The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature

By Many and various, Edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-530-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Amazing Recollections for Every Kid of Voting Age… 10/10

If you are of a certain age, you will remember that Christmas when you got The Book. What it was varies and you may not even have it now (probably not, in truth), but the getting of it, the cherishing of it in that moment, and the nostalgic debilitation recalling it brings now shaped your life. This book might well be it for someone you know and can’t think of a gift for…

Swallow the lump in your throat, grab a tissue and we’ll begin…

Once upon a time in the English-speaking world, nobody clever, educated or in any way grown-up liked comics. Now we’re an accredited really and truly art form and spectacular books like this can be appreciated…

The Graphic Canon is an astounding literary and art project, instigated by legendary crusading editor, publisher, anthologist and modern Renaissance Man Russ Kick. It seeks to interpret the world’s great books through the eyes of masters of crusading sequential narrative in an eye-opening synthesis of modes and styles. The project was initially divided into three periods roughly equating with the birth of literature and the rise of the modern novel.

Such was the success and impact of the feat that a number of side projects grew from the original, such as this startling confection celebrating the uniquely dual-purpose arena of stories for Children.

Make no mistake: this is not a simple bowdlerising “prose to strip” exercise like generations of Classics Illustrated comics, and you won’t pass any tests on the basis of what you see here. Moreover, these images will make you want to re-read the texts you know and hunger for the ones you haven’t got around to yet. Even those you think you’ve known for your entire life…

They certainly did for me…

Following the fascinating and agenda-setting ‘Editor’s Introduction’ the reimagination of centuries of wonder begins with a selection of Aesop’s immortal fables. Deliciously concocted by Roberta Gregory ‘The Miller, His Son, and the Donkey’ and ‘The Eagle, The Cat, and The Sow’ are followed by Peter Kuper’s refreshing interpretations of ‘The Ape and the Fisherman’ and ‘The Wasp and the Snake’.

Lance Tooks then takes torrid liberties but still makes magic with ‘The Lion in Love’, ‘The Fox and the Grapes’ and ‘The City Mouse and the Country Mouse’ before we move on to another timeless tale…

David W. Tripp offers a psycho-sexual take in his silent reworking of European fairy tale ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ after which Andrice Arp beguilingly details the saga of the ‘The Mastermaid’. Following that Norse fairy tale we head further north and east for Lesley Barnes’ iconic celebration of Russian folk tale ‘The Firebird’ before Miguel Molina offers a brace of scenes from Peruvian fairy tale ‘The Shepherdess and the Condor’.

The unfailingly entertaining Rachel Ball adapts a British yarn of abduction in ‘The Weardale Fairies’ after which Maëlle Doliveaux applies astounding collage and cut-paper acumen to ‘Four Fables’ by French mediaeval poet Jean de La Fontaine before a selection of Brothers Grimm tales opens with Kevin H. Dixon applying his studied blend of cultural appropriation and mordant insubordination to the ‘Town Musicians of Bremen’

Chandra Free – with technical assistance from BLAM! Ventures – then scrupulously documents ‘A Tale of One who Travelled to Learn what Shivering Meant’ before Noah Van Sciver adapts ‘Star Dollars’ and ‘The Water-Sprite’.

E.T.A. Hoffman’s ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ is translated into pictorial beats by Sanya Glisic and Dame Darcy revels in the full horror of ‘The Little Mermaid’ by Hans Christian Andersen whilst Isabel Greenberg concentrates the old master’s imaginative whimsy for ‘The Tinderbox’.

Billy Nunez reinvigorates British fairy tale ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ by transposing it to rural China before Frank M. Hansen has wicked fun updating Mark Twain’s shockingly wry ‘Advice to Little Girls’.

Vicki Nerino liberally updates ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ – by Lewis Carroll in case you don’t know – and Keren Katz illustrates a triptych of ‘Fables for Children’ by Leo Tolstoy (The Birds in the Net, The Duck and the Moon, The Water Sprite and the Pearl, The Mouse Under the Granary and The Falcon and the Cock) after which Sandy Jimenez adds a sheen of Glam Rock iconoclasm to an extract of Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’.

Nabob of Nonsense Edward Lear is celebrated in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ by Rick Geary and doubly so by Joy Kolitsky who colourfully interprets ‘Calico Pie’ and ‘The New Vestments’, after which R. Sikoryak stunningly reduces Twain’s ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ to a quartet of symbolically eventful maps.

Lost story master George McDonald is represented by Dasha Tolstikova’s moving treatment of ‘At the Back of the North Wind’ and Molly Brooks adapts the first tantalising chapter of Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’ before Eric Knisley redeems the fabulous and unfairly embargoed sagas of Joel Chandler Harris with a vivid take on ‘The Tar Baby (From Tales of Uncle Remus)’.

Molly Colleen O’Connell adapts Carlo Collodi’s ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ is given a meta-textual going over by Lisa Fary, Kate Eagle & John Dallaire before Tara Seibel gives a modern spin to Oscar Wilde’s heartbreaking ‘The Nightingale and the Rose’.

Caroline Picard ambitiously and simultaneously covers four tales from ‘The Jungle Book’ by Rudyard Kipling – specifically ‘Rikki Tikki Tavi’, ‘Toomai of the Elephants’, ‘Kaa’s Hunting’, and ‘The White Seal’ – whilst Matthew Houston adds a graphically futuristic spin to his treatment of H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’.

Shawn Cheng adapts L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ in a single colour-splashed page and then does the same for the remaining 13 novels in ‘The Oz Series’ after which Sally Madden silently shows a key scene from ‘Peter Pan’ by J.M. Barrie and Andrea Tsurumi delicately details the retaking of Toad Hall from the end of Kenneth Grahame’s ‘The Wind in the Willows’ before Juliacks turns in a most dramatic reinterpretation of Frances Hodson Burnett’s ‘The Secret Garden’

Kate Glasheen adapts and modifies ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams, after which C. Frakes adapts ‘How the Potato Face Blind Man Enjoyed Himself on a Fine Spring Morning’ from Carl Sandburg’s ‘Rootabaga Stories’ and Matt Wiegle offers his rebus-filled silent take on Franklin W. Dixon’s ‘The Tower Treasure (A Hardy Boys Mystery)’ whilst Katherine Hearst goes wild with an eerie examination of ‘Peter and the Wolf’ as never imagined by Serge Prokofiev…

Astrid Lindgren’s immortal ‘Pippi Longstocking’ inhabits a decidedly off-kilter world thanks to Emelie Östergren, balanced by a sobering snippet from Anne Frank’s ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ from mainstream comicbook royalty Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón, after which John W. Pierard treats us to a selection of contemporaneous (and Rude) ‘Schoolyard Rhymes’.

Hitting the home stretch of modernity, we close with a chilling and wordless adaption from Tori Christina McKenna of Richard Adams’ ‘Watership Down’ and a stunning recapitulation by Lucy Knisley J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Harry Potter Series’ – all of it. Really. In 8 pages…

Complementing the childhood obsessions is a ‘Gallery’ by 58 more artists, and ‘Contributors’, ‘Acknowledgments’, ‘Credits and Permissions’ and even an ‘Index’.

Each piece is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and this sort of book is just what the art form comics needs to grow beyond our largely self-imposed ghetto, and anything done this well with so much heart and joy simply has to be rewarded.
© 2014 Russ Kick. All work © individual owners and copyright holders and used with permission. All rights reserved.

90th Anniversary Double Feature!! Two reviews to celebrate a cartooning milestone

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Color

By Geoffrey Blum, Thomas Andrae, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks & various: produced by Another Rainbow Publishing Inc. (Pantheon Books 1988)
ISBN: 978-0-39457-519-3 (HB)

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse. It was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon moved in on America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wild and anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebusting detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy: the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over newborn but ailing newspaper strip Mickey Mouse.

Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (Floyd’s 25th birthday) and just kept going; an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until his retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue.

His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

Mickey Mouse in Color is a lavish hardback compendium reprinting some of the most noteworthy early strips with fascinating text and feature articles – including interviews with Gottfredson – but the real gold is the glorious strips.

A mix of Sunday page yarns comprising ‘Rumplewatt the Giant (1934)’, ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum (1934)’, the magnificent and mesmerising ‘Case of the Vanishing Coats (1935)’ and a whimsical ‘Robin Hood Adventure (1936)’ are, although superlative, mere appetisers.

The best stories and biggest laughs come with the rollickin’ comedy thrill-ride serials ‘Blaggard Castle (1932)’, ‘Pluto and the Dogcatcher (1933)’, ‘The Mail Pilot (1933)’ and the astoundingly entertaining and legendary ‘Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (1939)’.

Consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson remained unseen and unsung for generations until Fantagraphics released a complete library of the Mouse’s US-crafted strip adventures. We’ll be covering those in greater detail over the months to come but until then, books like this comprehensive primer (still readily available through online retailers), should be welcomed, cherished, and most importantly, shared.
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The World of Tomorrow – Gladstone Comic Album #17

By Floyd Gottfredson, Bill Walsh & Dick Moores (Gladstone
ISBN: 978-0-94459-917-4

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

In 1955 – by which time Mickey and his fellow pantheon stablemates were mainstays of comics in dozens of countries – Disney killed the continuities; dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips. Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday on September 19th 1976.

In this still-easy-to-find oversized paperback album from the 1980s, Gottfredson’s middle period of cartoon brilliance comes to the fore and opens with an uplifting and supremely funny saga originally running from July 31st to November 11th 1944 and designed to counteract the woes of a war-weary world…

After D-Day and the Allied push into Occupied Europe, the home-front morale machine began pumping out conceptions of what the liberated happy future would be like. A strip as popular as Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but join the melee and new scripter Bill Walsh produced a delightfully surreal, tongue-in-cheek parable in ‘The World of Tomorrow’: full of brilliant, incisive sight-gags and startling whimsy whilst pitting the Mouse against arch-enemy Peg Leg Pete, who was in extreme danger of conquering the entire planet, using the double-edged advances in modern science!

Walsh, Gottfredson & inker Dick Moores also produced the remainder of this delightful book for kids of all ages, which comprise a dozen one-off gag dailies from 1944 and 1945, plus a cracking sea yarn ‘The Pirate Ghost Ship’ (first serialised from April 17th to July 15th 1944) which found Mickey and faithful hound Pluto searching for treasure, defying black magic and battling sinister buccaneers in a rollicking rollercoaster of fun and frights.

Walsh (September 30th 1913 – January 27th 1975) loved working on the strip and scripted it until 1964 when his increasingly successful film career forced him to give it up.

Like all Disney comics creators these stalwarts worked in utter anonymity, but thanks to the efforts of devout fans efforts were eventually revealed and due acclaim accorded. Gottfredson died in July 1986 and Walsh did achieve a modicum of fame in his lifetime as producer of Disney’s Davy Crockett movies, and as writer/producer of The (original) Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others.

He was Oscar™ nominated for his Mary Poppins screenplay.

Even in these modern, accepting times anthropomorphic comics are still often derided as kids’ stuff – and indeed there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t adore – but these magical works were produced for consumers of ALL AGES and the sheer quality of Gottfredson and Walsh’s work is astounding to behold.

That so much of it has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Thankfully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available and we now have the scholarly and comprehensive Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives so you have no reason not to indulge in some of the greatest comic tails of all time.
© 1989, 1945, 1944 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor volume 2: The Weeping Angels of Mons

By Robbie Morrison, Daniel Indro, Eleonora Carlini, Slamet Mujiono, Hi-Fi & Comicraft (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-175-4 (HC)                    978-1-78276-657-5 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Wonders… 8/10

Doctor Who first materialised through our black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began with issue #674 and the premier instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

Throughout the later Sixties and early 1970’s strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comic hero with an impressive pedigree…

In recent years the strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise has roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who have sagely opted to run parallel series starring the Ninth, Tenth, and later incarnations of the tricky and tumultuous Time Lord.

This volume collects Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor issues #6-10 of the monthly comicbook, set between the conclusion of the Fourth Season starring David Tennant and the start of the Fifth, spanning November 2014 through May 2015.

Scripted by the ever-excellent Robbie Morrison (White Death, assorted 2000 AD series, Batman, Spider-Man and more) this second volume leads with a moving and memorable centenary tribute to a landmark moment from the Great War.

Illustrated by Daniel Indro and coloured by Slamet Mujiono (with letters from Richards Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt), ‘The Weeping Angels of Mons’ finds the Doctor and new companion Gabby Gonzalez confronting a pack of time-devouring Weeping Angels haunting the muddy trenches and blossoming graveyards of the shattered Belgian countryside in August 1914.

In case you’re not au fait, Angels are chronovores, living off the energy of stolen lifespans. Their victims are exiled from their true place in time to live out their lives in some distant past. Angels look like statues and can only move when you’re not looking…

This is a deeply moving tale packed with solid supporting characters all drawn from decent Scots volunteers from Paisley and put through all kinds of hell in both 1916 and the many final destinations of the victims. The saga bubbles over with loss and tragedy to balance the breakneck action and stunning examples of do-or-die valour of the ordinary heroes. That’s all the exposition you get: I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Suffice to say the Doctor is at his trenchantly wily best, observing Man’s continued follies and glorious better nature, dealing with the horrendous ETs in suitably flashy manner, and coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye…

An utter change of pace comes next with ‘Echo’ (art by Eleonora Carlini and colours from Hi-Fi).

Gabby arrives back home in picturesque Sunset Park, Brooklyn, just in time for the arrival of the sonic life form known as Echoes. The poor persecuted star-wandering creatures are being hunted to extinction by the thoroughly nasty Shreekers and the resultant cacophony is shattering even New Yorker ears.

The Shreekers might have Galactic Law on their side but the Doctor and Gabby know when something needs to be done for a greater good…

This wonderfully worthy package – available in hard cover, paperback and digital editions – also offers another vast gallery of Gallifreyan alternate and variant covers (photographic, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by the likes of Tommy Lee Edwards, AJ, Verity Glass, Mariano Laclaustra, Boo Cook and more, making this a splendid and timely serving of comics magic starring an incontestable bulwark of British Fantasy.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go…
BBC, Doctor Who (word marks, logos and devices) and Tardis are trade marks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo © BBC 2009. Tardis image © BBC 1963. First edition August 2015.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: The Complete Joe Kubert Years

By Joe Kubert with Burne Hogarth, Hal Foster, Frank Thorne, Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-982-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating Classic Comics Entertainment… 9/10

Soon after first publication in 1912 Tarzan of the Apes became a multi-media sensation and global brand. More novels and many movies followed; a comic strip arrived in 1929, followed by a radio show in 1932 with the Ape-Man inevitably carving out a solid slice of the comicbook market too, once that industry was firmly established.

Western Publishing were a big publishing and printing outfit based on America’s West Coast, rivalling and frequently surpassing DC and Marvel at the height of their powers. They specialised in licensed properties and the jewels in their crown were all the comics starring the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters.

The publishers famously never capitulated to the wave of anti-comics hysteria that resulted in the crippling self-censorship of the 1950s. Dell Comics – and latter imprints Gold Key and Whitman – never displayed a Comics Code Authority symbol on their covers. They never needed to…

Dell also sought out other properties like movie or newspaper strip franchises, and would become inextricably associated with TV adaptations once the small screen monopolised modern homes.

In 1948 Dell produced the first all-new Tarzan comicbook. The newspaper strip had previously provided plenty of material for expurgated reprint editions until Dell Four Color Comic #134 (February 1947).

This minor milestone featured a lengthy, captivating tale of the Ape-Man scripted by Robert P Thompson – who wrote both the Tarzan radio show and aforementioned syndicated strip – with art by the legendary Jesse Marsh.

Marsh & Thompson’s Tarzan returned with two further tales in Dell Four Color Comic #161, cover-dated August 1947. This was a frankly remarkable feat: Four Colour was a catch-all umbrella title that showcased literally hundreds of different licensed properties – often as many as ten separate issues per month – so such a rapid return meant pretty solid sales figures.

Within six months the bimonthly Tarzan #1 was released (January/February 1948), beginning an unbroken run that only ended in 1977, albeit by a convoluted route…

After decades as solid Whitman staples, licensing of Edgar Rice Burroughs properties was transferred to DC – not just Tarzan and his extended family, but also fantasy pioneers John Carter of Mars, Carson of Venus, Pellucidar and others – with the new company continuing the original numbering.

Tarzan #207 had an April 1972 cover-date and the series carried on until February 1977 and issue #258. From then on Marvel, Malibu and Dark Horse extended the jungle Lord’s comicbook canon…

The early 1970s were the last real glory days of National/DC Comics. As they slowly lost market share to Marvel, they responded by producing controversial and landmark superhero material, but their greatest strength lay – as it always had – in the variety and quality of its genre divisions.

Mystery and Supernatural, Romance, War and Kids’ titles remained strong or even thrived and the company’s eye for a strong brand was as keen as ever.

The Ape Man and his family had been a mainstay of Dell/Gold Key, as well as a global multi-media phenomenon, so when DC acquired rights they justifiably trumpeted it out, putting one of their top creators in sole charge of the legendary Ape-Man’s monthly exploits, as well as generating a boutique bunch of ERB titles in a variety of formats.

The DC incarnation premiered in a blaze of publicity at the height of a nostalgia boom and was generally well received by fans. For many of us, those years provided the definitive graphic Tarzan, thanks solely to the efforts of the Editor, publisher and illustrator who shepherded the Ape-man through the transition.

They were all the same guy: Joe Kubert.

Kubert was born in 1926 in rural Southeast Poland (which became Ukraine and might be Outer Russia by the time you read this). At age two his parents took him to America and he grew up in Brooklyn. According to his Introduction his earliest memory of cartooning was Hal Foster’s Tarzan Sunday strips…

Joe’s folks encouraged him to draw from an early age and the precocious kid began a glittering career at the start of the Golden Age, before he was even a teenager. Working and learning at the Chesler comics packaging “Shop”, MLJ, Holyoke and assorted other outfits, he began his close association with National/DC in 1943.

A canny survivor of the Great Depression, he also maintained outside contacts, dividing his time and energies between Fiction House, Avon, Harvey and All-American Comics, where he particularly distinguished himself on The Flash and Hawkman.

In the early 1950s he and old school chum Norman Maurer were the creative force behind publishers St. Johns: creating evergreen caveman Tor and launching the 3D comics craze with Three Dimension Comics.

Joe never stopped freelancing, appearing in EC’s Two-Fisted Tales, Avon’s Strange Worlds, Lev Gleason Publications & Atlas Comics until 1955 when, with the industry imploding, he took a permanent position at DC, only slightly diluted whilst he illustrated the contentious and controversial newspaper strip Tales of the Green Berets from 1965 to 1968. From then on, he split his time drawing Sgt. Rock and other features, designing covers and editing DC’s line of war comicbooks.

And then DC acquired Tarzan…

This monumental paperback archive (also available in digital formats) collects the entirety of his work with the Ape-Man: stories from Tarzan #207-235 (April-November 1972 to February/March 1975); a tour de force of passion transubstantiated into stunning comic art, with Kubert writing, illustrating and lettering.

Moreover, the vibrant colours in this epic re-presentation are based on Tatjana Wood’s original guides, offering readers a superbly authentic and immersive experience whether you’re coming fresh to the material or joyously revisiting a beloved lost time.

The only disconcerting things about this stellar compilation are the cover reproductions, which appear in all their iconic glory but manipulated to remove DC’s trademark logos. The mightiest force in the modern jungle is still Intellectual Property lawyers…

The tense suspense begins with Kubert’s Introduction to earlier collections before an adaptation of debut novel Tarzan of the Apes opens with a safari deep in the jungle.

A pretty rich girl is driving her white guide and native bearers at a ferocious pace as she desperately hunts for her missing father.

When a bronzed god bursts into view battling a panther, she watches aghast as human impossibly triumphs over killer cat and then pounds his chest whilst emitting an astounding scream. As the terrifying figure vanishes back into the green hell the girl’s questions are grudgingly answered by the old hunter who relates a legend he has heard…

‘Origin of Tarzan of the Apes’ reveals how, following a shipboard mutiny, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke and his wife Lady Alice are marooned on the African coast with all their possessions, including the vast library of books and Primers intended for their soon-to-be-born baby…

Against appalling odds, they persevered with Greystoke building a fortified cabin to shelter them from marauding beasts, especially the curious and savage apes which roam the region. Despite the birth of a son, eventually the jungle won and the humans perished, but their son was saved by a grieving she-ape who adopted the baby to replace her own recently killed “Balu”…

The ugly, hairless boy thrived under Kala’s doting attentions, growing strong but increasingly aware that he was intrinsically different. He only discovered the how and why after years of diligent effort: through sheer intellectual effort and the remnants of his father’s books and papers, Tarzan learned to read and deduced that he was a M-A-N…

The tale within a tale continues in ‘A Son’s Vengeance: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 2’ as the boy rises to prominence amongst his hirsute tribe and through imagination and invention masters all the beasts of his savage environment. Eventually a brutal, nomadic tribe of natives settle in the area and Tarzan has his first contact with creatures he correctly identifies as being M-E-N like him…

The new situation leads to the greatest tragedy of his life as a hunter of M’Bonga’s tribe kills beloved, devoted Kala and Tarzan learns the shock of loss and overpowering hunger for revenge…

Issue #209 revealed how civilisation finally caught up with Tarzan as ‘A Mate For the Ape-Man: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 3’ saw him meet and save American Jane Porter, her elderly father and his own cousin…

Just as had happened years earlier, these unlucky voyagers were marooned by mutineers. Discovering John Clayton’s cabin, the castaways find the lost peer’s diary, which is of especial interest to William Clayton, the current Lord Greystoke. As tensions rise and humans die, Tarzan takes his golden-haired mate deep into the impenetrable verdure…

It all concludes neatly and tantalisingly in ‘Civilisation: Origin of the Ape-Man Book 4’ wherein the innately noble Tarzan returns Jane to her fiancé William just in time for the westerners to be rescued by Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

When the dashing French Lieutenant is captured and tortured by M’Bonga’s tribesmen, Tarzan rescues him and nurses him back to health. In return, the grateful sailor teaches him to speak human languages that up until that moment he could only read and write in…

By then, however, the navy vessel and saved souls have all sailed away, each carrying their own secrets with them…

With no other options, lovelorn Tarzan agrees to accompany D’Arnot back to civilisation. The eternal comrades eventually settle in Paris with Tarzan practically indistinguishable from other men…

Even today ‘Origin of the Ape-Man’ is still the most faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel in any medium: potent and evocative, fiercely expressive, a loving and utterly visceral true translation of the landmark saga.

Kubert’s intent was to adapt all 24 Burroughs novels and intersperse them with short, complete tales but the workload, coupled with his other editorial duties, was crippling. To buy some time #211 combined old with new as ‘Land of the Giants’ partially adapted and incorporated Don Garden & Burne Hogarth’s newspaper classic ‘Tarzan and the Fatal Mountain’: Sunday strip pages #582-595 which had originally ran from May 3rd to August 2nd 1942.

You can see that saga in all its uncut glory by tracking down Tarzan versus the Barbarians (Complete Burne Hogarth Comic Strip Library volume 2.

Here, however, a battle with crocodiles lands Tarzan in a lost valley where giant natives are persecuted by deformed, diminutive outworlder Martius Kalban; a sadist who hungers for the secrets of their prodigious size and strength. Even after gaining his dark desire, Kalban finds himself no match for the outraged Ape-Man…

It’s followed by ‘The Captive!’, a latter-day exploit beginning a run of yarns based on the short stories comprising ERB’s book Jungle Tales of Tarzan as the relationship between Ape-Man and elephants is explored with each saving the other from the ever-present threat of the hunters of M’Bonga…

The Jungle Tales reworkings continue with ‘Balu of the Great Apes’ as childhood friends of Tarzan becomes incomprehensibly aggressive after the birth of their first baby and this first astounding compilation ends with ‘The Nightmare’ as starving Tarzan steals and gorges on meat and drink from the native village.

The resultant food poisoning takes him on a hallucinogenic journey never to be forgotten: one that almost costs his life when he can no longer tell phantasm from genuine threat…

Following Kubert’s Introduction to Tarzan #215-#224, the pictorial wonderment resumes with another vintage visual treat as ‘The Mine!’ (Tarzan #215, December 1972) incorporates material originally seen in 1930s Sunday newspaper strips (by Hal Foster & George Carlin) embedded in an original tale by Kubert.

As previously deadline pressure again compelled Kubert to combine original with found material, detailing how the Ape-Man is captured by slavers and pressed into toil deep in the bowels of the earth for a sadistic mine owner.

Naturally, Tarzan soon chafes at enforced servitude and quickly leads a savage workers’ revolt to overturn and end the corporate bondage…

Issue #216 took another route to beating deadlines with old pal Frank Thorne pencilling Kubert’s script for ‘The Renegades’, leaving hard-pressed Joe to ink and complete the story of a murderous raid which wipes out a Red Cross mission.

Investigating the atrocity, Tarzan discovers the “maddened savages” responsible are actually white men masquerading as natives; stealing supplies for a proposed expedition to plunder a lost treasure vault. When he catches the culprits, Tarzan’s vengeance is terrible indeed…

‘The Black Queen!’ is an all-new, all-Kubert affair wherein the Jungle Lord almost saves a man from crocodiles. Acceding to the ravaged victim’s last wish, Tarzan then travels to his distant homeland and overturns the brutal regime of tyrannical Queen Kyra who rules her multicultural kingdom with whimsy, ingrained prejudice and casual cruelty…

The equally selfish choices of American millionaire tycoon Darryl T. Hanson blights his family as his search for ‘The Trophy’ decimates the fauna of Tarzan’s home and leads to a clash of wills and ideologies which can only end in tragedy…

With #219, Kubert began an epic 5-issue adaptation of ERB’s sequel novel The Return of Tarzan. It opens in Paris as the unacknowledged son of long-vanished Lord Greystoke tries to adapt to his new life as a civilised man of leisure.

One night his natural gallantry draws him to the side of a woman screaming for help and he is attacked by a gang of thugs. After easily thrashing the brigands he is astounded to find her accusing him of assault and simply bounds effortlessly away from the gendarmes called to the disturbance.

This entire trap has been engineered by a new enemy; Russian spy and émigré Nikolas Rokoff and his duplicitous toady Paulvitch

The rightful heir to the Greystoke lands and titles silently stood aside and let his apparently unaware cousin William Cecil Clayton claim both them and the American Jane Porter after Tarzan rescued her from attacking apes in the jungle. Missing her terribly, Tarzan had chosen to make his own way in the human world beside French Naval Officer Paul D’Arnot.

In the course of his urbane progression, the Ape-Man had exposed the Russian cheating at cards to blackmail French diplomat Count De Coude and earned himself a relentless, implacable foe forever.

When Rokoff subsequently tries to murder Tarzan, the vile miscreant agonisingly learns how powerful his jungle-bred enemy is…

With physical force clearly of no use, Rokoff’s latest plan is to put the Ape-Man through a ‘Trial by Treachery’; manufacturing “evidence” that Tarzan is having an affair with the Comte’s wife. Once again, the civilised beast underestimates his target’s forthright manner of dealing with problems and is savagely beaten until he admits to the plot and clears the innocent woman’s name…

With news of Jane’s impending marriage to Clayton, Tarzan seeks to ease his tortured mind with action and the next chapter sees him travel to Algeria where, sponsored by the grateful, ashamed Count, he begins working for the French Secret Service in Sidi Bel Abbes, ferreting out a traitor in the turbulently volatile colony…

His hunt soon leads him to a likely turncoat and subsequent brutal battle with Arab agent provocateurs, but things start to turn his way after he liberates a dancing slave who is the daughter of a local sheik.

When word of Jane comes from D’Arnot, Tarzan throws himself even more deeply into his tasks and falls into another ambush organised by Rokoff. This time his ‘Fury in the Desert’ seems insufficient to his needs until his newfound friend the Sheik rides to the rescue…

The intrigue continues to unfold in ‘Return of the Primitive’ as Tarzan finally uncovers a link between Rokoff and the espionage at Sidi Bel Abbes. Mission accomplished, he is then posted to Capetown and aboard ship meets voyager Hazel Strong, a close friend of Jane’s who reveals the heiress had never forgotten her tryst with an Ape-Man.

Unable to watch Jane enter into a loveless marriage, Hazel took off on an ocean cruise…

The story rocks Tarzan’s mind, but not so completely that he fails to notice Rokoff is also aboard and murderously dogging his footsteps. This time, however, the Russian is properly prepared and that night the jungle man vanishes from the ship…

Rokoff’s act of assassination is a purely pyrrhic victory. Soon after reaching Capetown the villain insinuates himself into the Clayton wedding party but when their yacht’s boilers explode next morning, he, Hazel, Clayton, Jane and her father are left adrift in a lifeboat…

Tarzan, meanwhile, has survived being tumbled overboard and spent days swimming hundreds of miles. He now washes up on the same beach his parents were left upon decades ago. Staggering inland, he finds himself in the cabin his father built before being stolen and adopted by Kala the She-Ape.

John Clayton is forgotten, for fate has brought Tarzan home…

A man changed by his time amongst other men, the Jungle Lord instinctively saves a native warrior from certain death and is astonished to find himself declared chieftain of the noble Waziri tribe.

…And off the coast, a lifeboat filled with dying travellers espies land and wearily sculls towards a welcoming beach in the heart of primeval forests…

Revelling in his newfound status, popularity and freedom, Tarzan enquires about the fabulous jewelled ornaments of his new friends and learns of an incredible lost metropolis. Soon he is curiously journeying to ‘The City of Gold’ where he encounters debased, degenerate sub-men led by a gloriously beautiful Queen.

La is high priestess of forgotten Atlantean outpost Opar, but can barely control her subjects enough to allow the perfect specimen of manhood to escape to safety. Both she and Tarzan know they are destined to meet again…

Refusing to be cheated of their sacrifice, the bloodthirsty Oparian males search far into the jungle and soon encounter the Clayton yacht survivors. When the primitives attack the human strangers and carry off Jane, Rokoff shows his true colours, leaving William to his fate. This callous act also inadvertently clears the path for Tarzan to finally claim his inheritance and reunite with Jane…

All the Jungle Lord has to do is break back into Opar, save his one true love from ‘The Pit of Doom!’ and escape the wrath of jealous Queen La…

That mission accomplished, he and Jane return to the beach in time to witness William’s dying confession and accept the succession to the estates and title of Lord Greystoke…

The adaptation is followed by an original adventure codicil, seeing Tarzan rescue a beautiful maiden from attacking apes and discovering she is a messenger from La, who is in peril of her life…

In Opar another insurrection by the Beast Men has left the Queen imperilled by her subjects and threatened by a gigantic mutant whom she tearfully reveals is her sibling in ‘Death is My Brother!’ With no choice, Tarzan regretfully battles the nigh-mindless brute and proves to the insurgents that his wrath is greater than their malice…

A third and final text missive of fond reminiscences from Kubert regarding the material from Tarzan #225-235 then leads into original tale ‘Moon Beast’ which sees a mother and child brutally slaughtered and Tarzan captured: framed for the hideous crime by cunning medicine man Zohar.

When the vile trickster overreaches himself, the captive Ape-Man breaks free but still has to deal with the mutant brute Zohar employed to perpetrate the atrocity…

Kubert only produced the cover for #226 as the crushing deadline pressures finally caught up with him. The contents – not included here – featured a retelling of the Ape-Man’s origins by Russ Manning, taken from the Sunday newspaper strips of 15th November 1970-7th February 1971.

Back for #227, Joe took Tarzan out of his comfort zone as ‘Ice Jungle’ saw young native warrior Tulum endure a manhood rite at the top of a mountain. Also converging on the site for much the same reason is American trust-fund brat J. Pellington Stone III, determined to impress his father by bagging a legendary snow ape. Sensing impending doom, Tarzan follows them both and is proved correct in his assessment…

After single-handedly killing an immense Sabretooth tiger in an unexplored region of the continent, Tarzan is captured by pygmies intent on offering him as sacrifice to a mighty monster who has terrorised them for years. However, his ‘Trial By Blood!’ sees Jungle Lord cleverly outwit giant lizard and teach the tribal elders a valuable lesson in leadership, after which albino queen Zorina seeks to extend her power by making him her consort.

The Ape-Man wants nothing to do with ‘The Game!’, and, after the kingdom descends into savage civil war, sees ironic Fate deal the white queen a telling death blow…

With Tarzan #230 (April/May 1974), the title transformed into a sequence of 100-page giants, mixing new material with reprints of ERB characters and thematically-aligned stars from DC’s vast back-catalogue.

Leading off that issue was a brief all-Kubert vignette as ‘Tarzan’ saves a deer from a lioness. That neatly segues into ‘Leap into Death’ starring Korak, Son of Tarzan and written by Robert Kanigher, with Kubert pencilling and inks from Russ Heath.

Here the titanic teen nomad hunted for his stolen true love Meriem and the barbarian Iagho who had abducted her, before stumbling into a nest of aggressively paranoid bird-people who learn to respect his courage but still fly away with his lover…

The next issue featured the start of another-Kubert-adapted Burroughs novel: possibly the most intriguing conception of the entire canon.

‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part One’ saw a movie company on location in the deep jungle. They are making a picture about a white man raised by animals who becomes undisputed master of all he surveys. The chain of coincidences grows more improbable as actor Stanley Obroski is a dead ringer for Tarzan… which probably explains why he is taken by savages set on torturing him to death…

Rescued by Tarzan, Stanley explains how the expedition was attacked, unaware exactly how much trouble his fellow actors are in. During Obroski’s absence, stand-in Rhonda Terry and starlet Naomi Madison are kidnapped by El Ghrennem’s Arab bandits who believe the production’s prop map leads to an actual valley of diamonds…

When Tarzan find the rest of the film crew he is mistaken for Stanley and drawn into their search for the missing women. The plucky Americans have already made a mad dash for freedom, however, and Rhonda has been captured by creatures she simply cannot believe…

After a fascinating bonus section revealing Kubert’s ‘Layouts and Thumbnails’ for the opening chapter, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Two’ reveals Rhonda taken by apes who speak Elizabethan English, and made the subject of a fierce debate. Half of the articulate anthropoids want to take her to “God” whilst the other faction believes her a proper prize of their liege lord “King Henry VIII”…

After being briefly recaptured by El Ghrennem, Naomi too is taken by the talkative Great Apes. When Tarzan discovers the kidnapper’s corpses, he follows the trail up an apparently unscalable escarpment. Rescuing and returning Miss Madison to her surviving friends, “Stanley” then returns to ascend the stony palisade and discover an incredible pastoral scene complete with feudal village and English castle…

Tracking Rhonda, he enters the citadel and meets a bizarre human/ape hybrid calling himself God. The garrulous savant explains that once he was simply a brilliant Victorian scientist pursuing the secrets of life. When his unsavoury methods of procuring test-subjects forced him to flee England and relocate to this isolated region of Africa, he eventually resumed his experiments and transformed himself into a superior being and apes into fitting servants.

Now they have a society of their own – based on the history books he brought with him – and his experiments are nearing completion. Having already extended his life and vitality far beyond its normal span by experimenting upon himself, God is now ready to attain immortality and physical perfection. All he has to do is consume Tarzan…

Of course, the madman has no conception of his captive’s capabilities, and when the Ape-Man and Rhonda promptly vanish from their dungeon it sends the palace into turmoil and God into a paroxysm of insanity…

The chaos also prompts already ambitious apostate King Henry to begin a revolution to overthrow his creator. As ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Three’ opens, the war between Church and State is in full swing and Tarzan battles to rescue Rhonda whilst God’s castle becomes a flaming hell.

Losing her in the chaos Tarzan is forced into a hasty alliance with God, unaware that maniacal monarch Henry has taken her back to the jungles below the escarpment and into a region where God casts his scientific failures…

All too soon Henry is dead and Rhonda is facing beings even stranger than talking apes. Thankfully, ‘Tarzan and the Lion Man Part Four’ (preceded by another fascinating Kubert Layout spread) sees the Ape-Man arrive in time to save her from incredible peril before returning her to the film party in the dazzling, tragic conclusion…

Kubert ended his close association with Tarzan in #235’s ‘The Magic Herb’. Here the jungle hero saves a couple from a crashed aeroplane and siblings Tommy and Gail urge him to help them find a legendary flower that might cure the man’s fatal ailment. However, something about them makes Tarzan deeply suspicious…

Nevertheless, he takes them to the primeval lost valley where it grows, only to be betrayed as the intruders frame him: throwing the jungle lord to the resident lizard men whilst fleeing with specimens that will make them millionaires in the outside world.

Sadly, the treacherous pair have completely misunderstood the powers of the plant and pay the ultimate price all betrayers must…

Wrapping up the astounding thrills and captivating artistry (splendidly remastered by Sno Cone Studious & Jason Hvam) are more revelatory treasures from ‘Joe Kubert’s Tarzan Sketchbook’ tracing the art process from page-roughs to competed page

Supplemented by Creator Biographies of Burroughs and Kubert, this tome is another unmissable masterpiece of comics creation and wild adventure no lover of the medium or fantasy fan can afford to be without.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Complete Joe Kubert Years © 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 2005, 2016 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. All rights reserved. Trademark Tarzan and Edgar rice Burroughs Inc. All rights reserved.

Alien: The Illustrated Story

By Archie Goodwin & Walter Simonson, from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and a story by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (Heavy Metal/Futura)
ISBN: 978-0-93036-842-5                  978-1-78116-595-9 (Titan Books Facsimile 2012)

Alien was released in 1979 and utterly redefined the science fiction cinema genre. It pretty much did the same for horror stories too.

Creeping in on the back of the jolly adventuring romps of the Star Wars phenomenon and its shiny, happy, Valerian rip-offs “homages”, Dan O’Bannon’s dark tale and Ridley Scott’s grimly meticulous vision reintroduced the vital element of apocalyptic terror that had been absent from the medium since the headiest, most utterly paranoiac days of 1950s B-Movies.

You know the plot: a bunch of interstellar miners are diverted by their untrustworthy bosses to a lost planet where they find an extraterrestrial shipwreck. One of the humans is infected by something uncanny and beyond the explorers’ meagre imaginings and brings aboard a ghastly killer that grows and hides and changes. Picking off the crew one by one, it cannot be stopped, escaped from or killed…

Lots of films have had comics adaptations: good bad or indifferent. Very few have ever come as close to capturing the stunning, senses-overloading feel – rather than the plot or look or detail – of the source material, although all of those too are well-catered for in this slim but superb graphic extravaganza from the award-winning creative team of Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson (see Manhunter: The Special Edition for perhaps their ultimate moment of comics collaboration).

Spectacular, engrossing, visually innovative (in both storytelling and lettering/calligraphic effects) and absolutely absorbing, this hard-to-find gem – either in the original US edition from Heavy Metal Productions, this mass-market UK edition from Futura, or any of the later reissues in a variety of formats and sizes – is a true landmark of comics, long overdue for a definitive release with plenty of bonus features and preferably only in the original large, square European Album format please…
© 1979 by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Tintin and the Lake of Sharks – A TINTIN FILM BOOK

By Greg & various, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-822-2 (HB)                    978-1-4052-0634-1 (PB)

Although this tale is not strictly canonical, fans of Hergé’s intrepid boy reporter and his tragically now completed series of adventures can always console themselves with this high-quality graphic adaptation of the animated feature-film Tintin et la Lac aux Requins.

The motion picture was originally released in 1972 and – although not directly created by Hergé who only enjoyed a supervisory role – remains a classy piece of rousing fiction directed by publisher Raymond LeBlanc and written by European mega-star Michel Regnier.

As “Greg”, he is best remembered now for his comedic anti-hero Achille Talon (translated into English both in animated cartoons and comic albums as Walter Melon), Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Zig et Puce and memorable runs as scripter and/or editor on Spirou and Fantasio, Clifton and many more.

Although lacking the smartly satirical edge of Hergé’s efforts, comedy, action and slapstick are still well represented in this hectic yarn which transforms animation stills into sequential narrative, albeit with admittedly mixed results.

Purists who love the artist’s landmark and legendary Ligne Claire style will be deterred that the designs are laid over and across fully-rendered, moulded and painted backgrounds, but although the result is initially jarring, the story does swiftly carry the reader beyond such quibbles.

Ligne Claire – or the Democracy of Lines as it is sometimes called (in case you were wondering) – is the term given to the dramatically simplified drawing style developed by Hergé which has influenced so very many creators. With it sleek, clean lines of equal strength, thickness and prominence are used to impart an almost diagrammatic value to subjects.

This is in contrast to styles which might emphasise foreground or background with varying line-weights. Line-shading, hatching, feathering and the use of shadows are also ignored or down-played. It’s the perfect base for bold. simple colour and imparts an impressive solidity and immediacy to pictures.

When combined with a stripped-down but accurate character or object design, the effect of hyper or even meta-reality is astoundingly convincing. The term was first used by creator, fan and devotee Joost Swarte in the late 1970s. Here Endeth the Lesson…

In The Lake of Sharks a series of art and gem robberies coincide with a trip by Tintin, Captain Haddock and the detectives Thompson and Thomson to visit Professor Calculus. The savant is sequestered at a villa on the shores of Lake Pollishoff; a huge body of water in the mountains of Syldavia, artificially created by building a dam and flooding a village.

The locals believe the area is haunted. And no sooner do our picaresque cast arrive than attempts to kill them begin!

Calculus is in seclusion to perfect his latest invention – a 3-D duplicating machine – but a series of strange events leads Tintin to believe that sinister forces have targeted the eccentric genius once again.

Spies, intruders and weird occurrences seem to be a daily threat at the Villa Sprog! Our heroes are not easily cowed, however, and with the help of two peasant children, Niko and Nushka (and their dog Gustav) a dastardly plot by the heroes’ greatest enemy is revealed. This mastermind now calls himself King Shark

This magical, fast-paced romp does the canonical episodes proud and can hold its head high even amidst the incredible legacy of one of the true Masters of the Comic Strip. And besides, your collection is incomplete without it…
Artwork © 1955 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai. © renewed 1983 Egmont UK Limited. Text © 1971 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel

By Eoin Colfer &Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano with colour by Paolo Lamanna (Puffin Books)
ISBN: 978-0-141-32296-4

In an age when the boundaries of good guys and bad guys are constantly blurred and redefined, it’s well to keep your options open. One admirable player for the other side (mostly) is the captivating Artemis Fowl II. A criminal mastermind, scion of Ireland’s greatest family of rogues and villains, he is probably the greatest intellect on the planet.

The wee lad inherited the family business when his father mysteriously vanished on a caper, a loss from which Artemis’ mother has never recovered.

This Machiavellian anti-hero is a teenager so smart that he has deduced that fairies and mystical creatures actually exist and thus spends this first book stealing their secrets to replenish the family’s depleted fortunes and fulfil his greatest heart’s desire…

His greatest ally is Butler, a manically loyal and extremely formidable hereditary retainer who is a master of physical violence…

The first of the eight novels (with four so far making the transition to sequential narrative whilst production of the Disney movie nears completion) is here adapted by the author and Andrew Donkin; illustrated in a kind of Euro-manga style that won’t suit everybody but which nevertheless perfectly captures the mood and energy of the original.

This lavish adventure is also interspersed with comprehensive and clever data-file pages (by Megan Noller Holt) to bring everybody up to full speed on this wild, wild world…

Fowl is utterly brilliant and totally ruthless. Once determining that the mythological realm of pixies, elves, ogres and the like are actually a highly advanced secret race predating humanity and now dwelling deep underground, he “obtains” and translates their Great Book and divines all their secrets of technology and magic.

Artemis has a plan for the greatest score of all time, and knows that he cannot be thwarted, but he has not reckoned on the wit, guts and determination of Holly Short, an elf who works for the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance Force.

She is the only female LEPRecon operative allowed to work on the world’s surface and has had to prove herself every moment of every day…

Combining sinister mastery, exotic locales, daring adventure, spectacular high fantasy concepts and appallingly low puns and slapstick, this tale has translated extremely well to the comics medium (but that’s no reason not to read the books too, especially as they’re all available in paperback and digital formats), offering a clever plot and characters that are both engaging and grotesquely vulgar – and thus perfect fare for kids.

I especially admire the kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggum, whose species’ biological self-defence mechanism consists of overwhelming, explosive flatulence…

Farting, fighting and fantasy are pretty much the perfect combination for kid’s fiction and boys especially will revel in the unrestrained power of the wicked lead character. This is a little gem from a fabulously imaginative creator and an unrelentingly rewarding publisher. Long may you all reign…
Text © 2007 Eoin Colfer. Illustrations © 2007 Giovanni Rigano. All rights reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

The movie shorts series Our Gang (latterly the Li’l Rascals) were one of the most popular in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids”. Atypically though, there was always full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys. Romping together, they all enjoyed idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach who directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others. These brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of Stan and Ollie, the Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, deftly restored the wit, verve and charm of the glory days via a progression of short comic stories which elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz, Huckleberry Finn or Laura Ingalls of Little House… fame.

Over the course of the first eight issues so lovingly reproduced in this glorious collection, Kelly moved beyond the films – good or otherwise – to scuplt an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

Granted great leeway, Kelly eventually settled on his own cast, but aficionados and purists can still thrill here to the classic cast of Mickey, Buckwheat, Happy/Spanky, Janet and Froggy.

Thankfully, after far too long a delay, today’s comics are once again offering material of this genre to contemporary audiences. Even so, many modern readers may be unable to appreciate the skill, narrative charm and lost innocence of this style of children’s tale. If so I genuinely pity them, because this is work with heart and soul, drawn by one of the greatest exponents of graphic narrative America has ever produced. I hope their loss is not yours.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

The Thief of Bagdad

By Achmed Abdullah, illustrated by P. Craig Russell (Donning/Starblaze edition)
ISBN: 978-0-89865-523-0

This is a tenuous entry for a graphic novel listing, and potentially a controversial one, but other than all publishers’ motivation to turn a profit, these editions of the late 1980s had a worthy purpose and an admirable intention.

Donning’s Starblaze Editions began as a way of introducing lost classics to a new audience, by reproducing them with illustrations provided by some of the most respected names in comics. Their other selections were the silent film icon Metropolis by Thea von Harbou and illustrated by Michael Wm. Kaluta; Charles Vess’ illuminated A Midsummer Night’s Dream and most contentiously, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle with new artwork by Mike Grell replacing the author’s own groundbreaking illustrations. These are all household names but also tales that very few could admit to have ever actually read.

The Thief of Bagdad (and that’s how the West spelt it back then) began as a film by Douglas Fairbanks in 1924, with a screenplay by Elton Thomas, accompanied by a short story written by Lotta Woods. The fantastic and exotic tale of a common vagabond who wins a Princess was an eye-popping, swashbuckling blend of magic, adventure and romance which captivated the viewing public, leading to what was probably the World’s first ever novelisation of a movie.

Achmed Abdullah (1881-1945) was actually Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff, a prolific English author whose father was Russian Orthodox whilst his mother was a Muslim. Educated at Eton and Oxford, he joined the British Army, serving in France, India and China before becoming a jobbing writer of Crime, Adventure and Mystery tales, many apparently based on his own early life.

He was also a screen-writer, with his most well-known success being the 1935 film Lives of a Bengal Lancer (very loosely based on the novel by Francis Yeats-Brown).

As a book this is a cracking, literally spellbinding read and the illustrations are Russell at this flamboyant best. There are five vibrant full-colour plates plus an additional ten large black and white line drawings combining the artist’s clean design line with a compositional style that owes much to the works of Aubrey Beardsley.

Whilst not technically a graphic narrative, this book features all the crucial antecedents of one with the additional virtues of being a hugely entertaining concoction garnished with some of the best art ever produced by one of the industry’s greatest stylists. Believe me, you really want this book and I really want some modern publisher to revive this tome and its companions, even if only in eBook format…
© 1987 the Donning Company/Publishers. Art © 1987 P. Craig Russell. All Rights Reserved.

The Graphic Canon volume 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons

By Many and Various, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-376-6

Once upon a time in the English-speaking world, nobody clever, educated or in any way grown-up liked comics. Now we’re an accredited really and truly art form and spectacular books like this can be appreciated…

The Graphic Canon is an astounding literary and art project, instigated by legendary crusading editor, publisher, anthologist and modern Renaissance Man Russ Kick, which endeavours to interpret the world’s great books through the eyes of masters of crusading sequential narrative in an eye-opening synthesis of modes and styles.

The project is divided into three periods roughly equating with the birth of literature and its evolution up to the rise of the modern novel. Debut volume From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons covers literature from ancient times to the end of the 1700s in stories and poetry. Much of the material here has been taken from already extant or ongoing projects: indeed, as editor Russ Kick explains in his Introduction, it was a realisation that so many creative individuals were attempting to publish their own graphic responses to global heritage literature that led him to initiate this mammoth project in the first place…

Rather than simply converting the stories, the artists involved have enjoyed the freedom to respond to texts in their own way, producing graphics – narrative or otherwise, monochrome or something else, sequential or not – to accompany, augment or even offset the words before them and the result is simply staggering…

Make no mistake: this is not a simple bowdlerising “prose to strip” exercise like generations of Classics Illustrated comics, and you won’t pass any tests on the basis of what you see here. Moreover, these images will make you want to re-read the texts you know and hunger for the ones you haven’t got around to yet. You will of a certainty marvel at the infinite variety of the artistic responses the canonical works inspired…

They certainly did for me…

Each piece is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and the wonderment begins with a colourful and outrageously engaging ‘Three Panel Review: Hamlet’ by Lisa Brown after which grateful Acknowledgements and that aforementioned Editor’s Introduction lead directly into a delirious snippet from The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Like many contributions collected here, The Bull of Heaven – as adapted by Kent & Kevin Dixon – was already in production when invited into this book. The finally-completed saga has recently re-manifested and you can read of it here.

Those august remnants of lost Babylonian Tablets are followed by a delicious retelling of the origin of the stars in ‘Coyote and the Pebbles’. The beguiling and witty Native American Folktale is given a compelling reworking by Dayton Edmonds & Micah Farritor and leads seamlessly into a double dose of Homeric grandiloquence.

Alice Duke samples the duel between Paris and Menelaus from The Iliad after which Gareth Hinds dips into The Odyssey to re-present the monstrous duel between the lost Greeks and the ghastly Cyclops, after which we stay firmly in the cradle of civilisation to enjoy Sappho’s ‘Poem Fragments’ as embellished by Alessandro Bonaccorsi before Tori McKenna sums up the vengeful force of Euripides’ ‘Medea’.

Aristophanes’ still-shocking and controversial play Lysistrata is potently and hilariously précised in strip form by Valerie Schrag before J.T. Waldman powerfully synthesises the erotic vision of ‘The Book of Ester’ from the Hebrew Bible and Yeji Yun translates Plato’s Symposium into stark yet effective pantomimic visuals.

Fred Van Lente & Ryan Dunlavey have adapted numerous deep thinkers in their series Action Philosophers! ‘Tao Te Ching’ as dictated by Lao Tzu is both wickedly funny and thoughtfully compelling and perfectly offset by Matt Wiegle’s colourful heroic snippet ‘The House of Lac’ from The Mahabharata.

Van Lente & Dunlavey bring us some Analects and Other Writings of Confucius – called here ‘Master Kong’ – before the Hebrew Bible provides Benjamin Frisch with the golden-hued inspiration for dreamy fable ‘The Book of Daniel’, after which Tom Bilby & Jonathan Fetter-Vorm (AKA Two Fine Chaps) graphically discourse On the Nature of Things as originally cited by Lucretius.

Michael Lagocki captures the graceful ferocity of Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ – specifically the founding of Rome – before master cartoonist Rick Geary astoundingly encapsulates the entirety of ‘The Book of Revelation’ from the New Testament and Sharon Rudahl restores calm and sanity with ‘Three Tang Poems: Frontier Song by Wang Han, A Village South of the Capital by Cul Hu and Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon by Li Bai’

Gareth Hinds grittily adapts the battle between hero and monster in Anglo-Saxon Epic Poem Beowulf after which idyllic romance is referenced by Molly Kiely through a series of portraits of some of the many erotic conquests of an ideal Japanese prince as inspired by Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji.

Far darker and more troubled love guides the images crafted by Ellen Lindner to illustrate ‘The Letters of Heloise and Abelard’ after which Kiely illuminates the profoundly eco-activist poem ‘O Nobilissima Viriditas’ by Hildegard of Bingen (look her up, you really should…).

Andrice Arp puckishly illustrates stories within a story for ‘The Fisherman and the Genie’ from The Arabian Nights, after which the same source – albeit the unexpurgated translation by Sir Richard Burton – provides racy and outrageously wry ‘The Woman with Two Coyntes’ as adapted by Vicki Nerino.

Coleman Barks translates a wonderful plenitude of ‘Poems’ by Sufi sage – and advocate of a loving universe – Rumi for Michael Green to spectacularly illustrate, after which a double dose of Dante Alighieri begins with Seymour Chwast’s smart and sassy take on The Divine Comedy. Hunt Emerson than adds his own unique spin to ‘The Inferno’ (The Eighth Circle, if you’re keeping score) whilst Sanya Glisic sustains the post-viva theme by offering views of the Eastern afterlife as cited in Padmasambhava and Karma Lingpa’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol).

Safely back among the living, we turn to the outrageous lifestyle of French poet and courtier François Villon, who penned in a jailhouse ‘The Last Ballad’ illustrated here by Julian Peters long before his actual end. It’s followed by another medieval masterpiece as Seymour Chwast deftly tackles the ‘Wife of Bath’ from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Staying in England, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur is given a stunning treatment by Omaha Perez who illumines the parable of ‘How the Hart was Chased into a Castle and There Slain, and How Sir Gawaine Slew a Lady’

The reason we have so much European and Asian literature today is the sheer fact that it wasn’t deliberately eradicated. That’s tragically not the case for the pre-Columbian Americas and a great pity since sole surviving Incan play Apu Ollantay – adapted here by Caroline Picard – is a smart and potent family star-crossed love affair worthy of the Greeks or even Shakespeare…

Outlaws of the Water Margin is a vast and sprawling epic of heroes battling against corruption and injustice in ancient China. As Shi Nai’an’s opus is far too large to handle here, illustrator Shawn Cheng has instead offered a rogues’ gallery of some of the heroic characters who feature in the portmanteau classics, whereas Isabel Greenberg has time and space to lyrically adapt Japanese Noh play ‘Hagoromo (Celestial Feather Robe)’ in full.

Roberta Gregory then pictorialises the decidedly more wholesome and charming creation myth from Popul Vuh – the Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya – and Edie Fake illuminates ‘The Visions of St. Teresa of Ávila’ as first seen in the Spanish religious reformer’s autobiography.

Almost forgotten English poet George Peele penned his own interpretation of the drama of Solomon and Bathsheba centuries ago, a snippet of which is here transformed by Dave Morice into stunning op-art masterpiece ‘Hot Sun, Cool Fire’. Conor Hughes then expertly covers in more traditional form ‘The Sun Rises’ from Wu Cheng’en’s revered Chinese epic Journey to the West before Michael Stanyer adapts and Eric Johnson illustrates a mere fragment from Edmund Spenser’s unfinished opus The Faerie Queene.

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream must be one of the most popular comic strip topics of all, but Maxx Kelly & Huxley King still add fresh zest and contemporary sparkle to the scene where Titania and Oberon haggle over the fate of an abducted child…

Ian Pollock then tackles The Bard’s darkest drama as King Lear challenges the heavens themselves before Will Eisner lends his unique light touch to Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

Robert Berry and Josh Levitas then translate Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 18’ to an effectively modern setting whilst Aidan Koch applies a more esoteric approach to the eternally-mystifying ‘Sonnet 20’ before Noah Patrick Pfarr supplies a suitably raunchy setting and quirky twist to John Donne’s erotic poem ‘The Flea’.

Andrew Marvell’s equally celebrated devious love-ploy ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is given a sentimental 19th century makeover by Yien Yip after which real-life Restoration-Era Wonder Woman Aphra Behn provides moody inspiration for artist Alex Eckman-Lawn through her poem ‘Forgive Us Our Trespasses’.

John Milton’s magnificent Paradise Lost – specifically ‘the Fall of Satan’ – is astoundingly depicted by Rebecca Dart after which ‘Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag’ sees Gareth Hinds lovingly limning an extract from Jonathan Swift’s satirical salvo Gulliver’s Travels whilst Ian Ball uses abreaction to hammer home the finer points of Voltaire’s Candide.

Modern graphic crusader Peter Kuper then lambasts us with a lethally edgy visualisation of Swift’s brutally critical A Modest Proposal.

Benjamin Franklin’s scandalous epistle ‘Advice to a Young Man on the Choice of a Mistress’ is accompanied by a sumptuous painting from Cortney Skinner before James Bosworth’s shocking and sordidly biographical London Journal is captivatingly interpreted by comix pioneer Robert Crumb in ‘A Klassic Komic: excepts from Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763’.

Veteran cartoonist Stan Shaw then captures the wryly scatalogical spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Letter to the Royal Academy of Brussels (AKA ‘Fart Proudly’)’ and van Lente & Dunlavey return with another Action Philosophers! titbit clarifying Mary Wollstonecraft’s momentous political tract A Vindication of the Rights of Woman before Molly Crabapple illustrates select moments from Choderios de Lacios’ dark and disturbing social satire Dangerous Liaisons to bring the art schooling to a close.

Wrapping up the elucidatory experience are suggestions of ‘Further Reading’ from Liz Byer, a full list of ‘Contributors’, plus details of ‘Credits and Permissions’ and an ‘Index to volume 1’.

Although no replacement for actually reading as much of the source material as you can find, this astonishing agglomeration of visual interpretations is a magnificent achievement and one every fan of the comics medium should see: a staggering blend of imperishable thoughts and words wedded to and springing from sublimely experimental pictures.

This type of venture is just what our art form needs to grow beyond our largely self-imposed ghetto, and anything done this well with so much heart and joy simply has to be rewarded.
© 2012 Russ Kick. All work © individual owners and copyright holders and used with permission. All rights reserved.