E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 2: “Well, Blow Me Down”

By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-874-9 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894.His father was a handyman, and Elzie’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator and house-painter, and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his bread-and-butter as a cartoonist. He was working as the film projectionist when, aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others, Segar studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown – who got him an introduction at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to New York and the King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre – launched December 19th 1919 – in the New York Journal. A pastiche of Movie features similar to Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies it boasted a standardised repertory cast who acted out melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies, for huge daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, their lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple, sometime boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924 Segar followed up with second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic sitcom featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (obviously quite a common name, hmm?).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through the adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular, and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually the strip was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of funny thrillers that followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (but sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and captivated the whole wide world.

The astonishingly unique cast of characters invented during this period – Sea Hag, Toar, Poopdeck Pappy, Swee’pea, Eugene the Jeep, Alice the Goon, George W. Geezil, and especially J. Wellington Wimpy (potentially as big and innovative a star as Popeye) and even Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle in the Sappo daily strip which had evolved into the Sunday Popeye “Topper” – all individually verge on manic brilliance, and combined to make Popeye a global figure to rival Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and, latterly, Mickey Mouse. To most of the world Popeye was real…

All the attendant peripherals of a major brand gravitated to Popeye. There were toys, games premiums, books, comics, film, radio shows, and especially those incredible animated cartoons. Tragically, Segar died at the height of his creative powers and with so much more magic still to make on 13th October 1938; sole creator of an incredible galaxy of imagination, but his legacy briefly lived on through his brilliant assistant Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf – although the syndicate appointed Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zaboly to work on the printed strip before letting Bud loose on it in 1959 – whilst the animated features increasingly became the main means of bringing Popeye to the world. It just wasn’t the same, though.

When Sagendorf returned, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool once more. He wrote and drew Popeye until Bobby London took over in 1986.

These superb hardback collections are the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. The second huge and still readily-available volume (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches) from 2007 contains a fascinating essay from historian Donald Phelps, a testimonial from Mort “Beetle Bailey” Walker – which includes the beautiful inspirational drawing Segar sent the young fan in 1934 – and another batch of incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips.

The dailies black-&-white section (covering December 22nd 1930 to June 6th 1932) sees Popeye, Castor and Olive soar to stardom in the fabulous western spoof ‘Clint Gore, the Outlaw’ and strike a blow for the Depression-era poor by inventing a financial institution that gives money away in ‘A One-Way Bank’, before resuming their globe-trotting adventuring in ‘The Great Rough-House War’ and its immediate sequel ‘Tragedy in the Land of Saps’ wherein the very peculiar King Blozo of Nazilia seeks aid to end a war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tonsylania – although the real problem seems to be his own over-ambitious Generals and the fact that all his soldiers are cowards…

This classy screwball epic displays Segar’s trenchant skill with the sharp swift scalpel of satire as well as broad slapstick, and has glorious overtones of if not actual influences upon the Marx Brothers gem “Duck Soup.” With an initially reluctant Popeye compelled by his sense of duty to become King of the unlovable Nazilians, it’s also where the superman sailor reveals for the first time the strength inducing properties of spinach…

From there Popeye and Olive head back to the wild, wild west to visit ‘Skullyville, Toughest Town in the World’ and we’re treated (I think that’s the word) to the unforgettable yet frankly grisly vision of Olive Oyl as a bar-hall dancer in a raucous, ridiculous romp that’s jam-packed with lampooned cowboy clichés and hilariously brilliant original gags.

The full-colour Sunday pages cover March 1st 1931 to October 2nd 1932, with increasingly absurdist Sappo toppers thoroughly complimenting the whacky shenanigans of the lead feature.

May 8th is particularly noteworthy for the first appearance of insane Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle – another Segar walk-on who would usurp his host feature…

The Popeye strip continues the uproarious and exceedingly violent boxing career of the one-eyed sea-dog, who took on all exceedingly monstrous comers, including the awesome man-mountain Tinearo, Kid Klutch (a giant gorilla) and even a robot boxer as the increasingly obsessive and belligerent Mr. Kilph, crazed by his inability to beat the grizzled sailor-man, slipped slowly into utter wackadoodleness.

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents Popeye pursues his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive with desperate verve, if little success, but his life is forever changed when the ever-so-corruptible and adorably contemptible J. Wellington Wimpy makes his debut.

The engaging Mr. Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman debuted on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed referee in the bombastic month-long bout against Tinearo, but he obviously struck a chord with Segar who gradually made him a (usually unwelcome) fixture. Always ravenous, ever happy and eager to take a bribe, we learned his name in the May 24th instalment and he utters the first of his many immortal catchphrases a month later.

It was June 21st – but “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”, like most phrases everybody knows, actually started as ‘Cook me up a hamburger, I’ll pay you Thursday’

There’s far more of Wimpy’s incredible presence in volume 3, but for now another aspect of Popeye’s complex character is revealed in an extended sequence running from May 29th 1932 through July 17th, one that quickly secured his place in reader’s hearts.

The sailor was a rough-hewn orphan, who loved to gamble and fight, not too smart and superhumanly powerful, but he was a big-hearted man with an innate sense of decency who hated injustice – even if he couldn’t pronounce it. When Mary Ann, a starving little girl, tries to sell him a flower he adopts her, taking her from the brutal couple who use her in a begging racket. He grows to love her and there’s a genuine sense of happy tragedy when he finds her real parents and gives her up. That such a rambunctious, action-packed comedy adventure serial could so easily turn an audience into sobbing, sentimental pantywaists is a measure of just how great a spellbinder Segar was…

These tales are as vibrant and compelling now as they’ve ever been and comprise a world classic of graphic literature that only a handful of creators have ever matched. Despite some astounding successors in the drawing seat, no one has ever bettered Segar’s Popeye and these superb volumes are books you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. Don’t miss them.
© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

The Human Torch and the Thing: Strange Tales – the Complete Collection

By Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Robert Bernstein, Ernie Hart, Jerry Siegel, Larry Ivie, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers, Bob Powell, Steve Ditko, Carl Burgos, Wallace Wood & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1334-2 (TPB)

Hot on the heels of the runaway success of Fantastic Four, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby spun the most colourful and youngest member of the team into his own series, hoping to recapture the glory of the 1940s when the Human Torch was one of the company’s “Big Three” superstars.

This captivating, esoteric and economical collection of pure 1960s superhero shenanigans gathers those eclectic but crucial yarns – no less than five major Marvel villains debuted in blistering battle against the Flaming Kid – between Strange Tales #101 – 134, as well as the lead tale from Strange Tales Annual #2 (spanning October 1962-July 1965).

Filled with fabulous classics of old school Marvel Fights ‘n’ Tights mayhem and mirth, this particular compendium (available in trade paperback and assorted eBook formats) also finally acknowledges that for a large part of that run his rocky companion and elder gadfly Ben “the Thing” Grimm was an equal player and partner in crime-busting.

Within a year of FF #1, the magic-&-monsters anthology title Strange Tales became the home for the hot-headed hero. In issue #101, teenager Johnny Storm started his ancillary solo career in the eponymous ‘The Human Torch’.

Scripted by Larry Lieber (over a plot by his brother Stan) and sublimely illustrated by Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers, here the plucky lad investigates sabotage at a new seaside amusement park and promptly discovers Commie-conniving thanks to a Red spy called the Destroyer. Kirby would pencil the first few adventures before moving on, after which inker Ayers would assume control of the series’ look for most of its run – although The King would generate some of the best covers of his Marvel career throughout the Torch’s tenure in Strange Tales.

An odd inconsistency or, more likely, tension- and drama-inducing gimmick did crop up here. Although public figures in the Fantastic Four, Johnny and his sister Sue live part-time in Long Island hamlet of Glenville and, despite the townsfolk being fully aware of her as the glamorous and heroic Invisible Girl, they seem oblivious to the fact that her baby brother is the equally famous Torch. Many daft-but-ingenious pages of Johnny protecting his secret identity would ensue before the situation was brilliantly resolved…

Although something of a hit-or-miss proposition in itself, the strip was the origin point for many of Marvel’s greatest villains. The first of these appeared in the very next issue. ‘Prisoner of the Wizard’ (Lee, Lieber, Kirby & Ayers) sees a spiteful and publicity-hungry intellectual giant determined to crush the Torch to prove his superiority to the callow kid who steals all the newspaper headlines…

The same creative team then produced captivating classic ‘Prisoner of the 5th Dimension’, as Johnny defeats an imminent invasion and frees a captive populace from tyranny before easily trashing adhesive-toting adversary ‘Paste-Pot Pete!’ (later revamped as the terrifying Trapster), before teaming with sister Sue to tackle the perilous ‘Return of the Wizard’.

When Kirby moved on to engineer and design a host of new characters and concepts (occasionally returning as necessity or special events warranted), Ayers assumed full art duties beginning with Strange Tales#106 (March 1963). This Lee & Lieber yarn was notable in that it revealed that the entire town of Glenville had always known the Torch’s secret identity but were just playing along to keep him happy…

When Acrobat Carl Zante knocks on Johnny’s door and offers him a better-paying gig in ‘The Threat of the Torrid Twosome’, the kid’s head is swelled and swayed, but he soon learns he’s been played by a master conman and diabolical bandit…

This first hint of tongue-in-cheek whimsy presaged an increasing lightness of touch which would come to characterise the Marvel style as much as the infighting between team-mates. The villainous Zante would return for another milestone in issue #114…

Issue #107 was Lieber’s last as Ayers drew a splendid punch-up with the ‘Sub-Mariner’ – a tale reminiscent of the spectacular and immensely popular Golden Age battles of their publishing forebears. Veteran writer Robert “Berns” Bernstein scripted the next two – frankly daft – sagas over Lee’s plots, but the saving grace of both ‘The Painter of a Thousand Perils!’ (empowered by an alien art kit which brought illustrations to life in ST #108) and ‘The Sorcerer and Pandora’s Box’ (#109, with monstrous demons attacking humanity) was the brief return of Kirby to the pencilling.

H.E. Huntley (Ernie Hart) typed the words for Ayers to illumine in ‘The Human Torch vs. the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete!’: a cunning clash presaging the villains’ eventual evolution into FF’s evil counterparts the Frightful Four.

In #111 the Torch made short work of ‘Fighting to the Death with the Asbestos Man!’ – yet another demented scientist experiencing the travails and tragedies of simpler times.

Strange Tales #112 (scripted by Jerry Siegel under pen-name Joe Carter) introduced murderous electrical marauder the Eel who accidentally swiped and activated a miniature A-Bomb in tense, multifaceted thriller ‘The Human Torch Faces the Threat of the Living Bomb!’, after which1963’s Strange Tales Annual #2, featured ‘The Human Torch on the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!’

This terrific romp by Lee, Kirby & Steve Ditko details how the wallcrawler is framed by international art thief The Fox, whilst back in regular comicbook Strange Tales #113, “Carter” created another long-term always-employed baddie in ‘The Coming of the Plantman!’

November’s Strange Tales #114 then changed the face of the Marvel Firmament forever…

Written by Lee himself and illustrated by Kirby & Ayers, it featured the return of the third of Timely Comics’ Golden Age Big Three – or at least an impersonation of him by the insidious Acrobat – in a blockbusting battle entitled ‘The Human Torch meets…Captain America!

Here’s a quote from the last panel…

“You guessed it! This story was really a test! To see if you too would like Captain America to Return! As usual, your letters will give us the answer!” I wonder how that all turned out?

Lee took over as scripter with ST #115’s ‘The Sandman Strikes!’ wherein Johnny impersonates Spider-Man to defeat the granular gangster Flint Marko, after which the Torrid Teen and team-mate Ben Grimm battle each other while ‘In the Clutches of the Puppet Master!’ (#116, with Ayers inked by George Roussos in his own secret identity of George Bell).

‘The Return of the Eel! proved far more of a challenge in #117, after which the Wizard has another go as ‘The Man Who Became the Torch!’, consequently nearly killing the Thing and Reed Richards besides.

A first brush with Marvel’s soon-to-be core readership came in #119. ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’ details how Commie Agent the Rabble Rouser mesmerises decent citizens, making them surly and rebellious, after which Kirby stepped back in for #120 as ‘The Torch Meets Iceman!’: a terrific action-extravaganza that pretty much ended the glory days of this strip. From then on, despite every gimmick and occasional burst of sheer inspiration, the Bullpen could muster, a slow decline set in as quirky back-up strip Doctor Strange grew in popularity – and cover space…

ST #121 saw Johnny as ‘Prisoner of the Plantman!’ (Lee & Ayers) and #122 found a thug, a conman and a yogi all augmented by Dr. Doom and mustered as the woefully lame Terrible Trio ordered to launch an ill-conceived attack in ‘3 Against the Torch!’

Strange Tales #123 has a creepy inventor build himself an impressive insectoid exo-suit to get rich the easy way, as – in an effort to boost ratings – The Thing becomes a permanent fixture in ‘The Birth of the Beetle!’

This so-so saga was most notable for the pencil job by Golden Age Torch creator Carl Burgos, after which Johnny and Ben tackle a fully re-designed ‘Paste-Pot Pete’ (inked by Paul Reinman) before going after another old adversary in ‘The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!’

‘Pawns of the Deadly Duo!’ sees Puppet Master return, allied to the Mad Thinker in a clever but shallow yarn whilst #127 pits Ben and Johnny against a bizarre puzzle and ‘The Mystery Villain!’

After a stunning Kirby pin-up of the Thing, the Fantastic Two then unwillingly battle ‘Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’ in #128 (this one inked by Frankie Ray, AKA Frank Giacoia), as the Homo Superior siblings make an abortive first attempt to quit Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, after which ‘The Terrible Trio!’ once more fail to impress or assassinate our heroes…

Pop culture reeled and staggered with #130 in ‘Meet the Beatles’ (not villains, but actually some sort of popular musical combo of the times, and they actually didn’t meet them at all), although brilliant Golden Age artist Bob Powell (with inking from Chic Stone) did take over the art chores for the comedy of errors/crime caper.

Ayers returned to ink #131, the dire ‘Bouncing Ball of Doom!’ with the Mad Thinker siccing a cybernetic bowling bowl on the pair before Larry Ivie scripts a capable Space Race thriller in ‘The Sinister Space Trap!’ (inked by Mike Esposito under his Mickey DeMeo alias).

Stan Lee returned for the last two tales in ST #133 and #134; ‘The Terrible Toys’ wherein Puppet Master tries a new modus operandi and ‘The Challenge of… The Watcher!’ (inked by the majestic Wally Wood) wherein Torch and Thing are transported to legendary Camelot to battle time-reaver Kang the Conqueror, but it was clear the writer’s mind was elsewhere, most likely with the new Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. strip that would replace the FF pair from Strange Tales #135 onwards.

Wrapping up this memory lane meander are a marvellous melange of original art pages by Kirby and/or Ayers, nostalgia-invoking House Ads and a cover gallery from the 1974-75 reprint series of Golden and Silver Age Torch Tales, rendered by John Romita, Joe Sinnott, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson, Frank Giacoia, Gil Kane, Al Milgrom &Vince Colletta, plus the Kirby/Richard Isanove paint cover from Marvel Masterworks: The Human Torch #1.

It’s interesting to note that as the parent Fantastic Four title grew in scope and quality the Human Torch’s own series diminished. Perhaps there is something to be said for concentrating one’s efforts or not overexposing your stars. What was originally a spin-off for the younger audience faded as Marvel found its voice and its marketplace, although there would be periodic efforts to reinvigorate the Torch.

Sadly, the historic value often supersedes the quality of most of these strange tales, but there’s still a good deal that’s great about this series and Costumed Drama devotees with a sense of tradition and love of fun will find this book irresistible and unmissable.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Smurfs Anthology volume 1

By Yvan Delporte & Peyo, smurflated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-417-9

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics in Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills but the war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 the eager teen joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, Pierre briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising.

In his off hours he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers. His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his bold young knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlouit – after the inclusion of a scene-stealing comedy foil – the strip prospered and, in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – now using the childhood nom de plume Peyo – would gradually succumb to popular demand and turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as The Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as titanic tyke Benoît Brisefer (translated recently as Benny Breakiron), and also stuck with Johan until 1977 (13 albums-full) when the pressure of creating more Smurf stuff grew too much. Even then his son Thierry with artist Alain Maury revived the series, bring the count to 17 albums

Yvan Delporte (24th June 1928-5th March 2007) was a Belgian comics writer whose greatest gift was an invisible one. He was editor of Le Journal de Spirou between 1955 and 1968: shaping strips and creator’s during Europe’s golden age of excellence. One feature he did script was Peyo’s spin-off fantasy Les Schtroumpfs, and he also found a bit of time to write René Follet’s Steve Severin and co-create Franquin’s Gaston Lagaffe and Idées noires.

We English-speakers mostly have visions of the Smurfs fostered and shaped by the animated shows, films and toys, but the comics – although aimed at an all-ages audience – were packed with social commentary and sly satire that can still take the breath away if you’re a parent reared on anodyne censored US cartoon fodder.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, those gloriously outrageous medieval masterworks are available to discerning fans, both as individual albums and in superb, anthologically robust, full-colour hardback (and eBook) compilations, kitted out and filled with little extras such historical essays and all presented in the original publication order Peyo dictated. A huge bonus as far as I’m concerned is the inclusion of original artwork and (French) covers of the period…

First album ‘The Purple Smurfs’ comes with a comprehensive Introduction by Smurfologist Matt. Murray explaining the tone of those distant times and how we post-PC patrons got here from original 1959 solo saga ‘Les Schtroumpfs noirs’…

Full of fun, action, slapstick and frenetic thrills, the eponymous lead tale – by Delporte & Peyo; as are all the entries here – reveals how the idyllic hidden mushroom-styled village of the little blue folk falls to a rapidly-spreading plague. The horrific ailment is transmitted by irresistible biting and characterised by a radical shift in colouration and behaviour. Soon, only wise wizardly patriarch Papa Smurf is left to combat the Smurfie Apocalypse, and he’s running out of options…

Two shorter yarns follow as ‘The Flying Smurf’ finds one little slacker absconding from walnut-gathering duties to pursue ever more complex and obsessive ways to soar like a bird in the sky after which ‘The Smurfnapper’ finds archenemy sorcerer Gargamel and his cat Azrael hunting for the last crucial ingredient to create a Philosopher’s stone. It’s a Smurf, of course, but catching and keeping one of the little blue perishers are two entirely different things…

The second album is quite infamous in certain circles and very much a product of its era: one generation since WWII ended and right in the midst of escalating Cold War tensions. Following another Matt. Murray Introduction, discussing the heavy political and social implications of Le Schtroumpfissime, ‘The Smurf King’ details how, when Papa Smurf goes on an extended provisions hunt, his decision not to leave anyone in charge leads to rapid and radical political unrest. A half-assed and wholly inept attempt to elect a new boss goes typically awry until one bright spark realizes he can get others to vote for him by lying, making promises he can’t keep and applying heavy doses of flattery.

Soon, he’s living in a palace built by the suckers and indulging in all the perks of totalitarianism, but some Smurfs are muttering discontent and forming a rebel army…

Social satire gives way to surreal whimsy ‘The Smurfony’ then details the formation of an orchestra. One poor Smurf though has plenty of enthusiasm but no talent and his efforts make him extremely unwelcome… until Gargamel returns with soporific sound sorcery and only a bit of discord can save the day…

As previously stated, the Smurfs debuted in La Flûte à six trous, a 1958 tale of feudal comedy-adventurers Johan and Peewit. The little guys were phenomenally popular and reappeared many times before winning their own series, and when that finally happened the origin tale was rushed into album form as the third Schtroumpfs book release, suitably reimagined as La Flûte à six Schtroumpfs.

In ‘The Smurfs and the Magic Flute’ court jester Peewit – another would-be musician whose melodies induce pain and hysteria – gets hold of a flute with six holes that forces all who hear it to dance uncontrollably until they pass out. His pranks are disruptive enough but the instrument is then stolen by vile villain Matthew Oilycreep, who goes on a plundering spree, amassing stolen wealth to buy an army of mercenaries to take over the kingdom.

Young knight Johan and Peewit re at a loss to stop the usurper until they are approached by little blue men who tell them an incredible tale and invite them back to their mystical home.

They have all the answers and a plan but there’s no time to waste if disaster is to be avoided…

Wrapping up with ‘The Aftersmurf’ from Papercutz Smurf-in-Chief Jim Salicrup, this stunning collection of fun and fantasy is a magnificent example of all-ages comics wonderment no serious aficionado could do without.

Go on, You Smurf you want to…
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf

By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-747-4 (HB)                eISBN: 978-1-68406-381-9

There are few comic characters that have entered communal world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the saga of vaudevillian archetypes Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 17th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

Yes, folks, its’s Happy 90th Anniversary for the old swab, who’s still going strong under the aegis of veteran cartoonist Hy Eisman (Kerry Drake, Little Iodine, Bunny, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Lulu). Parent strip Thimble Theatre turns one hundred this year too, so there’s that to celebrate as well…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career.

It even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf…

After Segar’s tragic and far too premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the printed strip even as animated short features brought Popeye to the entire world via the magic of movies. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

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

When Sagendorf took over, 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. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena – including the majority of licensed merchandise – for 24 years. Sagendorf retired in 1986 after which “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London took over the Sailorman’s voyages and died in 1994.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards he wrote and drew Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he 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… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in this enchanting full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) is an admittedly arbitrary and far from definitive selection of the Young Master’s compelling funnybook canon from Dell, spanning February/April 1948 to September 1957. Other yarns are readily available in IDW’s Popeye Classics series and I’ll be plugging those in the fullness of time.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded here by an effusively appreciative Introduction from Jerry Beck before ‘Ahoy, Ya Swabs!’ relates history and recollection from inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe augmented by a fabulous collation of candid photos, original comicbook art, more.

Especial gems are Bud’s 1956 lessons on backgrounds from the Famous Artists Cartoon Course, series of postcards and the Red Cross booklet produced for sailors.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black and red) single page strips on the inside front and back covers. From that premiere issue a full-coloured crisis comes as ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’ sees our salty swab earning a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter. That all ends when upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing his sweetie Olive Oyl President of the fictitious Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. It only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled…

Next up is the lead tale from #9, (October/November) as ‘Misermites! or I’d Rather Have Termites!’ details how the peaceful coastal town of Seawet is plagued by an invasion of plundering dwarves. When the petty pilferers vanish back to their island with “orphink kid” Swee’ Pea as part of their spoils, Popeye and Wimpy give chase and end up battling a really, really big secret weapon…

‘Witch Whistle’ comes from Popeye #12 (April/May 1950) and sees the sailor revisit the embattled kingdom of Spinachovia where old King Blozo is plagued by a rash of vanishing farmers. The cause is sinister old nemesis the Sea Witch whose army of giant vultures seem unbeatable until Popeye intervenes…

‘Interplanetary Battle’ comes from Popeye #21 (July-September 1952) and taps into the growing fascination with UFOs as Wimpy innocently seeks to aid his old pal. When no prize fighter on Earth will box with Popeye, the helpful vagabond broadcasts a message to the universe and what answers the call is a bizarre shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiable J. Wellington Wimpy debuted on in the Newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous but polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, 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 a simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

From Popeye #25 (July-September 1953), ‘Shrink Weed’ then details how some “wild spinach” reduces the old salt and baby Swee’ Pea to the size of insects with potentially dire and outrageous consequences before the entire cast visit ‘The Happy Little Island’ (Popeye #27, January-March 1954) and confront subsurface creatures doing their darndest to spoil that jolly atmosphere.

An epic thrill-fest manifests in ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ (#32, April-June 1955) as humans are abducted from all over the coast, leading Popeye into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which another family sea-voyage results in the cast being castaway on an island of irascible invisible folk in ‘Nothing!’ (#34, October-December 1955) before the fun concludes in sheer surreal strife as Popeye #41 (July-September 1957) displays capitalism at its finest when Olive gets a new boyfriend: one with a regular job and prospects. Stung to retaliate, Popeye devises ‘Spinach Soap!’ to secure his own fortune, but being un-ejjikated, rough-and-ready appoints Wimpy as his boss. Big mistake…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. The one in this book is definitely one of the latter and if you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you must now read this.
Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf © 2018 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2018 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Philip K. Dick – A Comics Biography

By Laurent Queyssi & Mauro Marchesi, translated by Edward Gauvin (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-170-3

Publisher NBM expand their fabulous line of European-created dramatized graphic biographies with this latest gem originally released as PHIL: Une vie de Philip K. Dick.

This compelling luxury hardcover (also available in digital formats) investigates one of the most intriguing characters of the 20th century: a man who could arguably be thought of as the John the Baptist of modern existential civilisation and a futurist seer of human interaction and competition.

Philip Kindred Dick (16th December 1928 – 2nd March 1982) explored political, social and philosophical themes through science fiction stories created during the most innovative period of the genre’s entire history. Despite personal feelings of failure, his genre work -incorporating and predicting monopolistic corporate capitalism, alternate realities, the blurry edges of artificial intelligence and altered states of consciousness – changed the way the world thinks and provided road maps for how we meat-minds think in an increasingly digital age.

However, as this superb graphic treatise shows, although he was driven to excel in its creation, he had no respect for his own “non-literary” canon and never realised he was the right man at just the right time…

Dick was demon-driven, charismatic, paranoid, inspired, drug-and-approval dependent, a serial lothario and usually deeply unhappy. Hardly a likable or even sympathetic character -even as seen through the lens of author, screenwriter and translator Laurent Queyssi (Neurotwistin’, Allison, Blackline) who clearly adores his subject’s oeuvre – this is nevertheless an incredibly enticing peek into the world of the legend, deftly and seductively pieced together in moving morsels of emotional highs and lows.

Much of the success must be attributed to artist, illustrator and educator Mauro Marchesi (enerazione M, Magico Mondiale, Mamba) whose graceful, understated art beguiles the reader every step of the way. I’m loathe to froth – or use made-up words I haven’t actually coined myself – but this book was literally unputdownable. I started late on the night my review copy arrived, intending to scan the opening and get a feel for it, and the next thing I know it’s 02:30 and I’m wondering why the house is so dark and quiet…

Accompanied by an adroit and incisive Postscript from the author and a fulsome Biography, this is another visual masterpiece honouring a major force in the history and culture of our complex world, and one you should track down as soon as you can, if not sooner …
© Blue Lotus Prod. Paris, 2017 by Goetzinger. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

Philip K. Dick – A Comics Biography is scheduled for release January 30th, 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing.

Adventures of Tintin: The Shooting Star

By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-621-1 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his astounding yarns tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first series: The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the parent paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged the artist to create an adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip both modernistic and action-packed.

Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his garrulous dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically-charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to the occupiers’ preferred daily newspaper Le Soir. He diligently continued producing strips for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

With this tale we enter the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is potent and remarkable.

After his homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when called up, but the swift fall of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to the unfinished Black Gold, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

L’Étoile mystérieuse ran in Le Soir (the little nation’s premiere French-language newspaper and a crucial tool for the Germans to control minds, if not hearts) from October 20th 1941 to May 21st 1942: the second of six extraordinary tales of light-hearted, escapist thrills, blending strong plots and deep characterisation to create a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life then and remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day.

On completion it was collected as a full-colour book in 1942 and later serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (from June 6th 1943). It was among a flurry of reissues of earlier albums – all but Tintin in America and The Black Island, both set in countries Germany was still at war with…

In 1954 it was remastered by Studio Hergé, to remove certain anti-Semitic and anti-American passages and imagery he had been forced to include by the paper’s controllers, and comes to us as a stunning piece of apocalyptic, sci-fi flavoured adventure…

The remastered edition of The Shooting Star was one of the first tales re-issued after World War II, due no doubt to its relatively escapist plot… it’s practically an old-fashioned pulp thriller.

It begins with the world gripped in terror as a fiery meteor is detected hurtling towards Earth. The end times are narrowly averted only by the sheerest chance, as the heavenly body narrowly misses our frail planet, although when a relatively small chunk breaks off, scientists find that it contains an unknown metal of immense potential value. And so begins a fantastic race to find and claim the fallen meteorite…

A party of European scientists charters the survey ship “Aurora”, with boozy stalwart Captain Haddock commanding and Tintin aboard as official Press representative. Frantically sailing north to the Pole, they discover that they are in competition with the unscrupulous forces of the evil capitalists of the Bohlwinkel Bank, whose rival expedition uses every dirty trick imaginable to sabotage or delay the scientists.

After a truly Herculean effort and by sheer dint of willpower – not to say spectacular bravery – Tintin is the first to claim their floating prize and successfully defends it from the villainous Bohlwinkel crew, but the fallen star itself is a far greater menace, as its mysterious and exotic composition induces monstrous gigantism in earthly organisms. Tintin and Snowy must survive assaults by mutated insects and plants before the breathtaking conclusion of this splendid tale.

Manifestly as the world experienced a new Dark Age, Hergé was concentrating on the next -Golden – one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their unflagging popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature, and stories you and your entire clan should know.
The Shooting Star: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1961 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon 1947

By Milton Caniff (Checker Book Publishing Group)
ISBN: 978-0-97102-49-9-1

Milton Caniff wasn’t an overnight sensation. He worked long and hard before he achieved stellar status in the comic strip firmament. Before Terry and the Pirates brought him fame, and Steve Canyon secured his fortune and reputation, the strip which brought him to the attention of legendary Press Baron “Captain” Joseph Patterson (in many ways the co-creator of Terry) was an unassuming daily feature about a little boy hungry for adventure.

Caniff was working for The Associated Press as an entry-level jobbing cartoonist when a gap opened in their strips department. AP was an organisation that devised and syndicated features for the thousands of local and small newspapers which could not afford to produce the cartoons, puzzles, recipes and other fillers that ran between the local headlines and the regional sports.

Over a weekend Caniff came up with Dickie Dare, a studious lad who would read a book and then fantasize himself into the story, taking his faithful little white dog Wags with him. The editors went for it and the strip launched on July 31st 1933. Caniff produced the adventures for less than eighteen months before moving on, but his replacement Coulton Waugh steered the series until its conclusion two decades later.

As well as being one of the greatest comic-strip artists of all time, Caniff was an old-fashioned honest American Patriot, from the time when it wasn’t a dirty word or synonym for fanatic.

The greatest disappointment of his life was that he was never physically fit enough to fight. Instead, during World War II he not only continued the morale-boosting China Seas epic Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip seven days a week, he also designed art, brochures and posters (all unpaid) for the War Department and made live appearances for soldiers and hospital residents. Even that wasn’t enough.

Again unpaid, he devised Male Cale: a strip to be printed in the thousands of local military magazines and papers around the world. Originally using established characters from Terry, Caniff swiftly switched (for reasons best explained in Robert C Harvey’s wonderful Meanwhile… a Biography of Milton Caniff) to a purpose-built (and was she built!) svelte and sexy ingénue who would titillate, amuse but mostly belong to the lonely and homesick American fighting men away from home and under arms.

Funny, saucy, even racy but never lewd or salacious, Miss Lace spoke directly to the enlisted man – the “ordinary Joe” – as entertainer, confidante and trophy date. She built morale and gave brief surcease from terror, loneliness or boredom. Although comparisons abound with our own Jane, the rationales behind each combat glamour girl were poles apart. Miss Lace spoke to and with the soldiers, and she wasn’t in normal papers. She was simply and totally theirs and theirs alone.

After leaving the incredibly successful and world-renowned Terry and the Pirates Caniff created another iconic comic hero in the demobbed World War II pilot Steve Canyon. The reasons for the move were basically rights and creative control, but it’s also easy to see another reason. Terry, set in a fabled Orient – even with the contemporary realism the author so captivatingly imparted – is a young man’s strip and limited by locale.

The worldly, if not war-weary, Canyon was a mature adventurer who could be sent literally anywhere and would appeal to the older, wiser readers of Atom-Age America, now a fully active, if perhaps reluctant, player on the world stage.

Canyon also reflects an older creator who has seen so much more of human nature and frailty than even the mysterious East could provide. Put another way, William Shakespeare could write Romeo and Juliet as a young man, but needed more than passion and genius to produce King Lear.

Steve Canyon began on 13th January 1947, after a long period of public anticipation following a very conspicuous resignation from Terry. Always a master of suspense and adept at manipulating his reader’s attention, Caniff’s eponymous hero didn’t actually appear until January 16th (and then only in a “file photograph”).

The public first met Stevenson Burton Canyon, former bomber pilot, medal winning war-hero, Air-Force flight instructor and latterly, independent charter airline operator in the first Sunday colour page, on 19th January 1947.

By then, eager readers had glimpsed his friends and future enemies, how acquaintances felt about him and even been introduced to ultra-rich, super-spoiled Copper Calhoun, the latest in a startlingly long line of devastating Femme Fatales created by Caniff to bedevil his heroes and captivate his audiences. And thus, the magic began…

This series of collections from Checker re-presents the strip in yearly segments (regrettably, with the Sundays printed in the same black-&-white as the daily episodes) and this one begins as Calhoun manoeuvres Canyon’s Horizons Unlimited charter line into flying her to countries where her pre-war holdings were disrupted. That seemingly simple job results in deadly peril from both strangers and trusted employees. There’s also a goodly helping of old-fashioned intrigue, jealousy and racketeering in the mix too…

The action and tragedy lead directly to an encounter with a couple of deadly female con-artists in ‘Delta’, and a gripping, yet light-hearted, romp in the booming petroleum industry in ‘Easter’s Oil’ which also introduces off-the-wall supporting character Happy Easter and the lascivious Madame Lynx, who would play such large and charismatic roles in the strip’s future.

The first volume ends with ‘Jewels of Africa’, a classic of suspense with modern-day pirate and wrecker Herr Splitz falling foul of our heroes in a world rapidly becoming a hotbed of International tension.

As Caniff’s strip became more and more a compass of geo-political adventure, his skill with human drama became increasingly mature and intense. This was comic strip noir that was still irresistible to a broad spectrum of readers. And that’s as true now as it was then. Steve Canyon is magnificent comic art at its two-fisted best.

These stories are also available in a fancy IDW hardcover archive, but although lovely it does suffer from small print – unless you have a digital edition – so if you love stunning artwork stick with this cheap-&-cheerful monochrome version.
© 2003, Checker Book Publishing Group, an authorized collection of works © Ester Parsons Caniff Estate 1947.

All characters and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of the Ester Parsons Caniff Estate. All rights reserved.

Teen Titans: The Silver Age Volume Two

By Bob Haney, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Nick Cardy, Irv Novick, Bill Draut, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8517-3 (TPB)

The concept of kid hero teams was already ancient when the 1960s Batman TV show finally prompted DC to trust their big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own regular comic. The outcome was a fab, hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as they were to stamping out insidious evil.

The biggest difference between the creation of the Teen Titans and wartime groups such as The Young Allies, Newsboy Legion and Boy Commandos or even 1950s holdovers like The Little Wise Guys or Boys Ranch was quite simply the burgeoning phenomena of “The Teenager” as a discrete social and commercial force.

These were kids who could – and should – be allowed to do things themselves without constant adult help or supervision…

This quirkily eclectic trade paperback and eBook compilation re-presents the rapidly-evolving and ending swinging Sixties exploits from Teen Titans #12-24 plus a guest-shot from The Brave and the Bold #83 collectively spanning November/December 1967 to November/December 1967 1969.

With Bob Haney still scripting and the accent still heavily on fun, the action resumes here with twin contemporary hot-topics the Space-Race and Disc Jockeys informing whacky sci fi thriller ‘Large Trouble in Space-Ville!’ Illustrated by Irv Novick & Nick Cardy, the gang thwart aliens stealing Earth’s monuments after which Cardy flies solo for TT #13, producing a seasonal comics masterpiece with ‘The TT’s Swingin’ Christmas Carol!’, a stylish retelling that’s one of the most reprinted Titans tales ever.

At this time Cardy’s art really opened up as he grasped the experimental flavour of the times. The cover of #14, as well as the interior illustration for the grim psycho-thriller ‘Requiem for a Titan’, are unforgettable. The tale introduces the team’s first serious returning villain (Mad Mod does not count!): the Gargoyle is mesmerising and memorable, and although Cardy only inked Lee Elias’s pencils for #15’s eccentric tryst with the Hippie counter-culture, ‘Captain Rumble Blasts the Scene!’ is a genuinely unique crime-thriller from a time when nobody over age 25 understood what the youth of the world was doing…

Teen Titans #16 returned to more solid ground with superb, scene-setting thriller ‘The Dimensional Caper!’ as rapacious sinister aliens infiltrate a rural high-school (and how many times have you seen that plot used since this 1968 epic?).

Cardy’s art reached dizzying heights of innovation both here and in the next issue’s waggish jaunt to London ‘Holy Thimbles, It’s the Mad Mod!’ (alternatively and uninspiringly retitled ‘The Return of the Mad Mod’ here). The frantic criminal chase through Cool Britannia which unfolds even includes a command performance from Her Majesty, the Queen!

Next up is a fannish landmark – and hint of things to come – as novice writers Len Wein & Marv Wolfman got their big break with a tale introducing Russian superhero Starfire (latterly redubbed Red Star) which set them firmly on a path of teen super-team writing. ‘Eye of the Beholder’ is a cool cat burglar/super heist yarn set in trendy Stockholm, drawn with superb understatement by Bill Draut, and acting a perfect indicator of the changes in style and attitude that would become part of the Teen Titans and the comics industry itself in later decades…

Maintaining the experiments with youthful authorial voices, the entertainment continues with a beautifully realised comedy-thriller as boy Bowman Speedy joins the team full-time. ‘Teen Titans: Stepping Stones for a Giant Killer!’ (#19, January/February 1969) is by Mike Friedrich, with stunning art from Gil Kane & Wally Wood, and pits the team against youthful criminal mastermind Punch who plans to kill the Justice League of America and thinks a trial run against the junior division a smart idea…

TT #20 took that long-running plot-thread of extra-dimensional invaders and gave it a counterculture twist in ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’: a spectacular rollercoaster romp deftly blending teen revolt, organised crime, anti-capitalist activism, bug-eyed monsters and cunning extraterrestrial conquerors written by Neal Adams, pencilled by him and Sal Amendola and inked by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Team-up vehicle The Brave and the Bold # 83 (April-May 1969) then took a radical turn as in ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’, the Teen Titans (sans Aqualad, who was dropped to appear more prominently in Aquaman and because there just ain’t that much sub-sea malfeasance) try to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in a tense thriller about trust and betrayal by Haney & Adams.

Symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove briefly join the proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams & Cardy), chasing smugglers, finding aliens and ramping up the surly teen rebellion quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards a stunning conclusion. ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ is only half of #22; the abduction of Kid Flash and Robin leading to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quash the invasion forever, but still leave enough room for a long overdue makeover in ‘The Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Wolfman, Kane & Cardy.

For years the series – and DC in general – had fudged the fact that the younger Amazon Princess was not actually human, a sidekick, or even a person, but rather an incarnation of the adult Wonder Woman as a child. As continuity backwriting strengthened its stranglehold on the industry, it was felt that the team-tottie needed a fuller background and this moving tale reveals that she is in fact a human foundling rescued by Wonder Woman and raised on Paradise Island where their super-science gave her all the powers of a true Amazon.

They even found her a name – Donna Troy – and an apartment, complete with hot roommate. All Donna has to do is sew herself a glitzy new costume…

Now thoroughly grounded in “reality”, the team jet south in #23’s fast-paced yarn ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rogue’ (by Haney, Kane & Cardy), seeking to rescue musical rebel Sammy Soul from his grasping family and subsequently, his missing dad from Amazonian headhunters.

This volume, and an era of relative innocence, ends with ‘Skis of Death!’ by the same creative team which sees the adventurous quartet vacationing in the mountains and uncovering a scam to defraud Native Americans of their lands.

It’s a terrific old-style tale but with the next issue (and collected volume) the most radical change in DC’s cautious publishing history made Teen Titans a comic which had thrown out the rulebook…

Although perhaps somewhat dated in delivery, these tales were a liberating experience for kids when first released and remain a highly entertaining experience even now. They truly betokened a new empathy with independent youth and tried to address problems that were more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are so captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Marvel Team Up Marvel Masterworks volume 2

By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5933-9 (HB)

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact, as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding proven concepts and properties. The only real exception to this was the en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing or battling (often both) with less well-selling company characters – was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the lion’s share of this new title, but they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days, editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline at that time they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full-Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues), launching in March 1972, and becoming a resounding hit.

This second sturdy compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #12-22 plus a crossover with Daredevil (and the Black Widow) #103 spanning August 1973 to June 1974 and opens with a fond, if self-proclaimed foggy, recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Len Wein scripted a Gerry Conway plot for ‘Wolf at Bay!’ from MTU #12 as the Wall-Crawler meets the Werewolf By Night Jack Russell and malevolent mage Moondark in foggy San Francisco, as deftly delineated by Ross Andru & Don Perlin, after which we divert to the Man without Fear and the Black Widow’s own title. Here they share the left coast limelight as Daredevil #103 sees them joining with the still California-bound wallcrawler. A merciless cyborg attacks the odd couple while they pose for roving photojournalist Peter Parker in ‘…Then Came Ramrod!’ – by Steve Gerber, Don Heck & Sal Trapani – and the only response can be battle…

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia illustrated ‘The Granite Sky!’ wherein Wein pits Spider-Man and Captain America against Hydra and the Grey Gargoyle in a simple clash of ideologies after which ‘Mayhem is… the Men-Fish!’ (inked by Wayne Howard – and, yes bad grammar, but great action-art!) matches the webslinger with the savage Sub-Mariner against vile villains Tiger Shark and Doctor Dorcas as well as an army (navy?) of mutant sea-beasts.

Wein, Andru & Perlin created The Orb to bedevil Spidey and the Ghost Rider in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ in #15 after which Kane & Jim Mooney illustrated ‘Beware the Basilisk my Son!’: a gripping romp featuring (the original Kree) Captain Marvel, which concludes in ‘Chaos at the Earth’s Core!’ (inked by “everybody”!), as Mister Fantastic joins the fracas to stop the Mole Man from inadvertently blowing up the world.

Human Torch Johnny Storm teams with the Hulk in MTU #18 to stop antimatter malcontent Blastaar in ‘Where Bursts the Bomb!’ (inked by Giacoia & Esposito), but Spidey blazes back a month later with Ka-Zar in situ to witness ‘The Coming of… Stegron, the Dinosaur Man!’ (Wein, Kane & Giacoia) whose plans to flatten New York by releasing ‘Dinosaurs on Broadway!’ is foiled with the Black Panther’s help – as well as the artistic skills of Sal Buscema, Giacoia & Esposito.

Dave Hunt replaced Esposito and aide Giacoia inking ‘The Spider and the Sorcerer!’ in #21 as Spidey and Doctor Strange once more battle Xandu, a wily wizard first seen in Spider-Man Annual #2, before ‘The Messiah Machine!’ brings the story glories to a conclusion by depicting Hawkeye and the Amazing Arachnid frustrating deranged computer Quasimodo’s ambitious if absurd mechanoid invasion.

Adding extra lustre before we close, there’s a brace of original art pages from Andru & Perlin and Kane and Mooney to drool over, too…

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all have an honest drive to entertain and please, whilst artistically the work – particularly action-man-on-fire Gil Kane – is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…
© 1973, 1974, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasia volume 1: Adventure Down Under

By Tome & Janry, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-011-5

For most English-speaking comic fans and collectors Le Journal de Spirou is probably Europe’s biggest secret. The character is a rough contemporary – and bald commercial response – to Hergé’s iconic superstar Tintin, whilst the comic he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and creativity by our own Beano and Dandy.

First conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, a magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938 (three and a bit months before DC Thomson’s Beano, but still beaten by The Dandy which launched on December 4th 1937). It was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old himself) and took its name from the lead feature, which recounted the improbable adventures of a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel: a reference to the publisher’s leading magazine, Le Moustique.

With his pet squirrel, Spip (who joined the cast on June 8th 1939; he’s the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself, so happy 80th anniversary, little dude!) the plucky kid was the idea of French artist Robert Velter, who signed himself Rob-Vel.

A Dutch language edition – Robbedoes – debuted a few weeks later and ran more-or-less in tandem with the French parent comic until it’s cancellation in 2005.

Although some home-grown product crept in, the bulk of the comic was taken up with cheap American reprint imports: Red Ryder by Fred Harman, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark creation Superman. Most prominent were ‘Tif et Tondu’ by Fernand Dineur (which ran until the1990s) and ‘L’Epervier Blue’ by Sirius (Max Mayeu), and they were soon supplemented by comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jije”. During World War II Jije legendarily drew the entire comic by himself, continuations of the banned US imports included, as well as assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created the current co-star Fantasio.

Except for a brief period when the Nazis closed the comic down (September 1943 to October 1944 when the Allies liberated Belgium) Spirou and its boyish star – now a globe-trotting reporter – have continued their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

Among the other myriad major features that began within those pages are ‘Jean Valhardi’ (Jean Doisy & Jije), ‘Blondin et Cirage’ (Victor Hubinon), Buck Danny, ‘Jerry Spring’, ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (AKA the Smurfs), Gaston Lagaffe (here seen as Gomer Goof) and a certain laconic cowboy named Lucky Luke.

Spirou the character (the name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous”) has starred in the magazine for most of its life, evolving – under a succession of creators – into a simultaneously urbane yet raucous fantasy/adventure hero with the accent heavily on light humour.

With comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac, Spirou travels to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During the War, when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jije who handed it to his assistant André Franquin in 1946. It was the start of a golden age.

Among Franquin’s innovations were villains Zorglub and Zantafio, Champignac and one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in this current English translation), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his departure in 1969 – was the incredible magic animal Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952). The little perisher is now a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums all his own.

From 1959 writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him. He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

As the series entered the 1980s Spirou seemed to stall: three discrete creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the creators of the graphic novel under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

These last adapted and referenced the beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984 and 1998. This one, Spirou et Fantasio 34 – Aventure en Australie from 1985, was their second.

Since their departure Lewis Trondheim, and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Yoann & Vehlmann, have brought the official album count to 55 (there also are a bunch of specials, spin-offs and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Without further ado we plunge straight into the bizarre, treasure-hunting drama as dire doings Down Under segue into Spirou and Fantasio arriving home exhausted from their latest assignment. They are intercepted by Cellophine at the airport: odd things are occurring in the depths of the Outback and the always-newsworthy Count of Champignac is right at the heart of it. Instantly awake again, all three jet out to Australia where nefarious deeds are occurring at the desolate Albuh Opal Mine.

The crazy inventor is there on the verge of a fabulous and incredible discovery far more precious than jewels, but the ruthless miners don’t seem that impressed, although they are worried by disappearing diggers, inexplicable accidents, men driven crazy and, if some observers are to be believed, levitating aborigines…

This classy blend of thrilling mystery, weird science, light adventure and broad slapstick remains a pure refreshing joy in a market far too full of adults-only carnage and testosterone-fuelled breast-beating. Easily accessible to readers of all ages drawn with all the welcoming style and panache that makes Asterix, Lucky Luke and Iznogoud so compelling and readily available in both paperback album and eBook formats, this is a cracking read and the start of a long line of translated epics that should be as much a household name as those series – and even Tintin himself…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1985 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2009 © Cinebook Ltd.