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.

Asterix & Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book


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

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

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

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

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

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

Unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, the mostly victorious invaders resorted to a policy of cautious containment. Thus the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goscinny died in November 1977.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurricane Isle: The Best of Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wash Tubbs ran until January 10th 1988.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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

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

The Moomins and the Great Flood


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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