Attack of the Stuff – “The Life and Times of Bill Waddler”


By Jim Benton (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-498-8(HB) 978-1-54580-499-5(PB)

Jim Benton began his illustration work making up crazy characters in a T-Shirt shop and designing greetings cards. Born in 1960, he’d grown up in Birmingham, Michigan before studying Fine Arts at Western Michigan University.

Tirelessly earning a living exercising his creativity, he started self-promoting those weird funny things he’d dreamed up and soon was raking in the dosh from properties such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dog of Glee, Franny K. Stein, Just Jimmy, Just Plain Mean, Sweetypuss, The Misters, Meany Doodles, Vampy Doodles, Kissy Doodles, jOkObo and It’s Happy Bunny via a variety of magazines and other venues…

His gags, jests and japes can most accessibly be enjoyed on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded, and his SpyDogs effortlessly made the jump to kids animated TV success.

He seamlessly segued into best-selling cartoon books (those are the best kind) such as Man, I Hate Cursive, Clyde, Catwad and Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats) and now joins the glorious pantheon of authors and artists championed by Papercutz with his latest creation…

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers, combining licensed properties such as The Smurfs and Nancy Drew with intriguing and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and this supremely surreal and outrageous outing…

In a primary-coloured anthropomorphic world, Bill Waddler is a distressed duck with a lot on his mind. His nights are plagued with nightmares about farting snakes inundating him whilst his days make him feel out of touch with hectic modern ways. Is it so hard to just sell his hay the way he always has?

Since Bill has a rather unique talent, his waking life is a bit of a misery too. Whether he wants to or not – and he doesn’t – Bill can communicate with stuff. Appliances, electronics and household objects of every sort all talk to him. Or more accurately they all whine and carp and moan at him. No one wants the toilet expressing her dreams and aspirations during those sacrosanct private moments, or to be mocked by the cruet set or told to stop snoring by the alarm clock…

Moreover, nothing he owns or people he knows care about Bill’s lifelong frustrations at never becoming a musician…

Stuck in this depressing rut, Bill’s life changes the day a curmudgeonly bear has a rant and sets the duck thinking about abandoning civilisation to become a hermit in the wilds of nature…

However, as he vanishes into the wilds to commune with snakes, a global crisis kicks off. The Internet gets into a tizzy and completely shuts down. As the entire planet descends into a chaos of non-communication and everything stops working, someone suggests the baffled experts track down that weird guy who could talk to stuff and see if he can help…

Bizarre, tetchy and hilariously off-kilter, Benton’s daft duck deliverer fends off a very modern apocalypse with astoundingly infectious grumpiness in this fabulously inventive fable that combines gently-barbed social commentary (such as when a cop stands on Bill’s neck and is shamed by his own taser!) and delicious swipes at sexism and gender stereotyping with wild laughs and devious subversion in an ultimately upbeat tale about doing the right thing…

Attack of the Stuff is sheer irresistible fun and on-target educational messaging no one should miss.
© 2020 Jim Benton. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 5

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By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-175-6(HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-720-9

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator, house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918, Segar 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 packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy).

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous 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. This one 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 humour 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 Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. But then, finally, Bud arrived…

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

When Sagendorf became the main man, 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. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards was exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures. These launched in February of that year in a regular monthly title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, 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 digital editions) are issues #20-24 of Popeye’s comic book series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning April-June 1952 to April-June 1953.

The stunning, almost stream-of-consciousness slapstick stories are preceded as ever by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’– by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement.

Every volume includes a collation or ephemera and merchandise courtesy of the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’. Included here are newspaper clippings, ads and assorted trivia such as packaging for candy, toys, stationery, fridge magnets, plates, Dutch newspaper strips & comics covers plus a selection of images from a colouring book.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with #20 which opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning both inside front and back covers. ‘Big House Bill in “House for Rent”’ reveals how a churlish sea snail is inveigled to join the other molluscs’ games…

Sagendorf was a smart guy who kept abreast of trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked and these tales are timeless in approach and delivery. In the era of rapid television expansion, cowboys were King, with westerns dominating both large and small screens as well as plenty of comics. Thus, many sagas featured Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting…

The comics kick off with ‘Here Comes the Bride!!’ detailing how the saddle-sore Sailor-Man upsets a lost tribe of Indians and can only end his sea of trouble by marrying the chief’s beautiful daughter. Of course, that assuming his ferociously possessive – and possibly psychic – sweetie-pie Olive doesn’t find him first…

‘Little Kids Should Have Ice Cream! or Swee’ Pea Gets It!’ then pictures the precocious kid pushing the limits of everyone’s patience to score a cold treat, after which back-up feature Sherman sees another bright spark youngster become an inadvertent counterfeiter – and getaway driver – in ‘Rolling Along!’ The issue concludes with a salutary back cover Popeye gag as Swee’ Pea digs a backyard well with catastrophic results…

Issue #21 of the quarterly delight covered July-September 1952 and again offered a Sagendorf illustrated prose yarn on the interior covers: this one detailing how ‘Harry the People Horse’ attempts to assimilate with humanity by wearing clothes…

The comics commence with ‘Interplanetary Battle’ which taps into the era’s other mass obsession: a growing fascination with UFOs. On Earth prize fighter Popeye cannot find an opponent brave enough to face him, so Wimpy innocently seeks to aid his old pal by broadcasting a message to the universe. Sadly, what answers the clarion call is a bizarre, shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous yet scrupulously 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 is the perfect foil for a simple action hero who increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

After an unseemly moment of jealousy, Popeye is compelled to take over the redecoration of Olive’s house in ‘Paper and Paste’, but his lack of experience and Wimpy’s assistance soon combine to create the usual chaos after which the back-up feature – now redubbed Sherm – finds the kid in dire straits after leaving his wiener dog Winky alone in the ‘Dog House!’

Proceedings again conclude with a back-cover gag involving Swee’ Pea and eggs…

Another prose ‘Horse Tale’ brackets the interiors of #22 (October-December 1952), detailing a desert steed’s gold prospecting woes before the Old Salt suffers a tragic reversal of fortune during a shortage of his favourite vegetable. Sadly, starting a ‘Spinach Farm’ and making a go of it prove distressingly difficult once Wimpy starts helping…

‘Swee’ Pea’s Vacation!’ then sees the valiant nipper take an eventful voyage to Spinachovia, that shatters the island’s economy and devastates their armed forces, before Sherm takes ‘The Long Way Home!’ in a wry episode incorporating a host of puzzles and mazes to keep reader interest honed and the back cover Popeye gag sees Swee’ Pea become a dirt magnet…

Popeye #23 (January-March 1953) opens and closes with prose tale ‘The Rocket Horse’ detailing a non-consensual trip to Mars, whilst lead strip ‘Boom! Boom! or Pirates is Rodents!’ returns the Sailor-Man to his nautical roots to eradicate scurvy corsairs besmirching his beloved seven seas. His only miscalculation is bringing Olive and Wimpy with him…

His sweety takes centre stage in ‘Ship Shape!’ as she tries to make Popeye and his dad Poopdeck Pappy clean up their scruffy sea-going vessel, whist Sherm indulges in winter sports and a spot of detecting when Pa goes missing in ‘Snow-Father!’, and the issue closes with Popeye and Swee’ Pea disastrously disputing ownership of a dingy in the traditional back-cover vignette.

Closing this vivid and varied volume is #24 (April-June), which begins and ends with text triumph ‘Apple House’ – highlighting a housing crisis for cute maggot Vernon Greentop – before cartoon chaos ensues with ‘Popeye an’ Pappy in Golden Street!’ as the seasoned mariners become western prospectors and the incorrigible elderly reprobate finds gold in the most likely place imaginable, leaving Popeye to fix the mess as usual…

Fantasy reigns supreme in ‘Hole in the Mountain!’ as Popeye & Swee’ Pea discover a fantastic unknown kingdom on a desert island ruled by a perilously familiar tyrant before more puzzles and mazes bedevil automobile-mad Sherm and the readership in ‘The Race!’ The last word again goes to a short sharp back-page gag starring innocent demon Swee’ Pea to wrap up another treasure trove of timeless entertainment…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre and its most successful son have unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book – available in sturdy hardback or accessible eBook formats – is simply one of many but definitely top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 5 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Ray & Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics


By Charles Rodrigues, Bob Fingerman & Gary Groth (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-668-3(HB)

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is arguably one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century.

His surreal, absurd, insane, anarchic, socially disruptive and utterly unforgettable bad-taste doodles were delivered with electric vitality and galvanising energetic ferocity in a number of magazines. He was most effective in Playboy, The National Lampoon (from its debut issue) and Stereo Review: the pinnacle of a cartooning career which began after WWII and spanned almost the entire latter half of the 20th century.

After leaving the Navy and relinquishing the idea of writing for a living, Rodrigues used his slice of the G.I. Bill provision to attend New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School (now the School of Visual Arts). In 1950, he began schlepping gags around the low-rent but healthily ubiquitous “Men’s Magazine” circuit and found a natural home. He gradually graduated from those glorified girly-mags to more salubrious publications and in 1954 began a lengthy association with Hugh Hefner in a revolutionary new venture even while still contributing to what seemed like every publication in the nation buying panel gags, from Esquire to TV Guide, Genesis to The Critic.

Rodrigues even found time to create three strips for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate: Eggs Benedict, Casey the Cop and Charlie.

Despite such legitimacies though, the quiet, genteel devout Catholic’s lasting monument is the wealth of truly gob-smacking, sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful strip-series he crafted for The National Lampoon. Editor Henry Beard sought him out in the earliest pre-launch days of 1969, and offered Rodrigues carte blanche, complete creative freedom and a regular full-page spot. He stayed with the prestigious mag from the 1970 debut until 1993, a mainstay of its legendary comics section…

In this superbly appalling hardback or digital tome – bracketed by informative text pieces ‘Introduction: An Appreciation of a Goddamn Great Cartoonist’ and ‘Biography: Charles Rodrigues’ by passionate devotee Bob Fingerman – the parade of diabolical disgust and fetid fun begins with the eponymous ‘Ray and Joe – the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend’ which follows the frankly disturbing buddy-movie path of Joe – whose death doesn’t upset his wife as much as you’d expect. In fact, when the cadaver’s former pal meekly inquires, she’s more than happy to let Ray keep the body. After all, it’s cheaper than a funeral…

There’s no agenda here: Ray just wants to keep his friend around, even going so far as to have him embalmed and put on roller skates. Of course, most people simply don’t understand…

Rodrigues regularly broke all the rules in these strips: taste, decency, even the contract between reader and creator. Often, he would drop a storyline and return to his notional continuities at a later date. Sometimes he would even stop mid-episode and insert a new strip or gag if it offered bigger chortles or shocks…

Next up is ‘Deirdre Callahan – a biography’: the gut-wrenching travails of a little girl so ugly she could cause people’s eyeballs to explode and make almost everyone she met kill themselves in disgust. Of course such a pitiful case – the little lass with a face “too hideous for publication” – did elicit the concern of many upstanding citizens: ambitious plastic surgeons, shyster lawyers, radical terrorists, enemy agents, bored, sadistic billionaires in need of a good laugh, the mother who threw her in a garbage can before fully examining the merchandising opportunities…

The artist’s most long-lived and inspired creation was ‘The Aesop Brothers – Siamese Twins’, which ran intermittently from the early 1970s to 1986 in an unceasing parade of grotesque situations where conjoined George and Alex endured the vicissitudes of a life forever together: the perennial problems of bathroom breaks, getting laid, enjoying a little “me time”…

In the course of their cartoon careers the boys ran away to the circus to be with a set of hot conjoined sisters, but that quickly went bits-up, after which sinister carnival owner Captain Menshevik had them exhibited as a brother/sister act with poor Alex kitted out in drag.

There’s a frantic escapade with a nymphomaniac octogenarian movie goddess, assorted asshole doctors, Howard Hughes’ darkest secret, a publicity-shy rogue cop, marriage (but only for one of them), their horrendous early lives uncovered, the allure of communism, multiple choice strips, experimental, existential and faux-foreign episodes, and even their outrageous times as Edwardian consulting detectives.

This is not your regular comedy fare and there’s certainly something here to make you blanch, no matter how jaded, strong-stomached or dissolute you think you are…

As always with Rodrigues, even though the world at large hilariously exploits and punishes his protagonists, it’s not all one-sided. Said stars are usually dim and venal and their own worst enemies too…

Hard on their four heels comes the saga of ‘Sam DeGroot – the Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine’: a plucky unfortunate determined to make an honest contribution, hampered more by society’s prejudices than his own condition and ineptitude…

After brushes with the mob and conniving billionaires’ wives, no wonder he took to demon drink. Happily, Sam was saved by kindly Good Samaritan Everett, but the gentle giant then force-fed him custard and other treats because he was a patient urban cannibal. Thankfully, that’s when Jesus enters the picture…

During the course of these instalments, the strip was frequently usurped by short guerrilla gag feature ‘True Tales of the Urinary Tract’ and only reached its noxious peak after Sam fell into a coma…

The artist was blessed – or, perhaps, cursed – with a perpetually percolating imagination which drove him to craft scandalously inaccurate Biographies. Included here are choice and outrageous insights into ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Abbie Hoffman’, ‘Chester Bouvier’, ‘Eugene O’Neill’ and ‘Jerry Brown’ as well as ‘An American Story – a Saga of Ordinary People Just Like You’, ‘The Man Without a County’ and ‘Joe Marshall Recalls his Past’

The horrific and hilarious assault on common decency concludes with a selection of shorter series collected as The Son of a Bitch et al, beginning with an exposé of that self-same American institution.

The Son of a Bitch’ leads into the incontinent lives of those winos outside ‘22 Houston Street’, the ongoing calamity of ‘Doctor Colon’s Monster’, the domestic trauma of ‘Mama’s Boy’ and the sad fate of ‘The “Cuckold”’

‘The Adventures of the United States Weather Bureau starring Walter T. Eccleston’ is followed by ‘Mafia Tales’ and ‘VD Clinic Vignettes’, after which ‘A Glass of Beer with Stanley Cyganiewicz of Scranton, PA’ goes down smoothly, thanks to the then-contentious Gay question addressed in ‘Lillehammer Follies’, before everything settles down after the recipe for ‘Everett’s Custard’

Fantagraphics Books yet again struck gold by reviving and celebrating a lost hero of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration of a mighty talent. This is an astoundingly funny collection, brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy can afford to miss; especially in times when we all feel helpless and can only laugh in the face of incompetence, venality, stupidity and death…
All strips and comics by Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction & Biography © Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

Usagi Yojmbo: Yokai


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-362-5 (HB)

One of the very best and most adaptable survivors of the 1980s black-&-white comic book explosion/implosion is a truly bizarre and wonderful synthesis of historical Japanese samurai fiction and anthropomorphic animal adventure, as well as a perfect example of the versatility and strengths of a creator-owned character.

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in multi-talented Stan Sakai’s peripatetic anthropomorphic comedy feature The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which launched in 1984’s furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk anthology Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. The shaggy samurai subsequently appeared there on his own terms, as well as in Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up strips in Grimjack. The Lepine Legend also appeared in Albedo #2-4, The Doomsday Squad #3 and seven issues of Critters (#1, 3, 6-7, 10-11 and 14) before leaping into his own series…

Sakai is almost as widely-travelled and far-ranging as his signature creation. He was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family emigrated to Hawaii in 1955. He attended University of Hawaii, graduating with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design after moving to California.

His first comics work was as a letterer, most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer, before his nimble pens and brushes – coupled with a love of Japanese history and legend and hearty interest in the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers – combined to turn a proposed story about a historical human hero into one of the most enticing and impressive – and astoundingly authentic – fantasy sagas of all time.

The deliciously rambling and expansive period fantasy series is nominally set in a world of sentient animals and specifically references the Edo Period of Feudal Japan (how did we cloth-eared Westerners ever get “Japan” from Nihon” anyway?) as well as classic cultural icons as varied as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi and even Godzilla, by way of detailing the exploits of Ronin (masterless, wandering freelance Samurai) Miyamoto Usagi, whose fate is to be drawn constantly into a plethora of incredible situations.

And yes, he’s a rabbit – a brave, sentimental, indomitable, gentle, long-suffering, honourable, conscientious and heroic bunny who cannot turn down any request for help…
The Sublime Swordsbun has changed publishers a few times but has been in continuous publication since 1987 – with dozens of graphic novel collections to date – and has guest-starred in numerous other series, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation. There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci fi comics serial and lots of toys, and he even almost made it into his own small-screen show, but there’s still time yet and fashions can revive as quickly as they die out…

Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public and in 2009 Dark Horse Comics commissioned an all-new, fully painted Silver Anniversary tale to celebrate 25 stunning years, which allowed the creator to hone his considerable skills with watercolours…

Yokai is a generic term that translates (as required) as ghosts, phantoms, spirits or even strange, otherworldly apparitions, all of whom hold a peculiarly eclectic place in Japanese folklore, being simultaneously mischievous and helpful, malevolent and miraculously beneficial. Generally, they have animal heads or are amalgams of diverse objects or body parts…

This scintillating scary story occurs over one night – an Oborozuki-Yo (“Night of the Hazy Moon”) – when Yokai are particularly restless, and this is a tale that grippingly explores the Japanese equivalent of our Halloween as the noble, gloom-shrouded Rabbit Ronin wanders lonely roads in search of a bite to eat and a place to sleep.

Seeing a light in the nearby woods, Miyamoto leaves the path, hoping to find a welcoming peasant hearth for the evening but is harassed by a taunting Kitsune (trickster-fox spirit) and becomes lost. Soon, however, he hears sobbing and is drawn to a weeping noblewoman…

The lovely distressed lady is Fujimoto Harumi whose pilgrimage to a temple was disrupted when a Kitsune stole her young daughter Hanako away. Pleading with the wisely reluctant Ronin, the lady convinces the wayfarer to plunge deeper into the wild woods to rescue the lost girl, leading to an epic series of contests against a horde of fantastic hostile creatures. The valiant warrior almost succumbs until he is unexpectedly saved by an old comrade, the mystic demon-queller Sasuke

It seems that this very evening is the dreaded Hyakki Yako, “Night Parade of a Hundred Demons”, when haunts and horrors of the netherworld form a procession into the world of people, seeking to subjugate all mortals. They simply need a living soul to lead them, a final sacrifice to light their way here…

Terrified for the stolen waif, Ronin and devil-slayer engage with an army of horrific, shape-shifting, fire-spitting, tentacle-wielding monstrosities to save an innocent and the entire world, but there are forces in play that the rapidly-tiring Miyamoto is painfully unaware of, and without the luck of the gods and the tragedy of an old friend, all will be inescapably lost…

Fast-paced yet lyrical, funny, thrilling and stuffed with spooky, all-ages action and excitement, Yokai is a magical tribute to and celebration of the long-lived Lepus’ nigh-universal irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories. This petite but power-packed chronicle – available in sturdy hardback and ethereal digital editions – also contains a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the artist created the stunning visuals in ‘The Real Magic Behind Yokai: an interview with Stan Sakai’ that will further beguile any prospective creators and cartooning hopefuls in the audience.

Sheer comicbook poetry, this is book to revisit time and time again…
Text and illustrations © 2009 Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Bigby Bear Book One


By Philippe Coudray, translated by Miceal Ogriefa (BiG/Humanoids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-806-8(HB)

Bordeaux-born in March 1960, writer, photographer and illustrator Philippe Coudray specialises in cartoons and books for children. Working with his brother Jean-Luc, he co-crafted the Drôles sequence of books and comics series Théocrite.

Howevwr, Philippe conceived and executed his signature creation L’Ours Barnabé – the philosophically absurdist ruminations of an artistic bear and his woodland companions all on his own…

When not crafting kids’ comics or surreal otherworldly gags (such as Loin de Tout) Philippe writes articles and such like for magazines such as Capsule Cosmique, Psikopat, Perlin and Fripounet as well as books such as Guide to Hidden Animals: Treatise on Cryptozoology. His works have been used by the government to combat illiteracy in France and translated into many languages; none more so than L’Ours Barnabé which has appeared in Japan, China, Germany Sweden, and twice in America. The first time was as Benjamin Bear (twice nominated for Eisner Awards and winning China’s 2012-2013 Panda Prize) and latterly here as the beguiling and frequently beguiled Bigby

As much children’s storybook – although having no narrative structure and relying on episodic vignettes to deliver charming and visually challenging puzzles and riddles – as graphic novel, these collected strips feature an affably gentle bruin living wild and honing his artistic skills in a bucolic forest and mountain idyll, observing the world and pondering big questions in a surreal and often absurdist daze.

Visual tricks and double-takes abound as he and his rabbit chum encounter other animals and aliens, ignore the laws of the universe, carve, sculpt, paint, compose, garden and wander for the sheer joy of creativity. Subtly posing questions to make youngsters think – about art, science, psychology, mathematics, ecology and much more – Coudray never misses an opportunity to share a solid laugh with his readers and reinforce his message that life would be great if we all just mellowed out and got along with each other.

He’s also more than happy to pepper the strips with the occasional telling moment of social commentary if the chance arises…

Genteel fun, bemusing whimsy and enchanting illustration cloaking a supremely inclusive philosophy of curiosity, enquiry and cohabitation, Bigby Bear is a delightful example of how to enjoy life and crucial reading for young and old alike. Get the digital edition immediately before backing it up with the wonderfully tactile, sturdy hardback your kids will want to paw and peer at over and over again…
© 2012-2018 La Boîte à Bulles and Philippe Coudray. All rights reserved.

Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist


By Norman Pettingill, edited by Gary Groth, with an introduction by Robert Crumb (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-319-4 (HB)

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Sulk in your house and you’re on your own, mate. Here’s another comedy treat you can enjoy via assorted digital means, or if you prefer you can support the local economy by buying a hardback copy and waiting… and waiting… and waiting…

It’s a big planet and there are many places to hide an artistic prodigy. That’s never been more capably proved than in the case of Norman Pettingill, a lost hero of the workaday craft aesthetic who lived and died in Wisconsin, revelling in a backwoods life lived off the land. He supported his family with personalised cartoons, jobbing art such as postcards and commercial signage, commissioned illustrations and through simply stunning personal works: mostly natural scenes and reportage of the hunting and fishing community he lived in.
Pettingill worked in seclusion (and we all know what that’s like now, don’t we?) until his incredibly intense, ribald and frenetic postcard art was discovered by Robert Crumb who immediately reprinted them in his Underground Commix magazine Weirdo.

These over-sized scenes were multi-layered, packed with hundreds of characters acting in micro-scenes and grotesquely raw and vulgar: like Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel (the Elder), Basil Wolverton and Leo Baxendale working all on the same page.

This superb book, rough and rustic – with a wooden front cover for the hardback version – tells the life-story of this truly driven artist; who could no more stop drawing than breathe underwater. Self-taught and clearly besotted with the creative process, Pettingill was not afraid to fill a page with copious extras, and the work gathered here, collected by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (conservators of folk art of the American mid-west) shows a true original equally at home drawing pictures to pay bills and making masterpieces because he couldn’t stop himself.

On view are astoundingly frantic, charmingly gruesome postcard tableaux, featuring hunters, boozers and what we’d call hillbillies, but Pettingill knew them as the folk next door, as well as more intimate creations: family collages, entrancing pen-&-ink studies of beasts and birds he lived amongst – and hunted. There are even doodles he adorned the envelopes of letters with.

His surreal, bawdy, raw concoctions mirrored and presaged the graphic license and social freedoms of the 1960s counterculture (although he really started his own artistic journey twenty years earlier), but even though his fans today include such iconoclastic cartoonists as Crumb and Johnny Ryan, Pettingill’s appeal is far wider than simple grist for us doodle-pushers.

With his fondly cynical, wry observation and piercingly incisive eye, Norman Pettingill became a societal camera onto a time and place in rural – and even wild – America that we seldom see nowadays: an honest raconteur, part of a tradition that includes and spans the fierce and gentle ranges from Garrison Keillor’s elegiac (and positively provincial) Lake Wobegon tales to the razor-edged self-examination of Southern kinfolk and mid-west archetypes typified by the gagsters of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour: a purely American humour by and for the ordinary guy.

This retrospective of Pettingill’s art presents more than a hundred of his most telling monochrome pieces and will appeal to cartoon-lovers and people watchers equally.
© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Individual contributions © 2010 their authors. Unless otherwise noted all photography and art © 2010 John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Art from the collections of Glenn Bray, R. Crumb & Jim Pink © 2010 the estate of Norman Pettingill.

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures


By Lewis Trondheim & Keramidas, with Brigitte Findakly: translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger & David Gerstein (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-694-2 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68406-124-2

In his ninety years of existence, Walt Disney’s heroic everyman Mickey Mouse has tackled his fair share of weirdos and super freaks in tales crafted by creators from every corner of the world. A true global phenomenon, the little wonder has staunchly overcome all odds, and he’s always done so as the prototypical nice guy beloved by all. Mickey might have been born in the USA, but he belongs to all humanity now and thus some of his very best comics adventures come from countries like Denmark, Holland, Italy and France. This translation of a saga by Lewis Trondheim & Keramidas ranks right up at the top of the list…

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor/animator and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing cartoons adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot (seen in English as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (co created with Joann Sfar and translated as conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years), comedy fable Ralph Azham and an utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence entitled Little Nothings.

In his spare time – and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival – the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant wrote for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Ostensibly retired but still going strong, Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

Nicolas Kerimidas (Donjon Monstres, L’Atelier Mastodonte, Donald’s Happiest Adventures) is a French cartoonist hailing from Grenoble who studied animation at the Gobelins School. He worked at Walt Disney Animation France’s Montreuil Studious for almost a decade before switching to comics as illustrator of Didier Crisse’s Luuna. He branched out and carried on, scripting his own stuff as well as being a much sought-after artist for others…

Patterned on Gold Key’s fabulous 1950-1960s run of anthological Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures purports to be a restored – but tragically incomplete – compilation of a lost serial that ran in those vintage comics, “rediscovered” by the author and artist. The overwhelmingly successful conceit of this little gem – available in hardback and digital formats – is that we all love comics and can’t resist the mystery of an unread one we’ve never heard of…

After opening with essay ‘A Forgotten Treasure’ the yarn jerks into high gear once the “found” pages appear, starting with ‘Chapter 2’ as Mickey gives Donald Duck a lift to Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin. On arrival, they witness the entire kaboodle swiped via Gyro Gearloose’s shrinking ray before being perilously diminished themselves!

Hot pursuit takes our heroes into a primeval world of (comparatively) giant insects and backyard jungles, but the game is afoot and even stranger hazards await them as they pursue the mystery bandits…

With cameos from most of Duckburg and Mouseton’s pantheon of major and minor stars and veteran villains such as Pegleg Pete and the Beagle Boys, this pell-mell romp across the world also encompasses monsters, cavemen, outer space perils and even the gods themselves, to create an unmissable delight for both aged aficionados like you and me and the newest generation of fans.

Frantic, frenzied fun for one and all. You know you have to have it!
© 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Twilight of the Assholes – The Chronicles of the Era of Darkness 2005-2009 (Book 2)


By Tim Kreider (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-398-9 (PB)

This book is intended to make adults laugh and think. If the title isn’t clue enough, please be warned that these pages contain nudity, sexual imagery, intentionally insulting images of political figures and rational opinions clothed in harsh language and thought-provoking political comedy. Some people think the author didn’t go far enough, but hey…
If that sort of thing offends you or you believe that blasphemy is a sin and/or a crime, read no further and don’t buy this book. The rest of us will just have to manage without you.

The opening years of the 21st century were plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated by a hideous global proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid rulers leading governments who finally elevated politicians to that phylum of useless tools and pimples on the butt of humanity once only occupied by lawyers and faith healers. Since then, bankers, astrologers, “influencers”, doorstep evangelists, celebrity gossip columnists and all types of psychics joined their rarefied ranks and I’m thinking I need to cut down on coffee or reassess my critical parameters…

With the benefit of a decade’s distance it’s clear that we didn’t learn anything and have only devolved into even worse as a species – if only in selecting people to guide and be in charge of us…

I can’t currently bring myself to laugh at the current crop of imbeciles-in-charge as we all collectively watch the bravest and noblest amongst us be daily betrayed, fobbed off and cheated of the money, tools and support they need to save lives in hospitals across the planet. All I can do is look back at when some folk – me especially – believed we could never do any worse in choosing leaders. Looks like were wrong then and now I’m looking for another hit of graphic retaliation and indulgent graphic stress-release…

If you require similar, this old paperback is readily available in digital formats. Trust me, only the names have changed: the assholery remains the same…

When George Dubya Bush acceded to the throne of America there were a lot of apologetic liberals and whooping goons. There was also essayist and cartoonist Ted Kreider.

Born in 1967 and raised on comicbooks whilst actually paying attention in school, Kreider is an erudite and passionate man with thoughtfully reasoned opinions on politics, religion and the human condition among the many other things. He is also an extremely gifted writer and cartoonist who began self-publishing in 1994.

By 1997 The Baltimore City Paper had picked up his deliciously polemical panel strip-with-accompanying essay ‘The Pain – When Will it End?’ and they were closely followed by the Jackson Planet Weekly, Illinois’ Indy in Bloomington-Normal, The New York Press, The Stranger, Philadelphia Weekly plus other independent and alternative papers. In September 2000 Kreider began releasing the material as a webcomic.

Although at the time a self-confessed left-leaning Democrat, that never stopped him punishing his own camp’s many gaffes, goofs, lies, embarrassments and ideological idiocies. Like our own Gerald Scarfe and Steve Bell with Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair/em>, Kreider was lucky enough (if you discount elevated blood-pressure, maxed-out sense of disbelief and perpetually outraged moral compass) to have been given the gift of a perfect incumbent target in the Bush administration of 2000-2008 and the right-wing anti-intellectual, Christian-fundamentalist crusade/pogrom that brought them to power and still remains to blight he world – fully as much as every other dogmatic, monied special interests group does…

Along the way, Kreider also managed to incense other churches and faiths from Catholics to Moslems, all manner of bigot from racists to homophobes and outrage proponents of all those other aspects of modern US society that makes all us non-Americans nervous and giggly in equal measure.

Subtitled ‘Volume II of the Chronicles of the Era of Darkness 2004-2009’ and this weighty and hilariously biting collection of gags and commentaries covers the – to Kreider especially – incomprehensible re-election and second term of the Republican Saviour and his dark apostles Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice and the rest, whilst still finding room and Reasonable Cause to pictorially pummel Chinese expansion, assorted religions’ definitions of life and attitudes to sex, aspects and definitions of Freedom, geopolitics and Big Oil.
Under his excoriating lens also fell Intelligent Design, the new Russian Empire, Secret Fantasies of the rich and statesmanlike, Crackpot Theories and all sorts of Science: from the author’s spirited defence of Pluto’s planet-hood to Human-Animal Hybrids, Parallel Universes and new roles for the Giant Squid…

With stunning examples of the cartoonist’s eternal roles as social conscience, intellectual champion, puncturer of pomposity and lampooning last bastion of grace under oppressive political pressure, Kreider boldly kicked the shins of the smug over-class and stamped on the toes of all the entrenched whited sepulchres and obnoxiously applied shibboleths that made him annoyed and ashamed of huge swathes of his fellow Americans. Not that Britain or any other colonial power has any moral high ground to sneer down from…

The collected work covers the period November 4th 2004 to October 29th 2009 and includes the shocked rapture of a Democratic win and the nation’s first non-white president – and ends with a shaky dawning suspicion that all politicians might just be the same. Same as it ever was…

Particularly effective sallies to relive include ‘Jesus vs. Jeezus’, ‘The Conservative Christian’s Guide to Compassion’, ‘I “heart” Saddam’, ‘The War on Christmas’, ‘Americans vs. ‘Muricans’, ‘What is Freedom?’, ‘Me & George, We Got Problems’, ‘Silver Linings of the Holocaust’, ‘What You Can Do to Fight the War on Sex’, ‘Everything I Know I Learned from the Bush Administration’, ‘Secret Vices of the Liberals’, ‘Republican Sex Toys’, ‘God: Republican or Democrat?’, ‘After All the Money’s Gone’, ‘We Even Yet?’ and the 5-part ‘Contributions of the World’s Religions’ but there’s guaranteed to be something to shock or offend everybody here – you might even be compelled to think for yourself and question a little bit more…

Forensic, withering humour and viciously necessary satire tellingly rendered combined with savage yet personable, winningly intimate reportage make this one of the best cartoon coshes ever applied to the politics of this century, and I mourn with honest grief the fact that Kreider has left the current Republican administration alone all this time…

I look forward with desperation – if not hope – to more from him in light of confirmation that people didn’t get less stupid, rulers never change their spots and religions have all amped up dictating what their followers can think or feel…

You have to laugh, don’t you…?
Cartoons and text © 2011 Tim Kreider. All rights reserved.

Gag on This: the Scrofulous Cartoons of Charles Rodrigues


By Charles Rodrigues, edited by Bob Fingerman (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-856-4 (HB)

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century. However, as papers and periodicals began abandoning en masse the grand tradition of spot gags in the 1980s, he and his surly, smartly illustrious compatriots began to fade from cultural consciousness. Now it seems almost nobody remembers him, but thankfully literary crusaders like Fantagraphics are doing their bit to recall and immortalise him and them in splendid hardback and digital archives such as this one…

Rodrigues’ surreal, absurd, insane, anarchic, socially disruptive and astoundingly memorable bad-taste gags and strips were delivered with electric vitality and galvanising ferocity in a number of magazines. He was most effective indulged in Playboy, The National Lampoon (from the first issue on) and Stereo Review – the pinnacle of a career which began after WWII and spanned the entire last half of the 20th century in every type and style of magazine.

After leaving the Navy and relinquishing the idea of writing for a living, Rodrigues used his slice of the G.I. Bill provision to attend New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School (now the School of Visual Arts) and in 1950 began schlepping gags around the low-rent but healthily ubiquitous “Men’s Magazine” circuit.

He graduated from girly-mags to more salubrious publications and in 1954 began a lengthy association with Hugh Hefner in his revolutionary new venture, whilst maintaining contributions to what seemed like every publication in the nation. His panel gags appeared everywhere from Esquire to TV Guide; Genesis to The Critic. He even found time to create three strips for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate: Eggs Benedict, Casey the Cop (not the Henry Boltinoff standby of decades of DC comics) and Charlie.

The quiet, genteel, devout Catholic’s lasting monument and undisputed magnum opus, though, was the horde of truly appalling, subversive, offensive, trenchantly wonderful one-offs crafted on a variety of favourite themes for The National Lampoon, whose editor Henry Beard sought him out in the earliest pre-launch days of 1969. He offered Rodrigues carte blanche, complete creative freedom and a regular full-page spot…

The artist stayed aboard from the 1970 debut until 1993, a mainstay of the legendary comics section with sickeningly mordant, brilliant results which were recently compiled in preceding collection Ray and Joe

Here, bracketed by a copious and informative biography by Editor Bob Fingerman and a heartfelt ‘Introduction’ by brother-doodler Sam Gross (sometime Cartoon Editor at the shockingly indulgent Lampoon), this monumental monochrome collection features a vast selection of explosively hilarious, wittily twisted visual broadsides gathered into a smart procession of tawdry topics…

After starting out strong by lambasting our most basic drives in ‘Dirty Cartoons for Your Entertainment’ and ‘A Peeping Tome’, focus shifts to weird fantasy in ‘Moon Madness’ and contemporary traumatic tropes in ‘Assassin’ before going too far, too soon with some ‘Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print’

Because one can never truly get enough, it’s quickly back to bawdy basics with ‘Cartoons of a Sexual Nature’ after which other appetites are quenched with ‘Cuisine de Machine’, exposing the horrors only automats and vending machines can inculcate whilst ‘Would You Want Your Daughter to Marry One?’ deals with freaks and outcasts at their most intimate moments of weakness…

Some truly outrageous innovations are launched and sunk in a large section devoted to ‘Entrepreneurs’ before controversy is courted – and subsequently walks off with a huge settlement – in ‘Goddam Faggots!’ More societal hypocrisies are skewered in kHandicapped Sports’ and things get good and bloody in ‘Hemophunnies’.

Rodrigues was blessed (or cursed) with a perpetually percolating imagination and eye for the zeitgeist, so the contents of ‘The Celebrity Memorabilia Gallery’ are truly baroque and punishingly peculiar, whereas ‘Hire the Handicapped’ merely offers genuinely groundbreaking solutions to getting the less-able back to work before this selection of Good Works concludes with much needed advice on ‘Good Ways to Kill: A Rock Performer!’

Trenchant observation informs the visual catalogue of ‘Man in Morgue’ but it’s just sheer bad taste in play with follow-up chapter ‘Man in Toilet’ and macabre relationship counselling for ‘Men’s Liberation’ (in dealing with wives or mothers).

At the halfway stage of this colossal collection there’s time for ‘More Handicapped Sports’ before poking fun at the blind in ‘Out of Sight’, exploring the particular wrinkles of ‘Senior Sex’ and dutifully re-examining ‘The Seven Deadly & Other Sins’ – which, you will recall, include Pride, Envy, Anger, Covetousness, Lust, Sloth, Gluttony, Anti-Colostomyism, Conformity, Vomitry, Bitchiness and Dalmatianry – before galloping off at a strangely artistic tangent to present ‘Sex Cartoons Drawn With a Hunt Pen’

Scenes (never) overheard at the ‘Sex Change Clinic’ naturally segue into an itemised itinerary of disasters involving ‘Sex Robots’ and (un?)naturally culminate in ‘More Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print’ and another period of play for ‘Handicapped Sports’

All aspects of human misbehaviour appealed to Rodrigues’ imagination (I truly wonder what he would have made of the online shenanigans exhibited by humanity in our age of mostly-voluntary Lockdown and Social Isolationism) and many are featured in ‘Sexentrics’ and its playful sequels ‘Sexports’ and ‘Sleazy Sex Cartoons’, all of which quite naturally lead to ‘Life on Death Row’

Unwholesome variety (and a penchant for conspiracies) is the spice of ‘A Group of Cartoons Requested by S. Gross’ before deviating eastwards and into the past to expose ‘Soviet Sex’ after which we head back to jail to walk ‘The Last Smile’.

Shambling into the hilarious last lap we endure some ‘Tough Sex’, show ‘Cartoons About the Blind (The Kind They Wish They Could See)’ and get gritty in kSons of the Beaches’ before heading to the ‘…Circus!’ and ending everything with ‘Those Darned Serial Killers!’

These horrific and hilarious assaults on common decency celebrate and commemorate a lost hero of popular cartooning and consummate professional able to turn his drawing hand to anything to get the job done. This astoundingly funny gag-art grimoire is brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy will want to miss, especially as we all need a good, guilty horselaugh more than ever now…
This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Book. All strips and graphics by Charles Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction © 2015 Sam Gross. Biography © 2015 Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

An Age of License – A Travelogue


By Lucy Knisley (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-768-0 (PB)

Remember the rush of wonderment that came from visiting somewhere new and exotic? Do you even remember going for an aimless walk? If not, why not do it in you head? Here’s a brilliant aide-memoire that’s timelessly entertaining and potently evocative…

Since I first started reading comics (sometime soon after the discovery of fire) the industry and art form has undergone a magical transformation in styles and formats and a huge expansion in content.

Where once the graphic narrative medium was populated with heroes and horrors, fantasies and wish fulfilment exercises, these days literally anything can become the engrossing and absorbing meat of the printed or digital page, dependent only upon the skill and passions of dedicated and inspired artisan creators.

A superb example of this broadening of strip horizons is globe-girdling cartooning diarist and epicure Lucy Knisley who has made a career out of documenting her life as it happens, detailing her experiences and fascinations in an engaging and entertaining manner through such graphic missives as Displacement – A Travelogue, French Milk, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen and Go to Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood.

This beguiling slice of graphic verité was first seen in 2014 and details a European working vacation that became a bittersweet lovers’ tryst.

The voyage begins in 2011 when the cat-loving cartoonist was invited to be a guest at Norway’s Raptus Comics Festival. After some understandable dithering and consultation with pals and fellow pros the author warily agreed, intending to turn the proposed Work Jolly into the start of an extended visit to friends in Germany and vacationing family in France…

As the time nears the daunting plans all come miraculously together and Lucy prepares herself by immersing in personal Scandinavian-ness: researching the family history of her Swedish grandparents…

Events obtain a sharper edge in New York in the months immediately preceding the trip as she meets visiting Henrik: a most fanciable lad she agrees to visit in his Stockholm home after the Raptus convention. With her six-venue itinerary sorted, all that’s left is for the journey to begin…

Packed with intimate detail and engaging introspection, rendered in clean, clear compelling black line – augmented by occasional bursts of painterly watercolour illustration – this is a fabulously absorbing jaunt with a most delightful and forthright travel companion. Knisley unstintingly shares her thoughts, feeling and experiences in a manner guaranteed to win over the most jaded fellow passenger – especially as she always garnishes her slivers of new experience with her trademark adventures and observations through the welcoming lens of regional foods made, consumed and enjoyed.

Through work, relaxation, the hazy indolence of a love affair and its gradual ending, a phrase she heard in the French winemaking region of Beaune comes to haunt her. L’Age license – a time of freedom for youth to try, fail, experiment and learn – fascinates and captivates her as she spends much of her time in France and beyond, searching for its truth, origins and meaning…

Exceedingly funny, sweet, disarmingly incisive, heartwarming, uncompromising and utterly enchanting, this moving memoir is a comics experience unlike any other and fans of travel, storytelling and a life well-lived will adore the open, sharing experience it vicariously offers.
An Age of License © 2014 Lucy Knisley. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.