Krampus: The Devil of Christmas


By various, edited by Monte Beauchamp (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-747-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Horrid Holiday Cheers… 8/10

When I lived in New York, the morning after Thanksgiving was when retailers committed Christmas. Staggering out into chilly morning air (I wonder if they still have that?) after a surfeit of everything, one’s eyes would boggle at a profusion of tinsel, glitter and lights with entire buildings done up like stockings or giant parcels.

These utterly mindboggling tributes to understatement would make any stolid Englander quail with disquiet and I still get tremors occasionally around postmen bearing packages… Another way to bring on Christmas chills is with a good book, and this delightfully engrossing hardback celebration from artist, historian and designer Monte Beauchamp (a welcome expansion on his 2004 book The Devil in Design) focuses on a long-lost aspect of the Season of Good Will that’s found renewed interest in recent times thanks to a film franchise and the general malaise affecting glum modern humans…

For decades Monte Beauchamp’s iconic, innovative narrative and graphic arts magazine Blab! highlighted the best and most groundbreaking trends and trendsetters in cartooning and other popular creative fields.

Initially published through the auspices of the much-missed Kitchen Sink Press it moved first to Fantagraphics and carried on as the snazzy hardback annual Blabworld from Last Gasp. Here however Beauchamp looks back not forward to revel in the lost exuberance and dark creativity of a host of anonymous artists whose seasonal imaginings spiced up the Winter Solstice for generations of guilty-until-proven-innocent nippers…

In Western Europe – especially the German-speaking countries but also as far afield as Northern Italy and the Balkans – St Nicholas used to travel out with gifts for good children, accompanied by a goat-headed, satanic servant. Fur-covered, furtive, chain-bedecked, sinister and all-knowing, the beast-man with a foot-long tongue and one cloven hoof wielded a birch switch to thrash the unruly and a copious sack to carry off disobedient kinder.

The Krampus was a fixture of winter life in Austria, Switzerland and the German Principalities, with his own special feast-day (December 5th – just before St. Nikolaus’ Day), parades, festivals and highly enjoyable (for parents, at least) ceremonial child-scaring events. Back then we really knew how to reward the naughty and the nice…

This compelling and enchanting hardback tome – still readily available but not yet as a digital delivery – celebrates the thrilling dark edge of the Christmas experience as depicted through the medium of the full-colour postcards that were a crucial facet of life in Europe from 1869 to the outbreak of World War I.

However, even with fascinating histories of the character and the art-form related in ‘Greetings From Krampus’, ‘Festival of the Krampus’ and ‘Postal Beginnings’, the true wide-eyed wonder and untrammelled joy of this compendium is the glorious cacophony of paintings, prints, drawings collages – and even a few primitive and experimental photographic forays – depicting the delicious dread scariness of the legendary deterrent as he (it?) terrifies boys and girls, explores the new-fangled temptations of airplanes and automobiles and regularly monitors the more mature wicked transgressions of courting couples…

A feast of imagination and tradition ranging from the wry, sardonic and archly-knowing to the outright disturbing and genuinely scary, this magical artbook is a treasure not just for Christmas but for life…

And it’s not nearly as environmentally harmful as coal…
© 2010 Monte Beauchamp. All rights reserved.

DC Comics: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know


By Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Q. Walker, Stephen Wiacek & many and various (Dorling Kindersley)
ISBN: 978-0-24131-424-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fact-packed, Superhero Fun and Fantasy… 9/10

Some reviews are way harder to write than others and occasionally not for the reasons you’d expect. My other job is being a writer for money and, despite having typed whole bunches of stuff pertaining to comics, I’ve never before had the slightest inclination to review anything with my name on it. It’s unnecessary, arrogant and just not done…

Nevertheless, I’m publicly humiliating myself by baldly stating that this book is one of the best and most engaging comics primers for kids on the market, especially if you have nippers you want to introduce into comics.

A bright, bold, reassuringly oversized (235 x283 mm) hardback perfectly conceived for gift-wrapping, DC:AEYNK (as we called it while hammering away at a tight deadline) culls and distils the coolest, daftest, most thrilling and funniest factoids from more than 80 years of comics published by the makers of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Kamandi, Captain Carrot, Zatanna and countless others.

As logged and related by Liz Marsham, Melanie Scott, Landry Q. Walker, me and especially our long-suffering editor and design team, this fabulous full-colour tome divides up into accessible categories such as Characters: Super Heroes and Super-villains; Teams (goodies & baddies) and Science and Magic whilst latterly offering snippets of forbidden knowledge regarding DC geography in From Here to Eternity and taking you on a quick tour of The Multiverse

Augmented by the best clipped art money can license, this bumper compendium appeals equally to neophyte youngsters and the most nit-picky of aging fanboys by providing a fast and furious flow of smart examples and exemplars even whilst answering such pertinent questions as “where can you go if Heaven and Hell exclude you?”, “what’s the hardest job in Central City?” or “what is the most powerful weapon in existence?”

Jam-packed with art by generations of DC contributors, the infographic-inundated double-page features provide a nostalgia-tinged fresh look at the DC Comics Universe, its astounding diverse characters, fantastic weapons, uncanny technology, strange planets, exotic places and parallel worlds through breezy, accessible text, teeming with key data, fun facts, lists, quotes and stats.

An ideal gift, DC Comics: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know is wholehearted and wholesome funnybook joy and, as there’s also a Marvel edition, you ought to get that one too.
© 2018 DC Comics. All related characters and element are © and ™ DC Comics.

My War


By Szegedi Szüts (Dover)
ISBN: 978-0-486-79925-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Profound and Compelling Commemoration… 9/10

From its earliest inception, cartooning and graphic narrative has been used to inform. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of pictorial storytelling – with its ability to distil technical recreations of time, place and personage whilst creating deep emotional affinities to past or imagined events – has been used to forge unforgettable images and characters within us. When those stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial, social, political or especially educational arena is almost irresistible…

Thus, the compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political, social or historical component.

Comics have brought the past to life since they began but they were never the only means of pictorial narrative and emotional communication.

Here is another superb and welcome re-release from Dover Comics & Graphic Novels – available in paperback and digital formats – reviving a lost masterpiece of the art form, first published in in 1932 by William Morrow & Company, New York.

The 206 stark and stunning images rendered by István Szegedi Szüts were his way of processing his participation in the Great War, but they were a narrative designed as a gallery show: telling a personal story much in the manor of a Catholic church’s Stations of the Cross.

The show debuted at London’s Gieves Gallery in 1929, and was only collected into book form in 1931, after being seen by a perspicacious publisher. These compelling sequences were perfect material for the brief Depression-era flowering of silent art narratives known as woodcut novels or linocut books.

Other memorable proto-graphic novels of that era include Frans Masereel’s 25 Images of a Man’s Passion, Lynd Ward’s God’s Man and White Collar by Giacomo Patri.

Szegedi Szüts was born in Budapest on December 7th 1893, a Hungarian painter and illustrator who naturally served when his country went to war in 1914. His experiences are rendered here into potent examination of patriotism and folly that are more akin to visual poetry than anything else: sparse, spartan, debilitatingly expressionistic and summed up by a precision-point epigram/title for each single image page.

The seven chapters reel from evocative triggers such as ‘The Little Hussar wakes up’, ‘Expectance’, ‘Approaching storm’, ‘Hide your face, mother!’ and ‘…who command us to kill?’ and the end result is a wave of shocking revelation and inescapable regret…

After the London show, Szegedi Szüts moved to Caunce Head, Cornwall, married artist Gwynedd Jones Parry and lived as part of the creative colony there until his death in 1959.

This splendid and moving monochrome reconstruction includes ‘Our War: a Foreword by Peter Kuper’ (Third World War, Spy vs Spy), the original Introduction by R.H. Mottram and clipped reviews of ‘Szegedi Szüts as an artist’ from The Times, The Daily Mail and PG Konody in The Observer

It’s not often we comics folk can 100% guarantee that we’ve produced capital A Art and it’s really not that relevant. What you should take away here is that My War is a timeless, resonant testimony to the War to End All Wars from someone who was there, came back and said something about his experiences that all successive generations should take heed of.
Foreword © 2015, Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Casey at the Bat and Other Diamond Tales


By Wilford Mullins with Ernest Thayer and various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-814-4

Happy Anniversary!

It’s a memorable day. In 1835 HMS Beagle set sail for Charles Island in in the Galapagos Archipelago. Ten years later the New York Knickerbockers formed and adopted the rule code for what would become “America’s favourite game” and in 1846 Johann Gottfried Galle and Heinrich d’Arrest located Neptune. There’s other stuff too. You should look it up…

Oddly I couldn’t find an appropriate book for two of those above-cited commemorations but here’s something for sports-lovers, cartoon connoisseurs and devotes of smart, big laughs…

Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 is probably the most famous piece of high-quality doggerel in the English Language. It was anonymously penned by writer and philosophy graduate Ernest Thayer whilst he was working for The Daily Examiner (later The San Francisco Examiner) and published in the June 3rd, 1888 edition.

It should be noted that “Phin”, as he called himself in print, was employed as a humourist, not a sports reporter…

The piece passed without much notice at the time, but was picked up (pinched, stolen, swiped, “popularised”) by Vaudeville performer DeWolf Hopper who made it his star turn on stage for decades to come. It’s mock-heroic excess and powerful meter also caused it to be plagiarized and adapted by other writers on a tight deadline almost continually ever since.

It has been co-opted to stage, large and small screen and almost every manner of media dissemination, with vocal luminaries from Garrison Keillor to James Earl Jones to actual baseball pitcher Tug McGraw all taking a hit at re-immortalising the daft ditty.

An actual landmark of American history and culture, the poem was used by the sport’s governing body in 1953 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the World Series. They issued a set of 14 drinking glasses – with one stanza per mass-produced goblet – as collectable premiums dispensed at ballparks across the nation.

To ensure the desirability of the items the vessels with the verses shared space with suitably comedic illustrations from America’s favourite sports cartoonist – a man who would eventually be awarded the title of “Greatest Sports Cartoonist of the 20th Century”…

Britain never really enjoyed the long and lovingly cherished tradition of sports cartoons enjoyed by America throughout the 20th century – more’s the pity – but in the Land of the Free, illustrated match précis’, captivating portraits, visual biographies, charismatic caricatures and plain old-fashioned gags in drawn form were a vital element of every national and local newspaper… and had been for generations.

Such sporting profiles, sketches, technical tips, skits and lampooning broadsides were borrowed by a new industry to become a staple of Golden Age comicbooks – and far too often the best drawn items in those fantasy-fuelled periodicals.

Willard Mullin (September 14th 1902 – December 20th 1978) captured the magic of America’s favourite game (and other strenuous pastimes) for almost half a hundred years: encapsulating the power, glory, glum disappointment, punishing optimism, heartbreak and incurable unflagging passion of players, managers, owners and fans in spectacular portrait biographies, potent editorial cartoons, gently ferocious caricatures and hilarious, knowing slapstick panels. You can enjoy further examples of his gifts in companion volume Willard Mullin’s Golden Age of Baseball – Drawings 1934-1972

Mullins’ illustrations for Casey were believed long lost until they resurfaced at an auction in 2002, whereupon Fantagraphics reproduced and collated them in this tasty hardback (or eBook) volume, further spiced up with a selection of the master’s other batting triumphs…

Following a Foreword by sporting legend Yogi Berra and a compelling overview in ‘Willard and Casey’: a photo-limned essay from baseball historian (head of Guilderland Public Library and Director of Research at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library), the full saga unfolds in magical form.

Then photo examples of the actual drinking vessels are accompanied by editor Michael Powers’ appreciative biography of ‘The Longfellow of the Sports Page’ which in turn lead to a selection of Mullin’s other pictorial triumphs – all of a similarly jocund and poetic nature…

A brace of very different paeans to ‘Iron Horse Lou’ (Gehrig) precede a hilarious argot script in prime “Brooklynese” and a trenchant revision of Walt Whitman’s O Captain, My Captain suitably framed to target the tragic Dodgers in ‘Brooklyn, My Brooklyn’.

Baseball ABC’s can be learned in ‘From April to Zeptember’ after which James T. Fields’ The Owl Critic is repurposed in tribute to Sal “the Barber” Meglie as ‘The Barber on Kept Shaving’ before the visual triumphs conclude with Mullins’ famous ‘Go-Go Mets!’ cover for Time Magazine.

Fantagraphics Books struck gold twice over by reviving and celebrating a lost hero and a nigh-forgotten sector of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration.

Whether you’re a fan of sports in general or Baseball in particular, if you’re reading this you love narrative art, and Willard Mullin was the Will Eisner of his field: clever, funny, bold, dramatic and capable of astounding emotional connection with his readers. This is a book no lovers of our art form should miss.

This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. Willard Mullin and the Brooklyn Bum are ™ and ® the Estate of Willard Mullin, Shirley Mullin Rhodes, Trustee. Other material © its respective holders or owners as noted within.

The Provocative Colette


By Annie Goetzinger, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-170-3

Publisher NBM have struck a seam of pure gold with their growing line of European-created contemporary arts histories and dramatized graphic biographies. This latest luxury hardcover release (also available in digital formats) is one of the most enticing yet; diligently tracing the astoundingly unconventional early life of one of the most remarkable women of modern times.

Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (28th January 1873 – 3rd August 1954) escaped from rural isolation via an ill-considered marriage and, by sheer force of will and an astonishing gift for self-expression, rose to the first rank of French-language (and global) literature through her many novels and stories. The one you probably know best is Gigi, but you should really read a few more such as La Vagabonde or perhaps The Ripening Seed

For her efforts she was elected to the Belgian Royal Academy in 1935 and the French Académie Goncourt ten years later. She became its President in 1949, the year after she was nominated for a Nobel Prize. Her grateful country also celebrated her as Chevalier (1920) and Grand Officer (1953) of the Légion d’honneur.

Her unceasing search for truths in the arena of human relationships – particularly in regard to women’s independence in a hostile and patronising patriarchal society – also led her to pursue freedom of expression through dance, acting and mime, film and drama and as a journalist.

The fact that for most of her early life men controlled her money also prompted her far-reaching career path until she finally managed to win control of her own destiny and coffers…

Our drama unfolds in 1893 as 20-year old Sidonie-Gabrielle readies herself for her wedding to the prestigious and much older music journalist Henry Gauthier-Villars. The great man is celebrated nationally under his nom de plume “Willy”.

That’s also the name under which he will publish his wife’s first four hugely successful Claudine novels whilst pocketing all the profits and attendant copyrights…

Eventually breaking free to live a life both sexually adventurous and on her own terms, Colette never abandons her trust in love or reliance on a fiercely independent spirit. And she shares what she believes about the cause of female liberty with the world through her books and her actions…

This bold and life-affirming chronicle was meticulously crafted by the superb and much-missed Annie Goetzinger (18th August1951 – 20th December 2017) and was tragically her last.

The award-winning cartoonist, designer and graphic novelist (see for example The Girl in Dior) supplies sumptuous illustration that perfectly captures the complexities and paradoxes of the Belle Epoque and the wars and social turmoil that followed, whilst her breezy, seductively alluring script brings to vivid life a wide variety of characters who could so easily be reduced to mere villains and martinets but instead resonate as simply people with their own lives, desires and agendas…

The scandalous escapades are preceded by an adroit and incisive Preface from journalist and author Nathalie Crom and are bookended with informative extras such as ‘Literary References’, a full ‘Chronology’ of the author’s life and potted biographies of ‘Colette’s Entourage’ offering context and background on friends, family and the many notables she gathered around her.

Additional material includes a suggested Further Reading and a Select Bibliography.

Another minor masterpiece honouring a major force in the history and culture of our complex world, and guaranteed to be on the reading list for any girl who’s thought “that’s not fair” and “why do I have to…”, The Provocative Colette is a forthright and beguiling exploration of humanity and one you should secure at your earliest convenience.
© DARGAUD 2017 by Goetzinger. All rights reserved. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see NBM Publishing.

My First Superman Book


By David Katz, designed by George Rucker with illustrations by José Luis García-López (Downtown Bookworks)
ISBN: 978-1-935703-00-6

Happy Birthday, Caped Kryptonian!

Superman is a hero for all ages. Since his debut in June 1938 (actually Action Comics #1 was on newsstands in May but let’s not quibble here), that’s a fact his creators and owners have always understood, with spin-offs and specially tailored books and other merchandise. He’s also the ideal power-embodiment that appeals to the little kid in us all: an unstoppable icon that says “you can’t dictate to me. I know what’s right and I’m going to do it!”

Good thing he’s not a bully then, no?

Such a potent image is ones you simply can’t assimilate early enough and there are number of books and merchandise items tailored to the youngest of potential fanatics. This is one of my very favourites and because of the art (yeah, sure, fanboy) is one even older and aged aficionados can legitimately hunt down.

Printed on solid durable board, My First Superman Book reiterates the key aspects of the Man of Steel’s mythology with bold primary-coloured art-spreads, courtesy of DC’s top brand and merchandising visualiser José Luis García-López. As an added inducement, the images are enhanced with 3D additions and gimmicks such as X-ray vision demonstrated by pop-up and pull-away tabs, as is the legendary phonebooth costume change.

Fabric and faux fur inserts afford a tactile dimension to the hero’s billowing cape and superdog Krypto’s glowing coat, whilst abundant glitter overprints add a sparkling sheen to the fabulous arctic Fortress of Solitude.

This book is a captivating introduction to the world of classic superhero symbology: offering a literally solid grounding in the basics of the Man of Steel’s incomparable legend and never forgetting the dual aim is inculcating fun and wonder.

A genuine delight and one you could even have some children to share it with if you want…
™ and © DC Comics 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets


By Dominique Osuch & Sandrine Martin, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-158-1

NBM’s magnificent line of European-created modern biographies always offers a treasure-trove of potent wonderment and this latest luxury hardcover release (also available in all eBook formats) is arguably one of the most beguiling graphic releases of the year.

Catherine-Marie-Agnès Fal de Saint Phalle was born on October 29th 1930 and for most of the 20th century towered over the fickle world of Avant Garde art as Niki de Saint Phalle.

She was a model, actress, writer, filmmaker, painter and sculptor, but made her greatest visual impact as a creator of gigantic assemblages and themed gardens. She was also a passionate and strident activist and advocate of cultural, political and women’s issues. She died on May 21st 2002.

That species of dry facts and lists of her creations and accomplishments you can find all over the internet – or even in books if you’re that way inclined – but in Niki de Saint Phalle: The Garden of Secrets graphic collaborators Dominique Osuch & Sandrine Martin unpick their subject’s torrid and too-often turbulent life through a procession of dreamy childlike chapter-plays and vignettes divided into the major arcana of the Tarot that so fascinated Niki.

French writer, artist and graphic novelist Dominique Osuch (Amours fragiles, Les Cinq de Cambridge, Tomoë) was born in 1962. She and took a literary degree in 1980 and an Illustration qualification from l’École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg four years later.

The script she provides for this mesmerising biographical account captures the raw relentless wonderment of a woman who always viewed the world with open-minded eyes but still sought to make it a better place…

Sandrine Martin also illustrates children’s books. She graduated from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Decoratifs, Paris in 2004 and began selling illustrations to Le Monde, Libération, Psychologies Magazine, Bayard and Gallimard as well as creating short stories for comics magazine Lapin.

In 2012 she released a collection of her artwork entitled La Montagne de sucre and after completing the biography I’m plugging here released a book of illustrated short stories entitled Petites Niaiseuses.

A child conflicted and shaped by abuse, neglect and a strict Catholic upbringing, Niki de Saint Phalle grew up in America and France during the Great Depression, married young and unwisely and, through broad and deep friendships and recurring life-threating physical maladies and mental illness, discovered her true calling was exploring existence through the making of art.

She created towering monumental monoliths, whimsical parks, deviously themed art gardens and iconic soft and hard statuary venerating and exposing female form and functions. The tireless virtuoso and inveterate world traveller also collaborated with many of modern art’s greatest visionaries, wrote plays and made films to address and ameliorate her own childhood traumas. Whilst always championing and raising funds for the creation of galleries and exhibitions to bolster public health and wellbeing, Niki became one of the earliest advocates of AIDS Awareness, creating a book intellectually targeted at her young son which forthrightly explained the situation. It was released to great acclaim and success worldwide.

In the same vein, she also designed colourful artistic condoms that people would be eager to wear…

This book – which also offers additional material such as a succinct yet detailed Chronology, Suggested Further Reading and Creator Biographies – is a loving and extremely enticing celebration of one of the most important female artists of all time: a champion of innovation, modern technology, timeless sensuality and unbridled honest emotion. How can you not enjoy this superb introduction to a truly unique example of humanity at its most fundamentally alive?

Trust me, you can’t.
© 2014 Casterman. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

Star Wars: A New Hope – The 40th Anniversary


By Jess Harrold, Jordan D. White, Heather Antos & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1128-7

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the mythology of Star Wars. What you might not know – or maybe remember – is that the first glimpse future fanatics got of its enthrallingly expansive, potential-packed continuity and mythology-in-the-making way back in 1977 was the premier issue of the Marvel comicbook tie-in.

It hit US shelves and spinner racks two weeks before the film launched in cinemas (that screen release being May 25th, fact-fans), setting the scene for a legion of fans and kick-starting a phenomenon which encompassed the initial movie trilogy and expanded those already-vast conceptual horizons.

Marvel had an illustrious run with the franchise: nine years’ worth of comics, specials and paperback collections before the series ended in 1986.

After an abortive miniseries try-out in 1987-1988 from Blackthorne Publishing, regular comicbook exploits were properly reinstated in 1993 by Dark Horse Comics who built on the film legacy with numerous titles – supplemented by three more movies – until Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars in 2012.

The home of Donald & Mickey had already acquired Marvel Comics (in 2009) and before long the original magic was being rekindled…

When Marvel relaunched the enterprise, they included not just a core title but also solo books for the lead stars. Star Wars #1 debuted on January 14th 2015, with Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Poe Damaron coming soon after. They haven’t looked back since.

2017 was the 40th anniversary of the movie premiere and in a slyly subtle salute to the event many comics were earmarked for a rather novel event: variant covers depicting unforgettable moments from the cinematic Star Wars: A New Hope. These were commissioned as 48 key images that would combine to relate and encapsulate the entire tale in an entirely new way.

Just So’s You Know: variant covers are alternative frontages for some comicbooks, usually by big-name artists; often “homaging” earlier covers or as part of an event, commemoration or even trends such as Skottie Young’s occasional series of star characters depicted as comedic babies. Star Wars #1 (2015) was released with a staggering 70 variant covers. Successive issues also had a plethora of the same.

This gleefully exuberant hardcover art-collection (also available in eBook formats), takes that sales-boosting process to a new level; gathering those covers designed to celebrate A New Hope and presenting them as a new way of enjoying the original story…

Following ‘Star Wars and Marvel’, which explains the process and progression of the project, those crucial moment-as-iconic-images – accompanied by narrative guides, appropriate quotes and often alternate sketch ideas and works-in-progress – unfold to tell a well-known tale of a galaxy long ago and far, far away…

Juan Giménez sets things off with ‘It is a period of Civil War…’, after which Stuart Immonen, Ryan Stegman & Jordan Boyd and Meghan Hetrick carry us from confrontations in space to the surface of Tatooine.

In quick succession Terry & Rachel Dodson, Pepe Larraz & David Curiel, Kevin Wada, Marc Laming & Matthew Wilson, Leinil Francis Yu & Sunny Gho, Paul Renaud and Javier Rodríguez advance the tale to the moment old hermit Ben Kenobi tells a young warrior-to-be ‘You must learn the ways of The Force.’

Stunning images follow from Rod Reis, Jef Dekal, Kevin Nowlan, Mike Mayhew, Greg Land & Edgar Delgado, David Marquez, Chip Zadarsky, Will Robson& Jordan Boyd and Jen Bartel before Stephanie Hans steals the show with a stunning rendition of the death of Alderaan for ‘No Star System will dare oppose the Emperor now.’

The memorable moments come thick and fast as Julian Totino Tedesco, David Lopez, Reilly Brown & Jim Charalampidis, Caspar Wijngaard, Paulina Ganucheau, Paolo Rivera, Daniel Acuña, Russell Dauterman & Matthew Wilson, Amy Reeder carry us ever onward until Tradd Moore & Wilson nail the key moment in a trash compactor where Han Solo utters the immortal phrase ‘I got a bad feeling about this.’

Taking us into the third act and final straits, Ed McGuiness, Mark Morales & Laura Martin, Nick Roche & Jordan Boyd, Chris Samnee & Wilson, Adi Granov, Greg Smallwood, Declan Shalvey & Jordie Bellaire, Rahzzah, Ryan Level & Boyd, Kris Anka, Will Sliney & Rachelle Rosenberg, Ashley Witter, Mark Brooks, Salvador Larroca & Angel Unzueta, Daniel Warren Johnson & Mike Spicer and Mike Del Mundo visualise the thrilling final fight culminating in Phil Noto’s triumphal procession scene in ‘Remember, The Force will be with you, always’

Backing up the picture feast is text feature ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy Far, Far Away’ wherein Marvel Star Wars editor Jordan D. White discusses the project with comics writers Jason Aarons (Star Wars) and Kieron Gillen (Darth Vader, Star Wars: Doctor Aphra, Star Wars) whilst Heather Antos incites insights from illustrators Terry Dodson, Stephanie Hans, Mike Mayhew and Will Sliney on ‘How to Draw Star Wars the Marvel Way’ for the anniversary project.

This comes with a multitude of non-Anniversary images from Mayhew, John Cassady, Immonen, the Dodsons, Yu, Brooks, Francesco Francavilla, Lee Bermejo, Michael Allred, Tula Lotay, Skottie Young, Alex Ross, Simone Bianchi, Granov, Kaare Andrews, Giménez, Kamome Shirahama, Samnee, Joe Quesada, Francesco Mattina, Giuseppe Camuncoli and David Aja.

Wrapping up the fabulous picture-fest is a stroll down memory lane for comics fans as ‘The Greatest Space-Fantasy of All!’ harks back to that initial comics release: reprinting adapter Roy Thomas’ introductory ‘Star Warriors’ columns and the full first issue as translated from an original, uncut shooting script by illustrator Howard Chaykin (and yes, that does mean scenes that didn’t make it into any cut of the movie…).

The Star Wars franchise has spawned an awful lot of comics, but this isn’t really one of them. It is, however, a fascinating art compendium commemorating the verve, vitality and sheer impact of the source material in a way no fan could possibly…
STAR WARS and related text and illustrations ™ and/or © of Lucasfilm Ltd. and/or its affiliates. © & ™ of Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.

Tales of the Batman: Carmine Infantino


By Carmine Infantino, Gardner Fox, John Broome, Cary Bates, Gerry Conway, Don Kraar, Mike Barr, Geoff Johns & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-4755-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Fun foe One and All … 9/10

Born on May 24th 1925, Carmine Michael Infantino was one of the greatest comic artists America ever produced; a multi-award-winning innovator who was there when comicbooks were born, reshaped the industry in the Silver Age and was still making fans when he died in 2013

As an artist he co-created and initially visualised The Black Canary, Detective Chimp, Pow-Wow Smith, the Silver Age Flash, Elongated Man, Deadman, Batgirl, Dial H for Hero and Human Target and revitalised characters such as Adam Strange and Batman. He worked for many companies, and at Marvel ushered in a new age by illustrating the licensed Star Wars comicbook and working on titles such as Avengers, Daredevil, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Star-Lord and Spider-Woman

His work on two iterations of the Batman newspaper strip are fondly remembered and whilst acting as Art Director and Publisher of National DC oversaw the most critically acclaimed period in the company’s history, ushering in the “relevancy” era and poaching Jack Kirby from Marvel to create the Fourth World, Kamandi, The Demon and others…

Very much – and repeatedly – the right man in the right time and place, Infantino shaped American comicbook history like few others, and this hardcover compendium (and eBook) dedicated to his contributions to the lore of Batman collects the stunning covers from Detective Comics #327-347, 349, 351-371, 500 and Batman #166-175, 181, 183-185, 188-192, 194-199 plus the Bat-Saga stories he drew for Detective #327, 329, 331, 333, 335, 337, 339, 341, 343, 345, 347, 349, 351, 353, 357, 359, 361, 363, 366-367, 369, and 500.

Also included are the contents of The Brave and the Bold #172, 183, 190, 194 and DC Comics Presents: Batman #1: an artistic association cumulatively spanning May 1964 to September 2004.

I’m assuming everybody here loves comics and that we’ve all had the same unpleasant experience of trying to justify that passion to somebody. Excluding your partner (who is actually right – the living room floor is not the place to leave your $£#!D*&$£! funnybooks) even today, many people still have an entrenched and erroneous view of strip art, resulting in a frustrating and futile time as you tried to dissuade them from that opinion.

If so, this collection might be the book you want next time that confrontation occurs, offering breathtaking examples of the prolific association of one the industry’s greatest illustrators with possibly the artform’s greatest creation.

Many of these “Light Knight” sagas stem from a period which saw the Dynamic Duo, remoulded, reshaped and set up for global Stardom – and subsequent fearful castigation from fans – as the template for the Batman TV show of the 1960s. It should be noted, however, that the television producers and researchers took their creative impetus from stories of the era preceding the “New Look Batman” – as well as the original movie serial of the 1940s…

So, what happened?

By the end of 1963, Julius Schwartz had revived much of National/DC’s line – and the entire industry – with his modernization of the superhero, and was then asked to work his magic with the creatively stalled and nigh-moribund Caped Crusader.

Bringing his usual team of top-notch creators with him, Schwartz stripped down the core-concept, downplaying aliens, outlandish villains and daft transformation tales to bring a cool modern take to the capture of criminals: even overseeing a streamlining rationalisation of the art style itself.

The most apparent innovation was a yellow circle around the Bat-symbol, but far more importantly, the stories also changed. A subtle aura of genuine menace had re-entered the comfortable and absurdly abstract world of Gotham City.

Infantino was key to the changeover, which reshaped a legend – but this was while still pencilling Silver Age superstar The Flash – so, despite generating the majority of covers, Infantino’s interior art was limited to alternate issues of Detective Comics with the lion’s share of narrative handled by Bob Kane’s uncredited deputies Sheldon Moldoff, Joe Giella, Chic Stone & others, or occasional guest artists such as Gil Kane…

Punctuated throughout this collection by his chronologically sequenced covers, Infantino’s part in the storytelling revolution began then and kicks off here with Detective #327 – written by John Broome and inked by Joe Giella at the very peak of their own creative powers.

‘The Mystery of the Menacing Mask! is a cunning “Howdunnit?”, long on action and moody peril, as discovery of a criminal “underground railroad” leads Caped Crusaders Batman and Robin to a common thug seemingly able to control the heroes with his thoughts…

‘Castle with Wall-To-Wall Danger!’ (Detective #329 with Broome and Giella in their respective roles) follows: a captivating international thriller which sees the heroes braving a deadly death-trap in Swinging England in pursuit of a dastardly thief.

A rare full-length story in #331 guest-starred Elongated Man (Detective Comics’ back-up feature: a costumed sleuth blending the charm of Nick “Thin Man” Charles with the outré heroic antics of Plastic Man).

The ‘Museum of Mixed-Up Men’ (Broome & Infantino) teamed the eclectic enigma-solvers against a super-scientific felon, whilst in #333 Bat Man & Robin fought against a faux goddess and genuine telepaths in the ‘Hunters of the Elephants’ Graveyard!’, written by Gardner Fox and inked by Giella.

The same team revealed the ‘Trail of the Talking Mask!’ in #335, giving the Dynamic Duo an opportunity to reinforce their sci-fi credentials in a classy high-tech thriller guest-starring private detective Hugh Rankin (of Mystery Analysts of Gotham City fame) before ‘The Deep-Freeze Menace!’ (Detective #337 introduced a fearsome fantasy chiller pitting Batman against a super-powered caveman encased in ice for 50,000 years…

DC’s inexplicable (but deeply cool) long-running love-affair with gorillas resulted in a cracking doom-fable as ‘Batman Battles the Living Beast-Bomb!’ in #339, highlighting the hero’s physical prowess in a duel of wits and muscles against a sinister, super-intelligent simian.

Up until this time the New Look Batman was forging his more realistic path, as the TV series was still in pre-production. The Batman television show (premiering on January 12th, 1966 and running for three seasons of 120 episodes in total) show aired twice weekly for its first two seasons, resulting in vast amount of Bat-awareness, no end of spin-offs and merchandise – including a movie – and the overkill phenomenon of “Batmania”.

No matter how much we might squeal and foam about it, a huge portion of this planet’s population Batman is always going to regard that “Zap! Biff! Pow!” buffoonish costumed boy scout as The Real Deal…

Regrettably this means that the comic stories published during that period have been similarly excoriated and maligned by most Bat-fans ever since. It is true that some tales were crafted with overtones of the “camp” fad, presumably to accommodate newer readers seduced by the arch silliness and coy irony of the show, but no editor of Julius Schwartz’s calibre would ever deviate far from the characterisation that had sustained Batman for nearly thirty years, or the then-recent re-launch which had revitalised the character sufficiently for television to take an interest at all.

Nor would such brilliant writers as John Broome, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Robert Kanigher ever produce work which didn’t resonate on all the Batman’s intricate levels just for a quick laugh and a cheap thrill. The artists tasked with sustaining the visual intensity included Infantino, Moldoff, Stone, Giella, Murphy Anderson and Sid Greene, with covers from Gil Kane and Joe Kubert supplementing Infantino’s stunning, trend-setting, fine-line masterpieces.

Most of the tales here reflect those gentler times and editorial policy of focusing on Batman’s reputation as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, so colourful, psychotic costumed super-villains are still in a minority, but there are first appearances for a number of exotic foes who would become regular menaces for the Dynamic Duo in years to come.

Broome & Infantino then detailed the screen-inspired, comedically-catastrophic campaign of ‘The Joker’s Comedy Capers!’ in #341 and the mayhem and mystery continued in Detective Comics #343 (September 1965) with ‘The Secret War of the Phantom General!’: a tense thriller pitting our hard-pressed heroes against a hidden army of gangsters and Nazi war criminals.

Detective #345 debuted a terrifying and tragic new villain in ‘The Blockbuster Invasion of Gotham City!’ (scripted by Fox). Here a monstrous giant with the mind of a child and the raw, physical power of a tank is constantly driven to madness at sight of Batman and only placated by the sight of Bruce Wayne

‘The Strange Death of Batman!’ (Fox, Detective# 347) saw the opening shot of habitual B-list villain the Bouncer in a bizarre experimental yarn which has to be seen to be believed, whereas it’s business as usual when monstrous, microcephalic man-brute returns in ‘The Blockbuster Breaks Loose!’: a blistering, action-fuelled thriller by Fox, Infantino & Giella from Detective #349. This tale sports a cover by Infantino’s colleague Joe Kubert whilst also hinting at the return of a long-forgotten foe…

Detective #351 premiered game-show host turned felonious impresario Arthur Brown in a twisty, puzzle-packed battle of wits detailing ‘The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!’ (Fox, Infantino & Sid Greene) after which the action continues with ‘The Weather Wizard’s Triple-Treasure Thefts!’ (Fox/Giella in #353).

The Dynamic Duo battle in spectacular opposition to the Flash’s meteorological arch-enemy: one of the first times a DC villain moved out of his usually stamping grounds whilst Detective #357 delivers a clever secret identity saving puzzler when – apparently – ‘Bruce Wayne Unmasks Batman!’ (Broome, Infantino & Giella) as prelude to big changes in the Batman mythos…

After three seasons (perhaps two and a half would be more accurate) the Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. It had clocked up 120 episodes since the US premiere. The era ended but the series had had an undeniable effect on the world, the comics industry and most importantly on the characters and history of its four-colour inspiration. Most notable was a whole new caped crusader who became an integral part of the DC universe.

The comic-book premiere of that aforementioned new character came in ‘The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl’ (Detective Comics#359, cover-dated January 1967). Gardner Fox provided art team supreme Infantino & Greene a ripping yarn to introduce Barbara Gordon: mousy librarian and daughter of the venerable Police Commissioner into the superhero limelight. Thus, by the time the third season began on September 14th, 1967, she was well-established among comics fans at least….

A different Batgirl – Betty Kane, teenaged niece of the 1950s Batwoman – was already a nearly-forgotten comics fixture but for reasons far too complex and irrelevant to mention was conveniently ignored to make room for a new, empowered woman in the fresh tradition of Emma Peel, Honey West and the Girl From U.N.C.L.E. She was considered pretty hot too, which is always a plus for television…

Whereas she fought the Penguin on the small screen, her print origin features the no less ludicrous but at least visually forbidding Killer Moth in a clever yarn that still stands up today.

Editor Schwartz always preferred to play-up mysteries and crime conundrums in Detective Comics and #361’s ‘The Dynamic Duo’s Double-Deathtrap!’ was one of Fox’s best, especially as drawn by the now increasingly over-stretched Infantino and Greene. The plot involves Cold War spies and a maker of theatrical paraphernalia; I shall reveal no more to keep you guessing when you read it…

Detective #363 was a full co-starring vehicle as the Dynamic Duo challenged the new Batgirl to deduce Batman’s secret identity whilst tracking down the enigmatic Mr. Brains in ‘The True-False Face of Batman!’ and led to a taut suspense thriller stretching across Detective #366 and 367 – an almost unheard-of event in those cautiously reader-friendly days…

As devised by Fox, Infantino & Greene ‘The Round Robin Death Threats’ involves a diabolical murder-plot threatening to destroy Gotham’s worthiest citizens, with the tension peaking and the drama concluding in high style with ‘Where There’s a Will… There’s a Slay!’: a dark and deadly denouement barely marred by that dreadful title…

It was just a symptom of the times – as is Detective #369 (November 1967) – which somewhat reinforces boyhood prejudices about icky girls in the otherwise classy thriller ‘Batgirl Breaks Up the Dynamic Duo!’

Here Robin seemingly abandons Batman for a curvy new partner, but the best of clandestine reasons, ignominiously signalling – other than for the occasional cover – the end of Infantino’s tenure as a bat-illustrator.

His next contribution on view here came in anniversary landmark Detective Comics #500 (March 1981): part of a huge creative jam-session: specifically examining the legend of the immortal hero in ‘What Happens When a Batman Dies?’

Scripted by Cary Bates and inked by Bob Smith, this chapter co-stars restless revenant Deadman as the Gotham Guardian hovers in a coma between this world and the next, yet still manages to find a way to save himself…

The cover is another collaborative effort with Dick Giordano, José Luis García-López, Joe Kubert and Tom Yeates all joining forces.

Next up; a quartet of tales from The Brave and the Bold, with Jim Aparo providing covers whilst Infantino handled interior art. Issue #172 (March 1981, and inked by Steve Mitchell) paired the Caped Crimebuster with Firestorm in the Gerry Conway scripted ‘Darkness and Dark Fire’, with the World’s Greatest Detective striving to solve the mystery of the Nuclear Man’s periodic mental blackouts, after which #183 (February 1982, written by Don Krarr and inked by Mike DeCarlo) sees our hero join forces with The Riddler to prevent ‘The Death of Batman!’

Scripter Mike Barr and inker Sal Trapani worked with Infantino on B&B #190 (September 1982) and #194 January 1993), respectively challenging the Dark Knight to visit planet Rann and find out ‘Who Killed Adam Strange?’ before subsequently working with the Flash against Doctor Double-X and the Rainbow Raider when they ‘Trade Heroes – And Win!’

One final Infantino fling comes from DC Comics Presents: Batman #1 (September 2004), courtesy of writer Geoff Johns, with inks by Giella and a retro cover from Ryan Hughes, as ‘Batman of Two Worlds’ gets real metaphysical with narrative boundaries as the modern Batman and Robin investigate murder on the set of the 1960s Batman TV show in a bizarrely engaging romp with a mystery villain to expose…

The visual cavalcade then ends on a nostalgic high with ‘Batman and Robin Retail poster’ – AKA the front cover of this titanic tome – possibly the most iconic bat-image of the era.

Whether you tend towards the anodyne light-heartedness of then, the socially acceptable psychopathy of the assorted movie franchises or actually just like the comicbook character, if you can make a potential convert sit down, shut up and actually read these wonderful adventures for all (reasonable) ages, you might find that the old adage “Quality will out” still holds true. And if you’re actually a fan who hasn’t read this classic stuff and revelled in the astounding timeless art, you have an absolute treat in store…
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1981, 1982, 1983, 2004, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Wolverton Bible – The Old Testament & Book of Revelation Through the Pen of Basil Wolverton


By Basil Wolverton with commentary by Monte Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-964-7

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist. Unlike most cartoonists of his time, he preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929. but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk (for Target Comics) and Rockman – Underground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Apparently tireless and blessed with unlimited imagination, Wolverton also produced a seemingly endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as Superman/boxing parody Powerhouse Pepper to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as Bedtime Bunk, Culture Quickie and Bedtime Banter.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp – of Li‘l Abner fame – to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton became a member of the Radio Church of God in 1941. The organisation was devised by Herbert W. Armstrong: a prototype televangelist of a then-burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement. In 1956, Wolverton illustrated the founder’s pamphlet 1975 in Prophecy and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after, he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled The Bible Story: The Story of Man, which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. His association with the Radio Church of God endured for the rest of his life.

In 1973 the artist returned to comicbooks, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In many ways, his religious works are his most moving and powerful – as you will see in this astounding monochrome hardback or digital compilation. “A Collection of Basil Wolverton’s Artwork for the Worldwide Church of God from 1952 through 1974” gathers all the images the devout but always questioning artist created for Armstrong and offers – after a snazzy sample page of Powerhouse Pepper – history, context and candid illustrations, photographs and disclosures through the Foreword ‘A Shot in the Liver, a Shot to the Soul’ by Grant Geissman, plus an intimate portrait of the man, his devotion and his art courtesy of the Introduction ‘Wolverton and Armstrong’ by Basil’s son Monte Wolverton.

Blessed with a large degree of latitude, the artist was allowed to create his illustrations and accompanying text from his own readings of the biblical text. No matter what your spiritual beliefs might be, the results are frankly astonishing: mute, powerful, forceful even amusing in the appropriate place and – when dealing with wrath of God stuff – absolutely terrifying…

With an overview and commentary accompanying each chapter, the miracles begin with ‘Part 1: From Creation to Noah’ as the World is formed, beasts are born and Adam and Eve are force from the Garden of Eden. Through Cain and Abel, to humanity’s proliferation to the Great Flood, Wolverton’s imagination runs wild, inspirational but never sensationalistic, even at the most dreadful of moments when mankind drowns…

‘Part 2: From Abraham to Joseph’ follows the resurgence of humanity, touching upon Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar, Ishmael, the dreams of Jacob, and enslavement in Egypt.

Rendering fascinating maps to pinpoint the areas under scrutiny, Wolverton continues with ‘Part 3: From Moses to Joshua’ (including a complete visual catalogue of beasts considered “clean” or “unclean”), ‘Part 4: From Joshua to Ruth’, ‘Part 5: From Samuel to David’, ‘Part 6: From Solomon to Nehemiah’ before moving on to the most potent and memorable moments as depicted in ‘Part 7: The Apocalypse and Beyond’: an imaginative tour de force that has to be seen to be believed…

But that’s not all. Wolverton was arguably one of the funniest cartoonists ever born and Armstrong tapped his gifts for other aspects of the Worldwide Church of God, The Plain Truth and educational outreach project Ambassador College.

Leavening the apocalyptic warnings, ‘Part 8: Funny Stuff’ gathers spot illustrations for numerous articles and sermons, mastheads for publication features, gags, strips, caricatures faux informational instructions and much more: many of which would just as easily fit into Wolverton’s temporal grotesques-oeuvre in Mad or Plop!

A genuine monument to belief and artistic passion, The Wolverton Bible is a masterclass in the use of pen-&-ink and offers a stunning example of a creator working not just with hands and heart but with heart and soul. A must-have for anyone who ever wanted to draw.
The Wolverton Bible © 2009 the Worldwide Church of God. All rights reserved.