Beano and Dandy Gift Book 2022- Arty Farty!


By Dudley D. Watkins, Allan Morley, Reg Carter, Davy Law, Bill Holroyd, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Eric Roberts, James Crichton, Paddy Brennan, and many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-856-3 (HB)

This splendidly oversized (225 x 300mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy, colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history… aren’t they all? Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Until it folded and was briefly reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under sequential picture frames. A huge success, it was followed eight months – on July 30th 1938 – later by The Beano and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent hardback annuals.

This particularly tome is a collation of strips examining “Art” and a superb tribute to Celtic creativity, packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips, with the mirth starting on the inside front with a rather psychedelic and fourth-wall rending confrontation between The Bash Street Kids and the ever-interventionist “Beano/Dandy artist” actually illustrated by David Sutherland, I suspect.

Sadly, as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

When not in monochrome or full colour, DC Thomson titles were always extremely inventive in using their two-colour printing plate format. Way back when, most annuals and many comics were jazzed up by a wonderful “half-colour” process British publishers used to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections (“Signatures”) of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black. The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding…

This book shows that pagination skill over and over again in strips that exploit the print process and deftly subordinate it to the narratives. What splendid fellows their printers must have been to go to all that extra effort…

Here and now though, the picture-in-picture gag cover of Dandy Annual 1971 – a Korky the Cat visual pun by James Crichton or possibly Richard Nixon – segues into a monochrome Big Eggo strip from Reg Carter before indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins shines in black, white and red with magical lad Peter Piper (from short-lived junior title The Magic Comic) animating pictures at an exhibition before Good King Coke (He’s Stoney Broke) seeks fame in a frame thanks to early art and orange tints from Eric Roberts.

Also from The Magic Comic comes Dolly Dimple – Not So Simple: a monochrome romp by Allan Morley that leads to an Orange section starting with Julius Sneezer the Sneezing Caesar (Morley); Lord Snooty, by the incredibly prolific Watkins, detailing an art heist from an early annual, after which Morley renders more magic with Sammy’s Super Rubberand posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz – by Charles Holt – makes more enemies with a school painting competition…

Morley’s Old Ma Murphy the Strong-Arm School-Ma’rm gets away with what we’d deem child abuse in her art class before three Dennis the Menace strips from David Law prove that chaos is an art. They’re followed by a drawing lesson with Minnie the Minx (by Jim Petrie?) and a Law full colour Beryl the Peril strip he did for a Topper Annual with the girly menace trying her hand at photography before we enjoy some black, white and red poetry-appreciation piece from a Beano Book The Bash Street Kids extended episode by Sutherland. It precedes a classic Desperate Dan diversion where he paints the town – guess what hue? – and Korky’s Catty Dictionary by Robert Nixon.

A red-toned double bill of Roger the Dodger japes by Ken Reid neatly diverts to fantastic crime as an extended (orange-flavoured) Captain Woosh caper sees the wily jetpack bandit again outwitted by good-hearted errand boy Terry Ball in a stunning Dandy Annual exploit from Charles Grigg, after which Sutherland triumphs in a pan-toned (black, red, yellow and white) classic starring The Bash Steet Kids and Teacher

Following colourful puzzle pages ‘Blank Looks’ and ‘You Can Draw Me!’, Law’s Dennis the Menace plays ‘Pranks with Paint!’ and shares ‘Drawings by Dennis’ before we all go green with Watkins’ Desperate Dan and enjoy ‘Arty-Crafty!’and ‘Crafty Arty!’ hijinks with perilous Beryl…

Winker Watson gets a fresh look – courtesy of Terry Bave, I believe – as the wily waif interrupts a school painting chore before Ken H. Harrison’s blue period sees Harry and his Hippo get the snapping bug before the Bash Street Dogs of Pup Parade (Nigel Parkinson?) get their portraits done and Bill Holroyd’s robot rascal Brassneck saves the school play – from surly teacher Mr. Snodgrass

Minnie the Minx endures a multi-coloured assault from a mischievous Beano artist (Tom Paterson?) before Dennis regrets ‘Making his Mark’ as a prelude to more full colour fun from Bill Ritchie’s Baby Crockett and Gordon Bell’s Colonel Blink, before Pup Parade with the Bash Street Dogs resorts to orange tints for a kennel painting prank…

Advancing print technology finally catches up and the remainder of the collection is all full-colour, beginning with Neighbourhood Witch as a little sorceress gets too interested in the family tree, after which Ritchie’s love-starved Smittengoes to extraordinary lengths to find a girlfriend…

Harrison’s Lord Snooty makes no friends when he voluntarily takes up the trumpet, whilst Paterson’s Little Larry truly turns heads (away) with his candid snaps before Bully Beef and Chips (Wayne Thompson?) clash over painted portraits whilst Dennis decrees ‘It’s a Draw’ and The Bash Street Kids romp in extended mayhem looking for cash rewards in ‘A Load of Junk’

Robot toy manipulator General Jumbo then gets some highly specialised new units to win a painting competition, before activity page ‘Be a Dandy Artist’ segues into a Korky curated museum visit before ‘Quick on the Draw with Ivy the Terrible’ (by Lew Stringer?) ends the tour with a far more accessible lesson learned.

As you leave the volume please be sure to enjoy Sutherland’s classic Beano Book 1971 cover and denouement of the frontispiece saga that opened this extravaganza, and don’t forget to tip your reviewer…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.
© DCT Consumer Products (UK) 2021 Ltd.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Supersonic Aye-Aye


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-243-4 (TPB)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British comics phenomenon The Phoenix since the very first issue in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), his trend-setting, mind-bending yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one. In this case, however, here we’ve caught up and the fabulous recycled fun of The Floating Cow Catastrophe is plumped up with new stuff…

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargy began yonks ago after an obnoxious little beast popped up in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite all efforts from reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative forest resident Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just could not contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who was – and is – a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating loutish troublemaker…

Problems are exacerbated by the other unconventional Crinkle creatures, particularly a skunk called Skunky who has a mad scientist’s attitude to life and a propensity to build very dangerous robots and super-weapons…

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-ordnances resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise have finally picked a side (sort of): shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a “motorway” right through the sylvan glades and (apparently) unprotected parks… but they are quite interested in new resident Ai – the supersonic Ai-Ai – and where her allegiances fall…

It all resumes with ‘Insomnia!’ as new girl Ai proves to (a) nocturnal, (b) excitable and (c) a bit of a party animal just as Bunny seeks an early night, after which Monkey makes the mistake of stamping on her new house in his modular ‘Mega Mecha!’ and doesn’t get away with all his mechanical body parts intact and ‘Take to the Skies!’ finds Weenie squirrel and Pig optimistically building an aircraft, despite a blessed lack of knowledge and requisite skills. That doesn’t explain why Monkey insists on being the first to test pilot it…

A rare moment of tranquillity in ‘Time to Get Along!’ finds all the woodland weirdoes sharing a natural hot spring, until acrimony returns when somebody makes a whirlpool and someone else activates a robot shark…

‘Spring’ comes round again, finding the forest full of greenery-gobbling ‘Worms!’ until Monkey accidentally saves the day, before ‘A Great Big Snotty Cold!’ afflicts everyone. The cure is too weaponize the germs into a giant bogie-beast… but it doesn’t end there…

Skunky’s latest “greatest invention” generates ‘Bubble Trouble!’ before he builds his snarky simian sidekick’s dream device – an enormous ‘Metal Monkey!’ – that bears no relationship to the enigmatic and apparently unattended ‘Giant Egg!’ Ai and Bunny stumble across. Was that the reason for her throwing a dinner party for all her new friends and urgently urge them to ‘Eat Up!’ while revealing some culinary secrets nobody wanted to know?

‘Spaaaace!’ finds Skunky trying – but failing – to send Monkey back where he came from, after which ‘Storytime!’ shows Bunny’s literary leanings whilst Weenie and Pig enjoy ‘Mud, Glorious Mud!’ and aliens are erroneously blamed for all the fuss on ‘The Night They Floated Our Cows Away!’

Everyone’s recovered by time soapbox cart fever intoxicates the little critters, resulting in a shock ending for the ‘Screwball 4000!’, after which a different – Ai-sponsored – comic reality results in baffling grudge-match ‘Weenie vs Monkey’ before she races off, oblivious to the attentions of brain-battered, bewildered and besotted former stuntmanAction Beaver in ‘♥’

Skunky’s ploy of creating robot duplicates of his opponents goes just like you’d expect in ‘Double Trouble!’, leaving a certain robot in a tizzy safeguarding rare floral gem ‘The Purple Popplewhatsit!’, just as we ease effortlessly into the middle of the year, with ‘Summer’ heralding the first sighting of Skunky’s latest giant sensation ‘The Walrus!’

Undaunted, the black-&-white bounder almost incinerates the woods with a homemade star making ‘Sun Kinda Trouble!’before building colossal fantasy constructs in ‘The Midnight Dragon’ and spoiling a party whilst the stroppy simian is trapped in a timeloop in ‘Monkeyfloop!’

Catastrophic rivalry erupts as alternate evil genius Maniacal Badger competes with Skunky for a science prize and the title of ‘The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods!’ whilst a blow to the bonce creates ‘Evil Bunny!’ and Weenie consults the Skunk to achieve the dream of being ‘The Bravest Squirrel in the Woods!’

Monkey triggers road rage by building a motorway around Bunny’s cottage in ‘Beep! Beep!’, yet still find time to completely miss the united animals war against a human invader in ‘Persuasion!’ whilst Weenie’s awesome weaponization of sugary treats in ‘Doughnuts!’ brings us stickily to the ‘Autumn’ segment where ‘A Moment of Solace!’for Skunky still ends in chaos and carnage.

Laziness exacerbates the shameful antics and utter rout of the ‘Monkey Army!’, which leads the valiantly victorious Bunny team to pursue supernatural phenomena in ‘Will-o-de-Wisp!’ Strangely, the glowing phantasm that scarily greets them bears a disturbing resemblance to long-gone local legend Fantastic Le Fox

‘What a Brave Little Squirrel (Part One)!’ begins a strange excursion to a subterranean realm with terror and abandonment on the cards for Weenie, but hope and escape materialise in ‘What a Brave Little Squirrel (Part Two)!’before being driven away again by the secret power source of Skunky’s new hover board in ‘The Flipping Point!’

That so-familiar spectre returns prophesying ‘Grave Danger!’ and in the resultant ‘Panic!’ Bunny becomes a maddened doomsday-prepper, but Weenie is more concerned with culinary success and new kitchen gadget the Multi-Kitchen Buddy in ‘The Other Side!’

At last the doom arrives, but declaring ‘Battle Stations!’ and gathering everybody together and marshalling extraordinary defences amount to nothing and soon distracted Randolph the Raccoon and Ai are pointlessly competing in ‘Runnnn!’ …with Action Beaver and the timestream itself regretting their actions…

‘The Worst Idea You’ve Ever Had!’ finds Monkey yet again ruining Skunky’s plans as the boffin attempts to imprison a ghost before the madness pauses – for now – with ‘The Woodland Devil!’ as the dreaded, doom-laden grave danger arrives and all the animals are caught napping!

The animal anarchy is augmented here with detailed instructions on How to Draw Ai’ and ‘How to Draw Weenie’ so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning all in one eccentrically excellent package: providing jubilant joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Is that you yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2022. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Supersonic Aye-Aye is published on January 6th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Pow! Annual 1971


By unknown writers & artists and Miguel Quesada Cerdán, Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, José Ortiz Moya, Matías Alonso, Enric Badia Romero, Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar, Leopoldo Ortiz & various (Odhams Books)
SBN: 60039607X

This quirky item is one of my fondest childhood memories and quite inspirational in directing my career path, and as well as being still a surprisingly splendid read I can now see it as a bizarre and desperately belated sales experiment…

By the end of the 1960s, DC Thomson had overtaken the monolithic comics publishing giant that had been created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century. The company – variously named Fleetway, Odhams and IPC – had absorbed rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press, and stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad they had kept their material contemporary, if not fresh, but the writing was on the wall, but now

the comedy strip was on the rise and action anthologies were finding it hard to keep readers attention.

By 1970 – when this annual was released – the trend generated by the success of the Batman TV show was thoroughly dead, so why release a book of all-new superhero strips in a title very much associated with comedy features and cheap Marvel Comics reprints?

A last ditch attempt to revive the genre? Perhaps a cheap means of using up inventory?

I don’t know and I don’t care. What they produced that year was a wonderful capsule of fanboy delight, stuffed with thrills, colourful characters and a distinctly cool, underplayed stylishness, devoid of the brash histrionics of American comic books.

Conceived by tragically uncredited writers – but purportedly all created by Alan Hebden – this is a visual delight illustrated in alternating full colour (painted) and half-colour (black and magenta) sections by IPC’s European stable of artists: some of the greatest artists of the era, and delivered in a thoroughly different and grittily dark take on extraordinary champions, costumed crimebusters and the uncanny unknown…

The wonderment kicked off with ‘Magno, Man of Magnetism’ drawn by Miguel Quesada Cerdán: a valiant crimecrusher who seemed a cross between Simon Templar and James Bond, who donned his mask and used his superpowers only if things got really rough…

Eerily off-kilter sea scourge ‘Aquavenger’ was an oceanic crimefighter illustrated by The Victor veteran Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, while ‘Mr. Tomorrow: Criminal of the Future’ – illustrated by jack of all genres Matías (Air Ace, Battle Action, Commando, The Victor, Twinkle) Alonso was an outright rebel from an oppressive state in days to come.

I don’t know who wrote or drew edgy, self-contained thriller ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’, but ‘Electro’ (no relation to the Marvel villain – other than the high-voltage shtick) is gloriously rendered by the legendary José Ortiz Moya (Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law; Smokeman; UFO Agent; The Phantom Viking; Commando Picture Library; BattlePicture Library; Vampirella; The Thirteenth Floor; Rogue Trooper; Tex Willer, Judge Dredd and many more).

In the most  traditional tale of the book, Eddie Edwards defends Surf City, USA as a voltaic vigilante and as part of the hero-heavy Super Security Bureau defeating terrors such as the crystalline marauders on view here…

Limned by future Modesty Blaise and Axa illustrator Enric Badia Romero, the fascinating psionic super-squad ‘Esper Commandos’ infiltrate and eliminate the competition before urban hunter ‘Marksman’ deals with a deadly saboteur and faux vengeful spectre ‘The Phantom’ (again no relation to any US star and illustrated by watercolours specialist Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar) hands out summary justice decked out in a spooky uniform loaded with cunning gadgets…

We dip into the mind of a monster when aquatic horror ‘Norstad of the Deep’ – illustrated by Leopoldo Ortiz – invades the upper world but revert to heroic adventure for closing yarn ‘Time Rider’. Rendered by Ibáñez, it details how a bored genius millionaire builds a time-travelling robot horse and goes in search of adventure…

These are all great little adventures, satisfactorily self-contained, beautiful and singularly British in tone, even though most of the characters are American – or aliens (and no, that’s not necessarily the same thing). This tome easily withstands a critical rereading today, but the most important thing is the inspiring joy of these one-off wannabes. They certainly prompted me to fill sketchbook after sketchbook and determined that I would neither be a “brain surgeon nor a bloke wot goes down sewers in gumboots”. This great little tome gave me that critical push towards the fame and fortune I now enjoy, and could probably do it again!
© 1970 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

The Dandy Book 1970


By Many & various (D.C. Thomson & Co.)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-008-5 (HB)

For generations of British fans Christmas means The Beano Book, The Broons, Oor Wullie and making every December 25th magical. There used to be many more DC Thomson titles, but the years have gradually winnowed them away. Thankfully, time means nothing here, so this year I’m concentrating on a another Thomson Christmas cracker that made me the man wot I am. As usual my knowledge of the creators involved is woefully inadequate but I’m going to hazard a few guesses anyway, in the hope that someone with better knowledge will correct me when I err.

The Dandy comic predated The Beano by eight months, utterly revolutionising the way children’s publications looked and – most importantly – how they were read. Over decades it produced a bevy of household names that delighted millions of households, with end of year celebrations being bumper bonanzas of the weekly stars in magnificent bumper hardback annuals.

Premiering on December 4th December 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its hidebound British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames. A colossal success, it was followed on July 30th 1938 by The Beano and together they completely changed children’s publications. Dandy was the third longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned countless cartoon stars of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers…

The fun-filled action begins on the inside front cover as seasoned star Korky the Cat (by Charles Grigg?) set the ball rolling as he dodges the rozzers after a spot of illicit angling. As was traditional at this time, he also performed similar service at the far end – there falling foul of his own meagre engineering skills after building a triple decker “cartie” (think of the Red Bull Soapbox Challenge but sans the manic testosterone overload…)

These annuals were traditionally produced in the wonderful “half-colour” that many British publishers used to keep costs down whilst bringing a little spark into our drab and gloomy young lives. This was done by printing sections of the books with two plates, such as blue/Cyan and red/Magenta. The versatility and palette range provided was astounding. Even now this technique screams “Holidays” to me and my contemporaries, and this volume uses the technique to stunning effect.

D.C. Thomson were also extremely adept at combining anarchic, clownish comedy with solid fantasy adventure tales such as opening comedy thriller ‘King of the Sawdust Ring’ (limned by Paddy Brennan) wherein circus boy Billy King has to recapture an escaped lion and save his pet deer when a parade through town goes badly wrong…

As seen here, these picture thrillers usually came in the old-fashioned captioned format, with blocks of typeset text rather than lettered word balloons. Drama gives way to daft destruction as cowboy superman Desperate Dan (by Dudley D. Watkins) gets lost in fog, whilst another Korky the Cat short wreaks havoc in an ironmonger’s shop before his picture puzzle ‘Twig the Twins!’ – by the always-magnificent Eric Roberts – tests mind and eye.

The Smasher was a lad cut from the same mould as Dennis the Menace and in the episodes here (by Hugh Morren) he carves a characteristic swathe of anarchic destruction, even if his first encounter proves he’s not the toughest lad in town…

Drawn by Ron Spencer, pint-sized Dinah Mite proves she has no need of martial arts training after which hard-pressed squaddie Corporal Clott (by Dennis the Menace originator Davy Law or possibly his successor David Sutherland) disrupts the Army Camp sports day and accidentally and painfully boosts surly Colonel Grumbly to undreamed of heights.

Drawn by Jimmy Hughes, Bully Beef and Chips invariably proved that a weedy underdog’s brain always trumped brutal brawn, as here where little Chips orchestrates a well-deserved water-pistol drubbing…

Eric Roberts does triple-duty this year with puzzles, schoolboy grifter Winker Watson and perennial bath-dodger Dirty Dick who here plays chalk-based pranks on the police, after which Winker Watson’s Dandy Doodles baffle and bemuse before crafty Korky is outsmarted by a peg-legged sailor…

Another package of light-hearted drama then ensues courtesy of schoolboy Charley Brand and his robotic pal ‘Brassneck’– by the fabulous Bill Holroyd – who are largely innocent spectators as Christmas Day devolves into a toy and snowball brawl for all the adults in the street, after which Desperate Dan learns the cost of his well-meaning but excessive generosity and Dinah Mite discovers another benefit to small size and big muscles at a football match…

Bully Beef and Chips then clash whilst fishing which segues into a tale of The Island of Monsters (drawn by Q-Bikes artist Andrew Hutton?): a thrilling castaway series with two boys marooned on a tropical paradise where all the animals are incredibly enlarged. This time, the lads witness the results of human pirates underestimating the power and ferocity of giant gulls, beetles, bees and grasshoppers…

Next ‘Dirty Dick’s Picture Puzzle’ tests our brains before Korky’s superstitious nature pays off in a fish supper and our little Dick pops back, finally meeting his match in an escaped zoo chimp in a grubby but great strip by (perhaps) Tom Williams.

Whilst a great deal of material was based on school as seen by pupils, George Martin’s ‘Greedy Pigg’ featured a voracious teacher always attempting to confiscate and scoff his pupils’ snacks. Here he abandons kids’ tuck boxes to extend his appetite to encompass the pantries and larders of adults and even a wandering tramp gets what he deserves…

Dinah Mite then returns to train her new gang to the peak of punishing fitness, after which Desperate Dan’s heavy-footed antics wreck the skating pond and The Smasher takes three pages to ponder his job when he grows up.

Korky’s parrot declares war on the cat but comes to regret allying with the mice, whilst Corporal Clott successfully spoils target practice and Dirty Dick cleans up as golf caddy.

Jimmy Hughes’ geriatric delinquent Smarty Gran’pa mentors little kids in scrumping, pranking and dodging coppers whilst Corporal Clott wrecks record-keeping and penmanship before we return to drama as ‘Ricky’s Racer’ (probably by Brennan) sees a poor but proud kid master a found sledge: tearing up the icy landscape, making friends with a rich toff’s son and even foiling a burglary in a ripping yarn only DC Thomson could pull off…

A brutal training regime pays off in scoff for The Smasher’s new gang, before Bully Beef and Chips escalate a darts match into armoured warfare heralding classic comedy japes in a posh private school…

Winker Watson was always a triumph for artistic legend Eric Roberts, who here turns a visiting TV documentary crew into the spur for another string of victories against boarding school tyranny. Our devious mastermind easily humiliates the masters and treats his chums to a “slap-up feed” of the kind ‘Greedy Pigg’ constantly contrived to steal.

In a neat segue, George Martin’s voracious pie predator is led to his “just desserts” by toffee apples stuck on arrows before Robert returns with picture teaser ‘Winker Watson’s Class for Clever Dicks’ – combining comedy with brain testing scenarios before Dirty Dick encounters a military mascot and learns how the army deal with dust and disarray…

Korky’s flying lessons soon bring him into dispute with squadrons of geese, after which family favourite ‘Spunky and his Spider’ offers another delightfully rustic tale of an affable, truanting kid and his devoted, amiable apple-loving, giant antediluvian arachnid as limned by the fabulous Bill Holroyd. This time the eight-legged wonder helps school kids beat bullies trying to snatch the cash made from carol-singing…

Greedy Pigg’s appetite and lack of scruples scupper him again just as Desperate Dan’s snow balls make him lots of enemies whilst Bodger the Bookworm (by Shamus O’Doherty) uses some novel notions to retrieve a confiscated ball before the fun climaxes with the saga of Barefoot Bill (Hutton again?): a schoolboy whose gigantic feet and love of soccer forced him to learn to play sans footwear…

With Puzzle Answers and the aforementioned Korky endpapers wrapping up proceedings, let’s celebrate another tremendously fun book, with so much merriment on offer I can’t believe this book is over half a century old and still available through second hand outlets.

The only thing better would by curated archive reissues and digital editions…
© 1968 D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

The DANDY is a trademark of and © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. Associated characters, text and artwork © D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. 2006. All rights reserved.

Hurricane Annual 1968


By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN:

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competition – primarily monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press. Founded by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly kin.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its local rivals – such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press – to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American-styled superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not strictly fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting early Marvel Comics successes for a few years: feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were generally – and in some cases, drastically -declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Hurricane was an impressive-looking upgrade that began during that period of expansion and counterattack, apparently conceived in response to DCT’s action weekly Hornet. It launched the week of February 29th 1964 and ran for 63 issues, but was revamped three times during that period before ultimately being merged into companion paper Tiger.

It carried a superbly varied roster of features in that time, including two (and a half) stars who survived its extinction. Racing driver Skid Solo and comedy superman Typhoon Tracy as well as Sgt Rock – Paratrooper… but not for so long for him…

There was heavy dependence on European and South American artists initially, among them Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Georgio Trevisan, Renato Polese and Lino Landolfi, some of whom lasted into the Annuals. As with so many titles, although the comics might quickly fade, Christmas Annuals maintained a presence for years after and Hurricane seasonal specials were produced for every year from 1965 to 1974…

Following a tried-&-true formula, this book – published in 1967 – offers comics adventures, prose stories, fact-features, funnies and puzzles and kicks off with stunning full-colour fact feature strip ‘Lawmen and Badmen of the Wild West’.

Looking  like they’re painted by Reg Bunn or Tony Weare, these comics outline the lives and times of Wyatt Earp, Tom Smith, Black Bart, Sam Bass, Billy the Kid and Bat Masterson, before fully fictional western star Drago teaches a headstrong young cavalry officer the meaning of command in monochrome thriller ‘He Rides Alone’ – possibly illustrated by Polese.

Regular prose feature ‘The Worst Boy in the School’ (illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam?) follows a page of medical gags entitled ‘Take a dose of Chuckles!’ The long-running boarding school saga was enlivened by its star Duffy coming from Circus stock. Here the comedy, chaos and espionage excitement stems from a New Boy who’s convinced enemies of his father – a South American president – are trying to kidnap him. He’s not wrong…

Returning to monochrome strips, ‘Sgt. Rock – Special Air Service’ ferrets out Nazi infiltrators masquerading as American GIs before we switch back to fact for a photo-feature offering capacious coverage of modern British military might in ‘The Army Marches on its Wheels!’ whilst the comedy capers of ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ literally bring the house down when he gets the Hi Fi bug.

‘Casey and the Champ’ stars a veteran railroad man and his steam engine who here reveal in strip form the unlikely salvation of a played-out mining town as prelude to photo feature ‘Why Not Go by Balloon?’ before heading to 1804 where Regency prize-fighter Jim Trim stumbles upon a Napoleonic plot to conquer England in ‘Two Fists Against the World!’ (perhaps illustrated by Carlos Roume)…

Prose yarn ‘Carlos of the Wild Horses’ details the story of conquistadores imperilled by rebellious Aztecs and saved by the bond between the governor’s young son and a herd of mustangs and is followed by text fact-features ‘War Dogs’ – commemorating canines in combat – and ‘Atlantic Greyhounds’ explaining why the glory days of cruise liners had passed and why they could be built no bigger. Ah, the joys of schadenfreude and hindsight in action…

Next is a prose-&-photo precis current of movie release ‘The Train’(starring Burt Lancaster, but I’d never heard of it): a tale of Nazi collaboration and pursuit of transport of stolen art, followed by photo feature ‘When Nature Turns Nasty!’ before the incontestable star of Hurricane thunders in on a wave of colour illustration. ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’ is again despatched to aid his Earth chum Dr. Dan Morgan only to be overridden – and temporarily enslaved – by crazed would-be dictator General Zeb.

Sport next as ‘Hurry of the Hammers’ finds the football star in black-&-white and almost deprived of club and grounds by an unscrupulous new owner more interested in profit than the beautiful game. Historical factual strip ‘They Climbed… the Matterhorn’ then leads to a prose outing for the worst ship in the WWII navy. One again confounding the British Admiralty and escaping being broken up for parts in ‘HMS Outcast – Pride of the Fleet’ sees Geoff Campion’s unruly mob save the Pacific flotilla from destruction by the Japanese using ping pong balls and tomato sauce…

‘Typhoon Tracy’s Lucky Strike!’ finds the mighty moron in Alaska, battling bears, triggering a gold rush and helping an old friend stave off poverty, after which Giovanni Ticci employs duo-colour to limn a superbly light-hearted ‘Sword for Hire’ romp starring Cavalier soldier-of-fortune Hugo Dinwiddie who saves a fugitive king’s agent from capture even while acting as an unwilling substitute for a duellist.

Reverting to prose, ‘The Terrible Revenge of Dr. Parvo’ stars atomic accident survivors Ace Sutton and Flash Casey who use their journalistic skills and ability to walk through walls to stop a madman weaponizing weather, after which strip ‘Danger at Manakee Deep’ details a futuristic undersea habitat and resource factory endangered by greed and treachery.

‘Rodeo!’ traces the history of the sport with photos front the Calgary Stampede whilst monochrome strip ‘The Ragged Racer’ offers early environmental activism from its Wildman hero as he thwarts a circus’ scheme to destroy his mountainous animal preserve and gag page ‘It’s a Dog’s Laugh!’ brings us the text cover feature ‘R.A.F. to the Rescue’ outlining the history and activities of the coastal guardians.

The prose perseveres with adventure yarn ‘The Fiery Furnaces’ as two roving sportsmen accidentally dethrone a South American tyrant with delusions of grandeur (with illustrations by either Nevio Zaccara or Alfredo Giolitti) before ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ endure a calamitous bath night…

Sport was a major fascination of publishers at this time and ‘Soccer Special by The Ref’ opens an extended section of pictorial mini-features comprising ‘Famous Captains before they were Famous’, ‘Soccer Trophies Worth Winning’ and ‘Strange Things Happen in Soccer’ before we all ride off into the sunset, ending with comic strip masked cowboy ‘The Black Avenger’ who chases and then saves a “white magician” stirring up Indian tribes.

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1967

The Outer Limits Annual 1966


By Paul S. Newman(?) & Jack Sparling, & various (World Distributors {Manchester} Limited)
No ISBN. ASIN: B0042Q9PAE (HB)

British Comics have always fed heavily on other media and as television grew during the 1960s – especially the area of children’s shows and cartoons – those programmes increasingly became a staple source for the Seasonal Annual market. There would be a profusion of stories and strips targeting not readers but young viewers and more and more often the stars would be American not British.

Much of this stuff wouldn’t even be as popular in the USA as here, so whatever comic licenses existed usually didn’t provide enough material to fill a hardback volume ranging anywhere from 64 to 160 pages. Thus, many Annuals such as Daktari, Champion the Wonder Horse, Lone Ranger and a host of others required original material or, as a last resort, similarly-themed or related strips. That’s not the case here…

The Outer Limits launched in the USA on September 16th 1963, running until January 16th 1965: two seasons comprising 49 self-contained episodes of an anthological science fiction series with no returning stars where drama, suspense and uncanny situations beguiled paranoid, culturally shell-shocked audiences seeking a brief release from real-world threats like the Cold War and Cost of Living. Like contemporary rival show The Twilight Zone, it was sold all over the world and developed a fanatically devoted fanbase, thereby achieving a kind of immortality, with modern reboots and merchandising.

Comic book franchising specialist Gold Key produced a series of 18 issues spanning March 1964 to October 1969, running almost half a decade beyond the show’s cancellation (but presumably sustained by regional TV syndication). They were part of print monolith western Publishing whose Dell Comics, Gold Key, Big Little, Little Golden and Golden Press books for children were a staple of kids’ lives in America for decades.

Western Publishing was a major player since comics’ earliest days, blending a huge tranche of licensed material including newspaper strips, TV and Disney titles, (such as Nancy and Sluggo, Tarzan, or The Lone Ranger) with home-grown hits like Turok, Son of Stone and Magnus, Robot Fighter.

Their output was an ideal perfect source of material for British publishers whose regular audiences were profoundly addicted to TV and movie properties. For decades, Western’s comics from The Impossibles and Bugs Bunny to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Star Trek filled our Christmas treats and also slipped in some original character concepts.

“All Killer and No Filler”, this book – the second of two Outer Limits editions – was produced in a non-standard UK format, with full-colour for three American reprints and nothing else: no prose pieces, puzzles, games or fact-features on related themes. It looks and feels like it’s one from the wonderful Mick Anglo’s packaging company Gower Studios, however and I’m fairly certain the originals were scripted by prolific wonder Paul S. Newman (Dr. Solar, Man of the Atom, Space Family Robinson, Turok, The Lone Ranger)

There’s no doubt the illustrator was the uniquely stylish and equally prolific John Edmond “Jack” Sparling (Hap Hopper, Washington Correspondent, Claire Voyant, Doc Savage, Challengers of the Unknown, Unknown Soldier, Captain America) who in sterling fashion produced this trio of terrors…

‘The Dread Discovery’ debuted in quarterly issue #5 (April 1965) and is set in a NASA base where Peter Norton, with his pals Andy and Fred, accidentally shoot down a flying saucer with their model rocket. The kids’ parents all work on-base and are – eventually – delighted to meet the vessel’s occupant. FR-2 is a defector from his own people, arriving in advance of their invasion fleet and willing to give his life to save humanity…

The Outer Limits #6 (July 1965) recounted the saga of ‘The Mystery Moon’ wherein little Jim Burke is abducted by aliens when he exposes their seeming mission of mercy as a devious scheme to fling earth out of orbit. Luckily for humanity, the lad’s a lot smarter and more cunning than his kidnappers…

The brooding mystery and omnipresent menace conclude with ‘The Message from Space’ (#8, July 1966) as radio-astronomer Arthur Godderd decodes a communication from distant star 102 Beta and has his chemist chum Charles Dilling mix up the resulting formula. When sunlight hits the goo, it super-expands and attacks civilisation on multiple fronts. Seemingly unstoppable, the glob is only countered when all the previously warring nations on Earth act in unison in accordance with a crazy theory put forward by desperate Dr. Dilling…

Quirky but chilling, and always applying sound scientific principles to the most outlandish plot circumstances, this is a superb scare package for kids in the manner of Goosebumps and well worth a latter-day revisit.
© MCMLVX, MCMLVXI by Daystar-Villa Di Stefano-United Artists Television. All rights reserved throughout the world.

The Leopard from Lime St. Book One


By Tom Tully, Mike Western, Eric Bradbury & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 9-781-78108-597-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Superb All-Ages Entertainment and Adventure… 9/10

They – apart from lawyers – say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You can make your own mind up on that score if you seek out these quirky and remarkable vintage thrillers offering a wonderfully downbeat and sublimely British spin on a very familiar story…

Until the 1980s, comics in the UK were always based on the anthological model, offering variety of genre and character on a weekly or sometimes fortnightly basis. Primarily humorous periodicals like The Beano would be leavened by the Q-Bikes or General Jumbo and action papers like Lion, Valiant or Smash! included gag serials like Grimly Feendish, Mowser, The Nutts or a wealth of other laugh treats.

Buster seemed to offer the best of all worlds. Running 1902 issues from May 28th 1960 to 4th January 2000, it finely balanced drama, action and comedy, with its the earliest days – thanks to absorbing Radio Fun and Film Fun – heavy with celebrity-licensed material like Charlie Drake, Bruce Forsyth and Benny Hill or the eponymous cover star billed as “the son of (newspaper strip star) Andy Capp”. The comic became the final resting place of many, many companion papers in its lifetime, including The Big One, Giggle, Jet, Cor!, Monster Fun, Jackpot, School Fun, Nipper, Oink!and Whizzer & Chips, so the cumulative roster of strip content is wide, wild and often wacky…

At first glance, British comics prior to the advent of 2000AD seem to fall into fairly ironclad categories. Back then, you had genial and fantastic preschool fantasy, a large selection of adapted media properties, action, adventure, war and comedy strands. A closer look, though, would confirm that there was always a subversive merging, mixing undertone, especially in such antihero series as Dennis the Menace or our rather strained understanding of the concept of superheroes. Just check out The Spider or the early Steel Claw

We had dabbled with the classic form in the Batman-influenced 1960s and slightly beyond, but Tri-Man, Gadgetman, Johnny Future and the Phantom Viking remained uncomfortably off-kilter oddities. In the March 27th 1976 edition of Buster that all changed…

Now part of Rebellion Publishing’s line of British Comics Classics, The Leopard from Lime Street originally ran 470 episodes comprising 50 adventures until May 18th 1985 – and even later as colorized reprints and a wealth of foreign-language and overseas editions.

For most of that time it was a barely-legal knock-off of Marvel’s Spider-Man – with hints of DC Thomson’s Billy the Cat – as seen through a superbly English lens. It was also, however, utterly unmissable reading…

This first volume – available as large paperback (213 x 276 mm) or digital edition – was released in 2017 and reprints strips from Buster March 27th 1976 to June 11th 1977. The incredible stories are preceded by a superbly informative Introduction from comics historian and author Steve Holland ‘Behind the Mask’ before we head to the middle (or maybe north-ish) of England where in Selbridge, scrawny 13-year-old Billy Farmer is being bullied again: this time by the kids at school…

His abiding interests are journalism and photography and Billy publishes a school newspaper all by himself, probably to compensate for his home life. He lives with loving but frail Aunt Joan and vicious, indolent, work-shy and physically abusive Uncle Charlie who avoids work like the plague but is always ready to deliver a violent lesson with fist, boot or belt…

Life changes for Billy when he visits the Jarman Zoological Institute and is accidentally scratched by Sheba, an escaped leopard being treated with radioactive chemicals for an unspecified disease.

In the days before Health and Safety regulations or a culture of litigation, Billy is given a rapid once-over by the scientists in charge and declared fine before being sent home.

Only when Uncle Charlie tries to hit him and ends up thrown into the dustbins does Billy realise that something has changed: he now has the strength, speed, stamina and agility of a jungle cat as well as enhanced senses and a predator’s “danger-sense”…

Soon, he’s wearing a modified pantomime costume and prowling the dark streets and low rooftops, incurring the curiosity of Editor Thaddeus Clegg of the Selbridge Sun whilst ever-more confidant Billy sells news photos of the burglars, kidnappers and crooks the vigilante “leopardman” preys on. He’s also a dab hand at getting candid shots of the secluded celebrities no pro journo can get near…

School remains a nightmare of bullies and almost-exposure of Billy’s secret, but home life gets much better after the police identify Billy as being an official confidante of the cat creature even as Uncle Charlie is regularly brutalised by the feral fury in defence of his “friend”…

A major storyline sees the mystery prowler framed for arson and theft, but always Billy or the beast eventually clear the Leopard’s name and reputation. Moreover, the boy’s earnings – grudgingly paid by Clegg – start making life easier for Aunt Joan, while the beast’s constant proximity to Lime Street ensures Charlie keeps his outbursts verbal and his drunken fists unclenched…

All that almost ends when a crooked circus owner first tries to capture and exhibit the Leopardman and then creates his own inferior version, before earning a very painful object lesson. After crushing robbers, child abductors and a masked wrestler who all successively learn to fear the beast, the next challenges are even worse as a circus acrobat mimics the cat’s abilities to very publicly frame the Leopard for a string of crimes before a bullying classmate’s dad infiltrates the school trip to a stately home/safari park to pull off a million quid blag, leaving Billy trapped and accidentally reunited with his accidental creator Sheba.

Is that why his powers seem to be increasing beyond his ability to control them?…

Enthrallingly scripted by British comics superstar Tom Tully (Heros the Spartan; Janus Stark; Mytek the Mighty; Steel Claw; Adam Eterno; Johnny Red; Harlem Heroes; Roy of the Rovers) and collaboratively illustrated by British comics royalty Mike Western (Lucky Logan; No Hiding Place; Biggles; The Wild Wonders; Darkie’s Mob; The Sarge; HMS Nightshade; Jack O’Justice; The Avenger; Billy’s Boots; Roy of the Rovers) and Eric Bradbury (Mytek the Mighty; House of Dolmann; Maxwell Hawke; Cursitor Doom; Von Hoffman’s Invasion; Death Squad; Hook Jaw; Doomlord; Rogue Trooper; Invasion; Mean Arena; Tharg the Mighty and more) this moody pre-modern masterwork offers a fascinating insight into the slant a different culture can bring to as genre. The concept of a “real-life” superhero has never been more clearly explored than in these tales of the cat kid who survives not supervillains but a hard-knock life…
The Leopard from Lime Street ™ & © 1976, 1977, 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Catalyst


By Asia Alfasi, Charlotte Bailey, Jason Chuang, Dominique Duong, Catherine Anyango Grünewald, Shuning Ji, Pris Lemons, Sonia Leong, Calico N.M., Tyrell Osborne & Woodrow Phoenix, edited by Ayoola Solarin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-91142-402-7 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartfelt, Fantastic, Full-on and Unmissable… 8/10

At its best, the comics biz is companionable, collegiate, welcoming and wonderfully supportive. We all like to help each other along, especially if the end result is more and better stories for all. That even extends to the publishing and managerial arena, as seen here with this anthology of tales resulting from SelfMadeHero’s 2021 Graphic Anthology Programme, which was set up to tutor and mentor emergent talent from diverse backgrounds. The first intake were all people of colour and the broadest range of backgrounds and life experience.

As explained in the introductory Editor and Publisher’s Letter by Ayoola Solarin & Emma Hayley preceding 11 extremely enthralling pictorial yarns, this tome results from a 12-week training course, for which seven participants and their assigned mentors produced many 8-page graphic short stories based on a specific theme: “Catalyst”.

The phenomenally far-ranging works are subdivided into ‘Dissolution’, ‘Reaction’ and ‘Repercussion’, with the entire catalogue of imaginative wonders bookended by extensive biographies of the creators, mentors and Editorial Team.

Dissolution opens with a chilling view of the potential pitfalls of video conferencing in Catherine Anyango Grünewald’s ‘The Host’, after which Shuning Ji reveals horrors hidden in ‘The Camera’ and Jason Chuang offers a disturbing view of public transport interactions in truly disturbing vignette ‘The Guessing Game’.

Tyrell Osborne then wraps up the openers with a quiet stroll through a very off-kilter London and some introspective dilemmas satisfactorily solved in ‘Same Tall Tale’

Under the aegis of Reaction, Pris Lemons indulges some internal investigation in party tale ‘Orbital Decay’ whilst Sonia Leong shares her love of manga and search for creative camaraderie and approval in ‘Just Like Me’. Calico N.M. then whimsically explores natal wonders and fantastic beasts in ‘Because I’ve Got All Of You’ before we move on to final revelations in Repercussion.

Dominique Duong sets the ball rolling as ‘One Small Thing’ chillingly exposes the monster within, before Asia Alfasi beguiles with an Arabian tale of traditional versus hereditary storytelling gifts in ‘Happily Never After’ after which Charlotte Bailey amazes and amuses with a mesmerising love affair and marriage of ultimate opposites in ‘Cetea & Clay’.

Concluding on a true high, the small sagas cease with ‘Convolute’ by the inimitable Woodrow Phoenix, revealing how the true saviours and secret stars of the 1960s space race was a team of seamstresses led by forgotten black hero Hazel Fellows

Offering a hand up or a way in is something we can all do, and the rewards are enormous and never-ending. When it also results in superb storytelling and the first full flexing of creative mettle its practically a civil duty to encourage more.

Do that. Buy this.
All stories and artwork © their respective creators. All rights reserved.

Sour Pickles


By Clio Isadora (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-63-9 (TPB)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Peep at How the Other Half Works… 8/10

There are countless reasons to draw and even more to tell stories. For an increasing number of talented folk the primary motivations are curiosity and therapy. When combined with ruthless honesty, creative boldness and a sense of whimsy the results can be instructional for the author, and hugely entertaining for those of us privileged to be coming along for the ride.

Clio Isadora has drawn remorselessly but with sublime care and attention on her rather extraordinary life for her risograph minicomics such as Damp Candy, Soiled Fantasies, Is It Vague in Other Dimensions? and others, and in her first full graphic novel, takes those shared observations to a new level of humour and poignancy by revisiting her final year as a student at prestigious Central St Martins art school.

Like most slice-of-life sagas – no matter how well or judiciously curated – the true joy is in experiencing it unfold, so the précis portion of this review is deliberately meagre…

Pickles Yin doesn’t have the financial resources of her rich, posh, fancy art school classmates. She’s got by so far on talent, drive, hard work, bursaries, frazzled nerves, frantic overreactions and few true friends. Now the final year and big show are looming and beyond that the gaping unknowns of adult life and a career.

Unlike almost everyone else she knows, though, Pickles can’t rely on the buffers and comfort zone of parents, money and connections if she fails. Or even decide on what kind of job she wants if she gets through the year. She’s drowning and floundering and in a panic, when her pal Radish suggests what would help her get by and even the odds is some pharmaceutical enhancement…

Witty, fraught, heartwarming and quite frankly a bit scary – my days in art school in the heyday of Punk were filled with fun, excess, budding pop stars and a complete dearth of career pressure – Sour Pickles is a fabulously wry and subtle examination of mental health, the unexpected legacies of parental prejudices and the crushing pressure of modern living.

Recommended for anybody wondering about the “road not taken”…
© Clio Isadora, 2021

White Death


By Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-632151-42-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unmissable and Unforgettable… 9/10

More than a century after the conflict ended, the First World War still has a terrifying grip on public consciousness and remains culturally relevant.

For years I’ve been declaring that Charley’s War is the best story about the Great War ever created but while I remain convinced of that fact, there are plenty of strong contenders for the title and it’s always worth seeking out fresh viewpoints and visualisations. This particular moody masterpiece originally emerged as kind of transcontinental self-published venture by writer Robbie Morrison (Nikolai Dante; Judge Dredd; Doctor Who; Batman) and illustrator Charlie Adlard (Judge Dredd; X Files; Astronauts in Trouble; Batman; The Walking Dead) who initially crafted the international bestseller under the guise of Les Cartoonistes Dangereux in 1998.

It was subsequently rereleased in 2002 by AiT/Planet Lar before becoming this luxurious hardback and digital tome in 2014. It presents a stunning and moving saga of a largely overlooked theatre of that conflict and offers in addition commentary; biographies; a short vignette created as a prelude to the main story and used as a promotional device in French comics magazine Bo Dois, plus a feature detailing the process from original script to finished art. This last is a particularly fascinating inclusion as illustrator Adlard devised a whole new way of delivering comics narrative for the story…

The tale itself is simple and straightforward: based on truly horrific events during what was known as “the White War” and fully contextualised in Morrison’s introductory notes.

It’s 1916 and on the Italian Front, the war against the forces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (allied with Germany) is as stalled, tedious and horrifically murderous as the trench warfare in France and Belgium, even though it’s being fought across the Alighieri plateau in the mountains of Trentino.

Added to the usual horrors of the conflict are crushing cold, constant mist, fog and snow and the extreme likelihood of being crushed and smothered once the bright sparks shelling each other realise they can also trigger avalanches just by aiming a little bit higher…

Into this mess trudges new recruit Pietro Aquasanta. He grew up in these mountains, but sees little to engender fond feelings or happy memories. Firstly, his status is suspect since he used to soldier for the other side, thanks to the Empire’s conscription policies and the Allies’ habit of taking absolutely anybody – even enemy combatants – who can point a gun.

Secondly, even though he’s now an Italian fighting for his homeland, most of Aquasanta’s comrades are fools, the generals are callous idiots and his immediate superior – sergeant major Orsini – is a fanatical war-loving bastard who will do anything to keep the killing going. Still and all, even solitary outsiders like Pietro can’t help seeking companionship when life is so visibly brief and death looms over everything like a million-ton white shroud…

And as the campaign progresses the turncoat advances simply by not dying…

Leavened through mordant trench humour (I guess the clue is in the name), peppered with painfully human moments of tragedy or unwavering friendship and capturing the numbing horror of ceaseless struggle against the elements, environment, other humans and one’s own self-destructive demons, White Death is a compelling comics classic to be savoured and shared.
© 2014 Robbie Morrison & Charlie Adlard. All rights reserved.