Zorro in Old California


By Nedaud & Carlo Marcello (Eclipse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-89172-920-1 hardcover,   978-0-91303-512-2 paperback

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite “El Zorro, The Fox”, originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ and debuting in All-Story Weekly from August 6th to 6th September. The tale was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure to be the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York based McCulley re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation. The Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be people by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the World’s psyche, and as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications Dell began a comicbook version in 1949. When Walt Disney began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 the comics series was redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various areas of the world. This classy tome collects half of the dozen stories produced for a French iteration which originally ran in Le Journal de Mickey, by veteran Italian artist Raphaël Carlo Marcello and relative enigma Nedaud, of whom I sadly know very little.

The celebrated and supremely stylish Marcello (1929-2007) moved to Paris in 1948 and began his long and prestigious career drawing Loana et le Masque Chinois in Aventures de Paris-Jeunes and Nick Silver for Collection Victoire before switching to newspaper strips for Opera Mundi in 1950, illustrating La Découverte du Monde and L’Histoire de Paris before adapting Ben Hur, Jane Eyre and the Bible.

In 1952, he joined Héroic, working on Oliver Twist, Gil Blas and Bug Jargal, then began a 15-year run on Le Cavalier Inconnu (1955-1970) in Pépito. His maintained ties to newspapers throughout and continued general interest literary adaptations for Mondial-Presse.

In 1956, he contributed Bob Franck to Bugs Bunny magazine and numerous strips to Lisette, Monty, Mireille, L’Intrépide/Hurrah and Rintintin. He moved to Pif Gadget in 1970, collaborating on his signature series Docteur Justice with prolific scenarist/writer Jean Ollivier as well as Amicalement Vôtre (a TV adaptation scripted Spanish by the legendary Victor Mora), Taranis (scripts by Ollivier & Mora), Tarao (by Roger Lécureux) and La Guerre du Feu.

Never stopping for breath Marcello illustrated John Parade, Patrouilleur de l’Espace, in Le Journal des Pieds Nickelés, the Larousse series L’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées, La Découverte du Mond and L’Histoire du Far West until 1985 when he joined Le Journal de Mickey to create Le Regard du Tigre, Le Club des Cinq and the subject of this collection.

Solidly based on the 1950s TV series Zorro ran for a year (1985-1986): 12 stirring fast-paced, swashbuckling romps, the first half of which are collected in this slim, full colour European-format album. After these thundering epics Marcello carried on improving, drawing sci fi extravaganza Cristal, epigrammatic short stories Voulez-vous de Nos Nouvelles?, Michael Jackson, Wayne Thunder, L’Épopée du Paris Saint-Germain and mature-reader series Nuit Barbare and Amok. In 1991 he returned to his hometown of Vintimille where he ended his days drawing episodes of iconic Italian series’ Tex and Zagor for Il Giornalino and Bonelli publishing.

Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a noble house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Zorro the Fox to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of Capitan Monastario, his bumbling sergeant Garcia and the despicable Governor determined to milk the populace for all they had. In his crusade Diego was aided by Bernardo (the deaf-mute manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and the good-will of the oppressed and overtaxed people of Los Angeles.

Whenever Zorro appeared he left his mark – a bold letter “Z” – carved into walls, doors, curtains, but never, ever faces…

Written for an all-ages audience these stories, each around ten pages long, play out an exotic eternal, riotous game of tag, beginning with ‘Wanted!’ as a huge reward galvanises the town to hunt the Fox, until Zorro turns the tables by capturing the Capitan and ransoming him back, thereby emptying the military coffers…

Next, in ‘The Assassins’ bandits posing as patriotic rebels capture the masked hero as part of their plan to murder the Governor and loot the ever-growing township, whilst ‘Double Agent’ sees Monastario blackmail a girl into betraying the wily avenger, but again misjudges Zorro’s ability to connect with the downtrodden Californians…

‘The Scarecrow’ finds the hero thwart a plot to discredit the reputation of Zorro when the unscrupulous Capitan employs a murderous masked impostor, after which ‘Tight as a Noose’ sees Monastario arrest Diego’s father Don Alejandro for treason to entrap the mysterious vigilante, and this rip-roaring rollercoaster ride concludes with ‘The Winds of Rebellion’ as the latest illegal tax rouses the town council against the Capitan and Zorro gets involved to prevent bloodshed…

Full-bodied, all-action and beautifully realised these classy adventures of a global icon are long overdue for a comprehensive and complete re-release, but until then at least this terrific tome is still readily available in both hardback and softcover through many online retailers.
® and © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Zorro – the Masters Edition volume 1


By Johnston McCulley (Pulp Adventures Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-89172-920-1

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world is perennial film favourite “El Zorro, The Fox”, originally created by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ and launched in prose magazine All-Story Weekly beginning in with the August 6th edition and concluding with 6th September).

The tale was subsequently collected as a novella and published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the ‘The Curse of Capistrano’ in All-Story Weekly whilst on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the rights for the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro movie was a global sensation in 1920 and for years after, so a second prose serial was understandably commissioned from McCulley. ‘The Further Adventures of Zorro’ ran in All-Story Weekly from May 6th to June 10th 1922, but the magic thunderbolt didn’t strike twice and the Swashbuckling Señor wasn’t seen again until revived in the 1930’s pulps as part of a boom in extraordinary, more-than-merely-mortal adventures.

New York based McCulley was clearly no fool and had re-tailored his creation to match the extremely different filmic incarnation, making Zorro more a prototypical superhero than the broad Scarlet Pimpernel knock-off he had begun as (although many fictive historians prefer the idea that the character was based on real-life bandit Joaquin Murrieta, the “Mexican/Chilean Robin Hood”, whose life was fictionalized by John Rollin Ridge in 1854), so the Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Weekly Argosy Magazine featured the four-chapter serial ‘Zorro Rides Again’ from October 3rd – 24th 1931 and a year later began a succession of complete novellas which ran between 1932 and 1935 and these are all reprinted in this glorious, album-sized volume.

McCulley produced a further chapter-novel ‘The Sign of Zorro’ for Argosy in 1941 (following the 1940 Rouben Mamoulian movie The Mark of Zorro) before switching to the monthly West Magazine in 1944. The first two of the 52 short stories produced between then and 1951 are also included, closing out this initial collection.

The author wrote two further stories ‘Zorro Rides the Trail’ for the May 1954 Max Brand Western Magazine and another, different version of ‘The Mark of Zorro’ which was published in Short Story Magazine in April 1959, the year after McCulley’s death and just as Disney’s epochal Zorro TV show was ending its three year run..

This wonderful monochrome celebration opens with an introduction from Don McGregor, who scripted comicbooks and a newspaper strip about the character, after which the stirring prose exploits begin…

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega was the foppish son of a grand house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Señor Zorro (the Fox) to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of a succession of military leaders and the colonial Governor determined to milk the populace for all they had.

Whenever Zorro struck he left his mark – a letter “Z” carved into walls, doors, faces…

By the time of ‘Zorro Saves a Friend’ (Argosy November 12th 1932) he had become simply Don Diego Vega, and had a whole support structure in place. His stiff-necked Hildalgo father knew his secret, as did his two assistants Bernardo (the deaf-mute manservant retained for the assorted TV and movies) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acted as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also employed a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

It is the pirate who warns the seemingly effete nobleman that his young comrade Don Carlos Cassara, amongst others, has been especially targeted by military overseer Capitán Torello. That cunning strategist had hired a professional gambler and card-sharp to ruin the wealthy grandees who constantly resist the Governor’s political schemes, intending to humiliate or even cause the suicide of a generation of rich men…

Forewarned, The Fox took action as only he could…

‘Zorro Hunts a Jackal’ first appeared in April 1933, and detailed in stirring fashion how Torello hires a horse-breaker to abuse and cheat the natives in a plot to draw out Zorro and expose him as Don Diego. However, the mercenary has a darker secret of his own, but all his machinations are as nothing against the wiles of The Fox…

New Army chief Marcos Lopez was an even more cunning opponent. In ‘Zorro Deals With Treason’ (August 1934) the Capitán employed an impostor Zorro to foment rebellion among the Indians, but was soon made painfully aware of the regard and trust they placed in the genuine masked marvel…

The lengthy novelette which follows was first published in two parts in the Argosy issues for September 21st and 28th 1935, and is here presented as an interrupted saga of grand romance and spectacular action as Don Diego and Bernardo travelled to distant San Diego de Alcála to escort his father’s greatest friend, his entire wealth and his beautiful daughter Carmelita to a new life in Reina de Los Angeles.

Major headaches along the way include astute new military commander Capitán Carlos Gonzales, assorted bandits, murderous rogues Pedro Pico and Valentino Vargas and an enigmatic mastermind building a criminals’ army known only as the ‘Mysterious Don Miguel’

The last two tales come from West Magazine: a brace of short stories from July and September 1944. The first ‘Zorro Draws His Blade’ finds Don Diego contacted by the Friars of the local Mission – who also aware of his other identity – to clear the name and save the life of a peasant who has been framed for murdering a landowner. Of course the task is accomplished with cunning and devastating panache before the adventure concludes with ‘Zorro Upsets a Plot’ as the dashing Night-rider is forced to clear his name and confound another military frame-up when a masked and cloaked figure boldly and conspicuously abducts a beautiful maiden…

These are classic Blood-and-Thunder tales chock-full of fights and midnight chases, with scurvy blackguards maimed or slaughtered according to their crimes and station in life and dastardly plots unravelled with great style.

The more observant will note that as the years went by the rate of wounding decreased whilst the body-count steadily rose: a sure sign of the changing times and one which was repeated decades later in the superhero comics this series is such a clear template for…

The volume also contains a complete checklist of the prose canon and is liberally sprinkled with spot illustrations and full-page plates by Joel F. Naprestek, Franklyn E. Hamilton, Glen Ostrander, Mark Bloodworth and Randy Zimmerman as well as all the (sadly unattributed) illustrations which accompanied the original incarnations, as well as the painted magazine covers of those issues.

This edition and its successors apparently retail for staggering prices, but since there’s only one Rights owner and the character is so unbelievably popular, surely there’s a publisher out there willing and able to produce decent new collectors editions of these timeless tales along the sturdy, standard B-format paperback lines of Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes or The Casebook of Sexton Blake?

I want more and surely there are hordes of others ready and eager to spend £s and $s for more “Z”s?
Zorro ® and © Zorro Productions. All Rights Reserved. This edition © 2000 Pulp Adventures, Inc. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex: Luck Runs Out


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Jordi Bernet, Russ Heath, Giuseppe Camuncoli John Higgins, Rafa Garres & others (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-985-7

The Western is a genre that can be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, rhinestoned clean-and-shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, as best typified by heroes such as the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff.

In the US that alternative grimy, gritty, excessively brutal and dark sort of cowboy tale was solely the territory of select R-rated movies but was for years the successful and popular province of European strips such as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer. Eventually the aesthetic seeped into US culture via the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone.

Jonah Hex is the latter breed.

Arguably the most memorable American comicbook western character ever created, Hex is certainly the bleakest and most grippingly realised, as is the brutal and uncompromising world he inhabits. Remorseless and unstoppable with gun or knife, he hunts men for the price on their heads in the years following the War Between the States and the scars inside him are more shocking even than the ghastly ruin of his face.

Impressive, unique and controversial from his inception and early days in All-Star Western/Weird Western (see Showcase Presents Jonah Hex for those groundbreaking tales) the disreputable anti-hero’s various creative teams have always been confident enough to apply apparently incongruous fantasy concepts to this grittiest of protagonists.

Under the inspired guidance of current writers Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti and the staggeringly talented assemblage of artists taking turns on the current incarnation of Jonah Hex the darkly ironic wit, sanguine view of morality and justice, breathtaking action and sheer Grand Guignol mayhem regularly generate some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available today.

In this collection, reprinting issues #25-30 of the latest comicbook series, six more stand alone tales display again how the ravaged, dissolute bounty hunter takes every idiocy and horror the world conceals and deals with it in his inimitable, surly and generally lethal manner.

Not confined to the usual chronological continuity this collection opens with ‘My Name is Nobody’ illustrated by that grandmaster of gritty realism, Russ Heath; jumping to the dying days of Hex’s life to recount an uncomfortable encounter with a capable young man also calling himself Hex before skipping back to the immediate post-Civil War era for the Giuseppe Camuncoli & Stefano Landini illustrated ‘Four Little Pigs: A Grindhouse Western’.

This brutal and disturbing tale of rural farming and serial killing is followed by the enchantingly mordant yet uplifting saga of ‘Starman’ by the magnificent Jordi Bernet, who depicts the uplifting account of how Hex saved a young immigrant boy who grew to be just as wily, deadly and infamous in his own unique profession: assassinating corrupt lawmen…

‘Townkiller’, illustrated by John Higgins with S. J. Hurst, sees the hired gun turn down a job too unspeakable even for him – and reveals the fate of the man who didn’t, before Rafa Garres moodily captures the horror of ‘Return to Devils Paw’ as Hex is forced by Pinkerton Agents to take them to stolen gold left behind after a clash between US Cavalry and nigh-supernatural Indian Braves (and don’t miss Jonah Hex: Only the Good Die Young for the original mini-masterpiece). Of course it all ends bloody…

Bernet returns to close this volume with the eponymous and blackly hilarious ‘Luck Runs Out’ as the West’s worst but most ruthless bandits foul up the perfect train-robbery. The unlucky part consists of waking up Hex after a week-long drunken binge…

Jonah Hex has always been billed as a “Western for people who don’t like Westerns” and, cliché aside, this has never been more true. One of the best strips currently coming out of America, this selection of compelling vignettes perfectly display the threads of black humour, tragic humanity and nihilistic cosmic indifference that runs through the extended epic history of DC’s Wild West.

Action-packed, gory, chilling, wickedly funny and cathartically satisfying, this really is a rare treat for those who despise the form: a perfect modern reinterpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is an experience you can’t afford to miss.

© 2007-2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Jesse James: Classic Western Collection


By Joe Kubert & Carmine Infantino (Vanguard Productions)
ISBN 1-887591-44-3

There was a time, not that very long ago, when all of popular fiction was engorged with cowboy stories.

As always happens with such periodic phenomena – such as the Swinging Sixties Super-Spy Boom and perhaps the modern Vampire Boyfriend trend (too soon to tell, but I’m sharpening stakes and having some cola and Perrier blessed, just in case…) – there’s a tremendous amount of dross and a few spectacular gems. On such occasions there’s also generally a small amount of superb but not-quite-transformationally magnificent concoctions that get lost in the shuffle: carried along with the overwhelming surge of material pumped out by television, film, comics and book producers and even the toy, game and record industries.

After World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that the returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that a thought for another time and graphic novel review.

Comic books saw a huge outpouring of anthology titles and new six-gun toting heroes to replace the rapidly dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling. Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist, and produced some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. Still and all there was the rare gleam of gold and also a fair share of highly acceptable silver in the American tales, and as always, the crucial difference was due to the artists and writers involved…

With every comic-book publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as indeed they never had with cowboy literature…

Avon Books started in 1941, created when the American News Corporation bought out pulp magazine publishers J.S. Ogilvie, and their output was famously described by Time Magazine as “westerns, whodunits and the kind of boy-meets-girl story that can be illustrated by a ripe cheesecake jacket.”

By 1945 the company had launched a comic-book division as fiercely populist as the parent company with over 100 short-lived titles such as Atomic Spy Cases, Batchelor’s Diary, Behind Prison Bars, Campus Romance, Gangsters and Gun Molls, Slave Girl Comics, War Dogs of the U.S. Army, White Princess of the Jungle and many others, all aimed – even the funny animal titles like Space Mouse and Spotty the Pup! – at a slightly older and more discerning audience, and all drawn by some of the best artists working at the time. Many if not most sported lush painted covers that were both eye-catching and beautiful.

Six of their titles had respectable runs: Peter Rabbit, Eerie, Wild Bill Hickock, outrageous “Commie-busting” war comic Captain Steve Savage, Fighting Indians of the Wild West and the comfortingly scripted but magnificently illustrated fictionalised adventures of Jesse James.

Within these pages cow-punching aficionados (no, its neither a sexual proclivity nor an Olympic sport) and all fans of wonderful comic artwork can (re)discover a selection of range-riding rollercoaster rides about a troubled and misunderstood fast-gun forced to defend his name and life from an assorted passel of low-down no-goods and scurvy owlhoots, that have far more in common with Robin Hood’s brand of Outlawry than the actual Frank and Jesse James.

Nonetheless these anodyne but enjoyable tall tales still have a lot to recommend them. In stories such as ‘The Liberty Bank Robbery’, ‘Disaster at Savannah’, ‘Texas Killer’, ‘Devil’s Desperadoes’, ‘Jesse James… Sheriff’, ‘Helltown Holdups’, ‘Gunplay at Gallatin’, ‘The Great Prison Break!’, ‘Six-Gun Slaughter at San Romano’, ‘The Russelville Gunfights’ and ‘The Apache Kid Treasure’ the put-upon hero tries to live a blameless life until pushed to action by reputation-hungry fools, greedy bankers, psychotic killers and all the other myriad touchstones of Western mythology.

This black and white collection reprints material from issues #5, 6 and 7 of Jesse James (1950-1951) primarily featuring the art of comics legends Joe Kubert and Carmine Infantino, who would a few years later usher in the Silver Age of comics, but also includes the stylish frontispieces by acclaimed artist Wally Wood and world-famous portraitist Everett Raymond Kinstler, whose elegant illustrative art graced many Avon comics, as well as text features, biographies and even some pre-production pencil sketches.

Bill Black has also reprinted a few Avon Jesse James tales as part of his AC Comics line, but with 24 issues plus an annual released between 1950-1956 and artists like Leonard Starr, Al Williamson, Fred Kida and Frank Frazetta also contributing sterling work to these admittedly above-average shoot-‘em-up scripts, surely there’s still enough potential fans around to support a complete reprinting of this title – perhaps in the cheap and cheerful DC Showcase/Marvel Essentials giant phonebook format?

Black hats, white hats, great pictures and traditional action values – what more could you possibly ask for?

© 2001 Vanguard Productions 2003P. All other trademarks and copyrights in this book are acknowledged to their respective owners.

Casey Ruggles: King of the Horsemen/the Prophet Julius/Juan Soto – Daily Strips 1951


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

The newspaper strip Casey Ruggles – A Saga of the West used Western motifs and scenarios to tell a broad range of stories stretching from shoot-‘em-up dramas to comedy yarns and even the occasional horror story. The hero was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant and sometime US Marshal making his way to California since 1849 to find his fortune (this was the narrative engine of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), meeting historical personages like Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson in gripping two-fisted action-adventures.

Warren Tufts was a phenomenally talented illustrator and storyteller born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time: Ruggles and the elegiac, iconic Lance.

Sadly he began his career at a time when the glory days of newspaper syndicated strips were gradually giving way to the television age and ostensibly free family home entertainment. Had he been working scant years earlier in adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ homes.

Born in Fresno, California on Christmas Day, 1925 Tufts was a superb, meticulous draughtsman with an uncanny grasp of character and a great ear for dialogue whose art was effective and grandiose in the representational manner, favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began Ruggles as a full-colour Sunday page, and added to it with a black and white daily strip which began on September 19th of that year.

He worked for the United Features Syndicate, who owners of such popular strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner, and his lavish, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but Tufts, a compulsive perfectionist, regularly worked 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and consequently often missed deadlines. This led him to use many assistants such as Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good. Established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth also spent time working as “ghosts” on the series and Cardy’s stint is reproduced in this volume.

Due to a falling-out with his syndicate Tufts left his wonderful western creation in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

Tufts formed his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even building his own ‘planes. In 1982 whilst piloting one he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including six volumes (to my knowledge) of Casey Ruggles adventures. This fourth stupendous black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains stories that highlight Tufts’ love of Western history, facility for comedy and innovative willingness to take chances in three tales strip’s third year.

The first is a traditional cowboy story featuring the clandestine return of an old foe. ‘King of the Horseman’ originally ran from 14th May to 23rd June 1951, and saw a mysterious “Sonoran” (in actuality Mexican bandit Joaquin Murietta) challenge all the miners in a gold town to test their riding skills against his own.

Bored and cash rich but not stupid, the gambling fools call in Marshal Ruggles to do the rough riding…

This is a engrossing and informative little gem, softly sardonic and luxuriating in the minutiae of the historical west and cowboy mythology. Art lovers will also have the joy of comparing two master realists as Tufts, ever-strapped to meet his punishing deadlines surrendered the greater part of the tale (all the racing, chasing and action-stunting) to Nick Cardy, keeping only the first and last weeks’ episodes for himself.

This was probably to give himself a little leeway on the next adventure ‘The Prophet Julius’, a dark, clever yarn about a greedy flim-flam man and the eerie power he exerted on an isolated outpost. Running from June 25th to August 11th 1951, the action begins with a shooting star crashing to earth, closely followed by a mesmerising soothsayer terrifying, coercing and even hypnotising miners into handing over their wealth. With even Ruggles helpless the township pull together to craft a solution no Hollywood hack has ever considered…

The six-gun thrills conclude here with another unsung innovation wherein Tufts adapted the documentary/Film Noir style prevalent in the B-Movie gangster films of the time to create a prototype graphic-novel police procedural that would do Rick (A Treasury of Victorian Murder, The Saga of the Bloody Benders) Geary proud.

The predominantly Mexican Vasquez Gang terrorized the simple folk of rural California for almost 15 years with outlaws being captured or killed only to be replaced by ever more bloodthirsty villains  ‘Juan Soto’ was one such and the hunt for him was perfectly incorporated into a clever tale of organised man-hunting by Tufts. Soto was actually killed in a gunfight with Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse.

Here however the bandit’s increasingly obnoxious depredations draw Ruggles into a posse with five other lawmen who undertake a legendary trek through rugged country, ending in a fearsomely authentic, grimly chilling siege and showdown.

Human intrigue and fallibility, bombastic action and a taste for the bizarre reminiscent of the best John Ford or Raoul Walsh movies make Casey Ruggles the ideal western strip for the discerning modern audience. Westerns are a uniquely perfect vehicle for drama and comedy, and Casey Ruggles is one of the very best produced in America: easily a match for the usually superior European material like Tex or Lieutenant Blueberry.

Surely the beautiful clean-cut lines, chiaroscuric flourishes and sheer artistic imagination and veracity of Warren Tufts can never be truly out of vogue? These great tales are desperately deserving of a wider following, and I’m still praying some canny publisher knows a good thing when he sees it…
© 1950, 1951United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Indian Summer


By Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt, translated by Jeff Lisle (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 0-87416-030-2-8

Hugo Eugenio Pratt (June 15th 1927 – August 20th 1995) was one of the world’s paramount comics creators, and his inventions since ‘Ace of Spades’ (whilst still a student at the Venice Academy of Fine Arts) in 1945 were both many and varied. His most famous character, based in large part on his own exotic early life, is the mercurial soldier – perhaps sailor would be more accurate – of fortune, Corto Maltese.

After working in both Argentinean and English comics for years Pratt returned to Italy in the 1960s. In 1967 he produced a number of series for the monthly comic Sgt. Kirk. In addition to the Western lead character, he created a pirate strip Capitan Cormorand, the detective strip Lucky Star O’Hara, and a moody South Seas adventure called Una Ballata del Mare Salato (A Ballad of the Salty Sea). The magazine folded in 1970, but Pratt took one of Ballata’s characters to the French weekly, Pif, before eventually settling into the legendary Belgian comic Tintin. Corto Maltese proved as much a Wild Rover in reality as in his historic and eventful career.

However a storyteller of such vast capabilities as Pratt was ever-restless, and as well as writing and illustrating his own tales he has written for other giants of the industry. In 1983 he crafted a steamy tale of sexual tension and social prejudice set in the New England colonies in the days before the Salem Witch Trials.

Tutto ricominciò con un’estate Indiana (released and known as Indian Summer – although a more appropriate and illustrative translation would be “All things begin again with an Indian Summer”) was brought to stunning pictorial life by fellow Italian graphic raconteur Milo Manara.

Maurilio Manara (born September 12th 1945) is best known for his wry, controversial erotica – but that’s more an indicator of the English-speaking comics market than any artistic obsession; an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink.

He studied painting and architecture before becoming a comic artist in 1969, beginning with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his erotic career illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work Lo Scimmiotto (‘The Ape’ – a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King) was released.

By the end of the decade he was working for the Franco-Belgian markets where he is still regarded as a first-rank creator. It was while working for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman – which saw print in A Suivre. The “HP” of the title is his good friend Hugo Pratt…

New England in the 17th century: the Puritan village of New Canaan slowly grows in placid, if uneasy, co-existence with the natives who have fished and hunted these coastal regions for centuries. When young Shevah Black is raped by two young Indians, outcast Abner Lewis kills them both. Taking the “ruined” girl back to his mother’s cottage in the woods the girl meets the entire family – mother Abigail, siblings Jeremiah, Elijah and Phyllis – a whole brood of damned sinners banished by her uncle the Reverend Pilgrim Black.

The mother was once a servant in the Black household, but has lived in the woods for twenty years, ever since Pilgrim Black’s father raped her. When Abigail fell pregnant she was cast out for her sin. Her face bears a sinner’s brand. Aided by the Indians the mother built a cabin, and over the years had three further children. Her progeny are all wild creatures of nature; healthy, vital and with many close ties both to the natives (from choice) and the truly decadent Black family (by sordid, unwelcome history).

Now blood has spilled and passions are roused: none of those ties can prevent a bloodbath, and as the day progresses many dark secrets come to light as the intolerance, hypocrisy and raw, thwarted lust of the upstanding Christians leads to an inexorable clash with the Indians – by far the most sensible and decent individuals in the place – with the pitifully isolated, ostracized and alienated Lewis clan stuck in middle and betrayed by both…

Beautiful, disturbing and utterly compelling, this thoroughly adult examination of sexual tension, attitudinal eugenics and destructive, tragic love is played out against the seductive heat and primitive glories of a natural, plentiful paradise which only needs its residents to act more like beasts and less like humans to achieve a perfect tranquility. Sadly, every Eden has serpents and here there are three: religion, custom and pride…

Pratt’s passion for historical research is displayed by the graphic afterword in which he not only cites his extensive sources – including a link to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel The Scarlet Letter – but adds some fascinating insights and speculations on the fates of the survivors of New Canaan massacre…

Although there is a 1994 NBM edition readily available I’m reviewing from my 1986 Catalan copy principally because I own that one, but also because the Catalan copy has a magnificent four-page foldout watercolour cover (which I couldn’t fit onto my scanner no matter how I tried) and some pretty amazing sketches and watercolour studies gracing Javier Coma’s insightful introduction.

This is a classic tale of humanity frailty, haunting, dark and startlingly lovely. Whatever version you find, you must read this superb story.
© 1986 Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt. English language edition © 1986 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

Casey Ruggles: in Old Angeles – Selected Daily Strips 1950-1951


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

Warren Tufts was a phenomenally talented illustrator and storyteller born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time, but at a time when the glory days of newspaper syndicated strips was gradually giving way to the television age. Had he been working scant years earlier in adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ homes.

Born in Fresno, California on 12th December 1925, Tufts was a superb, meticulous craftsman with a canny grasp of character and a great ear for dialogue whose art was stately in a representational manner and favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began the seminal Casey Ruggles – A Saga of the West as a colour Sunday page, following with a daily black and white strip beginning on September 19th of that year, working for the United Features Syndicate, who owned such landmark strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner.

Ruggles was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant and sometime US Marshal making his way to California in 1849 to find his fortune (the storyline of both features until 1950, where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), meeting historical personages like Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson in gripping two-fisted action-adventures. The lush, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but Tufts, a compulsive perfectionist, regularly worked 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and consequently often missed deadlines.

This led him to use many assistants such as Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good. Established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth also spent time working as “ghosts” (uncredited assistants and fill-in artists) on the series.

Due to a falling-out with his syndicate Tufts left the strip in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

Tufts created his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even building his own aircraft. In 1982 whilst piloting one he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including a number of Casey Ruggles adventures. This third colossal black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains stories that highlight Tufts’ love of Western history and delightful facility for comedy and satire in three tales from the peak of the strip’s run.

The first of these is a wonderfully whacky history lesson. ‘The Pomo Uprising’ which originally ran from 20th November 1950 – 17th February 1951, described a little remembered period of West Coast lore.

In 1812 expansionist Russians annexed what are now Northern California, Oregon and Washington State to augment their possessions in Alaska. For nearly thirty years Cossacks and fur traders operated out of the colonial base Fort Ross until over-hunting and changing politics at home forced the Tsar to sell the entire kit and caboodle.

In this tale Casey is asked by an old friend to assess the value of Fort Ross – which he has recently purchased – just as a column of Russians explorers, lost for a decade, return utterly unaware that their old home now belongs to the USA. Refusing to believe their changing fortunes they declare war on the Yankee interlopers and bribe the local Pomo Indians to attack the American outpost of San Francisco…

Spectacular action and barbed wit mix brilliantly in this clever tale (crafted during the early days of the Cold War) and which features a classy star turn for Casey’s Indian sidekick Kit Fox, before the epic segues into pure comedy as Casey’s sometimes girlfriend Chris is abducted in (and by) ‘Old Ancient’ a grizzled dime-store owlhoot in a mood for marrying – a wicked parody of silver screen cowboy William Boyd whose super-sanitized Hopalong Cassidy wowed generations of movie and TV viewers who might perhaps have been better served by picking up a history book instead…

This volume concludes with a return to authentic Western action in the eponymous ‘In Old Angeles’ wherein the Marshal is summoned to the newly American city to halt a gang of miners who claim to own the entire city and are rapidly reducing it to one colossal gold mine. Yet their deeds and claims seem completely legitimate and genuine….

Human intrigue and fallibility, bombastic action and a taste for the bizarre reminiscent of the best John Ford or Raoul Walsh movies make Casey Ruggles the ideal western strip for the discerning modern audience. These lighter tales also prove that George (Destry Rides Again) Marshall would also feel right at home with Tufts’ first masterpiece.

Westerns are continually falling into and out of fashion yet surely the beautiful clean-cut lines and sheer artistic veracity of Warren Tufts can never be out of vogue? These great tales are desperately deserving of a wider following, and I’m still praying some canny publisher knows a good thing when he sees it…
© 1950, 1951United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos – Selected Daily Strips 1950


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

Warren Tufts was an incredibly gifted artist and storyteller born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time, but at a time when the heyday of newspaper syndicated entertainment was gradually giving way to the television age. Had he been working in adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ houses

Born in Fresno, California on 12th December 1925 Tufts was a superb, meticulous craftsman with a canny grasp of character and a great ear for dialogue whose art was stately in a representational manner and favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began the seminal Casey Ruggles – A Saga of the West as a colour Sunday page, following with a daily black and white strip beginning on September 19th of that year, working for the United Features Syndicate, who owned such landmark strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner.

Ruggles was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant making his way to California in 1849 to find his fortune (the storyline of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), meeting such historical personages as Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson in gripping two-fisted action-adventures. The lush, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but Tufts was a driven perfectionist regularly working 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and consequently often missed deadlines.

This led him to use many assistants such as Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good. Established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth also spent time working as “ghosts” (uncredited assistants and fill-in artists) on the series.

Due to a falling-out Tufts left the strip in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

Tufts created his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even building his own ‘planes. In 1982 whilst piloting one he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including a number of Casey Ruggles adventures. This colossal black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains stories that fit between the first and last tale of the previous volume (see Casey Ruggles: The Whisperer), and leads with a cracking mystery tale as Ruggles tracks down a murderous masked outlaw named ‘Black Barney’ in a dynamic tale that undoubtedly influenced a huge number of comicbook Costumed Cowboys.

This is followed by the eponymous ‘Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos wherein the light relief baddies are so down on their luck that they end up as slaves for an unscrupulous rancher until rescued by Ruggles.

Next up is one of the most impressive western strips of all time: an eerie mood-piece more horror story than sagebrush saga as Ruggles faces the seemingly supernatural threat of the fling beast Aquila. As if the tension-soaked drama were not sufficient to chill the blood, the art is a startling monochrome collaboration between supreme realist Tufts and the chiaroscuric stylisation of Alex Toth. No fan of the medium should ever be denied this experience!

This volume concludes with a gripping tale of greed and disaster in ‘Spanish Mine’ as an old treasure map leads to murder, mayhem and a truly spectacular climax…

Human intrigue and fallibility, bombastic action and a taste for the bizarre reminiscent of the best John Ford or Raoul Walsh movie make Casey Ruggles the ideal western strip for the discerning modern audience. Westerns are continually falling into and out of fashion but the beautiful clean-cut artistic mastery of Warren Tufts can never be out of vogue These great tales are desperately deserving of a wider following, and I’m still praying some canny publisher knows a good thing when he sees it…
© 1949, 1950, 1953 United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Casey Ruggles: the Whisperer – Selected Daily Strips 1949-1950


By Warren Tufts (Western Winds Productions)
No ISBN

Warren Tufts was an incredibly gifted artist and storyteller cursed by simply being born too late. He is best remembered now – if at all – for creating two of the most beautiful western comics strips of all time, but at a time when the heyday of newspaper syndicated entertainment was gradually giving way to the television age. Had he been working in Adventure’s Golden Age he would undoubtedly be a household name – at least in comics fans’ houses

Born in Fresno, California on 12th December 1925 Tufts was a superb and meticulous craftsman with a canny grasp of character and a great ear for dialogue whose art was stately in a representational manner and favourably compared to both Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and the best of Alex Raymond. On May 22nd 1949 he began the seminal Casey Ruggles – A Saga of the West as a colour Sunday page, following with a daily black and white strip beginning on September 19th of that year, working for the United Features Syndicate, purveyors of such landmark strips as Fritzi Ritz and L’il Abner.

Ruggles was a dynamic ex-cavalry sergeant in 1849 making his way to California to find his fortune (the storyline of both features until 1950 where daily and Sunday strips divided into separate tales), blending history into the dramas with such personages as Millard Fillmore, William Fargo, Jean Lafitte and Kit Carson making their presences felt in various gripping two-fisted action-adventures. The lush, expansive tales were crisply told and highly engaging, but Tufts was a driven perfectionist regularly working 80-hour weeks at the drawing board and consequently often missed deadlines.

This led him to use many assistants and old comic-book fans will be gratified to discover that then rising artists Al Plastino, Rueben Moreira and Edmund Good, as well as established veterans Nick Cardy and Alex Toth, all spent time working as “ghosts” (uncredited assistants and fill-in artists) on the series.

Due to a falling-out Tufts left the strip in 1954 and Al Carreño continued the feature until its demise in October 1955. The departure came when TV producers wanted to turn the strip into a weekly television show but apparently United Features baulked, suggesting the show would harm the popularity of the strip.

Tufts created his own syndicate for his next and greatest project, Lance (probably the last great full page Sunday strip and another series crying out for a high-quality collection) before moving peripherally into comic-books, working extensively for West Coast outfit Dell/Gold Key, where he drew various westerns and cowboy TV show tie-ins like Wagon Train, Korak son of Tarzan, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan and a long run on the Pink Panther comic. Eventually he quit drawing completely, working as an actor, voice-actor and eventually in animation on such shows as Challenge of the Super Friends.

Tufts had a lifelong passion for flying, even building his own aircraft. In 1982 whilst piloting one he crashed and was killed.

The Pacific Comics Club collected many “lost strip classics” at the start of the 1980s, including a number of Casey Ruggles adventures. This colossal black and white volume (approximately 15 inches x 10 inches) contains some fascinating biographical history. In the opening adventure of the daily strip from September 1949, Casey and the orphan Indian boy Kit Fox set off on the wagon trail to California accompanied by old Swiss gentleman Hans Hassesnfeffer and his adopted daughter Chris, with army deserter Bolt and Femme Fatale Lilli Lafitte racing them to the goldfields and providing sundry evil delaying tactics.

This is a highly authentic if dramatised synthesis of those real treks with Indians (hostile and not), cold, privation, disease, stampedes, greedy owlhoots and even scurvy banditos making the journey a masterpiece of endurance and determination. That first storyline ended with the January 14th 1950 instalment, and this collection picks up with theAugust 21st episode and the introduction of the lumber town of Big Bear Flat.

This rough and ready outpost of civilisation is living under a pall of terror. A mysterious serial killer called the Whisperer is killing lumberjacks and townspeople at will, always warning in advance before striking. Terrified survivors attest to hearing a harsh whisper at the scenes of the crimes. This is not the best time for Kit Fox and Ruggles, struggling to throw off a dose of laryngitis, to hit town…

This cracking yarn sees the misunderstood hero come to the town’s rescue and unravel a baffling whodunit in spectacular action packed style, reminiscent of the best John Ford or Raoul Walsh matinee feature.

Westerns are continually falling into and out of vogue but the beautiful clean cut mastery of Warren Tufts should never be chained to fashion. These are great tales perfectly told and desperately deserving of your time and attention. I pray some canny publisher knows a good thing when he sees it…
© 1949, 1950, 1953 United Features Syndicate, Inc. Collection © Western Winds Productions. All Rights Reserved.

Stories of the West Book 1: Three Women at the Frontier


By Paulo Eleuteri-Serpieri, translated by Alfred Blomgren & Tony Raiola (Marvel)
ISBN: 0-932629-03-2

Paulo Eleuteri-Serpieri was born in Venice on February 29th 1944, and studied painting and architecture at the Fine Art Academy in Rome, graduating in 1966. He became an acclaimed painter before turning to comics in 1975 with historical dramas of the American West, scripted by Raffaele Ambrosio, which were published in Lancio Story and Skorpio as well as illustrating biblical tales in Découvrir la Bible.

From 1980 he turned to science fiction material for L’Eternauta, Il Fumetto and Orient-Express, before creating his landmark signature character Druuna, whose Junoesque proportions and fantastic adventures have captivated readers all over the world in such classics of pulchritudinous fantasy as Morbus Gravis, Creatura, Carnivora, Mandragora, Aphrodisia, Obsession, Druuna X and Croquis.

In Europe, where such superlatives are cherished, Serpieri’s astonishing ability to capture the female form in line and in colour has won him the title (although who else would want it is moot) of “Master of the Ass”, and this rare American translation of some of those early Western sagas certainly has a few beautiful nudes within its pages, but these two stories are worth looking at for more than that.

The eponymous ‘Three Women at the Frontier’ details the journey of a group of women literally exported to edge of American Civilisation at the close of the 19th century and how they wrested control of their lives and destinies from the callous, patronising men who thought they knew best, whilst ‘John and Mary, Mary and John’ details the unique meeting and budding relationship of a grizzled old mountain man and a wild woman hermit, once a squaw and slave; certainly one of the most intriguing and refreshing romances I’ve ever read.

Quirky, compelling and superbly underplayed, with some of the best drawing you’ll ever see, this is a fabulous lost treasure, only slightly marred by its appalling reproduction and too-casual proofreading. These wonderful tales of the west (and all those others untranslated as yet) are desperately in need of a high quality English language edition, but until then this will have to suffice…
© 1985 Paulo Eleuteri-Serpieri. All rights reserved.