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.

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.


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.


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.