Stabbed in the Front – Post-War General Elections through Political Cartoons

By Dr. Alan Mumford (Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature, U of K, Canterbury)
ISBN: 978-1-90267-120-8

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow

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

In Britain the cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. This gloriously informative book (sponsored by the marvellous Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature, University of Kent at Canterbury), offers a fantastic overview of political adaptability and cultural life as Britain moved from Empire to mere Nationhood in the latter half of the 20th century, examined through General Elections and the wealth of cunningly contrived images and pictorial iconography they provoked and inspired. It’s one of my favourite things ever and crucially in need of updating and re-release…

After an effusive Foreword by professional politician and celebrated cartoon aficionado (the Rt. Hon.) Lord Kenneth Baker of Dorking, author Alan Mumford – a specialist in management training – covers the basic semiology and working vocabulary of the medium in his copious Introduction.

Designating definitions and terms for his splendid treatise, he subdivides the territory into ‘Origins’, ‘Criteria for Selection’, ‘Newspapers and Magazines’, ‘The Longevity of Political Cartoonists’, ‘References, Symbols and Metaphors’, ‘The Impact of Cartoons on General Elections’ and ‘Savagery in Political Cartoons’ as a very effective foundation course in how to best contextualise and appreciate the plethora of carefully crafted mass-market messages which follow.

The format is extremely ergonomic and effective. Thus, Philip Zec’s iconic cartoon and caption/slogan “Here You Are. Don’t Lose it Again!” begins the Great Endeavour with historical background in The Run-up to the General Election of 1945, followed by Election Issues and the 1945 Campaign, Major Personalities of the 1945 General Election, Results of… and finally a nominated “Cartoonist of the Election” whose work most captured the spirit of, or affected the outcome of, a particular contest.

This methodology then proceeds to efficiently and comprehensively recreate the tone of each time, augmented whenever possible by a personal interview or remembrance from one of the campaigners involved. These telling vignettes include contributions from Frank Pakenham/Lord Longford, Barbara Castle, Edward Heath, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Kenneth Baker again, Jim Callaghan, Jim Prior, Margaret Thatcher, David Steel, Norman Tebbit, John Major and Tony Blair

Each fact-packed, picture-filled chapter then dissects every succeeding campaign: 1950’s tame ‘Consolidation not Adventure’ which resulted in Labour and Clement Attlee’s second victory by the narrowest – practically unworkable – of margins, Churchill’s resurgence in 1951 as ‘The Grand Old Man Returns’ and a slow steady decline in fortunes and growth of a New Politics as Anthony Eden’s star rose for the 1955 General Election when ‘The Crown Prince Takes Over’

In an era of international unrest Harold McMillan eventually rose to become Tory top gun and in 1959 was ‘Supermac Triumphant’, but domestic troubles – race, unionism and the always struggling economy – wore away his energies. In a minor coup, he was ousted and Sir Alec Douglas Home took over mid-term, consequently losing to glib, charismatic new Labour leader Harold Wilson.

This entire era is one of aged and infirm Big Beasts passing away suddenly with too many lesser lights to succeed them; further complicated by both Labour and Conservative parties rent by infighting and jockeying for position with wannabe upstarts such as the Liberals cruising the room looking to pick up what scraps they could (so it’s not a new thing, OK?).

In 1966 “Labour Government Works” took Labour to a second term but social turmoil in the country, with unions demands spiralling out of control, enabled Edward Heath to lead the Conservatives into the most dangerous and turbulent decade in modern British history. The General Election of 1970 proved ‘Wilson Complacent, Heath Persistent’

There were two General Elections in 1974.

A massive ongoing crisis in industrial relations and the growing racial tension caused by maverick Tory Enoch Powell’s continual cries to “end Immigration or face rivers of blood in the streets” forced Prime Minister Heath to ask in February ‘Who Governs Britain?’ He was informed by the disaffected electorate “Not you, mate.”

Even though Wilson and Labour were returned to power, the majority was miniscule and by October the people were compelled to do it all again and ‘Vote for Peace and Quiet’.

Although he’d again narrowly led them to victory, Wilson’s time was done and he abruptly resigned in 1976 to be replaced by deputy Jim Callaghan.

Heath too was reduced to the ranks and relegated to the Tory Back Benches, replaced by a rising star from Finchley. As Britain staggered under terrifying economic woes in 1979, Callaghan called an election and lost to Margaret Thatcher who had famously said “No Woman in My Time” would ever be Prime Minister. I think that was the last time she ever admitted to being wrong…

Despite horrifying and sustained assaults on the fabric of British society – and great unpopularity – she enjoyed two more election victories: in 1983 “The Longest Suicide Note in History” and again in 1987 as ‘Thatcher Moves Forward’ before finally being turned on by her own bullied and harried Cabinet.

The best political cartooning comes from outrage, and the Tory administrations of the 1980’s provided one bloated, bile-filled easy mark after another. Just look at TV’s Spitting Image which grew fat and healthy off that government’s peccadilloes, indignities and iniquities (as well as Reagan’s America and the Royal Family) in just the way that millions of unemployed and disenfranchised workers, students and pensioners didn’t. The election cartoons reproduced here from that period come from a largely Tory Press, and whilst contextualised and accurate don’t approach the level of venom she engendered in certain sections.

For a more balanced view one should also see Plunder Woman Must Go! by Alan Hardman, Drain Pig and the Glow Boys in Critical Mess, You are Maggie Thatcher: a Dole-Playing Game or even Father Kissmass and Mother Claws by Bel Mooney & Gerald Scarfe, not to mention any collection of the excoriating Steve Bell’s If…

In 1992, the only thing stopping a Labour landslide was the party itself, which had so dissolved into factional infighting and ideological naval-gazing that not even the fiery oratory of Welsh Wizard Neil Kinnock could pull them together. Once again, however, the newspapers claimed the credit when Tory consensus/concession leader John Major pulled off a surprising ‘Triumph of the Soapbox?’

That Labour Landslide had to wait until 1997 and the ‘Teeth and Sleaze’ of Tony Blair (although at that time we all thought the latter term only applied to corrupt Tory MPs selling parliamentary time and attention to business interests) which brings this incredibly appealing tome to a close. I said it before and I’m saying it again: since then a whole lot has happened and I think its long past time for a new, revised and updated edition…

As well as making addictively accessible over half a century of venal demagoguery, hard work, murky manipulations, honest good intentions and the efforts of many men and women moved in equal parts by dedication and chicanery, this oversized monochrome tome is also literally stuffed with the best work some of the very best cartoonists ever to work in these Sceptred Isles.

The art, imagination, passion and vitriol of Abu, Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Dave Brown, Michael Cummings, Eccles, Emmwood, Stanley Franklin, George Gale, Nick Garland, the Davids Gaskill and Ghilchik, Les Gibbard, Charles Griffin, Graham High, Leslie Illingworth, Jak, John Jensen, Jon, Kal, David Low, Mac, Mahood, Norman Mansbridge, Sidney Moon, Bill Papas, Chris Riddell, Paul Rigby, Rodger, Stephen Roth, Martin Rowson, Willie Rushton, Peter Schrank, Ernest Shepard, Ralph Steadman, Sidney Strube, Trog, Vicky, Keith Waite, Zec and Zoke are timeless examples of the political pictorialist’s uncanny power and, as signs of the times, form a surprising effecting gestalt of the never happy nation’s feeling and character…

None of that actually matters now, since these cartoons have performed the task they were intended for: shaping the thoughts and intentions of generations of voters. That they have also stood the test of time and remain as beloved relics of a lethal art form is true testament to their power and passion, but – to be honest and whatever your political complexion – isn’t it just a guilty pleasure to see a really great villain get one more good kicking?

Stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering tastes of comic art no fan could resist, this colossal collection is a beautiful piece of cartoon history that will delight and tantalise all who read it… and it’s still readily available through the University of Kent’s website…
© 2001. Text © 2001 Alan Mumford. All illustrations © their respective holders or owners. All rights reserved.

The Steel Claw: The Vanishing Man


By Ken Bulmer & Jesús Blasco (Titan Books)

ISBN: 978-1-84576-156-1 (HB)

So, I’ve just pulled an all-nighter to finish my latest book by deadline—an obsessive point of pride with me that will kill me someday soon—and I’m buzzing like a bucket of angry bees. So, too tired to sleep yet, I reach for one of my favourite books to mellow out and wonder again why the hell hasn’t this been rereleased or made available digitally. And why no follow-up releases? Surely, sheer quality must count for something?

One of the most fondlyremembered British strips of all time is the startlingly beautiful Steel Claw. From 1962 to 1973 the stunningly gifted Jesús Blasco and his small studio of family members thrilled the nation’s children, illustrating the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, secret agent and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell.

Initially written by science fiction novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by comic veteran Tom Tully.

Our eventual hero began as the assistant to the venerable Professor Barringer, working to create a germdestroying ray. Crandell is an embittered man, probably due to having lost his right hand, which has been replaced with a steel prosthetic. When the prof’s device explodes, Crandell receives a monumental electric shock which, rather than killing him, renders him invisible. Although he doesn’t stay unseen forever, this bodily transformation is permanent. Electric shocks cause all but his steel hand to disappear.

Kids, don’t try this at home!

Whether venal or simply deranged, Crandell goes on a rampage of terror against society,culminating in an attempt to blow up New York City before finally coming to his senses. The second adventure in this astounding oversized hardback volume pits the Claw against his therapist, who in an attempt to treat him is also exposed to Barringer’s ray, becoming a bestial ape-man who frames Crandell for a series of spectacular crimes.

Bulmer’s final tale begins our star’s shift from outlaw to hero as the recuperating Crandell becomes involved in a modernday pirate’s scheme to hijack an undersea weapons system

More than any other, the Steel Claw was a barometer for reading fashions. Starting out as a Quatermass style science fiction cautionary tale, the strip mimicked the trends of the greater world, becoming a James Bond-like super-spy strip with Crandall tricked out with outrageous gadgets, and latterly a masked and costumed super-doer when Batmania gripped the nation. When that bubble burst, he resorted to becoming a freelance adventurer,combating eerie menaces and vicious criminals.

The thrills of the writing are engrossing enough, but the real star of this feature is the artwork. Blasco’s classicist drawing, his moody staging and the sheer beauty of his subjects make this an absolute pleasure to look at. Buy it for the kids and read it too; this is a glorious book.

So, track it down and agitate for more of the same…

© 2005 IPC Media Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mort: A Discworld Big Comic

By Terry Pratchett & Graham Higgins (VG Graphics/Gollancz)
ISBN: 978-0-57505-697-8 (HB)                    978-0-57505-699-2 (PB)

Us old codgers have always maintained that a good comic needs a good artist and this superb adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s fourth Discworld novel proves that point.

Just in case you’ve been living on another world: The Discworld is a flat planet supported on the backs of four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle swimming across the universe. Magic works there and the people are much too much like us.

This, of course, makes it an ideal location for spleen-venting, satire, slapstick and social commentary…

Scripted by the so-very-much-missed author and brilliantly illustrated by Graham Higgins, it tells a complex and darkly witty tale of Death (big grim chap, carries a scythe, nobody gets his jokes, always has the last laugh) and hapless, literal-minded, sort-of-useless young oaf Mort, whom he hires as his apprentice.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it, with sub-plots including an orphaned princess and her dangerously ambitious guardian, Death’s vacation, the daughter he adopted and the mystery of his most peculiar servant Albert to season a very impressive spin on a very familiar myth.

Higgin’s light, dry touch adds volumes of texture to the mix, and his deft sense of timing and comedy pacing – reminiscent of Hunt Emerson – marvellously match Pratchett’s unmistakable, acerbic dialogue and plot.

Incomprehensibly unavailable digitally and only physically in editions from the last century, if you have to have adaptations of great novels, this is how they should be done.
Text © 1994 Terry and Lyn Pratchett. Illustrations © 1994 Graham Higgins. All Rights Reserved

El Mestizo

By Alan Hebden & Carlos Ezquerra (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-657-5

The world lost one of its most lost revered and distinguished comics artists this year in the form of multinational super-star Carlos Ezquerra. Thankfully, his work lives on and even previously ignored early works are at last making their way onto bookshelves, with new collections such as this recent release from Rebellion’s superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics.

Carlos Sanchez Ezquerra was born in Aragon on November 12th 1947. Growing up in Ibdes, in the Province of Zaragoza, he began his career illustrating war stories and westerns for Spain’s large but poorly-paying indigenous comics industry. In 1973 he got a British agent (Barry Coker: a former sub-editor on Super Detective Library who formed Bardon Press Features with Spanish artist Jorge Macabich) and joined a growing army of European and South American illustrators providing content for British weeklies, Specials and Annuals.

Carlos initially worked on Girls’ Periodicals like Valentine and Mirabelle and more cowboys for Pocket Western Library as well as assorted adventure strips for DC Thomson’s The Wizard. The work proved so regular that the Ezquerras upped sticks and migrated to Croydon…

In 1974 Pat Mills and John Wagner tapped him to work on IPCs new Battle Picture Weekly, where he drew (Gerry Finley-Day’s) Rat Pack, and later Major Eazy, scripted by Alan Hebden. In 1977 he was asked to design a new character called Judge Dredd for a proposed science fiction anthology. Due to creative disputes, Carlos left the project and went back to Battle to draw a gritty western named El Mestizo

As we all know, Carlos did return to 2000AD, drawing Dredd, dozens of spin-offs such as Al’s Baby, Strontium Dog (1978), Fiends of the Eastern Front (1980), Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat adaptations and key Dredd storylines such as the epic Apocalypse War and Necropolis.

Soon after Ezquerra was “discovered” by America and I’ll carry on the eulogy there when I review Just a Pilgrim or Preacher or some other mature reader material that really let the artist shine…

Carlos had moved to Andorra where he died of lung cancer on October 1st this year. His last published Dredd work appeared in 2000AD #2023 (March 2017), forty years after his first piece there…

Here, however, it’s time to appreciate him in his bold, bad-ass prime, detailing the brief but vivid exploits of a black hero in the wrongest of places at the most inconvenient of times…

El Mestizo debuted amidst a plethora of British-based war features and didn’t last long – June 4th to 17th September 1977 – with original author Alan Hebden giving you his take on why in a concise Introduction before the action begins.

Heavily leaning on Sergio Leone “spaghetti westerns”, the first starkly monochrome episode (of 16) introduces a half-black, half Mexican bounty hunting gunfighter who offers his formidable services to both the Union and Confederate sides in the early days of the War between the States.

Proficient with blades, pistols, long guns and a deadly bola, El Mestizo plays both sides while hunting truly evil men, whether they be Southern raiders, out of control Northern marauders, treacherous Indian scouts, an army of deserters from all sides organised by a crazy, vengeful femme fatale or even a demented physician seeking to end the war by releasing plague in Washington DC.

Along the way, the mercenary even finds time to pay off a few old scores from his days as a starved and beaten plantation slave…

Sadly, the feature was always a fish out of water and was killed before it could truly develop, but the artwork is staggeringly powerful and delivers the kind of cathartic punch that never gets old.

This stunning hardback (and eBook) package is another nostalgia-punch from Battle collecting a truly seminal experience and, hopefully forging a new, untrodden path for fans of the grittily compelling in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This recovered gem is one of the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: acerbic, action-packed and potently rendered: another superb example of what British and European sensibilities do best. Try it and see…
© 1977 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. Black Max and all related characters, their distinctive likenesses and related elements are ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Follyfoot Annual 1973

By anonymous, illustrated by Mike Noble & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0138-6

The Follyfoot review was scheduled to run on Christmas Day as part of our annual Annual feature but when news reached us of the death of Mike Noble we decided to retool it and put it somewhere where it could stand on its own.

Mike Noble was born in South Woodford, attended a technical art school in Walthamstow and, after graduating in 1946 and attending St. Martins School of Art, worked as an advertising junior for a firm in Holborn. Called up in 1949, he served with the 8th Royal Tank Regiment in North Yorkshire. During a follow-up three-year stint with the Territorial Army he drew graphics of military hardware.

In the early 1950’s he joined Leslie Caswell at Cooper’s Studio in Oxford Street, learning the sleek, slick techniques of magazine illustration for the likes of Woman’s Own, John Bull, the Birmingham Weekly Post and others.

In 1953 he landed his first comics strip: Simon and Sally for Hulton Press’ Robin. He went full freelance in 1956 and by 1958 was tackling lead features like The Lone Ranger and Tonto for TV-themed Express Weekly and Range Rider for TV Comic.

He was a mainstay of TV Century 21 as Gerry Anderson shows took Britain and the world by storm, illustrating with stunning vividness Fireball XL5, Zero X and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. As fads came and went, he proved equally compelling on Star Trek and Joe 90.

His gift for capturing likeness and staging dynamic action made him indispensable as licensed comics dominated UK publications and moving on Look-In (a “junior TV Times” produced by Independent Television Publications) he drew Timeslip, The Tomorrow People, The Famous Five, Kung Fu, The Freewheelers, Robin of Sherwood, Worzel Gummidge, Space: 1999 and others. A huge fan and master of equestrian art, two of Mike’s favourites were The Adventures of Black Beauty and Follyfoot.

Although largely retired from comics since the 1980’s, he kept his hand in – especially during periodic Anderson revivals – and was working on a new Captain Scarlet project when he died on November 15th this year.

Follyfoot was a joint British/West German co-production that aired between 28th June 1971 and 15th September 1973. It was inspired by the Monica Dickens novel Cobbler’s Dream (1963) and its broadcast success prompted her to write four more books between 1972 and 1976.

The series for young teens was set in contemporary North Yorkshire and featured the tribulations of a rest home/sanctuary for horses with clean cut youngsters and their hard-pressed elders keeping barely solvent whilst addressing social issues of the time. When the feature was adapted in Look-In Mike Noble produced some of the most impressive and inspirational art of his career, superbly augmented by top-of-the-line colour printing.

Sadly, that’s not available here, but even so, the strips by the master are bursting with power, grace and authenticity.

The Annual opens with a page reprinting the show’s theme lyrics ‘The Lightning Tree’ after which full-colour strip ‘Odds Against the Favourite’ finds our heroine Dora targeted by crooked bookies as she tries to win a local race and pay off the farm’s latest debts…

‘Storybook Steeds’ then recounts the legends of a quintet of historic horse heroes, before ‘Statues with a Story’ offers a photo feature on famous equine art and ‘Davy’s daring rescue’ sees a new four-footed arrival earn his oats despite being old and blind…

A directory of famous breeds follows in ‘All Kind of Horses’, after which a quiz on ‘Horse Sense’ and a page of ‘Horsing About’ gags segues neatly into another dazzling Noble effort as Dora finds ‘The Mystery Mare’ on the moors and seeks out its negligent owner…

Aging family retainer Slugger’s birthday leads to Dora finding welcome work for an old dray horse and his destitute owner in ‘Mystery at Follyfoot’, after which a cheery diagram aids ‘Getting to Know Your Horse’ and ‘Horseback Holidays’ reveals the long-abandoned joys of kids vacationing on their unsupervised own. More fact features follow: a review of blacksmithing and the farrier’s art in ‘A Country Craftsman’ and another quiz ‘Straight from the Horse’s Mouth’

When Dora and Steve find a frantic mare ‘Lost in the Snow’ it all leads to a big crisis and joyous event before military steeds are acclaimed in ‘Horses from History’, while ‘Stable Record-Breakers’ share some unlikely facts about Man’s other best friend and ‘This is your Lucky Day’ traces the superstitions connected to horseshoes.

Boardgame ‘Gymkhana at Follyfoot Farm’ leads into the truth behind many traditional songs in ‘Horse Rhymes and Reasons’ before Noble’s big finish finds our northern heroes going all cowboy for a good cause in ‘The Wild West Riding’ before this lost treat concludes with a quirkily illustrated final fact file on ‘The History of the Horse’.

Although the annual itself has a certain allure, the main point about this book is that it typifies a problem we have in British comics. Because – I presume – of rights and copyrights issues, there is a wealth of stunning and important comics material that remains in limbo, simply because no prospective publisher thinks it’s worthy of the legal hassles of resurrection.

Surely the likes of Mike Noble, Ron Embleton and their illustrious ilk are a big enough draw that we can find some way of collecting and reprinting their unseen works?
© 1972 Yorkshire Television Ltd.

Merry Christmas, Boys and Girls!

In keeping with my self-imposed Holiday tradition here’s another pick of British Annuals selected not just for nostalgia’s sake but because it’s my house and my rules…

After decades when only American comics and memorabilia were considered collectable or worthy, the resurgence of interest in home-grown material means there’s lots more of this stuff available and if you’re lucky enough to stumble across a vintage volume or modern facsimile, I hope my words convince you to expand your comfort zone and try something old yet new…

Still topping my Xmas wish-list is further collections from fans and publishers who have begun to rescue this magical material from print limbo in (affordable) new collections…

Great writing and art is rotting in boxes and attics or the archives of publishing houses, when it needs to be back in the hands of readers once again. As the tastes of the reading public have never been broader and since a selective sampling of our popular heritage will always appeal to some part of the mass consumer base, let’s all continue rewarding publishers for their efforts and prove that there’s money to be made from these glorious examples of our communal childhood.

The Dandy Monster Comic (Dandy Annual 1939 Special Facsimile Edition)

By Many and various (DC Thomson & Co/Aurum Press)
ISBN: 978-1- 84513-217-0

This one’s actually older than me – at least in its original incarnation…

Until it folded and was 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 traditional 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 eight months later (on July 30th 1938) by The Beano and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

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

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941 only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949…

As of this grand festive feast however that’s all in the future. Here, masterfully restored, is a treasure trove of joyous pranks and all-ages adventure to delight and enthral. It should be noted however, that all this buffoonery and jolly japery was crafted at a time socially far-removed from our own, and there are some terms and racial depictions that wouldn’t be given houseroom in today’s world. That was then, this is now, and that’s another thing you can be grateful for…

It all opens in classis DCT manner with the entire cast chowing down to a monumental feast – a staple reward of those leaner, impoverished times – before James Crichton’s ‘Korky the Cat’ kicks things off with spot of calamitous dockside fishing after which ‘Jimmy and his Grockle’ – a kind of Doberman dragon – foils a dognapping ring. Illustrated by James Clark, the strip was recycled from prose “Boys Paper” The Rover (where it was “Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle” in 1932).

Most pages come with riddles, jokes or single panel gags and many of the strips are delivered in the signature two colour process that typifies British Annuals and as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists are credited. As always, I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

The prolific Allan Morley then details how ‘Keyhole Kate’ falls foul of a burglar and cowboy superman ‘Desperate Dan’ – by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins – braves harsh winter clime, before Morley’s ‘Freddy the Fearless Fly’ thwarts a human bully and thrashes a predatory spider.

These colossal tomes were all about variety and value for money and next up is a heavily-illustrated prose story enthrallingly detailing the feudal adventure of young shepherd-boy Gingan’s dragon-slaying quest with magical weapon ‘The Sword of Crad’ after which wandering tramp ‘Barney Boko’ comes a-cropper after defacing public property in a wordless strip from John R. Mason.

As depicted by the superb Eric Roberts, ‘Podge’s Frame-Up’ sees the junior entrepreneur confusing art galleries with glaziers whilst nattily-dressed ‘Archie the Ape’ deals with a hungry lion and ‘Smarty Grandpa’ (by Watkins and a double for strip veteran Pa Broon) has a racially-charged moment at a minstrel show before anthropomorphic tortoise ‘Dan the Night-watchman’ confronts a gang of thieving rats…

‘The Boy that Beat the Band’ is another prose drama (illustrated by Fred Sturrock?) with a young orphan acrobat saving a disabled boy and rewarded with his heart’s desire – a job – after which Jack Glass’ text-block and pic strip ‘The Daring Deeds of Buck Wilson’ sees the singing cowboy battle kidnappers before the animal antics in ‘Bamboo Town’ see daring duo Bongo and Pongo organise a therapeutic gymnasium in a typically busy romp limned by Charlie Gordon.

Sam Fair’s ‘Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids’ were prank-playing Red Indian lads who here trick the Big Chief into baiting a bear before ‘Flippy the Sea Serpent’ – by Frank Minnitt – settles the hash of a snooty octopus whilst Smarty Grandpa fails to steal a pie…

Boneless Bill was a long-running but sadly anonymous strip starring an affable contortionist. Here he astounds an army recruiting officer before ‘Marmaduke Mean the Miser’ pays painfully for stealing a little lad’s Dandy comic before ‘Hungry Horace’ (Morley) finds his appetite briefly diminished after illicitly tapping the wrong barrel and a cunning old codger prevents a mugging in ‘Old Beaver’s Brainwaves’.

‘Wee Tusky’ was long-running prose feature and here the baby elephant’s propensity for trouble leads to deadly danger but secures him a human friend in the end, after which Roberts’ ‘Helpful Henry’ adjusts seating arrangements despite his history of calamitous consequences just as pompous (idiot) detective ‘Trackem Down’ botches another “case”…

Korky the Cat masters the fundamentals of golf whilst Jimmy and his Grockle find fun – and bananas – at the docks, after which Keyhole Kate’s snooping drenches a helpful bystander and Desperate Dan proves that building sites can be dangerous places… at least for other people…

After another get-rich-quick scheme from Podge, sausage-snaffling ‘Dipper the Dodger’ falls foul of the law. Probably drawn by James Jewell, Dipper is a dead ringer for Beano and The People’s Journal cartoon stalwart Wee Peem (“He’s a Proper Scream”), so there might have been some cross-pollination back then.

Freddy the Fearless Fly turns arsonist to escape a spider’s trap before Helpful Henry learns the perils of electricity, after which Jimmy Denton tries rodeo riding to save the ranch with the invaluable assistance of ‘White Star’s Star Turn’ in a prose thriller that leads seamlessly to Podge setting up his own postal service before ‘Bobby, the Boy Scout’ goes too far in his scheme to help a hobo…

Boneless Bill artfully apprehends a thief and Archie the Ape find busking hazardous to health, whilst Hungry Horace loses his lunch to a quick-witted sprinter, but savvy navies ‘Nick & Nack’ find a smart way to keep the cops from confiscating their grub.

Interfering busybodies Bobby, the Boy Scout and Helpful Henry both get it wrong again, after which we head west to see Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids prank their dad yet again even as Desperate Dan falls asleep in the park but still causes chaos

‘Willing Willie and his Pa’ experience decorating woes before we revisit the days of the Raj in prose thriller ‘Pam the Peace-Maker’ wherein a little girl prevents an outbreak of war after which Helpful Henry confuses radio and electric irons and Korky triumphs over a tiger when he goes on safari.

Jimmy and his Grockle clash violently with shopkeepers and Old Beaver’s Brainwaves sees the gamey geezer getting back at the thug who pinched his job after which itinerant Barney Boko pays through the nose for watching football without a ticket.

Dipper the Dodger meets a theatrical strongman and the Bamboo-Town boys convene a swimming class that would certainly have benefitted ‘Sandy Starfish, the Shipwrecked Sailor’ before Fred Sturrock illustrates a prose battle of wits between stubborn old men in ‘The House that Jack the Joker Built’.

More musical mayhem from Archie the Ape precedes Hungry Horace outwitting municipal bylaws in search of a big scoff, even as Podge dupes another crowd of sensation hungry oafs and Helpful Henry wrecks a house before it’s even built: a trick even Desperate Dan can’t match, even if he wasn’t so thirsty…

Mini vignettes for Podge, Barney Boko and Boneless Bill lead into a riotous schoolboy romp in prose – probably illustrated by George Ramsbottom – that I want you to be grown up about. ‘Invisible Dick Spoofs the Spoofer’ is a smart tale from a venerable feature that ran in The Rover for years and when he turns the tables on a cruel stage magician humiliating his school chums you should be proud and not titter or snigger…

A rapid-fire tranche of cartoon antics, starring Bobby the Boy Scout, Podge, Marmaduke Mean the Miser, Flippy the Sea Serpent, Boneless Bill and Willing Willie and his Pa, lead us to another text tale as animal-raised orphan ‘Buffalo Boy’ discovers toffee and begins his slow march back to civilisation…

From here it’s cartoon strip all the way with Korky, Keyhole Kate, Freddy the Fearless Fly, Helpful Henry, Wig and Wam the Skookum Kids, Smarty Grandpa and Dipper the Dodger all doing what they do best before Bamboo-Town brings down the curtain as Bongo and Pongo build an all-animal skating rink…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this facsimile edition 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 for a half-day to run amok once again.

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.

Valiant Annual 1968

By Many & various (Fleetway)

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press.

Created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP perpetually sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as commercial 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 ilk.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its other rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American 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 the early successes of Marvel comics 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 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).

Valiant was conceived as a “Boys’ Paper” in 1962 as the indigenous comics industry struggled to cope with a sudden importation of brash, flashy, full-colour comics from America. A weekly anthology concentrating on adventure features and offering a constantly changing arena of action, the magazine was the company’s most successful title for over a decade: absorbing many less successful periodicals between its launch and eventual amalgamation into new-styled, hugely popular Battle Picture Weekly in 1976.

There were 21 Annuals between 1964 to 1985, combining original strips with prose stories; sports, science and general interest features; short humour strips and – increasingly from the 1970s onwards – reformatted reprints from IPC/Fleetway’s vast back catalogue.

From their creative heyday (this book would have been on sale from the autumn of 1967) and sporting a gripping Don Lawrence cover, the all-boys excitement begins with a frontispiece spread of medal-winning British hero war heroes: a typical illustrated historical feature of the era.

The drama continues with a fictionalised full-colour tale of smugglers and the development of the customs men in ‘Contraband’ before ‘Kelly’s Eye’ – sublimely painted by Carlos Cruz (I think) – sees the indestructible adventurer saving beleaguered Coroba from revolutionaries and radioactive doom.

Kelly’s Eye featured ordinary, thoroughly decent chap Tim Kelly who came into possession of the mystical “Eye of Zoltec”: a fist-sized gem that kept him free from all harm… as long as held on to it.

You won’t be surprised to discover that, due to the demands of weekly boys’ adventures, Tim lost, dropped, misplaced and was nefariously deprived of that infernal talisman pretty darned often – and always at the most inopportune moment…

The moody and compelling artwork of Argentinean Francisco Solano Lopez was the prime asset of this series, with Tom Tully and Scott Goodall the usual scripters for this little gem of a series.

Resorting to economical monochrome, we come to ‘The House of Dolmann’. The weekly strip was a curious and inexplicably absorbing blend of super-spy and crime-buster strip from Tully and utterly wonderful master illustrator Eric Bradbury. Dolman’s cover was as a shabby ventriloquist (I digress, but an awful lot of “our” heroes were tatty and unkempt – we had “Grunge” down pat decades before the Americans made a profit out of it!) who designed and constructed an army of specialised robots which he disguised as his puppets.

Using these as his shock-troops, the enigmatic Dolman waged a dark and crazy war against the forces of evil…

Here, he and his hand-crafted squad hunted a scientific maniac pulling satellites out of the sky with a super-magnet.

The first photo/fact feature of the book is a thinly-disguised infomercial for a popular outdoor activity charity, propounding readers get ‘Outward Bound – to Adventure’ after which ‘The Steel Claw’ battles a madman and his gang determined to destroy Britain’s navy (illustrated, it seems to me, by Massimo Belardinelli).

One of the most fondly-remembered British strips of all time, the Steel Claw, ran from 1962- 1973 with Jesús Blasco and his small family studio enthralling the nation’s children through the breakneck adventures of scientist, adventurer, spy and even costumed superhero Louis Crandell. Initially written by novelist Ken Bulmer, the majority of the character’s career was scripted by Tully. Crandall had an artificial hand packed with gimmicks and possessed the disquieting ability to turn invisible whenever he was electrocuted…

‘The Astounding Jason Hyde’ was a series that ran in prose form, written by Barrington J. Bayley with spot illos from Bradbury. Hyde was a blind telepath with an “X-Ray mind” who here tracks missing potholers to an unsuspected cave civilisation populated by brutes and monsters…

After all that action and suspense it’s past time for some light relief and a brace of comedy capers follows: frenetic trend-chasers and backyard inventors ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage with their climate-challenging antics in a superb extended yarn from Spanish cartoonist Ángel Nadal whilst the astoundingly slick and wonderful ‘Sporty’ by Reg (Sporting Sam) Wootton learns a lesson about truth in advertising…

Appalling racist by today’s standards, ‘Captain Hurricane’ was a hugely popular strip for its entire decades-long run. Written by Scott Goodall or Jon Rose, he was originally drawn by R. Charles Roylance, but I think it’s either Jack Pamby or Fred T. Holmes limning this bizarre yarn as – thanks to skiving batman Maggot Malone – the marines are forced to fight their way through Japanese-controlled Malayan jungles to Singapore, armed with nothing but cricket equipment……

Brilliant Reg Parlett’s ‘The Crows’ see the youngest corvid cavorting with bats before – in scintillating pink duo-tones – ‘The Wild Wonders’ (Mike Western and probably Tully on script) offer comedic drama capers. Here Rick and Charlie Wilde and their long-suffering guardian Mike Flynn face ski-slope thrills with a side-order of kidnap and skulduggery… Shipwrecked on remote Worrag Island in the Hebrides, two toddlers were raised by animals and survived to become almost superhuman specimens. When rescued by Olympic swimmer Mike they became sporting sensations able to out-compete most adult athletes in any discipline. They could also talk to animals…

‘Tatty-Mane, King of the Jungle’ offers raucous animal antics as the regal rogue seeks to update his look, but the artist remains a mystery to me. Likely candidates include Nadal or Martz Schmidt (suggested by Steve Holland – you really should read his Bear Alley blog)…

A ‘Sporting Roundabout’ of facts lead into a prose tale of exploration and treasure hunting – illustrated by Weston – with the good guys using an ambulatory super-jeep dubbed ‘The Jungle Walker’ after which venerable schoolboy comedy property ‘Billy Bunter’ quits school and heads out to sea, encountering spies in a quirky yarn possibly illustrated by Parlett but it seems reminiscent of Frank Minnitt to me…

‘Legge’s Eleven’ was a typical example of the humorous freak-show football strip. Lanky player-manager Ted Legge took over failing Rockley Rangers and fields a team of misfits and individualists he struggles to make work together. Here the lads are trapped in a spiral of superstition and missing mascots in the run-up to a crucial international second leg…

Following ‘The Crows’ fowling up a wildlife film, ‘Operation “Rescue”’ (by Mike White?) recreates the 1957 efforts to save Royal Army Air Servicemen lost in the jungles outside Kuala Lumpur before a double dose of ‘“Horse” Laughs’ gags segues into a photo-packed footballing essay on ‘Great Moments with Great Clubs’.

Back in comics, ‘Captain Hurricane’ and crew are in the Western Desert in 1940, battling Italian infantry even as Maggot Malone spreads disorder with his latest fad: weightlifting…

‘Sporty’ disastrously discovers Squash and ‘The Nutts’ cause carnage on a film set before ‘Billy Bunter’s enforced diet creates carnage for the entire county after which another ‘Sporting Roundabout’ leads to a prose thriller about a multi-talented circus performer battling crooks attempting to fix his championship boxing match in ‘The Flying Fighter’.

‘Gabby McGlew – his yarns aren’t true’ is an example of recycled Buster strip Barney Bluffer by Nadal with boastful braggart channelling his inner Baran Munchausen after which photo-history feature ‘A Champion Champion’ details the career and achievements of Henry Cooper before everything wraps up with what I’m sure is another re-tread, even if I can’t find out where.

‘No. 13 Grimm Street’ sees Fleet Street reporter “Hack” Mackenzie struggling to solve a spree of daring art robberies and a house that seems to vanish at will: the answer to both mysteries leads to madness and death…

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

Star Trek Annual 1976

By John David Warner, Allan Moniz, Alberto Giolitti & various (World Distributors)
SBN: 7235-0325-7

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.

This book was produced in a non-standard UK format, with limited but full-colour for both the American comics reprints and the remainder: brief prose pieces, puzzles, games and fact-features on related themes. As for the writers and artists of the originated material your guess is, sadly, as good as or better than mine, but almost certainly generated by the wonderful Mick Anglo’s publishing/packaging company Gower Studios (these yearly slices of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package.

Star Trek launched in the USA on September 8th 1966, running until June 3rd 1969: three seasons comprising 79 episodes. A moderate success, the show only really achieved its stellar popularity after going into syndication; appearing in all American local TV regions perpetually throughout the 1970s and beyond.

It was also sold all over the world, popping up seemingly everywhere and developing a fanatically devoted fanbase.

Comicbook franchising specialist Gold Key produced a series which ran for almost a decade beyond the show’s cancellation. Initially these were controversially quite dissimilar from the screen iteration, but by the time of the tales in this sturdy Holidays hardback (reprinting Gold Key’s Star Trek issues #27and #30 from November 1974 and May 1975), quibbling fans had little to moan about and a great deal to cheer as the series was the only source of new adventures starring the beloved crew of the Starship Enterprise.

John David Warner scripted ‘Ice Journey’ and it was illustrated by the ever-amazing Alberto Giolitti. Here the Enterprise is conducting a highly-suspect population survey on sub-arctic world Floe I which soon drops Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and evolutionary specialist Dr. Krisp into the middle of a eugenics-fuelled race war…

Dividing the tale are a brace of UK generated features a compendium of ‘Star Facts’ offering seven salient snippets of astronomical amazement and a ‘Cosmic Crossword’ to challenge your knowledge of the infinite unknown.

Following the conclusion of ‘Ice Journey’, there’s a board game to play at ‘Warp Factor Eight’ before a second serving of ‘Star Facts’ ushers in another comics adventure.

Bisected by an illustrated glossary of ‘Space Age Vocabulary’, Death of a Star’ (by Allan Moniz & Giolitti) comes from Star Trek #30 and finds Enterprise on site to observe a star going nova. The ship is subsequently catapulted into calamity as sensors pick up a planet full of life-readings where none should be. Moving swiftly to evacuate the endangered beings, the crew are astonished to discover only one creature: an old woman who claims to be the dying sun…

Thanks to the vagaries of image licensing, one thing you won’t find herein is a single photograph of any cast member, but there are plenty of nostalgia-tinged, all-ages sci fi thrills and dashing derring-do to delight not just TV devotees and comics fans but also any reader in search of a pictorially powerful grand adventure.
© MCMLX, MCMLXI, MCMLXXII, MCMLXXV Paramount Pictures Corporation.
(These days Star Trek and related marks are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc.) All Rights Reserve


By Jim Alexander, edited by Elinor Winter (Planet JimBot)
ISBN: 978-1-9164535-0-0                  eISBN: 978-1-9164535-1-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Crime Does Not Pay, but it does make for a cracking good read… 9/10

With criminal intent and malice aforethought, comics veteran Jim Alexander has widened his already prodigious and prolific rap sheet by shifting Modus Operandi and releasing a spookily wry novel (available in paperback and a variety of eBook formats) featuring possibly his best – and award-winning – character.

Alexander’s pictorial back-catalogue includes Star Trek the Manga, Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, licensed properties such as Ben 10 and Generator Rex as well as a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Metal Hurlant, and loads of other places including his own publishing empire Planet Jimbot.

GoodCopBadCop began life as series of contemporary police dramas set in Glasgow and garnered much praise and many awards. Now the characters have seamlessly segued to the realm of Val McDermid and Ian Rankin and the variously-named Celtic or Tartan noir.

If you look it up, experts describe the sub-genre’s influences as James Hogg and Robert Louis Stevenson, focusing on the duality of the soul and the individual, Good against Evil and redemption and damnation. It’s fascinating stuff: you should all read more books without pictures…

This craftily concocted cops’n’robbers saga blends procedural action with a whiff of supernal terror, utilising a gimmick that is perfect for a genre where conflicted, essentially good guys regularly face human monsters and only ever see ordinary folk at their absolute worst…

City of Glasgow Police Inspector Brian Fisher is a worthy, weary, dedicated public servant with the oddest (generally silent) partner an honest copper could ever imagine. And no, it’s not harassed, hard-pressed Detective Sergeant Julie Spencer, who fruitlessly attempts to get her solitary new boss fraternising with other officers after she’s ordered to be his new tag-along assistant… until she gets a glimpse of what her associate is really like…

Before he was a quietly effective Detective with a phenomenal clear-up rate, Fisher learned his trade in the mounted police division and spent many educational hours doing community policing for the Violence Reduction Unit, visiting schools where kids are more ruthlessly ferocious than any full-grown bad guy.

Now he’s solving a lot of nasty cases like abductions, dismemberments and floating human jigsaws in the Clyde with an uncanny display of instinct and perception. It’s like he has an inside track to the mind of maniacs…

All the usual suspects and signature cases of the genre are in attendance: mostly-harmless burglars like local legend the Partick Cat, supposedly-straight domestic problems like Mrs MacPhellimey, missing persons who aren’t, local mobsters and hard-men and their ganglords all come to Fisher’s attention… and most especially raving psycho-killers.

There’s a lot of them and some days they’re turning up on both sides of the Interview Room table…

Obviously, Fisher has some kind of advantage and, as in the manner of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the situation is deteriorating and people are starting to notice…

And that’s where I’m stopping. If you are familiar with the comics iteration, all your favourite moments and characters are here, suitably tweaked for a more internalised, psychologically edged reinterpretation – and a definitive conclusion. If you’re a newcomer, you can revel and reel as a convoluted nested-doll of interlinked mysteries cleverly unwind with startling complexity, loads of twisty-turny surprises and a succession of shocking moments. And that’s all delivered in sparky and bleakly hilarious first-person monologues.

Yeah. Monologues. Plural…

If you don’t read this book, you’ll have to wait for some Wise Soul at BBC Scotland or media clever-clogs chancer to turn this into a movie or late-night Scandi-style drama serial…

Best see it as the creator intended. You’ll thank me for it in the long run…

This deftly underplayed, chillingly believable and outrageously black-humoured yarn is a perfect addition to the annals of Tartan Noir: smart, sarcastic and ferociously engaging. If you like your crime yarns nasty and your heroes deeply flawed, GoodCopBadCop is a book you must not miss.

And when this has sufficiently blown your mind, you really should track down the superb comics by Alexander and his confederates Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin, Will Pickering, Aaron Murphy, Chris Twydell & Jim Campbell.

The Jims – Alexander and Campbell – have been providing captivating and enthralling graphic narratives for ages now and you owe it to yourself to catch them too.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out?
© 2018 Jim Alexander.

If you like shopping from the safety of your home, here’s a few useful addresses.
Amazon (print & digital)
Blackwell’s (print)
Kobo (digital)

Amazon (print & digital)
Barnes & Noble (print & digital)
Kobo (digital)

Father Christmas

By Raymond Briggs (Puffin)
ISBN: 978-0-24135-153-6 (HB)                    : 978-0-72327-797-2 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Proper Christmas Tradition Revisited… 10/10


Our industry seems to cheerfully content to neglect Raymond Briggs’s graphic narratives, which have reached more hearts and minds than Dennis the Menace or Judge Dredd ever will, yet his books remain among the most powerful and important in the entire field. This one for instance was awarded The Library Association’s Kate Greenaway Medal.

Father Christmas is a slim, slight children’s book from Briggs that has become a perennial delight. With its animated adaptation and book sequel (and there are editions available with both tomes combined into one package) it reveals a warm-hearted yet crustily-curmudgeonly Santa who is gruff, plebeian, curt, complaining, competent, dedicated, and reliable – in fact the very image of the British worker from a time long gone by.

Released in 1973, in the last moments of Britain’s post-war recovery, and before the infamous “Winter of Discontent” permanently tainted the image of the working man, this typical granddad mutters and putters but still gets the job done right and on time. The old duffer wakes up, realises the date, feeds the animals (dog, cat, chicken, reindeer); has a spot of breakfast and resolutely gets down to it.

He lives alone in a brick two-up, two-down, (with attached stables, naturally – and apparently based on Brigg’s childhood home) and once the sleigh is loaded up, he’s away!

Grumbling about the weather he drops off all the presents, stopping for a packed lunch – at the appropriate time, of course – and when his day is done heads home, nodding off a bit, with frozen feet, job sorted for another year.

The bright expansive and welcoming art is a seductive device that keeps this fantasy day-in-the-life thoroughly grounded in the everyday, and the total lack of saccharine and schmaltz is still a refreshing antidote to the paternalistic, condescending oaf today’s Christmas Industry foists on us.

A true classic, the book was remastered and released this autumn in a splendid mini-hardback (178 x 146 mm) gift pack and includes a letter from Briggs himself, but if you can’t find that the somewhat larger (232 x 285 cm) 40th anniversary paperback edition from 2013 is still readily available

This is such quirky, deceptively subversive and beautifully understated fun that you must deck your shelves with this cracker.
© 1973 Raymond Briggs. All Rights Reserved.

Retrograde Orbit

By Kristyna Baczynski (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-42-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sublime Speculative Social Fiction… 9/10

Great storytelling never goes out of style and the basis of all drama is examination of the human condition (albeit sometimes in extraordinary circumstances). Somehow that’s even more true when your characters aren’t human at all.

Author and illustrator Kristyna Baczynski hails from the Pennines of Yorkshire, by way of the Carpathians of the Ukraine. That’s not at all germane here but it does sound incredibly romantic; conjuring up all manner of deep-seated preconceptions about windy moors and bleak moody peaks. Preconceptions, aspirations, dreams and that old devil hope are what this book is about…

In a faraway star system, a little girl grows up as a refugee and immigrant. Flint finds it hard to adapt to life on mining colony world Tisa and, even though she has no real memories of the place, she feels the call of her homeworld Doma – long-abandoned due to a geological – or maybe industrial – toxic detonation. No one at school cares or understands and her mother and grandmother never want to talk about it…

Years pass but those feelings of something missing don’t. Days pass, Flint acts out like any teen and then inevitably graduates into a mining job, but the something-missing still plagues her. She collects memoirs and mementoes of her lost world and grows increasingly colder and duller. And then a message is received from the supposedly dead, barren planet…

Flint now has a purpose and a goal, and nothing will stand in her way…

This lyrical and uplifting colour paperback offers a beautifully understated and moving glimpse at the power of place in our lives, using science fiction themes and trappings to pick apart the most primitive and fundamental longings to which humans are subject. It also reminds us that there’s always hope…

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, ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses and certain to be a physical touchstone for every lovers of great stories.
© Kristyna Baczynski 2018. All rights reserved.

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.