Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tiger

By Roy Crane & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-499-3

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous. Hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible weapon to guarantee sales and increase circulation, the strips seemed to find their only opposition in the short-sighted local paper editors who often resented the low brow art form, which cut into advertising and frequently drew complaint letters from cranks…

It’s virtually impossible for us today to understand the overwhelming allure and power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comics sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most universally enjoyed recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality of graphic sagas and humorous episodes over the years.

From the very start comedy was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and the vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic, gag-a-day strip which evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. Crane produced pages of stunning, addictive high-quality yarn-spinning for years, until his eventual introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy ushered in the age of adventure strips with the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

This in turn led to a Sunday colour page that was possibly the most compelling and visually imaginative of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (see Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volumes 1-4).

Practically improving minute by minute, the strip benefited from Crane’s relentless quest for perfection: his imaginative, fabulous compositional masterpieces achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of those pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé, giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz and comicbook masters such as Alex Toth and John Severin ever since.

The material was obviously as much fun to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary demand that all its strips must henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated.

They just didn’t lift the artist any more so Crane stopped making them.

At the height of his powers Crane just walked away from the astounding Captain Easy Sunday page to concentrate on the daily feature, and when his contract expired in 1943 he left United Features, lured away by that grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result was a contemporary aviation strip set in the then still-ongoing World War II: Buz Sawyer.

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but largely comedic Lothario and his pal Easy a surly, tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a joyous amalgam of the two: a good-looking, popular country-boy who went to war because his country needed him…

Buz was a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot daily risking his life with his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney: a bluff, brave and simply ordinary Joe – and one of the most effective comedy foils ever created.

The wartime strip was – and still is – a marvel of authenticity: picturing not just the action and drama of the locale and situation but more importantly capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing and staying alive. However when the war ended the action-loving duo – plus fellow pilot and girl-chasing rival Chili Harrison – all went looking for work that satisfied their penchant for adventure and romance wherever they could find it…

Crane was a master of popular entertainment, blending action and adventure with smart drama and compellingly sophisticated soap opera, all leavened with raucous comedy in a seamless procession of unmissable daily episodes.

He and his team of creative assistants – which over the decades comprised co-writer Ed “Doc” Granberry and artists Hank Schlensker, Clark Haas, Al Wenzel, Joel King, Ralph Lane, Dan Heilman, Hi Mankin and Bill Wright – soldiered on under relentless deadline pressure, producing an authentic and exotic funny romantic thriller rendered in the signature monochrome textures of line-art and craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect used to add greys and halftones to the superb drawing for miraculous depths and moods) as well as the prerequisite full-colour Sunday page.

This primarily black-&-white tome contains an impressive selection of those colour strips – although Crane came to regard them only as a necessary evil which plagued him for most of his career…

The eternal dichotomy and difficulty of producing Sunday Pages (many client papers would only buy either Dailies or Sunday strips, but not both) meant that most creators had to produce different story-lines for each feature – Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon being one of the few notable exceptions.

Whereas Dailies needed about three weeks lead-in time, hand-separated colour plates for the Sabbath sections meant the finished artwork and colour guides had be at the engravers and printers a minimum of six weeks before publication.

Crane handled the problem with typical aplomb; using Sundays to tell completely unrelated stories. For Wash Tubbs he created the prequel series starring Captain Easy in adventures set before the mismatched pair had met, whilst in Buz Sawyer he turned the slot over to Roscoe Sweeney for lavish gag-a-day exploits, big on slapstick laughs and situation comedy.

During the war years it was set among the common “swabbies” aboard ship: a far more family-oriented feature and probably much more welcome among the weekend crowd of parents and children than the often chilling or disturbing realistically sexy sagas that unfolded Mondays to Saturdays.

A year before Steve Canyon began, Crane tried telling a seven-days-a-week yarn in Buz Sawyer – with resounding success, to my mind, and you can judge for yourself here – but found the process a logistical nightmare. At the conclusion he retuned to weekday continuity whilst Sundays were restored to Roscoe with only occasional guest-shots by the named star.

This second lush and sturdy archival hardback re-presents the tense and turbulent period from October 6th 1945 to July 23rd 1947 wherein de-mobilised adrenaline addict Buz tries to adjust to peacetime life whilst looking for a job and career – just like millions of his fellow ex-servicemen…

Before getting out, he had returned home on leave and ended up accidentally engaged. Buz was the son of the town’s doctor; plain, simple and good-hearted. In that ostensibly egalitarian environment the school sporting star became the sweetheart of ice-cool and stand-offish Tot Winter, the richest girl in town,

Now when her upstart nouveau riche parents heard of the decorated hero’s return they hijacked the homecoming and turned it into a publicity carnival. Moreover the ghastly, snobbish Mrs. Winter conspired with her daughter to trap the lad into a quick and newsworthy marriage.

Class, prejudice, financial greed and social climbing were enemies Buz and Sweeney were ill-equipped to fight, but luckily annoying tomboy-brat girl-next-door Christy Jameson had blossomed into a sensible, down-to-earth, practical and clever young woman.

She’d scrubbed up real pretty too and showed Buz that his future was rife with possibility. Mercifully soon, the leave ended and he and Sweeney returned to the war. The Sawyer/Winter engagement fizzled and died…

When their discharge papers finally arrived (in the episode for September 9th 1945) an era of desperate struggle was over. However that only meant that the era of globe-girdling adventure was about to begin…

Before the comics wonderment resumes, Jeet Heer and Rick Norwood take some time here discussing ‘The Perfectionist and his Team’. Concentrating initially on ‘After the War’ the fascinating explorations then delve deep into the detail of the artist’s troubled and tempestuous relationship with ‘Crane’s Team’ before offering ‘A Word on Comic Strip Formats’ and the censorious iniquities local newspaper editors would regularly inflict upon Crane’s work…

With all the insightful stuff over, the cartoon adventure begins anew as the newly civilian Mr. Sawyer goes home to a life of indolence before his own restless nature starts him fretting again. The old town isn’t the same. Tot has inherited her father’s millions and moved to New York and even Christy is gone: away attending his old alma mater…

After a brief interlude wherein he visits the cheery Co-Ed and debates the merits of returning to college on the G.I. Bill, Buz instead opts for fulltime employment and heads to the Big Apple where Chili Harrison has a new job offer and an old flame waiting.

As he heads East, Buz chooses to ignore his instincts and the huge mysterious guy who seems to turn up everywhere he goes…

In NYC the aloof, alluring Tot is the cream of polite “arty” society but her wealth and clingy new fiancé – opera singer Count Franco Confetti – are all but forgotten when “the one who got away” hits town and she finds her interest in her High School beau rekindled.

Buz has moved in with Chili, blithely unaware that the strange and ubiquitous giant has inveigled himself into the apartment next door and is now actively spying on him…

Sawyer wants a job flying but is only one of hundreds of war-hero pilots looking for a position at International Airways. Moreover his reputation as a hot-shot risk-taker makes him the last person a commercial carrier might consider. However after well-connected Chili intercedes with a major player in the company – something does come up…

The truth about Buz’s hulking stalker comes out when the Maharani of Batu’s yacht docks in New York. The exotic Asian princess is one of the wealthiest women on Earth and cuts a stunning figure with her tiger on a leash. However when Buz first met her she was simply “Sultry”: a ferocious, remorseless resistance fighter helping him kill the occupying Japanese on her Pacific island.

She never forgot him and will ensure no other woman can have him…

Sultry moves into the penthouse adjoining Tot’s and is witness to the ploys of the Winter woman as she sidelines Confetti and makes a play for Buz. She is also a key figure in the tragic heiress’ sudden death…

Just prior to Tot’s gruesome demise Buz had finally met the unconventional Mr. Wright of International Airways. The doughty executive had no need for pilots but wanted a quick-thinking, capable fighter who could solve problems in the world’s most troubled conflict zones. He even has a spot open for good old Roscoe Sweeney…

Buz is all set for his first overseas assignment when the cops decide he’s the other prime suspect in Tot’s murder and, with Sawyer and Count Confetti in jail, Sultry tries to flee America before the truth comes out.

However Sweeney and the freshly exonerated Buz soon track her down, but Sultry turns the tables on them and shanghais her erstwhile lover, imprisoning him on her yacht, determined to make him her permanent boytoy, far, far away from American justice…

Never short of an idea and blessed with the luck of the damned, Buz’s escape results in a terrifying conflagration and the seeming death of his obsessed inamorata – but Sultry’s body isn’t recovered…

It takes a lot of pleading to get Mr. Wright to give him another chance but, soon after, Buz and Sweeney are winging north to Greenland to stop a crazed sniper taking pot-shots at aircraft passing over the “Roof of the World”.

This savage, visceral extended saga soon reveals the shooter to be a deranged leftover Nazi and his hapless attendants, but the heroes’ astonishing hunt for and capture of the Teutonic trio is as nothing compared to the harrowing trek to get them back to civilisation: especially since poor Roscoe is putty in the hands of Frieda, beautiful devil-daughter of the utterly mad Baron von Schlingle.

Before Buz get the survivors home safely, he loses his plane, has to forcibly trek across melting floes, gets them all stranded on a iceberg and even has his pretty-boy face marred forever…

Worst of all by the time he gets back to civilisation his job no longer exists. Mr. Wright has quit and moved on to another company…

It’s not all bad news: Wright has euphemistically become “Personnel Director” for Frontier Oil, a truly colossal conglomerate active all over Earth and wants Buz to carry on his unique problem-solving career for his new employers.

Despite a large bump in salary, the weary war hero is undecided – until he hears Christy is helping her father in the Central American nation of Salvaduras in his role as a geologist for Frontier Oil. This happily ties in with an outstanding missing persons case; said vanished victim being Bill Daniels, playboy son of a prominent company executive.

It takes very little to convince Wright to despatch Buz and Roscoe south of the border to investigate, opening the floodgates to a spectacular epic of light-hearted romantic adventure a world apart from the previous harrowing tale…

The story also saw Crane and Co. merging the Daily and Sunday strips into a single storyline (with the Sundays primarily illustrated by Schlensker) as the boys tried to trace the missing American in a country that seems locked in fear and poverty…

After initially hitting a wattle-and-daub wall, Buz takes time off for a picnic with Christy and, after a close call with a faux Mexican bandit (in actuality a Yankee fugitive from justice with an atrocious fake accent), declares his undying lover for her.

He is not rebuffed and there’s the hint of wedding bells in the air…

First however he and Sweeney need to finish their mission, and help comes from a brave peon who breaks the regional code of silence to put them on the trail of the mysterious Ranch of the Caves and its American émigré who runs the isolated canton with blood and terror.

After romancing the daughter of vicious “Don Jaime” Buz and Roscoe infiltrate the desolate fiefdom and the gang boss’ international band of thugs, discovering not only the very much alive missing playboy but an incredible lost Mayan treasure trove…

Mission accomplished, Buz returns to New York to marry Christy, only to find he’s already needed elsewhere. Christy too is having doubts, worried that she will always play second fiddle to her man’s lust for action, whereas in truth the real problem is that trouble usually comes looking for Buz…

Boarding a Frontier plane for the Yukon, Sawyer is merely a collateral casualty when the ship’s other passenger is kidnapped. The mysterious men abducting plastic surgeon Dr. Wing take their helpless hostages all the way to deepest Africa where they expected the medic to change the face of an infamous madman everybody in the world believes died in a Berlin Bunker…

Tragically the fanatics are not prepared for the physician’s dauntless sense of duty and sacrifice nor Buz’s sheer determination to survive…

The latter part of this tale describes Buz’s epic river trek with mercenary turncoat honey-trap Kitty as they flee from the vengeful Nazis, but even after reaching the coast and relative safety the insidious reach of the war-criminals is not exhausted and one final attack looms…

Eventually Buz returns to New York alone and wins time from the slave-driving Mr. Wright to settle things with Christy. He follows her to Nantucket Sound but even their romantic sailboat ride turns into a life-changing adventure…

This splendid collection is the perfect means of discovering – or reconnecting with – Crane’s second magnum opus: spectacular, enthralling, exotically immediate romps that influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers.

Buz Sawyer ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: stirring, thrilling, outrageously funny and deeply moving tale-telling that is irresistible and utterly unforgettable.
Buz Sawyer: Sultry’s Tiger © 2012 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © 2012 the respective copyright holders. All Strips © 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 2: “Well, Blow Me Down”

By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-874-9 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894.His father was a handyman, and Elzie’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator and house-painter, and played drums, accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre. When the town got a movie house he played for the silent films, absorbing the staging, timing and narrative tricks from the close observation of the screen that would become his bread-and-butter as a cartoonist. He was working as the film projectionist when, aged 18, he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others, Segar studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio (from where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world), before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – arguably the inventor of newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown – who got him an introduction at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, Segar’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to New York and the King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre – launched December 19th 1919 – in the New York Journal. A pastiche of Movie features similar to Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies it boasted a standardised repertory cast who acted out melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies, for huge daily audiences. The core cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl, their lanky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple, sometime boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later just Ham Gravy).

In 1924 Segar followed up with second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic sitcom featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (obviously quite a common name, hmm?).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, shambled on stage midway through the adventure ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”) and once his part was played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular, and as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. Eventually the strip was changed to Popeye and all of the old gang except Olive were consigned to oblivion…

Popeye inspired Segar. The near decade of funny thrillers that followed revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (but sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his self-aware humour) and captivated the whole wide world.

The astonishingly unique cast of characters invented during this period – Sea Hag, Toar, Poopdeck Pappy, Swee’pea, Eugene the Jeep, Alice the Goon, George W. Geezil, and especially J. Wellington Wimpy (potentially as big and innovative a star as Popeye) and even Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle in the Sappo daily strip which had evolved into the Sunday Popeye “Topper” – all individually verge on manic brilliance, and combined to make Popeye a global figure to rival Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes and, latterly, Mickey Mouse. To most of the world Popeye was real…

All the attendant peripherals of a major brand gravitated to Popeye. There were toys, games premiums, books, comics, film, radio shows, and especially those incredible animated cartoons. Tragically, Segar died at the height of his creative powers and with so much more magic still to make on 13th October 1938; sole creator of an incredible galaxy of imagination, but his legacy briefly lived on through his brilliant assistant Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf – although the syndicate appointed Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zaboly to work on the printed strip before letting Bud loose on it in 1959 – whilst the animated features increasingly became the main means of bringing Popeye to the world. It just wasn’t the same, though.

When Sagendorf returned, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool once more. He wrote and drew Popeye until Bobby London took over in 1986.

These superb hardback collections are the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales. The second huge and still readily-available volume (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches) from 2007 contains a fascinating essay from historian Donald Phelps, a testimonial from Mort “Beetle Bailey” Walker – which includes the beautiful inspirational drawing Segar sent the young fan in 1934 – and another batch of incredible tales from the daily and Sunday strips.

The dailies black-&-white section (covering December 22nd 1930 to June 6th 1932) sees Popeye, Castor and Olive soar to stardom in the fabulous western spoof ‘Clint Gore, the Outlaw’ and strike a blow for the Depression-era poor by inventing a financial institution that gives money away in ‘A One-Way Bank’, before resuming their globe-trotting adventuring in ‘The Great Rough-House War’ and its immediate sequel ‘Tragedy in the Land of Saps’ wherein the very peculiar King Blozo of Nazilia seeks aid to end a war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tonsylania – although the real problem seems to be his own over-ambitious Generals and the fact that all his soldiers are cowards…

This classy screwball epic displays Segar’s trenchant skill with the sharp swift scalpel of satire as well as broad slapstick, and has glorious overtones of if not actual influences upon the Marx Brothers gem “Duck Soup.” With an initially reluctant Popeye compelled by his sense of duty to become King of the unlovable Nazilians, it’s also where the superman sailor reveals for the first time the strength inducing properties of spinach…

From there Popeye and Olive head back to the wild, wild west to visit ‘Skullyville, Toughest Town in the World’ and we’re treated (I think that’s the word) to the unforgettable yet frankly grisly vision of Olive Oyl as a bar-hall dancer in a raucous, ridiculous romp that’s jam-packed with lampooned cowboy clichés and hilariously brilliant original gags.

The full-colour Sunday pages cover March 1st 1931 to October 2nd 1932, with increasingly absurdist Sappo toppers thoroughly complimenting the whacky shenanigans of the lead feature.

May 8th is particularly noteworthy for the first appearance of insane Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle – another Segar walk-on who would usurp his host feature…

The Popeye strip continues the uproarious and exceedingly violent boxing career of the one-eyed sea-dog, who took on all exceedingly monstrous comers, including the awesome man-mountain Tinearo, Kid Klutch (a giant gorilla) and even a robot boxer as the increasingly obsessive and belligerent Mr. Kilph, crazed by his inability to beat the grizzled sailor-man, slipped slowly into utter wackadoodleness.

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents Popeye pursues his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive with desperate verve, if little success, but his life is forever changed when the ever-so-corruptible and adorably contemptible J. Wellington Wimpy makes his debut.

The engaging Mr. Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman debuted on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed referee in the bombastic month-long bout against Tinearo, but he obviously struck a chord with Segar who gradually made him a (usually unwelcome) fixture. Always ravenous, ever happy and eager to take a bribe, we learned his name in the May 24th instalment and he utters the first of his many immortal catchphrases a month later.

It was June 21st – but “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”, like most phrases everybody knows, actually started as ‘Cook me up a hamburger, I’ll pay you Thursday’

There’s far more of Wimpy’s incredible presence in volume 3, but for now another aspect of Popeye’s complex character is revealed in an extended sequence running from May 29th 1932 through July 17th, one that quickly secured his place in reader’s hearts.

The sailor was a rough-hewn orphan, who loved to gamble and fight, not too smart and superhumanly powerful, but he was a big-hearted man with an innate sense of decency who hated injustice – even if he couldn’t pronounce it. When Mary Ann, a starving little girl, tries to sell him a flower he adopts her, taking her from the brutal couple who use her in a begging racket. He grows to love her and there’s a genuine sense of happy tragedy when he finds her real parents and gives her up. That such a rambunctious, action-packed comedy adventure serial could so easily turn an audience into sobbing, sentimental pantywaists is a measure of just how great a spellbinder Segar was…

These tales are as vibrant and compelling now as they’ve ever been and comprise a world classic of graphic literature that only a handful of creators have ever matched. Despite some astounding successors in the drawing seat, no one has ever bettered Segar’s Popeye and these superb volumes are books you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. Don’t miss them.
© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf

By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-747-4 (HB)                eISBN: 978-1-68406-381-9

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 saga of vaudevillian archetypes Ham Gravy and Castor Oyl on January 17th 1929, nobody suspected the giddy heights that walk-on would reach…

Yes, folks, its’s Happy 90th Anniversary for the old swab, who’s still going strong under the aegis of veteran cartoonist Hy Eisman (Kerry Drake, Little Iodine, Bunny, The Katzenjammer Kids, Little Lulu). Parent strip Thimble Theatre turns one hundred this year too, so there’s that to celebrate as well…

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.

It even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf…

After Segar’s tragic and far too premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the printed strip even as animated short features brought Popeye to the entire world via the magic of movies. 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 took over, 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 – including the majority of licensed merchandise – for 24 years. Sagendorf retired in 1986 after which “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London took over the Sailorman’s voyages and died in 1994.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards he wrote and drew 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 this enchanting full-colour hardback (also available in a digital edition) is an admittedly arbitrary and far from definitive selection of the Young Master’s compelling funnybook canon from Dell, spanning February/April 1948 to September 1957. Other yarns are readily available in IDW’s Popeye Classics series and I’ll be plugging those in the fullness of time.

The stunning, seemingly stream-of-consciousness stories are preceded here by an effusively appreciative Introduction from Jerry Beck before ‘Ahoy, Ya Swabs!’ relates history and recollection from inspired aficionado and historian/publisher Craig Yoe augmented by a fabulous collation of candid photos, original comicbook art, more.

Especial gems are Bud’s 1956 lessons on backgrounds from the Famous Artists Cartoon Course, series of postcards and the Red Cross booklet produced for sailors.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, with no ads and duo-coloured (black and red) single page strips on the inside front and back covers. From that premiere issue a full-coloured crisis comes as ‘Shame on You! or Gentlemen Do Not Fight! or You’re a Ruffian, Sir!’ sees our salty swab earning a lucrative living as an occasional prize-fighter. That all ends when upcoming contender Kid Kabagge and his cunning manager Mr. Tillbox use a barrage of psychological tricks to put Popeye off his game. The key component is electing his sweetie Olive Oyl President of the fictitious Anti-Fisticuff Society to convince her man to stop being a beastly ruffian and abandon violence. It only works until the fiery frail learns she’s been gulled…

Next up is the lead tale from #9, (October/November) as ‘Misermites! or I’d Rather Have Termites!’ details how the peaceful coastal town of Seawet is plagued by an invasion of plundering dwarves. When the petty pilferers vanish back to their island with “orphink kid” Swee’ Pea as part of their spoils, Popeye and Wimpy give chase and end up battling a really, really big secret weapon…

‘Witch Whistle’ comes from Popeye #12 (April/May 1950) and sees the sailor revisit the embattled kingdom of Spinachovia where old King Blozo is plagued by a rash of vanishing farmers. The cause is sinister old nemesis the Sea Witch whose army of giant vultures seem unbeatable until Popeye intervenes…

‘Interplanetary Battle’ comes from Popeye #21 (July-September 1952) and taps into the growing fascination with UFOs as Wimpy innocently seeks to aid his old pal. When no prize fighter on Earth will box with Popeye, the helpful vagabond broadcasts a message to the universe and what answers the call is a bizarre shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiable J. Wellington Wimpy debuted on in the Newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous but polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘Let’s you and him fight’ – Wimpy was the perfect foil for a simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

From Popeye #25 (July-September 1953), ‘Shrink Weed’ then details how some “wild spinach” reduces the old salt and baby Swee’ Pea to the size of insects with potentially dire and outrageous consequences before the entire cast visit ‘The Happy Little Island’ (Popeye #27, January-March 1954) and confront subsurface creatures doing their darndest to spoil that jolly atmosphere.

An epic thrill-fest manifests in ‘Alone! or Hey! Where is Everybody? or Peoples is All Gone!’ (#32, April-June 1955) as humans are abducted from all over the coast, leading Popeye into another ferocious battle with evil machines and his most persistent enemy, after which another family sea-voyage results in the cast being castaway on an island of irascible invisible folk in ‘Nothing!’ (#34, October-December 1955) before the fun concludes in sheer surreal strife as Popeye #41 (July-September 1957) displays capitalism at its finest when Olive gets a new boyfriend: one with a regular job and prospects. Stung to retaliate, Popeye devises ‘Spinach Soap!’ to secure his own fortune, but being un-ejjikated, rough-and-ready appoints Wimpy as his boss. Big mistake…

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good, and some are truly excellent. The one in this book is definitely one of the latter and if you love lunacy, laughter and rollicking adventure you must now read this.
Popeye: The Great Comic Book Tales by Bud Sagendorf © 2018 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2018 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Flash Gordon Volume 1

By Alex Raymond with Don Moore (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 978-0-97416-643-8 (HB)

By many lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but clunky Buck Rogers of Philip Nolan & Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th but in 1929), a new element was added to the wonderment: Classical Lyricism.

Where Rogers had traditional adventures and high science concepts, the new feature reinterpreted Fairy Tale, Heroic Epics and Mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for Galleons, Chariots and Magic Carpets.

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for concise, elegant detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Most of the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (which also began in 1934 – and he’ll get his go another day).

Thankfully there are a few collections knocking about, but I’m plumping here for the 2003 Checker hardcover which combines quality reproduction with affordability…

The very first tale begins with a rogue planet about to smash into the Earth. As panic grips the planet, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escape disaster when a meteor fragment downs the airplane they are on. They land on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisons them on the rocket-ship he has built. His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it!

And that’s just in the first, 13-panel episode. ‘On the Planet Mongo’ ran every Sunday until April 15th 1934, when, according to this wonderful full-colour book, second adventure ‘Monsters of Mongo’ began, promptly followed by ‘Tournaments…’ and ‘Caverns of Mongo’.

To the readers back then, of course, there were no such artificial divisions. There was just one continuous, unmissable Sunday appointment with sheer wonderment.

The machinations of the utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; Flash’s battles and alliances with all the myriad exotic races subject to the Emperor’s will and the gradual victory over oppression captivated America, and the World, in tales that seemed a direct contrast to the increasingly darker reality in the days before World War II.

In short order the Earthlings become firm friends – and in the case of Flash and Dale, much more – as they encounter beautiful, cruel Princess Aura, the Red Monkey Men, Lion Men, Shark Men, Dwarf Men, King Vultan and the Hawkmen.

The rebellion against Ming begins with the awesome ‘Tournaments of Mongo’, a sequence spanning November 25th to February 24th 1935 – and where Raymond seemed to simply explode with confidence.

It was here that the true magic began, with every episode more spectacular than the last. Without breaking step Raymond moved on, and the next tale, which leaves this book on something of a cliffhanger, sees our hero enter ‘The Caverns of Mongo’.

Don Moore “assisted” Raymond with the writing, beginning soon after the strip first gained popularity, and Moore remained after Raymond departed. The artist joined the Marines in February 1944, and the last page he worked on was published on April 30th of that year. Mercifully, that still leaves a decade’s worth of spectacular, majestic adventure for us to enjoy. Why don’t you join me?
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc.

The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories

By John Stanley, Walt Kelly, Richard Scarry, Jack Bradbury, Klaus Nordling, Mike Sekowsky, Alberto Giolitti & various: edited and designed by Craig Yoe with Clizia Gussoni (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-773-3(HB); 978-1-68405-009-3(TPB); eISBN: 978-1-68406-352-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Clue is in the Title… 10/10

Justifiably revered for his brilliant newspaper strip Pogo, and perhaps even his wonderful Our Gang tales, the incredible Walt Kelly also has a pretty strong claim to owning the traditional childhood Christmas. From 1942 until he abandoned comic-books for newsprint he produced stories and magazines dedicated to the season of Good Will for West Coast publishing giant Dell.

Santa Claus Funnies and Christmas with Mother Goose were a Holidays institution in both their Four Color and Dell Giant incarnations and the sheer beauty and charm of Kelly’s work defined what Christmas should be for two generations. Kelly transferred his affinity for the best of all fantasy worlds to the immortal Pogo but still was especially associated with the Festive season. Many publications sought out his special touch. Even the Christmas 1955 edition of Newsweek starred Kelly and Co on the cover.

And now, thanks to that dedicated champion preserver of America Comics Past Craig Yoe, I can add a wealth of other great creators and stories to our communal seasonal joy-fest, as this cracking tome – available in all physical and electronic formats – celebrates Yuletide comic classics.

Offering old masters and vintage delights from Santa Claus Funnies # 61, 91,128, 175, 205, 302, 361, 867, 1154 and 1274 (1944-1962) and 1962’s Santa Claus Funnies #1, plus material from A Christmas Treasury #1 1954, Sleepy Santa (1948), Ha Ha Comics #49 (1947), Santa and the Pirates (1953), Here Comes Santa (1960), Christmas at the Rotunda, Giant Comics #3 (1957) and Christmas Carnival volume 1 #2 (1954) this superb funfest opens with a silent short by Kelly revealing the Big (in red) Man’s working practice, & Mo Gollub introducing ‘The Christmas Mouse’ (from Santa Clause Funnies #126 and #175) before we enjoy a Seasonal message (illustrated by Mel Millar) revealing ‘Hey Kids, Christmas Comics!’

‘How Santa Got his Red Suit’ is a superbly imaginative, gnome-stuffed origin fable by Kelly from Santa Claus Funnies # 61, after which H.R. Karp & Jack Bradbury reveal the salutary saga of ‘Blitzen, Jr.’ as first seen in Ha Ha Comics #49 and a tragically uncredited team disclose in prose-&-picture format the magical adventure of ‘Santa and the Pirates’, taken from a booklet premium released by Promotional Publishing Co. NYC.

As rendered by the inimitable John Stanley SCF #1154’s ‘Santa’s Problem’ explores the good intentions and bad habits of polar bears before Mike Sekowsky contributes a concise and workmanlike adaptation of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens (from A Christmas Treasury #1) before Kelly returns with the heart-warming tale of ‘A Mouse in the House’ (SCF #128).

Stanley strikes again with ‘The Helpful Snowman’ (Here Comes Santa) offering aerial assistance to Kris Kringle whilst ‘Christmas at the Rotunda’ offers a classy version of ‘The Shoemaker and the Elves’ courtesy of Elsa Jane Werner & Richard Scarry, after which cognoscenti can see potent prototypes for Pogo characters in 1945’s ‘Christmas Comes to the Woodland’ (SCF #91): another whimsical Kelly classic.

Imbecilic but well-meaning elf Scamper causes mayhem and ‘Santa’s Return Trip’ in wry delight from John Stanley & Irving Tripp (from SCF #1274) after which Stanley & Dan Gormley craft an epic voyage for determined rugrats Cathy and David as they deliver ‘A Letter for Santa’ (Santa Claus Funnies #1).

Another masterful Kelly prose-&-picture fable then recounts the sentimental journey of ‘Ticky Tack, the Littlest Reindeer’ (SCF #205) and the animal crackerz continue as a lost puppy finds friendship and a new home in ‘Sooky’s First Christmas’ (Stanley & Gormley from SCF #867)…

Charlton Comics were late to the party for X-mas strips but their glorious Giant Comics #3 from 1957 provides here both Frank Johnson’s anarchic ‘Lil’ Tomboy in It Was the Day Before Christmas…’ and an extra-length action-packed romp for Al Fago to masterfully orchestrate in ‘Atomic Mouse in The Night before Christmas’. Separating those yarns is a deft updating of Clement Clark Moore’s ubiquitous ode in ‘The Night before Christmas’ by Dan Gormley from A Christmas Treasury #1…

In 1947, Walt Kelly set his sights on consolidating a new Holiday mythology and succeeded with outrageous aplomb in ‘The Great Three-Flavoured Blizzard’ (Santa Claus Funnies #175) as an unseasonal warm spell precipitates a crisis and necessitates the making of a new kind of snow, before the fabulous Klaus Nordling contributes a stylish comedy of errors with ‘Joe and Jennifer in the Wonderful Snowhouse’ from Christmas Carnival volume 1 #2.

Bringing things to a close Dan Noonan concocts a staffing crisis for Santa to solve with the aid of ‘Teddy Bear in Toyland’ (SCF #91, 1950) after which we enjoy a moment of sober reflection as ‘The Christmas Story’ – according to St. Matthew’s gospel and illuminated by Alberto Giolitti – (A Christmas Treasury #1) reminds us that for many people it’s not just about loot, excess and fantasy.

Kelly then ushers us out with a brace of end pieces encompassing a poetic hunt for the old boy and a silent silly symphony from ‘The Carollers’

It absolutely baffles me that Kelly and his peers’ unique and universally top-notch Christmas tales – and Batman’s too for that matter – are not re-released every November for the Yule spending spree. Christmas is all about nostalgia and good old days and there is no bigger sentimental sap on the planet than your average comics punter. And once these books are out there their supreme readability will quickly make converts of the rest of the world.

Just you wait and see…
The Great Treasury of Christmas Comic Book Stories © 2018 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Material reprinted: Sleepy Santa © 1948 Belda Record & Publishing Co. Ha Ha Comics #49 © Creston Publications Corporation. Santa and the Pirates © 1953 Promotional Publishing Co. NYC. Christmas at the Rotunda © 1955 Ford Motor Company and Artists and Writers Guild, Inc. Giant Comics #3 © 1957 Charlton Comics Group Christmas Carnival vol. 1 #2 St. John Publishing Corp. ©1954. © Western Printing & Lithographing Co. 1948, 1950, 1951, 1954, 1957, 1960, 1961, 1962. © 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, Oscar Lebek/Dell Publishing, Western Printing & Lithographing Co.

The Juggler of Our Lady – the Classic Christmas Story

By R. O. Blechman with a Foreword by Jules Feiffer and Introduction by Maurice Sendak (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80030-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A truly immaculate confection… 10/10

Christmas is not just about shiny new toys and sparkly knitwear. It’s just as much about unearthing or revisiting old, beloved and almost totally forgotten treasures.

Here’s a superb case in point – a magnificent hardback picture-perfect gift that’s still readily available – thanks to the perspicacious souls at Dover Books…

Oscar Robert Blechman is a glittering star in America’s graphic arts firmament and an international superstar. Brooklyn-born in 1930, he has excelled as cartoonist, illustrator, author, animator/Director, editorial cartoonist, Editorial Director and ad-man.

He’s won awards for his commercials and TV specials and been venerated in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. His anti-Vietnam cartoons graced The Village Voice through the early 1970s whilst his cartoons and illustrations appeared in such prestigious vehicles as Punch, The New Yorker, Trump, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Show, Theater Arts and Humbug.

He’s also produced fascinating graphic narratives such as Georgie and can reasonably claim to have produced one of the very first English-language Graphic Novels… and thus beginneth today’s lesson…

In 1952 Blechman used his groundbreaking and soon-to-be phenomenally influential minimalist line-style – deftly augmented with judicious watercolours – to make a much-told tale all his own.

The Juggler of Our Lady was his first book: initially published by Henry Holt, and superbly fetishized and commemorated through brother-cartoonist Maurice Sendak’s fondly emotional Introduction in this sublime new pocket hardback edition. The slim tome became a landmark in graphic narrative and is beloved by generations.

Anatole France’s 1892 tale Le Jongleur de Notre Dame is probably the most widely accepted version of the original medieval religious-miracle legend but there have been so many others that the story is as much part of most people’s seasonal landscape as Santa Claus or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Blechman’s reinvigoration retains all the awe and wonder, whilst adding such a potent blend of wry humour, pitiful humility and gentle hope to the mix that it can make a grown man weep. In 1958 his book became an animated Terrytoons TV short with a huge impact when it was adapted by Al Kouzel & Gene Deitch and narrated by that legendary Spirit of Christmas Fun Boris Karloff…

You know the story: Cantalbert is an itinerant juggler who loves his work. He feels that if more people juggled there would less time for war and misery and folk would act better, feel better and be better.

Nobody, however, will listen and the despondent performer – hungry for spirituality – joins a monastery. Even here he does not fit in and is saddened by his lack of suitable talents to venerate The Lord and especially The Virgin Mary…

Everything comes to a head on Christmas Eve when the monks all display the magnificent presents they have made for the Madonna and poor Cantalbert has nothing worthy to give.

Later, when all is quiet, the sad juggler offers the only thing he knows and loves to the statue of The Virgin and something wonderful happens…

Deftly deconstructed and wondrously appreciated in a Foreword by Comics and Cartooning Titan Jules Feiffer, The Juggler of Our Lady is a masterpiece of graphic dexterity and an utterly beguiling experience no lover of the storytelling arts should be without.

Text and illustrations © 1997 R. O. Blechman. Foreword © 1997 2015 Jules Feiffer. Introduction © 1980 Maurice Sendak. All rights reserved.
Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comic or bookshop.

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans

By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-179-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Cutting Edge Crime and a Ripping Holiday Read… 8/10

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange tales and wry oddments, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, Bop, National Lampoon, Vanguard, Bizarre Sex, Fear and Laughter, Gates of Eden, RAW and High Times.

For these illustrious venues he honed a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover or Trotsky and his multi-volume Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grandmaster and towering presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murders ever committed since policing began combine a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation. These are filtered through a fascination with and understanding of the lethal propensities of humanity as his forensic eye scours police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile irresistibly enthralling documentaries.

In 2008 he turned to the last century for ongoing series Treasury of XXth Century Murder, focusing on scandals which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middle class America. He has not, however, forsaken his delight in fiction nor his gift for graphic biography.

Delivered in stark monochrome in either luxurious collectors’ hardback, accessible eBook or engaging paperback editions like this one, his investigations diligently sift fact from mythology to detail the grisliest events in modern history.

Geary’s tales are so compelling because the subject matter methodology resonates through his quirky illustration. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

This particular chiller-thriller comes – after far too long a wait – as a cheap-&-cheerful paperback release of a 2010 offering but it’s still a grand outing for lovers of macabre history…

Geary’s forensic eye scoured the data and scores a palpable if rather unpalatable hit here with a relatively unknown serial killer saga that would make an incredible film – if only the fiend had ever been caught!

In 1918 with the Great War moving into the inevitable End-game the iconic and legend-laden city of New Orleans suffered a chilling campaign of terror that lasted well over a year with far-reaching repercussions felt clear across the United States.

As explained in the captivating capsule history that opens this moreish monochrome and exceedingly noir thriller, New Orleans was founded by the French in 1717, lost to the Spanish in 1763, seized by Napoleon in 1802 and then sold to the Americans a year later. That makes it one of the oldest and certainly most eclectic, eccentric, artistic and elegant cities in the USA.

By 1918 it was a huge, sprawling and vital hub of trade and commerce, peopled by a vast melting pot of immigrant populations. On the night of May 23rd an Italian couple running a grocery store were hacked to death by an intruder who broke into their home and attacked them with their own household axe.

Over the next 18 months a phantom killer would, under the horrifying glare of public scrutiny, kill six people, maim and mutilate another half dozen and hold the entire city a virtual hostage with insane proclamations and demands. He – if it was, indeed, a man – was often seen but never apprehended.

Geary is as meticulous and logical as ever, forensically dissecting the various attacks, examining the similarities and, more importantly, the differences whilst dutifully pursuing the key figures to their unlikely ends.

All the victims were grocers of Italian origin (leading to a supposed Mafia connection) except for the ones who were not, which possibly refuted the theory but equally suggested opportunistic copy-cat killers. A number of personal grievances among the victims led to many false arrests and even convictions, and the killer or killers left many survivors who all agreed on a general description but all subsequently identified different suspects. There’s even a broader than usual hint of supernatural overtones.

Occurring at the very birth of the Jazz Age, this utterly compelling tale is jam-packed with intriguing snatches of historical minutiae, plus beautifully rendered maps and plans which bring the varied locations to moody life: yet another Geary production tailor-made for a Cluedo special edition!

The author presents the facts and theories with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, and this enigma is every bit as compelling as his other homicidal forays: a perfect example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. This merrily morbid series of murder masterpieces should be mandatory reading for all comic fans, mystery addicts and crime collectors.
© 2010 Rick Geary. All Rights Reserved.

The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans will be published on December 15th 2018 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com.

William the Backwards Skunk

By Chuck Jones (Crown Publishers Inc.)
ISBN: 978-0517560631

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Classic Yarn Reeking of Sheer Quality… 10/10

There have been a few modern geniuses who wield a pencil and paintbrush. We tend not to notice them in the world of comics, which I suppose would explain why so many of our contemporary artists work in animation these days. I don’t know if Charles Martin Jones ever worked in comics – or even if he ever wanted to – but as ‘Chuck’ he produced some of the greatest and funniest animated cartoons the world has ever seen.

Chuck (September 21st 1912-February 22nd 2002) was filmmaker, screenwriter, animator, cartoonist, author and artist who worked for Warner Bros., MGM and others, ran his own studio – Chuck Jones Enterprises – and made billions of people laugh. His Looney Toons, Merrie Melodies and Tom and Jerry short films are unmistakeable and he probably wrote, produced and directed your favourite Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons and hundreds of others besides.

He was nominated for 8 Oscars and won three, and received an Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for his lifetime contributions.

During World War II he worked with Theodore Geisel – who abandoned cartooning and animation for a career in kid’s books as the legendary Dr. Seuss – on a series of educational cartoon features for the US Army featuring Private Snafu. That relationship would eventually and circuitously lead to the animated TV classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas (accept no live-action or computer-animated substitutes!).

Way back in 1986 Chuck Jones topped a career of astounding creativity and uproarious humour with this picture-book for the very young. William is a skunk with a little problem. The Usual Skunk not only has that potent chemical weapon we all know and dread, but they also have a beautiful bold stripe on their backs so as to give any big animal sneaking up on them a fair chance to change their minds. Sadly, William’s stripe is on his front, which causes problems for every animal in the forest.

This charming little fable about cooperation is a sweet delight and the art is utterly joyous. This is a man who knew “Cute” and how to milk it, and more importantly, when to lampoon it.

His critters positively drip with Attitude, and any child’s delight could only be marred if the adult reading this aloud is unable to stifle their own knowing chortles.

Jones’ work informed generations of kids and creators in comics as well as cartoons. His legacy can be found in titles as varied as Dell’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies comics, or the timeless Bugs & Daffy iterations still wowing contemporary kids in DC’s WB comicbooks.

Track down this fabulous hardback and you could be carrying on that tradition to the next generation…
© 1986 Chuck Jones Enterprises. All rights reserved.


By Steven Weissman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-866-4

Steven Weissman was born in California in 1968 and grew up to be an exceptionally fine and imaginative cartoonist. He’s worked for Alternative Comics, Last Gasp, Dark Horse, Marvel, DC, Vice and Nickelodeon Magazine among others, and his artistic sensibilities have been influenced and shaped by such disparate forces as Super-Deformed manga, “Our Gang” comedies, Abbott and Costello, Dan Clowes, Mike Allred and Peanuts – the strip, not the versatile if sometimes potentially fatal foodstuff.

Much of his groundbreaking, award-winning early work, dating from the mid-1990s, offered a post-modern, skewed and alternative view of friendship, childhood, world weirdness and people’s meanness and can all be enjoyed over and over again in such stunning compilations as Tykes, Lemon Kids, Don’t Call Me Stupid, White Flower Day, Chocolate Cheeks and others. The French and Japanese – who really know quality comics – love him lots and have done so for years.

In 2012 Weissman literally went back to the drawing board, un-and-re-creating himself and his aesthetic methodology for a and unbelievably enchanting hardcover weekly online strip entitled Barack Hussein Obama which has since been collected into a series of stunning cartoon books about the unsuspected nature of modern America. Gosh, I miss those days…

Today though in the spirit of the season we’re revisiting some of his earlier material…

If there is such a thing as ‘Dark and Comforting’ then Weissman’s weird and wicked early cartooning is a perfect example. Following the success of Chewing Gum in Church and Kid Firechief, Fantagraphics promptly compiled earlier works from his self-published Yikes!; amply supplemented with other rare and even unpublished strips to create a lovely insight into the development of a truly unique graphic vision.

These 32 tales, (still available in paperback and digital editions) were all created between 1993 and 2002, and feature his cast of deeply peculiar children in a macabre tribute to Charles Schulz’s signature strip, but they are also literal embodiments of the phrase “little monsters”.

In simple childhood romps such as ‘The See-Thru Boy’, ‘The Loneliest Girl in Town’, ‘Inevitable Time-Travel Story’, ‘No Kiss!’ and many others, the bizarre cast of Li’l Bloody (a child vampire), Kid Medusa, Pullapart Boy and X-Ray Spence live an idyllically suburban 1950’s existence of school, fishing, skateboards, white picket fences, aliens, wheelchair jousting, marbles and weird science.

Weissman’s seductive cast all have huge round heads and ancient bodies like graphic progeria-sufferers, but the drawing is lavish, seductive and utterly convincing.

These are great comics about kids (but perhaps regarded as Best Not For Kids) that are a treat, a revelation and most definitely darkly comforting.
MEAN © 2007 Fantagraphics Books. All content © 2007 Steven Weissman. All Rights Reserved.

Faceache volume one: The First 100 Scrunges

By Ken Reid, with Ian Mennell & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-601-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Masterfully Macabre Mirthquakes… 10/10

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

He was another of those rebellious, youthful artistic prodigies who, largely unsung, went about transforming British Comics: entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself with constant scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes and hanging about in cafes.

Undaunted he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. He talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963, with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Reid’s brother-in-law was Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work.

On April 18th 1953 Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 and created numerous others including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx among many more.

In 1964 Reid and fellow unappreciated superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship and began working for DCT’s arch rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs in Wham! and Smash! as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Faceache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time he continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Creepy Creations, Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd, whilst at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Faceache strip.

On Reid’s passing the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancelation in October 1988.

The astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is a perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and revolves around a typically unruly and unlovely scrofulous schoolboy making great capital out of a unique gift, albeit often to his own detriment and great regret…

Ricky Rubberneck early discovered an appalling (un)natural ability of scrunching (or “scrungeing”) up his face into such ghastly contortions that he could revolt, disgust and terrify anyone who gazed upon him. Over the weeks and years, the modern medusa worked hard to polish his gifts until his foul fizzog could attain any formation. Eventually his entire body could be reshaped to mimic any creature or form, real or imagined. Naturally, he used his powers to play pranks, take petty vengeances, turn a temporary profit, deal with bullies and impress his pals.

Just as naturally, those efforts frequently resulted in the standard late 20th century punishments being dealt out by his dad, teachers and sundry other outraged adults…

This stunning hardback (and eBook) celebration – hopefully the first of many – is part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics and collects all 22 Jet episodes (spanning May 1st – 29th September 1971, plus the remaining 78 from Buster & Jet beginning with October 2nd and concluding with March 24th 1973.

The potent package is garnished with an appreciative Introduction by Alan Moore – ‘The Unacceptable Face of British Comics’ – a fondly intimate reminiscence in Antony J. Reid’s ‘My Father Ken Reid’ and a full biography of the great man…

What follows is an outrageous outpouring of raw cartoon creativity as Reid, writing and drawing with inspired effulgence, spins a seemingly infinite skein of comedy gold on his timeless theme of a little boy who makes faces at the world.

Weekly deadlines are a ferocious foe however, and a couple of strips reprinted were written by unsung pro Ian Mennell, whilst – between January and September 1972 – a fill-in artist (possibly Robert Nixon?) illustrated 16 episodes, presumably as Reid’s other commitments such as Jasper the Grasper, The Nervs or his numerous funny football features in Scorcher & Score mounted.

In these pages though, the accent is on madcap tomfoolery as the plastic-pussed poltroon undergoes a succession of fantastic facial reconfigurations: terrifying teachers, petrifying posh and pushy landowners, mimicking monstrous beasts, outraging officious officialdom and entertaining an army of schoolboy chums and chumps.

Orchards are raided, competitions are entered, plays and school trips are upstaged and aborted and even actual spooks and horrors are afforded the shocks of their unlives as Faceache gurns his way through an endless parade of hilarious hijinks.

These cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: smart, eternally funny and beautifully rendered. This a treasure-trove of laughs that spans generations and deserves to be in every family bookcase.
© 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Introduction © Alan Moore. Faceache is ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.