Rogan Gosh: Star of the East


By Pete Milligan & Brendan McCarthy with Tom Frame (Vertigo/Little, Brown & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-143-4 (Vertigo TPB) 1-85386-253-3 (Little, Brown PB)

It feels like a cop-out and total dereliction of duty, but none the less true that some graphic novels simply defy categorisation and defeat the reviewers’ dark arts: they just have to be read, experienced and judged on a personal basis. We could stop there and it’s over to you…

However, should you require more…

Rogan Gosh is a short serial by Pete (Skin; John Constantine, Hellblazer; Strange Days; The Human Target; Batman; Red Lanterns; Shade, the Changing Man; Enigma; The Extremist; X-Statix; Johnny Nemo, Bad Company) Milligan and Brendan (Dream Gang; Mad Max: Road Fury; Judge Dredd; Spider-Man: Fever; ReBoot; Zaucer of Zilk; Skin; Swimini Purpose; Strange Days; Sometime Stories) McCarthy with notable contributions from letterer/colourist Tom Frame.

It first appeared in short-lived, controversial, cutting edge, experimental British comic magazine Revolver – specifically issues #1-6 spanning July-December of the Fleetway Publication. It was later collected into a graphic album by DC/Vertigo in 1994. I’m pretty sure there was also a Fleetway collection, but if so, it’s nigh impossible to find now, and that was a lifetime ago, so I might be dreaming of another reality…

Like companion/precursor title Crisis, Revolver’s brief was to make comics for people who had outgrown funny picture stories and adults who claimed to have never read them. It was supposed to be political, fashionable, contemporary and contentious, and it succeeded over and over again, in strips like Dare, Purple Days, Happenstance and Kismet, God’s Little Acre, Pinhead Nation and Plug Into Jesus.

For many, the jewel in the crown was a bizarre and beautiful, sardonically surreal saga incorporating English curry houses, karmic renewal and exploration, science fiction iconography, cultural commentary and (in)appropriation, ferociously irreverent satirical comedy, and – apparently – concealed creator autobiography. It referenced Indian philosophy and religions, British colonial history and modern urban street life in an onrushing miasma of visual and ideological concepts that blew the mind and generated outrageous belly laughs. There were loads of guns and rockets and tons of sex too…

Like many Milligan & McCarthy creations the strip is often described as “post-modern psychedelia”, evolving from channelled childhood experiences of two white art school kids who had grown up amidst the burgeoning fallout of the Desi Diaspora. That’s when families from the countries of the Asian sub-continent – specifically Pakistan, Bangladesh and India – migrated to western countries like Britain, bringing new thought, music, fashions, scents and especially food to broaden and enrich an evolving multiculture. There were even comics unlike any we’d ever seen before when cruising the streets of Southall or Brick Lane…

Proud products of such an environment and rising superstars thanks to 2000AD, writer Milligan and co-plotter/illustrator McCarthy had planned to deliver a kind of “Bollywood Blade Runner”, but the story sort of got away from them… as is often the case with passion projects…

I’m feeling truly redundant trying to precis the plot, but for the sake of form, try this…

The universe exists on many levels and at all times. In Raj-era India Rudyard Kipling has shamed himself with a native houseboy and now roams the streets of Lahore, seeking a holy man to save his sanity and reputation by putting him in touch with the fabled Karmanauts.

His quest succeeds and the author is – via drugs and magic and ancient wisdom – elevated to a state where he witnesses a future where laddish London oaf Dean Cripps escapes stroppy girlfriend Mary Jane to go for a curry at the magnificent Star of the East in Stoke Newington.

When Dean feels a frisson of connection with beautiful waiter Raju Dhawan, the energy unleashes time-travelling wonder warrior Rogan Gosh just in time to defend enlightenment and all realities from the clandestine attacks of destructive Kali and her malign vampiric agent the Soma Swami

It all gets a bit strange after that, what with audacious experimental love, devastation and recreation, Karma Kops, and that pest monkey god Hanuman, but rest assured that by the end, what you presume to be the regulation natural universe is back near where it belongs…

Although the story and events might bewilder, what is beyond question is the astounding art by Brendan McCarthy: utilising a blend of pen, paint and early digital technology to create a lush and vibrant homage to the startlingly bright colours of the subcontinent and plush décor of favourite London curry houses and tapping the wellsprings of a fevered and sublimely seasoned imagination to beguile the eyes. This stuff is just so damn pretty…

Hard to find in its original form, the entire trip is reprinted in 2013 anthology The Best of Milligan & McCarthy beside lots of other great stuff like Freakwave, Paradax! and Skin. The collection (which is on my to-do list…) is also available in digital format so there’s no need to wait.

Your destiny awaits, you only have to choose to embrace it…
™ & © 1990, 1994, 2013 Peter Milligan & Brendan McCarthy. All rights reserved.

Glorious Summers volume 1: Southbound! (1973)


By Zidrou & Jordi Lafebre, with additional colour by Mado Peña translated by Lara Vergnaud (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: Digital edition only

Until comparatively recently, comics in the English-speaking world mostly comprised comedic or various adventure sub-genres (crime, superhero, horror, sci fi), with only a small but vital niche of “mundane world” ventures, usually depicted via graphic biographies and autobiographies such as They Called Us Enemy, Coma, Death Threat, Love on the Isle of Dogs, Wage Slaves or Sour Pickles offering a different feel and flavour. Even historical sagas were treated as extraordinary moments with larger-than-life characters whenever possible.

What we have never had – and still largely don’t enjoy – is a comics equivalent to general fiction, drama and melodrama. That’s not so in Japan and Europe, where a literal “anything goes” attitude has always accommodated human-scaled, slice of life stories depicting ordinary people in quiet as well as extraordinary moments.

Surely it can’t be that hard to tell engaging stories in pedestrian, recognisably ordinary settings? Medical traumas, love stories, school tales and family tragedies about common folk seem to play well on various-sized screens around the world, so why not in English-“speaking” comics? The closest we seem to get are comedy series like John Allison’s brilliantly superb Giant Days (which I really must review soon)…

People being people is more than enough for our European neighbours. They apparently have an insatiable appetite for everyday events aimed at properly “mature readers”, all joyfully sans vampires, aliens or men in tights. These even have sub-genres of their own. For example, there’s a wealth of superb material just about going on holiday…

So, since our own Government-in-Absentia have ensured that it’s now all-but-impossible for any UK-based citizens to pop across and have une petite vacances in Europe, let’s at least stare covetously at them having a good time. After all, over there holidays are an inalienable right, and they have some simply fabulous tales about a simple break. This is probably the best you’ll ever read…

One of the absolute best examples of fantasy vacations made real, Glorious Summers: Southbound! (1973) is a nostalgia-drenched confection by Zidrou and frequent collaborator Jordi Lafebre: a sublime example of idyllic group memory transformed into graphic sorcery and an everyday account utterly unafraid to temper humorous sweetness and light with some real-world tragedy and suspense…

Perhaps a little context is in order. Summer holidays – “Midi” – are a big deal in France and Belgium. The French even divide into two tribes over the annual rest period, which generally lasts an entire month.

Juilletistes only vacation in July and wield dogma and facts like rapiers to prove why it’s the only way to take a break. They are eternally opposed, heart, soul, and suntan lotion, by majority faction the Aoûtiens, who recharge their batteries in August whilst fully reciprocating the suspicion, disdain and baffled scorn of the early-leavers.

Many European sociologists claim the greatest social division today is not race, religion, gender, political affiliation or whether to open boiled eggs from the top or the bottom, but when summer holidays begin and end…

Les Beaux Étés 1: Cap au Sud! is the first of a string of family visits that began in 2015 courtesy of scripter Zidrou (Benoît Drousie) and illustrator Jordi Lafebre. Drousie is Belgian, born in Brussels in 1962 and a school teacher prior to quitting marking books in 1990 to begin making them. His main successes are school dunce series L’Elève Ducobu, Petit Dagobert, Scott Zombi, La Ribambelle, Le Montreur d’histoires, African Trilogy, Léonardo, the revival of Ric Hochet, Shi and many more. His most celebrated and beloved stories are this sequence and 2010’s Lydie, both illustrated by Spanish artist Jordi Lafebre.

The sublimely gifted, empathically sensitive illustrator and art teacher was born in Barcelona in 1979 and has created comics professionally since 2001, first for magazines like Mister K, where he limned Toni Font’s El Mundo de Judy. He soon found regular work at Le Journal de Spirou, creating the romance Always Never and collaborating with Zidrou on La vieille dame qui n’avait jamais joué au tennis et autres nouvelles qui font du bien, Lydie, and La Mondaine.

A combination of feel-good fable and powerful comedy drama, Southbound! begins “now”, as an aging couple sit on deftly-assembled camping seats in their beloved regular holiday spot. Gazing outwards and back, they remember how all their shared yesterdays almost died unborn during that difficult time in 1973…

It’s August then and Maddie Faldérault tries to amuse her four impatiently waiting kids as their father Pierre frantically puts the finishing touches to his latest comic strip. He has to: the publisher has stationed a gofer at his side to deliver the pages directly to the printer the moment the drawing stops.

The pages were due last Wednesday – as was the start of the annual Faldérault escape from gloomy Brussels for a month in sun-drenched France. That sun has long set, but such is the life of a minor star of the Belgian comics industry. Once the job is despatched, dad and long-suffering Maddie bundle the fractious kids into the car that’s been packed for days, heading for the border and some long anticipated R & R.

The kids are immune to bedtimes and wrapped up in time-honoured holiday rituals like shouting, fighting and singing odd songs. Shy lad Louis reads Lucky Luke to his invisible friend “Beekoo”, self-conscious oldest girl Jolly-Julie spars constantly with Nicole – cruelly picking on her weight – and hyperactive toddler Paulette (Peaches to you and her) bounces everywhere seeking attention and “fench fries an’ maynaze”…

They have no idea that it will be the last family holiday. The parents are planning to separate after the break and  have fooled themselves into thinking the odd atmosphere and strained behaviour will be put down to Aunt Liliane being sick with the cancer…

However, as they make their way south, clocking up priceless, inconsequential memories and acting like fools and bandits in overnight camps and rest stops, the strain starts to hit the beleaguered family in ways none will forget…

This tale is a beautifully rendered and realised series of memories stitched seamlessly together. It’s funny and charming and delivers painful blows you never see coming. There aren’t any spectacular events and shocking crises and that’s the point: awful events can happen to any of us… sudden death, job insecurity, funerals, demands for divorce, an abrupt change of mind…

If you’re British – and old enough – this series (six translated albums thus far, plus a French omnibus edition) will stir deep-seated memories of family sitcoms like Bless This House or Butterflies and generational ads starring the “Oxo Family”. If that description doesn’t fit you, I pity your browsing history if you look up any of that…

The rest of you in need of an opening (but unfair comparator) could break out the Calvin and Hobbes collections and re-examine the bits with his embattled parents when the kid’s out of the picture…

Lyrical, laconic, engagingly demure, and debilitatingly nostalgic, this holiday romance is sheer visual perfection wrapped in sharp dialogue and a superbly anarchic sense of mischief.

Vacations are built of moments and might-have-beens, channelled here in compelling clips that make the mundane. This is an irresistible tale of woe, wonder and second starts; all the more perfect because of it.
© 2018 -DARGAUD BENELUX (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – ZIDROU & LEFEBRE, LLC.

The Once and Future Queen volume 1: Opening Moves


By Adam P. Knave & D. J. Kirkbride, Nick Brokenshire, Frank Cvetkovic & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-250-6 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-793-7

Critics and creative writing lecturers would have you believe all of drama can be reduced to Seven Basic Plots, and all else is mere garnish. Having, in my far-too-long and not-quite-sedentary-enough life, been both (teacher and critic, not edible decoration), I can only say “I can neither deny nor confirm…”

What does happen – a lot! – is that vastly popular and memorable myths, stories and legends are continually reinterpreted and remodelled for new generations. Go reread or see Gilgamesh, Beowulf and Person of Interest or the biblical story of David, Cinderella, Jayne Eyre, Tiger! Tiger!/The Stars My Destination or Slumdog Millionaire… then go play some more on your own. We have pressing business here…

One of the most comforting and potent of these recurring themes is that of a great king or hero waiting to return and redeem us. We probably see it most often in riffs on King Arthur, which are everywhere. If you like such works as Alan Garner’s Brisingamen trilogy (The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Boneland). newspaper strip Buck Rogers, TV’s Adam Adamant and even Camelot 3000, you’ll probably also love this wry, witty and sublimely inclusive spin on the old standard.

Crafted by writers Adam P. Knave & D. J. Kirkbride and illustrated by Nick Brokenshire (the team behind the magical Amelia Cole adventures), The Once and Future Queen features a mixed race (multi-ethnic?), bisexual (or is it non-binary?) girl revealed as destiny’s child and rightful sovereign of England as well as foreordained saviour of the world. No pressure, then…

It begins in Portland Oregon, where youthful chess prodigy Rani Arturus is panicking over her imminent flight to Cornwall for an important tournament. For her dad William, it’s a trip to the “old country” and mum Durga is American by way of India, so it counts as her and her daughter’s roots, too. Rani has no idea how incredibly accurate and life-changing that assessment is…

The tournament is a disaster. All her planning and strategizing go out the window when Rani is distracted by – and fatally attracted to – a pretty blonde girl in the audience. It’s not just her clearly reciprocated attentions: the chess master is convinced she somehow knows her …

Rani doesn’t make it past the first round, and ashamed and furious at the waste of time, money, failure and her own previously unsuspected feelings, walks a scenic Cornish clifftop when a misstep sends her over the edge and into a hidden cave…

Meanwhile, on the clifftop she just disastrously vacated, the subject of Rani’s ruminations is absentmindedly tracing her footsteps. Gwen was irresistibly fascinated by the American contestant, but is used to having instant crushes on girls by now. What is new is how familiar this one seemed, so when she spots the object of her desires entering a cave with glowing light coming from it, she follows…

Rani is beguiled. The cave is an obvious tourist trap and contains a sword stuck in a stone anvil, but she finds herself compelled to tug on it anyhow. As Gwen watches, a flash of light transforms the American into an armoured vision and an old geezer in a space suit appears…

Merlin is time adrift and pretty confusing, but adamantly insists Rani is the long-awaited “Arthur foretold”: the Once and Future Queen (Ruler?) destined to unite the world.

It’s just in time too, as long-exiled magical monster race the Fae are running out of room and resources and are ready eager to return and conquer Earth…

Rani is not convinced. She knows all the stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and knows what a hero should be. However, according to the wizard, lots of things got lost in translation and that guy was simply a well-meaning fraud: a place holder dragged in to cope with a momentary crisis in lieu of the big event kicking off just about now…

Gwen has already impetuously left for Portland by the time Rani’s incredulous parents are brought up to speed and when the girls finally meet in a park, they head for a diner to get to know each other, only to discover their server Lance went to school with Rani and, like Gwen, is also part of the magic revival. In a corner booth sits world-renowned and beloved fantasy author Morgan Pari: also a key actor in the replaying saga, but before the celebrity-struck kids can get near her, a squad of War Fae materialise and savage battle for Earth is joined…

Merlin’s magic has made Excalibur and Rani’s armour instantly accessible and also imparts warrior skills to the Queen. Shockingly, the same is true for Gwen and Lance who at last realise they are physical echoes of past legendary beings too…

Having survived their trials by combat, the heroes reborn are whisked away by Merlin who tells them the true story of the human history and the war against the  malign King in Shadow to prepare them for the forthcoming greatest fight in human history…

Sadly, as they train and repeatedly skirmish with the Fae, what’s also inescapably repeating is the romantic triangle that destroyed the Camelot they all draw their preconceptions from…

Not all is written in stone. As the heroes move their already-targeted loved ones to a safe space, and strategize their next moves, a key component of the Fae army goes off-script, splitting the enemy’s forces and resolve, but also sparking a brutal, highly public clash that serves to put blinkered humanity on terrified high alert…

Now, with everything to play for, the endgame has become utterly new territory and all the reborn champions can do is ready themselves for anything…

To Be Continued…

Fast-paced, action-packed, bright, breezy and slyly funny, The Once and Future Queen: Opening Moves is a delight to read, with this opening chapter augmented by extras including a design sketchbook with commentary from all concerned; cover concept roughs; selections from the minicomic used to pitch the series to Dark Horse; colour palette roughs and an alternate ending. If you’re in the mood for something familiar that enticingly fresh and new, your quest ends and begins here…
The Once and Future Queen™ & © 2017 Adam P. Knave, D. J. Kirkbride & Nick Brokenshire. All rights reserved.

Mesmo Delivery


By Rafael Grampá, with Marcus Penna, translated by Júlio Mairena (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-457-6 (HB) 978-1-59582-465-3 (TPB)

In an industry and art form that has become so very dependent on vast interlocking storylines, an encyclopaedic knowledge of a million other yarns and the tacit consent to sign up for another million episodes before reaching any kind of narrative payoff, the occasional short, sharp, intensely stand-alone tale is as welcome and vital as a cold beer in the noon-day desert.

Just such a salutary singleton was Mesmo Delivery, first solo English-language release of singularly gifted writer/artist Rafael Grampá, who originally devised the macabre and gritty thriller in his native Brazil back in 2008.

Picked up and translated by Dark Horse two years later, this stark and spookily effective grindhouse/trucker movie amalgam delivers dark chills, gritty black humour and eerie, compulsive mystery in equal, intoxicating amounts… and it all starts, unfolds and ends right here. No muss, no fuss, no busload of tie-ins.

Aging, raddled Elvis impersonator Sangrecco is an extremely odd deliveryman, working for a rather unique haulage business. For a start, he can’t actually drive, which is why hulking, gentle, cash-starved ex-boxer Rufo has been temporarily hired by the boss to operate the truck on a run through some very bleak bad country.

Rufo doesn’t ask questions. He just pilots that huge container rig with its mysterious and unspecified cargo – that he’s not allowed to see – to God knows where, listening to the obnoxious, pompous Sangrecco mouth off about his many, unappreciated talents.

Things take a bad turn when they break at the isolated Standart Truck Stop. The Elvis freak is too lazy to even fetch his own beer, and when Rufo takes care of business and grudgingly tries to pay, a sleazy pack of locals trick him into an impromptu street fight on a cash-bet.

The ploy is a set-up and when Rufo proves unexpectedly tough, the prize-fight gets too serious and results in a fatality – and possibly more…

Street-fighting boss tough Forceps then convinces his “townie” cronies and the other onlookers that they need to get rid of all the witnesses. And that’s when old Sangrecco reveals what his speciality is…

Stark, brutal, rollercoaster-paced and rendered with savage, exhilarating bravura, this thundering, down-and-dirty fable grips like a vice and hits like a juggernaut, providing the kind of excitement every jaded thriller fan dreams of.

Also included in this brief, slim, scary and mesmerising tome is an effusive Introduction from Brian Azzarello, pin-ups by Mike Allred, Eduardo Risso, Craig Thompson and Fábio Moon plus stunning 16-page sketch, design and commentary section ‘Making of Mesmo Delivery’.

Since Mesmo Delivery, Grampá has gone on to shine with his deliciously eccentric Furry Water as well as on such established titles like Hellblazer, American Vampire, Strange Tales and Uncanny X-Force amongst others, but this superbly visceral, raw storm of sheer visual dexterity and narrative guile is an ideal example of pared back, stripped down, pure comics creativity that no mature lover of the medium can afford to miss.
Mesmo Delivery ™ & © 2008, 2010, 2014 Rafael Grampá. All rights reserved.

Gentleman Jim


By Raymond Briggs (Jonathan Cape/Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-0-22408-524-3 (HB, Jonathan Cape) 978-1-8972-9936-4 (PB, D&Q edition)

Once again a master of comics art has been taken from us, and this time it’s one of the greatest in our medium’s history: a hugely gifted maverick who worked largely outside the established industry, but whose decades of work truly turned sequential graphic narrative into an art form.

Cartoonist, political satirist, philosopher, social commentator and delighter of children of all ages, Raymond Redvers Briggs CBE (18th January 1934 – 9th August 2022) never forgot that kids aren’t fools. Many of his books – ostensibly targeting the young – revel in the target audience’s fascination with all things gross and disgusting and the artist never underestimated an “unformed” mind’s capacity for empathy and understanding. Moreover, unlike so many working in the children’s book industry, he wasn’t afraid to be morose or even sad…

The comic book industry always wilfully neglected and sidelined Briggs’s graphic narratives – which nevertheless reached more hearts and minds than Spider-Man or Dennis the Menace ever will. Briggs’ books remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field.

Deservedly famous works such as Father Christmas, The Snowman, When the Wind Blows, Fungus the Bogeyman, The Bear, Ethel and Earnest, Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age and Time for Lights Out are but the tip of an astoundingly impressive, remarkably wide-ranging and quintessentially British iceberg of dry, mordant wit, cheeky sarcasm and poignant fellow-feeling for even the most ghastly and graceless of his unlikely protagonists…

After studying at Wimbledon School of Art, Central and The Slade – and completing a stint of National Service in Catterick – Briggs started working as an illustrator in 1958. He produced dozens of books, ranging from illuminating other creators’ poetry and stories to crafting his own dingily fabulous yarns such as this slyly seditious treatise on self-betterment that first appeared in 1980.

One of his most charmingly bittersweet and contemplative efforts, Gentleman Jim is a mesmerising affectionate portrait of one of life’s always-dreaming no-hoper’s, published just as Thatcherite dogma began to bite and tear into Britain’s already reeling social structures.

Jim Bloggs is a middle-aged bloke who mans a Council-run public toilet or “Gentleman’s Convenience” in Birmingham: diligently and uncomplainingly cleaning and maintaining his subterranean office whilst constantly dreaming of bigger, better, bolder things.

There’s nothing wrong with the job; it’s just that Jim feels he was meant for greater challenges…

At every quiet moment, Jim scans the job section of the newspaper, imagining himself a hero of the Royal Marines or a tail-gunner in a fighter-bomber or an artist or even a doorman in a fancy uniform. It’s never too late…

Jim’s problem is education: he hasn’t any and all these vacant situations want people with “The Levels”… O’s and A’s and whatnot…

At home with his wife Hilda, Jim discusses a change of direction. Inspired by a late film on television, he decides to become a cowboy, maybe even a sheriff. A quick bit of research convinces him that the start-up costs for cowboying are beyond his means and the paperwork would be a nightmare, but after popping into the second-hand bookshop Jim realises that what he really wants to be is a Highwayman…

Even here though, money is a problem. Great black chargers or even plain old valiant steeds cost thousands of pounds. However, when the local Donkey Sanctuary lets him have one of their older ones for free, Jim’s off and running in his new career and living his dream…

Sublimely low key and gentle, the fall into arrant criminality of this ambitious dreamer is a sheer, understated masterpiece of sardonic whimsy to enthral and delight older kids as well as all us adults who never quite made it. Yet…

Raymond Briggs was the human turning point in the evolution of comics from tawdry waste of time to esteemed art form and his books will live forever. If you’re not a fan yet, you inevitably will be …once you start reading them.
© 1980, 2008 Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.

The Savage She-Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By David Anthony Kraft, Mike Vosburg, Alan Kupperberg, Frank Springer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1718-0 (HB/Digital edition)

Until comparatively recently, American comics had pitifully few strong female role models and almost no viable solo stars. Happily, that situation has (after a rather regrettable extended and exploitative era of “chicks fighting in saucepan lid bikinis or metallic dental floss”) largely self-corrected, as more women creators and readers redressed – sometimes almost literally – the balance.

Now we have more fully thought out than fully-rounded characters everywhere: maternal, understanding ones, slinky seductive ones, sassy and vituperative ones and even funny ones, but always, Always powerful, competent and capable ones.

Although she debuted during those male-pandering times – and was usually clad in rather revealing yet conspicuously chaste rags and tatters – She-Hulk was always a rebel who played against type, and her first stab at stardom offered many off-kilter moments that broke superheroic traditions…

Let’s recap: lawyer Jennifer Walters is the cousin of Bruce Banner. After being shot because of a case she was working on, she received an emergency blood transfusion from him, with the inevitable result that she also started uncontrollably changing into an anger-fuelled rage monster remarkably like The Incredible Hulk

This second hulking hardcover volume – or enthralling eBook, if you prefer – re-presents The Savage She-Hulk #15-25, and spans April 1981 to June 1982 by including a final foray from Marvel Two-In-One #88.

Combining soap opera melodrama with hotly-bubbling suspense in the style of paranoic TV series like The Fugitive and explosive action, it also ramps up tension by opening with some fact-packed, behind-the-scenes reminiscences in scribe David Anthony Kraft’s (AKA DAK) effulgent Introduction ‘Can a Woman with Green Skin and a Petulant Personality Find True Happiness in Today’s Status-Seeking Society?’.

With context firmly confirmed, we roar back into the turbulent, off-kilter life of The Savage She-Hulk with #15 where DAK, penciller Mike Vosburg & inker Frank Springer conjure up and puncture many ‘Delusions’.

Jen Walters is slowly getting her legal career back on track, but her personal life (lives?) is still a total train wreck. Her father Morris Walters is county sheriff and pursues the outlaw She-Hulk with obsessive zeal for a murder she did not commit. Troubled by his growing mania, Jen has no idea that he has fallen under the influence of a designing, controlling woman.

Beverly Cross seems like a demure divorcee with nothing in mind except autumn romance, but is gradually taking control of his finances and personal life: isolating Morris from friends whilst driving a wedge between him and his daughter over many patient months…

Of more immediate concern to Jen is the growing animosity between her boyfriend Richard Rory and overly-attentive neighbour (and She-Hulk’s teen friend/assistant) Danny “Zapper” Ridge. He’s now openly hostile to Rory …which is not really surprising, since Zapper has just taken his relationship with her other self “to the next level”…

Meanwhile, a singer with an enormous gift for self-deceit and sowing dissent finally takes a long, hard look at herself and decides to end a life of pain and regret. Thankfully, a ferocious Green Goddess decides otherwise…

Roaming Los Angeles and increasingly unwilling to transform back into Jen, She-Hulk soon discovers her “weak sister” alter ego has her place, after becoming embroiled in a local controversy. ‘The Zapping of the She-Hulk’ details how a telecommunications mast is making residents ill, anxious and – in some cases – blind. Initially hopeful, Jen’s legal resources prove no match for big business in defence mode, and the Viridian Virago has to literally lend her muscle to the cause – but only after a bigoted madman tries to silence all these interfering women with a weaponised, microwave-enhanced high tech armoured outfit…

Cover-dated June, SS-H #17 plumbed daft depths but delivered a surprisingly effective turning point tale in ‘Make Way for the Man-Elephant’ as philanthropist Manfred Ellsworth Haller employs his fortune to build a pachydermic super-suit to bring in the rampaging green “menace”.

The benevolent vigilante is blithely unaware that crusading Assistant District Attorney “Buck” Bukowski has just uncovered evidence proving She-Hulk innocent of the murders she’s been accused of since her second appearance…

Viewed from this distance, it seems clear now that some level of editorial input demanded these latter comic episodes should mirror the plots, tone and “simplified realism” of The Incredible Hulk TV show. Originally broadcast from 4th November 1977 to 12th May 1982 it largely eschewed fantasy elements, with commonplace crime and rampant weird science supplanting Marvel’s signature crossovers and flamboyant supervillain shenanigans…

The rifts separating Jen and She-Hulk from their allies and each other intensify in ‘When Favors Come Due’ as medical student Zapper is conned and then blackmailed by a college colleague into handing over genetic data from a She-Hulk blood sample, even as, in court, minor hoodlum and former client Lou Monkton seeks to implicate Jen Walters in an insurance scam. Although the lawyer avoids shame and disbarment, her already shaky faith in humanity takes another heavy hit, so it’s almost a relief when bullion bandit The Grappler’s latest heist gives her a target to smash and good reason to do so…

Always lurking at the fringe of the Marvel Universe, the Savage She-Hulk began her last rampage in #19. An extended storyline recapitulated her origins and core relationships whilst showing the true power and potential of the star.

Diligently wrapping up the many ongoing subplots, the saga starts in ‘Designer Genes!!’ as Zapper’s blackmailer “Doc” traps the Emerald Ogress and extracts enough genetic material to mutate his lab assistant Ralphie into a belligerent plasmoid Brute. Sadly for them, he’s no match for an enraged, escaped She-Hulk, but equally unfortunate for her, they both get away before she can finish them…

With life sucking so badly, the Green Giant refuses to resume her weakest self, unaware that all the friends she thinks have betrayed her are at last talking to each other and realising how unfair they’ve been. Sheriff Walters even catches Bev Cross destroying a letter from his daughter but She-Hulk is too far gone to care. After gaining a measure of public approval by foiling a string of robberies she opts ‘To Stay the She-Hulk’

She still has enemies, however, and in #21 they start gathering. As LA’s underworld is taken over by new player Shadow, Monckton rallies the embattled crime families, but crooks are notoriously treacherous, and betrayal leads to disaster in ‘Arena!’ when the dark newcomer lures She-Hulk into battle against sinister super-stalker The Seeker

The crisis deepens in ‘Bad Vibes’ as another impossibly powerful foe targets her. After Radius is defeated, an unlikely alliance is formed with Moncton’s mooks as – inked by Dave Simons, Al Milgrom & Jack Abel, #23 announces ‘The She-Hulk War!’

DAK & Vosburg introduce mighty mystery villain Torque to lay the groundwork for the final clash as the outlaws invade Shadow’s isolated estate and learn it too is a sentient weapon on ‘The Day the Planet Screamed!’ (Milgrom, Sal Trapani & Armando Gil inking). The defeat of Earth-Lord triggers Doc’s ultimate plan to attain planet-shaking power, but also reveals a crucial secret about his army of super-pawns…

In advance of the big finale, a brace of Vosburg She-Hulk pin-ups show her gentler side and anticipate her later semi-humorous mien before the climactic conclusion. Inked by “Diverse Hands” (Milgrom, Trapani, Vosburg, Rick Magyar, Mike Gustovich, Simons, Steve Mitchell, Bob Wiacek, Joe Rubinstein & Abel) a big fourth-wall busting send-off in #25 (cover-dated February 1982) reveals ‘Transmutations’ and reconciles all the distanced friends and family in advance of a cosmic war to save the world…

Having saved us all, She-Hulk joined the ranks of Marvel’s many guest stars-in-waiting… but only for a while. Mere months later, Kraft, Alan Kupperberg & Chic Stone detailed a Disaster at Diablo Reactor’ (Marvel Two-In-One #88, June 1982) with future Fantastic Four teammate BenThe ThingGrimm joining Jen’s most assertive self in stopping the nefarious Negator’s plans to turn Los Angeles into a cloud of radioactive vapour…

The supremely Savage She-Hulk would eventually evolve into a scintillating semi-comedic superstar and – ultimately – tragic paragon, but for now these early epics conclude with an extras section including her entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #9; comedy spoof ‘What If the Hulk Married the She-Hulk?’ by Roger Stern & Terry Austin from What If volume 1 #34 (August 1982) and its sequel spoof ‘She-Hulkie’ both with their original art and a gallery of original art pages by Vosburg and inkers Al Milgrom, Austin & Steve Mitchell.

Lean, mean, and evergreen, these intriguing and long-overlooked Marvel Masterpieces are well worth your attention and may prove invaluable once the TV incarnation finds its own audience. Why are you waiting?
© 2019 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Moomin: The complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip volume 4


By Tove and Lars Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-897299-78-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-77046-551-0

If Tove Jansson was alive today she’d still be amazing and fascinating and also 108 years old. Sadly, she isn’t, but her immortal menagerie of bizarre and introspective characters are still going strong and all her best material is readily available for anyone wanting to politely, respectfully and belatedly join in all the dreamy fun…

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 like 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. 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 (at the 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), shebecame a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the Second World War.

Intensely creative across 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, achieving 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, 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. Jansson’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 recruited brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975. His official tenure as writer will begin in the next volume: stay tuned…

Liberated from the strip, she returned to painting, writing and other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera and 9 more Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as 13 books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001. 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 her and Lars’ efforts into English for our sheer delight and delectation.

Moomintrolls are easy-going free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and most 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, dreamy boy who adores their permanent houseguest the Snorkmaiden – although that impressionable, flighty gamin prefers to play things slowly whilst waiting for somebody potentially better…

The forth oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation gathers the 14-18th strip sagas and is a particular favourite, comprising a range of fanciful exploits and a rather bleak and a scary reworking of Comet in Moominland that must have had kids and their parents stocking the bomb-shelters back when it was released as a daily chapter play…

Fantasy fills the page in ‘Moomin Goes Wild West’ after Moominpapa’s annoying tinkering ruin a perfectly good clock and Moominmama’s sewing machine, whilst his attempt at repair accidentally results in a time machine. Following a distressing episode wherein Moomintroll meddles and the family meet their rather upset future selves, it is suggested that everyone go on a small holiday. The women’s rather staid suggestions are naturally overruled by the adventurous males and the machine summarily deposits them all in the land of cowboys.

It is nothing like they imagined and a very good thing that were armed with water pistols and not regulation firearms…

Sadder but no wiser after their extended tribulations in the Big Country, the assembled and not at all rested Moomins submit to suggestions of a little historical romance and travel back to 18th century France in ‘Snorkmaiden Goes Rococo’. Once again, lack of diligent research and an overdependence on popular fiction leads to misunderstanding and mischance as “the Age of Reason” proves to be anything but, and Snorkmaiden’s dreams of passionate folly are continually thwarted.

She does however score an invitation to the King’s Dinner, only to learn how badly the odds are stacked against the poor, and is promptly impelled to experiment with revolution…

Back where they all belong at last, the return of self-sufficient drop-out Snufkin heralds a visit from a representative of the League of Conscience and Duty exhorting the easy-going, but dutiful nonconformists (some unpleasant modern people say “workshy”) to dedicate their lives to personal industry and privation in service of a greater good.

‘The Conscientious Moomins’ certainly try their hardest – pursuing jobs they’re no good at, indulging in entrepreneurialism and seeking to improve character through self-help books and courses – but are just not suited to such new-fangled ideas. Ultimately, nature and good sense lead them back to their bohemian true selves just in time for one of the scariest adventures of their lives…

Comet in Moominland was first translated into English in 1951, and was a familiar text for many children and parents. Here in ‘Moomin and the Comet’ the allegory of nuclear armageddon is subtly reshaped over 86 daily instalments: modernised with the emphasis shifted from narrow escape to inescapable destruction leading to unexpected rebirth.

When a light gradually grows in the sky, the Moomins and their friends can only observe the world’s peoples’ increasing turmoil and riot. As the planet slowly alters in advance of imminent catastrophe and growing heat evaporates the oceans, spiteful Little My acts as Greek Chorus and commentator as everything makes it peace with oblivion. She’s also on hand to witness and announce the miracle that saves them all…

A parable of pride and caution closes this volume as ‘Moomin and the Golden Tail’ reveals how Moomintroll’s fear of premature baldness in this nether appendage prompts unwise exploration of remedial quackery, quasi-science and old family sorcery.

The result is a lush, luxuriant tail of gold, that makes him the world’s most fashionable person and pointless celebrity. All too soon that chic lustre fades and the sad lad is hunting ways to stop being famous and go back to his old look, negligent of how his beloved Snork maiden has reshaped herself to match his gleaming fame…

Especially excoriating are the lawyers and managers who hound him seeking to lock down the marketing rights to his golden fleece, but in the end a way is found to return him to his normal, anxious, insecure, anonymous self…

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 kids’ 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.
© 2009, 2021 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Grafity’s Wall


By Ram V, Anand Radhakrishnan, Aditya Bidikar & various (Unbound)
ISBN: 978-1-78352-684-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-78352-686-4

Ram V (AKA Ram Venkatesan) began professionally writing comics while still resident in Mumbai. His acclaimed 2012 series Aghori preceded a move to Britain for a Creative Writing MA at the City of London University. Since then he’s become a prolific creator with series like Black Mumba; The Many Deaths of Laila Starr; Ruin of Thieves; Paradiso; Blue in Green; Radio Apocalypse and Brigands, backed up with US superhero mainstream forays such as Marvel’s Venom and DC’s Justice League Dark; Catwoman, a new Swamp Thing and Batman: Gotham Nocturne.

In 2018 he returned to his roots for a richly compelling coming-of-age story with a dash of whimsy and a splash of heart, brimming with dangerous optimism and soaked in the dark passions of life lived on the line between subsistence and glory. It’s a timeless and familiar tale of winning and losing encompassing self-expression, rebellion, ambition and acceptance.

It probably has a Bhangra or desi hip hop soundtrack, but if you play early rock ‘n’ roll hits while reading it, you could believe you’re watching a Bollywood remake of American Graffiti

Huge, thriving, bustling cities like Mumbai have a life all their own: a miasma of need, urgency and desperation underpinning every moment and aspect of existence. Everyone is trying to get by and get on. And amidst those masses there will always be some who stand out and stand apart…

Mumbai is special: a modern metropolis with no respect for its past, cramming together rich and poor alike whilst continually mixing the best and worst of everywhere else into an ever-evolving social soup A cultural vampire, the place finds room for every foreign fad and fashion, but always merges and remakes it with what has gone before…

The story opens in ‘What Goes Up’ as, in the heart of that constant churn, street artist Grafity paints walls with spray cans. Little Suresh Naik just can’t help himself, despite countless costly and painful confrontations with policemen: blank walls just call to him and demand he makes magic on them.

He’s lucky he has Jayesh looking out for him. Even fiercely pragmatic “Jay” has dreams – he wants to be a major American style rapper – but he also understands exactly how the world works and who needs paying at every level. That’s why he’s trapped acting as fixer and drug mule for minor gangster Mario

The dreamers – and vanishingly quiet, ever-observing student Chasma – are closer than the family who cannot understand them and, when it’s not trying to crush them, the city belongs to them. For all its allure, though, they can’t imagine anything better than leaving it behind forever…

Their lives all change when the ramshackle Kundan Nagar slums are razed for a new development. In the aftermath, Grafity finds a lone pristine, wall defiantly standing proud and knows it must carry his mark…

In ‘What Goes Up’, he’s laying the groundwork for a masterpiece, with Jay and Chasma idly watching, Grafity realises Mario has found them. The hood and his new arm candy Saira are figures of terror, especially since Jay used the gangster’s money to buy the tagger’s freedom from the cops. In calculated retaliation, Mario throws his weight around and gives Jay a delivery designed to prevent him from playing at his first major gig…

The wall becomes Grafity’s testament, changing daily to record the events that inevitably engulf those around him. The worst is seeing Jay slowly sucked down into the morass of petty crime and expedient compromises, becoming colder and harder inside…

Chasma is fat, slow-seeming and looks a bit Chinese. It’s how he got his job waiting tables at the Dragon Wok restaurant, where the closet intellectual talks to interesting people while taking their orders.

Exploring the concept of ‘American Chop Suey’ – as carefully explained by the diner’s well-seasoned chef – Chasma applies it to his creative efforts:  making time to work on his writing and model own grand dreams. Many of them centre around Mario’s “girlfriend” Saira, and he assuages his frustrations by writing letters to anonymous passers-by. He’s become used to being ridiculed, bullied and beaten up by strangers, which is why it’s so hard when Jay starts doing it…

Graphity’s masterpiece grows more magnificent and revelatory by the moment in ‘Bambai Talkies’, and watching him work utterly captivates his friends. When Saira joins the vigil and strikes up a conversation with Chasma, the writer is carried away in her vivacious wake. She wants to be an actress and soon the boys join her in regular afternoon movie matinees.

When she says she’s quitting the rat race and leaving Mumbai, Chasma agrees to go with her, even after discovering she’s funding the getaway with a case full of the gangster’s money…

When Mario finds them, Chasma makes a supreme sacrifice worthy of a storybook hero, provoking Jay and Grafity to do the same in their own manner…

Illustrated with warmth, edgy versatility and a profound appreciation of street art and hip hop style by Anand Radhakrishnan and benefitting from imaginative colouring by Jason Wordie, Irma Kniivila and letters from Aditya Bidikar, this paean to the Places We Came From, the danger of aspiration and the power of hopes and dreams is an exotic and memorable delight: the kind of Eastern promise you can depend on.
© 2018 Ram Venkatesan, Anand Radhakrishnan. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 7: “Nothing” and More


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-447-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-786-5

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified the formative years of his generation of cartoonists. Segar worked as a decorator, house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, Elzie played silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, specifically W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918, Segar married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, where Managing Editor William Curley foresaw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to New York: HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate. Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, (launching December 19th 1919) in the New York Journal: a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players acting out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive; diminutive-but-pushy son Castor; and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy). Thimble Theatre had successfully run for a decade when, on January 17th 1929, a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” shambled into the daily ongoing saga of hapless halfwits. Nobody dreamed the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career, and even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s premature passing in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all took on the strip, as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly variant vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. And then, finally, Bud arrived…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery, Sagendorf finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

With Sagendorf as main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years. When he died in 1994, his successor was controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and in 1948 became exclusive writer and artist of Popeye’s comic book exploits. The series launched in February of that year in a regular title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, Dell Comics.

On debut, Popeye was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… except not in Sagendorf’s yarns…

Collected in this superb full-colour hardback/digital edition are Popeye #30-34, crafted by irrepressible “Bud”: collectively spanning September/November 1954 to October/December 1955. Stunning, nigh stream-of-consciousness slapstick sagas are preceded by an effusively appreciative ‘Society of Sagendorks’ briefing by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement.

Augmenting that is another tantalising display of ephemera and merchandise in ‘A Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’ presenting Coca-Cola Company-funded comic strip themed postcards distributed to WWII servicemen; original art, tin toys; a Popeye Chalkboard; Get Well Soon and Birthday card art plus images on cups and mugs.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with quarterly comic book #30, opening with text tale ‘The Bigger They Are -’ detailing, across the inside front-&-back covers, the story of Throckmorton …biggest tomcat in the world!

Another wild ride in begins in ‘Desert Pirates (a story of Evil Haggery)’ as Popeye’s ruthless nemesis The Sea Hag uses witchcraft, seduction, brainwashing and principally hamburgers to turn Wimpy into her weapon against the old sea salt. Naturally, when the hero blunders into her arid ambush, the scurvy faithless traitor then betrays her to Popeye – it’s just his nature…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931: an unnamed, decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts.

Scurrilous, aggressively humble and scrupulously polite, the devious oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Preternaturally hungry, ever-keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy was the perfect foil for our simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was very heavy or extremely well nailed down…

Follow-up yarn ‘Popeye An’ Swee’Pea in “Danger, Lunch!”’ resorts to tireless domestic themes as a quiet meal with Olive becomes an assault course after the anarchic and precocious “infink” gets bored and amuses himself with a hammer and chemistry set…

Smartly acknowledging a contemporary trend for sci fi fun, Sagendorf had introduced ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ in #26: a robotic father and son indulging in wild romps on other worlds. Here they observe Earth television shows and the lads decides what his world needs is beanie hats, sidewalk refreshment stands and fun with dragons…

Cover-dated January/March 1955, #31 also opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning inside front and back. ‘Apple Vote!’ exposes the shocking behaviour of a retired racehorse with a sweet tooth after which ‘Thimble Theatre Presents Popeye An’ Swee’Pea in “Mud!”’ finds unconventional family unit Popeye, Swee’Pea and villainous reprobate Poopdeck Pappy deemed dysfunctional by Olive. Her eccentric efforts to save the kid and make him a gentleman are resisted by all involved with extreme vigour…

Just as the sailor man idly daydreams of being a monarch, the wacky ruler of Spinachovia returns in ‘Popeye and King Blozo in “Exile!” or “Bein’ King is Fer de Boids!!!”’ with the maritime marvel unwisely trading cap for crown  and learning a salutary lesson about people in general and being careful of what you wish for, after which ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ sees the mechanical moppet pay a fraught and frightening visit to Earth…

The issue concludes with a back cover strip starring ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ inspired by baby pictures…

Popeye #32 (April/June) opens with epic thrill-fest ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ as humans are abducted from all over the coast, leading the sailor man into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which our stars swap sea-voyages for western climes in “a tale of gold and cactus” entitled ‘Lorst!’

Set some years previously, the story reveals how Popeye made his fortune prospecting – despite and ultimately because of a little trouble with his newly adopted kid…

Sagendorf was a smart guy in tune with popular trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked. His tales are timeless in approach and delivery. As television exponential expanded, cowboys were king, with westerns dominating both large and small screens and plenty of comics. Thus, many episodes saw Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting or exploring. I don’t think he ever carried a gun though…

The changing times dictated a shift in back-up features and the final ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ exploit saw their world in chaos after Cam tried to transplant the human fashion for lawns to his own planet. Text tale ‘Catfish! detailed a meeting between fish feline and mutt and a wordless desert inspired back cover strip starring ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ wrapped thigs up.

The next issue (#33 July/September) offered a monochrome ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea’ house-wrecking short before main feature ‘Trouble-Shooter’ sees the tireless “hoomanitarian” set up as a helping hand for folk with troubles. Sadly, the gesture attracts some real nuts like cowardly King Hinkle of Moola who needs a patsy to fight rival ruler the King of Boola…

Returning to western deserts, Popeye and Swee’Pea swap sea-voyages for arid plains in ‘Monskers!’ and encounter a gigantic dinosaur which is not what it seems…

The replacement back-up feature was actually a return of Segar-spawned old favourites. Sappo was now hapless landlord to world’s worst lodger Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle, who callously inflicts the brunt of his genius on the poor schmuck. In ‘I’m the Smartest Man in the World!’, the lunatic fringe scientist decides to end late payment harassment by uninventing money…

A prose vignette reveals the fate of cowboy pony George who has ‘A Long Tail!’, before the fun pauses with a back-cover baseball gag starring Popeye An’ Swee’Pea.

The year and this archive close with #34, starting with more ‘Popeye An’ Swee’Pea’ baseball exploits on the monochrome inside front cover before Thimble Theatre Presents sailor man, Olive, Wimpy and the kid who endure a nautical nightmare storm that leaves our cast castaway on an island of irascible, invisible folk in eponymous saga ‘Nothing!’

Next, Popeye An’ Swee’Pea revisit western deserts to dig in the dirt and face ‘Uprising! or The Red Man Strikes Back! or Birds of a Feather!’ as the kid contends with and eventually befriends Indian infant Big Chief Thunder Eagle Jr. Sadly their play war on the white man is misunderstood by Wimpy who calls in not the cavalry but the US Army…

The manic mirth multiplies exponentially when Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle proves his insane ingenuity and dangerous lack of perspective in ‘Stop Thief!! or Please Halt! or Burglarproof House!’ before the fun concludes with one last text treat in transformative tale ‘Fish Fly!’ and a back cover gag proving why adults like Popeye should listen to kids like Swee’Pea…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of narrative cartooning at its most surreal and inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre’s most successful son has unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book is simply one of many, but each is sure-fire, top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 7 © 2015 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2015 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

X-Men Epic Collection volume 8: I, Magneto (1981-1982)


By Chris Claremont, Jo Duffy, Bob Layton, Dace Cockrum, Michael Golden, Brent Anderson, Paul Smith, Jim Sherman, Bob McLeod, John Buscema, George Pérez & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2952-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

In 1963, The X-Men #1 introduced Scott (Cyclops) Summers, Jean (Marvel Girl) Grey, Bobby (Iceman) Drake, Warren (Angel) Worthington III and Hank (The Beast) McCoy: unique students of Professor Charles Xavier. Their teacher was a wheelchair-bound telepath dedicated to brokering peace and integration between the masses of humanity and the emergent off-shoot race of mutants dubbed Homo superior; considered by many who knew him as a living saint.

After eight years of eccentrically amazing adventures, the mutant misfits almost disappeared at the beginning of 1970 during another periodic downturn in superhero comics sales. Just as in the 1940s, mystery men faded away whilst traditional genres – especially supernatural yarns – dominated entertainment fields. The title returned at year’s end as a reprint vehicle, and the missing mutants became perennial guest-stars and bit-players throughout the Marvel Universe. The Beast was suitably refashioned as a monster fit for the global uptick in scary stories…

Everything changed again in 1975 when Len Wein & Dave Cockrum revived and reordered the Mutant mystique via a brand-new team in Giant Size X-Men #1. Old foes-turned-friends Banshee and Sunfire joined one-shot Hulk hunter Wolverine and original creations Kurt Wagner (a demonic German teleporter codenamed Nightcrawler), African weather “goddess” Ororo Monroe – AKA Storm, Russian farmboy Peter Rasputin (who transformed into a living steel Colossus) and bitter, disillusioned Apache superman John Proudstar who was cajoled into joining the makeshift squad as Thunderbird.

The revision was an instant hit, with Wein’s editorial assistant Chris Claremont assuming the writer’s role from the second story onwards. The Uncanny X-Men reclaimed their comic book with #94, which soon became the company’s most popular – and highest quality – title.

After Thunderbird became the team’s first fatality, the survivors slowly bonded, becoming an unparalleled fighting unit under the brusquely draconian supervision of Cyclops. Cockrum was succeeded by John Byrne and as the team roster changed, the series scaled even greater heights, culminating in the landmark Dark Phoenix storyline which saw the death of arguably the book’s most beloved, imaginative and powerful character.

In the aftermath, team leader Cyclops left but the epic cosmic saga also seemed to fracture the groundbreaking working relationship of Claremont & Byrne. Within months they went their separate ways: Claremont staying with mutants whilst Byrne went on to establish his own reputation as a writer with series such as Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and especially his revolutionary reimagining of The Fantastic Four

This comprehensive compilation is an ideal jumping-on point, perfect for newbies, neophytes and old lags nervous over re-reading these splendid yarns on fragile, extremely valuable newsprint paper. It celebrates a changing of the guard as the mutants consolidated their unstoppable march to market dominance through high-quality storytelling Seen here are issues #144-153 of the (latterly re-renamed “Uncanny”) X-Men; X-Men Annual #5, Avengers Annual #10 and material from Bizarre Adventures #27 and Marvel Fanfare #1-4, spanning April 1981-September 1982.

Scripted by Claremont and illustrated by Brent Anderson & Joseph Rubenstein the drama resumes with X-Men #144 as ‘Even in Death…’ finds heartbroken wanderer Scott Summers (who quit after the death of Jean Grey) fetching up in coastal village Shark Bay before joining the crew of a fishing boat.

Trouble is never far from Cyclops, however, and when captain Aletys Forester introduces him to her dad, Scott must draw upon all his inner reserves – and instinctive assistance of macabre swamp guardian Man-Thing – to repel crushing, soul-consuming psychic assaults from pernicious demon D’spayre, who has made the region his personal torture garden…

Cockrum returned to the team he co-created in #145, joining Claremont & Rubinstein in an extended clash of cultures as ‘Kidnapped!’ sees the X-Men targeted by Doctor Doom, thanks to the machinations of deranged assassin Arcade.

With Storm, Colossus, Angel, Wolverine and Nightcrawler invading the Diabolical Dictator’s castle, a substitute-squad consisting of Iceman, Polaris, Banshee and Havoc are despatched to the killer-for-hire’s mechanised ‘Murderworld!’ to rescue family and friends of the heroes, all previously kidnapped by Arcade. In the interim, Doom has defeated the invading X-Men of his castle, but his cruel act of entrapping claustrophobe Ororo has backfired, triggering a ‘Rogue Storm!’ that could erase the USA from the globe…

Issue #148 opens with Scott and Aletys shipwrecked on a recently reemergent island holding the remnants of a lost civilisation, but the main event is a trip to Manhattan for 13-year-old X-Man Kitty Pryde, accompanied by Storm, Spider-Woman Jessica Drew and Dazzler Alison Blair. That’s lucky, since nomadic mutant empath Caliban calamitously attempts to abduct the child in ‘Cry, Mutant!’ by Claremont, Cockrum & Rubinstein…

A major menace resurfaces in #149 to threaten the shipwrecked couple, but the active X-Men are too busy to notice, dealing with resurrected demi-god Garokk and an erupting volcano in ‘And the Dead Shall Bury the Living!’ before all the varied plots converge in #150 (October 1981). Before that, though, there’s a crucial diversion that will affect and reshape the X-Men for years to come.

Crafted by Claremont, Michael Golden & Armando Gil, ‘By Friends… Betrayed!’  comes from Avengers Annual #10: seemingly closing the superhero career of Carol Danvers AKA Ms. Marvel. Powerless and stripped of her memories, Danvers is rescued from drowning by Spider-Woman, even as mutant shapeshifter Mystique launches an attack on the World’s Mightiest Superheroes to free her Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from jail.

It’s revealed that Danvers’ mind and abilities have been permanently stolen by a power-leaching teenager dubbed Rogue and in the aftermath of the assembled heroes defeating Mystique, the Avengers learn a horrific truth: how they had inadvertently surrendered their comrade Carol into the grip of a manipulative villain acting as the perfect husband…

Returning to the X-Men, the anniversary issue delivers extended epic ‘I, Magneto’ seeing the merciless, malevolent master of magnetism threaten all humanity. with Xavier’s team helpless to stop him… until a critical moment triggers an emotional crisis and awakening of the tortured villain’s long-suppressed humanity…

Claremont, Anderson & Bob McLeod then craft riotous intergalactic wonderment in X-Men Annual #5’s ‘Ou, La La…Badoon!’ When the Fantastic Four help an alien fugitive stranded in Manhattan they are in turn targeted by unsavoury, invisible lizard-men. Only Susan Richards escapes, fighting her way to Westchester to enlist the aid of the X-Men: combat veterans well acquainted with battling aliens.

The rescue mission starts with a stopover in the extradimensional realm of Arkon the Magnificent where the Badoon have already triumphed and where, amid much mayhem, the liberators overthrow the invaders and provide salvation for three worlds…

Chronologically adrift but sacrificed to a cohesive reading order, the contents of Marvel Fanfare #1-4 follow. Published between March and September 1982, the astounding saga was an elite yarn designed to launch a prestige format showcase of Marvel characters and talent. The new title featured slick paper stock, superior printing (all standard today) and a rolling brief to promote innovation and bold new directions.

Under Al Milgrom’s editorial guidance, numerous notable tales from exceptional creators were published, but cynical me – and not just me – soon noticed that many of those creators were ones who had problems with periodical publishing and couldn’t make fixed deadlines…

These day’s that’s nothing to shout over: comics come out when they do and editors have no real power to decree otherwise, but in the 1980s it was big deal, because printers booked a project for a pre-specified date, and charged punitive fees if publishers didn’t get product in on time. That’s why inventory tales were created: fill-ins that sat in a drawer until a writer blew it or an artist had his work eaten by the dog. Sometimes the US Mail simply lost completed stuff in transit…

Scripted by Claremont, and also including Milgrom’s humorous ‘Editor-Al’ intro pages, Savage Land was collected in 1987 and again in 2002: uniting Spider-Man, Ka-Zar and a grab bag of X-Men in a spectacular return to that primordial paradise: an antediluvian repository beneath the South Pole where fantastic civilisations and dinosaurs fretfully co-exist.

Illustrated and coloured by Golden, it begins with a ‘Fast Descent into Hell!’ when distraught Tanya Anderssen tries to find her missing lover, last seen in that lost world. Disturbingly, the missing man is Karl Lykos, a troubled soul addicted to feeding on mutants and likely to become ghastly humanoid pteranosaur Sauron. Tanya’s only hope of saving him was via Warren Worthington III – publicly infamous as former/occasional X-Man The Angel.

The billionaire’s reluctant expedition to the Savage Land ultimately includes an embedded news team from the Daily Bugle, including photographer/trouble magnet Peter Parker, who quickly stumbles across a band of native evil mutants planning to conquer the outer world by creating mutant hybrids from human victims – like Spider-Man

Second chapter ‘To Sacrifice my Soul…’ has Spidey and local hero Ka-Zar, the Jungle Lord, join forces to crush the mutation plot, inadvertently unleashing Sauron on the sub-polar world.

Golden’s stylish easy grace gave way to the slick, accomplished method of Dave Cockrum, & Bob McLeod for ‘Into the Land of Death…’ as X-Men Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Storm join Angel to thwart the diabolical dinosaur man and his malign mutant allies, before legend-in-training Paul Smith – assisted by inker Terry Austin – stepped in to finish the epic in grand style and climactic action in ‘Lost Souls!’

We then pop back to November 1981 for X-Men #151 wherein Jim Sherman, McLeod & Rubinstein welcome back Cyclops and wave Kitty goodbye in ‘X-Men Minus One!’

Due to the manipulations of White Queen Emma Frost, the teenager’s parents withdraw their daughter from Xavier’s school to enrol her in the Massachusetts Academy which covertly operates as the Hellfire Club’s training camp for young recruits. However, the sinister scheme is even deeper than the X-Men fear, as telepath Frost switches bodies with Storm to further her plan to eradicate the mutant heroes.

What nobody seems to realise is that although Frost has gained Ororo’s weather powers, her victim now has her appearance, loyal henchmen and psionic powers. Despite the deployment of terrifying robotic Sentinels, the plot spectacularly fails in closing instalment ‘The Hellfire Gambit’, illustrated by McLeod & Rubinstein…

Cockrum was back for #153, adding layers of whimsy to the usual angst and melodrama as ‘Kitty’s Fairy Tale’ sees the X-Mansion under reconstruction and the teen back where she belongs. As repairs continue, she tells bedtime stories to Colossus’ baby sister Illyana: using her teammates as inspiration, she spins a beguiling yarn of fantastic space pirates…

The action closes with the contents of monochrome “mature-reader” magazine Bizarre Adventures #27 (July 1981) sharing untold tales under the umbrella heading of ‘Secret Lives of the X-Men’

Preceded by editorial ‘Listen, I Knew the X-Men When…’ and ‘X-Men Data Log’ pages by illustrated by Cockrum, these are offbeat solo tales of our idiosyncratic stars, opening with Phoenix in ‘The Brides of Attuma’ by Claremont, John Buscema & Klaus Janson. Here the dear departed mutant’s sister Sara Grey recalls a past moment when they were abducted by an undersea barbarian and even then Jean proved to be more than any mortal could handle…

That’s followed by Iceman vignette ‘Winter Carnival’ by Mary Jo Duffy, Pérez & Alfredo Alcala, wherein Bobby Drake is embroiled in a college heist with potentially catastrophic consequences, before ‘Show me the way to go home…’ (Bob Layton, Duffy, Cockrum & Ricardo Villamonte) pits Nightcrawler against villainous teleporter the Vanisher in a light-hearted trans-dimensional romp involving warrior women, threats to the very nature of reality and gratuitous (male) nudity…

Extras include original art pages by Cockrum, Rubinstein, Anderson & McLeod; Cockrum’s cover to fanzine The X-Men Chronicles; Byrne & Austin’s cover for the X-men parody issue of Crazy (#82, January 1982) and John Buscema’s 1987 Savage Land collection.

For many fans these tales comprise a definitive high point for the X-Men. Rightly ranking amongst the greatest stories Marvel ever published, they remain supremely satisfying, groundbreaking and painfully intoxicating: an invaluable grounding in contemporary fights ‘n’ tights fiction no fan or casual reader can afford to ignore.
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