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.

The Definitive Charley’s War volume 1: Boy Soldier


By Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-619-3 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Some Things Must Never Be Forgotten… 10/10

When Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun began their tale of an impressionable lad who joins up just in time to fight in the disastrous Somme campaign, I suspect they had, as usual, the best of authorial intentions but no real idea that this time they were creating comics history. The landmark feature was originally published in British war anthology Battle (AKA Battle Picture Weekly, Battle Action, etc.). A surprise hit, the serial proper launched in issue #200, running from January 1979 until October of 1986.

It recounted, usually in heartrending and harrowing detail and with astounding passion for a Boys’ Periodical, the life of an East-End kid who lies about his age to enlist with the British Army reinforcements setting out to fight the Hun in 1916.

The stunning strip contingent contained within this superb trade paperback and digital edition – 86 weekly episodes in all, spanning January 6th 1979-25 October 1980 – form one of the most powerful and influential characterisations of the oh-so-ironic “war to end all wars”. The lovingly researched, lavishly limned and staggeringly authentic saga touches upon many diverse aspects of the conflict and even the effects on the Home Front, all delivered with a devastatingly understated dry sense of horror and cruel injustice, frequently leavened with gallows humour as trenchant as that legendarily “enjoyed” by the poor trench-bound “Tommies” of the time.

This magnificent (mostly) monochrome mega-compilation opens with a 4-page instalment (for much of the middle run the series came in 3-page episodes) ‘Charley’s War – the Story of a Soldier in World War One’, following 16-year-old London Bus Company worker Charley Bourne as he eagerly enlists and so-quickly graduates to the unending, enduring horrors of the muddy, blood-soaked battlefield of The Somme.

Military life was notoriously hard and unremittingly dull… except for those brief bursts of manic aggression and strategic stupidity which ended so many lives. Closely following the recorded course of the war, Mills & Colquhoun put young Charley in the Westshire Regiment and show a rapidly changing cast being constantly whittled away by various modes of combat attrition.

The weekly hellscapes showed lesser-known, far from glorious sides of the conflict that readers in the 1970s and 1980s had never seen in any other war comic. Each strip was cunningly punctuated and elucidated by the telling narrative device of the simple lad’s letters to his family in “Blighty” and also cleverly utilised reproductions of cartoons and postcards from the period.

With Boer War veteran Ole Bill Tozer as his mentor, Charley narrowly survives shelling, mudslides, digging details, gas attacks, the trench cat, snipers, the callous stupidity of his own commanding officers – although there are examples of good officers too – and the far too often insane absurdity of a modern soldier’s life.

Slowly but irrevocably the callow, naïve boy became a solid, dependable warrior – albeit one with a nose for trouble and a blessed gift for lucky escapes.

When Tozer leads a party across No-Man’s Land to capture prisoners for interrogation new pal Ginger sustains a frankly hilarious wound in his nether regions. As a result, however, and despite the sortie establishing the inadvisability of an attack, the Allied generals continue their plans for a “Big Push”. Thus, Charlie is confronted with an agonising moral dilemma when he catches a comrade trying to wound himself and get sent home before the balloon goes up.

This time, grim fate intervenes before the boy soldier can make a terrible choice…

The unit’s troubles increase exponentially when arrogant, ruthless aristocrat Lieutenant Snell arrives; constantly undermining if not actively sabotaging every effort by sympathetic officer Lieutenant Thomas to make the riffraff cannon fodder’s lives tolerable. The self-serving toff takes a personal dislike to Charley after the lad drops the huge picnic hamper belonging to the rich twat in the trench mud…

On July 1st 1916 The Battle of the Somme began and, like so many other unfortunates, Charley and his comrades are ordered “over the top”: expected to walk steadily into the mortars and machine gun fire of the entrenched German defenders. Thomas, unable to stand the stupidity, cracks and commands them to charge at a run. It saves his squad but lands his men in a fully-manned German dug-out…

After ferocious fighting the lads gain a brief respite but the retreating Huns have left insidious booby-traps to entice and destroy them. Many beloved characters die before Charley, Ginger and poor shell-shocked Lonely are finally captured by “the Boche”.

As they await their fate, the traumatised veteran of 1914 reveals to Ginger and Charley the horrific events of the previous Christmas and why he so wants to die. Moreover, the sole cause of that appalling atrocity was the same Snell who now commands their own unit…

Through Charley’s dumb luck they escape, only to blunder into a gas attack and British Cavalry. The mounted men gallop off to meet stiff German resistance (resulting in some of the most baroque and disturbing scenes ever depicted in kids’ comics) whilst Bourne and the lads. are miraculously reunited with their comrades.

The combat carnage has not ceased however. Waiting for the order to attack, Lt. Thomas and his hard-pressed men are suddenly subjected to a terrific barrage. With horror the officer realises they are being shelled by their own big guns and dispatches a runner to Snell who has a functioning line to Allied HQ.

The role of messenger was the most dangerous in the army but, with no other means of communication except written orders and requests, failure to get through was never acceptable. By the time Charley volunteers a dozen men have failed. With British shells still butchering British troops, Bourne is determined to pushing his luck as the “Thirteenth Runner”…

As previously stated, Charley’s War closely follows key events of the war, using them as a road map or skeleton to hang specific incidents upon, but this was not the strip’s only innovation. The highly detailed research concentrated more on characters than the fighting – although there was still plenty of heartrending action – and declared to the readership (which at the time of original publication were categorically assumed to be boys between ages 9-13) that “our side” could be as monstrous as the “bad guys”.

Mills also fully exercised his own political and creative agendas on the series and was constantly amazed at what he got away with and what seeming trivialities his editors pulled him up on (more fully expanded upon in the author’s informative ‘Strip Commentary’ which concludes this edition)…

With the Thirteenth Runner storyline, likable everyman Charley Bourne slowly began his descent from fresh-faced innocent to weary, battle-scarred veteran as the war reached beyond the cataclysmic opening moves of the Somme Campaign and into the conflict’s most bloody events.

Frantically making his way to the rear positions, Charley successfully passes the fallen twelve runners but only encounters more officer arrogance and Professional Soldier stupidity before the battle ends. Snell refuses to even read the message until he has finished his tea…

Helpless before the aristocrat’s indifference Charley angrily returns to the Front. Finding everybody apparently dead, he snaps: reduced to a killing rage he is only dragged back to normal when Ginger, Smith Seventy and the Sarge emerge from a shattered support trench.

The lad’s joy is short-lived. Thomas is arrested for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy, and with him gone Snell now commands the unit of despised disposable commoners…

Removed to the Rear to have their wounds treated, Charley and his chums meet Weeper Watkins. The former ventriloquist cries permanently. His eyes have been ruined by exposure to poison gas but he is still considered fit for duty. All too soon they fall foul of sadistic military policeman Sergeant Bacon who has earned his nickname as “the Beast” over and over again…

With a chance to blow off steam – such as a hilarious volunteer Concert Party show – Charley and Weeper are soon in the Beast’s bad books. However, his first attempt to beat and break Bourne goes badly awry when a couple of rowdy Australian soldiers join the fray and utterly humiliate the Red Cap.

Bullies are notoriously patient and Bacon’s turn comes at last when Lt. Thomas is found guilty. Charley and Weeper refuse to be part of the firing squad which executes him and are punished by a military tribunal, leaving them at the Beast’s non-existent mercy. Enduring savage battlefield punishments which include a uniquely cruel form of crucifixion, their suffering only ends when the base is strafed by German aircraft…

With sentence served and Bacon gone, Charley is soon back in the trenches, just in time for the introduction of Tank Warfare to change the world forever.

A fascinating aspect of the battle is highlighted here as the strip concentrates heavily upon the German reaction to the military innovation. The Central Powers considered the tank an atrocity weapon in just the same way modern soldiers do chemical and biological ones.

In the build-up to the Big Push, Charley is singled out by a new replacement. Unctuous Oliver Crawleigh is a cowardly spiv and petty criminal, but he’s also married to Charley’s sister Dolly. The chancer ignobly attaches himself to the young veteran like a leech, offering to pay Charley to either protect him or wound him some minor way which will get “Oiley” safely back to Britain…

The next day the Empire’s new landships make their terrifying debut with army infantry in close support and the effect on the Germans is astounding. In a ferociously gripping extended sequence, Mills & Colquhoun take the readers inside the hellish iron leviathans as outraged Huns devote their manic utmost efforts into eradicating the titanic terrors.

The carnage is unspeakable but before long Charley, Oiley and Smith Seventy are inside one of the lumbering behemoths, reluctantly replacing the dead crew of clearly deranged tank man Wild Eyes as the modern-day Captain Ahab drags them along for the ride: seeking a madman’s redemption for the loss of his comrades, the slaughter of a town and destruction of a church…

In the quiet of the weary aftermath, Oiley deliberately puts his foot under a tank to “get a Blighty” (a wound sufficiently serous to be sent home to England) and attempts to bribe Charley into silence. The disgusted, exhausted teenager responds in typically cathartic manner…

During this lull in the fighting, events on the German side see despised commoner and Eastern Front veteran Colonel Zeiss spurn his aristocratic Junker colleagues’ outdated notions before devising a new kind of Total Warfare to punish the British for their use of mechanised murder machines…

Charley meanwhile is wounded and his comrades celebrate the fact that he will soon be home safely. Naturally, things are never that simple and the callous indifference of the British army’s medical contingent – especially the notorious “Doctor No”, who never lets a man escape his duty – means that any soldier still able to pull a trigger is sent back into battle.

Bourne returns to the trenches just in time to meet the first wave of Zeiss’ merciless “Judgement Troops”, who storm the British lines, slaughtering everyone – including German soldiers who get in the way – in a savage, no-holds-barred assault, whose “Blitzkrieg tactics” overwhelm everything in their path.

Charley and his mates experience fresh horrors: battlefield executions, new and experimental forms of poison gas, flamethrowers, strafing by steel javelins and brutal, uncompromising hand-to-hand combat in their own overrun trenches before the bloody battle peters out indecisively…

Zeiss is subsequently cashiered by his own appalled superiors, but knows that one day his concepts of Blitzkrieg and Total War will become the norm…

Exhausted, battle-weary Charley is again injured, losing his identification in the process and returned eventually to England as a shell-shocked temporary amnesiac. His mother undergoes slow torture as she receives telegrams declaring her son, missing, dead, found wounded and lost again…

Mills & Colquhoun now begin a masterful sequence that breaks all the rules of war comic fiction; switching the emphasis to the Home Front where Charley’s family are mourning his apparent death and working in the war industries, just as the German Zeppelin raids on British cities are beginning.

Mills’ acerbic social criticism makes powerful use of history as the recovering hero experiences the trials of submarine warfare, when the troop ship carrying him and Bill Tozer back to Blighty is torpedoed…

When their perilous North Sea odyssey at last brings Charley back to Silvertown in London’s West Ham, it is in the wake of a catastrophic disaster in which 50 tons of TNT detonate at a munitions factory, killing more than 70 workers and injuring a further 400…

No longer comfortable around civilians and with no stomach for the jingoistic nonsense of the stay-at-homes or the covert criminal endeavours of boastful “war-hero” (and secret looter) Oiley, Charley hangs out in pubs with the Sarge and thereby reconnects with old soak and Crimean War survivor Blind Bob

London is a city under constant threat, not just from greedy munitions magnates who care more for profit than the safety of their workers or even the victory of their homeland, but also increasingly common aerial bombing raids which provoke mindless panic and destruction at the very heart of the British Empire.

Focus here divides as Charley’s days are contrasted with the zealous mission of devoted family man Kapitan Heinrich von Bergmann who leads his squadron of Zeppelins in a carefully calculated night sortie against the hated English…

When Blind Bill is evicted from his rooms, Charley invites him to stay with the Bournes and the beggar’s incredible hearing (coupled with the area’s quaint air-raid listening devices) provides enough warning to seal Bergmann’s doom, but not before the airman has rained tons of explosive death on the capital…

During the bombing Charley discovers his mum is still toiling in the local munitions works. The exploitative owner has decided not to sound his air raid evacuation alarm as he has his profits and contracts to consider. Charley is not happy and dashes to get her out…

This stunning collection ends with a sharp jab at the dubious practices of British recruitment officers (who got bonuses for very volunteer they signed up) as Charley stops his extremely little brother Wilf from making the same mistake he did, and teaches the unscrupulous recruiter a much-deserved lesson

To Be Continued…

Charley’s War is a highpoint in the narrative examination of the Great War through any artistic medium and exists as shining example of how good “Children’s Comics” can be. It is also one of the most powerful pieces of fiction ever produced for readers of any age.

I know of no anti-war story that is as gripping, as engaging and as engrossing, no strip that so successfully transcends its mass-market, popular culture roots to become a landmark of fictive brilliance. We can only thank our lucky stars that no Hollywood hack has made it a blockbuster which would inescapably undercut the tangibility of the “heroes” whilst debasing the message. There is nothing quite like it and you are diminished by not reading it.

Included in this volume are a full cover gallery and restored colour sections (reproduced in monochrome for earlier collections but vibrantly hued here to vivid effect) and writer Mills’ wonderfully informative chapter notes and commentary on the episodes. Not just a great war comic, Charley’s War is a highpoint in the narrative examination of the Great War through any artistic medium. I won’t belabour plot, script or even the riveting authentic artistic depictions. I won’t praise the wonderful quality. I simply state if you read this you will get it, and if you don’t, you won’t.

Let’s all make ensure that it’s NOT all over by Christmas!
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. Charley’s War is ™ & © Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.

Blackwood


By Hannah Eaton, (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-908434-71-5 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-908434-72-2

It’s all about personal tastes in the end, but when I assessed the many horror-themed and Halloween-adjacent review copies despatched from kind creators, PR sentinels and hopeful publishers this month (thank you one and all!), from very early on I knew we had to end on this one. Read on, read Blackwood itself and learn just why…

As nations and cultures, we all think we’re special, but every so often a piece of art comes along and you think “no other nationality could have produced this…” That’s an especially inescapable conclusion after indulging in the glorious melange that is this intriguing annal of Albion.

Rendered and reproduced as soft and subtle pencil drawings, Blackwood is quintessentially English: channelling our beloved countryside, quirky folk of different classes (co-existing if not actually living in harmony), witchcraft, cosy murder-mysteries, corrupt councils, devil-worshipping mystic masons, ordinary people well in over their heads, inbred insularity and racism, an extremely reserved, controlled sense of events getting away from you. There’s also a chilling sense that there’s always more going on under the surface of civility and respectability than meets your eye…

Best of all, as this tale of identical rural murders occurs simultaneously 65 years apart, we get to see – up close and personal – just how much and how little society has changed, especially when the modern-day killing draws in troublesome nosy strangers from outside the community… and even foreigners…

Augmented by an Afterword detailing the generational tale’s real-world inspirations, this is a yarn that only comes from gifted, thoughtful artists like Hannah Eaton (check out Naming Monsters while you’re at it) who have seen a bit of the world before settling down to devise their own.

Channelling delicious notes of Gary Spencer Milledge’s Strangehaven and the first series of Gracechurch, this very human-scaled drama is funny, scary and seductively compelling, like the best Scandi-dramas, but with tea and a Victoria Sponge all laid on.

Is Blackwood a heartfelt paean to a forgotten place and time or a devious attack on oppressive social structures and change-based bias that still hold us apart and down? Yes, no, maybe and mind your own business. It is a chilling, delightful and utterly compelling mystery that, once read, will not be forgotten.

So, go do that then, right?
© Hannah Eaton 2020. All rights reserved.

Ken Reid – World Wide Weirdies volume 1


By Ken Reid (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-692-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Hopelessly Hilarious Horrendousness… 10/10

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

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

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and 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: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to 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. Reid drew the feature until 1959 and created numerous others, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinxamongst 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 Faceache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. Ken Reid died that year from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Faceache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who it until cancelation in October 1988.

All his working life, Reid innovated; devising a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World, Creepy Creations and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid luxury hardback (and eBook) – is World-Wide Weirdies.

A full colour back page every week found Ken crafting a batty and bizarre image – usually suggested by a lucky reader – depicting a pun-ishingly strained groaner gag elevated to a manic masterpiece. Most were locations but just plain crazy stuff like ‘the Aussie Doomerang’, ‘The Gruesome Gondola’ and the staggering visual ‘Jumbo Jet’ also got in. Where was first in Whooppee! and then Shiver and Shake with this first titanic hardback tome – also available digitalis-ly (see what I did there?) – covering 12th October 1974 to 6th November 1976, but you don’t care about that, what you want is ‘orrible, pictures right?

Preceding 108 of them is text feature ‘The Weirdies Years of Ken Reid – 1974-1978’ by his son Antony J. Reid which precedes a unique map indicating where in the weird wide world the 108 ghastly holiday destinations from hell are located…

The atlas of the unknowable then commences with ‘The Petrifying Pyramid’ with subsequent shocking submissions such as the ‘Trifle Tower’, ‘Vampire State Building’, ‘Bone Henge’, ‘Mucky-Hand Palace’ and the still horrifically relevant ‘Houses of Horrorment’

We aren’t just restricted to UK unpleasantries such as ‘The Fright Cliffs of Dover’ or ‘The Cheddar Gorger’ but also an assemblage of international oddities such as ‘The Sahara Dessert’, ‘Shock Rock of Gibraltar’, ‘Gruesome Grand Canyon’, ‘The Not So N-Iceberg’, ‘The Coloscream’ and – so pertinent today, apparently – ‘The Statue of Stupidity’

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This a 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 it means to be brutish…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2019 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Victory Point


By Owen D. Pomery (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-552-3 (PB)

No matter where we are or when, we are all tied to key places and past events. Many of us also include abstract input in that chain of memory. In my head, childhood events are stored away in the pictorial style of Kirby, Ditko, Dudley Watkins and Hergé…

That distant sense of place and the picture postcard, Ligne Claire image efficiency clearly also impacted the sensibilities of architect and comics creator Owen D. Pomeroy (Between the Billboards, The Megatherium Club Vl. 1: The Great Ape) who here conjures up the powerful forces of recall and anticipation for his new book Victory Point: a beguiling seaside odyssey of many minor events and major changes.

With overtones of David Hockney to accompany the magnificently simple and engaging pictures, the tale follows urban bookshop worker Ellen Small – or “Minnow” as her dad calls her – as she returns for a short visit to the quaint seaside town she grew up in.

As Minnow contemplatively revisits old haunts and uncomfortably fails to reconnect with old friends and childhood acquaintances who never escaped the quasi-resort’s gravity well, she ponders how outsiders regard this seemingly legendary location.

For architecture students Victory Point is an icon: a bold 1933 experiment in social planning, intended to create a new kind of town and a “modern way to live”. Dedicated to promoting ethnic diversity, it was only partially completed and abides now in a timeless, unchanging state…

Moved in ways she can’t really express, Minnow visits the promontory Observatory where her mother died so long ago; chatting to a village newcomer and her child before reliving her own youth via a covert skinny dip in her old hidden coastal cove. She ends up spending the night with Dad in their old house. All the time that she’s talking to strangers and those she knows best, Ellen is pondering a big, life-changing decision…

Contemplative and philosophical, this gentle confection evokes sun and sea, past holidays and tomorrow’s unknown demands in a manner that feels quintessentially English: an unforgettable hotchpotch of vacation light, candy floss and the smell of briny ocean and vinegary chips. It’s a heartfelt paean to a mythical past with buildings, landscape and environment playing the parts of the lead characters, and with blessed tomorrows informing how the future should unfold. This is a beautiful, evocative and utterly contemplative visual experience no one could possibly resist, and possibly all the vacation you’ll need this year…
© 2020 Owen D. Pomery.
Victory Point is scheduled for release on September 10th 2020 and available for pre-order now.

Goodbye God? – An Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion


By Sean Michael Wilson & Hunt Emerson (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-226-0 (TPB)

I don’t mind if you like Love Island. Why do you care that I don’t?

Faith is the ability to accept as true (believe in) things you can’t prove.

Belief is a choice to have faith (implicit trust) in certain things. Many people choose to believe evolution doesn’t exist, but that won’t protect them from a new strain of virus, rats that have developed immunity to Warfarin or even a Strep bug which has bred beyond the capabilities of contemporary antibiotics to kill it.

I choose to trust – call it “believe” if you want – in physically measurable, quantifiable, repeatable phenomena which work irrespective of what I want or how much I beg them to change.

I want to believe that I’m in no way socially, developmentally, biologically or genetically connected to racists, homophobes, abusers or idiots but – just like I wish I had superpowers – praying will not make it true.

You can choose to think of evolution as something that’s open to debate and refuse to believe you’re descended from an unending chain of constantly changing and developing animals, but that only makes you more a horse’s arse than a monkey’s uncle.

The comforting notion that any book, belief system or unverifiable opinion is infallible and that you are of more significance to the universe than a bee, a rock or a bad odour is equally wrong – and completely pointless too. However, if a sense of superiority helps you sleep at night, fine. Just stop killing bees, crushing rocks and making a nasty smell for the rest of us, whether it be Christians painting over erotic murals at Herculaneum and Pompeii or fanatical Islamic splinter groups pillaging and destroying temples in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq…

And don’t even get me started on the kinds of monsters and morons who think their faiths afford them the right to inflict institutionalised cruelty upon animals or their own children, or justifies desecrating art and destroying artefacts of history…

I believe/know that the above statement was a rant – but a heartfelt and honest one.

I choose to rant and shout and shoot off my mouth because I’m not smart, patient or reasonable, unlike author Sean Michael Wilson and master cartoonist Hunt Emerson who diligently gathered data, arguments, opinions and those pesky imps we call “facts” into a superbly even-handed and open-minded graphic narrative discourse.

Taking up the most commonly employed arguments of Big Religion, Wilson & Emerson carefully arranged and scrupulously countered them, resulting in a plausibly inviting examination of issues dividing Faiths (all of them, not any one faction which might prefer to profit by thinking of themselves as persecuted intellectual “martyrs”) from the world as it appears to the rest of us and shining a warm yet uncompromising light of rationality upon them.

It makes for gripping and genuinely revelatory reading.

All religious organisation and faith workers – from the Catholic Church to TV ghost hunters to that shoddy charlatan medium/spiritualist conning your aunty out of her pension – derive approval, power and money from their highly organised activities, but whereas we officially godless may sell a book or two and cop an appearance fee from the occasional chat show, Humanists (people who don’t believe in God and generally can’t even agree with each other) gain nothing from pointing out that – based on the evidence – we are on our own in the world and bear sole responsibility for taking care of the place and all its inhabitants and fittings.

That’s something to sincerely meditate on…

Following an Introduction by Professor Lawrence M. Krauss (Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University), the dissection of Big Questions and how people choose to react to them opens with Part 1: Evolution and Creationism wherein ground rules of serious discussion are laid down before ‘Creationism v Evolution’ systematically lists and methodically shoots down the major claims used to “disprove” and cast doubt on the nature of reality beginning, of course, with a clear, concise definition of the terms of reference of each side…

A quick précis of the development of Darwin’s discoveries and principles is compared with Christian Creationism’s contention that the world is significantly less than 10,000 years old. Outrageous things many Americans believe are counterbalanced by helpful facts from Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association, before a number of Creationist claims (such as Earth’s declining magnetic field, slowing rotation and that all humanity and planetary life stem from a survivors of a global flood 4,000 years ago) are dealt with…

A hilarious aside explaining just why such fallacious arguments are harmful leads into a skilful dissection of “Intelligent Design” with helpful interjections and clarifications from Philosophy Lecturer Stephen Law (with other cognitive heavyweights such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky piling in to explain why such notions are so harmful to children).

Following a lecture on the damage the proliferation of such propaganda has had on American education and government policy, Richy Thompson pops back to expose the situation in British schools before going on to deliver his own description of the difference between Belief and Fact. The section then ends with a description of the gloriously wry scientific response to Creationism that is Project Steve

This is followed by a review of the wider universe (as we understand it at this moment, and Creationists never will) and concludes with a detailed examination of Law’s Eight Mechanisms, by which all religions – and a goodly proportion of New Age Tomfoolery – introduce, promote and promulgate their particular brand of Revelation and Salvation.

Part 2: Science and Religion then expands the discussion into a broader examination of the debate, pictured as the sporting contest ‘Science v Religion’ and running down the inherent fallacies manipulated by theistic proponents.

Historical examples and contemporary scenes are followed by definitions of Humanism from the likes of Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Isaac Asimov, Gloria Steinem and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as AC Grayling, Hitchens and the wonderful Dawkins – who offers his own joyous antidote to slavish acceptance of other peoples’ unproven opinions as well as few much-needed debunkings of such religious Whited Sepulchres as the obnoxious contention that people cannot be moral or “good” without God (seen in ‘Darwin = Fascism’).

There’s mention of the Catholic Church’s connections to many tyrants and arguments pointing religion’s role in the rise of Hitler, Stalin and too many others…

Incorporating a gallery of prominent Humanists from John Stuart Mill to Katherine Hepburn and a delicious selection of pertinent and elucidating jokes from Hitchens, this section concludes with lawyer and Democrat politician Sean Faircloth’s ‘10 Practical Points for a Secular America’

This appetisingly sensible treatise also includes essays on both The American Humanist Association (“Good Without a God”) and The British Humanist Association (“For the one life we have”) offering general glimmerings of good tidings for common sense as well as Bios and contact details of the creators.

Any “fact” that comes with a price ticket and pledge of allegiance isn’t worth knowing, and sometimes it’s hard to see any space for compromise in this argument, but Goodbye God? is not bloodymindedness in action or the theological equivalent of bear-baiting.

The purpose of this book and the only thing most Humanists want is simple. We’re not telling anyone what to believe or how to act: all we want is to teach nothing but science and scientific principles in science classes.

It would be nice if political and social decisions affecting all humanity were made solely on the basis of rational exploration and logical conclusion, but we’ll settle for giving descendant generations all the intellectual tools needed to deal with the increasingly unforgiving and extremely inhospitable planet we’re leaving them, rather than blinkering them and having everybody wait for a miracle… which will not be forthcoming.

By all means keep your Intelligent Design or Creation Myths if you need them so badly, but present them in Religious and Social Studies classes where they belong and where, quite frankly, they can be examined and debated on their own merits and contrasted with other equally baseless suppositions, rather than unquestioningly delivered to developing minds with the same unshakable conviction and intensity which correctly states “fire hot” and “stuff falls downwards when let go of”. You could even hopefully add “some people and animals only want sex within their own gender” and “climate change is real and is going to kill us all”…

If only the rationalists weren’t so patently “preaching to the converted” too…

But don’t you dare take my word for it: examine the book for yourselves and draw your own conclusions…
© Sean Michael Wilson. All rights reserved.

Mongrel


By Sayra Begum (Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-269-2 (PB)

Comics offer an immediate and potent method of communication that is both universally accessible and subtly intimate. You want countless characters and exotic locales? Just draw them. Need to navigate the most torturous tracks of the psyche and expose the most taciturn soul? Just fill captions and balloons with the words and tone that cut to the heart of the matter…

Somebody who got that from get-go was Sayra Begum, who first presented her life story in pictorial form in 2017. Happily, she shared it with the perceptive folks at Knockabout Comics who recognised a great work when they saw it…

In her own incisive words and deft pencil work, Begum – identifying here as “Shuna” – shares what growing up meant for the child of a strict, devout and loving Bangladeshi Muslim mum only living in England until the family has enough money to retire to a mansion in her beloved homeland. It’s not an easy existence since her dad is a white man (a convert to Islam) who still remembers the freedoms of his old life. Moreover, the community treats them with polite disregard…

As seen in ‘Meet the Mongrel’, ‘Memories of Waterland’, and ‘The Forgotten Self’, Shuna and her siblings are pulled in many directions growing up. She wants to be an artist, but her Amma is more concerned that she be ‘A Good Muslim’, believing that ‘Life is a Test’ and her old ways such as ‘An Arranged Marriage’ are the only proper life to live…

For her parents England ends at the front door and the household is pure Bangla within the walls. The lure of the outer world has already proved too much for one brother as seen in ‘My Poor Family’, ‘Suffocated’ and ‘The Disownment’ and soon Shuna too is living a secret life with an English lover mother could never approve of…

Contrasts with her perfect cousin in Bangladesh constantly wrack her conscience but Shuna has long capitulated to the wiles of Shaitan in her head. Life has a trick of upsetting all plans and exposing secrets and ‘Our Parallel Family’, ‘The Meeting’, ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘The Mongrel Children’ reveal how even the harshest opinions can shift leading to a truly romantic happy ending in ‘Goodbye Anger’ and the ruminatory ‘Epilogue’

Begum weds brisk, informative line drawing with traditional patterns of Islamic art and the excesses of surrealism to weave a compelling and visually enticing tale of real people coping with ancient intolerances and rapidly evolving family stresses in a fluid, multicultural society. It’s all the more affecting to realise she’s bravely sharing the minutiae and intimacies of her own life to highlight a situation as old as humanity itself.

A magical story and a stunning debut, Mongrel is book you must read and share.
Mongrel © by 2020 Sayra Begum All rights reserved.

Jaimie Smart’s Bunny vs Monkey volume 1


By Jaimie Smart, with Laura Bentley & Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-177-2 (PB)

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 of British periodical sensation The Phoenix 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 being re-released in remastered, double-length digest editions. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 1 & 2, entitled Let the Mayhem Begin and Journey to the Centre of the Eurg-th

With precious little unnecessary build-up, the manic happy returns commence with a ‘Prologue!’ introducing placid, wise, helpful Bunny and not-so-smart pals Pig and Weenie Squirrel. The foolish innocents and lifelong residents of idyllic Crinkle Woods have found a hibernating bear which Bunny really wants them to stop trying to wake up…

Meanwhile, over the hill and not so far away, a bunch of boffins are attempting to launch a really annoying monkey into space…

This prompts a barrage of seasonal silliness in ‘Bunny vs. Monkey’, as the proposed launch goes hideously awry and the loud, stroppy, obnoxious simian lands in the snow-covered glade and instantly declares himself king of this strange alien world…

Monkey loves noise, strife, chaos and trouble and incessantly needs to raise a rumpus – everything genteel, contemplative Bunny abhors – so when our apish astronaut introduces techno music in ‘Keep it Down!’, the lines of battle are irrevocably drawn…

Thing escalate in ‘When Monkey Met Skunky’. This latter is a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-inspired terror weapons such as the Cluck Cluck Zeppelin used to bomb the woods with 10-year-old rotten eggs or the giant metal robot hands which give the destructive Monkey ‘Fists of Fury’

Winter draws on with ‘Soggy ‘n’ Froggy’ wherein a monstrous Frog-O-Saurus becomes the wicked duo’s latest Weapon of Meadow Destruction, after which poor Pig is transformed into cyborg sensation Pig-O-Tron 5000 in ‘Robo-Chop’ as a simple change of pace sees Weenie and Pig put on a circus show to counter all the nasty animosity before getting painfully caught ‘Clowning Around’

Up until now Monkey has been risking his own pelt road-testing all Skunky’s inventions, but when a bewildered former stuntman turns up, the sneaky simian is happy to leave all the dangerous stuff to ‘Action Beaver’

March leads to a profusion of beautiful buds and blossoms which delight the soul of nature-loving Bunny.

Tragically they utterly disgust Monkey, who tries to eradicate all that flora in ‘Down with Spring!’ until he comes a-cropper thanks to a sack of spiky “Hodgehegs”, whilst in ‘Bonjour, Le Fox’, the spacy invader finally goes too far, forcing Bunny to align with a rather radical environmentalist possessed of a big, bushy tail and an outrrrrrageous French accent…

Some of Bunny’s friends are their own worst enemies. ‘Race to the Moon!’ sees Weenie and Pig build their own spaceship – out of natural materials like moss and mushrooms – only to have Monkey disastrously commandeer it, after which Skunky builds a terrifying cyber crocodile dubbed ‘Metal Steve!’ which ignores its perfidious programming to spend the day swimming. Such shameful failures thus compel Monkey to steal a steamroller to personally get rid of all that hateful, ugly cherry blossom infesting the trees in ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’!’

The war against nature intensifies as ‘Eat Your Greens!’ sees Skunky’s Caterpillar-Zilla devouring forest foliage until an authentic creepy-crawly steps in, whilst ‘The Whuppabaloo!’ shows the niffy tinkerer’s softer side as he drags Monkey on a wilderness trek to track down the most amazing thing in nature…

‘Hide and Squark!’ depicts the rabbit’s fightback, thanks to the double-dealing help of a certain giant parrot, after which a momentary détente for a spot of angling inevitably turns into another heated duel in ‘Fish Off!’ after which a brief falling out of the axis of evil in May ends as ‘Invisi-Monkey’ sees the strident simian squabbling with Skunky to possess a sneaky stealth suit. The status quo sees the villains reuniting to spoil a joyous game of Cake-Ball with their monolithic, monstrous ‘Mole-a-Rolla!’

‘Black Gold’ finds Monkey attempting to turn the Wood into an oil field, before spoiling Bunny’s dream of a ‘Quiet Day!’with a giant Robot Cockroach

Blazing June opens with ‘Bring Him Back!’ as Action Beaver attempts to retrieve watery wanderer Metal Steve whilst simple souls Weenie and Pig accidentally kick off an invention Armageddon which only intensifies after that long-slumbering ursine finally wakes up in ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bear?’

‘The Bat!’ apparently introduces a nasty new faction to the ongoing conflict (but all is not as it seems!), and there’s no confusing the stakes when Bunny agrees to a winner-take-all fight in ‘Wrestlepocalypse!’ and Monkey learns that cheats never prosper…

Just when things seem likely to settle down, fresh chaos ensues when a violent piratical rabbit – with an eye-patch – storms in to cause stir up trouble in ‘Bunny B!’

With battle reports spanning July to December, hostilities reach new heights and depths as Monkey and Skunky fail to make proper use of ‘The Wish Cannon!’ This reality-warping gun could change the world, but also makes really good cakes…

A far better terror-tool is colossally ravening robot ‘Octo-blivion!’, which ruins Bunny’s boating afternoon, but sadly the tentacled doom-toy becomes an irresistible object of amorous intent for irrepressible cyber crocodile Metal Steve before it can complete its nefarious machinations…

A hot day inspires Monkey to demand his bonkers boffin whip up some volcanoes, but their ‘Journey to the Centre of the Eurg-th!’ only unearths chilly regions and crazily cool creatures before the scene shifts to those not-so-smart but astonishingly innocent bystanders Pig and Weenie.

An afternoon playing with crayons results in a lovely drawing of a crown, and soon everyone is bowing down and obeying ‘King Pig’, after which surly radical environmentalist ‘Fantastique Le Fox!’ finds time to share his incredible origin stories with the dumbfounded woodland denizens. Yes, that’s right: stories, plural…

Hyperkinetic carnage is the order of the day when a cute little dickens turns up inside spiffy running-toy ‘Hamsterball 3000!’, providing Skunky with the perfect power source for his latest devastating mechanical marauder: the horrendous Hamster Mobile

Puns, peril and a stinging hidden moral then inform proceedings when all the animals celebrate ‘Bee-Day!’ whilst a certain happily brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman turns into a tormented super-genius when he accidentally falls under the influence of Skunky’s Smarty Helmet in ‘Action Beever2.

Happily for everyone, before it wears off the increased cognition – in conjunction with a handy lemon puff – demolishes an unleashed Doomsday Device which might just have ended everything…

From September onwards the stories drop to four pages a pop as ‘Gone with the Wind!’ finds Pig and Weenie making trouble with their windsurfing cart after which ‘I, Robot Crocodile!’ sees Metal Steve on a destructive rampage until Bunny and Monkey team up to show the steel berserker the simple joys of dance…

‘There’s a Moose Loose!’ depicts Skunky back on bad form and trying to fool his enemies with a vast Trojan Elk before Monkey spoils everyone’s September by going big after being introduced to a sweet childhood game in ‘Conkers Bonkers!’ after which – with the Beaver temporarily bedridden – the perfidious pair of animal evildoers employ the rather dim ‘Action Pig!’ to test pilot their devilish Dragonfly 5000. Such a bad idea…

Tidy-minded Bunny has no hope of sweeping up all autumn’s golden detritus in ‘Leaf it Alone!’ once friends and enemies start helping out, and an extended sub-plot opens in ‘Duck Race!’ as impetuous Monkey pries into Skunky’s most deadly and diabolical secrets all stashed behind a locked door. In a frantic attempt to deflect attention, the smelly scientist then unleashes the colossal Lord Quack-Quack!

The saga sequels in a surprisingly downbeat follow-up as Bunny, Pig and Weenie dare the fiend’s lair to check out ‘Door B’ before scheduled insanity resumes as ‘Hypno-Monkey!’ finds the hirsute horror misusing a memory ray and briefly assuming godlike power…

Who doesn’t like igniting marshmallows and telling scary stories around a campfire? Not Bunny, Pig and Weenie after hearing the tale of ‘Monster Pants!’ leading to the local idiots deciding to join Monkey’s gang in ‘Bad Influence!’

The monkey is no one idea of a role model – except perhaps for painful ineptitude – as seen in ‘Lost in the Snow!’, but the winter fun expands to encompass everyone when Skunky’s ‘Chemical X!’ unleashes a chilled tidal wave of blancmange leading to seasonal silliness as ‘The Small Matter of the End of the World!’ exposes time-travelling madness as the true story of the demise of the Doomsday Device is finally exposed in an extra-length yarn…

Everything changes when ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Monkey!’ sees peace and goodwill grip the woods – or perhaps it’s just that the simian seditionist has gone missing? When the innocent inhabitants go looking for Monkey, they find him far beyond the forest associating with strange two-legged beings, singing carols and swiping mince pies, but nobody realises just how dangerous ‘Hyooomanz!’ can be as the year ends with plans found proclaiming the demolition of Crinkle Wood and the coming of a new motorway…

To Be Continued…

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

Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, Bunny vs. Monkey is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Why isn’t that you, yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2020. All rights reserved.