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.

High Soft Lisp


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-318-7 (TPB)

Please pay attention: this book contains stories and images of an adult nature, specifically designed for adult consumption employing the kind of coarse, vulgar language most kids are fluent in by the age of ten. If reading about such things is likely to offend you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something with violence and explosions, so come back then.

In addition to being part of the graphic and literary revolution that is Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly compulsive tales of Palomar and the later stories of those characters collected as Luba gained such critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced compelling stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Grip and Girl Crazy. They are all marked by his bold, simplified line artwork and a mature, sensitive use of the literary techniques of Magical Realist writers Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has added to and made his own.

Love and Rockets is an anthology comics publication featuring slick, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks, heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasy and bold experimental comic narratives that pretty much defy classification. The synthesistic Hernandez Bros still captivate with incredible stories that sample a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and luchadors.

Palomar was the conceptual and cultural playground “Beto” created for extended serial Heartbreak Soup: a dirt-poor Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life death, adultery, magic, serial killing and especially gossip could happen in Palomar’s meta-fictional environs – and did – as the artist explored his own post-punk influences: comics, music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics, and all in a style somehow informed by everything from Tarzan comics to Saturday morning cartoons and The Lucy Show.

Happily, Beto returns to Palomar constantly, usually with tales involving the formidable matriarch Luba, who ran the village’s bath house, acted as Mayor (and sometimes police chief) as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population. Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Concepcion.

Luba eventually migrated to the USA and reunited with her half-sisters Petra and – the star of this volume – Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez. This collection was compiled from assorted material that first appeared in Love and Rockets volume II and Luba’s Comics and Stories, with some new pages and many others redrawn and rewritten.

Fritz is a terrifyingly complex creature. She is a psychiatrist and therapist, former B-Movie actress, occasional belly dancer, persistent drunk, ardent gun-fetishist, as well as a sexually aggressive and manipulative serial spouse. Beautiful, enticingly damaged, with a possibly-intentional speech impediment, she sashays from crisis to triumph and back again, and this moving, shocking, funny chronicle uses the rambling recollections of one of her past husbands – motivational speaker Mark Herrera – to follow her life from High School punkette outsider through her various career and family ups and downs…

Under the umbrella title of ‘Dumb Solitaire’, what purports to be the memoir of Senor Herrera reveals in scathing depth the troubled life of the woman he cannot stay away from in an uncompromising and sexually explicit “documentary” which pulls no punches, makes no judgements and yet still manages to come off as a feel-good tale.

Available in physical and digital formats, High Soft Lisp is the most intriguing depiction of feminine power and behaviour since Flaubert’s Madame Bovary – and probably just as controversial – with the added advantage of intoxicating drawing adding shades of meaning that mere text just cannot impart.

Very funny, very moving, remarkable and unmissable: no mature fan of the medium should deprive themselves of this treat.
© 2010 Gilbert Hernandez. All Rights Reserved.

Luba


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-960-9 (HB)

In the 1980s a qualitative revolution forever destroyed the clichéd, stereotypical ways different genres of comic strips were regarded. Most prominent in destroying these comfy pigeonholes we’d built for ourselves were three guys from Oxnard, California; Jaime, Mario (occasionally) and Gilberto Hernandez.

Love and Rockets was an anthology comics magazine featuring the intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks of punky young things Maggie and Hopeylas Locas – and heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasy of the town of Palomar. These gifted synthesists captivated us all with incredible stories that sampled a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers. The result was pictorial and narrative dynamite.

Palomar was the playground of Gilberto, created for the extended serial Heartbreak Soup: a poor Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life, death, adultery, magic, serial killing and especially gossip could happen in Palomar’s meta-fictional environs – and did – as Beto mined his own post-punk influences, comics, music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics, in a style that seemed informed by everything from the Magical Realism of writers like Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez to Saturday morning cartoons and The Lucy Show.

He returned to the well of Palomar constantly, usually tales centred around formidable matriarch – or perhaps Earth Mother figure – Luba, who ran the village’s bath house, acted as Mayor – and sometimes police chief – as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population. Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Concepcion. A passionate, fiery woman who speaks her mind and generally gets her own way, her truest, constant life-long companion is a small claw-hammer…

Luba defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you want to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will probably notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit. Luba’s story is about Life, and sex happens, constantly and often with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you, don’t read these tales. It is genuinely your loss.

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and editions which I really must get around to systematically reviewing) like An American in Palomar, Human Diastrophism and Poison River, the magazine ended. Luba and her extended family then graduated to a succession of mini-series concentrating on her moving to the USA and reuniting with half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra, taken when her mother Maria fled from Palomar decades previously.

Which brings us to this delightfully massive and priceless tome (sadly, not available in any digital formats yet). Luba collects in one monumental volume her later life as a proud immigrant refusing to learn English (or is she?): more than 80 stories covering 596 monochrome pages ranging from lengthy sagas to sparkling single page skits taken from Luba, Luba’s Comics and Stories, Luba in America, Luba: the Book of Ofelia and Luba: Three Daughters. The tone and content range from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in these pages, and you really should go looking…

Although in an ideal world you would read the older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and memory are as much a part of this brilliant passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter.

Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as coarse and earthy any as any of Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare.

I’m probably more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was about the power of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally. Luba is about love. Not the sappy one-sided happy-ever after stuff, but LOVE, that mighty, hungry beast that makes you always protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life. The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words.

Just like the love of a great comic…
© 2009 Gilbert Hernandez. All Rights Reserved.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bent


By Dave Cooper (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-378-1 (HB)

Every so often I tend to stray a little from my accustomed comfort zone and regulation hunting grounds: moving beyond narrative art into broader realms of imagination. In that vein, here’s a little item available in hardback and digital formats that promises all of that and more. Whilst not sequential art the enticing yet profoundly disturbing images contained herein are certainly full of technical craft and intense imagination; and moreover, the chillingly subversive pictures tell stories the way no thousand words ever could… by boring straight into your brain and making themselves uncomfortably at home.

Dave Cooper was born in November 1967 in Nova Scotia, before relocating – presumably with adult guardians of some sort – to Ottawa when he was nine. A few years later, he was swept up in the massive mid-1980s Independent comics Boom & Bust that generated great and wonderful series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Puma Blues, Flaming Carrot and Silent Invasion, as well as lots of awful couldn’t die fast enough stuff. Young Cooper toiled for schlockmeister Barry Blair on numerous Aircel Comics titles and doesn’t like to talk about it much now…

Thoroughly “blooded”, his real career began in the 1990’s at Fantagraphics, creating challenging underground comix styled material like Suckle, Weasel and graphic novel Ripple amongst other strips. In 2007, as Hector Mumbly, he published his first kid’s book Bagel’s Lucky Hat.

By 2002 he had transformed into an acclaimed oil painter with international gallery shows and awards and ended the decade as a creator/designer of animated kids TV shows such as Pig Goat Banana Cricket (with Johnny Ryan for Nickelodeon) and The Bagel and Betty Show (Teletoon/BBC) as well as short film for adults The Absence of Eddy Table. He’s still painting and is now a Director of the Saw Gallery.

A sequence of Cooper’s darker, violently sinister and most sexually surreal paintings is assembled in this pictorially grotesque catalogue of forbidden delights, preceded by effusive Introduction ‘Bent and Free’ from Guillermo del Toro.

The illustrative technique is sheer, Impressionistic welcoming seduction, but the content is deranged, deformed and disturbingly gelid: all soft contours, glossy surfaces and childhood dreams, offering human forms distorted and reformed by Lovecraftian physics and biology. It’s a uniquely horrid beauty and one that, once seen, is so very hard to forget…

As well as fully-realised paintings, the book also features pencil & pen sketches and working drawings offering a glimpse into the mind and process of a one-of-a-kind talent.

If you crave images that push every envelope, track down this macabre tome…
© 2010 Dave Cooper. All rights reserved.

The Misadventures of Jane


By Norman Pett & J.H.G. (“Don”) Freeman (Titian Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-167-0 (HB)

Once upon a time, Jane was one of the most important and well-regarded comic strips in British, if not World, history. It debuted on December 5th 1932 as Jane’s Journal: or The Diary of a Bright Young Thing: a frothy, frivolous gag-a-day strip in the Daily Mirror, created by (then) freelance cartoonist Norman Pett.

Originally a nonsensical comedic vehicle, it consisted of a series of panels with cursive script embedded within to simulate a diary page. It switched to more formal strip frames and balloons in late 1938, when scripter Don Freeman came on board and Mirror Group supremo Harry Guy Bartholomew was looking to renovate the serial for a more adventure- and escape-hungry audience. It was also felt that a continuity feature such as Freeman’s other strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred would keep readers coming back; as if Jane’s inevitable – if usually unplanned – bouts of near nudity wouldn’t…

Jane’s secret was skin. Even before war broke out there were torn skirts and lost blouses aplenty, but once the shooting started and Jane became an operative for British Intelligence, her clothes came off with terrifying regularity and machine gun rapidity. She even went topless when the Blitz was at its worst.

Pett drew the strip with verve and style, imparting a uniquely English family feel: a joyous lewdness-free innocence and total lack of tawdriness. The artist worked from models and life, famously using first his wife, his secretary Betty Burton, and editorial assistant Doris Keay but most famously actress and model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter – until May 1948 when Pett left for another newspaper and another clothing-challenged comic star…

His art assistant Michael Hubbard assumed full control of the feature (prior to that he had drawn backgrounds and mere male characters), and carried the series – increasingly a safe, flesh-free soap-opera and less a racy glamour strip – to its conclusion on October 10th 1959.

This Titan Books collection added the saucy secret weapon to their growing arsenal of classic British comics and strips, and paid Jane the respect she deserved with a snappy black and white hardcover collection, complete with colour inserts.

Following a fascinating and informative article taken from Canadian paper The Maple Leaf (which disseminated her adventures to returning ANZAC servicemen), Jane’s last two war stories (running from May 1944 to June 1945) are reprinted in their entirety, beginning with ‘N.A.A.F.I, Say Die!’, wherein the hapless but ever-so-effective intelligence agent is posted to a British Army base where somebody’s wagging tongue is letting pre “D-Day” secrets out. Naturally (very au naturally), only Jane and her new sidekick and best friend Dinah Tate can stop the rot…

This is promptly followed by ‘Behind the Front’ wherein Jane and Dinah invade the continent, tracking down spies, collaborators and boyfriends in Paris before joining a ENSA concert party, and accidentally invading Germany just as the Russians arrive…

As you’d expect, the comedy is based on classic Music Hall fundamentals with plenty of drama and action right out of the patriotic and comedy cinema of the day – but if you’ve ever seen Will Hay, Alistair Sim or Arthur Askey at their peak you’ll know that’s no bad thing – and this bombastic book also contains loads of rare goodies to drool over.

Jane was so popular that there were three glamour/style books called Jane’s Journal for which Pett produced many full-colour pin-ups, paintings and general cheese-cake illustration. From these lost gems, this tome includes ‘The Perfect Model’, a strip “revealing” how the artist met his muse Chrystabel Leighton-Porter; ‘Caravanseraglio!’, an 8-page strip starring Jane and erring, recurring boyfriend Georgie Porgie plus 15 pages of the very best partially and un-draped Jane pin-ups.

Jane’s war record is frankly astounding. As a morale booster she was reckoned worth more than divisions of infantry and her exploits were cited in Parliament and discussed with actual seriousness by Eisenhower and Churchill. Legend has it that The Daily Mirror’s Editor was among the few who knew the date of D-Day so as to co-ordinate her exploits with the Normandy landings.

In 1944, on the day she went full frontal, the American Service newspaper Roundup (provided to US soldiers) went with the headline “JANE GIVES ALL” and the sub-heading “YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW”. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter toured as Jane in a services revue – she stripped for the boys – during the war and in 1949 starred in the film The Adventures of Jane.

Although the product of simpler, less enlightened, and indubitably more hazardous, times, the charming, thrilling, innocently saucy adventures of Jane, patient but dedicated beau Georgie Porgie and especially her intrepid Dachshund Count Fritz Von Pumpernickel are incontestable landmarks of the art-form, not simply for their impact but also for the plain and simple reason that they are superbly drawn and huge fun to read.

After years of neglect, don’t let’s waste the opportunity to keep such a historical icon in our lives. You should find this book, buy your friends this book, and most importantly, agitate to have her entire splendid run reprinted in more books like this one. Do your duty, lads and lassies…
Jane © 2009 MGN Ltd/Mirrorpix. All Rights Reserved.

Bread & Wine – an Erotic Tale of New York


By Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-632-4

The demands of drama dictate that true love never runs smooth but that’s not the case in real life. The trade-off is that those actual romances which stand the test of time and tedium are painfully devoid of the remarkable circumstance and miraculous “gosh-wow” moments of fiction.

But this remarkable account proves That Ain’t Necessarily So…

In 1999 independent publisher Juno released a small graphic novel memoir, written by Samuel R. Delaney and illustrated by Mia Wolff (Catcher), which recounts how a celebrated gay black literary giant, college professor and social theoretician with a mantelpiece crowded of awards, and a teenaged daughter in tow, met and romanced one of society’s most outcast and forgotten souls.

At the time of publication, they had been a couple for some years and they are together still, more than 25 years later. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere won’t be in this movie and not a single dragon or muscle car had to die…

Following an Introduction from Alan Moore, this welcome and long-overdue new edition reveals how “Chip” Delaney took a walk on New York’s Upper West Side, bought a book from homeless Dennis and struck up a conversation with the kind of person most people refuse to acknowledge the very existence of…

In seamlessly seductive understated style the words and pictures detail how gradually, gently, unsurprisingly they became first friends and then lovers.

In the manner of all lasting true romances, this is the history of two full equals who accidentally find each other, not some flimsy rags-to-riches Cinderella tale of predestination and magical remedies. The brilliance and position of one is perfectly complemented by the warmth, intelligence and quiet integrity of the other, and although far from smooth – or rose scented – their path to contentment was both tension-fraught and heart-warming.

Oh, and there’s sex: lots of rapturously visualised sex, so if you’re the kind of person liable to be upset by pictures of joyous, loving fornication between two people separated by age, wealth, social position and race who happily possess and constantly employ the same type of naughty bits on each other, then go away and read something else.

In fact, as I keep on saying, just please go away.

And that’s all the help you get from me. This lyrical, beguiling tale is embellished throughout with interwoven extracts from the poem Bread and Wine by German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin and illustrated in a mesmerising organic monochrome variety of styles by artist and Delaney family friend Mia Wolff, and you really need to have it unfold for you without my second-hand blether or kibitzing…

This is one of the sweetest, most uplifting comics love stories ever written: rich with sentiment, steeped in literary punch and beautiful to behold. Moreover, this lavish, stout and steadfast hardback (also available in digital formats) also includes a celebratory commentary by Chip, Dennis and Mia and other protagonists in the Afterword, plus a sketch-packed, earnest and informative interview with the creative participants.

Strong, assertive, uncompromising and proudly unapologetic, this is love we should all aspire to, and Bread & Wine is another graphic novel every adult should know.
Introduction © 2013 Alan Moore. Contents © 2013 Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Anarcoma


By Nazario, translated by David H. Rosenthal (Catalan Communications)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-000-0

It’s Pride Month and I’m keen to celebrate how far we’ve come as a species and society. Nevertheless – and just because I hate responding to complaints – here’s a note of warning: this book is filled with graphic sexual acts, full frontal nudity and coarse language. If that causes you any offence don’t buy this book and don’t read this review. The rest of us will manage without you.

You know what it’s like: sometimes you’re just in the mood for something challenging, different or just plain nasty, and nothing better sums up that feeling than this startling pastiche of film noir chic transposed into the even grimmer, darker and nastier milieu of the gay-underworld of post-Franco Spain.

Francisco Franco Bahamonde was a right-wing general who ruled the country from 1947 until his death in 1975, “on behalf” of a puppet monarchy helpless to resist him. His repressive, Christian-based attitudes held the country in an iron time-lock for decades as the rest of the world moved an around him.

Vera Luque Nazario was an intellectual, college professor and cartoonist living under the fascist regime, yet fiercely inspired by the freedom and exuberant graphic license displayed in American underground commix, especially the works of R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton and possibly Spain Rodriguez.

In a totalitarian state that openly advocated the “curing” of homosexuals, Nazario founded an artist’s collective or “contracultural group” in 1971 to produce home-grown underground commix (El Rollo Enmascarado, Paupérrimus, Catalina, Purita and others) frequently incurring the wrath of the Francoist censors and police. Nazario’s work received far fairer treatment outside Spain, appearing in such groundbreaking mature magazines as It, Actuel, Oz, Gai Pied and L’Echo des Savanes.

When Franco died the country opened up and there was a tumultuous cascade of artistic expression. Extremely strident adult material designed primarily to shock began appearing in new magazines such as El Víbora, Cannibale and Frigidaire. After years of covert comics creation, multi-talented artisan Nazario eventually moved into design and record cover production. In later years he concentrated on painting and his first prose novel was released in 2006. Since then he has become a darling of Spain’s intellectual, educational and art worlds, with his works becoming museum works and national treasures.

In 2016 he published his autobiography The Daily Life of the Underground Artist and the long-awaited third part of Anarcoma as literary release Nuevas aventuras de Anarcoma and Robot XM2. This year at France’s annual Angoulême Festival Anarcoma was nominated for the heritage category, marking it as a work of global importance and influence.

The shocking cartoon rebellion began as strip in a porn magazine, but that quickly folded and Nazario transferred the feature to El Víbora in 1979, revelling in homoerotic excess in a magazine with no censorial boundaries. It ran for years and this long out-of-print hardcover translation was but the first collection of many – but not, sadly, in English translation.

Symbols of freedom never came more outrageously formed than Anarcoma; a spectacularly endowed, star-struck trans private detective who hangs all-out in the notorious red-light district of Las Ramblas.

A stunning blend of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall she works as prostitute and club entertainer while pursuing her dream of becoming a real gumshoe like the ones in the American movies she adores…

Life is complicated: ex-army buddy Humphrey is her current her boyfriend, but he won’t leave his wife and kids. Moreover, Anarcoma’s hobby has won no friends among both the cops and the criminal gangs run by the ruthless Captain Seahorse. Worst of all, there are even weirder and more dangerous folk lurking around…

After a series of profound prose appreciations from Alberto Cardín and Ludolfo Paramio plus a thoroughly absorbing cartoon cast-list, the ultra-explicit adventure begins…

The city is in turmoil: Professor Onliyu’s latest invention has been stolen. Nobody knows what it does but everybody wants it. Anarcoma thinks she has a lead…

The trail leads through all the sleaziest dives and dens, implicating almost everybody at one time or another, but when the manic religious order The Black Count and his Knights of Saint Represent and feminist paramilitaries Metamorphosina and her One-Eyed Piranhas start their own conflicting campaigns for the missing machine, Anarcoma is distracted and almost loses her life to mysterious sex-robot XM2.

Luckily her charms extend and affect even artificial he-men…

Outrageously imaginative, dauntingly brutal and sexually graphic, this devastatingly ironic genre amalgamation is audacious and bizarre, but unflinchingly witty as it probes the role of hero in society and eulogises the heady power of liberation.

Anarcoma was first released in 1980, but even by today’s evolved standards the incredibly violent and satirically, staggeringly baroque pastiche is a shocking, controversial piece of work. Raw, purposefully shocking and wickedly delightful, this is a perfect walk on the wild side for people with open minds and broad tastes.
© 1983 by Nazario. English edition © 1983 Catalan Communications. All Rights Reserved.

The Garden of Desire


By Will & Desberg, translated by Michael Koch (Eurotica/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-009-7

If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s you might recall the twin popular fascinations of Victoriana (a plethora of books, films and TV shows set in those heady days of Empire) and Sex.

Actually, there had always been Sex, but in England no-one had seen or encountered or indulged in any since before the War. What occurred during the Civil and Social Rights liberalisation of the Swinging Sixties and especially the fabled “Summer of Love” was that heaping helpings of sauciness and skin started to creep into the media. Eventually we’d even sink so low that photographs of naked young ladies would replace cartoons and comic strips as the best way to sell newspapers.

It didn’t take long before period fiction – especially films – added swathes of salacious, cheerful nudity and entrendres (double and single) to their product.

In the manner of that innocently rude time (and such classics as The Best House in London and Henry Fielding’s epic Tom Jones) is this lovely slice of Euro-whimsy from Will and Desberg.

Willy Maltaite, one of the original Gang of Four (with André Franquin, Morris and Jijé) and one of the Continent’s greatest and most prolific artists, worked for Le Journal de Spirou on the fairytale fantasy Isabelle, Tif et Tondu among so many others. In the 1980s he collaborated with comics writer Stephen Desberg (The Scorpion; IR$) on a series of light-hearted albums for adults (European adults, so the sex is tasteful, beautifully illustrated and sardonically funny) that our chuckle-parched, po-faced Brexit-be-buggered world could well use now. As far as I know The Garden of Desire is the only one of their works to make the arguably distasteful lapse into English.

It follows the amorous antics and career of Michael Loverose, whose well-to-do English mother was seduced by a mysterious stranger. The resulting embarrassment was packed off to boarding school as soon as possible and from there he roamed the wide world in search of love and adventure – but mostly love…

Encompassing the turn of the 20th century to the heady, carefree yet worldly-wise days between the World Wars, this sly and gentle tale luxuriously blends comedy, self-exploration and magnanimously innocent lust with a tiny dose of real magic in a way only those sophisticates across the Channel can.

Great fun perfectly executed and a style of story we should be revisiting in these pell-mell, oh-so-serious modern days.
© 1988 Will-Desberg/Ed. Dupuis Charleroi Belgium. © 1991 NBM for the English Translation. All rights reserved.