Good-Bye


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Yuji Oniki (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-078-2

Since the 1950s, compulsive storyteller and inventor of the mature and socially relevant Gekiga comics-form Yoshihiro Tatsumi worked at the fringes of the Japanese manga industry as it grew from a despised sub-art form to an unstoppable global colossus of the entertainment media.

Freelancing for whoever would take a chance on him, whilst producing bargain-basement Manga lending shop Kashihon (story-books purpose-made for comics lending libraries), and even self-publishing – as Dōjinshi or “Vanity projects” – his uniquely personal graphic explorations of the world as he saw it, Tatsumi slowly gained prominence amongst other artists and a small dedicated cognoscente.

Eventually his dedication to tales of deeply personal, agonisingly intimate and slyly accusatory cartoon reportage filtered into and became the mainstream and in recent years Tatsumi has received the accolades and acclaim he long deserved as, at last, society caught up with him…

After decades at the periphery of comics consciousness, Tatsumi was “discovered” by the West at the dawn of the new millennium (despite a bootlegged English-language edition in 1987 and occasional European reprints) and in 2005 Drawn & Quarterly began releasing collections of his vast output in hardback editions which re-presented a taste of material culled from specific years.

Now the fruits of that on-going annual project are at last available in deluxe monochrome softcover editions, their appeal greatly benefited by the fact that in 2009 Tatsumi’s monolithic cartoon autobiography A Drifting Life turned him into a domestic and world superstar, garnering a brace of Eisner Awards, Japan’s Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize as well as the regards sur le monde Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.

Following an introduction from author, historian, translator and pundit Frederik L. Schodt, this third volume presents works from the period 1971-1972 when Tatsumi settled into an unqualified burst of inspired creativity and produced some of his most memorable pieces: dissections, queries and tributes to the Human Condition as experienced by the lowest of the low in a beaten but re-emergent nation-culture which was ferociously and ruthlessly re-inventing itself all around him

The panoply of disturbing, beguiling, sordid, intimate, heartbreaking, trenchantly wry and utterly uncompromising strips dealing with uncomfortable realities, inescapable situations, punishing alienations, excoriating self-loathing and the bleakest, emptiest corners and crannies of human experience begins in ‘Hell’ – a tale which recalls the bombing of Hiroshima and the headiest days of the passionately anti-H-Bomb movement in 1967. A former Japanese Army photographer recalls a shot he took in the aftermath: a silhouette burned into a wall of a loving son massaging his weary mother’s shoulders. In 1951 he had sold the photo to a news agency and the shot became a potent symbol of the “No More Hisoshimas” movement, rocketing the photographer to world-wide prominence.

Now in the shadow of a newly dedicated monument a stunning revelation threatens to undo all the good that photo has done…

At the end of his working life Saburo Hanayama was sidelined by all the younger workers: all except kind Ms. Okawa whose kindly solicitousness rekindled crude urgings in the former soldier and elderly executive. With his wife and daughter already planning how to spend his retirement pension, Saburo rebels and blows it all on wine, women and song, but even when he achieves the impossible hidden dream with the ineffable Ms. Okawa, he is plagued by impotence and guilt and is still ‘Just a Man’

In ‘Sky Burial’ disaffected slacker Nogawa isn’t even shaken up when the mummified body of his neighbour is discovered, a victim of neglect, undiscovered for months until the smell became too overpowering.

After all, his life is a mess too and he keeps seeing vultures in the sky above the bustling streets… As his surviving neighbours all move out following the death, Nogawa stays, abandoning himself to the birds and vermin eager to colonise the vacant building…

When he retired, a nondescript businessman deeded all his possessions to his family and went to live in the woods, obsessed with a bizarre ‘Rash’ that afflicted his body. However, when a young girl attempts suicide he saves her and gains new interest in the world. How tragic that his notions and hers are so different…

Businessman Kazuya returns to the old neighbourhood and recalls a bizarre friendship with a ‘Woman in the Mirror’. Once he and Ikeuchi were great friends, but when he accidentally discovered his pal’s need to dress as a girl, a great fire changed both their lives forever…

When ‘Night Falls Again’ a desperately lonely man haunts the strip joints and bars of Osaka, despising himself, missing his rural home and bombarded by images of sex for sale. Driven to the edge he at long last buys a ticket…

Two bar girls clean up after the night’s toil, but Akemi is preoccupied. It’s time to visit her husband in prison, even if he is a changed, brutalised man and doesn’t believe she has kept herself for him all these years. When he threatens to become her pimp once released, she takes extreme action in ‘Life is so Sad’

Tatsumi experimented with wash tones rather than the usual line, brush and mechanical tone screens for his tale of a foot fetishist driven to outlandish steps just so he could keep hearing heels go ‘Click Click Click’, and this compelling collection concludes with the eponymous minor masterpiece which was until recently the artist’s most (in)famous tale.

The semi-autobiographical ‘Good-Bye’ describes the declining relationship between prostitute Mariko or “Mary” – who courts social ignominy by going with the American GI Joe’s – and her dissolute father; once a proud soldier of Japan’s beaten army, reduced to cadging cash and favours from her.

Her dreams of escape to America are shattered one day and in her turmoil she pushes her father too far and he commits an act there’s no coming back from…

Tatsumi uses art as a symbolic weapon, using an instantly recognisable repertory company of characters pressed into service over and again as archetypes and human abstracts of certain unchanging societal aspects and responses. Moreover he has an astounding ability to present situations with no clean and clear-cut resolution: the tension and sublime efficacy revolves around carrying the reader to the moment of ultimate emotional crisis and leaving you suspended there…

Tatsumi, like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, largely set his own agenda, producing work which first and foremost interested himself, toiling for decades in relative isolation producing compelling, explicit, groundbreaking stories which were the foundation of today’s “literary” or alternative field of graphic narrative: a form which whilst mostly sidelined and marginalised for most of their working lives has at last emerged as the most important and widely accepted avenue of the comics medium.

These are stories no true lover of comics can afford to miss and this series of collections is a must-have for every adult reader’s bookshelf.

Art and stories © 19771, 1972, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Introduction © 2008, 2012 Frederik L. Schodt. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Abandon the Old in Tokyo


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Yuji Oniki (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-077-5

Yoshihiro Tatsumi was born in Osaka in 1935 and grew up in the Tennōji Ku district. By the time World War II began Osaka was the undisputed industrial, commercial and almost-evangelically capitalist trading-centre of the nation: a place of great wealth, fervent modernisation and nigh-universal literacy as well as vast slums, massive unemployment and crushing poverty. Osaka was the first Japanese city to introduce a welfare program for relief for the poor, modelled after the British system that began in the early 20th century…

One of 24 political wards, Tennōji Ku was named for the ancient Buddhist shrine Shitennō-ji (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings) and growing up there, Tatsumi must have been constantly exposed to the glorious past, tantalising future and ever-present frustrated desperation of the poor suffering the daily iniquities of the class system.

Growing up during the nightly American bombing raids Tatsumi was obsessed by books and cartooning and devoted his life to the budding comics industry in all its forms.

His earliest successes were all-new, large graphic novels for the uniquely Japanese Kashihon or Manga lending shops (story-books purpose-made to be borrowed and returned for a pittance, rather than bought outright: cost and remuneration were necessarily low and turnover quite high) before moving into the fringes of manga magazine sales.

By 1969 Tatsumi ran a small publishing house for these tomes but the lending shops were dying out…

Since the mid fifties the author had been struggling with a new kind of manga, one that was more than simply childish entertainment, and in 1957 coined the term Gekiga or “Dramatic Pictures” to describe the adult, mature-themed, downbeat and decidedly bleak material he was crafting.

His restless pictorial questioning of affairs of the state and the state of affairs in the furiously reconstructing modern nation, as well as humanity’s breakdown in a disillusioned new Japan subjected to incessant and unceasingly building internal pressures didn’t find much popular success, but fellow manga artists slowing began to create their own serious narratives as the drive towards post-war modernism began to founder and more and more citizens began to question not just the methods but the goal itself…

After decades of virtual obscurity both at home and abroad Tatsumi was “discovered” by the West and in 2005 Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly began compiling collections of his vast output in hardback editions which re-presented a selection of material on a year-by-year basis.

Now the on-going annual project is at last available in deluxe monochrome softcover editions, their appeal greatly enhanced by the fact that Tatsumi’s monolithic cartoon autobiography A Drifting Life turned him into a domestic and global comics superstar, winning a brace of Eisner Awards, Japan’s Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize as well as the regards sur le monde Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival between 2009-2012.

After an introduction from modern manga superstar Koji Suzuki (creator of The Ring, Dark Water, Birthday and other shocking blockbusters) this second collection gathers longer works from the year 1970 and begins with the deeply disturbing ‘Occupied’ as a lonely and unsuccessful creator of children’s comics experiences digestive troubles. Forced to use public toilets he discovers a different sort of drawing and is inexorably drawn into a world where the cubicles offer an utterly different kind of relief…

‘Abandon the Old in Tokyo’ finds diligent Kenichi slowly crumbling under the pressure of his ailing intolerant mother’s constant carping demands. It’s no help that his girlfriend wants to see “his” place and eventually the weary prevaricator does something about the situation…

‘The Washer’ spends his life cleaning windows and watching powerful businessmen force themselves on young office secretaries. Things turn decidedly difficult however when the girl behind the gleaming glass is his own daughter, whilst a down-trodden factory worker’s grim, grey life only comes alive when he returns home to his hovel and his ‘Beloved Monkey’. Tragically it’s all spoiled when he lets a girl into his heart…

When old Mr. Yamanuki’s company goes under, he cannot accept his life’s work is done and some debts have to remain ‘Unpaid’. Why and how then, does he derive such comfort and solace from that thing he does with the Collie at the Dog Appreciation Club?

‘The Hole’ sees a hiker taken prisoner by a woman hideously deformed during botched cosmetic surgery, but when the man’s divorced wife comes to his rescue, his smug arrogance seals his own fate, after which ‘Forked Road’ examines two childhood friends and the different paths their first experiences of sex made for them…

The eerily intimate episodes end with ‘Eel’ as a young sewer-cleaner sees too many parallels between the fish caught in the rake and bucket and his own existence. Some days having a disgusting, dead-end job and a callous bar-girl wife who’s delighted when she miscarries your baby doesn’t seem that different to swimming the wrong way in rubbish and excrement until you die…

Stories of sexual frustration, human obsolescence, dislocation, impotence, loneliness, poverty or the futile and vainglorious acts of rekindled pride are again depicted through rat-run mazes populated by a succession of hookers, powerless men, disaffected women, ineffectual lovers and grasping dependents and via recurring motifs of illness, retirement, injury and inadequacy in ramshackle dwellings, grimy streets, tawdry bars and sewers obstructed by things of no further value: pots, pans, people…

Concluding with another extensive ‘Q & A with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’ this second breathtaking compendium further illustrates why no serious devotee of graphic narratives can afford to miss the masterful literary skill of one of the world’s great masters of the comic arts.

Art and stories © 1970, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Introduction © 2009, 2012 Koji Suzuki. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

The Push Man and Other Stories


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Yuji Oniki (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-074-4

Since the 1950s, compulsive manga storyteller Yoshihiro Tatsumi has worked at the edges of the colossal Japanese comics industry, toiling for whoever would hire him, whilst producing an absolutely vast canon of deeply personal, agonisingly honest and blisteringly incisive cartoon critiques, dissections, queries and homages to the Human Condition as endured by the lowest of the low in a beaten nation and culture which utterly and ferociously and ruthlessly re-invented itself during his lifetime.

Tatsumi was born in 1935 and after surviving the war and reconstruction of Japan devoted most of his life to mastering – most would say inventing – a new form of comics storytelling, now known universally as Gekiga or “Dramatic Pictures” – as opposed to the flashy and fanciful escapist entertainment of Manga – which translates as “Irresponsible or Foolish Pictures” and was targeted specifically at children in the years immediately following the cessation of hostilities.

If he couldn’t find a sympathetic Editor, Tatsumi often self-published his darkly beguiling wares in Dōjinshi or “Vanity projects” where his often open-ended, morally ambiguous, subtly subversive underground comics literature gradually grew to prominence as those funnybook-consuming kids grew up in a socially-repressed, culturally-occupied country and began to rebel. Topmost amongst their key concerns were Cold War politics, the Vietnam war, ubiquitous inequality and iniquitous distribution of wealth and opportunity, so the teen upstarts sought out material that addressed their maturing sensibilities and found it in the works of Tatsumi and a growing band of serious cartoonists…

Since reading comics beyond childhood was seen as an act of rebellion – like digging Rock ‘n’ Roll a decade earlier in the USA and Britain – these kids became known as the “Manga Generation” and their growing influence allowed comics creators to grow beyond the commercial limits of their industry and tackle adult stories and themes in what rapidly became a bone fide art form. Even the “God of Comics” Osamu Tezuka eventually found his mature author’s voice in Gekiga…

Tatsumi uses his art as a symbolic tool, with an instantly recognisable repertory company of characters pressed into service over and again as archetypes and human abstracts of certain unchanging societal aspects and responses. Moreover he has a mesmerising ability to portray situations with no clean and clear-cut resolution: the tension and sublime efficacy revolves around carrying the reader to the moment of ultimate emotional crisis and leaving you suspended there…

Narrative themes of sexual frustration, falls from grace and security, loss of heritage and pride, human obsolescence, claustrophobia and dislocation, obsession, provincialism, impotence, loneliness, poverty and desperate acts of protest are perpetually explored by a succession of anonymous bar girls, powerless men, ineffectual loners and grasping spouses, wheedling, ungrateful family dependents and ethically intransigent protagonists through recurring motifs such as illness, forced retirement, crippled labourers, sexual inadequacy in ramshackle dwellings, endless dirty alleyways, tawdry bars and sewers too often obstructed by discarded foetuses and even dead babies…

After decades of virtual obscurity both at home and abroad, Tatsumi was “discovered” by the West (despite a bootlegged English-language edition in 1987 and occasional reprints in France and Spain) and in 2005 Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly began compiling collections of his vast output in hardback editions which re-presented a selection of material on a year-by-year basis.

Now the on-going annual project is at last available in deluxe monochrome softcover editions, their appeal greatly enhanced by the fact that Tatsumi’s monolithic cartoon autobiography A Drifting Life turned him into a domestic and global comics superstar, winning a brace of Eisner Awards, Japan’s Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize as well as the regards sur le monde Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival between 2009-2012.

This initial outing gathers seminal pieces created in the turbulent year 1969 and also includes an introduction by series editor/designer Tomine and a concluding ‘Q & A with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’.

The trawl through the hearts of darkness begins with ‘Piranha’ as an apathetic factory worker, sick and tired of his wife’s brazen philandering, deliberately maims himself at work for the workman’s compensation pay-out. Even relatively well-off and with his wife now attentive and loving he is not content, so he starts collecting Piranha fish. When she returns to her old habits, he looks at his fish and has an idea…

‘Projectionist’ tells of a another disillusioned labourer whose job is to travel the country screening blue films for executives keen to get secretaries “in the mood” and provide cinematic bonuses for company clients, whilst ‘Black Smoke’ details the existence of an incinerator operator who can’t satisfy his wife, or father children. Meanwhile his days are filled with chucking dead newborns from the local Women’s hospital into those fierce cleansing flames…

‘The Burden’ relates the inevitable fate of a placard carrier advertising a massage parlour. Why can he get on with prostitutes of the street but not his wife, constantly carping about her unwanted pregnancy? Why is murder the only rational option?

In ‘Test Tube’ an over-worked sperm donor allows his latest “inspiration” to get too close with catastrophic results, whilst the ‘Pimp’ who permits his wife to continue her profession so that they can buy a bar together finds the situation increasingly intolerable and ‘The Push Man’ who crams commuters onto the city’s hyper-crowded trains finally experiences a little too much enforced and unwelcome closeness of his own…

Whilst daily unclogging the city’s mains, a harassed young man no longer reacts to the horror of what the people above discard: baskets, boxes, babies… even when the deceased detritus in the ‘Sewer’ is his own, but the ‘Telescope’, which brings a crippled man too close to an aging exhibitionist who needs to be seen conquering young women, leads only to recrimination and self-destruction…

In a place where every one is trying to survive and make a little progress, one couple have reached a necessary accommodation that allows the wife to prosper just so long as her trouble husband remains ‘The Killer’, whilst for the strait-laced mechanic who discovers his TV ideal has loose knickers and a whorish heart after a ‘Traffic Accident’, life is no longer worth living.

‘Make-Up’ is the only solace of a poor salary-man living with a cheap cocktail waitress. In her clothes and with her face he can truly be himself, even if the lonely and lovelorn telephone sanitizer of ‘Disinfection’ cannot bring himself to connect with the many women of easy affection he meets in his job, and well-meaning nondescript auto-parts worker Matsuda who struggles long and hard, seeking the best way to get rid of his wife and help the young girl resisting their nasty boss’s urgings to abort the embarrassing baby he’s fathered in ‘Who Are You?’

When Mr. Fukuda is badly injured in ‘Bedridden’ he entrusts young Tanno with his greatest secret: locked in his house is a sex slave, trained and shaped from birth to please men. He will pay the apprentice anything and everything to keep her fit and fed until he can get out of hospital. Big mistake…

This initial outing ends with a superbly outré examination of life wherein Shoji returns to his rat-infested apartment and frumpy, horny woman. As she cleans herself up the pensive post-coital drifter ponders all those wasted sperm – each one a potential Napoleon or ‘My Hitler’, until a scream alerts him to the fact that one determined rodent has taken up residence.

Despite all his efforts the rat, pregnant and determined stay put, avoids every attempt to remove or kill it. With his strident companion moved out and back in the bar where she works, the contemplative Shoji discovers a new appreciation of the valiant mother and her progeny…

Like Adrian Tomine, Editor of the English-language series, I first discovered Mr. Tatsumi’s astounding works in the aforementioned album sized – and it transpires, wholly unauthorised – Catalan Communications edition at the end of the 1980s, and was blown away by the seductive and wholly entrancing simplicity of his storytelling and bleak, humanist subject matter.

Now that I know just when these stark, wry, bittersweet vignettes, episodes and stories of cultural and social realism were first drawn, it seems as if a lone voice in Japanese comics had independently and synchronistically joined the revolution of Cinéma vérité and the Kitchen Sink Dramas of playwrights and directors like John Osborne, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson – not to mention Ken Loach and Joe Orton – which gripped the West in the 1960s and which have shaped the critical and creative faculties of so many artists and creators ever since.

Tatsumi, like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, worked for decades in relative isolation producing compelling, bold, beguiling, sordid, intimate, wryly humorous, heartbreaking and utterly uncompromising strips dealing with uncomfortable realities, social alienation, excoriating self-examination and the nastiest and most honest arenas of human experience. They can in fact be seen as brother auteurs and indeed inventors of the “literary” or alternative field of graphic narrative which, whilst largely sidelined for most of their working lives, has finally emerged as the most important and widely accepted avenue of the comics medium.

These are stories no serious exponent or fan of comics can afford to miss and this series of collections is the best way yet to enjoy a hidden master’s dedication and brilliance.

Art and stories © 1969, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Introduction © 2005, 2012 Adrian Tomine. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Asterix and the Soothsayer, Asterix in Corsica & Asterix and Caesar’s Gift


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBNs: 978-075286-628-4, 978-0-75286-630-7 and 978-0-75286-632-1

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride was created by two of the industry’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the snoot as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50BC, as the Gallic Gentlemen visited the fantastic lands and civilisations of the era…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, resorted to a policy of containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales began to increasingly show signs of trenchant satire and more directed social commentary…

Asterix and the Soothsayer was the 19th serialised epic, originally running in Pilote #652-673 throughout 1972, first translated into an English album in 1975, and begins ominously whilst the village’s venerable mystic protector Getafix is away at his annual Druiding conference. During a torrential storm nefarious Soothsayer named Prolix turns up seeking shelter. His dark predictions instantly spread disharmony amongst the hospitable, hot-headed, painfully superstitious and credulous Gaulish stalwarts… except for level headed and canny little Asterix.

As Prolix leaves the Chief’s wife Impedimenta sneaks after him, keen on a personal prediction and the crafty charlatan soon discovers he’s on to a good thing and profitably cushy number…

Before long the entire village is under the soothsayer’s grimy thumb, but when he vanishes the ladies of the village accuse Asterix of driving him off.

In actuality the unsavoury sage has been arrested by the Romans who have standing orders to deal harshly with all non-Roman prognosticators and troublemakers. The wily Prolix barters for his life with Centurion Arteriosclerosus, who sees a way to end his Indomitable Gaul problems by using the obviously fraudulent fortune-teller as a wedge to drive out the obstreperous resistors…

Prolix returns to the village and utters a doom-laden pronouncement: the place has been cursed by the Gods and a pestilential stench will precede plague. Inevitable death will be their fate if they remain…

Panicked, the gullible Gauls head for the beach and take refuge on an off-shore island – all that is, except for Asterix, Obelix and chivalrous canine companion Dogmatix…

With the Romans at last in possession of the village – and all Gaul finally conquered – the bold last rebels make their plans until Getafix returns. On his arrival the three men and a dog embark on an elaborate scheme to take back their home and teach their foolish fellows a much needed lesson.

Concocting a stunningly malodorous vapour which drives the occupiers from the village, the druid convinces the Romans that Prolix is a real soothsayer and ambitious Arteriosclerosus sees a chance to become the next Caesar. Even baffled conman Prolix begins to believe his predictions are real…

After dressing down the refugee Gauls, Getafix leads them back to their beloved homes where the incensed and wiser villagers top up on magic potion and rush off to teach the invaders – and Prolix – a much needed lesson. On this occasion, Impedimenta and the village women accompany their men, determined to expiate their embarrassing gullibility with a little cathartic violence of their own…

This delightfully arch and acerbic attack on gullibility and superstition is a splendid chance to see the minor characters play to their strengths and weaknesses with Asterix and Obelix almost relegated to walk-on parts…

First translated two years earlier in England but chronologically following on from The Soothsayer in the original French serialisations Asterix in Corsica (Pilote #687-708, in 1973) was the 20th adventure and the best-selling French language album of the series.

Another globe-trotting yarn, it begins with the Romans of the four occupying garrisons “deploying for manoeuvres” to avoid having to deal with Gauls’ painfully exuberant celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Gergovia. Unfortunately for Centurion Hippotamus and his men they are delayed by the arrival of a party from Praetor Perfidius, Governor of Corsica, escorting a dangerous prisoner into exile. They are still in Totorum when the high-spirited villagers (and many guest-star friends from previous adventures) arrive keen for a punch-up and a little annoyed that all the other Roman camps are deserted…

When the dust settles and the groans of pain subside, Asterix discovers the prisoner Boneywasawarriorwayayix and invites him back to the village for a slap-up feed. Over boar and beer the Gauls hear how Perfidius had the popular Corsican leader exiled to prevent him revealing how the Praetor has been over-taxing the people and embezzling the gold for himself instead of sending to Caesar in Rome. Corsica is officially the most troublesome spot in the Empire and the exile is determined to return and expose the hated Governor, so the proud and haughty Boneywasawarriorwayayix is delighted when Asterix and Obelix – with the faithful Dogmatix – determine to help him sneak back to his fiercely over-fortified and contained island (most volumes of this album have a map of Corsica instead of the traditional Gaulish village, and the tiny nation contains four towns and forty-six Roman camps)…

Hilariously obtaining passage on the pirate ship of Redbeard the voyagers soon find themselves on the island – but not unnoticed…

Soon the dissolute and lazy soldiery are hunting the heroes as they make their way inland to the exile’s home village to rally the populace whilst in the city of Aleria Perfidius suspects the jig is up and prepares to flee with his ill-gotten gains…

Trying to rally the natives Boneywasawarriorwayayix comes up against the age-old dilemma: most Corsicans are involved in centuries long vendettas and would much rather fight each other – at least when they’re not taking a siesta – than unite to attack the invaders. However at last, a determined band of warriors marches on Aleria but almost too late. Perfidius has been secretly loading his loot onto a ship but when his soldiers discover it they realise their leader is planning to abandon then to the fierce and furious Corsicans – at least if diplomatic Asterix can manage to stop the natives killing each other first…

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner.

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured trans-national teasing of perceived nationalist characteristics and celebrating the terrifying power of Corsican cheeses and liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

In 1974 Asterix and Caesar’s Gift was the first tale to be published as a complete album before being serialised, with a British translation appearing in 1977. It begins in Rome where two 20-year veteran legionaries drunkenly celebrate being honourably discharged. Tremensdelirious and Egganlettus eagerly look forward to being given their service reward: a parcel of land each.

Unfortunately Tremensdelirious is overheard disparaging Caesar but the sardonically cruel leader does not punish the old soldier or even withhold his pension. In fact he gives Tremensdelirious a lovely portion of the Gaulish coast in Armorica: all he has to do is shift a few recalcitrant Gauls from their village on his new small holding…

A drunk but not a fool the old soldier knows his fate is sealed and soon trades his dispensation to Lutetian inn-keeper Orthopaedix to settle his bar-bill…

The first that the Indomitable Gauls know of this is when Orthopaedix, his wife Angina and daughter Influenza roll up in their cart and try to take possession. After some hilarity the villagers go back about their business and the inn-keeper is left to suffer the fury of his wife at the uprooting of the family to a barbaric hovel where nobody acknowledges their claim.

No stranger to such a tongue-lashing, Chief Vitalstatistix takes pity on Orthopaedix and offers to let them stay and open an inn in the hamlet, but the standoffish villagers are angered by Angina’s superior airs and a riot breaks out on opening night…

The world-weary publican is ready to quit but now the humiliated Angina is in a status duel with Impedimenta and, determined to stay, makes Orthopaedix challenge Vitalstatistix for the post of village Chief. As the campaign to win the support of the always argumentative villagers intensifies, all manner of shoddy tactics, dubious lobbying and outright bribery takes place with each party frantically trying to curry political favour from the fickle but extremely astute potential voters who know the value of their own support…

Simple, gentle oafish Obelix has fallen under the spell of the lovely Influenza, who leads him on cruelly to help out her mother’s naked ambition, leading to fight with his best friend. Only Asterix seems aware that the discord could well be the death of the village and lead to Caesar’s ultimate triumph and soon the waters are further muddied when elderly Lothario Geriatrix declares himself a third party and splits the potential vote even further.

The political crisis reaches boiling point when Tremensdelirious turns up and demands his land-grant back: after all it’s illegal to sell them to Gauls, and Orthopaedix has no say in the matter…

When the ex-legionary turns violent Asterix steps in to save the day and the old sot is driven off at sword-point. He doesn’t go far – only to the garrison of Laudanum where old comrade Egganlettus has re-enlisted – and together they blackmail Centurion Tonsillitus into attacking the Gauls to uphold Roman law and get back that “official” pension land which is every soldier’s right…

That kind of military intervention usually ends disastrously, but this time the village is hopelessly divided by political intrigue and backstabbing and even Asterix cannot unite them against their real and common foe. It seems that the Gauls must lose everything until Orthopaedix makes a supreme sacrifice to save the day…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this outrageous political thriller and satire on modern electioneering is as pertinent and punchy as it ever was, proving once again that these Gallic graphic masterpieces are perfect comics which everyone should read over and over again.
© 1972-1974 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Krazy + Ignatz: The Komplete Kat Komics volume 1, 1916 and volume 2: 1917 The Other-Side to the Shore of Here


By George Herriman (Eclipse Books/Turtle island)
ISBNs: 0-913035-48-3 and 0-913035-75-0

I must admit to feeling like a fool and a fraud reviewing George Herriman’s winningly surreal masterpiece of eternal unrequited love. Although Krazy Kat is unquestionably a pinnacle of graphic innovation, a hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and an undisputed treasure of world literature, some readers – from the strip’s earliest antecedents in 1913 right up to five minutes ago – just cannot “get it”.

All those with the right sequence of genes (K, T, Z and A, I suspect) are instantly fans within seconds of exposure whilst those sorry few who are oblivious to the strip’s inimitable charms are beyond anybody’s meagre capacity to help.

Still, since everyday there’s newcomers to the wonderful world of comics I’ll assume my inelegant missionary position once more and hope to catch and convert some fresh soul – or, as I like to think of it, save some more “lil Ainjils”…

The Krazy & Ignatz softcover series of collected Sunday pages was contrived by Eclipse Comics and the Turtle Island Foundation and taken over by Fantagraphics when the publisher succumbed to the predatory market conditions of the 1990s. It is not and never has been a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multilayered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Think of it as Dylan Thomas and Edward Lear playing “I Spy” with James Joyce amongst beautifully harsh and barren cactus fields whilst Gabriel García Márquez types up the shorthand notes and keeps score…

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been cropping up in the corners and backgrounds of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs finally graduated to their own feature. “Krazy Kat” debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on October 28, 1913 and, mainly by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence, spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (which included e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) utterly adored the strip, many local editors -ever cautious of the opinions of the hoi-polloi who actually bought the papers – did not and took every career-risking opportunity to drop it from the comics section.

Eventually the feature found a home in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s vast empire of papers. Protected by the publisher’s patronage the strip flourished unharmed by editorial interference and fashion and ran until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender in love with Ignatz Mouse: rude crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a real Man’s Muridae; drinking, stealing, cheating, carousing, neglectful of his spouse and children. He revels in spurning Krazy’s genteel advances by regularly and repeatedly belting the cat with a well-aimed and mightily thrown brick (obtained singly or in bulk and generally legitimately from noted local brickmaker Kolin Kelly).

The third member of the classic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp, hopelessly in love with Krazy, well aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but bound by his own timidity and sense of honour from removing his rival for the cat’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious of Pupp’s true feelings and dilemma…

Also populated with a stunning supporting cast of inspired anthropomorphic bit players such as Joe Stork, (deliverer of babies), the hobo Bum Bill Bee, Don Kiyoti, busybody Pauline Parrot, Walter Cephus Austridge, the Chinese mallard Mock Duck, Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious characters – all capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features – the episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based of the artist’s vacation retreat Coconino County, Arizona) and the surreal playfulness and fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips are a masterful mélange of wickedly barbed contemporary social satire, folksy yarn-telling, unique experimental art, strongly referencing Navajo art forms and sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully expressive language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous and compellingly musical (“He’s simpfilly wondafil”, “A fowl konspirissy – is it pussible?” or “I nevva seen such a great power to kookoo”), yet for all that the adventures are timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerie, idiosyncratic and utterly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous slapstick.

The eponymous first monochrome volume opens with ‘The Kat’s Kreation’ by Bill Blackbeard; a fulsome, fascinating and heavily illustrated history of the development of the frankly freakish feline as briefly outlined above, after which this slim, tall tome shuffles into the first cautious but full-bodied escapades from 1916 delivered every seven days from April 23rd to December 31st.

Within that first year, as war raged in Europe and with America edging inexorably closer to the Global Armageddon, the residents of Coconino sported and wiled away their days in careless abandon but totally embroiled within their own – and their neighbours’ – personal dramas.

Big hearted Krazy adopts orphan kitties, accidentally goes boating and ballooning, saves baby birds from predatory mice and rats, survives pirate attacks, constantly endures assault and affectionate attempted murder and does lots of nothing in an utterly addictive, idyllic and eccentric way…

The volume ends with ‘The Kat Maker’ a copiously illustrated biography of Herriman.

 

Volume 2: 1917 The Other-Side to the Shore of Here begins with ‘Kat in Nine Bags – a Twenty Year Quest for a Phantom’ a trenchant introductory article by Bill Blackbeard which describes Publisher Hearst’s unceasing battle with his own editors to keep the strip in print and on the Comics pages – everything short of kidnap and assassination apparently – before the artistic tour de force (covering January 7th to 30th December) commences in perfect harmony with its eclectic and embattled environment.

Within this second magical atlas of another land and time the formative tone and textures of the eternal game play out as usual, but with some intriguing diversions such as recurring explorations of terrifying trees, grim ghosts and obnoxious Ouija Boards, tributes to Kipling as we discover why the snake rattles, meet Ignatz’s aquatic cousin, observe the invasion of Mexican Jumping Beans and a plague of measles, discover the maritime value of “glowerms”, discover who was behind a brilliant brick-stealing campaign of crime and at last see Krazy become the Bricker and not Brickee…

To complete the illustrious experience and explore the ever-shifting sense of reality amidst the constant display of visual virtuosity and verbal verve this big, big book (305x230mm) ends with ‘The Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Pages’ providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed…

There has been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was generally rediscovered by a far more accepting audience and these particular compendiums were picked up by Fantagraphics when Eclipse ceased trading in 1992. The current publisher’s avowed intent is to complete the collection and then keep the works in print and more power to them for that.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a genuine Treasure of World Art and Literature and these comic strips shaped our industry, galvanised comics creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, sculpture, dance, animation and jazz music whilst always delivering delight and delectation to generations of devoted wonder-starved fans.

If however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious brace of cartoon masterpieces are among the most accessible…

Just remember: not everybody gets it and some of them aren’t even stupid or soulless – they’re just unfortunate… “There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay”
© 1989/1990 Eclipse Books/Turtle Island Foundation. All rights reserved.

Maus volumes 1 & 2: My Father Bleeds History & And Here My Troubles Began


By Art Spiegelman (Pantheon/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-14017-315-4 & 978-0-14013-206-9

Also available as: Complete Maus: A Survivors Tale
ISBN: 978-0141014081

During the 1980s, English-language comics finally began to be accepted by the wider world and that’s in no small part due to the groundbreaking success of an independent funny-animal comic for adults which quite rightly took the world by storm.

Most of you will probably have read this incredible tale already – and if you have feel free to skip the following tirade – but on the rare chance that you haven’t but are still open to persuasion I offer these thoughts…

Art Spiegelman first began his exploration into his family’s history in 1972 when he created a short strip for the Underground anthology Short Order Comix, in which he first examined his own reactions and response to his mother’s suicide in 1968. That tale led to a desire to understand his extremely difficult father Vladek and a determination to turn his recollections and experiences as a Holocaust survivor into a series of strips.

The individual chapters of what would become Maus began appearing at the end of the decade as monochrome mini-comic inserts in Spiegelman’s experimental and increasingly prestigious art-house anthology Raw! with the first collected edition of the scratchy, primally evocative chapters released in 1986 and a concluding volume published in 1991.

This is a graphic masterwork everybody should read and I’m hesitant to give too much away in a review, but in the hope of enticing any new readers or late hold-outs here are the bare bones…

My Father Bleeds History introduces the young Spiegelman and his father Vladek in 1958, in the sparse and primitive anthropomorphic style that did so much to rightly shade this tale as “History” and “Autobiography” rather than “Fiction” on library and bookshop shelves.

‘The Sheik’ re-introduces them both decades later.

Vladek is a crusty old kvetch even his son finds hard to deal with. The old man’s second wife Mala suffers greatly with her husband’s odd, penny-pinching, bigoted and fiercely independent ways and manners. Over an uncomfortable dinner Art convinces his dad to speak about his life during wartime…

It all began with good times in Czestochowa, a Polish city close to the German border and relates how the youthful, stylish, even rakish entrepreneur found true love whilst pursuing and winning the wealthy Anja Zylberberg, whilst ‘The Honeymoon’ detailed the frail woman’s clandestine connection to the pre-war Communists, the birth of their first child Richieu – paralleled with some poignant modern day interjections regarding Art’s own birth – and presented the first inklings of what was to come when the happy couple visited Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, culminating in Vladek’s being drafted into the Polish Army in August 1939…

With his contemporary home-life deteriorating and ill health overtaking him Vladek relates how he became a ‘Prisoner of War’ almost immediately after induction into the military and separated from the Christian Poles in the German POW camp. Suffering extreme hardship and particular abuse, the Jewish prisoners were offered the chance to volunteer for labour assignments in exchange for better conditions.

The job was literally moving mountains…

Whilst working for the invaders Vladek had a vision which carried him through all the horrors of the conflict, and in the short-term led to his repatriation when the German work project finished. Even with the Jewish workers dispatched back to Poland, Vladek knew the Nazis had not finished with the Jews…

By guile and sheer enterprise he made his way back to Anja and Richieu in Sosnowiec and began a brief career on the wrong side of the law as new rules and old prejudices made life increasingly difficult for Jewish citizens…

In 1941 ‘The Noose Tightens’ with his friends and acquaintances enduring increasing hardship but still refusing to see the way the winds were blowing. Vladek carried on ducking and diving to keep his family alive, but the occupiers were becoming ever bolder and entire enclaves of Jews were being transported on the flimsiest pretexts. The Spiegelman’s were compelled to give Richieu away to keep him safe. Now Vladek was a full-time trader of illegal and contraband goods, constantly risking his life. Even with the transportations gathering pace most Jews believed they were merely being deported or exiled, but Vladek began preparing a hiding place for the family: a bunker to live out the war. In August 1942 a mass “passport inspection” in Sosnowiec practically emptied the town of Jews – an event for which Spiegelman’s step-mother Mala offered her own participant survivor’s perspective…

‘Mouse Holes’ opens with Art having to referee Vladek and Mala’s latest confrontation and incorporates the 1972 prologue strip ‘Prisoner on the Hell Planet’ which depicted the events following Anja’s suicide in 1968. When Vladek reads the strip it prompts him to a new level of revelation…

In 1943 the final round-up of Polish Jews began and with daily atrocities mounting, the family fostering Richieu chose death rather than the camps. Vladek and Anja took to their bunker with their remaining friends but after torturous weeks they too were captured leaving the couple alone, desperate and hunted…

The first volume concludes with ‘Mouse Trap’ as in the present day Vladek and Mala’s relationship deteriorates even further with Art caught impossibly in the middle – leading the embittered and belligerent old man to finally disclose how he and Anja were caught masquerading as non-Jews and sold to the Nazis by gangsters…

In March 1944 they were sent to Auschwitz and separated…

The second volume And Here My Troubles Began (From Mauschwitz to the Catskills and Beyond) concentrates equally between Vladek’s memories and his catastrophic present-day (1979) relationship with second wife Mala, beginning with ‘Mauschwitz’ as Art was dragged to the Catskills after Vladek faked a heart attack. In truth the crisis was that Mala has left him and emptied one of his bank accounts…

After much acrimony and acting out Vladek buys his son’s attention and goodwill by revealing how life in Auschwitz worked and how even in the worst of all possible situations, a smart operator could soften the pain and even perhaps profit whilst surviving…

‘Auschwitz (Time Flies)’ creatively jumps to recount Vladek’s death in 1982 and the reaction to the public sensation which followed the release of the first volume, before returning to the death-camp where Vladek discovered that an adjoining camp – Auschwitz II/Birkenau – held women prisoners and that Anja was still alive…

Exerting all his wiles and scams Vladek manages to get himself assigned there as a repairman and is reunited – albeit through barbed wire – with his wife. Meanwhile all around them, the Nazis were frantically exercising their horrific “Final Solution”…

With Vladek quickly driving Art and his wife Françoise crazy ‘…And Here My Troubles Began…’ simultaneously explores the ongoing father-son relationship as the old man gradually describes the last days of the death-camp, with daily privation constantly punctuated by the rapidly approaching sound of Allied artillery getting ever closer.

The terrified guards moved the prisoners in ghastly forced marches into Germany and a new camp where the worst atrocities occurred after the survivors were forced onto packed cattle-trains as the Jew were moved towards their final fate in Dachau…

Enduring, brutality, betrayal and disease the prisoners waited for the inevitable end but inexplicably found themselves again herded onto trains and shuttled towards Switzerland…

‘Saved’ sees the bewildering old man at his anti-social worst whilst describing how they were released near the border, in an exchange for German POWs, only to suffer one final betrayal before being found by American soldiers…

Free and safe, Vladek shares with his son intimate details of the friends and family forever lost before the final chapter ‘The Second Honeymoon’ begins months later with a frantic call from Mala. She and Vladek had reconciled in Florida but now he was sick again and had discharged himself from hospital, determined to be treated in New York. Art reluctantly travels South to accompany his father and learns of the immediate post-war years when the last survivors travelled to Sweden and settled there, once again depending on his guile and ability to make deals to thrive.

Eventually Vladek and Anja obtained visas for America and emigrated…

From his sickbed the tired survivor at last reveals the magical events of the immediate post-war days. Of life in a Displaced Persons camp, relapsing into typhus, contracting diabetes and being assigned to work details rebuilding Germany, ending with his journey back to Sosnowiec where Anja, having consulted a Gypsy fortune teller, was waiting…

Maus is a fabulous, horrible, poignant and captivating examination of not just the most appalling moments of modern history and worst examples of human depravity but also how tribulation shapes and recasts survivors: not merely a brilliant comic story but a magnificent example of narrative as history. It a tale no one should be unfamiliar with.
© 1973, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 Art Spiegelman. All rights reserved.

Johnny Hazard: Mammoth Marches On


By Frank Robbins (Pacific Comics Publications)
No ISBN

Johnny Hazard was a newspaper strip created in answer to and in the style and manner of Terry and the Pirates, but in many ways the steely-eyed hero most resembles – and indeed presages – Milton Caniff’s second magnum opus Steve Canyon.

Unbelievably, until last year this stunningly impressive and enthralling adventure strip has never been comprehensively collected in graphic novels – at least in English – although selected highlights had appeared in nostalgia magazines such as Pioneer Comics and Dragon Lady Press Presents.

However, sporadic compendiums of the full-colour Sunday pages have popped up over the years, such as this glorious and huge (340 x 245mm) landscape tabloid produced by re-translating a collected Italian edition back into English, courtesy of the Pacific Comic Club.

Frank Robbins was a brilliant all-around cartoonist whose unique artistic and lettering style lent themselves equally to adventure, comedy and superhero tales and his stunning cunning storytellers mind made him one of the best writers of three generations of comics.

He first came to fame in 1939 when he took over the Scorchy Smith newspaper strip from the legendary Noel Sickles and created a Sunday page for the feature in 1940. He was offered the prominent Secret Agent X-9 but instead created his own lantern jawed, steely-eyed man of action. A tireless and prolific worker, even whilst producing a daily and Sunday Hazard (usually a separate storyline for each) Robbins freelanced as an illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post, Look, Life and a host of other mainstream magazines.

In the 1960s and 1970s he moved into comicbooks, becoming a key contributor to Batman, Batgirl, Detective Comics (where he created Man-Bat with Neal Adams), The Shadow and DC’s mystery anthologies before settling in as an artist at Marvel on a variety of titles including Captain America, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Morbius, Human Fly, Man from Atlantis, Power Man and The Invaders, which he co-created with Roy Thomas.

When the strip launched on Monday June 5th 1944, Johnny Hazard was an aviator, in the United States Army Air Corps and when hostilities ceased became for a while a freelance charter pilot and secret agent before settling into the bombastic life of a globe-girdling troubleshooter, mystery-solver and modern day Knight Errant babe-magnet.

The strip ended in 1977: another victim of diminishing panel-sizes and the move towards simplified, thrill-free, family-friendly gag-a-day graphic fodder to wrap around small-ads.

With the release at long last of a dedicated collection of the black and white Daily strips, I thought I’d spotlight a few of those fabulous landscape tomes which kept Johnny Hazard alive in fans hearts during years after it ceased publication beginning with the thoroughly captivating Mammoth Marches On and subsequent sequences which first appeared in American Sunday Supplements between January 27th 1952 to April 12th 1953.

In the steaming jungle heat of French Indo-China the pilot is transporting famed Movie Director Grippman of Mammoth Studios, and his star attraction Cerise to the heart of the rain forest on a location-shoot is stricken with malaria. Forced to land at a Military field they make the fortuitous acquaintance of our hero and his friends Brandy and Blitz Martin; all currently without a plane of their own…

Also in tow are an entire film crew, assorted extras and a baby Elephant, all destined for a distant abandoned temple and village of unsuspecting natives. Short of cash and with nothing to do, Johnny lets himself be talked into taking the pilot’s place whilst wandering journalist Brandy agrees to act as the haughty Cerise’s stand-in and body double… to limit the star’s exposure to sun, insects and peasants…

Amidst all the drama and passion such events always generate, Johnny warily keeps aloof. The big scene involves an ancient idol for which Grippman has brought a fist-sized hunk of glass to replace the legendary lost diamond eye it boasted until white explorers first appeared a century ago…

When Cerise makes a play for Hazard and is rebuffed she storms into the temple and falls into a secret chamber, finding the genuine lost sparkler. In a fit of greedy pique she replaces the fake with the real thing…

The trained baby elephant Mammoth has seen it all and Cerise determines to get rid of the four-footed witness in an increasing dangerous series of arranged accidents…

Things come to head when the monsoon hits early and disaster strikes for the greedy starlet…

The strip then effortlessly segues into blistering criminal action with ‘The Hunted’ as Johnny ferries the film crew on to Tokyo where old pal Blitz buys a souvenir samurai sword from a street vendor. Of course nobody realised that the katana was a thousand year old relic most recently owned by Baron Takana: a big shot in the recent war and a fugitive war criminal ever since.

When the sword is stolen and a venerated historical expert murdered, suspicion rests equally on the elusive Takana and Hazard’s sexy femme fatale foe Baroness Flame, but as the hunt continues the drama escalates into full-blown crisis when the fugitive Baron is cornered and threatens to detonate a stolen atomic weapon…

The fabulous frantic fun and thrills conclude with ‘Scavengers’ as Johnny is asked by his old boss Lisbeth Manning to investigate a series of mysterious plane crashes and cargo thefts. With typical savvy Hazard deduces the method and tracks the gang of highly sophisticated bandits to a deadly confrontation in the jungles between Vietnam and Cambodia, before this stunning old-fashioned romp ends with the thieves in custody and the tantalising opening pages of the next mind-boggling yarn ‘Ceiling Zero-Minus’.

To be continued…

These exotic action romances perfectly capture the mood and magic of a distant but so incredibly familiar time; with cool heroes, hot dames and very wicked villains decorating captivating locales and stunning scenarios, all peppered with blistering tension, mature humour and visceral excitement.

Johnny Hazard is a brilliant two-fisted thriller strip and even if you can’t easily locate these fantastic full-colour chronicles, at least the prospect of an eventual new Sunday strip collection is a little closer at last…
© 1952-1953 King Features Syndicate. © 1979 Pacific C.C.

Asterix in Switzerland, The Mansions of the Gods & Asterix and the Laurel Wreath


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBNs: 978-075286-628-4, 978-0-75286-630-7 and 978-0-75286-632-1

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of 34 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride was created by two of the industry’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50BC, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the fantastic lands of the Empire and beyond…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, resorted to a policy of containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales began to increasingly show signs of trenchant satire and more directed social commentary…

Asterix in Switzerland was the sixteenth saga, originally running in Pilote #557-578 throughout 1970 and first translated into English in 1973. It opens with the attempted murder of Roman official Quaestor Vexatius Sinusitus; dispatched to Gaul to audit the corrupt, embezzling and utterly decadent Governor Varius Flavus.

The poisoning only fails due to the efforts of the Druid Getafix, but to keep the Roman alive – and further thwart Flavus – the sage needs a rare flower which only grows in the mountains of neighbouring country Helvetia (and that’s Switzerland, mein kinder).

Always keen for a road-trip, Asterix and Obelix quickly volunteer to fetch the fabled “silver star” or Edelweiss …

With Sinusitus sheltered in the village of the indomitable Gauls, Flavus’ only hope is to stop the happy voyagers and to that end he sends his most unscrupulous man to warn the equally repugnant and devious Curius Odus, Governor of Helvetia, to stop the Gauls at all costs…

Although a far darker tale than most previous escapades, all the familiar gentle spoofing of national characteristics, cartoon action and hilarious lampoonery is incorporated into this splendid and beautifully rendered yarn.

Asterix and Obelix cannily avoid Roman sabotage plots, beat up many, many thugs and bullies, whilst marvelling at the quirkiness of their newfound Helvetian friends, with their mania for cleanliness, yodelling, passion for melted cheese, tidy, solicitous brand of medical treatments, cultured beverages, cultivated villages, lakes and banks and their fruit-based archery training programs for the young…

The search for the silver-star is, of course ultimately successful, despite an entire battalion of troops racing up a mountain after them, with a stunning alpine climax and an exceptionally different kind of ending…

 

Translated that same year was The Mansions of the Gods (from Pilote #591-612, in 1971) wherein Caesar, determined to eradicate the last remnant of Gaulish resistance, tries to win by social planning and cultural imperialism. To that end he plans to cut down the great forest which surrounds the village and build a new town of lavish Roman apartments in the stylish, modern Roman manner.

Whiz kid architect Squaronthehypotenus leads the project, but his immigrant army of slave labourers soon founders when boar-loving Obelix strenuously objects to having his hunting preserve torn down and paved over…

However the massed might of Rome is insurmountable and eventually many mighty oaks are felled. To counter this Getafix simply grows instant new ones whilst Asterix shares his magic potion with the increasingly fed up slaves…

This stalemate is only overcome when the wily Gauls seemingly surrender and allow the “Mansions of the Gods” to be built and stocked with middle-class colonists from Rome. After a rapid bump in trade as the villagers become tourist-trappers, the complacent property developers make their greatest mistake and rent an apartment to the Gaul’s uniquely gifted bard Cacofonix, leading to an exodus of tenants and an inevitable and breathtaking final clash with the garrison of Aquarium, who had moved into the luxurious vacant apartments…

Drenched in trenchant observation of and jibes at the industrial relations conflicts, the then runaway speculation in new developments in France and the inexorable growth of “planning blight” (still painfully relevant today anywhere in the industrialised world), this tremendously effective satire is packed with gags and action and displays artist Uderzo’s sublime gift for caricature and parody – especially in the wonderful spoofs of real estate advertising campaigns…

 

Asterix and the Laurel Wreath was serialised in issues #621-642, in 1971 and given the fabulous Bell/Hockridge treatment in 1974. It begins in Rome where Asterix and Obelix are arguing…

During a visit to Chief Vitalstatistix’s wealthy, snobbish, city-dwelling brother-in-law Homeopathix the doughty old warrior gets too drunk and boasts that he can get something which all the merchant’s money cannot buy – a stew seasoned with Caesar’s fabled wreath of office.

Sober now and in dire danger of eternal embarrassment and the unflinching approbation of his sharp-tongued wife Impedimenta, the Chief has no option but to allow his two best men – the larger of whom had drunkenly egged him on at the family gathering and then volunteered to fetch the leafy headpiece – to travel to the heart of Caesar’s power and attempt the impossible…

At least Asterix knows it’s impossible; Obelix is quite happy to storm the Imperial Palace and just grab the wreath…

Luckily reason prevails and the wily little warrior determines their only chance is infiltration, to which end Asterix sells them both as slaves. Unfortunately they are bought by the wrong Roman…

Osseus Humerus is an innocuous Patrician with a troublesome family, but as Asterix tries every trick to get their unsuspecting owner to return them to the Slave Auctioneer, he only endears himself even more to very satisfied customer. So much so in fact, that Humerus entrusts them with a message to be delivered to Julius Caesar himself…

Jealous major-domo Goldendelicius then accuses them of planning assassination and the heroes are locked in the dungeons – leaving them complete access to the entire palace…

Before long the indomitable duo are wreaking havoc in the Imperial Court and playing hob with the usually predictable proceeding in the Arena of the Circus Maximus.

Seemingly untouchable but no nearer the Laurel Wreath, the despondent Gauls finally seize their chance when they encounter again the recently promoted Goldendelicius. Rewarded by Caesar, the major-domo now holds a position of great responsibility: holder of the triumphal floral arrangement at Caesar’s next public engagement…

Sharp and deeply intriguing this comedy of errors is spectacularly illustrated by Uderzo at the very top of his game, whilst Goscinny’s dry, wry script seamlessly rockets from slapstick set-piece to penetrating observational comedy and magnificently engaging adventure, with, as always our unlikely heroes inevitably, happily victorious in every  instance.

Asterix epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, illustrated in a magically enticing manner. These are perfect comics that everyone should read over and over again.
© 1970-1972-3 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Princess Knight Part 1


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Maya Rosewood (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1934287-27-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a fairytale for all ages and types of romantic… 8/10

Osamu Tezuka utterly revolutionised the Japanese comics industry during the 1950s and 1960s. Being a devoted fan of the films of Walt Disney he also performed similar sterling service in the country’s fledgling animation industry.

Many of his earliest works were aimed at children but right from the start his expansive fairytale stylisations – so perfectly seen in this splendid romp – harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers…

Ribon no Kishi or “Knight of the Ribbon” is a series which Tezuka returned to repeatedly during his life and one that is being continued even in the 21st century by his disciples. The simple tale has been turned into TV anime seen all over the world (generally known as some variation of “Choppy and the Princess” in places as far-flung as Canada, France and Brazil) and in 2006 a stage musical was launched.

The serial was first published in Kodansha’s Shoujo Korabu (Shōjo Club), running from January 1954 to January 1956, with a generational sequel appearing in Nakayoshi magazine between January 1958 and June 1959. The original tale was updated and revised in 1963-1966 and forms the basis of the version featured in this magnificent tome, translated from the Tezuka Osamu Manga Zenshu Edition 1977.

In 1967-1968, to tie-in with a television adaptation, Tezuka reconfigured the tale with science fiction overtones and, illustrated by Kitano Hideaki, it ran for a year in Shōjo Friend.

The series is a perennial favourite and classic of the medium and this volume forms part of a two-volume softcover English-language edition, containing the first 16 episodes.

‘Once Upon a Time’ opens in Heaven where junior angels are busy with soon to be born souls, installing either blue boy hearts or pink girl hearts to the ante-natal cherubs in their care. Unfortunately easily distractible Tink (AKA “Choppy” in many foreign iterations) cocks up and one proto-baby gets both…

Tink is dispatched to Earth to retrieve the superfluous metaphysical organ and lands in the feudal kingdom of Silverland, where a most important child is about to be born. The King and Queen desperately desire that their imminent first-born be a boy, for no female can rule the country. Should the child be a princess then vile Duke Duralumin’s idiot and nastily maladjusted boy Plastic will become heir-apparent.

Thus, due to a concatenation of circumstances, a baby girl with a dual nature spends her formative years pretending to be a prince…

Fifteen years pass before ‘Flowers and Parades’ resumes the saga. Tink has been lax in his mission and Prince Sapphire has become the darling boy of the kingdom. Duralumin and his crafty henchman Sir Nylon have spent the intervening years certain that the gallant boy is actually a useless girl but have been unable to prove it, whilst Sapphire has grown into a dutiful, beautiful – if androgynous – specimen skilled in riding, sports and all arts martial, but passionately yearns to be allowed to openly wear the dresses and make-up which are her family’s most intimate secret. When Tink finally reveals himself and exposes the heir’s hidden nature, Nylon overhears…

‘The Carnival’ sees gorgeous Prince Franz Charming pay a royal visit from neighbouring Goldland and Sapphire, aided by her mother and nurse, dons a blonde wig and party frock and clandestinely give vent to her true nature, turning all heads and captivating her regal guest. When she returns to her public identity all Franz can talk about is the mysterious girl with flaxen hair, blind to the fact that she is sitting beside him…

In ‘The Tournament’ the evil Duke turns a fencing exhibition to his advantage, killing the King and framing Franz for the deed, after which the ‘Prisoner Prince’ is helped to escape by his Flaxen maid. Heir Sapphire accedes to the throne in ‘Coronation’ only to have it all snatched away as the Duke’s latest scheme succeeds beyond all his wildest dreams and Sapphire is publicly exposed as a girl, and her recently widowed mother is accused of betraying the nation by concealing the fact since her birth…

Reviled and shunned, mother and daughter are imprisoned with ghastly hunchback jailer Gammer in ‘Sapphire in Coffin Tower’ wherein the distraught girl befriends the vermin of the keep just as Gammer gets his orders to dispose of his charges. Meanwhile Tink has been searching high and low for Sapphire…

Narrowly escaping being murdered the princess becomes a masculine masked avenger of wrongs in ‘Phantom Knight’s Debut’, punishing the wicked men who have ruined her nation since Plastic was enthroned by his corrupt father Duralumin.

Meanwhile in the Palace the villains look for ways to control the increasingly off-kilter Plastic in ‘The Idiot King’s Bride’. Little do they know that Briar Rose, the fetching companion they’ve acquired, is Sapphire on an infiltration mission…

When she is inevitably caught Sapphire’s life takes an even more dramatic turn in ‘Devil’s Whisper’ when terrifying witch Madame Hell materialises, offering her untold wealth and power if she will sell her female heart and nature. Luckily Tink’s angelic power drives her off, but is unable to prevent the princess being sentenced to a life of penal servitude in ‘Two By the Quarry’.

Here she again meets Franz, who has long believed Sapphire responsible for his frame-up and imprisonment in Silverland’s dungeons. Nevertheless the Prince helps Sapphire escape, almost dying in the effort. Soon after the girl is transported to ‘The Witch’s Lair’ and meet’s Hell’s daughter Hecate, who is violently opposed to her mother’s scheme to marry her off to Franz.

That young worthy however, has meanwhile recovered from his wounds and is still searching for the Flaxen-haired girl, oblivious to her true identity and nature…

Hecate does not want Sapphire’s girlish heart and frees the Princess Knight by turning her into a ‘Grieving Swan’ who is captured by Franz and added to the Royal Flock. The Prince too is being pressured to marry and beget an heir, so when Madame Hell arrives with a huge bribe and a now compliant Hecate the boy’s uncle is keen to cement the nuptial alliance until the ensorcelled swan Sapphire exposes their true natures with Tink’s angelic assistance…

Just as Franz begins to finally notice the similarity of his flaxen dream girl to the freshly restored Sapphire in ‘Two Hearts’ she and Tink are fleeing – right into the clutches of Nylon who is keen to wipe out any loose ends. At the worst possible moment the angel completes his long mission and reclaims the boy-heart, leaving her helpless, but cannot betray his friend and returns it, consequently losing his place in Heaven…

Together again the pair attempt to rescue Sapphire’s mother from Coffin Tower but are too late. The Queen and Gammer have been taken to Sea Snake Island where vengeful Madame Hell’s dark magic has transformed her into a petrified ‘Stone Queen’.

This premier chronicle concludes with Sapphire and Tink adrift on the ocean where they encounter the brilliant, dashing and gloriously charismatic ‘Captain Blood, Pirate’ who instantly penetrates the princess’ manly disguise and sees a woman he wants to marry at all costs…

Princess Knight is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking adventuresome fairytale about desire, destiny and determination which practically invented the Shoujo (“Little Female” or young girl’s manga) genre in Japan and can still deliver a powerful punch and wide eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels. Still one of the best and most challenging kid’s comics tales ever, it’s a work that all fans and – especially parents – should know.

This black and white book is printed in the traditional ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

© 2011 by Tezuka Productions. Translation © 2011 by Mari Morimoto and Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Book of Human Insects


By Osamu Tezuka translated by Mari Morimoto (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-20-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: an ideal chiller for those dark nights… 8/10

There aren’t many Names in comics. Lots of creators; multi-disciplined or single focussed, who have contributed to the body of the art form, but we don’t have many Global Presences whose contributions have affected generations of readers and aspirants all over the World, like a Mozart or Michelangelo or Shakespeare. There’s just Hergé and Jack Kirby and Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka was born in Osaka Prefecture on 3rd November 1928 and as a child suffered from a severe illness which made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him inspired him to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university, he persevered with his studies and qualified as a doctor too. Facing a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing that made him happiest. He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such classic cartoon masterpieces as Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro-boy), Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Adolf and literally hundreds of other graphic narratives. Along the way Tezuka incidentally pioneered, if not created, the Japanese anime industry.

Able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults equally, Tezuka’s works range from the childishly charming to the disturbing – and even terrifying. In 1970-1971 he produced the stark and moody psycho-thriller Ningen Konchuuki for Akita Shonen’s Play Comic, detailing the inexorable rise of a truly different kind of monster for the burgeoning audiences who were growing up and demanding more mature manga fare.

This superb black and white 364 page hardback opens with ‘Spring Cicada’ as failed and broken designer Ryotaro Mizuno ponders the incredible success of golden girl Toshiko Tomura; a bright young thing who has just scooped a major literary prize for her first novel.

Across town a broken-down derelict also toasts her success whilst in a lonely garret a girl hangs from the end of a noose…

Mizuno confronts Toshiko in her moment of triumph, telling her failed author Kageri Usuba has committed suicide. Their tense exchange is observed by muck-raking journalist Aokusa…

Convinced he’s on to something the reporter perseveres and discovers that Toshiko is a modern renaissance woman: emerging from obscurity to become a celebrated actress while still in her teens, she graduated to directing before becoming an award-winning designer. Abruptly she metamorphosed again, writing the stunning novel The Book of Human Insects. Still in her twenties, there seems to be nothing the angelic girl cannot do…

Further enquiry leads the newsman to her desolate rural home where the uncanny genius presents an entirely different, almost wanton aspect. Moreover she keeps there a very creepy waxwork of her dead mother…

Toshiko catches the professional voyeur and agrees to an interview, but before that meeting Aokusa is accosted by shambling drop-out Hyoroku Hachisuka, a once-prominent stage-director who imparts the true story of Toshiko’s resplendent rise to fame and fortune.

Once, the universally approved-of, wholesome girl was a small, timid creature who inveigled her way into his theatre company. Once there she attached herself like a leech to the star, learning her ways and mannerisms. A perfect mimic, Toshiko not only acquired the actress’s skills but also seemed to suck out her talent and inspiration. When the former star quit Toshiko replaced her…

She performed that same slow consumption of the entire company and then turned her attentions to the director…

Moreover, the seemingly helpless waif was utterly amoral, using sex, slander and perhaps even murder to achieve her ends, which were always short-term: she had no goals or life ambitions, but merely flitted from victim to victim like a wasp seeking its next meal…

Ignoring the warning Aosuka persists and discovers that promising writer Usuba once had a room-mate named Toshiko whom she accused of plagiarising her novel…

Intriguingly, the lonely writer’s recent suicide occurred in extremely suspicious circumstances…

During a TV interview Toshiko accidentally meets Mizuno again. Revealed as one of her earliest victims, can he possibly be the only man she ever loved?

In ‘Leafhopper’ Aosuka uncovers another of Toshiko’s secrets when he meets for the first and last time her shady associate Arikawa – a murderous anarchist who cleans ups the lovely mimic’s potential embarrassments – just as she tries to renew her relationship with the bitter and far wiser Mizuno.

Toshiko also meets war criminal and right-wing “businessman” Sesson Kabuto who immediately discerns her true nature and keeps a fascinated but wary professional distance from her…

Toshiko operates almost instinctively and according to immediate desire, but she has a terrifying capacity to clean up any potentially damaging loose-ends. After seducing Arikawa she spectacularly removes him during a political assassination and uses the affair to promote her next book…

Meanwhile Mizuno spirals further into despondency until he meets a prostitute who looks like Toshiko and finally finds redeeming true love – of a sort…

Toshiko almost overreaches her abilities when she is arrested by South Korean security forces in ‘Longhorn Beetle’ but is rescued and forced into marriage by a man every inch her ruthless, remorseless equal, compelling her to even more inspired acts of perversion and survival – which consequentially endangers the wellbeing of everybody in Japan – before ‘Katydid’ brings the unique drama to a shocking, bloody, poignant and utterly unexpected conclusion…

Murder-mystery, Greek Tragedy, trenchant melodrama, serial-killer horror story and much more, this supremely adult tale has hardly dated at all since its release and offers a chilling image of those hidden invisible predators who have supplanted vampires, witches and werewolves in the dark corners of our communal consciousness.

The beautiful maiden as lure and amoral predator possibly began with this truly disturbing tale and the story is one which will stay with readers long after the final page is turned…

“God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka died in 1989 but with ever more of his copious canon at last being released in English there’s plenty of brilliant material for all ages, intellects and inclinations to admire and adore, so why not start right here, right now.

Accept no imitations…

© 2011 by Tezuka Productions. Translation © 2011 by Mari Morimoto and Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.