A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola

By Ricardo Cortés (Akashic Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61775-134-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: potent, punchy and thought-provoking fodder to enjoy after overindulging… 9/10

The astounding power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information in layered levels has always been best utilised in works with a political or social component. That’s seldom been better demonstrated than in this stunning and scholarly new picture book from Ricardo Cortés.

Born in 1973, illustrator and artistic intellectual activist Cortés has had a sublimely seditious career thus far. He has made waves in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Post, The Village Voice, San Francisco Chronicle, and been challenged on CNN and FOX News after his controversial  children’s book Marijuana: It’s Just a Plant – written by Marsha Rosenbaum – was mentioned in Congress. He followed up by illustrating Adam Mansbach’s Times Best-Selling Go the F**k to Sleep and its sequel Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, and created the colouring book I Don’t Want to Blow You Up! about famous Muslims who aren’t terrorists.

In 2011 the artist received a grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Greater New York Arts Development to create Jury Independence Illustrated – a public booklet dealing with Jury Nullification produced with the intention of educating potential jurors about their powers to acquit if they disagree with specific laws or judicial rulings. Clearly a born troublemaker…

His latest project is a brilliantly engrossing exploration of acceptable addictions blending scrupulously scholarly reportage with a seductively beautiful selection of captivating images and historical reproductions.

The story starts with the origins and history of ‘Coffee’ from its mythic discovery as a berry fruit for goats in Ethiopia, through being taken up by Yemeni traders who disseminated “qahwah” throughout the Islamic world. A proven intoxicant, concerns over its salubrity, morality and legality grew and it was soon being trafficked by desperate men. In the 16th century the beverage was banned in Mecca, Cairo and elsewhere, but its taste and effects were impossible to resist.

By the time “kahveh” reached Turkeytrading in the beans carried the death penalty. As “Coffee” it reached Europein the 17th century, touted as a miracle cure-all for everything from headache to miscarriage and grew explosively into an intellectual’s seditious vice. In 1675 Charles II ordered it suppressed and closedEngland’s Coffee Houses by Royal Edict.

Things got even stranger in 1820 after the alkaloid “Caffe-ine” was finally distilled from the coffee cherry…

The rest of caffeine’s turbulent and torturous legal and commercial progress to today’s status as the world’s most popular stimulant is followed by the story of ‘Cola and Coca’ in which caffeine’s other singularly popular method of natural dissemination is examined.

The Kola Nut of West Africa is amazingly high in the stimulant alkaloid and has been used for centuries – if not millennia – as a energy-intensifying fortifier by the various tribes and nations either by chewing the raw nut or brewing a drink called “cola”.

Cola is one of the most popular ancient beverages on Earth and when in 1886 Dr. John Pemberton devised his own formulation – dubbed Coca-Cola – by adding a dash of coca leaves, his medicinal tonic, after an initial shaky start, grew to become the most monolithic drinks brand on Earth.

…But not, apparently, without a little government help…

Coca originally came from the Andes of South America where for centuries indigenous peoples used the herbal bounty as a pick-me-up. The Indios chewed coca leaves the way we do gum in the west and in 1499 explorer Amerigo Vespucci brought back tales of the wonder herb’s propensity to promote feats of concentration and endurance.

In 1859 Dr. Karl Scherzer returned to Austria after a two-year scientific voyage aboard the Frigate Novara with sixty pounds of coca, as previously requested by German pharmacologists. Soon after doctoral student Albert Niemann isolated from the samples a new alkaloid which he dubbed “Coca-ine”.

This fresh medical marvel, its transparent crystals easily derived from coca leaves, was from 1884 enthusiastically prescribed by the likes of Sigmund Freud for melancholia and oculist Carl Koller discovered it to be an incredible regional (or as we now know them “local”) anaesthetic, allowing unprecedented new surgical procedures to be performed. It was also used as a commonplace treatment for toothache, labour pains, nervousness, fatigue, impotence, asthma and as a cure for morphine addiction – hence Pemberton’s inclusion of the stuff in his health tonic.

By 1889 cases of compulsive use and abuse began to be reported, leading to heated medical debate, and when the era’s obsessive racial concerns were added to the mix (“cocaine made negroes insane” and it was peddled by “greedy Jewish doctors”) the writing was on the puritanical wall for the foreign import.

On a rising tide of public disapproval the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act prohibited Cocaine use and coca importation in theUSA. However due to some truly unbelievable backroom dickering, the already powerful Coca-Cola Company secured a constant supply of the banned substance – re-designated “Merchandise No. 5” – for their Schaefer Alkaloid Works in New Jersey – still thriving today as the Stepan Chemical Company.

This mercantile miracle was all due to diligent work of Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Ralph Hayes, a former aide to theUS Secretary of War and from 1932, a vice President of the Coca-Cola Company.

Anslinger was a rabid anti-drug zealot, so just why did he spend 40 years – under seven different US Presidents – enforcing draconian and often expensive, nigh-impossible bans on a vast number of natural pharmaceutical products whilst actively securing and defending Coca-Cola’s uninterrupted supply of cocaine?

He even facilitated clandestine schemes to grow coca on American soil and his campaign was so successful that American policy became UN and global norms, forcibly negating all the proven scientific benefits of resources which grew naturally in countries which could never afford Western drugs and chemical advances.

Trust me; you only think you know the answer…

Astonishingly addictive and intoxicatingly revelatory, Coffee, Coca & Cola offers an impressively open-minded history lesson and an incredible look at the dark underbelly of American Capitalism. Exposed here through telling research and beguiling illustrations is a catalogue of hypocrisy wherein successive political administrations and big business always found ways to place commercial interests ahead of any specious moral imperative ingenuously forwarded by the “World’s Cop”.

Learn here how corporations and statesmen conspired to ruthlessly crush the traditions, customs and rituals of other nations and cultures (as recently as 2010, America acted to suppress many sovereign South American countries’ social, spiritual, medicinal and nutritional use of coca) and continue to prevent poor countries utilisation of such ancient natural resources as caffeine and cocaine whilst peddling products inescapably wedded to both American Expansionism and Ideology…

A stunning, hard cover coffee-table book for concerned adults, this captivating chronicle is a true treasure – or perhaps in the parlance of the idiom I might just say – lip-smacking, trust-quenching, cool looking, stimulating, motivating, hard talking, fool busting, fast thinking, hard quizzing… and unmissable.
© 2012 Ricardo Cortés. All rights reserved.

Signal: 02 – A Journal of International Political Graphics

Edited by Alec Dunne & Josh MacPhee (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-298-0

“A week is a long time in Politics” – Harold Wilson

I’m going to go all traditional here and offer a few on-line dictionary definitions before I head off on one of my own oblique and off-kilter diatribes.

Politics can be reduced to:

  • The art or science of governing – especially of a political entity such as a nation – and the administration and control of its affairs.
  • The activities or affairs engaged in by a government, politician, or political party.
  • The methods or tactics involved in managing a state or government.
  • Intrigue or manoeuvring within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power.
  • The often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society

I’d like to add my own codicil which translates as

  • “Getting large groups of people to do what you want by making them believe it’s their own idea; as perpetually practiced by advertisers, teachers in classrooms, rich folk, commercial organisations and special interest groups, trades unions, and organised religions”.

The early years of the 21st century were plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated by a hideous global proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid bosses and governments. These paragons finally succeeded in elevating politicians of every stripe to that phylum of generally useless tools and pimples on the butt of humanity once only occupied by lawyers and management consultants.

Since then so many apparently entitled and greedy types like bankers, astrologers, wedding planners, doorstep evangelists, CEOs, celebrity gossip columnists, newspaper editors, the shamelessly privileged and all types of psychics have joined their rarefied ranks, and I’m thinking I probably need to either cut down on coffee or refine my critical parameters…

The century before that wasn’t much better either, but it did spawn a global awareness of the sheer symbolic power of pictures to promote debate, action and change. The political image was used over and over again by the underdogs – and to be honest, the more savvy oppressors – in countless intellectual wars as an irresistible Weapon of Mass Deliberation…

When creative passions are aroused there is no more powerful medium of expression or tool of social change than graphic narrative working in seamless conjunction with a trenchant, targeted image. Whether it’s the swingeing satire of reformers such as Hogarth, the prose of Dickens illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne AKA “Phiz”, the publications of Mark Lemon and Henry Mayhew (founders of Punch), the questing explorations of Will Eisner, Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman and Marjane Satrapi or even the devastatingly deployed propaganda art of every nation on Earth, the incisive, excoriating or simply biting illustration wedded to the well-loaded word is an overwhelming force and Mass Communication’s only renewable resource: cheap, universally accessible and capable of extrapolating terrifying conclusions from the scarcest of supplied data.

Although not strictly a graphic novel, Signal: 02 was selected to begin this Week in Politics season because it embodies and celebrates the earliest and still most effective forms of mass communication; circumventing reason and language – often even literacy itself – by reaching through the eyes right into the heart and the gut of the viewer.

Signal is produced by illustrator, historian and printmaker Alec Dunn and designer/artist Josh MacPhee, co-founder of the Interference Archive and organizer of Celebrate People’s History Poster Series. Their occasional periodical is dedicated to documenting and sharing political graphics, creative projects and cultural artefacts of international resistance and liberation struggles.

Utilising typography and design in the same bold exuberant manner as the British Vorticist Movement’s manifesto Blast (which declared war on traditional art in its landmark edition of 1914) to disseminate and keep alive historic moments of global mass-movements, this edition opens with Judy Seidman’s ‘Malangatana’s Fire’: a comprehensive review of the life and achievements of legendary revolutionary painter and UNESCO Artist for Peace Malangatana Valente Nguenha.

The liberally-illustrated piece celebrates the Mozambiquan painter, poet, musician and intellectual whose life and haunting works spanned his rural upbringing under Portuguese colonial rule through revolution and years of civil war to the current national renaissance and his role as Mozambique’s Cultural Ambassador to the World.

The artist’s stunning, moodily symbolic works carried his people through the liberation, civil war, decades of political turmoil and savage brutality into the peaceful present by exalting the people’s age old roots and symbols…

This is followed by ‘Street Murals in the Portuguese Revolution’ wherein Phil Mailer details the guerrilla art and its factional creators who plastered the walls of the nation in a massive explosion of anonymous popular creativity during and after a military coup toppled the Fascist government which ruled Portugal in April 1974, after which Editors Dunn & MacPhee offer a fascinating typographical treat in ‘Selling Freedom’.

This glorious visual reminiscence reveals a riot of ‘Early Twentieth-Century Anarchist Broadsides’ – letterpress printed, broadsheet advertisements for the venerable (established in 1886 and still going) publication Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Communism. This entrancing example of the polemical power of the printed word is followed by ‘Cranking It Out Old School Style’ as Lincoln Cushing describes the age of Gestetner printers which first brought the process of mass communication into the hands of the people, long before photocopiers, faxes, computer printers, instant messaging and e-pages of every sort. In the hands of imaginative and determined artists visual miracles were made, from campaigns seeking to end violence against women to populist movements fighting prejudice and social injustice …

The ‘Art of Rebellion’ by Deborah Caplow then explores Oaxacan street art in context, recounting decades of internecine strife in Mexico, after which The Center for International Research on Anarchism: Japan describes the life of seminal printer, propagandist, anti-fascist, anti-militarist Esperanto advocate Taiji Yamaga who published radical periodical The People’s Newspaper and opposed the repressive militarist regime of the expansionist Warlords who were de facto rulers of Japan until the end of WWII. At the end of a turbulent life, the great thinker recreate key moments of his life in an autobiographical comic, and ‘Sketches from Memory’ is undoubtedly the star of this show, focussing a surmising light on ‘The Yamaga Manga and Japanese Anarchism’

By captivatingly relating days and years of domestic intimacy, personal imprisonment, triumph, tragedy and turmoil under appalling political duress, Yamaga turns a spotlight on an aspect of Japanese history carefully glossed over and almost redacted from conventional histories…

‘A Heart of Concrete through Fire and Water’ by Kasper Opstrup Frederiksen explores the history and achievements of the Danish Røde Mor art collective 1968-78 which adopted showbiz techniques and public stunts to change the cultural landscape and mindset. After years of challenging, surreal events, the core of dedicated New Left surrealists in the “Red Mother” art collective gradually became subsumed into the national psyche, as a graphic workshop, a band, a circus and finally a fund to finance political art projects.

So was that a victory or a defeat?

Scholarly, challenging, utterly engrossing and intoxicating, this is a superb treat for everyone whose mind works in pictures and causes…

© 2012 PM Press. Individual copyright retained by respective contributors.

Liberatore Glamour Book

Edited by Vincenzo Mollica & Antonio Vianovi (Glamour International Productions)

A lot of people may find the graphic arts collections under review here to be shocking, unacceptably violent and even revolting or, worse yet, dirty.

If that’s you, please stop right here and come back tomorrow when there will something you’ll approve of but will almost certainly offend someone else.

Italy has a rich and varied comics culture with some highbrow classics and lots and lots of cheap, cheerful, cheesy and even sordid commercial filler – just like everywhere else. Italian illustration superstar Gaetano “Tanino” Liberatore, like most masters of the form, paid his dues and worked his way up the ranks until he eventually found stardom, infamy and his ideal working environment…

He was born in 1953 in Quadri in the province of Chieti. After the usual kind of artistic childhood the kid went to school in Pescara and studied architecture at the University of Rome before moving into the world of work as an advertising illustrator in 1975.

He first met his fellow philosophical seditionist and punk-soul brother (writer, artist and publisher) Stefano Tamburini in 1978 and, in conjunction with strident activist cartoonist Andrea Pazienza, they created ‘Rankxerox’ for the magazine Cannibale. The character evolved and moved to Il Male and eventually Frigidaire, fully realised now as the RanXerox we know today – every bit Libertore’s signature character the way Eisner has The Spirit, and Hergé Tintin

Liberatore rapidly developed as both artist and writer, with strips ‘Bordello’ and ‘Client’ appearing in Il Male, but when the new, Tamburini-scripted, syndicated RanXerox became a star of French magazine L’Écho des Savanes in 1981, Tanino moved to Paris and began working simultaneously on tales for the more prestigious Gallic market in such magazines as Tranfert, Métal Hurlant, À Suivre and Chic.

A shocking hit in the US Heavy Metal magazine, RanXerox then led to Liberatore jumping the pond and producing material for Twisted Tales and men’s magazine Hustler.

When Tamburini died suddenly in 1986, Liberatore quit comics for nearly a decade. Returning to straight commercial illustration, he worked in movies and designed book and record covers. Eventually, comics captured his attention again, and he produced two new RanXerox tales in 1993 and 1996 (with Jean-Luc Fromental and Alain Chabat), and a piece in Batman Black and White, assorted covers, and illustrated Pierre Pelot and Yves Coppens’s mass-market paperback ‘Le Rêve de Lucy’. As the Nineties closed, he finally came storming back in stunning style with the brilliant, award-winning Lucy L’Espoir in 2007, in which he and writer Patrick Norbert freely adapted a life-story for the famous prehistoric humanoid Australopithecus Afarensis remains found by anthropologists Coppens, Donald Johanson and Maurice Taieb.

The early Liberatore is the unqualified master of shock tactics. His beautifully rendered work dwells with obsessive, aggressive fascination of the grotesque, both visually and thematically. Stylish elegance goes hand-in-hand with horrifying, blunt scarification, in-your-face casually acceptable deformity and abnormality as suave, raffish he-men readily range beside hideous human travesties, ugly children and wanton, fearsome under-age harlots and murderous junkies.

His worlds are not ones where anybody should feel safe or comfortable in visiting…

One fascinating fact often neglected is that the artist usually drew his stunning pages same-size or even smaller than the printed final work – a complete reversal of the regular way comics were produced – and used a huge variety of materials to achieve his artistic effects, from cheap felt pens to high quality pencils, paints or markers and even lipstick and found objects…

That spectacular facility for experimentation is perfectly displayed in the book under review here. In the early 1980s the Italian outfit which produced Popular Arts magazine Glamour Illustrated released a series of phenomenal art-books, collecting and cataloguing the extant works of many modern maestros of mature modern sequential narrative which had limited distribution in Britain – despite the best efforts of specialist importer Titan Distributors – and all those tomes are long past due for revision and reissuing…

This glorious collection of Liberatore’s early years, simultaneously transcribed in Italian, French and English, gathers hundreds of works and excerpts within its 204 pages (many of them full-colour high-gloss inserts), traces the artistic development and displays the incredible ability and versatility of this incomparable, iconoclastic stylist, divided as usual into early ‘Unpublished Works’, ‘Black and White’ – printed pieces and extracts ranging from comics pages and panels, pin-ups, ads, illustrations, posters and covers – and concluding extensive ‘Colour’ section.

The ‘Unpublished Works’ section here include masses of Liberatore’s superb pencil drawings and preliminary sketches, unfinished and self- rejected pages as well as commercial designs, calendars, and a ton of fanzine work dedicated to music sensations such as Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney, Grateful Dead and so on, choreographed fight scenes and designs for every aspect of his finished pieces and is capped by an extra ‘Donne’ chapter featuring a stunning sequence of pencil studies of women…

‘Black and White’ contains a wealth of work showing the artist’s fantastic versatility as seen in record jackets, magazine covers and illustration, satirical comics and cartoons plus loads of strips for publications as varied as Cannibale, Il Male, Frigidaire, Transfert, RanXerox and a host of others.

The ‘Colour’ section reveals, in a wealth of different hues and stylisations, his canon of covers for comics, magazines, books and records; posters, cartoons, works in progress, strips, stage art for theatrical performances, paintings, along with many pages and extracts from his strips produced in Italy and France, and American works for Hustler, Heavy Metal and Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan.

The collection also contains impressively comprehensive checklists which detail in full Liberatore’s vast publication record to date in their ‘Chronology’ and ‘Bibliography’ sections.

As you would expect, there is a breathtaking amount of beautifully rendered flesh and deeply unsettling hyper-violence and subversive visual political polemic on display – and I’m sure I don’t know which is the most distressingly affecting – in an unrelenting series of lascivious situations and occasionally genuinely disturbing circumstances… and his brutally sly sense of humour.

Liberatore is another world-class storyteller English speakers have too long been deprived of, and books like this have never been more desperately in need of updating and re-release …
No copyright notice again so I’m assuming:
© 1972-1985 Gaetano Liberatore. All rights reserved. If anybody knows better please let me know and we’ll amend the entry.

Milo Manara Glamour Books 1 & 2

Edited by Vincenzo Mollica & Antonio Vianovi (Glamour International Productions)

For some folks the graphic arts collections under review here will be unacceptably violent and/or dirty. If that’s you, please stop here and come back tomorrow when there will something you’ll approve of but which will certainly offend somebody else.

Maurilio Manara was born on September 12th 1945 and grew into an intellectual, whimsical craftsman with a dazzling array of artistic skills ranging from architecture, product design, sumptuous painting and of course an elegant, refined, clear-clean line style with pen and ink. He is best known for his wry and always controversial sexually explicit material – although that’s more an indicator of our comics market and sad straitened society than any artistic obsession.

His training was in the classical arts of painting and architecture before succumbing to the lure of comics. In 1969, he started his career in sexy horror strips with the Fumetti Neri series Genius, worked on the magazine Terror and in 1971 began his adult career  illustrating Francisco Rubino’s Jolanda de Almaviva. In 1975 his first major work, a reworking of the Chinese tales of the Monkey King, was released as Lo Scimmiotto (The Ape).

By the end of the seventies he was working for Franco-Belgian markets as an A-list creator. It was while creating material for Charlie Mensuel, Pilote and L’Écho des savanes that he created his signature series HP and Giuseppe Bergman for A Suivre.

As the 80’s staggered to a close he wrote and drew, in his characteristic blend of bawdy burlesque and saucy slapstick, increasingly smart if eccentrically satirical and baroque tales during a devastatingly penetrating assault on modern media and bastardized popular culture; which were increasingly being used at that time to cloak capitalist intrusions and commercial seductions in the arts.

All of these periods are strongly represented in the books under review here. In 1984 and 1985 the Italian outfit which produced Popular Arts magazine Glamour Illustrated released a brace of fabulous art-books collecting and cataloguing the extant works of this maestro of mature modern sequential narrative (covering 1967 – 1985) which had limited distribution in Britain – despite the best efforts of specialist importer Titan Distributors – and these tomes are long past due for revision and reissuing…

These glorious compilations, 144 and 84 pages respectively (many of them full-colour high-gloss inserts), simultaneously transcribed in Italian, French and English, track the artistic development and display the incredible ability and versatility of an incomparable graphic stylist, with Milo Manara Glamour Book divided into early and ‘Unpublished Works’, ‘Black and White’ – printed pieces and extracts ranging from comics pages and panels, pin-ups, ads, illustrations, posters and covers – and concluding with erotic works dubbed ‘Nubinlove’.

The extensive central ‘Colour’ section reveals, in stunning glossy hues, his canon of covers for comics, magazines, books and records; posters, cartoons, animation model sheets and storyboards and paintings, plus many pages and extracts from his strips produced in Italy, France and America.

Milo Manara 2 Glamour Book was rushed out a year later due to immense public demand and, although finding a few delicious historical nuggets omitted from volume 1, concentrated on recently completed material, unseen sketches and draught drawings in its ‘Unpublished Works’ and ‘Black and White’ sections and included a ton of storyboards and design illustrations from the movie adaptation of his infamous sex-comedy ‘Le déclic’ both in monochrome and full colour, in a section which also displayed book, portfolio and magazine covers, calendar illustrations and advertising spreads.

Both collections also contain impressively comprehensive checklists which detail in full Manara’s vast publication record to date in their ‘Chronology’ and ‘Bibliography’ sections.

As you would expect there is a breathtaking amount of beautifully rendered flesh on display in an unrelenting series of lascivious situations but there is also a welcome glimpse into the scrupulous working practice of an artist equally renowned for his historical research and devotion to historical accuracy and authenticity… and his wickedly sly, dry sense of humour.

Milo Manara is a world class storyteller that English speakers have too long been deprived of and these beautiful books are desperately in need of updating and re-release, if only to supplement Dark Horse’s sterling efforts to popularise the Maestro through their Manara Library project…
No copyright notice so let’s assume © 1967-1986 Milo Manara. All Rights Reserved. If anybody knows better please let me know and we’ll amend the entry.

DC Comics: the 75th Anniversary Poster Book

By various, compiled and with commentary by Robert Schnakenberg & Paul Levitz (Quirk Books)
ISBN: 978-1-59474-462-4

Here’s another poster-sized (a colossal 282 by 356mm) full-colour art-book, this time with material far more familiar to comics fans. Beautiful, captivating and still readily available, this tremendous tome was released in 2010 to celebrate America’s premier funnybook publisher in their 75th year of continuous existence.

This 208 page compendium, devised with 100 whole-page images – suitable and intended for framing – with background information and a couple of equally vibrant and chronologically pertinent cover contenders on each reverse side, charts all the breakthroughs, major debuts and key events of the companies (initially National Periodical Publications and All-American imprints) which merged to become DC, and includes the fruits of other publishers like Fawcett, Quality and Charlton Comics whose creative successes were later acquired and assimilated by the unstoppable corporate colossus which forms today’s universally recognised multi-media phenomenon.

The obvious candidates are all there and of course the vast majority of these stunning illustrations are superhero themed, but there are also fine examples of the bizarre fads, eccentric mores and mind-boggling concepts that were simply part-and-parcel of comics from the last eight decades.

The four-colour graphic parade begins with New Fun Comics #1 (February 1935 and with issues #2 and 3 decorating the potted history of the company on the back) and follows with the obvious landmarks  such as Action Comics #1, Detective Comics #27, Superman #1 and 14, Flash Comics #1, Batman #1 and Sensation Comics #1 but also finds space for equally evocative but less well-used covers as Detective #11, Adventure #40, Action #19, Green Lantern #1 and Sensation #38.

From the almost superhero-free 1950s come such eccentric treats as Mr. District Attorney #12, Our Army at War #20, Mystery in Space #22, Strange Adventures #79 and 100, Showcase #12, Leave it to Binky #60, Adventure Comics #247, Detective #275 (“The Zebra Batman!”) and many more, whilst the tumultuous 1960s offers such treasures as Flash #123, Showcase #34, Brave and the Bold #42 & 58 and Justice League of America #21 as well as practically unseen treasures like Falling in Love #62, Heart Throbs #93, Girls’ Love #127 among others…

The 1970s through to today are represented by such examples as Wonder Woman #205, Shazam! #3, Prez #3, Detective #475, Weird Western Tales, #53, Weird War #89, New Teen Titans #1, Ronin #1, Swamp Thing #34, Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, the first issues of  The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Hellblazer, Sandman, The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta and Preacher, Wonder Woman #0, Superman #75, Cat Woman #2, New Frontiers #6, Arkham Asylum Anniversary Edition, Batman: Year 100 #1, All-Star Superman #10 Batman #679 and others. All these covers can of course be viewed online through numerous database sites – but those aren’t crisply printed on high-grade card and ready to frame…

The artists include Lyman Anderson, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, Creig Flessel, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert, Carmine Infantino, John Romita Sr., Ramona Fradon, Neal Adams, Joe Orlando, Berni Wrightson, Steve Ditko, Mike Sekowsky, Bob Oksner, Curt Swan, Nick Cardy, Jack Kirby, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd, Dave McKean, Michael Golden, Darwyn Cooke, Dave Johnson, Adam Hughes, Jim Lee, James Jean, Tim Sale, Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, Alex Ross and a myriad of others…

For my rarefied tastes there are too few of the company’s superb young kids and funny animal titles and not enough of their genre successes, as exemplified by the War, Western, Romance, Science Fiction, Jungle Action, Sword & Sorcery and mystery/horror titles which kept the company afloat when mystery men periodically palled on the public’s palate, but this book is nevertheless a splendid catalogue of DC’s contribution to global culture and an overwhelming celebration of the unique glory of comics.

Even better; there are still thousands of covers left to shove into follow-up volumes…

Art and compilation © 2010 DC Comics. All rights Reserved.

Gig Posters volume 2: Rock Show Art of the 21st Century

By Clay Hayes (Quirk)
ISBN: 978-1-59474-543-0

Although a little on the fringe of what we usually look at here, this superb and humongous (282 by 356mm) full-colour art-book thumped onto my in-tray recently and I will admit to being rather blown away by the contents. I make no apologies but happily stress for nit-pickers that since Now Read This is dedicated to plugging stories told through or in conjunction with graphic art – and even typography – Gig Posters volume 2 contains some of the most impressive, varied and arresting modern images I’ve seen in quite a while…

GigPosters.com began in 2001 as an on-line historical vault for music art where browsers could view a vast resource of music related design, concert posters and contemporary nostalgia. It quickly became The Place for jobbing artists, designers, printer-makers and performing artists from around the globe to showcase their talents. In 2009 a giant book containing 700 of the very best images with 101 of those as full-page, ready to frame/hang/nail/blu-tack or otherwise affix to your personal vertical spaces was released. Naturally the book was a tremendous success and this spectacular sequel followed in 2011…

Within these immense pages are works by Adam Pobiak, Alan Hynes, Alana Bailey, Altieri Art, the Ames Bros, Anville, AS Printing Press, Atzgerei, Baker Prints, Blackheart Studios, Ben Wilson, Broken Press, The Bubble Process, The Bungaloo, Chicken Billy, Clint Wilson, Clinton Reno, The Comet Substance, Concepción Studios, Craig Horky, Craig Updergrove, David V, D’Andrea, Dead Meat, Dirty Donny Gillies, DKNG, Doe Eyed, Doublenaut, Douze Studio Dresden, Dr. Alderete, Droid, Empire Press, Erick Montes, Frida Clements, Ghost-Town Studio, Graham Pilling, Gunsho, The Half and Half, Hatch Show Print, Hyp Inc, Idiot or Genius?, Insurgentarts, Iron Canvas Studios,

Iskra Print Collective, Isle of Printing, Ivan Minsloff, James Flames, Jeral Tidwell, Jeremy Wilson, Jim Mazza, Joe Whyte, John Howard, Johnny Sampson, Justin Santora, Kill Hatsumomo Prints, Kunny van der Ploeg, Landland, Madpixel Art and Design, Mara Piccione, Mark McCormick, Mark Sgarbossa, Marq Spusta, Matt Terich, Maximum Fluoride Killustration, Mike Saputo, Mike Weihs, Mile 44, Nat Damm, Nerl Says Design, Nick DuPey, Petting Zoo Prints and Collectables, Pfahlert Creative Labs, Punchgut, R. Black, Rich Kelly, Robbie Fuct, Ryan Duggan, Scott Campbell, Scraped Knee Studios, Scrawled Design, Shawn K. Knight, The Silent Giants, Small Horse Studio, Sonnenzimmer, Spike Press, Standard Deluxe, Inc., Standard Design, Status Serigraph, Subject Matter Studio, Switchopen Illustrations, T-Bone & Aljax Production and Design, Tim Huesken, Tom Bagley, Traci Edwards, Two Arms, Inc., Two Rabbits Studios, Tyler Stout, Uglybogus, Us & Them, Weapons of Mass Design, Weathermaker Press and Will Ruocco.

The acts promoted and commemorated in these stunning pictures range from household names (well, in my household anyway) to local phenomenons and up-and comers: Green Day, Queens of the Stone Age, Arcade Fire, Flight of the Conchords, Rage Against the Machine, Ra Ra Riot, Norah Jones, Slayer, Sonic Youth, Devotchka, Bonny Prince Billy, Cake, Linkin Park, Ween, Death Cab for Cutie, Marianne Faithful, Wu- Tang Clan, Helmet, Duran Duran, Yob and many, many more…

Since 1977and the Punk Revolution, music and comic art have continually fed off each other and many of the images in here will seem like old friends to fanboys and art lovers. Many of them will inevitably inspire new comic images…

© 2011 Clay Hayes and Gigposters.com. All rights reserved. All artwork courtesy and copyright of individual designers or design studios.

The Art of Sketch Theatre volume 1

By various (Baby Tattoo Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61404-003-3

“Sketch Theatre exists for one express purpose – to expose you to the myriad career opportunities available for creative individuals. Whether you’re interested in comics, tattooing, painting, illustration, graphic design, fashion, animation, creating films or making music, there are more opportunities for artists today than there have ever been in history.

Through Sketch Theatre, we hope to inspire you to the realisation that if you are an artist, that it is more than ok – it is a gift that holds no shame in being fulfilled.”

Sketch Theatre is an online forum and showcase where creators post works plus those so-crucial intervening stages of development for the inspiration, encouragement and edification of others touched by the hunger to make art and this superb oversized hardback compilation offers four pages each to 57 of the many contributors who are part of the experiment.

The philosophies and efforts of the many painters, illustrators, animators, games designers, film industry Creatives and other less definable professional imaginers combine to form a stunning and beguiling catalogue of fantasy and facility that is both breathtaking and powerfully galvanising.

This staggeringly impressive collection and celebration of modernist imagery, craft, skill and imagination blends a broad array of artistic techniques and styles with the iconography and memories of cartoons, comics, television, toys, movies, street culture, music, body art and a million other unforgettable creative delights into a high gloss, stunningly lavish exploration of modern culture.

The sketches, designs and finished works here range from the horrific and bizarre to the disturbingly lovely and the creators responsible are understandably proud of their work…

Contained in this first volume are the efforts of Aaron Sims, Aimée Kuester, Alex Alvarez, Alvin Lee, Amy Botello, Ana Bagayan, Apricot Mantle, Axel #13, Brandi Milne, Brian Smith, Cameron Davis, Charles Hu, Chet Zar, Chris Ryniak, Christian Lorenz-Scheurer, The Chung!!, Corey Miller, Daphne Yap, Dave Dorman, Dave Hill, Fred Harper, Gene Guynn, Greg “Craola” Simkins, Gris Grimly, Jeff McMillan, Jessica Ward, Jon Beinart, Jon Schnepp, Jordu Schell, Kali Fontecchio, Lola, Luke Chueh, Mark Gabbana, Mari Inukai, Marshall Vandruff, Meats Meier, Michael Broom, Michael Hussar, Miss Mindy, Molly Crabapple, Munk One, Nat Jones, Nate Frizzell, Nick Baxter, Nicholas Villareal, Rick O’Brien, Ron English, S. Fisher Williams, Sam Shearon, Shawn Barber, Steven Daily, Sze Jones, Tara McPherson, Terryl Whitlatch, Tom Baxa, Travis Louie and Wayne Barlowe.

These astonishingly compelling confections (skewed heavily towards the scary, phantasmagorical and chillingly seductive) are presented in a deluxe, wonderfully large (305x229mm) 240-page tome format in eye-popping colour and this exquisite compendium is a fabulous goad for anybody who’s ever regretted growing up, putting away their toys and pencils a little too soon or recently felt the guilty sting of unrequited unadulterated artistic frustration…

All artworks © 2011 by their respective artists; their respective representative(s) and/or their respective copyright/trademark holders. All rights reserved.
For more see sketchtheatre.com

Al Williamson Archives volume 2

By Al Williamson with an introduction by Victor Williamson (Flesk)
ISBN: 978-1-933865-34-8

Al Williamson was one of the greatest draughtsmen ever to grace the pages of comicbooks and newspaper comics sections. He was born in 1931 in New York City, after which his family relocated to Bogotá, Columbia just as the Golden Age of syndicated adventure strips began.

The lad’s passion for “the Comics” – especially Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim – was broadened as he devoured imported and translated US material as well as the best that Europe and Latin America could provide in such anthology magazines as Paquin and Pif Paf. When he was twelve the Williamsons returned to America and, after finishing school, the artistic prodigy found work in the industry that had always obsessed him.

In the early 1950s he became a star of E.C. Comics’ science fiction titles beside kindred spirits Joe Orlando, Wally Wood, Roy G. Krenkel, Frank Frazetta and Angelo Torres, and drew Westerns Kid Colt and Ringo Kid for Atlas/Marvel. During the industry’s darkest days he found new fame and fans producing newspaper strips, first by assisting John Prentice on Rip Kirby – another masterpiece originally created by Alex Raymond – and from 1967 with Secret Agent Corrigan.

As comicbooks recovered in the 1960s Williamson drew Flash Gordon for King Comics and worked on mystery tales and westerns for DC whilst drawing Corrigan, later becoming the go-to guy for blockbuster sci-fi film adaptations with his stunning interpretations of Blade Runner and Star Wars.

His stunning poetic realism, sophisticated compositions, classicist design and fantastic naturalism graced many varied tales, but in later years he became almost exclusively a star inker over pencillers as varied as John Romita Jr., Larry Stroman, Rick Leonardi, Mark Bright, José Delbo and a host of others on everything from Transformers to Spider-Man 2099, Daredevil to Spider-Girl and his magical brushes and pens embellished many of Marvel’s Graphic Novel productions such as The Inhumans or Cloak and Dagger/Predator and Prey.

Al Williamson passed away in June 2010.

After a memory-soaked celebratory introduction from his son Victor, this second oversized (305x229mm) 64 page collection features more sketches, working drawings, doodles, unlinked pages, model sheets, unused and unfinished pages as well as a few completed but unseen treasures from one of the stellar creators of our art form.

In assorted media and forms from quick line sketches in ink, broad brush and tonal studies, full pencils and finished illustrations, Williamson displays his mastery in magical pictures ranging from intoxicating fantasy and barbarian women, valiant sword-wielding warriors, wondrous dinosaurs, Cowboys and Indians, rockets and robots, sports heroes, period drama scenes, cosmic adventurers, beasts and monsters, aliens, action sequences, beguiling nudes and glamour studies, his delicious trademark cute lizards, and so much more.

Standout and extra-inspiration pieces include a fabulous page of the Rocketeer, a Reef Ryan pulp page, many 1960s Flash Gordon sketches, more glorious John Carter of Mars illustrations and a few hard-boiled crime scenes…

The beautifully intimate glimpses of a master at work, with full colour reproduction capturing every nuance of Williamsons’ gorgeous pencil strokes, make this a book a vital primer for anybody dreaming of drawing for a living and the astounding breadth and scope of work presented here make me itch to pick up my pencil and draw, draw, draw some more myself.

Enticing, revealing, rewarding and incredibly inspirational, no lover of wonder or art lover can fail to be galvanised by this superb portfolio of excellence.

© 2011 The Estate of Al Williamson. Introduction © 2011 Victor Williamson. Rocketeer illustration © 1984 The Rocketeer Trust. All Rights Reserved.

Manga Mania Shonen – Drawing Action-Style Japanese Comics

By Chris Hart (Sixth&Spring)
ISBN: 978-1-933027-69-2

Even though the global craze for Japanese comics and cartoons seems to have partially abated the popularity of Manga and Anime style storytelling is pretty much unquenchable, and with Annual Gift-Giving Season rapidly bearing down on us it might be worthwhile to take a look at one of the better “How-to” reference volumes still available to the budding exponent of Japanese comic making.

I actually found this copy whilst browsing the shelves of my local library so your creative impulses might not even have to wait ‘till December comes…

Manga Mania Shonen is the part of an extensive series of art-instruction books by prolific graphic guru Chris Hart which includes manga titles such as a Beginner’s Guides and more specialised tomes devoted to Girl Power, Bishoujo, Occult and Horror, Romance and many others as well as other art “genres” such as Wizards Witches and Warlocks or Drawing The New Adventure Cartoons

This perky volume focuses on the Shonen or action story characters: lavishly illustrated from stick-figure first concept to fully inked and coloured final work, and opens with a section on Shonen Basics: Drawing the Head, generically broken down further into Action Boy, Teen Enemy, Girl With Crush and Dark Beauty with attention paid to Drawing Eyes For Action Characters, Young Teen Boy, Young Teen Girl, Bishie Boy, Bishijo Girl, Male Villain and Female Villain before rounding off with Craaaazy Eyes!, Intense Expressions and Shading Faces.

Swiftly following is Shonen Basics: Drawing the Body divided into Brave Fighter Kid, Powerful Foe, The Hero’s Girl, Alluring Nemesis, Younger Vs. Older Teens, The Fighting Team, The Character Lineup and Action Tattoos whilst Action! provides timeless, educative and extremely useful truths on Action and Balance, Do’s and Don’ts for Drawing Action, defined as Classic Run (side vs. ¾ view), Fast and Furious Run, The Big Windup and the Big Punch, The Punch and Making Contact; examines Forced Perspective through Flying Kick, Standing Kick and Leaping Forward; depicts Extreme Fight Scenes via Running Start and Impact (both with side and ¾ views) and concludes with a variety of Panel Designs For Action Comics, featuring a four-panel page redrawn numerous ways for different effects.

Samurai Characters and how to construct them follows with model sheet “turnarounds” (the drawing rotated through five positions – Front, ¾ front, side, ¾ rear and Rear views) for a Samurai Boy, plus Girl Samurai, Bad Samurai!, Street Warrior and Evil Samurai Grandmaster as well as sidebars on Uncommon Weapons and Samurai Fantasy Fighters.

Fighter Girls is divided into Flying Ninja, Spy Girl, Sharpshooter, Evil Enchantress, Fantasy Fighter and Karate Girl, Supporting Characters into Teen Punk, Evil Kid, Yakuza, Knife Fighter, Big Buddy, The Blockhead, Motorcycle Rider, The Cursed Hand, Sci-Fi Fighter, Costume Makes the Character and The Dramatic Trench Coat after which Monsters and Creepy Creatures covers such popular standards as Rock Monster, Devil Creature, Ogre, Monsters with Special Powers, Monster Fighter! and such Animal-Based Spirits and Demons as Tiger Girl, Scorpion Boy, Wolf Demon and Bear Spirit.

The final chapter checks out Battle-Ready Robots with Drawing the Robot’s Head, Round-Type Robot, Classic Colossal Robot, Elegant but Deadly Robot and Hyper-Mechanized Robot before Robots and Their Human Pals – sectioned off as A Boy and His Robot, Female Robot, All-Firepower Robot, Villainous Robot and The Mecha Team – finishes up the drawing lessons. The book concludes with a very basic four-page introduction to Sketching a Sequential Story.

By applying a “Time-and-Motion”, mechanistically deconstructive approach Hart has isolated those cool facets ardent newcomers always fixate upon and has perfectly described how to become fully facile in their use. After that, it’s up to the neophyte storyteller to progress at their own pace and inclination…

The whole book is pretty much the equivalent of a set of manga “cheat-sheets” detailing how to produce generic action actors, but as I can certainly attest after years of teaching comics-production, scripting and art to kids from age 4 to 60+, that’s most often the initial alluring spark which can kick off the drive to practise, improve and eventually find a uniquely personal creative path…

Created specifically for the American sector of the global marketplace and targeting younger fans, there’s no time spent here on the harder, less fun and downright laborious aspects such as constructing a plot, shaping narrative, designing believable backgrounds, building scenarios, page composition and copy/balloon placement, and the slavish pigeon-holing of the manga/anime phenomenon into basic construction-line “models” may annoy more advanced students, but if the goal is simply to inspire interested parties into making their own people and stories this book does the job affably and enthusiastically…

© 2008 Star Fire, LCC. All rights reserved.

Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising volume 1

By many and various, edited by Rick Marschall & Warren Bernhard (Fantagraphics Books & Marschall Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-399-6

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually products themselves. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers the force that they can apply in a commercial arena is almost irresistible…

Popular culture historian Rick Marschall and biographer/researcher Warren Bernhard have compiled here a captivating potted history of the rise of the art of commercial cartooning in an increasingly advertising-aware America (…and make a strong argument that one could not have thrived without the other) whilst providing a glorious panoply of staggeringly evocative, nostalgic and enduring picture-poems which shaped the habits of a nation. This volume covers the birth of the medium until the outbreak of World War II – which will be tackled in a subsequent book.

After Marschall’s compelling and intoxicating discourse on the growth of the twin industries in ‘Cartoons and the Selling of America’ the individual chapters of copiously illustrated memorabilia commence with ‘The Origins of Cartoon Advertising’ featuring truly magical art from the likes of Joseph Keppler, Thomas Nast, Frederick Burr Opper, Clare Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins, Winsor McCay and others for Beef Tea, Steinway pianos, insurance, wines, “electric” cigarettes, washing powder, sausages, entertainments and political rallies after which the legendary R.F. Outcault stars in the first Portfolio Section.

The creator of Hogan’s Alley, The Yellow Kid, Buster Brown and so many others was the first cartoonist to cut out the commercial middleman and directly market his skills as a pioneering advertising executive with his own agency in 1907 and this 10-page gallery is stuffed with his incredible inventions and innovations.

‘Cartoon Ads Go to War’ celebrates the patriotic fervour engendered by masters of brush and pen such as Ralph Barton, Rose (“Kewpies”) O’Neill, Charles Dana Gibson, McCay again, John T. McCutcheon and many more with the attendant Portfolio piece dedicated to ‘Sheet Music’ illustrations from Homer Davenport, Outcault, McCay, George McManus, Russell Patterson, Rube Goldberg and more, illustrating a growing trend – the licensing of established strip characters and stars to “endorse” and sell products.

‘The Jazz Era’ spotlights a graphic Golden Age both for advertising and newspaper strip merchandising: everything from promotional postcards to personalised calendars, decoder rings and assorted premium statuettes. Here the portfolio features illustrated blotters (absolutely vital in an era when most transactions where inscribed using fountain pens) starring such cartoon heavyweights as Mutt and Jeff, Bull of the Woods, They’ll Do It Every Time, Krazy Kat, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Bringing Up Father, the Gumps and William Heath Robinson.

Another portfolio covers the left-wing cartoonists who openly thrived in the USA in the days before Communism became a dirty word and Liberal Tendencies a hanging offence. Contributors include Otto ‘the Little King’ Soglow, Art Young, Syd Hoff AKA “A. Redfield”, Herbert Johnson, Charles Sykes, John Held Jr., after which the ‘Tobacco’ industry gets its own section with terrifyingly effective contributions from Outcault’s Yellow Kid, Martin Branner’s Winnie Winkle, Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff plus original strips from Frank Godwin, Ann “Fish” Septon, James Pinkney, Winsor McCay, Nicholas Afonsky and others.

The depression era is dissected in ‘Hard Times and Good Times’ concentrating on food, nutrition and making ends meet in strips drawn by Ludwig Bemelman, Opper and others whilst the Portfolio concentrates on ‘Baseball’ with strips starring celebrities such as Babe Ruth and Dizzy Dean – by a variety of unnamed artists – promoting the benefits of everything from grape nuts to cigarettes.

After which another selection of strip promotions and premiums highlights school supplies from Buck Rogers, comic masks from Wrigley’s gum, star buttons, Popeye transfers and more.

A ‘Celebrities’ Portfolio focuses on the selling power of tennis ace Big Bill Tilden, western stars Tom Mix and Andy Devine, movie comedians Jimmy Durante, Joe E. Brown and many more whose stars have faded with time.

Theodore Geisel gets an entire section to himself under his cartoon alter ego of Dr. Seuss and ‘Cartoonists as Pitchmen’ examines the phenomenon of artists as celebrities with Peter Arno, James Montgomery Flagg, Rube Goldberg, Sidney “The Gumps” Smith, Ham Fisher and others plugging a variety of goods and services after which Tom Heintjes recounts the story of the cartoonists ad agency ‘Johnstone and Cushing’, with illustrations from such employees as William Sakren, Creig Flessel, Albert Dorne, Austin Briggs, Lou Fine, Stan Drake and more.

This magnificent and beautiful collection concludes with an examination of perhaps the most effective cartoon advertising symbol ever created. ‘Mr. Coffee Nerves’ was designed to sell a vile-tasting, caffeine-free ersatz coffee named Poston – which it successfully did for 40 years – probably due to the entertaining scripts and superb art of artists such as Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff…

Stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering photos of toys and trinkets no fan could resist, this colossal collection is a beautiful piece of cartoon Americana that will delight and tantalise all who read it… and the best is yet to come.
This edition ©2011 Fantagraphics Books and Marschall Books. All text ©2011 Rick Marschall except ‘Johnstone and Cushing’ ©Tom Heintjes. All Rights Reserved.