Ghosts and Ruins

By Ben Catmull (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-678-2 (HB)

If you know the works of Sidney Sime and Edward Gorey, the horror comics of Bernie Wrightson and Michael Kaluta or simply love to peer through your interlocked fingers at the films of Tim Burton or the creepy backgrounds in Charles Addams creations, you’re clearly an aficionado of silly, spooky business and know mordant fantasy plays best when played for laughs.

With that in mind, you might be interested in this macabrely monochrome coffee-table art book (and also digital formats) from cartoonist Ben Catmull (Monster Parade, Paper Theater) which classily celebrates the stuff of nauseating, stomach-churning terror and sinister, creeping suspense in a series of eerie illustrated plates crafted in scratchboard on Masonite… for extra-spooky darkness!

All that audaciously arcane art is wedded to epigrammatic prose snippets to comprise tantalising skeletons of stories best left untold and consequences safely ajudged as unimaginable…

The engrossing landscape hardback (268 x 222mm) combines gloomy gothic imagery with wry and witty updates on uncanny situations in a procession of locations best left well enough alone, and commences with six views of the dank domicile of diabolical ‘Drowned Shelley’ and a single ghastly glimpse of ‘The Buried House’.

A queasy quartet then divulges the doings of the ‘The Disgusting Garden’, after which one peek at ‘The Secluded House’ leads inexorably to a triptych revealing ‘The Woman Outside the Window’

Four frightful frames of ‘Wandering Smoke’ roam towards ‘The Order of the Shadowy Finger’ – five in full – before giving way to three glimpses of ‘The Lighthouse’; a visit to a domicile all ‘Hair and Earwigs’ and thence to numerous views of the monstrous masterpieces hewn by horrific revenant ‘The Sculptor’

On view is the ‘Labyrinth of Junk’ once concocted by a demonic carpenter, but that is as nothing compared to the sheer terror of ‘The Crawling House’ and the ghastly practises of a ‘Lonely Old Spinster’

Mordantly blending bleak, spectral dread and anxious anticipation with timeless scary scenarios, this terrifying tease is a sheer delight no lover of Dark Art could conceivably resist…
© 2013 Ben Catmull. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance

By Lizzy Stewart (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN:978-1-910395-50-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartwarming and Thought Provoking… 9/10

Assuming you do still think, where do you go and what do you do to get in touch with yourself? I only ask because, in these days of a million and one ways to chemically, digitally functionally and emotionally sedate the mind, one the most effective ways to process information is still a good long walk…

Thirty-something artist Lizzy Stewart lives in London and Shanks’ Pony is not only how she manages city life but is also a physical act which seemingly obsesses her. She even keeps a list of favourite movie walks by a host of female stars that fit all her personal criteria for moments of perfection…

Walking Distance is a meandering meditation on right here, right now, utilising a stunning sequence of painted views of what she sees on her various perambulations – a stunning travelogue of London literally at ground level – wedded to tracts of text graciously sharing her innermost, scattershot thoughts and deliberations on notions that trouble women (and perhaps the odd man or two) today.

All the bugbears trot along: getting by, success and failure, body issues, direction and achievement, growing up and growing old, family pressures, norms of behaviour, unfair expectations, balances of power in gender relationships and what the future holds in store…

Naturally – and shamefully for us men – a large proportion of that menu includes concerns about personal safety and a right to privacy and agency in public. There’s isn’t a woman anywhere who hasn’t had a walk marred at some moment after apprehensively anticipating what a complete stranger in the vicinity might abruptly say or do…

Happily, the grim is balanced by the delightful: ponderings on art and work, a sense of home space and just the sheer joy of observing the fresh and new as well as the comfortingly familiar. There’s even room for intimate views of personal history and opinion, yet the overall progress is always hopeful, tending towards examination rather than hasty judgement or solutions and in the direction the walker chooses…

This beguiling stroll offers a blend of philosophy, anxiety and anticipation, all brainstormed as she – and you, if you can keep up – strides ever onward.

Clearly, walks do anything but clear your head, but can result in beautiful visual ruminations like this one: no glib sound-bite responses, no roles modelled and no solutions, but you can consider this a privileged personal chat while she walks and you don’t.
© Lizzy Stewart, 2019. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance will be published on October 24th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

The Thirteenth Floor volume 01

By John Wagner, Alan Grant & José Ortiz (Rebellion)
ISBN:978-1-78108-653-7 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Seasonal Sensation… 9/10

It’s time for another shamble down memory lane for us oldsters whilst, perhaps, offering a fresh, untrodden path for younger fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback (and eBook) package is another knockout nostalgia-punch from Rebellion Studios’ superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting the opening episodes of seminal shocker The Thirteenth Floor.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Scream and ran the distance – spanning all 15 issues from 24th March – 30th June 1984. It then survived the comic’s premature cancelation and subsequent merger, continuing for a good long while in Eagle & Scream – with the remaining stories here taking us from 1st September 1984 to 13th April 1985.

Although arguably the most popular – and certainly most lavishly illustrated – of Scream’s fearsome features, The Thirteenth Floor is actually the third strip to be gathered, having been preceded by Monster in 2016 and The Dracula File in 2017. We’ll get to those in the fullness of time…

This book carries out its terrorising in stark, shocking monochrome but does include at the end a gallery of full-colour wraparound covers by series artist José Ortiz, and then-newcomer Brett Ewins, plus introductory contextual notes from editor Ian Rimmer and a darkly dry history lesson from co-author Alan Grant. With regular writing partner John Wagner, he wrote all the electronically eldritch episodes as enigmatic “Ian Holland”.

Grant maintains the strip derived in part from his own time of residence on the 11th floor of a similar tower block, and, having done my own time in a south London multi-story edifice, I can imagine why the sojourn was so memorable for him…

The series benefitted tremendously from the diligent mastery of its sole illustrator – sublime José Ortiz Moya – a veteran creator with a truly international pedigree. He was born on September 1st 1932 in Cartagena in the Spanish region of Murcia and started professional illustration early, after winning a comics competition in national comic Chicos.

Whilst working on comics digest books and strips like as Sigur el Vikingo, he gradually transitioned to the better-paying British market to draw newspaper strip Carolynn Baker for the Daily Express in 1962. He also worked for many kids’ comics here before making a wise move to America in 1974, to become a mainstay of Warren Publishing on horror magazines Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

In the early 1980s Ortiz returned to Spain, joining Leopold Sánchez, Manfred Sommer and Jordi Bernet in short-lived super-group cooperative Metropol even as he worked with Antonio Segura on a number of long-lasting strips such as post-apocalyptic action-thriller Hombre.

Metropol’s failure brought him back to British comics where he limned The Tower King and The House of Daemon for Eagle, Rogue Trooper and other strips for 2000AD and this macabre masterpiece…

Ortiz continued to excel, eventually settling in the Italian comics biz, with significant contributions to Tex Willer, Ken Parker and Magico Vento. He died in Valencia on December 23rd 2013.

Because of the episodic nature of the material, originally delivered in sharp, spartan 4-page bursts (eventually dropping to a standard 3), I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle and leaving you with a précis of the theme and major landmarks…

A little way into the future (as seen from dystopian yet still partially civilised Britain in 1984), a council tower block is equipped with an experimental computer system to supervise all the building systems and services whilst monitors the welfare and wellbeing of tenants. Maxwell Tower (just one of the names we creative contributors waggishly called the offices of IPC’s comics division at the time) looms into the rather bleak urban night.

Within, however, novel computer-controlled systems assure everyone lives happy lives. The servers also manifest a congenial personality offering advice and a bit of company. Dubbed “Max” by tenants, it – like $%*£!! Alexa today – increasingly inserts itself into every aspect of their lives through its constantly active monitoring systems. For their own good, naturally…

Because humans are fallible and a bit silly, the builders and architects fancifully never designated a 13th floor. Cognizant of human superstition, they designed the block to arbitrarily transit straight from 12 to 14. A human onsite controller/concierge/handyman lives in the penthouse. His name is Jerry and everything is just hunky-dory… until one day it isn’t…

The troubles apparently begin when a mother and son move in. They are trying to make a new start after losing the family breadwinner, but are plagued by a particularly persistent and violent debt-collector. After Mr. Kemp threatens the bereaved Henderson family, he stalks into an elevator and is later found on the ground floor, having suffered an agonising and fatal heart attack. The police write it off as an accident or misadventure, but they don’t know the truth.

Over-protective Max is far more powerful than anyone suspects and can turn his lifts into a terrifyingly realistic arena of terror, judgement and retribution at will. He calls it his “Thirteenth Floor”…

Over the weeks and months that follow, Max detects outrages and injustices and subjects assorted vandals, hooligans, burglars, bailiffs, lawyers, conmen, extortionists, shoddy plumbers, shady workmen, and even a family of problem tenants preying on their own neighbours, to the varied and impossibly realistic terrors of the damned.

Equally vexatious to the monitoring machine is the useless bureaucrat from its own housing department who treats people like subhuman trash. Max devises a very special hell for him after his lazy blunders temporarily make one of Max’s families homeless…

Sometimes these experiences are enough to modify behaviour and ensure silence, but too often the end result is simply another death. It happens so often that Max is reluctantly forced to brainwash husky tenant Bert Runch into acting as his agent: a mindless servant hypnotically conditioned to act as Max’s arms and legs, excising incriminating evidence – or bodies – before forgetting what he’s done.

Sadly, veteran policeman Sergeant Ingram suspects something is amiss and doggedly persists in returning to Maxwell Tower over and over again, ultimately forcing the coddling computer into precipitate action…

Moreover, as Max’s actions grow increasingly bold, even Jerry starts to suspect something is wrong. When he checks the hardware and finds a cracked Integrated Function Module, Jerry calls in council computer experts and Max has to act quickly to preserve his newfound intellectual autonomy. This triggers a cascade of uncontrollable events with Max taking ever-crazier risks, resulting in the tower being stormed by an army of police determined to shut down the AI murder machine…

And that’s where this moody masterpiece pauses with a great big To Be Continued, but there’s a second volume coming soon…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: smart, scary and rendered with stunning imagination and skill. Don’t believe for a moment that the seemingly limited set-up restricts the visual impact. The eerie punitive illusions of The Thirteenth Floor incorporate every possible monster from zombies and dinosaur to hell itself and history’s greatest villains, whilst the settings range from desert islands to the infinities of time and space. This a superb example of sophisticated suspense, leavened with positively cathartic social commentary that is impossible to dismiss.
© 1984, 1985 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Vintage Geek

By Marshall Julius (September Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-91283-602-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For The Man Who Has Grandchildren Who Never Know What To Get Him… 9/10

I’m notionally interrupting our eldritch Occultoberfest ramblings to offer a “heads up” on a splendidly accessible book that will bring joy and frustration to a good many of you and even, at least tangentially, counts as a celebration of spooky doings. Read on…

It’s sometimes hard to appreciate, but the world has in some ways improved. When I was a kid, those fringe-&-border youngsters who obsessed over weird stuff like comics or shows like Thunderbirds or Star Trek mostly got beaten up by the Normal Kids who only spent passion and brain cells on pop star names, sports statistics and the right shoes to wear.

Not me, of course. I was able to hide my otherness under a shell of sporting excellence, barbed wit and by occasionally uterly tuoghing up the odd swot or two (that was a test just there, and you’ll only know if you passed it by being already in the know…), Hem Hem…

Anyway, these days the terms Geek – and its concomitant sub-rankings Nerd and Wonk – are badges of affectionate honour (well, alright, not honour, but tolerable enough to have people accept and even grudgingly admire the obsessively tenacious striving for pedantic accuracy and stultifying clarity in subjects of supposedly minimal general interest): enough so that said topics of interest have become appropriate nostalgic fare for family gatherings, game shows and pub quizzes. Some of these forbidden subjects even get blockbuster movies made out of their clunky antecedents…

Knowing stuff other than football and cricket stats and showing off are acceptable activities these days, so uber-fan Marshall Julius – who has expertise and appropriately vast memorabilia collections in many separate disciplines of past pop culture and confesses to being a “film critic, blogger, broadcaster, quizmaster and collector of colourful plastic things” – has compiled a traditional quiz book to do his boasting in print: creating quite possibly one of the most family-friendly group-socializing books of the century.

After Sunday lunch or a during a party, whip out this missive containing 1000 questions and suitably detailed answers and just watch the armchair experts strive to display their personal proficiency whilst reliving their cherished but distant childhoods…

All topics stem from the 20th century (certainly the most entertaining one we’ve had thus far) and offer 50 questions only the most sagacious aficionado and savant could know. Each section even includes brain-busting interrogatives from star guests such as George Takei, Carrie Henn, Sam Neill, Louise Jameson, Mark Hamill, Dan Slott, Pat Mills, James Arnold Taylor and dozens of others. If you don’t know at least four of these celebs then your other excuse for buying the book is for educational purposes…

If you or yours think they know about James Bond: The Roger Moore Years; The Simpsons: The First Ten Years; George A. Romero: Night, Dawn and Day; The Mighty Marvel Age of Comics; The Force is Strong With These Three: Star Wars!/Empire/Jedi or Doctor Who: The Tom Baker Years they can proudly and loudly prove it now.

They might even have puissant affinity for the serried secrets of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy; The 2600: Atari’s Electric Dream; Retrofuturistic: Fifties’ Sci Fi Cinema; Crossing Over into The Twilight Zone; Walt’s Wonderful World of Disney; Stephen King: Carrie to Christine and Ray Harryhausen’s Creature Features, but can even they complete the testing to mental abstraction that lies within Star Trek: The Original Series; If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: Eighties’ Action Classics; 2000AD: The First 500 Thrill-Powered Progs; Universal Monsters Unleashed!; Hanna-Barbera: The General Motors of Animation; Steven Spielberg: Jaws to Jurassic Park and – toughest of all – Batman: The Animated Series?

Preceded by a photo-packed Introduction by the author and an effulgent Foreword from The Simpsons writer Michael Reiss, Vintage Geek is the ultimate “Dad” book and will give all oldsters their best chance to prove they once had a life…

Sort of…
© Marshall Julius 2019. All Rights Reserved.

The Marquis of Anaon volume 1: The Isle of Brac

By Vehlmann & Bonhomme: coloured by Delf and translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-255-3 (PB Album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Daring Dip into the Dark Underside of History… 9/10

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Scion of an artistic family, Matthieu Bonhomme received his degree in Applied Arts in 1992, before learning the comics trade working in the atelier of western and historical strip specialist Christian Rossi. Le Marquis d’Anaon was Bonhomme’s first regular series, running from 2002-2008, after which he began writing as well as illustrating a variety of tales from L’Âge de Raison, Le Voyage d’Esteban, The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke and others.

So, what’s it about? Imagine the X-Files set circa 1720s in France during the Age of Enlightenment, and played as a solo piece by a young hero growing reluctantly into the role of crusading troubleshooter…

Nomadic, middle class Jean-Baptiste Poulain is the son of a merchant, a disciple of Cartesian logic and former medical student. Educated but impoverished, he accepts a post to tutor the son of the mysterious Baron of Brac.

As he approaches the windswept, isolated island off the Brittany Coast, he cannot understand the fear and outrage he sees in the downtrodden villagers who secretly call their master “the Ogre”, and believe him to be a visiting nobleman. He is utterly astounded by how violently overprotective they are regarding their children…

The story gradually unfolds under ever-mounting tension, as the young man endures suspicion and hostility from the lowest classes, whilst slowly fostering a deep appreciation for the forward-thinking rationalist Baron. Soon, however, his student Nolwen is found murdered and, amid the heightened tensions, Poulain learns that this is not the first body to be found…

From then on, it’s hard to determine who is friend or foe and although a trained rationalist, Poulain begins to suspect unworldly forces are in play…

Conversations with the mariner known as the Storyteller lead to the tutor being attacked by villagers – or perhaps just thieves? – and, after barely escaping, the scholar sees murdered Nolwen before passing out…

He wakes under the Baron’s care and resolves to leave at the first opportunity. When housemaid Ninon begs him to take her with him, an incredible saga of unremitting horror is exposed, leading to Brac hunting his fleeing employees and trapping them in his hidden laboratory.

Here Poulain discovers the appalling experiments the Baron has indulged in, and the astounding answer to the “ghosts” who walk the island. When the Baron and his terrifying flunkey come for him, fortune favours the tutor and apparently divine justice is rendered unto all…

In the aftermath, Poulain escapes the island alone, as much to avoid the grateful fearful villagers as to resume his life. He cannot, sadly, outrun the title they have bestowed upon him: Le Marquis d’Anaon – the Marquis of Lost Souls…

With potent overtones of Jane Eyre and similar traditional gothic romances, L’Île de Brac was the first of five albums (all available in paperback and digital formats) tracing the development of a true hero against darkness and human venality. Moody, compelling and utterly enthralling, this is a spooky series well-deserving of a greater audience.
Original edition © Dargaud Paris 2002 by Vehlmann & Bonhomme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 by Cinebook Ltd.

Bakemonogatari volume 1

By OH!GREAT & NISIOISIN, translated by Ko Ransom (Vertical Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-947194-97-7 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fabulously Fresh Fear-Fest… 8/10

Here’s a rare treat with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild exoticism to boost its appeal…

Based on his own immensely popular “Light Novel” series Monogatari – 25 volumes since November 2006 with at least three more imminently pending – the incredibly prolific NISIOISIN (sometimes called Nisio Isin and creator of Katanagatari, Kubikiri Cycle and prose adaptations of Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata’s Death Note) here oversees the transformation of his biggest hit serial into manga form by artist OH! Great (AKA Ogure Ito: best known for Air Gear, Tenjo Tenge, Biorg Trinity, Soul Calibur IV and assorted outbreaks of Tekken)…

Phenomenally successful, the Monogatari series began their transformation into manga in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine in 2017 with this retelling of the first adventure. In fact it’s the first of two books and ends on a cliffhanger, but English-language publisher Vertical have slated the concluding book for early January release, so you won’t be on tenterhooks for too long…

Third-year high school student Koyomi Araragi is not normal. That’s mostly to do with having been targeted by a vampire and almost joining the ranks of the undead. Thankfully, he was saved by weird hobo priest Meme Oshino, who has made his life quite interesting ever since…h

The story begins with ‘Hitagi Crab’ as hopeful amorously overachieving Araragi meets a cute but violently defensive (perhaps “murderously psychotic” is more accurate after she almost kills him with the lethal stationery and pencil case tools in her bag!) girl and discovers she weighs practically nothing. Hitagi Senjōgahara‘s density and earthly grounding have been taken by a giant invisible crab monster…

Eager to help – she’s damaged and dangerous, but also incredibly vulnerable and beautiful – Araragi arranges a meeting with Meme, but the outsider priest knows there’s more going on than is being admitted. His harsh response in ‘Bakemono Gatari’ reveals not only the workings and motives of the gods and monsters which still infest the physical modern world, but also the concomitant burden of human sin and misery which attracts them. When cured and liberated Senjōgahara finally admits the long-buried secrets which have twisted and changed her, she makes a seemingly impossible request of her saviours…

To Be Concluded…

Aiding comprehension, the book graciously provides a comprehensive timeline feature with ‘Bakemonogatari in Detail’ offering comparison points between prose and manga iterations, plus lists of other media versions to track for total immersion and enjoyment.
© 2018 – NISIOISIN/Oh!great. All rights reserved.
Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

Edgar Allen Poe: The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Tales of Horror

Adapted by Richard Corben & Rich Margopoulos (Catalan Communication/Del Rey)
ISBNs: Catalan signed hb 0-87416-013-8   Del Rey pb 978-0-34548-313-3

Richard Corben is one of America’s greatest proponents of graphic narrative: a multi-award-winning legendary animator, illustrator, publisher and cartoonist surfing the tumultuous wave of independent counterculture commix of the 1960s and 1970s to become a major force in pictorial storytelling with his own unmistakable style and vision. He is renowned for a mastery of airbrush and captivatingly excessive anatomical stylisation and infamous for delightfully wicked, darkly comedic horror and beguiling eroticism in his fantasy and science fiction tales. Corben is also an acclaimed and dedicated fan of the classics of gothic horror literature, so no season of Halloween reviews could be complete without invoking his name and at least some of his work.

Always garnering huge support and acclaim in Europe, he was regularly collected in luxurious albums even as he fell out of favour – and print – in his own country. This collection gathers a number of adaptations of works by Godfather of eerie fantasy Edgar Allan Poe, first seen in issues of Creepy magazine between 1974-1975 and in Pacific Comics’ A Corben Special in 1984.

This superb hardback Catalan collection (one of many long overdue for a definitive archival compilation) was re-released in softcover by prose publisher Del Rey Books in July 2005.

The terror commences with the moody monochrome madness of ‘The Oval Portrait’ (from Creepy #69, February 1975 and adapted by writer Rich Margopoulos, as were all the Warren originated stories here) wherein the wounded survivor of a duel breaks into an abandoned chateau to recover and falls under the sinister spell of a beguiling painting and seductive journal…

‘The Raven’ is a fully airbrushed, colour phantasmagoria from Creepy #67 (December 1974) which perfectly captures the oppressive majesty of the classic poem, as is the next macabre vignette wherein the focus shifts to ancient Greece and the inevitable approach of death amongst the warriors at a funeral: a wake tainted by an invisible ‘Shadow’ (Creepy #70 April, 1975).

The obvious and worthy star turn of this tome is the artist’s own adaptation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, created for the comicbook A Corben Special in May 1984 and here expanded and reformatted for the larger, squarer page of this European album.

Traveller Edgar Arnold is trapped in the bilious swamp where the ancestral seat of the ancient Usher clan is slowly dissolving into the mire that surrounds it.

The tainted blood of the melancholic master Roderick and his debauched clandestinely closeted, sumptuously seductive, deranged sister Madeline proves certain to extinguish the family long before the dank Earth reclaims the crumbling manse, but if it doesn’t Roderick is determined to expedite matters himself.

Madeline however, has other dreams and desires and is not above using her unique charms to win her objectives…

Corben – with the assistance of colourists Herb & Diana Arnold – perfectly captures the trenchant, doom-laden atmosphere, erotic charge and cataclysmic denouement of the original and this seminal, seductive work is undoubtedly one of the very best interpretations of this much-told and retold tale.

The artist’s sublime acumen in depicting humanity’s primal drives has never been better exemplified than with these immortal stories and this is a book no comics or horror fan should be without.
© 1974, 1975, 1984, 1985 1993 Richard Corben and Richard Margopoulos. All rights reserved.

1066: William the Conqueror

By Patrick Weber & Emanuele Tenderini, translated by Pierre Bison and Rebekah Paulovch-Boucly (Europe Comics)

Although I’ve never for a moment considered history dry or dull, I can readily appreciate the constant urge to personalise characters or humanise events and movements, especially when the job is undertaken with care, respect, diligence and a healthy amount of bravado.

Excellent case in point is this superb, digital-only retelling from 2011, postulating on individual motives and actions whilst relating the events leading up to the most significant moment in English – if not full-on British – history (apart from all the other ones). Other individual and national opinions may apply…

In case you were one of those who were asleep, surreptitiously ogling a classmate who didn’t even acknowledge your existence, or carving your name into a desk or a body part: on October 14th 1066, a force of French invaders led by William, Duke of Normandy clashed with the forces of Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson in East Sussex near Hastings (most historians agree that the actual bloodletting happened in a place later dubbed “Battle” and commemorated thereafter by the edifice of Battle Abbey).

Translated into a compelling and lovely digital edition thanks to the benevolence of the collective imprint Europe Comics, 1066: William the Conqueror opens with historian and author Patrick Weber’s foreword ‘Before Setting Sail’, revealing how the magnificent Bayeux Tapestry closely inspired the fictionalised account he crafted with veteran comics illustrator Emanuele Tenderini (Dylan Dog, Wondercity, World of Lumina).

The story is gripping and savvy, putting flesh and bones on a wide range of complex characters all trapped in a web of royal intrigue and savage power politics, long before Halley’s comet appeared in the skies over northern Europe more than a millennium ago. The war of nerves between the kings and kingmakers of proto-England, machinations of the ferocious Godwinson clan and untrammelled ambitions of the Norman Duke play out against the pitiful backdrop of a rich and powerful country suffering for lack of coherent – or even barely capable – leadership. The parallels to today are painful to behold and we all know how it turned out.

Here though is a possible explanation of why…

Most marvellous of all, this is also a brilliantly compelling adventure yarn with readers not sure who to root for before the big action finish…

Adding lustre to the tale is bonus section ‘Deep Within the Inner Stitchings’: an accessible exploration of the Tapestry accompanied by character sketches and designs.

Potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising, this a retelling any fan of history and lover of comics will adore,
© 2015 – Le Lombard – Tenderini & Weber. All rights reserved.

Hellboy: Weird Tales

By Mike Mignola, Fabian Nicieza, John Cassaday, Eric Powell, Tom Sniegoski, Tommy Lee Edwards, Randy Stradley, Joe Casey, Sara Ryan, Ron Marz, J. H. Williams III, Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender, Will Pfeifer, John Arcudi, Jill Thompson, Matt Hollingsworth, Alex Maleev, Jason Pearson, Scott Morse, Akira Yoshida & Kia Asamiya, Bob Fingerman, Doug Petrie, Evan Dorkin, Andi Watson, Mark Ricketts, Kev Walker, Craig Thompson, Guy Davis, Stefano Raffaele, Ovi Nedelcu, Seung Kim, Steve Parkhouse, Steve Lieber, Jim Starlin, P. Craig Russell, Simeon Wilkins, Roger Langridge, Gene Colan, Eric Wright, Dave Stewart, Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1616555108 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-121-8

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few, however, were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big-name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts. Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

The hulking monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues. Once the fans saw what was on offer there was no going back…

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers intercepted and almost foiled a satanic ceremony predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. Those stalwarts were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby had grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm spent years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” quickly became its lead agent.

Moreover, as the decades of his career unfolded, Hellboy gleaned tantalising snatches of his origins, hints that he was an infernal creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects, even though the universe keeps inexorably and relentlessly moving him towards it…

Hellboy was swiftly attributed the status of ‘legend’ in the comics world, starting as the particular vision of a single creator and, by judicious selection of assistants and deputies, cementing a solid take on the character in the hearts of the public. That’s just how it worked for Superman, Batman and Spider-Man and a big part of the same phenomenon was the eagerness of fellow creators to play in the same universe. Just how that and this collection came about is detailed in Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction preceding a blazing welter of strange and bizarre entertainment…

Originally an 8-part comics series wherein a star-studded cast of creators tell their own stories in their own varied styles under the watchful supervision of the big cheese himself in his unique infernal playground, Hellboy’s Weird Tales was gathered into a 2-volume set in 2004. This luxurious hardback and digital reissue originated in 2014, supplementing the original miniseries with back-up stories from Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2-4.

Dramas that add to the canon nestle alongside bizarre and humorous vignettes that simply live for the moment and begin with ‘How Koschei Became Deathless’ crafted by Mignola, Guy Davis, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins. The filler from Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2 & 3 details the valiant trials of a noble warrior and the bad bargain he made, after which a crafty man turns the tables on the world’s wickedest witch in ‘Baba Yaga’s Feast’ (H:TWH #4).

The mother of monsters returns in Fabian Nicieza & Stefano Raffaele’s ‘The Children of the Black Mound’ wherein a future soviet dictator has his own youthful and life-altering encounter with the queen of magic.

John Cassaday spoofs classic newspaper strips with rollicking pulp science hero in ‘Lobster Johnson: Action Detective Adventure’, after which Nazi-bashing nonsense, Eric Powell explores Hellboy’s childhood and early monster-mashing in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ whilst Tom Sniegoski & Ovi Nedelcu raise our spirits with an older ghostbuster failing to tackle a playful posse of spooks in ‘Haunted’

A classical doomed East/West war romance ghost tragedy is settled by Tommy Lee Edwards & Don Cameron in ‘A Love Story’, setting the scene for more Japanese myth busting in ‘Hot’ by Randy Stradley & Seung Kim wherein the B.P.R.D. star clashes with an unhappy Tengu water spirit inhabiting a mountain hot spring…

Joe Casey & Steve Parkhouse then celebrate the glory days of test pilots and the right stuff in ‘Flight Risk’, when Hellboy gets involved in a competition to see who’s got the best jetpack, after which ‘Family Story’ (Sara Ryan & Steve Lieber) sees him acting as counsellor to the mum and dad of a rather diabolical kid, before we slip into all-out arcane action to retrieve a time bending artefact from a Guatemalan temple in ‘Shattered’ by Ron Marz & Jim Starlin.

A stakeout with an over-amorous fellow agent leads to unanticipated consequences in ‘Love is Scarier than Death’ by J. H. Williams III, whilst Will Pfeifer & P. Craig Russell’s dalliance with an undying theatre troupe traps our hellish hero in a ‘Command Performance’.

The entertainment motif continues in John Cassaday’s ‘Big-Top-Hell-Boy’ as the B.P.R.D. try to exorcise a mass-murderous circus in Germany before Hellboy and Abe Sapien battle zombies in the ‘Theatre of the Dead’ by Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender, illustrated by Simeon Wilkins.

The aquatic avenger sort of stars in comedic daydream ‘Abe Sapien: Star of the B.P.R.D.’ by John Arcudi & Roger Langridge, after which Jill Thompson takes ‘Fifteen Minutes’ to offer us the other side’s view of the eternal struggle whilst Matt Hollingsworth &Alex Maleev show us that the struggle against evil starts before we’re even legally alive in ‘Still Born’

Indomitable psychic firestarter Liz Sherman acknowledges personal loss and the dreadful cost of the job in Jason Pearson’s ‘The Dread Within’ before Scott Morse conjures up a calmer moment for Hellboy in ‘Cool Your Head’ before Akira Yoshida & Kia Asamiya return us to ghost-riddled Japan for an unconventional duel with childish spirits in ‘Toy Soldier’

Bob Fingerman’s ‘Downtime’ pits the cream of the B.P.R.D. against the vexatious thing inhabiting the office vending machine, after which Doug Petrie & Gene Colan follow Liz and Abe on typical ‘Friday’, even as artificial hero Roger the Homunculus foolishly seeks ‘Professional Help’ during a devious demonic assault (as recorded by Evan Dorkin).

Andi Watson tackles Hellboy’s infernal heritage and possible future during a social function where he is – as always – the ‘Party Pooper’, after which team leader/psychologist Kate Corrigan endures an acrimonious reunion with her dead-but-still-dreadful mother in ‘Curse of the Haunted Dolly’ by Mark Ricketts & Eric Wright, whilst Kev Walker pits bodiless spirit Johann Krauss against a thing from outer space in ‘Long Distance Caller’.

The narrative portion of this stellar fear & fun fest rightly focuses on Hellboy himself as Craig Thompson takes the warrior on an extended tour of the underworld in ‘My Vacation in Hell’ but there’s still a wealth of wonder to enjoy as Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Weird Tales Gallery offers a selection of potent images by Cameron Stewart, Maleev, Dave Stevens with Dave Stewart, Steve Purcell, William Stout, Leinil Francis Yu, Phil Noto, Gary Fields with Michelle Madsen, J. H. Williams III, Rick Cortes with Anjin, Galen Showman with Michelle Madsen, Ben Templesmith, Frank Cho with Dave Stewart, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Lee Bermejo with Dave Stewart and Scott Morse.

Baroque, grandiose, scary, hilarious and even deeply moving, these vignettes alternate suspenseful slow-boiling tension with explosive catharsis, and trenchant absurdity, proving Hellboy to be a fully rounded character who can mix apocalyptic revelation with astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies alike or enthral jaded fun-lovers in search of a momentary chuckle. This is a classic compendium of dark delights you simply must have.
™ & © 2003, 2009, 2014 Mike Mignola. Weird Tales is ® Weird Tales, Ltd.

John Constantine, Hellblazer volume 2: The Devil You Know (New Edition)

By Jamie Delano, David Lloyd, Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Mike Hoffman, Dean Motter & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3302-0 (TPB)

Originally created by Alan Moore during his groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, John Constantine is a mercurial modern wizard, a dissolute chancer who plays like an addict with magic on his own terms for his own ends. He is not a hero. He is not a nice person. Sometimes, though, he’s all there is between us and the al-consuming void…

Granted his own series by popular demand, Constantine premiered at the height of Thatcherite Barbarism in Britain, during the dying days of Reaganite Atrocity in the US, to become a founding father of DC’s adult-oriented Vertigo imprint. Ah, what happy, simple times they seem now…

This collection – available in paperback and digital formats – collects Hellblazer #10-13, Hellblazer Annual #1 plus 2-part tangential miniseries The Horrorist: cumulatively spanning January to October 1988 and revelling in the renaissance of comicbook horror these yarns spearheaded, and which thrive to this day.

Back in 1987, Creative Arts and Liberal Sentiments were dirty words in many quarters and the readership of Vertigo was pretty easy to profile. British scripter Jamie Delano began the Constantine solo series with a relatively safe horror-comic plot about an escaped hunger demon, introducing us to Constantine’s unpleasant nature and odd acquaintances – such as Papa Midnite – in a tale of infernal possession and modern voodoo, but even then, discriminating fans were aware of a welcome anti-establishment political line amidst the metaphorical underpinnings.

The wonderment begins by concluding an epic eldritch saga started in Hellblazer: Original Sins (go read that, it’s great too) as the sanctimonious Resurrection Crusade attempt to re-enact the birth of Christ and their rivals the Damnation Army try to stop them, using Constantine as their weapon. Both sides learn that such a vile trickster is never to be trusted. ‘Sex and Death’ is by Jamie Delano with art from Richard Piers Rayner & Mark Buckingham.

The same team are responsible for the next trinity of linked stories ‘Newcastle’: A Taste of Things to Come (from #11 of the monthly comic) forms the beginning of an origin of sorts for the sordid sorcerer as we flashback to 1978 where punk rock singer/would-be wizard John Constantine takes a motley assortment of mystic wannabees into a possessed nightclub for what they think will be a simple exorcism.

It’s anything but, and the horrific events twist the survivors for the rest of their lives… ‘The Devil You Know’ features the mage’s return (from an insane asylum and worse) and revenge on the hellbeast that shaped his life….

Issue #13 finds him ‘On the Beach’, chilling after all the horror, but still somehow sucked into an ecological nightmare. What follows is an epic tale of two Constantines, as a ghastly heritage of magic and monstrosity is revealed.

Taken from the first Hellblazer Annual in 1989, ‘The Bloody Saints’ parallels the urban occultist’s squalid existence against the history of Kon-Sten-Tyn, mighty mythic Merlin’s apprentice and a putative successor to King Arthur.

A glamorous rogue and unprincipled cheat, Kon-Sten-Tyn steals Merlin’s magic, makes pacts with devils, feigns conversion to Christianity, assumes unearned sainthood and generally does whatever he wants in a vividly dark, outlandish comedy terror beautifully illustrated by Bryan Talbot.

Also from the Annual comes an illustrated version of ‘Venus of the Hard-Sell’ originally “recorded” by Constantine’s punk band Mucous Membrane. Whatever you think it is, you’re wrong. Just get the book, revel in it and the wonderful creativity of writer/artist Dean Motter.

The 2-part miniseries The Horrorist fills the remainder of the book. Written by Delano and stunningly painted by David Lloyd, this is a bleak, cold fable which finds – in a state just like ‘Antarctica’ – an emotionally paralysed Constantine dutifully hunting across traumatised cityscapes and wretched broken America for a destructive force wreaking bloody havoc. All the trauma and misery of an uncaring world is the irresistible tool of a third world survivor and only more suffering seems to satisfy her…

As the creature called Angel passes, a typhoon of guilt, fear and terror is inevitably unleashed, savagely ending unfulfilled lives. She can’t be stopped by any means the wizard has used before, but there is one appalling tactic he can try…

John Constantine is probably the most successful horror comic character ever, with mood, tension and his surly, smug, intransigent attitude easily overwhelming and outlasting mere gore and splatter time after time. Ambivalent and ever-changing, the antihero of this series and the worlds he exposes never fail to deliver shock after shock.

Delivered by creators capable and satiric, but still wedded to the basic tenets of their craft, these superb examples of contemporary horror fiction – inextricably linking politics, religion, human nature and sheer bloody-mindedness as the root causes of all ills – are still powerfully engaging. Beautifully constructed, they make a truly abominable character seem an admirable force for our survival. The art is clear, understated and subtly subversive, while the slyly witty, innovative stories jangle at the subconscious with scratchy edginess.

This is a book no fear-fan should miss.
Hellblazer 10-13, Hellblazer Annual © 1988, 1989, 2011 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. The Horrorist #1-2 © 1995, 1996, 2011 Jamie Delano & David Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.