The Moomins and the Great Flood


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moomintroll was her signature character. Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spawn of Mars and Other Stories Illustrated by Wallace Wood


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zorro – the Complete Classic Adventures volumes One & Two


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 in a five part serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in the All-Story Weekly for August 6th and ran until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

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

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

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asterix and the Falling Sky


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moomin: the Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip volume 5


By Tove and Lars Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-89729-994-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Moomins Aren’t Just For Christmas, But For Life… 10/10

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 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 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 through the troubled period of the Second World War. Intensely creative in many fields, she published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: 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…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the 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, 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. 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 the second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear Armageddon.

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) 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. The three strips in this volume were all scripted by Lars and illustrated by his sister.

Free of the 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 and another nine Moomin-related picture-books and novels, 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.

Moomintrolls are easygoing free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and societal pressures. Moominmama is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances whilst Moominpappa spends most of his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth or dreaming of fantastic journeys. Their son Moomin is a meek and dreamy boy who adores their permanent guest Snorkmaiden – although that impressionable gamin prefers to play things slowly whilst waiting for somebody potentially better…

This fifth oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation gathers the 19th, 20th and 21st strip sagas and is a particular favourite, comprising a trio of epic length sequences commencing with ‘Moomin Winter’ as the worst snow season in living memory begins and the nonconformist family decide that this year they will return to traditional ways and hibernate as proper Moomintrolls should…

However happenstance and their own magnanimous natures work against them as other locals – less prepared for the winter’s icy blasts – keep turning up seeking succour, solace and shelter. Naturally no decent creature could turn away neighbours – or even complete strangers – in need…

First it’s timid Miss Fluffins nervously tapping on the door then a little later the quirkily obnoxious Gromf imposing himself upon them, but the truly disruptive influence only arrives after a most odd Christmas when the snow lies metres deep around the house. Delivered through an upstairs window by the indefatigable parcel post is a box containing a baby Nibling

Abandoning all hope of a successful hibernation, the Moomins become unwilling but polite hosts to them all although, as Niblings are such legendary troublemakers, it’s understandable that Moominmama first goes on a heroic expedition to all the neighbours, striving to find a suitable home (i.e. somebody else’s) for the little mite…

She even briefly considers the draconian local orphanage before relenting and returning home with the nosy, chaos-causing little critter…

As well as having voracious eating habits, the Nibling is less than welcome for its incessant curiosity and stunningly forthright rudeness. As the snowbound days pass the inquisitive meddler sniffs out every shameful secret of the household from Fluffins’ strangely masculine habits to Snorkmaiden’s binge eating, young Moomintroll’s aspirations to thespianism or the fearsome Gromf’s addiction to knitting doilies…

These secrets and others it uses to virtually run the house. Moominpapa retires to his study to reminisce and read the papers whilst his long-suffering wife resorts to the thankless tasks of housework to keep busy. Eventually however, as the months go by the Moomins decide it’s time for drastic action and try to starve all their increasingly unwelcome guests out…

Sadly, as ever, the hosts are too gracious and well-mannered to persist for long and soon the boy troll and incessant Nibling are skiing through the winter wilderness hunting grizzly and moose for the larder. A little later, things come to a comical head when the assemblage decides to share all their secret peccadilloes thus depriving the mischievous Nibling of its power…

This comedy of manners is followed by a boisterously sedate and surreal adventure as ‘Moomin Under Sail’ finds Moominpapa and family joining neighbour Too-Tikki (the eminently practical and capable lady was based on Jansson’s life partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, and first appeared in the novel Moominland Midwinter) in building a wooden sailing ship and going voyaging…

The construction is well underway, with everyone contributing in their own unique way, when a wandering poet appears and names the vessel “Mermaid” – which rash Moomin misspells as “Murmade” when painting the hull – before moving on, and all too soon the travellers are underway…

At least they would be if they hadn’t built their boat on a hill and now can’t shift it. Fortunately Too-Tikki knows a rather irascible but polite giant Booble named Mr. Edward who she can convince to move the river for them…

And in a roar of waters they are off, hurtling out to sea in search of wonder, mystery and romance. It comes all too soon as food and whisky starts to vanish and – at least for the ever-imaginative Snorkmaiden – passion is found when the terrified shipmates discover that the beguiling, advantage-taking poet has stowed away…

Young Moomin is less than sanguine that his one and only has become besotted with the unscrupulous scribbler and is secretly delighted when a school of seagoing wild Niblings board the vessel and eat all his odes…

None too soon they depart, taking the poet with them whilst leaving one of their cubs behind. The rapacious tyke is rather sweet but has a disturbing taste for paper and leather goods…

Things begin to go further awry as the babe eats all the charts so Too-Tikki captures some clouds for the child to chew, accidentally precipitating a colossal hurricane which rips their sails away. Happily the clouds make a suitable substitute. There’s even some left to give to Mr. Edward when the aggrieved Booble suddenly shows up…

Sighting land the Moomins and Co go ashore to re-supply and hear worrying stories of a pirate marauder dubbed the “Bloody Mary” before heading back out to sea and encountering a Marie Celeste-like conundrum and inevitable encountering the dread privateers.

Imagine the surprise of the Murmade mariners when they discover the wild freebooters are in fact old acquaintances…

This amazing, enchanting collection concludes with a salutary tale of unrequited love as Moomin makes a new friend and becomes involved with ‘Fuddler’s Courtship’. The meek and rather scruffy young man is a collector of many things – but most especially buttons – and reveals to his new chum that he is hopelessly in love with quirky, overly romantic and lonely Mymble

Despite their misgivings over the clear mismatch, Moomin and Snorkmaiden attempt to facilitate affairs but the target of the Fuddler’s affections is currently enamoured of a dynamic strongman. Although she’s prepared to give any new suitor a chance, his clumsiness, diffidence, messiness and collecting habits soon drive Mymble back to her photos of the oblivious Sebastian

With his confidence crushed Fuddler retreats to his coffee-can home to be depressed, provoking Moomin and Snorkmaiden to call in newspaper psychiatrist Dr. Hatter. It is a terrible mistake…

The Shrink is a mass of complexes and neuroses and soon he has infected almost everybody with one of his problems. Moreover Mymble finds the tortured “genius” utterly fascinating.

Moomin then tries everything – even a helpful ghost – to drive Hatter away, but only succeeds in having his entire family locked up. Happily the Fuddler has a collection of keys and other cage-opening gimmicks amongst his copious possessions…

The course of true love continues to run anything but smoothly for all concerned until one night the Fuddler meets a sweet, confused and messily charming collector of shells and stones. Her name is The Jumble

Wrapping up the Wild Things wonderment is the short essay ‘Tove Jansson: To Live in Peace, Plant Potatoes, and Dream’: a comprehensive biography and commentary by Alisia Grace Chase (PhD) which celebrates the incredible achievements of this genteel giant of literature.

These are truly magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and razor sharp mature wit which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or carbon-based lifeform with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be without them.
© 2010, 2014 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Asterix and the Actress


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-0-75284-658-8

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes on the Marne. He dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic but even as a young child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien he showed artistic flair. Albert became a French citizen when he was seven and found employment at thirteen, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When World War II came he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo and when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, that beautiful countryside was the only choice…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export from the mid-1960s onwards, Asterix the Gaul continues to grow in quality as new creators toil ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas and building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold…

Uderzo’s seventh session as sole auteur was Astèrix et Latraviata released in 2001 as the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Actress.

The revelatory epic opens with romance in the air as Obelix and his lifelong pal return to the village laden down with boars and more battered keepsakes of the ongoing battle with the woefully outmatched Romans.

They amiably amble into a huge surprise party. The heroes share the same birthday and their friends have arranged the event to commemorate the occasion. Even their mothers have come down for a visit from fashionable regional capital Condatum

Soon a feast is in full swing but after handing over their spectacular gifts – a fabulous jewelled sword for Asterix and an equally splendid Roman helmet for Obelix to add to his huge collection – culled from the parents’ fashionable souvenir shop, the mothers begin a battle of their own with their sons.

Fed up with waiting for their hardworking husbands to arrive from the Big City, the impatient matrons start in on the birthday boys with lectures about settling down and providing some grandchildren…

Overruling Asterix and Obelix’s complaints, the insistent Sarsaparilla and Vanilla conduct acutely embarrassing interviews with the village’s contingent of eligible females – and their potential mothers-in-law – and even organise a formal dance to show off their sons’ matrimonial potential, but the matchmaking is a succession of fiascos since the oafish louts just don’t want to play ball…

Fathers Astronomix and Obeliscoidix are now long overdue. Unknown to all they have been arrested by Prefect Bogus Genius. The wily official has a problem which needs some clever and extremely delicate handling…

Already in custody is dipsomaniac former legionary Tremensdelirious (see Asterix and Caesar’s Gift), who sold the aforementioned sword and helmet to the Gaulish souvenir traders. Sadly the items’ true owner is Caesar’s greatest enemy Pompey and thus proof positive that the usurping former tribune is back in Europe. The items must be quietly recovered before Rome realises…

Well aware of the ferocious reputation of the sons of his Gaulish captives, the Prefect enacts a devious scheme suggested by his spies. Mighty Obelix turns to jelly whenever he sees the beautiful Panacea (another village émigré now living in Condatum with her husband Tragicomix – as first seen in Asterix the Legionary) so the devilish conspirator has hired the Empire’s greatest actress Latraviata to impersonate her and steal back the incriminating evidence…

As the despondent dads tire of waiting for rescue by their doughty boys and strike a deal with their cellmate Tremensdelirious, Decurion Fastandfurius is pretending to be a merchant escorting “Panacea” back to her home village. The poor thing has a very selective case of amnesia…

In that certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica the actress is readily accepted with only Druid Getafix in the least suspicious. Soon her fawning attention to besotted Obelix wins her the helmet but Asterix is not so easily wooed. That changes when a spat with his now-jealous bosom buddy results in a mighty blow to the head which deprives him of his usually superior wits…

If not for overprotective mother Vanilla the plot would have succeeded then and there, but she stops the ingénue making off with the sword and calls in Getafix to cure her addled son. Unfortunately the magic potion has a bizarre effect on the little zombie and Asterix goes wild, acting like an animal and scrapping with Obelix before hurtling out to sea like a torpedo…

He regains his senses on a rock in the middle of nowhere just as a massive storm erupts about him and only survives due to the intervention of old frenemies The Pirates and a particularly accommodating dolphin…

In the meantime Latraviata and Fastandfurius have secretly secured the sword and started back for Condatum. Still unaware of their true nature, the freshly reconciled Asterix and Obelix – who are heading in the same direction to find out what has delayed their dads – cadge a lift on the infiltrators’ cart.

Elsewhere, other agents are coming into play. A certain spy has already informed Caesar of trouble brewing and the real Panacea, having seen Astronomix and Obeliscoidix’s wrecked shop, has rushed off with Tragicomix to warn the village…

As the heroes head for the city, they are baffled to see Romans so busy fighting each other that they don’t even notice their Gaulish nemeses, and everything comes to a startling head when Panacea apparently meets herself on the road…

After explanations, apologies and a surprising change of heart on behalf of one of the conspirators, Asterix and Obelix dash on to Condatum to rescue their fathers, only to stride straight into a major melee as Caesar and Pompey’s forces furiously clash…

Of course it all works out in the end and cartoon dog-lovers everywhere will rejoice in the last moment arrival of the missing wonder mutt Dogmatix…and the introduction of his new “wife” and family. Apparently some heroes can successfully combine romance and duty…

Packed with outrageous action, good-natured joshing, clever targeted raucous family humour, bombastic spectacle and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking affirmation of life’s eternal verities further confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and the Actress proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.
© 2001 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2001 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Essential Kurtzman volume One


By Harvey Kurtzman (Kitchen Sink Books/Dark Horse Books)
ISBNs: 978-1-61655-563-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Buy It Now, Love It Forever… 10/10

Well this is embarrassing…

About a month ago, after literally years of waiting impatiently, I finally reviewed one of the earliest classics of our art form, impetuously deciding that at least some of you might find and delight in Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book through second-hand and pre-owned suppliers.

Apparently, even as I was whining about the thing not being in print, superbly crafted copies of a wonderful new deluxe hardcover edition were winging their way around the planet thanks to the perspicacity of those fine people at Dark Horse and Kitchen Sink.

That will teach me to actually read some of the online reports and press releases we’re bombarded with here at Grumpy Old Luddite Central…

Still my humiliation is your good fortune as this magnificently oversized (297x184mm) masterpiece is ready to buy and just in time to make this Holiday Season a time of wickedly barbed merriment…

Here in Britain we think we invented modern satire, and quite frankly it’s a pretty understandable notion, with “The Great 1960s Satire Boom” producing the likes of Peter Cook, John Bird, John Fortune, Bernard Levin, Richard Ingrams, Alan Bennett, Paul Foot, Ned Sherrin, Jonathan Miller, David Frost and institutions such as The Establishment club, That Was the Week that Was and the utterly wonderful Private Eye (long may She reign, offend, fly at Gads and survive repeated libel and defamation writs – there’s a Christmas Annual out even as we speak…).

Sadly our American cousins were not so magnanimously blessed. Their share of genuine world-changing, liberal-lefty rib-tickling intellectual troublemakers only really comprised Tom Lehrer and Harvey Kurtzman. Of course it is a very large country of excitable citizens, with an unbelievable number of guns equally distributed amongst smart folks, idiots and outright lunatics…

Creative genius Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the last half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He pursued comedy and social satire further with the magazines Trump, Humbug and Help!, all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

In 1959, having left Mad over issues of financial control and with both follow-up independent ventures Trump and  Humbug cruelly defunct, the irrepressible Kurtzman convinced Ballantine Books to publish a mass-market paperback of all-new satirical material. That company had just lost the rights to publish Mad’s phenomenally best-selling paperback reprint line and were cautiously amenable to a gamble…

The intriguing oddment saw the Great Observer in top form, returning to his comic roots by spoofing and lambasting strip characters, classic cinema, contemporary television and apparently unchanging social sentiments in a quartet of hyper-charged tales. Unfortunately the project was the first of its kind in America and met with far less than stellar success. No one had ever published 140 pages of new comics in one savage bite before, and even the plenitude of strip reprint books packing bookshop shelves and newsstand spinners were always designed with one eye on the kids’ market.

This new stuff was strictly for adults who would happily follow newspaper or magazine strips but didn’t want to be seen carrying a whole book of them. Duly enlightened, Kurtzman instead returned to safer ground and launched Help! just in time for the aforementioned Swinging Sixties’ satire boom…

The slim monochrome package might not have changed the nation but it certainly warped and affected a generation of budding cartoonists and writers. Quickly becoming a legend – and nearly a myth in many fan circles – Jungle Book was rescued from limbo in 1986 when cartoonist, publisher and comics advocate Denis Kitchen released the entire lost volume as a deluxe oversized collectors hardback edition through his Kitchen Sink Press.

Adjudged by The Comics Journal as #26 in the “Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century”, the racy, revelatory controversial – and in 1959 completely ignored – tome’s full title is Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book: Or, Up from the Apes! (and Right Back Down) – In Which Are Described in Words and Pictures Businessmen, Private Eyes, Cowboys, and Other Heroes All Exhibiting the Progress of Man from the Darkness of the Cave into the Light of Civilization by Means of Television, Wide Screen Movies, the Stone Axe, and Other Useful Arts and this latest edition brilliantly gilds the graphic lily with a host of extra features and treats.

Augmented by a wealth of candid photos, covers and sketches from other works, this new chronicle of craziness offers an effusive Introduction by Gilbert Shelton and a fascinating and informative essay by Kitchen entitled ‘It’s a Jungle Out There!’ which reveals the tone of the times and discloses the background behind the novel novel’s creation.

Also included is the 1986 Kitchen Sink edition’s ‘Intro’ by rabidly devoted fan Art Spiegelman and, after the words and picture-fest concludes, a captivating ‘Epilogue’ ensues in the form of a scholarly ‘Conversation between Peter Poplaski and R. Crumb’

The material itself is gloriously timeless and revelatory. In 1959 it gave the author an opportunity to experiment with layout, page design, narrative rhythms and especially the graphic potential of lettering, all whilst asking pertinent, probing questions about the world rapidly changing all around him.

Each tale in the quartet is prefaced by Kurtzman’s own commentary as shared with comics historian Dave Schriener for the 1986 Edition…

‘Thelonius Violence, Like Private Eye’ is ostensibly a parody of groundbreaking TV show Peter Gunn, with the jazz-loving, hipster “White Knight for Hire” scoring chicks and getting hit an awful lot as he infallibly and oh-so-coolly tracks a killer whilst protecting blackmail victim Lolita Nabokov

The tale is slick and witty and sublimely smart, whereas the next piece (barely) contains a lot of pent-up frustration for past sins and misdemeanours.

In creating ‘Organization Man in the Grey Flannel Executive Suite’ Kurtzman accessed his experiences working for low-rent publishers and bosses (such as Marvel’s Martin Goodman) to create the salutary tale of a decent young man’s progress up the corporate ladder at Shlock Publications Inc.

The quasi-autobiographical, impressionable and ambitious naïf in question is Goodman Beaver (who would be resurrected for Help! and eventually, improbably evolve into Little Annie Fanny) and his transformation from sweet kid to cruel, corrupt, exploitative average business jerk makes for truly outrageous reading.

The title comes from a trio of contemporary bestsellers on the subject of men in business: Executive Suite by Cameron Hawley (1952), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson in 1955 and William H. Whyte’s 1956 drama The Organization Man.

‘Compulsion on the Range’ simultaneously spoofs top-rated western Gunsmoke and the era’s growing fascination with cod psychology and angst-ridden heroes as Marshal Matt Dolin’s far-reaching obsession with out-shooting infallible outlaw Johnny Ringding which takes him to the ends of the Earth…

The cartooning wraps up with an edgily barbed tribute to Great Southern novels like Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre or assorted works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, filtered through a glorious froth of absurd melodrama, frustrated passions and steamy sex (by all accounts the Very Best Kind), all outrageously delivered via astoundingly rendered caricatures and inspired dialect and accent gags.

The tale was inspired by the time Kurtzman spent in Paris, Texas during his wartime service…

In ‘Decadence Degenerated’ us’n sees thet nothin’ evah changes in sleepy ole Rottenville. Then wun naht, when the boys is jus’ a-oglin’ purty Honey-Lou as ushul, sommin’ goes awry an’ it all leads to murdah an’ lynchin’ befoah some snoopy repohtah who claims he frum up Noath turns up thinkin’ he can fin’ the truth…

Soon vi’lint passions is furtha aroused and nuthin’ kin evah be the same agin…

Funny, evocative and still unparalleled in its depth, ambition and visual potency, Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book inspired and influenced creators and storytellers as disparate as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gilbert Shelton and Terry Gilliam. This is a masterpiece of our art form which no true devotee can afford to be without.
Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (Essential Kurtzman Volume One) © 2014 Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. All contents © and/or ™ their respective creators or rights holders. All artwork and stories © the estate of Harvey Kurtzman unless noted.  All rights reserved.

Pogo – The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 3: Evidence to the Contrary


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-694-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Possibly the Best Comic Strip Collection in the World… 10/10

Books of this stature and calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you should just hit the shops or online emporia and grab this terrific tome right now.

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m honoured to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney funnybook license amongst others at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

When the paper folded Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, debuting on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets across the nation. A colour Sunday page launched January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 and thereafter by his talented wife and family until the feature was at last laid to rest on July 20th 1975.

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series even began…

In this third and much delayed (due to the sudden death of much missed editor and publisher Kim Thompson) volume of a proposed full dozen reprinting the entire Kelly canon of the Okefenokee Swamp critter citizenry, undoubtedly the main aspect of interest is the full-on comedic assault against possibly the greatest danger and vilest political demagogue America ever endured, but the counterattack against witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy is merely one of the many delights in this stunning mix of free expression and wild and woolly whimsy…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation hardback (boasting three-hundred-and-fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome ‘Daily Strips’ from January 1st 1953 to December 31st 1954, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 4th to December 26th of the same years.

Supplemental features this time comprise a Foreword from ward winning cartoonist Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm), a wealth of deliriously winning unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly and utterly invaluable context and historical notes in R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ which also compellingly, almost forensically, details the rise and fall of rabblerousing “red-baiter” Joe McCarthy and how Kelly courageously opened America’s fight back against the unscrupulous, bullying chancer (and the movement for which he was merely a publicity-hungry figurehead) with an unbeatable combination broadside of ridicule and cool disdain…

The closing regular biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier is supplemented by a comprehensive ‘Index of the Strips’ and a gloriously inspired selection of ‘Noteworthy Quotes’ to fill out the academic needs of the readers, but of course the greatest boon here is the strips and characters themselves.

Kelly was a masterful inventor of engaging and endearing personalities, all of whom carried as many flaws as virtues. The regular roll call (which some commentators reckon to be as many as 1000) included gentle, perpetually put-upon and bemused possum Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous, sensitive Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompously ignorant know-it-all Howland Owl, sveltely seductive skunk Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, long suffering matron Miz Beaver, maternal Miz Groun’chuck and her incomprehensible, bitey baby Grundoon plus all the other bugs, beasts and young’uns of the swamp, but the author’s greatest strength lay in his uniquely Vaudevillian rogues, scoundrels and outright villains.

The likes of Tammanany Tiger, officious Deacon Mushrat, sinister, sycophantic beatnik communist Catbirds Compeer and Confrere, sepulchral Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred were perfect confections to illustrate all manner of pestilential pettifogging, mean manners and venal self-serving atrocities as they intermingled and interfered with the decent folk volubly enduring the vicissitudes of such day to day travails as love, marriage, comicbooks, weather, rival strips, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, cadging food, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other…

In this volume the topics of exotically extravagant conversation include the longevity and worth of New Year’s Resolutions, the scandalous behaviour of Porkeypine’s kissing-thief Uncle Baldwin, a get-rich scheme involving dirt and opening shots at the burgeoning phenomenon of commercial television. However the gradual conversion of the Deacon’s Boy Bird Watchers society into a self-policing vigilante committee looking out for strangers and making sure all the citizens are right thinking and true looking would quickly insinuate itself into every corner of the feature…

The anti-foreigner sentiment peaks following the arrival of Deacon Mushrat’s old pal The Hon. Mole MacCarony; a blind, self-aggrandizing politico determined to root out all (undisclosed) threats, enforce conformity and stamp out the diseases obviously carried by strangers.

The xenophobic dirt-digger was based on Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran who briefly shaped paranoid public opinion on a platform of severely restricting immigration and implementing the speedy deportation of all communists and non-Americans.

Things got much darker – and therefore more effectively ludicrous – with the arrival of Mole’s malicious and ambitious associate Simple J. Malarkey whose bullying tactics soon began to terrify his fellow bigots as much as the increasingly outraged, off-balance citizens…

Eventually the villains fell out and triggered their own downfall with the mortified Deacon sheepishly denying his part in the fiasco. Peace and (in)sanity returned and with sunny days ahead weather-prognosticating frog Picayune debuted, but suffered a great loss when Albert accidentally ingested the amphibian’s pal Halpha – an amoeba who actually did all the meteorological messing about…

Voracious Albert generally swallowed a lot of things, but his biggest gaffe probably occurred after meeting Roogey Batoon, a pelican impresario who – briefly – managed Flim, Flam and Flo: a singing fish acted billed as the Lou’siana Perches

Many intriguing individuals shambled into view at this time: Ol’ Mouse and his tutorial pal Snavely (who taught worms how to be cobras and rattlers), cricket-crazed British bugs Reggie and Alf and family icons Bug Daddy and Chile, but the biggest mover and shaker to be introduced was undoubtedly a sporty Rhode Island Red chicken named Miss Sis Boombah.

The formidable biddy was a physically imposing and prodigiously capable sports enthusiast (and Albert’s old football coach), who wandered in as survey taker for “Dr. Whimsy’s report on the Sectional Habits of U.S. Mail Men” (a brilliant spoof of the societally sensational Kinsey Report on sexual behaviour in America) but her arrival also generated a succession of romantic interludes and debacles which eventually led to a bewildered Mushrat proposing marriage before leaving her in the lurch and disappearing into the deepest parts of the swamp…

Mole had already reared his unseeing head again, causing only minor mischief, but when the marriage-averse Deacon encountered the terrifying Malarkey lurking in hiding with sinister acolyte Indian Charlie (who bears a remarkable resemblance to then current US Vice-President Richard Nixon) the scene was set for another savage and often genuinely scary confrontation…

That’s also exactly what Miss Boombah had in mind as she set out with Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred to hunt down the scoundrel who had left her in the lurch at the church…

Other story strands and insane interludes include such epic mini sagas as the hunt for an abducted puppy – lampooning TV cop series Dragnet – and a long session on the keeping and proper sharing of secrets, much ado about gossip and the art of being a busybody.

Most memorable of all though are Churchy’s sudden predilection for dressing up as pretty little blonde girl, perpetually visiting Martians and poor Pogo’s oddly domestic recipe for A Bombs…

In his time satirical supremo Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast upon many other innocent, innocuous sweethearts such as J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as lesser lights likes Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt), but nothing ever compared his delicious and devilish deconstruction of “Tailgunner Joe” in the two extended sequences reprinted here…

Kelly’s unmatched genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, if not vivaciously, portray through anthropomorphic affectation and apparently frivolous nonsense language comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human.

He used that gift to readily blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre. Generally though he usually toned down the satirical scalpels for the magnificently imaginative ‘Sunday Funnies’: concentrating instead on fantastic and unfailingly hilarious serial fables and comedy romps.

Some of the best he ever conceived conclude this volume, beginning with the epic saga of little faun Melonbone whose search for the Fountain of Youth inadvertently caused Sam Duck to revert to an egg. The distraught drake’s wife was not best pleased at having to hatch her own husband out at her age (she was no spring chicken)…

Churchy and Albert then fell afoul of sharp toothed tot Grundoon as the kid’s inability to converse led the alligator to accidentally swallow his turtle pal, after which the animal crackpots all got very lost for a long time in their own swampy backyard…

Howlan Owl’s latest get-rich-quick scheme – digging to China – resulted in his and Albert’s reluctant consultation of an Atlas and the shocking conclusion that the Russians had taken over Georgia.

The panicked reaction of the chumps then led to their accidentally awakening an oversleeping bear who decided to start celebrating Christmas in the middle of August. Eventually everybody caught up to him just in time for the true Yule event…

After the usual New Year’s shenanigans, 1954 really took hold as everyone’s favourite alligator tried to recount the amazing exploit of ‘King Albert and the 1001 Arabian Knights of the Round Table’ – despite each listener’s evident and express disinterest – before Howlan and Churchy became compulsively embroiled in a furious feud over pugilism.

Soon thereafter Albert was mistaken for a monster after getting his head stuck in a cauldron. Sadly, once the alligator was finally extricated from the calamitous cookpot, other unhappy folk become the infernal alembic’s’s unwilling method of locomotion…

No sooner did that catastrophe conclude than the whole sorry fiasco promptly kicked off again with a lovesick octopus now playing transient chapeau to a succession of unfortunate and duly startled swamp critters …

The hairy, scaly, feathered, slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight – and we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and ineffably magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent third tome should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the other two.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the all politically astute critters – “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

Pogo Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2014 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2014 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods


By Tony Millionaire & Matt Danner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-746-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: a new classic to add to the “Every Kid Must Read” list… 10/10

Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey first appeared as a Dark Horse comicbook in 1998. Since then the cast of characters within have achieved a bizarre notoriety as adored favourites of gentle lovers of whimsy and the degenerate darlings of clued-in cynical post-moderns.

Confused? Then by all means read on…

The original tales (recently repackaged in a sumptuous 336 page hardback) featured a lovable handmade simian puppet, a toy crow with button eyes and a much repaired doll in multiple award-winning, all-ages adventures published as occasional miniseries between 1998 and 2007 as well a couple of hardcover storybooks Millionaire created in 2002 and 2004. He later recycled and repurposed the durably distinct stars for an adult-oriented (by which I mean surreal and clever, not tawdry and titillating) newspaper strip…

Tony Millionaire comes from a dynasty of exemplary artists, loves to draw and does it very, very well; referencing classical art, the acme of children’s book illustration and an eclectic mix of pioneering comic strip draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman.

His own creative endeavours – words and pictures – seamlessly blend their styles and sensibilities with European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the pictorial storytelling racket.

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences. That is particularly obvious from the range of stunning pictures in this latest work starring his inimitable plushy paragons in a winning and memorable collaboration with animator, screen writer and director Matt Danner (whose past credits include Ren & Stimpy, Loony Toons, Monster High and The Drinky Crow Show).

With a variety of graphical strings to his bow such as various animation shows, his own clutch of books for children – particularly the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series – and the brilliant if disturbing weekly strip Maakies (which details the aforementioned, riotously vulgar, absurdly surreal adventures of an nautically-inclined Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and fellow über-alcoholic and nautical adventurer Drinky Crow: grown-up world iterations and mirror universe equivalents of the sweet and simple stars herein), every Millionaire project seems to be a guarantee of endless excitement and quality.

This one certainly is and may well push the featured creatures into the rarefied atmosphere previously inhabited solely by such esteemed and established children’s favourites as the Moomins, Wonderland, The Velveteen Rabbit and the assorted chronicles of Oz

A prose tale scripted primarily by Danner with ideas, contributions and 46 stunning monochrome illustrations (in a variety of media from soft pencil tones to crisp stark pen & ink) from Millionaire, the sublime saga details how one day in a Victorian House by the sea, an old Sock Monkey named Gabby and his constant companions Crow and dilapidated, oft-repaired doll Inches discover that their beloved guardian Ann-Louise is missing and presumed taken by the recently discovered monstrous beast dubbed the Amarok

Determined to save her, the ill-prepared trio plunge into the terrifying Deep Woods, armed only with maps and a compass from the library of Ann-Louise’s grandfather Professor Rimperton. Braving all manner of terrors – and with the occasional assistance of strange creatures such as the wood-elf Trumbernick, a partly digested sea captain and an undersized bear carpenter – the toybox heroes defeat, or more usually narrowly escape, such threats as Venomous, Triple-Spiked, Hog-Faced Caterpillars, stormy seas, a Sea Serpent, horrid Harpies and the unpleasantly ursine Eastern Mountain Guards of Bear Town, until they find her.

However even after the dauntless searchers have finished dodging pursuers, roaming the wilds and soaring the skies to be reunited with Ann-Louise, there is still one final trial as the remorseless Amarok tracks them to the beloved little girl they would lay down their lives for…

Like the very best children’s classics, this is a book that isn’t afraid to confront dark matters and actively embraces fear and sadness amidst the wonders in an effort to craft a better story.

Compelling, beguiling and visually intoxicating, this latest Sock Monkey yarn judiciously leavens discovery with anxiety, heartbreak with gleeful imaginative innocence and terror with bold triumph.

Millionaire has described his works as intended for “adults who love children’s stories” but this collaboration with Matt Danner may just have turned that around by concocting a tall tale of adult intent which is one of the greatest kids’ books of modern times.
Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods © 2014 Tony Millionaire & Matt Danner. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books.

Miracleman Book One: A Dream of Flying


By the Original Writer, Mick Anglo, Garry Leach, Alan Davis, Don Lawrence, Steve Dillon & Paul Neary (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-621-2

I got my start in comics as the most junior of juniors on Warrior and it was an incredible learning experience. However, producing arguably Britain’s most influential comic magazine was a tense, fraught, high energy, cauldron-like existence and some of those comrades in arms barely talk to each these days.

That’s part of the story behind the fact that the incredible author of most of the stories in this premier compilation doesn’t want his name anywhere near it.

As that’s the case I’m happy to respect his wishes. It is a shame, though, as this is a work which changed the shape and nature of superhero comics forever, even if during the latter days of it in Warrior we all thought the bloody thing was cursed…

If you’re interested in rumour, speculation and/or ancient history, there are plenty of places online to visit for other information, but today let’s just discuss one of the very best superhero stories ever crafted…

This British premier hardback from Marvel/Panini UK is a lavish, remastered re-presentation of the original A Dream of Flying trade paperback, stuffed with extra story content and page after page of lush behind the scenes material, production art and more.

Just in case you weren’t aware: the hero of this tome was originally created by jobbing artist and comics packager Mick Anglo for publisher L. Miller and Son in 1954 to replace a line of extremely popular British weekly reprints starring the Marvel Family as originally generated by US outfit Fawcett.

When a decade-long court case between them and National/DC over copyright infringement ended at the same time the superhero trend nosedived in America, Fawcett simply closed down most of its comics line, overnight depriving the British firm of one of its most popular reprint strands.

In a feat of slippery brilliance, Anglo rapidly retooled defunct Yank heroes Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel into Marvelman, Young Marvelman and Kid Marvelman; detailing their simplistic , charming adventures until 1963, when falling sales and changing tastes finally caught up with them all and they vanished into comicbook limbo.

In 1982 the characters and concepts were picked up by Dez Skinn for his proposed new independent and proudly British venture and eventually magic was created…

The second end began when a certain US comics publisher started suing Warrior for using the word “Marvel” even though when Marvelman was created they were still calling themselves “Atlas”.

A truism of modern life is that money trumps fact every time…

This volume opens with ‘Prologue 1956: The Invaders from the Future’ (originally created by Anglo and the great Don Lawrence but subtly tweaked by our unnamed “original writer”) as a scene-setting foretaste of what might have been before the deconstructionist main event opens.

In that idealised past epoch, invulnerable time-travellers from 1981 are beaten back by the intrepid trio of superheroes before the real story begins in the drab, humdrum and utterly ordinary world of Thatcherite Britain, circa 1982…

Over-the-hill freelance journalist Mike Moran is plagued by ‘A Dream of Flying’ (illustrated by Garry Leach) as a godlike gleaming superman before being blown up by atom bombs…

This morning, however, he can’t let it stop him getting to the opening of the new atomic power station at Larksmere, even if his concentration is ruined by another of his crippling headaches and the agonising, frustration of a word he’s forgotten lurking just beyond the tip of his tongue…

The press launch is an unmitigated disaster. When a band of terrorists attack the site Mike collapses and while he’s being dragged off something happens. That word comes back to him and, in a catastrophic salvo of heat and light and noise he transforms into the creature of his dreams before comprehensively dealing with the gunmen and flying off into space…

In ‘Legends’ the glittering paragon returns to Mike’s wife and attempts to explain the impossible events and his restored memories of being a superhero in Fifties Britain. Liz Moran cannot help but laugh at the canon of ridiculous absurdities this incredible creature spouts even if to all intents and purposes he is her husband. After all, if his restored memories are correct, why has nobody ever heard of him?

The insane situation is exacerbated next morning ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. Technological guru and self-made billionaire John Bates calls and Mike remembers the amiable little lad with superpowers who was caught in the same atomic blast which eradicated his own memories.

After he and Liz visit the mogul, Mike realises with horror that his fawning kid partner never changed back but has been slowly using his gifts to dominate the world for the last eighteen years…

Rumbled, Bates ferociously attacks in ‘Dragons’, using abilities which have grown and evolved in two decades of constant if covert use to beat the recently returned Miracleman near to death. The appalling supra-normal duel devastates much of London, only ending in ‘Fallen Angels, Forgotten Thunder’ when the smugly overconfident former Kid Miracleman accidentally defeats himself…

The first inklings of the truth begin to emerge in ‘Secret Identity’ (pencilled by Alan Davis with Leach inking) as Sir Dennis Archer of mothballed, clandestine organisation “The Spookshow” despatches his top assassin to find and sanction a threat he’s thought eradicated in a flash of atomic fire decades past.

Mike and Liz meanwhile head for Dartmoor to test Miracleman’s abilities in private.

Their marriage has suffered since the initial transformation, especially as Mike insists he and his alter-ego are two different people and Miracleman has got Liz pregnant…

Davis took over all the art chores with ‘Blue Murder’ as highly capable hitman Evelyn Cream tracks down and brilliantly takes out Mike. By the advent of ‘Out of the Dark’ the enigmatic killer has inexplicably switched sides, aiding Miracleman as he seeks out the truth of his origins in a top secret military bunker which contains deadly defences, another, lesser superhuman and more.

‘Inside Story’ reveals recovered and reversed engineered alien DNA technologies, cruel and callous genetic experimentation and a deranged, debauched scientist who grew supermen and programmed them to compliance using comicbook fantasies in ‘Zarathustra’

To Be Continued…

The remainder of this stunning collection is rounded out with intriguing snippets and sidebars from Warrior’s then-gestating shared universe beginning with ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ – illustrated by Davis as a framing device from the Marvelman Special – which originally featured a number of classic, remastered Anglo-era adventures (sadly not included here) and a fascinating peek into what might have been in A Glimpse into the Future

Warrior #4 was sold as a summer special in August 1982 and led with a bold fill-in set three years in the then-future. The long-term plan had been to create a “Justice League” of Warrior characters and ‘The Yesterday Gambit’ – with art by Davis, Steve Dillon and Paul Neary – starred two of them in an interlude from their final battle with an ultimate nemesis.

The plot involved trans-dimensional teleporting alien samurai Aza Chorn ferrying Miracleman through time to battle himself at different stages of his career and harvesting the expended energies of the combats to use against their unstoppable future foe…

Following that tantalising and portentous introduction The Warpsmiths eventually received their own 2-part tale, reproduced here in captivating full colour and introducing the bizarre and exotic realms the militaristic peacekeepers are sworn to defend.

Tragically the unending, extended conflict with their cosmic antithesis The Qys results in constant, deadly politicking and here innocent kids and two members of their own Warpsmith cadre are sacrificed to expediency in as ‘Cold War, Cold Warrior’ (gloriously rendered and hued by Leach).

The nomadic multiplanar policemen returned in ‘Ghostdance’ (originally published in A1 #1, October 1989) in a direct continuation of that story as the surviving dutiful sentinels grieve and move on in their own uniquely inexplicable manner…

With the story portion concluded, this bonanza chronicle devotes the remaining 59 pages to ‘Miracleman Behind the Scenes’, offering an wealth of pre-production work: sketches, design roughs, pencilled panels and complete original art, colour-indications, pertinent ads, pin-ups and covers by Leach and Mick Austin.

Finishing off the show is spectacular covers and variants gallery of the 26 new images by Joe Quesada, Danny Miki, Richard Isanove, John Cassady, Paul Mounts, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Laura Martin, Skottie Young, Mark Buckingham, D’Israeli, Jerome Opena, Dean Dean White, Leach, Steve Oliff, Neal Adams, Frank Martin, Davis, Mark Farmer, Arthur Adams, Peter Steigerwald, Mike Perkins, Andy Troy, Mike McKone, Paulo Rivera, Mike Deodato, Rain Beredo, J.G Jones, Javier Rodriguez, John Tyler Christopher, Gerald Parel and Bryan Hitch for Marvel’s 2013 relaunch.

One of the greatest superhero comics sagas ever. There’s nothing else to say…
© 2014 Marvel & Subs. Licensed by Marvel Characters B.V. through Panini S.p.A. All rights reserved. A British Edition published by Panini Publishing, a division of Panini UK, Ltd.