The Rupert Treasury


By Mary Tourtel (Purnell Books)
ISBN: 9 78-0-36106-343-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Truly British Brilliance with Universal Appeal… 9/10

There’s not a lot around these days in our field which caters specifically for little kids, their nostalgic parents and guardians whilst simultaneously introducing them to the ineluctably tactile wonders and sensorium of a high quality comics anthological experience. Once upon a time there was a whole subdivision of the publishing business dedicated to enthralling and enchanting our youngest and, hopefully, brightest but now all I can think of are The Beano and The Phoenix

At least we still have books – old and new – to fill the gap.

Moreover, comics fans and the British in general equally adore a well-seasoned tradition and in terms of pictorial narrative and sheer beguilement there’s nothing more perfect than the hairy national treasure called Rupert.

Long before television took him, the Little Bear was part of our society’s very fabric and never more so than at Christmas when gloriously painted, comfortingly sturdy rainbow-hued Annuals found their way into innumerable stockings and the sticky hands of astounded, mesmerised children.

The ursine über-star was created by English artist and illustrator Mary Tourtel (January 28th 1874-March 15th 1948) and debuted in the Daily Express on November 8th 1920; the beguiling vanguard and secret weapon of a pitched circulation battle with rival papers the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. Both papers had cartoon characters for kiddies – Teddy Tail in the Mail and the soon-to-be legendary Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Mirror.

Tourtel’s daily serial of the Little Lost Bear ran for 36 instalments and triggered a phenomenon which remains in full force to this day, albeit largely due to the diligent efforts of her successor Alfred Edmeades Bestall, MBE, who wrote and illustrated Rupert Bear from 1935 to 1965 and was responsible for the Annuals which began with the 1936 edition.

The artist originally chosen to spearhead the Express’ cartoon counterattack was already an established major player on the illustration scene – and fortuitously married to the paper’s News Editor Herbert Tourtel, who had been ordered by the owners to come up with a rival feature.

The unnamed little bear was illustrated by Mary and initially captioned by Herbert, appearing as two cartoon panels per day with a passage of text underneath. He was originally cast as a brown bear until the Express decided to cut costs and inking expenses resulting in the iconic white pallor we all know and love today.

Soon though early developmental “bedding-in” was accomplished and the engaging scenario was fully entrenched in the hearts and minds of readers. Young Rupert lives with his extremely understanding parents in idyllically rural Nutwood village: an enticing microcosm and exemplar of everything wonderful about British life. The place is populated by anthropomorphic animals and humans living together and overlaps a lot of very strange and unworldly places full of mythical creatures and legendary folk…

A huge hit, Mary’s Rupert quickly expanded into a range of short illustrated novels (46 by my count from the early 1920s to 1936, with a further run of 18 licensed and perpetually published by Woolworth’s after that. It’s from the former that the five tales in this splendid hardback commemoration are taken…

Tourtel’s bear was very much a product of his times and social class: inquisitive, adventurous, smart, helpful yet intrinsically privileged and therefore always labouring under a veiled threat of having his cosy world and possessions taken away by the wicked and undeserving.

Heretical as it might sound, like the unexpurgated fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, the pre-Bestall Rupert yarns all have a darker edge and worrisome undercurrent with mysterious forces casually, even capriciously targeting our innocent star. Naturally, pluck, good friends and a benevolent adult or two are always on hand to help our hero win through…

This glorious tome – still readily available through many internet vendors and originated in 1984 – gathers a quintet of typical Tourtel tales from the book editions, packing a wealth of full colour painted, duo-hued and monochrome ink-line illustrations into his enchanting pages and opens with the all-colour adventure of ‘Rupert and the Robber Wolf’ from 1932, with the text as always delivered in a succession of rhyming couplets.

The story sees Rupert deprived of his new pocket watch by a burly vulpine bandit and, despite seeking the assistance of best pal Bill Badger, friendly mystic The Wise Old Goat, pixies, fauns and rural troubleshooter The Pedlar, ending up a prisoner of the wolf.

Happily the Old Goat and a posse of police are on hand to collar the crook and his wayward son before something really nasty occurs…

Rendered in bucolic shades of green, ‘Rupert and the Old Miser’ (first released circa 1925) finds our bear playing with a new ball which flies over a forbidding wall into a large garden. When Rupert sneaks in to retrieve his toy he encounters a range of odd and terrified creatures all suborned to the eccentric whims of the rapacious Master Raven

When the bear is caught the ebon enchanter declares the trespasser to be his property too and sets the poor mite to work as his latest chattel.

Rupert is despondent, but help is at hand. The Little Bear’s friends have concocted a cunning plan to rescue him and when the scheme succeeds the miser meets a grisly fate chasing his fleeing new slave…

Equally verdant in its art aspects is the saga of ‘Rupert and the Enchanted Princess’ (1928) which opens with the bear snatched up by a great bird and delivered to a distant kingdom where a feudal monarch pleads with him to find his missing daughter.

Despite the scorn of the assembled knights, Rupert sets out and, with the aid of woodland creatures and a talking horse, overcomes ogres, dragons and other terrors before reversing the magic curse of three witches and returning the Princess to her doting dad…

Rendered in beautiful, clear, clean black-&-white line art ‘Rupert and the Mysterious Flight’ (1930) begins when The Prince and Princess of the Wood of Mystery send the Little Bear a fully functional aeroplane. Soon Rupert is enjoying his maiden voyage but gets lost and alights in the Land of Kinkajous, where King Toucan – after an initial fright – sets the boy a series of never-ending mystic challenges. After a number of Herculean labours are accomplished Rupert at last regains his flying machine and makes a break for freedom and home…

The fantastic voyages then conclude with the full-colour ‘Rupert and the Magic Toyman’ (1933) wherein a thrilling day enjoying a Fair and Sports Day leads to the unlucky bear being spirited away by a genial craftsman whose enticing wares mask his true nature.

The toy maker is, in fact, a wicked sorcerer and his constructions are transformed animals and even a Princess…

Undaunted, Rupert organises an escape back to Princess Belinda’s kingdom, but the Toyman has already ensorcelled the whole place into a land of marionettes. Happily, a glimmer of hope remains and the tables can be turned if only Rupert can find and recruit the valiantly heroic Moorland Will whose hunting horn can undo the magic spell…

Beautifully realised, superbly engaging fantasies such as these are never out of style and this fabulous tome should be yours, if only ass means of introducing the next generation to a perfect world of wonder and imagination.
© 1984 Beaverbrook Newspapers Limited. Artwork & text © 1984 Purnell Publishers Limited from original Mary Tourtel material.

The Juggler of Our Lady – the Classic Christmas Story


By R. O. Blechman with a Foreword by Jules Feiffer and Introduction by Maurice Sendak (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80030-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A truly immaculate confection… 10/10

Christmas is not just about shiny new toys and sparkly knitwear. It’s just as much about unearthing or revisiting old, beloved and almost totally forgotten treasures.

Here’s a superb case in point – finally back in print after far too many years away – thanks to the perspicacious souls at Dover Books…

Oscar Robert Blechman is a glittering star in America’s graphic arts firmament and an international superstar. Brooklyn-born in 1930, he has excelled as cartoonist, illustrator, author, animator/Director, editorial cartoonist, Editorial Director and ad-man.

He’s won awards for his commercials and TV specials and been venerated in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. His anti-Vietnam cartoons graced The Village Voice through the early 1970s whilst his cartoons and illustrations appeared in such prestigious vehicles as Punch, The New Yorker, Trump, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Show, Theater Arts and Humbug.

He’s also produced fascinating graphic narratives such as Georgie and can reasonably claim to have produced one of the very first English-language Graphic Novels… which is the subject of today’s lecture…

In 1952 Blechman used his groundbreaking and soon-to-be phenomenally influential minimalist line-style – deftly augmented with judicious watercolours – to make a much-told tale all his own.

The Juggler of Our Lady was his first book: initially published by Henry Holt, and superbly fetishized and commemorated through brother-cartoonist Maurice Sendak’s fondly emotional Introduction in this sublime new pocket hardback edition. The slim tome became a landmark in graphic narrative and is beloved by generations.

Anatole France’s 1892 tale Le Jongleur de Notre Dame is probably the most widely accepted version of the original medieval religious-miracle legend but there have been so many others that the story is as much part of most people’s seasonal landscape as Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Blechman’s reinvigoration managed to retain all the awe and wonder, whilst adding such a potent blend of wry humour, pitiful humility and gentle hope to the mix that it can make a grown man weep. In 1958 his book became an animated Terrytoons TV short with a huge impact when it was adapted by Al Kouzel & Gene Deitch and narrated by that legendary Christmas Spirit Boris Karloff…

You know the story: Cantalbert is an itinerant juggler who loves his work. He feels that if more people juggled there would less time for war and misery and folk would act better, feel better and be better.

Nobody, however, will listen and the despondent performer – hungry for spirituality – joins a monastery. Even here he does not fit in and is saddened by his lack of suitable talents to venerate The Lord and especially The Virgin Mary…

Everything comes to a head on Christmas Eve when the monks all display the magnificent presents they have made for the Madonna and poor Cantalbert has nothing worthy to give.

Later, when all is quiet, the sad juggler offers the only thing he knows and loves to the statue of The Virgin and something wonderful happens…

Deftly deconstructed and wondrously appreciated in a Foreword by Comics and Cartooning Titan Jules Feiffer, The Juggler of Our Lady is a masterpiece of graphic dexterity and an utterly beguiling experience no lover of the storytelling arts should be without.

Text and illustrations © 1997 R. O. Blechman. Foreword © 1997 2015 Jules Feiffer. Introduction © 1980 Maurice Sendak. All rights rserved.
The Juggler of Our Lady – the Classic Christmas Story will be released November 27th 2015 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comic or bookshop.

Barefoot Gen volume 10: Never Give Up


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-601-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Momentous, Unmissable… 10/10

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, Barefoot Gen is the quintessential anti-war tract and message of peace for humanity. It is angry, uncompromising and never forgives those who seek to perpetuate greed, mendacity and bloody-handed stupidity.

After many years of struggle the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen (One Day, Suddenly).

The scattered tales eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still generally prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Just like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the newly-constituted Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas; all spreading the message across every continent and all generations.

This concluding volume brings the story of irrepressible, ebullient Gen and his friends to a close, once again pitting the forceful vitality of a select band of bomb survivors against the constant shadow of tragedy which implacably dogs them in the city slowly recovering from nuclear conflagration.

Here the indomitable idealistic individualist, having finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which lets Atom bombs fall and is seemingly incapable of learning from its mistakes, at last strikes back at the demagogues and monsters who still keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Barefoot Gen: Never Give Up begins following the inspirational ‘Gen’s Message: A Plea for Nuclear Abolition’ by the Translators and Editors and, as always, the other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

The graphic manifesto resumes in March 1953 as Gen prepares for his school graduation ceremony, despite seldom attending the hidebound institution for the past few years. Fellow bomb orphans Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi – who have shared his shabby shack for years – are also in high spirits. They have been constantly selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcast Katsuko on Hiroshima’s rebuilt street corners, diligently saving the proceeds until she has enough money to open a shop. Now the manager of one of the big stores wants to buy all the clothes they can manufacture to sell in his fashionable venues…

At the Graduation Ceremony Gen once again loses his temper when the faculty begin memorialising the past and celebrating the failed regime of the empire. Later, his savage confrontation with teachers and visiting dignitaries sparks a minor student revolution. For many of the juvenile delinquents it also presents an opportunity to inflict some long-delayed retribution on the educational bullies who have beaten them for years…

Encouragingly, however, not all the parents and attending adults take the teachers’ side and a potentially murderous confrontation is (rather violently) defused by Gen…

The boy’s life then changes forever when he bumps into a young woman and is instantly smitten. His pursuit of lovely Mitsuko will bring him into conflict with her brutal father, former employer and unrepentant war-lover Nakao; now a highly successful businessman going places in the reconstructed city…

Gen has been studying with elderly artist Seiga Amano, learning the skills his own father would have passed on had he not died in 1945. The mentor/father-figure encourages his protégé to pursue Mitsuko and it costs them both their jobs…

The seeming setback is in fact liberating and before long the star-crossed youngsters are in a fevered euphoria of first love. So engaged is Gen that he is not there when stolid Musubi is targeted by a cruel Yakuza honey-trap who addicts him to drugs and fleeces him of all Katsuko’s hard-earned savings…

With a happy ending so close he can touch it Gen is dragged back down to earth by a trio of tragedies which leave him near-broken and all alone. The legacies of the bombing have again cost him almost everything…

After a horrendous bout of death and vengeance-taking, Gen seems to have nothing to live for, but the despondent young man is saved by aged Amano who rekindles his spirit and wisely advises him to get out of Hiroshima and start his real life in the world beyond it…

Keiji Nakazawa’s broad cartoon art style has often been subject of heated discussion; his simplified Disney-esque rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

The style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young illustrator. Even at its most bleak and traumatic the epic never forgets to shade horror with humour and counterpoint crushing loss with fiery idealism and enthusiasm.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses but never dilutes the horror of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

Bleak and violent but ultimately impossibly uplifting, Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen is without peer and its legacy will be pervasive and long-lasting. So now you’ve been warned, buy this book. Buy the entire series. Tell everyone you know about it. Barefoot Gen is an indisputable classic and should be available to absolutely everyone… © 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.

Barefoot Gen volume 9: Breaking Down Borders


By Keiji Nakazawa (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-600-9

I first found the Educomics magazine I Saw It! in 1982; initially seduced by a garish cover and the Chester Gould-like illustrations. There was precious little translated manga around then and the magazine was lumped in with the wild, wacky and often salaciously outrageous “Underground Comix” on the racks of my regular comics shop, across the road from Goldsmith’s College from where I had just graduated before starting as tea-boy on iconic Warrior magazine.

I was cocky, big-headed and, I thought, extremely well versed in all aspects of comics but still utterly gobsmacked after I read it…

In England we’ve had educational comics for decades, but this was something completely new to me. There was no tasteful distancing here; just an outraged scream of defiance and a direct plea to make things right. This was history and politics and it was deadly serious, not played for laughs or to make points as British cartooning traditionally did.

Constantly revised and refined by its creator and publishers around the world, I Saw It! became Barefoot Gen, and now the entire epic semi-autobiographical saga has being remastered as an unabridged and uncompromising 10-volume English-language translation by Last Gasp under the auspices of Project Gen, a multinational organisation dedicated to peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Hadashi no Gen was first seen in Japan began in 1973, serialised in Shūkan Shōnen Jampu (Weekly Boys Jump) following an occasional 1972 series of stand-alone stories in various magazines which included Kuroi Ame ni Utarete (Struck by Black Rain) and Aru Hi Totsuzen, (One Day, Suddenly).

These eventually led Shonen’s editor Tadasu Nagano to commission the 45-page Ore wa Mita (I Saw It) for a Monthly Jump special devoted to autobiographical works. Nagano clearly recognised that the author – an actual survivor of the word’s first atomic atrocity – had much more to say which readers needed to see and commissioned the serial which has grown into this stunning landmark epic.

The tale was always controversial in a country which still often prefers to ignore rather than confront its mistakes and indiscretions and, after 18 months, Hadashi no Gen was removed from Jump, transferred first to Shimin (Citizen), then Bunka Hyōron (Cultural Criticism), and Kyōiku Hyōron (Educational Criticism).

Like his indomitable hero, Keiji Nakazawa never gave up and his persistence led to a first Japanese book collection in 1975, translated by the original Project Gen team into Russian, English and then other languages including Norwegian, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Finnish, Indonesian, Tagalog and Esperanto.

The author at long last completed his story in 1985 and his telling testament of survival has since been adapted into live-action and anime films, operas, musicals and live-action television dramas.

Undoubtedly mirroring Nakazawa’s own creative journey, this penultimate volume shares the moment it all changed for a hardy, forward-looking and indomitable idealist and individualist who finally found a way to express his anger and effectively fight back against the idiocies and injustices of a world which had let Atom bombs fall, and at last challenge those pedagogues and self-seekers who chose to keep the bad old ways alive even after their people suffered the most hideous of consequences…

Possibly the most inspirational volume of Keiji Nakazawa’s graphic masterpiece, Barefoot Gen: Breaking Down Barriers begins following ‘Some Thoughts About Keiji Nakazawa’ by Project Gen Editor Alan Gleason, who has been with the grand design since 1977 – practically from inception – and offers here telling insights and historical perspective. The other end of this monochrome paperback balances the essay with a biography of the author and invaluable data ‘About Project Gen’

This stunning graphic manifesto resumes with an ancient history lesson as fearful peasants are told their precious rice paddies are to be destroyed by the local military in order to make a road for troop movements. As one bold serf dares to protest and suffers grievously for it, Gen awakes in the communal shack he and his friends cobbled together out of rubble and scavenged debris of Hiroshima. He shares it with other “bomb-orphans” and, until this morning, his last surviving family member.

Now however older brother Koji Nakaoka is moving out to get married, but at least rambunctious Ryuta and quietly stolid Musubi are staying put. The former reform school kids have become super-salesmen, selling dresses made by radiation-scarred outcasts Natsue and Katsuko on Hiroshima’s gradually restored and rebuilt street corners. The long-term goal is typically ambitious: the girls will sew and the boys will sell until they have saved enough money to open their own shop.

Today however Ryuta is in an excitable state. He’s the most devoted follower of the city’s woefully sub-par baseball team the Hiroshima Carp and is sharing his hopes and fears for the new season with any highly amused passer-by he can corral…

By the time the hapless sports fan returns to uncharacteristically gloomy Gen at the shack another crisis has arisen: a horde of military types are besieging the hovel intent on tearing it down to make way for a proposed “Peace Memorial City” and they don’t care that the kids have lived there for years and have nowhere else to go.

Gen and Ryuta’s vigorous, violent and initially successful “Dirty Protest” defence of their home is savage and disgusting but ultimately doomed to failure…

When the little war is finally lost Gen is painfully marked for life and carries another burden of stored anger, but at least ailing Natsue is not present to see the loss of their home. She is in the mountains, completing a ceramic urn to contain her ashes after she dies…

Gen has known her since the earliest aftermath of the bomb: a young dance student he twice saved from her own fatalistic intent, but recently she has been physically failing. Never quite recovering from appendix surgery, she is now convinced her remaining days are few and is preparing for the end…

Forcibly relocated to a tiny riverside shack, the disparate band gather to celebrate surviving another day, but when exhausted Natsue finally joins them and proudly shows off her beautiful funerary urn Gen “accidentally” shatters it. Next morning, increasingly furious Ryuta attacks his best friend for his clumsiness and apparent lack of remorse in upsetting Natsue and learns the true depth of Gen’s compassion. As their brutal clash accidentally envelopes and infuriates a haughty street fortune teller, Gen reveals he acted deliberately to shock Natsue out of her pervasive death-spiral, believing he can keep her alive by sheer anger. Eying the enraged seer screaming at them, he then concocts an even bolder plan to reinvigorate her vanished will to live…

When Ryuta later leads the entire gang past a heavily-bearded prognosticator-for-hire, the oracle predicts long life and a fabulous future for the fatally-depressed girl but can’t resist also having a hilarious pop at her mouthy Carp-loving companion. The session works splendidly however and Natsue agrees to return to hospital for doctors to treat her still unhealed surgical wounds. Sadly not even unflagging optimism and Gen’s guile can fix everything…

In the tragic aftermath fresh horror emerges as two pious gentlemen intrude upon the youngsters’ grief, offering to arrange a splendid funeral for Natsue. Gen however is not fooled and realises they are simply clever “Vultures” working for the Americans…

In occupied Japan news media was absolutely forbidden from discussing or reporting the effects of atom bombs and the populace had no knowledge of exactly what had happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Indeed, amidst the rubble of the destroyed cities, most of the 300,000 terrified, bewildered survivors had no idea what was happening to their bodies – or that they were not unique or even isolated cases – but were consoled by the seemingly-benign and tireless humanitarian efforts of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.

These were officials employed by the US Occupation forces, tasked with acquiring – even often buying – bodies of recently deceased bomb survivors for scientists to examine. The bomb-makers were hungry for information on the after-effects of their hell-weapons and apparently did not see victims as human. They simply dissected bodies, harvested organs and collated facts: always hungry for more data. Gen had dealt with them before, when they stole the fresh corpse of his little sister Kimie

The ABCC even pay for teams to go into schools to regularly examine the health of children, working to a hidden agenda aided by local Japanese doctors bribed to send everyone they could to the Americans. For each referral they were rewarded with fancy drugs, many sold for profit to the black market. No one with bomb-related symptoms was treated or cured; just tested and catalogued.

Now with the knowledge enflaming him, Gen responds with brutal violence, beating and driving off the Vultures before he and his friends steal Natsue’s body…

She had died on the 6-month anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War just as General Douglas MacArthur (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and de facto Emperor of Japan) convinced US President Truman to announce the deployment of atomic weapons for that conflict too. Thankfully, concerted global outcry convinced them to withdraw the threat…

In January 1951, Gen, Ryuta, Musubi and Katsuko are on a pilgrimage to inter their lost friend’s ashes above the city on Mount Hiji, but are thwarted by the discovery that the ABCC have built a vast complex on the once-beautiful site. After displaying their disdain in the approved scatological manner, the weary mourners decide to place the urn Gen worked so long and hard to reconstruct within the Nakaoka family grave, but as they trudge to the cemetery their precious cargo is stolen by a street urchin.

Giving ferocious chase they corner the little thief and administer the customary beating, leading to a confrontation with an old man who would change Gen’s life forever…

At first artist Seiga Amano cannot believe his grandson Tatsuro would stoop so low, but when he realises why the boy has turned to thievery, his proud heart almost breaks…

Eventually everybody calms down and Gen gives the old painter art materials he has stored ever since an old, dying man briefly stayed at their shack, sharing with the grateful painter the knowledge that his own father was also an artist before the bomb. Their riverside conversation inspires a life-changing aspiration within the lad that turns his life to a new path. Gen begs the elder to teach him everything he knows so that he can prove his new, all-consuming mantra “Art Has No Borders”…

The next lucky happenstance occurs when Gen stumbles onto a sign painter producing a cinema poster for a Kurosawa Double Feature. Toro Otsuki boasts he is the greatest exponent of his craft in Hiroshima, a claim brutally backed up by his thuggish assistant Kurosaki who foolishly attacks the loud-mouthed young gawker only to be soundly trounced for his temerity.

Sadly in the melee the painting is wrecked and honourable, guilt-struck Gen swears to make amends to the artist and his sadistic boss Nakao; an unrepentant former-soldier now bullying his way into civilian life…

When Seiga Amano and grandson Tatsuro pass by and see Gen enduring savage abuse in his attempts to atone, another fight begins and Otsuki breaks an arm, compelling Amano to step in and complete the poster. The rapidly-completed masterpiece instantly mollifies the militant Nakao who sees another business opportunity…

The constant stream the Boss provides is the making of Gen who serves as assistant and willing, eager student to Seiga, rapidly learning the basics of a discipline which will change his life.

As spring arrives more change is in the air. General MacArthur is summoned home and older conservative citizens begin to panic as their surrogate Emperor deserts them. Ryuta is typically scathing of the nervous old farts and isn’t there when a band of thugs target Gen, seeking to chop off his arm. The plucky little scrapper quickly ends their threat and knows jealous Kurosaki is behind the scheme, but after taking a measure of vengeance Gen surprises himself by getting to know his enemy and learning the horrific story of the abuse his fellow bomb orphan suffered at the hands of priests who were supposed to be protecting the lost children of Hiroshima…

With a deeper understanding but no real resolution to their stalled conflict, Gen returns to his diligent studies but his peace of mind will soon be shaken by the return of an old enemy…

Militaristic elements of Japan were deftly re-establishing themselves as the city grew again: attempting to whitewash their pasts for the New Japan. When ardent – and genuine – anti-war protestor Gen sees a poster announcing Denjiro Samejima, running for political office, claiming he opposed the war and was a “soldier for Peace”, Gen boils over at the villain’s hypocrisy and reacts with his usual earthy passion…

During the war that wily demagogue was a secret Black Marketeer who denounced Gen’s father – a genuine anti-war dissident – and led a hate-campaign that tormented the entire Nakaoka family. Now the rogue is profiting by stealing and feigning his beloved father’s ideals and dreams, just like so many other criminals who would deny history and the truth in search of self-advancement…

The scathing insights into the sordid character of political opportunists are potent reminders of why society never changes, reminiscent of George Orwell’s polemics, and by seemingly moving slightly off-message Nakazawa actually drives home his points with far greater force. Barefoot Gen is positively Reithian in its ability to Educate, Inform and Entertain and its legacy will be as pervasive and long-lasting…

And yet even at its most bleak and traumatic Keiji Nakazawa’s magnum opus never forgets to be funny, compelling and enjoyably Human. The broad cartoon style of Keiji Nakazawa’s art has often been the subject of heated discussion; the Disney-esque, simplified rendering felt by some to be at odds with the subject matter, and perhaps diluting the impact of the message. I’d like to categorically refute that.

Mister Nakazawa’s style springs from his earliest influence, Osamu Tezuka, Father of Animé and God of Manga who began his career in 1946 and whose works – Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island), Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) and so many more – eased some of the grim realities of being a bomb survivor, providing escape, hope and even a career path to the young boy.

As such the clear line, solid black forms and abstracted visual motifs act as tolerable symbols for much of the horror in this parable. The art defuses, but never dilutes, the terrible facts and scenes of the tragedy and its aftermath. The reader has to be brought through the tale to receive the message and for that purpose the drawings are accurate, simplified and effective. The intent is not to repel (and to be honest, even as they are they’re still pretty hard to take) but to inform, to warn.

So now you’ve been warned, buy this series. Better yet, agitate your local library to get a few sets in as well. Barefoot Gen is a world classic and should be available to absolutely everyone…
© 2009 Keiji Nakazawa. All rights reserved.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume 2: Demons and Angels


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-844-1

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. Please be aware that means nudity, images of extreme violence, sexual intimacy, excess of every kind and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and – I suspect – school playgrounds whenever supervising adults aren’t present.

If the thought of it all offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering trailblazer within America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face architect of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted (or perhaps had) to. Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative, lewdly licentious and hilariously violent.

The manly hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze- and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson simply pushed the optics for that sacrament as far as he could, straight into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The contemporary successor to Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered but he never toned down or curbed his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and has been undergoing full-time palliative care ever since.

This second intimate, informative oversized (286 x 202 mm) hardback biography/graphic overview is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously unpublished artworks, with each chapter offering a wealth of strips, comprising most of his output from the decline of the counterculture in the mid 1970s to the graphic renaissance of the 1980s.

Before our hagiography of horrors resumes, fellow cartoonist, bosom buddy and contemporary fun-seeker Joe Schenkman paints a torrid word-picture in his Introduction: Where Eagles Soar, after which ‘From Underground to Alternative’ describes the slow painful end of Underground Commix and subsequent downturn in the massive sales its iconoclastic cartoonists enjoyed during the 1960s, whilst relating how the true survivors moved into other areas of expression and more legitimate publishing arenas.

The cultural pendulum swing actually benefited the most dedicated and talented artistic visionaries like R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Wilson, and this section looks at our wayward rebel’s easy shuffle into commissioned art, gallery-shows, covers and commercial illustration as well as his return to comicbook notoriety in the 1980s after being sought out by Steve Bissette and John Totleben for their horror anthology Taboo. “Wil-sin” more than lived up to his reputation…

Jam-packed with illustrations, this history is rounded off with more astounding strips and his manic, hyper-complex tableaux-spreads (he called them “Deep Scenes”) including ‘Angels & Devils’ and ‘Wanda and Tillie featuring Jesus’ from Zap Comix #6, (1973), as well as ‘Rough Trade Lib’, the apocalyptic ‘Futuristic Glimpses’ and convoluted shock-spreads ‘Dyke Pirates Rescue Their Captain from the Diabolic Doctors of Dover’, ‘Maarooouufffaaolloo’ from the following year’s Zap #7, whilst 1975’s 2 (Two), originally housed ‘Brutal Youths Trounce Lawful Citizens for Ticket Money’, ‘Suds Smut’, ‘Un Acte’, ‘The Possessed, Exorcists, Demons and Gurus in a Free-for-All’ and ‘The Captain Died Twice’ before the same productive year’s 2² (Two Squared) delivers the epic examination of social atrocity ‘Lester Gass – the Midnight Xenophobe’

The next essay concentrates on the legendary artistic collaborations of Wilson, Spain, Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin who periodically and competitively reunited through the 1970s and 1980s to release new material in an occasional anthology like no other.

Zap Forever!’ offers history and insight supplemented by a wealth of Wilson’s stunning and controversial material beginning with ‘Riot in Cell Block Number Nine’ assorted short tales of ‘The Checkered Demon’, ‘Travelin’ Assassin’ and ‘The Sawbones Sews on the Captain’s Ear Following the Fray’ from Zap Comix #9 (1978), ‘The Swap’ and ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ from #8 in 1975, whilst issue #10 (1982) featured the haunting ‘Bums and the Bird-Spirit’ and ‘Captain Pissgums and his Pervert Pirates Sail Again!’

Also rousing ire and poking gorges are vivid Deep Scenes ‘Vampires with Their Dates and Victims Peruse Count von Sangre’s Basement Exhibition of Satanic Icons’, ‘The Checkered Demon and a Couple of Friends Relax in a Rustic Pub’, ‘Rotting Zombies Take Vengeance Upon the Pirates Who Had Shang-Haid Them’ from Zap Comix #11, (1985) offering the artist’s latest obsession and newest entries to his repertoire of grisly characters: zombies!

Back in educational mode ‘Wilson Abroad’ covers the artist’s life in beloved San Francisco bars and forays into book illustration – most notably covers and interiors for archival German editions of writers like William Burroughs – as well as the maverick’s European tours and booze-soaked trips to England and Scotland, augmented by a plethora of fascinating photos and commercial images.

This section includes a barrage of brilliant comics pieces which begin with the infamous Checkered Demon adventure-strip originally serialised in The Berkeley Barb newspaper from 1976-77 and later collected as The Checkered Demon #1 from Last Gasp.

These sordid sorties are followed by ‘The Checkered Demon Meats the Rotting Zombies Countess!’ (Weird Smut 1985), ‘The Checkered Demon Searches for the Perfect Pint!’, (Knockabout #2, 1981), ‘Captain Rosy Namrooth and her Crew Attempt to Prevent the Checkered Demon from Rescuing Star-Eyed-Stella and her Witch Sister through a Hole in the Hull’ (Boiled Owl #3 1981), ‘Give Me Them Pills’ (Jump Start #1, 1983), ‘A Gluetette and her Rotting Zombie Beau Discover the Little Syringe that Nobody Wanted’ (Jump Start #2, 1987), ‘The Checkered Demon and Deke the Blade Find the Dealer Dead in his Dank Little Room’ (Blatch #13. 1986), ‘Last Call!’ (Heck 1989), ‘Gems and Junk’ (Jump Start #2, 1987) and ‘Psycho Fat Boys’ from Too Fun Too Huge #2 1988.

A peek at the frequently controversial coterie of ‘Wilson’s Characters’ grants access to many unseen private works and unpublished material, neatly segueing into a mostly full-colour selection of works including ‘Babbs Crabb and Her Friend Bernice Meet the Male Chauvinist Peg!’ (Barbarian Women #2, 1977), the cover to Barbarian Women #2, front and back covers for The Checkered Demon #1, II (1978) and III (1979), Britain’s Knockabout #2 cover, The Ugly Head 1981 cover plus The Ugly Head from Yama Yama/The Ugly Head, the cover of Zap Comix #9 and front & back covers for both 2 (Two) and 2² (Two Squared) before this eclectic collection concludes with an invitation to view the artist’s middle years of ‘Domestic Tranquility’.

These social interactions are all accompanied by fascinating, rare illustrations such as fliers for ‘St. Pat’s Bash at Dick’s Bar’ (1984) and ‘Dicknic!’ (1987), plus 17 stunning Private Commissions, the cover to crime novel Blind Pig, and an album cover for ‘More Fun Than an Open Casket Funeral’ by The Accüsed from 1989, before the lesson endeth with a copious listing of Selected Works by S. Clay Wilson

Erudite, intimately informative yet utterly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by the informationally insatiable Patrick Rosenkranz, offers unmissable insights into of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. Just like its precursor, this is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume Two: Demons and Angels © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2015 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2015 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 11: 1957-1958


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-828-1

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

Prince Valiant provided action, adventure, exoticism, romance and a surprisingly high quota 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, attaining a paramount position amongst the heroes of fabled Camelot.

Foster wove his epic romance over decades, tracing the progress of a near-feral wild boy who became 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 champion 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 (more than 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 soloed on the feature alone until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator with Foster continuing 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, luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback collection re-presents pages spanning January 6th 1957 to 28th December 1958 (#1039-1142) but before proceeding, clears the palate for adventure with Brian M. Kane’s erudite, illustration-strewn Introduction ‘Pal Palenske [M]ad man’, detailing the incredible career and achievements of Foster’s inspiration: designer, illustrator, equine enthusiast and ingenious PR pioneer Reinhold Heinrich Palenske.

At the other end of this titanic tome Kane curates a lavish exhibition of stunning colour and monochrome illustrations revealing ‘Hal Foster’s Advertising Art: Business and Industry’, but captivating as they are, the real wonderment is, as ever, the unfolding epic that precedes them…

What Has Gone Before: Having brought Christianity to Thule and been instrumental in halting an invasion of Saxons and Danes in England, Valiant has been despatched by Arthur Pendragon to Cornwall in search of traitorous local kings, under the pretence of attending the wedding of young knight William Lydney.

During the festivities Valiant uncovered a terrible miscarriage of justice and acquired a new squire. Unknown to Lydney and his bride Gwendolyn of Berkeley, their homely old steward Alfred was actually the knight’s elder brother and true lord of the manor.

Rather than shame his handsome sibling and a woman they both love, the noble retainer has chosen to leave his home and wander the world as Val’s servant…

With a domestic debacle averted Valiant resumes his true mission and travels to Tintagel to discover that the suspect local lords have banished all Round Table Knights from their domains even as rumours abound of Northern raiders being welcomed into the Cornish Kingdoms…

Stymied, Alfred offers a solution to their dilemma and, shaving his new master’s head, transforms the pretty prince into an itinerant Palmer, roaming the countryside exhorting warriors to take up crusading in the Holy Land. As grizzled veteran and zealot Sir Quintus, the noble spy rises in the esteem of the traitor-kings whilst wily Alfred learns the true situation from the garrulous servant class at the strongholds of Launceston and Restormel, but when their trek takes them to the heart of the conspiracy they find King Och Synwyn to be an utterly different kind of plotter: arrogant, devious and a sadistic psychopath who has mustered a horde of Dane, Saxon and Viking raiders into an alliance to take England by storm.

Utterly appalled by the task he faces, Valiant ritually forswears his sacrosanct honour and apparently pledges himself to the mad king; determined to corrupt himself to destroy the maniac’s plans…

The task is made easier as Och Synwyn needs field commanders for his army, but once “Quintus” is installed, he begins the old game of divide and conquer; briefing against the quarrelsome northern freebooters tenuously united against Arthur whilst inciting the deviant king to begin heavily taxing his barbarous allies in advance of all the looting they will profit from…

Before too long the uneasy alliance is at war with itself and all too soon the western threat is ended, but rather than rejoice Valiant is heavy-hearted as he makes his way back to Camelot, knowing that his triumph came at cost of his knightly virtue and he is no longer worthy of a seat at the Round Table…

His mood briefly lifts when passing mysterious Stonehenge where he meets a Druid priestess and is beguiled by the most beautiful horse in the world…

Pressing onwards he reports his success to Arthur and resigns, but is astonished by an incredible gesture from his comrades which restores his besmirched honour and allows him to make peace with his conscience…

Still ill at ease, Valiant leaves the fabulous citadel and returns to Salisbury Plain, resolved to own the magnificent red stallion he glimpsed. The quest is epic and extraordinary and the beast is a proven man-killer, but eventually the wrangler’s uncharacteristically gentle methods and patience win the day and the steed. Sadly that only causes more problems as the son of the man killed by the magnificent “Arvak” demands the beast be killed and will only be deterred by a joust to the death…

Horseflesh causes more trouble when Alfred meets Sir Gawain’s squires Pierre and Jex and the idle pranksters train Valiant’s other steed Mayflower to perform a succession of hilarious tricks. If only the unknowing prince had not decided to sell the beast to boorish, arrogant Saxon chieftain Halgar the Thunderer during a tense conference designed to ease tensions between the English and the constantly encroaching Northmen…

It takes all the hero’s charm and guile to prevent a fresh war erupting and as soon as the crisis passes Valiant decides it’s time he headed home to Thule to reconnect with his family once more…

The reunion is brief, joyous and bittersweet. The wanderer sees how much his children have grown and considers the cost of a life of duty: only just in time to bid his son Arn farewell as the lad is shipped off to enter the household of regal ally King Hap-Atla even as that ruler’s king becomes foster-son become and page to Valiant’s sire King Aguar.

The tradition is key to noble life throughout Christendom, but again Valiant realises how much he has missed…

Mirth comes to the fore thereafter as Arn moves into Hap-Atla’s palace and begins a tortuous love-hate relationship with his new lord’s spiteful, mischievous and prank-addicted daughter Frytha.

Back in Vikingsholm, Aguar is injured in a fall and forced to send Valiant in his stead to the five-yearly Council of Kings. Unfortunately many of the rulers at the conference believe the last-minute substitution is a sign of weakness and ambush the Thule delegation, proving a sequence of spectacular battles and Valiant’s epic overland trek back to safety.

…And after that there’s vengeance taken and betrayers brought to book…

Peaceful repose never lasts long and when a regal summons arrives from Camelot, the family again take ship. This time however the call is primarily for dutiful wife Aleta who gracefully enters a hive of hornets as aging Queen Guinevere takes offence at the young beauty’s popularity with the Courtiers and plots to end the imagined war of favourites.

Her husband meanwhile is busy with martial matters. Arthur has at last decided to move in force against the Danes and Saxons occupying Kent and Sussex. War is brewing again and as the warriors prepare, Valiant briefly retires aging squire Alfred in favour of two young, vigorous and keen martial assistants: Edwin and Claudius.

The former is an especial favourite of Aleta and her boisterous twin daughters Karen and Valeta

With Valiant as field commander the campaign is bloody but overwhelmingly successful but ultimate victory comes at an incomprehensibly high personal price. Moreover after saving thriving mercantile metropolis London from the marauding northmen, Val’s weary forces experience a nasty lesson in capitalism run rampant and basic ingratitude. Of course the Prince has an insurmountable counterargument to employ…

Back in Camelot the war of wills between Guinevere and Aleta is settled by the most remarkable of intercessionaries by the time the victors return, but Valiant has little time to rest. His beloved comrade Gawain has vanished and the trail leads into the wilds of unruly Wales. Employing Welsh knight Sir Ian Waldoc as guide and following an unearthly vision provided by largely vanished mage Merlin, the tireless champion heads westward disguised as a troubadour, eventually fetching up at the forbidding castle of terrible King Oswick and his five beautiful daughters…

To Be Continued…

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a tremendous procession 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, it 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.

Asterix and the Picts


By Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad, translated by Anthea Bell (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-4440-1167-8

Asterix began life in the last year of the 1950s and has become part of the fabric of French life. His adventures touched billions of people all around the world for five and a half decades and for all of that time his astounding adventures were the sole preserve of originators Rene Goscinny and/or Albert Uderzo.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic serial subsequently collected into book-length compilations, in 1974 the 21st saga – Asterix and Caesar’s Gift – was the first to be released as a complete original album prior to serialisation. Thereafter each new album was an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for legions of devotees, but none more so than this one, created by Uderzo’s handpicked replacements – scripter Jean-Yves Ferri (Fables Autonomes, La Retour à la terre) and illustrator Didier Conrad (Les Innomables, Le Piège Malais, Tatum) – who landed the somewhat poisoned chalice after he retired in 2009.

Happily the legacy is in safe hands, and this first book at least has been meticulously overseen by Uderzo every step of the way…

Whether as an action-packed comedic romp with sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, the new tale is just as engrossing as the established canon and English-speakers are still happily graced with the brilliantly light touch of translator Anthea Bell who, with former collaborator Derek Hockridge, played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so palatable to English sensibilities.

As you already know, half of the intoxicating epics are set in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, whilst the rest 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.

Although the country is divided by the notional conquerors into provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, the very tip of the last named stubbornly refuses to be pacified. The Romans, utterly unable to overrun this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, are reduced to a pointless policy of absolute containment – and yet the Gauls come and go as they please. Thus a tiny seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by heavily fortified garrisons Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium, filled with veteran fighters who would rather be anywhere else on earth than there…

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

Astérix chez les Pictes was released in October 2013, simultaneously hurtling off British shelves as Asterix and the Picts, and opens in February with snow piled deep in the village and all around its weathered stockade. Eager to avoid the usual spats, snipes and contretemps of their fellows, doughty little Asterix and his affable pal Obelix go for a bracing walk on the beach and discover lots of flotsam and jetsam: Roman helmets, old amphorae, a huge cake of ice with a strange tattooed giant inside…

Swiftly taking their find back to their fascinated friends, the pals are informed by Getafix that the kilted fellow appears to be a Pict from distant Caledonia on the other side of the sea – another tribe ferociously resistant to Roman rule.

The find polarises the village: the men are wary and distrustful but the women seem to find the hibernating Hibernian oddly fascinating. So great is the furore over the discovery that nobody bats an eyelid when Roman census-taker Limitednumbus sidles into the village eager to list everything going on and everyone doing it…

Before long Getafix has safely defrosted the giant but the ordeal has left the iceman speechless. That only makes him more interesting to the wowed womenfolk…

A smidgeon more Druid magic gives him a modicum of voice – although very little of it is comprehensible – and before long Chief Vitalstatistix orders his mismatched go-to guys to take ship and bring the bonnie boy back to his own home, wherever it is.

…And with the gorgeous tattooed giant gone, the bedazzled village women will go back to normal again. At least that’s the Chief’s fervent hope…

After tearful farewells (from about half of the village) the voyagers head out and are soon encouraged when the Pict suddenly regains his power of speech. In fact he then can’t stop gabbing, even when the Gauls meet their old chums the Pirates and indulge in the traditional one-sided trading of blows.

The reinvigorated hunk is called Macaroon and soon is sharing his tale of woe and unrequited love even as the little boat steadily sails towards his home.

Macaroon lives on one side of Loch Androll and loves Camomilla, daughter of the chieftain Mac II. However ambitious, unscrupulous rival chieftain Maccabaeus from across the water wanted to marry her and cunningly disposed of his only rival by tying him to a tree-trunk and casting him into the freezing coastal waters…

Meanwhile in Caledonia, a Roman expeditionary force led by Centurion Pretentius has arrived and makes its way to a rendezvous with a potential ally: a chief of the Maccabees clan willing to invite the devious, all-conquering empire into the previously undefeated land of the Picts…

Once Macaroon and his Gallic comrades reach home turf they are feted by his amazed and overjoyed clan whilst across the loch the traitor is trying to placate his own men who have witnessed the giant’s return and believe him a ghost…

Villainous Maccabaeus is only days away from becoming King of all the Picts. He even holds captive Camomilla – whom he will wed to cement his claim – and with the Romans to enforce his rule looks forward to a very comfortable future. He will not tolerate anything ruining his plans at this late stage…

Things come to crisis when Macaroon has a sudden relapse and the Druid’s remedy to restore him is lost at the bottom of a loch thanks to the playfulness of the tribe’s colossal and revered water totem “the Great Nessie”.

When Asterix and Obelix helpfully offer to retrieve it they discover a tunnel under the loch which leads into the Maccabees fortress which is simply stuffed with lots of lovely Romans to pummel…

With the jig up and Camomilla rescued, the scene is set for a spectacular and hilarious final confrontation that will set everything to rights in the tried-and-true, bombastic grand old manner…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is another joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and devotees of comics to accept into the mythic canon.
© 2013 Les Éditions Albert René. English translation: © 2013 Les Éditions Albert René. All rights reserved.

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.