The Great North Wood


By Tim Bird (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-36-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Glorious Ramble to Shake Loose the Cerebral Cobwebs… 9/10

Lots of comics, and most forms of fiction, in fact, depend on strong – or at least memorable – characters and plenty of action to capture the attention. You need to be really good and quite brave to try anything outside those often-infantile parameters.

That’s actually a pretty good description of London-based cartoonist and author Tim Bird whose sundry works explore themes of time and place, history, memory and myth as well as our connection to the planet in such comics as the award-winning From The City To The Sea. He calls these forays psychogeography…

Here that empathy is transformed into a far-too-brief lyrical travelogue and sharing of lost folklore as this oversized (178 x 279 mm) colour paperback traces the slow decline and curtailment of the vast forest that swathed Britain before humanity, whilst highlighting those icons of modernity and great survivors who seem to adapt to all changes with dogged aplomb.

As Man took hold, the trees grew small and fragmented, so our far-ranging focus takes in the range of Southern England described in the title and relates experiences from before writing to just a few moments from now…

The scene is set with symbolic guile in ‘An Ancient Forest’ before focusing in to define ‘The Great North Wood’ then and now. The origins of place names such as ‘Norwood’ and its satellites are accompanied by captivating expositions on local tales such as ‘The Vicar’s Oak’. It’s interesting to consider just how many comics artisans and popular arts creators have lived in the many sites listed in Bird’s introductory map. I’m just one of them. I could list dozens more…

The origin of the ‘Honor Oak’ leads to outlaw glamour in ‘The Story of Ned Righteous’ whilst ‘Gipsy Hill’ (a place and a person) segues beguilingly into ‘Bombs’ after which a visit to the still relatively-abundant ‘Sydenham Hill Woods’ takes us to a hopeful note in ‘A Forest Again’

Even now I’ll recite the chapter headings like a mantra and remember the places cited herein where I’ve lived over the last four decades and feel I’m also part of something bigger than me…

This paean to a feeling of belonging – to both time and space – evokes the same vibrant elegiac tone as Harry Watt and Basil Wright’s 1936 documentary Night Mail (with its evocative poem/soundtrack by W. H. Auden and score by Benjamin Britten). It’s a feeling no one can decry or wish to end…

Sadly, this glorious celebration is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped and ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses as well as cerebral ones…

A graphic marvel to savour and ponder over and over again.
© Tim Bird 2018. All rights reserved.

The Best of Battle


By Pat Mills, John Wagner, Tom Tully, Steve McManus, Eric & Alan Hebden, Mark Andrew, Gerry Finley-Day, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Eric Bradbury, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Cam Kennedy, Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Jim Watson, Mike Dorey, John Cooper & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-025-3 (PB)

For most of the medium’s history, British comics have been renowned for the ability to tell a big story in satisfying little instalments and this, coupled with superior creators and the anthological nature of our publications, has ensured hundreds of memorable characters and series have seared themselves into the little boy’s psyche inside most British adult males.

One of the last great weekly anthology comics was the all-combat Battle, which started service as Battle Picture Weekly – launched on 8th March 1975.

Through absorption, merger and re-branding (becoming in swift succession Battle Picture Weekly & Valiant, Battle Action, Battle, Battle Action Force and Battle Storm Force) it was eventually subsumed into the revived, faltering but too-prestigious-to-fail Eagle on January 23rd 1988. For 673 blood-soaked, testosterone-drenched issues, it had fought its way into the bloodthirsty hearts of a generation, consequently producing some of the best and most influential war stories ever told.

This action-packed compendium features the opening salvos of some of the very best from those 13-odd years produced by a winning blend of Young Turk writers – Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve McManus, Mark Andrew and Gerry Finley-Day – and stalwarts of the old guard – Tom Tully, Eric and Alan Hebden. The art comes from Colin Page, Pat Wright, Giralt, Carlos Ezquerra, Geoff Campion, Jim Watson, Mike Western, Joe Colquhoun, Eric Bradbury, Mike Dorey, John Cooper and Cam Kennedy.

The strips featured are D-Day Dawson (a sergeant with only a year to live and nothing to lose) by Gerry Finley-Day, Ron Carpenter & Colin Page, spy serial Day of the Eagle (by ex-SOE agent Eric Hebden and artist Pat Wright), The Bootneck Boy (a little lad who lives his dream by becoming a Marine), by Finley-Day, Ian McDonald & Giralt, and the legendary Dirty Dozen-inspired Rat Pack, by Finley-Day and featuring some of the much-missed Carlos Ezquerra’s earliest UK artwork.

Ezquerra also shone on Alan Hebden’s anti-establishment masterpiece Major Eazy, whilst Fighter from the Sky is the first of the comic’s groundbreaking serials telling World War II stories from a German viewpoint. Written by Finley-Day and drawn by the superb Geoff Campion, it tells of a disgraced paratrooper fighting for his country, even if they hated him for it…

Hold Hill 109 by Steve McManus & Jim Watson was a bold experiment: basically a limited series as a group of Eighth Army soldiers have to hold back the Afrika Korps for seven days, with each day comprising one weekly episode. Unbelievably, only the first three days are collected here, though, as apparently there wasn’t room for the complete saga!

Darkie’s Mob (John Wagner & Mike Western) is another phenomenally well-regarded classic wherein a mysterious British (?) maniac takes over a lost and demoralised squad of soldiers in the Burma jungles, intent on using them to punish the Japanese in ways no man could imagine.

Then Finley-Day & Campion’s Panzer G-Man tells of a German tank commander demoted and forced to endure all the dirty jobs foisted on the infantry that follow behind the steel monsters, before Johnny Red – by Tom Tully and the great Joe Colquhoun – follows a discharged RAF pilot who joins the Russian air force to fight in the bloody skies over the Soviet Union.

Joe Two Beans by Wagner & Eric Bradbury traces an inscrutable Blackfoot Indian through the Hellish US Pacific campaign, The Sarge (Finley-Day& Mike Western) reveals the trials of a WWI veteran as he leads Dunkirk stragglers back to England and then on to North Africa, and Hellman of Hammer Force (Finley-Day, Western, Mike Dorey & Jim Watson) follows a charismatic and decent German tank commander as he fights Germany’s enemies and the SS who want him dead.

Alan Hebden and Eric Bradbury’s Crazy Keller is an US Army maverick who steals, cheats and breaks all the rules. He was also the most effective Nazi-killer in the invasion of Italy, whilst The General Dies at Dawn sees Finley-Day and John Cooper repeat the miniseries experiment of Hold Hill 109 (this time in 11 instalments, each representing one hour – pre-dating Jack Bauer by two decades) as Nazi General and war hero Otto von Margen tells his jailor how he came to be sentenced to the firing squad by his own comrades even as Berlin falls to the allied forces.

I don’t really approve of Charley’s War being in this book. Despite it being the very best war story ever written or drawn, uncompromising and powerfully haunting, as well as Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun’s best-ever work, it’s already available in beautiful hardback collector volumes and economical paperback editions so the 15 pages here could have been better used to complete Hold Hill 109 or even reprint some of the wonderful complete-in-one-part war tales the comic often carried.

Enough barracking: Fighting Mann, by Alan Hebden & Cam Kennedy, was the first British strip set in Viet Nam, and follows the hunt of retired US Marine Walter Mann who goes “in-country” in 1967 to track down his son, a navy pilot listed as a deserter. This terrific tome (still unavailable in any digital format, as far as I can tell) then concludes with Death Squad!: A kind of German Rat Pack full of Wehrmacht criminals sent as a punishment squad to die for the Fatherland in the icy hell of the Eastern Front. Written by Mark Andrew and illustrated by the incomparable Eric Bradbury, this is one of the grittiest and most darkly comedic of Battle’s martial pantheon.

This spectacular blend of action, tension and drama, with a heaping helping of sardonic grim wit from both sides of World War II – and beyond – offers a unique take on the profession of soldier, and hasn’t paled in the intervening years. These black-&-white gems are as powerful and engrossing now as they’ve ever been.

Fair warning though: Many of the tales here do not conclude. For that you’ll have to campaign for a second volume…
© 2009 Egmont UK Ltd. All rights reserved.

Black Max volume 1


By Frank S. Pepper, Ken Mennell, Eric Bradbury, Alfonso Font & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-655-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding Air Ace Action… 9/10

It’s time for another sortie down memory lane for us oldsters and, hopefully a new, untrodden path for fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback (and eBook) package is another stunning nostalgia-punch from Rebellion’s superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting all episodes of seminal shocker Black Max.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Thunder and ran the distance – spanning October 17th 1970 – 13th March 1971. It then survived cancelation and merger, continuing in Lion & Thunder until that magazine finally died.

This book carries those stories, beginning with March 20th up to May 8th 1971 and the period perils are rounded out with a brace of longer yarns taken from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971 and Thunder Annual 1972. These eerie enthralments are preceded by a warmly reminiscent Introduction from Font that adds a very human dimension to the freaky flying thrills.

The series is typical of the manner in which weekly periodicals functioned back then: devised by screenwriter, veteran Editor and ubiquitous scripter Ken Mennell (Cursitor Doom, Steel Claw, The Spider and so many more) with the first episode limned by the company’s star turn for mood and mystery Eric Bradbury (Invasion, The Black Crow, Cursitor Doom, Hookjaw, House of Dolman and dozens more). Then the whole kit and kaboodle was handed off to another team to sink or swim with, which they did until 1974: a most respectable run for a British comic

The attrition rate of British comic strips bore remarkable similarities to casualty figures…

This particular serial was well-starred: the developing writer was the legendary Frank S. Pepper. He’d begun his professional comics career in 1926 and by 1970 had clocked up a few major successes such as Dan Dare, Rockfist Rogan, Captain Condor, Jet-Ace Logan and Roy of the Rovers to name but a very, very few.

Even the series illustrator Alfonso Font – a relative newcomer – was a ten-year veteran, albeit mostly for European publications. Based in Spain, he worked not just for Odhams/Fleetway but on strips for US outfits Warren and Skywald and on continental classics such as Historias Negras (Dark Stories), Jon Rohner, Carmen Bond, Bri D’Alban, Tex Willer, Dylan Dog and more…

Because of the episodic nature of the material, generally delivered in sharp, spartan 3-page bursts, I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle and leaving you with a précis of the theme… and what a cracker it is…

In 1917 the Great War is slowly being lost by Germany and her allies and in the Bavarian schloss of Baron Maximilien von Klorr, the grotesque but brilliant scientist and fighter ace has devised a horrific way to tip the scales back in favour of his homeland…

His ancient family have long had an affinity with bats and the mad man has bred a giant version that will fly beside him to terrify and slaughter the hated English…

The only problem is that his beloved monsters are vulnerable to gunfire so he must keep that as a most secret weapon…

That scheme is imperilled on a weekly basis by thoroughly decent young Brit Tim Wilson. A former performer in a peacetime flying circus, the doughty lad is possibly the best acrobatic flyer on the Western Front and narrowly escapes his encounter with the colossal chiropteran…

Of course, he cannot convince his superiors of the fearsome bio-weapon’s existence, but the Baron knows he’s out there and devotes an astonishing amount of time and effort to killing the lad – when not butchering Allied fliers and ground troops in vast numbers.

As the cat-&-mouse game escalates, both men suffer losses and achieve victories but the odds seem to shift after von Klorr finally manages to mass-produce his monsters, supplemented by ever more incredible inventions like his flying castle…

Most strikingly, some of Tim’s most fervent support comes from the ordinary German soldiers enslaved to the Baron’s vile program…

As previously stated, this initial collection also includes two longer, complete stories from seasonal specials. The first comes from Lion & Thunder Holiday Special 1971: an extra-sized summer treat which revealed how crashed English aviator Captain Johnny Craig experienced a night of extreme terror in the bio-horror filled home of Black Max, whilst Thunder Annual 1972 revealed how Captain Rick Newland of the Royal Flying Corps sought bloody revenge for the brutal bat-winged butchery of his comrades…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: smart, scary and beautifully rendered. This a superb example of war horror that deserves to be revived and revered.
© 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Black Max and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements are ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Misty Volume 2: featuring The Sentinels & End of the Line


By Malcolm Shaw, Mario Capaldi, John Richardson & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-600-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister Thrills and Treats for Every Stocking… 9/10

Like most of my comics contemporaries I harbour a secret shame. Growing up, I was well aware of the weeklies produced for girls but would never admit to reading them. My loss: I now know that they were packed with some great strips by astounding artists and writers, many of them personal favourites when they were drawing stalwart soldiers, marauding monsters, evil aliens or strange superheroes (all British superheroes were weird and off-kilter…).

I actually think – in terms of quality and respect for the readership’s intelligence, experience and development – girls’ periodicals were far more in tune with the sensibilities of the target audience, and I wish I’d paid more attention to Misty back then…

Thus, I’m delighted to share another peek at superb comics fare from a British publication every bit as iconoclastic and groundbreaking as its contemporary stablemate 2000AD, albeit not as long-lasting…

Despite never living up to expectations – for all the traditional editorial reasons that have scuppered bold new visions since the days of Caxton – Misty was nothing like any other comic in the British marketplace.

Girls’ comics always had a history of addressing modern social ills and issues but this Girls’ Juvenile Periodical viewed events and characters through a lens of urban horror, science fiction, moody historical mysteries and tense suspenseful dramas. It was also one of the best drawn comics ever seen and featured stunningly beguiling covers by unsung legend Shirley Bellwood, a veteran illustrator who ought to be a household name because we’ve all admired her work in comics and books since the 1950s – even if we’ve never been privileged to see her by-line…

Unlike most weeklies, Misty was created with specific themes in mind – fantasy, horror and mystery – and over its too-short existence specialised in a string of usually self-contained features serialised like modern graphic novels, rather than ever-unfolding, continuing adventures of star characters.

Although adulterated from comics legend Pat Mill’s original grand design, Misty launched on February 4th 1978 and ran until January 1980 whereupon it merged with the division’s lead title Tammy, extending its lifeline until 1984. As was often the case, the brand lived on through Annuals and Specials, which ran from 1979 until 1986…

Another in the unmissable series working under the umbrella of The Treasury of British Comics, this second compact monochrome softcover compilation offers two more complete part-work novellas from the comic’s canon of nearly 70 strip sagas, starting off with the time-bending, socially aware saga The Sentinels.

Scripted by Malcolm Shaw (Misty’s Editor and writer of dozens of strips in Britain and Europe) and illustrated by the wonderful and much travelled Mario Capaldi (Care Bears, James Bond Junior, Zorro, Thundercats, The Famous Five, A Christmas Carol and dozens of strips for Misty, Tammy, Hurricane, Eagle, Jinty, TV Action, Roy of the Rovers and others), The Sentinels leads off here.

The eerie tale of privation, intolerance, family discord and alternate universes originally ran between February 4th and April 22nd 1978 and revealed how in Birdwood on a post-war estate stood two identical tower blocks.

At least, once upon a time they were. Now whilst one is still a gleaming modern tribute to high rise modernism, somehow its twin sister had devolved into squalor and misuse: a sky-high slum tenants fled from and where apparently people vanished never to be seen again. The council had been under pressure to demolish the failing tower for years…

One day as Jan Richards comes home she learns that her family have been evicted from home. After exhausting all avenues, her mum and dad refuse to let the family be broken up and the kids put into care so they break into the evil block and begin squatting in one of the flats…

Almost immediately bizarre things start happening: Jan meets her dad in places he can’t be, she sees visions out of the windows that can’t possibly be true – and aren’t when she goes outside to check – and then her beloved dog Tiger attacks her…

The uncanny experiences continue as the squatters make the most of their new lives but Jan’s anxiety only increases. When at last she discovers the incredible secret of the ramshackle Sentinel sister, the result is the loss of her father, valiant, noble Tiger and best friend Sally and finding herself trapped in a Britain where evil reigns triumphant…

Potent, suspenseful and wickedly edgy, The Sentinels seamlessly blends powerful social commentary with traditional themes of loss and female agency whilst telling a chilling tale of parallel world peril. How this was never made into a film or Kids thriller series in the vein of Timeslip, Chocky or Children of the Stones is utterly beyond me – and it’s still not too late, as the tale’s themes are more relevant today than they’ve ever been…

From the same year (but serialised between August 12th and November 18th) and illustrated by the great John Richardson, End of the Line is a more traditional yarn of paranoia and loss, again scripted by the taken far too early Malcolm Shaw and once more presenting a story with plenty of contemporary parallels.

Richardson was a highly gifted artist with a light touch blending Brian Lewis with Frank Bellamy: a veteran visual storyteller who worked practically everywhere in Britain from 2000AD (Mean Arena, The V.C.s) to DC Thomson (Pussy Muldoon) to Marvel UK, as well as national newspapers (Amanda) and for specialist magazines such as Custom Car, Super Bike and Citizen’s Band. Here, his deft touch provides a smooth transition between slick modernity and Victorian moodiness in the saga of Ann Summerton.

The teenager and her mum are still coming to terms with the loss of breadwinner Andrew Summerton, even though he’s been gone two years now. He was one of seven men who perished in the construction of super-deep new London subway The Windsor Line.

Mum has moved on enough to be considering marriage to the deeply unpleasant “Uncle” Neville Chandler, but Ann just doesn’t like him…

Today the family are guests at the grand opening of the line, and invited to ride on the first scheduled journey along the Windsor. It’s a PR disaster however as Ann collapses in hysterical panic. She claims to have seen her dad and the other lost engineers slaving in a tunnel off the main route…

Despite the ministrations of doctors and the chiding abuse of Neville, Ann can’t get the image out of her mind. Despite the very real threat of psychological incarceration she returns to the tube again and again and uncovers evidence of a much earlier attempt to build a railway tunnel on the same route. The Prince Albert line also suffered a catastrophic collapse and was abandoned in Victorian times…

Ann eventually convinces a local reporter there might be something in the story, but when he goes missing – one amongst a slowly growing tide of disappearances – she decides to take action herself and is soon propelled into a world of nightmare and the private fiefdom of an ancient madman who has created a kingdom of the damned beneath the streets of the modern metropolis…

Evocative and dripping tension, End of the Line is a classic horror-mystery to delight anyone with a love of gothic mood and historical adventure…

Augmenting the strip thrills and chills is a reconditioned text feature appendix revealing how ‘…Your Face is Your Fortune…’ with an extended exploration of the prognosticatory clues a person’s feature reveal about them…

This engaging and tremendously compelling tome is another glorious celebration of a uniquely compelling phenomenon of British comics and one that has stood the test of time. Don’t miss this fresh chance to get in on something truly special and splendidly entertaining…
The Sentinels and End of the Line are © 1978 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Misty is ™ Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. and © Rebellion Publishing, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Funniest Book Ever! (Proven with Science!)


By Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-013-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly, Sensational, Unmissable… 9/10

Nearly Christmas Again! Soon the kids will be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Moreover, parents and extended family will be looking for presents they can afford and actually comprehend.

What about a book? A really, Really Funny Book?

Very much in the manner of classic Christmas Annuals, The Funniest Book Ever! is another wonderful compendium of captivating comics from the fabulous weekly Phoenix, designed to incapacitate your unruly young ’uns with cartoon japery and adventure. Moreover, as it proudly boasts on the cover it’s all done with SCIENCE! So, it’s even scholastically advantageous.

Since its premiere 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 fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites, all curated by a team of junior boffins endeavouring to ascertain and confirm their theory that the universe is held together by fundamental forces best described as “The Seven Laughs”…

Acting as a proof of each are seven of the magazine’s most memorable features, as the highly technical treatise begins with Belly Rumble, an argument defined here by more arcadian action from twin stars locked in a spiralling orbit of mutually assured distraction as the execute an ongoing vendetta between implacable woodland warriors…

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap war of nerves and ideologies between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

The tail-biting tension and rural war of wits and wonder-weapons began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of sensibly reasonable Bunny to convince him otherwise.

For all his patience, propriety and poise, the laid-back long-ears simply cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker. Things soon escalated once the simian interloper teamed up with an utterly mad scientist skunk who is master of many malign sciences and technologies…

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and endures great pain after declaring ‘Down with Spring’ before weaponizing Angling in a ‘Fish Off’ with Bunny and abusing history with a wooden Trojan trap in ‘There’s a Moose Loose!’

‘Leaf it Alone!’ finds the hyperactive simian turning simple garden chores into a mini-apocalypse whilst his on-going partnership with the skunk leads to an invisible bovine in the snows. However, their ‘Ca-Moo-Flaaj’ is as nothing compared to Bunny’s natural advantages…

After perverting a simple carrot with chemistry, Skunky anticipates ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ but has not reckoned on sometime guinea pig Action Beaver’s unique appetites. A true contender for that honour arrives when Humanz chase astoundingly gifted birds into the woods and barely escape ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ with their lives…

Even so, the nosy bipedal interlopers stick around causing problems until the critters unite to remove them using ‘A Bear Bum!’

A hunt for ‘Worms!’ then leads to a cacophonous din after which a dragon incursion leads to a need for knight service in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

The abrupt menacing return of ‘Skunky!’ only provides disappointment and confusion, but his crazed influence remains once he unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, resulting in the unthinkable as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-munching machine’s demise.

By the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for Skunky’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself, leading to a doomed summit meeting at a hot spring in ‘Time to Get Along!’

The sinister scientist then proves you can have too much of a good thing after his Multiplyer accidentally creates a tidal wave of ‘Doughnuts!’ before a special event proclaims ‘An Exclusive Bunny Vs Monkey Detective Story: The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night Time’ with our entire outré cast going through their Sherlock Holmesian motions…

‘The Order of the Moose!’ is a secret woodland society sworn to protect nature at all costs and after we see them spectacularly underperform this section concludes with Monkey and Skunky testing their nine-megaton ‘Explosive Sweets!’

The next component of the larger debate is the Cosmic Chuckle and that means a heaping helping of Star Cat: one of the wildest rides in the wondrous weekly anthology as crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve).

The strip began in issue #0 and has been synchronising orbits irregularly ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, revealing the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half-cat, half-spaceship. What more do you need to know?

Hypothesised here are a brace of extended exploits beginning with ‘Just Deserts’ as the intrepid band crash on to super Saharan sand world and suffer the agonies of the damned – sort of – before ‘Computational Capers’ finds them back in space and battling a tyrannical computer with ideas above his (work) station…

Evil Cackle cites Evil Emperor Penguin as proof of concept. The strip was conceived and created by children’s book illustrator/author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies) and stars a bad – brilliant but Bad – bird who lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, diminutive, fuzzy, loyal, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

The polar pirate starts this particular campaign of terror by attempting to crash a sporty party for the world’s top brass in ‘Human Nature’ parts I & 2. To assist his gatecrashing the Annual World Leader Olympics, the bad bird has to wear a human-shaped robot suit and that’s never a good thing, is it?

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. She’s the cousin of Evil Cat (EEP’s insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) and with the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must all surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

The nefarious nonsense recommences with 2-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ wherein EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

The ice escapades conclude with ‘Eugene’s Day Off’: an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic, humiliating and painful disasters…

Wild Card calculation Squid Fits leads us inexorably to Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions Squid Bits! A proof of Laugh #4: that features gags, absurd Things To Do and odd innovations ranging from Monster Fashion to Red Panda’s Insult Guide and Cut ‘n’ Keep Characters to Official Words for Everyday Sounds!

These Fishy fascinations precede the arrival of next stellar party particle star turn as Critter Titter invites a closer inspection of Gary’s Garden.

This marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure is crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs) and explores human nature through the fauna and flora unnoticed at our feet.

Human laggard Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in The Phoenix #2, and this seditious sampling opens with an army of brassed-off birds raiding the lazy lump’s kitchen cupboards, after which nocturnal raiders reveal the basics of bin-raiding whilst at the treeline an ambitious bug steals a golden acorn and dissolves into ego mania as a six-limbed Sith lord…

As Larry Ladybird hunts for his beloved Elaine and dreads her elopement with Dracula, in the pond a tadpole is daydreaming with amazing consequences and an art class is being disrupted by a most intransigent slug.

When Stunt Slug’s attention-grabbing scheme goes awry, a motley band of beasts, birds and bugs occupy themselves by entering the Great Garden Bake Off – in a festive extra-long episode before the examples end with the debut of a chitinous band of merrie “men” and a new Ladybird Robin Hood…

Barbarian Celebrity Chef Gorebrah! crushes evil whilst concocting outrageous recipes and tasty treats so he’s the ideal exemplar of the Gastronomic Guffaw: offering a selection of dishes and disasters including prehistoric demonic biscuits embedded in glacial ice, princess-flavoured milkshakes, monopolised by cloud-dwelling giants, smoky sausage bats and a duel with a rival gustatory wild man.

Later mirth -&-mayhem packed menus include the gnomish origins of pasta salad and the creepiest dish in the world, saved from an alien invader deep inside an Antarctic culinary school…

Th scientific arguments crash to a halt with the Uncontrollable Giggle as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! – seals the thesis with a sleek sheen of feline frenzy and surreal Shock and Awe.

Devised by Jamie Smart (yeah, the guy who invented Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of other brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) this is a brilliantly bonkers addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting the graphic universe.

This anarchic kitty is just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

Quite naturally, the epic begins with an origin of sorts as Mrs Alice Johnson brings home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties at the front of the store, though, but the odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store…

The Johnsons are not your average family. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room whilst Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-pack or potato-powered tractor. It’s not long before those days are gone for good…

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden, her toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault.

Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos whenever and however he can. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

The selection opens with ‘How to Make Friends and Annoy Bears’ as the cat’s nocturnal pranks result in cacophonous calamity after which ‘ThbthbtThhhhhhhhhhhHonk!’ reveals the lengths some folk will go to in executing the perfect raspberry…

‘Danger Sausage’ might not be everyone’s ideal superhero but Looshkin thinks he’s the business, after which a frog glove-puppet claims ‘I’m Not to Blame’ when a bulldozer destroys the garden…

‘Wooooooo – cough – oooooooh!!’ proves that even ghosts know when they’re outclassed in the scaring stakes after which ‘Meanwhile in Croydon’ finds the frenetic feline getting a job in marketing and ‘Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Neeeee-Nawww!’ sees the transition to a nursing career after almost fatally injuring Mr. Johnson.

Science then goes Boink! and reality gets temporarily inverted with the mind-bending ‘Big Silly Blue Cat Who Are You and What are you Doing in my House? before consistency, if not normality, are restored in ‘With Great Power Comes Giant Lasers’ as a certain cat becomes US president and leader of the Free World. Don’t scoff; stranger things have happened…

‘Due to an Incident involving Angry Clowns There Now Follows a Change in our Usual Programming’ see the madcap mouser drawn into the mesmerising power of old sitcoms whilst ‘Doorbell Ding Dong!!’ opens a war of postal one-upmanship between cat and Bear…

The brain-blasting advent of the cat’s mercurial Great Uncle Olaf begins with ‘Loooshkin! Oh Looshkin, Where Are You? You’ve Been Missing for Ages’ but is soon sidelined when Edwin’s magical library is used to call up something dreadful by ‘The Lump Whisperer’

When Looshkin indulges in some prognostication the outcome is never in doubt especially for ‘Pig!’, but the cat is back on terrifying form in ‘Ooooh!! I’m Bustin’!’ when an outbreak of gastric unhappiness coincides with the sudden sabotage of every toilet in town…

There’s a big surprise for all concerned when Looshkin invents a vicious new game in ‘A New Challenger Appears!’ before everything wraps up in seasonal spirit with a bizarre trip to the twilight zone of yule tide with ‘A Christmas Special!!’

Arguments thus presented, (see what I did there?) this bonanza tome – packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21 – leaves it to you to judge the veracity of the science. That’s best done by reading and rereading The Funniest Book Ever: a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Christmas is Saved!
Text and illustrations © 2018 Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte as appropriate. All rights reserved.

Faceache volume one: The First 100 Scrunges


By Ken Reid, with Ian Mennell & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-601-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Masterfully Macabre Mirthquakes… 10/10

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid.

He was another of those 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 with constant 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 and hanging 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. He 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 comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Reid’s brother-in-law was Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd) 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 and created numerous others including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx among many more.

In 1964 Reid and fellow unappreciated superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship and began working 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 in 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 Faceache – 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 he continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Creepy Creations, Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd, whilst at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Faceache strip.

On Reid’s passing the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancelation in October 1988.

The astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is a perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and revolves around a typically unruly and unlovely scrofulous schoolboy making great capital out of a unique gift, albeit often to his own detriment and great regret…

Ricky Rubberneck early discovered an appalling (un)natural ability of scrunching (or “scrungeing”) up his face into such ghastly contortions that he could revolt, disgust and terrify anyone who gazed upon him. Over the weeks and years, the modern medusa worked hard to polish his gifts until his foul fizzog could attain any formation. Eventually his entire body could be reshaped to mimic any creature or form, real or imagined. Naturally, he used his powers to play pranks, take petty vengeances, turn a temporary profit, deal with bullies and impress his pals.

Just as naturally, those efforts frequently resulted in the standard late 20th century punishments being dealt out by his dad, teachers and sundry other outraged adults…

This stunning hardback (and eBook) celebration – hopefully the first of many – is part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics and collects all 22 Jet episodes (spanning May 1st – 29th September 1971, plus the remaining 78 from Buster & Jet beginning with October 2nd and concluding with March 24th 1973.

The potent package is garnished with an appreciative Introduction by Alan Moore – ‘The Unacceptable Face of British Comics’ – a fondly intimate reminiscence in Antony J. Reid’s ‘My Father Ken Reid’ and a full biography of the great man…

What follows is an outrageous outpouring of raw cartoon creativity as Reid, writing and drawing with inspired effulgence, spins a seemingly infinite skein of comedy gold on his timeless theme of a little boy who makes faces at the world.

Weekly deadlines are a ferocious foe however, and a couple of strips reprinted were written by unsung pro Ian Mennell, whilst – between January and September 1972 – a fill-in artist (possibly Robert Nixon?) illustrated 16 episodes, presumably as Reid’s other commitments such as Jasper the Grasper, The Nervs or his numerous funny football features in Scorcher & Score mounted.

In these pages though, the accent is on madcap tomfoolery as the plastic-pussed poltroon undergoes a succession of fantastic facial reconfigurations: terrifying teachers, petrifying posh and pushy landowners, mimicking monstrous beasts, outraging officious officialdom and entertaining an army of schoolboy chums and chumps.

Orchards are raided, competitions are entered, plays and school trips are upstaged and aborted and even actual spooks and horrors are afforded the shocks of their unlives as Faceache gurns his way through an endless parade of hilarious hijinks.

These cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: smart, eternally funny and beautifully rendered. This a treasure-trove of laughs that spans generations and deserves to be in every family bookcase.
© 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Introduction © Alan Moore. Faceache is ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey Book 5: Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories


By Jaime Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-055-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Never-Ending Mirthful Madness… 9/10

Since its premiere 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 and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The publishers would be crazy not to gather their greatest serial hits into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations, but they’re not, so they do. The latest of these is a fifth fractiously frenetic paperback bout of ongoing conflict troubling a once-chummy woodland waif and interloping, grandeur-hungry, hairy-brained simian…

Concocted with feverishly gleeful inspiration by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the very first issue: recounting a madcap vendetta between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories sees the war of nerves and mega-weapons intensify as the unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise shift and twist into ever-more unstable factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that the rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a motorway right through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

All that tail-biting tension began when an obnoxious monkey gatecrasher popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry.

Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – lab animal Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

All these collected volumes dispense disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment and this book describes Year Three: January to June as transcribed on another vivid Contents page and commencing after a glorious poster-style spread of our bestial Dramatis Personae page…

This tranche of turbulent two-page episodes begins with tiny terror Monkey manifesting more mayhem and almost turning his own stomach inside out whilst attempting to weaponize some very nasty stuff he finds under his feet in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey then finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and latterly set back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a seemingly new menace manifests to worry the woodland folk in the dark guise of evil arch-villain ‘Destructo!’

When the weather clears up, Monkey’s Double-Barrelled Supercharged Snow-Cannon-Tank is suddenly deprived of ammo until the devilish pest repurposes his toy to fire chutney. Sadly, even this resultant chaos is insufficient to his comprehending ‘The Message!’

A brief and sudden return of ‘Skunky!’ only leads to disappointment, but his crazed influence remains to monsterize the ‘Pretty Flowers!’ whilst the debut of cyborg bounty hunter ‘Alan!’ (Armoured Locating Armadillo Network) threatens to destabilise the ongoing conflict until the big bully gets on the wrong side of gentle, peace-loving Pig’s ice cream…

Too much of the good life eventually slows down our friends so they convince Le Fox to help them ‘Get Fit!’ just in time for the awful ape to celebrate (or desecrate) Easter by eating all ‘The Wrong Eggs!’

The wee woodlanders then face Skunky’s robotic Vulturaptors in ‘Terror from the Skies’, but when night falls huge ‘Bobbles!’ from the sky spark fears of alien invasion…

The good guys then try to infiltrate Skunky’s new high-tech HQ ‘The Temple!’, just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the musky mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom.

Sadly, the only one to make the grade is meek misfit Pig in his new gruesome guise of ‘Pigulus!’

History horrifically repeats itself when another crashed space capsule ejects an even more destructive newcomer in ‘The Evil Monkey!’ Sadly, that only incites the previous incumbent to up his aggravating game…

When the genteel inhabitants of the wood start enjoying ‘Picnics!’ they have no conception that the day will end in chaos after Skunky’s escaped Grasshopalong induces the science maverick to attempt recapture with a giant Tarsier…

Sometime ally Le Fox cultivates an air of mystery, but when the League of Doom unleash a deadly custard assault his annoying old ‘Uncle Fox!’ quickly proves to be the real superspy deal after which Monkey’s latest property deal lands bunny with an obnoxious ‘Bad Neighbour!’ in the form of musician Bert Warthog. But not for long…

When Skunky unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, the unthinkable occurs as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-machine’s demise but by the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for the skunk’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself…

More mad science sees the launch of a weather station and an unseasonal snow barrage, but Skunky’s malignant fun is ruined after Weenie Squirrel demonstrates astounding piste pizazz in ‘Ski-Daddle!’, before a lost little skunk destabilises the wicked stinker.

Thomas is unmoved by monster robots like the rampaging Octobosh and truly gets to the emotional soft side of his newfound ‘Uncle Skunky!’

Perhaps that episode is what prompts his invention of ‘The Truthometer!’, but when Skunky hears what the woodlanders actually think about him, he soon regrets ever thinking of it…

The Quantum Bibble Fobbulator also goes wrong, tearing ‘Wormholes!’ in the forest fabric, but somehow the woodland residents still make the best of the situation, whilst the skunk’s size-changing ray only makes his victims too tall to tackle in ‘The Embiggening!’

The rural riot concludes with a frankly disturbing insight into our simian star’s softer side as he administers first aid to an ailing Bunny and subsequently descends into megalomania as the truly terrifying ‘Nurse Monkey!’

To Be Continued…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is sheers bonkers brilliance and well past definitely on the way to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, insane invention and captivating cartooning. This is another utterly irresistible package of total delight for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2018. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Queens & Kings and Other Royal Rotters


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-032-4

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The fabulous and effective conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down (or rather digs up) famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books), this regally-themed recollection is dedicated to not-so-private audiences with a succession of famous, infamous and utterly unforgettable royal rogues and rapscallions in what would almost certainly not be their own words…

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Ramesses II: Pharaoh of Egypt 1303 BCE – 1213 BCE’, who preferred to be called ‘Ramesses the Great’. Our intrepid interviewer incisively traces the “accomplishments” and gift for self-promotion of the dusty legend.

As always, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a key aspect of their lives such as here with ‘How to Make a Mummy’ scrupulously and systematically revealing the secrets of interring the definitely departed, after which we refocus on the ancient orient to quiz ‘Qin Shi Huang Di: Chinese Emperor 259 BCE 210 BCE’ on his reign and once more sifts truth from centuries of post-mortem PR briefings.

Backing up the inquiry ‘The Emperor’s Tomb’ details the layout of the vast City of Death Qin was buried in, as well as the Palace of Shadows and its terracotta army and the treasures it guarded…

‘Cleopatra: Pharaoh of Egypt 69 BCE – 30 BCE’ then outlines her incredible life, whilst ‘Barging In’ examines her astounding gold sea-craft and how it brought her to the attention of back-up lover/sponsor Mark Anthony.

A thankfully thoroughly sanitised account of the sordid exploits of ‘Nero: Roman Emperor 37-68’ is backed up by an exploration of one of his feasts in ‘Café Nero’, after which ‘Justinian II: Byzantine Emperor 669-711’ explains how his guile and determination enabled him to rule, lose, recapture and retake control of the mighty late Roman Empire. The impenetrable defences of 8th century Constantinople are then dissected in ‘The Walled City’

As well as a bit about burned cakes, ‘Alfred the Great: King of Wessex 849-6899’ reveals the remarkable military and civilising feats of the learning-obsessed ruler and expands the knowledge base by defining the fractured kingdoms of ‘The Dark Island’ of Britain at the time.

The Norman conquest is unpicked from the (one-eyed) view of the losing contender in ‘Harold Godwinson: English King 1022-1066’ accompanied by an extended look at the historical source document in Born on the Bayeaux’ whilst the first English civil war is remembered by formable Angevin matriarch ‘Empress Matilda: English Queen 1102-1167’. This is followed by a detailed deconstruction of the sturdy castle defensive system in The Old Bailey’.

The Crusades are represented rival legends made real. First up is the admirable and noble ‘Saladin: Sultan of Egypt and Syria 1137-1193’, who is bolstered by a catalogue of Moslem contributions to global civilisation in Gifts of Genius’, after which the unhappy truth about ‘Richard the Lionheart: English King 1157-1199’ is laid bare. After debunking centuries of self-aggrandising myths The Siege of Acre’ then traces one of the crusaders’ few actual heroic exploits…

‘Moctezuma II: Aztec Emperor 1456-1520’ relates how his timidity and sense of self-preservation contributed to the destruction of his dominions at the hands of the conquistadores before ‘Temple of Doom’ takes us into the deepest inner workings of the bloodstained ziggurats dedicated to human sacrifice on an industrial scale…

The most complex and contentious period in British history is taken apart by the royals at the heart of it all when ‘Henry VIII: English King 1491-1547’ tries to give us his spin on events leading to the reformation and – following Full Tilt – a History of Jousting’‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ – consecutively Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), Jane Seymour (1508-1537), Anne of Cleves (1525-1557), Catherine Howard (1523-1542) and Catherine Parr (1512-1548) – offer their side of the arguments and events.

Their revelations are augmented by a breakdown of the duties of a Queen’s faithful attendants in The Waiting Game’.

‘Charles II: English King 1630-1685’ relates how he came to power following the Second Civil War and backs up the personal reveries with A Memoir on Monarchy’ running down the changing role of rulers, before we cross the channel to hear how it all went wrong for France’s final female autocrat in ‘Marie Antoinette: French Queen 1755-1793’. Her fall from grace is abutted by a chilling lesson on the guillotine in Decapitation Stations’.

Contemporary cousin ‘Catherine the Great: Russian Empress 1729-1796’ managed to run things largely her own way, but as back-up Tsars in their Eyes’ shows, was plagued by a constant stream of pretenders, all claiming to be true, proper, better qualified and, yes, male contenders for her throne.

South African rebel and strategic genius ‘Shaka Zulu: Zulu King 1787-1828’, recounts how he literally created a mighty nation from nothing whilst The Battle of Isandlwana’ covers how his innovations were used to humiliate the overwhelmingly powerful British Army before the procession of pomp and circumstance closes with ‘Queen Victoria: English Queen 1819-1901’, accompanied by a phenomenally absorbing family tree, branching out and into every royal bloodline in Europe: a true Game of Thrones’

Clever, cheeky, outrageously funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk unyieldingly tackles history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, royal-watcher or republican in waiting…
Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.

Corpse Talk: Queens & Kings will be released on 6th September 2018 and is available for pre-order now. Time to start thinking of Christmas Presents yet…?

Ronald Searle’s Non-Sexist Dictionary


By Ronald Searle (Souvenir Press)
ISBN: 978-0-28562-865-6

Britain has a fantastic and enviable history and tradition of excellence in the arts of graphic narrative and cartooning. Whether telling a complete story or simply making a point; much of the modern world’s most innovative, inspirational and trenchantly acerbic drawing has come from British pens powered by British hearts and minds.

If you’re quietly humming Rule Britannia or Jerusalem right now, pack it in. This is not the tone we want. I’m just stating a few facts.

Ronald Searle was one of a very gifted few (I’d number Ken Reid, Leo Baxendale, Murray Ball and Hunt Emerson among them) who can actually draw funny lines. No matter how little or how much they need to say, they can imbue the merest blot or scratch of ink with character, intent and wicked, wicked will.

During the Second World War he was a Japanese POW at the infamous Changi Prison. The second St Trinian’s cartoon was drawn in that hell-hole in 1944 and it survived along with his incredible war sketches to see print once peace broke out. Searle was a worker on the Siam-Burma Railroad (a story for another time and place) and risked his life daily both by making pictures and by keeping them.

His mordantly funny cartoons appeared in many places such as Punch, Lilliput, The Sunday Express, and other collections of his work include Hurrah for St. Trinian’s!, The Female Approach, Back to the Slaughterhouse, The Terror of St. Trinian’s, Souls in Torment, Merry England, etc., The St. Trinian’s Story, Which Way Did He Go? and Pardong m’sieur.

Searle’s work has influenced an uncountable number of other cartoonists too. His unique visualisation and darkly comic satirical cynicism in the St. Trinian’s drawings and the utterly captivating vision of boarding school life as embodied in the classically grotesque Nigel Molesworth (created with Geoffry Willans for Punch and released to enormous success as Down With Skool!, How to be Topp!, Whizz For Atomms! and Back in the Jug Agane) influenced generations of children and adults and even played its part in shaping our post-war national character and language.

And have I mentioned yet that his drawings are really, really funny?

Although perhaps a bit of a one-trick pony – and still readily available despite being despite being 30 years old – this sharp and immaculately depicted slice of satirical buffoonery still affords a chuckle or two, but the truly magical aspect of this book is the unforgettable collection of black and white cartoons delivered with stunning absurdist candour and the peculiarly tragic warmth that only Searle could instil with his seemingly wild yet clearly-considered linework.

By transposing such terms as “Semen” with “Sewomen” or “Hymn” with “Herm” he can still make us pause and ponder, but the total immersion that his bridled insanity delivers in his illustrations reaches much deeper and lasts so much longer.

You will laugh, (it’s impossible not to) but you will also grieve and yearn and burn in empathised frustration at the marvels in this lost supply of ordinance in the Battle of the Sexes.

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant stuff! See for yourself, whatever side of the battle lines you cower behind…
© 1988 Ronald Searle.

Celeb


By Charles Peattie, Mark Warren & Russell Taylor (Private Eye/Corgi)
ISBN: 978-0-55213-858-1

In terms of taste, as in so many other arenas, our modern world seems to be determinedly heading for Heck in a hand-basket, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to cover a little lost gem of British cartooning delight that’s increasing re-relevant in these appalling days of fame campaigns, dodgy talent show democracy and overwhelming Celebritocracy.

Celeb was a strip which ran in that evergreen gadfly and cultural attack dog Private Eye. Created by Mark Warren and the team of Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor (who were simultaneously crafting the abortive first iteration of greed-glorifying mini-classic Alex for Robert Maxwell’s short-lived London Daily News), it began in May 1987.

For years credited to the pseudonymous “Ligger”, the pithy and hilarious episodes followed the day to day life of Swinging Sixties survivor and disgracefully declining rock-legend Gary Bloke as he dealt with a changing world, thinning hair, parenthood and inexorable middle age.

These days, with 24/7 reality shows, desperate Nonabees enduring career-resuscitating humiliations in locked houses and jungle clearings and a host of other self-inflicted, double-edged B-list exposé freak-shows everywhere on the interweb, the outrageous pronouncements and antics of Gary seem pretty tame, but in those days before Ozzy Osbourne became more famous for parenting and not singing whilst footballers’ performance off the field took precedence over goals scored on it, the sozzled, crass, befuddled, and pitifully pompous cocky cockney-boy-made-good was the very epitome of affably acceptable, ego-bloated, publicity-seeking, self-aggrandizing, drug-fuelled idiocy.

Within this collection from 1991 the legendary “Man of the Peeple” distributes kernels of his hard-won wisdom to the likes of Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Clive James, Cilla Back, Ruby Wax, Barry Norman, Anne Diamond, Selena Scott, Michael Aspel and other interviewers of lesser longevity. Interspersing the almighty interviews, Gary tackles world poverty and the environment head-on (and with eyes tight shut), learns how to cope with those new-fangled rock videos, adapts to the needs of his burgeoning family and, of course, consumes a phenomenal quantity of recreational pharmaceuticals…

Including a selection of interviews from the Sunday Times (October 1989), The Sun (Wednesday August 3rd 1988) and candid shots of Gary with Bob Geldof and George Michael at Live Aid, the collection concludes with the infamous days during which Gary was dead of an overdose and met both God and Elvis. Also revealed is the sordid truth behind his numerous brushes with the law, leading to his 18-month stretch At Her Majesty’s Pleasure and subsequent key role in a terrible prison riot for better conditions and macrobiotic food…

The heady cocktail of drink, sex, drugs, money, sport, music, adoration and always-forgiven crassness is perhaps the reason so many folks are seduced by celebrity. If you want to see another side to the fame-game and have a hearty laugh into the bargain Gary Bloke is your man…
© 1991 Peattie, Taylor & Warren. All Rights Reserved.