing sex into the equation, after which an actual adult is seen in town but escapes and Crotchmen’s lead singer joins the casualty list and is replaced with a girl.

Hulking drummer Hugo starts planning how to take his little charges and break out to freedom as the kindergarten seers all predict the end of everything is coming, but worst of all, as colossal storm clouds gather, when Ben discovers who the serial killer is, she can do nothing about it…

Compiled and cunningly rearranged from her webcomic, Liz Suburbia’s Sacred Heart is a potent, uncompromising yet measuredly (proportionately??) hopeful glimpse at the teenagers who terrify all us old farts: dealing with a dangerous world not by crumbling as we assume they will, but by rising to the challenge and accepting the responsibilities we probably wouldn’t.

Gripping, compelling, rewarding and astoundingly readable, this is book to exult in from an author to watch.
Sacred Heart © 2015, Liz Surburbia. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Cochlea & Eustachia


By Hans Rickheit (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-801-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unseasonably Strange but Utterly Irresistible… 9/10

Hans Rickheit was born in 1973 and has been producing skilfully crafted art in many different arenas since the 1990s, beginning with self-published mini-comics before graduating to full-sized, full-length epics such as Kill, Kill, Kill and The Squirrel Machine. He has also worked in film, music, gallery works and performance art.

A Xeric award beneficiary, he came to broader attention in 2001 with the controversial graphic novel Chloe, and has since spread himself wide contributing to numerous anthologies and periodicals, creating beguiling webcomics and instigating the occasional anthology or minicomic of his own such as Chrome Fetus.

That last was the original venue for the strangely surreal binary sorority known as Cochlea & Eustachia. They first manifested in issue #5 in 2001, with obscure and occulted follow-ups in The Stranger, Proper Gander, Hoax, Typhon, Blurred Visions and Pood. Most recently they have destructively scurried and ambled through Rickheit’s webcomic pages (http://www.chromefetus.com/) and now are ready to inflict their distracting blend of ingénue iconoclasm and chaos chic through the printed page of a splendidly olde worlde graphic compilation.

A keen student of dreams, Rickheit has been called obscurantist, and indeed in all his beautifully rendered and realised concoctions meaning is layered and open to wide interpretation.

His preferred oeuvre is the recondite imagery and sturdily fanciful milieu of Victorian/Edwardian Americana which proved such rich earth for fantasists such as Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth, whilst his fine, studied, meticulously clear line is a perfect, incisive counterpoint to the frequently challenging logic-bending of miasmic mystery and cosmic confusion.

In Short: pay attention, scrutinise carefully and make up your own mind…

In a shabby, battered manse peculiar contraptions and bizarre trophies of things that should never have existed – let alone be stuffed and mounted – abound.

The master of the house is another strange creature and as he awakes from a unique bier and begins to wander the rooms, unseen and undetected wanton mischief makers Cochlea and Eustachia rouse also and resume their apparently aimless peregrinations through the walls, nooks and crannies of the edifice that rests atop a sea of animal skulls…

The nubile, girl-like creatures scutter about in dream-like journeys and progressions, avoiding and yet stalking the wheelchair bound savant as he continues his labours, cultivating creatures of incomprehensible oddity…

Soon chances occur for more manufactured calamity and a wildly sedate chase ensues, resulting in capture, shocking indignity and a clash with monsters and giant robots, but as the episode escalates we are left to wonder are the elfin wanderers a binary or in fact trinary partnership?

Or is the truth – if such a thing can ever be pinned down and vivisected – something even more baroque and uncanny?

All that basically means is that I wouldn’t dream of spoiling this sinisterly absurdist confection from one of the most impressively singleminded craftsmen working in comics today, and if you are at all tempted or intrigued you must buy this splendidly slewed and offbeat chronicle.

Scary, beautiful, disturbing and often utterly inappropriate, the full-colour exploits of the masked misfit misses is accompanied by an enticing extra tale in muted monochrome as the mysterious masqueraders return to declare ‘How It Works’, after finding a possibly handsome stranger stashed in a box in a starkly surreal swamp…

Visually reminiscent of the best of Rick Geary, Jason Lutes and Charles Burns whilst being nothing like them at all, Rickheit presents a singularly surreal and mannered design; a highly charged, subtly disturbing delusion that will chill, bewilder and possibly even outrage many readers.

It is also compelling, seductive, sublimely quirky, blackly hilarious and nigh-impossible to forget. As long as you’re an adult and braced for the unexpected, expect this to be one of the best books you’ll read this decade – or any other…
Cochlea & Eustachia © 2014 Hans Rickheit. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books Inc.

In a Glass Grotesquely – Selected Picture Stories


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-797-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Pure and Primal Comics Wonderment… 9/10

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters in Fine Arts, and after beginning a career as an illustrator rediscovered his love of comicbooks. The potentially metafictional self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! and animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia the most well known characters in his gratifyingly large back catalogue.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

In a Glass Grotesquely is his latest irresistible tract of baroque pictorial enchantment, deftly combining his recent 2014 webcomic with a triptych of visceral and saturnine delusions from the end of the last century, all exploring the bleakest corners of the modern world’s communal fantasy landscape and applying his truly skewed raconteur’s gifts to giving us a thrill, a chill and a chortle…

The majority of this spookily sublime confrontation with the cartoon dark side is taken up with the gripping saga of ultimate enemy of America ‘Super-Enigmatix’, a diabolically inspired super-villain determined to avenge himself upon America for slights both imagined and tragically real…

Delivered in punchy alternating doses of surreal full-colour splashes and moody monochrome subplots, the story details how the brilliant weird-scientist, served by an army of beautiful female zealots and hidden race of mole people, tries to destroy modern society, only opposed by disenchanted ex-cop Natalie Charms and a dedicated band of “conspiracy nuts”…

The struggle against a self-created monster hiding behind a smoke screen of urban legend is fast-paced, Byzantine, and insidiously politically charged: a mesmerising chase-caper and delight of post-modern paranoia meeting classic pulp-fiction melodrama…

Like a bleakly mordant reinvention of the Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross, ‘It Will All Be Over Before You Know It…’ is a sequence from single panel black and white epigrams building to a tableau of modern terrors for women seeking work, after which 1998’s ‘Stranger Street’ silently details the building tension as a psycho-killer haunts the streets of an already scary town…

The cracked chronicle then concludes with a Kafkaesque shaggy bird story delivered in barrage of grey wash, as an ineffectual nobody receives – and loses – a once-in-a-lifetime honour in ‘The Prestigious Banquet To Be Held In My Honour’

In a Glass Grotesquely amusingly exposes the seamy, scary underbelly of existence with these enigmatic, clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging yarns blending nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of children scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night and will therefore make an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she’s just you, imaginary or even relatively real…

In a Glass Grotesquely © 2014 Richard Sala. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812


By Jeff Martin (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-9921-5086-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for Making History Fun… 8/10

In recent years there seems to have been a glorious renaissance of Canadian mass culture. Being Erica, Rookie Blue, Orphan Black, Republic of Doyle, Murdoch Mysteries and a host of other intriguing TV shows all offer a slightly skewed look at entertainment standbys and standards – and that’s not even counting the hordes of individual Canucks who’ve made their mark in what we provincial Brits lazily consider the American monopoly of populist literature, movies, music, and assorted dramatic arts…

Comics and strips too have become reinvigorated, with scribes and pen-pushers producing some of the most interesting stuff since the mid-1980s when Cerebus the Aardvark was the undisputed acme of Indie publishing, Puma Blues invented a strikingly different aesthetic sensibility and a different Renegade Press put out such spellbindingly novel fare as Normalman, Neil the Horse, The Spiral Cage and a host of other off-kilter gems to liven up the world of cartoons and funnybooks.

Following on yesterdays review here’s an intriguing sidebar to one of the most badly-handled wars in history, which officially ended in December 1814, courtesy of well-fed diplomats in Ghent, but carried on killing folk and cocking up lives in the New World until somebody finally got around to telling the actual combatants in 1815…

During its bi-centennial those times of trans-border trouble were wittily reassessed by cartoon and illustrator Jeff Martin via a weekly webcomic and are now cunningly compiled here through the auspices of Renegade Arts Entertainment.

In ‘A Note from the Frontline’ author Martin describes his long interest in the source material of this clash of incompetents, after which comics maven – and self-confessed liquor-lover – Jay Bardyla offers some insightful perspective into the creator’s career and process in ‘Forward March!’

Then the raucous rounds of slapstick shot and snark-filled sarcasm bombs are unleashed when a couple of ill-prepared, reluctant and self-preservation-obsessed citizens find themselves somehow marching off to war with the Canadian militia…

At least stout and surly baker George is initially keen to serve, rushing off with no thought of danger (really… none at all…) but he insists on dragging wisely reluctant trapper and frustrated bread buyer John Pink with him into the woods in search of the front lines.

In truth nobody made them go, nobody really wants them there and, after tramping through the brush for a good long time, they realise that they have no idea what the invading Americans even look like.

When they finally encounter some strangers by a river George and John spend so much time arguing what to do that their targets walk up and attack them first…

And so it goes as folk on both sides – none of whom have ever been trained to fight – shamble through the dense countryside, missing each other and only inflicting harm accidentally, whilst simultaneously wishing they’d never started the affair…

As our hapless halfwits stumble into more and more trouble, not particularly participating in the all-but forgotten Battle of Maguaga and being on hand but no help at all during the daft-but-true exploit of the fall of unconquerable American stronghold Fort Detroit, other incongruous characters are introduced such as the dryly laconic native Joseph and a barking mad-alcoholic serving British Sergeant, all contributing greatly to the aura to the fiasco.

However the real delights and most incisive jabs are reserved for actual personalities of the conflict: Indian messiah Tecumseh, charismatic Canadian Major-General Isaac Brock, staggeringly inept American commander General William Hull and venal Washington war hawk Henry Clay

Fast, funny and surprisingly informative, Redcoats-ish provides smart laughs, sharp observation and stylishly splendid cartoon comedy capers that no lover of history or hilarity will want to miss.
Redcoats-ish: Jeff Martin’s War of 1812 © 2014 Renegade Arts Entertainment.

Megahex


By Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-743-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: laugh-out-loud, falling-down-daft, crying from the heart … 8/10

Simon Hanselmann is a well-travelled cartoonist of Tasmanian origin who has been, since 2009, producing one of the best cartoon strips of all time.

Although mostly found on his girlmountain.tumblr site, other episodes of his engagingly deceptive, inappropriately pigeon-holed “stoner comedy” Megg, Mogg & Owl have appeared in places as varied as Kus, Smoke Signal, Gangbang Bong and assorted minicomics, but can now all be found in a sturdy, full colour hardback compilation which also boasts a further 69 pages of new and previously unseen material.

Hanselmann’s signature characters – loosely based on childhood memories of a series of British children’s books, filtered through a druggy haze and a desperate deadline – are Megg, a depression-afflicted druggie witch who lives with her mean-spirited feline familiar Mogg and sensitive, insecure, affection-starved Owl.

When not confronting or testing each other or hanging with the wrong crowd, they spend most of their time in a post-modern haze of self-inflicted ennui or on dope-fuelled junk-food binges in the apartment or in front of the TV…

They probably don’t like each or themselves much but dwell in a fug of dangerous co-dependency and their strange adventures have finally been collected into a sturdy and most improper tribute to a life lived more wryly through chemistry and sarcasm.

This book is packed with drug references, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think.

If the copy above hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book uses potentially disturbing images of abuse, sexual intimacy, excess and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls – and probably school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present – to make its artistic and narrative points.

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

Lethargically anarchic and cruelly hilarious, the escapades of insecure Megg, malicious, experience-craving Mogg and their poor, pitiful companion open with ‘Fire’ as the pharmacologically paralysed Owl tries to dissuade his flatmates from testing his potential flammability after which ‘Beach’ finds Megg & Mogg defeated by the tantalising ever-expanding expanse between sand and surf…

‘Kate Bush’ reveals the embarrassment arising from catching someone in the act of singing along to something naff whilst ‘Horrible Party’ introduces wizard Mike and manic hedonist Werewolf Jones who will clearly go to obscene lengths to get noticed after which ‘Found Pills’ portrays some distressing transformations.

A first hint of darker intent is seen in ‘Drive Through’ when Owl passes out and his “friends” treat his body with an extreme lack of consideration and affection, whilst ‘Water’ goes straight to the gross-out core of slapstick before witch and familiar try to gatecrash a childrens’ show audition in ‘Theatre’ and Owl daydreams whilst passing through ‘Ham Parade’

Things get cattily scatological with an unattended plate of ‘Spaghetti’ and escalate when caught-short Owl is barred from the toilet and remanded to the ‘Yard’ after which Megg wires up her cat for an evocative rendition of ‘Mogg’s Noise Show’.

More casual cruelty ensues in ‘Taut Psychological Thriller’ when the flatmates palm off Owl with bogus drugs after which a rendezvous at the ‘Mall’ allows cat and conjuress to ruin the long-suffering dupe’s latest sexual conquest. This petty meanness is capped by the thrilling showboating of ‘Werewolf Jones’ Excitebike’ extravaganza…

‘Owl’s Birthday’ is as bad as the poor sap fears and his party ends with shocking abuse and assault, but even after he has moved on – without the intervention or apology of his buddies – a meeting with girl of his dreams ‘Peyote’ again leads to a situation of personal shame and legal terror…

Even fetching a ‘Sandwich’ can lead to unthinking humiliation for the avian also-ran, whilst for ‘Werewolf Jones & Friends’ every night is a party – but not one you’d want to attend…

After losing an appreciable amount of their lives to an iCarly marathon, Megg & Mogg head for the ‘Video Store’, utterly ignoring Owl’s cry for help regarding his AA meetings, and subsequently spike his health smoothie.

Owl is unfortunately a belligerent drunk and can’t understand why he’s abusing the other store patrons…

When “the munchies” hit, food crazed Megg & Mogg burgle a kebab shop but the guilt and fear engendered by the ‘Heist’ soon drives them to near madness, whilst ‘Scene Politics’ scares the crap out of everybody as Werewolf lays down his law.

‘Silver Sequin Mini-Skirt’ exposes Megg’s vulnerability after she receives some bad news, leading to an extended and keenly focused exploration of mental illness beginning with ‘Megg’s Depression’, ricocheting manically into ‘Megg’s Good Mood’, an interlude with her concerned house-sharers in ‘Bad Brains’ and a swingeing attack on mental health professions in ‘Megg’s Therapy’

After an odd encounter passing a ‘Graveyard’ Megg’s obsession with ‘Pregnancy’ kicks in again, but not in time to stop her friends tampering with her testing kits and, whilst reeling with indecision, she capitulates to her cat’s bizarre predilections in ‘Rimming’.

Seeking change she doses Mogg with ginger ‘Hair Dye’ which alters his look but sadly not his temperament after which a possible visit by the landlords provoke a hearty bout of ‘Paranoia’ that lasts until Werewolf arrives with a huge quantity of ‘Acid’ which takes everyone on the trip of their lives…

Change is in the air and when Owl tries to sort out his life with a real job Mogg & Megg have no choice but to tamper with the ‘Alarm Clock’ and other accoutrements of his longed-for normal life. As the shamed jobseeker simmers, Mogg returns to his own dark desires and ruins the concept of ‘Cinnamon’ for everybody else…

Events come to a life-changing head in ‘Cocktails’ when all the neurosis, blasé fronting, passive-aggression, negative feelings, overwhelming love, depression, drugs, sexual profligacy and cycles of dependency boil over and the gang break up forever…

Despite its similarity to some kind of no-harm, no-foul adult situation comedy – and believe me there are outrageous laughs by the bucketful – there is a strong, often overwhelming narrative progression to these quirky beguiling stories and Megahex navigates with easy confidence the tightrope between sordid and surreal, hilarity and horror, survival and sinking away.

Dark, affecting and unforgettable, this is a book no lover of truly mature fiction will be able to ignore.
Megahex © 2014 Simon Hanselmann. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Disenchanted volume 1


By Simon Spurrier & German Erramouspe (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-230-8

Where has all the Magic gone?

If Simon Spurrier and German Erramouspe are to be believed – and they should because they are quite convincing – it hopped and flew out of the rural hills and hedgerows of Albion to resettle in an abandoned tube station below and behind a derelict sex-shop in London…

Disenchanted launched in September 2013 as a web-comic serial, taking a long loving look at Britain’s ancient affiliation with fairies and elves, leprechauns and pixies and, after careful consideration, kneecapping the lot of them before finishing off the twee magic bastards with crowbars, broken bottles and DDT…

Once upon a time the assorted magic races collectively known as the Little People left their old haunts as the Vast Folk increasingly ignored and forgot them. The Goblins were first, moving to the stinking, smoky Big City and laying claim to mothballed and forgotten Wardour Street Station.

They became owners and landlords beneath the feet of mankind, scavenging, supervising and profiting from the sprawling construction of a vast metropolis, assembled from discarded human trash and detritus.

The building of the colossal favela – eventually housing a million disparate souls all struggling to get along and make a life for themselves far from their roots and culture – made the Gob elite rich.

Rich enough, indeed, to move to palatial, elevated exclusive heights because their hidden kingdom soon became a teeming mass of aggression, hostility, criminality and suppressed prejudice waiting to boil over. It’s still growing bigger every day…

Vermintown is the worst of all possible worlds, but now it is home to all kind of creatures who previously despised and shunned each other. The older ones still bemoan and cherish the past; clinging to old customs and beliefs, but their children and grandchildren are different creatures, knowing nothing but urban sprawl, jostling elbows, frayed tempers and cultural pick-and-mix…

Tibitha Leveret is a fairy, the eldest of her kind in Vermintown and regarded by the masses as a Spiritual Leader. However she is plagued by the unshakable conviction that a foolish act in her youth caused the change in Fey fortunes. Head of a large household, she is secretly addicted to drugs and lethally dangerous sexual practises…

Her daughter Sal is a dedicated member of the Vermintown Militia: the officially integrated, racially diverse police force. She is one of the few officers not on the take or on the make… yet.

Her brother Stote is not so morally upstanding, even though he is a Wayfinder and official Community Leader. The single father of two sons has monstrous debts, a crappy job, a growing addiction and a surging, nearly out-of-control hunger for cathartic liberating violence…

Fig and Tael are his boys. Neither has any notion or memory of life outside the city and each struggles in his own way to find an identity or meaning in a world that makes no sense and offers no hope…

I’m reluctant to say any more than that as this shocking, beguiling and oh-so-clever blend of fantasy fable, horror story and crime thriller unfolds like a top-of-the-line soap opera as the three generations of Leverets all struggle to make their way whilst the city inexorably drags them further and further apart and down.

Encompassing the death of wonder, street gangs, political chicanery, mutative killer drugs, organised crime, disenfranchisement, seething ethnic tensions and cultural disassociation, guilty regret, youthful rebellion, social Darwinism, the forbidden allure of unsanctioned and unwise sex and a spiralling, universal fall from grace, Disenchanted is a dark, savage, blackly humorous and ferociously compulsive allegory of urbanisation, enforced ethnic multiculturalism, compromise and survival that will appeal to every lover of modern fantasy with a pinch of brains and an ounce of imagination.

Impressively foul-mouthed, engagingly raunchy and action-packed, the book is bolstered by a series of articles and guidebook entries describing the evolution and make-up of the sleazy super-slum including ‘Vermintown, an Introduction’, ‘The Call to Safety’, ‘Behold: the Shitty City’, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Vermintown’, ‘The Gobfathers and the Founding of Vermintown’, ‘The Glamoured & the Vastfolk: a Comparative Treatise on Time and Scale’ plus a telling biography of ‘Tibitha Leveret’.

Imagine if On the Waterfront mugged Watership Down whilst hit-and-run victim the Sugarplum Fairy took refuge in Fort Apache: The Fey. Of course that will make no sense at all… unless you get this book…

© 2013 Avatar Press Inc. Disenchanted and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Avatar Press Inc.

Hip Hop Family Tree book 1: 1970s-1981


By Ed Piskor (Fantagraphics)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-690-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: way better than Record Tokens… 8/10

Comics is an all-encompassing narrative medium and – even after 30 plus years in the game – I’m still frequently amazed and delighted at the new ways creators constantly find to use the simple combination of words and pictures in sequence to produce new and intoxicating ways of conveying information, tone, style and especially passion to their target audience.

A particularly brilliant case in point is this compulsive compilation of strips and extras from self-confessed Hip Hop Nerd and cyber geek Ed Piskor (author of the astonishing Hacker graphic novel Wizzywig) which originally appeared in serial form on the website Boing Boing.

In astounding detail and with a positively chillin’ attention to the art styles of the period, Piskor details the rise of the rhyme-and-rhythm musical art form (whilst paying close attention to the almost symbiotic growth of graffiti and street art) with wit, charm and astonishing clarity.

Charting the slow demise of the disco and punk status quo by intimately following fledgling stars and transcendent personalities of the era, ‘Straight Out of the Gutter’ begins in the mid 1970s with the South Bronx block parties and live music jams of such pioneers as DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa.

The new music is mired in the maze of inescapable gang culture but as early word-of-mouth success leads to at first rare vinyl pressings and the advent of the next generation, the inevitable interest of visionaries and converts leads to the circling of commercial sharks…

The technical and stylistic innovations, the musical battles and physical feuds, the management races by truly unsavoury characters to secure the first landmark history-making successes are all encyclopaedically yet engaging revealed through the lives – and, so often early deaths – of almost-stars and later household names such as Furious 4-plus-1, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, the Furious Five, and even three kids who will become Run-DMC.

The story follows and connects a bewildering number of key and crucial personalities – with a wealth of star-struck music biz cameos and ends with Hip Hop on the very edge of global domination following the breakout single Rapture (from new wave icons and dedicated devotees Blondie) and the landmark TV documentary by Hugh Downs and Steve Fox on the national current affairs TV show 20/20 which brought the new music culture into the homes of unsuspecting middle America…

To Be Continued…

Produced in the tone and style of those halcyon, grimily urban times and manufactured to look just like an old Marvel Treasury Edition (an oversized – 334x234mm -reprint format from the 1970s which offered classic tales on huge and mouth-wateringly enticing pulp-paper pages), this compelling confection also includes a copious and erudite ‘Bibliography’, ‘Discography’ and ‘Funky Index’, an Afterword: the Hip Hop/Comic Book Connection (with additional art by Tom Scioli) and a fun-filled Author Bio.

Moreover there’s also a blistering collection of ‘Pin Ups and Burners’ with spectacular images from guest illustrators including The Beastie Boys by Jeffrey Brown, Afrika Bambaataa by Jim Mahfood, Fat Boys by Scioli, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five by Ben Marra, Vanilla Ice by Jim Rugg, Run-DMC by Dan Zettwoch, Eric B. and Rakim by John Porcellino, Salt-n-Pepa by Nate Powell, KRS-One by Brandon Graham & Snoop Dogg by Farel Dalrymple to get your pulses racing, if not your toes tapping…

Cool, informative and irresistible, Hip Hop Family Tree is wild fun and deliciously addictive. It will be a harsh wait for the next volume…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All Hip Hop comic strips by Ed Piskor © 2013 Ed Piskor. Pin ups and other material © 2013 their respective artists. All rights reserved.

Young, Talented… Exploited!


By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

This time however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog (www.yatuu.fr/en) about and share her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: an Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learning anything.

These positions are unpaid and in recent times most employers realised that they could get free low grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses…

I know of only one large company where Interns are paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks the exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of Interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, no thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but not job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations have recently been published in English and make for fascinating reading. Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.