Hope and Hell’s Flaw – Shame books 4 and 5


By Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton & Todd Klein (Renegade Arts Entertainment)

ISBN: 978-1-98782-548-0 (Hope TPB) ISBN: 978-1-98890389-7 (Hell’s Flaw TPB)

Comics are unequivocally a visual medium and that’s never more ably demonstrated than in a seductively bewitching allegorical fable from writer Lovern Kindzierski, painter John Bolton and letterer Todd Klein.

The story began with three Original Graphic Novels released between 2011 and 2013, before the entire epic was housed in its proper setting: a lavish and sublime full-colour hardback tome, liberally garnished with beguiling bonus features and all the usual digital equivalents.

So, if you’re sitting comfortably with all the doors locked and windows covered, let’s begin with a swift reprise…

Once upon a time in Conception a benevolent but homely witch named Mother Virtue spent all her days doing little favours and grand good deeds for the ordinary and unfortunate, and for these kind actions she was beloved by all. Spiritually, she was probably the most perfect woman in the world, but as for her looks…

She lived life well, growing old and content, but one day, after decades of joyous philanthropy, a single selfish thought flashed idly through her mind: a momentary longing for a daughter and wish for it to be true, that she might be a mother in fact as well as name…

The weak moment was instantly exploited by malign Shadow of Ignorance Slur. Through dark magics, he impregnated the champion of Good with a vile seed of evil, bragging to the wise-woman that her wish-made daughter would be a diabolical demon deserving the name Shame

Deeply repenting that selfish whim and dreading horrors yet to come, Mother Virtue transformed her idyllic cottage in the woods into a floral prison; a Cradle reluctantly repurposed to isolate and eventually contain the thing growing in her belly. The miserable matron-to-be also assembled Dryads to care for and guard the baby. Once Virtue finally births Shame, she leaves the devil’s burden to be reared in the mystical compound, where it grows strong and cruel but so very beautiful…

After much concentrated effort, however, minions of Shame’s sire breach Cradle’s green ramparts and school the child in vile necromancy to ensure her dire, sordid inheritance. With malefic potency, Shame refashions her guardians into something more pliable and appropriately monstrous…

As the devil’s daughter physically ripens, Slur himself comes to his evil child and through him Shame learns the terrifying power of sex. With the aid of an infernal incubus which has stolen seed from many men, she quickens a child in her own belly and eventually births a beautiful baby girl.

Into that infant Slur pours Mother Virtue’s soul; gorily ripped from the despondent dotard’s aging carcase at the moment of her granddaughter’s delivery. Even the nunnery Virtue had locked herself within was no proof against the marauding Shadow of Ignorance…

With her despised mother now her own child, securely bound within the floral penitentiary, Shame goes out into the world to make her mark…

Pursuit took up the story sixteen years later. Infant Virtue has grown strong and lovely, despite every effort of malformed, mystically mutated Dryads and Shame’s own diabolical sorcery toiling constantly but to no effect in a campaign of corruption, making every day of her young life a savage test of survival. This daily failure makes Shame – now elevated by her own evil efforts to queen of a mortal kingdom – furious beyond belief.

When not burning witches and wise women who might threaten her absolute domination, or having her armies ravage neighbouring realms, the haughty hell-spawn spies upon her offspring/ancestor with infernal devices, but is always bitterly disappointed and enraged….

Elsewhere, a valiant knight lies dying and mournfully bids his afflicted son Merritt farewell. With his last breaths, the swift-failing father dreads how his foolish, naïve, beloved boy will fare in a world ruled by the Queen who has ended him…

The hopeless dreamer is stubborn above all else and – when Merritt discovers the vegetable hell-mound of Cradle – stories his mother told him long ago run again through his head. Odd, inexplicable yearning compels him to overcome appalling arcane odds and break in. He liberates the beautiful prisoner… although she actually does most of the work…

Freed from Cradle, Virtue’s mystic might blooms. Far away, Shame reels. Slur cares little for his daughter but much for his plans: disclosing Merritt is Destiny’s wild card: a Sword of Fate who could reshape the future of humanity. Of course, that depends on whose side he joins…

The young heroes near the capital but are ambushed. After a tremendous mystic clash, Merritt awakens in a palace with a compelling dark-haired vision ministering to his every need and desire. Meanwhile, far below in a rank, eldritch dungeon, Virtue languishes, patiently adjusting plans…

This eldritch esoterically erotic epic concluded with Redemption as Merritt fell deeper under the sultry sway of the dark queen, devolving into her submissive tool of human subjugation, whilst Virtue languished in fetid squalor, weaving intricate magic with the paltry, debased materials at hand…

In the Queen’s arms, Merritt remains a child shaped by his mother’s bedtime stories. When Virtue contacts him, he readily sneaks down to her cell, dreams of nobility and valiant deeds filling his addled head…

With a final confrontation between mother and daughter imminent, Virtue sends Merritt to Hell on a vital quest to recover the Hope of the World. His triumphant return saves the kingdom and redeems the downcast…

As with all great fairy tales, justice is delivered and the world is set right side up again, with Shame dead, Slur confined to the Pit and pure reborn soul Hope in charge…

But what actually happens on the first day of “Happy Ever After”? The answer comes as the initial trilogy is extended via a second tranche of Original Graphic Novels, with Kindzierski & Bolton picking up their eldritch tapestry again in Hope

The day after Shame’s dismemberment and descent to Hell, chaos and uprising grips the kingdom, forcing Merritt and rebel wisewoman Miss Grace to escort bewildered Hope to safety outside the castle. The war has been won but evil cannot die and the rioting crowds are almost as much a danger as the Queen’s remaining stooges and free-roaming satanic spirits. Moreover, the child’s unschooled mystic force makes her a danger to herself and all around her…

Transporting her to the peaceful countryside fills Merritt with memories of his childhood and reveals what happened to his own mother, subsequently provoking Grace to review her own chequered past. Both have suffered grievously from Shame’s actions, and have no idea that the monster is still active in Hell, manipulating ghosts and demons to effect her return to Earth using the infernal contamination that used to be Cradle…

In the forests, Hope sees visions of forthcoming atrocity, which confirmed by Grace’s scrying, force the caravan to divert towards the once-green hell and meet the threat head on…

To Be Continued…

Fifth volume Hell’s Flaw resumes the epic quest, as Shame marshals her forces to secure the pathway from Hell to the living world, while the wary, weary band of heroes struggles to the verdant hellmouth.

Their way is blocked demonic forces too horrible to bear, but Grace has learned to tap Hope’s raw magic to fight them off. Slowly though, she becomes more controlling, her promises to teach the child somehow never materialising, although her need for her as a living battery constantly increases. Eventually, however, during a truly formidable assault, Hope asserts herself to save Merritt and the entire course of the quest changes…

In Hell, Shame’s own cunning endeavours have borne black fruit and she is ready to return…

To Be Concluded…

Epic and fanciful, the fairy tale trappings mask a most mature examination of Good and Evil, and the shimmering photorealistic expressionism of John Bolton’s lush painting transforms the familiar settings of fantasy standards and set-pieces into visions truly bleak and bizarre, perfectly complementing the grim, earthily seedy meta-reality of Kindzierski’s script.

Dark and nasty yet packed with sumptuous seductions of every stripe, the salutary saga of Shame is every adult fantasist’s desire made real and every comic fan’s most fervent anticipation in one irresistible package…

Hope, Hell’s Flaw and Shame: the series conceived and written by Lovern Kindzierski. The story, characters, world and designs are © Lovern Kindzierski, John Bolton and Renegade Arts Canmore Ltd.

Skydoll: Decade


By Barbara Canepa & Alessandro Barbucci (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78276-736-7 (HB)

Astoundingly barbed political and anti-consumerist satirical allegory Skydoll has appeared sporadically since 2000. It’s the other work of frequent collaborators Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa, whose usual offerings include family-oriented fare such as W.I.T.C.H. and Monster Allergy. Although rendered in the seductive anthropomorphic style developed for and signifying decades of wholesome Disney cartooning, it’s a subtly strident attack on corporate consumerism, media mesmerism of the masses, political expediency, religion and the power of the Catholic church. It’s all wrapped up in the raunchy, beguiling trappings of super-sexy science fiction shenanigans with artificial people so that makes it all right, right?

The majority of the of the sporadic components thus far generated were beautifully bound up in a gloriously oversized (284 x 212mm) full-colour hardback edition for the English-speaking cognoscenti in 2016, which is still readily available physically if not yet digitally…

The subversive odyssey begins with prose ‘Preface: ten years of Skydoll’: a bold declaration of intent by The Authorsbefore speeding straight into fantastic fantasy with ‘Volume 1: The Yellow City’, introducing fetching, wind-up automaton Noa who’s asking God for a little fair treatment whilst working at the insalubrious Heaven Spaceshipwash. She’s not like all the other beautiful dolls working there. Although she still needs to be wound-up every 33 hours by her owner, this alluring animatron seems to have a memory that doesn’t delete itself every couple of days. This means she keeps thinking of difficult fresh questions to ask…

Furiously shoved back to work, Noa ignores the fabulously bland and vapid blather of TV talk show monolith Frida Decibel blasting out from every home and public broadcast screen, telling the populace of Papathea how good everything is now that they only have one Popessa… in the buxom form of the divine Ludovica.

Once upon a time there were two True Vicars of God: Agape – who embodied spiritual love – and Ludovica who personified its physical expression. When Agape mysteriously vanished, her corporeal partner became sole arbiter of the galactic empire the church controls, commencing a campaign of craftily concocted public miracles to pacify an increasingly irate and disillusioned populace. It’s not really working though, and a rising tide of rebellion and resentment is just beginning to pop…

Our story really begins when two of Ludovica’s “Diplomatic Agents” stop at Heaven to get their starcraft properly shined before heading out on their top-secret mission. Old Jahu is especially keen on the diversion: everybody knows lusting after or even indulging in pleasure with a Doll doesn’t count as sin. The Popessa said so…

However, whilst lathering up the ship of some fervent fundamentalists at the head of the queue, Noa accidentally kicks off a small riot, even as, across the city, Ludovica’s latest manufactured miracle kicks into high-gear with mesmerising effect…

By the time the barrage of supernal glitz and gaudy glitter subsides, Jahu and young idealistic Roy are well on their way. They have no idea there’s a dazed and surprised stowaway aboard, with her crucial, life-sustaining key still negligently left in her back…

On the rapidly dwindling planet behind them, Ludovica fumes. Despite getting rid of her rival, the lone Popessa’s grasp of power remains uncertain. The people still hunger for absent Agape and there are rumours of rebellion. The anxious, power-mad pontiff has no idea how close to home the sedition reaches…

Aboard ship, Roy has made a startling discovery. Unable to help himself, he turns the key in the inert innocent’s back and restores temporary autonomy to a vivacious creature he can’t help but like…

Doctrinaire Jahu is less sanguine, but the mission is too important to delay. They can always dump the doll on the way home…

Noa is eternally curious, asking questions about everything. Inexplicably, she is especially moved by an illicit image of Agape the voyagers encounter in a space restaurant. It triggers strange, terrifying visions and Roy has to physically restrain Noa. What happens next is regarded by the astounded onlookers as a miracle…

The story resumes with ‘Volume 2: Aqua’ as hints start circulating about Noa’s destiny and the unseen sponsors who seem to be guiding her destiny. The Popessa’s missionary ambassadors meanwhile land on the world without males: one successfully propounding a third spiritual way…

Governed by planetary Guru Gaia, the women of Aqua are steadily gaining support across the universe, supported and funded by their range of wellness centres and luxury goods which everyone wants to try. Roy is there to build diplomatic bridges between the Popessa and the completely antithetical Aquans in the cause of peace. He has no idea Jahu’s orders are a little different. That stalwart always knew the only way to really deal with heretics…

Noa inveigles her way into the official conference: she’s hopeful these strange women will have some insight into her own rapidly-expanding consciousness. She is stunned by what they do know and their connection to missing Agape.

And as Jahu goes about his bloody work, back on Papathea, bloody revolution breaks out…

The intrigue expands in ‘Volume 3: The White City’ when Roy, Jahu and constantly-maturing Noa return as triumphant heroes. When officially interviewed by the ubiquitous Frida Decibel, the web of intrigue and damnation expands to encompass some very unexpected personalities, even as the empire stands poised on the edge of Armageddon and real miracles are observed in the most unlikely places…

A broad, vast, clever and frustrating unfinished epic, Skydoll is still unfolding at its own tantalising pace. There has however been plenty of sidebar and ancillary material released such as ‘Volume 0: Doll’s Factory’ which offers a sequence of prequel events, fleshing out the main characters.

Here a strange woman visits a factory, placing something miraculous inside a doll in the final stages of manufacture, whilst ‘Heaven’s Dolls’ rewards the reader with information on the world and empire of the Popessa, affording insights into other Dolls such as Lovely Lou, Juicy Lee, Sandy Blue and God himself – proving just why he needed killing…

There’s also a hilarious Sky Doll ‘Psycho-grapho Test’ to further reveal how life and society really work…

This immaculate confection culminates in a huge collection of ‘Homages’: a breathtaking gallery of tribute images of the synthetic star and her chums by a staggeringly talented cast of fellow artists: Claire Wendling, Karla Diaz, Benjamin, Marguerite Sauvage, Mijin Shatje, Cyrille Bertin, Tony Infante, Bengal, Claudio Acciari, Tony Sandoval, Amélie Fléchais, Giovanni Rigano, Sefora Pons, Gradimir Smudja, Aurore, Augustin Rolland, Nenent, Guezav, Pierre-Mony Chan, Lucy Mazel, Véronique Meignaud, Matteo De Longis, Xavier Collette, Anne Cresci, Lilidoll, Jérémie Almanza, Lostfish and more.

Completing and concluding the quasi-religious experience is a comprehensive feature ‘About the Authors’ and ‘Acknowledgements & Credits’.

A phenomenal and beguiling work-in-progress, Sky Doll is a superbly engaging exploration of erotica, iconology and idolatry: one no fun-loving, deep-thinking devotee of comic iconoclasm or dedicated supportive lover of mechanical self-gratification (Eeew!) should miss.
Sky Doll and all contents are © Editions Soleil/Barbucci/Canepa. This translated edition © 2016 Titan Comics.

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective


By Rand Holmes; written and compiled by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-170-1 (TPB)

Randolph Holton Holmes was a unique individual: a self-taught artist who grew up troubled, found peace and sufficiency if not fame and fortune, and died far too young on March 15th 2002. Available in wrist-wrenching paperback and soothing digital editions, this superbly curated compilation and biography re-presents scads of sketches; reproductions of drawings; cartoons and paintings he created in later life, preserved alongside a copious collection of his wickedly wonderful underground and alternative comic strips for fans and the soon to be devoted…

As usual, I’ll deliver here my warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or beautifully illustrated scenes of explicit sex, unbelievable comedic violence and controversial observations, don’t buy this book. In fact, stop reading this graphic novel review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then if you want. Be warned again though: I think you are being silly and may just cover something just as unseemly. That’s just the way I am…

Rand Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on February 22nd 1942 and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a rather remarkable early life (no clues from me – the whole point is to get you to buy this book) which included honing a prodigious artistic talent through diligently absorbing the work and drawing styles of Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman (who bought Rand’s first profession efforts for Help! magazine) – and most especially Wally Wood – Holmes became a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator at The Georgia Straight in 1969: one of many youth-oriented, counter-culture /“underground” newspapers that blossomed during the period.

Whilst there he created signature character Harold Hedd. It ran as a regular strip, and was assembled in 1972 into an outrageously hilarious, adults-only comic-book The Collected Adventures of Harold Hedd. A second volume followed a year later. Married young and always restless, Holmes generated an astounding amount of cartoon and comic work, which appeared in White Lunch Comix, All Canadian Beaver Comics, Slow Death, Fog City Comics, Gay Comics, Dope Comics and Snarf, amongst many others.

Holmes was by inclination a completely liberated sexual and political satirist. Sadly, his meticulously lush and shockingly explicit strips often obscured powerful social commentaries by being just too damn well-drawn. He produced strips for Rolling Stone and Cheri magazine and, in the 1980s, worked briefly in the mainstream comics market. When the Direct Sales revolution first flourished, he crafted EC-flavoured yarns for genre anthologies Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds,reuniting with long-time publishing collaborator Denis Kitchen for horror anthology Death Rattle as well as the fabulous mini-series Hitler’s Cocaine: the hip, trippy, return of Harold Hedd (included in its entirety in this volume).

Holmes married a second time in 1982 and moved his family to the idyllic, isolated artistic community of Lasqueti Island where he increasingly concentrated on a self-sufficient life-style, with oil painting replacing cartooning as an outlet for his relentless artistic drives. Here, with other creative hermits, he built an art centre which has become his lasting monument.

He passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002 and this book was the result of the first retrospective show compiled by his family from the treasury of superb material he left behind.

As well as a photo-stuffed and highly engaging history, this volume contains a wealth of artwork from early doodles to teen cartoons; illustrations and covers from his commercial art days; sketches; paintings; fascinating excerpts from the journals he kept for most of his life and a wonderful selection of his comics.

These last include many ‘Out to Lunch’ hotrod strips; early Harold Hedd pages from the Georgia Straight; sexy horror yarn ‘Raw Meat’; assorted ultra-nasty Basement Man tales; ‘Nip an’ Tuk – Those Cute Little Fuzzy Mices’; even more Hedd in ‘Wings Over Tijuana’ plus an unfinished story, as well as the aforementioned ‘Hitler’s Cocaine’ saga. Also on view are ‘And Here He Is… the Artist Himself’; ‘Killer Planet’; ‘Junkyard Dog’ (written by Mike Baron) and ‘Mean Old Man’ (written by Rob Maisch) – a powerful yarn that smacks of autobiography – before the artist portion concludes with a gallery of the stunning paintings that occupied his later days.

Rand Holmes was a true artist in every sense of the word: mostly producing work intended to change society, not fill his pockets. This terrific tome is a splendid and fitting tribute: one any grown-up art lover will marvel at and cherish.
© 2010 Patrick Rosenkranz, with the exception of the Rand Holmes diary entries which are © 2010 Martha Holmes. All artwork © 2010 Martha Holmes. Individual comic stories © their respective writers. All rights reserved.

Apocalypse Cancelled


By Luke Melia, Jamie Norman & Valerie Quatrocchi, Geoff Jones, David Anderson, Mike Smith, Dennis O’Shea, Kat Humphries, Grame Stewart, Dan Wilkinson, Leor King, INKY CONDITIONS & various (Dreamspace Books)
ISBN: 978-1-70859-669-9 (PB)

The following review contains language and expletives used by grown-ups. If you are offended or upset by words, and descriptions of rude stuff, perhaps you will want to give this one a miss.

We’ve all just been through an horrific experience and it’s certainly wedged itself into the global collective unconsciousness on many levels. I’ll wager it has forced many people to reassess the world and their place in it. On that note comes a wickedly mordant, topically charged satirical anthology of comics, prose and poetry from veteran indie author/publisher Luke Melia and his band of literary merry pranksters…

Likely suspects on the next Extinction Event list are limited and we can all cite them thanks to many, many movies and media outlets. The premise of this themed collection is a killer asteroid drawing an unmistakeable, irrevocable bead on the planet. Once it’s spotted, confirmed and made public, humanity reacts pretty much as you’d expect – with a few intriguing exceptions as detailed herein – before the worst thing possible happens: the bloody thing misses Earth and everybody still alive must deal with what they did when they thought the end was literally here…

An enticingly trenchant exploration and assessment of human nature in a shotgun blast of illustrated novellas, vignettes, epigrams and assorted poetic forms, the wild ride opens (and ultimately circularly closes) with ‘Prime Minister’s Speech’by Luke Melia: a rap-style 10 Downing Street press conference very much in the pompously profuse and profligate manner of our current old-school Glorious Leader, but with a hearty dose of biting whimsy salting the pot…

Précising the mindset of the masses as the big rock closes in, ‘Apocalypse Please’ precedes the first of a sequence of Police Memos addressing rapidly-shifting constabulary priorities and a jaunty ‘Limerick’ by Mike Smith, before Melia’s prose novella ‘Did You Have a Nice Weekend?’ hones in on one recurring aspect of the aftermath of Armageddon interruptus.

When the event fizzles, go-getting businessman Tony Clarke reassembles the remains of his crack team to capitalise on the reconstruction of society. Sadly, the uncontrolled, panicked personal excesses of those presumed end days may have resulted in words and actions that not everyone in the office can forgive or forget…

Melia’s vignette ‘Running Out of Tomorrows’ proves not everyone knows how to let go, before Smith’s epigrammatic treatise on ‘Terry’s Best Friend’ segues into Jamie Norman & Valerie Quatrocchi’s comic strip ‘Little Rock’ wherein man and beast each find a new way to wait for death. A police report on Cannibalism is balanced by ‘FUCK!’ (Leor King) as a cult leader is lost for words – or deeds – after which ‘Once Upon an Apocalypse’ by Geoff Jones shares one last grim bedtime tale between a father and his little princess…

More Melia moments follow as ‘The Conspiracy Wolf’ outlines a dedicated doomsday fantabulist’s dilemma and dysmorphic delusional ‘Eleanor’ finds an identity at last, whilst David Anderson & Melia explore a gamer’s solution in ‘Apocalypse Online’.

The pressing business of finishing a binge watch marathon occupies Dan Wilkinson in ‘En Route’ whilst Melia’s ‘First Day of School’ eases us into his examination of faith under inexorable pressure in Nun’s tale ‘Dear Lord’

The crime of Murder is reassessed in a police report as ‘A Big Change’ (by INKY CONDITIONS/Stevie Mitchell) offers cartoon commentary before ‘Louise’s Crater’ (Smith) sees possible spectral intervention for a single dad and his traumatised son when the end of days results in enforced separation due to a swift uptick of sales and compulsory overtime in underground bomb shelters…

A brace of Melia shorts opens with a bungee jumper in ‘Saving Grace’ and asks the space rock what it wants in ‘Journey’, before ‘Shuttle’ (Dennis O’Shea & Melia) observes how Earth’s latest astronauts handle the crisis, after which Benjamin Parkin’s ‘HIM’ homes in on a serial killer’s liberated spouse and Melia’s ‘Salvation Day’ takes us into the future when the crisis has been at last reduced to just another bank holiday.

Visually explicit, Melia & Anderson’s ‘We’re All Fucked!’ explores the plebian side of orgiastic release, after which a police report on Uncategorised Offences and Anderson’s ‘Bedside’ vigil lead to a delightfully different take from Kat Humphries as a string of loners bond over animal care in prose homily ‘Cat Lovers Wanted’

For ‘Bumping into People at Orgies’ Melia dryly dissects the morning after the night before, and Smith addresses passion and paranoia in ‘It’s Outside’ before O’Shea dabbles with just desserts – and entrees – in a tale of bullying entitled ‘Howard the Coward’.

Domestics reports get a police revision and Melia recounts the fate of ‘Yappy’ before Grame Stewart gets extremely down and dirty in a tale of ‘Dark Desires’ fulfilled, after which Melia’s ‘Freed’ addresses a new self-help system and Norman reveals the contributions of veteran nonconformist power engineer ‘Big Rock’. A mini masterpiece of character writing from Melia offers a tantalising counterpoint to liberated madness in ‘Business as Usual’ with data entry clerk Melvin Toddliving his perfect life as society crumbles. It’s not what you think…

Optimism in O’Shea’s ‘World Piece’ is countered by dark malice in Ryan Howe’s ‘Repent’ before ‘Bunker’ by O’Shea & Melia takes us into the future to reveal what today’s survivalist nuts did when the crash came, before a police report on Public Order and wry comic strip ‘Samson’ (Melia & Bobby Peñafiel) lead to a psychological aberration back at work in Melia’s ‘Cinnamon Glaze’. The entire calamity confection then concludes with the aforementioned redux performance of ‘Prime Minister’s Speech Part 2’, capping the madness with more – and better – of the same…

Perhaps best summed up by exalted prophet “Boring” Bob Grover of The Piranhas “The whole thing’s daft, I don’t know why. You have to laugh or else you’d cry”…

Conversely, you can simply read this and make up your mind in the comfort of your own retreat from reality…
All right reserved. Each piece © 2021 the relevant author.

Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-204-5 (HB)

In addition to being part of the graphic/literary revolution of Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly addictive tales of rural Palomar first garnered overwhelming critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone books such as Sloth, Birdland, Grip and Girl Crazy: all graced with his bold, compellingly simplified artwork and inspired adaptation of literary techniques used by Magical Realist writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez – techniques which he has amplified and, visually at least, made his own.

Hernandez also frequently acknowledges such outré mainstream influences as filmmakers Roger Corman and John Cassavetes, and crime writers Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson, as he explores new territories and reforms the cultural influences which shaped all us baby-boomers.

In Luba we glimpsed the troubled life of the lead character’s half-sister Rosalba “Fritzi” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, speech-impaired psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as We Love Alone, Seven Bullets to Hell, Chest Fever, Blood is the Drug and Lie Down in the Dark.

Although Fritzi only had a bit part in it, Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies into a graphic novel (Chance in Hell, 2007) and repeated the story-within-a-story-within-a-story gimmick in 2009 with The Troublemakers – a frantic, hell-bent pulp fiction crime thriller which was part of the screen queen’s canon – and did it again in 2011 with Love from the Shadows.

Here, he’s gone a step further by revisiting the tone of those tales in the format of the 1960’s publishing trend for two-cover paperback releases offering a double-bill of exceedingly eccentric adult-themed sagas drawn from the schlocky, sleazy B-movie subculture of those times.

Deftly mimicking a compelling-but-trashy post-Noir psycho thriller and titillating Sci-Fi melodramas, both of these tales originated a decade ago in Love and Rockets: The New Stories and have been expanded for this volume.

You can start at whatever end you like – it’s a democracy, after all – and I’ll go with the wildly experimental graphic mime Hypnotwist. With overtones of Justine (or The Misfortunes of Virtue, the 1791 novel by Donatien Alphonse François de Sade), this eerie meander through the perils of modern debauchery follows a lost and vulnerable young woman on an astonishingly bizarre voyage of discovery…

If you flip to the far end, you’ll then be regaled by Scarlet by Starlight: a multi-perspective narrative that appears at first to be a science fictional fable of humanity despoiling a primitive Eden, before evolving into something far more disturbing. On a distant world, a team of three earthling explorers are helpless to prevent themselves becoming far too intimate with the primitive yet buxom anthropoids that populate the planet. As the human relationships break down, unwise new bonds are formed with unpleasant and even harrowing results…

Savage and sexually explicit, this exploration of drives and desires takes a further step into forbidden territory after the bold explorers return home…

Dark, evocative and astoundingly compelling, these are perfect pastiches of revered genres from a time period growing increasingly remote and fabulous. This slim hardback/digital delight is a stunning graphic rollercoaster ride of sex, violence, greed and obsession: a mesmerising treat jam-packed with Hernandez’s coolly understated narrative suspense, intoxicating illustration, brutally raw tension, sly elements of filmic surrealism and sheer surreal excess which carry and beguile the reader in classic style.
Hypnotwist/Scarlet by Starlight © 2021 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon


By Mohammad al-Mohamed Muhammad, Youssef Fakish & various (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 378-1-9387202-9-1 (PB)

Let’s get one thing straight here. This is a satirical spoof, ok?

A jape, a jest: witty sequential pictorial banter with pointed points to make on sexual, religious and geopolitical politics. If you’re feeling unnecessarily singled out, I’m fat, bald, old, disabled and white: feel free to have a go back, on citing whatever misperceived grounds you feel you’re entitled to, but do not believe for one moment you’ve been singled out for exclusion or special attention…

Crafted during the heady and contentious era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – way back when what you did with your bits (whenever a deadly foe wasn’t trying to blow them away, at least) somehow affected your ability to kill people on command – Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon hilariously goes sufficiently too far in extrapolation.

In their hidden caves, the vile masterminds of the subversive enemy realise the American military is critically vulnerable to seduction by dedicated martyrs willing to give their all, and rapidly trains up 16 super-hunky guys to destroy all those agents of the Great Satan from within…

Beautifully realized, packed with glamour, action, proper jokes and a fair slice of sentiment, this is a definitely demented but brilliant Carry On movie plot taken to fabulous extremes that will leave you helpless with laughter.

Oh, there’s also EXPLICIT GAY SEX, all over this book – available in paperback and digital formats – so don’t read it if you’re likely to be offended by that, rather than the killing, explosions, nuclear armageddon and all-denominational blasphemy.

Adding to the fun are a set of paper dolls and costumes to play with, pin-ups and it even comes with a free ‘Trans-Denominational, Pre-Emptive Fatwa’ too, signed off by globally-renowned Pastor Brett Pirkle, so you know you can sleep safe in your bed… or anyone else’s…

Sing along now, “it’s the End of the World as we know it, and I feel f…”
© 2013 David J. Zelman. All rights reserved.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson: volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5 (HB)

Once more, I’m altering the fixed schedules to note the passing of a giant. Everybody’s losing loved one in far greater numbers than we can really afford or cope with, but this one is even more poignant and powerful: the death of one of the most vital and vigorous cartoonists we’ve ever been privileged to enjoy. Here’s a parental warning to prove it…

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. If that hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contains images of nudity, extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homosexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and school playgrounds whenever adults aren’t present.

If the thought of all that offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will just enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted – or perhaps had – to.

Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative and hilariously violent.

The manly, hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The modern successor to Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered, but he never toned down his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and underwent full-time palliative care ever since. He died aged 79, on Sunday February 7th 2021.

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and graphic overview – also available in digital formats – is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover, each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously-unpublished artworks, and each chapter offers a wealth of gloriously outrageous strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

It opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and into college, but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ (from Gothic Blimp Works #1), ‘River City Shoot-Out’ from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all circa 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ (Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970) and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics, 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations, 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ (Insect Fear #1),‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’ from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop-out life style, topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also supplies ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’ and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’, ‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’ and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’. Zap #5 (1970) barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’ and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’: a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of countercultural thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity, comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics, 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974), which also offers a quartet of single-frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’; a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadrés like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso, made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume (of three) and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975; illustrations for William Burroughs’ seminal short story ‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’ (Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, front-&-back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork; ‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1 (1971), 8-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. This is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Inner City Romance


By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-60699-813-7 (TPB)

Please pay careful attention: this book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of vulgar language most kids are fluent in by age ten.

If reading about such material is likely to offend you stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then if you want.

Guy Colwell is an artist, activist and occasional cartoonist whose works are deeply personal and immensely passionate. As such they have often been controversial. An early stalwart of Underground Commix, his output at that time was graphically sexual, ferociously pro-change and subtly anti-establishment.

A conscious objector and political activist during the time of the Vietnam War (the US government preferred the creepily draconian term “Non Co-operator”) he was prepared to serve two years at McNeil Island Federal prison rather than compromise his principles. Already tenuously starting a long and prestigious career as a gallery painter, Colwell’s incarceration was the spark for a second creative path as a cartoon journalist and comics creator. His later works are mostly political paintings including Litter Beach and The Abuse, and wildlife murals, such as a monumental rainforest wall for the Oakland Zoo.

It’s important in today’s world to plainly point out he is not African-American …

Inner City Blues re-presents a seminal 5 issue underground classic he crafted between 1971 and 1978, blending open minded exploration of alternative lifestyles with keen observation of the life of the nation’s disenfranchised and marginalised underclasses, all thoughtfully argued through beguiling depictions of sex, drugs, crime, socio-political rebellion and ecological radicalism.

They’re compelling and beautiful to look at too…

Lavishly augmented by more than 30 of Colwell’s gallery paintings; candid photos; a selection of his magazine illustrations and even historically significant examples of his time as a courtroom sketch artist, the commemorative paperback celebration (also available digitally) opens with a little history and philosophy in ‘Good Times and Bad: The Evolution of Revolution’ by Patrick Rosenkranz – who also provided the ‘Epilogue’ and an effusive overview of ‘The Artist’ at the end of the book.

The monochrome cartoon blasts from the past open with the epochal ‘Choices’ from Inner City Romance #1 as three convicts are released on the same day…

Marvin and token white guy Paddy can think of nothing more than getting high, getting laid and making money the way they used to, but for black power activist James – who’s leaving the joint even more radicalised than when he went in – all that is secondary to reuniting with his political brothers and sisters to resume taking the war to “The Man”…

Driving to San Francisco in a stolen car the trio rave on about what they’re going to do and all too soon Marvin and Paddy are indulging in an orgy of sex and drugs. After touching base with a most willing soulmate at the Street Defense Committee, James eventually rejoins his debauched jail buddies. However, as he watches their excesses, he realises he’s come to a crossroads in his life…

For many readers the political message was electrically clear, and the astoundingly explicit sexual antics serve here as a nothing more than powerfully distracting sleight of hand…

The comic was a huge counter culture hit (going through four printings and selling thousands of copies) so the saga notionally continued a year later in issue #2 with ‘Radical Rock’

As Rosenkranz explains in a brief introduction, in the intervening time Colwell had been drawing a strip for the San Francisco Good Times newspaper, but when that organ of infinitely free expression folded, he recycled his paean to peace and anti-war sentiment into a new comic book, adding in powerful overtones highlighting the increasingly oppressive nature of policing in the city.

The result was a strangely intoxicating brew akin to a rock opera with dialogue delivered in scintillating rhyming couplets and quatrains as The People combat authoritarian excesses and illegal imprisonment of activists by attempting to hold a benefit concert in the park.

The “Powers That Be” have their own agenda of course and plan a major bust, but when James is gunned down in the street all bets are off…

The same issue also contained ‘Part Two (Adagio)’ which deftly shifts scene to carnally explore the reactions of the previous generation of poor folks. Colwell has viewed sex as something joyous to be indulged in by young and old, pretty or plain, and this moving affirmation that “everybody does it” acts as a powerful counterpoint to the unfolding drama as the creaky lovers are interrupted by news that their son has been arrested and mercilessly beaten.

By the time they get to the police station the drama is set to escalate into horrific tragedy…

Inner City Romance #3 was released in 1977 and is the artist’s personal favourite. Largely devoid of dialogue, it thematically returns to the prison system: following the escape into dreams of three very different inmates, resulting in some of Colwell’s most inventive, erotic and phantasmagorical artwork…

Released the same year, #4 and returned to real-world activism by fictionalising the scandal surrounding the abandonment and eventual eviction of the elderly, handicapped, ethnic minorities and just plain poor residing in the International Hotel, San Francisco (go google it, Maa-aaan…).

Colwell’s sensitive take on the Humans vs. Money affair is an intensely evocative and surprisingly even-handed affair, highlighting need for change and the ultimate price of life as a young boy perishes due to the short-sighted addition of ‘Ramps’ to a rickety, ramshackle ghetto complex local government is just too mean to fix…

With Vietnam over and social crusading giving way to an era of sexual liberation, Colwell’s final Inner City Romance explored the liberation of libido in a quintet of short tales which still found space and time to question the effects of freedom and progress on different strata of society. It begins with the unabashed joy of loving in ‘Good for You’ before a different stroke focuses on recreational drug-taking and the budding Punk Scene in ‘DownUp’

Arson and deprivation mark the experiences of a loose association of urban youngsters in ‘Interkids’, whilst the unluckiest woman in town experiences three different kinds of hellish horror when she becomes the victim of ‘Sex Crime’ before the fables conclude with sheer exuberance and impassioned release for two young lovers ‘All Over the Clover’

Still crusading, Colwell ends the festival of life in this magnificent tome with a stunning gallery of his best paintings proving that old campaigners never die, they just get sharper…

For decades the publicity-shy Colwell was thought by his fans and contemporaries to be a black artist, so strident, effective and authentic was his narrative voice. Even today his ethnicity is unimportant; what counts is that he’s human and urgently begs us all to be human too. Why not dabble in a little Inner City Romance of your own and see for yourself?
Inner City Romance © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc unless otherwise noted. All comics stories, illustrations and paintings © 2015 Guy Colwell. All rights reserved.

The Strange Tale of Panorama Island


By Edogawa Rompo, adapted and illustrated by Suehiro Maruo, translated by Ryan Sands & Kyoko Nitta (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-777-8 (HB)

Edogawa Rompo is revered as the Godfather of Japanese detective fiction – his output as author and critic defining the crime thriller from 1923 to his death in 1965. Born Tarō Hirai, he worked under a nom-de-plume based on his own great inspiration, Edgar Allen Poe, penning such well-loved classics as The Two-Sen Copper Coin, The Stalker in the Attic, The Black Lizard and The Monster with 20 Faces as well as many tales of his signature hero detective Kogoro Akechi, notional leader of the stalwart young band Shōnen tantei dan (the Boy Detective’s Gang).

He did much to popularise the concept of the rationalist observer and deductive mystery-solver. In 1946, he sponsored the detective magazine Hōseki (Jewels) and a year later founded the Detective Author’s Club, which survives today as the Mystery Writers of Japan association.

Although his latter years were taken up with promoting the genre, producing criticism, translation of western fiction and penning crime books for younger audiences, much of his earlier output (Rampo wrote 20 novels and lots of short stories) were dark, sinister concoctions based on the trappings and themes of ero guro nansensu (“eroticism, grotesquerie, and the nonsensical”) playing into the then-contemporary Japanese concept of hentai seiyoku or “abnormal sexuality”.

From that time comes this particular adaptation, originally serialised in Enterbrain’s monthly magazine Comic Beam from July 2007-January 2008.

Panorama-tō Kidan or The Strange Tale of Paradise Island was a prose vignette released in 1926, adapted here with astounding flair and finesses by uncompromising illustrator and adult manga master Suehiro Maruo.

A frequent contributor to the infamous Japanese underground magazine Garo, Maruo is the crafter of such memorable and influential sagas as Ribon no Kishi (Knight of the Ribbon), Rose Coloured Monster, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show, The Laughing Vampire, Ultra-Gash Inferno, How to Rake Leaves and many others.

This is a lovely book. A perfect physical artefact of the themes involved, this weighty oversized (262x187mm) monochrome hardback has glossy full-colour inserts, creator biographies and just feels like something extra special, whilst it compellingly chronicles an intriguingly baroque tale of greed, lust, deception and duplicity which begins when starving would-be author Hitomi Hirosuke reads of the death of the Taisho Emperor. Sadly, it still hasn’t made it into digital formats yet…

On December 26th 1926, Japan suffered a social catastrophe. The shock of losing the revered ruler reverberated through the entire nation. The trauma forced one failing writer to reassess his life. He finds himself wanting…

At another fruitless meeting with his editor Ugestu, Hitomi learns that an old friend, Genzaburo Komoda, has passed away. At college the boys were implausibly inseparable: the poor but ambitious kid and the heir to one of the greatest industrial fortunes in Japan. Perhaps it was because they looked and sounded exactly alike: doppelgangers nobody could tell apart…

The presumed cause of death was the asthma which had plagued the wealthy scion all his life and Hitomi, fuelled by self-loathing and inspired by Poe’s tale “The Premature Burial”, hatches a crazy scheme…

Faking his own suicide the writer leaves his effects to Ugestu before travelling to Kishu and immediately beginning his insane plot. Starving himself the entire time, Hitomi locates his pal’s grave, disposes of the already mouldering body and dons the garments and jewellery of Komoda. He even smashes out a front tooth and replaces it with the false one from the corpse…

His ghastly tasks accomplished, the starving charlatan simply collapses in a road where he can be found…

The news spreads like wildfire and soon all Komoda’s closest business associates have visited the miraculous survivor of catalepsy. The intimate knowledge Hitomi possesses combined with the “shock and confusion” of his miraculous escape is enough to fool even aged family retainer Tsunoda, and the fates are with him in that the widow Chiyoko has gone to Osaka to get over her loss. Of course she will rush back as soon as she hears the news…

However with gifts and good wishes flooding in, even Chiyoko is seemingly fooled and the fraudster begins to settle in his new skin. Just to be safe, however, he keeps the wife at a respectful and platonic distance. Comfortably entrenched, he begins to move around the Komoda fortune.

Hitomi the starving writer’s great unfinished work was The Tale of RA, a speculative fantasy in which a young man inherits a vast fortune and uses it to create an incredible, futuristic pleasure place of licentious delight. Now the impostor starts to make that sybaritic dream a reality, repurposing the family wealth into buying an island, relocating its inhabitants and building something never before conceived by mind of man…

Fobbing off all questions with the lie that he is constructing an amusement park that will be his eternal legacy, he populates the marvel of Arcadian engineering, landscaping, and optical science with a circus of wanton performers, living statues of erotic excess and a manufactured mythological bestiary.

He even claims that the colossal expenditure will begun healing the local economic malaise, but for every obstacle overcome another seems to occur. Moreover he cannot shift the uneasy feeling that Chiyoko suspects the truth about him…

Eventually however the great dream of plutocratic grandeur, lotus-eating luxury and hedonistic sexual excess is all but finished and “Komoda” escorts his wife on a grand tour of the wondrous celebration of debauched perversity that is his personal empire of the senses.

Once ensconced there he ends his worries of Chiyoka exposing him, but all too soon his Panorama Island receives an unwanted visitor.

Kogoro Akechi has come at the behest of the wife’s family and he has a few questions about, of all things, a book.

It seems that an editor, bereaved by the loss of one of his protégés, posthumously published that tragic young man’s magnum opus to celebrate his wasted life: a story entitled The Tale of RA

This dark compelling morality play is realised in a truly breathtaking display of artistic virtuosity from Maruo, who combines clinical detail of intoxicating decadence with vast graphic vistas in a torrent of utterly enchanting images, whilst never allowing the visuals to overwhelm the underlying narrative and rise and fall of a boldly wicked protagonist…

Stark, stunning, classically clever and utterly adult The Strange Tale of Paradise Island is one of the best-looking, most absorbing crime thrillers I’ve seen this century, and no mystery loving connoisseur of comics, cinema or prose should miss it.
© 2008, 2013 HIRAI Rutaro, MARUO Suehiro. All rights reserved. English translation © 2013 Last Gasp.

Pure Trance


By Junko Mizuno (jaPress/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-878-2 (HB)

If you’re over a certain age or have eclectic tastes in art and music, you might feel a pang of nostalgia at this remastered work of coyly adults-only fiction: the first subversively compelling creation of iconic Manga master Junko Mizuno.

Since her emergence in 1995, the author has become renowned – more accurately, infamous – for mixing childhood innocence with grim, gory action and unwholesome or stridently clashing, wildly inappropriate content in a sub-genre now dubbed Gothic or Noir kawaii (where kawaii describes cutely drawn protagonists and subjects).

Moreover, the skewed sensibilities of such works as Cinderalla, Hansel & Gretel, Princess Mermaid, Momongo no Isshō (the Life of Momongo), Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu and Ravina the Witch has escaped the comics ghetto to be embraced by a larger fashion-based audience with art exhibitions (Heart Throbs and Tender Succubus), art-books (Hell Babies, Collector File and Flare) and high-end designer toys for adults which include plush animals, vinyl figures, stationery, postcards, stickers, original art T-shirts and a line of condoms and erotic paraphernalia.

Her shojo-derived style (that’s “stories for girls”, in case you’re wondering) also borrows heavily from the most iconic imagery of the 1960s and early 1970s, particularly the Graphic Psychedelia which grew out of Pop Art. Her stars and support characters are huge eyed, large-headed poppet girls, drawn to look young or, more accurately, actively, innocently, illicitly under-aged: all acting in simplified environments where detail is reduced to bare minima.

The stories are always sharply at odds with her drawing style – like cartoons for toddlers, but involving unpleasant visits to the gynaecologist or being consumed by cannibals – and much of her material incorporates splashy full colour despite the overwhelming preponderance of black and white material in Japan.

Rereleased in tactilely-satisfying hardback and ebook editions, Pure Trance is strictly monochrome throughout and was the auteur’s first official book, even though it is, in fact, a compilation of a minicomics series created to be given away with CD music albums. From 1996-1998 these deeply disturbing Sci Fi adventures of hard-pressed nurses and beauticians in a dystopian future were included in Pure Trance volumes 11 to 20.

I can’t help but wonder what the blissed-out music fans made of the creepily tongue-in-cheek horror stories, but at least the work reached a more amenable audience when Mizuno revised and updated the pamphlets in 1998 for a single book edition. That was first translated into English in 2005 and now it’s back again…

I hesitate to attempt a précis of this wonderfully baroque extravaganza of sugar ‘n’ spice, unnecessary surgical procedures, creeping mutant terrors, animal antics, walk-in Eating Disorder clinics, fetish and bondage catalogues and the indomitable triumph of the human spirit over its own darkest desires, but the chilling whimsy unleashed here is a brilliant and intoxicating progression that needs some highlighting, so…

In the aftermath of WW3, Earth is a toxic wasteland and humanity has retreated underground. Deep beneath Tokyo, society carries on but is currently beleaguered by a plague of uncontrollable hunger: an unappetising condition dubbed “hyperorexia” which is caused by the life-sustaining Pure Trance pill everyone takes. In a bleak commercialised underworld, the condition is treated by dedicated clinicians in specialised hospitals…

Our story focuses on Overeaters Treatment Center 102 and its deviant director Keiko Yamazaki; an officious, drug-abusing, sadistic tyrant who makes life hell for the poor nurses under her command. Her cruel practises – such as humiliation, torture and eating any animal (artificial or real) unfortunate enough to fall into her clutches – eventually sparks a revolution, but not before some of her subordinates make a daring and desperate dash for the abandoned surface world to discover things both amazing and life-changing…

Supplemented by info pin-ups highlighting the many characters wandering about and accompanied by sidebar inserts detailing people, places, beasts, items of interest and key moments under the designation “Pure Trance Trivia”, this epic exploration of an uncanny alternate tomorrow is both splendid and terrifying.

Everything, especially the legion of pretty girls, is drawn in the style of early Playboy icons, in the brand of cartoon stylisations that featured in movie title sequences like What’s New, Pussycat? or Yellow Submarine. Anybody British who remembers the children’s animation Crystal Tipps and Alistair, or the hippo from Rainbow, will feel a frisson of nostalgia – which is of course the point. The art is an irresistible velvet trap designed to reduce readers to a receptive state in which the author can make telling points about contemporary culture.

By co-opting children’s entertainment Mizuno addresses fundamental aspects of human existence in a form designed to shock, subvert, upset and most importantly, provoke. So, if some thought on the readers’ part extends beyond our old-fashioned, but still visceral gut-reaction to innocent girls in distress and the ridiculous and idealistic spiritual purity that used to be associated with such imagery, then she’s done her job…

This groundbreaking social satire is a supremely edgy and funny fantasy with plenty to say about society, relationships and the planet we should be safeguarding – especially now, when and where we’re all under similar pressures of isolation and survival.
© 2005, 2019 Junko Mizuno. All Rights Reserved.