Billie Holiday


By José Muñoz & Carlos Sampayo, translated by Katy MacRae, Robert Boyd & Kim Thompson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-093-5 (HB)

Argentinian José Antonio Muñoz was born on July 10th 1942 in Buenos Aires and studied at the prestigious Escuela Panamericana de Arte de Buenos Aires, under comics geniuses Hugo Pratt and Alberto Breccia. He then joined the prolific and prestigious Francisco Solano Lopez studio at the age of 18. Soon his work was appearing in Hora Cero and Frontera Extra whilst he ghosted episodes of the legendary serial Ernie Pike for his old tutor Pratt.

Through the Argentine-based Solano Lopez outfit, he began working on material for British publishing giant Amalgamated Press/IPC, but had no real feeling for the material he was producing. Moreover, like so many others, he was increasingly uncomfortable living in his homeland. Eventually, he was compelled to leave Argentina (in December 1972) as the military junta tightened its totalitarian grip on the country and clamped down on free expression and the arts, as well as all forms of overt or covert dissent.

Moving to England, Spain and later Italy, Muñoz met again fellow émigré and creative soul-mate Carlos Sampayo in Barcelona in 1974 and convinced the poet, music critic, copywriter and author to try his hand at comics. The result was the stunning expressionistic noir Private Detective masterpiece of loss and regret Alack Sinner

Born in 1943, the poet Sampayo grew up with all the same formative experiences as his artistic comrade and, after a similar dispiriting start (he’d tried writing and being a literary editor before resigning himself to work in advertising), moved to Spain in 1972.

The pair were first introduced in 1971 when mutual friend Oscar Zarate left Argentina in the forefront of the creative exodus sparked by the rise of “the Colonels”…

Urgently urged by mentor Hugo Pratt to “do something of your own”, the pair started producing the grimly gritty adventures of an ex-New York cop-turned-shamus haunting the shadows of the world’s greatest, darkest city, and encountering the bleak underbelly of the metropolis and all the outcasts, exiles and scum thrown together at its margins.

Alack Sinner debuted in experimental Italian anthology Alter Linus, was picked up by Belgian giant Casterman (for A Suivre) and compiled in a number of albums across the continent. The feature was set solidly in history, confronting issues of prejudice, bigotry and corruption head-on through shocking words and imagery. In one of their stories Sinner played merely a bit part as the pages examined the life and times and fate of one of the most ill-starred women in the history of Jazz and modern America.

And that’s where this powerfully moving biography finds us…

Originally translated and published by Fantagraphics in the early 1990s, NBM’s Billie Holiday takes us into the heart and soul of the doomed and self-destructive nightingale whose incredible voice was all-but-lost to the world for decades before kinder, more evolved ears of all colours rescued her works from oblivion…

This epic hardcover – and digital – volume examines her life and influence through the eyes of distant observers and opens with essay ‘Billie Holiday: Don’t Explain’ by Francis Marmande, which provides a fact and photo-packed biographical appreciation of the singer in her heyday.

Eleanora Holiday – also known as Billie and “Lady Day” – was born April 7th 1915, and died July 17th 1959. In between those dates she won many fans and earned tons of money, but it never bought her acceptance in a world where black skin provoked revulsion, cruelty and smug superiority. It didn’t even buy her protection from New York cops who considered her a prostitute made good, an uppity subhuman who never knew her place…

Billie lost money as quickly as she earned it: to unscrupulous friends and management, or corrupt officials, although most of it was frittered away by the succession of cheating, brutal men she was perpetually drawn to and whom she could never resist…

A short, stark story of graphic flair offering many powerful full-page images, the tale begins in 1989 as a journalist is assigned to write a feature piece commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of a Jazz singer. He’s never heard of Billie Holiday but is good at his job and starts digging.

He reads about a poor black girl raped as a child and forced into child prostitution who almost escaped that trap by singing. She became successful, but never dodged the traps and pitfalls of her life: booze, drugs, sleazy men, manipulative bosses and a seeming hunger for conflict. Even so, the way she sang was uniquely hers and changed lives forever. She called herself Billie and always performed with a flower in her hair…

For a while the great and good came to watch and hear her and other jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, whose gifts gave them limited entry to the privileged life, but never acceptance.

This intensely personal interpretation is less a biography and more a heartfelt paean of appreciation, channelling and exploring the hard, harsh tone of those troubled times where talented, dogged souls fought for recognition and survival in a world determined to exploit and consume them. In that respect, no one was more exploited than Lady Day…

Also included here, ‘Jazz Sessions’ offers a stunning gallery of 12 stark, chiaroscuric and powerfully evocative images based on scenes from Holiday’s short, stark life and dedication to the freedom of the musical form of Blues and Jazz that she graced and transformed through her vocalisations.

Moving, angry and sad, this tale holds the singer up to the light and must be read. Just remember, there’s no Happy Ever After here…
© 1991 Casterman All rights reserved. © 2017 NBM for the English version

With Only Five Plums


By Terry Eisele & Jonathon Riddle (CreateSpace)
ISBNs: 978-1-48399-114-6 (TPB); 978-1-48399-123-8 (TPB) and 978-1-48399-127-6 (TPB)

As any long-time reader will attest, I’m a huge advocate of doing it yourself when it comes to making comics, and this collection – three books of an epic historical exposé of one of modern humanity’s greatest atrocities thus far – shows just why, as it spectacularly blends harsh fact with high drama to reveal the tragic story and eventual small triumph of Anna Nesporova whose family was targeted in error by the Nazis occupying Czechoslovakia…

Sadly unavailable in digital formats yet, but still readily available in trade paperbacks, the testament is divided into three quietly understated, deeply evocative volumes of ambitiously oversized monochrome memoirs, crafted by historian Terry Eisele & illustrator Jonathon Riddle from Nesporova’s own words, dramatizing the horrific story of the Nazi atrocity at Lidice in Czechoslovakia.

The memories are not merely those of a survivor but come from a woman whose entire family was intimately connected with the cause of the tragedy…

The history opens in With Only Five Plums: The Time Before as an elderly woman is encouraged by an interviewer to talk of times long past but never forgotten. She cautiously relates the idyllic life in the nondescript hamlet of Lidice before specifically concentrating on the expansive Horak family and her life as innocent, ordinary Anna Horakova during increasingly trying times.

Relating instances of village life, childhood experiences and the early days of her marriage, Anna’s story takes a dark turn when describing Christmas customs. In 1941, a cherished family meal tradition presaged disaster for the entire Horak clan…

In June 1938, European leaders trying to appease Hitler allowed Germany to annexe part of Czechoslovakia and, as a consequence, Anna’s brother Josef fled to Britain, joining the growing émigré/refugee population. He dutifully wrote home that he numbered amongst his new friends Edvard Benes and Jan Masaryk: the leaders of the government-in-exile…

The next stage in the tragedy came when Nazi aristocrat Reinhard Heydrich – a sadistic monster eagerly expediting Hitler’s pogrom against the Jews – was assassinated. The Horak family were mistakenly implicated in the plot.

Nazi retaliation was astoundingly disproportionate: the village where they lived – almost universally Christian – was eradicated from the Earth; the male population massacred and the women sent to concentration camps in a display of calculated butchery as bad as anything visited upon the Romani, Jews or any other ethnicity the Nazis deemed “subhuman”.

Heavily pregnant at the time, Anna – along with other expectant mothers – was separated from the rest. As the children were delivered, they were taken away. Those that passed certain tests were removed to be brought up German, whilst the mothers joined their sister villagers in packed cattle-cars at rail marshalling yards. The destination was Ravensbruck Concentration Camp…

The tale resumes in With Only Five Plums Book 2: This Dark Age where, following a brief recap, Anna details the appalling journey, paying especial detail to an elderly Jewish woman’s attempts to cheer up younger girls with the story of Rabbi Loew’s Golem. That fabulous avenger was created to protect the Jews of Prague during a previous wave of persecution…

After many days and hundreds of miles, the train arrives in Fürstenberg from where the survivors are force-marched to the camp. Anna’s record of daily humiliations and the slow, piecemeal destruction of bodies and spirits covers three years, but she considered herself lucky. At least she had a skill the Germans found useful (professional-standard sewing) and wasn’t part of a group considered genetically inferior such as the Roma “gypsies”.

Heartbreaking memories of Romani inmate Florica (and her folktale of the origins of blonde-haired people) poignantly counterpoints a diary of privation and desperation and serves to underline the horrific accounts of the scientist-torturers Ernst-Robert Grawitz and Ludwig Stumpfegger who used women as guinea pigs for their horrendous experiments…

The captivity suddenly ended in spring. The panicked Germans were in retreat: burning files and dismantling buildings. The women were led out of the gates with a few guards and ordered to march. They staggered through Germany and other countries shattered by bombs and, as the days passed, many died. Soon they were not enough soldiers and Anna and some other women slipped away, heading always towards a home that no longer existed.

Avoiding the “liberating” Russian soldiers, the group finally reached Czechoslovakia, battered but once more a free nation. Here Anna met Mrs. Kubrova; wife of her husband’s employer, who took her in and eventually drove her to Lidice… or at least where it had once been…

The chronicle concludes in With Only Five Plums Book 3: Life in the East is Worthless, which describes the aftermath of the war. Throughout all her trials and torments, Anna had been utterly oblivious to the fate of her family and her home. Now she learns that both had been eradicated with devastating efficiency. All that was left was the daughter taken from her at birth and lost seemingly forever somewhere in Germany…

From Kubrova, Anna discovers what the Nazis had done to turn a thriving, bustling village into a barren featureless field and of other survivors – mostly stolen children. These scenes are more harrowing in their understated simplicity than anything else in this grim graphic report…

However, there is a slight moral victory to be seen as aged Anna then relates how Lidice was rebuilt and repopulated (despite the Soviet Union’s absorbing the newly liberated nation into their Warsaw Pact-enforced alliance) before the saga concludes with an emotional Epilogue wherein Anna finally reveals the fate of her stolen daughter…

Slipping back and forth in time, conversationally adding depth and historical background to a remarkably restrained, tightly controlled and shatteringly effective examination of human nature at its worst and best, With Only Five Plums (a Czech expression akin to “with only the clothes on your back”) focuses on one of the most depraved and appalling acts in human history and manages to extract a message of hope and triumphant perseverance from the tragedy.

This triptych is a superb example of pictorial reportage and graphic memoir, with each big (280 x 216mm) book also offering poetry written about the atrocity (The Far-off Village by Mazo de la Roche, Lidice by C. Day Lewis and To Lidice by George England respectively); text features and extensive, fascinating excerpts from ‘Jonathon’s Sketchbook’.

Anna Nesporova passed away in 2006, before these books were completed, but the sense remains that the brooding, painfully oppressive and achingly moving story related would have made her proud. As with all accounts of Atrocity, the tale of Lidice needs to be told and retold, if there’s to be any hope of stopping such things from happening again and as always, such accounts work best when they come from the hearts and mouths of those who were there.

With Only Five Plums is a powerful story of inhumanity, stupidity and endurance that will certainly impress fans of war stories and devotees of fine storytelling, but hopefully it will most appeal to history teachers; professional and not…

© 2013 Terry Eisele. All rights reserved.
For more information and to obtain your own copies check out www.terryeisele.com

Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903


By Christian Perrissin & Matthieu Blanchin, translated by Diana Schutz & Brandon Kander (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-869-4 (HB)

Other people’s lives are fascinating. Just check out any TV schedule to affirm that watching what neighbours or strangers are have done, are doing or want to do is a major drive for us nosy hairless apes. And it’s even more enticing if we’re allowed a smidgen of comparison and an ounce of judgement, too.

One problem with famous dead people though is that we’re forced to make those assessments at a remove – because they’re dead – and only have records or, worse, myths and legends to construct our portrait from. Thankfully, we’re pretty imaginative monkeys too and have drama to help us fill in the gaps and flesh out the characters.

Those gifts proved immensely valuable to author Christian Perrissin and illustrator Matthieu Blanchin in the creation of a 3-volume graphic biography demythologising one of the Wild West’s most enigmatic icons. The result was the award-winning Martha Jane Cannary: La vie aventureuse de celle que l’on nommait Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary: The Calamitous Life of Calamity Jane).

Perrissin studied Fine and Applied Arts before moving into Bande dessinée, and from 1987 to 1990 apprenticed with Yves Lavandier before going solo with his Hélène Cartier series (co-created with cartoonist Buche). He has since scripted TV shows and film, written epic sagas such as El Niño and Cape Horn and inherited the scripting of venerable comics classic Redbeard.

Co-creator Blanchin started out as a storyboard artist and illustrator at the turn of the century, before moving into comics, producing work for a host of companies and titles. Eventually he moved into historical and autobiographical material such as Blanche and Le Val des ânes and the Les années series. In 2002 he was hospitalised by a brain tumour and languished in a coma for ten days. After convalescence and relapse he ultimately (in 2015) turned the experience into the hugely influential and celebrated Quand vous pensiez que j’étais mort: Mon quotidien dans le coma (When You Thought I was Dead: My Daily Life in a Coma).

This monochrome, duo-toned hardback (and digital) translation offers their collaboration in one titanic tome, blending the often-sordid facts of outrageous adventures, unflagging spirit and astonishing determination into a tapestry that shows the underbelly of the American dream.

With great warmth and humour, they construct a true masterpiece of the very real and strong woman behind all the stories – many of them concocted by Martha Jane herself – as she survived against impossible odds, doing whatever was necessary to survive and protect her family.

The tale begins with a graphic note from the creators, citing their sources and contextualising her life and times in ‘The Mormon Trail…’, before the unforgettable life story begins in an overcrowded cabin in the desolate prairie region of Utah…

In her life, Martha Jane Cannary worked hard for little reward, met scoundrels and scalawags, gunslingers and heroes, lived on her wits and determination and was forced far too often to compromise her principles to preserve others as well as herself. She knew many famous men in many infamous places but I’m not naming them. This is her book, not theirs.

Calamity Jane was present throughout much of the most infamous moments of American history in the most iconic locations. She had far more enemies than friends and was more often despised and ostracised than honoured, but always carried on, living her life her way. It was often tainted by tragedy, but she also scored her share of triumphs and experienced joy and love – and always on her terms.

This is a compelling and utterly mesmerising chronicle of authentic western principles and achievement that will enthuse and enthral anyone with a love of history and appreciation of human strength and weakness.
Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903 Translation and Art © 2017 IDW Publishing. Story © 2017 Futuropolis. All rights reserved.

Marie Curie – The Radium Fairy


By Chantal Montellier & Renaud Huynh translated by Lara Vergnaud (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital-only publication

I’ve waited ages (well, since March 2017, but I’m old and my days are limited) for this superb book to be picked up by a print publisher, but now I’m just going to review it anyway and assume that as you’re reading this on a computer, you can make the leap to seeing comics that way too. And yes, I know all about the smell and feel of proper books. I feel that way too, but we’re killing more trees than we really need to, guys. Just think of it as portable fun you can’t fold, or tear…

Originally released across Europe in 2011, Marie Curie La Fée du Radium was produced in collaboration with the Curie Museum and the Cité des sciences et del ’industrie (part of Universcience), with educator, illustrator and bande dessinée creator Chantal Montellier (Odile et les crocodiles, Les Damnés de Nantes) summarising and dramatizing in graphic narrative a most astounding life, after which research scientist, educator and museum curator Renaud Huynh (La fantastique histoire du radium) provides an extensive and copious Timeline, tracing the triumphs, tribulations and legacy of Marie Sklodowska-Curie (1867-1934): thus far, the only woman to ever be awarded two Nobel Prizes.

The crucial comics component kicks off in Stockholm on September 4th as aging Marie Curie works on a speech; preparing to receive that second cherished accolade…

Thinking back, she pictures her departed husband Pierre Curie. Their joint isolation of the element they named Polonium after her place of birth was a grand achievement but doesn’t make up for her years of struggle for acceptance or his tragic accidental death so early in their marriage…

And so, briefly, concisely and without fanfare unfolds a true epic of brilliance applied, adversity overcome and persistence rewarded. Today Curie is credited with adding two elements to the Periodic Table – Radium was the other one – and venerated for her researches. She was also the first woman allowed to teach at the prestigious Sorbonne, but for much of her life had to overcome entrenched patriarchal attitudes and oppression whilst being vilified in the media and by wider society for her “scandalous” personal life and generally just for being an uppity female who didn’t know her place. Isn’t it great how much everything has changed since then? (I am of course waiting for my own Nobel for the isolation of Sarcastium™…).

This small but powerful digital only tome concludes with a large and detailed Timeline. Huynh’s pictorial essay is packed with photographic illustrations, cartoons and clippings; encapsulating and clarifying Curie’s life and achievements and précised in chapters entitled ‘1867/1895 Warsaw-Paris’, ‘1896/1905 A Scientific Dream’, ‘1906/1911 Hardships and Success’, ‘1912/1921 The Radium Institute’ and ‘1922/1934 An International Figure’, and closes with an ‘Epilogue’ revealing how sixty years after her death, Marie Curie’s ashes were transferred to the Pantheon (resting place of the nation’s greatest citizens). She was the first woman to be accorded this honour based solely on her own merits…

Making learning fun, Marie Curie – The Radium Fairy is a potent and powerful inspiration, venerating one of histories most dedicated scientists, and one every youngster should read.
© 2016 – DUPUIS – Chantal Montellier & Renaud Huynh. All rights reserved.

First Names: Malala Yousafzai


By Lisa Williamson & Mike Smith (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-047-8 (PB)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

David Fickling Books provides other types of reading matter: novels, graphic novels and a newish imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

First Names introduces young readers to noteworthy achievers rightly deemed role models and adds now to its initial offerings (Emmeline Pankhurst, Elon Musk, Amelia Earhart and Harry Houdini) an utterly modern, indomitable young woman who has defied tyranny, defeated oppression and changed the lives of millions if not billions of young people.

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed, and are bright, breezy, easily-accessible hagiographies with the emphasis on graphics.

Written by Lisa Williamson, Malala Yousafzai presents a rather darker tale than we’re used to, as it details the astonishing accomplishments of a knowledge-hungry schoolgirl who stared death in the face, defying terrorists and religious bigotry to defend the rights of all girls to enjoy the fruits of proper education.

The amazing story begins with a moody ‘Introduction’ describing the events of 9th October 2012, when two deluded zealots boarded a school bus in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. They were hunting an outspoken advocate of female education who had defied the edicts of their leader for years. Finding teenager Malala Yousafzai, they opened fire…

Malala was born in 1997 and was blessed with amazingly brave and progressive parents. In ‘No Party for Malala’, we meet teacher Ziauddin Yousafzai and his wife Toor Pekai, who refused to consider their firstborn child a disappointment and financial burden simply because she was a girl. Their struggles against the wider family and the attitudes of the local community reveal the child to be precocious but decidedly everyday and straightforward… Except that she loved books and learning…

As the country descended into religious civil war, Ziauddin opened his own school and in ‘Malala Makes Some Decisions’ and ‘Malala Gets Angry’ the descent into chaos is detailed as his forthright daughter begins to show her true self: helping him, pushing herself and attempting to secure schooling for the poorest children and outcasts of her town…

The unrest was fomented by a self-appointed extremist spokesman named Maulana Fazlullah using local gangs and a pirate radio station. His arcane demands that people abandon all western trappings – such as televisions and radios – and live according to his interpretation of Islam spread fear and dissent far and wide. When he proclaimed that girls should not go to school Malala saw red and began speaking out…

The story unfolds in great but easily accessible detail in ‘Malala And the Taliban’, ‘Malala Spreads the Word’, ‘Malala On the Move’, before culminating in the horrific attack mentioned earlier.

Somehow, thanks to the efforts of surgeons in Pakistan, Malala did not die and the great and the good of the outside world – already listening to her brave stand – acted to remove her from the troubled region as expediently as possible. ‘Watch Out, Malala’, ‘Malala Loses a Week’, ‘Malala Wakes Up’ and ‘Malala Moves Out’ takes us from the battleground of the Swat Valley to her recuperation and rehabilitation in Britain, where she was – for a while – one more girl in the English school system.

As seen in ‘What Malala Did Next’, during that time of new friends and exams, she was also feted by kings and presidents and her outspoken criticism of those who oppress women and suppress universal education never faltered. Lauded (almost) everywhere, she eventually became the youngest ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. She donated her prize money to rebuild bombed schools in Gaza…

A truly inspirational person, Malala’s story has barely begun, and this summation of it should affirm to kids everywhere that they have rights, a voice and power if they seek to use it. Moreover, in clear, simple terms, author Williamson has worked marvels in explaining complex issues and condensing critical history and context into a story that’s easy to read and impossible to forget.

Naturally, for such a scholarly endeavour, this book also contains fulsome Timeline, Glossary and Index appendices for those eager to check out the facts and educate themselves even further…

Aiding and abetting, illustrator Mike Smith tirelessly crafts engaging and contextualising pictorial aids and chats with Malala herself, whilst clarifying contexts and social technicalities, whilst putting faces to the names and places in smart cartoon collations such as ‘Pakistan in 1988 Explained’, ‘Toor Pekai’s First (and Last) Day at School’, ‘Schools in Pakistan Explained’, ‘The Pashtun People Explained’ and ‘The Taliban Explained’.

There’s also plenty of visual sidebars detailing the basics of ‘Sharia Law’, ‘Madrasas’, ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ and ‘Girl Power Goes Global’ as well as brief but comprehensive potted biographies of the demagogue ‘Fazlullah’, and Malala’s own inspiration idol ‘Benazir Bhutto’…

Working in tandem with delicate sensitivity, the creators have constructed a crucial appreciation to a young woman who has changed the world and proved to bigots and bullies that common decency will always triumph in the end.

First Names: Malala Yousafzai Text © Lisa Williamson 2019 and illustrations © Mike Smith 2019. All rights reserved.
First Names: Malala Yousafzai will be published on August 1st 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

High Command – The stories of Sir Winston Churchill and General Montgomery


By Frank Bellamy & Clifford Makins (Dragon’s Dream)
ISBN: 978-9-06332-901-3 (PB)

Inexcusably absent as we commemorate the achievements and sacrifices of earlier generations are these twin neglected classics of British comic strip art, crafted by one of the world’s most talented narrative illustrators. These wonderful biographical series originally ran in The Eagle: the most influential comic of post-war Britain, which launched on April 14th 1950, to astound readers weekly until 26th April 1969.

It was the brainchild of a Southport vicar, the Reverend Marcus Morris, who was at that time concerned over the detrimental effects of American comicbooks on British children. He posited a good, solid, thoroughly decent Christian-inspired antidote and sought out like-minded creators. After jobbing around a dummy to many British publishers for over a year with little success, he eventually found an unlikely home at Hulton Press, a company that produced adult general interest magazines such as Lilliput and Picture Post.

The result was a huge hit spawning clones Swift, Robin and Girl (targeting other demographic sectors of the children’s market), as well as radio series, books, toys and all other sorts of merchandising.

An incredible huge number of soon-to-be prominent creative figures in many arenas of media worked on the weekly, and although Dan Dare is deservedly revered as the star, many other strips were as popular at the time, many even rivalling the lead in quality and entertainment value. As was the trend of the times, the content combined fact with fiction, stressing learning and discernment equally with adventure, thrills and fun…

At its peak, The Eagle sold close to a million copies a week, but eventually changing tastes and a game of “musical owners” killed the title. In 1960, Hulton sold out to comics megalith Odhams, who then became Longacre Press. A year later they were bought by The Daily Mirror Group who evolved into IPC. And so it goes in publishing…

In cost-cutting exercises, many later issues carried (relatively) cheap and oh-so-trendy Marvel Comics reprints rather than British originated material. It took time, but the Yankee cultural Invaders won out in the end…

With the April 26th 1969 issue Eagle was merged into Lion, eventually disappearing altogether. Successive generations have revived the prestigious glamour-soaked title, but never its success.

From its glorious Reithian heyday (“Educate, Elucidate and Entertain”) comes a brace of brief biographical serials devoted to two men who were crucial to the war effort that had imperilled the readership’s forebears, originally collected into a classy album by Dragons Dream in 1981.

The first half was reprinted in 2014 as slim scarcely seen paperback The Happy Warrior: The Life Story of Sir Winston Churchill as Told Through the Eagle Comic of the 1950’s (ISBN: 978-1-90650-990-3) with a scholarly commentary from Richard M. Langworth CBE, but we’re long overdue for the combined volume to resurface (you will never know the effort involved in not just saying “the Full Monty” there…)

In High Command, however, we can devour the life story of Sir Winston Churchill and the quiet general (both scripted by Clifford Makins), beginning with the icon of Bulldog Spirit. Originally titled The Happy Warrior, the prestigious full-page back cover feature (running from October 4th 1957 until September1958) was Frank Bellamy’s first full colour strip. He followed up with Montgomery of Alamein (volume 13, #10-27, spanning March 10th to 7th July 1962), delivering twice the punch and more revelatory design in two-page colour-spreads that utterly spellbound readers, whether they were war-fans or not…

Churchill himself approved the early strips and was rumoured to have been consulted before the artist began the experimental layouts that elevated Bellamy from being merely a highly skilled representational draughtsman into the trailblazing innovator who revolutionized the comic page.

The tireless experimenter also began the explorations of the use of local and expressionistic colour palettes that would result in the extraordinary Fraser of Africa, Heros the Spartan and the deservedly legendary Thunderbirds strips.

The Churchill story follows the great man from his early days at Eton through military service in Cuba as a war correspondent, and into politics. Although a large proportion deals with World War II – and in a spectacular, tense and thrilling manner – the subtler skill Bellamy displays in depicting the transition of dynamic, handsome man of action into burly political heavyweight over the weeks is impressive and astonishing. It should be mentioned, though, that this collection doesn’t reproduce the climactic, triumphal last page, a portrait that is half-pin-up, half summation and all hagiography.

Bernard Law Montgomery’s graphic biography benefited from Bellamy’s newfound expertise in two ways. Firstly, the page count was doubled, and the artist capitalized on this by producing groundbreaking double page spreads that worked across gutters (the white spaces that divide the pictures). This allowed him to craft even more startling page and panel designs.

Secondly, Bellamy had now become extremely proficient in both staging the script and creating mood with colour. This strip is pictorial poetry in motion.

Makins doesn’t hang about either. Taking only three episodes to get from school days in Hammersmith, army service in India and promotion to Brigade Major by the end of the Great War, Monty’s WWII achievements are given full play, allowing Bellamy to create an awesome display of action-packed war comics over the remaining fifteen double-paged episodes. There really hasn’t been anything to match this level of quality and sophistication in combat comics before or since.

If you strain you might detect a tinge of post-war triumphalism in the scripts, but these accounts are historically accurate and phenomenally stirring to look at. If you love comic art you should hunt these down, or at least pray that somebody, somewhere has the sense to reprint this work.
© 1981 Dragon’s Dream B.V. ©1981 I.P.C. Magazines Ltd.

The Rolling Stones in Comics


By Céka, Marin Trystam, Patrick Lacan, Dimitri Piot, Kyung-Eun Park, Domas, Clément Baloup, Dominique Hennebaut, Amandine Puntous, Lapuss, Bast, Patès, Filippo Néri & Piero Ruggeri, Anthony Audibert, Bruno Loth, Aurélie Neyret, Sanzito, Sarah Williamson, Joël Alessandra & Carine Becker, Mao Suy-Heng & various: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-198-7 (HB)

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2017 – is another instant classic likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to…

Like its thematic companion and predecessor featuring The Beatles, The Rolling Stones in Comics is designed to evoke the same nostalgic excitement via cannily repackaged popular culture factoids, contemporary quotes and snippets of celebrity history – accompanied by a stunning assemblage of candid photographs, posters and other memorabilia – in brief, themed essays with cartoon vignettes chronologically highlighting key moments in the development of a band comprising remarkable men of wealth and taste…

Scripted throughout by author and advertising copywriter Céka (with the strips illustrated by an army of top talent) the saga begins with a brief biography of Michael Phillipe Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts in featurette ‘The Stones, Before the Stones’, before Marin Trystam takes us back to Kent in June 1960 where two youngsters with a love of American Blues albums meet on a train in ‘Blessed Be the Vinyl’

‘Make Way, Here Come the Blues Boys!’ then details the music scene in England at that time and offers a definition of R&B, after which Patrick Lacan takes us back further in time to reveal the slave roots of a name and the ‘Rollin’ Stones Blues’, whilst ‘Rags Before Riches’ recalls the band’s early poverty, scarce gigs and squalid first creative den, vividly realised in Dimitri Piot’s strip depiction of life in August 1962 at ‘102, Edith Grove’.

The early line-up solidifies in 1963 as ‘Crank Up the Amp!’ covers the contributions of Charlie and Bill, with Kyung-Eun Park limning Brian Jones’ attempts at being a manager in ‘Screw You!’ before Publicist Supreme and Soho Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham takes the band in hand in photo-essay ‘The Man Who Created the Stones’, with Domas recapturing in comics form a defining moment from September 1963 when Stones met Beatles in ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’

With Oldham as manager, the climb begins in earnest as the band meet the man who infamously turned down the Beatles and seal a record deal in ‘Make Mine Decca’, whilst illustrator Clément Baloup reveals the secrets of Ian Stewart… ‘The Sixth Stone’.

The story of how Jagger and Richards evolved from musicians into songwriters is covered in ‘Singer, Songwriter’, with Dominique Hennebaut capturing that struggle pictorially with the harsh debut of ‘The Glimmer Twins’, after which the dark side manifests in a recapitulation of felonies and misdemeanours in ‘Drug City’, as Amandine Puntous illustrates the police raid on the band now known as ‘The Redlands Affair’.

The band’s growing status as rebels of youth culture is dissected ‘Rock and Role?’, with Lapuss capturing a few shameful truths about the seductive power of wealth and the “Richest Hippie in England” in cartoon vignette ‘Rebel in a Bentley’, after which the tragic life and death of Brian is explored in ‘Light Hair and Dark Thoughts’, before Bast illuminates the 1969 demise of the ‘Fallen Angel’

The arrival of Mick Taylor and the search for a new sound is covered in ‘Back to the Future’, and Patès accompanying strip explains the intricacies of guitar chord techniques for Keith’s invention of ‘Open Tuning’, even as ‘The End of the Sixties’ manifests in more death and tragedy as Filippo Néri & Piero Ruggeri recapture the shocking debacle of rock festival ‘Altamont’

After Drugs and Rock and Roll, the Sex part of the unholy trinity comes under the spotlight in photo-essay ‘Some Girls’, whilst Anthony Audibert illustrates the bizarre practices of Jagger’s filmic debut in Nick Roeg’s ‘Performance’, before winding back to making music withy explorations of ‘Harmonica, Sitar, etc.’, as Bruno Loth traces the ultimate love story in ‘Keith and his Electric Guitars’.

The bad times are spotlighted in ‘Smog Over Stone Land’, with Aurélie Neyret encapsulating the release of “the Greatest Slow Song of All Time” in ‘Summer of ‘73’ before another momentous personnel change occurs as detailed in ‘Bye Bye The Kid, Hello Ronnie!’, after which Sanzito illumines the most important aspect of the newcomer’s contribution in ‘Dr. Wood’

Individual – and often ignominious – career paths are traced in ‘Oh, Solo Mio’, and Sarah Williamson draws us into the infamous Jagger/Jeff Beck Nassau album in ‘Erase It!’, before reconciliation and the era of live touring is tackled in ‘Thrills and Chills’, with Joël Alessandra & Carine Becker capturing the band’s rituals and coping mechanisms in strip catalogue ‘Sex, Drugs and… Ping Pong’.

The death of Ian Stewart and resignation of Bill Wyman are marked in ‘The Rolling Stones, Minus Two’, after which Sanzito explores the mind of Wyman in ‘Stone Alone’, whilst silent, diffident Jazz wizard Charlie Watts gets his solo moment in essay ‘Who’s the Guy in the Back?’ and Patès illustrative tribute to ‘The Silent Stone’, before the saga culminates in a status check and a few prognostications in ‘The Stones, Are STILL Rolling’, and Mao Suy-Heng’s strip glorifying the ‘Century Tour’.

This engrossing time capsule concludes on a suitably whimsical note as ‘Nine Fun Facts About This Legendary Band!’ offers engaging anecdotes and factlets to delight – but surely not surprise? – everyone who loves to hear of classic Rock & Roll hedonism. The Rolling Stones in Comics is an astoundingly readable and craftily rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that resonates with anybody who loves to listen and look. Sometimes, you can actually get what you want…

It’s only ink on paper but I like it… and so will you. Satisfaction guaranteed.
© 2017 Editions Petit as Petit. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

First Names: Amelia Earhart and First Names: Harry Houdini


By Andrew Prentice & Mike Smith (David Fickling Books)
By Kjartan Poskitt & Geraint Ford (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-023-2 (Amelia) 978-1-78845-024-9 (Harry)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

David Fickling Books provides other types of reading matter: novels, graphic novels and a newish imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

First Names introduces young readers to noteworthy achievers rightly deemed role models and adds now to its initial offerings Emmeline Pankhurst and Elon Musk the life stories of Amelia Earhart and Harry Houdini. Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed, and are bright, breezy, easily-accessible hagiographies with the emphasis on graphics.

 

Written by Andrew Price, Amelia Earhart tracks the short but brilliant career of the indomitable aviation pioneer and women’s rights activist, adroitly delineating her character and achievements while deftly downplaying – but never sugar-coating – the facts of her tragic early death.

The reader gets a taste of her indefatigable character and gumption in ‘Introduction – Kansas, Winter 1907’ before ‘Amelia Arrives’ and ‘Amelia Gets A Chance’ follows an early life of frustrated potential and domestic tribulation before indomitable Amelia Mary “Millie” Earhart finally achieves her only ambition in ‘Amelia Takes To The Sky’.

The legend we appreciate – and think we know now – is carefully and engagingly deconstructed in successive chapters (‘Amelia Earns Her Wings’, ‘Amelia Takes The Plunge’ and ‘Amelia Finds Fame’) as we learn how much more there was to the young woman who passionately believed there was no task or job only men could accomplish.

Glory and notoriety – with all its rewards and pitfalls – follow in ‘Amelia Goes Solo’, ‘Amelia Soars Even Higher’ and ‘Amelia Flies The World’ before the details of ‘Amelia’s Final Flight’ are covered. Even in her own brief lifetime, Amelia Earhart was a global inspiration, and appendix ‘Then Along Came Jerrie’, reveals how one young girl who followed that final fateful excursion – to become the first woman to fly around the world – eventually accomplishing the feat in “Millie’s” name…

Aiding and abetting, illustrator Mike Smith crafts engaging and contextualising pictorial vox-pops and chats with the pilot herself and clarifies routes and technicalities, capturing the personalities of the period in witty cartoon spreads such as ‘Millie Explains: Being a Girl in 1910’, ‘Amelia Explains: Barnstorming’, ‘Amelia Explains: Early Aeroplanes’, ‘Air Races’, ‘Amelia’s Eventful Atlantic Crossing’ and ‘Amelia’s Round-the World Scrapbook’. As always, there are drawings and visuals on drawings on practically every page, with absorbing sidebars such as ‘The First Female Flyers’, offering potted biographies of Earhart’s rivals, teachers and comrades of the air.

Working in tandem and conspicuous light-hearted good taste, the creators have constructed a timeless appreciation to a woman who fired up the world and proved to naysayers that women were every inch the equal of men.

 

An indisputable legend and household name, the incredible life and eventful career of Harry Houdini is beyond the comprehension of most modern adults, but – as sketched out here by scribe Kjartan Poskitt & and illustrator Geraint Ford – is impressively covered in bullet points, snapshots and vignettes for the younger crowd who still retain their sense of sheer wonder.

A taste of the magnificent showman’s character comes in the ‘Introduction’ relating one of his most famous stunts before ‘Who Was Harry’ debunks some myths and details how ambitious, driven Hungarian émigré Ehrich Weiss came to America and began his greatest trick: turning a poor Rabbi’s son into the greatest magician, escapologist and illusionist the world has ever seen.

The early years are covered in ‘Harry And The Headless Man’ and how his initial brother act become a husband and wife team in ‘Harry And The Other Houdinis’, after which ‘Harry Hits The Bottom’, ‘Harry Gets A Break’ and ‘Harry Heads Abroad’ exposes the steady road to stardom – and all the traps and pitfalls the human marvel had to negotiate.

A global success, Houdini returned to America and started consolidating his life and legend, (as seen in ‘The House That Harry Built’) while always ramping-up his act in ‘Harry Gets Dangerous’, ‘Harry’s Death-Defying Mysteries!’ and ‘Harry Hangs Upside Down’

His love of inventions and gadgets is highlighted in ‘The Sea Monster And Other Sensations!’, as is his dalliance with movies, while his relentless pursuit and exposure of psychics, mediums and other conmen is covered in ‘Harry And The Spirits’. It’s also the closing of the final curtain as we learn of the ludicrous and tragic circumstances leading to his death…

At least his influence on magicians and other performers is properly addressed in The Legend Lives On

This biography is a bombastic thrill ride cunningly limned by Mike Smith who provides contextual illustrations, comic strips and details how tricks and stunts are performed in numerous pictorial asides such as ‘Magic Fingers’, ‘How To Be A Mind-Reader’, ‘So How Was It Done?’ and ‘How Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin Changed Magic’.

We will never know all the truths about this inspirational, world-changing performer and crusader but at least here is a perfect introduction into his astounding world of wonder…

Invoking the heady baby boomer days of factual entertainment comics such as Look and Learn and Tell Me Why, these extremely enticing books promise – and resoundingly deliver – a measured and informative dose of palatable fact from the world’s rich treasury of past-and-present Stuff To Know, and do it with great charm and efficiency.

More Please!
First Names: Amelia Earhart Text © Andrew Prentice 2019 and illustrations © Mike Smith 2019. All rights reserved.
First Names: Harry Houdini Text © Kjartan Paskitt 2019 and illustrations © Geraint Ford 2019. All rights reserved.

First Names: Amelia Earhart and First Names: Harry Houdini will be published on April 4th 2019 and are available for pre-order now.

Philip K. Dick – A Comics Biography


By Laurent Queyssi & Mauro Marchesi, translated by Edward Gauvin (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-170-3

Publisher NBM expand their fabulous line of European-created dramatized graphic biographies with this latest gem originally released as PHIL: Une vie de Philip K. Dick.

This compelling luxury hardcover (also available in digital formats) investigates one of the most intriguing characters of the 20th century: a man who could arguably be thought of as the John the Baptist of modern existential civilisation and a futurist seer of human interaction and competition.

Philip Kindred Dick (16th December 1928 – 2nd March 1982) explored political, social and philosophical themes through science fiction stories created during the most innovative period of the genre’s entire history. Despite personal feelings of failure, his genre work -incorporating and predicting monopolistic corporate capitalism, alternate realities, the blurry edges of artificial intelligence and altered states of consciousness – changed the way the world thinks and provided road maps for how we meat-minds think in an increasingly digital age.

However, as this superb graphic treatise shows, although he was driven to excel in its creation, he had no respect for his own “non-literary” canon and never realised he was the right man at just the right time…

Dick was demon-driven, charismatic, paranoid, inspired, drug-and-approval dependent, a serial lothario and usually deeply unhappy. Hardly a likable or even sympathetic character -even as seen through the lens of author, screenwriter and translator Laurent Queyssi (Neurotwistin’, Allison, Blackline) who clearly adores his subject’s oeuvre – this is nevertheless an incredibly enticing peek into the world of the legend, deftly and seductively pieced together in moving morsels of emotional highs and lows.

Much of the success must be attributed to artist, illustrator and educator Mauro Marchesi (enerazione M, Magico Mondiale, Mamba) whose graceful, understated art beguiles the reader every step of the way. I’m loathe to froth – or use made-up words I haven’t actually coined myself – but this book was literally unputdownable. I started late on the night my review copy arrived, intending to scan the opening and get a feel for it, and the next thing I know it’s 02:30 and I’m wondering why the house is so dark and quiet…

Accompanied by an adroit and incisive Postscript from the author and a fulsome Biography, this is another visual masterpiece honouring a major force in the history and culture of our complex world, and one you should track down as soon as you can, if not sooner …
© Blue Lotus Prod. Paris, 2017 by Goetzinger. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.

Philip K. Dick – A Comics Biography is scheduled for release January 30th, 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing.

The Beatles in Comics


By Michels Mabel, Gaet’s, Lu-K, Vox, Anne-Sophie Servantie, Ludivine Stock, Amandine Puntous, Romuald Gleyse, Julien Lamanda, Efix, Pierre Braillon, Ben Lebègue, Anthony Audibert, Bloop, Victor Giménez, Akita, Laurent Houssin, Richard Di Martino, Piero Ruggeri et Filipo Neri, Martin Trystram, Clément Baloup, Edwina Cosme et Christophe Billard, Patrick Lacan, Virginie de Lambert, Joël Alessandra, Odile Santi & various: translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-187-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Magical Mystery Tour for All… 10/10

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2016 – is one of the best I’ve seen and the most likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to…

If you’ve never heard of the Beatles there’s very little point in you carrying on any further.

Still with us? Okay then…

As if cannily repackaged popular culture factoids and snippets of celebrity history – accompanied by a treasure trove of candid photographs, song lyrics, posters and other memorabilia – aren’t enough to whet your appetite, this addition to the lore of the Fab Four adds a vital and enticing extra element.

The individual chronological articles and the comics vignettes they each precede are all written by Michels Mabel & Gaet’s, with an army of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant mini-strips, beginning with the meeting of ‘John, Paul and George’, as envisioned by Lu-K.

Vox details the euphoria of the first gigs in ‘Hamburg’ before Anne-Sophie Servantie details the iconic contribution of photographer ‘Astrid Kirchherr’ to the band’s growing mystique after which the crucial contribution of their tragedy-marked manger is explored in ‘Mister Epstein’ with vivid illustration from Ludivine Stock.

A tone of smug schadenfreude tinges Amandine Puntous’ ‘The Man Who Refused to Sign the Beatles!’ before Romuald Gleyse recalls the moment the magic finally gelled as a proper music producer takes the rowdy kids in hand with ‘George Martin’s Wager’.

With the world at their feet, a close brush with respectability and civil honours are covered in

‘The Queen’s Rebels’ by Julien Lamanda after which Efix encapsulates conquest of the New World and ‘The Beginning of Beatlemania’; with Pierre Braillon tackling key appearances on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ and Ben Lebègue depicting ‘Shea Stadium and the American Tour’.

Once they started getting successful, tensions began to fracture the band’s enthusiastic solidarity. The creation of the song ‘Yesterday’ (Anthony Audibert art) and an anticlimactic meeting of giants, as seen in Bloop’s ‘The Beatles and Elvis’ starts tracing the cracks, whilst movie sensation ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – by Victor Giménez – and Akita’s visualisation of ‘John’s Opinion’ reinforce the tensions.

Courtesy of Laurent Houssin, ‘New Musical Horizons’ are explored, and Richard Di Martino celebrates ‘The Triumph of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ before the hammer falls with the death of their protective manager. ‘Goodbye Brian’ by Piero Ruggeri et Filipo Neri signals a creative explosion and the beginnings of financial disaster as conmen target the band resulting in a fractious ‘Trip to India’ (by Martin Trystram), the advent of ‘Yoko Ono’ (from Clément Baloup) and the musical masterpiece that is ‘The White Album’ as depicted by Edwina Cosme & Christophe Billard.

Patrick Lacan then visually traces the insane and inane conspiracy theories claiming ‘Paul is Dead’ before more artistic triumphs are balanced by incipient catastrophe in Virginie de Lambert’s ‘Abbey Road/Let it Be’.

From there it’s all about ‘The Break-up’ (Joël Alessandra) after which Odile Santi scrapbooks 1971 to now in the postscriptive ‘Post Beatles’ section…

The compelling and remarkable biography concludes on a deliciously whimsical note as ‘Do you want to know a secret?’ offers 18 absurd anecdotes to delight everyone who loves to hear classic absurdism. The Beatles in Comics is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that resonates with anybody who loves to listen and look. Without it, you’re simply nowhere, man…

© 2016 Petit as Petit. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.
NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/