Red Ranger Came Calling – A Guaranteed True Christmas Story


By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co.)
ISBN: 0-316-10881-2 (HB)                978-0316102490 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: To Be Read Every Christmas Until the Stars Grow Cold… 10/10

After a surprisingly brief and deservedly glittering career as a syndicated strip cartoonist and socio-political commentator (so often the exact same function) Berkeley Breathed retired Bloom County and its successor Outland and took up a new career as a writer and illustrator of children’s books. He lost none of his perception or imagination, and actually got better as a narrative artist. He also didn’t completely abandon his magical cast of unique characters.

We sneer at sentimentality these days but in the hands of a master storyteller it can be a weapon of crippling power. This glorious fable is purportedly one told every Christmas Eve to the author by his own father before being generously shared with us in mesmerising prose and captivating illustrations.

In 1939 young Red Breathed was well on the way to becoming a snotty, cynical wiseacre. Sent to spend the Holidays with his Aunt Vy, he mooches about all day with her old dog Amelia, while lusting as only a child can after an Official Buck Tweed Two-Speed Crime-Stopper Star Hopper bicycle.

Tweed, of course, is the famous movie serial star “Red Ranger of Mars” and the only thing capable of brightening the benighted life of this woeful, unfairly exiled child. Times are tough though, and Red knows his chances of getting that bike are non-existent, but he just can’t stop himself hoping…

On his way home he sees an odd, pointy-eared little man heading for the ramshackle house of that reclusive old man Saunder Clős. Since he’s a big kid now, Red knows there’s no Father Christmas and none of that hokey magic stuff is true, but even so he finds himself sneaking up to the old house that Christmas Eve night…

This is a gloriously powerful tale that fully captures the magic of believing and the tragedy of realisation, and yet still ends with a Christmas miracle and a truly surprise ending. Get this book for the kids, get this book for yourself, but get this book – and on pain of emotional death, don’t peek at the last page until the time is right!
© 1994 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas


By Dr. Seuss (Random House/Harper Collins Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-0-00717-024-1                  978-0-00736-554-8                 978-0-00717-304-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect. Just Perfect… 10/10

The son of a wealthy beermaker of German origins, Theodore Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield Massachusetts on March 2nd 1094. Some years later, he attended Dartmouth College, where he edited the college magazine, before graduating in 1925… despite a few narrow escapes from the college authorities.

Geisel liked to party and preferred drawing to his studies. It was apparently how he got his penname: after the Dean banned him from drawing after a particularly raucous binge, the young artist took pains to sign his work only with his middle name…

Theodore studied English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1927, where he met his first wife Helen. When they returned to America he became a cartoonist and illustrator, doing spot gags, political panels and covers for a variety of publishers. He produced weekly strip Birdsies and Beasties in prestigious humour magazine Judge and his work also appeared in Life, Vanity Fair, The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, PM among others.

He even briefly produced a newspaper strip – ‘Hejji’ – in 1935 and tried his hand at animation and advertising. During World War II Geisel turned to political cartooning, advocating a strong response to the Fascist threat. In 1943 he enlisted as a lead animator and director for the United States Army, winning an award in 1947 for the documentary Design For Death which explored Japanese cultural history.

He published his first poem/cartoon book And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 but only truly and gradually became a literary god after the war when news reports about the relative illiteracy and lack of vocabulary in young children (particularly a damning report in Life, May 1954) led him to create a string of easy-reading masterpieces The Cat in the Hat’, Green Eggs and Ham, Gerald McBoing-Boing, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who! and 38 others before his death in 1991.

In 1957 he released the now-legendary How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a Yuletide evergreen, immortalized in a brilliant Chuck Jones animated short in 1966 and a so-so big budget movie in 2000. Over and above both of these the actual book still towers as a masterpiece of cartoon fiction and one I beg you to read if you already haven’t.

If you’re one of the three westerners who still don’t know the story…

The Grinch is a mean hermit who, for no special reason, loathes everything about the whole Christmas Season. So, one X-Mas Eve he creeps into all Who-houses in the nearby Who hamlet and nicks every trinket that Christmas espouses. No Trees, Tinsel, Presents or Tasty Treats are left: the nasty old codger has left Who-ville bereft.

But just at the moment when his triumph is paramount the Grinch sees what Christmas is actually all about. Heart bursting with joy and good feelings re-surging Grinch returns all the treats he was wickedly purging and joins Who-ville’s people in their grand feast – and even shares some of their glorious Roast Beast!

Seriously though; the simple heart-warming tale of the old monster – and his trusty, long-suffering and illogically faithful hound – as they fail to ruin Christmas, the miraculous change of heart and eventual redemption is the perfect examination of what the Season should mean. Moreover, it’s written in a captivating manner with bold rhyme and incredibly enthralling artwork that embeds itself within every reader. Wily, wise and wonderful, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is absolutely the best kid’s Christmas book ever created and one you simple have to read. If your house has kids (or not) but no copy, it must be brought up to code immediately and forthwith.

Doctor’s orders… so don’t make me put coal in your socks…
© 1957, 1985 Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. All rights reserved

The Wolverton Bible – The Old Testament & Book of Revelation Through the Pen of Basil Wolverton


By Basil Wolverton with commentary by Monte Wolverton (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-964-7

Basil Wolverton was one of a kind; a cartoonist and wordsmith of unique skills and imagination and one whose controversial works inspired and delighted many whilst utterly revolting others.

Born in Central Point, Oregon on July 9th 1909, Wolverton worked as a Vaudeville performer, reporter and cartoonist. Unlike most cartoonists of his time, he preferred to stay far away from the big city. For most of his life he mailed his work from the rural wilderness of Vancouver, Washington State.

He made his first national cartoon sale at age 16 and began pitching newspaper strips in the late 1920s. A great fan of fantastic fiction and the swiftly-developing science fiction genre, Wolverton sold Marco of Mars to the Independent Syndicate of New York in 1929. but the company then declined to publish it, citing its similarity to the popular Buck Rogers feature.

Equally at home with comedy, horror and adventure fantasy material the young creative dynamo adapted easily to the concept of superheroes, and began working extensively in the new medium of comicbooks, where he produced such gems as Spacehawks and Disk-Eyes the Detective for Circus Comics, plus a brace of minor hits and unabashed classics: the grimly imaginative (but unrelated) sci fi cosmic avenger Spacehawk (for Target Comics) and Rockman – Underground Secret Agent for Timely/Marvel’s USA Comics.

Apparently tireless and blessed with unlimited imagination, Wolverton also produced a seemingly endless supply of comedy features, ranging from extended series such as Superman/boxing parody Powerhouse Pepper to double, single and half-page gag fillers such as Bedtime Bunk, Culture Quickie and Bedtime Banter.

In 1946 he infamously won a national competition held by Al Capp – of Li‘l Abner fame – to visualise “Lena the Hyena”; that strip’s “ugliest woman in the world”, and during the 1950s space and horror boom crafted some of the most imaginative short stories comics have ever seen. He also worked for Mad Magazine.

Wolverton became a member of the Radio Church of God in 1941. The organisation was devised by Herbert W. Armstrong: a prototype televangelist of a then-burgeoning Christian fundamentalist movement. In 1956, Wolverton illustrated the founder’s pamphlet 1975 in Prophecy and two years later produced a stunning illustrative interpretation of The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last.

Soon after, he began writing and drawing an illustrated six-volume adaptation of the Old Testament entitled The Bible Story: The Story of Man, which was serialised in the sect’s journal The Plain Truth. His association with the Radio Church of God endured for the rest of his life.

In 1973 the artist returned to comicbooks, illustrating more of his memorably comedic grotesques for DC’s Plop!, but the aging artist suffered a stroke the next year. Basil Wolverton died on December 31st 1978.

In many ways, his religious works are his most moving and powerful – as you will see in this astounding monochrome hardback or digital compilation. “A Collection of Basil Wolverton’s Artwork for the Worldwide Church of God from 1952 through 1974” gathers all the images the devout but always questioning artist created for Armstrong and offers – after a snazzy sample page of Powerhouse Pepper – history, context and candid illustrations, photographs and disclosures through the Foreword ‘A Shot in the Liver, a Shot to the Soul’ by Grant Geissman, plus an intimate portrait of the man, his devotion and his art courtesy of the Introduction ‘Wolverton and Armstrong’ by Basil’s son Monte Wolverton.

Blessed with a large degree of latitude, the artist was allowed to create his illustrations and accompanying text from his own readings of the biblical text. No matter what your spiritual beliefs might be, the results are frankly astonishing: mute, powerful, forceful even amusing in the appropriate place and – when dealing with wrath of God stuff – absolutely terrifying…

With an overview and commentary accompanying each chapter, the miracles begin with ‘Part 1: From Creation to Noah’ as the World is formed, beasts are born and Adam and Eve are force from the Garden of Eden. Through Cain and Abel, to humanity’s proliferation to the Great Flood, Wolverton’s imagination runs wild, inspirational but never sensationalistic, even at the most dreadful of moments when mankind drowns…

‘Part 2: From Abraham to Joseph’ follows the resurgence of humanity, touching upon Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar, Ishmael, the dreams of Jacob, and enslavement in Egypt.

Rendering fascinating maps to pinpoint the areas under scrutiny, Wolverton continues with ‘Part 3: From Moses to Joshua’ (including a complete visual catalogue of beasts considered “clean” or “unclean”), ‘Part 4: From Joshua to Ruth’, ‘Part 5: From Samuel to David’, ‘Part 6: From Solomon to Nehemiah’ before moving on to the most potent and memorable moments as depicted in ‘Part 7: The Apocalypse and Beyond’: an imaginative tour de force that has to be seen to be believed…

But that’s not all. Wolverton was arguably one of the funniest cartoonists ever born and Armstrong tapped his gifts for other aspects of the Worldwide Church of God, The Plain Truth and educational outreach project Ambassador College.

Leavening the apocalyptic warnings, ‘Part 8: Funny Stuff’ gathers spot illustrations for numerous articles and sermons, mastheads for publication features, gags, strips, caricatures faux informational instructions and much more: many of which would just as easily fit into Wolverton’s temporal grotesques-oeuvre in Mad or Plop!

A genuine monument to belief and artistic passion, The Wolverton Bible is a masterclass in the use of pen-&-ink and offers a stunning example of a creator working not just with hands and heart but with heart and soul. A must-have for anyone who ever wanted to draw.
The Wolverton Bible © 2009 the Worldwide Church of God. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 2


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-652-0                  eISBN: 978-1-62302-415-4

There are few comic characters that have entered communal world consciousness, but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Segar had been producing Thimble Theatre since December 19th 1919, but when he introduced a coarse, brusque “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 29th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the animated features brought Popeye to the entire world. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his supplies – introduced the kid to the master who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, Sagendorf took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the Go-To Guy, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. He wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years.

He died in 1994 and was succeeded by “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and – from 1948 onwards – exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) are issues #5-9 of the Popeye comicbooks produced by the irrepressible Bud, collectively spanning February/March to October/November 1949.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe and a fabulous collation of candid photos, strip proofs, original art and designs, foreign edition covers and greetings cards in another ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black & red) single-page strips on the inside front and back covers – which were always dynamic, surreal, silent sight gags of incredible whimsy and ingenuity.

We rejoin the parade of laughs and thrills one year later with #5 and a single-page duel of wits between Popeye and master moocher Wellington J. Wimpy over the price of water before main event ‘Moon Goon! or Goon on the Moon! or The Man in the Moon is a Goon!’ espies the scrappy sailor-man hired in dishonest circumstances to pilot a ship to our nearest celestial neighbour.

Once there, he and Wimpy meet a number of incredible races, discover the origins of their unsightly associate Alice the Goon and enjoy an astounding and perilous new means of locomotion to get them back down to Earth…

Short prose stories were a staple of these comics and ‘Swee’ Pea’s Dip in the Dark!’ details a frantic scramble for survival after the mighty muscled, irrepressible “infink” falls overboard during a sudden squall at sea, after which cartoon hilarity ensues as Wimpy tests the patience and resolve of diner chef Rough House in ‘Another Day, Another Breakfast!’ before deciding to grow his own burgers by raising cattle…

The interior end page then sees Olive Oyl fall foul of Swee’ Pea’s boisterous playtime whilst the full-colour back cover gag sees the little lad get down and dirty defending his pocket money…

Sporting a shark-themed cover #6 (April/May 1949) opens with a monochrome Popeye short involving bad dreams before lengthy sea-borne saga ‘Raft! or It’s a Long Drift Home! or Rafts are Boats, But Not So Comfortable!’ depicts Swee’ Pea and playmate Hink jerry-build a dubious wooden vessel and disappear down the river and out into the ocean…

When piratical rogue Captain Zato picks up the soggy waifs he thinks he has the secret of controlling Popeye and gaining vast wealth, but he’s made a terrible mistake…

‘Pappy Doesn’t Tell a Story!’ offers a prose poser as Popeye’s salty sire Poopdeck adamantly refuses to lull Swee’ Pea with a bedtime tale, after which that ravenous finagler J. W. Wimpy stars in ‘A Story of Hunger and Desert Madness entitled Food! Food! or May I Borrow Your Duck, Mister?’ dumped in a desert for his usual parsimonious behaviour (fare-dodging on a locomotive). As starvation looms, the chiseller encounters owlhoot bandit Terrific Tension and a grim battle begins for possession of the cowboy’s most treasured possession – a ham sandwich…

A Popeye and Olive end-page reveals how to keep the picnic dry before #7 (June/July) opens with a similar jape starring Wimpy bamboozling the overconfident Sailor-man. Then, in dazzling full-colour, ‘Help! or Sailor, Save My Baby!’ finds our grizzled hero acting as bodyguard to a millionaire’s little girl. Sadly, Olive is not happy since the precious Miss Pat Goldhold is old enough to pose a matrimonial threat, and is almost glad when thieves and a hulking man-monster turn up to rob her…

After getting the notion that people only like him because he’s tougher than them, Popeye feigns weakness and hosts a ‘Surprize Party!’ to test his theory. The result is quite an eye-opener and segues into text tale ‘Swee’ Pea and the Hungry Lady!’ with Wimpy resorting to drag to steal provender from a baby…

The master moocher exhibits even greater guile in ‘A Tale of Brains vs. Work entitled Who Won? or The Fleeter of Foot Emerges Victorious!’, again fooling Rough House and his customers with the old raffle dodge, before a Popeye closing gag finds Olive learning the finer points of manners from her brawling beau…

Issue #8 (August/September) sees the opener-strip back in black & red as Popeye decides Swee’ Pea’s new kite might a bit big for him, after which ‘On the House’ finds the sailor and the skiver go into business together as hamburger vendors. Happily, Swee’ Pea is on hand and on guard to ensure Wimpy’s carnivorous instincts are kept under control…

Sagendorf took his japery with alternate appellations to extreme limits with ‘I Am the Mayor!’) but I’m not playing anymore so just buy the book if you want to see the tale’s other titles) but the comedy is even sharper than usual as Swee’ Pea races across America to substitute for Popeye and save the town of Boghill from bullying entrepreneur and arms dealer Bull Branco…

‘Quiet Please’ offers prose diversions as the bombastic baby attempts to fix Poopdeck’s hammock and ensure a good night’s sleep for the veteran mariner after which Sagendorf’s old strip charges ‘Sappo and Wotasnozzle’ unexpectedly resurface. Here henpecked oaf John Sappo once more allows his mad scientist lodger Professor Wotasnozzle to make him a pasty after sampling the bonkers boffin’s food stretching breakfast additive. Of course, it’s not just the meal that elongates exponentially…

Black and white and red all over the Popeye and Olive Oyl end-page reveals the sailor’s breaking point when being asked to constantly rearrange furniture before the last issue in this outrageous compendium (#9, October/November) opens with the first half of the prose tale as opener. ‘Black Jack’ reveals the sheer stupidity of telling a kid like Swee’ Pea pirate stories at bedtime before main cartoon feature ‘Misermites! or I’d Rather Have Termites!’ details how the peaceful coastal town of Seawet is plagued by an invasion plundering dwarves. When the petty pilferers vanish back to their island with Swee’ Pea as part of their spoils, Popeye and Wimpy give chase and end up battling a really, really big secret weapon…

Then ‘Presenting John Sappo and the Experiment of the Sound Pills!’ finds the goony-eye genius and his long-suffering stooge enduring the gibes of Sappo’s little nephew and respond in typical over-the-top fashion after which the concluding part of ‘Black Jack’ wraps up this particular nautical compendium.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. This book is definitely top tier and if you love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure you must add this treasure trove of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 2 © 2013 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2013 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969


By Ian Fleming, Jim Lawrence & Yaroslav Horak (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-78565-325-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Truly Traditional Licence to Thrill… 9/10

There are sadly few British newspaper strips that can rival the influence and impact of the classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction. The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations and you’d be hard-pressed to come up with household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy or Flash Gordon, let alone Blondie, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye – and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good. You should really read them if you haven’t yet…

What can you recall for simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? Garth? I’d hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve just didn’t seem to be in the business of creating household names.

Until the 1950’s…

Something happened in the Britain of the New Elizabethans – and I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did. Now we’re moving on.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics got carried along on the wave. Eagle, Lion, the regenerated Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into visually receptive high gear… and so did daily newspapers at a time when print was everyone’s major source of staying in touch with the world…

Thanks to another canny and comforting luxury repackaging – just in time for the Christmas presents rush! – I can once more communally reminisce about one of British strip-cartooning’s greatest triumphs, since Titan Books have a new addition to their line of lavish, oversized (294 x 277 mm) monochrome compilations of Ian Fleming’s immortal James Bond.

Debut 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and subsequently serialised in the Daily Express from 1958: initiating a sequence of paperback novel adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence (a jobbing writer for American features who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) signed on for The Man with the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the authorial canon to strip format.

When that mission was accomplished, Lawrence was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s ultimate demise in 1983.

Illustration of the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky provided art the until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and – although perhaps lacking in vivacity – the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily coped with the astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members…

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who also debuted on Golden Gun; instituting a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane vim and verve of the 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express ceased carrying Bond and the then-running case suddenly switched to The Sunday Express (from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Here, however, the heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death is at an all-time high in this addictively accessible fourth volume which finds the creators on top form as they reveal how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe and highly entertained…

The frantic derring-do and dark, deadly last-ditch double-dealings commence once superstar screenplay writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (The World is Not Enough; Die Another Day; Casino Royale; Quantum of Solace; Skyfall and Spectre as well as Johnny English) share some secrets and observations in their Introduction ‘Adapting Bond’.

Then ‘Octopussy’ (Daily Express 14th November 1966 – 27th May 1967) unfolds: a classic Ian Fleming tale. Originally a short story, under the skilful hands of Lawrence & Horak, a simple smuggling caper in the West Indies blossoms into a complex tale of Nazi Gold, murdered agents and exotic deaths in exotic locales as Bond pits his wits against deplorable rogue Major Smythe….

Bowing to the wave of popularity caused by the blockbuster films of the time, there are even a few Q Branch gadgets on offer. Horak excels at the extended underwater sequences and the action is frenetic and non-stop. Moreover, thanks to the enlarged landscape pages of this edition, every picturesque detail is there to be drooled over…

The sea also plays a major role in ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’ (29th May – 16th December 1967) which details the true fate of a new Royal Navy robot weapon which seemingly fails but has in fact been stolen by flamboyant millionaire and career sadist Milton Krest. At his most dashing undercover best, Bond infiltrates the wealthy sicko’s glamorous circle in a terrific tale full of innovation and intrigue. You won’t believe how many ways there are to kill with fish!

Having exhausted Fleming’s accumulated prose canon, all-original material begins with ‘The Harpies’ (4th October 1968 – 23rd June 1969) as Bond adopts he persona of ex-copper Mark Hazard to infiltrate defence contractor Simon Nero’s factory and rescue a kidnapped scientist whilst seeking to end the depredations of a deadly gang of female flying bandits.

Here Horak’s extreme design style and dynamic lines impart tremendous energy to scenes that must labour under the incredibly difficult restrictions of the 3-panel-a-day newspaper format.

Wrapping up the sinister espionage shenanigans is Lawrence’s second addition to 007 lore – and what a cracker it is! In ‘River of Death’ (24th June – 29th November 1969) Bond must penetrate the Amazon River stronghold of a maniacal oriental scientist and former Red Chinese torturer Dr. Cat. This latest madman is supplying trained animals to international criminals for the purposes of robbery, espionage and murder…

Horak’s intense illustration is approaching a career peak here and easily copes with action, mood, cutting edge science, beautiful women and exotic locales as diverse as the Alps, sultry Rain Forests, London’s underworld and Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time.

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest movie, game or novel. Here, however, is James Bond at his suave and savage best and as close to his original conception and roots as you will ever find.

Fast, furious action, masses of moody menace, sharply clever dialogue and a wealth of exotic locales and ladies make this an unmissable adjunct to the Bond mythos and a collection no fan can do without. After all, nobody does it better…

Octopussy © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1966. The Hildebrand Rarity © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1967. The Harpies © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1969. River of Death © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd. 1969. James Bond and 007 are ™ of Danjaq LLC used under licence by Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
The Complete James Bond: OCTOPUSSY – the Classic Comic Strip Collection 1966-1969 will be published on November 24th and is available for pre-order now.

Thelwell Goes West


By Norman Thelwell (E P Dutton/Magnum/Eyre Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-87690-189-2 (HB)                  978-0-41701-110-3 (PB)

Norman Thelwell was and remains one of Britain’s greatest cartoonists. His genteel yet rowdily raucous artistic endeavours combined Bigfoot abstraction with a keen and accurate eye for detail, not just on the horse-riding and countryside themes that made him a household name, but on all the myriad subjects he turned his canny eye and subtle brushstrokes to.

His wittily wry observations and gloriously rendered pictures are an immaculate condensation of a uniquely unchanging United Kingdom – everything warmly resonant, resolutely Post-War and Baby-Boomingily British, without ever being parochial or provincial – starring a dangerous realm where all animals and inanimate objects loathe humanity and will go to any extreme to vex or even harm us…

His work has international implications and scope, neatly distilling and presenting us to the world. There were 32 collections of his work during his lifetime and every aficionado of humour – illustrated or otherwise – could do much worse than own them all.

From 1950 when his gag-panel Chicko first began in the Eagle, and especially two years later with his first sale to Punch, Thelwell built a solid body of irresistible, seductive and always funny work. His canny cartoons appeared in a host of magazines, comics and papers ranging from Men Only to Everybody’s Weekly. His first curated cartoon collection – Angels on Horseback – was released in 1957 and in 1961 he made the rare return journey by releasing a book of all-original gags that was subsequently and rapturously serialised in the Sunday Express.

His dry, sly, cannily observed drawings were a huge success and other books followed to supplement his regular periodical appearances. He is most famous for his countryside and equine subjects. The phrase “Thelwell Pony” is an instant verbal shortcut to a whole other world of adroit, goblin-like little girls constantly battling malevolent, chubby mini-horses gifted with the guile of Machiavelli, the mass and temerity of a deranged mule and the cheery disposition of Bill Sikes.

The artist’s fascination and endless reservoir of dressage drollery originated with a pair of short obnoxious muses in the field next door to his home, where also roamed two shaggy ponies. They were, in his own words “Small and round and fat and of very uncertain temper” – and apparently owned by “Two little girls about three feet high who could have done with losing a few ounces themselves….”

“As the children got near, the ponies would swing round and present their ample hindquarters and give a few lightning kicks which the children would side-step calmly as if they were avoiding the kitchen table, and they had the head-collars on those animals before they knew what was happening. I was astonished at how meekly they were led away; but they were planning vengeance – you could tell by their eyes.”

His observations were best depicted in the classic Penelope and Penelope Rides Again, but in this particular instance, the master of the hounds and hilarious horseflesh cast his gaze a little further afield for a wickedly insightful and memorable draughtsman’s discourse, acutely weighing the benefits and pitfalls (oh, so very many painful falls) of Brit and Yank riding preferences and techniques.

After his introductory comparison/blueprint ‘The English Rider’ and ‘The Western Horseman’ Thelwell pits cocky little Cowboys against surly Show-jumping Schoolgirls in such compelling, picture packed chapters as Western Riding, What to Wear, Western Horses, Quick on the Drawl, How to Understand Your Horse, On the Trail, How to Manage a Mean Horse, How to Cross Water and Rodeo Dough before ending with a comprehensive Western Quiz.

So, which is best: East or West?

The answer, of course, is simple: Best to avoid all close encounters of an equine kind and read this book instead.
© 1975 Norman Thelwell.

Beware of the Dog


By Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (Macmillan)
ASIN: B0000CK63L              BOO3UHYGAA

Pericle Luigi Giovannetti was a brief but transcendent star of the cartoon firmament in the years following World War II, and a prolific one who appealed to fans of all ages.

Born of Italian extraction on June 22nd 1916 in Basel, Switzerland, he was a talented draughtsman and painter who achieved vast fame after debuting – in April 1953 – his most beloved character in Britain’s most prominent satire periodical Punch.

Max was a small, round furry creature like a hamster – or maybe a marmot – whose wordless pantomimes were cute, whimsical and trenchantly self-deprecating. Don’t ask me how a beautifully rendered little puff-ball could stand for pride and pomposity punctured, but he did. It was also blissfully free of mawkish sentimentality, a funny animal icon for adults too: even stiff, ultra-reserved post-war Brits.

Imagine then how such a cartoonist’s observational acumen would bloom when he turned his dry, wry, laconic eye upon Man’s Best Friend?

Luckily you don’t have to as this 1958 hardcover is still readily available from a number of on-line vendors: a fabulous collection of 52 pooches, drawn, rendered and limned in a variety of styles, captioned in two separate languages (French and English) and, thanks to your pedigree guides and contemporary wits Mark Laurence and Richard Maury, curated in three separate comedic styles!

After enduring being a sensation on a number of continents Giovannetti all but vanished at the end of the 1950s. Unknown to most of his fans he had returned to Switzerland and retired to the artists enclave of Ascona where he spent the remainder of the century painting. Apparently, he was pretty damn good at that too, but being extremely reclusive, only purchasers would know as he never exhibited his work.

According to some reports, he never sold or showed his work to anyone, preferring to discuss his other hobbies such as homeopathy, astrology and UFOlogy.

He died in Ascona, aged 85 on August 10th 2001.

As a cartoonist, Giovannetti was a master of the pen, with a sparse and economical line, and completely au fait with all brush techniques from dry-point to tonal wash painting. The sheer variety he exhibits in this book of doggy delights would make any would-be illustrator weep with jealousy if they weren’t already splitting their sides with mirth.

To my knowledge there were six other Giovannetti books and collections between 1954 and 1961: Max, Max Presents, Nothing but Max, The Penguin Max, Birds Without Words and Hamid of Aleppo – but not one of these fabulous graphic gems is currently in print! Surely in this age of digital archives, the maestro’s mastery can all be collected, collated and brought back for a new generation of fans and aficionados?

The sheer artistic virtuosity of Giovanetti is astounding to see. That his work should be forgotten is a crime. If you ever, ever find a collection of his work don’t hesitate!

Fetch!
© 1958 P. L. Giovannetti. All Rights Reserved.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons


By many & various, edited by Craig Yoe (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-150-3

After watching far too much news, I dug this book off my shelves. It seemed somehow appropriate…

You’ll hear a lot about the pen being mightier than the sword regarding The Great Anti-War Cartoons, but sadly it’s just not true.

Nothing seems able to stop determined governments, outraged religions and/or rich, greedy – and apparently duly elected, raving mad – bastards from sending the young and idealistic to their mass-produced deaths, especially those innocents still afflicted with the slightest modicum of patriotism or sense of adventure.

Our own currently escalating and deteriorating global situation (but isn’t it always?) proves that mankind is always far too ready to take up arms, and far too reluctant to give peace a chance, especially when a well-oiled publicity machine and vested media interests gang up on the men and women in the street going “yeah, but…”

We’re all susceptible to the power of a marching beat played on fife and drum…

At least here amongst these 220 plus cartoons and graphic statements we see that rationalism or conscientious objectivity or pacifism or even simple self-interested isolationism are as versed in the art of pictorial seduction as the power and passion of jingoism and war-fever.

All art – and most especially cartooning – has the primitive power to bore deep into the soul, just as James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic Uncle Sam poster “Your Country Needs You” so effectively did to millions of young Americans during the Great War.

How satisfying then to see his is the very first anti-war cartoon in this incredible compilation of images focusing on the impassioned pleas of visual communicators trying to avoid body-counts or at least reduce bloodshed.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons gathers a host of incredibly moving, thought-provoking, terrifying, but – I’m gutted to say, ultimately ineffective – warnings, scoldings and pleas which may have moved millions of people, but never stopped or even gave pause to one single conflict…

Editor Craig Yeo divides these potently unforgettable images into a broad variety of categories and I should make it clear that not all the reasons for their creation are necessarily pacifistic: some of the most evocative renderings here are from creators who didn’t think War was Bad per se, but rather felt that the specific clash in question was none of their homeland’s business.

However with such chapters as Planet War, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, The Gods of War, Profiteers, Recruitment and Conscription, The Brass, The Grunts, Weapons of War, The Battle Rages On, The Long March, Famine, The Anthems of War, The Horrors of War, The Suffering, The Families and Children of War, The Aftermath, Victory Celebration, Medals, Disarmament, Resistance and Peace we witness immensely talented people of varying beliefs responding on their own unique terms to organised slaughter, and for every tut-tut of the Stay-at-Homers there are a dozen from genuinely desperate and appalled artists who just wanted the horror to end.

With incisive examinations of shared symbology and recurring themes, these monochrome penmen have utilised their brains and talents in urgent strivings to win their point (there is also a fascinating section highlighting the impact and energy of the Colors of War) but the most intriguing aspect of this superb collection is the sheer renown and worth of the contributors.

Among the 119 artists include (120 if you count Syd Hoff and his nom-de-plume “Redfield” as two separate artists) are Sir John Tenniel, Caran d’Ache, Bruce Bairnsfather, Herbert Block, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ron Cobb, “Ding” Darling, Billy DeBeck, Jerry Robinson, Albrecht Dürer, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Rube Goldberg, Honore Daumier, Goya, George Grosz, Bill Mauldin, Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Thomas Nast and most especially the incredibly driven Winsor McCay.

I’ve scandalously assumed that many of the older European draughtsmen won’t be that well known, despite their works being some of the most harrowing, and their efforts – although perhaps wasted on people willing to listen to reason anyway – are cruel and beautiful enough to make old cynics like me believe that this time, this time, somebody in power will actually do something to stop the madness.

A harsh, evocative and painfully lovely book: seek it out in the hope that perhaps one day Peace will be the Final Solution.

The time has never been more right for cynics like me to be proved wrong…
The Great Anti-War Cartoons and the digitally remastered public domain material are © 2009 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.

Explainers


By Jules Feiffer (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN13: 978-1-56097-835-0

Jules Feiffer has always been much more than “just a comic-book guy” even though his credits in the field sound and are suitably impressive. As well as working with Will Eisner on The Spirit, he created his own Sunday strip ‘Clifford’ (1949-51) before eventually settling at the The Village Voice.

Novelist, playwright, animator, children’s book creator (why isn’t there a single-word term for those guys?) and screenwriter, he turned his back on cartooning in 2000, but the 42-year run of his satirical comic strip in The Village Voice ranks as some of the most telling, trenchant, plaintive and perspicacious narrative art in the history of the medium.

The strip, originally entitled Sick, Sick, Sick, and later Feiffer’s Fables, before simply settling on Feiffer was quickly picked up by the Hall Syndicate and garnered a devoted worldwide following.

Over the decades the strip has generated many strip collections – the first book was in 1958 – since premiering. The auteur’s incisive examination of American society and culture, as reflected by and expressed through politics, art, Television, Cinema, work, philosophy, advertising and most especially in the way men and women interact, informed and shaped opinions and challenged accepted thought for generations. They were mostly bloody funny and wistfully sad too – and remain so even today.

Fantagraphics Books began collecting the entire run in 2007 and this first volume of 568 pages covers the period from its start in October 1956 up to the end of 1966. As such, it covers a pivotal period of social, racial and sexual transformation in America and the world beyond its borders and much of that is also – sadly- still painfully germane to today’s readers…

Explainers is a “dipping book”. It’s not something to storm your way through but something to return to over and again. Feiffer’s thoughts and language, his observations and questions are fearsomely eternal – as I’ve already mentioned, it is utterly terrifying how many problems of the 1950s and 1960s still vex us today – and the Battle of the Sexes my generation honestly believed to be almost over still breaks out somewhere every night.

Best of all, Feiffer’s expressive drawing is a masterclass in style and economy all by itself.

If you occasionally resort to Thinking and sometimes wonder about Stuff, this book should be your guide and constant companion… and it will make you laugh.
© 2007 Jules Feiffer. All Rights Reserved.

Footrot Flats volume 1


By Murray Ball (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1-85286-335-7

You may or may not have heard of Footrot Flats. Created by Murray Ball on his return to his homeland of New Zealand, it ran from 1975 to 1994 in newspapers on four continents, yet for one of the most successfully syndicated strips in the world, it seems to have passed from common memory with staggering rapidity.

Once the series concluded, Ball – whilst running his own farm – continued to release books of new material until 2000, resulting in a total of 27 daily strip collections, 8 volumes of Sunday pages and 5 pocket books, plus ancillary publications such as calendars.

There was a stage musical, a theme park and a truly superb animated film Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tail Tale.

A well-travelled wanderer, Murray Ball moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch as well as drawing (ostensibly) children’s strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway as well as a more adult-oriented strip in Labour Weekly. Eventually home called and the artist headed back South. Resettling in New Zealand in 1974, Ball became busier than ever.

He bought a smallholding on the North Island and farmed in his spare time (for anyone not brought up in the country, that last bit was “sarcasm”). This inevitably led to the strip in question. Taking the adage “write what you know” to startling heights, the peripatetic artist promptly gave up sleeping altogether to craft these wickedly funny yarns about an oaf and his dog, and I for one will be eternally grateful. You might be old enough to remember it being syndicated here in the Today newspaper…

Then again, you might not be old enough to remember newspapers.

Wallace Footrot Cadwallader is a big, bluff farmer. He’s a regular bloke, likes his food; loves his Rugby. He owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) best described as “400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Sea”.

With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass, and a sheepdog who calls himself “Dog” Wal makes a living and is his own boss. Dog is the star (and narrator) of most of the strips: a cool know-all and blowhard, he’s utterly devoted to his scruffy, no-nonsense master – unless there’s food about or Jess (the sheepdog bitch from down the road) is in heat again.

Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, the humour comes from the perfectly realised characters – human and otherwise – the tough life of a bachelor farmer and especially the country itself.

The cartooning is absolutely top-rate. Ball is one of those gifted few who can actually draw funnily. When combined with his sharp, incisive writing the result is pure magic. But be warned. Ball can also break your heart with a few terse words and the right confection of tightly-inked lines.

I’m reviewing the 1990 Titan Books edition, but the same material is readily available from a number of publishers and retailers although none of the varied volumes are particularly cheap. If any cartoon feature ever needed compiling in a comprehensive digital edition it’s this superb series.

Until then, If I’ve convinced you to give the Dog a go, your favourite search engine will be all the help you need…

Go on. Fetch!
© 1990 Diogenes Designs Ltd. All rights reserved.