Krazy & Ignatz 1935-1936: “A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-690-5

The Krazy Kat cartoon strip is, for many of us, the pinnacle of graphic narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early comics industry to become an undisputed treasure of world literature. It’s 105 years old and should be known and loved by far more folk than it is. Also worth remarking is that it may be the strangest and most authentic love story in comics history…

Krazy and Ignatz, as Fantagraphics designated its sequence of glorious archival tomes, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. The feature evolved a unique language – at once both visual and verbal – to deal with the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding without ever offending anybody.

Sadly, however, it baffled far more than a few…

Never a strip for dull or unimaginative people who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex multi-layered verbal and pictorial whimsy, absurdist philosophy or the seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing, it’s still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced.

George Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when the cat and mouse who had been cropping up in his ever-evolving, outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature.

Krazy Kat debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s overpowering direct influence and hands-on interference – gradually spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as e.e. Cummings, Frank Capra, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and others) all adored the strip, most local and regional editors did not; many taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the comics section whenever they could.

Eventually the Kat found a home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by Hearst’s heavy-handed patronage, Krazy flourished, unharmed by editorial interference and fashion. One way or another and by hook or by crook Krazy ran – generally unmolested – until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The core premise is simple: Krazy Kat is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline of indeterminate gender hopelessly in love with rude, crude, brutal, mendacious, thoroughly scurrilous Ignatz Mouse.

Ignatz is a truly unreconstructed and probably irredeemable male; drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and children and always abusively responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick (obtained singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly). The smitten kitten invariably misidentifies these assaults as tokens of equally recondite affection.

The third crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is local cop Offissa Bull Pupp; a figure of honesty and stolid duty completely besotted with Krazy. Ever vigilant, he is professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung – by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour – from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to Pupp’s dilemma and has cast him eternally into what we now call the “Friend Zone”…

Crowding out the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as Joe Stork (dreaded deliverer of unplanned, and generally unwanted, babies); hobo Bum Bill Bee; unsavoury conman trickster Don Kiyoti; self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge; fussbudget busybody Pauline Parrot, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mokk Dukk; dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal krackers, all equally capable of stealing the limelight or even supporting their own strip features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (based on the artist’s Coconino County, Arizona vacation retreat) where absurdly surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of both flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art: wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo and Mexican art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language.

Those bizarre balloons and chaotic captions are crammed with florid verbiage: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“l’il dahlink”, “You is inwited to a ketnip potty or “so genteel, so riffime, so soba”)…

Yet for all that, these adventures are lyrical, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing all aspects of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops and other stars of silent slapstick comedies…

Krazy Kat’s resurgence started in the late 1970s when the strip was rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This top notch tinted tome – offering material from 1935-1936 – luxuriates in the switch to full colour (after decades of monochrome mirth and madness) under the sheltered safe-haven of a nationally-controlled Hearst comics insert package and manifests as a comfortably tactile paperback or eBook edition.

It was the first collection “Coalescing the Complete Full-Page Comics Strips, with the usual extra Rarities” such as candid photographs, contemporary press articles, toys, merchandise and even a 1916 original Krazy Kat page sublimely hand-tinted by Herriman to open this volume…

The precarious history of how these ultra-rare later strips were preserved and returned to print once more are detailed in Bill Blackbeard’s Introduction ‘Autumn Leaves: Herriman’s Klosing Kat Pages Revel in Fine Syndicate Kolur (But with a Briefly Blue Ignatz)’: supplemented by an examination of Herriman’s unclear – if not positively murky – past, potential ethnicity and the strip’s treatment of race issues in Jeet Heer’s article ‘The Kolors of Krazy Kat’.

Augmenting the journalism and sociology are a number of early strips plus a few magnificent painted pieces from the maestro, as well as a selection of merchandising treasures to ogle over and lust after…

The actual strip pages resume with June 1st 1935 – the colour provided by professional separators rather than Herriman – and pretty much pick up where the black and white feature left off.

We do, however, meet some new characters: perambulating elephants; an entrepreneurial cow; a Mocking Bird called Moggin Boid; doleful doggie and tax-dodging calf L’il Thinn Dyme and dismal dodo Dough Dough amongst others.

The most significant debuting presence is a thoroughly brutal bad guy dubbed “the Growler”. This deplorable mutt adds a frisson of dangerous gangsterism to the aura of domestic dispute and romantic disharmony. Although the surly bandit easily outmatches and cows Offisa Pupp, he is clearly no match for the tangled trio working what we’ll kindly designate as “together”…

Despite having to split his time between watching the mouse, confronting the Growler, administrating tax and dole crises and freeing the county of generalised sin and depravity, the lawdog soon settles into a comfortable pattern of wishful monitoring in these strips as Ignatz and Krazy perpetuate their bizarre romantic ritual. The Mouse constantly innovates in his obsessive desire to bean the Kat’s bonce: generally ending up in the cells whether successful or otherwise.

The Kat kontinues to await bad love’s brainbusting kiss, joyous of every kontusion and konkussion and deflated and woeful every time fate, cruel misfortune or the konstabulary aborts that longed for high-velocity assignation…

Pupp still proactively stalks and thwarts Ignatz, but as always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice and the perfect ambush spot hogs most pages, leading to many brick-based gags and increasing frustration amongst all involved.

The county lock-up remains a key component as escalating slapstick silliness frequently concludes with Ignatz in the dog’s “house”. Naturally, that just means the malign Mus Musculus maximising his malevolent efforts; regularly taking to the air or adopting uncanny disguises to achieve his aims…

New topics of interest and comedic provenance include the arrival of novel and challenging foodstuffs to the region – tortillas, water-melons and an assortment of fast foods. Also numbering amongst new arrivals and fresh phenomena are a film crew lensing authentic and reasonable romantic encounters, ghost sightings, unoccupied top hats, overly-effective hair restorers, a smoking ban, trick photography, beauty salons for pelt/skin tone reassignment procedures, boomerangs and strange lights in the sky…

Worst of all, with 1936 a Leap Year, the populace all seem to lose their bearings and become marriage mad even as Joe Stork – whose delivery of unexpected babies still brings dread responsibility and smug schadenfreude in equal amounts to all – expands his remit by becoming a self-appointed truant officer to Ignatz’ many progeny …

The region abounds with a copious coterie of confidence tricksters – a scurrilous sub-population which seems to grow weekly – but a new addition is a clique of nouveau riche billionaires and trillionaires seeking to increase their short-term assets before the year ends with a nasty outbreak of election fever and bogus prognostication…

As always there is a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora – especially the viciously ferocious coconuts and various cacti – for humorous inspiration, and bizarre weather plays a greater part in inducing anxiety and bewilderment. Strip humour was never more eclectic or indefinable…

Supplementing the cartoon gold and ending this slim tome is another erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed before the collection closes with a fabulous photo feature on possibly the very first Krazy Kat stuffed toy and a selection of pinback buttons (we Brits call them badges) from the 1910s-1930s.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a phenomenal achievement: in all the arenas of Art and Literature nothing has been seen like these comics which shaped our industry and creators: inspiring auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, all whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans on a daily and weekly basis.

If, however, you’re one of Them and not Us, or if you yet haven’t experienced this gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon concocted by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a supremely effective and accessible way to do so.
© 2005 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Daredevil Epic Collection: volume 2 1966-1968: Mike Murdock Must Die!


By Stan Lee, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1004-4

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him an astonishing acrobat, formidable fighter and living lie-detector. Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, mad scientists, robots and a plethora of super-villains (and – as seen in this collection – even the occasional monster or alien invasion), quipping and wise-cracking his way through life and life-threatening combat.

Covering November 1966 – June 1968 and re-presenting Daredevil #21-41, crossover issue Fantastic Four #73, Daredevil Annual #1 – plus a bonus comedy caper from Not Brand Echh #4 – this second compilation (in both trade paperback and eBook formats) sees a marked improvement in overall story quality as scripter Stan Lee begins utilising longer soap operatic plot-threads to string together the unique fight scenes of Colan, who gradually shook off the remnants of his predecessor’s art style.

In a very short time John Romita had made the Sightless Swashbuckler his own before graduating to Spider-Man, so when Colan took over on DD, he initially kept the clipped, solid, nigh-chunky lines for rendering the Man Without Fear, but increasingly drew everything else in his loose, fluid, near-tonal manner. With these tales, his warring styles coalesced and the result was literally poetry in non-stop motion…

Without preamble the action opens with ‘The Tri-Man Lives’ (Lee, Colan, Frank Giacoia & Dick Ayers), containing Gangland themes and malignant machinations whilst sharing focus with super-menaces The Gladiator and Masked Marauder, whose eponymous killer android proves less of a threat than expected…

The villains had sought control of international organised crime syndicate the Maggia but their master plan to murder the Man Without Fear to prove their worthiness to lead goes badly awry after the kidnapped hero refuses to simply lie down and die…

Concluding in #23 with ‘DD Goes Wild!’ the ending sees our hero trapped in Europe, but soon making his way to England and a violent reunion with Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar who has become prime suspect in #24’s chilling puzzle ‘The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker!’

This tale contains my vote for the Most Obnoxious Misrepresentation of Britain in Comicbooks Award as a policeman – sorry, “Bobby” – warns, “STAY BACK, PLEASE! THE MILITIA WILL BE ARRIVING IN JIG TIME!”

After clearing the jungle hero’s name, Matt Murdock heads back to America in time to enjoy the less-than-stellar debut of a certified second-rate super-villain as ‘Enter: The Leap-Frog!’ introduces a thief dressed like a frog with springs on his flippered feet (yes, really…).

However, the big event of the issue is meeting Matt’s hip and groovy twin brother Mike

By the time ‘Stilt-Man Strikes Again’ (DD #26, March 1967) Colan was totally in command of his vision and a leaner, moodier hero was emerging. The major push of the next few issues was to turn the hopeless romantic triangle of Matt, best friend and Law-firm partner Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page into a whacky quadrangle by introducing fictitious twin Mike Murdock, who would be “exposed” as Daredevil to divert suspicion from the blind attorney who actually battled all those weird villains…

Confused, much…?

Still skulking in the background, arch-villain Masked Marauder was slowly closing in on DD’s alter ego. He gets a lot closer in ‘Mike Murdock Must Die!’ (with Giacoia inks) after Stilt-Man teams with the Marauder and the ever-fractious Spider-Man once again clashes with old frenemy Daredevil before the villains meet their apparent ends.

The Sightless Swashbuckler “enjoys” his first encounter with extraterrestrials in #28’s moody one-trick-pony ‘Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Planet!’ – an Ayers-inked thriller wherein invading aliens’ blindness-inducing rays prove inexplicably ineffective against the Crimson Crime-crusher.

John Tartaglione inked the next tale, a solid, action-packed gangster-thriller entitled ‘Unmasked!’ whilst issue #30 opened a protracted and impressive clash with former Thor foes the Cobra and Mister Hyde. The bombastic first bout comes complete with an Asgardian cameo in ‘…If There Should Be a Thunder God!’

Attempting to catch the rampant super-criminals, DD masquerades as the Asgardian Avenger only to encounter the real McCoy. Sadly, the mortal hero is ambushed by the villains once the Thunderer departs and, as a result of the battle that follows loses his compensating hyper-senses. Thus, he must perpetrate a ‘Blind Man’s Bluff!’ which almost fools Cobra and Hyde…

Naturally, it all goes wrong before it all comes right and against all odds Murdock regains his abilities just in time ‘…To Fight the Impossible Fight!’

Ramping up the devilish derring-do is the first Daredevil Annual: a visually impressive if rather lacklustre rogues’ gallery riot from Lee, Colan & Tartaglione, detailing five old foes ganging up on Daredevil as ‘Electro and the Emissaries of Evil!’

The Scarlet Swashbuckler quickly puts a pretty definitive smack-down on the electric evildoer and his acrimonious allies the Matador, Gladiator, Stilt-Man and Leapfrog…

Of more interest are the ‘Inside Daredevil’ pages, explaining his powers, providing the ‘Blueprint for an All-Purpose Billy Club’ and recapping the Matt/Mike Murdock “Faked News” situation, plus offering stunning pin-ups of Karen, Foggy, Ka-Zar, DD and a host of old foes such as Gladiator, Leap Frog, The Owl and Masked Marauder.

Rounding out the experience is comedy short ‘At the Stroke of Midnight!: An Actual Unrehearsed Story Conference with (and by) Stan and Gene!’

In the monthly comicbook, ‘Behold the Beetle’ sees the entire cast – Foggy, Karen and Murdock in the guise of his own (fictitious) twin brother – heading to Canada for World’s Fair Expo ’67 and encountering another borrowed costumed crazy in search of easy glory and untold riches…

With Daredevil crushed and captive, the prospects look bleak north of the border, but Hornhead soon outsmarts and outfights his techno-savvy foe in stunning sequel ‘To Squash the Beetle!’

Once safely returned to the Big Apple, DD’s undeserved reputation as a mere costumed acrobat induces another fearsome felon to attack in ‘Daredevil Dies First!’ The sightless wonder is targeted by old Fantastic Four foe The Trapster, who considers his quarry a mere stepping-stone in an overly-complex plan to destroy the World’s premier super-team.

Murdock manages to turn the tables in #36’s ‘The Name of the Game is Mayhem!’ (inked by Giacoia): a clash that leaves the blind hero triumphant but weakened: easy prey for another FF arch-foe. Tartaglione was back to ink the startling ‘Don’t Look Now, But It’s… Doctor Doom!’

Helpless before the Iron Dictator, DD is trapped in ‘The Living Prison!’ (Giacoia inks) as Doom swaps bodies with the sightless crusader to facilitate his own sneak attack on the FF: a devilish ploy culminating in a stupendous Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott crafted clash in Fantastic Four #73. The crossover conclusion sees the Human Torch, Thing and Mr. Fantastic battling Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man in ‘The Flames of Battle…’

As always when involved in mind-swap cases, it’s perhaps most prudent to advise your friends when you defeat the bad guy and regain your original body…

The Man Without Fear finally found some of his own bad guys to bash in Daredevil #39 when old enemies the Ani-Men resurface with a new name and a different boss. Inked by George Tuska ‘The Exterminator and the Super-Powered Unholy Three’ reintroduces Bird-Man, Ape-Man and Cat-Man, now in the pay of a criminal genius working with time-based weapons, but the real meat of the tale is Foggy Nelson’s campaign to become New York City District Attorney.

That potential glittering prize is threatened, however, after the portly advocate unexpectedly revives his romantic relationship with ex-convict Deborah Harris, but at least now Matt Murdock’s only rival for Karen’s affections is “twin brother” Mike…

That story continued in #40 with DD banished to a timeless other-realm prison before leading to a spectacular cliffhanger in ‘The Fallen Hero!’ (inked by Tartaglione) before ending the only way it could with ‘The Death of Mike Murdock!’ as Matt takes advantage of his final catastrophic battle with the Exterminator to end the clumsy secret identity charade.

He still doesn’t come clean though, preferring to keep Daredevil’s secrets and let his friends grieve needlessly…

To Be Continued…

Rounding out the thrills and chills is a slice of exuberant slapstick schtick from Not Brand Echh #4 (November 1967) wherein Lee, Colan & Tartaglione again lampoon the romantic rollercoaster of Hoggy Nelson, Splat Murdock and secretary Miss Rage. Unable to win the comely lass Murdock decides on suicide by crook and as Scaredevil (the Man Who’s Scared of Fear) sets out to get ‘Defeated by the Evil Electrico!’

Other extras include original art pages and covers by Colan and the unused (presumed lost forever) original cover to DD #35, plus a Richard Isanove paint-augmented Colan cover originally seen as Daredevil Masterworks cover volume 3.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period The Man Without Fear blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart stories, human characters and magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.
© 1966, 1967, 1968, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

From Headrack to Claude – Collected Gay Comix of Howard Cruse


By Howard Cruse (Nifty Kitsch Press/Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-0-578-03251-1 (TPB)

It’s long been an aphorism – if not an outright cliché – that Gay (or we could be contemporary and say LGBTQ) comics have long been the only place in the graphic narrative business to see real romance in all its joy, pain, glee and glory.

It’s still true: an artefact, I suppose, of a society seemingly obsessed with demarcating and separating sex and love as two utterly different and possibly even opposite things. I prefer to think that here in the 21st century – at least in most sensible, civilised parts of it – we’ve outgrown the juvenile, judgemental, bad old days and can simply appreciate powerfully moving and/or funny comics about people of all sorts without any kind of preconception, but that battle’s still not completely won yet. Hopefully, compendia such as this will aid the fight…

Oh, and there’s sex and swearing so if you’re the kind of person liable to be upset by words and pictures of an adult nature (such as joyous, loving fornication between two people separated by age, wealth, social position and race who happily possess and constantly employ the same type of naughty bits on each other, or sly mockery of deeply-held, outmoded and ludicrous beliefs) then go away and read something else.

In fact, just go away: you have no romance in your soul or love in your heart.

Howard Cruse has enjoyed a remarkable cartooning career which has spanned decades and encompassed a number of key moments in American history and social advancement.

Beginning as a hippy-trippy, counter-culture, Underground Comix star with beautifully drawn, witty, funny (not always the same thing in those days – or now, come to think of it) strips, his work has evolved over the years into a powerful voice for change in both sexual and race politics through such superb features as Wendel and his masterpiece Stuck Rubber Baby – an examination of oppression, tolerance and freedoms in 1950s America.

Since then he has become a columnist, worked on other writers’ work, illustrating an adaptation of Jeanne E. Shaffer’s The Swimmer With a Rope In His Teeth and continued his own unique brand of cartoon commentary.

Born in 1944 the son of a Baptist Minister in Birmingham, Alabama, Cruse grew up amid the smouldering intolerance of the region’s segregationist regime; an atmosphere that shaped him on a primal level. He escaped to Birmingham-Southern College to study Drama in the late ’60s, graduating and winning a Shubert Playwriting Fellowship to Penn State University.

Campus life there never really suited him and he dropped out in 1969. Returning to the South he joined a loose crowd of fellow Birmingham Bohemians which allowed him to blossom as a creator and by 1971 was drawing a spectacular procession of strips for an increasingly hungry and growing crowd of eager admirers.

Whilst working for a local TV station as both designer and children’s show performer he created a kid’s newspaper strip about talking squirrels, Tops & Button, still finding time to craft the utterly whimsical and bizarre tales of a romantic quadrangle starring a very nice young man and his troublesome friends for the more discerning college crowd he remained in contact with. The strips appeared in a variety of college newspapers and periodicals

He was “discovered” by publishing impresario Denis Kitchen in 1972 who began disseminating Barefootz to a far broader audience in such Underground publications as Snarf, Bizarre Sex, Dope Comix and Commies From Mars: all published by his much-missed Kitchen Sink Enterprises outfit.

Kitchen also hired Cruse to work on an ambitious co-production with rising powerhouse Marvel Comics, attempting to bring a somewhat sanitised version of the counter-culture’s cartoon stars and sensibilities to the mainstream via The Comix Book: a traditionally packaged and distributed newsstand magazine. It only ran to a half-dozen issues and, although deemed a failure, provided the notionally more wholesome and genteel Barefootz with a larger audience and yet more avid fans…

As well as an actor, designer, art-director and teacher, Cruse has appeared in Playboy, The Village Voice, Heavy Metal, Artforum International, The Advocate and Starlog among countless others, yet the tireless storyman found the time and resources to self-publish Barefootz Funnies, two comic collections of his addictively whimsical strip in 1973.

Here in a captivatingly forthright grab-bag and memoir gathering the snippets and classics left out of previous must-have collections The Compete Wendel and Early Barefootz, Cruse traces his development through his cartoons and strips, all thoroughly and engagingly annotated and contextualised by the author himself and fondly, candidly explored through a backdrop of the men he loved at the time.

This book was originally self-published in 2008 and is now available digitally – with updates and extra material – from those wonderful people at Northwest Press.

Acting as an historical place-setter, Cruse’s informative ‘Preface’ sets the ball rolling, laconically tracing his artistic career and development and using domestic autobiographical strip ‘Communique’ (from Heavy Metal) as a smart indicator of his home life at the time before a more detailed exploration overview of the Queer comics scene in ‘From Miss Thing to Jane’s World’ before the book truly begins.

For a better, fuller understanding you’ll really want to see both the Wendell and Barefootz collections but for now we relive history in first chapter ‘Artefacts & Benchmarks’ Part 1: 1969-76 blending contextualising prose recollection with noteworthy strip ‘That Night at the Stonewall’, advertising art, abortive newspaper strip sample, an episode of Tops & Button, and other published work plus gay sitcom feature ‘Cork & Dork’.

An early example of advocacy comes from wry cartoon homily ‘The Passer-By’ before more reminiscences and picture extracts take us to an uncharacteristically strident and harsh breakthrough.

Preceded by explanatory sidebar ‘Backstory: Gravy on Gay’ we are introduced to Barefootz’, way-out friend confidante and openly gay hippy rebel Headrack in ‘Gravy on Gay’: in which the laid-back easy-going artist is confronted with the ugly, mouthy side of modern living as voiced by obnoxious jock jerk Mort

The march of progress continues in Artefacts & Benchmarks’ Part 2: 1976-80, detailing a variety of comics jobs from Dope Comix and Snarf to the semi-legitimacy of Playboy and Starlog and first meeting with life partner and eventual husband Eddie Sedarbaum before My Strips from Gay Comix 1980-90 traces his editorial career on the landmark anthology by reprints his own strip contributions.

It all begins with ‘Billy Goes Out’: recalling the joyous – or it that empty and tedious? – hedonistic freedoms of the days immediately before the AIDS crisis…

Incisive cloaked autobiographical fable ‘Jerry Mack’ takes us inside the turbulent mind of an ultra-closeted church minister in full regretful denial after which further heartbreak is called up in devious tragedy ‘I Always Cry at Movies…’ and home chores are dealt with in a manly manner in ‘Getting Domestic’.

Some historical and political insight is offered in ‘Backstory: Dirty Old Lovers’ before the outrageous and hilarious antics of the oldest lovers in town scandalise the Gay community in ‘Dirty Old Lovers’, whilst the thinking behind clarion call ‘Safe Sex’ is detailed in a ‘Backstory’ article prior to a straightforward examination of Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome and its effects on personal health and public consciousness…

Surreal comedy infuses the tale of a man’s man and his adored ‘Cabbage Patch Clone’ after which faux ad ‘I Was Trapped Naked inside the Jockey Shorts of the Amazing Colossal Man!’ and Matt Groening spoof ‘Gay Dorks in Fezzes’ closes this chapter to make way for Topical Strips 1983-93.

With Cruse’s particular brand of LGBT commentary reaching more mainstream audiences through publications such as The Village Voice, a brief ‘Backstory’ relates the author’s ultimately unnecessary anxiety to inviting in the wider world through polemical sally ‘Sometimes I Get So Mad’ and wickedly pointed social and media satire ‘The Gay in the Street’. Both that oracular swipe and ‘1986 – An Interim Epilogue’ are also deconstructed by Backstory segments (the latter being a 2-page addendum created for the Australian release of ‘Safe Sex’ in Art & Text magazine) before ‘Backstory: Penceworth’ reveals one of Margaret Thatcher’s vilest moments. In 1988 her government attempted to send back sexual freedom to the Stone Age (or Russia, Nigeria and other uncivilised countries today) by prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality”. The law in Britain – (un)popularly known as Clause 28 – was resisted on many fronts, including the benefit comic AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia). Invited to contribute, Cruse channelled Hillaire Belloc’s Cautionary Verses and excoriatingly assaulted the New Nazism with ‘Penceworth’: a charming illustrated poem like a spiked cosh snuggled inside a velvet slipper…

Luxuriating in righteous indignation and taking his lead from the New York Catholic Church’s militant stance against the LGBT community, Cruse then illuminated a supposed conference between ‘The Kardinal & the Klansman in Manning the Phone Bank’ and targeted similar anti-gay codicils in America’s National Endowment for the Arts in ‘Homoeroticism Blues’

Another Backstory explains how and why a scurrilous article in Cosmopolitan resulted in ‘The Woeful World of Winnie and Walt’ – a complacency-shattering tale in Strip AIDS USA pointedly reminding White Heterosexuals that the medical horror wasn’t as discriminating as they would like to believe…

That theme is revisited with the kid gloves off in ‘His Closet’, after which ‘Backstory: Rainbow Curriculum Comix’ and ‘The Educator’ clarify how School Board rabble-rouser Mary Cummings set back decades of progress in American diversity education through her oratorical witch hunts. Cruse’s potent responses ‘Rainbow Curriculum Comix’ and ‘The Educator’ follow…

Cruse has been relatively quiet in recent years, and the artist’s Late Entries 2000-08 follow, including a full-colour rebuttal fromm Village Voice to Dr. Bruce Bagemihl’s study on animal homosexuality. ‘A Zoo of Our Own’ is accompanied by a fulsome Backstory and is followed by wry and engaging modern fable ‘My Hypnotist’ and semi-autobiographical conundrum ‘Then There Was Claude’ before the bemused wonderment wraps up with prose article ‘I Must Be Important ‘Cause I’m in a Documentary (2011)’ and a superb Batman pin-up/put down…

This is a superb compilation: smart, funny, angry when needful and always astonishingly entertaining.
© 1976-2008 Howard Cruse. All rights reserved.

For further information and great stuff check out Howardcruse.com

Tramps Like Us volume 1


By Yayoi Ogawa (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 978-1-595321-39-8

Returning to TV screens in 2017 – for the second adaptation since the manga originally debuted – this intriguing, introspective love story offers a beguiling and surprisingly tasteful exploration of modern relationships at the margins of societal norms.

Eventually wracking-up 14 collected volumes, the series originated from stand-alone story ‘Pet’ published in the June 2000 issue of Kiss Carnival. It quickly reappeared in expanded form in Kiss as ‘Kimi wa Pet’: running to 82 chapters between December 2000 and October 2005.

The serial was a global comics hit, translated into many languages and spawning a Japanese live action TV drama series airing in 2003 and a South Korean movie in 2011 plus – as previously mentioned – a new television iteration.

Sumire Iwaya is a thoroughly modern woman, with a good job, promising prospects and all her priorities properly sorted. But like so many career women – especially in Japan – the romantic side of her life is problematic.

Comfortably situated but still recovering from a messy affair with the boss’s son, she is constantly evaluating her admittedly high relationship standards. What this actually means is that most of the time now she’s tired, stressed and terribly, terribly lonely.

For no reason she can explain then, when she one day discovers a beautiful young man inhabiting a dumpster, Sumire grudgingly gives him shelter in her home. The full-grown waif appears to be an utter innocent: vital, energetic and totally without guile – or manners…

Fed up with her life and with the kind of men she seems to attract, the salary woman enters into a bizarre pact with the vagrant. Naming him Momo – after a dog she had as a child – Sumire adopts him as her secret pet.

She will feed, bathe and pamper him in return for companionship, warmth and the kind of unconditional love only an animal can provide.

But what is “unconditional”? As her life proceeds, with friends, career and even a new boyfriend all piling their respective pressures on, her secret pet increasingly becomes her only haven of contentment. But Momo is not a dumb animal. He has his own life no matter how ardently he might seek to deny it….

And in this classic When Harry Met Sally dilemma the couple are being compelled by their own incessantly and increasingly inharmonious natures to reassess their relationship and thereby endanger the only emotional refuge each can retreat to…

Sharp, charming and strikingly drawn, this out-of-print saga is long-overdue for revival: a proper grown-up comics story that manages to be mature and sophisticated whilst still being decorous.
© 2000, 2004 Yayoi Ogawa. All Rights Reserved.

The Batman Adventures: Mad Love Deluxe Edition


By Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, with Rick Taylor & Tim Harkins (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5512-1

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comicbook character. As soon became apparent, however, the manic minx always has her own astoundingly askew and off-kilter ideas on the matter… and any other topic you could name: ethics, friendship, ordnance, true love…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough television cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley Quinn was first seen as the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992) where she instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers. From there on she began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comicbook and – always stealing the show – soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity.

After a period bopping around the DCU she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover and appeared as part of a new gritty-but-still-crazy iteration of the Suicide Squad, but at heart she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Re-presenting the 1994 one-shot Batman Adventures: Mad Love, this slight and breezy hardcover is made up of mostly recycled material – including writer Paul Dini’s comfortably inviting Foreword and co-plotter/illustrator Bruce Timm’s effusive and candidly informative ‘Mad Love Afterword’.

However, a truly unmissable bonus treat for art-lovers and all those seeking technical insight (perhaps with a view to making comics or animation their day job) is the illustrator’s full monochrome ‘Original Layouts for The Batman Adventures: Mad Love’; displaying how the story materialised page by page; previous and variant covers to earlier editions and unused painted back cover art plus highly detailed, fully-annotated colour guides for the complete story offering a perfect “How To…” lesson for aspiring creators…

All that being said though, what we want most is a great story, and the magnificently madcap mayhem commences here as Police Commissioner James Gordon heads to the dentist. When Batman easily foils the Joker’s latest manic murder attempt, the mountebank of Mirth pettishly realises he’s lost his inspirational spark.

He’s therefore in no mood for lasciviously whining lapdog Harley’s words of comfort or flirtatious pep talks…

As the Dark Knight reviews his files on the Joker’s girlfriend and ponders on how Harleen Frances Quinzel breezed through college and came away with a psychology degree that got her a position at Arkham Asylum, the larcenous lady in question has gone too far in the Joker’s lair. The trigger was comforting sympathy and telling her “precious pudden” how his baroque murder schemes could be improved…

Kicked out and almost killed (again), Harleen harks back to her first meeting with the devilishly desirable crazy clown and how they instantly clicked. She fondly recalls how her original plan to psychoanalyse the Joker and write a profitable tell-all book was forgotten the moment she fell under his malign spell to become his adoring, willing and despised slave…

She also realises that Batman quickly scotched their budding eternal love by capturing the grinning psycho-killer she secretly aided and abetted, both before and after she created her own costumed alter ego…

In fact, Batman always spoils her dreams and brutalises her adored “Mistah J”! It’s long past time she took care of him forever…

Driven by desperation and fuelled by passion, Harley Quinn swipes one of the Joker’s abortive schemes and tweaks it, and before long the Gotham Gangbuster is duped, doped, bound and destined for certain doom.

Sadly, the triumphant Little Woman hasn’t reckoned on how her barmy beloved will react when he learns she has done in mere hours what he’s failed to accomplish over many bitter years…

Coloured by Rick Taylor and lettered by Tim Harkins, the classy and classically staged main feature plays very much like a 1940s noir blend of morbid melodrama and cunning crime caper – albeit with outrageous over-the-top gags, sharply biting lines of dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action – and easily qualifies as one of the top five bat-tales of all time.

A frantic, laugh-packed hoot that manages to be daring and demure by turns, Mad Love is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dear Beloved Stranger


By Dino Pai (Urban-Fairy Tales/Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-271-5

The search for transcendent love is a primal drive in almost every human being, but so are the equally obsessive passions to find one’s station in the world and accomplish great deeds. What happens when none of those quests seem to be progressing or, even worse, when they seem to be implacably at odds?

In 2013 this stunning, Xeric Award-winning debut addressed just such thorny issues in an intimately candid and introspective manner. Solitary, intense, dedicated Dino has just finished art school and ponders where his now directionless life is heading next. His search for work and zeal for creation hasn’t left much time for a social life and he has developed a novel coping mechanism. Moreover, now that he’s on his own inspiration also seems to have died…

Somewhere Out There is a soulmate: His Girl patiently waiting to be found, but until that happens, Dino writes notes sharing his life, thoughts and dreams, folds them into paper airplanes and trusts the breeze and fate to take them to where they need to be…

One directionless day when he’s restocking supplies, he finds former classmate Cathy temping at the art store while she saves up for fashion school. It makes him realise everyone is progressing but him and he resolves to try harder to make and enact choices.

And somewhere across the city, Cindy finds a crumpled-up paper plane in the street…

They meet again at an art show and her casually spoken neutral words somehow inspire him. Returning home, he stares at the picture of the beautiful Japanese pop star on his wall and starts to create a story: a comic book tale of a boy’s journey…

It starts with a siren song calling him. He hears and climbs through a keyhole, following ever-onwards through strange, perilous and uncanny regions. Along the way he encounters friendly animals who help him survive unnatural perils…

As the work laboriously nears completion it completely consumes Dino, but still, somehow, whenever he leaves his room and re-enters the real world, Cathy is there…

Slowly his two existences drift together…

Crafted in a dazzling variety of styles, techniques and media, Dear Beloved Stranger superbly captures that all-consuming hunger for the indefinable something every frustrated would-be lover feels must be out there somewhere; translating that debilitating absence into a candid examination every person in search of human completion has ever endured.

Sweet, sharp, sour and ultimately enlightening, this is a story for all lovers, would-be lovers and lovers of what might be.
© 2013 Shih-Mu Dino Pai. All rights reserved.

Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics


By Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, restored & edited by Michael Gagné (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-502-0

Comics dream team Joe Simon & Jack Kirby presaged and ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just with the Romance genre, but through all manner of challenging modern graphic dramas about real people in extraordinary situations… before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

Their small stable of magazines – produced for the loose association of companies known as Prize/Crestwood/Pines – blossomed and wilted as the comics industry contracted throughout the 1950s.

As the popularity of flamboyant escapist superheroes waned after World War II, newer yet more familiar genres like Crime, Westerns and Horror returned to the fore in popular entertainment media, as audiences increasingly rejected simplistic, upbeat or jingoistic fantasy for grittier, more sober themes.

Some comicbook material, such as Westerns or anthropomorphic “Funny Animals”, hardly changed at all, but gangster and detective tales were utterly radicalised by the temperament of the post-war world.

Stark, uncompromising, cynically ironic novels and socially aware, mature-themed B-movies that would be later defined as Film Noir offered the post-war civilian society a bleakly antiheroic worldview that often hit too close to home and set fearful, repressive, middle-class parent groups and political ideologues howling for blood.

Naturally the new forms and sensibilities seeped into comics, transforming good-natured, two-fisted gumshoe and Thud-&-Blunder cop strips of yore into darkly intriguing, frightening tales of seductive dames, last chances, big pay-offs and glamorous thuggery.

Sensing imminent Armageddon, the moral junkyard dogs bayed even louder as they saw their precious children’s minds under seditious attack…

Concurrent to the demise of masked mystery-men, industry giants Simon & Kirby – who were already capitalising on the rapidly growing True Crime boom – legendarily invented the genre of comicbook Romance with mature, beguiling, explosively contemporary social dramas equally focussed on the changing cultural scene and adult-themed relationships. They also, with very little shading, discussed topics of a sexual nature…

After testing the waters with the semi-comedic prototype My Date for Hillman in early 1947, Joe & Jack plunged in full force with Young Romance #1 in September of that year. It launched through for Crestwood Publications: a minor outfit which had been creating (as Prize Comics) interesting but not innovative comics since 1940.

Following Simon’s plan to make a new marketplace out of the grievously ignored older girls of America, they struck gold with stories addressing serious issues and hazards of relationships…

Not since the invention of Superman had a single comicbook generated such a frantic rush of imitation and flagrant cashing-in. Young Romance #1 was a monumental hit and the team acted accordingly: swiftly expanding, they released spin-offs Young Love (February 1949), Young Brides and In Love, all under a unique profits-sharing deal that quickly paid huge dividends to the publishers, creators and a growing studio of specialists.

All through that turbulent period comicbooks suffered impossibly biased oversight and hostile scrutiny from hidebound and panicked old guard institutions such as church groups, media outlets and ambitious politicians.

A number of tales and titles garnered especial notoriety from those conservative, reactionary doom-smiths and when the industry buckled and introduced a ferocious Comics Code, it castrated the creative form just when it most needed boldness and imagination.

Comics endured more than a decade and a half of savagely doctrinaire self-imposed censorship until changing youthful attitudes, society in crisis and plummeting profits forced the art form to adapt, evolve or die.

Those tales all come from a simpler time: exposing society in meltdown and suffering cultural PTSD and are pretty mild by modern standards of behaviour but the quality of art and writing make those pivotal years a creative highpoint well worthy of a thorough reassessment.

In 1947, fictionalising True Crime Cases was tremendously popular and profitable, and of the assorted outfits that generated such material nobody did it better than S&K. That technique of first-person confession also perfectly applied to just-as-uncompromising personal sagas from a succession of archetypal women and girls who populated their new comicbook smash.

Their output as interchangeable writers, pencillers and inkers (aided from early on by Joe’s brother-in-law Jack Oleck in the story department) was prodigious and astounding. Nevertheless, other hands frequently pitched in, so although these tales are all credited to S&K, art-aficionados shouldn’t be surprised to detect traces of Bill Draut, Mort Meskin, Al Eadeh, George Roussos or other stalwarts lurking in the backgrounds…

Michelle Nolan’s ‘Introduction’ for this rousing full-colour hardback (available in eBook format should you prefer) deftly analyses the scope and meteoric trajectory of the innovation and its impact on the industry before the new era opens with ‘Boy Crazy’ (from Young Romance #2,1947) wherein a flighty teenager with no sense of morality steals her aunt’s man with appalling consequences…

From the same issue, Her Tragic Love’ delivers a thunderbolt of melodrama as an amorous triangle encompassing a wrongly convicted man on death row presents one woman with no solution but the final one…

Scripted by Oleck, ‘Fraulein Sweetheart…’ (YR #4, 1948) reveals dark days but no happy endings for two German girls eking out existence in the American-occupied sector of post-war Marburg whilst ‘Shame’ – from issue #5 – deals with an ambitious, social-climbing young lady too proud to acknowledge her own scrub-woman mother whenever a flashy boyfriend comes around.

Next is ‘The Town and Toni Benson’ from Young Romance #11 – contemporarily designated volume 2, #5, 1949 – which offers a sequel to ‘I Was a Pick-Up’ from the premiere issue (which tale is confusingly included in the sequel to this volume Young Romance 2: The Early Simon & Kirby).

Here S&K cleverly build on that original tale, creating a soap opera environment which could so easily have spawned a series as the now-newlywed couple struggle to make ends meet under a wave of hostile public scrutiny…

On a roll, the creative geniuses began mixing genres. Western Love #2, (1948) provides ‘Kathy and the Merchant of Sunset Canton!’ as a city slicker finds his modern mercenary management style makes him no friends in cowboy country – until one proud girl takes a chance on getting to know him – after which ‘Sailor’s Girl!’ (Young Romance #13/Vol. 3, #1 1949) picks over the troubles of an heiress who marries a dauntless sea rover working for Daddy. She is confident that she can tame or break her man’s wild, free spirit…

We head out yonder once more to meet ‘The Perfect Cowboy!’ (Real West Romances # 4 1949) – at least on set – a well as the simple sagebrush lass whose head he briefly turns, before social inequality and petty envy inform the brutally heavy-handed ‘I Want Your Man’ (Young Romance #21/Vol. 3, #9 1950) wherein a young woman of meagre means realises almost too late the cost of her vendetta against a pretty little rich girl…

In the name of variety ‘Nancy Hale’s Problem Clinic’ (Young Romance #23/Vol. 3, #11, 1950) offers a brief dose of sob-sister advice as “treatment for the troubled heart” before the romantic rollercoaster rides resume with ‘Old Fashioned Girl’ (YR #34/Vol. 4, #10 1951) as a forceful young woman raised by her grandmother slowly has her convictions about propriety challenged by intriguing men and her own barely subsumed passions, whereas ‘Mr. Know-It-All Falls in Love’ (Young Love #37/Vol. 7, #10 1952) takes a rare opportunity to speak with a male narrator’s voice as a buttoned-down control freak decides that with his career in order it’s time to marry. But who’s the best prospect?

Another of those pesky lovers’ triangles then results in one marriage, one forlorn heartbreak, war, vengeance and a most appropriate ‘Wedding Present!’ (Young Love #50/Vol. 5, #8 1953) before this cleverly conceived chronicle takes a conceptual diversion – after one last tale from the same issue – detailing the all-business affair of ‘Norma, Queen of the Hot Dogs’ and her (at first) strictly platonic partner…

In 1955 the Comics Code Authority began its draconian bowdlerising of the industry’s more mature efforts and the Romance titles especially took a big conceptual hit. The edgy stories became less daring and almost every ending was a happy one – for the guy or the parents at least.

Following a superbly extensive ‘Cover Gallery’ featuring a dozen of the most evocative images from those wild and free early years ‘The Post-Code Era’ re-presents the specific conditions affecting romantic relations from the censorious document, followed by a selection of the yarns S&K and their team were thereafter reduced to producing.

Even the art seems less enthusiastic for the wholesome, unchallenging episodes which begin with ‘Old Enough to Marry!’ (Young Romance #80/Vol. 8, #8, 1955) wherein a young man confronts his grizzled cop dad. The patriarch has no intention of letting his son make a mess of his life…

Next, a maimed farmer tries to sabotage the budding romance between his once-faithful girlfriend and the brilliant good-looking doctor who cured him in ‘Lovesick’ from the same issue.

The following four tales all originated in Young Romance #85/Vol. 10, #1 1956, beginning with ‘Lizzie’s Back in Town’ as a strong, competent girl returns home to let Daddy pick her husband for her (no, really!); two guys fight and the winner gets the girl in ‘Lady’s Choice’ whilst another, less frenzied duel results in a ‘Resort Romeo’ marrying the girl of everybody’s dreams even as ‘My Cousin from Milwaukee’ exposes a gold-digger and reserves her handsome relative for herself…

The anodyne antics mercifully conclude with ‘The Love I Lost!’ (Young Romance #90/Vol. 12, #3, 1959) wherein another hospital case realises just in time that the man she wants is not the man she deserves…

This emotional rollercoaster is supplemented with a number of well-illustrated bonus features including ‘Why I Made this Book’, ‘Simon and Kirby’s Romance Comics: A Historical Overview’; a splendid selection of S&K’s pioneering ‘Photo Covers’ (18 in all) and a fascinating explanation of the process of artwork-rehabilitation in ‘About the Restoration’.

The affairs then wrap up with the now-traditional ‘Biographies’ section.

Simon & Kirby took much of their tone – if not actual content – from movie melodramas of the period (such as Mr. Skeffington, All About Eve or Mildred Pierce or Noir romances like Blonde Ice or Hollow Triumph) and, unlike what we might consider suitable for romantic fiction today, their stories crackled with tension, embraced violent action and were infested with unsavoury characters and vicious backstabbing, gossiping hypocrites.

Happily, those are the tales which mostly fill most of this book, making for an extremely engaging, strikingly powerful and thoroughly addictive collection of great yarns by brilliant masters of the comics arts: and one no lover (of the medium) should miss…
Young Romance: The Best of Simon & Kirby’s Romance Comics © 2012 Fantagraphics Books Inc. Introduction © 2012 Michelle Nolan Schelly. All rights reserved.

One Year Affair


By Byron Preiss & Ralph Reese (Workman Publishing Co.)
ISBN: 978-0-91110-486-8

It seems cruel to point it out if you’re currently unpartnered or between dalliances, but love is in the air at this time of year. It’s also wise to reiterate that even though your grand passion is comics, maybe your current inamorata is more indulgent and understanding than equally addicted to masks, tights or batmobiles…

So, even though we’re going to be talking romantic comics for the next week, why not consider flowers (and not from a garage forecourt), exotic excursions or shopping somewhere other than a comicbook store over the next few days?

Before beginning his own attempts to invent the Graphic Novel, Byron Preiss worked on a number of projects including a comic strip for the American humour magazine National Lampoon. With celebrated cartoonist and illustrator Ralph Reese he produced a wry, charming and oddly engaging examination of the contemporary dating scene, circa 1973.

Steve is just some guy and his casual meeting with the so-with-it, so-sexy Jill over a dropped feminine hygiene product leads to a funny, quirky and thoroughly readable modern romance of the type we’d call a RomCom nowadays.

From one-night stands to open relationships, through engagements to the ending (and I’m not telling you just in case you find a copy of this criminally overlooked and out-of-print item) this little treat shows with crushing warmth and superbly beguiling artwork (like Mort Drucker meeting Jack Davis with Wally Wood and Dick Giordano doing the catering) how human mating rituals have never really changed since men eschewed Big Wooden Clubs and tried to grow “A Good Sense of Humour” instead.

A genuine lost masterpiece of sequential narrative, the strip and this collection was followed up by tragically uncompleted sequel Two Year Affair. Just like true love for most carbon-based lifeforms it was simply destined not to be…

Still you can always console yourself with this book, a big box of tissues and gallons of chocolate ice cream…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 Byron Preiss Visual Publications, Inc., by arrangement with Ralph Reese & Byron Preiss. All rights reserved.

Manga Sutra – Futari H, Volume 1: Flirtation


By Katsu Aki (Katsuaki Nakamura) (Tokyopop)
ISBN: 978-1-4278-0536-2

I don’t think I’ve offended anybody for a while now, so with St. Valentine’s Day fast approaching I think we’re about due.

Therefore, if you are made uncomfortable, easily offended or embarrassed by the mention of graphic cartoon nudity and sexual situations, or if you have any problems at all with the oddly coy forthrightness of manga, please skip this review and move on.

Otherwise this peculiar coagulation of earnest soap opera and sexual self-help manual might be worth a moment of your attention. You might even be interested and want to see more…

Billed as “the best-selling sex guide from Japan” this initial volume – of at least 5 to my knowledge – is more accurately a sweet but explicit soap-opera love-story – albeit related in a staggeringly clinical-yet-chatty manner.

Makota and Yura are just married, but unbeknownst to each other, both still virgins. In short narrative episodes we follow their stumbling first steps to a healthy sex life, peppered with diagrams, statistics and a disturbingly jolly commentary. And lots of hilarity…

The act and any experience-improving techniques themselves are almost of secondary importance to the telling of a sweet and innocent RomCom yarn, with unsubtly-vamping co-workers, interfering know-it-all siblings and inquisitive parents all incessantly queuing up with advice and questions and inevitably making an embarrassing situation agonisingly worse…

There’s lots of nudity and oddly graphic-yet-(self)-censored copulation on show (neither male nor female primary sexual organs are ever depicted – it’s assumed you already know what they look like and besides, the Japanese consider their depiction to be in poor taste) but in no way does this resemble any Western style of “How-to-Do-It” (better) manual where the emphasis is on dispassionate, clinical education and task-oriented elucidation.

Of course, I’m just guessing about the last bit – I’ve never needed a manual or even a map in my life, no, not me, nope, Nuh-Uh…

Seriously, though, this isn’t so much an educational experience as much as a fascinating and beautifully drawn insight into the acceptable face of Japanese sexuality, and as such has lots to recommend it.

Which I do, as long as you’re old enough and promise to stop sniggering…
© 1996 KATSUAKI. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2008 TOKYOPOP Inc.

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-60-9

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down – or rather digs up – famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this timely themed collection is dedicated to quizzing a selection of famous, infamous and “why-aren’t-they-household names?” women from history in what would probably be their own – post-mortem – words…

Be warned, as we celebrate 100 years of female suffrage and you absorb these hysterical histories, you may say to yourself again and again “but… that’s not FAIR…”

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Hatshepsut: Pharaoh 1507-1458 BCE’, tracing her reign and achievements and why her name and face were literally erased from history for millennia.

As ever, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a crucial aspect of their lives such as here where ‘Temple Complex’ diligently details the controversial pharaoh’s astounding and colossal “Holy of Holies”: the Djeser-Djeseru Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

‘Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician & Philosopher 360s-415’ sketches out the incredible accomplishments, appalling treatment and tragic fate of the brilliant teacher and number-cruncher, and is supplemented here by a smart lesson in the almost-mystical concept of ‘The Golden Ratio’.

Throughout all civilisations, (mostly male) historians have painted powerful women with extremely unsavoury reputations and nasty natures. Just this once, however, the facts seem to confirm that ‘Irene of Athens: Empress of Byzantium 752-803’ was every bit as bad as her detractors described her. Her atrocious acts against friends, foes and her own son Constantine are offset in the attendant fact-feature ‘Spin Class’ revealing how Irene employed religious industrial espionage to break China’s millennial monopoly on silk production, complete with detailed breakdown of how the Byzantine silk trade worked…

Every comic reader or fantasy fan is familiar with the idea of women warriors but the real-life prototype for them all was the great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. ‘Khutulun: Wrestling Princess 1260-1300s’ refused to be married off unless a suitor could defeat her in the Mongolian grappling martial art Bökh. So effective a fighter, archer and strategist was she, that the Khan appointed her his Chief Military Advisor and even nominated her his successor on his deathbed – an honour and can of worms she wisely sidestepped to become a power behind the throne.

Her incredible account is backed-up by an in-depth peek into the ferocious wrestling style she dominated in ‘Mongolian Moves’ after which ‘Joan of Arc: Saint 1412-1431’ explains how it all went wrong for her in asks-&-answers ‘How Do You Become a Saint?’

On more familiar ground, ‘Elizabeth I: Queen of England 1533-1603’ recounts her glorious reign and explains the how and why of her power dressing signature appearance in ‘A Killer Look!’ whilst transplanted near-contemporary ‘Pocahontas: Powhattan Princess 1596-1617’ shares the true story of her life before ‘Sad Ending, Continued…’ discloses the ultimate fate of her tribe at the hands of English Settlers.

Another astonishing character you’ve probably never heard of, ‘Julie D’Aubigny: Swashbuckler 1670-1707’ was a hell-raising social misfit who scandalised and terrorised the hidebound French Aristocracy. The daughter of a fencing teacher, she fought duels, broke laws, travelled wherever she wanted to, enjoyed many lovers – male and female – and even sang with the Paris Opera (now that’s a movie biopic I want to see!). What else could she offer as a sidebar but a lesson on duelling for beginners in ‘Question of Honour’?

‘Granny Nanny: Resistance Fighter 1686-1755’ started life as an Ashanti Princess, but after being taken to Jamaica s a slave, organised the ragtag runaways known as Maroons into an army of liberation. The workings of her rainforest citadel Nanny Town (now Moore Town) is explored in ‘Fortresses of Freedom’ after which a more sedate battle against oppression is undertaken with the interrogation of ‘Jane Austen: Novelist 1775-1817’, complete with cartoon precis of her subversive masterpiece ‘Pride & Prejudice (The Corpse Talk Version)’

‘Ching Shih: Pirate Queen 1775-1844’ tells of another woman who beat all the odds and has since faded from male memory: a young girl kidnapped by China Seas pirates who rose to become their leader. Ravaging the Imperial coast, she created an unshakable pirate code that benefitted the poor, outsmarted the Emperor and ultimately negotiated a pardon for herself and all her men and lived happily ever after! That salty sea saga is accompanied by the lowdown and technical specs on ‘Punks in Junks’ and followed by another bad girl with a good reputation.

‘Princess Caraboo: Con-Artist 1791-1864’ was never the Malayan royal refugee British High Society was captivated by, but rather a Devonshire serving maid who made the most of outrageous fortune and quick wits. Her story is backed up by a delightful opportunity to forge your own faux identity with ‘Caraboo’s Character Creation Course!’

Far more potent and worthy exemplars, ‘Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist 1822-1913’ ferried more than 300 of her fellow slaves from Southern oppression to freedom in America and what we now call Canada, supplemented here by a detailed breakdown of ‘The Underground Railway’ before emancipation martyr ‘Emily Wilding Davison: Suffragette 1872-1913’ shares her brief troubled life and struggle to win women the right to vote and participatory roles in society, backed up by an absolutely unmissable graphic synopsis of the long struggle in ‘A Brief History of Women’s Rights’

Someone who made every use of those hard-won concessions was ‘Nellie Bly: Journalist 1864-1922’, whose sensational journalistic feats and headline-grabbing stunts made her as newsworthy as her many scoops. One of the most impressive was beating Jules Verne’s fictional miracle of modernity by voyaging for ‘72 Days Around the World’ – as seen in the gripping sidebar spread – whereas the career of ‘Amy Johnston: Aviator 1903-1941’ was cut tragically short by bad luck and male intractability. Her flying triumphs are celebrated through a fascinating tutorial on her preferred sky-chariot the ‘De Havilland Gypsy Moth’.

The short and tragic life of ‘Anne Frank: Journalist 1864-1922’ follows, complimented by a detailed breakdown of the secret hideout and necessary tactics employed to conceal Anne, her family and friends in ‘The Secret Annex’.

Thankfully closing on an emotional high note, the rags to riches, riches to rags to riches life of dancer, comedian, freedom fighter and social activist ‘Josephine Baker: Entertainer 1906-1975’ details the double rollercoaster life of a true star and closes this book with her teaching the secrets of how to ‘Dance the Charleston’.

Clever, moving, irreverently funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, spiritualist or dearly departed go-getter…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Women will be released on 1st March 2018 and is available for pre-order now.