The Magical History Tour volume 1: The Great Pyramid

By Fabrice Erre &Sylvain Savoia translated by Joseph Laredo (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-633-3 (HB)

Here’s the first instalment of a superb European export designed to make history even more compelling for kids. Originally edited by the fabulous Lewis Trondheim and Frédéric Niffle, Le Fil de l’Histoire is a series of handy introductions to pertinent periods starring an all-wise older sister and her little brother who visit key moments and learn lots.

This kiddies’ hand-sized hardback tome was originally Tome 2: La Pyramide de Khéops, and sees Annie turn young Nico’s Lego-building triumph into an immersive teaching moment, whisking them back to see the great Pyramid in all its glory, detailing how and why it was built and conducting a tour of the interior most Egyptologists would give their last scarab cartouche for…

Responsible adults are author/educator/newspaper columnist and Doctor of History Fabrice Erre while illustration honours go to diligent comics pro Sylvain Savoia, who will be further entertaining later this month when I review his magnificent Marzi series. Trust me, you can’t wait…

Today’s treat also offers building techniques, comparisons of other mastabas, mausoleums and tombs and traces the history of the magnificent edifice through the centuries. Herodotus’ misreading of facts, the Caliph of Baghdad’s brutal desecration of the site, tomb robbers, Napoleon’s obsession and others interactions are all covered as well as a peek into possible future of the site.

Adding extra value are biographies of Imhotep, Cheops, Hemiunu, Herodotus, plans of the Giza Plateau, the Six Other Wonders of the World (now lost) and a comprehensive Timeline.

History is fun and comics are great. This book is both. Add it to your shelves and brace yourself for the chronicles to follow.
© 2018- DUPUIS – Erre – Savoia. All other material © 2021 Papercutz.

Dog Days

By Anja Dahle Øverbye, translated by Agnes Scott Langeland (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-0-9933951-9-2 (TPB)

Friendship is a strange and potent thing, especially if formed during or overlapping and surviving the fraught transition from little kids to turbulent teen…

Released as Hundedagar in 2015, Anja Dahle Øverbye’s award-winning debut graphic novel is set in a timeless “Then” in North West Norway as a small group of schoolgirls endure the dull tedium and decimating heat and foul odours of the annual Dog Days – when the usual nothing-to-do is cruelly exacerbated by debilitating heat and still air to match the static lives of the same old crowd.

Anne is having a difficult time. She’s too old for silly pranks, stamp albums and other kids’ stuff, but not old enough to go with life-long friend Marielle to interesting new places like the youth club. Worse yet, annoying creepy Carrie is monopolising Marielle’s time. They’re forming a bond: a clique of two who seem to spend most of their time being mean and playing nasty pranks on Anne.

Endless days go by and even tragedy at a neighbour’s house, the big fair and that creepy adult hanging around can’t dispel the tedium. The situation between the rivals worsens, so Anne decides to act. If she wants to restore the status quo or be part of a new one, she needs to adapt. Happily, shy, quiet Kate is around to take the cruel heat…

A sleek but chilling examination of unformed personalities instinctively vying for dominance, Dog Days is a deceptively powerful treatment of friendship and alliances that will remain with you long after yo finish reading.
© Centrala Ltd./Anja Dahle Øverbye. Translation © Agnes Scott Langeland. All rights reserved.

Yakari volume 17: The Snow Bird

By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-460-1 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40th albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain has assumed the writer’s role from 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1992, L’osieau de niege was the 18th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

This time, the little wonder willingly yields focus to human companion Rainbow as the kids idly play at the debilitating heights of the summer. They are confined to one of the capacious rawhide tipis thanks to a sudden deluge when the storm suddenly picks up the entire tent – floor and all – and whisks them away into the sky…

The tipi heads steadily north at high altitude and eventually lands in frozen tundra where old pal and mystic spirit rabbit Nanabozho is waiting. He’s summoned them for fun and adventure…

Rapt in wonder, the little girl soon befriends a lemming and saves him from a hunting snowy owl before she and Yakari are separated. A long search for each other finds them exhausted and baffled as the sun never goes down…

After a long nap on the too-bright plains, Yakari has a long chat with the giant owl and joins an army of lemmings as they cross a stream. Rainbow, meanwhile, is caught in a similar migration, but the reindeer she’s wandered into are far larger and determined. Before long she’s been carried with them and dumped in a raging river. Thankfully, the owl is soaring above and drags her out before she can drown…

Reunited at last, the little wanderers seek out their tipi, and befriend a herd of musk oxen just as a snap snowstorm hits. Not only do the mighty beasts warm them until it passes, but they’re quite protective when a hungry and inquisitive pack of wolves considers them as the next meal…

When Nanabozho pops up again, the general consensus is that it might be time to return, but as the tipi takes off, the kids realise they have a stowaway…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and wildly entertaining, this cheery travelogue of natural wonders allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force capturing the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. English translation 2019 © Cinebook Ltd.

Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight

By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-204-5 (HB)

In addition to being part of the graphic/literary revolution of Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly addictive tales of rural Palomar first garnered overwhelming critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone books such as Sloth, Birdland, Grip and Girl Crazy: all graced with his bold, compellingly simplified artwork and inspired adaptation of literary techniques used by Magical Realist writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez – techniques which he has amplified and, visually at least, made his own.

Hernandez also frequently acknowledges such outré mainstream influences as filmmakers Roger Corman and John Cassavetes, and crime writers Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson, as he explores new territories and reforms the cultural influences which shaped all us baby-boomers.

In Luba we glimpsed the troubled life of the lead character’s half-sister Rosalba “Fritzi” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, speech-impaired psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as We Love Alone, Seven Bullets to Hell, Chest Fever, Blood is the Drug and Lie Down in the Dark.

Although Fritzi only had a bit part in it, Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies into a graphic novel (Chance in Hell, 2007) and repeated the story-within-a-story-within-a-story gimmick in 2009 with The Troublemakers – a frantic, hell-bent pulp fiction crime thriller which was part of the screen queen’s canon – and did it again in 2011 with Love from the Shadows.

Here, he’s gone a step further by revisiting the tone of those tales in the format of the 1960’s publishing trend for two-cover paperback releases offering a double-bill of exceedingly eccentric adult-themed sagas drawn from the schlocky, sleazy B-movie subculture of those times.

Deftly mimicking a compelling-but-trashy post-Noir psycho thriller and titillating Sci-Fi melodramas, both of these tales originated a decade ago in Love and Rockets: The New Stories and have been expanded for this volume.

You can start at whatever end you like – it’s a democracy, after all – and I’ll go with the wildly experimental graphic mime Hypnotwist. With overtones of Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue, the 1791 novel by Donatien Alphonse François de Sade), this eerie meander through the perils of modern debauchery follows a lost and vulnerable young woman on an astonishingly bizarre voyage of discovery…

If you flip to the far end, you’ll then be regaled by Scarlet by Starlight: a multi-perspective narrative that appears at first to be a science fictional fable of humanity despoiling a primitive Eden, before evolving into something far more disturbing. On a distant world, a team of three earthling explorers are helpless to prevent themselves becoming far too intimate with the primitive yet buxom anthropoids that populate the planet. As the human relationships break down, unwise new bonds are formed with unpleasant and even harrowing results…

Savage and sexually explicit, this exploration of drives and desires takes a further step into forbidden territory after the bold explorers return home…

Dark, evocative and astoundingly compelling, these are perfect pastiches of revered genres from a time period growing increasingly remote and fabulous. This slim hardback/digital delight is a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of sex, violence, greed and obsession: a mesmerising treat jam-packed with Hernandez’s coolly understated narrative suspense, intoxicating illustration, brutally raw tension, sly elements of filmic surrealism and sheer surreal excess which carry and beguile the reader in classic style.
Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight © 2021 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Journal of my Father

By Jiro Taniguchi translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian with Chitoku Teshima (Fanfare-Ponent Mon)
ISBN: 978-1-91209-743-2 (HB)

Unless you’re a dedicated fan of manga, you probably haven’t heard of Taniguchi Jirō (14th August 1947-11 February 2017). Despite his immense talent as both writer and artist – in 2011, France knighted him a Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres – his “gekiga” work has been slow to reach English speakers since his 1970 debut in Young Comic with Kareta Heya (A Desiccated Summer).

With nearly 50 different series and collections to his credit – originally hard-edge crime like City Without Defense, The Wind of the West is White, Lindo 3, Blue Fighter and Knuckle Wars – the 1990s saw him move into more universal and mature themes with Kamigami no itadaki (The Summit of the Gods), Kamigami no itadaki, and – in 1997, in collaboration with Moebius – Ikaru (Icarus).

He expanded into straight drama with Botchan no Jidai, Inu o Kau and the remarkable A Distant Neighborhood (a major, albeit Belgian, motion picture since 2010).

Joking aside, Mr. Taniguchi was a major force in international comics and now his most personal masterpiece is at last available in English, thanks, I suspect to a career-long and most appreciative French connection. Hopefully, that will extend to digital editions fairly soon …

Beguilingly mild, understated and packed with suppressed and repressed emotion, Chichi no Koyami details how a quiet, diligent parent is called back to his home town after years away in Tokyo. Yoichi Yamashita has spent decades away, carving out a life and family for himself while avoiding all contact with his own father.

Now the old man is dead, and the dutiful son returns for the funeral rites. Talking with family and friends, he gradually learns of a man and life he never really knew and, as he re-examines his side of a never-changing story probably repeated in every household in the world, Yoichi reassesses and apply an uncompromising lens of hard-earned experience to the life he made after leaving so long ago.

In dignified, revelatory slices, beginning with ‘A Sunny Place on the Floor’ and ‘Traces of Spring’, he reconsiders his life. ‘Crimson Memories’, ‘New Roads’, ‘My Beautiful Mother’, ‘Summer Recollections’, ‘Separation’ and ‘Another Mother’ fill in details like a detective thriller with all the clues and evoked memories of ‘A Particular Photograph’, ‘My Uncle’s Words’, ‘Revolving Seasons’ and ‘Hometown in Spring’ drawing him into long-delayed emotional metamorphosis and catharsis…

Gentle and lyrical, rendered with staggering visual authenticity and ruthless honesty, this old, old story is mesmerising in its power to move: an emotional tonic every father and son should apply lavishly to their own experience and a truly grown-up picture book we should all use as manual to navigating family life.
Chichi no Koyami by Jiro Taniguchi © Papier/1995 Jiro Taniguchi. All rights reserved. © 2021 Potent Mon for the English language edition.

March Book One

By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-383-5 (HB) 978-1-60309-300-2 (PB)

It’s a lazy cop-out but honestly, some books just need to be read. March is one of them. It’s the story in his own words of legendary civil rights pioneer and properly-evolved human being John Lewis: the first of three describing his path from oppressed and sidelined southern child to non-violent activist to the halls of America’s Congress. Adapted by his assistant Andrew Aydin and multi award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell (Two Dead, Come Again, About Face, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole, The Silence of Our Friends) it charts with astonishing intimacy and warmth a story of the good guys winning in the end…

The artist’s sensitive monochrome washes and tones painstakingly capture the dignity, determination, humour and pervasive quiet tension of the South during those fraught times and the growing groundswell of peaceful resistance that culminated in a very public confrontation on a bridge, a long walk to Washington and the start of a process still sadly underway every day…

It proudly celebrates everything the 45th PotUS seemed determined to roll back, and failed to accomplish, too so that’s a big Yar, Boo Sucks! to him too while we’re on the subject…

March Book One was first released in 2013 as a paperback, again as a lavish oversized (210 by 305mm) hardback three years later. It’s also available in digital formats: one of the most lauded and awarded biographies of recent times and immensely enjoyable and uplifting. You need to see it and the concluding volumes, too.
March Book One © 2013, 2016 John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. This edition © 2017 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story

By Alfred Hassler, Benton Resnik & Sy Barry (Fellowship of Reconciliation/Top Shelf Productions)

When you actually read the book cited in the previous review, you’ll hopefully notice an inspirational comic book enjoyed by many at the time. A potted history and primer on non-violent resistance, Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story was published in 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and widely disseminated and shared by Civil Rights organisations, churches, schools – and young John Lewis. When Top Shelf released The March they also revived this historical treasure, and it too can be yours.

All proceeds still go to fund the Fellowship’s ongoing work…

The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales)

By Nathan Hale (Abrams/Amulet Books)
ISBN: 978-0-4197-1536-5 (HB)

Author/cartoonist Nathan Hale has a famous namesake and has been riffing on him, with great effect, for over half a decade now. I don’t know if he – and his familial collaborators – have any genealogical connection to the American spy and war hero of the same name, but the lightly comedic cartoon history books (such as One Dead Spy and Alamo All-Stars) that bear their shared name are a sheer, educative delight: making some pretty tough and harrowing material palatable and memorable by mixing fact and happenstance with a witty veneer of whimsy…

First released in 2015, The Underground Abductor traces the astounding life and exploits of Delaware slave Araminta Ross and how she saved countless black lives, ferrying them so safety in Canada in the days prior to the American Civil War on the “Underground Railway”. You probably know her as freedom fighter, abolitionist and secret agent Harriet Tubman

Rendered in welcoming, comfortable but fact-intense muted color and monochrome cartoon strips with beguiling overtones of the Horrible History books, her incredible exploits will delight and charm you and your kids and – like the other volumes of this wonderful series – ought to be a treasured part of every school library… once we have those again…
Text and illustrations © 2015 Nathan Hale. All rights reserved.

Run for It – Stories of Slaves who Fought for their Freedom

By Marcelo D’Salete, translated by Andrea Rosenberg (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-049-2 (HB)

Art historian Professor Marcelo D’Salete was born in 1979 and is one of Brazil’s most respected authors and graphic novelists. A graduate of Carlos de Campos College and the University of São Paulo, much of his output examines the relationship of the country to its history of slavery and issues affecting the vast Afro-Brazilian underclass resulting from it.

This multi award-winning translation (hardback and digital formats are available) of Cumbe comes from 2017 and details in stark and shocking monochrome, all but devoid of dialogue or narration, a quartet of stories of slaves who risked everything to escape their shackles and set up free villages beyond the reach of their would-be masters and owners.

A brief Introduction sets the scene and adds context to the period (1500s-1800s) and explains the exact meaning and derivation of catch-all term “cumbe”. You won’t need much more. These are timeless tales of a problem that has been plaguing humanity since long before we started counting days and years. It’s with us still: either overtly or hidden behind sly commercial subterfuges like “zero hours contracts” and “races to the bottom”…

Appreciative, informative Foreword ‘The Sun rises on Brazilian Bantu Culture’, by Allan Da Rosa, further stokes every decent person’s moral outrage before the astounding examinations of humanity at its best and worst opens with ‘Kalunga’as a young man in love plots with his beloved to run away to the endless water of the title. Tragically, Valu and Nana are not as subtle as they think, or as determined as they need to be…

The troubles caused by white debauchery and slave pregnancy are ruthlessly detailed in ‘Sumidouro’ (The Well) when a natal event leads to death and terror, after which plans for a long-overdue slave revolt stumble as the plotters succumb to fear, mistrust, treachery and incompetence in ‘Cumbe’

‘Malungo’ means comrade and refers to a special companion sharing the journey from Africa to Brazil. As terror and superstition grips workers planning bloody reprisals against plantation-owners, the term takes on new meaning…

Accompanying these captivating parables is a full Glossary of terms and their originations, plus a copious Bibliography. Awful and beautiful, this is a superb testament to depravity and hope and one every casual consumer of corporate culture needs to see.
© 2017 Marcelo D’Salete. This edition © 2017 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Silence of the Hippo

By David Böhm (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-1912278060 (HB)

Culture is an aspect of shared experiences and for all of us that begins with stories we hear as children. We all grow up with a lexicon of myths, legends and fairy tales that become an inner landscape, and most of us spend the rest of our lives adding to that store.

But how do those tales resonate with the primary receptor: the young kids that experience them fresh and raw and free of world experience to measure them against?

Someone who knows a bit about that is Terezie Böhmova Imlaufová. In 2008, she worked as volunteer teacher in Bozom, in the Central African Republic. On day she asked her pupils to write down the myths and stories of their ancestors and the results were muddled, charming, strange and utterly compelling.

The melange of everyday contemporary African life, fabulous legends and innocent but developing internal logic was so beguiling that Terezie’s brother – award-winning Czech cartoonist and illustrator David Böhm – adapted them into the stunning strip parables contained in this compelling and colossal (248 x 64 x 3302 mm) hardback tome.

Printed in muted, sandy sepia and black and rendered in splendidly and surprisingly adaptable silhouettes (like those old shadow-play stories that used to sneak out of Eastern Europe and onto our TV screens during the 1960s), this compendium offers a brilliant peek into the minds of children and lasting power of myth.

The blend of Aesop’s Fable, Just-So story and African traditional tale comprises the mundane and the incredible as ‘The Cat and the Rat’, ‘The Magic Pot’, ‘Anie and Danie’, ‘The Woman who Wanted to Get Married’, ‘The Raven and the Fox’, ‘The Spider, his Wife and Children’, ‘The Monkey and the Crocodile’, ‘Two Brothers’, ‘About the Little Girl Mary’, ‘Mister Raven and the Hen’, ‘Glive, the Little Kerosene Merchant’, ‘A Man and his Two Wives’, ‘The Boy that Misbehaved’, ‘About a Fish, Water, Moon and Sun’, ‘The Spider and the Wild Yam’, ‘The Dog King’, ‘The Girl that Misbehaved’, ‘A Glass of Honey’, ‘The Dad and Meat, ‘The Hyena, the Goat and the Dog’, ‘The Siblings and a Flower’and ‘John the Baptist’ reveal in a dark, absurd and unforgettable manner how different and similar we all are…

Supplemented by poetry from Paul Niger, a foreword and biographies of all concerned, this is sheer exotic delight with an exceptional edge and unlimited entertainment value.
© David Böhm 2019 to stejné © Labyrint, 2009 U překladového copyright doplnit rok 2019: copyright @ Andrew Lass 2019. All rights reserved.

Nat Turner

By Kyle Baker (Abrams)
ISBN: 978-0-8109-9535-2 (TPB)

Nat Turner was a prophet rebel and freedom fighter who died for what he believed. As instigator and leader of a brutal, bloody and short slave uprising in Southampton County, Virginia on August 21st 1831, he shook up complacent America and paved the way to civil war and civil rights.

Anything else you need to know is provided in this powerfully evocative adaptation of Turner’s own words and actions. This award-winning, toned and tinted monochrome testament was originally released as a 4-issue miniseries through author Kyle Baker’s own publishing imprint before being picked up by the prestigious Abrams outfit.

Born in Queens, New York in 1965, Kyle John Baker is black, astoundingly gifted and blessed with an incredible sense of humour. You should read his other stuff like Plastic Man, Dick Tracy, Why I Hate Saturn, The Cowboy Wally Show, The Shadow, Truth: Red, White and Black, Damage Control, Special Forces and so much more. He does superheroes, gag stuff, political satire, commercial art and animation exceedingly well, and here he deftly relates a horrific piece of biographical history…

How and why is the subject of his brief ‘Preface’ before initial chapter ‘Home’ set the scene, by detailing a slave raid in Africa. Texture is provided by excepts from contemporary documents such as ‘The Memoir of Captain Theodore Canot: Twenty Years of an African Slaver’ and the posthumous publication ‘The Confessions of Nat Turner’, but the impetus of the tale is carried by Baker’s compelling silent illustrations: and they are uncompromising and unforgettable…

‘Education’ reveals a slave’s childhood in Virginia, and the events that led to the rebellion: how a slave somehow learned to read (an illegal act) and was transformed by Bible study into a divinely-inspired liberator driven by visions of ‘Freedom’.

The bloody actions are not downplayed or excused, and lead to ‘Triumph’ of a sort as the imprisoned Turner dictates his side of the story to journalist Thomas R. Gray…

With found print material of the period, a wide-ranging Bibliography and comprehensive ‘Notes’ explaining historical points, this is a timeless wonder you must read.
The Confessions of Nat Turner © 2008 Kyle Baker. All rights reserved.