Hitchcock: Master of Suspense

By Noël Simsolo & Dominique Hé, translated by Matt Maden (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-296-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-168112-289-2

Graphic biography is now a mainstay of graphic novel publishing: so much so that distinct styles and approaches have evolved, ranging from primarily factual reiterations to predominantly fictionalised accounts, with events and actions extrapolated and dramatized in search of some higher truth.

In this superbly gripping exploration of filmmaker and self-created celebrity Alfred Hitchcock, authors Noël Simsolo & Dominique Hé have chosen – most fittingly – to stage manage facts, achievements and accomplishments to craft a beguiling mystery.

In addition to scripting comics series such as Saladin, Napoleon and Lodewijk de Heilige, French writer Simsolo is a film director, novelist, comedian and cinema historian who wrote a biography of Sergio Leone.

Dominique Hé is an illustrator and comics veteran who got his start in 1973 after chucking his intended career as an astronomer. Apprenticing by limning Jean Giraud stories for Pilote, he moved on to Metal Hurlant, compiling material for two albums of short tales dubbed Voyages, before creating ghost-busting, weird science specialist Marc Mathieu. In 1988 he drew Alex Lechat for Le Journal de Mickey and went on to craft many more adventure serials like Tanatha, Moonfleet, Sophaletta and Sécretes Bancaires. Here his delightfully moody gifts stage a spooky, foggy monochrome greytone movie experience as we follow the life and career of a master not just of suspense but also personal brand management…

The epic unfolds through intercut flashbacks, focusing simultaneously on different time periods, pinpointed and highlighted via his 55 official film releases and other works. Throughout, “Hitch” is used as his own narrator, in frighteningly candid and revelatory conversations with glittering associates (because you will come away realising that – other than his wife Alma and mother Emma – he had no close friends) and such actors as he could bear to talk to, such as Grace Kelly, Carole Lombard and Cary Grant.

We open in 1960. Paris in November is rapt with the debut of Psycho – just like every other city on Earth. As Hitch and Alma continue their prickly but utterly honest and committed life of success, thoughts wing back to Cannes in 1964 as ‘Honni soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ finds the director regaling Grant and Kelly with tales of a unique childhood…

That’s pretty much all you’re getting here. This is too good a book and too well constructed to give away anything. However, in keeping with the Master’s whimsical humour and the assurance of a superbly entertaining time, here’s a tantalising list of chapter titles to spark your imagination. The eventual delivery will not disappoint you…

His ‘Apprenticeship’ is pretty self-explanatory, but progress is not assured in ‘The Young Man With the Mind of a Master’. ‘Silence and Cries’ lead to ‘Highs and Lows’ before attaining the ‘Summit’, whereafter ‘The Temptation of Departure’ heralds ‘The French Connection’ and ‘A New World’.

The success and security of later life afforded little protection from Hitch’s driving hunger for validation. He spent much of his life failing to make the one film he always wanted to, always distracted by the immediate and instead just making better and better movies. He did find time to conquer the new medium of television though. ‘The Killers Are Among Us’ sparked ‘Descent into Hell’, but always he pursued ‘Experimentation’; never finding his ‘State of Grace’. Settling in the USA, ‘Citizen Hitchcock’ found ‘Apotheosis’, and encountered further ‘Turbulence’ as advancing age signalled one ‘Final Role’

Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock KBE was a brilliant creator who changed the way cinema worked and how tales are told. A tireless traveller and resident of many nations, he was a manic homebody with a vast appetite for domestic comfort. He was a devout catholic trapped by his upbringing, guilty and anxious his entire life. Simultaneously sexually obsessed and painfully chaste, he was a voyeur who utilised his peccadillo to build a new means of seeing and telling stories, adroitly using his methodical planning skills and graphic design talents to storyboard films – and manipulate people in the exact same manner. Like the creators of this book, he knew how to nest stories within stories and how to satisfy an audience whilst leaving them hungry for more.

This wonderful tome includes scholarly appendices too: an ‘Alfred Hitchcock Filmography’ spanning 1922-1976, detailing his entire oeuvre broken down into Director, Assistant Director and Screenwriter, a Select List of abandoned film projects and his signature Cameos. There’s also an extensive Bibliography of books about the man, his works and his legacy.

Sublimely layering fact, mythology and critical appraisal, Hitchcock: Master of Suspense offers a fulsome exploration of an iconic legend who made his own life as much an artwork as any of his films. Furthermore, it does so in a manner supremely befitting the attributes and inclinations of the man for whom storytelling was a way of life, fear was food and drink, and mystery a blessing.

© 2018 Dargaud-Benelux. © 2020 NBM for the English Translation. All rights reserved.
© DUPUIS 2020 by Rubio, Efa. All rights reserved.

Hitchcock: Master of Suspense is scheduled for UK release June 2nd 2022 and is available for pre-order. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats.

Georgia O’Keeffe

By María Herreros; translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-05-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

Georgia Totto O’Keeffe entered the world in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on November 15th 1887, second of seven children born to a dairy farmer turned (failed) construction entrepreneur. Seized and overwhelmed by the artistic impulse before the age of ten, she overcame financial hardship to secure an impressive traditional artistic education which she promptly rejected in favour of finding her own path.

From 1917 and her first exhibition, to her death in 1986, she made art her way, most famously with series of paintings of flowers, buildings and ultimately desert scenes which became a catalyst of taste and part of global artistic culture. She is regarded as America’s first abstract artist and has been called The Mother of American Modernism.

Innocently controversial from the start, O’Keeffe increasingly sought to understand colour and shape via stark cityscapes and florid blossoms but had to endure censure and gossip over nude photos exhibited by her patron Alfred Stieglitz, and the indignity of having her flower paintings mansplained by critics – even female ones – who continuously likened them to female sexual organs.

Bored with saying “they’re just flowers” and self-important fools, she began a gradual, years-long process of quitting metropolitan civilisation for peace, contentment and endless inspiration under the big skies and vivid deserts of New Mexico.

Over a decades-long career. O’Keefe garnered international acclaim and many awards. These included an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the College of William and Mary (1938); election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences(1966); receiving the M. Carey Thomas Award from Bryn Mawr College (1971) and another honorary degree (from Harvard in 1973) as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), The National Medal of Arts (1985) and – in 1993 – posthumous induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

As you’d expect of a determined, driven professional woman of that period in that country, making extremely successful headway in a predominantly male preserve, her personal life was something of a trainwreck, but this compelling examination chooses to downplay those aspects.

Sensibly side-lining the more sensationalised moments of O’Keefe’s past in favour of tracing her accomplishments and victories, graphic biographer María Herreros has employed her painterly, primitivistic narrative style which liberally samples O’Keeffe’s copious canon of letters and idiosyncratic writings to bring us inside the head of a profoundly visual and arguably obsessive being.

Based in Madrid, but born in Valencia in 1983, Herreros is a modern multidisciplinary artist. She studied at the University of Fine Arts, San Carlos and since 2011 has combined high level commercial commissions with gallery shows, book collaborations and comics such as Viva la Dolce Vita, Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies, and Paris sera toujours Paris. Her personal works explore human emotion, societal evolution and the concepts of beauty and normative states.

Although remaining primarily positive and inquisitive here, Herreros touches on O’Keeffe’s mental ill health issues, her Svengali-like attachment (later marriage) to older, already-married Fine Art photographer/gallery owner Stieglitz and her end-of-life companion John Bruce “Juan” Hamilton – both notorious age-inappropriate public scandals that Georgia casually, magnificently, ignored.

Via communications with Georgia’s close female friends and Stieglitz, Herreros takes us inside the painter’s mind, revealing the creative process and progress in navigating society, the public and the poison chalice of simply having to exhibit art to survive, while emphasising making the images she wanted to in places she truly loved which became her greatest joy and solitary citadels.

Less a biography than a carefully crafted appreciation and appraisal of a career and legacy by a fellow fully emancipated, self-determining female creator, Georgia O’Keeffe is a compelling and beguiling glimpse into the forces that shape art and artists.
Text and illustrations © 2021 by María Herreros. All rights reserved. Published by agreement with Astiberri Ediciones and Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero.

The Boxer – the True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

By Reinhardt Kleist; translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-906838-77-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

In 2011 he again turned to boxing for inspiration, adapting a Holocaust biography written by the son of a survivor of the death camps. Hertzko/Herschel “Harry” Haft might be regarded amongst the more noteworthy of those benighted souls: a ruthlessly determined individual who overcame every iteration of horror and privation, using his fists and low cunning.

His life was first recounted in 2006 by his son Alan Scott Haft in prose biography Harry Haft: Auschwitz Survivor, Challenger of Rocky Marciano, and as well as the graphic novel under review here, you can absorb the tale in filmic form in Barry Levinson’s movie adaptation The Survivor.

Delivered in stark monochrome, Kleist’s compelling and uncompromising interpretation opens with the protagonist a humble grocer in America, trying to relate to his young son. Harry is a hard man to relate to, but in a moment of contrition he promises to one day share with his boy what made him that way.

Alan waited another forty years to hear the truth and turned it into a narrative for everyone…

The story proper opens in 1939, in the Polish town of Belchatow. Since the Germans came, the Jewish Haft family have become smugglers, and 14-year old Hertzko thinks himself invincible.

His father had sold fruit and veg but found it increasingly difficult to support a wife and eight children. When he died, the family splintered and only Hertzko and brothers Aria and Peretz stayed with their mother. When the invasion took hold, their illicit activities made them all targets, but amidst daily outrages, he found opportunity for love and was betrothed to Leah Pablanski, daughter of the receiver of all the contraband he shifted across the Nazis’ new borders…

When Hertzko was transported to his first labour camp, seeing Leah again one day was the dream that kept him going. Barely literate but strong and determined he had a gift for being useful and, despite toiling in the most horrific circumstances and being present for every atrocity of the regime, he endured – especially after his smuggling experience made him an essential tool of one particular guard officer who was methodically enriching himself at the prisoners’ expense…

Moved from camp to camp as a slave labourer, Hertzko eventually arrived in Jaworzno camp and was reunited with his brother Peretz. Here his sponsor found him less egregious duties. All he had to do was fight other prisoners in Sunday exhibition matches for the officers. Haft had never boxed before, but would do anything for better conditions and what passed for “guaranteed” survival. What he did there remained with him for the rest of his life…

Despite his resilience and adaptability, Haft always found himself at the mercy of superior and more ruthless forces. As the Allies slowly pushed the Nazis back on all fronts, he was left to the “death marches” the SS instigated to empty the camps and hide evidence of their industrialised slaughter factories. Over and again, Haft dodged certain death and committed more sins until finally captured by American troops. Soon his underworld experience was being exploited by the GIs as Hertzko ran a bordello for the soldiers. When Peretz resurfaced, Haft finally had time and enough money to go looking for Leah. That trail led ultimately to America.

While in US-occupied Straubing, Haft had won a boxing competition organised by the Army, and was – after further machinations – allowed to emigrate in 1946. He was 23 years old…

The second half of Haft’s life began in the New World. He still wanted Leah and decided fame would be the key. The fight game in America was popular but increasingly under the control of organized crime. Nevertheless, Haft – now calling himself “Hershel” and “Harry” – pursued his chosen path with relentless zeal.

Overcoming every administrative obstacle, he found a manager, learned how to actually box rather than fight and kept on winning.

The equation was simple. Leah was here somewhere. If he could get his picture in the papers or newsreels or even on this new television thing, she would see him and get in touch. Sadly, it only brought him to the attention of mobsters. After his moment of glory fighting Rocky Marciano in 1949, Haft learned how his chosen world really worked…

Walking away, he married a neighbour’s daughter in November and opened a grocery store in Brooklyn. In 1963 the family took a trip to Florida and young son Alan helped locate a woman named Leah Lieberman…

Please be warned: The Boxer is not just a testament of atrocity or celebration of the human spirit under the most appalling conditions. It’s also a real world love story where the always-inevitable ultimate reunion does not follow the rules of romantic fiction or bring about a happy ending.

Kleist’s graphic tour de force is supplemented by a stunning gallery of sketches and working drawings, and backed up with a picture-packed essay from sports journalist Martin Krauss.

‘Boxing in concentration camps – a report’ details the long-neglected topic of Nazi sports exhibitions in work and death camps and relates it to Haft’s later professional career in America, including a chilling sidebar on ‘US boxing and the Mafia’. Also on the bill are biographies of other ‘Forgotten champions’ of the camps: Victor “Young” Perez; Noach Klieger; Leendert “Leen” Josua Sanders; Leone “Lelletto” Efrati; Salamo Arouch; Jacko Razon; Johann “Rukelie” Trollman; Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski and Francesco “Kid Francis” Buonagurio.

Potent, powerful, moving and memorable, this is a quest tale well told and one not easily forgotten.
© Text and illustrations 2012 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. © Appendix 2012 Martin Krauß and CARLSEN Verlag. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

White Rapids

By Pascal Blanchet, translated by Helge Dascher (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-897299-24-1 (Album PB)

A fascinating moment in relatively recent social history was brought magically to life in this captivating and innovative graphic novel which eschewed the traditional iconography and lexicography of sequential narrative, instead utilising the bold stylisations of art deco design and the gloriously folksy imagery of 1950s Modernism (think the architecture and landscape of David Suchet’s definitive television Poirot and the movie Metropolis wedded to the crinkly curlicue characters populating the title sequences of Bewitched or Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines).

The effect is like looking at a period brochure, which tragically underscores the bold and far too typical story of the town which lived and died at the behest of forces beyond the control of the everyday working stiffs who lived there.

A design tour de force, this was the first translated work of award-winning Québécois creator Pascal Blanchet who transformed the history from dry fact into a magnificent torrent of visual music. And no, you can’t find this bloody book anywhere. It’s why I’m re-reviewing it, in the hope some wise (and probably Canadian) publisher will revive it…

In the 1920s, Canada’s growing power demands were supplied by private companies, and the most efficient generation method was hydroelectric, created by damming the mighty rivers of the country. In 1928 the Shawinigan Water & Power Company decided to build a new dam in a remote northern region of the St. Maurice River at Rapide Blanc, a section where the waters narrowed into the eponymous fast-running white waters of the title.

To operate a power-plant in such an inaccessible – and for nearly half of each year, actively hostile – region, a company town needed to be built for workers and their families. Moreover, for any man to bring his family into such a wilderness, it would have to be an impressive and wonderful town indeed…

Blanchet avoids the tempting option of personalising or dramatizing the tale, preferring to let mood, impression, atmosphere and style describe the birth, brief life and sad, sudden death of White Rapids (here’s a clue: it involved bottom lines and transfers of ownership, not evolving environmentalism) as a gleaming moment of Enlightened Capitalism actually doing the right and decent thing for the Proletarian Worker winked out and was washed away.

This is like no other Graphic Novel you’ve ever seen and is stunningly effective for all that; rendered in reduced hues of orange, brown and grey, marvellously devoid of the heretofore presumed necessary clichés of narrative convention. It also avoids the dynamic seductions of Protagonist/Antagonist and the avid fetishism of Vitruvian representational faces and forms that underpin all comics art no matter how avant-garde.

This is a beautiful work and deserves every award it’s ever won as well as your rapt attention. Why not start a internet campaign to have some solid citizen publisher bring it back for us all to share?
© 2006, 2007 Pascal Blanchet. All Rights Reserved.

Rosa Parks

By Mariapoala Pesce & Matteo Mancini, translated by Nanette McGuiness (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-291-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-292-2

It must be quite hard to say something new – or even get under the accumulated skin – of a legend, and doubly so when the single act the entire world knows them for is not the beginning or end, but rather a middle moment in a long life of impassioned exceptionalism…

On December 1st 1955, “negro” seamstress Rosa Parks rode the bus home. She had taken said public transport vehicle many times before and until that moment had always followed the rules. This was in Montgomery, Alabama, where “Jim Crow” laws had been steadily snatching back every vestige of freedom and liberty won with shot and shell during the War Between the States, almost from the moment the shooting stopped…

Thus, on those commuter routes – as everywhere else – white people had priority, and if a black person was seated, they had to get up and literally move to the back of the bus to let “their betters” sit down.

On that evening, weary Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, even when told to by the white bus driver. She knew there would be consequences, anticipated them and was ready for them. Perhaps she wasn’t so sure where that act of passive defiance would take her and the entire country…

That moment is as much part of mythology as history, but here – via some intriguing extrapolation from writer Mariapoala Pesce (Angela Davis; Alice in Austenland; La Fattoria Degli Animali) and illustrator/designer Matteo Mancini (Una divisa per nino) – we take a look at what made the moment: who Rosa Parks was before and what she became after that act of wanton lawbreaking…

Preceded by thoughtful author’s preface ‘Does it still make sense to talk about Rosa Parks?’ the story is then told through a distant lens, beginning in a taxicab on December 1st 2014, where a hot young rapper frets and slowly gets acquainted with the elderly blue collar driver. They’re different generations of black man, but as the ride progresses, conversation shows how much has changed and how much they’re still alike…

The star is wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt and that cause celebre sparks talk of another more distant time…

And thus is told an intimate tale of the thoughtful family woman who weathered instant infamy and dangerous notoriety to become an eternal activist, iconic institution and tireless campaigner for employment equality, civil rights education, literacy and an end to sexual abuse and exploitation of black women and girls.

The captivating tale within a tale is augmented by ‘Martin Luther King’s Letter to Citizens of Montgomery, AL’; an essay by Stephanie Brooks detailing ‘Rosa Parks After’; a bibliography of Further Reading and a beautiful, capacious and extensive sketch and design section.

Intriguing and entertaining, Rosa Parks offers a powerful and enriching approach to a much-lauded but little known example of humanity at its very best.
© Mariapoala Pesce 2020 for the text. © Matteo Mancini 2020 for the illustrations. © for the original Italian EditionBeccoGiallo S.r.l. 2020. All rights reserved.

Rosa Parks will be published on February 17th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Django, Hand on Fire: The Great Django Reinhardt

By Salva Rubio & Efa, translated by Matt Madden (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-287-8 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-288-5

Publisher NBM’s line of European-originated biographies never fails to delight, and this new oversized luxury hardcover (also available in digital formats) is one of the most engaging yet: skilfully deconstructing – when not actually aiding and adding to – the myths and legends surrounding a top contender for the title of greatest guitar player of all time…

Django, Hand on Fire happily reunites award-winning screenwriter, historian and novelist Salva Rubio (Max; The Photographer of Mauthausen) with animator and illustrator Ricard Fenandez AKA “Efa” (Les Icariades; Rodriguez; L’Âme du Vin; Le Soldat) – whose other collaborations are also beautiful biographies – Monet: Itinerant of Light and the as yet untranslated Degas: La danse del la solitude.

Originally released in France, the translated Django, main de feu is preceded here by an introductory prose appraisal from Thomas Dutronc. This stunning confection of painterly images traces the life of the troubled and unfortunate Roma musician from his fraught birth in a frozen field in Belgium to his second birth and reunion with the true love he threw away and found again…

That natal moment was in 1910 as his father and the other itinerant performers of their tribe were eking out a wage entertaining outworlders.

By 1922, the troupe were resident in Paris’ “Zone”: an enclave for his sort where social outcasts could reside until posh folks found a use for them. The lad was cocky and troublesome, an arrogant illiterate born for mischief but blessed with astounding musical skill…

His life turned around when his mama acquired a six-string banjo for him and all his energies refocussed on mastering music. Soon he was making money – and losing it gambling – even before he was considered a man…

Still an emotional child, he became the star of a professional (adult) band but his actions and attitude lost him many friends and family and ultimately the girl who adored him: Irma AKA Naguine. She faithfully trailed in his wake as producers and record publishers tracked the young man and watched in resignation as he succumbed to the shining blonde glory of artificial flower maker Florine/Bella. Naguine left the Zone entirely when Django and the flower girl wed, but swore to return…

The musician’s meteoric rise stalled only as he awaited his first child’s birth. As they slept in their wagon, it caught fire and although Bella got out, Django was badly burned on his legs and left hand…

How – driven by his mother – he battled back to overcome his life-changing injuries and, by changing his style, mastered another instrument, found undying fame and finally realized where his true love lay is a fabulous – if not strictly accurate – tale to warm the heart and gladden the eyes…

The pictorial paean to persistence and testament to passion is supported by a Bibliography and Creator Biographies plus ‘Django Reinhardt, from mystery to legend… In the light of History’: a fulsome, copiously-illustrated essay detailing the author’s factual choices and path to this particular truth, categorised and examined in ‘A mythical birth’, ‘The Zone’, ‘An interloper in the world of bal-musette’, ‘J’ai deux amours: Naguine and “le jass”’, ‘The Cross of Blood…’, ‘…and the fiery flowers’, ‘Hospital for the Poor’ and ‘Hand on fire’

Sparkling and inspirational, this is destined for the reading list of every music historian and intrigued dilettante: a beguiling magic window into another world and one you should seek out tout de suite
© DUPUIS 2020 by Rubio, Efa. All rights reserved.

Django, Hand on Fire: The Great Django Reinhardt will be published on January 18th 2022 and is available for pre-order. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: One Dead Spy

By Nathan Hale (Abrams/Amulet Books)
ISBN: 978-0-4197-0396-6 (HB)

Author/cartoonist Nathan Hale has a famous namesake and has been riffing on him, with great effect, for nearly a decade now. I don’t know if he – and his familial collaborators – have any genealogical connection to the American undercover operative and war hero of the same name, but the lightly comedic cartoon history books – such as Alamo All-Stars, Big Bad Ironclad and more bearing their shared name – are a sheer, educative treat. They make some pretty tough and harrowing material palatable and memorable by mixing fact and happenstance with a witty veneer of whimsy. You might also want a peek at more of his general fiction fun stuff like Rapunzel’s Revenge, One Trick Pony and Apocalypse Taco

Debuting the series in 2012, One Dead Spy sets the scenario on a surreal yet jolly note as September 22nd 1776 sees a dim but jolly executioner and British Army Provost bring an earnest young man to the Hanging Tree on Manhattan Island. The eager crowd of spectators soon leave after learning the day’s entertainment is not the arsonist plaguing the district but only a spy. Moreover, even he can’t be dealt with promptly because no one’s brought the official orders…

With time to kill, Hangman and Nathan Hale strike up a conversation: discussing last words, possible regrets, sandwiches and – eventually – just how a meek school teacher became America’s “first” spy. As is duly noted, Nathan Hale really wasn’t a very good one…

The delay is then further extended by a bizarre event involving a magic tome (“The Big Huge Book of American History”) that shows him all his nascent nation’s years to come – a key factor in future volumes – and Hale becomes a revolutionary era Scheherazade, spinning yarns to extend his last moments on Earth…

Rendered in welcoming, comfortable but fact-intense muted color and monochrome cartoon strips with beguiling overtones of the Horrible History books, “unlucky” Hale’s own unremarkable life unfolds, tracing the build-up to and key moments of the War of Independence through his acquaintance with figures such as George Washington, Ben Tallmadge, Henry Knox,

Major battles like Bunker Hill, Winter Hill and the siege of Boston are demythologised and legendary figures such as Ethan Allen (and his Green Mountain Boys), traitorous Major Robert Rogers and Colonel Thomas Knowlton are reassessed. It was Knowlton who convinced the obsessively honest and utterly out of his depth Hale to take up the shameful role of clandestine information-gatherer in his one and only espionage mission…

And as this book closes with the promise of more gallows’ yarns to come, there-even an illustrated section offering ‘A Little More Biographical Info About…’ Hale Knox, Knowlton, Allen, Benedict Arnold, Rogers, Stephen Hempstead, Benjamin Tallmadge and the actual execution of our spy star as well as map of North America showing which nations owned what in 1775; a full bibliography; a Q&A feature and ‘First to Defy, First to Die!’ – an 8-page mini-comic tale of African American Revolutionary and former slave Crispus Attucks who died during the 1770 Boston Massacre.

Charming, wittily informative, extremely funny and delightfully compelling, Hale’s cartoon tales detail incredible exploits that will enthral you and your kids and – like the other volumes of this wonderful series – ought to be a treasured part of every school library… if we ever have those again…
Text and illustrations © 2012 Nathan Hale. All rights reserved

Putin’s Russia – The Rise of a Dictator

By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-91-7 (TPB)

Artist and journalist Darryl Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all back then?) and graduated from Leeds College of Art. A regular on the Small Press scene of the 1990s, his early strips appeared in legendary paper-based venues such as Fast Fiction, Dead Trees, Inkling, Turn amongst many others. In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit. It is still one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly putting comics on the backburner as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period which informed 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales, a revelatory inquiry into mental illness delivered as cartoon reportage.

When not crafting web comics for Forbidden Planet or working on his creations Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been steadily consolidating his position at the top of the field of graphic investigative reporting; specifically science history, economics and socio-political journalism through books such as Science Tales, Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy, Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery, The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis and Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful.

His latest offering is his boldest yet, particularly as the subject of these investigations and revelations has a scary track record of suddenly outliving every critic, commentator, judge and denouncer. Of course, part of that murderous mystique also includes ludicrous gaffes, fumbles and cock-ups, so perhaps it’s a fair risk for a potential big reward…

Simply put, what’s on show here is another sublimely forensic and easily digestible dissection of one more major cause of global concern, in the form of a mediocre Soviet spy who became the biggest crook on Earth.

Cunningham methodically traces the path of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin from childhood in a St Petersburg (then Leningrad) communal apartment to the world’s most tasteless billionaire mancave (“Putin’s Palace” at Gelendzhik), translating dry facts and shocking atrocities into irrefutable, easily assimilated data snippets, tracing the Dictator-in-Chief’s cunning rise in the shadow of and on the coattails of far more flamboyant and unwise would-be leaders until suddenly he’s the last man standing…

A much-curated personal life is unmade and remeasured against a historical yardstick as the Soviet Union stumbles into oblivion: broken up and its riches redistributed by pirates and brigands in suits amongst a cabal of soon-to-be Oligarchs only marginally less unsavoury than their notional leader.

Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Sobchak and a flurry of Western appeasers and greedy bankers are all indicted for their failings as Putin climbed a greasy pole soaked in the blood of opponents, competitors and particularly journalists and critics. Especial attention is rightly paid to manufactured and proxy wars, terrorist acts and inept interventions; modern imperialism and global calamities, weaponized bigotry, harnessed ancient grudges and sheer unrelenting opportunism at every possible juncture. That’s a big bill to lay on one person, but the arguments are all there in black and white and magenta and green and…

You will also be sagely reminded of assassinations as acts of petty spite; western money laundering of a nation’s pilfered assets, the suborning of national leaders (and we’re not just talking about orange hairpiece #45, here!) and the sadly pathetic ongoing quest for validation of a self-described hard man…

A heady mix of cold fact, astute deduction and beguiling visualisation, this deft examination of a bandit who stole a nation and how at last his comeuppance is at hand is a delicious blend of revelation and confirmation, and Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs, all backed up with a vast and daunting list of References from print, media and other sources for everything cited in the book.

Comics have long been the most effective method of imparting information and eliciting reaction (that’s why assorted governments and militaries have used them for hard and soft propaganda over the last century and a half), and with Putin’s Russia you can see that force deployed against one of today’s greatest threats…
© Darryl Cunningham 2021. All rights reserved.

Putin’s Russia will be released on September 16th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Love Me Please – The Story of Janis Joplin (1943-1970)

By Nicolas Finet, Christopher & Degreff: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-681122-76-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-681122-77-9

The list of people who lived hard, died young and changed the world is small but still, somehow, painfully overcrowded. Possibly the most tragic, influential, yet largely unknown is a born rule-breaking rebel who defied all conventions and became almost inevitably THE icon of doomed youth-with-big-dreams everywhere…

Author, filmmaker, journalist, publisher, educator and music documentarian Nicolas Finet has worked in comics for more than three decades and also generated a bucketload of reference works – such as Mississippi Ramblin’ and Forever Woodstock. His collaborator on that last one was veteran author, journalist and illustrator Christopher (The Long and Winding Road; many other music-centred tomes and adaptor of Bob Dylan).

Their compelling treatise on misunderstood and self-destructive Janis – just like her music, poetry and art – is something to experience, not read about, but I’ll do my best to convince you anyway…

After a quick dip into early life and influences, the story proper opens in Texas in 1947 as ‘Forget Port Arthur’ zeroes in on key childhood traumas and revelations around the homelife and schooling of little Janis Lyn Joplin at the start of the most culturally chaotic and transformative period in American history…

Brilliant, multi-talented, sexually ambiguous, starved for love whilst desperately directionless, her metamorphosis through Blues music mirrors that of many contemporaries (a fair few of whom comprise the infamous “27 Club” of stars who died young). However, as this book shows, although something indefinable was always just out of Joplin’s reach, her response was never to passively accept or ever surrender…

After wildly rebellious teen years, an uncomfortable educational life, a brief brush with conventional conformity and a near-lethal counter-culture encounter in San Francisco – as detailed in ‘The Temptation of Disaster’ – her meteoric rise in the era of flower power, liberal love and drug experimentation and record company exploitation lead to her return to California and triumphant breakthrough in 1966, all carried along by ‘Spells and Charms’

Stardom with hot band Big Brother and the Holding Company, a host of legendary encounters and even greater personal dissipation makes wild child into living myth at Monterey and other landmarks of the Summer of Love, before success and acceptance prove to be her darkest nightmare in ‘Lost and Distraught’

Global stardom and media glorification are balanced by heartbreak, betrayal and too-many brushes with death. As Woodstock confirms her status and talent to the world, the landscape inside her head turns against Janis. Endless exhausting tours and brief amorous encounters further destabilise the girl within and the end – when it comes – is no surprise to anyone…

With a moving Preface from comics legend and childhood friend Gilbert Shelton, a huge and star-studded Character Gallery and suggested Further Reading and Viewing, this forthright, no-nonsense yet extremely imaginative interpretation of the too-short flowering of “the Rose” offers insight but no judgement into a quintessentially complex, contradictory and uncompromised life…

NBM’s library of graphic biographies are swiftly becoming the crucial guide to the key figures of modern history and popular culture. If you haven’t found the answers you’re seeking yet, then you’re clearly not looking in the right place…
© Hatchette Livre (Marabout) 2020. © 2021 NBM for the English translation. All rights reserved.

Love Me Please – The Story of Janis Joplin 1943-1970 is scheduled for release on July 15th 2021 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

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

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective

By Rand Holmes; written and compiled by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-170-1 (TPB)

Randolph Holton Holmes was a unique individual: a self-taught artist who grew up troubled, found peace and sufficiency if not fame and fortune, and died far too young on March 15th 2002. Available in wrist-wrenching paperback and soothing digital editions, this superbly curated compilation and biography re-presents scads of sketches; reproductions of drawings; cartoons and paintings he created in later life, preserved alongside a copious collection of his wickedly wonderful underground and alternative comic strips for fans and the soon to be devoted…

As usual, I’ll deliver here my warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or beautifully illustrated scenes of explicit sex, unbelievable comedic violence and controversial observations, don’t buy this book. In fact, stop reading this graphic novel review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then if you want. Be warned again though: I think you are being silly and may just cover something just as unseemly. That’s just the way I am…

Rand Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on February 22nd 1942 and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a rather remarkable early life (no clues from me – the whole point is to get you to buy this book) which included honing a prodigious artistic talent through diligently absorbing the work and drawing styles of Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman (who bought Rand’s first profession efforts for Help! magazine) – and most especially Wally Wood – Holmes became a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator at The Georgia Straight in 1969: one of many youth-oriented, counter-culture /“underground” newspapers that blossomed during the period.

Whilst there he created signature character Harold Hedd. It ran as a regular strip, and was assembled in 1972 into an outrageously hilarious, adults-only comic-book The Collected Adventures of Harold Hedd. A second volume followed a year later. Married young and always restless, Holmes generated an astounding amount of cartoon and comic work, which appeared in White Lunch Comix, All Canadian Beaver Comics, Slow Death, Fog City Comics, Gay Comics, Dope Comics and Snarf, amongst many others.

Holmes was by inclination a completely liberated sexual and political satirist. Sadly, his meticulously lush and shockingly explicit strips often obscured powerful social commentaries by being just too damn well-drawn. He produced strips for Rolling Stone and Cheri magazine and, in the 1980s, worked briefly in the mainstream comics market. When the Direct Sales revolution first flourished, he crafted EC-flavoured yarns for genre anthologies Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds,reuniting with long-time publishing collaborator Denis Kitchen for horror anthology Death Rattle as well as the fabulous mini-series Hitler’s Cocaine: the hip, trippy, return of Harold Hedd (included in its entirety in this volume).

Holmes married a second time in 1982 and moved his family to the idyllic, isolated artistic community of Lasqueti Island where he increasingly concentrated on a self-sufficient life-style, with oil painting replacing cartooning as an outlet for his relentless artistic drives. Here, with other creative hermits, he built an art centre which has become his lasting monument.

He passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002 and this book was the result of the first retrospective show compiled by his family from the treasury of superb material he left behind.

As well as a photo-stuffed and highly engaging history, this volume contains a wealth of artwork from early doodles to teen cartoons; illustrations and covers from his commercial art days; sketches; paintings; fascinating excerpts from the journals he kept for most of his life and a wonderful selection of his comics.

These last include many ‘Out to Lunch’ hotrod strips; early Harold Hedd pages from the Georgia Straight; sexy horror yarn ‘Raw Meat’; assorted ultra-nasty Basement Man tales; ‘Nip an’ Tuk – Those Cute Little Fuzzy Mices’; even more Hedd in ‘Wings Over Tijuana’ plus an unfinished story, as well as the aforementioned ‘Hitler’s Cocaine’ saga. Also on view are ‘And Here He Is… the Artist Himself’; ‘Killer Planet’; ‘Junkyard Dog’ (written by Mike Baron) and ‘Mean Old Man’ (written by Rob Maisch) – a powerful yarn that smacks of autobiography – before the artist portion concludes with a gallery of the stunning paintings that occupied his later days.

Rand Holmes was a true artist in every sense of the word: mostly producing work intended to change society, not fill his pockets. This terrific tome is a splendid and fitting tribute: one any grown-up art lover will marvel at and cherish.
© 2010 Patrick Rosenkranz, with the exception of the Rand Holmes diary entries which are © 2010 Martha Holmes. All artwork © 2010 Martha Holmes. Individual comic stories © their respective writers. All rights reserved.