Death Threat


By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair, even this page is white, The Boy & the Bindi, I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly it inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best, as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they happily cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression debasing so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing.

Unlike those who cower behind the supposed anonymity of their keyboards and phones, Shraya and Lee have proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, which details how the bile of ignorant bullies (you won’t believe just how dumb some bigots are until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore bullies or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

Desolation Wilderness


By Claire Scully (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-45-5 (PB)

The most magical thing about comics is the sheer versality of potential results. In terms of narrative, exposition, mood-setting and information dissemination, nothing can come close, and the range of visualisation spans near-abstract construction to hyper-realism. If the end-consumer is particularly receptive, the author can even dial back on the narrative and let a succession of carefully-applied images make a story unique to each reader. It’s like jazz for your eyes…

In a way, we’re all still monkeys clinging to rocks: we cannot help but respond viscerally to our environments: cowed or elated by stony heights, drawn to and pacified by pools and gardens, inexplicably moved to fear or joy by forests. It’s in our blood and bones: Nobody stands on a mountaintop or looks down into the Grand Canyon and says “meh”…

We may have left the caves and trees but we now mimic those ancient sanctuary havens in our dwellings. We climb high and burrow deep and our architecture has visceral, compulsive, instinctive power over us – just walk by a Victorian school, across a Roman viaduct or study the oppressive triumphalism of Nazi-built buildings or battle emplacements – we’re all still part of the wild and nature is in our bones too.

When someone really talented and truly invested channels those primal responses, the fires of creativity can push right into the hindbrain to our inner primitive. Desolation Wilderness does that.

Described as “a sequence of events occurring over a period of time in the search for a location in space” this tiny paperback handbook is a purely visual experience enhanced by the rough tactile textures of the card it’s printed on: part of an on-going project examining the relationship of Landscape and Memory.

Creator Claire Scully has inscribed and sequenced compelling scenes of rocks and trees and waters through different seasons and times of day in such a fashion that you must look and pause and ponder. It is a graphic missile targeting recollection and imagination; one that hits with serenely devastating impact.

If you are still human it will make you think: you won’t be able to help yourself…

© 2019 Claire Scully. All rights reserved.
Desolation Wilderness is scheduled for publication on June 3rd 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Of Dust and Blood – A Story from the Fight at the Greasy Grass


By Jim Berry & Val Mayerik (Jim Berry)
ISBN: 978-0-692-63801-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Even More Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 10/10

Back in October I reviewed a beautiful book published by NBM: a passionate and compelling re-examination of one of the most infamous and iconic moments in American history. I thought it was superb and said so in pixel-print.

After the review posted we were contacted by the writer of the book who very graciously thanked us. He also said that the original crowdfunded Kickstarter edition was not only better but how the book should be seen. He even sent us a copy to prove it.

He was right.

Here’s a tweaked review. Go buy this one. Even if you already have the perfectly excellent oversized, portrait format hardback edition. Get this one too. You won’t regret it…

Thanks to the twin miracles of humanity’s love of stories and the power of commercial narrative there’s no logic to how or why some events pass into the forgotten corners of history whilst others become touchstones of common experience or even actual living myths.

In 1875 final – official – tally of casualties for The Battle at Little Big Horn listed 268 US dead and 55 severely wounded men… and an unknown or unspecified number of native casualties.

Eleven years earlier the Chivington (Sand Creek) Massacre recorded a wildly estimated 500-600 killed and mutilated Cheyenne and Arapaho (two thirds of whom were women and children). To be fair, the figures might have been as low as 60 or 70 heathen souls, but practically nobody white really cared…

My point is that the reason you’ve heard of one but not the other is the force of publicity…

After Custer’s debacle and the slaughter of the 7th Cavalry, the Anheuser-Busch brewery commissioned prints of a painting memorialising “Custer’s Last Fight” and had them framed and hung in bars and saloons across America, forever connecting their product in the minds of generations of drinkers with unvarnished white heroism…

With historical veracity at a supreme disadvantage, the ill-judged clash at Little Big Horn – alternatively described by the winning side (on that day, at least) as the Battle of the Greasy Grass – has become the stuff of imagination and extrapolation.

Atrocity aside, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s led numerous thoughtful creative types to examine the event on their own terms and applying the perspective of history to the events and the shameful, bloody aftermath…

Two of the very best are comics veteran Val Mayerik and journalist-turned-author Jim Berry who have here shaped the conflict to their own deeply moving ends with this superb offering. Originally crowdfunded through Kickstarter contributions, this stunning landscape format (295 x 192 mm) full-colour hardback explores truth and myth whilst adding another powerful fictive component to the sprawling patchwork.

Following Berry’s mood-setting and painfully timely Introduction – dramatically augmented by a linework Map of The Battle of the Greasy Grass/Little Big Horn by fellow graphic scholar and historian Rick Geary – the story (lettered by Simon Bowland) unfolds in rapid yet panoramic moments, and traces two ultimately converging paths.

On one side cavalry scout Greenhaw takes some time off to pen a letter to his beloved Rose, even as some distance away young Lakota warrior Slow Hawk performs the funeral rites for his brother. Now he is the last of his family…

Against the background of the tragically documented specifics of the inevitable, legendary greater clash, these two strangers are carried by events towards an inescapable and bloody confrontation…

Rendered with staggering virtuosity by Mayerik, the smaller moments and incidents contributing to the greater clash we all think we know are beguiling and breathtaking in their warmth and humanity, magnificently underscoring Berry’s incisive questioning of the point and merit of the battle.

Augmenting the visual narrative is a text essay describing what happened After the Battle and how commercial interests monetised and weaponised public sentiment against the Indians and led to America’s own final solution to the Indian Wars at Wounded Knee Creek in 1890.

Following on, Val Mayerik: The Process describes, with plenty of access to the artist’s sketchbook, how many of the most evocative images were created before this terrific tome concludes with a Bibliography (illustrated by Aaron McConnel of further reading for interested parties and a moving page of dedications dubbed ‘Philamayaa’… (it means “Thank You”)

This is a wondrous and sobering experience any comics fan or student of human nature must seek out share. And that’s best seen in the original edition.

© 2016 Jim Berry, all rights reserved. 1st Edition. All fictional characters are trademarks of Jim Berry and Val Mayerik.

Copies of the first edition Of Dust and Blood can be purchased on eBay.

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.