Wallace and Gromit: The Whippet Vanishes

Wallace and Grommit: The Whippet Vanishes 

By Simon Furman, Ian Rimmer and Jimmy Hansen (Titan Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-498-9

There are lots of comics and graphic novels that derive from movie and television sources, and for whatever reason, most of them just do not cut it. This is a noteworthy exception.

This publication, dedicated to the further adventures of Northern boffin Wallace and the incomparable best-of-breed working dog Gromit, sees them take on the role of amateur Pet Detectives in a helter-skelter romp to track down a mysterious pet-napper.

All their trademark insanity and high energy action abounds as they deal with snow drifts and missing garden Gnomes and add another eccentric evil genius to their catalogue of arch-villains.

Great fun for all ages and I’d like to offer my particular congratulations for captivating art and colour from Jimmy Hansen and John Burns. Puppets have never been drawn so well.

© 2004 Aardman Animations. All Rights Reserved.

True Story Swear to God 2: This One Goes to 11

True Story Swear to God 2: This One Goes to 11 

By Tom Beland (ait/planet lar)
ISBN: 1-9320-5132-1

Tom Beland is a man in love. At his time of life and looking like he does, he finds that hard enough to believe. That his One True Love lives three thousand miles away, in Puerto Rico, is pretty much incomprehensible to him. And that she’s stuck there without him during the most humungous hurricane he’s ever heard of is not a situation that is going to happen twice.

This second collection of the charming, true, modern romance sees creator and protagonist Beland accept that he and his beloved Lily cannot be apart any more. Matching the comedy and drama of outrageous weather systems with the irresistibly opposing forces of two mature people who are each settled in their own space can only mean that something has to give. Who’s going to move or who’s going to quit?

This One Goes to 11 combines charm, gentleness and real-life trials as old as humanity and wraps them in a warm deceptively subtle cartoon style to tell a story we’ve all featured in and can’t help but empathise with. Well worth seeking out.

© 2005 Tom Beland. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: The Next Generation — Maelstrom

Star Trek: The Next Generation — Maelstrom 

By Michael Jan Friedman & Pablo Marcos (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-94576- 318-1

Titan’s reprinting (issues #13-18 of the DC series from the 1990s) of the venerable TV phenomenon continues with Michael Jan Friedman scripting capable if uninspiring comics tales illustrated by veteran Pablo Marcos, and guest artists and writers Dave Stern, Mike O’Brien, Ken Penders, Mike Manley and Robert Campanella also contributing to the licensed fun.

Friedman’s adventures involve an elaborate plot by telepaths to use the crew to assassinate delegates at a peace conference, a plot by the Ferengi to illegally strip-mine a resort world, starring Riker and LaForge, and a stellar phenomenon that draws the Enterprise into a confrontation with the Romulans just as a plague of madness grips the crew. The fill-in is another “time-traveller back to fix the continuum” tale as Wesley Crusher’s attempts to improve the Transporter system go awry.

Although not the best work these creators have produced, the stories are honest entertainment that should be a welcome treat for fans and they are easily accessible to anyone who has seen the TV show

™ & © 2006 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Chronicles of Conan vol 8: Brothers of the Blade

Chronicles of Conan vol 8: Brothers of the Blade 

By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Mike Ploog & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-137-5

The eighth volume of reprinted Marvel Conan stories is a true treat, as it features not just the magnificently recoloured artwork of John Buscema partnered with some of his most gifted inkers – Tom Palmer, Frank Springer, Pablo Marcos and Steve Gan – but also reprints one of the last comic stories of the tragically under-rated Mike Ploog. The book ends with Buscema, though, who returns to begin the epic “Queen of the Black Coast” story line that ran from issues #58 – 100 of the monthly comic book. Parts one and two can be found here along with issues #52 through 57.

Conan is undergoing something of a revival at the moment, both as prose and comic book character, not to mention all those figurines that could find homes on the shelves of the faithful, and there’s always the promise of another movie. Still and all, and whilst admitting my bias, if you can’t actually have more Robert E. Howard, you can’t do much better than these thumping good yarns that kept the legend alive in the long-ago, hip again 1970s.

© 1975, 2005 Conan Properties International, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Heath Robinson

 Heath Robinson

HEATH ROBINSON: ABSURDITIES (Duckworth)
ISBN: 0-71561-583-1 (1990 edition) ISBN: 0-71560-920-3 (1975 edition)

Heath Robinson

HEATH ROBINSON: RAILWAY RIBALDRY (Duckworth)
ISBN: 0-71560-823-1 (1997 edition) ISBN: 0-71561-489-4 (1980 edition)

Not many people enter the language due to their own works. Fewer still last the course and stay there. Can you recall what “doing an Archer” means?

William Heath Robinson was born on 31st May 1872 into something of an artistic dynasty. His father Thomas was chief staff artist for Penny Illustrated Paper. His older brothers Thomas and Charles were also illustrators of note. After schooling he tried unsuccessfully to become a watercolour landscape artist before returning to the family trade. In 1902 he produced the fairy story “Uncle Lubin” before working for The Tatler, Bystander, Sketch, Strand and London Opinion, during which time he developed the humorous whimsy and penchant for eccentric mechanical devices that made him a household name.

Heath Robinson

During the Great War he uniquely avoided the Jingoistic stance and fervor of his fellow artists, preferring to satirise the absurdity of conflict itself with volumes of cartoons such as “The Saintly Hun”. After a career of phenomenal success and creativity, in cartooning, illustration and particularly advertising, he found himself doing it again in World War Two. He died on 13th September 1944.

There is very little point in analysis in the limited space available here, but surely some degree of recommendation is permissible. In Absurdities (1934), Heath Robinson personally gathered his favourite works into a single, all too slim volume that more than any other describes the frail resilience of the human condition in the Machine Age and particularly how the English deal with it all. They are also some of his funniest strips and panels.

In Railway Ribaldry, a commission from The Great Western Railway Company to celebrate their centenary in1935 (and more power to them; can you imagine a modern company paying someone to make fun of them?), he used his gentle genius to examine Homo Sapiens Albionensis, as steel and rails and steam and timetables gradually bored their way into the hearts and minds of us folk. Much too little of his charming and detailed illustrative wit is in print today, a situation that cries out for Arts Council Funding more than any other injustice in the sadly neglected field of cartooning and Popular Arts.

Heath Robinson

Other publications of his work include Some Frightful War Pictures (1915), Hunlikely! (1916), The Saintly Hun: A Book of German Virtues (1917), Flypapers (1919), Get On With It (1920), The Home Made Car (1921), Quaint and Selected Pictures (1922), Humours of Golf (1923), Let’s Laugh (1939), Heath Robinson At War (1941) and The Penguin Heath Robinson (1946), as well as such collaborations as The Incredible Inventions Of Professor Branestawm by N Hunter (1933), or Mein Rant with R. F. Patterson (1940).

In the 1970s and 1980s Duckworth produced and or reprinted a selection of albums which included Inventions, Devices, The Gentle Art of Advertising, Heath Robinson at War, Humours of Golf, How To Be A Motorist, How To Be A Perfect Husband, How To Live in a Flat, How To Make your Garden Grow, How To Run a Communal Home, How To Build a New World, and How To Make the Best of Things, and many of these can still be found at or ordered through your local Library Service. Both Ribaldry and Absurdities were reissued in the 1990s and were readily available on Amazon last week. (I’ve included the ISBN’s in case you’re tempted…)

Heath Robinson

I apologize for the laundry-list nature of the above review, but I’m not sorry to have produced it and neither will you be when you find any the wonderful, whimsical, whacky work of William Heath Robinson, Wizard of Quondam Mechanics.

© 2007 The estate of William Heath Robinson.

Kane: Greetings from New Eden

Kane: Greetings from New Eden 

By Paul Grist (Dancing Elephant Press)
ISBN: 1-58240-340-6

The first volume of Paul Grist’s quirky cop drama re-introduces the visually compelling and taciturn detective back into the hurly-burly of the New Eden police force, after an absence caused by a scandal. Kane and his partner Dennis Harvey were a perfect team. Right up until the moment Kane tried to arrest Dennis for taking bribes. Their friendship pretty much ended when Kane shot him.

Now Kane’s back and he’s just as effective but a damned sight less popular with his fellow officers.

From these derivative scraps of cop-show folk-lore Grist weaves a spellbinding little masterpiece of unparalleled graphic ingenuity. It sounds like Hill Street Blues. It feels like The New Centurions or The Choirboys. It is in fact a unique voice and major comics stylist simply telling stories in a subtle and irresistible way with sly wit and jovial cynicism, not to mention with an utterly British dash of whimsy that just takes the breath away.

I really don’t want to say anything else about the plot. I want you to get the book and the ones that came after it and discover the magic for yourselves, so you’ll just have to content yourselves with ploughing through some more of my effervescent hyperbole. Or jump to the next review if you want. Or get weaving and get Kane.

Still here? Okay, then.

The stark yet inviting black and white design, refined and honed and pared down to a minimalist approachability has an inescapable feeling of Europe about it. If ever anyone was to create a new Tin Tin adventure, Grist would be the ideal choice to draw it. Not because he draws like Hergé, but because he knows his craft as well as Hergé did.

I love this stuff, and if you buy it, so will you. Collect ‘em all, fanboy!

©1993, 2004 Paul Grist. All Rights Reserved.

Chronicles of Conan vol 7: The Dweller in the Pool

Chronicles of Conan vol 7: The Dweller in the Pool 

By Roy Thomas, John Buscema and others (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84576-028-X

Volume 7 (issues #43 – 51) begins with shorter tales ‘Tower of Blood’, ‘Of Flame and Fiend’, and the eerily memorable ‘Last Ballad of Laza-Lanti’ before concentrating the remainder of the book (originally six issues) on a protracted and loving adaptation of ‘Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse’, originally penned by the prolific and justifiably legendary Gardner Fox, (if anybody deserves the title of Elder God of the comic book world it must be Fox!) with the cantankerous Cimmerian once again embroiled in a war between wizards and wading through totty and gore in equal amounts.

This is classic pulp/comic action in all its unashamed exuberance and should be a guilty pleasure for old time fans and newbies of all persuasion.

© 2005 Conan Properties International LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Grimjack: Killer Instinct

Grimjack: Killer Instinct 

By John Ostrander & Timothy Truman (IDW Publishing)
ISBN 1-9332-3915-8

Grimjack originally appeared during the American comic industry’s last great flourishing in the 1980’s. Created by Ostrander and Truman as a back-up feature for Mike Grell’s Starslayer it ran in issues #10-18 before swiftly winning his own title at First Comics. He almost survived the company’s demise more than a decade later. In a crowded marketplace, and almost irrespective of who was doing the drawing, this hard-boiled fantasy action strip was a watchword for quality entertainment.

John Gaunt, Grimjack, is a combination private eye, ronin and all-around problem solver just scratching out a living in the fantastic pan-dimensional city of Cynosure, a huge metropolis that touches every place in the multiverse at once. A combination of dry wit, dark edged fantasy, spectacular action and a willingness to take narrative risks won him a lot of loyal fans.

In Killer Instinct, Ostrander and Truman take us back to a time immediately preceding Grimjack’s first appearance to flesh out the character for the old lags whilst introducing newcomers to a fresh, vibrant anti-hero struggling against a number of corrupt power-mongers, including insane paramilitaries and expansionist vampire cliques, whilst trying to find his own way. There is action aplenty and tremendous style for fans of genre-crossing.

This volume lead to the publishing those past classics in trade paperback compilations. I hope that will eventually mean new material. Well? I’m waiting…

Contents © & ™ Nightsky Grimjack Rights and Production Vehicle (Four Wheel Drive Model), LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Chronicles of Conan vol 6: The Curse of the Golden Skull

Chronicles of Conan vol 6: The Curse of the Golden Skull 

By Roy Thomas, John Buscema and others (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 1-84023-983-2

When Dark Horse acquired the comic book publishing rights to Robert E. Howard’s legendary Barbarian they not only began issuing new monthly adventures and adaptations. Supplementing their excellent monthly Conan comic with these lavishly recoloured reprintings of the character’s Marvel run must have seemed something of a risk, but the stories here stand up remarkably well.

Volume 6 (collecting issues #35 – 42) is brimming with scurrilous rogues and scarce-clad maidens, and lot and lots of action, as scribe Roy Thomas continued his then practise of adapting not only Howard’s prose output, but also the cream of whatever other pulp fiction he could lay fair claim to.

John Buscema’s epic artwork absolutely shines in this format, even with the inking of Ernie Chan, whose efforts seem to be an acquired taste for many fans. There’s an added treat for art lovers of a more naturalistic temperament with ‘The Curse of the Golden Skull’. Originally this was a fill-in issue, but illustrated by legendary comics iconoclast Neal Adams. After reading the excellent-as-usual Afterword by the author I can only squirm at the realisation of what a naive and sheltered child I must have been when first I read this little gem!

Buscema and Chan return for ‘The Warrior and the Were-Woman’, adapted from Howard’s “The House of Arabu”, and the all-original ‘Dragon from the Inland Sea’, both fine swords-and-sandals yarns, but Rich Buckler’s pinch-hitter pencilling on ‘The Fiend from the Forgotten City’, plotted by Michael Resnick, suffers a notable lack of panache and verve. Buscema’s return for the new tale ‘The Garden of Death and Life’, and especially the final tale ‘Night of the Gargoyle’ – adapted from Howard’s “The Purple Heart of Erlik” – bring the book to a close on a spooky, action packed note.

These classic tales, chromatically enhanced, are superb examples of the graphic sword-and-sorcery genre. For sheer exuberant fun, you really can’t do much better.

© 2005 Conan Properties International LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics 

By Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis (Harper Perennial)
ISBN 0-06-273099-1

The educational value of comics is often understated, not to say completely forgotten. Will Eisner produced reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments. Japan has a number of text books produced as comic strips, and has even released government reports as comic strips to get around public apathy to reading high volumes of public information. So do we, and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced one or two myself.

None of us, however, can hold a candle to Larry Gonick. Since the 1970s this cartoonist and all around clever chap has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The “Cartoon Guide to…” series (Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics and the Environment) as well as the two under the hammer here.

He often teams up with a recognised expert for these volumes but never lets one goal override the other. Teach and Entertain.

The current edition of “…Genetics”, produced in conjunction with lecturer and author Mark Wheelis, is heavily updated from the one my wife used when a Genetics Student in London in the 1980s, but is still one of the most memorable text books I’ve ever ploughed through, providing a clear, concise, chronological and practical outline of the subject.

On finishing it I was more than ready to start splicing some genes, but I haven’t as yet because I’m still finishing that long letter to Marvel clarifying just what a Mutant actually is.

© 1983, 1991, 2007 Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis. All Rights Reserved.