Liberty Meadows: Sundays Book One

By Frank Cho (Image/Monkey Boy Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-564-7 (HB)

It’s ALMOST too late to concoct a suitable St Valentine’s Day extravaganza worthy of the one who puts up with you, so let todays review serve to remind you that not only is love strange but it can also tolerate an incredible amount of unsavoury behaviour – it just shouldn’t have to…

Like many wonderful modern comics strips, Liberty Meadows grew out of a prototype college newspaper incarnation: specifically, the University of Maryland (College Park) student periodical The Diamondback.

Back then the strip was called University² but it still revealed the warped genius and stunning graphic virtuosity of native Marylander Frank Cho. As a syndicated strip Liberty Meadows launched on March 31st 1997, running until December 30th 2001. It also enjoyed a respectable run as a comic book released through Insight Studios.

The strip which won a hoard of awards before going on hiatus (hey, if Bloom County can come back after decades, so long as the artist’s still alive, I’m keeping the faith for this and Calvin & Hobbes), is a whimsical masterpiece of comedy appealing to anyone afflicted with a love of pop culture, wistfulness, slacker-ness and unrequited passions. This first hardcover (or digital) compilation of full-colour Sunday strips cover the first three years and is saucily appreciated by Cho’s great pal and confederate Mike McSwiggin in his Introduction.

What’s it About, I hear you enquire? Easier asked than answered…

Exhibiting elements of the aforementioned Berkely Breathed’s magnum about Opus, and cheekily pilfering and channelling every comicbook, TV, movie and trash culture icon you might imagine, the episodes occur in and around the animal sanctuary of Liberty Meadows and generally revolve around the ever-so-patient animal psychologist Brandy Carter as she blithely tries to circumvent her innate hottie-ness and get on with her job.

The major obstacles to this simple ambition include not just human impediments such as shyly adoring vet Frank Melisch, clumsily dangerous janitor Tony, sanctuary owner Julius, and Brandy’s super sexy roommate Jen (she’s a rocket scientist who loves to toy with men…) but also the scene-stealing frequently obnoxious smart alec talking animals such as midget circus bear Ralph, literally sexist pig Dean, hypochondriac frog Leslie, innocent waif – and duck – Truman, mute dachshund Oscar, OCD-suffering raccoon Mike, Khan the catfish and an evil cow dubbed The Cow

Further turning this small word upside down are conspiracy-theorist and local barkeep Al, Brandy’s ex Roger, her parents (say no more), and a couple of duplicates from a mirror universe: Evil Brandy and Alternate Frank

You’ll thank me for not giving away any of the 138 beautifully rendered, seditiously surreal gags, but I will push my luck by stating Cho insinuates himself into proceedings on a regular basis (as forth-wall busting chimpanzee Monkey Boy) and warning you to watch out for low flying dinosaurs, wandering daydreams, outbursts of 3-D, and constant outbreaks of strip and movie spoofs such as Prince Valium, Mighty Shmoe Pong, Jungle Gym and Flush Gordon

Frank Cho is a very funny guy and also one of the best dramatic illustrators in the business, so you’ll also appreciate the spiffy Sketch Gallery featuring pencils, inks, roughs and some delicious images of Brandy as your favourite female superheroes.

Magnificently redolent of (and proudly swiping from) Walt Kelly, Dave Stevens, Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michelangelo (not the turtle), and others of their prestigious ilk as the gag demands, Cho’s blend of anthropomorphic anarchy, sublimely lavish glamour illustration and devilish wit means this is a timeless treat and treatise on love you simply must see…
™ and © 2012 Frank Cho, Monkey Boy Press. All rights reserved.

The James Bond Omnibus volume 001

By Ian Fleming adapted by Anthony Hern, Peter O’Donnell, Henry Gammidge & John McLusky (Titan Books)
ISBN: 987-1-84856-364-3 (TPB)

It’s sad to admit but there are very few British newspaper strips to challenge the influence and impact of classic daily and Sunday “funnies” from America, especially in the field of adventure fiction.

The 1930’s and 1940’s were particularly rich in popular, not to say iconic, creations. You would be hard-pressed to come up with home-grown household names to rival Popeye, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, let alone Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, or the likes of Little Lulu, Blondie, Li’l Abner, Little Orphan Annie or Popeye and yes, I know I said him twice, but Elzie Segars’s Thimble Theatre was funny as well as thrilling, constantly innovative, and really, really good.

What strips can you recall to equal simple popularity let alone longevity or quality in Britain? Rupert Bear? Absolutely. Giles? Technically, yes. Nipper? Jane? The Perishers? Garth? Judge Dredd?

I’d like to hope so, but I doubt it. The Empire didn’t quite get it until it wasn’t an empire any more. There were certainly very many wonderful strips being produced: well-written and beautifully drawn, but that stubborn British reserve plus a completely different editorial view of the marketplace (which just didn’t consider strips an infallible, readership-attracting magnet, as our American cousins did) never seemed to be in the business of creating household names… until the 1950’s.

Something happened in ‘50s Britain – but I’m not going to waste any space here discussing it. It just did.

In a new spirit that seemed to crave excitement and accept the previously disregarded, comics (as well as all “mere” entertainment media from radio serials to paperback novels) got carried along on the wave. Just like television, periodicals such as The Eagle, the regenerated Dandy and Beano and girls’ comics in general all shifted into creative high gear …and so at last did newspapers.

And that means that I can happily extol the virtues of a graphic collection with proven crossover appeal for a change. The first 007 novel Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was subsequently serialised – after much dithering and nervousness on behalf of author Fleming – as a strip in the Daily Express from 1958. It was the start of a beguiling run of novel and short story adaptations scripted by Anthony Hern, Henry Gammidge, Peter O’Donnell and Kingsley Amis before Jim Lawrence, a jobbing writer for American features (who had previously scripted the aforementioned Buck Rogers) came aboard on The Man With the Golden Gun to complete the transfer of the Fleming canon to strip format. Thereafter he was invited to create new adventures, which he did until the strip’s demise in 1983.

The art on the feature was always of the highest standard. Initially John McLusky handled the illustration until 1966’s conclusion of You Only Live Twice and, although perhaps lacking in flash or verve, the workmanlike clarity of his drawing easily handled an astonishing variety of locales, technical set-ups and sheer immensity of cast members, whilst satisfying the then-novel directive of advancing a plot daily whilst ending each episode on a cliff-hanging “hook” every time.

He was succeeded by Yaroslav Horak, who debuted on Man with the Golden Gun, offering a looser, edgier style, at once more cinematic and with a closer attention to camera angle and frenzied action that seemed to typify the high-octane 1960’s. Horak illustrated 26 complete adventures until 1977 when The Daily Express axed the Bond feature (with a still-running adventure suddenly switching to The Sunday Express from January 30th until conclusion on May 22nd).

Later adventures had no UK presence at all, only appearing in syndication in European papers. This state of affairs continued until 1981 when British paper The Daily Star revived the feature with ‘Doomcrack’.

Titan Books re-assembled those scarce-seen tales – a heady brew of adventure, sex, intrigue and death – into addictively accessible monochrome Omnibus Editions, (sadly not available digitally at the present) wherein a dedicated band of creators on top form prove how the world’s greatest agent never rests in his mission to keep us all free, safe, shaken, stirred and thoroughly entertained…

In this premier no-nonsense paperback gem adapting 11 of Fleming’s best, the frantic derring-do and dark, deadly diplomacy commences with ‘Casino Royale’ as British operative Bond is ordered to gamble with and bankrupt Le Chiffre, a communist agent who has insanely embezzled away his Soviet masters’ operating capital.

The moodily compelling tale of tension that results depicts torture and violent death as well as oppressively suspenseful scenes of graphic gambling: heady stuff for newspaper readers of 1958, when it first ran.

Without pausing for breath or a fresh martini the Bond briefing segues straight into ‘Live and Let Die’ which sees 007 and US agent Felix Leiter tackle Mr. Big, another scurrilous commie agent, a devious genius who rules the Harlem underworld through superstition, voodoo and brutal force before, ‘Moonraker’ details the attempt by ex-Nazi officer Hugo Drax to drop a guided missile on London: a task made far simpler since the maniac has infiltrated the British aristocracy…

These newspaper strips come from a period when dependable John McLusky was developing a less formal approach, before going on to produce some of his best work. ‘Casino Royale; was the opening strip in a near 25-year run, and the somewhat muted artwork shows an artist still not completely comfortable with his task.

It was adapted and scripted by Anthony Hern, who had won the author’s approval after writing condensed prose versions of the novels for the Daily Express. Live and Let Die and Moonraker were both adapted by Henry Gammidge.

As McLusky settled in for the long haul, he warmed to the potentialities of the job with cracking tales of Cold-War intrigue and fast, dangerous living set in a multitude of exotic locales, providing here a welcome return to public gaze of some of the most influential – and exciting – comic strips in British history.

The adaptation of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ pits Bond against an insidious gang of diamond smuggling criminals, in an explosive if uncomplicated all-action romp before shifting into terse, low-key thriller ‘From Russia With Love’ (both courtesy of Gammidge & McLusky). The artist hit a creative peak with ‘Dr No’ perhaps because of the sparkling script from Peter O’Donnell (before he sloped off to create the amazing Modesty Blaise) with Bond returning to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two operatives and stumbling upon a plot to sabotage the American rocketry program.

These stories come from an age at once less jaded but more worldly; a place and time where the readers lived daily with the very real threat of instant annihilation. As such, the easy approachability of the material is a credit to the creators.

‘Goldfinger’ faithfully adapts Fleming’s novel of the world’s most ambitious bullion robbery, so if you’re only familiar with the film version there will be a few things you’ve not seen before. The action fairly rockets along and the tense suspense is high throughout this signature tale.

Following that is ‘Risico’ as 007 is tasked with stopping a heroin smuggling gang whose motive is not profit but social destabilisation. Next is ‘From a View to a Kill’, a traditional and low-key Cold War thriller with Bond on the trail of a gang who have been stealing state secrets by ambushing military dispatch riders…

In the Roger Moore film incarnation Risico was folded into ‘For Your Eyes Only’ but here you get the real deal with a faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short story, wherein Bond is given a mission of revenge and assassination. Set in Jamaica with Nazi war-criminal Von Hammerstein as culprit and target for the man with a licence to kill, it is a solid piece of dramatic fiction that once again bears little similarity to the celluloid adventure.

The volume concludes with the then-controversial ‘Thunderball’ adaptation. That particular tale was savagely censored and curtailed at the behest of Lord Beaverbrook, owner of the Daily Express. Five days of continuity were excised but what remains is still pretty engrossing comic fare and at least some effort was made to wrap up the storyline before the strip ended. In case you can’t recall: When Bond is sent on enforced medical leave, he stumbles into a deadly plot to steal nuclear weapons by a new subversive organisation calling itself Spectre

These grand stories are a must for not only aficionados of Bond but for all thriller fans, as an example of truly gripping adventure uncluttered by superficial razzamatazz. Get back to basics, and remember that classic style is never out of fashion.

All strips are © Ian Fleming Publications Ltd/Express Newspapers Ltd 1987. James Bond and 007 are ™Danjaq LLC used under license from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. All rights reserved.

Peanuts Dell Archive

By Charles M. Schulz, Jim Sasseville, Dale Hale, Tony Pocrnick & various (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-255-1 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-117-9

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. Cartoonist Charles Monroe “Sparky” (forever dubbed thus by an uncle who saw young Charlie reading Billy DeBeck’s strip Barney Google: that hero’s horse was called “Spark Plug”). Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century, producing 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died, from the complications of cancer, the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, and have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

In case you came in late – and from Mars – our focus (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who, with increasingly high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy, is at odds with a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast hanging out doing kid things with disturbingly mature psychological overtones…

The gags and tales centre on play, pranks, sports, playing musical instruments, teasing each other, making baffled observations about the incomprehensible world and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The ferocious unpredictability and wilfulness of seasonal weather often impacts on these peewee performers, too…

You won’t find many adults in the mix – which includes Mean Girl (let’s call her “forthright”) Violet, prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy, her strange baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” all adding signature twists to the mirth – because this is essentially a kids’ world.

Charlie Brown has settled into existential angst and is resigned to his role as eternal loser: singled out by fate and the relentless diabolical wilfulness of Lucy who sharpens her spiteful verve on everyone around her. Her preferred target is always the round-headed kid though: mocking his attempts to fly a kite, kicking away his football and perpetually reminding him face-to-face how rubbish he is…

The Sunday page debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and these weekend wonders gave Sparky room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

By that time, rapid-fire raucous slapstick gags were riding side-by-side with surreal, edgy, psychologically barbed introspection, crushing judgements and deep ruminations in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors. The relationships were increasingly deep, complex and absorbing…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, and one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines. It also became a multimedia merchandising bonanza for Schulz and the United Features Syndicate, generating toys, games, books, TV shows, apparel and even comic books. These days there’s even an educational institution, The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, from which a goodly portion of the archival contributions in this wonderful hardback/digital compilation originate…

Just how and why the comic book versions differ from the strip is explored with incisive and analytical vigour in Derrick Bang’s (of CMS M&RC) Introduction ‘Peanuts in Comic Books’ revealing how, in the early 1950s, reprints in St. John and, later, Dell Comics titles such as Tip Top Comics and United Comics gradually gave way to original back-up material in Fritzi Ritz, Nancy and others.

Very little of it was by Schulz – although he did contribute lots of covers – but rather were ghosted by hand-picked associates like Jim Sasseville, who ably aped “Sparky” Schulz and kept the little cast in character and on message in strips in Fritzi Ritz, Nancy, Tip Top, Nancy and Sluggo,

Sasseville wrote and drew all of the Peanuts try-out issue (Four Color #878, February 1958). Schulz contributed heavily to the second FC Peanuts (#969; February 1959) with Dale Hale and Tony Pocrnick handling subsequent back-up tales and third Four Color tester #1015 (August/October 1959).

The fourth became Peanuts #4: a title that ran for 13 issues, ending in July 1962. By then Dell staff artists and writers were generating the stories and the overall quality was nothing to brag about… although Schulz was drawing the covers, at least.

In terms of calibre and standards, the 75 comic tales here – beginning with the very first by Schulz from Nancy #146, September 1957 to the anonymous last – are all quite enjoyable and some are truly exceptional: such as ‘The Mani-Cure’(Tip Top #211, November 1957/January 1958 by Sasseville) or Dale Hale’s untitled treatise on keeping secrets from Tip Top #217 (May/July 1959).

Admittedly, true fans might have trouble with later yarns as the kids face an amok robot or dare the terrors of an old haunted house, but in the main this collection is a splendid peek at a little known cranny of the franchise and there is the joy of all those lost gems from Sparky to carry the day…

And where else are you going to see the kids in stories you haven’t read yet… you Blockhead!?
Peanuts Dell Archive all contents unless otherwise specified © 2005 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Terror of St Trinian’s and Other Drawings

By Ronald Searle with Geoffrey Willans, Timothy Shy & others (Penguin Modern Classics)
ISBN: 978-0-141-91285-1 (PB)

Britain has a fantastic and enviable history and tradition of excellence in the arts of graphic narrative and cartooning. Whether telling a complete story or simply making a point; much of the modern world’s most innovative, inspirational and trenchantly acerbic drawing has come from British pens powered by British hearts and minds.

If you’re quietly humming Rule Britannia or Jerusalem right now, and or heavy breathing and fingering a flag, pack it in. This is not the tone we want. I’m just stating a few facts.

3 March 1920 Ronald William Fordham Searle was one of a very gifted few (in modern times I’d number Ken Reid, Leo Baxendale, Murray Ball and Hunt Emerson among them) who can actually draw funny lines. No matter how little or how much they need to say, they can imbue the merest blot or scratch of ink with character, intent and wicked, wicked will.

Born in Cambridge on March 3rd 1920, Searle studied at Cambridge School of Art before enlisting in the Royal Engineers when WWII broke out. When he was captured by the Japanese in 1942 he ended up in the infamous Changi Prison. The second St Trinian’s cartoon was drawn in that hell-hole in 1944 and it survived – along with his incredible war sketches – to see print once peace broke out. Searle was a worker on the Siam-Burma Railroad (a story for another time and place) and risked his life daily both by making pictures and by keeping them.

He became a jobbing freelance cartoonist when he got home, acerbically detailing British life. Perhaps that why he moved to France in 1961 and became a globe-girdling citizen of the wider world.

By the 1980s he was established – everywhere but here – as not only a cartoonist and satirist but as a film-maker, sculptor, designer, travel-writer and creator of fascinating reportage. This man was a capital “A” Artist in the manner of Picasso or Hockney, and Scarfe and Steadman notwithstanding, he was the last great British commentator to use cartooning and caricature as weapons of social change in the caustic manner of his heroes Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and the rest.

This volume includes selections from assorted previous collections and includes political illustration, social commentary, arcane mordant whimsy and some of the most surreal, sardonic and grotesque funny pictures of the 20th century.

I won’t spend too much time on his other achievements as his work should be seen and his thoughts and opinions should be understood in his chosen language: Art. At least, he still has enough fans to fill the internet with all the information you could need, so go search-engining after you read this if you wish.

Why his creations are so under-appreciated I do not know. Why this book is out of print: Ditto. That he will remain a relative unknown despite the clutch of movies about his St Trinian’s girls… Not if I can help it.

Anyone who considers themselves a devotee of the arts of graphic narrative should know of Searle’s work, even if not necessarily love – although how could you not? Just be aware of the tremendous debt we all owe to his vision, dedication and gifts.

This compilation traces the rise of his star following his POW years. Post-war, his mordantly funny cartoons appeared in venues such as Punch, Lilliput and The Sunday Express, and in hugely successful collections like Hurrah for St. Trinian’s!, The Female Approach, Back to the Slaughterhouse, The St. Trinian’s Story, Which Way Did He Go?,Pardong m’sieur, In Perspective and The Non Sexist Dictionary.

Searle’s work has influenced an uncountable number of other cartoonists too. His unique visualisation and darkly comic satirical cynicism in the St. Trinian’s drawings as well as his utterly captivating vision of boarding school life as embodied in the classically grotesque Nigel Molesworth quartet: influencing generations of children and adults, and even playing its part in shaping our modern national character and language.

And have I mentioned yet that his drawings are really, really funny?

This superb collection of monochrome cartoons samples choice cuts from a number of his book collections, all delivered with stunning absurdist candour and the peculiarly tragic passive panic and understated warmth that only Searle could instil with his seemingly wild yet clearly-considered linework.

Fronted by an impassioned Introduction from fan and proper grown up journalist/columnist Nicholas Lezard, this paperback and digital collection offers a sweet taste of dark design in haunting and hilarious images culled from a number of sources, opening (un)naturally with macabre treats from St Trinian’s: blending the comforting traditional bonhomie of a girl’s boarding school with the accoutrements of a sex dungeon, the atavists of a charnel house and the fragrant atmosphere of The Somme two days after all the shooting stopped…

Having proved that for some crime Does pay, focus shifts to Merry England, etc., where class, toil, occupations, hobbies, and the ardours of life are ferociously scrutinised before diverting into mirthful metaphysics with a damning disembodied judge dubbed The Hand of Authority

Mare satirical body-blows from Souls in Torment lead delightfully to a montage of misspelled madcap moments of terror-tinged nostalgia as Molesworth extracts snippets of sheer genius from the books he co-created with Geoffrey Willans for Punch and which were subsequently released to enormous success as Down With Skool!, How to be Topp!, Whizz For Atomms! and Back in the Jug Agane.

As I said, Searle was a devotee of satirist William Hogarth and in 1956 adapted the old master’s series of condemnatory cartoons (painted in 1732-34 and released as staggeringly popular engraved prints in 1735) to modern usage and characterisation. Included here in its entirety to conclude our fun, The Rake’s Progress follows the rise and fall of a number of contemporary figures – The Athlete, The Girlfriend, The Soldier, The Poet, The Trade Union Leader, The Actor, The Painter (he based this one on himself), The Don (an English academic, not an American gangster but such confusion is easy to understand), The Dramatic Critic, The Doctor, The MP, The Clergyman, The Novelist, The Humourist, The Master of Foxhounds and The Great Lover – with all the excoriating venom and wit you’d expect from a master of people watching…

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant stuff! See for yourself, whatever side of the battle lines you cower behind…
© 1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959 by Ronald Searle.

This selection © Ronald Searle 2000, 2006. Introduction © Nicholas Lezard, 2000. All rights reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Fables and Funnies: Dell Comics Stories 1942-1949

By Walt Kelly, compiled by David W. Tosh (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-905-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-595-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unmatched Imagination and Timeless Treasures… 10/10

Justifiably revered for his brilliant newspaper strip Pogo, and 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 in 1949, he crafted stories celebrating the season of Good Will (and other yearly milestones such as Easter) for West Coast printing giant Western Printing & Lithographing who subcontracted their comic books to publisher Dell.

Santa Claus Funnies and Christmas with Mother Goose were Holiday institutions in both their Four Color and Dell Giant incarnations, with the sheer beauty and charm of Kelly’s work defining what Christmas should be for two generations. His prodigious talents served to preserve and further the classic traditions of fairy tale and fable illustration in those years.

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 Newsweekstarred Kelly and his cartoon cast on the cover.

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous aforementioned animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney rights license amongst many other popular properties – at that time.

Despite his glorious work on major mass-market, people-based classics such as the Our Gang spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4thth 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

In this superb hardback and digital collection – offering vintage delights from Animal Comics #1, 21, 22, 28 and 30 (1942-1947), Fairy Tale Parade #7 (1943), Four Color #59, 87, 103 (Easter With Mother Goose) and 253 (Christmas With Mother Goose) which span 1944-1949 plus material from Our Gang with Tom and Jerry #45 (1948), Raggedy Ann and Andy #3, 5, 8, 9, 14, 16, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28 and 30 (1946-1948) and Santa Claus Funnies (1942) by Dell Publishing Co., as well as March of Comics #3 from 1947 – we can revel in his boundless charm and visual mastery again.

Augmented by sublime original artwork pages, this superb funfest opens with an appreciative preface by compiler David W. Tosh and Introduction ‘Walt Kelly’s Western Adventures’ by John E. Petty which outlines Kelly’s career and clarifies the odd relationship of Western and Dell.

None too soon we’re frolicking amidst the wondrous realms of fairies, elves, giants and talking beast as First Chapter Flights of Fancy opens with a 1946 yarn from Animal Comics #21. ‘Prehysteria with Koko’ is a smart and sassy romp as a caveboy toddler, his dog and a missing link go hunting, after which a band of otherworldly cherubs befriend an insignificant and affable wyrm and help out against a bullying giant in ‘Tiny Folk and the Dragon (Four Color #87, 1945).

Puckish pixies ‘The Brownies’ (Raggedy Ann and Andy #30, 1948) then pay for their scandalous attempts to pilfer a fresh-baked pie before a smart little girl shows up all the cowardly town adults and captures a sneaky band of bandits in ‘The Dragon of Dilly Dun Dee’ (Fairy Tale Parade #7, 1943): a wild and funny romp that really should have been an animated feature…

The focus switches to Animal Pals next as fauna foul and friendly entertain and educate, beginning with ‘Muzzy and Ginger’ (Animal Comics #1, 1942) as a chimp and a kitten strike up a unique and disaster-prone friendship when they are delivered to a city pet shop, whilst equally odd couple ‘Nibble and Nubble’ (Animal Comics #28, 1947) add a new spin to the legendary dynamic of cat vs mouse…

Worldly-wise mouse ‘Nibble’ (Animal Comics #30, 1947) then goes solo and outwits smug fellow housemates Dog and Parrot before ‘Elephunnies’ (Animal Comics #22, 1946) takes us to the jungle for an explosive slapstick riot of soundless comedy pranks.

Wrapping up the chapter, ‘Chippie’ (Raggedy Ann and Andy #30, 1948) reveals how an old owl helps a bullied, harried chipmunk save his cached winter reserves from a thieving blue jay…

Mother Goose gets her own chapter for a celebration of a lost art next, with Kelly combining hilarious visuals with rhyming couplets and other informative doggerel in a remarkably popular and long-lived feature aimed at pre-schoolers and based on classic stories and nursery rhymes. The fairy tale procession begins with ‘Old Woman Tossed Up in a Basket’ and ‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat’ (both from1944’s Four Color #59), followed by a non-stop parade of ‘Animal Mother Goose’ extracts from Raggedy Ann and Andy #3, 8, 9, 14, 16, 19, 20, 25, 26 and 28 (1946-1948) including ‘Winter’, ‘The Carrion Crow’, ‘The Pig in the Wig’, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and much, much more.

The Kids Know Best dips into Kelly’s glorious canon of Our Gang tales, with extended adventure plus a rowdy vignette.

Our Gang (later to be known as the Li’l Rascals) movie shorts were one of the most popular series in American Film history. Beginning in 1922, they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids” (atypically, though, there was full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys) having idealised adventures in a time safer, simpler yet more sinister.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach (he directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others) and these brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comic book written and drawn by Kelly who – consummate craftsman that he was – restored the wit, verve and charm of the cinematic glory days with a progression of tales that elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz or Huckleberry Finn.

Over the course of the first 8 issues the master raconteur moved beyond the films – good and otherwise – to build an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick-schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

That certainly applies in lead story ‘Our Gang and the Old House Mystery’ (March of Comics #3, 1947) as some of the gang are abducted by criminals who have replaced good old Doctor Baxter after which an untitled short from Our Gang with Tom and Jerry #45, 1948) sees toddler tykes Anastasia and Toby innocently cause a storm of domestic mayhem when they secretly raid the refrigerator…

Almost as big a deal as Christmas back then, Searching for the Easter Bunny then curates a selection of lively yarns taken from Four Color #103 as Easter With Mother Goose opens eponymously with a pictorial treat describing the kids of Nursery Rhyme land preparing their egg gifts even as ‘Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater’ offers sage storage advice and a search for the Easter Bunny ‘Through the Town’ proves fruitless.

‘Humpty Dumpty and the Giant’ reverts to strip form as the hapless ovoid innocent narrowly avoids being consumed by Reynard Fox only to be whisked away up a beanstalk to the clouds…

A trainee Easter Bunny’s first delivery goes awry but is fixed thanks to kindly assistance from chickens and ducks in ‘Buddy Bunny’s Problem’ whilst ‘The Three Blind Mice and Their Easter Gift’ cheer up ailing Tommy Tucker before a return to rhyme reveals the poetic attrition rate of ‘Ten Little Easter Eggs’

With best left ‘til last, Finally, It’s Christmas celebrates the Season, beginning with a brace of tales from Four Color #253 (Christmas With Mother Goose 1949), opening with ‘Jeminy’s Christmas’ wherein eager lad Wee Willie Winkiecauses unintended chaos by waking up a hibernating groundhog three months early. At least befuddled Jiminy gets to enjoy his first Xmas and even meet jolly old St. Nick, whereas in ‘The Three Blind Mice Play Santa’, when the trio’s antics interfere with post to the North Pole the guilt-ridden pests move mountains to make good on the catastrophe and ensure all the kids get what they deserve…

Wrapping up the merriment ‘The Fir Tree’ is a potent yet jolly adaptation of one of Hans Christian Andersen’s lesser known and rather creepy fables. Here a tree in the forest yearns for the day when it’s cut down and he becomes something useful…

It absolutely baffles me that Kelly’s masterful 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.

I’ve been right before and one day I will be again… just you wait and see…
Walt Kelly’s Fables and Funnies: Dell Comics Stories 1942-1949 Preface © 2016 David W. Tosh. Introduction © 2016 David John E. Petty. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 4: King Blozo’s Problem and more!

By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-936-1(HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-563-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Gift for All Sea Sons… 10/10

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, later, Buster Brown.

The celebrated cartoonist 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 (later known as 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.

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

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

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

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in digital editions) are issues #15-19 of Popeye’s comicbook series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning January/March 1951 to January/March 1952.

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 and fabulous collation of candid photos and assorted gems of merchandise.  Included here are newspaper strips from 1944 when Bud was ghosting the feature for Tom Sims & Bela Zaboly, and assorted Play-Storeactivity segments which Sagendorf contributed to Segar’s Sunday funny pages as his assistant in 1938 all contributing tothe wonder of the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, and we rejoin the parade of laughs and thrills three year later with #15 and a single-page two-tone ‘Popeye’s Work Shop!’ detailing how to build a working wooden motorboat and clothespin Olive Oyl doll.

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. ‘Animal Talk’ rockets along from gag to gag as the Sailor Man is captured by a mad scientist who accidentally imparts the ability to communicate with all “aminals”, after which Popeye becomes a constant mouthpiece for the beasts as they seek better conditions, culminating in the old sea dog harbouring an escaped circus ape and setting up a counselling service for fauna…

In a previous episode Popeye set up his own railway and in ‘Train Time!’ faces the wrath of delayed commuters when the service suddenly stops. After his engineer explains why the locomotive must not move, the mallow-hearted mariner finds another way to get those carriages rolling again…

Sagendorf had carte blanche to use any of Segar’s characters and revived one of the oldest and daftest as he pandered to the nation’s TV-fuelled obsession with westerns. ‘Thimble Theatre Presents Ham Gravy in The Boon Brothers Last Boom!!’ sees the dumb lummox wandering the plains as legendary gunslinger Three Gun Gravy and here by the most ridiculous methods ending the criminal careers of a wicked passel of owlhoots…

All comics of the era hosted prose stories to obtain favourable postage rates (it’s far too long and irrelevant a story to deal with here) but Dell opted for a run of early-reader stand-alone yarns that here begin with ‘Bugtown Capers’ wherein a Carnival comes to the little insect township and Larry and Lena Ladybug save a baby minibeast from a riding accident, after which Segar’s other brilliant creation J. Wellington Wimpy carves out his own over-sized portion of cartoon immortality in ‘The Elder Egg!’. Here the infernal optimist’s attempt to eat a gigantic ovoid he’s found prove to be no yolk…

Supplemented by art features ‘How to Draw Wimpy’ and ‘How to Draw a Cow’s Head’, this initial offering ends with an untitled red & black gag page wherein Popeye at sea sends home a houseful of animal mates for Olive and Wimpy to babysit and a full colour back-page jape with the surly sailor teaching an obnoxious diner chef not to call him a wimp…

Popeye #16 (April/June) opens with another superb cover and an activity page of puzzles, incorporating how to make assorted cork toys before ‘New Zoo’ revisits the hero’s bestial communication skills as a convocation of children implore the soft-hearted sailor man to stock a zoo for them. Convinced to ship out for Africa and seek out willing volunteers for exhibits, Popeye is unaware that a greedy hunter and pet trader G. R. Growl has infiltrated his crew with surly saboteurs determined to scupper his endeavours…

Another western-themed railroad yarn follows as ‘Gold Shipment!’ sees Popeye and Olive shipping bullion despite the most nefarious efforts of deadly desperado Jack Terror, after which Wimpy tries to exploit and monopolise the free food at a new burger stand’s ‘Grand Opening!’ before prose vignette ‘Sammy Bug in Deep Water!’ sees the accident-prone arthropod adrift on a leaf in the river…

Innocently skirting the borders of modern bad taste with its “traditional” depiction of a cartoon Red Indian foil, ‘Ham Gravy’ sees the sagebrush sap lose a tribal war over a duck dinner to end the issue – which also includes another activity page of puzzles and ‘How to Draw a Fish’.

Behind another superb Sagendorf gag cover, #17 (July/September) opens – and closes – with a prose ‘Bug Tales’ yarn wherein Larry Ladybug uses archery to battle a hungry Tiger Beetle. The comics content commences with ‘King Blozo’s Problem’ as the ever-anxious monarch of Spinachovia summons Popeye with a dangerously experimental communications device, after which ‘Ham Gravy and his Indian Friend’ play ever-escalating practical jokes on each other over a non-existent gold mountain…

Following the conclusion of the Bug Tales text, an untitled full colour back page gag sees the sailor man fail to lead by example when teaching his friends to forgive and forget…

Ending 1951, Popeye #18 (October/December) offers inner covers text tale ‘Sammy Bug’s Big Leap!’, detailing how not to jump over the moon before ‘Popeye and the Box!’ finds our hero attracting the curiosity of his friends and the unwanted attentions of spies and thugs after agreeing to look after a parcel entrusted to him by his shady dad Poopdeck Pappy

In ‘Kitty! Kitty!’ the sappy swab adopts a rather unique house pet, whilst his efforts to dig ‘The Tunnel’ through a mountain for his railroad leads to war with a hostile hermit and unexpected consequence for all.

Wimpy’s attempts to secure a free ‘Duck Dinner!’ then inspire shock and awe in deranged roboticist R. O. Spring, before the issue ends with another untitled back-page laugh riot as Popeye goes fishing…

The final issue in this collection (#19, January/March 1952) introduces a new prose star as ‘Otto Octo in a Snappy Cargo!’ sees a playful young cephalopod’s reach exceed his grasp(s) before Popeye enjoys ‘A Thousand Bucks Worth of Fun’ by letting little baby Swee’ Pea wander through the roughest part of town with an extremely high denomination greenback in his tiny fist…

‘Popeye and the Happy Spring’ then sees the cast at sea and encounter magic water that alters their ages, before fresh face Sherm! takes a fantastic ride in a flying wonder car in ‘Hitch Hikers’.

A half-page colour Popeye join-the-dots puzzle and the conclusion of ‘Otto Octo in a Snappy Cargo!’ brings us to one last back page gag with Swee’ Pea using “infink” ingenuity to clean his room without throwing anything away…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last century Thimble Theatre and its most successful son have delighted readers – and viewers – around the world. This book is simply one of many but definitely top tier entertainment for those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this terrific treasure trove of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 4 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.



Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking

By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-624-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Lost Treasures for the Nubbin-Sized Nostalgiacs… 9/10

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal, especially as, since the characters made the jump to television with the airing on December 9th 1965 of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the little nippers have become an integral part of the American Yule experience.

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for fifty years. He published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000 and died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire. That profitable sideline – one Schulz devoted barely any time to over the decades – is where this little gem originates from…

Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

The usual focus of the feature (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who, with high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy endures a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast who hang out doing kid things in a most introspective, self-absorbed manner.

The daily gags centre on playing (pranks, sports, musical instruments), teasing each other, making ill-informed observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The cast also includes mean girl Violet, infant prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy Van Pelt , her other-worldly baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen”: each with a signature twist to the overall mirth quotient and sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles.

Charlie Brown is settled into his existential angst and resigned to his role as eternal loser: singled out by fate. It’s a set-up that was timelessly funny and infinitely enduring…

Available in a child-friendly hardback and digital formats, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking re-presents two rare and seasonally-appropriate Peanuts offerings that will delight fans whilst offering a largely counter-capitalist spin to this time of year.

In 1962 Happiness is a Warm Puppy – a book of original Peanuts material – hit the national Best-Seller lists and stayed there for a year, prompting the author to create another. However, “Sparky” Schulz was a deeply religious man and was very concerned about reminding his readers of the true meaning of Christmas, not just developing another revenue stream.

When the opportunity arose, Schulz jumped at the chance to craft a mini-book premium that would be given away with the December 1963 issue of Good Housekeeping.

In the strips, Schulz always considered guileless innocent Linus as his spiritual spokesperson (we’d probably say “avatar” today), and in the booklet the blanket-lover leads the kids in examining the season and their unquestioned practise of leaving out their woollen loot-catchers with disarming candour and wry wit. The tale is told in a series of full-page, flat-colour illustrations balanced by a simple text block: the usual format for kids’ picture books.

The remainder of this archival treasure is a similarly-themed project from 1968: three years after the monster-hit TV special which had be retransmitted every December since its debut.

Here ‘The Christmas Story’ is also printed at one panel (with word balloons) per page, but when it was first seen in the December 1968 Woman’s Day magazine, the characters copped not only the cover but four full pages of the interior in a proper, respectable, prestigious comics section.

Overtly spiritual in tone, this tale sees Linus reading the nativity story from the Gospel of St. Luke to Snoopy, who then endures a baffling and thought-provoking alternate view of the season from arch bread-head Lucy…

Supplementing the well-meaning whimsy are informative background articles About “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking”, About “The Christmas Story” and About the Author, adding historical context to the cartoon wonderment: a rare masterpiece of thoughtful comedy gold demonstrating Schulz’s spellbinding graphic mastery that how his kids have become part of the fabric of billions of lives.
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Stocking © 1963, 1968, 2013 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.

Leo Baxendale’s Sweeny Toddler

By Leo Baxendale & others (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-726-8 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Bonkers, Inspired Lunacy… 10/10

If you know British Comics, you know Leo Baxendale.
He was the epitome of rebellious, youth-oriented artistic prodigies who, largely unsung, went about seditiously transforming British Comics: entertaining millions and inspiring uncounted numbers of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Joseph Leo Baxendale (27th October 1930 – 23rd April 2017) was educated at Preston Catholic College, served in the RAF and was born on 27th October 1930, in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire – but not necessarily in that order.

His first paid artistic efforts were drawing ads and cartoons for The Lancashire Evening Post but his life – and the entire British comics scene – changed in 1952 when he began freelancing for DC Thomson’s top weekly The Beano.

Leo assumed creative control of moribund Lord Snooty and his Pals and originated anarchically surreal strips Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Three Bears and When the Bell Rings. This last strip soon metamorphosed into the legendary, lurgy-packed Bash Street Kids, thereby altering the daily realities and lifetime sensibilities of millions of readers and generations of kids.

Baxendale also contributed heavily to the creation of comics tabloid The Beezer in 1956, but, following editorial and financial disputes with his editors, migrated in 1962 to London-based, Harmsworth-owned conglomerate Odhams/Fleetway/IPC.

South of the border, his initial humorous creations included Grimly Feendish, General Nitt and his Barmy Army, Bad Penny and a horrid horde of similarly revoltingly, uncannily engaging oiks, yobs and weirdoes who cumulatively made the company’s “Power Comics” era such a joy to behold.

During the 1970s he devised more remarkable cartoon star turns which, whilst not perhaps as groundbreaking as Plum, Minnie, or The Bash Street Kids nor as subversively enticing as Wham, Smash and Pow creations such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, The Swots and the Blots or The Tiddlers (or indeed, as garishly outlandish as George’s Germs or Sam’s Spook), remained part of the nation’s junior landscape for decades ever after.

The main body of his later creations appeared in Buster: features such as The Cave Kids, Big Chief Pow Wow, Clever Dick and Snooper. Baxendale latterly foisted Willy the Kid on the world before creating his own publishing imprint – Reaper Books.

He also sued DCT for rights to his innovative inky inventions: a 7-year struggle that was eventually settled out of court. Other notable graphic landmarks include pantomimic vision THRRP!, his biography A Very Funny Business: 40 Years of Comics and the strip I Love You, Baby Basil which ran in The Guardian during the early 1990s.

Signature stinker Sweeny Toddler debuted in Shiver and Shake in 1973, unsurprisingly surviving repeated mergers – with Whoopee! and Whizzer and Chips – before settling in at the seemingly unsinkable Buster.

This stunning hardback (and eBook) celebration – hopefully the first of many gathering the entire run – is another crucial addition to Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics. It gathers the episodes from Shiver and Shake (spanning March 10th 1973 to 5th October 1974), plus the first tranche from Whoopee!, beginning with 23rd November 1974 until 7th June 1975).

The potent package is suitably garnished with an appreciative and informative Introduction by his son Martin (who also drew the Bad Boy’s adventures after Baxendale senior moved into publishing) and is a magnificent exercise in manic misrule starring the absolute worst baby in the world…

In a simple terrace house with the legend “Tremble wiv fear, Sweeny livs here” scrawled all over it, lives a spotty (occasionally be-stubbled) mono-fanged tyke who is disturbingly fast and strong with a physiognomy that can sour milk.

He is able to read – after a fashion – and that, coupled with a lethally low tolerance for boredom and obedience, means the nasty nipper always finds new and distressing ways to amuse himself at someone else’s expense…

With or without faithful dog and eager abettor Hairy Henry, Sweeny turns every pram ride into a pulse-pounding rollercoaster adventure for his poor benighted mum and grandad, every visit to park, shop or museum into a heart-stopping chase and every cuddlesome interlude with ill-advised adults into an exhausting episode in psychological and physical torture…

At least six strips re-presented here are not by Baxendale, but record-keeping is sadly incomplete. Chances are they’re drawn by Tom Paterson, who eventually took over the feature (or possibly Roy Nixon?) but they are all deliciously weird and wonderful: a blend of unbeatable whacky wordplay, explosive slapstick and bizarre situations, garnished by Baxendale’s unique and evocative sound effects: once read, never forgotten…

Briefly retitled Help! It’s Sweeny Toddler in experimental pages that feature second stories starring monstrous beasts living the borders and margins of the panel dividers, the latter pages never lost the eccentric impetus of the first, with the baby from hell, as ever, mugging old ladies, postmen, schoolboys and other unwary visitors; creating his own zoo, attempting to sneak into X films (remember those, kids?) and totally tormenting anyone who treats him like a child…

As well as straight strips, this first collection also offers ‘Sweeny Toddler’s Beat the Bully Guide’ and graphic game ‘Sweeny Toddler’s Fifty Frightful Faces!’, proving the vile versatility of the little villain…

Leo Baxendale was one-of-a-kind: a hugely influential, much-imitated master of pictorial comedy and noxious gross-out escapades whose work deeply affected (some would say warped) generations of British and Commonwealth kids.

We’ll not see his like again, but these astoundingly engrossing comedy classics are a perfect example of his resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, whimsically anarchic, outrageously aggressive, crazily confrontational and gleefully grotesque – starring an unremittingly rebellious force of nature with no impulse control.

Sweeny Toddler says and does whatever he wants as soon as he thinks of it, albeit usually to his own detriment and great regret: a rare gift, usually only employed by madmen and foreign Presidents…

These cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all comics history: smart, eternally, existentially funny and immaculately rendered. This a treasure-trove of laughs that spans generations and must be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, 1975 & 2019 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Sweeny Toddler is ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations

By Ken Reid, with Reg Parlett, Robert Nixon & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-660-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Hopelessly Hilarious Horrendousness… 10/10

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

He was one of a select and singular pantheon of 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 by constantly 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. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken 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 (The Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) 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 amongst many more.

In 1964, Reid and fellow under-appreciated superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship to work 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 Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid luxury hardback (and eBook) is Creepy Creations.

Part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics collected here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake episodes (spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974), plus related works from contemporary Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) sterling for their successful efforts.

The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles that begin with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

The convoluted history of Ken’s feature (which came and went by way of 1960s cult icon Power Comics, Mad magazine, Topps Trading Cards and even stranger stops and was originally intended to save him having to draw the same old characters every day) is detailed in an engrossing historical overview by Irmantas Povilaika dubbed ‘Plus a “Funny Monsters” Competition with These Fantastic Prizes’ before the real wonderment ensues…

Astounding popular from beginning to end, Creepy Creations offered a ghastly, giggle-infused grotesque every week: a string of macabre graphic snapshots (some, apparently, too horrific to be published at the time!) beloved by kids who adore being grossed out.

Seen here are ratified Reid-beasts like ‘The One-Eyed Wonk of Wigan,’, ‘The Chip Chomping Tater Terror of Tring’ and the ‘The Boggle-Eyed Butty-Biter of Sandwich’, his stunning kid collaborations on arcane animals like ‘The Gruesome Ghoul from Goole’ or ‘Nelly, the Kneecap-Nipping Telly from Newcastle’, and due to the stark demands of weekly deadlines, there are even cartoon contributions from UK comics royalty Reg Parlett and Robert Nixon.

Supplementing and completing the eldritch, emetic experience are a selection of Creepy Creations Extras, comprising images and frontispieces from Christmas Annuals, the entire ‘Creepy Creations Calendar for 1975’, four pages of ‘Mini Monsters’, and the entire zany zodiac of ‘Your HORRORscope’

Adding even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collection…

Ken Reid died in 1987 from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Faceache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancelation in October 1988.

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This a treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book

By Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-83621-852-7 (TPB)

Almost any event big or small is best experienced through the eyes of a child – and better yet if he’s a fictional waif controlled by the whimsical sensibilities of a comic strip genius like Bill Watterson.

Calvin is the child in us all; Hobbes is the sardonic unleashed beast of our Aspirations; no, wait… Calvin is this little boy, an only child with a big imagination and a stuffed Tiger that is his common sense and moral sounding board…

No; Calvin is just a lonely little boy and Hobbes talks only to him. That’s all you need or want.

A best-selling strip and critical hit for ten years (running from November 18th 1985 through December 31st 1995), Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a comet and we’re all now the poorer for its passing. The strip redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children all possess, and made us adults laugh, and so often cry too: its influence shaping a generation of up-and-coming cartoonists and comicbook creators.

We all wanted a childhood like that kid’s; bullies, weird teachers, obnoxious little girls and all. At least we could – and still do – visit…

The Daily and Sundays appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers all over the planet and from 2010 reruns have featured in over 50 countries. There have been 18 unmissable collections (selling over 45,000,000 copies thus far), including a fabulous complete boxed set edition in both soft and hard cover formats. I gloat over my hardback set almost every day.

Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that follows a comic strip mega-hit and dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest treatments on childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction. All purists need to know is that the creator cites unique sole-auteur strips Pogo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts as his major influences and all mysteries are solved…

Calvin is a hyper-active little boy growing up in a suburban middle-American Everytown. There’s a city nearby, with museums and such, and a little bit of wooded wilderness at the bottom of the garden. The kid’s smart, academically uninspired and happy in his own world. He’s you and me. His best friend and companion is stuffed tiger Hobbes, who – as I might have already mentioned – may or may not be alive. He’s certainly far smarter and more ethically evolved than his owner…

And that’s all the help you’re getting. If you know the strip you already love it, and if you don’t you won’t appreciate my destroying the joys of discovery for you. This is beautiful, charming, clever, intoxicating and addictive tale-telling, blending wonder and laughter, socially responsible and wildly funny.

After a miraculous decade, at the top of his game Watterson retired the strip and himself, and though I bitterly resent it, and miss it still, I suppose it’s best to go out on a peak rather than fade away by degrees. I certainly respect and admire his dedication and principles.

This slim tome collects some of the earliest full-colour Sunday pages from the strip, and includes a new 10-page adventure painted in staggeringly lovely watercolours. Imaginative, dazzling, unforgettably captivating, these are some of the best of Watterson’s work. You should have them in your house.

The entire Calvin and Hobbes canon is still fully available in solo volumes and the aforementioned wrist-cracking box set but not, sadly, in a digital edition yet. You can however, enjoy digital dollops of this graphic milestone if so inclined by going to They are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform, so there’s no reason for you not to make this brilliant example of our art form a permanent part of your life. And you’ll thank me for it, too…
© 1989 Universal Press Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.