Jaimie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey: Rise of the Maniacal Badger


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-280-9 (TPB) 978-1-78845-118-5 (Waterstones Exclusive Edition)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a staple of 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 but critically endangered English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), the trendsetting, mindbending yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one.

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. After crashlanding 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 extremely 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 loitering around and cluttering up the bucolic paradise have finally picked sides: shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz as they respond to another personal crisis and the rise to power of an unsuspected third force in woodland politics…

As ever divided into seasonal outbursts, the saga starts slowly with a chilly teaser tale as Winter ends in the ‘Thaw of the Snow-Bots’…

The assorted animals have been in stasis in a giant freezer, and once fire-breathing snowmen attack, they decide it’s best to have a little more kip… or do they?

The story actually resumes in Spring and the far future where time-traveller Ai – a superfast Ai-Ai not naturally indigenous to our sylvan glades and endangered shores – learns of a disaster that’s history here but her tomorrow. A good person, she undertakes ‘The Journey Home’ but arrives too late as ‘A Rather Maniacal Badger’ details how the woods have been conquered at last…

Previously, a catastrophic rivalry erupted when rival evil genius Maniacal Badger vied with Skunky for the title of “The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods”. Now, while everyone was hibernating, the black-&-white bounder has occupied the region and established a base in a 50-foot (15-24 meters) high statue of himself as the first step in building his dream of Badgertopia.

The shock of defeat particularly affects Skunky, who descends into a spiral of depression and lowering esteem…

Universal innocents Weenie squirrel and Pig have their own way of de-stressing and not even roving robot drones can upset ‘A Quiet, Uneventful Day’ on the lake. Old animosities are paused and enemies become temporary allies planning to resist through ‘Distraction’ and strategic deployment of brain-battered, bewildered suicide bomber/former stuntman Action Beaver, but when that scheme flops we instead focus on ‘A Sad Skunk’ as the original mad scientist undergoes an existential crisis and needs Bunny to share it with…

The relative inactivity soon triggers his robot back-up to mischief mode, but even ‘Mecha Skunky!’ is not immune to the doldrums and there’s nothing ‘Action Beaver!’ can do to rectify the situation, especially after the badger activates a gross flying terror who swallows everybody in ‘The Whale!’

Having retreated to the tunnels built by long-gone but not forgotten local legend Fantastic Le Fox, the uneasy animal animals hide from the tyrant’s tantrums in ‘Too Noisy!’: unexpectedly discovering a hidden, weapon-stocked lair that will be the base for their fight back… once they have safely reassembled ‘All the Toys in the Toyshop!’

Although initial giant robot ‘Battle Bat!’ spectacularly fails, resistance efforts continue, but Monkey is easily distracted and soon moves to make his own empire in ‘Monkeyopia Rises!’ and as Summer begins ‘Divisions!’ proliferate. Before long the war with Bunny flares up again and instantly moves into the province of war crimes as the simian unleashes his flatulence-powered ‘Rofl-Copter!’

Weenie and Pig go on a ‘Treasure Hunt!’ in the mouldering pile of toxic rubbish kindly left by the Hyoomanz, but find no shield from the badger’s latest infamy: mind controlling everyone and turning the Woods into his digital plaything in ‘Game Over!’

A brief diversion follows in an exclusive Bunny vs Monkey Detective Story, but ‘The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night-Time’ is less baffling than Bunny’s failure to join mystic brotherhood ‘The Order of the Moose’…

When young Hyoomanz find themselves ‘(Not) Alone in the Woods’ during a class trip one little girl renews her old acquaintance with Metal Steve after he saves them from Maniac Badger attacks, whilst elsewhere ‘Monst-Ughs!’ run wild after improper use of Skunky’s old monster ray, leading to a glimpse at the tyrant’s origins and family issues in ‘The Making of a Maniacal Badger!’

Incorrigible Monkey then loses control of marauding robot ‘Doom Fists!’ after he is attacked by his wicked doppelganger Evil Monkey and partner in crimes Evil Monkey Wife, whilst elsewhere Skunky recovers some of life’s zest after helping Weenie and Pig repair one of the badger’s ‘Evil Drones!’

Three part saga ‘The Saving of Skunky!’ sees order restored after the badger’s plan to kidnap Skunky and steal what’s left of his evil genius goes awry. Trapped together in the Dark Woods, the skunk experiences a ghastly visitation and by the time the Maniacal one gets back to his conquered kingdom, there’s a restored archenemy waiting to deliver ‘A Sharp Shock’ with electrified clouds and a Zeus costume…

Badger’s retaliation is ancient thought monster ‘Ragnaggtrix!’ but there’s an inherent flaw in something dependent on belief that the evil genius didn’t consider. Thankfully, Skunky is preoccupied ‘Distracting the Monkey!’ from cadging more superweapons to misuse…

Bunny becomes guinea pig when Skunky and Monkey test emotion-warping Mind Mines in ‘Highly Strung!’ and as ‘Autumn begins The Rise of an Empire!’ finds expansionist Monkeytopia devasted by its ruler’s idiocy, even as the badger traps the woodland creatures inside his new phone app in ‘Game On!’ It’s a huge, costly mistake…

‘Balloonacy!’ breaks out when Weenie and Pig try to attend Ai’s birthday party, before a new character debuts. ‘Lucky!’ is a red panda who escaped a lab doing weird experiments. It might not have been in time though, since the three-way war for supremacy in the woods triggers an odd reaction…

The action and drama ramp up for a big finish as Badger is made to clean his room and employs the ‘Doomsday Device!’ that opens portals to Hell. Shame about his mum and dad…

Skunky makes a silly mistake and gives the wrong animal some atomic powered ‘Explosive Sweets!’ which makes Halloween’s ‘Fright Night!’ Scare-Off pretty anticlimactic war, before another peek at the future reveals the legend of ‘Jetpack Beaver!’

A distant relative tries to make one woodland weirdo ‘Pigging Rich!’ with little success, after which a bad tooth and unwise consultation with Skunky results in Monkey taking a big bite out of everything in ‘Chomp!’

The cataclysmic end begins when the Maniacal one pressgangs ‘The Badger Army’ to do his bidding but forgets the species’ tendency to unionise even as Skunky creates a ‘Terraforming Orb!!’ to purpose-build a new world. It’s a shame Monkey dropped it on his own head while it was switched on…

Winter begins with 3-chapter epic ‘A Very Badger Christmas’ that delivers shocking big reveals, pulls all the plot threads of the past year together, ends the world and still leaves rueful survivors wondering what comes next in ‘Aftermath’. Whatever you think happened you’re wrong, so you just have to buy this book to see how…

The animal anarchy might end for now there’s one more secret to share with detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Maniacal Badger’ so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The zany zenith of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning crammed into one eccentrically excellent package: never failing to deliver 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: Rise of the Maniacal Badger is published on July 7th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists


By Robert Tressell; adapted by Scarlett & Sophie Rickard (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-92-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

Born in Dublin to unfavourable circumstances, Robert Croker – AKA Robert Noonan – (17 April 1870 – 3 February 1911) was a man of many parts. His short, globetrotting, eventful life ended with him a housepainter and signwriter (a skilled trade) dying of tuberculosis in The Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1911.

In all likelihood nobody today would remember him if he hadn’t spent his off hours in the declining years of 1906 to 1910 writing a book. He failed to have it published in his lifetime, but his daughter Kathleen Noonan persevered and a first (heavily edited, highly abridged and politically redacted) version was released on April 23 1914 – four months before the Great War began. That clash resulted in a changed planet and the first socialist (sic) state…

The full manuscript didn’t reach the public until 1955. Even bowdlerized editions were potent enough to make it one of the most important books of the century. Released under the nom de plume Robert Tressell, the cultural satire and barely-disguised socialist polemic was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

After reading the million plus-selling, never out-of-print pioneering prose opus of working class literature, you should research the times it was set in and read up on the author, if you want to see how a fascinating man responded to the injustice of his world. There’s a splendid Afterword by the creators in this hefty graphic novel to get you started…

A more jaded person might assume current businesses and governments have also studied the text, with a view to rolling back all the hard-won advances made since then, returning us to the days where workers toiled in a brutal gig economy without safety nets of social housing, medicine or pensions. Work or die was the way of world and it’s well on its way back…

The tale – masquerading, like a Thomas Hardy Wessex novel, as a peek at the lives of poor working folk – was a major influence on thinkers in the aftermath of WWI, and many of the civil rights and common benefits of civilisation that we’re gradually allowing to be taken from us were predicted in its more utopian moments…

Politics aside however, it’s also a sublime realisation and examination of the working classes in all their warty, noble, scurrilous, generous, mean-spirited, self-sacrificing, self-serving, gullible, aspirational, tractable, intractable, skiving, hard-working, honest and human glory: a state perfectly realized in this warm-hearted and supremely inviting comics adaptation by Sophie Rickard, illustrated with charm, simplicity and abiding empathy by Scarlett Rickard. You will also want to see Mann’s Best Friend and A Blow Borne Quietly and their eagerly-anticipated adaptation of suffragist Constance Maud’s inspirational No Surrender…

The semi-autobiographical story detailed here closely follows a group of workers and their families over a year in the town of Mugsborough: proudly go-getting municipal powerhouse (closely based on Hastings, where Croker had worked) with the usual band of rich, mercantile bastards in charge and on the Council, feathering their own lavish nests with the approval and assistance of the local churches and clergy…

The 23 chapters span a year as seen through the eyes of skilled labourers at a time when jobs were scarce and cut-throat competition had the men who hire them fiercely undercutting each other to secure commissions. The artisans are currently refurbishing an ornate house on the cheap for a grasping boss, under the penny pinching eye of foreman Mr. ’Unter.

In breaks and off moments the disparate crew – dispassionately at first – discuss the job, the way of the world and ever-present threat of work drying up again. Artisan painter/signwriter Frank Owen argues the greed and dishonesty of capitalism and enlightening sense of socialism to his highly resistant and openly hostile mates. Over many days, they all hotly debate ‘The Causes of Poverty’ and the Church’s complicity in maintaining an unfair status quo in ‘The Lord Our Shepherd’. Further discussion in ‘The Economists’ focuses on the impossibility of making do on ever-diminishing wages and ‘The Ever-Present Danger’ of being thrown away once a worker is no longer usable.

This is no pedant’s dry and dusty tirade. “Tressell’s” arguments are bolstered by the declining state of the wives, elders and children of the workers – most of whom still argue ferociously against improvement of their own conditions. As those above them reduce wages and increase hours, uncaring of the horrific repercussions of their parsimony, Frank and enigmatic associate George Barrington gradually convert many, but a resolute group cannot countenance any change to the old system.

That begins changing in ‘The Truth’, and revelation is heightened after the Church is exposed to ‘The Shining Light’, especially once Owen makes a breakthrough by explaining ‘The Money Trick’ underpinning Capitalism.

The damaging power of booze on the hopeless is witnessed after a night at ‘The Cricketers’, presaging work briefly pausing for ‘The Christmas Party’. A New Year exposes corporate skulduggery and public malfeasance by ‘The Council’ of Mugsborough…

Every opinion expounded by the painters can be seen here and now: echoed on modern TV vox-pop segments with today’s exploited, bread & circus sated citizens repeating that we should let the rich (our “betters”) do the hard job of making the big decisions for us, happily abrogating all responsibility for their own evermore parlous state…

Deepening personal crises auger greater tragedies as ‘The Beginning of The End’ finds a beloved friend condemned to the Workhouse as a cynically tongue-in-cheek glimpse at what the Establishment considers ‘The Solutions’ to poverty lead to a long look at ‘The Meetings’ inside the Municipal Council and how a glimmer of reform is crushed by the prestigious clique…

After a period of scarcity, fresh work at a lower wage comes in ‘The Summer’ before a turning point comes when Barrington challenges the Bosses on a rare day’s holiday jaunt in ‘The Beano’ (slang for “BNO” – Boys Night Out).

Again arguing – but with a much smaller and more vocal group of workmates – Owen and Barrington begin ‘The Great Oration’, overruling and disproving ‘The Objections’ of bellicose working class holdouts – the apologists and willing henchmen who happily betray their own sort for elevated status, extra pennies and the cheery disdain of the capitalists. However, grief has not ended and as talk of elections and the growth of a socialist Labour Party blooms, death comes again. Even here the rich and their lackeys find a way to make a profit in ‘The Rope’ and a sordid exhibition at ‘The Funeral’. After the worker’s death comes what we today call “the cover-up”…

Feelings of hope manifest in final chapters ‘The Will of the People’, ‘The Sundered’ and ‘The New Position’ as utopian ideals and practical solutions are leavened with home truths, and a concentration on making change happen…

Uplifting ending notwithstanding, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a major milestone in the west’s path to becoming truly civilised, and this beautifully accessible iteration – deliciously illustrated in the manner of an inviting children’s picture book – could not be more timely, both as a reminder and warning from history. It’s also a wonderfully human drama gauging the limitations and frailties of the most exploited and vulnerable in society and “a book that everyone should read”.

I didn’t write that, George Orwell did, in 1946. Who could argue with that? Class is class no matter what you think…
© 2020 SelfMadeHero. Text © 2020 Sophie Rickard. Artwork © 2020 Scarlett Rickard. All rights reserved.

Captain Britain: Legacy of a Hero


By Chris Claremont, Steve Parkhouse, David Thorpe, Alan More, Jamie Delano, Herb Trimpe, John Byrne, John Stokes, Alan Davis, Fred Kida, Dave Hunt, Mark Farmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0668-9 (TPB/Digital Edition)

Marvel UK set up shop in 1972, reprinting the House of Ideas’ earliest hits in our traditional weekly papers format, and swiftly carving out a substantial corner of the market. It wasn’t the first time American glitz and glamour turned staid heads here: the works of Lee, Kirby, Ditko, et al had appeared in British comics Smash!, Wham!, Pow!, The Eagle, Fantastic! and Terrific! since the early 1960s and, in the case of Alan Class Publications’ anthologies, since before they actually became Marvel Comics…

In 1976, Marvel UK augmented their recycled output with an all-new British superhero. The eponymous weekly offered original material, with the majority of the page count reprinting fan favourites Fantastic Four and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. One bold departure was full colour printing for the debutante champion to supplement standard monochrome reproduction in the titles remaining pages.

This compilation/primer gathers #1-2 of Captain Britain; US Marvel Team-Up #65-66 and select material from #1, 3-5 and 57-59 of the 1979 UK Hulk Comic/Hulk Weekly; Marvel Super-Heroes #377-384 & 386; The Daredevils #3-4, The Mighty World of Marvel #8-12 and Captain Britain volume 2 #14, collectively spanning October 1976 to May 1986, and also includes a fondly reminiscing Introduction from scripter Dave Thorpe.

Extras include cover roughs, concept and costume sketches by Herb Trimpe plus Alan Davis’ revamp designs and character studies for Slaymaster, The Fury and Crazy Gang. Sadly, not every pertinent cover is included, but those that are come from Larry Lieber & Frank Giacoia, George Pérez & Joe Sinnott, John Byrne, and Alan Davis.

Captain Britain’s earliest adventures read quite well in the hyper-tense 21st century. There is a matter-of-fact charm and simplicity to them that is sorely missing in these multi-part, multi-issue crossover days, and the necessity to keep reader-attention riveted and hungry for more in eight page instalments sweeps the willing consumer along.

Chris Claremont was given the original writing assignment – apparently due to his being born here – and Trimpe the pencilling chores because he was actually resident here for a while. Gary Friedrich eventually replaced Claremont, but the artist, inked by golden age legend Fred Kida (Airboy, The Heap, Black Knight) provided rip-roaring art for much of the initial run. Later artists included John Buscema, Larry Lieber, Ron Wilson and Bob Budiansky, before the feature folded. It was later revived by British creators Steve Parkhouse, John Stokes, Dave Thorpe, and ultimately, Alan Moore and Alan Davis…

Cover-dated Week-Ending October 13th 1976, Captain Britain #1 began his origin, told in ‘Captain Britain!’ and completed in #2 with ‘From the Holocaust… A Hero!’. Together, they reveal how physics student Brian Braddock was in just the wrong place when raiders attacked the Atomic research centre on Darkmoor. Fleeing imminent death, he stumbled onto a source of fantastic power and inescapable destiny. Chosen by the legendary Merlin himself, the teen Braddock was transformed into the symbolic paragon of our Island Nation, destined to battle incredible threats as its valiant and indomitable champion…

The weekly Captain Britain closed with #39 and in tried-&-true tradition was merged with a more successful title. Braddock’s exploits continued in Super Spider-Man & Captain Britain Weekly (#231-253). Except for covers, the book reverted to black-&-white and featured reprints for the last months. Before too long though, he resurfaced in America…

Crafted by Claremont and British-born, Canada-bred John Byrne, ‘Introducing Captain Britain’ in Marvel Team-Up #65, was the first half of a riotous romp. It depicted Brian Braddock on a student transfer to Manhattan and as the unsuspecting house-guest of Peter Parker. Before long the heroes had met, fought and then teamed-up to defeat flamboyant, games-obsessed hit-man Arcade. The transatlantic tale concluded in #66 as the abducted antagonists systematically dismantled the maniac’s ‘Murderworld’.

And then the Lion of Albion disappeared on both sides of the pond… until March 1979, when British weekly Hulk Comic debuted with an eclectic mix of Marvel reprints that veteran editor Dez Skinn felt better suited the British market.

There were also all-new strips featuring Marvel characters tailored – like the reprints – to appeal to UK kids. The Hulk was there because of his TV show, Nick Fury (by babe-in-arms Steve Dillon) – because we love spies here, and noir-tinged pulp/gangster thriller Night Raven came courtesy of David Lloyd, John Bolton & Steve Parkhouse.

…And then there was The Black Knight.

This feature appeared in issues #1, 3-30, 42-55 and 57-63 – the comic’s last issue. The paladin was a former member of the Avengers, but for this engrossing epic, costumed shenanigans gave way to classical fantasy set in modern Britain, but with Tolkienesque/Alan Garner overtones and Celtic roots interwoven into Arthurian myths.

Dispatched on a mission by Merlin (sometimes Merlyn here) to the wilds of Cornwall, the Knight and his winged horse Valinor are tasked with saving the Heart and Soul of England from Modred and a host of goblins and monsters. The selection here sees the quest spring into high gear with the reluctant/openly hostile aid of a broken, amnesiac Captain Britain.

Delivered in 3-page, monochrome episodes by writer Parkhouse & John Stokes (joined from #6 by penciller Paul Neary) this fantastical pot-boiler captured the imagination of the readership, became the longest running original material strip in the comic (even The Hulk lead feature reverted to reprints by #28) and often stole the cover spot from the lead feature.

It’s still a captivating read, beautifully realized, and the only real quibble I have is that the whole thing isn’t included here. If you’re wondering, the sword-and-sorcery action ends on a cliffhanger with our heroic Captain swearing fealty to a newly arisen King Arthur…

When the weekly ended in 1979, Captain Britain began a period of renewal plagued by peripatetic wanderings through numerous UK titles: starting with monthly reprint anthology Marvel Super Heroes #377-389 and continuing in The Daredevils #1-11. Eventually, he got another short-lived solo title…

Here we resume in colour (a fringe benefit of later reprint editions) with Captain Britain reimagined and redesigned by editor/plotter Neary and a new creative team, writer Dave Thorpe and artist Alan Davis. Their serial debuted in MSH #377 (September 1981).

Lost in the gaps between alternate worlds the hero and elf sidekick Jackdaw are drawn back to Earth, but upon arrival they discover it is a hideous parody of Britain, bleak, distressed, hopeless and depressed – a potent vision of the country that would exist after real-world tyrannical fanatic Margaret Thatcher had finished with it.

Thorpe’s desire was to inject some subversive social realism into the feature – and he encountered plenty of resistance – but the resultant analogies and allegories didn’t diminish the strip’s wildly escapist, potently dynamic, fabulously entertaining injection of fresh air. Coupled with Davis’ strikingly purist superhero art, the feature at last delivered a truly British-flavoured adventure. In short order the confused Captain met anarchic bandits The Crazy Gang, reality-warping mutant Mad Jim Jaspers, electorally-sanctioned British Nazis and a truly distressed population in ‘Outcasts’ (MSH #378).

The Good Captain then tackled animated rubbish monster ‘The Junkheap that Walked Like a Man’ (#379), and was introduced to the pan-Reality colossus The Dimensional Development Court and its sultry, ruthless operative Opal Luna Saturnyne, who intended to compulsorily evolve the whole dimension, beginning with ‘In Support of Darwin!’, ‘Re-Birth!’, ‘Against the Realm’ and ‘Faces of Britain!’ in #380-383).

‘Friends and Enemies’ is a pretty-looking but thoroughly de-clawed examination of sectarianism and racism, after which – now deeply involved in Saturnyne’s plan to force humanity to evolve – Captain Britain was trapped in a clash between the underclasses and the government in Thorpe’s final story ‘If the Push Should Fail…’

His departure heralded the beginning of Alan Moore’s landmark tenure on the character but most of that is also absent here. The feature migrated from Marvel Super-Heroes #389 to The Daredevils, beginning with #1. During that passage, Braddock and Jackdaw were destroyed and rebuilt with reality-warping Jim Jaspers crossing over to a new Earth, intent on destroying all superbeings. Also surviving a catastrophic dimensional collapse was an artificial killer which would evolve itself into an unstoppable Fury…

Here, however, The Daredevils #3 reveals how Brian Braddock’s sister Betsy reappeared in ‘Thicker than Water’. Alans Moore & Davis detail a purple-haired telepath hunted by an assassin taking out esper-agents recruited by British covert agency S.T.R.I.K.E – and yes she is the girl who became Psylocke in The X-Men.

The battle against the killer Slaymaster concluded in a spectacular in-joke clash among the shelves of the Denmark Street Forbidden Planet store – in 1982, arguably the country’s best fantasy/comic book store – so any old fans might want to try identifying the real staff members who “guest-star” – in ‘Killing Ground.’

There’s a whole book’s worth of material omitted before we return to Braddock’s Britain – interdimensional imbroglios; cosmic clashes; multidimensional mercenaries, metamorphic love interest Meggan’s debut, alternate universe superheroes; the multiversal Captain Britain Corps, shock, awe, intrigue, and the aforementioned assassin artifact’s relentless advance – but here we resume with the shattering conclusion of all those intersecting plot points…

Mighty World of Marvel #8 sets up a cataclysmic confrontation in ‘The Twisted World (Reprise)’ as the Fury continues its hunting, even though Jaspers has reshaped this world into his own twisted version of a totalitarian paradise. As Jaspers consolidates his psychotic hold on the nation, Captain Britain, Betsy, Omniversal fugitives Saturnyne and Captain UK – sole survivor of her murdered dimension – lead the last few rebels against the New Reality. The fugitives’ consensus choice is “fight or die”…

Meanwhile in the higher realms, Merlin and his daughter Roma move their human pieces in the great game to save existence. In ‘Among These Dark Satanic Mills’, Braddock struggles on despite telling losses, confronting Jaspers as the madman begins an ascent to literal godhood in ‘Anarchy in the UK’.

Even so, the cause seems hopeless until the Fury enters the fray on nobody’s side, but intent on taking out the greatest threat first. ‘Fool’s Mate’ is only the beginning of an unbelievably intense and imaginative battle with Jaspers across the multiverse, using the building blocks of reality as ammunition. The chaotic clash continues in ‘Endgame’ with shocks and surprises aplenty, leading to unexpected victory, the death of a major player in Mighty World of Marvel #12. Moore left after the next chapter – not included here – leaving artist Davis in charge of the strip. The great responsibility came with a new home…

Captain Britain volume 2 ran for 14 issues (January 1985 to February 1986) and is represented here by closing story ‘Should Auld Acquaintance…’ from the last issue. An all-Davis affair, it shows the hero and Meggan reunited after more incredible trials: a far from happy family experiencing one last hurrah by rescuing a mutant-powered “Warpy” from a exploitation at the hands of a Glasgow vigilante, in an expansive display of Happy Ever After…

Captain Britain took a long time and a very twisted road to becoming a key component of the Marvel Universe. Most of that material is astounding and groundbreaking and deserving of a far more comprehensive home than this book. Although a solid introduction to the character, Legacy of a Hero merely skims some cream from a powerful and rewarding comics confection that fed decades of stories and still underpins much of modern continuity. Consider it a teaser for old-timers and lure or newer readers and a promise of more to come. If that fails you can always hunt down the 5-volume complete Captain Britain library published by Marvel UK/Panini between 2007-2011. Trust me, you won’t be sorry
© 2016 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ken Reid’s Football Funnies – The First Half


By Ken Reid (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-883-8 (HB/Digital edition)

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

He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, artistic prodigies who – largely unsung and regularly uncredited – went about transforming British Comics, entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and apparently drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated.

He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes and hanging about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section.

The Adventures of Fudge the Elf debuted in 1938 and ran until 1963, with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with comics periodicals. Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy were published in Comic Cuts and he sent submissions to prestigious market leader The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection – Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law – brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work.

On April 18th 1953 Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano with Reid drawing the feature until 1959. He created numerous others, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

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

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. Ken Reid died that year from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd . He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew it until cancelation in October 1988.

All his working life, Reid innovated; constantly devising new strips like Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World, Creepy Creations and World-Wide Weirdies. He was also always open to fresh opportunities. This collection gathers a quartet of series he created for specialist comics weeklies Scorcher and Scorcher and Score: both specialist boys’ periodicals blending strips, photo-features and general sports journalism dedicated to the beautiful game.

Preceding them is text feature ‘Kicking it Off…’ by Reid’s son Antony J., describing the circumstances that saw a man in his 50s with no appreciable interest in or knowledge of football accept an offer from a desperate editor and pull off a hat trick (plus one!) of unique series by displaying the seldom seen side of the great scribbler: his inspirational and ironclad professionalism and admirable “have-ago” attitude…

Scorcher kicked off on January 10th 1970, became Scorcher and Score after 77 issues (by merging with Score ‘n’ Roar in early July 1971) and called “time” with the October 5th 1974 issue – a further 171 outings. Its best bits were ultimately absorbed into Tiger, but Annuals and Summer Specials continued to appear until 1984.

As suits the nature of the magazines, each Reid picture riot (originally running from January 1970 to mid-1972) is individually hilarious but in total a bit formulaic. That was never a problem at the time as editors held the belief that readers had a definite shelf-life and would quickly move on to better things… like Chaucer, Len Deighton, or the back pages of The Sun or Daily Mirror…

Moreover, Reid was meant to be a half-time palate cleanser. Straight football comics content was already covered by traditional – if often unconventional – strips like Kangaroo Kid, Royal’s Rangers, Bobby of the Blues, Paxton’s Powerhouse, Lags Eleven, Jack of United, Jimmy of City, and later classics Hotshot Hamish, Nipper, and Billy’s Boots.

The line-up for Scorcher #1 included Reid’s Sub (He’s always on the sidelines!), with unfit, unloved and decidedly fiendish Duggie Dribble on the touchline. He was always there: as well as being hated by Biggleswick Wanderers’ manager and other players, Dribble was useless on the field. His disappointment turned to malice and he spent his days trying to take out his own teammates just so he could get a game…

Before being replaced in the August 15th edition, Duggie conspired to maim, poison, hypnotise, overfeed, electrocute his colleagues, and regularly employed other tactics, like sabotaging kit, relocating matches, wrecking pitches and even occasionally offering to play for the opposition in his fervour for a kickabout in front of roaring crowds – who didn’t much like him either.

Each episode is a single page masterclass in black comedy, macabre timing and grotesque excess that would do the Addams Family proud…

Substituting for Dribble’s doomed tactics, Football Forum (August 15th 1970-January 16th 1971) took a satirical and often absurdly surreal swipe at TV pundits as a panel of experts answered questions posed by readers – for the usual £1 postal order despatched to the lucky cove who fired Reid’s imagination that week. The panel included referee Percival Peeps, Centre-Forward Charlie Cannon and a guest speaker carefully tailored to deliver maximum laughs. Subjects covered included ‘The best way to take a penalty’; ‘is soccer too dirty?’; ‘players’ hair length’; ‘are players overpaid?’, ‘are referees too soft?’ and ‘how to deal with teams who play the offside trap’ but the answers were never helpful and frequently led to mayhem, carnage and use of the damp sponge…

Arguably, Reid’s most well-regarded contribution was Manager Matt, who began his career in the January 23rd edition. Pompous and self-important Matt was fed up with the standard of positions he was offered at the Labour Exchange and was fortunate enough to be passing by Mudchester United’s ground just as the corrupt and doddering Board of Directors agreed that what they needed was a complete fool to take the blame for their mismanagement and malfeasance. Soon the perfect scapegoat was in situ: a man who knew nothing about anything…

To be fair, it was the perfect set-up, because the stadium was a shambolic neglected ruin and the players were little better than beasts and bullies. Over the next 29 weeks, team and neophyte tyrant slowly gelled into a bunch of useless strangers who hated each other but somehow managed to win a few matches and even go on a world tour that enabled them to bring home a sack full of European silverware…

Manic and compulsive, these tales are less about football than the fundamentals of slapstick comedy, but they are astoundingly entertaining.

Concluding this first foray into football fun comes a strip you can’t help but feel is Reid being utterly honest with himself and the readers.

Hugh Fowler – The man who HATES football! launched in the August 14th issue (and ran until May 6th 1972), with a man very much the prototype of Basil Fawlty fulminating and thundering over his loathing for the Beautiful Game.

Each week he attempted to spoil matches, maim players and even excise the sport from the ken of mankind. Obviously he ultimately failed in his endeavours as people still gather to sing songs, eat pies and cheer on fit people as they chase a ball, but that’s probably due more to the interference of pesky kids spoiling his schemes than his facility with explosives, superglue, kidnapping, pitch sabotage, match fixing, ball tampering and so forth.

He even tried to remove the sport from libraries and stop the printing of Scorcher and Score, but somehow his divine crusade never achieved its aims…

There’s a bit of extra time left in this initial foray, and an Annuals sections calls up a couple of Sub shorts from the Scorcher Annual 1970 whilst the 1971 seasonal package finds Manager Matt languishing in laundry woes and the 1973 edition sees Hugh Fowler extend his campaign to include arcade games with equally unpleasant outcomes…

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these lesser known cartoon capers are a welcome reintroduction to the canon of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This is one more treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase. Part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, this is a superb tribute to the man and a brilliant reminder of what we all love…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, & 2021 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Savant


 

By Jim Alexander, Will Pickering, Fin Cramb & Jim Campbell (Planet Jimbot)
ISBN: 978-1-9164535-6-2 (TPB)  

As well as periodical comic books, anthologies and prose novels, independent publisher Planet Jimbot (primarily Jim Alexander & Jim Campbell, and a seemingly bottomless well of fresh and aspiring talent) also produce proper graphic novels …damned good ones.  

After a quiet period for us all, and brief dalliance with Dark Horse Comics, the lads make their return to independent ways with this slim, full-colour done-in-one interplanetary extravaganza.   

Writer Jim Alexander’s pictorial back-catalogue includes Star Trek the Manga, X-Men (Ororo: Before the Storm), Calhab Justice among many strips for 2000AD; kids licensed properties like Ben 10 and Generator Rex and a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, DC Thomson, Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, and loads of other places. He also co-rules – with Jim Campbell – his own publishing empire. Planet Jimbot offers genre releases like Wolf Country; The Ripper Legacy; App-1; The Samurai; App-1; Gabriel and more Alexander has also written potent prose novels like GoodCopBadCop and The Light 

Here, in conjunction with illustrator Will Pickering (Wolf Country; Burke & Hare), colourist Fin Cramb (White Ash; JM Barrie’s Peter Pan) and letterer Campbell (Firefly; 2000 AD) he debuts cosmic wanderer Lode, who originally hails from fabled memory planet Savant. 

Grieving her lost father, Lode wanders the lesser universe far from elysian Savant, irresistibly drawn to points of crisis, bloodshed and chaos. On Hubris, she finds plenty after being pressganged into using her unique ability to carry other people’s memories in a doomed attempt to interpret the rationale of a crazed demagogue. 

The force of recollection drives this entire saga of good against evil and life over death. The self-exiled preserver of others’ pasts is drawn into a military mission after a supernal force of destruction possesses charismatic leader Trigo. Now as civilisation descends into brutal barbarity, the facsimile mind battles her own drawing Lode and a crack team of paramilitary Civil Servants towards the secret source driving citizens to madness and riot: a civil war between the weary sane and hyper-energised deranged… 

Closing in on the cause of all woes, Lode has no conception of how much her own life and destiny will be changed by the final confrontation… 

Smart, sharp and compelling, this is a keenly insightful exploration of inner universes and outer realities that will delight any fan of thoughtful action and well-reasoned drama and will especially resonate with fans of more conceptually-driven screen dreams like FarScape, Altered Carbon or The Expanse.
Story © 2022 Jim Alexander (story) & Will Pickering & Fin Cramb (art). 

Playing the Game


By Doris Lessing & Charlie Adlard (HarperCollins Publications 1995/Fourth Estate)
ISBN: 978-58621-689-7 (Album PB)

Author, poet, playwright, biographer, Nobel Laureate and literary big gun Doris May Lessing (22 October 1919 – 17 November 2013) did the unexpected for her entire career, writing about what was personally important and effectively damning her critics by ignoring them.

The much-celebrated author of The Grass is Singing, Children of Violence, The Good Terrorist and The Golden Notebook delivered a major blow to literary snobs who sneered at science fiction as nothing but a degraded form with her five volume Canopus in Argos: Archives and she was just as insensible to hidebound criticism when she wrote this slim graphic novella…

With art by Charlie Adlard, Playing the Game is a simple, harsh yet lyrical tale describing the rise – and life philosophy – of Spacer Joe Magnifico, whose mighty self-confidence and risk-everything nature takes him out of the desperate slums of a dystopic future city-slum to within spitting distances of the vault of Heaven, whether it be seen as freedom, wealth, security or fantastic love.

Does he flee or free himself from the true, dirty, real world and the physically limited carnality of Bella-Rose, to join with the sublime Francesca Bird? Can he keep what his determination has won him? Which is stronger: Will or Chance?

Chillingly, a recent reread seemed to display a propensity for prophetic allegory: the dare-everything, nobody-can-touch mental dysfunction Magnifico is stricken with makes a perfect template for many current world leaders who think nothing will stick and that they are immune from consequences. As in this book, Time will tell…

Praised as a major boost in credibility for graphic narrative on its release, this is a work largely ignored by the comics community itself. We still desperately want the big world to take us seriously, but instances we cite still tend to be couched in terms of the movies our best stuff spawns, rather than in the magic of word and pictures on paper, and that in itself limits us. I haven’t yet seen a decent film version of Spiegelman’s Maus, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or From Hell …or even James Joyce’s Ulysses, come to that…

The scope of content needn’t overwhelm the depth of intent and this is a parable with as much unsaid and un-drawn as shown and told. This is not a case of less than meets the eye… as you will find if you try it.

Tragically and inexplicably, it’s still not been taken up digitally anywhere, but copies can be found on line at ludicrous prices, so if you want it Playing the Game can still be yours…
© 1995 Doris Lessing. Art © 1995 Charlie Adlard. All Rights Reserved.

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.