The Art of Ramona Fradon

By Ramona Fradon; interviewed by Howard Chaykin (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-140-3 (HB/Digital edition)

In a matter of mere weeks that have taken many accomplished, acclaimed and beloved comics luminaries (including Paul Neary, Enrique Badía Romero, José Delbo, Marti (Riera), John G. Miller and Keith Giffen) – we are particularly saddened to learn that pioneering cartoonist Ramona Fradon died on February 24th. At the age of 97 she had only just officially retired a month previously. Her incomparable works will keep her with us through characters and titles such as Super Friends, Aquaman and Metamorpho (slated to appear in the next Superman film). Until then, here’s another tome you should own…

Although present in comic books from the start, women – like so many other non-white/male “minorities” – have been largely written out of history. One of the very few to have weathered that inexplicable exclusion was Ramona Fradon. This excellent commemorative art collection celebrates not only her life and contribution, but thanks to its format – a free, unexpurgated extended interview with iconoclastic creator Howard Chaykin – shares the artist’s frank and forthright views on everything from work practise to the power of fans…

It begins with an Introduction from Walt Simonson who proclaims ‘Meet your Idol… and discover They’re even Cooler than you Thought!’, before early days are revealed in ‘Part One: Setting the Scene’ and ‘Part Two: In the Beginning’

Ramona Dom was born on October 2nd 1926 to an affluent Chicago family with many ties to commercial creative arts. Her father was a respected artisan, letterer and calligrapher who had designed the logos for Camel cigarettes, Elizabeth Arden and other major brands, and also formulated the fonts Dom Casual and Dom Bold. He had plans for his daughter, urging her to become a fashion designer…

The family moved to (outer) New York when Ramona was five. Ramona initially attended The Parsons School of Design, and discovered she had absolutely no interest in creating clothes. Although she’d never read comic books, she had voraciously read illustrated books like John Barton Gruelle’s Raggedy Anne and Andy series, and was a devoted fan of newspaper strips. Favourites included Dick Tracy, Bringing Up Father, The Phantom, Alley Oop, Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and Li’l Abner (all herein represented by 1930s examples).

Ramona soon transferred to the New York Art Students League – a hotbed of cartooning – where she met and married Arthur Dana Fradon. He became a prolific illustrator, author and cartoonist and a regular contributor to The New Yorker between 1948-1992. They wed in 1948 and he actively encouraged her to seek work in the still young funnybook biz…

‘Part Three: Gingerly Breaking into Comics’ reveals how her first forays at Timely Comics led to DC/National Comics and a Shining Knight yarn published in Adventure Comics #165 (cover-dated June 1951), 10 months later taking over the veteran Aquaman feature in #167. Fradon was one of the first women to conspicuously and regularly illustrate comic books, drawing the strip throughout the 1950s and shepherding the Sea King from B-lister to solo star and Saturday morning TV pioneer.

In the first of a series of incisive, informative mini biographies, ‘Sidebar: Murray Boltinoff’ reveals the influence of that much-neglected and under-appreciated editor. ‘Part Four: Queen of the Seven Seas’ and ‘Part Five: Man of 1000 Elements’ show how occasional stints on The Brave and the Bold team-ups led to her co-creation of Sixties sensation Metamorpho, the Element Man. However in 1965 – at the pinnacle of success – she abruptly retired to raise a daughter, only returning to comics in 1972 for another stellar run of landmark work.

‘Sidebar: George Kashdan’ tells all about the multi-talented scripter before ‘Part Six: Ramona Returns to Comics… At Marvel???’ details how the House of Ideas lured the artist back to her board and highlights her difficulties working “Marvel-style” on assorted horror shorts, The Claws of the Cat and Fantastic Four, all presaging a return to DC…

‘Sidebar: Joseph Patterson’ looks into the astounding strip Svengali who green lit Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley and more before ‘Part Seven: Back Home at DC Comics’ where she was busier than ever. As well as horror and humour shorts, Fradon drew a new Metamorpho try-out, superhero spinoff Freedom Fighters and her twin magnum opuses: revived comedy superhero Plastic Man and TV sensation Super Friends. These revelations are bolstered by ‘Sidebar: E. Nelson Bridwell’, exploring the life of the man who knew everything about everything…

In 1980, Fradon took over Dale Messick’s long-running newspaper strip Brenda Starr, drawing it for 15 years. ‘Part Eight: Leaping From Books to Strips’ explores that painful and unpleasant chore in sharp detail, supplemented by ‘Sidebar: Brenda Starr’ outlining the feature’s history and reprinting those episodes when the ageless reporter met a certain cop, allowing Fradon to finally draw childhood idol Dick Tracy

The most fascinating stuff is left until last as ‘Part Nine: Ramona the Author’ discusses her career post-Brenda: drawing for Bart Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants comics, returning to higher education and writing a philosophical historical mystery novel – The Gnostic Faustus: The Secret Teachings Behind the Classic Text – as well as illustrated kids book The Dinosaur That Got Tired of Being Extinct.

Packed throughout with candid photos, and stunning pencil sketches, painted pictures and privately commissioned works – like Aquaman, assorted Super Friends, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Robin; Metal Men, Aqualad, Brenda Starr, Black Canary, Shazam/Captain Marvel, Shining Knight, The Atom, The Spirit, Metamorpho & cast, Marvel Girl, Miss America, Power Girl, Catwoman, Hawkman, numerous illustrations from The Story of Superman book plus convention sketches, this celebration concludes with even more fabulous sleek super art images in ‘Part Nine: Ramona Today’ and ‘Part Eleven: Bibliography’

This is an amazing confirmation of an incredible career and any fan’s dream package. Amongst gems unearthed here are complete Aquaman stories ‘The Kid from Atlantis!’ (Adventure Comics #269, 1960), ‘A World Without Water’ (Adventure#251, 1958) and ‘How Aquaman Got his Powers!’ (Adventure #260, 1959), plus tales from Star Spangled War Stories (#184, 1975) and ‘The Invisible Bank Robbers!’ (Gangbusters #30, 1952).

Also on show are unpublished sample strips by Dana & Ramona Fradon and a monumental cover gallery of unforgettable images from Super Friends #3, 5-8, 10, 11, 13, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24-27, 31, 33, 36-39 & 41; Plastic Man #16-20; The Brave and the Bold #55, 57, 58, Showcase #30 & 33, Metamorpho, the Element Man #1-5, Namora #1 (2010), Fantastic Four #133 and Freedom Fighters #3.

These are supported by selected interior pages in full colour or monochrome from Star Spangled War Stories #8; Adventure Comics #190; Metamorpho, the Element Man #1; 1st Issue Special #3; Fantastic Four #133; The Brave and the Bold #57; House of Secrets #116 & 136; Secrets of Haunted House #3 & 14; House of Mystery #232 & 273; Plop! #5; Freedom Fighters #3 & 5; Plastic Man #14; Super Friends #6-8, 10, 13, 16, 19, 21, 23 & 25 and the Super DC Calendar 1977.

A truly definitive appreciation of the Comic Book Hall of Fame inductee 2006, this oversized (229 x 305 mm) hardback reproduces hundreds of pages and covers, plus a wealth of out-industry artwork and commissioned wonders, as accompaniment to an astonishingly forthright testament and career retrospective of a phenomenal and groundbreaking talent.

The Art of Ramona Fradon will delight everyone by showing everybody how comics should be done….
Marvel Characters © and ™ 1941-2013 Marvel Characters, Inc. DC Comics Characters © and ™ DC Comics. Brenda Starr™ © 2013 Tribune Media Services. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921: The George Herriman Library volume 2

By George Herriman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-367-7 (HB/Digital edition)

In a field positively brimming with magnificent, eternally evergreen achievements, Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation. The canon comprises a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry whilst elevating itself to the level of a treasure of world literature, adored by the literary and entertainment elite whilst simultaneously bewildering and annoying millions who didn’t “get it”…

Krazy & Ignatz is a creation which must always be approached and appreciated on its own terms. Over decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – to allegorically delineate the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, certainly, but offended… Nope, nehvah.

It certainly went over the heads and around the hearts of many, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who can’t or won’t accept complex, multilayered verbal and visual whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced. Think of Dylan Thomas and Edward Lear playing “I Spy” with James Joyce amongst beautifully harsh, barren cactus fields as Gabriel García Márquez types up shorthand notes and keeps score…

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880-April 25, 1944) was already successful as a cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who’d been noodling about at the edges of his domestic comedy strip The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature on October 28th 1913. As covered here in heavily illustrated introductory article ‘A Mouse by Any Other Name: Krazy & Ignatz’s Early Life Under the Boards’ Krazy Kat – instantly mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing – had first popped up on July 26th 1910 in that strip’s precursor The Dingbat Family: a 5-day-a-week monochrome comedy strip in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal.

By sheer dint of that overbearing publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and direct influence and interference, the cat ‘n’ mouse capers gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers. Although Hearst and contemporary artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and more) adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not: taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from those circulation-crucial comics sections designed to entice Joe Public and the general populace.

The feature eventually found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers, protected there by Hearst’s unshakable patronage. At last enhanced (in 1935) with the cachet of enticing colour, the Ket & Ko. flourished, freed from editorial interference or fleeting fashion. It ran mostly unmolested until Herriman’s death on April 25th 1944 from cirrhosis caused by Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eschewing standard industry policy and finding a substitute creator, Hearst decreed Krazy Kat would die with its originator.

The premise is simple: Krazy is what we would call gender-fluid; an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive, romantic feline, hopelessly smitten with venal, toxically masculine Ignatz Mouse. A married, spouse-abusing delinquent father, he is rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous. Ignatz is a proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and many children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances of friendship (or more) by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. The smitten kitten misidentifies these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection, showered upon him/her/they in the manner of Cupid’s arrows. It’s not a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends the majority of his time, energy and ingenuity (when not indulging in crime or philandering) launching missiles at the mild moggy’s mug. He can’t help himself, and Krazy waits for it to happen with the day bleakly unfulfilled if the adored, anticipated assault fails to happen.

The final critical element completing an anthropomorphic emotional triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp. He is utterly besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, but hamstrung from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour. Krazy is blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Peripherally populating the mutable stage are a large, ever-growing supporting cast of inspired bit players. These include new player and relentless deliverer of babies Joe Stork; Hispanic huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible (and outrageously unreconstructed by modern standards) Chinese mallard Mock Duck, portraitist Michael O’Kobalt, dozy Joe Turtil and snoopily sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, augmented by a host of audacious animal crackers such as Krazy’s relations Katfish, Katbird and niece Katrina – all equally capable of stealing the limelight and supporting their own features…

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur mainly amidst the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on Herriman’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast. The strips are a masterful mélange of unique experimental drawing, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic (frequently referencing Navajo arts) whilst harnessing sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is most effective here: alliterative, phonetically, onomatopoeically joyous with a compellingly melodious musical force and delicious whimsy (“Ignatz Ainjil” or “I’m a heppy, heppy ket!”).

Yet for all our high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, outrageously hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Herriman was a master of action: indulging in dialogue-free escapades as captivating as any Keystone Kop or Charlie Chaplin 2-reeler. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old oaf like me and you…

This cartoon wonderment is bulked up with a veritable treasure trove of unique artefacts: candid photos, correspondence, original strip art and examples of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (gorgeous hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), supported by fascinating insights and crucial history. Bill Blackbeard’s essay ‘A Mouse by Any Other Name: Krazy & Ignatz’s Early Life Under the Boards’ continues detailing the circuitous path to Krazy in Coconino via Herriman’s earlier strips successes The Dingbat Family and The Family Upstairs.

This volume then reveals – mostly in monochrome – the strips from January 5th 1919 to December 25th 1921 in a reassuringly hefty atlas of another land and time, with the unending dramas playing out as before, but with some intriguing diversions. These include a wealth of snow and farming gags, recurring tributes to Kipling’s “Just So Stories” (such as learning how Kookoo Klocks work, why bananas are slippy and hang around in bunches and why Lightning Bugs light up). Early in the year occasional unwelcome guest Blind Pig (a sly salute to speakeasies in Prohibition days) debuts even as the regulars tirelessly test out their strange threesome relationship in a dazzling array of short painful trysts…

The peculiar proceedings are delivered – much like Joe Stork’s bundles of joy/responsibility – every seven days, with running gags on Ignatz being furless and Krazy philanthropically and clandestinely finding ways to buy or grow him a warm winter coat; odd vegetables taking root in the region’s unfeasibly fertile soil and plenty of scandal and gossip spawning mischief from the animal onlookers. A nod to an unstable post war world comes with strikes at Kelly’s brickworks and sundry other reasons why bricks suddenly become scarce, all forcing Ignatz to find replacement ammunition…

Even so, always our benighted star gets hit with something solid: many, variegated, heavy and forever evoking joyous, grateful raptures and transports of delight from the heartsore, hard-headed recipient, with Pupp helpless to thwart Ignatz or even understand why the Ket longs for his hate-filled assaults. Often Herriman simply let nature takes its odd course: draughting surreal slapstick chases, weird physics events and convoluted climate conditions to carry the action and confound the reader, but gradually an unshakeable character dynamic forms involving love and pain, crime and punishment and – always – forgiveness, redemption and another chance for all transgressors and malefactors…

Much time and effort is expended to have Joe deliver a longed-for heir to rich but dissatisfied tycoon Mr. T Vanwagg-Taylor even though each time fate intervenes and the anticipated offspring is left with other mothers. The Ket’s ancient Egyptian antecedents are exposed whilst in the present Krazy is put on trial for being crazy…

A Katnippery is opened and many strips concentrate on how the magic herb is kultivated and konsumed, whilst a fashion for hats and helmets leads to a period of brick imperviousness before the mouse adapts again. Krazy explores careers in music, dance, acting and pugilism as Herriman opens decades of subversive playing with line and shade carefully probing where black ink and white paper are metaphors for race and colour.

When not sleeping in the bath or giving shelter to migrant Mexican jumping beans and land-locked castaway clams, Krazy falls in love with motoring and racing, and also sets up an electrical power company based upon cat fur static, whilst malevolent Ignatz delves deep into the lore of bricks and dornicks, edging closer to having his own kiln and manufactory…

Sometimes there’s no logic in control, as when Krazy obtains the Pied Piper’s magical instrument and the result is not what you’d expect, or as assorted ailments afflict the town too, or it is assailed by reformers and bluestocking moralists…

And then it was Christmas and a new year and volume lay ahead…

Before closing, though, at the far end of the tome you can enjoy some full-colour archival illustration and another batch of erudite and instructional acclimation in ‘The Ignatz Mouse Debaffler’, with Blackbeard, Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Tisserand discusses language, race and (undisclosed creole “passing” as white) Herriman’s career as an artist via his character Musical Mose in ‘The Impussanations of Krazy Kat” before Blackbeard’s biographical essay ‘George Herriman: 1880-1944’.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a remarkable triumph: in all arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these comic strips which shaped our industry and creators, inspired auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music whilst delivering delight and delectation to generations of wonder-starved fans with a story of cartoon romance gone awry. If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this glorious compendium is the most accessible way to do so. Don’t waste the opportunity…

That was harsh. Not everybody gets it and some of them aren’t even stupid or soulless, just unfortunate. Still, for lovers of whimsy and whimsical lovers There Is A Heppy Lend Furfur A-Waay” if only you accept where and how to look…

The George Herriman Library: Krazy & Ignatz 1919-1921 © 2020 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All contents © 2020 Fantagraphics Books, Inc., unless otherwise noted. “A Mouse by Any Other Name: Krazy & Ignatz’s Early Life Under the Boards”, “The Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page”, and Herriman biography © 2020 Bill Blackbeard. “The Impussanations of Krazy Kat” © 2020 Michael Tisserand. All other images and text © 2020 their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Degas & Cassatt: A Solitary Dance

By EFA & Rubio, translated by Edward Gauvin (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-324-0 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-325-7

NBM’s line of graphic biographies never fails to delight, and this oversized luxury hardcover (also available digitally) is one of the most fascinating thus far: exploring one of painting’s greatest yet least understood masters and – deducing by inference – one of the most occluded, protracted and certainly frustrated romances in history…

Degas & Cassatt: A Solitary Dance reunites award-winning screenwriter, historian and novelist Salva Rubio (Max, The Photographer of Mauthausen) with animator/illustrator Ricard Fenandez AKA “Efa” (Les Icariades, Rodriguez, Le Soldat, L’Ãme du Vin: L’ail et l’huile). Their previous collaborations are also beautiful biographies – Monet: Itinerant of Light and Django, Hand on Fire: The Great Django Reinhardt.

First released in France, the translated Degas: La danse de la solitude is preceded by mood-setting quotes from Baudelaire and Shakespeare and closes with a detailed Bibliography of suggestions for further study and appreciation. Between those points is a compelling exploration of one of the most turbulent periods in European and Art history, as impacted upon and partially shaped by a controversial, conflicted, contradictory and misunderstood master of line, colour and form…

This pictorial conjecture gently deconstructs enigmatic Edgar Degas is rendered by EFA in the manner of the pastel crayon drawings so beloved and powerfully utilised by Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas (July 19th 1834 – September 27th 1917). It affords a mistily miasmic uncertainty which never obscures detail whilst shaping a mystery to confound and unsettle readers. The stunning confection of painterly images traces – via flashback and supposition – the life of a troubled artistic genius raised almost completely by male relatives to covet success, scorn women and criticise himself mercilessly.

In Paris during the 1870s, a graciously-barbed, polite war of wills and conception began. The creative world was formalised and controlled by a hidebound elite – “The Salon” – dictating what could and could not be ART. The convention-constricted organisation even dictated form, method and content until that stultifying impasse was challenged by a haphazard band of free thinkers who would become derisively dubbed “The Impressionists”.

Among their most outspoken and headstrong proponents were Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Berthe Morisot, Sisley, Bazille and others, but they only really started making waves once staid, bellicose and unfathomable Degas began associating with them. He bemused and bewildered his fellow outriders and the Bohemian set they congregated with, but never felt himself part of the group… or any human affiliation.

His story is seen from its conclusion as ‘1: Solitude’ opens on Saturday, 29th September 1917 with an elderly lady staring at a crypt in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. She is American painter Mary Cassatt who probably knew Degas better than any other person. On visiting his empty studio, sentiment swallows her as she opens his abandoned notebooks, thinks back and wonders…

In ‘2: Monsieur Degas’ the odd bourgeois’ formative days are selectively reviewed and his misanthropic, misogynistic, chauvinistic and racist stances are quizzed through his problems with his own output. Degas’ work does not and has never satisfied him and he can only find inspiration in places no decent person belongs. It seems the austere bookish elitist cannot open up to his peers but is addicted to being an anonymous, masked and untouchable patron of brothels, bawdy houses and ballet… where only the most degraded – or poverty stricken – go.

As his renown grows a meeting with an art dealer from the USA leads to a possibility of a different life in ‘3: Miss Cassatt’, but the voluntary hermit’s true genius appears to be self-sabotage. Even as the impressionists gradually destroy the influence of The Salon, Degas finally starts generating work worthy of his talent whilst sinking deeper into isolation and pushing away all those who could be friends… or perhaps more…

The story ends with ‘4: The Dance’, allowing some fanciful elaboration on the biographers’ part as the elderly artist confronts his muse and inhibitions in a kind of Happy Ever After that concludes with Rubio’s prose rumination ‘Did Monsieur Degas ever find peace?’

Enchanting, thought-provoking and supremely enthralling, Degas & Cassatt: A Solitary Dance is a soft-focus voyage of illicit discovery no lover of unforgettable pictures can be without.

Degas & Cassatt: A Solitary Dance will be published on March 12th 2024 and is available for pre-order. For more information and other great reads see

Batman: Cover to Cover

By Neal Adams, Chip Kidd, Rian Hughes and more, with art by Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Charles Paris, Stan Kaye, Fred Ray, Jack Burnley, Dick Sprang, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Win Mortimer, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella, Murphy Anderson, Nick Cardy, Joe Kubert, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, Irv Novick, Jack Abel, Bernie Wrightson, Alex Toth, Ernie Chan, Dick Giordano, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, Walter Simonson, Michael Golden, José Luis García-López, Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, Brian Bolland, Alan Davis, Paul Neary, Eduardo Barreto, George Pérez, Bill Sienkiewicz, Edward Hannigan, Paul Gulacy, Gene Colan, Graham Nolan, Brian Stelfreeze, Kelley Jones, Dexter Vines, Drew Geraci, Bruce Timm, Bret Blevins, Kevin Nowlan, Lee Weeks, Adam Hughes, Jon Bogdanove, Denis Janke, John Beatty, Michael T. Gilbert, Mike Mignola, P. Craig Russell, Mike Zeck, Norm Breyfogle, James Hodgkins, Matt Wagner, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Tony Salmons, Damion Scott, Tom Palmer, Ty Templeton, Terry Beatty, Carl Critchlow, Jason Pearson, Daniel Brereton, John Van Fleet, John Wells, Karl Story, Hugh Fleming, Kelsey Shannon, Paul Pope, Jae Lee, Cully Hamner, John McCrea, Robert Smith, Scott McDaniel, Howard Porter, Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti, Alex Maleev, Sean Phillips, Doug Mahnke, Phil Winslade, Quique Alcatena, Tom Nguyen, Scott Hampton, Ed McGuiness, Michael Lark, Paul Johnson, Tim Sale, Darwyn Cooke, Lee Bermejo, Dave Johnson, J. G. Jones, Robert John Cassaday, Campanella, The Iguana & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0659-8 (HB)

This year marks Batman’s 85th Anniversary and we’ll be covering many old and new books about the Dark Knight over the year. Let’s start gently with a pictorial treat long overdue for revision and rerelease but also one readily available through the usual digital vendors…

Although not strictly a graphic novel, Batman: Cover to Cover is a giant collection of the best comic covers featuring the Caped Crusader since his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 (May 1939). This is a nostalgic delight for old timers, newcomers and casually passersby alike, concocted and compiled by many of the countless people who worked on Batman over the past decades.

Each was were polled on their own favourite cover and what seems like an impossible task at first glance was smartly subdivided into easy to digest, themed subject-headings including Fearsome Foes, Welcome to Fun City, The Dynamic Duo, Batman by Design, Death Traps, Guilty!, The Batman Family, Bizarre Batman, Secrets of the Batcave, Covers from Around the World, A Death in the Family, Milestones and World’s Finest (pairing the Gotham Guardian with other heroes from the DCU).

Additional features include a thorough examination and critique of the globally recognised logo by designer extraordinaire Rian Hughes; discussions on cover construction by Jerry Robinson, Neal Adams and Bob Schreck and a poll on the greatest cover ever with contributions from the likes of Alex Ross, Chip Kidd, Neil Gaiman, Brad Meltzer, Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, Brian Bolland, Paul Levitz and movie mavens like Christopher Nolan and Mark Hamill.

This coffee table book is exciting, emphatically lovely to look at and will provide hours of debate as we all dip in, reminisce and ultimately disagree on what should and shouldn’t be included. Enjoy, Art-lovers and Bat-Fans!
© 2005 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Ugly Mug #5, 6 & 7

By many and various aligned to The House of Harley, including Ed Pinsent, John Bagnall, Tom Baxter Tiffin, Marc Baines, Chris Reynolds, Savage Pencil, Jason Atomic, Patricia Gaignat, iestyn, Jim Barker, Masaman, Denny Derbyshire, Oxideguy, Vince Mancuso, Hal Weaver, Alberto Monteiro & various (House of Harley)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wild Fun and the Epitome of Sheer Creativity Perfection… 8/10

Comics may be a billion dollar business these days, but at its core remains all about doing something creative and waiting for people to say “Oi! Come and look at this!”

At that charged and dynamic pictorial coalface are folk who would draw strips and cartoons even if the act carried the threat of exile or death penalty (so, missed a trick there, Soo-Ella Slaverman and Mr. not-so-Cleverly!): crafting and self-publishing the kind of word-wedded images the industry and art form continually renews and reinvents itself with.

Every year The House of Harley unleashes an annual (well duh!) anthology of short stories, posterworks, tableaux, diagrammatic diatribes – even further continued characters and serials – via the ranks of the British Small Press movement (it’s really more of a tendency these days but riveting nonetheless).The project also invites international guests, and it’s well past time you knew more about their splendid efforts.

Available at the moment for your delectation are a trio of tomes, with issue #5 being a horror themed treat including, amongst many, dark delights from Marc Baines, Chris Reynolds, Savage Pencil, Denny Derbyshire and Niall Richardson, an instalment of Ed Pinsent’s ‘Windy Wilberforce’ serial, John Bagnall’s ‘Father Gilderoy Investigates’, Tom Baxter Tiffin’s ‘Berserker’, Pinsent’s ‘R.S.D. Laing, Record Detective’ and some sinister self-help advice from Ess “Strange and Wonderful Creature” Hödlmoser.

City and Country in contention are compiled for #6, with Jim Barker (‘Cardboard Cities’) and Masaman (‘Japanese Graphix’), supplementing the old lags’ regular fare which here includes ‘Seb’ (by House of Harley), PCSO Dan, Dora the Art Restorer, more Windy Wilberforce et al…

This year’s model is a bonanza edition sporting an iestyn pettigrew wraparound cover, with a bumper crop of wonders addressing Karma and Chaos and dedicated to Chris Reynolds (1960-2023). Here lurk fantastic beasts from Pinsent, Bagnall’s crucial ‘How a Comic is Made’, Chris Reynolds’ fumetti ‘Batlight’, prophetic ‘Take the Children Out of Town’ (House of Harley) and epic exploration ‘Otherweirdly’ (Denny Derbyshire). These are backed up by briefer bits, graphic one-offs and episodes of extended exploits for ‘Mark E. Smith: Music Teacher’, Jason Atomic’s ‘King Kong Memories’ and ‘Respecto/Kanyok Hunting Fetish’ by Hal Weaver.

As jammed-packed with beguiling thrilling stuff as any British X-mas Annual of yore, these curated creations brim with surreal narrative force and come overloaded with wry and witty visual oomph, an example of the compulsion to leave our marks wherever we can.
All contents © their respective creators.

For all this and much more please check out:

Daydreams and Nightmares – The Fantastic Visions of Winsor McCay (second edition)

By Winsor McCay & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-569-4 (TPB/Digital editions)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect… 10/10

Winsor McCay was a cartoonist and animator best known for Little Nemo in Slumberland. There was of course, so much more to him and this retrospective touches on the man whilst displaying a glorious abundance of his many graphic marvels.

Born in Spring Lake, Michigan, on 26th September, 1869 (or maybe 1871 in Canada: records differ) Zenas Winsor McCay was a brilliant and hugely successful cartoonist and animator who worked on newspaper illustrations, strips and political panels from 1898 until his untimely death in 1934.

This collection (a remastered release of a 1998 celebration) offers up some sublime examples of his many oeuvres. Following a Foreword by Gary Groth and context-packed biographical preface ‘The Dream Master’ by Richard Marschall, the man himself relates what we need to know in his own words thanks to 1927 essay ‘From Sketchbook to Animation by Winsor McCay’ and a 1926 letter to fellow artisan Clare Briggs (Danny Dreamer, Mr. and Mrs.) ‘On Being a Cartoonist’ before we begin a magical trawl through a magnificent career…

Spanning 1989 to 1903 – when McCay signed with The New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett – ‘Chapter One: Early Magazine Work’ offers political broadsides, early editorial diatribes in pictorial form, social commentary and pure illustration pieces, albeit gradually trending towards his later fascination with fantastic architecture and parlous prognostications of cultural collapse, before ‘Chapter Two: Newspaper Fantasy Illustrations’ focusses on wry speculative futurism – a popular topic of periodical publication back then…

Encompassing 1904-1924, ‘Chapter Three: Midsummer Daydreams and Other Comic Strips’ offers timeless examples of his ceaseless cartoon endeavours including A Pilgrim’s Progress, Poor Jake, Midsummer Daydreams/Daydreams, It Was Only a Dream, The Dreams of a Lobster Fiend, The Faithful Employee, He’s One of Those Telephone Lobster Fiends, And Then – Kerchoo! – He Sneezed!, Everyone Has Met That Well Known Character, Mr. Duck, and Rabid Reveries but sadly omits Jungle Imps, Dull Care, The Man from Montclair, Mr. Bosh, Hungry Henrietta and It’s Nice to be Married

On October 15th 1905 the most important children’s strip in the world debuted in the Sunday Herald but Little Nemo in Slumberland had precursors and indeed a mature-reader rival. ‘Chapter Four: Dream of the Rarebit Fiend’ explores the many variations and iterations penned (and inked) from 1904 to 1913. Tireless McCay had conjured up visions for adult readers of The Evening Telegram, initially entitled Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. The editor, wishing to distance the feature from other strips, required McCay to use a pen-name, and he complied, signing the strips “Silas”, reputedly after a local garbage cart driver.

Where Nemo was a beautifully clean formal and surreal fantasy of childish imagination, Fiend displayed a creepy, subdued tension resonant with the fears and worries of its adult audience. Black, cruel and often outright sick humour pervades the series combining monstrous destruction and expressionist trauma. Even root causes of otherworldly nightmares were salutary. Each self-contained episode (18 reproduced here) and disturbing sequence of unsettling or terrifying, incredibly realistic images was the result of overindulgence; usually in late night toasted cheese treats!

Every anxiety from surreal terror to social embarrassment was grist for the fantasist’s mill and startling perspectives, bizarre transformations and uncanny scenes – always immaculately rendered – made the strip hugely successful and well-regarded strip in its day.

In 1906, American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter created a landmark 7-minute live action special-effects movie entitled The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and the Edison company produced a cylinder recording with the same name the following year – played by the Edison Military Band. McCay himself produced four animated shorts in 1916-17: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; Dreams of The Rarebit Fiend: The Pet, Dreams of The Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House and Dreams of The Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville, and despite his many other later successes returned to the feature sporadically over the years. Between 1923 – 1925 he revived it as Rarebit Reveries, officially attributing the strip to his son who signed the panels Robert Winsor McCay, Jr.

An artist hugely in-demand then and revered today, from 1903 to 1906 McCay invented many other all-ages cartoon works and ‘Chapter Five: Sunday Excursions’ highlights one of most enduring and inventive with 18 episodes of Little Sammy Sneeze, before the linear lunacy ends with his speculations on the world, its people and impending dystopias in ‘Chapter Six: Sermons on Paper’ with 54 stunning tableaux full-page rendered between 1913-1934, shaped by war and other disasters depicting so very many ways humanity could end and so few where we stop our species’ extinction event…

Although working far more than a century ago McCay still affects all aspects of graphic narrative produced ever since and his visions are more pertinent now than in his own lifetime. A darker side of an absolute master of our art form, this is work you must see and cannot miss.
Daydreams and Nightmares © 2005 Fantagraphics Books.

Terror – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez (volume 1) & Macabras – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez (volume 2)

By Jayme Cortez, with Fabio Moraes & various, translated by Joe Williams (Korero Press)
ISBN: 978-1-912740-22-2 (PB Terror) & 978-1-912740-21-5 (PB Macabras)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Whatever the Season, All Nights Are Dark … 8/10

Please pay careful attention: this art book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption. Tomorrow I’ll write about something else – possibly more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then if incredible art, a dedicated career and rectifying oversights is not to your liking.

We comic book guys tend to think we invented and run the medium and art form of graphic narrative, but – gasps in shock! – other countries have been doing the same or similar all along. Moreover, so very much of it is so very good…

Britain and the US have, over decades, employed a select few master craftsmen (and they were mostly men as far as I can see) and I’ve done my bit to point them your way, but until very recently we haven’t seen much of Brazil’s monolithic comics output. That changes here and now with a two-book collection highlighting the breathtakingly prolific career of Jaime Cortez Martins – AKA Jayme Cortez. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal on 8th September 1926 and his life changed at age six when he first saw imported American newspaper strips: particularly Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Jaime’s first drawing was published when he was 11, and in 1944 he was apprenticed to children’s magazine O Mosquito under its art director Eduardo Texiera Coelho. The prodigy generated numerous groundbreaking strips before – having discovered the rich world of Brazilian comics – he emigrated to São Paulo to find great fame fortune and renown. Celebrated globally except in English-speaking countries, Cortez died in 1987.

For more biographic detail resort to the internet or best yet buy these books where editor/writer-compiler/art historian Fabio Moraes and appreciative guests such as Paul Gravett, and Paulo Montiero offer their own insights in Forewords and Intoductions. What’s really important is what follows: a magnificent treasury of a passionate creator’s output (albeit mostly his horror genre material) encompassing Brazil’s “golden age” of scary stories.

Cortez made himself master of countless artistic techniques and although there are ads and a few comic book stories included, these volumes primarily gather a mindboggling number of painted covers (as many as 4 per week!) in chronological order. Whether in colour or monochrome, these stunning retrospective compendia of gloriously designed and delineated imagery in a wealth of styles incorporate a staggering arsenal of artistic techniques – even photographic – to highlight a stunning and prolific career you and I were utterly unaware of.

Terror – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez properly opens with a comprehensive biographical essay ‘The Life of a Master Illustrator’ relating that dazzling career and offering candid photos, early works, magazine covers, strips and extracts, original artworks and commercial jobs before the serious stuff begins with his entire covers run for landmark publication O Terror Negro (The Black Terror).

This launched in September 1951 and ran until 1967, with Cortez generating the covers from #2 until the end and also the regular annual editions Almanaque de O Terror Negro. From January 1954 he added Sobrenatural to his commissions list: another 31 covers (plus another Annual) until September 1956 and (from February 1954 to July 1956) 35 more covers for Contos de Terror (Horror Tales), another Almanque and a brace of Frankenstein fronts. Throughout the book are many original art reproductions and dozens of reference photos the artist used as part of his process in bringing ghosts, ghouls, goblins, aliens, psycho-killers, devils, demons and witches to life, and making realistic the demise of countless maidens, wives and sundry other innocents…

Macabras – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez continues the gruesome gallery of dark delights by including some more of his beguiling strip work and another cartload of intoxicating covers. Following another context-packed biographical essay – ‘A Virtuoso of Illustration’The Portrait of Evil 1961 reprints and deconstructs what is considered Cortez’s signature sequential narrative masterpiece, before The Portrait of Evil 1973 does the same for the improved version the tireless quester produced when he returned to the subject in a more mature and philosophical frame of mind…

From there it’s a return to eye-catching images and bold typography in a welter of covers for his minor magazine efforts, beginning with 62 issues of Seleçóes de Terror (beginning in 1959 and going on until 1967), 28 for Histórias Macabras, 19 for Clássicos de Terror, an even dozen for Histórias Sinestras, as well as Histórias Do Alem (4), Super B?lso (3), Terror Magazine (3), and 10 for indie company Jotaesse.

Also on view are a chapter on the artist’s fascination with Edgar Allen Poe, a photo-essay on Creating a poster (for his other job working in films) and 14 chilling Black and White Illustrations to round out the fright fest.

This long-past-due celebration of a truly unique artistic pioneer is both compelling and shocking, and something no mature-minded devotee of graphic excellence should miss. Moreover, if the subject matter intrigues you, Korero also publish a stunning line of companion volumes of unknown (to you and me) art masters in their “Sex and Horror” collections: thus far highlighting the mastery of Emanuele Tagglietti, Alessandro Biffignandi, Fernando Carcupino, Roberto Molinio…

It’s never too late to be scared witless or stunned by magnificent comic art so let’s open our eyes and get a little international here.
First published in 2023 © Korero Press Limited. All rights reserved.

The Wilderness Collection

By Claire Scully (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-74-5- (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Know Your Place… 9/10

The most wondrous thing about comics is their sheer versality. In terms of narrative, exposition, mood-setting and information dissemination, nothing comes close, and the range of visualisations span near-abstract construction to hyper-realism. If the end-consumer is particularly receptive, the author can even dial back on narrative or plot or characterisation and let a succession of carefully-applied images make a story unique to each reader. It’s like jazz for your head and before your very eyes…

In all the most telling ways, we’re still monkeys clinging to rocks: we can’t help but respond viscerally to our environment: 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”…

Wherever we are, the landscapes in our heads still unfold before or curl back on us. We may have left the caves and trees and sunlit shores, 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.

Walk by a Victorian school, across a Roman viaduct or study the oppressive, aggressive triumphalism of Nazi-built buildings or battle emplacements – we’re all still part of the wild with Nature in our veins and bones. Just don’t stand too long near towering desert mile-spires or vertical palaces based on knickknacks or vegetables or sex-toys…

When someone really talented and truly invested channels such primal responses, the fires of creativity can push right into the hindbrain to our inner primitive. The Wilderness Collection does that. A timely amalgamation of three earlier rambles through realities – Internal Wilderness, Desolation Wilderness and Outer Wilderness – the sequenced images comprise a hardback handbook of purely and sublimely visual triggers: experiences enhanced by the rough tactile textures of the card they are printed on. This is the culmination of a project examining the relationship between Landscape and Memory.

The first steps come in nocturnal shades of blue as Internal Wilderness presents “a journal of a sequence of events occurring over a period of time and location in space” before the ceaseless peregrination reaches the warm reds, oranges, browns and fading greens of the Desolation Wilderness which depicts “a sequence of events occurring over a period of time in the search for a location in space”.

Careful now, you are nearing a stopping point if not an end, as Outer Wilderness explores the wildest places on the route: “a sequence of events occurring over an unimaginable period of time in the vastness of space” – melding animal, mineral and vegetable in a manner reminiscent of Basil Wolverton in his visionary, inspirational element….

Creator Claire Scully has inscribed and sequenced compelling scenes of rocks and trees and waters and skies and other things less definable, across different seasons and times of day in such a fashion that you must look and pause and ponder.

This is a graphic missile targeting recollection and imagination; one that hits with serenely devastating impact.

If you are still human or at least a primate looking for challenge, this will make you think: you won’t be able to help yourself…
© 2019 Claire Scully. All rights reserved.

Curses – A collection of short comics

By George Wylesol (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-75-2 (TPB)

Baltimore-based George Wylesol (Internet Crusader, 2120) is a cartoonist with lots to say and extraordinarily intriguing ways of doing so. His oeuvre channels avowed fascinations – old computer kit and livery; anxiety; a culture of graphic inundation, pervasive iconography; the nostalgic power of commercial branding and signage plus a general interest in plebian Days Gone By. Drawings of these he melds into chilling affirmations of his faith in the narrative power of milieu and environment as opposed to characters. He’s also pretty big on scaring the pants off folk…

That is especially the case in this latest tome: a retro-modernist glimpse over the shoulder at past shorter tales. This vibrant volume gathers novella Ghosts from 2017 and a section of short comics created between 2015 and 2021 uniformly exploiting his garishly macabre peccadilloes, opening with a devil’s dozen depicted as the ‘Comprehensive List of Curses’: part of a sporadic sequence of stand-alone (or are they?) images peppered throughout the pages.

Breakthrough tale ‘Ghosts’ details a worker sharing experiences wandering in a complex of tunnels under a hospital, after which 2015’s ‘The Rabbit’ macabrely plucks heartstrings (you can see them if you look) in a tale of odd relationships…

Computer game inspired ‘Castle Maker’ seductively and inevitably leads to a powerful exploration of ‘Porn’ that is nothing like you could possibly expect.

Talking heads spouting ‘Cheese’ and worse bring us a ‘List of Cursed Entities’ before ‘Worthless’ pushes the limits of visual reportage and conceptual condemnation. More far-from-random images offer a reset button as prelude to a visit to realtor purgatory via the ‘Open House’ after which ‘The Loser’ displays another way to fail yet win…

Bombarded by fresh pictorial asides, we pause to consider the void in ‘Untitled’ before a sequence of entwined episodes commences, tracing the saga of ‘The Cursed Lover’.

Set in the ghastly, internal-organ-obsessed municipality of Zujojhidi – as governed by drab routine and television prophets – Ghoul is struggling with school and his job at the meat factory. Everything changes once a stranger shows him a spirit hidden under his cloak. From that moment, Ghoul’s existence changes forever and for the worst…

Can the interest of young Mercey – whose attentions he is blithely oblivious to – divert the doomed kid from the inexorable path to apocalypse and oblivion?

Deftly manipulating realities and landscaping the liminal spaces at the boundaries of peripheral vision, Wylesol reshapes forms and formula to carve out chilling, potent suspense sagas unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Genuinely disturbing in the manner of the best psychological dramas, with plenty of scary moments and distressingly eerie characters, the coldly diagrammatical illustration and workplace-bright colour palette adds immensely to the overall aura of unease.

Compelling and compulsive, these eerie evocations are aimed right at you. Whether you duck, dodge or dive in says all you need to know of yourself and proves nothing is what it seems. This is a wild ride not to be missed.
© George Wylesol 2023. All rights reserved.

Chronicles of Fear – Tales of Woe

By Nathalie Tierce (Indigo Raven)
ISBN: 978-1-7341874-5-8 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Cruel Truths for Crazy Days… 9/10

Allying words to pictures is an ancient, potent and – when done right – irresistibly evocative communications tool: one that can simultaneously tickle like a feather, cut like a scalpel and hit like a steam-hammer. As such, repeated visits to a particular piece of work will even generate different responses depending on the recipient’s mood. If you’re a multi-disciplined, muti-media artist like Nathalie Tierce, fresh challenges must be a hard thing to find, but rewards for successfully breaking new ground are worth the effort… and the viewer’s full attention.

Tierce is a valued and veteran creator across a spectrum of media, triumphing in film and stage production for everyone from the BBC to Disney and Tim Burton to Martin Scorsese. She has crafted music performance designs for Andrew Lloyd Webber and The Rolling Stones, all the while generating a wealth of gallery art, painted commissions and latterly, graphic narratives such as Fairy Tale Remnants and Pulling Weeds From a Cactus Garden.

Perpetually busy, she still finds time to stop and stare; thankfully, human-watching is frequently its own reward, sparking tomes like this slim, enthrallingly revelatory package forensically dissecting human nature in terms of cultural landmarks as scourged by the inescapable mountain of terrors large, small, general and intensely personal.

On show in this portable night gallery are stunning paintings in a range of media, rendered in many styles and manners whilst channelling the artist’s own fear-mongering childhood entertainer-influences. These include Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, Heinrich Hoffman (Der Struwwelpeter) and other dark fairy tales, as well as compellingly mature comic creators such as Aline Kominsky Crumb & R. Crumb, Will Eisner and Claire Bretecher.

The artworks explore shades of anxiety, alienation, frustration, longing, disappointment, despondency, hopelessness, instant gratification, loss of confidence, purposelessness, racism, toxic masculinity, neurosis, death and loneliness by suborning cultural touchstones like Popeye, Donald Duck and other Disney icons, mass-media mavens like Bowie and King Kong, beloved childhood toys and even modern lifestyle guru Homer Simpson.

Bracketed by revelatory insights and sharing context in Introduction and Biography, the pictorial allegories When Shock and Horror Collide, Forest Nymph, Capitolina and the Dubious Superhero, The Genie and the Swimmer, Bad Fishing Trip, Slapstick Brawl, Undateable, Crazy Rooster Man, Strange Leader, My Favorite Aliens, The Queen of Hearts Goes Shopping, Acrobat, Fear of Death, Running, What Killed the Dodo?, The Bore, 3am, Pussy Cat, Barfly, Alice in Waitingland (my absolute personal favourite!), Beginning and End, Rascal Dog, Spiraling, Lonely Soldier, Homer Gone Bad, Jittery and utterly appalling endpiece Bathtime, connecting forensic social observation with everyday paranoias we all experience. The result is a mad melange of bêtes noire and unsettled icons du jour, with each condemnatory visual judgement deftly wedded to frankly terrifying texts encapsulating contemporary crisis points, delivered as edgy epigrams and barbed odes.

Chronicles of Fear – Tales of Woe is a mordantly mature message of mirth-masked ministrations exposing the dark underbellies we’re all desperately sucking in and praying no one notices.

A perfect dalliance for thinking bipeds at the end of civilisation, aimed at victims of human nature with a sharp eye and unforgiving temperament – and surely, isn’t that all of us?
© 2023 Indigo Raven. © 2023 Nathalie Tierce. All rights reserved.