The Imitation Game: Alan Turing Decoded


By Jim Ottaviani & Leland Purvis (Abrams ComicArts)
ISBN: 978-1-4197-1893-9 (HB) 978-1-4197-3645-2 (TPB)

Like every persecuted grouping of humanity, the LGBTQ community have far too many martyrs, but apart from Oscar Wilde and perhaps Harvey Milk, how many can you name? If any, I’ll bet Alan Turing tops that list…

Spellbindingly scripted by Jim Ottaviani (who has similarly eulogised and dissected quantum physicist (Richard) Feynman and – in Primates – primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas) with compellingly effective art by Leland Purvis (Vox, Pubo, Vulcan & Vishnu and Suspended in language: Niels Bohr’s life, discoveries, and the century he shaped – a previous collaboration with Ottoviani), this full-colour hardback, trade paperback or eBook biography divides Turing’s life into three broad sections, incisively and winningly reviewed as if in a documentary.

Events from his turbulent life are deftly mixed with faux “interviews” and candid disclosures from those who knew him – his mother, the computing “girls” at Bletchley Park, fiancée Joan Clark, Professor Max Newman, engineer and lab partner Bayley and the weak, shady “rent-boy” who brought about Turing’s eventual downfall and death…

‘Universal Computing’ covers the difficult, solitary boy’s childhood and college years, providing plenty of revelatory scenes showing how smart, obsessed and just plain different Alan Mathison Turing always was.

Top Secret Ultra’ focuses on the war years that built Turing’s reputation as a cryptographer and inventor at the officially “non-existent” base where the Enigma Code was cracked and the battle against fascism won.

The most painful and potent moments are seen in his post-war years at Manchester University, trying to beat the Americans in the ferociously competitive race to build Thinking Machines. Here he came under increasing stress as his open homosexuality – accepted as fact and ignored at Bletchley – gradually overtook and destroyed the life of the mis-socialised plain-speaking genius whose thoughts and writings resulted in the breakthroughs everybody now knows as ‘The Imitation Game’

Rounding out the cruelly educational experience is a poignant and challenging ‘Authors Note’ touching on the still-unresolved mystery concerning Turing’s death, a vast ‘Bibliography and Recommended Reading’ list and a bewilderingly comprehensive ‘Notes and References’ section, covering everything from the panel structures of this tale to the mathematics involved in and comprising much of the book’s subtly beguiling make-up.

This is an astoundingly inviting way to take in a true story of incredible accomplishment, dedicated passion and terrifying naivety, ending in a horrific loss to us all…

Please be warned: this is categorically not an adaptation of the 2014 film.
Text © 2016 Jim Ottaviani. Illustrations © 2016 Leland Purvis. All rights reserved.

 

Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen


By Claire Fauvel, translated by Montana Kane (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-251-9 (HB)

Born in 1988, award-winning graphic novelist Claire Fauvel (À la recherche d’Alvaro Dolor; Sur les pas de Teresa, la religieuse de Calcutta [w/Marie-Noëlle Pichard]; Une Saison en Égypte; Catherine’s War [w/Julia Billet]) studied illustration at Paris’ l’école Estienne and animation at l’école des Gobelins before beginning an illustrious career in bande dessinée. She’s particularly adroit and adept with female historical figures and her latest tome gives her plenty to work with…

Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen is that rare event, a history that has all the energy and impetus of a great action adventure and pioneering, political tract. Despite being a factual graphic biography, this is the stuff of legend and grand drama, detailing the astounding, appalling, tragic and triumphant life of a woman who bucked India’s ancient, all-pervasive caste system. Victim from birth of poverty and inequality, she sought change through bloody deeds and ultimately political action in a country where prejudice is institutionalised: expressed via cultural violence, and which fostered for millennia a tyrannical social system of inherent, inbuilt corruption where gods and birth status forever dictate one’s position in life…

Phoolan suffered a double blow at birth: born both poor and female. Never educated, she remained illiterate all her life. A life of being shunned and grinding poverty was exacerbated when she was married off at age 11, starting a harrowing pattern of slavery and sexual abuse lasting until she was rescued by a troop of the legendary bandits infesting Uttar Pradesh at the time. They were actually more decent – and heroic – than most respectable citizens (men), civil authorities and police officers of the region. Becoming lover to one of the gang, she suffered even greater abuse when he was murdered by a rival from a different caste.

Surviving these assaults, Phoolan organised an infamous vengeance massacre at the village of Behmai. That slaughter was picked up by the press, who recast her as a rebel queen and her lover a martyr. The public began using the honorific “Devi” for her and, after a mythic career, she surrendered to authorities in 1983. Over eleven years of imprisonment, 48 capital charges including murder, plunder, arson and kidnapping were incrementally dropped before a trial that never came. In 1994, the state government led by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party withdrew all charges and she walked free. Joining the party, she was elected to national office twice, becoming a strong advocate for radical change, in the caste system and the patriarchal treatment of women. Regarded as the “voice of the oppressed”, on 26th July 2001 her past caught up with her when she was assassinated by relatives of the bandits killed at Behmai.

Fauvel took her inspiration from acclaimed 1996 autobiography Moi, Phoolan Devi, reine des bandits by Phoolan Devi & Marie-Thérèse Cuny, and although not all of those events are included in this stunning and uncompromising account, the supremely enticing and engaging art manages to mix in a few moments of hopeful aspiration, happy romance and family unity to offset the revolting iniquities Phoolan and other women had to survive on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, this brilliant tale is grim and unflinching in the portrayal of the constant assaults and abuses she endured, so you’d better gird yourself for plenty of righteous indignation and outright anger at the catalogue of venality and casual intolerance civilised folk still seem capable of…

Potent, unmissable, and primed to continue the fight, this is a book you must read.
© 2018 Casterman. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

Phoolan Devi: Rebel Queen will be published on March 19th 2020 and is available for pre-order. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

Muhammad Ali


By Sybille Titeux de la Croix & Amazing Améziane, translated by Nicole Seguin-Morris for Studio Cutie (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-318-3 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-899-6

Fuelled largely by European comics, there’s a superb wealth of graphic biographies and auto biographies around for us mere English-speakers and I’ve reviewed a fair few of them. One of the best is this redoubtable treat from 2016, crafted by all-round artist and musician Sybille Titeux de la Croix (L’Apparition, Dostoyevski’s Gratte Moi La Puce) who studied at the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs. Her tag-team partner and illustrator here goes by Amazing Améziane: a multi-disciplinary creator, screenwriter and avowed child of the 1970s. He started crafting comics in 2001 and his other efforts include Clan, Bagmen and Cuatro Manos.

Their subject certainly needs no introduction. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17th 1942, he rose to fame through professional boxing during the most turbulent period in American history. Smart, incredibly fit and ferociously determined, he used his fame to become an activist, philanthropist and political and social influencer long before the term was coined or even possible. You don’t need me to tell you how important he was: history does that perfectly well and this superb appreciation and distillation of his life – available in hardback and digital editions – adds stylish gloss and polish to it all.

Following the Introduction from author Titeux de la Croix, the potent blend of narrative art and calligraphic declamation begins with ‘Equality’, relating the early days in Louisville, Kentucky, describing the day to day hardships of segregation, racist atrocities such as ‘The Murder of Emmett Till’ and how little Cassius Clay accidentally falls into boxing after his bike is stolen…

Grit, determination and focus carry him to the Olympics where he wins gold, and back to America where he still can’t ride some buses or eat in any diner he chooses…

‘Islam’ relates the days of political and religious awakening, meeting Henry Cooper and Malcolm X, proving he’s “the Greatest” and changing his name…

Diverting for a detailed and comprehensive analysis of ‘Ali’s Technique’, we follow the champion’s major bouts and landmark fights in and out of the ring (with specific reference to FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover’s obsessive investigations) and the time when pro civil rights advocates started being assassinated, leading to a quest for ‘Justice’

The increasingly famous fighter becomes a figurehead through the late 1960s and spokesman in the 1970s, all the while combatting other boxers, media persecution and the aging process, before the later years of ‘Freedom’ culminate in 1984’s ‘Diagnosis: Parkinson’s’ and the long, slow unwinnable fight that ultimately claimed his life on June 3rd 2016…

Remarkable and uncompromising – the book, as well as the man – Muhammad Ali celebrates a unique life and unmatchable achievements with compelling effect. Even if you don’t like biographies or sports, this is a story and graphic treat every comics lover will want to see…
Muhammad Ali, Ali the Great © ÉDITIONS DU LOMBARD (DARGUAD- LOMBARD S.A.) 2015 by Amazing Améziane, Sybille Titeux de la Croix. All rights reserved.

Bob Marley in Comics


By Gaets & Sophie Blitman, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux, Ammo, Didier Millotte, Tanguy Pietri, Matthieu Beaulieu, Jena, Efix, Domas, Simon Léturgie, Sarah Williamson, Cyrille Brégère, Julien Modde, Moh, Armel Ressot, Lu-K, Clément Baloup, Joël Alessandra, Julien Atika, Gil & various: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-250-2 (HB)

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2018 – is another cracker likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to as it captivatingly deconstructs the life of a truly unique force in music and popular culture…

If you’ve never heard of Bob Marley or don’t like reggae, you might still want to check this out. The singer was deeply spiritual and it’s never too late to see the light and convert or, failing that, just buy a record…

Gathered in this fetching hardback (or eBook) edition are context-providing essays backing up individual comics sections; each chronological article and comics vignettes written by the ever-informative comics scribe Gaets and journalist/children’s author Sophie Blitman, supported by a veritable legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant strips, beginning with ‘From Nesta to Robert’ – limned by Olivier Desvaux.

The early life of the musician introduces us to his mother Cedella Malcolm and the old white soldier she married. With Norval Marley disinherited and promptly absconding, Nesta Robert Marley spent his early years in the rural farming community of Nine Miles in Jamaica until at age six, when he was whisked away to Kingston by his dad… who simply dumped him with another woman and vanished again…

Happily, a few years later Cedella joined the boy who was already showing promise as both a fortune telling mystic and award-winning singer. Rendered in stark monochrome by Ammo, ‘The Rude Boys of Trenchtown’ exposes the appalling poverty Nesta endured and the lasting friendships that privation engendered as they played, made music and hung out together: relationships expanded upon in the essay ‘Growing Up Between Worlds’.

Working in muted full colour, Didier Millotte explores ‘Reggae in the Ghetto’ as Robert Marley – now working as a full-time (14-year-old) welder – and his mates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are taken under the wing of pro musician Joe Higgs who teaches young Marley to play guitar…

‘Making Friends in Trenchtown’ details the development of the musical genre Reggae from Ska and Marley’s growing influence after which Tanguy Pietri illuminates sordid conditions and lack of opportunities which compel him to make music his life in ‘A Ray of Light in the Dark’

Matthieu Beaulieu reveals the unique way poor Jamaicans consumed pop music in ‘Sound Systems, Ska & Studio One’, how the blossoming star is ripped off for the first – of many – times and how he meets wife-to-be Rita Anderson: a relationship which grows in Jena’s vignette ‘Is This Love?’

Efix delineates Marley’s spiritual growth in historical lecture ‘The Roots of the Rasta Movement’, whilst Domas’ ‘Tuff Gong in Nine Miles’ follows his musical journey to America – until the threat of being drafted into Vietnam – and ultimately to London, where The Wailers become stranded…

Essay ‘The Path to Success’ concentrates upon Marley’s song-writing and musical self-determination which led to the critical meeting with British Producer Chris Blackwell in ‘The Reggae Wave’ (art by Simon Léturgie) and the release of first album Catch a Fire. Now a growing global sensation among young white music fans – as detailed in essay ‘An “International Reggae”’ – Bob Marley and The Wailers retire to Blackwell’s ‘Villa Rasta’ (illustrated by Sarah Williamson), to make more music and bask in fame in their own country whilst enjoying a few rock star trappings of success…

One such is covered in ‘Bob Marley, Rita… And All the Other Women’, recounting the numerous affairs and children the singer indulged in even as the parade of mega-hits began. Cyrille Brégère encapsulates the tone of the times in ‘The Sheriff Died Tonight’ with the financial sharks already circling, as seen in ‘Around the World’ (Julien Modde), leading to the breakup of the founding members…

Throughout this period, Jamaica was descending into political chaos and gangsterism fuelled by economic disparity. This was something no amount of interviews or comments from the pacifist, life-loving musician could affect, but did result in the assassination attempt depicted by Moh in ‘Panic in the Hen House’.

The spark was believed to be proposed peace and reconciliation concert Smile Jamaica, but despite being wounded, three days later the show went on with Marley proudly in the spotlight…

Following more history in ‘The Price of Fame’, Armel Ressot graphically caters a ‘Punk Reggae Party’ as the leading proponents of two landmark musical movements meet and cross pollinate, despite falling foul of British Law, after which ‘From Exile to Exodus’ covers the creation of the classic album before ‘Red Card’ (art by Lu-K) heralds the beginning of the end after an impromptu kickabout in Paris leads to a shocking discovery…

The star’s obsessive passion for the sport of the ghettos is examined in ‘Bob Marley and His Love of Soccer’, as is his refusal to compromise his Rastafari principles by accepting medical treatments unacceptable to his faith. Clément Baloup then pictorially details the escalating civil war in Kingston and Marley’s controversial pre-election solution of a One Love Peace Concert in ‘Ablaze’.

Knowing his end was near, Marley finally visited Ethiopia in 1978 before finishing the album Survival and discovering yet another friend and manager had been stealing from him and his fans. He played controversial concerts in Africa – including the independence ceremony of recently liberated and newly-created Zimbabwe – twice in fact, as the authorities cut the first one short through force of arms – as seen Joël Alessandra’s ‘Roots’.

Penultimate essay ‘For Peace and Unity Among Peoples’ shares his philosophies, awards and legacy, via the peace concerts he headlined, backed up by a moving strip of his final days in ‘All the Way’ (by Julien Atika), after which closing essay ‘Death of the “Pope of Reggae”’ fills in the detail of his passing and ‘What Next?’ by Gil closes the show with the events of the Tuff Gong’s state funeral and his musical legacy, courtesy of his many children.

Bob Marley 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.
Bob Marley in Comics will be released in the UK in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King – The Special Edition


By Ho Che Anderson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-310-1 (HB)

There are books to read, books you should read – and some perhaps, more controversially, that you shouldn’t – and there are important books. The still relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but precious few really important books yet.

It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry (simply excelling at your craft is not enough) but when we do generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast – so I’m not going to spend acres of text praising this superbly comprehensive examination of the man that lived beside – not “behind” or “within” – the modern myth of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over the course of ten years (1993-2002) Canadian cartoonist Ho Che Anderson struggled to produce three comics books propounding a less hagiographic perspective of a man who was as much sinner as saint, but whose determination, passion, energy and often sheer luck (or divine inspiration?) drove a cleansing wedge into a rotting, repressive, stifled society and succeeded in opening enough doors for America’s racial underclass, so that forty years later a black American could be elected to govern the World’s greatest superpower.

Not that four decades is so brief an interlude. But then again, how many European or white Commonwealth countries can boast that their highest echelons of power have made even that much progress?

In both stark black & white and mesmerising colour, Anderson uses all the strengths and tools of sequential narrative to reveal, relate, question and challenge the oft-recounted facts of the Georgia Pastor’s life in this magnificent volume (available in luxurious hard cover and all-purpose digital editions) which was originally released to celebrate Barack Obama’s – and the American people’s – landmark achievement. From here and now he’s looking to have been the last Great – or even Sane – chief of the Land of the Free

Gathered into one compelling tome is this hard-crafted triptych of issues, including restored extra and deleted scenes; the thematically linked one-shot Black Dogs plus many bonus features, as well as a fascinating overview from Anderson; sketches and reminisces, a treatise on his working practises and a gallery of related art.

This is an authentic historical examination and a perfect example of the comics medium at its most effective – incisive biography not pictorial puff piece – and as important a landmark achievement for our art-form as Maus, American Splendor, Watchmen, Pride of Baghdad and Persepolis.

Whenever and wherever we have to defend our Art from decriers and peddlers of prejudice, King will be one of the handful of examples which cannot be refuted, contradicted or ignored. It’s a book no thinking fan or socially responsible human being can afford to miss.
King: The Special Edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All content © 2010 Ho Che Anderson. All rights reserved.

Mata Hari


By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because History is Never Straightforward or Straitlaced… 9/10

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Moreover, we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity that simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (née Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch Netherlands, to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children and raised in wealth until her father lost it. Her life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French Firing Squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted the stage name Mata Hari (it means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) and her gifts led to her becoming a courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an espionage operative…

After a chequered life during a period when European society welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and convicted.

Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari has become the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

In the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture, none better than an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she desperately struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and the great love for a Russian soldier that leads to her ultimate downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. This contemplative tale (packed with documentary photos and available in paperback and digital formats) carefully acknowledges that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice – in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering many more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’ relating the oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body and an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived historical moment that any fan of history and lover of comics will adore…
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.

A. Einstein: The Poetry of Real


By Manuel García Iglesias & Marwan Kahil, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2202-1 (HB)

Some people are too just too big for one biography. They affect the world in so many ways, and are so multi-faceted, that you simply can’t grasp the enormity of their existence in one go. Such a person was Albert Einstein who was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14th 1879 and who died on April 18th 1955 at Princeton University in the USA.

Between those dates he revolutionised the world, changed the accepted belief on universal reality, and grew into a saddened man whose great message went misunderstood and largely unheeded…

This absorbing luxurious monochrome hardcover (also available in digital formats) – whilst acknowledging the key intellectual breakthroughs – concentrates on the lesser known thoughts and attitudes of the most important being in human history. Over the troubled years of his childhood and formal education, his self-exile to Switzerland, clerical toil and part-time re-evaluation of the world’s workings, we see his development whilst meeting men like Max Talmud, Michele Besso and Marcel Grossman: friends and mentors whose relationships shaped Albert, his processes of cogitation and deduction and especially how he viewed the morality of the beings who inhabited his reconfigured universe…

Darting up and down his chronological timeline during the most globally-dangerous age of scientific enquiry, writer Marwan Kahil and artist Manuel García Iglesias – quoting heavily from Einstein’s many interviews, speeches and correspondence via a parade of social meetings, lectures and conversations – reveal how a most uncommon intellect deconstructed the secrets of creation. They also depict the physicist’s eternal and contiguous struggle against the worst aspect of human behaviour: war and unthinking aggression and how his discoveries were twisted to serve them…

Gradual and understated in tone, this investigation is compelling in its examination of the world’s first celebrity scientist’s devotion to and advocacy of pacifism; leaving a disturbing echo of the disappointment he must have felt that his world-changing discoveries were being entrusted to agencies and attitudes who only wanted to use them for wicked purposes…

Some of that bleak tone is thankfully mitigated by the closing Epilogue, set at the CERN project in 2015, where knowledge, wisdom and the traditional continuity of scientific progress are seen to triumph over those darker drives, even in these modern days of imminent catastrophe and pointless self-destruction…

Augmented by incisive timeline Key Dates in the Life of Albert Einstein, a fulsome list of further reading in Biography and Sources and a copious illustrated collection of quotes ‘To Reflect On…’, this is a visual delight celebrating a unique mind and personality, and one you should see as soon as you can.
© 2017 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing

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.