Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations


By Ken Reid, with Reg Parlett, Robert Nixon & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-660-5 (HB/Digital edition)

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid. He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, youthful artistic prodigies who – largely unsung – went about transforming British Comics, entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes to hang about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963 with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with the resurgent comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work. On April 18th 1953, Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 whilst creating many more, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

In 1964, Reid and equally under-appreciated co-superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship to work for DCT’s arch-rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs for Wham! And Smash! as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time, Reid continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid collection – is Creepy Creations. Gathered here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake: episodes spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974 as well as related works from contemporaneous Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) Sterling for their successful efforts. The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles beginning with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

The convoluted history of Ken’s feature (which came and went by way of 1960s cult icon Power Comics, Mad magazine, Topps Trading Cards and even stranger stops), originally intended to save him having to draw the same old characters every day, is detailed in an engrossing historical overview by Irmantas Povilaika dubbed ‘Plus a “Funny Monsters” Competition with These Fantastic Prizes’ before the true wonderment ensues.

Astounding popular from beginning to end, Creepy Creations offered a ghastly, giggle-infused grotesque every week: a string of macabre graphic snapshots (some, apparently, too horrific to be published at the time!) beloved by kids who adore being grossed out.

Seen here are ratified Reid-beasts like ‘The One-Eyed Wonk of Wigan,’, ‘The Chip Chomping Tater Terror of Tring’ and the ‘The Boggle-Eyed Butty-Biter of Sandwich’, his stunning kid collaborations on arcane animals like ‘The Gruesome Ghoul from Goole’ or ‘Nelly, the Kneecap-Nipping Telly from Newcastle’, and – due to the staggering demands of weekly deadlines – also offers cartoon contributions from UK comics star Reg Parlett & Robert Nixon.

Supplementing and completing the eldritch, emetic experience are a selection of Creepy Creations Extras, comprising images and frontispieces from Christmas Annuals, the entire ‘Creepy Creations Calendar for 1975’, 4-pages of ‘Mini Monsters’ and the entire zany zodiac of ‘Your HORRORscope’

Piling up even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collections.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd. He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancellation in October 1988.

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This a treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Neroy Sphinx: Playing to Lose


By Daniel Whiston, Dave Thomson & various (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-916968-30-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

If you grew up British in the last 50 years reading home-produced action/adventure comics, you were primarily consuming either war or science fiction tales – preferably both. 2000AD launched in February 1977 and rapidly reshaped the minds of generations of readers. It has done so ever since, affecting and inspiring hundreds of creators.

Very much in the mould of that anarchic, subversive and wickedly cynical weekly came a small press fanzine phenomenon which spawned its own home-grown stars. This titanic tome happily revisits one of the most appallingly appealing and inexplicably endearing of those players: a devious, irredeemably self-serving chancer (like so many traditional British comics rogues ranging from Charlie Peace and Grimly Feendish to The Spider) who finds the fate of humanity unhappily and inappropriately piled on his shifty, unwilling and mostly uncaring shoulders…

Neroy Sphinx first began intermittently appearing in Indie comics icon FutureQuake – specifically and sporadically between #4-20 from 2005 to 2012. In his previous compilation (Neroy Sphinx: Back in the Game and still readily available through back issue venues and internet retailers large and small) the criminal trickster was dragooned into becoming the saviour of Humanity and unlikely nemesis of encroaching dark cosmic gods: a fate even he could not weasel out of.

Sphinx is a born rogue failed politician and inveterate manipulator, whom readers of a certain age might liken to Minder’s Arthur Daley in space. However, the imaginatively inventive rapscallion is graced with a steely inner core allowing him to scheme ruthlessly and casually expend strangers, bystanders, friends and acquaintances like confetti. Many cosmic buses have had Sphinx’s associates cheerily thrown under them, but at least now he’s doing his nefarious thing for a good cause….

Written throughout by Daniel Whiston, and illustrated by Dave Thomson, the culmination of his quixotic escapades are gathered in this bombastic monochrome tome, set long after the collapse of EarthFed and reopening of an Arterial Wormhole that once connected Human space systems to a wider intergalactic civilisation. Sadly it also allowed access to predatory alien gods from Space Hell…

Recruited by ultra-psionic former ally Clarence Griffin as the lynchpin of a decades-long survival plan, Sphinx (his memories selectively edited) resumes his unwanted burden after ‘Down Among the Damned Men’, where Griffin sacrifices another innocent to the great vision he’s seen. As monstrous horrors ravage creation and creep closer to total domination, Griffin and artificial lifeform/hired muscle Fenris track down the AWOL schemer for ‘The Train Job’ and the “recovery” of a certain cosmic artefact Neroy stashed away years previously. He says all he needs now is their help in securing the billions in bullion on board to buy a spaceship…

A clash with surviving members of old enemies the Dubblz clan heaps even higher the pile of collateral casualties when the would-be saviours go ‘Junkyard Shopping’ but at least finally get them off-world, but as their eventual destination is recently invaded Cassiopia System and the much-diminished Dubblz are still on their tails, the ‘Misguided Pursuits’ they indulge in only succeeds in obtaining the artefact by lumbering them with another useless hanger-on. Ensign Eudora Carver is the sole survivor of a human ship caught by the invaders, and has a potent connection to the arcane star sceptre they were hunting…

Now ‘Keep it Clean’ finds her and her extremely disturbing rescuers landing on the “ancient sublime citadel of the Gr’tk” and attacked by a legion of greedy alien hangers-on occupying a celestial shanty town and keen to keep these new rivals away from the cast-off gifts of the primal beings…

As the voyagers explore the cosmic citadel and unpick the sordid truths of eons of cosmic history and legend, their mission to repel invasion and damnation goes from bad to worse in succeeding chapters ‘Cat and Mouse and Cheddar Too’ and ‘The Fiddle Game’. Here they try ‘Pushing the Limits’ of inter-species relations while seeking a way to end Hell-being encroachment, but progress stalls after they raid a vault in ‘Good Thing, Small Package’.

Another friend is sacrificed in ‘Temptation Game’ before their last chance to ‘Bring it All Down’ delivers victory of a kind and a new start in epilogue ‘Ice Baby’

With an Introduction by comics writer/novelist Michael Carroll, and a handy potted chronology of human development and our rogue’s rap sheet courtesy of ‘The Story So Far…’ (spanning 2344 when Griffin dragooned the con man into public service up until 2360 when the saga at last commences to conclude) this much-anticipated sequel is another ambitious, gloriously engaging and exceedingly well-executed space-opera romp with a broad scope and a deft touch to delight lovers of edgily light-hearted fantastic fiction.
™ & © 2024 Daniel Whiston, Dave Thomson & Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Who Graphic Novel #26: Land Of the Blind (Collected Comic Strips from the pages of Doctor Who Magazine)


By Scott Gray/Warwick Gray, Dan Abnett, Gareth Roberts, Nick Briggs, Kate Orman, Colin Andrew, Martin Geraghty, Barrie Mitchell, Lee Sullivan & various (Panini Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-886-5 (TPB)

The British love comic strips, adore “characters” and are addicted to celebrity. The history of our homegrown graphic narratives includes an astounding number of comedians, Theatre Variety stars and television actors: such disparate legends as Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Askey, Charlie Drake and so many more I’ve long forgotten and you’ve likely never heard of.

As much adored and adapted were actual shows and properties like Whacko!, Supercar, Thunderbirds, Pinky and Perky, The Clangers and literally hundreds of others. If folk watched or listened, an enterprising publisher made printed spectacles of them. Hugely popular anthology comics including Radio Fun, Film Fun, TV Fun, Look-In, TV Comic, TV Tornado, and Countdown readily and regularly translated our light entertainment favourites into pictorial joy every week, and it was a pretty poor star or show that couldn’t parley the day job into a licensed strip property…

Doctor Who premiered on black-&-white televisions across Britain on November 23rd 1963 with the premiere episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. In 1964, a decades-long association with TV Comic began: issue #674 heralding the initial instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’.

On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th), Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly. Turning monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) it’s been with us – in various names and iterations – ever since. All of which proves the Time Lord is a comic star of impressive pedigree and not to be trifled with.

Panini’s UK division further ensured the immortality of the picture feature by collecting all strips of every Time Lord body/personality Regeneration in a uniform series of graphic albums, with each book concentrating on a particular incarnation of the deathless wanderer.

These yarns feature untold tales of the first five Doctors culled from the nigh-infinite files of Doctor Who Magazine, crafted in the fallow period when the show was cancelled (in 1989 before eventually relaunching in 2005). To plug a massive gap the magazine editors – Gary Russell and Gary Gillatt – commissioned comics stories featuring whatever Timelord they fancied, rather than what TV demanded. The era also allowed a wide degree of choice in creators and led to some truly astoundingly illumined adventures…

Spanning August 1994 to June 1995, this all-monochrome compendium kicks off with ‘Victims’ #212-214 by Dan Abnett & Colin Andrew with letters from “Enid (Elitta Fell) Orc”. Here the Fourth Doctor (portrayed by Tom Baker) & barbarian companion Leela arrive on trendy, ultra-wealthy fashion planet Kolpasha just as a fabulous new beauty treatment starts literally eating the rich. Soon the canny chrononauts are caught in a storm of capitalist self-denial and bloody recrimination, but things as always aren’t quite what they seem…

Gareth Roberts, Martin Geraghty & Fell used Doctor Who Magazine #215-217 to introduce ‘The Lunar Strangers’ to the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson) and his aides Tegan & Turlough as the wanderers arrived on Earth’s moon just as seemingly benign aliens fetched up in need of rescue. Their hilariously telegenic appearance concealed a wicked secret agenda and almost costs humanity its first off-world base… until the Time Lord sorts it all out.

When the Original Doctor (William Hartnell) brought travelling companions Polly & Ben to Apresar 4, he intended showing them a grand time in a triumph of scientific and industrial achievement. However, the rebellious infrastructure, rabid human business wonks and assorted slug monsters that had taken over the ultra-metropolis considered them ‘Food for Thought’ (DWM #218-220 by Nick Briggs, Colin Andrew, Fell & Warwick Gray) and got what they all deserved before the nomads vworped off again…

Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) & hugely underrated and undervalued Dr. Liz Shaw appeared from the period when the Time Lord was stranded on Earth – 1971 – and acted as weird science advisor to military division UNIT. Kate Orman, Barrie Mitchell & Gray here expose a ‘Change of Mind’ (DWM #221-223) when a high-profile college psionics researcher goes off the rails and turns his discoveries to getting rid of his competitors…

‘Land of the Blind’ (#224-226 by W./Warwick Scott Gray, Lee Sullivan & Fell) then warps in the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and faithful but excitable allies Jamie and Zoe as the TARDIS is drawn to a time-space anomaly that has left Denossus Spaceport adrift from reality and its population enslaved to the lethally benevolent but dogmatic whims of intractable Vortexians. It takes all the wily trickster’s Gallifreyan logic to defuse the self-appointed guardians’ program and return to port inreal space, but comes at a cost.

Wrapping up the visual treats is a prequel yarn starring this Doctor, Jaime and lost companion Victoria Waterfield, first seen in Doctor Who Magazine Summer Special 1993. In ‘Bringer of Darkness’ Gray & Geraghty dip into Vicky’s diary to reveal how a close clash with stranded Daleks exposed the ruthless core hidden by the Time Lord’s seeming foppery and accelerated her intentions to leave the time traveller’s orbit…

Supplemented with a copious section of creator commentaries liberally supplemented by layouts, character designs and original art, this is a grand book for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for fans of the show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics one more go…
All Doctor Who material © BBCtv. Doctor Who, the Tardis and all logos are trademarks of the British broadcasting corporation and are used under licence. Published 2018. All commentaries © their respective authors 2018. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros: Nemesis


By Neill Cameron & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-315-8 (TPB)

Mighty in metal and potent in plastic, here’s the latest upgrade in this sterling, solid gold all-ages sci fi saga from Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, Pirates of Pangea, How to Make Awesome Comics, Freddy) Cameron. Perfect purpose-built paladins, the mecha-miraculous Mega Robo Bros find that even they can’t punch out intolerance or growing pains in these electronic exploits balancing frantic fun with portents of darker, far more violent days to come…

It’s still The Future! – but maybe not for much longer…

In a London far cooler but just as embattled as ours, Alex and his younger brother Freddy Sharma are notionally typical kids: boisterous, fractious, perpetually argumentative yet still devoted to each other. They’re also not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s really no big deal for them that they were meticulously and covertly constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, and are considered by those “in the know” as the most powerful – and only fully SENTIENT – robots on Earth. Of course, ultimately events conspire to challenge that comforting notion…

Dad is just your average old guy who makes lunch and does a bit of writing (he’s actually an award-winning journalist), but when not being a housewife, Mum is pretty extraordinary herself. Surprisingly famous and renowned robotics boffin Dr. Nita Sharma harbours some shocking secrets of her own…

Life in the Sharma household aims to be normal. Freddy is insufferably exuberant and over-confident, whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety hit hard and often. Moreover, the household’s other robot rescues can also be problematic. Programmed to be dog-ish, baby triceratops Trikey is ok, but eccentric French-speaking ape Monsieur Gorilla can be tres confusing, and gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic waterfowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin hangs around ambushing everyone with quotes from dead philosophers…

The boys have part-time jobs as super-secret agents, although because they aren’t very good at the clandestine part, almost the world now knows them. However, it’s enough for the digital duo that their parents love them, even though they are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They all live as normal a life as possible: going to human school, playing with human friends and hating homework. It’s all part of their “Mega Robo Routine”, combining dull human activities, actual but rare fun, games-playing, watching TV and constant training in the combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ. Usually, when a situation demands, the boys carry out missions for bossy Baroness Farooq: head of government agency Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence. They still believe it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she usually utilises.

Originally published in UK weekly comic The Phoenix, the saga reopens with the lads’ reputations as global heroes increasing coming under fire and into question. After defeating dangerous villains like Robot 23 and thwarting a robot rebellion sparked by artificial life activist The Caretaker, the Bros battled monstrous, deadly damaged droid Wolfram in the arctic and learned he might be their older brother. Even so, they had to destroy him; leaving Alex deeply traumatised by the act…

Over the course of that case they learned that fifteen years previously their brilliant young roboticist Mum worked under incomparable but weird genius Dr. Leon Robertus. His astounding discoveries earned him the unwelcome nickname Dr. Roboticus and perhaps that’s what started pushing him away from humanity. Robertus allowed Nita to repurpose individually superpowered prototypes into a rapid-response team for global emergencies. Their Mum had been a superhero, leading manmade The Super Robo Six and while saving lives with them she first met crusading journalist/future husband Michael Mokeme. He proudly took her name when they eventually wed…

Robertus was utterly devoid of human empathy but – intrigued by the team’s acclaim and global acceptance – created a new kind of autonomous robot. Wolfram was more powerful than any other construct, and equipped with foundational directives allowing him to make choices and develop his own systems. He could think, just like Alex and Freddy can. Only, as it transpired, not quite…

When Robertus demoted Nita and made Wolfram leader of a new Super Robo Seven, the result was an even more effective unit, until the day Wolfram’s Three Directives clashed during a time-critical mission. Millions of humans paid the price for his confusion and hesitation…

In the aftermath, R.A.I.D. was formed. They tried to shut down Robertus and decommission Wolfram, but the superbot rejected their judgement, leading to a brutal battle, the robot’s apparent destruction and Roboticus vanishing…

As the boys absorbed their “Secret Origins” Wolfram returned, attacking polar restoration project Jötunn Base. It covered many miles and was carefully rebalancing the world’s climate, when Wolfram took it over: reversing the chilling process to burn the Earth and drown humanity. Ordered by Baroness Farooq to stay put and not help, Alex and Freddy rebelled, but by the time the Bros reached Jötunn, Wolfram had crushed a R.A.I.D. force led by their friend Agent Susie Nichols. After also failing to stop the attacker, kind contemplative Alex found a way to defeat – and perhaps, destroy – his wayward older brother and save humanity…

Their exploit made the Bros global superstars and whilst immature Freddy revels in all the attention Alex is having trouble adjusting: not just to the notoriety and acclaim, but also the horrifying new power levels he achieved to succeed and also the apparent onset of robot puberty. It’s afflicted him with PTSD…

A drawing together of many long-running plot threads, Nemesis opens with a potential disaster in the city as human intolerance breaks out everywhere. As this penultimate epic begins, friction between the brothers is constantly building: petty nagging spats that seem pointless but are driving a wedge between them. It’s not helping that a growing faction of people -calling themselves “Humanity First” are actively agitating to get rid of all robots, and their spokesman is targeting the Bros specifically as a threat to mankind on the R-Truth show, and is particularly hateful about Alex’s well-publicised friendship with the next king of Britain, Crown Prince Eustace.

Peril increases after both the fleshy and metallo-plastic members of the Sharma clan start a well-deserved holiday in Brighton. As Alex nearly succumbs to a beach romance with ardent fan Erin and mischievous hijinks with her wayward sibling Finn, a trip to the robotic Steel Circus leads to an accidental but catastrophic encounter with old foes the Bros had completely forgotten even existed…

The consequent riot is readily contained, but the clowns the kids capture at the end clearly don’t have the ability to do what has just been done and the return home is fraught and pensive…

As school starts again, The Baroness calls a conference to discuss the rise in anti-automaton hate crimes, before – in a bid to promote inclusivity – ordering Alex and Freddy to appear on TV show Mega Robo Warriors. Sadly, it’s all another trap and as Freddy delightedly trashes a host of war bots, his self-control starts to slip and Alex realises his hostile attitudes and violent reactions have been building for some time…

Soon after, a protest by Humanity First at Tilbury Port is deliberately escalated into a full-on meat vs metal riot, and Freddy goes apparently berserk, attacking humans trashing helpless mech droids. What might have happened next is thankfully forestalled when all the robots – including R.A.I.D.’s police drones – are corrupted by the perniciously hostile Revolution 23 virus. Total chaos is only avoided when Wolfram appears to offer all liberated machines sanctuary in his robot republic Steelhaven: a cloaked robot utopia of liberated mechanoids that has declared independence from humanity.…

Clashes between the brothers are almost constant when Alex decides to forget his troubles for a day and go out with his friends Taia and Mira…and – under duress – Freddy. The trip to Camden Lock is spiced up by a holographically incommunicado Prince Eustace, and provides a vast bonus when Mira finds a junked bot and works out the secret of the Revolution 23 Malware. It’s just in time to see common people begin to turn on Humanity First’s fanatics…

Thanks to Mira, the battling Bros finally have a lead on the mastermind behind all their current woes, but Freddy’s emotional problems have reached a point where he just won’t be talked down. Fired by righteous fury, the younger bot blasts off, hot-headedly streaking into another trap by their most cunning and patient foe. Descending into rage and madness, he begins razing London, and Alex realises that to stop his to little brother he may have to destroy him…

How that all works out sets up the saga for a spectacular finale, so let’s stop here with the now-mandatory “To Be Concluded…”

Crafted by Cameron and colouring assistant Austin Baechle (with a cohort of robots designed by readers of The Phoenix), this rip-roaring riot isn’t quite over yet. Adding informational illumination are activity pages on ‘How To Draw Robot 23’ and ‘How To Draw Mr. Donut’, and a bonus Preview selection of what the periodical Pheonix has to offer

Bravely and exceedingly effectively interweaving real world concerns by addressing issues of gender and identity with great subtlety and in a way kids can readily grasp, this epic yarn blends action and humour with superb effect. Excitement and hearty hilarity is balanced here with poignant moments of insecurity and introspection, affording thrills, chills, warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic kids, irrespective of their origins, and their antics and anxieties strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What movies these tales would make!
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2024. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros Nemesis will be released on May 2nd 2024 and is available for pre-order now.

Jamie Smart’s Looshkin: Honk If You See It!


By Jamie Smart with Sammy Borass & John Cullen (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-313-4 (TPB)

Since launching in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated, growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Devised by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of other brilliant strips for The Beano and more) from what I assume is close-hand observation and meticulous documentation comes another outing for Looshkin – a brilliantly bonkers addition to that vast feline pantheon of horrifying hairballs infesting cartoondom – featuring further “adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!!” This new magnum (sweet, dark, nutty, creamy and constantly making your fillings hurt) opus shares fresh nuggets in the life of a totally anarchic kitty just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes hold…

Once upon a time Mrs Alice Johnson brought home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties in the window though, but an odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store.

The Johnsons are not an average family – even for Croydon. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room. Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-packs or potato-powered tractors. With a new cat now, those days are gone for good…

That sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin attended her tea party in the garden, the toys all warned the cat of horrors in store. Making allies of teddy bear Bear and glove-puppet Mister Frogburt Looshkin was soon in his element and even escalated the carnage and chaos. He has found his natural home even though it’s surrounded by weirdoes like Great (and so very rich) Auntie Frank and her precious ultra-anxious prize-winning panic poodle Princess Trixibelle and neighbour/former TV host Sandra Rotund whose own cat Mister Buns is a force to be reckoned with.

Reality is notional at best around here, and many episodes adopt the conceit of being excerpts, articles or ads from magazines: frequently interspersed by hilarious pin-ups…

This outing spans a week – which is a long time in cat reality – and quite naturally begins with a recap/origin of sorts as ‘Looshkin: A Comprehensive Catalogue of His Rise to Infamy!!’ reminds the regulars and forewarns the new fools and curious what the feline is like via newspaper clippings from The Daily Pickles before ‘Beef’ sees kitty in full-annoy mode and testing the force of an unblinking stare, before triggering traffic conniptions, wedding woes, acting anarchy and another trip to the Society of Cat Brain Doctors…

Oddly, hypnotising the cat to think he’s a chicken is not the major therapeutic breakthrough everyone hopes it would be and results in a riot of farm vehicle spawned carnage…

With the media mad to find out ‘Who is Tractor Cat?’ neighbour Arnold Johnson is driven to distraction when Looshkin affixes ‘Fried Egg Wheels on my Bottom’ and plays kidnapper in ‘Family Ties’, after which a day dream of deadly ‘Danger Sausage!’ prompts the fuzzy blue fool to start ‘Piggy Piggle’ races and play ‘Hide n Seek’ with a 15 trillion year old dinosaur egg…

All intent to be good in his alternate ego of cosmic champion ‘Johnny Rad’ is doomed from the get-go, so the cat dials back and tries to help party performer Billy Crabs retrain for better jobs in ‘Tears of a Clown’. Shame about the guinea pigs though…

The dangers of Dress-Up-Like-Your-Favourite-Character-From-a-Book day manifest with a vengeance when Jonty-kins kits up like the krazy kitty in ‘Reluctant Reader’ before Frogburt announces ‘I hereby declare Looshkin to be an enemy of Frogtopia!!’ in a daring nautical tale before angry Arnold Johnson declares a poster war and more when Looshkin goes looking for his lost love ‘Sharon!’

More fabulously funny faux mag articles and ads segue swiftly into the cat and the bear auditioning a scatological skit in ‘Musical Number Two’ whilst time runs wild in ‘Eloh Kcalb Eht’ and a brief biography of ‘Bear – Treasure Hunter of the Sahara!’ broadcasts how to fight mummies, vampires and zombies with chicken nuggets and other party treats before feline goes fowl in ‘Metamorphoduck’

When the cat goes missing we discover why one must Honk if You See It! and discover more shocking stuff about pigs ‘In Which Looshkin Tries to do a Thing but it doesn’t work out and as ever Bear is the One Who Suffers’ after which Who is the Best Cat is determined by a ‘Big Race’ that doesn’t end well…

Massive amounts of money and power prove no hindrance or help to our cat and his family when they take a turn as ‘City Types’ before soap spoofery becomes Weird – and offensive – Science when the cat adopts some ‘Bum Angels’ prior to a little literary sabotage and cunning catfishing in maritime madcappery ‘The Old Man and Harold’

Looshkin’s love of melody and his bear overcome him in ‘Sing Da Song’ before he dabbles with bodybuilding in ‘Bros!’ whilst Frogburt whips up nothing like ‘A Lovely Dinner’ and that sweet little girl goes one step beyond with the class bunny ‘Dongles’ even as Looshkin evolves into ‘The Gigantic Head in the Sky!!’

It all gets a bit cosmic on Sunday when the teddy reveals he’s actually ‘Bear X’ on a secret space mission before the cat spoofs Speed driving a hijacked passenger vehicle and doing ‘Bus Stuff’ after which you’ll learn nothing useful but embrace full daftness in ‘How a Looshkin Comic is Written – A step-by-step guide!’ and enjoy a fake excerpt from a book that doesn’t exist in ‘The Cat with a Light Shining out of its Bottom.’

The cat faces replacement media property ‘Marmalade!!’ as this tome terminates, fighting off corporate ineptitude and media manipulation with one last murder-mitten Halloween swipe at ‘Telly!’ and, Fun Done, surrenders to a selection of handy previews of other treats and wonders available in The Phoenix to wind us down from all that angsty satirical furore…

Utterly loony and inescapably addictive, Looshkin: Honk if you See It! is a fiendishly surreal glimpse at the insanity hardwired into certain cats and other critters (probably not yours, but still…) and another unruly, astoundingly ingenious romp from a modern master of that rebellious whimsy which is the very bedrock of British humour.
Text and illustrations © Fumboo Ltd. 2024. All rights reserved.

Looshkin: Honk if you See It! will be released on April 4th 2024 and is available for pre-order now.

The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia


By Mary M Talbot & Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-0-22410-234-6 (HB Cape) eISBN: 978-1-63008-697-8 (DH)

The power of comics to resurrect historical figures and tap into their lives whilst potently and convincingly extrapolating their deeds and even characters has been a recent revelation that has completely revitalised graphic narratives. One of the most telling and compelling of these narratives was crafted by British National Treasure Bryan Talbot and his even more impressive wife.

Academic, educator, linguist, social theoretician, author and specialist in Critical Discourse Analysis, in 2012 Dr. Mary M. Talbot added graphic novelist to her achievements: collaborating with her husband on the first of many terrific comics tales. Award-winning memoir/biography of Lucia Joyce Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes was followed by Sally Heathcote: Suffragette (drawn by Kate Charlesworth), today’s recommendation, Rain and Armed With Madness: supplementing an educational career and academic publications such as Language and Gender: an Introduction and Fictions at Work: language and social practise in fiction. Dr. Talbot is particularly drawn to true stories of gender bias and social injustice…

Bryan has been a fixture of the British comics scene since the late 1960s, moving from Tolkien-fandom to college strips, self-published underground classics like Brainstorm Comix (starring Chester P. Hackenbushthe Psychedelic Alchemist!), prototypical Luther Arkwright and Frank Fazakerly, Space Ace of the Future to paid pro status with Nemesis The Warlock, Judge Dredd, Sláine, Ro-Busters and more in 2000 AD. Inevitably headhunted by America, he worked on key mature-reading titles for DC Comics (Hellblazer, Shade the Changing Man, The Nazz, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Fables, The Dead Boy Detectives and The Sandman) and was a key creative cog in short-lived shared-world project Tekno Comix, before settling into global acclaim via steady relationships with Dark Horse Comics and Jonathan Cape. These unions generated breakthrough masterpieces like The Tale of One Bad Rat and a remastered Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

Since then he’s been an independent Force To Be Reckoned With, doing just what he wants, promoting the art form in general and crafting a variety of fascinating and compelling works, from Alice in Sunderland o Cherubs! (with Mark Stafford), to Metronome (as Véronique Tanaka) and his fabulously wry, beguiling and gallic-ly anthropomorphic Grandville sequence, as well as his mostly biographical/historical collaborations with Dr. Mary…

In the interest of propriety, I must disclose that I’ve known him since the 1980s, but other than that shameful lack of taste and judgement on his part, have no vested interest in confidently stating that he’s probably Britain’s greatest living graphic novelist…

Here their vast talents combine to capture and expose the life of a woman who arguably reshaped the history of the whole world, but one largely lost to history…

On May 29th 1830, Louise Michel was born out of wedlock to a serving maid at the Château de Vroncourt in Northeastern France. Her father was the son of the house and his ashamed parents gave their unwelcome granddaughter a liberal education and set her up as teacher. In 1865 she opened her own progressive school in Paris, whilst corresponding with social and political thinkers such as Victor Hugo and Théophile Ferré. Embracing radical ideas, Michel co-founded the Société pour la Revendication des Droits Civils de la Femme (Society for the Demand of Civil Rights for Women) and forged links to Société Coopérative des Ouvriers et Ouvrières (Cooperative Society of Men and Women Workers) and when revolution came again to France was amongst the first to man the barricades of the Paris Commune. She fought for The National Guard and was known as “the Red Virgin of Montmartre”…

Michel loved the notion of science and fairness building a better world, and spent much time discussing utopias with scientists and engineers. She was an author, poet, orator, anarchist, educator, rabble rouser and revolutionary whose activities as a Communard saw her exiled to New Caledonia in 1873. Once there, she befriended the subjugated Kanak people, acting as a teacher and healer, and participated in their abortive fight for liberation. Surviving the French colonisers’ reprisals she was returned to France after seven years as part of a general amnesty for Communards. She had become a political celebrity, and began touring the world and lecturing – especially to groups seeking change such as the Pankhurst family’s suffrage followers and adherents. Apparently tireless, the Red Virgin began campaigning for an amnesty for Algerian rebels…

Leading a poverty demonstration of French unemployed, she coined the slogan “Bread, work or lead” and adopted the black flag which remains to this day the symbol of the anarchist movement. The act earned her six years in solitary confinement, imprisoned with political visionaries like Peter Kropotkin, but when she was released she went right back to work…

Over her lifetime she wrote dozens of books and tracts, with another five published posthumously: all entreating people to be better and rulers to be fair and just. At least she died – in January 1905 – before her beloved ideology and trust in technological advancement were seen to be corrupted by the old ruling forces that manufactured the Great War…

Under the Talbots’ curated guidance what is seen in The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia is not dry polemic or radical hagiography, but a wryly witty examination – via flashbacks and clever character interplay – of an indomitable force for change with a marvellously human face. Depicted in monochrome and judicious splashes of reds. pinks and scarlets, the tale unfolds from a time of Michel’s latter triumphs, as seen through the eyes and conversations of admirers and converts. These are mainly other women seeking to change society working against a backdrop of scientific breakthroughs that the would-be emancipator was convinced would elevate everyone together…

Also included here are a copious list of ‘Sources’, and extensive personal commentary, photos, maps and historical context in ‘Annotations’.

Gripping, infuriating and utterly compelling, this is a tale of achievement and frustration that is still unfolding but which confirms that all change starts with someone extraordinary saying “I have a vision”…
© 2016 by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot. All rights reserved.

Mongrel


By Sayra Begum (Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-269-2 (TPB)

Comics offer an immediate and potent method of communication that is both universally accessible and subtly intimate. You want countless characters and exotic locales? Just draw them. Need to navigate the most torturous tracks of the psyche and expose the most taciturn soul? Just fill captions and balloons with the words and tone that cut to the heart of the matter…

Somebody who got that from get-go was Sayra Begum, who first presented her life story in pictorial form in 2017. Happily, she shared it with the perceptive folks at Knockabout Comics who recognised a great work when they saw it. In her own incisive words and deft pencil work, Begum – identifying here as “Shuna” – shares what growing up meant for the child of a strict, devout and loving Bangladeshi Muslim mum only living in England until the family has enough money to retire to a mansion in her beloved homeland. It’s not an easy existence since her dad is a white man (a convert to Islam) who still remembers the freedoms of his old life. Moreover, the community treats them with polite disregard…

As seen in ‘Meet the Mongrel’, ‘Memories of Waterland’, and ‘The Forgotten Self’, Shuna and her siblings are pulled in so many directions growing up. She wants to be an artist, but her Amma is more concerned that she be ‘A Good Muslim’, believing ‘Life is a Test’ and her old ways such as ‘An Arranged Marriage’ are the only proper life to live…

For her parents, England ends at the front door and the household is pure Bangla within the walls. The lure of the outer world has already proved too much for one brother as seen in ‘My Poor Family’, ‘Suffocated’ and ‘The Disownment’ and soon Shuna too is living a secret life with an English lover mother could never approve of…

Continual contrasts with her perfect cousin in Bangladesh constantly wrack her conscience but Shuna has long capitulated to the wiles of Shaitan in her head. Life has a habit of upsetting all plans and exposing secrets and ‘Our Parallel Family’, ‘The Meeting’, ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘The Mongrel Children’ all reveal how even the harshest opinions may shift, leading to a truly romantic happy ending in ‘Goodbye Anger’ prior to a ruminatory ‘Epilogue’

Begum weds brisk, informative line drawing with the dazzling traditional patterns of Islamic art and excesses of surrealism to weave a compelling and visually enticing tale of real people coping with ancient intolerances and the rapidly evolving family stresses of a fluid and fluctuating multicultural society. It’s all the more affecting to realise she’s bravely sharing the minutiae and intimacies of her own life to highlight a situation as old as humanity itself.

A magical story and a stunning debut, Mongrel is book you must read and one that has never been more timely or pertinent.
Mongrel © by 2020 Sayra Begum All rights reserved.

Steed & Mrs Peel: Golden Game


By Grant Morrison, Anne Caulfield, Ian Gibson, Ellie De Ville & various (Boom Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-60886-285-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

The (British) Avengers was an astoundingly stylish, globally adored TV show glamorously blending espionage with arch comedy and deadly danger with technological extrapolation, running from the Swinging Sixties through to the end of the decade. A phenomenal cult hit, it and sequel The New Avengers still summons up pangs of Cool Britannia style, cheeky action-adventure, kinky quirkiness, mad gadgetry, dashing heroics, bizarrely British fetish attire, surreal suspense and the wholly appropriate descriptive phrase “Spy Fi”….

Enormously popular everywhere, the light-hearted show evolved from 1961’s gritty crime drama Police Surgeon into a paragon of witty, thrillingly sophisticated espionage adventure lampoonery with suavely urbane British Agent John Steed and dazzlingly talented amateur sleuth Mrs. Emma Peel battling spies, robots, criminals, secret societies, monsters and even “aliens” with tongues very much in cheeks and always under the strictest determination to remain calm, dashingly composed and exceedingly eccentric…

As played by Patrick Macnee, Steed was a nigh-effete dandy and wry caricature of an English Gentleman-spy, counterbalanced by a succession of prodigiously competent woman as partners and foils. The format was pure gold, with second sidekick Peel (as played by Dame Diana Rigg) becoming the most popular right from her October 1965 debut. Rigg was hired to replace Honor Blackman – landmark character Dr. Cathy Gale – the first full-on, smartly decisive fighting female on British Television.

Blackman left to play the female lead in Bond movie Goldfinger – allowing her replacement to take the TV show to even greater heights of global success – as she became a style icon of the era. Her trademark Op art “Emmapeeler” catsuits and miniskirts (designed by series costumiers John Bates and Alun Hughes) were sold across the country and the world…

Emma Peel’s connection with viewers cemented into communal consciousness and the world’s psyche the feminist archetype of a powerful, clever, competent and always-stylishly-clad woman: largely banishing screaming, eye-candy girly-victims to the dustbin of popular fiction. Rigg left in 1967 – also for an 007 role (Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) – and was followed by Linda Thorson as Tara King: another potent woman who carried the series to its demise in 1969. Continued popularity in more than 90 countries led to a revival in the late 1970s as The New Avengers saw posh glamor-puss Purdey (Joanna Lumley) and manly Gambit (Gareth Hunt) as assistants to the apparently ageless, debonair and deadly Steed…

The show remains an enduring cult icon, with all the spin-off that entails. During its run and beyond, The Avengers spawned toys, games, collector models, a pop single and stage show, radio series, audio adventures, posters, books, a modish line of “Avengerswear” fashion apparel for women and all the other myriad merchandising strands that inevitably accompany a media sensation.

The one we care most about is comics and, naturally, the popular British Television program was no stranger there either. Following an introductory strip starring Steed & Dr. Gale in listings magazines Look Westward and The Viewer – plus The Manchester Evening News – (September 1963 to the end of 1964), legendary children’s staple TV Comic launched its own Avengers strip in #720 (October 2nd 1965) with Emma Peel firmly ensconced as co-lead. This series ran until #771 (September 24th 1966) with the dashing duo also appearing in TV Comic Holiday Special, whilst a series of young Emma Peel adventures featured in June & Schoolfriend, before transferring to DC Thomson’s Diana until 1968 whereupon it returned to TV Comic from #877, depicting Steed and Tara King until 1972 and #1077.

In 1966 Mick Anglo Studios produced a one-off, large-sized UK comic book, and two years later America’s Gold Key’s Four-Color series published their own try-out book utilising recycled UK material. It was called John Steed/Emma Peel since some outfit called Marvel had secured an American trademark for comics called “The Avengers”. There were of course wonderful, sturdily steadfast hardback annuals for the British Festive Season trade, starting with 1962’s TV Crimebusters Annual and thereafter pertinent TV Comic Annuals before a run of solo editions graced Christmas stockings from 1967 to 1969: later supplemented by a brace of New Avengers editions for 1977 and 1978.

Between 1990 and 1992 Eclipse Comics/ACME Press produced a trans-Atlantic prestige comic book miniseries. Steed & Mrs. Peel was crafted by Grant Morrison & Ian Gibson with a second exploit scripted by Anne Caulfield, and that entire affair was reprinted in 2012 by media-savvy publishers Boom! Studios as a soft pilot for their own iteration which you’ll find reviewed here.

The original 90s comics tales are whimsically playful and diabolically clever but perhaps require a little backstory. When Emma Peel joined the TV show, she was a new bride, recent widow and old acquaintance of Steed’s. The motivation for bereaved martial artist/genius level chemist Emma Knight’s call to action was that her brand new husband (dashing test pilot Peter Peel) had been lost over the Amazon jungles and his loss impelled her into a life of (secret) service. The amateur adventurer’s second career ended in-world when hubby was found alive and she returned to him and the Amazonian Leopard-People he had discovered, leaving Steed to muddle along with fully trained professional British agent Tara King…

Here that marital reunion informs Morrison (Animal Man, Zenith) & Ian Gibson’s ‘The Golden Game’: a 4-act chapterplay serially comprising ‘Crown & Anchor’, ‘Hare & Hounds’, ‘Fox & Geese’ and concluding instalment ‘Hangman’. It opens six months later with Mrs Peel’s abrupt recall to duty after Miss King goes missing whilst investigating leaks at the Admiralty and suspicious doings at elite games fraternity The Palamedes Club.

When the disappearance is linked to the truly baroque murder of puzzle-obsessed founding member and key military strategist Admiral “Foggy” Fanshawe, Steed’s handler “Mother” insists he investigate but trust no one, which the super-agent imputes to mean no one currently active in the agency…

With willing and able Emma Peel back from South America, he traces a string of excessively imaginative card and boardgame-themed slayings to an old school chum who really can carry a grudge and knows how to implement stolen nuclear launch codes to a wild and weird climax with Peel ultimately saving the day and the world…

Anne Caulfield scripted fantasy-fuelled follow-up ‘Deadly Rainbow’ as Mr and Mrs Peel reunite in the scenic English village of Pringle-on-Sea – where they had their honeymoon – only to find the laws of science and nature being warped by what appear to be the Leopard People Peter had befriended in the Amazon…

With minds clouded, telepathy and prophecy running riot, zombies marching and entire bodies (not just heads) being shrunken amidst scenes of bucolic domesticity, Peter soon goes missing again. When exploitative American resource plunderers who have been deforesting the tribe’s hidden home, it’s not long before Steed comes to Emma’s call…

The breezy satire, edgy social commentary and especially the pure peril-embedded nonsense of the original shows is perfectly captured by much-missed, recently departed pioneering 2000 AD stalwart Ian (Ballad of Halo Jones, Robo-Hunter) Gibson (February 20th 1946 – December 11th 2023) who especially goes to town on the weird events of the second saga and also contributes a variant cover gallery featuring 11 playfully suspenseful images.

Emma Peel may have been a style icon of the sixties, but she was also (and still is) a fierce, potent, overwhelming example and role model for girls. Her cool intellect, varied skills and accomplishments and smooth confidence inspired – as much as action contemporary Modesty Blaise – a host of fictive imitators whilst opening up new vistas and career paths for suppressed millions of prospective and downhearted future underpaid secretaries, nurses, shopgirls and teachers and frustrated wives. Peel’s influence even briefly reshaped the most powerful symbol of female empowerment in the world as her crimebusting detective troubleshooter alternate lifestyle became the model for sales-impoverished Wonder Woman who in the late 1960s ditched powers and costumes for bullets and boutiques…

Thrilling, funny, and eternally fabulous, Emma Peel is a woman to be reckoned with and these are tales you need to read…
© 2012 StudioCanal S.A. All Rights Reserved. The Avengers and Steed & Mrs Peel are trademarks of StudioCanal S.A. All Rights Reserved.

Biscuits Assorted


By Jenny Robins (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-82-90 (TPB)

There’s a 1944 Powell & Pressburger film called A Canterbury Tale, wherein a group of disparate, loosely ordinary associated characters weave in and out of each other’s lives for a defined period, gradually proceeding towards a shared denouement. It’s about far more than that and is really good. You should see it.

Biscuits Assorted is a bit like that, but also completely different. You should read it. It’s really, REALLY good.

Artist, teacher, Small Press artisan and author Jenny Robins is clearly a keen observer and gifted raconteur deftly attuned to nuance and ambiance and quite possibly hopelessly in love with London. Her award-winning debut graphic novel is a paean to modern living in the city, recounted through overlapping snapshots of many women’s lives in the months of June’, July’ and August’ of a recent year (and don’t worry about which one).

If you need the metaphor explained, there are different varieties and, occasionally, they don’t do quite what it says on the tin…

Seriously though, here in captivating and compelling monochrome linework are a plethora of distinct, well-rounded individuals of differing ages and backgrounds working, playing, living, dying, risking, winning, failing and constantly interacting with each other to a greater or lesser extent. They are all united by place, circles of friends, shared acquaintances and enjoying – for once – full access to their own unexpurgated voices.

Strangers or seasoned intimates, life-long or Mayfly-momentary, this addictively engaging collection of incidents and characters share locations and similar pressures as they go about their lives, but the way in which they each impact upon one another is utterly mesmerising. I’m a bluff old British codger and I’ve been meeting these very women and girls all my life, except for those who are completely new to my white male privileged experience. Now, however, I know what they’re like and what they’ve been thinking all this time…

Moreover, it’s outrageously funny and terrifying elucidating, rude in all the right ways and places, and absolutely able to break your heart and jangle the nerves with a turn of a page.

Biscuits Assorted is a brilliant and revelatory picaresque voyage impossible to put down and deserves to become a classic of graphic literature. It’s also the most fun you can have with your brain fully engaged.
© Jenny Robins 2020. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad


By Carol Isaacs/The Surreal McCoy (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-55-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-912408-71-9

Contemporary history is a priceless resource in creating modern narratives. It has the benefits of immediacy and relevance – even if only on a generational level – whilst combining notional familiarity (could you tell the difference between a stone axe and a rock?) with a sense of distance and exoticism. In comics, we’re currently blessed with a wealth of superb material exploring the recent past and none better than this enchanting trawl through a tragic time most of us never knew of…

A successful musician who has worked with The Indigo Girls, Sinead O’Connor and the London Klezmer Quartet (which she co-founded) Carol Isaacs – as The Surreal McCoy – is also a cartoonist whose graphic gifts are regularly seen in The New Yorker, The Spectator, Private Eye, Sunday Times and The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain. Some while ago she found great inspiration in a 2000-year old secret history that’s she been party to for most of her life.

British-born of Iraqi-Jewish parents, Isaacs grew up hearing tales of her ancestors’ lives in Baghdad: part of a thriving multicultural society which had welcomed – or at least peacefully tolerated – Jews in Persia since 597 BCE. How 150,000 Hebraic Baghdadians (a third of the city’s population in 1940) was reduced by 2016 to just 5 is revealed and eulogised in this potently evocative memoir, told in lyrical pictures and the curated words of her own family and their émigré friends, as related to Carol over her developing years in their comfortably suburban London home.

Those quotes and portraits sparked an elegiac dream-state excursion to the wrecked, abandoned sites and places of a socially integrated, vibrantly cohesive metropolis she knows intimately and pines for ferociously, even though she has never set a single foot there…

As well as this enthralling pictorial experience, the art and narrative were incorporated into a melancholy motion comic (slideshow with original musical accompaniment). That moving experience is supplemented by an Afterword comprising illustrate text piece ‘Deep Home’ (first seen in ‘Origin Stories’ from anthology Strumpet) which details those childhood sessions listening to the remembrances of adult guests and family elders, and is followed by ‘The Making of The Wolf of Baghdad’ explaining not only the book and show’s origins, but also clarifies the thematic premise of ‘The Wolf Myth’ that permeates the city’s intermingled cultures.

‘Other Iraqis’ then reveals some interactions with interested parties culled from Isaacs’ blog whilst crafting this book, whilst a comprehensive ‘Timeline of the Jews in Iraq’ outlines the little-known history of Persian Jews and how and why it all changed, before ‘A Carpet’s Story’ details 1950’s Operations Ezra and Nehemiah which saw 120,000 Jews airlifted to Israel. Wrapping up the show is a page of Acknowledgements and Suggested Reading.

Simultaneously timeless and topical, The Wolf of Baghdad is less a history lesson than a lament for a lost homeland and way of life: a wistful deliberation on why bad things happen and on how words pictures and music can turn back the years and make the longed-for momentarily real and true.
© Carol Isaacs (The Surreal McCoy) 2020. All rights reserved.