Asterix and the Class Act


By R. Goscinny & A. Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-6640-6

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, Asterix the Gaul has been translated into over 100 languages. More than 325 million copies of the 35 canonical Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The strip has spawned numerous animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted toys, games, apparel and even been enshrined in its own tourist hotspot – Parc Astérix, near Paris.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created in 1959 by two of the Ninth Art’s greatest proponents, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo: masters of cartoon narrative then at the peak of their creative powers.

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix 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. As such prominent and ever-rising stars their presence was often requested in other places, as varied as fashion magazine Elle, global icon National Geographic and even a part of Paris’ 1992 Olympic Bid…

Although the ancient Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on other strips, but as soon as the initial epic was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the astounding Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s attention, and in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their creation. At the same time, after nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into compilations, the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long anticipated, eagerly awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

With the sudden death of impossibly prolific scripter Goscinny in 1977, the creative wonderment continued with Uderzo – rather reluctantly – writing and drawing fresh adventures until his retirement in 2010.

In 2013 new yarn Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much-anticipated continuation of the franchise.

Before that, however, Uderzo was convinced to gather and – in many instances – artistically re-master some of the historical oddments and pictorial asides which had incrementally accrued over the glory-filled decades; features by the perfect partners which just didn’t fit into major album arcs, tales done for Specials, guest publications and commercial projects starring the indomitable Gaul. To cap off the new-old package Albert crafted an all-original vignette from that halcyon world of immortal heroes…

This intriguing compilation first appeared in France as Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993 – and a decade later in English – gathering those long-forgotten side-pieces and spin-off material starring the Gallant Gauls and frequently their minor-celebrity creators too.

Following an expansive and explanatory ‘French Publisher’s Note’ – and the traditional background maps and cast list – a press conference from Chief Vitalstatistix leads directly into the eponymous ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ (from Pilote #363 October 6th 1966) wherein the first day of school finds the little legend and his big buddy sadly miscast as truant inspectors and kid catchers for head teacher Getafix…

Each little gem is preceded by an introductory piece, and following the hard facts comes ‘The Birth of Asterix’. First seen in October 1994’s Le Journal exceptionnel d’Astérix, the tale is set ‘In the Year 35 BC (Before Caesar)’ and finds a certain village in high dudgeon as two young women go into labour. Their distracted husbands soon find a way to distract themselves – and everybody else – with a mass punch-up that quickly becomes the hamlet’s preferred means of airing issues and passing the time…

‘In 50 BC’ comes from May 1977 and re-presents newspaper-style strips produced at the request of an American publisher hoping to break the European sensation in the USA. The endeavour inevitably stalled but the panels – introducing and reprising the unique world of the Gallic goliaths – wound up being published in National Geographic.

Apparently Uderzo loves chickens and, especially for the original August 2003 release, he concocted the tale of ‘Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel’ detailing the struggle between the village’s chief clucker and a marauding Roman Eagle. It sounds pretty one-sided but faithful mutt Dogmatix knows where the magic portion is kept…

Pilote #424 (7th December 1967) was full of Seasonal festive fun so ‘For Gaul Lang Syne’ saw Obelix attempt to use druidic mistletoe to snaffle a kiss from beautiful Panacea. He soon came to regret the notion…

‘Mini, Midi, Maxi’ was produced for fashion magazine Elle (#1337 2nd August 1971) but the discussion of ancient Gaulish couture soon devolved into the kind of scraps you’d expect, after which ‘Asterix As You Have Never Seen Him Before…’ (Pilote #527, 11th December 1969) displays Uderzo’s practised visual versatility as our heroes are realised in various popular art styles from gritty superhero to Flash Gordon, a Charles Schulz pastiche and even as an underground psychedelic trip…

Approached to contribute a strip to Paris’ bid, the partners produced ‘The Lutetia Olympics’ which was later published in Jours de France #1660 (25th October 1986) and depicted how Caesar’s attempts to scotch a similar attempt to hold the great games in Gaul failed because of a certain doughty duo, whilst ‘Springtime in Gaul’ (from Pilote #334, 17th March 1966) was an early all-Albert affair wherein our heroes help the mystic herald of changing seasons give pernicious winter the boot…

‘The Mascot’ originated in the first digest-sized Super Pocket Pilote (#1, 13th June 1968) and revealed how the constantly thrashed Romans decided to get a lucky animal totem, but chose the wrong-est dog in the world to confiscate, after which ‘Latinomania’ (originally crafted in March 1973 and re-mastered for the first Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993) took a sly poke at the fragile mutability of language.

‘The Authors Take the Stage’ describes how usually-invisible creators became characters in their own work and ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ collects a continuing panel strip which began in Pilote #172 (7th February 1963) and ran until #186 wherein Mssrs. Goscinny and Uderzo encounter a modern day Gaulish giant and track his ancestors back through history.

An at last everything ends with ‘How Do They Think It All Up?’ (Pilote #157, 25th October 1962) as two cartoonists in a café experience ‘The Birth of an Idea’

Adding extra lustre to an already stellar canon, these quirky sidebars and secret views thankfully collect just a few more precious gags and wry capers to augment if not complete the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterpieces. Not to be missed…
© 2003 Les Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2003 Les Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 10: 1955-1956


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-800-7

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday February 13th 1937, a fantastic and fabulous full-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to produce something greater than both. Creator Hal Foster had developed the feature after leaving the landmark, groundbreaking, astoundingly popular Tarzan of the Apes strip.

Valiant provided action, adventure, exoticism, romance and plenty of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked plunderers played out against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages backdrop. It followed the life of a refugee boy driven from his ancestral homeland in Scandinavian Thule who grew up to roam the world and attain a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Foster wove his epic romance over decades, following the progress of a near-feral wild boy who grew into a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, vengeance-taker and eventually family patriarch in a constant deluge of wild and joyously witty wonderment. The restless hero visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The strip spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections based on Prince Valiant – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (4000 + episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end times of newspaper narrative cartoons as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster crafted the feature alone until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator. Foster continued as writer and designer until 1980, after which he retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of many extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates with Mark Schultz (Xenozoic) scripting.

This latest spellbinding and luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback collection reprints the pages from January 2nd 1955 to 30th December 1956 (#934-1038) but before we proceed kicks off with an illustration-strewn, memory-stuffed and erudite Introduction from contemporary adventure-strip master Timothy Truman in ‘Schooled by Foster’.

What Has Gone Before: Having brought Christianity to Thule and been instrumental in repulsing an invasion of Saxons and Danes in England whilst his wife Aleta single-handedly dismantled an incipient coup in her homeland of the Misty Isles, Valiant and his family make ready to return to Thule…

The eternal saga picks up as the voyagers encounter a slight problem. An upsurge of piracy makes sea travel all-but impossible and a rising of barbarian hordes from beyond the Danube has cut off overland routes through northern Europe. They are seemingly stranded until Aleta’s Viking handmaiden Katwin offers a solution.

Her father, a great seafaring king, sometimes plied an eastern route to Scandinavia via fabled Constantinople which his men called “the Long Portage”…

Soon a brace of well-stocked trade-ships are in the bustling trade capital and Katwin is rounding up Northmen homesick and bold enough to sign up for the risky venture. Before long the assembled crew, Sir Gawain and the astounded royal retinue are approaching Sevastopol on the Crimean coast of the on the Black Sea, readying themselves for the perilous trip up the Dnieper River and overland to the Baltic…

The journey is arduous and made worse when nomadic Ukrainian Patzinaks begin stalking the vessels from the banks of the river. Wary pursuit soon devolves into repeated archery assaults but war-wise Valiant and Gawain quickly devise suitable armoured defences – and even a few land-based counterattacks – and the trek continues.

The cautious progress hits a real snag only after one of the flat-bottomed ships breaks its mid-river mooring whilst Valiant and the majority of the crew are scouting ahead. It floats silently to shore in the dark night and in an instant the vigilant Patzinaks seize their chance.

Rushing the beached boat they capture Aleta – although she is quick enough to hide her children from them. The attending Northmen guards become berserkers and fall upon the Ukrainian raiders but are too late to stop some carrying off the golden-haired queen to their fortress.

By the time Valiant’s party return with the dawn the defenders have buried their dead and are preparing to follow the plunderers. As the enraged Prince leads a column of warriors across the grassy plains, in his dingy city the Great Dragda Khan is finding his glorious new captive far more than he can handle…

Once he is humiliatingly disposed of, Aleta than turns his ambitious lieutenants and potential heirs against each other and by the time her husband arrives to besiege the Patzinak stronghold his job is already half done…

When the Northern reivers finish sacking the city the journey resumes. Valiant wants to avoid any more delays but is convinced by his wife that they should spend time and money in the far more civilised bastion of Kiev where again Aleta’s diplomatic acumen comes into play when the bored and boisterous Vikings begin making trouble.

Departing with a third barge – packed with fabrics, brocades, booty and a flight of dressmakers – the voyage continues.

The pace slows however when the river dwindles and after Valiant is wounded hunting an Aurochs the travellers are forced to hire local natives to guide and even help carry the ships overland to the next navigable section…

Before too long – and after only a few murderous incidents – the boats and goods are hauled through a swamp to another river and the final leg of the voyage can begin. The crew are happy that now they will be going downriver but joy turns to fury when they are attacked by a party of far-travelled Swedish raiders from Gotland.

The already weakened Val almost dies and is relegated to a bed for the remainder of the trip, allowing Foster to reprise and embellish the story of Prince Valiant’s origins and earliest battles (as seen in volume 1 of this series), becoming storyteller to little Arn and his twin baby sisters…

By the time the flashbacks conclude the ships have reached Baltic salt marshes and the ecstatic travellers are preparing to cross the seas to their northern homes. Arn meanwhile has begun his martial training and his doting parents realise with horror that he is going to as headstrong, reckless and worrisome as his sire…

In mid-ocean a tense moment with three Irish raiders ends happily as the Celtic corsairs recognise Valiant from his memorable trip to the Emerald Isle and join him to create a formidable flotilla of seagoing might.

Gawain’s exceedingly homely, inept yet oddly effective servant Pierre experiences a joyous moment when the journey is almost concluded. As he and his master switch ships and divert course for Britain, the bumbler discovers his even dumber brother Jex is a slave at the oars of this new vessel. Before too long the glamorous knight is encumbered with two idiots, not one…

Val and Aleta meanwhile have concluded their arduous ordeal by sailing on to Thule and an exuberant welcome from regal patriarch King Aguar just in time to enjoy the beauty and bounty of a Scandinavian summer.

Seasons turn however and as autumn begins, the northern practice of overturning their ships and stocking up for the long hard winter begins throughout Thule. Ever eager for excitement, Val uses the time to explore inland from the populated coastal region, seeking suitable fields for the populace to cultivate, rather than depend on chancy fishing and raiding to supply their needs in the cold, infertile months.

His expedition is most fruitful as the search yields splendid unused meadows for arable and pastoral farming, lacking only suitable road routes to move people to and crops from them.

Whilst charting the region the party discovers a vast forbidding mountain and Arn falls in love. Amazed and beguiled by the daunting snow-capped peak, the little princeling simply must scale it and nothing his father can say will dissuade him.

Capitulating to the inevitable, Valiant grudgingly allows the escapade, taking some comfort from the fact that his little boy will allow doughty and taciturn Garm the Hunter to accompany him…

Honour and youthful independence upheld, the party returns to the coast and palatial Vikingsholm which is frantically preparing for winter. This soon entails a state visit to the nearby fief of Earl Jon for recreational hunting and bond-building. Even Aleta enjoys the hardy sports and endeavours – at least for the first day.

The second finds her and Katwin staying home to luxuriate in soft pillows and warm baths whilst the menfolk continue to prove their rugged manliness by shooting animals.

Thus the manor is practically defenceless when brutal and scurrilous Northern neighbour Gunnar Freysson and his son Helgi decide that they will supplement their inadequate winter stores by stealing everything the provident Jon has cached away.

If they leave no survivors, who will know that it was friend and not foe who committed the atrocity?

Striking when all the able-bodied men are away, the raiders meet with complete success until they confront Aleta. Taken aback at such a prominent potential victim, Freysson momentarily baulks, allowing the quick-witted queen to craftily light a signal fire.

With no other choice but concealment, the panicked raiders lock Aleta and Katwin in the house and fire it, intending that when the already returning hunting party arrives there will be none to accuse them…

However the rogues have not reckoned on Aleta’s quick wits. She finds a cunning way for them to survive and when Jon, Aguar, Valiant and the warriors storm in to quell the blaze they discover the women scorched but safe. On learning who is responsible they lay their plans for revenge…

As the raiders struggle over frozen mountain passes with their ill-gotten gains, losing many men and much loot to the artic conditions, Valiant and maimed shipwright Gundar Harl concoct a cunning plan. When the exhausted villains finally return to their hall they find their own women and children safely sequestered and vengeful men-at-arms waiting for them…

With Harl now the new lord of Freysson’s fief, the Royal Family return to Vikingsholm for the winter but little Arn is restless and still craves to prove himself. Arguing that the farmland Valiant discovered is useless without a safe route through the mountains, the crafty child campaigns long and forcefully that he be allowed to find one before the snows come…

Sustained pester-power wins out over parental concern and with faithful Garm at his side Arn sets off. What follows is a mesmerising 16-week epic of endurance and bravery to rival the best of Jack London as the old man and the indomitable boy scale mighty peaks only to be trapped in an unseasonably early blizzard. Having found the crucial route, the pair battle against phenomenal hazards with startling grit and ingenuity, and eventually man and boy struggle home to a rapturous welcome…

As winter cloaks the land old friends straggle in as the year turns. Aleta’s former maid Tillicum visits with her son and Viking husband Boltar, as does courtly scoundrel Gawain. All are aware that Arn is of an age when noble sons generally leave home for other houses to begin their long path towards knighthood. Gawain has come to escort Valiant to King Arthur’s annul Grand Tourney in celebration of Pentecost…

During the bombastic spectacle Val befriends a young knight named William Lydney, even accompanying the neophyte to his home in Cornwall as cover for his true mission for Arthur: ferreting out traitors and rumours of sedition in that troubled region…

Young William has the potential to be a great hero but is sorely troubled. He is utterly devoted to and wants to marry his neighbour’s daughter, Gwendolyn of Berkeley. Indeed, she is pledged to the next Lord Vernon but William’s succession to the title is not clear. There is an older brother, who by rights should hold the title, but he has been missing for years and the impatient younger sibling must prove him dead or wait years until he is of age…

The star-crossed love affair descends into tragedy and incredible sacrifice once Valiant and William’s devoted Steward Alfred unpick the mystery and discover a shocking secret. When the drama finally concludes Alfred leaves William’s service to become Valiant’s latest squire

To Be Continued…

Rounding out this gloriously chronicle are two more fascinating features on Foster’s pre-comics career as an advertising artist and the impact of his “Mountie” paintings on early 20th century American ads in the stunning pictorial essay ‘Maintain[ing] the Right [Stuff]: A Gallery of Hal Foster’s Mountie Painting’ and ‘Reclaiming Foster’s Mountie Legacy’ compiled and annotated by Brian M. Kane.

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a non-stop rollercoaster of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, the strip is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2015 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2015 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Tarzan versus the Barbarians (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 2)


By Burne Hogarth and Don Garden (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78116-318-4

Modern comics and graphic novels evolved from newspaper comic strips. These daily pictorial features were – until quite recently – overwhelmingly popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a powerful tool to guarantee and increase circulation and profits. From the earliest days humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and, of course, “Comics”.

Despite the odd ancestor or precedent like Roy Crane’s Wash  Tubbs (comedic when it began in 1924, but gradually moving through mock-heroics to light-action to become a full-blown adventure serial with the introduction of Captain Easy in 1929), the vast bulk of strips produced were generally feel-good humour strips with the occasional child-oriented fantasy.

The full blown dramatic adventure serial started with Buck Rogers on January 7th 1929 – and Tarzan which debuted the same day. Both were adaptations of pre-existing prose properties and their influence changed the shape of the medium forever.

The 1930s saw an explosion of such fare, launched with astounding rapidity and success. Not just strips but actual genres were created in that decade which still impact on today’s comic-books and, in truth, all our popular fiction forms.

In terms of sheer quality of art, adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels starring jungle-bred John Clayton, Lord Greystoke by Canadian commercial artist Harold “Hal” Foster were unsurpassed, and the strip soon became a firm favourite of the masses, supplementing movies, books, a radio show and ubiquitous advertising appearances.

As fully detailed in the previous volume of this superb oversized (330 x 254mm), full-colour hardback series, Foster initially quit the strip at the end of the 10-week adaptation of the first novel Tarzan of the Apes. He was replaced by Rex Maxon, but returned (at the insistent urging of Edgar Rice Burroughs) when the black-&-white daily was expanded to include a lush, full colour Sunday page featuring original adventures.

Leaving Maxon to capably handle the Monday through Saturday series of novel adaptations, Foster produced the Sunday page until 1936 (233 consecutive weeks) after which he momentously moved to King Features Syndicate to create his own landmark weekend masterpiece Prince  Valiant in the Days of King Arthur – which debuted on February 13th 1937.

Once the four month backlog of material he had built up was gone, Foster was succeeded by a precociously brilliant 25-year old artist named Burne Hogarth: a young graphic visionary whose superb anatomical skill, cinematic design flair and compelling page composition revolutionised the entire field of action/adventure narrative illustration. The galvanic modern dynamism of the idealised human figure in today’s comicbooks can be directly attributed to Hogarth’s pioneering drawing and, in later years, educational efforts.

When he in turn left the strip Hogarth eventually found his way into teaching (he was the co-founder – with Silas H. Rhodes – of the Cartoonist and Illustrators School for returning veterans which evolved into the New York School of Visual Arts) and also created an invaluable and inspirational series of art textbooks such as Dynamic Anatomy and Dynamic Figure Drawing, which influenced generations of aspiring artists.

In the early 1970s Hogarth was lured back to the leafy domain of the legendary Lord Greystoke, producing two magnificent volumes of graphic narrative in the dazzling style that had captivated audiences more than thirty years previously. Large bold panels, vibrantly coloured, with blocks of Burroughs’ original text, leapt out at the reader in a riot of hue and motion as they retold the triumphant, tragic tale of the orphaned scion of the British nobility raised to puissant manhood by the Great Apes of Africa in Tarzan of the Apes and The Jungle Tales of Tarzan.

Burroughs cannily used the increasingly popular strip feature to cross-market his own prose efforts with great effect. Tarzan and the City of Gold was first serialised in the pulp magazine Argosy in 1932 and released as a book the following year. In May 1936, Foster’s new – and unconnected – Tarzan in the City of Gold could be described as a brand new adventure on one hand, whilst boosting already impressively constant book sales by acting as a subtle weekly ad for the fantastic fantasy novel.

This second sublime collection begins with fascinating original art examples peppering the ‘Introduction’ by sometime Tarzan and current Prince Valiant illustrator Thomas Yeates, who shares memories of and commentary on Hogarth the man, the exemplar and the educator.

The visual virtuosity then resumes with ‘Tarzan and the Peoples of the Sea and the Fire’ (episodes #478-527-8, 5th May 1940 to April 20th 1941) wherein the ape-man, incessantly journeying across fantastic, unexplored Africa, discovers an inland sea and stumbles into an ages-old war between two lost races.

On the one side are the water-worshipping mariners of the Sea People whose vile Prince Jagurt captures Tarzan whilst beautiful maiden Leecia is falling for him. Sadly, the real problem is arch-priest Molocar, who takes an instant dislike to the newcomer and tries to feed him to the Demon-fish…

Escaping the antediluvian ichthyosaurs, the jungle lord stumbles upon secret subterranean caverns where the priesthood perfect their seemingly supernatural tricks to cow the populace. The surprised superstition-peddlers try to make him a slave…

Within the compound Tarzan meets a warrior of the city’s ancestral enemies, the volcano-worshipping Fire People, and discovers a crippled boy named Prince Tanny. The child is heir to the lava-lovers’ throne and Molocar intends to brainwash and torture him into switching faiths…

The ape-man cannot abide cruelty and in a fit of righteous rage frees the boy and breaks out of the den of iniquity. Eluding the prowling demon-fish, Tarzan swims the lagoon with his frail prize, moving into the city, where after sustained pursuit he elicits Leecia’s aid. After many savage battles they flee together into the dense jungle.

The plan had been to take Tanny home, but since the boy’s capture his father has been murdered and Towrit the Cruel now rules the Fire People. When the trio are intercepted by the usurper’s soldiers only Tarzan and the boy break free, but after hiding in a cave the jungle lord is ambushed by a ferocious giant who turns out to be the boy’s faithful guardian Jaxie

Resolved to free Leecia and restore Tanny to the throne, Tarzan’s herculean efforts are thwarted as all-out war begins. The implacable hatred of each faction for him and each other results in constant battle, but as Jagurt, Molocar and Tawrit all strive for supremacy nature itself rebels and the entire region is devastated when the volcano erupts, imperilling all dwellers around the inland sea…

Lost World romance gave way to modern militaristic mayhem in ‘Tarzan Against Dagga Ramba’ (pages #529-581, running from 27th April 1941 to 26th April 1942). Having sailed a river to a great desert, the mighty wanderer encounters a camel caravan in time to save an Arabian princess from a stalking leopard, although it leaves him grievously injured.

Haughty Ta’ama much prefers the wild man saviour to her own (arranged) affianced man, something rapacious Sheik Numali is not going to allow. The caravan continues with comatose Tarzan guarded by the Princess, but Numali knows that sooner or later her attention will lapse and an accident can be made to happen…

Happily the white god recovers before any untoward occurrences but agrees to remain with them until the Great Desert is crossed. Into that simmering bath of tension and suspicion a greater menace soon intrudes as ambitious army sergeant Dagga Ramba abandons the war currently engulfing North Africa, declares himself general and convinces a band of Askari deserters they can carve out their own kingdom in the sands…

When the caravan is captured by the soldiers Tarzan escapes and stumbles upon old ally Kamur and his mountain-living Ibek Nomads. The doughty warrior is stalking the Askaris who have stolen his wife Nikotris, but that noble woman is in far greater danger from her fellow captive Ta’ama than the self-appointed warlord.

The mountain dweller has idly expressed her (platonic) admiration for Tarzan in the cell they share and the ruthless Arabian princess has wrongly deduced she has a rival for the ape-man’s affections…

Thankfully a daring raid of the warlord’s fortress by Tarzan liberates Kamur’s bride before Ta’ama can act, but in the melee he is trapped and, after soundly thrashing Dagga Ramba, sentenced to hang. Casually but spectacularly escaping the gallows, the hero rapidly returns to the mountains unaware the warlord has subtly suborned noxious Numali…

Soon a guerrilla war is underway at great cost to the Ibeks, whose bows and raw courage are no match for machine guns and armoured cars. Tarzan volunteers to re-cross the desert and try to recruit the normally impartial Soufara into a grand alliance against Dagga Ramba.

His brief time with nomadic Bedouins garners no support but their initial refusal only allows the upstart warmonger to mount a surprise attack on the desert dwellers. Racing out into a sandstorm on a stolen camel, Tarzan heads for the Soufara with Numali in hot pursuit.

When his mount expires the indomitable ape-man continues his epic trek on foot and eventually reaches their forbidden city, only to find gloating Numali waiting for him.

His attempts to assassinate the ape-man are forestalled by the Emir (Ta’ama’s father), but the potentate is disdainful of the warning Tarzan brings. Only Numali is aware that Dagga Ramba’s army is approaching and will soon attack the overconfident walled metropolis…

With his daughter hostage the Emir is hopeless to resist a mechanised assault and promptly names Tarzan his War Sheik. The noble savage’s ideas on what we now call asymmetrical warfare soon stem the tide and when he abandons the battle to call the Ibeks into the fray, it spells the beginning of the end for the dreams of Dagga Ramba…

Job done, Tarzan slips away and traverses the mountains until washed by a tumult into a lush, isolated valley where two unlikely westerners are exploring…

‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’ (#582-595, 3rd May – 2nd August 1942) returned to high fantasy as murderous dwarf Kalban Martius takes an instant dislike to the tall, clean-limbed dark Adonis whilst his reluctant companion and unwitting target object d’amour Olga finds her heart all a-flutter…

The Europeans were exploring the valley with Olga’s scientist father who had discovered the place to be rife with oversized lifeforms. Even the generally peaceful white natives dubbed the Kolosans average eight feet tall. In fact almost everything was bigger but more passive…

After Martius fires a few shots at Tarzan – and is easily eluded and subdued – the ape-man is befriended by Olga who explains they were looking for the secret of the Kolosans’ immensity. Later the giants take him into their confidence whilst explaining that he can never escape the steep encircling escarpments back to his own world…

The giants also reveal an ancient temple where a lizard-shaped “forbidden fountain” spews forth a vile liquid. The tribal secret is unfortunately exposed by Martius who had covertly joined the party, and when he stole some of the evil water it instantly transformed him into a brutal gargantuan twice the size of the Kolosans…

Crazed with dreams of power the beast-man flees, taking a canteen full of the wicked liquid. Soon the gentle valley is filled with his aggressive army of super-giants and Tarzan is forced to lead the Kolosans into a final cataclysmic battle for survival…

Eventually the carnage subsides and Olga reveals how they will leave the hidden valley. She, her father and Kalban had arrived by airplane and Tarzan can go back with them. Sadly, one final catastrophe looms as their take-off is interrupted by a super-ape which had swallowed some of Martius’ stolen growth toxin…

Following a stupendous duel on the ship’s wing Tarzan returns to the relative safety of the cockpit but as they fly on the voyagers encounter an RAF plane going down in a death-spiral over a murky island…

‘Tarzan and the Barbarians’ (#596-659, 9th August 1942 to 24th October 1943) opens with the ape-man parachuting out of Olga’s plane – and life – to assist the downed pilot. Wing Commander Jonathan is badly hurt, but before Tarzan can administer aid he is interrupted by a bizarre stranger. Nahro the Hermit wants them gone and has decided to hunt the pair for sport…

The swampy terrain quickly proves the madman’s downfall, after which Tarzan carries his ailing charge across lethal trees through mire past deadly beasts until they are captured by brutal warriors who look like Vikings…

The barbarians are dismissive of their captives as they carry them up a huge mesa to their stony citadel. Although threatened with death Tarzan eschews an easy escape by refusing to marry one of the warrior’s women and earns the undying enmity of the shamed Hilsa.

Penned with other captives he meets the slave Leeta and learns the mesa-marauders have been preying on the region’s inhabitants for centuries. When he tries to carry her away to safety, Hilsa is waiting and ambushes them…

Forced to flee alone, Tarzan heads for Leeta’s village seeking men to mount a rescue mission for her and the British pilot. However the chieftain’s wizard ignores his entreaties and instead prepares to undertake a venerable custom. The Berian people have always sacrificed the strongest heroes in their midst so the warrior could travel to the departed ancestors and beseech supernatural aid.

Tarzan ferociously suggests that they stop killing the best fighters and use them to actually fight the barbarians…

To aid their assault he even introduces them to the concept of aerial warfare, engineering the construction of a giant balloon from sewn animal hides…

The skyborne blitzkrieg fails and Tarzan plunges into a vast cave in the centre of the mesa, but this fortuitously exposes the citadel’s great weakness – a secret tunnel leading to the plains below, big enough for a small force of men to use in a sneak attack…

After much travail and bloodshed the plan succeeds but even in victory Tarzan can find no peace. Ferrying Jonathan back to civilisation leads to another primitive city, another lusty lass and one more jealous suitor and before long the ape-man is embroiled in a brutal war where the balance of power rests with the side that can muster the most mastodons…

The most worrying aspect of the war is that it is being fought for ownership of a huge jewel which can cause instant death…

Although the battle eventually goes to the just, it exposes Jonathan’s true colours as he tries to seize the lethal death-ray device for his country and especially himself…

Fed up with humans, Tarzan heads back into the wild woods only to encounter old “friends” when arboreal amazon Tibeela ambushes the man who once eluded her amorous advances. This time she takes no chances and knocks him unconscious before making her move…

Her scheme might have worked had not a band of roving buccaneers chosen that moment to come to the forest hunting women for slaves, leading to another uncanny escapade against a decadent king in a debased kingdom as well as three uncanny reunions… with an ape, a lion and a Boer beside whom Tarzan had battled before…

These tales are full of astounding, unremitting, unceasing action with Hogarth and scripter Don Garden spinning page after page of blockbuster Technicolor epics over months of non-stop wonder and exotic adventure. Plot was never as important as engendering a wild rush of rapt and rousing visceral response and every Sunday the strip delivered that in spades.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was a master of populist writing and always his prose crackled with energy and imagination. Hogarth was an inspired intellectual and, as well as gradually instilling his pages with ferocious, unceasing action, layered the panels with subtle symbolism. Heroes looked noble, villains suitably vile and animals powerful and beautiful. Even vegetation, rocks and clouds looked spiky, edgy and liable to attack at a moment’s notice…

These vivid visual masterworks are all coiled-spring tension or vital, violent explosive motion, stretching, running, fighting: a surging rush of power and glory. It’s a dream come true that these majestic exploits are back in print – especially in such a lavish and luxurious oversized (330 x 254 mm) hardback format – for ours and future generations of dedicated fantasists to enjoy.

Magnificent, majestic and awe-inspiring.
Tarzan ® & © 2014 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All images copyright of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2014. All text copyright of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc 2014.

Asterix & Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book


By R. Goscinny & A. Uderzo (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-4440-0095-5

One of the most-read comics series in the world, the chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages; with numerous animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted toys and games and even their own tourist hotspot (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 325 million copies of the 35 canonical Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created in 1959 by two of the art-form’s greatest proponents, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo: masters of strip narrative then at the peak of their creative powers. Although their perfect partnership ended in 1977 with the death of prolific scripter Goscinny, the creative wonderment continued with Uderzo writing and drawing the feature until his retirement in 2010.

His last work on the feature was this compilation of new and old material which was designed to signify and celebrate 50 glorious years of his co-creation. In 2013 a new adventure – Asterix and the Picts – opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began their much anticipated and dreaded continuation of the franchise.

Like everything great, the core premise of the immortal series works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers enjoy the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where conniving, bullying baddies always get their just deserts, whilst more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, slyly witty satire, enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translator Anthea Bell who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. Personally I still thrill to a perfectly delivered smack in the mush as much as a painfully swingeing string of bad puns and dry cutting jibes…

The eponymous hero is a smart, bold underdog who resists the iniquities, experiences the absurdities and observes the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and a bit of magic potion. The stories were alternately set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul or throughout the expansive Ancient World circa 50 BC.

Unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, the mostly victorious invaders resorted to a policy of cautious 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 by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his weak-minded super-strong best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix 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.

René Goscinny was one of the most prolific – and remains one of the most-read – writers of strips the world has ever seen. A Parisian born in 1926, he was raised in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age the boy showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts, graduating in 1942, and while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency in 1945 was invited by an uncle to stay in the USA, where he found work as a translator.

After National Service in France Goscinny settled in Brooklyn and pursued a creative career, becoming in 1948 an art assistant for a little studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin as well as a couple of European giants-in-waiting: Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”, with whom Rene produced Lucky Luke from 1955-1977) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé). He also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and ‘Jerry Spring’ Goscinny was made head of World Press’ Paris office, where he first met his life-long creative partner Albert Uderzo (Jehan Sepoulet, Luc Junior) as well as creating Sylvie and Alain et Christine (with “Martial” – Martial Durand) and Fanfan et Polo (drawn by Dino Attanasio).

In 1955 Goscinny, Uderzo, Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent Édipress/Édifrance syndicate, generating magazines for general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). Scripting for Uderzo he produced Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst writing and illustrating Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under the pen-name Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé) and in 1956 began an association with the revolutionary comics magazine Tintin, writing stories for many illustrators including Signor Spagetti (Dino Attanasio), Monsieur Tric (Bob De Moor), Prudence Petitpas (Maréchal), Globule le Martien and Alphonse (both by Tibet), Modeste et Pompon (for André Franquin), Strapontin (Berck) as well as Oumpah-Pah with Uderzo. He also scripted strips for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959 Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue starred his and Uderzo’s instant masterpiece Asterix the Gaul, debuted Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard) and also re-launched Le Petit Nicolas and Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television. In his spare time he created a little strip entitled Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record (first episode January 15th 1962) illustrated by Swedish-born Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote.

Goscinny died in November 1977.

In the post-war reconstruction of France, Albert Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new archival edition…).

Equally indefatigable, Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950 he even illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Both Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they invented a spoof western starring a Red Indian (ah, simpler, if more casually racist, times…) who evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955 with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year, he made his Tintin debut as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous, devoted audience. Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine collaborating with Charlier on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure whilst working with Goscinny on a little something called Asterix…

Although the ancient Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Tanguy et Laverdure, but as soon as epic was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s attention, and in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. At the same time, after nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into compilations, 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long anticipated, eagerly awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be coaxed and convinced to continue the sagas as writer and artist. He produced a further ten volumes until his retirement in 2010.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the tenth most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

After the controversial reception to 2005’s Asterix and the Falling Sky, Uderzo’s 34th and last outing with his creations took four years to materialise and was once again not what was expected.

In the manner of a TV clip show or “roast”, the anniversary saga wove snippets and rarely seen ancillary material into a beguiling parade of gently surreal congratulation preceded by a Foreword from the doughty Gaul himself and a moving and laudatory recollection by Goscinny’s daughter Anne, after which the usual set-up pages lead into a strange scene…

It is the year 1 (or 0, depending on your grasp of arithmetic) AD. Fifty years after the heyday of the indomitable Gaulish resistance the regular characters are old but still as bellicose as ever. The world however is no longer a place of constant turmoil and adventure. Elderly Asterix has again dumped his horde of grandkids on aged uncle Obelix but both long for the days of having fun and bashing Romans.

Then as Uderzo physically injects himself into the tale the scene magically shifts, the heroes regain youth and vitality and in 50 BC the village is frantically getting ready for a big party. Asterix and Obelix were born on the same day and this year’s birthday party is going to be monumental…

As Vitalstatistix makes another speech Geriatrix’s glamorous young wife interrupts with a prophetic clothes show allowing readers to see what Obelix would look like as a fashion plate in eleven coming eras. Her sole design for Asterix is just as radical…

When the big guy’s unrequitable (in fact, happily married and utterly unaware) love Panacea sends him a birthday missive, Obelix has to admit that he cannot read and Druid Getafix lends him an alphabet book he’s been working on. The intensive course of study does not end well…

Next follows a selection of birthday greetings from inept Egyptian architect Edifis and Redbeard’s far from unsinkable pirates, after which a touch of character assassination from Geriatrix and introspection by Druid Psychoanalytix segues into an intriguing set of designs and sketches in the manner of Leonardo da Vinci and the first present: a text and prose book entitled ‘The Circumbendibus Travel Guide’ delineating many of the fascinating places the Gauls have visited (based on an article by Goscinny originally seen in Pilote #347 16th June 1966)…

Also included is vibrant infomercial ‘Put Your Travels on the Map’ hosted by Cacofonix which is followed by more creative anachronism in the form of parody record covers and a glimpse at the pan-European Imperiovision Song Contest (Bards Only) plus a little girlish table-talk as the village women express their hidden feelings and secret imaginings about the bombastic birthday boys, as well as who should marry them…

As young entrepreneur Squareonthehypotenus offers plans for a theme park dedicated to the wonderful warriors, his plans are eagerly embraced by the villagers and encourage Druid Valueaddedtax to invent new types of potion, whilst impresario Laurensolivius imagines a time of moving pictures and the great dramas the story of the villagers will inspire…

Finally a section on the great art which will one day be created because of Asterix and Obelix (augmented by faux reproductions of famous artworks by da Vinci, Rodin, Delacroix, Edvard Munch, Arcimboldo, Manet and David) before tension breaks out after Queen Cleopatra and Julius Caesar finally arrive for the party.

She might eternally be grateful to the Gauls but the Emperor bears grudges and takes the opportunity to have his apothecary Choleramorbus add a little something nasty to the amphora of wine he’s giving as a gift…

As ever, Roman duplicity is no match for Gaulish guile…

More a collection of themed gags than a singular saga and packed with posters and sly in-jokes this is a delicious addition – or perhaps perk – to the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterworks.
© 2009 Les Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2009 Les Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Hurricane Isle: The Best of Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs


By Roy Crane, edited by Rick Norwood (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-809-0

Modern comics evolved from newspaper cartoons and comic strips, and these pictorial features were until relatively recently utterly ubiquitous and hugely popular with the public. They were also highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to today to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip not much different from family favourite Harold Teen (by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed). Tubbs was a diminutive, ambitious and bumbling young store clerk when the feature debuted on April 21st 1924, but after only three months Crane re-evaluated his little enterprise and made a few changes which would reshape the entire art form.

Having Wash run away to the circus (Crane did much the same in the name of research) the artist gradually moved the strip into mock-heroics, then through a period of gently boisterous action romps to become a full-blown, light-hearted, rip-roaring adventure series. It was the first of its kind and dictated the form for decades thereafter. Crane then sealed its immortality with the introduction of prototype he-man and ancestral moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

As the tales gradually became more exotic and thrill-packed, the globe-trotting little dynamo clearly needed a sidekick and sounding board. After a few bright and breezy types were tried and discarded, Crane decided on one who could believably handle the combat side of things, and thus in the middle of a European war, in the fairytale kingdom of Kandelabra, Tubbs liberated a mysterious fellow American from a cell and history was made.

Before long the mismatched pair were inseparable; tried-and-true travelling companions hunting treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a bevy of startlingly comely damsels in distress…

The bluff, two-fisted, completely capable and utterly dependable, down-on-his-luck “Southern Gentleman” was something not seen before in comics: a taciturn, raw, square-jawed hunk played completely straight rather than the previously popular buffoon or music hall foil seen in such classic serials as Hairsbreadth Harry or Desperate Desmond.

Moreover Crane’s seductively simple blend of cartoon exuberance and design was a far more accessible and powerful medium for action story-telling than the somewhat static illustrative style favoured by artists like Hal Foster: just beginning to make waves on the new Tarzan Sunday page at this time.

Tubbs and Easy were as exotic and thrilling as the Ape Man but rattled along like the tempestuous Popeye, full of vim, vigour and vinegar, as attested to by a close look at the early work of the would-be cartoonists who followed the strip with avid intensity.

Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially young Joe Shuster were eager fans taking notes and following suit…

After a couple of abortive attempts starring his little hero, Crane eventually bowed to the inevitable and created a full colour Sunday page dedicated solely to his increasingly popular hero-for-hire. Captain Easy debuted on 30th July 1933, in wild and woolly escapades set before his fateful meeting with Tubbs.

Both together and separately, reprinted exploits of these troubleshooters became staples of the earliest comic books (specifically The Funnies from October 1936 and The Comics, March 1937 onwards).

With an entire page and vibrant colours to play with, Crane’s imagination ran wild and his fabulous visual concoctions achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The effect of the pages can be seen in so many strips since, especially the works of such near-contemporaries as Hergé and giants in waiting like Charles Schulz. They have all been collected in the four-volume Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips.

Those pages were a clearly as much of a joy to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA Syndicate’s abruptly and arbitrarily demanding that all its strips be henceforward produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate them being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated. Crane just walked away, concentrating on the daily feature. In 1943 he quit NEA to create the wartime aviator strip Buz Sawyer, and Turner became the able custodian of the heroes’ fate.

Wash Tubbs ran until January 10th 1988.

Before all that however Wash was the affable and undisputed star of a never-ending parade of riotous daily black and white escapades and this superb hardback opens with two of them: part of a cherry-picked compilation of ten of the very best adventures of the bombastic buddies. Hopefully if this book is a hit it will lead to another complete reprinting such as the 18-volume series covering the entirety of the Wash Tubbs run – 1934-1943 and published by NBM from 1987-1992…

Before the non-stop nonsense begins author and pre-eminent comic strip historian Ron Goulart details all you need to know about the tales in ‘A History of Lickety Whop’ and editor Rick Norwood provides further background information in his copiously illustrated Introduction’ after which we’re all plunged into astounding adventure on ‘Hurricane Isle’ (which originally ran daily from February 23rd to June 6th 1928)…

At this time Wash and fellow inveterate fortune-hunter Gozy Gallup are gloating over securing an ancient map which once belonged to the dread pirate Edward Teach AKA Blackbeard!

As they research the infamous buccaneer and scrabble to find a ship to take them to their destination, they are unaware that aggrieved enemy Brick Bane – the Bandit King of Mexico – is hard on their trail and hungry for revenge. Stalking them as they journey from New Orleans to the Caribbean, he takes a nasty sea captain into his confidence and arranges for the sinister salt to hire out his ship to the treasure seekers. The skipper is unsavoury brute Bull Dawson: destined to become Tubbs’ – and later Easy’s – greatest and most implacable foe…

After travelling to the island with them Dawson, having already removed Bane, springs his trap and turns Wash and Gozy into enslaved labourers, digging with the crew to find the fabled horde. The lads soon rebel and escape into the jungle to search on their own, and also abortively attempt to steal Dawson’s ship.

The wily brute is always too much for them however and even after the boys finally locate the loot, the malicious mariner reappears to take it from them. The sadistic swine is preparing to maroon them when Bane shows up with a ship full of his Mexican bandits and a shooting war breaks out…

With bullets flying and bodies dropping, Wash and Gozy convince affable deckhand Samson to switch sides and the trio take off for civilisation with the treasure in the hold…

Money comes and goes pretty freely for these guys but by the time ‘Arabia’ (July 30th – December 12th 1928) begins they are still pretty flush and so opt for a luxurious Mediterranean cruise. Unfortunately Wash’s propensity for clumsy gaffes raises the ire of a very nasty sheik named Abdul Hoozit Hudson Bey and the affronted potentate swears vengeance when the ship docks in Tunis.

As if icing fate’s cake, when wandering through the bazaar Wash is glamoured by a pair of gorgeous eyes and inadvertently seals his doom by attempting to rescue a girl from a seraglio: Jada is not only a distressed damsel but Bey’s favourite wife…

Heeding the French authorities’ advice to leave town quickly, the lads take off on a camel caravan into the Sahara but have no idea they are heading into cunning Bey’s trap…

The fact that Jada is the favourite of the incensed chieftain saves them temporarily, but when the sheik finally finds a way to surreptitiously assassinate them, she and her devoted slave Bola dash into the deep desert to save them, and the quartet strike out for safety and freedom together.

That trek dumps them in the clutches of Bey’s great rival Abdullah Bumfellah and leads to a tribal shooting war. Happily Bola has been busy and found a Foreign Legion patrol to save the day.

And that’s when Jada drops her bombshell. She is actually a princess from a European principality, sold to Bey by her father’s Grand Vizier so that he could steal the throne. Now that she’s free again she must return to liberate her poor people. Despite having to get back to America, Wash won’t shut up about wishing he’d gone with her…

He soon gets the chance as ‘Kandelabra’ (April 11th – July 6th 1929) became the most significant sequence in the strip’s history; introducing Captain Easy in a riotous, rousing Ruritanian epic which we join after Wash reunites with Jada in the postage stamp kingdom she had been so cruelly abducted from.

Our little go-getter soon infiltrates the government and rises to the rank of admiral of the landlocked land but overplays his hand and is framed for stealing the army’s payroll. Delivered to a secret dungeon he (partially) escapes and finds a gruff fellow American who refuses to share his name but insists on being called “Easy”…

Busting out his new pal, soon Wash and the stranger are caught in a bloody revolution when the aggrieved army mutinies. Before long the Vizier’s cronies are ousted, the vile villain accidentally orchestrates his own demise and the regally restored Jada declares the birth of the continent’s newest democracy…

In ‘Desert Island’ (February 6th – June 7th 1930) Bull Dawson returns to steal Tubbs’ entire fortune, flying off across America in a bid to escape with his ill-gotten gains. The robbery becomes a nationwide sensation and we join the action as Wash and Easy frantically pursue the fugitive. Tracking him to San Francisco they continue the chase when the malign mariner takes off in a schooner with our heroes as stowaways and, before long, prisoners…

The sadistic Bull lose faces after being thrashed in a no-holds barred fight with Easy which was merely subterfuge to allow the southern soldier of fortune to pick Dawson’s pocket and recover Wash’s easily portable $200,000 in cash. As the battered thug recuperates the ship is hit by a monster typhoon which apparently leaves our heroes the only survivors aboard the shattered shards of the schooner.

The wreck fetches up on a desolate Pacific atoll where the boys soon fall into the routine of latter-day Robinson Crusoes. The isolated idyll becomes complicated when they find the place is already home to a young woman who was the only survivor of an attack by roving headhunters from Borneo.

Mary Milton is brave, competent and beautiful and before long the lonely pals are fierce rivals for her affections…

The situation grows dangerously intense and only stabilises when the savages return, forcing the warring suitors to stand together or fall separately…

When the brutal battle ends the westerners are in possession of a sturdy war canoe and decide to risk their lives on an epic ocean odyssey to the nearest outpost of civilisation. It is only after the voyagers are far out to sea that Wash agonisingly recalls that he left his stash of dollars behind…

The next adventure (running from June 9th – October 1930) immediately follows on as the weary travellers reach French Indo-China and, thanks to a friendly soldier, escape far inland via a mighty river. After days of travel they reach the previously hidden kingdom of Cucumbria and quickly fall foul of the toad-worshipping emperor Igbay Umbay who takes one look at Mary and decides he must have her…

Being a coward who stole the throne from his brother, the grand poobah hasn’t the nerve to simply take her and orchestrates a succession of scurvy schemes to get rid of Wash and Easy but the boys are too smart and bold to fall for them. Infuriatingly rising in power and status, aided by young prince Hilo Casino – freshly returned from college in America – the Americans finally seem be out of the Umbay’s hair after they agree to lead his armies against the supernatural rebel leader known as ‘The Phantom King’

Despite deep misgivings “General” Easy and his aide Washington Tubbs set out on a campaign that will ravage the hidden kingdom, unseat an emperor, cost thousands of lives and lose them the girl they both love…

A year later ‘Down on the Bayou’ (March 12th – July 25th 1931) found the world-weary wanderers nearing home again only to be arrested as they approach New Orleans in a stolen plane. They were fleeing a clever frame-up in infamous Costa Grande, but without proof could only evade their US Navy captors and flee into the swampy vastness of the Mississippi Delta…

Lost for days and starving, they are picked up by vivacious gangster’s moll Jean who recruits them into a gang of smugglers and rum-runners who inhabit a huge plantation somewhere between Pelican Island and Barataria dedicated to various criminal enterprises. Tubbs and Easy are soon comfortably settled in amidst the rogues and outcasts but everything changes when Jean’s brother returns from a smuggling trip. His name is Bull Dawson…

The pirate is prevented from killing our heroes by Jean and the huge Cajun in charge of the outlaw outpost, but Dawson takes it badly and with his gang of deadly bodyguards decides to take over the whole enterprise.

A couple of murders later Bull is big boss but also oddly friendly to his most despised enemies. Maybe it’s a ploy to put them off guard, but perhaps it has more to do with the gang of Chicago mobsters who have come down to put an end to the bootlegging mavericks cutting into their profits…

The troubles and bloodshed escalate exponentially and Jean drops her final bombshell: she’s a federal agent working with the Coast Guard to smash the budding criminal empire…

Once the dust settles she has one final surprise in store. In all the years of their friendship Wash could never get his taciturn pal to talk of his past or even reveal his real name. Now the government girl gives Mr. William Lee a message which sends him rushing across country to an old plantation home. Here the astounded Wash hears all about his pal’s shocking life, sordid scandals and abandoned wife …and then he learns the truth…

Soon the impediments and lies which blighted Easy’s life are all removed and the wanderer settles in to a well-deserved retirement with the girl he always loved but could never have. Tubbs moves on, quickly reuniting with old chum Gozy Gallup…

A few weeks later the ever-restless Wash is riding a tramp steamer headed for Europe, intent on paying Jada a visit in Kandelabra but, falling foul of rustic transportation systems, ends up in the similar but so different Principality of Sneezia

Apart from pretty girls, the tiny kingdom has only one point of interest: the world’s dinkiest railway service. Run by aged expatriate American Calliope Simpson ‘The Transalpina Express’ (August 13th – November 21st 1931) links Sneezia to sister kingdom Belchia and is the most unique and beloved (by its intoxicated customers at least) service in the world.

Wash is especially keen to learn the business since being the engineer has made octogenarian Cal the most irresistible man in two countries, fighting off adorable young women with a stick…

The lad’s greatest dream comes true when Simpson finally elopes with one of his adoring devotees and Washington Tubbs become sole operator of the Express, but his joy at all the feminine attention soon sours when Belchia and Sneezia go to war and both sides want to use his train to move men and material into combat. Of course the dilemma can only end in disaster and before long our boy is running for his life again…

There’s a big jump to the next yarn which finds Wash and Easy reunited and stowing away on the wrong-est ship imaginable. Quickly caught, they are quite understandably assumed to be part of the contingent of prisoners bound for the final destination – ‘Devil’s Island’ (June 9th – August 30th 1932)…

No sooner are they mixed in with the hopeless prison population than the planning of their inevitable escape begins, but success only leads to greater peril as they and their criminal confederates take ship with a greedy captain subject to murderous bouts of paranoia and madness…

‘Whales’ (April 24th – August 30th 1933) is probably the most shocking – to modern sensibilities – of the perennial wanderers’ exploits as Wash and Easy are drugged in a Dutch cafe and dumped aboard one of the last sailing ships to work the whaling trade.

Elderly and nostalgic Captain Folly has been convinced by psychotic First Mate Mr. Slugg to compete one last time against the new-fangled factory whaling fleets, unknowingly crewing his creaking old ship with shanghaied strangers…

The grim minutiae of the ghastly profession is scrupulously detailed as our heroes seek some means of escape but with Slugg becoming increasingly unbalanced and eventually murdering Folly, bloody mutiny soon leads to the ship foundering and both factions – or at least the survivors of each – being marooned on the arctic Alaskan ice, where naturally our heroes find the only pretty girl in a thousand square miles…

This fabulous treasury of thrills concludes with one last battle against Bull Dawson after the incorrigible monster links up with gorgeous grifter Peggy Lake, who fleeces gullible Wash of his savings and disappears into the endless green wilderness of the swamps of ‘Okefenokee’ (June 13th – July 24th 1935).

The crime leads to a massive police manhunt through the mire before the boys personally track down the villains and deliver one more sound thrashing to the malodorous malcontent and his pretty patsy…

Rounding off this superb collection is a thorough ‘Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs Episode Guide’ by Rick Norwood as well as a glorious graphic Mexican travelogue feature by Crane in ‘An Afterword in Pictures’ as well as the informative biography section ‘About the Authors’.

If I’ve given the impression that this has all been grim and gritty turmoil and drama thus far, please forgive me: Crane was a superbly irrepressible gag-man and his boisterous, enchanting serials abound with breezy, light-hearted banter, hilarious situations and outright farce – a sure-fire formula modern cinema directors plunder to this day.

Easy was the Indiana Jones, Flynn (The Librarian) Carsen and Jack (Romancing the Stone) Cotton of his day – and, clearly blazing a trail for all of them – whilst Wash was akin to Danny Kaye or our own Norman Wisdom: brave, big-hearted, well-meaning, clay-footed, irrepressible and utterly indomitable everymen… just like all of us.

This superb monochrome landscape hardback (274 x 33 x 224 mm) is a wonderful means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventure trailblazer.

This is comics storytelling of the very highest quality: unforgettable, spectacular and utterly irresistible. These tales rank alongside her best of Hergé, Tezuka and Kirby and led irrefutably to the creations of all of them. Now that you have the chance to experience the strips that inspired the giants of our art form, how can you possibly resist?
Hurricane Isle: The Best of Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy Strips © 2015 United Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 9: 1953-1954


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-735-2

The stellar Sunday page Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur debuted on February 13th 1937, a luscious, luminous full-colour weekly window into a miraculous too-perfect past of adventure and romance, even topping creator Hal Foster’s previous endeavour, the astoundingly impossibly popular comics masterpiece Tarzan of the Apes.

The saga of noble knights played against a glamorised, dramatised Dark Ages historical backdrop as it followed the life of a refugee boy driven from his ancestral homeland in Scandinavian Thule who grew up to roam the world and attain a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Auteur Foster wove his epic tale over decades, following the progress of a near-feral wild boy who grew into a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, vengeance-taker and eventually family patriarch in a constant deluge of wild – and joyously witty – wonderment.

The restless hero visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes and utterly enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

There have been films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections based on Prince Valiant – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and counting) – and even here at the end times of newspaper narrative cartoons as an art form, it continues to astound in more than 300 American papers. It has even cut its way onto the internet with an online edition.

Foster crafted the feature alone until 1971 when illustrator John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator. Foster continued as writer and designer until 1980, after which he retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of many extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates with Mark Schultz (Xenozoic) superbly scripting. That scribe also provides this volume’s Introduction ‘More Than Pretty Pictures: Storytelling Beyond Genre, Gender, and Medium’ wherein Foster’s extraordinary facility with expressions and pioneering creation of strong and capable female characters is celebrated, analysed and explained by focusing on the artist’s astoundingly able wife and lifemate Helen.

This enormously entertaining and luxurious oversized (362 x 264mm) full-colour hardback reprints the pages from January 4th 1953 to 26th December 1954 (pages #830-933, if you’re counting) but before we proceed…

What Has Gone Before: Having negotiated a truce between Val’s Scandinavian nation Thule and the kingdom of Orkney, the restless Prince undertook his most momentous task yet. Bringing back missionaries from Rome at his father King Aguar’s request, the rowdy knight of Camelot began overseeing the nation’s slow conversion from Paganism and Druid worship to Christianity.

The job was not without risk with the missionaries and their regal escort (who was still far from a believer in the One God himself) encountering stiff resistance and worse from the Thor-loving populace – and especially their profiteering priests…

The saga resumes with Val and companions Helgi and Torr presiding over a tenuous truce between new and old faiths which is soon threatened after the Prince exposes the seeming “miracles” of the Thor priests for what they truly are. In retaliation the new Christian chapel is burned down, but the missionaries’ stoic acceptance and calm rebuilding impresses the masses far more than all the druids’ tricks and bombast…

Assuming their job completed Valiant and his men depart only to be caught in a terrible forest fire which only two survive…

Struggling home to his family, saddened Val monopolises all his wife’s attention and jealous first born son Arn acts up by leaving home to have adventures of his own. The little lad takes with him a hound of dubious pedigree and ancestry – dubbed Sir Gawain – and has a grand old time. Before true peril can threaten however the wanderers encounter an old friend of Valiant’s: another Round Table knight who is less than pleased to learn that he shares his noble name with a mangy, flea-bitten mutt…

A pleasant time of gentle recuperation amongst friends is capped by another birth as Aleta’s Amerindian maid Tillicum produces a first son for her Viking husband Boltar but marred by separation as Valiant’s wife is called back to her own kingdom in the Misty Isles to quell a rebellion. He is unable to join her when Gawain’s mission is revealed: the Danes and Saxons have invaded Britain in a vast army with unbeatable new battle tactics and now lay siege to Camelot itself…

Assured by Aleta that she can handle her crisis, Valiant and Gawain take ship and soon rejoin Arthur at Tintagel. The troubled monarch has learned that five kings of Cornwall are planning to ally with the invader Horsa and hopes the devious mind of the Prince of Thule can again trump overwhelming odds with keen wits and courage…

The campaign begins as Val impersonates a troubadour and sows treachery and dissent amongst the new allies. Soon one Celtic king is dead and the remaining quartet are frantically realigning with Arthur. With the defenders now united against the Saxons the long campaign to repulse them begins and once more the Prince’s unique and imaginative grasp of unconventional warfare is the defenders’ greatest asset…

With the tide turning, Val is surprised to be ordered away from battle to undertake another impossible task. Throughout Arthur’s reign the realm had periodically suffered raids from Ireland. Now they are a distraction England cannot afford and Valiant is despatched to the Emerald Isle to secure peace.

He has no idea how to accomplish the task but dutifully sails off, and gets into a fight as soon as he touches ground again. Happily his brawl with local chieftain Brian O’Curry impresses everyone so much that the boisterous hulking brute proclaims him a friend for life.

Soon they are travelling to capital outpost Cashel to meet current and pro tem overlord Rory McColm, but the journey is delayed as Brian’s clan encounters and has a quick war with a rival tribe. As Val learns from keenly observing holy man and Christian missionary Patrick, there’s nothing the Irish love more than fighting…

That also proves true when the visitor is finally granted an audience with the cruelly arrogant McColm, who spurns Britain’s entreaties and insults the infamously hot-headed Prince of Thule. Before long diplomacy is abandoned and a furious duel ensues. After Val ends all hopes of Rory’s retaining his crown – by defeating and mildly maiming him – the visitor becomes a harried fugitive running for his life…

With Brian and Patrick’s assistance Valiant escapes Ireland and heads for home where he meets Merlin who has an important prognostication for Arthur. Unfortunately before he can completely reveal it the aged mage is whisked away by enchanting temptress Nimue, leaving Valiant with nothing but frustrating fragments of a vital warning…

Rejoining the king as he struggles against the entrenched Saxons in Kent, Valiant finally deciphers the truncated message and goes about orchestrating the invaders’ ultimate defeat. The crucial first step is to allow himself to be captured and tortured by Horsa’s forces…

The scheme works perfectly and as deep snows give way to spring the crushed and starving enemy are driven from Britain’s shores, allowing the wily tactician time to wonder how his wife fares in sunnier climes. He is eager to join her but sworn companion Gawain has fallen in love with the wrong maiden – again – and by the time the affair ends all he has to show for it is a new, exceedingly homely, inept yet oddly effective servant dubbed Pierre

When Aleta arrived in the Misty Isles with her three children she found her sister and regent Helene increasingly under the sway of her husband Dionseus. The cagy thug had visions of turning the prosperous and peaceful trading nation into a piratical kingdom raiding and conquering the region. To achieve his aims he had slowly infiltrated the government, padding it with his cronies.

He has no idea of Aleta’s incomparable political acumen and astute manoeuvrings and, after failing to poison her and her heirs, somehow finds himself and all his mercenaries banished without a drop of blood being shed…

Humiliated and infuriated, Dionseus retrenches and begins planning his murderous return at the head of an invasion fleet, just as Valiant and Gawain finally arrive in the Misty Isles. Aleta, delighted to see them, has matters well in hand and prefers that they hang back and let her handle matters her way.

The Queen is grateful however for information provided by Pierre who, after a night of low carousing with servants in town, uncovers a plot by a coterie of nobles who plan to betray her for advancement in Dionseus’ men-only regime…

Eventually, outthought and overmatched in every way, the usurper is utterly defeated and bored Valiant grows even more restless as Aleta sets to reforming her kingdom so that such a coup can never threaten again.

After tedium leads to a ferocious domestic spat the Prince and Gawain resolve to get out of everyone’s hair and go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Of course, no sooner have they arrived in the Holy City than they find themselves in hot water after seeing the plight of a Christian knight.

Thanks to another drunken debauch by Pierre the sly truth is soon revealed. Sir Basil has been held in an impenetrable but easily observed dungeon for a decade: an unwilling Judas Goat used by Sheik Ben El Rasch to trap European knights who would attempt to rescue their fellow and fall captive to a master of the art of ransoming.

The soon to depart occupying garrison of Roman soldiers are too busy preparing for their withdrawal to bother themselves with strictly local affairs so the Sheik has grown rich trading on the good intentions of noble Christian pilgrims and warriors, but now, forewarned, Valiant and Gawain are resolved to teach him a lesson he will never forget…

Sadly they succeed all too well and taking El Rasch hostage leads to them being approached by his deadliest enemies who wish to buy him! Baulking at such barbarism but stalling until they have freed Sir Basil, the Round Table heroes thus incur the wrath of Syrian tribesmen too, but undaunted determine to finish their pilgrimage.

The decade-delayed Basil is eager to join them, but on every step of the quest they are pursued by two furious rival desert factions as keen to kill them as each other…

Although implacable and numerous, the burnoosed hunters have never encountered fighters as cunning, imaginative and skilled as Valiant and his companions. Despite their best efforts – and even the seductive eyes of El Rasch’s daughter – the questors complete their journey and safely head back to the Misty Isles…

During their absence little Arn has grown old enough to notice girls and he does not like them. He and noble playmate Paul make an exception for kitchen-gamin Diane however, since she can sneak them out of the palace, teach them to fish and outfight them both.

When she subsequently saves their lives, Aleta neatly sidesteps all manner of court scandal and disapprobation by declaring her to be for a full year, a royal companion and a boy…

Everything seems spoiled though after the pilgrims return and the lad Diane develops a crush on Gawain. The legendary lover is deeply mortified by the sprite’s attention, but when a palace lothario attempts to get rid of Valiant and pursue the queen, Gawain steps in to defend her honour and is grateful for bold Diane’s help in avoiding a treacherous trap…

Soon however dull peace breaks out once more and before Val and his brother knight can ruin it again Aleta decrees it’s time for the royal family to head North once again…

To Be Continued…

Closing this astonishing epic of daring-dare-deviltry, Brian M. Kane scrutinises in searing detail the history of film and TV iterations in ‘Prince Valiant and the Sacking of Hollywood: The 60th Anniversary of Hal Foster’s Creation on the Silver Screen’, featuring the apparently accursed 1954 movie and Foster’s subsequent starring role on This Is Your Life as well as the 1997 international film remake and animated series The Legend of Prince Valiant

Rendered in a simply stunning panorama of glowing visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a non-stop rollercoaster of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending human-scaled fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, the strip is a true landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2014 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2014 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Moomins and the Great Flood


By Tove Jansson, translated by David McDuff (Sort Of Books)
ISBN: 978-1-90874-513-2

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive with basic components such as pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her deeply considered dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914.

Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom – or immortal kids’ fantasy – as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) she became a successful exhibiting artist all through the troubled period of the Second World War. She was immensely creative in many fields, and began her first novel as the war clouds began blighting Europe in 1939.

As she recounts in her Preface to the 1991 Scandinavian edition, all too soon it became too much and she laid it aside. Only once the war was over did she acquiesce to the urgings of friends to complete it.

In 1945 the first fantastic Moomins adventure was published: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood), a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends, all searching for something precious that was lost in the aftermath of a terrible calamity…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books, and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

The lumpy, lanky, gently adventurous big-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a fit of pique as a child – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Eventually Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood didn’t make much of an initial impact but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 her second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many critics and commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear Armageddon.

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins from 1948) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

In 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which promptly captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited her brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975, captivating generations of children and adults alike and pushing Jansson’s gentle gang to the forefront of literary universes…

Eventually after a succession of nine novels, five picture books and that sublime strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera as well as thirteen books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001 and her awards are too numerous to mention, but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

Her Moomin comic strips have long been available in Scandinavian volumes and the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly have translated these into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation.

The Moomins and the Great Flood – being slightly more sombre than the later tales – was out of print for years in Europe (until the aforementioned 1991 edition) and never translated into English at all until 2005 – published by Schildts of Finland for the 60th anniversary of the series.

This resplendent hardback edition hails from 2012, published in Britain by Sort Of Books and a charmingly moving little thing it is. Not strictly a comic strip or a graphic novel, but rather a beautifully illustrated picture book, unafraid to be allegorical or scary or sad yet closing with a message of joy and hope and reconciliation…

It begins as capable Moominmamma and her nervous little son enter the deepest part of the great Forest one day at the end of August. They are tired and hungry and have been searching for the longest time for Moominpappa. The big gallant fool went off adventuring with the crazy wandering Hattifatteners and they haven’t seen him for years…

Soon they are joined by a nervous Little Creature and after escaping a Great Serpent meet a blue haired girl named Tulippa who used to live in a flower…

Travelling together they meet an old gentleman who lives in a tree which contains a huge park full of sweets and treats, traverse a terrific abyss in a railway cart and narrowly escape an ant-lion.

Persevering the hopeful party continue their wandering search until they meet a band of Hattifatteners and join them on their boat just as the skies begin to darken and a vast deluge begins…

The tumultuous voyage search takes them through a world turned upside down by calamity but eventually leads to a joyous reunion after all the assorted and individualistic creatures affected by disaster pull together to survive the inundation and its effects…

Augmented with 14 stunning sepia-wash illustrations and 34 spot-illos in various styles of pen and ink scattered like cartoon confetti throughout the confection, this is a magical lost masterpiece for the young, laced with the unfettered imagination, keen observation and mature reflection which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. Charming, genteel, amazingly imaginative and emotionally intense, this is a masterpiece of fantasy no one could possibly resist…
Text and illustrations © Tove Jansson 1945, 1991. English translation © David McDuff 2012.

Spawn of Mars and Other Stories Illustrated by Wallace Wood


By Al Feldstein, Harry Harrison & Wallace Wood (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-805-2

EC began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines sold the successful superhero properties of his All-American Comics company – including Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and Hawkman – to half-sister National/DC, retaining only Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups as the major target market. He then augmented his core title with three more in similar vein: Picture Stories from American History, Science and World History. The worthwhile but unsustainable project was already struggling when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

His son William was eventually convinced to assume control of the family business and, with much support and encouragement from unsung hero Sol Cohen and multi-talented associate Al Feldstein, transformed the ailing enterprise into Entertaining Comics, consequently triggering the greatest qualitative leap forward in comicbook history…

After a few tentative false starts and abortive experiments, Gaines settled into a bold and impressive publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at an older, more discriminating audience.

From 1950 to 1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the genres of science fiction, war, horror and crime. The company even added a new type of title and another genre with the creation of parody magazine Mad

This 12th volume of the Fantagraphics EC Library compiles a mind-blowing catalogue of cosmic wonders courtesy of Wallace Allan Wood: one of the greatest draughtsmen and graphic imagineers our art form has ever produced.

Woody was a master of every aspect of the business. He began his career lettering Will Eisner’s Spirit strip, readily moving into pencilling and inking as the 1940s ended and, latterly, publishing. After years working all over the comicbook and syndicated strip industries, as well as in legitimate illustration, package-design and other areas of commercial art, he devised the legendary T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents franchise and even created one of the first adult independent comics with Witzend in the late 1960s.

The troubled genius carried the seeds of his own destruction, however. Woody’s life was one of addiction (booze and cigarettes), traumatic relationships, tantalisingly close but always frustrated financial security, illness and eventually suicide. It was as if all the joy and beauty in his existence stayed on the pages and there was none left for real life.

Although during his time with EC Wood became the acknowledged, undisputed Master of Science Fiction art in America, he was equally adept, driven and accomplished in the production of all genres.

This enticingly evocative collection reprints some of his best early science fiction and fantasy masterpieces, re-presented as always, in a lavish monochrome hardcover edition, with supplementary interviews, features and dissertations, beginning with ‘Spawn of Wood’ by Bill Mason, which dissects and appraises the yarns included with forensic discipline and unflinching insight.

Although the usual process at this time was for Gaines and Al Feldstein to plot stories before Feldstein meticulously scripted and laid out each tale for the artists, the worlds of wonder here begin their revelatory orbits with a chilling piece written and illustrated by Wood as ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (from Weird Fantasy #15 September/October 1950) discloses how the fist lunar landing exposes an alien city of conquerors poised to attack…

Gaines & Al Feldstein were back in charge for ‘A Trip to a Star!’ (Weird Fantasy #16 November/December 1950) as an exploratory excursion far beyond the solar system leads to an astonishing mystery whilst ‘Return’ (Weird Science #15 January/February 1951) sees survivors of an antediluvian and previously unknown race show up on the brink of humanity’s atomic Armageddon to reveal what caused them to flee the planet in ages past…

‘Deadlock!’ was another all-Wood extravaganza (Weird Fantasy #17 January/February 1951), describing a gripping stalemate in space as mankind responded to its First Contact with another star-faring species with typical suspicion. Sadly, the strangers were more like us than different…

A traumatised survivor of the ‘Sinking of the Titanic!’ (Gaines, Feldstein & Wood from Weird Science #6 March/April 1951) built a time-machine to avert the tragedy and became a helpless pawn of destiny, whilst that same month in Weird Fantasy #6 ‘Rescued!’ saw a second ship of Earthly Argonauts fall foul of the cosmic irony which devastated their bold predecessors and ‘The Aliens!’ (Weird Science #7 May/June 1951) detailed another sidereal misapprehension when two belligerent alien species confronted each other and vowed eradication of their newfound foe and its homeworld. Sadly both were on a desolate part of Earth at the time…

“Red Scare” paranoia informed many tales from this time and ‘Breakdown!’ (Weird Fantasy #7, May/June 1951) is one of the best as a distraught wife tries to inform the authorities of imminent invasion only to walk straight into the mind-shatteringly hideous clutches of the infiltrators.

‘The Probers’ (Weird Science #8 July/August 1951) turns the tables on callous human scientists who jump to the wrong conclusions regarding the latest batch of alien guinea pigs whilst that same month in Weird Fantasy #8, all-Wood, ecologically astute saga ‘The Enemies of the Colony’ saw human pioneers on the Galactic Colonization Authority’s new territory-world drive the wrong predator to extinction – and not live to regret it…

Extraterrestrial biological horror informed ‘The Gray Cloud of Death!’ (Gaines, Feldstein & Wood from Weird Science #9 September/October 1951) as an inimical and voracious thing invades the second ship to voyage to Venus, whilst that month in Weird Science #9 a tragic misunderstanding and itchy trigger-fingers signalled the end of refugees considered ‘The Invaders’ of our world in anther stark parable from Gaines, Feldstein & Wood…

The titular ‘Spawn of Mars’ (Gaines, Feldstein & Wood and also featured in WF #9) detailed the experiences of the first woman explorer on Mars as well as the thing that came back masquerading as her husband…

A brace of yarns from Weird Science #10 November/December 1951 begins with ‘The Maidens Cried’ as spacemen from Earth find themselves beguiled into the bizarre mating processes of beautiful butterfly women whilst ‘Transformation Completed’ offers a stunning moral fable wherein a possessive father uses his new discovery to get rid of his daughter’s “unworthy” suitor by converting him into a woman.

The paranoid Prof comes a cropper because he utterly underestimates his child’s capacity for love and sacrifice…

‘The Secret of Saturn’s Ring!’ was the first of a Gaines, Feldstein & Wood double-bill from Weird Fantasy #10 (November/December 1951), revealing what lurked within that celebrated debris field and how it portended horrific consequences for mankind, whilst ‘The Mutants!’ depicts our selfish bigotry in all its cruelty as the aberrations born in the atomic age are hounded off Earth…

‘The Conquerors of the Moon!’ Weird Science #11 January/February 1952 is a quintessential classic of the form as greedy industrialists steal a portion of Earth’s atmosphere to make the Moon cost-effectively habitable, destroying the birthplace of humanity and consequently laying the seeds of their own destruction, after which Weird Fantasy #11 from the same month offers both the irony-drenched tale of generational colonists undertaking ‘The Two-Century Journey!’ and a time-bending prophecy of inescapable atomic incineration in ‘The 10th at Noon’

Wry and trenchant black humour resurfaced in ‘A Gobl is a Knoog’s Best Friend’ (Weird Science #12 March/April 1952) as the relationship between Earth spacers and the ship’s dog is misunderstood by aliens before – from the same issue – ‘The Android!’ showed that desire, deception and murder weren’t just facets of mere biology. That month in Weird Fantasy #12 ‘Project… Survival!’ played word games with mythology as mankind sought to survive Armageddon by selecting fragments of Earth to survive aboard rocketship A.R.C.-1 and ‘The Die is Cast!’ gets crushingly literal as explorers find doom and destruction on a desolate flatland plagued by moving mountains…

Shock SuspenStories launched in 1952 and was an anthological anthology – by which I mean that Gaines and Feldstein used it to highlight their other short-story titles by having horror, crime and sci fi yarns in each issue. From #2 (April/May) comes grisly parable ‘Gee Dad… It’s a Daisy!’ which saw explorers find a planet where the inhabitants are as capricious and inadvertently cruel as any earthling 10-year old…

When Wood first began working he formed a studio with a college buddy who would eventually go on to become one of America’s most popular science fiction authors. Working together as writers, pencillers, inkers and letterers it was often impossible to tell who did what.

Short text feature ‘The Enigma of Harrison the Artist’ by Bill Mason covers that uniquely fertile collaboration and includes a glorious Harry Harrison cartoon of his new colleagues in the pulp sci fi watering hole “the Hydra Club” before this volume concludes with a selection of Wood/Harrison EC collaborations beginning with ‘Dream of Doom’ (Harrison script & pencils, Wood inks from Weird Science #12 March/April 1950).

Here a pair of comic creators fall out over creator credit and persistent nightmares after which ‘Only Time Will Tell’ (possibly Gaines, Feldstein with Harrison & Wood from Weird Fantasy #13 May/June 1950) finds a scientist caught in an inescapable time-loop after popping back in time to help himself invent time travel…

Weird Science #13 July/August 1950 unleashed ‘The Meteor Monster’ (Harrison & Wood) which saw a small town slowly succumb to the mental domination of a thing from another world whilst ‘The Black Arts’ (with Harrison inking Wood from Weird Fantasy #14 July/August 1950) offered a rare supernatural horror outing wherein a mousy man tried to used sorcery to get a girlfriend… with disastrous results.

The comicstrip chronicles conclude with an all-Harrison affair as the ‘Machine From Nowhere’ (Weird Science #15 September/October 1950) offers an extremely rare upbeat ending as two scientists stifle their perfectly natural suspicions to help a little flying robot steal uranium for purposes unknown…

Following a delightful ‘Wallace Wood’ caricature by EC colourist and “office girl” Marie Severin, historian S.C. Ringgenberg provides a detailed history of the flawed genius in ‘Wallace Wood’ and this truly captivating compilation closes on another set of ‘Behind the Panels: Creator Biographies’ by Janice Lee and Bill Mason and Ted White’s ‘Crime, Horror, Terror, Gore, Depravity, Disrespect for Established Authority – and Science Fiction Too!: ‘The Ups and Downs of EC Comics: A Short History’ – a comprehensive run-down of the entire EC phenomenon.

The short, sweet, cruelly curtailed EC back-catalogue has been revisited ad infinitum in the decades since its demise. Those amazing yarns changed not just comics but also infected the larger world through film and television to convert millions into dedicated devotees still addicted to New Trend tales.

Whether you are an aged EC Fan-Addict, just a nervous newbie, or simply a mere fan of brilliant stories and sublime art, Spawn of Mars is a book no sane and sensible reader can afford to be without.
Spawn of Mars and Other Stories © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. unless otherwise noted. All comics stories and illustrations © 2015 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc., unless otherwise noted. All other material © 2015 the respective creators. All rights reserved.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures volumes One & Two


By Alex Toth & anonymous (Eclipse Books)
ISBNs: 0-913035-41-6 and 0-913035-51-3

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist. His earliest dreams were of a quality newspaper strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family values-based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

Aged 15, he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and after graduating in 1947 worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, the Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other features. On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) but was disappointed o find nothing had changed…

Continually striving to improve his own work he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and many more) into Standard Comics: a publishing house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside fellow graphic masters Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito and particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe, Toth set the bar high for a new kind of story-telling: wry, restrained and thoroughly mature; in short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance.

After Simon and Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) he illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others.

On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth resettled in California, splitting his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key, such as these Zorro tales and many other movie/TV adaptations, and National (assorted short pieces such as Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly. Eventually he moved primarily into TV animation, designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour, and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook. He redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included Torpedo for the European market and the magnificently audacious swashbuckler Bravo for Adventure!

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006 but before that the kids he’d inspired (mostly comics professionals themselves) sought to redress his shameful anonymity with a number of retrospectives and comics compilations. One of the first and best was this Eclipse Books twin set, gathering his many tales for Dell featuring Disney’s TV iteration of the prototypical masked avenger.

In 2013, Hermes Press released a lavish complete volume in full colour but, to my mind, these black and white books (grey-toned, stripped down and redrawn by the master himself) are the definitive vision and the closest to what Toth originally intended, stripped of all the obfuscating quibbles and unnecessary pictorial fripperies imposed upon his dynamic vision by legions of writing committees, timid editors and Disney franchising flacks.

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in the All-Story Weekly for August 6th and ran until 6th September. The part-work 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 subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and the Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 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 Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (resulting in 78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961) the ongoing comics series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it and the entertainment corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This superb set reproduces the tales produced by Toth for Dell Comics; firstly as part of the monumental try-out series Four-Color (issues #882, 920, 933, 960, 976 & 1003), and thereafter as a proven commodity with his own title – of which the restless Toth only drew #12. Other artists on the series included Warren Tufts, Mel Keefer and John Ushler and the Dell series was subsequently relaunched in January 1966 under the Gold Key imprint, reprinting (primarily) the Toth drawn material in a 9-issue run than lasted until March 1968.

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures Volume One opens with an effusive and extremely moving ‘Introduction by Howard Chaykin’ before steaming straight into the timeless wonder, but I thought that perhaps a brief note on the scripts might be sensible here.

As part of Disney’s license the company compelled Dell to concentrate on adapting already-aired TV episodes complete with florid, overblown dialogue and stagy, talking head shots which Toth struggled mightily – and against increasingly heated resistance from writers and editors – to pare down and liven up. Under such circumstances it’s a miracle that the strips are even palatable, but they are in fact some of the best adventure comics of the practically superhero-free 1950s.

Sadly, all the covers were photo-shots of actor Guy Williams in character so even that graphic outlet was denied Toth – and us…

One bonus however is that the short, filler stories used to supplement the screen adaptations were clearly generated in-house with fewer restrictions, so here Toth’s brilliance shines through…

The origin and set-up for the series came with Four-Color #882 (February 1958) in ‘Presenting Señor Zorro’. Retelling the first episode of the TV show, it introduces dashing swordsman Don Diego De La Vega, returning from Spain in 1820 to his home in Pueblo De Los Angeles in answer to a letter telling of injustice, corruption and tyranny…

With mute servant Bernardo – who pretends to be also deaf and acts as his perfect spy amongst the oppressors – Diego determines to assume the role of a spoiled and cowardly fop whilst creating the masked identity of El Zorro “the Fox” to overthrow wicked military commander and de facto dictator Capitan Monastario.

Shrugging off the clear disappointment of his father Don Alejandro, Diego does nothing when their neighbour IgnacioNachoTorres is arrested on charges of treason but that night a masked figure in black spectacularly liberates the political prisoner and conveys him to relative safety and legal sanctuary at the Mission of San Gabriel

The second TV instalment became the closing chapter of that first comicbook as ‘Zorro’s Secret Passage’ finds Monastario suspicious that Zorro is a member of the De La Vega household and stakes the place out. When the Commandante then accuses another man of being the Fox, Diego uses the underground passages beneath his home to save the innocent victim and confound the dictator…

Four-Color #920 (June 1958) adapted the third and fourth TV episodes, beginning with “Zorro Rides to the Mission” which became ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part One’ as Monastario discovers where Nacho Torres is hiding and surrounds the Mission. Unable to convince his lancers to break the sacred bounds of Sanctuary, the tyrant settles in for a siege and ‘The Ghost of the Mission Part Two’ sees him fabricate an Indian uprising to force his way in. Sadly for the military martinet Diego has convinced his bumbling deputy Sergeant Demetrio Garcia that the Mission is haunted by a mad monk…

Despite appearing only quarterly, Zorro stories maintained the strict continuity dictated by the weekly TV show. “Garcia’s Secret Mission” became ‘Garcia’s Secret’ in Four-Color #933 (September 1958) and saw Monastario apparently throw his flunky out of the army in a cunning plot to capture the Fox. Once again the ruse was turned against the connivers and El Capitan was again humiliated.

The last half of the issue saw a major plot development, however, as TV instalment “The Fall of Monastario” became ‘The King’s Emissary’ wherein the Commandante tries to palm off ineffectual Diego as Zorro to impress the Viceroy of California only to find himself inexplicably exposed, deposed and arrested…

The rest of this initial outing comprises a quartet of short vignettes commencing with ‘A Bad Day for Bernardo’ (Four-Color #920) wherein the unlucky factotum endures a succession of mishaps as he and Zorro search for a missing señorita and almost scotch her plans to elope, whilst Four-Color #933 provided the tale of youngster Manuelo, who ran away to become ‘The Little Zorro’. Happily Diego is able to convince the lad that school trumps heroism… in this case…

In ‘The Visitor’ (Four-Color #960, December 1958) Diego and Bernardo find a baby on their doorstep and help the mother to free her husband from jail before the volume concludes with ‘A Double for Diego’ (Four-Color #976, March 1959) wherein Sgt. Garcia – now in temporary charge of Los Angeles – seeks Diego’s help to capture Zorro, necessitating the wily hero trying to be in two places at once…

Zorro Volume Two leads off with ‘A Foreword’s Look Back and Askance’ by Alex Toth, who self-deprecatingly recaps his life and explains his artistic philosophy, struggles with Dell’s editors and constant battle to turn the anodyne goggle-box crusader back into the dark and flamboyant swashbuckler of the Mamoulian movie…

Four-Color #960 (December 1958) has TV tales “The Eagle’s Brood” and “Zorro by Proxy” transformed into visual poetry when a would-be conqueror targets Los Angeles as part of a greater scheme to seize control of California. With new Capitan Toledano despatched to seek out a vast amount of stolen gunpowder, ‘The Eagle’s Brood’ infiltrate the town, sheltered by a traitor at the very heart of the town’s ruling elite…

Made aware of the seditious plot, Zorro moves carefully against the villains, foiling their first attempt to take over and learning the identity of an untouchable traitor…

The saga resumed and concluded in ‘Gypsy Warning’ (Four-Color #976, adapting “Quintana Makes a Choice” and “Zorro Lights a Fuse”) as Zorro foils a plot to murder pro tem leader Garcia and stumbles into the final stages of the invasion of Santa Barbara, San Diego, Capistrano and Los Angeles…

With The Eagle temporarily defeated, short back-up ‘The Enchanted Bell’ (Four-Color #1003, June 1959) sees Zorro prevent the local tax collector confiscating a prized bell beloved by the region’s Indians to prevent a possible uprising, after which the lead story from the same issue details how ‘The Marauders of Monterey’ (adapting “Welcome to Monterey” and “Zorro Rides Alone”) lure officials from many settlements with the promise of vitally needed supplies and commodities before robbing them.

Sadly for them, Los Angeles sent the astute but effete Don Diego to bid for the goods and he had his own solutions for fraud and banditry…

After more than a year away Toth returned for one last hurrah as ‘The Runaway Witness’ (Zorro #12, December 1960/February 1961) found the Fox chasing a frightened flower-girl all over the countryside. Justice rather than romance was on his mind as he sought to convince her to testify against a powerful man who had murdered his business partner… This stunning masterclass in comics excellence concludes with ‘Friend Indeed’ from the same issue wherein Zorro plays one of his most imaginative tricks on Garcia, allowing the hero to free a jail full of political prisoners…

Full-bodied, captivating and beautifully realised, these immortal adventures of a global icon are something no fan of adventure comics and thrilling stories should be without.
Zorro ® and © Zorro Productions. Stories and artwork © 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961Walt Disney Productions This edition © 1986 Zorro Productions, Inc.

Asterix and the Falling Sky


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-7548-4

Asterix began life in the last year of the 1950s and is part of the fabric of French life. His adventures have touched billions of people all around the world over the decades. However when this particular tale was released it was like nothing anybody had ever seen before. It fact it is considered to be the most controversial and least well-regarded by purists. Some even hate it…

They are all welcome to their opinions. I must admit that I too found it a little unsettling when I first read it. So I read it some more and saw the elements that I’d initially had trouble with weren’t lax or lazy or bad but just not what I was expecting. Soon it became one of my favourites just because it was so different.

Uderzo was and is a comics creator par excellence. With Rene Goscinny he created, owned and controlled his intellectual property Asterix and used it to tell the tales he wanted to tell.

It was his right to say and draw whatever he wanted to through his creation and nobody has the right to dictate what he could or could not do with it as long as no laws were broken.

It’s a lesson the whole world needs to learn, now more than ever…

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes on the Marne. He dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic but even as a young child watching Walt Disney cartons and reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair.

Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at thirteen, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. He was brought to that pivotal point by his older brother Bruno (to whom this volume is gratefully and lovingly dedicated for starting the ball rolling) but when World War II reached France he moved to Brittany, spending time with farming relatives and joining his father’s furniture-making business.

The region beguiled and fascinated Uderzo and when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, that beautiful countryside was the only possible choice…

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the recovering nation’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work, a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables, appeared in Junior and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comic masterpiece The Beast is Dead is far too long overdue for a commemorative reissue…).

Tireless Uderzo’s subsequent creations included the indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, dabbled in animation, worked as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche and created the vertical comicstrip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950 he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the artistic prodigy first met Goscinny in 1951. Soon bosom buddies, they resolved to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was published in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, following which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they resulted in a western starring a “Red Indian” who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart (also for La Libre Junior), replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his portfolio.

The following year, he made his debut in Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and a rapturous audience. Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959 Uderzo was a major creative force for the new enterprise, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and devising – with Goscinny – a little something called Asterix

Although the gallant Gaul was a monumental hit from the start, Uderzo continued on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first hilarious historical romp was collected in an album as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially since the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, and in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as both writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he gracefully retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album prior to serialisation. Thereafter each new release was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

More than 325 million copies of 35 Asterix books have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s best-selling international authors, and now that torch has been passed and new sagas of the incomparable icon and his bellicose brethren are being created by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

One of the most popular comics on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with numerous animated and live-action movies, TV series, games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the narrative premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper if you want, or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. English-speakers are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

Many of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen reduced to quizzical tourists and bemused commentators in every fantastic land and corner of the civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era. The rest – more than half of the canon – take place in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany, where, circa 50 B.C., a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

The land is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last named just refuses to be pacified…

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

The Gauls couldn’t care less, daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the miraculous magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

This particular iconoclasm, Uderzo’s eighth solo outing (and originally entitled Le Ciel lui tombe sur la tête) was released in 2005 as the 31st volume of an ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Falling Sky. Apart from the unlikely thematic content and quicker pacing, the critics’ main problem seemed to stem from a sleeker, slicker, less busy style of illustration – almost a classical animation look – but that’s actually the point of the tale.

The entire book is a self-admitted tribute to the Walt Disney cartoons of the artist’s formative years, as well as a sneakily good-natured critique of modern comics as then currently typified by American superheroes and Japanese manga…

The contentious tale opens with the doughty little Gaul and his affable pal Obelix in the midst of a relaxing boar hunt when they notice that their quarry has frozen into petrified solidity.

Perplexed, they head back through the eerily silent forest to the village, only to discover that all their friends have been similarly stupefied and rendered rigidly inert…

Only faithful canine companion Dogmatix and the old Druid Getafix have any life in them, but only when Obelix admits to giving the pooch the occasional tipple of Magic Potion does Asterix deduce that it’s because they all have the potent brew currently flowing though their systems…

With one mystery solved they debate how to cure everybody else – as well as all the woodland creatures and especially the wild boars – but are soon distracted by the arrival of an immense golden sphere floating above and eclipsing the village…

Out of if floats a strange but friendly creature who introduces himself as “Toon” from the distant star Tadsilweny (it’s an anagram, but don’t expect any help from me). He is accompanied by a mightily powered being in a tight-fitting blue-and-red costume with a cape. Toon calls him Superclone

The mighty minion casually insults Obelix and learns that he’s not completely invulnerable, but otherwise the visitors are generally benevolent. The paralysis plague is an accidental effect of Toon’s vessel, but a quick adjustment by the strange visitor soon brings the surroundings back to frenetic life.

That’s when the trouble really starts as the villagers – and especially Chief Vitalstatistix – see the giant globe floating overhead as a portent that at long last the sky is falling…

After another good-spirited, strenuously physical debate, things calm down and Toon explains he’s come from the Galactic Council to confiscate an earthly super-weapon and prevent it falling into the hands of belligerent alien conquerors the Nagmas (that’s another anagram) and there’s nothing the baffled Earthlings can do about it…

At the Roman camp of Compendium Centurion Polyanthus is especially baffled and quite angry. His men have already had a painful encounter with the Superclone but the commander refuses to believe their wild stories about floating balls and strangers even weirder than the Gauls, but he’s soon forced to change his mind when a gigantic metal totem pole lands in blaze of flame right in his courtyard.

Out of it flies an incredible, bizarre, insectoid, oriental-seeming warrior demanding the whereabouts of a powerful wonder-weapon. Extremely cowed and slightly charred, Polyanthus tells him about the Magic Potion the Gauls always use to make his life miserable…

The Nagma immediately hurries off and encounters Obelix, but the rotund terrestrial is immune to all the invader’s armaments and martial arts attacks and responds by demonstrating with devastating efficacy how Gauls fight…

After zapping Dogmatix the Nagma retreats and when Obelix dashes back to the village follows him. No sooner has Toon cured the wonder mutt than the colossal Nagma robot-ship arrives, forcing the friendly alien to fly off and intercept it in his golden globe…

The Nagma tries to trade high-tech ordnance for the Gauls’ “secret weapon” but Asterix is having none of it, instead treating the invader to a dose of potion-infused punishment.

Stalemated the Nagma then unleashes an army of automatons dubbed Cyberats and Toon responds by deploying a legion of Superclones. The battle is short and pointless and a truce finds both visitors deciding to share the weapon…

Vitalstatistix is outraged but Getafix is surprisingly sanguine, opting to let both Toon and Nagma sample the heady brew for themselves. The effects are not what the visitors could have hoped for and the enraged alien oriental unleashes more Cyberats in a sneak attack.

Responding quickly, Asterix and Obelix employ two Superclones to fly them up to the marauding robots, dealing with them in time-honoured Gaulish fashion.

The distraction has unfortunately allowed the Nagma to kidnap Getafix and Toon returns to his globe-ship to engage his robotic foe in a deadly game of brinksmanship whilst a Superclone liberates the incensed Druid. None too soon the furious, frustrated Nagma decides enough is enough and blasts off, determined never to come back to this crazy planet…

Down below Polyanthus has meanwhile taken advantage of the chaos and confusion to rally his legions for a surprise attack, arriving just as the Gauls are enjoying a victory feast with their new alien ally. The assault goes extremely badly for the Romans, particularly after a delayed effect of the potion transforms affable Toon into something monstrous and uncanny…

Eventually all ends well and, thanks to technological wizardry, all the earthly participants are returned to their safely uncomplicated lives, once again oblivious to the dangers and wonders of a greater universe…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is a joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and all open-minded devotees of comics. This still-controversial award-winning(Eagle 2006 winner for Best European Comic) yarn only confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller willing to take risks and change things up, whilst his stunning ability to pace a tale was never better demonstrated. Asterix and the Falling Sky proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.
© 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.