Bunny vs Monkey and the Human Invasion!

By Jaimie Smart, with Laura Bentley & Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-195-6 (PB)

Way back in 2012, Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a weekly comics anthology for girls and boys which harked back to the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, packed with splendid tales from amazing creators. This is a handily repackaged instant classic from one of the best…

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture from the very first issue: a madcap duel of animal arch rivals set amidst the idyllic arcadia of a more-or-less ordinary English Wood. Those trend-setting, mind-bending antics were rapidly retooled as graphic albums and are now available in remastered, double-length digest editions. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 3 & 4, then entitled The Stench and The Wobbles

The tittering, tail-biting tension details the ongoing war of wits and wonder-weapons over another year in the country. The obnoxious simian co-star originally arrived after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, contemplative Bunny. Despite patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine is increasingly compelled to wearily admit that the incorrigible idiot ape is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

Following a vivid gallery of stars, the month-by-month mayhem reports recommence with January as chilly snow blankets the ground. ‘Log Off!’ finds Bunny in need of firewood, but he should never have asked happily brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver to help gather it…

Blithering innocents Weenie Squirrel and Pig then take centre stage as the baking-addicted tree-rodent reveals he has an imaginary friend. The mocking fools have no idea ‘Lionel!’ is actually one of the ghastly Hyoomanz intent on demolishing the Wood to build something called a motorway…

Monkey’s greatest ally is ostracised outcast and hairy mad scientist Skunky – a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-themed atrocity weapons and a secret agenda of his own. His latest bovine-inspired stealth weapon – ‘Ca-Moo-Flarj!’ – promptly goes the way of most of his ghastly gimmicks, after which both furry factions catch gold fever in ‘The Quest for Blackbeard’s Treasure!’ Sadly, the old map stuffed in a tree trunk is of very recent vintage…

February opens with ‘T3-ddy!’ as Skunky’s colossally devastating robo-bear is suborned and defeated by its own innate need for a cuddle, after which Bunny discovers a vast cavern under his food store. At first, he thinks it’s just Skunky’s latest indiscretion, but even the evil mega-genius is surprised at the hideous thing ‘What Lies Beneath!’

‘Casa Del Pig!’ sees woodland folk unite to make the porcine ingénue a home of his own, after which ‘Meet Randolph!’sees them all together to greet a visiting raccoon. The masked stranger claims to be the cousin of surly radical environmentalist (and keeper of ancient secrets) Fantastique Le Fox, and he can certainly handle himself in a crisis, as evidenced by the swift and efficient way he despatches Monkey and Skunky’s rampaging mechanical Helliphant

March ushers in a not-so fragrant Spring as Skunky decides to weaponize his own natural defences, but ‘The Stench!’proves yet again that his intellect far outstrips common sense and any iota of self-restraint…

When an irrepressible yet lonely cyber-crocodile finds a message in a bottle, he unbends enough to ask Bunny for reading and writing lessons in ‘The Educating of Mister Metal Steve!’ Sadly, his eventual RSVP proves that core-programming is hard to escape…

A rare victory for Evil is revealed through the creation of a giant beached flounder in ‘Fishy Plops!’ before nature reasserts itself in ‘Bad Crowd!’, wherein the tantrum-throwing Monkey meets some heretofore unknown woods-dwellers who terrify even him…

The Skunk boffin finally goes too far in his quest for knowledge and accidentally invents Boomantium, capable of creating ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ Nobody expected dim-witted Action to find a solution to the imminent cacophonous catastrophe, but as April opens ‘Billion Dollar Beaver!’ reveals that their crash-helmeted comrade is indestructible. He should therefore be considered another actual ultimate weapon… unless, of course, you’re just a short-sighted, imagination-limited primate with delusions of grandeur…

Over the months the Woods have become home to an increasingly impressive variety of non-native species and an unsavoury crisis of explosive proportions is barely averted when ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ defeats the ever-encroaching “Humans” but not the combined efforts of Bunny and Skunky.

His evil dominance drastically declining, the appalling anthropoid is blackmailed by Pig and Weenie into being their ‘Monkey Butler!’, before May blossoms and ‘The Big Eye Am!’ sees a gigantic laser-firing orb crashing through the verdure, closely followed by its previous owner…

‘On the Road!’ finds the beastly boys trying to decide on how to stop the motorway builders when the meeting is disrupted by cute running-toy addict Hamster 3000. This allows Skunky and Le Fox to resume their own private negotiations, after which Monkey returns to his devious top form when subjecting the flora and fauna to the inundation of ‘The Purple!’

May becomes June during ‘The Weird, Weird Woods! (Part One and Two)’ as the animals invade the humans’ building-site shed. They are furiously repelled and pursued by the bizarre and terrified creatures within, but their first foray is soon forgotten when Bunny wakes up in proposed paradise ‘Bunnyopia!’, only to discover it is a monstrous and frightening sham…

Skunky’s perpetual and wanton splashing about in the gene-pool then results in terrifying travesty ‘Octo-Fox!’ and only Monkey’s arrant disregard for all rules and laws – including Nature’s – saves the day: one-upping the tentacled terror, after which ‘Weenie’s Big Adventure!’ gives the benign waif a day to remember after waking an oversleeping bear. A little later, however, a mind-swapping device in the wrong paws leads to a plague of chaotic ‘Brainache!’

With a seemingly quiet moment to spare, the animals consider the past and their futures in ‘Woodland Story!’, leading to Skunky’s new Clone-a-Tron generating ‘So Many Monkeys!’ that the dream of Monkeytopia seems a forgone conclusion…

Focus switches now on the pasts of our uncanny assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise as the Hyoomanz are now well underway in building that motorway through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

Sadly, all the tail-biting tension does nothing to derail the ongoing but so-far-localised war of wits and wonder-weapons, and the already fraught atmosphere gets another unnecessary shot of adrenaline as ‘A New Challenger Appears’ in the fuzzy form of The Maniacal Badger, resolutely challenging Skunky for the title of top mad scientist, after which Monkey wrecks a playground but loses face once Bunny gets him to share a ‘See-Saw!’

Skunky horrifies blithering innocents Weenie and Pig when his ‘Grav-O-Box’ sets the river running backwards, although when co-conspirator Monkey ruins the test flight of his Hot Air Balloon Jet Engines and propels them ‘Around the Woods in 80 Seconds’ the malcontents themselves are the only ones to suffer…

Sinking into over-indulgence, the simian stinker has to take drastic action after becoming a ‘Fat Monkey’ before stealing some building machinery from the Hyoomanz in ‘Monkey at Work’

Skunky upsets the balance of nature – and value of custard – after creating aberrant lifeform ‘The Wobbles!’, after which every animal pulls together when a Hyooman wanders in and Bunny orders ‘Battle Stations’. Of course, Skunky stupidly makes things so much worse by splicing Science to Nature and releasing ‘The Vines’

An annoying game of ‘Poink!’ drives everybody bonkers but welcome terror returns after the colossal ‘Monkeytron!’rampages through the trees, in time to greet rocket scientists searching for a test monkey they lost in the very first episode…

Pig’s origin is revealed in the cleverly obfuscatory (not!) ‘A Pig on the Range’ before Park Ranger Derek P. Brigstockehas a close encounter with a net and ‘A Bear Bum!’, whilst irrepressible yet lonely cyber-crocodile ‘The Incredible Metal Steve’ undergoes a ferocious metal-morphosis even as ‘Bunny Vs. Monkey!’ finds our notional stars getting back to bruising basics in their never-ending struggle…

After a troop of Hyooman cub scouts fail to ‘Catch That Bunny’, Pig and Squirrel dig up ‘Worms’ and take the slimy earth-movers fishing, but not in any way you’ve seen before… ‘Goodbye, Bunny’ then finds our pacifist protagonist plunging deep into the distant city in search of his origins, and Pig becomes a dragon-slaying knight in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

…And none too soon as it happens, since, with snow falling, the Maniacal Badger returns to worry the woodland folk with ‘The Thing!’ he’d stolen from the Hyoomanz Building Site, prompting a desperate search for natural leader Bunny: a trail taking them to a comfortable suburban hutch and ‘A Place Where You Belong’

Reunited with the Crinkle Woods critters, Bunny finds a time machine and – by accidentally visiting ‘Once Upon a Time’– discovers the true secret of Skunky’s vast and evil intellect, courtesy of an extra-long extravaganza which segues straight into the formation of sadly deficient superhero team The Rather Good Squad in ‘Choose Your Side!’

With Christmas fast approaching, festivities are briefly disrupted by marauding ‘Snow Meanies’ before the Builders try secretly bulldozing the Woods. They are stopped by Monkey, gleefully brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman Action Beaver and ‘The Real Santa!’

The madcap mayhem concludes with a portentous epilogue as ‘Door B’ opens to reveal the ultimate triumph of the ultimate villainous mastermind, but that’s…

To Be Continued…

Adding lustre and fun, this superb treat includes detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Pig’ and ‘How to Draw Skunky’, so, as well as beguiling your littl’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is halfway to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, brilliant invention and superb cartooning: an utterly irresistible joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, this is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Why isn’t that you, yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2021. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs. Monkey and the Human Invasion! will be published on February 4th 2021, and is available for pre-order now.

Johnny Red: Falcon’s First Flight

By Tom Tulley & Joe Colquhoun (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-033-8 (HB)

Britons have been enamoured of fighting aviators since the earliest days of popular fiction, but wonderful and thrilling as Biggles, Paddy Payne, I Flew with Braddock or Battler Britton might have been, the true hellish horror of war in the air didn’t really hit home for comics readers until strip veterans Tom Tully & Joe Colquhoun began crafting the epic career of a troublesome working-class maverick pilot.

Kicked out of the RAF at our time of greatest need, he eventually carved a bloody legend for himself in the blistering skies of the Eastern Front. Johnny Red debuted in January 1977, in issue #100 of increasingly radical war comic Battle Picture Weekly and Valiant. He rapidly became a firm fixture, appearing for the next 500-odd issues, before finally calling it a day in 1987. Even then, the strip continued as a reprint feature in Best of Battle until Fleetway stopped publishing comics.

Presented in a sturdily lavish and reliable hardback archival tome (but not sadly in digital formats yet), Falcon’s First Flight collects chapters 1-37 of the aerial epic in the original stark monochrome and includes an effusive introduction from starry-eyed fan Garth Ennis, plus a fascinating historical essay from Jeremy Briggs.

Genesis of a Hero provides some intriguing perspective as well as revealing the incredible story of the pilot who was the real-life inspiration for Johnny Red…

The racing breakneck action (utterly unavoidable since almost all Battle instalments were between 3-4 pages long) opens on September 1941 as young Liverpool oik Johnny Redburn helplessly watches Stukas and Junkas strafe and bomb the merchant ship he’s working on. The Empire Cape is part of a relief convoy en route to Murmansk with supplies for Britain’s hard-pressed Russian allies.

Scared and helpless, Redburn recalls the incident which got him cashiered from RAF training and banned from flying – originally striking an officer, but later retconned into accidentally killing an instructor. He doesn’t miss the snobs and stupid rules, but Johnny was a natural flier and is still hungry for the skies…

Unable to provide fighter escorts or aircraft carriers, the Navy at this time outfitted some freighters with a catapult-launched plane. The Cape has one of these insane contraptions: a single Hurricane which would be launched into enemy-filled skies with a few hours’ fuel and a pilot expected to do whatever he could until German bullets or the seas claimed him. Convoy ships had no landing facility and if the flier survived the dogfights he was expected to ditch in the sea or crash…

When the assigned aviator is killed on the way to launch, Johnny takes his place and against all odds shoots down enough attackers to allow the crew of the Cape to successfully abandon ship. Now he faces a unique dilemma. He is an illegal pilot in a stolen plane he can’t land. Having no faith in British military justice or the cold cruel waters below, Redburn decides to try for the Russian mainland and a proper landing field…

Typically, it’s a case of out of the frying pan and into the freezer as lethal weather conditions close in. Miraculously escaping fog, storm and ice, Johnny lands at a hidden base, only to be mistaken for a German by the starving and desperate air fighters of the 5th Soviet Air Brigade… the “Falcons”.

These are patriotic but damned men, ordered to resist to the last in creaky biplanes against the overwhelming forces of the Luftwaffe. As the embattled communists close on Johnny, the Germans attack and a unique bond of comradeship is formed as his skill and modern Hurricane wreaks havoc amongst the complacent Nazis. With nowhere else to go Johnny joins the squadron of the doomed, galvanising them into a competent squadron of rule-breaking, triumphant aerial killers risking everything to save their beleaguered homeland.

Ill-supplied and written off by their own leaders, the Soviet airmen are convinced by “Johnny Red” to steal whatever food, replacements and weapons they need from their own retreating forces, quickly becoming a cohesive and credible threat to the once unstoppable Germans.

The warrior’s spectacular revival causes its own problems. Johnny is hiding from all contact with the British, convinced only jail or the gallows await him, whilst beyond the close brotherhood of his fellow Falcons, successive Soviet military bureaucrats such as demented political officer Major Alexie Kraskin – a martinet who loves executing his own troops if they won’t obey suicidal orders – or cowardly, carpet-bagging Comrade Colonel Grigor Yaraslov, politically appointed to lead the resurgent squadron, all seem far too eager to get rid of the humiliatingly competent foreign interloper…

In sortie after sortie, “Johnny Red” tackles privation, exhaustion and the enmity of his superiors whilst clearing Russian skies of fascist predators, but as this first volume closes he faces his greatest challenges.

With the Falcons posted to the frozen hell of Leningrad during the worst part of the German siege, Johnny is increasingly plagued by the recurring effects of an old head-wound causing sporadic fits of blindness. Simultaneously, a kill-crazy psychopathic replacement to the Falcons is determined to murder the Englishman, for stopping the strafing of Germans after they have surrendered…

These gritty, evocative tales are packed with historical detail, breathtaking passion and a staggering aura of authenticity. The classic theme of a misfit making good under incredible adversity has never been better depicted and Tom (Kelly’s Eye, Roy of the Rovers, Steel Claw, Raven on the Wing, Harlem Heroes, Mean Arena) Tully’s visceral scripts are perfectly realised by miracle worker Joe Colquhoun. The artist quit writing and drawing Roy of the Rovers to perfect his mastery of aviation war-stories on the long-running but more traditional Paddy Payne in Lion (from 1959 until the feature was retired) before co-creating Johnny Red in late 1976.

He illustrated 100 episodes before moving on to his greatest work Charley’s War.

This premiere collection is a grand moment in the transition of comics from boy’s own bravado in a Toff’s World to mature, mercurial yet moving adventures starring ordinary working-class heroes. Johnny Red was at the forefront of this invasion of extraordinary commoners during a war that almost abolished the class system forever.

However, whatever your dogma or preferred arena of struggle, there’s no question that these magnificent war-stories are among the Few: the cream of British comics well worth your avid time and attention, especially in these perilous times when today’s toffs continually seek to appropriate the language and actions of real wartime heroism for their own shameful, self-serving purposes.
Johnny Red © 2010 Egmont UK Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Introduction © 2010 Garth Ennis. Genesis of a Hero © 2010 Jeremy Briggs.

Merry Christmas, One and All

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.

Look and Learn Book 1964
By various (Fleetway)

One of the most missed of publishing traditions in this country is the educational comic. From the features in legendary icon The Eagle to the small explosion of factual and socially responsible boys’ and girls’ papers in the late 1950s, to the heady go-getting heydays of the 1960s and 1970s, Britain had a healthy sub-culture of kids’ periodicals that informed, instructed and revealed – and don’t even get me started on sports comics!

Amongst many others, Speed & Power, World of Wonder, Tell Me Why and the greatest of them all, Look and Learn, spent weeks over decades making things clear and bringing the marvels of the world to our childish but avid attentions. Moreover, when we had no screens of our own, it was all accomplished with wit, style and – thanks to the quality of the illustrators involved – astonishing beauty and clarity.

Look and Learn launched on 20th January 1962, the brainchild of Fleetway Publications Director of Juvenile Publications Leonard Matthews, and executed by Editor David Stone (almost instantly replaced by John Sanders), Sub-Editor Freddie Lidstone and Art Director Jack Parker.

For twenty years and 1049 issues. the comic delighted children by bringing the marvels of the universe to their doors, and became one of the county’s most popular children’s weeklies. Naturally, there were many spin-off tomes such as The Look and Learn Book of 1001 Questions and Answers, Look and Learn Book of Wonders of Nature, Look and Learn Book of Pets and Look and Learn Young Scientist, as well as the totally engrossing Christmas treat The Look and Learn Book.

Selected simply because it has a lovely and inclusive painted cover, this volume – released for Christmas 1963 (as with almost all UK Annuals they were forward-dated) is a prime example of a lost form. Within this168-heavy-stock-paged hardback are 49 fascinating features on all aspects of human endeavour and natural wonder from And in the beginning there was FIRE, Let’s Look at Canada, How this Book was Printed, It’s On the Map!, The Muscle Menders, When Man Goes to Mars, Every Carpet Tells a Story, The Charm of Canterbury, Puzzle Pix, Art Gallery in an Album, Photo Know-How, The Queen’s Bodyguard, Why Do Camels Have Humps? and dozens more articles, all cannily designed to beguile, enthral and above all else, inspire young minds.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs, diagrams, infographics, and paintings and drawings by some of the world’s greatest commercial artists including such luminaries as Ron and Gerry Embleton, Don Lawrence, Helen Haywood, Ron Turner, Ken Evans, Angus McBride, Severino Baraldi, Graham Coton, Ralph Bruce, Cecil Langley Doughty and many others, these books were an utter delight for hungry minds to devour whilst the turkey and Christmas pudding were slowly digested…

Earlier editions such as this one also valued literary entertainment and hands-on activity: providing illustrated extracts from classic books (as here with ‘Midshipman Easy Goes to Sea’ by Captain Frederick Marryat and illuminated poems ‘The Fall of Ratisbon’ by Robert Browning and William Wordsworth’s ‘An Evening Walk’) and hobby crafts as seen in a vast and detailed section on ‘How to build Model Boats’ – complete with plans and blueprints.

With the internet and TV, I suppose their like is unnecessary and irrelevant, but nostalgia aside, the glorious pictures in these volumes alone make them worth the effort of acquisition, and I defy any child of any age to not be sucked into the magic of learning stuff in such lively, lovely style…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd 1963. All Rights Reserved.

Hotspur Book for Boys 1975
By Many & various (DC Thomson)
Retroactively awarded ISBN: 978-0-85116-077-1

If you grew up British any time after 1960 and read comics, you probably cast your eye occasionally – if not indeed fanatically – over DC Thompson’s venerable standby The Victor.
The Dundee based publisher has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and arguably the most influential force in our comics industry. Its strong editorial stance and savvy creativity is responsible for a huge number of household names over many decades, through newspapers, magazines, books and especially its comics and prose-heavy “story-papers” for Girls and Boys.

That last category – comprising Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and Hotspur – pretty much-faded out at the end of the 1950s when the readership voted overwhelming with their pocket money in favour of primarily strip-based entertainments…

The last of those venerable all-prose story-papers wasn’t dormant for long. Cover-dated 24th October 1959, Hotspur the comic seamlessly replaced the prose stalwart (which had run from 2nd September 1933 to October 17th 1959) as a (mostly) pictorial serial package, running for 1110 weekly issues until finally folding into Victor with the January 24th1981 edition. It was very much the company’s weird and wonderful repository, like a general interest magazine for kids but with strange and exotic leanings. It was always heavy on bizarre situations and splendidly esoteric superheroes. Hostspur Annuals ran from 1966 to 1992 and were an unmissable fact of many a boy’s Yule loot…

This particular example hit the shops in September 1974, and behind that Ian Kennedy (?) cover opened with a two-coloured fact frontispiece exploring ‘Oil from under the Sea – the Finders’. The feature is mirrored at the end with ‘Oil from under the Sea – the Keepers’.

‘The Black Sapper’ was reformed criminal turned globetrotting troubleshooter: a brilliant engineer who built a mighty mechanical Worm-ship ship to travel beneath the Earth. He transferred to Hotspur from The Beezer, and was illustrated by Jack Glass, Keith Shone and Terry Patrick, who here details how the adventurer extinguishes an Arabian oil fire and scotches a sinister plot to usurp the king, after which we’re clued in on industrial ‘Deep Sea Fishing’.

Combining football and nautical adventure, comedy yarn ‘The Rust Bucket Rovers’ (John Richardson art?) sees soccer-crazed Pacific islanders contending with a multinational crew to clear a cargo, after which hearty spoof ‘Grizzly Grant’(Mike Dorey, or perhaps CD Bagnall) finds a junior Mountie and his ursine assistant battle frontier crime.

Tank commander ‘Blake of the Ironfists’ (Peter Sutherland?) then wins a major engagement in WWII Africa, leading to Dorey’s ‘Willie the Winner’ entering yet more contests with hilarious outcomes, before a 1941 naval blockade is overcome by doughty British mariners in ‘HMS Dent – the Deadly Decoy’.

The secrets of ‘Coastal Fishing’ segue into more mirth as motor racing pioneers ‘Spick and Spanner’ compete on a snowbound course in the Italian Alps after which veteran star ‘Iron Teacher’ and his handler Special Agent Jake Toddtackle an evil hypnotist with designs on a circus.

The history of ballooning in ‘Up, Up and Away!’ neatly proceeds into Great War saga ‘Hasket’s Battle Basket’, after which ‘Last of the Warriors’ sees a Cheyenne cavalry scout solving a murder mystery before slapstick oaf ‘Ossie the Outlaw’ proves again that for him crime does not pay…

After aviation pioneer ‘Skyscraper Kidd’ crashes his flying machine on a desert island and thinks his way home, time-displaced highwayman ‘Nick Jolly’ (and his robot flying horse) do their best to make Christmas unforgettable at a ski resort and mega department store in a rousing romp from Ron Smith whilst ‘Parker’s Barkers’ sees the rundown pooches of a local kennel humiliate the elite racers of the local dog track

Fact feature ‘The King of the Tankers’ leads into Z-Cars spoof ‘The Voice of the Panda’ before serious drama returns as football star ‘Cracker Jackson’ takes some sage advice to get over his psychological barriers. After learning all about ‘The World’s Biggest Shovel’, it’s back to desert islands where castaway WWII survivors ‘Thudd and Blunder’ deal with a native uprising in a manner simply not acceptable to today’s audiences.

Stealing the show is Ron Smith’s captivatingly odd teen hero ‘Red Star Robinson’ who – with the invaluable assistance of his android butler Mr. Syrius Thrice – thwarts The Spider’s plan to steal England’s crown jewels, after which ‘Heavyweights’ details a selection of massive transport options before the fun wraps up in anarchic hilarity as clod-footed ‘Dim Dan the Boobyguard’ (Dorey?) tries escorting his own boss to a crucial meeting and everybody else pays the price for his eager ineptitude…

Divorcing the sheer variety of content and entertainment quality of this book from simple nostalgia may be a healthy exercise but it’s almost impossible. I’m perfectly happy to luxuriously wallow in the potent emotions this annual still stirs. It’s a fabulous read from a magical time and turning those stiffened two-colour pages is always an unmatchable Christmas experience… happily one still relatively easy to find these days.

You should try it…
© DC Thomson & Co., Ltd., 1974.

Hurricane Annual 1969
By Many & various (Fleetway)
SBN: 900376-04-X

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

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

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

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

Following a tried-&-true formula, this book – published in 1968 – offers comics adventures, prose stories, fact-features, and funnies and puzzles, kicking off with visual vexations in ‘Fantastic – but True!’ before western star Drago joins an embattled cavalry troop in staving off an invasion from Mexico (no, really!) in duo-hued thriller ‘The Gun that Saved the West’ – possibly illustrated by Renato Polese.

‘The Worst Boy in the School’ – as illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam? – was a long-running boarding school saga enlivened by its star Duffy coming from Circus stock. Here the comedy chaos and espionage excitement stems from the boys trying to keep an escaped chimp and parrot secret from the Masters…

‘Two Fists Against the World!’ was a Regency-set strip featuring prize-fighter Jim Trim. Illustrated by Carlos Roume, this origin reprint sees how, in 1804, the husky orphan first sets out on his pugnacious path…

‘Casey and the Champ’ then details in strip form the last hurrah of a broken-down steam engine as prelude to a text feature of weird facts corralled here as ‘It Was the Way Out West’ feature. Truly gripping prose yarn ‘The Vanished Wreck’then recounts how a clever insurance scam is foiled by an inventive salvage crew, before Typhoon Tracy – Extra Special Agent stars in ‘Mad, Mad Mission’: baffling spies and American agents in equal measure with his blundering rescue of a kidnapped boffin. Switching back to prose, Rex Barton, Investigator of the Weird and Unknown foils a cunning robbery in ‘The Phantom Monks of Milborough’.

Following the comedy capers of ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Pervy Vere’, pictorial history lesson ‘Into Battle with King-Sized Catapults!’ and ‘Safari Quiz’ segue into a thrilling prose sci-fi short illustrated by immaculate stylist Reg Bunn. ‘Hunt for the Human Time-Bomb!’ stars atomic accident survivors Ace Sutton and Flash Casey who use their abilities to walk through walls to avert imminent catastrophe, after which The Robot Builders (drawn by what looks like early Massimo Bellardinelli?) attend a New World symposium and experience ‘All the Fear of the Fair!’ when a giant mechanical brain goes haywire…

Masked cowboy ‘The Black Avenger’ then exposes a fake sheriff before we jump to luscious full-colour as the worst ship in the WWII navy again confounds the British Admiralty and escapes being broken up for parts in ‘HMS Outcast in the Big Scrap’. Geoff Campion’s unruly mob here stave off doom and dispersal by implausibly capturing an Italian super dreadnaught in the Mediterranean…

‘Defeat for the ‘Boy General’ – the True Story of Custer’s Last Stand’ gives a fairly jaundiced review of the cavalryman’s career (backed up by visuals from contemporary movie Custer of the West) whilst ‘War Under the Sea’ offers technical speculation on the development of the Oceans, ending the colour section and leading into monochrome soccer star Harry of the Hammers who wins his cup-tie after first foiling a robbery in prose piece ‘Mystery Marksman’

After gag magician ‘Marvo Brings the House Down’, Giovanni Ticci limns a sublime light-hearted ‘Sword for Hire’ romp starring Cavalier soldier-of-fortune Hugo Dinwiddie who pawns his blade but still manages to save the day against burglars and bandits, and racer Geoff Hart wins a war of wills and wheels in ‘Stock-Car Duel!’

Sport was a major fascination of publishers at this time and ‘Soccer Special by The Ref’ opens an extended section of pictorial mini-features comprised of ‘Cap-and-Cup Winners’, ‘Before they were Famous’, ‘Odd Things Happen in Soccer’ and ‘They Made Soccer History’, before full-on fantasy returns with cover-star ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’, who revisits his Earth chum Dr. Dan Morgan and foils alien invaders employing tectonic terror tactics.

Another outing for Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Pervy Vere brings us to prose fable ‘The Impostor Knight’, revealing how an affable blacksmith’s assistant wins a joust, augmented by fact-filled sidebar ‘Warriors in Armour’ before ‘Sgt. Rock – Special Air Service’ is assigned to destroy a Nazi fuel dump and ‘Typhoon Tracy Trouble-Shooter’ riotously ends a revolution far, far South of the Border in his own inimitable incompetent manner…

Mischievous moppet ‘Terrible Tich’ literally brings the house down and ‘Wild West Funmen’ offers a magazine of owlhoot hoots before the nostalgia-fest closes in spectacular style as Hugo Dinwiddie stalks a flamboyant highwayman and ends up as a ‘Courier for the King!’

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., 1968

The Complete Johnny Future

By Alf Wallace, Luis Bermejo & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-758-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Wonderment and an Ideal Last-Minute Gift… 10/10

Until relatively recently, Britain never really had a handle on superheroes. Although every reader from the 1950s on can cite a particular favourite fantasy muscle-man or costumed champion – from Thunderbolt Jaxon to Morgyn the Mighty, or Gadget Man & Gimmick Kid to the Spider, Tri-Man and Phantom Viking to Red Star Robinson and Billy the Cat (& Katie!) – to have populated our pages, they all somehow ultimately lacked conviction. Well, almost all…

During the heady Swinging Sixties days of “Batmania”, just as Marvel Comics was first infiltrating our collective consciousness, a little-remembered strip graced the pages of a short-lived experimental title and the result was sheer, unbridled magic…

With Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtaking their London-based competitors – monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press – throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed to compete offered incredible vistas in adventure material. Thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to Amalgamated, they also 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 that latter end of the period, the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero crazy just as Amalgamated absorbed all its local rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press to form Fleetway/Odhams and ultimately IPC.

Formerly the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated Press (created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the 20th century) had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not always fresh or original. The all-consuming monolith had been reprinting the early successes of Marvel comics for a few years; feeding on a growing fashion for US-style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DCT’s Wolf of Kabul or the Tough of the Track. A key point at that time was that although both part of the Mirror Group, Fleetway and Odhams were deadly rivals…

“Power Comics” was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate their periodicals – which contained reprinted American superhero material – from the greater company’s regular blend of sports, war, western adventure and gag comics such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger. During this time, the Power weeklies did much to popularise budding Marvel characters and their shared universe in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the actual American imports.

The line began with Wham! – but only after the comic was well-established. Originally created by newly-ensconced Leo Baxendale, it launched on June 20th 1964. At the start, the title was designed as a counter to The Beano, as was Smash! (which launched February 5th 1966), but the tone of times soon dictated the hiving off into a more distinctive imprint, which was augmented by the creation of little sister Pow!

Pow! launched with a cover date of January 31st 1967, combining home-grown funnies such as Mike Higgs’ The Cloak,Baxendale’s The Dolls of St Dominic’s, Reid’s Dare-a-Day Davy, Wee Willie Haggis: The Spy from Skye and British originated thrillers such as Jack Magic and The Python with the now ubiquitous resized US strips: in this case Spider-Man and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The next step was even bolder. Fantastic – and its sister paper Terrific – were notable for not reformatting or resizing the original US artwork whereas in Wham!, Pow! or Smash!, an entire 24-page yarn could be resized and squeezed into 10 or 11 pages, accompanied by British comedy and adventure strips.

These slick new periodicals – each with a dynamic back cover pin-up taken from Marvel Comics or created in-house by apprentice comics bods and future superstars Barry Windsor-Smith and Steve Parkhouse – reprinted US Superhero fare, supplemented by minimal amounts of UK originated filler and editorial.

Fantastic #1 debuted with cover-date February 18th 1967 (but was first seen in newsagents on Saturday 11th), revealing the origin stories of Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men, but from the get-go, savvy tykes like me were as engrossed by a short adventure serial also included to fill out the page count. The Missing Link was beautifully drawn and over the following year (February 18th 1967 – February 3rd 1968) would become a truly unique reading experience…

The series began inauspiciously as a kind of homegrown Incredible Hulk knock off. Oddly, editor and writer Alfred “Alf” Wallace crafted for the filler a tone very similar to that adopted by Marvel’s own Green Goliath when he became a small screen star a decade later…

The illustrator was the astoundingly gifted Luis Bermejo Rojo, a star of Spanish comics forced to seek work abroad after the domestic market imploded in 1956. He became a prolific contributor to British strips, working on a succession of moody masterpieces such as the Human Guinea Pig, Mann of Battle, Pike Mason, Phantom Force Five and Heros the Spartan, in a variety of genres, appearing in Girls Crystal, Tina, Tarzan Weekly, Battle Picture Library, Thriller Picture Library The Eagle, Buster, Boys World, Tell Me Why, Look and Learn and many more. He finally achieved a modicum of deserved acclaim in the 1970s, after joining fellow studio mates José Ortiz, Esteban Maroto and Leopoldo Sanchez working on adult horror stories for Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella.

I’m a big kid helplessly enmired in nostalgia, but to me his greatest moments were the year spent drawing Johnny Future

The Missing Link – as the feature was entitled for the first 15 episodes – was disturbingly similar to TV’s Hulk of the 1970s. Superhumanly strong, tragically misunderstood, the strip combined human-scaled drama with lost world exoticism in the manner of King Kong, as can be see seen following Steve Holland’s incisive and informative Introduction ‘Welcome to the Future!’, when the drama opens in the wilds of Africa.

A bestial man-beast roams the veldt, swamps and mountains, until great white hunter Bull Belson comes to capture him, accompanied by secretary/photographer Lita Munro. The infamous tracker sees only profit in the mute beast, who, after much frustratingly destructive behaviour, is lured into captivity by an inexplicable attraction to Miss Munro…

To be fair, she has the brute’s interests at heart, attempting to befriend and teach the Link on the slow voyage back to England, but on reaching London Dock, the sideshow attraction is spooked by mocking labourers and breaks his bonds and cage…

Brutally rampaging across the city at the heart of the Swinging Sixties, the Link is soon being hunted by the army, but nobody realizes that beneath the bestial brow is a cunning brain. Hopping a freight train up north, he seeks refuge in an isolated government atomic research laboratory run by Dr. Viktor Kelso and is accidentally dosed with vast transformative radiation…

The unleashed uncanny forces jumpstart an evolutionary leap, turning the primitive beast into a perfect specimen of manhood, while simultaneously sparking a near-catastrophic meltdown in the machinery, which is only averted by the massive instinctive intellect of the new man. Arrested as a terrorist spy, the silent superman is very publicly tried in court and again encounters Lita.

Meanwhile, Kelso has deduced the true course of events. As the Link uses his prison time to educate himself in the ways of the world, the scientist works on a deadly super-weapon, prompting the Link to escape jail and clear his name. With his super-strength and massive mind, the task is easy but he still needs Lita to complete his plan…

The series cheerfully plundered the tone of the times and the drama seamlessly morphs into chilling science fiction tropes as Kelso’s device brings the nation to a literal standstill leaving only the evolved outsider to thwart a staggeringly ambitious scheme…

Set on a new heroic path, although still a hunted fugitive, the Link creates a civilian identity (John Foster) and a costumed persona just as Britain is assaulted by ‘The Animal Man’: a psionic dictator able to control all beasts and creatures. Incredibly, that includes recently ascendant Johnny Future, but the villain is defeated after overextending himself and accidentally awakening a primordial horror from Jurassic times…

In short order, Johnny Future tackles Dr. Jarra and his killer robot; a society of evil world-conquering scientists, invention-plundering shapeshifting aliens, prehistoric giants, and deranged science tyrant The Master.

Fully hitting his stride, the future man overcomes personality warping psychopath Mr. Opposite and defeats the Secret Society of Science’s top assassins ‘The Brain, The Brute and the Hunter’ before saving Earth from marauding living metal and defeating Dr. Plasto’s animated waxwork killers.

And that was that. Without warning the comic merged with sister publication Terrific and there was no more room for a purely British superhero. Here, however, there’s one more delight: a 14-page, full-colour complete adventure with Johnny battling diabolical primordial revenant Disastro, first seen in Fantastic Annual 1968, plus a colour pin-up from Fantastic #30 (September 9th 1967).

Interest in superheroes and fantasy in general were on the wane and British weeklies were diversifying. Some switched back to war, sports and adventure stories, whilst with comedy strips on the rise again, others became largely humour outlets. Johnny Future (available in comforting hardback and accessible digital formats) is a unique beast: a blend of British B-movie chic, with classic monster riffs seen through the same bleak but compelling lens that spawned Doctor Who and Quatermass: the social sci fi of John Wyndham trying on glamourous superhero schtick whilst blending the breakneck pace of a weekly serial with the chilling moodiness of kitchen sink crime dramas.

There was never anything like this before or since and if you love dark edges to your comics escapism you must have this amazing collection far sooner than tomorrow.
™ & © 1967, 1968, & 2020 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Biscuits Assorted

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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Captivating Human-Scaled Enticement… 10/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Biscuits Assorted is a brilliant and revelatory picaresque voyage that is impossible to put down and certain to become a classic of graphic literature. It’s also the most fun you can have with your brain fully engaged.

Yesterday we published our Top Ten of 2020. Be sure to add this to the list. We did.
© Jenny Robins 2020. All rights reserved.

Beano and Dandy: A Celebration of Dudley D. Watkins

By Dudley D. Watkins, R.D. Low & various (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-818-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Traditional Entertainment from a Much-Missed Master… 10/10

Unlike any other artform, Comics is uniquely set up to create small gods. Initially low cost, mass-market and appearing with rapidity – sometimes for decades – the works of some creators are instantly recognisable and generally prolific, and come to define the medium for generations of enthralled recipients. They generally all defy exact duplication, despite being always heavily imitated by adoring adherents, since they possess some indefinable element that slavish imitation cannot capture: Osamu Tezuka, Hergé, Jack Kirby, Alex Raymond, Moebius, Steve Ditko and Charles Schulz are all instantly known. There are certainly a few others you’d like to add to that list.

Feel free.

My own candidate for ascension is Dudley Dexter Watkins…

A tireless and prolific illustrator equally adept at comedy and drama storytelling, his style – more than any other’s – shaped the look and form of Scottish publishing giant DC Thompson’s comics output.

Watkins (1907-1969) started life in Manchester and Nottingham as an artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. Before too long he was advised to get a job at expanding, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating prose boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations. Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him the only contender for both lead strips in a bold new project conceived by writer/editor Robert Duncan Low (1895-1980).

Low began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and between 1921 and 1933 launched the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936, he created the landmark “Fun Section”: an 8-page pull-out comic strip supplement for national newspaper The Sunday Post. This illustrated accessory – the prototype for every comic the company ever released – launched on 8thMarch and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were the headliners.

Low’s shrewdest notion was to devise both strips as comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular, supported by features such as Chic Gordon’s Auchentogle, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips. These pioneering comics then laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

After some devious devising in December 1937 Low launched the first DC Thomson weekly all-picture strip comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic in 1939.

Low’s irresistible secret weapon in all of these ventures was Watkins. He drew the Fun Section signature strips The Broons and Oor Wullie from the outset and – without missing a beat – added Desperate Dan (in The Dandy) to his weekly workload in 1937. Seven months later, placidly outrageous social satire Lord Snooty became a big draw for freshly launched The Beano.

This stunning and luxurious hardback commemorative celebration was released to mark fifty years since his death and – despite dealing with a rather solemn topic – is exuberantly joyous in tracing the man’s astounding career and output. No one could read this stuff and not smile, if not actually collapse in gentle mirth…

Packed with brief commentary and visual extracts, the artist is revealed in excepts and complete episodes chronologically curated to maximise his artistic development. Beginning with The 1930s, a selection of strips starring Oor Wullie and The Broons (from The Fun Section) is followed by a vintage full-colour Beano Book cover, while a feature on Desperate Dan leads inevitably to a tranche of wild cowboy antics in the best Dundee tradition. The system then repeats for Lord Snootyand his Pals – before forgotten almost-stars Wandering Willie the Wily Explorer and the aforementioned Percy Vere and his Trying Tricks share their brand of whimsy.

Up until now, the majority of strips have been monochrome, but the sequence starring Smarty Grandpa comes in the nostalgic two-colour style we all remember so fondly…

An introductory essay about The 1940s is followed by more of the same, but different, beginning with lost family favourite adventure series. Jimmy and His Magic Patch (latterly Jimmy’s Magic Patch) revealed the exploits of a wee nipper whose torn trousers were repaired with a piece of mystical cloth that could grant wishes and transport the wearer to other times and fantastic realms…

Here Watkins got to impress with authentic imagery of pirates and dinosaurs, while a two-tone tale from an annual took Jimmy to Sherwood Forest and a meeting with Robin Hood

Watkins could seemingly handle anything, as seen by the selection of book covers that follow (The Story of Kidnapped, The Story of Treasure Island and The Story of Robinson Crusoe) and illustrated general knowledge pages Cast Away!, Wolves of the Spanish Main and Soldiers’ Uniforms & Arms 1742-1755 which precede complete Jacobite adventure strip Red Fergie’s “Army”.

Once upon a time, comics offered illustrated prose yarns too, and a literary legend was a fan favourite when Watkins did the pictures. ‘Gulliver – the Paraffin Oil Plot’ has stood well the test of time and neatly segues into a hefty section of strips starring the evergreen Lord Snooty and his Pals and Desperate Dan, before Biffo the Bear debuts in full colour – beginning with his premier on January 24th 1948 and including three more captivating outings. The decade then closes with another prose Gulliver treat in ‘Baron Bawler’s Blackout’

A true golden age, The 1950s section opens with Oor Wullie derivative Ginger from The Beezer, another full-colour cover-star copiously represented and followed by fellow mischief-maker Mickey the Monkey in The Topper, after which Lord Snooty and his Pals get the text & picture treatment for an extended (Annual?) adventure and Desperate Dan and Biffo the Bear star in multi-hued shorts trips.

‘The Tricks of Tom Thumb’ is another classical adventure yarn setting the scene for a veritable flurry of strips starring Biffo and Dan to see the decade out.

The venerable Lord Snooty and his Pals open The 1960s, with Desperate Dan quickly following before more full-colourful Mickey and Ginger strips lead into what was probably the artist’s preferred material. Watkins was a committed man of faith, creating illustrated Bible tracts in his spare time, and always eager to (decorously) promote his beliefs.

Here – in full colour – are a brace of theological adventure strips beginning with ‘David’ and his notorious battle, followed by ‘The Road to Calvary’ which lead into a rousing clan romp in the prose-&-picture yarn of English-trouncing scots rebel Wild Young Dirky

Ending the festival of fun, with a lump in the throat, is the Biffo strip that formed the cover of Beano #1423 (25th October 1969). Watkins had soldiered on in unassailable triumph for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history, and died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969. The page he was working on was completed by David Sutherland, who adds his own gracious homily to the piece.

For all those astonishingly productive years, Dudley D. Watkins had unflaggingly crafted a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons, as well as his periodical commitments, and his loss was a colossal blow to the company. DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was agreed upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

DCT’s publications have always played a big part in Britain’s Christmas festivities, so let’s revel in the Good Old Days of comics and look at what their publications have offered to celebrate the season via this lovingly curated tribute to Scotland’s greatest cartoon artisan…
© DCT Consumer Products (UK) Ltd. 2020.

The James Bond Omnibus 005

By Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-0-85768-590-2 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Still the Most Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

I’ve just heard that one of the true cartooning greats has passed away. Yaroslav Horak (12th June 1927 – 24th November 2020) was a conics star in Australia for years before taking over James Bond in 1966: a unique stylist and gifted writer and painter too. For a full biography and appreciation, check out the wonderful downthetubes.net. You should be doing that anyway if you’re a lover of comics and related media.

As my own farewell and thanks, here’s an old review of one of the best examples of Horak’s work, still readily accessible through online vendors. Your actions will be well rewarded…

There are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, Flash Gordon or Steve Canyon, let alone Terry and the Pirates or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I cited him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth?

I hope so, but doubt it.

The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘fifties Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all entertainment media from radio to novels) got carried along on the wave. Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano, girls’ comics in general: all shifted into creative high gear, and so did newspapers. And that means that I can go on about a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change.

The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958, beginning a run of paperback book adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard with The Man With The Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format, thereafter being invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983 – all apparently thanks to the striking effects of his artistic collaborator.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst serving the then-novel conceit of advancing a plot and ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every day.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on …Golden Gun with a looser, edgier style; at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s.

Horak was born in Manchuria in 1927, of Russian/Czech descent and the family relocated to Australia before WWII. Artistic from the start, Horak worked as a portraitist and magazine illustrator before moving into the nation’s vibrant comics industry in 1947. Following years of success and even some controversy from high-minded busybodies, the writer/artist moved over to newspaper strips in the 1950’s before emigrating to England in 1962. Even after landing the 007 gig he maintained links “Downunder”, carrying on with ‘Mike Steel – Desert Rider’ for Women’s Day until 1969. His pre-Bond UK output includes a selection of War and Battle Picture Library stories, and serial strips for DC Thomson’s The Victor and The Hornet.

In 1975, he returned to Australia, continuing the super-spy’s exploits while crafting homegrown features such as Cop Shop and Andea. We’ll not see his like again…

Titan books have re-assembled the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death into a series of addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus editions and this fifth compilation finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The James Bond Omnibus gathers the series’ frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy in fabulous monochrome editions and this one commences with ‘Till Death Do Us Part’, which first ran in the Daily Express from July 7th to October 14th 1975. Solidly traditional 007 fodder, it found Bond assigned to kidnap/rescue Arda Petrich, comely daughter of a foreign asset, and keep vital intelligence out of the hands of the KGB.

This pacy thriller is most notable more for the inevitable introduction of the eccentric gadgets which had become an increasingly crucial component of the filmic iteration than for the actual adventure, but there are still racy thrills and icy chills aplenty on view.

Hard on the heels of that is brief but enthralling encounter ‘The Torch-Time Affair’ (October 15th 1975 – January 15th1976), wherein the hunt for a record of all Soviet subversion in Latin America leads to bodies on the beach, a mountain of lies and deceit, breathtaking chases on roads and through jungles, plus an astonishingly intriguing detective mystery as Bond and female “Double-O” operative Susie Kew must save the girl, get the goods and end the villain.

But, which one…?

‘Hot-Shot’ (January 16th – June 1st) finds the unflappable agent assisting Palestinian freedom fighter Fatima Khalid as she seeks to restore her people’s reputation for airline atrocities actually committed by enigmatic Eblis terrorists. Their cooperative efforts uncover a sinister Indian billionaire behind the attacks before Bond recognises an old enemy at the heart of it all… Dr. No!

In ‘Nightbird’ (2nd June – 4th November) sporadic attacks by what appear to be alien invaders draw Bond into a diabolical scheme by a cinematic genius and criminal master of disguise apparently in search of military and political secrets and weapons of mass destruction. However, a far more venal motive is the root cause of the sinister schemes and reign of terror…

Despite surreal trappings, ‘Ape of Diamonds’ (November 5th 1976 – January 22nd 1977) is another lethally cunning spy exploit as a deadly maniac uses a colossal and murderous gorilla to terrorise London and kidnap an Arab banker, leading Bond to a financial wild man determined to simultaneously destroy Britain’s economic prosperity and steal the Crown Jewels. Happily for the kingdom, Machiavellian Rameses had completely underestimated the ruthless determination of James Bond…

‘When the Wizard Awakes’ finds bad guys employing supernatural chicanery, when the body of a Hungarian spy – dead for two decades – walks out of his tomb to instigate a reign of terror that eventually involves S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the Mafia and the KGB until the British Agent unravels the underlying plot…

In 1977 the Daily Express ceased publication of the Bond feature and the tale was published only in the Sunday Express(from January 30th -May 22nd 1977). Later adventures had no UK distribution at all, only appearing in overseas editions. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when another British newspaper – the Daily Star – revived his career. Presumably, we’ll deal with those cases in another volume.

The first of those “lost” stories are included here, however, beginning with ‘Sea Dragon’, produced for European syndication: a maritime adventure with geo-political overtones wherein crazed billionairess and scurrilous proponent of “women’s liberation” Big Mama Magda Mather tried to corner the World Oil market using sex, murder and a deadly artificial sea serpent.

In ‘Death Wing’ Bond is needed to solve the mystery of a new and deadly super-weapon employed by the Mafia for both smuggling contraband and assassination. Despite a somewhat laborious story set-up, once the tale hits its stride, the explosive end sequence is superb as the undercover agent becomes a flying human bomb aimed at the heart of New York City. His escape and subsequent retaliation against eccentric hit-man Mr. Wing is an indisputable series highpoint.

This astounding dossier of espionage exploits ends with ‘The Xanadu Connection’ (1978) as the daring high-tech rescue of undercover agent Heidi Franz from East Germany inexorably leads Bond down a perilous path of danger and double-cross.

When Bond is tasked with safeguarding the wife of a British asset leading resistance forces in Russian Turkestan, the mission inevitably leads 007 to the Sino-Soviet hotspot where he is embroiled in a three-sided war between KGB occupation forces, indigenous Tartar rebels and their ancestral enemies of the Mongol militias led by insidious, ambitious spymaster Kubla Khan.

Deep in enemy territory with adversaries all around him, Bond is hardly surprised to discover that the real threat might be from his friends and not his foes…

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…
© 1975, 1977, 1977, 1978, 2013 Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/ Express Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Rupert: A Celebration of Favourite Stories – 100 Years of Rupert Bear 1920-2020

By Alfred E. Bestall & various (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-9800-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Seasonal Tradition with Universal Appeal… 10/10

We’ve all simultaneously stared death in the face and tried to celebrate a wealth of what should have been joyous anniversaries this year. With no snarky comment or obtuse political swipe to hand, I’ve opted to review here a genuine cultural icon of our Island Nation, and one I think we can all agree we’d be happy to find overseeing our future health and wealth…

As I’ve interminably stated recently, this year celebrates many, many comics anniversaries. For Britain, the biggest of those is probably this one.

Long before television took him, hirsute national treasure Rupert Bear was part of our society’s very fabric and never more so than at Christmas when gloriously rendered and painted, comfortingly sturdy rainbow-hued Annuals found their way into innumerable stockings and the sticky hands of astounded, mesmerised children.

Our ursine über-star was created by English artist and illustrator Mary Tourtel (1874-1948) and debuted in the Daily Express on November 8th 1920; the beguiling vanguard and secret weapon of a pitched circulation battle with rival papers the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. Both papers had cartoon characters for kiddies – Teddy Tail in the Mail and the soon-to-be legendary Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Mirror.

Tourtel’s daily serial of the Little Lost Bear initially ran for 36 monochrome instalments and triggered a phenomenon which remains in full force to this day, albeit largely due to the diligent efforts of her successor Alfred Edmeades Bestall, MBE (14th December 1892 – 15th January 1986), who wrote and illustrated the rapidly eponymous Rupert Bear from 1935 to 1965. Bestall was responsible for the magnificently reassuring Christmas Annuals which began with the 1936 edition, and in truth crystalised the curious little nipper’s existence into the quintessence of middle-class English pluck and gentility.

The artist who originally spearheaded the Express cartoon counterattack was already an established major player on the illustration scene – and fortuitously married to the paper’s News Editor Herbert Tourtel, who had been ordered by the owners to come up with a rival feature…

The unnamed little bear was illustrated by Mary and initially co-captioned by Herbert, appearing as a pair of cartoon panels everyday day with a passage of text underneath. The bonny bruin was originally cast as a brown bear until the Express sought to cut costs and inking expenses, resulting in the iconic white pallor we all know and love today.

Soon, though, early developmental “bedding-in” was accomplished and the engaging scenario was fully entrenched in the hearts and minds of readers. Young Rupert lives with extremely understanding parents in idyllically rural Nutwood village: an enticing microcosm and exemplar of everything wonderful and utopian about British life. The place is populated by anthropomorphic animals and humans living together but also overlaps a lot of very strange and unworldly places full of mythical creatures and legendary folk. Naturally, pluck, good friends and a benevolent adult always help our hero win through no matter what uncanny situation he finds himself in…

A huge hit, Mary’s Rupert quickly expanded into a range of short illustrated novels; 46 by my count from the early 1920s to 1936, with a further run of 18 licensed and perpetually published by Woolworth’s after that.

Tourtel’s bear was very much a product of his times and social class: smart, inquisitive, adventurous, helpful yet intrinsically privileged and therefore always labouring under a veiled threat of having his cosy world and possessions taken away by the wicked and undeserving.

Heretical as it might sound, like the unexpurgated fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, Tourtel’s Rupert yarns all have a darker edge and often a worrisome undercurrent, with mysterious forces casually, even capriciously targeting our innocent star – and especially so after Herbert Tourtel died and Mary worked on alone.

This glorious tome however – reworked and skilfully re-edited to accommodate modern sensibilities – is a modified re-release of a 2007 compilation celebrating the quiet genius of Tourtel’s successor: the man most people still living think of when Rupert comes to mind…

Alfred Edmeades “Fred” Bestall, MBE, was born in Mandalay on December 14th 1892, to Methodist missionaries stationed in Burma. He and his sister were despatched back to England when he was five, ultimately rejoined by their parents in 1910. Schooled in Colwyn Bay, he won a scholarship to Birmingham Central School of Art and later attended the LCC Central School of Art and Crafts in Camden. His studies were interrupted by the Great War where he served as an army transport driver in Flanders, before concluding his courses at Camden and setting up as an illustrator.

He worked for Amalgamated Press crafting paintings and drawings for The Tatler and Punch and was hired to illustrate Enid Blyton’s books.

At the top of his game Bestall was picked to replace Tourtel on Rupert. Despite never having seen the strip and with only 5 weeks’ lead-in time, he wrote and drew his first exploit – ‘Rupert, Algy and the Smugglers’ which began on June 28th1935 while designing and filling the first Annual. For inspiration, he channelled his memories of rural North Wales and the regions around Snowdonia, while adhering to the Daily Express Children’s Editor’s sole instruction – “no evil characters, fairies or magic”.

Clearly, no problem…

Preceded by an Illustrator’s Note courtesy of current Rupert creator Stuart Trotter, a Foreword from profoundly English raconteur and Teddy Bear Museum curator Gyles Brandreth and effusive, intimate reminiscences in an Introduction by Bestall’s goddaughter Caroline Bott, this magical hardback tome is also graced with a gallery of lavish double-page spread Endpapers, plus a stunning selection of previously unseen pencil works and designs from Bestall’s own Sketch books, affording a fascinating glimpse at how the master worked.

The main course is eight (textually modified) classic tales in the traditional and oh-so-welcoming format – 4 illustrations per page, each accompanied by a rhyming couplet and brief passage of descriptive text.

They are cunningly interspersed with breathtaking cover images from 1944, 1969, 1963, 1949, 1956 and 1966 annuals plus a selection of puzzles Bestall crafted over the decades to create a guaranteed debilitating nostalgic wave in the old and fresh wonder in the young.

The stories themselves are presented in a random order and are terrifying in that, veteran reader though I am, I cannot detect any change or improvement in style. The writer/artist started perfect and remained that way for his entire tenure…

First here is ‘Rupert and The Tiny Flute’ from Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944, which sees the bear stumble upon a minute musical instrument that seem to create disasters when played, leading the little chap into contention with the Imps of Spring as they seek to trigger the long-delayed Spring and facilitate a new growing season…

Following a stunning endpaper spread (‘Autumn Elf and the Imps in the Pine Trees’ from 1957’s inside front covers), Rupert Annual 1969 offers ‘Rupert and Raggety’ wherein a tremendous storm buffets Nutwood village, toppling a mighty tree and displacing a rather unpleasant troll made of roots. The surly tyke is most unpleasant to all, until Rupert finds him a new home…

Serene endpapers painting ‘Little Chinese Islands’ precedes observational puzzle ‘Rupert and the Bs’ and ‘Rupert and the Mare’s Nest’ (both from More Rupert Adventures Annual 1952) as the word-loving little bear hunts a hoary old metaphor and is fantastically introduced to the hidden realm of Earth’s feathered folk and their incredible monarch. Appropriately, the originating Annual’s Endpaper image ‘King of Birds’ beguilingly follows…

Maze puzzle ‘Rupert’s Short Cut’ (Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944) leads into ‘Rupert and the Lost Cuckoo’from 1963’s edition, wherein strange events lead to all Nutwood’s artificial birds vanishing – everything from the Squire’s weathercock to the little wooden token in Mummy Bear’s cuckoo clock. Dedicated detective Rupert is soon on the trail and uncovers the incredible cause and solution in double-quick time…

Aquatic Elves in ‘Hovercraft’ culled from the 1968 Endpapers lead into a rather dramatic escapade as the bear and his pal Sailor Sam save a baby elephant from a flash flood in ‘Rupert’s Rainy Adventure’ (Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944), after which Santa Clause and his trusty operative the Toy Scout seek to acquire the bear’s latest bugbear: a homemade soft toy accidentally filled with magic stuffing, originally seen in the 1949 book as ‘Rupert and Ninky’

Moodily magnificent endpaper image ‘The Frog Chorus’ (1958) is followed by seasonal treat ‘Rupert’s Christmas Tree’(More Adventures of Rupert Annual 1947) in which the bear’s quest for the perfect yule adornment leads to uncanny events, a hidden forest and far more than he bargained for…

Bringing the joy and wonder to a close, observational brainteaser ‘Tigerlily’s Party’ from Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944 leads to ‘Rupert and Jack Frost’ from The Rupert Book Annual 1948, with a reunion of the bear and the ice sprite, leading to a parade of flying Snowmen, a trip to the Frozen Kingdom and a singular award for the brave little wanderer…

Beautifully realised, superbly engaging fantasies such as these are never out of style and this fabulous tome should be yours, if only as means of introducing the next generation to a truly perfect world of wonder and imagination.
Rupert Bear ™ & © Express Newspapers and DreamWorks Distribution Limited. All rights reserved.

Marney the Fox

By Scott M. Goodall & John Stokes (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-598-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Unforgettable and Unmissable British Drama… 10/10

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

…And then there was Marney the Fox.

Created and scripted by prolific veteran Scott Goodall (Captain Hurricane, Kelly’s Eye, Cursitor Doom, Captain Scarlet and dozens more), the series ran in multipurpose anthology Buster from June 22nd 1974 to September 4th 1976 and – even in a weekly periodical notorious for its broad and seemingly mismatched mix of themes and features – stuck out like a sore thumb.

Not for any lack of quality, of course.

Compellingly scripted by Goodall and set in his beloved Devonshire country, the serial was lavishly, almost hauntingly illustrated by frequent collaborator John Stokes (Black Knight, Father Shandor, Maxwell Hawke, L.E.G.I.O.N., Aliens, Star Wars, The Invisibles), with whom the writer had already crafted for Buster seminal classics Fishboy and The War Children.

Marney the Fox was very much a passion project and a creature of its times. If you look at the ordering descriptions online or even revel in the gorgeous and serene cover embellishing this luxurious hardback or digital compilation, you might conclude it’s a natural history strip or animal adventure along the lines of Lassie or Black Beauty.

Don’t be deceived. The books you should be thinking of here are Ring of Bright Water, Tarka the Otter and A Kestrel for a Knave (or Kes, if you don’t read As Much As You Should, but do watch movies). The deftly-constructed atrocities beautifully limned in every 2-page monochrome instalment were – and remain – brilliant naturalist propaganda and should be mandatory reading for every person who lives in, near or with the natural environment…

For two years the trials and tribulations of barely-weaned orphan fox cub Marney the Wandering One were a painfully beautiful, harrowing account of the horrors rural folk – from poachers to soldiers on manoeuvres to roadbuilders to landed gentry and their bloody hounds – all casually inflicted on unwelcome wildlife and ones that must have traumatised and successfully indoctrinated a generation of kids.

From his first encounter with and narrow escape from despicable mankind, young Marney endures a ghastly litany of close shaves, bolstered by far too few happy, peaceful moments as he flees from crisis to crisis until mercifully finding refuge and contentment. I had to put that last bit in because this is a sublime piece of comics wonderment, that everybody should read, but the weekly cliff hangers and sheer mental and physical abuse the little guy barely survives every seven days would have Batman, Captain America and Judge Dredd rushing for Valium and comfort blankies in an instant…

So take it from me: the fox lives happily ever after, okay?

Augmented by an Introduction from John Stokes, this is magical and unique comics entertainment, suitably acid-coating the hard, harsh life of British wildlife and the ignorance and cruelty of many – but not all – people. It’s also a story you must see and will never forget.
™ & © 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott

By Zoe Thorogood (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-56-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Topical Tale of Tragedy and Triumph Over Adversity… 9/10

I almost included this stunning debut in our Halloween horror program, but decided that no matter how disturbing the concept, this is essentially a very upbeat and joyous tale and one in need of being read on its own terms…

Zoe Thorogood is a young freelance artist and concept designer from Middlesbrough, who pays attention and thinks through what she conceives. That sounds overly obvious, but – speaking as an extremely aged freelance artist and concept designer from the halcyon days of social equality, equal opportunities and a sense of responsibility – it’s a rare level of consciousness that usually takes decades of mistakes to attain.

Having branched out into graphic novel storytelling, Thorogood has sagely stuck to what she knows for irony-drenched The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott. Here a struggling artist doubting and second-guessing her life in a poverty-afflicted northern town suddenly realises her greatest dream at the beginning of her career. After – incredibly – winning the “2020 New Artist of the Year Competition”, Billie is awarded her own gallery show of new works in London, and a guaranteed entrée to the shimmering world of the Art Business glitterati.

After an understandable moment of confusion and prevarication, she gets to work on the ten new paintings only to learn that she is going to abruptly, rapidly and incurably lose her sight in mere months…

Confronting her past and future, Billie packs up the bare essentials and heads on a pilgrimage to London, encountering and embracing the lowest tawdry dregs and survivors of modern society as she races to complete the last and most meaningful images she will ever see herself create…

Will she make it? Is it even worth the effort?

The concept isn’t new, but this delightful and evocative take on the Trials of Job is at its heart a delicious celebration of simple humanity and the fact that people are complex and must not be reduced to talking points for the worthy or used as PR fodder for governments who seek to equate being poor or nonconformist with criminality, deviancy, otherness or antisocial “unworthiness”.

…And, as every sanctimonious plutocrat, pious reformer or obsequious political self-server always seems to forget, if you push us too far for too long, eventually we rise…

In equal parts an examination of the creative impulse, indictment of Post-Austerity Britain and affirmation of the human spirit, this book is also a captivating tale beautifully rendered in smart line, restricted palettes and – when most impactful – glorious full colour. Positively Dickensian in tone, sublimely modernistic in delivery and splendidly displaying the community we all need to be, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is a damn fine read we all need to share.
© Zoe Thorogood 2020. All rights reserved.