Edwurd Fudwupper FIBBED BIG – Explained by Fannie Fudwupper with Berkeley Breathed Helping Slightly


By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co./Storyopolis)
ISBN: 978-0-316-14291-5 (HB) 978-0-316-14425-4 (Album PB)

I’ve been watching The News and getting upset by politicians’ obnoxiously blatant disregard for probity and dearth of ethical standards, not just in my own bankrupt-in-every-aspect Britain, but everywhere else too – except maybe New Zealand (Nice One, Jacinda).

As is always the case in such circumstances, I turned to comics and cartoons for solace and found this. Please read, enjoy and act according to the dictates of your conscience, if you have one…

Please Note: any similarity to other malign, malformed, bribe-fattened, emotionally stunted, eternally misbehaving overprivileged schoolboys currently serving at the Nation’s expense is just the way things are these days…

Throughout the 1980s and for half of the 1990s, Berke Breathed dominated the newspaper strip scene with agonisingly funny, edgy-yet-surreal political fantasy Bloom County and, latterly, Sunday-only spin-off Outland. They are all fully available digitally – so don’t wait for my reviews, just get them now!

At the top of his game and swamped with awards like Pulitzers, Breathed retired to concentrate on books like Red Ranger Came Calling, Mars Needs Moms! or Flawed Dogs: The Year End Leftovers at the Piddleton “Last-Chance” Dog Pound and sequel Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster. They rank among the best America has ever produced. Get them too.

His first foray into the field was 1991’s A Wish for Wings That Work: a Christmas parable featuring his signature character, and the most charmingly human one. Between 2003 and 2008, Breathed revived Opus as a Sunday strip, before eventually capitulating to his career-long antipathy for the manic deadline pressures of newspaper production and often-insane, convoluted contradictions of editorial censorship.

It seemed his ludicrous yet appealing cast of misfits – all deadly exponents of irony and common sense residing in the heartland of American conservatism – were gone for good, until the internet provided a platform for Breathed to resume his role as a gadfly commentator on his own terms. Since 2015, Bloom County has mocked, exposed and shamed capitalism, celebrities, consumerism, popular culture, politicians, religious leaders and people who act like idiots. Donald Trump figures prominently and often, but that might just be coincidence…

These later efforts, unconstrained by syndicate pressures to not offend advertisers, are also available as book collections. You’ll want those too, and be delighted to learn that all Breathed’s Bloom County work is available in digital formats – fully annotated to address the history gap if you didn’t live through events such as Iran-Gate, Live-Aid, Star Wars (both cinematic and military versions), assorted cults and televangelists experiencing less than divine retribution and sundry other tea-cup storms that make us Baby Boomers so rude and defensive…

Not quite as renowned, but every inch as crucial to your enjoyment, is the lost gem on display today: a paean to the power of principles and effects of honesty, all wrapped up in a children’s book about a mean kid with no moral compass…

As previously stated, after the all-too-brief, glittering outing as a syndicated strip cartoonist and socio-political commentator (usually the very same hallowed function) Breathed left strips to create children’s picture books.

He lost none of his perception, wit or imagination, and actually got better as an artist. Even so, he never quite abandoned his entrancing cast of characters and always maintained the gently excoriating, crusading passion and inherent bittersweet invective which underscored those earlier narratives.

Moreover, he couldn’t ignore that morally uplifting component of his work that so upset hypocrites, liars, greedy people and others who let us all down while carping on about being unfairly judged and how we don’t really understand complex issues. Trust me, we – and Breathed – understand perfectly…

This crushingly captivating cartoon catechism ruminates on the cost and worth of family and idiocy of arrogant aggrandizement and self-congratulatory self-importance. It is lensed through the fabled truism of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, as little sister Fannie complains again about her idiot brother…

Edwurd Fudwupper tells lies because he wants to, because he can and because of the chaotic consequences his dissembling causes. The only thing he isn’t, is convincing. Always in trouble, he narrowly and perpetually weasels out of instant retribution due to his facility for fibs, but now Fannie recalls the day when that stopped working…

After a couple of whoppers lead to the disappearance of a neighbour and destruction of beloved family property, Edwurd’s automatic response of lying big and compounding nonsense with bigger balderdash sparks community calamity, mass military deployment and imminent alien invasion. As the Earth stands still in the moment before utter disaster, a small voice speaks out…

Delivered in sharp and lyrical rhyme like a weaponised Dr. Seuss story, and with lush lavish illustrations painted in the stunningly grotesque exaggeration beloved of Ralph Steadman and Terry Gilliam cartoons, this is a book to trigger personal reflection, audit consciences and promote better behaviour, but it will make grown citizens howl and children sit up and pay attention. It’s also deliciously funny. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll think hard before calling in sick or blaming the dog – or opposition or asylum seekers – for eating your homework…
© 2000 Berkeley Breathed. All rights reserved.

Ken Reid’s Football Funnies – The First Half


By Ken Reid (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-883-8 (HB/Digital edition)

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

He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, artistic prodigies who – largely unsung and regularly uncredited – 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 apparently 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 debuted 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. Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy were published in Comic Cuts and he sent submissions to prestigious market leader The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection – 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 with Reid drawing the feature until 1959. He 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 Face Ache – 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. Ken Reid died that year from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd . He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew it until cancelation in October 1988.

All his working life, Reid innovated; constantly devising new strips like Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World, Creepy Creations and World-Wide Weirdies. He was also always open to fresh opportunities. This collection gathers a quartet of series he created for specialist comics weeklies Scorcher and Scorcher and Score: both specialist boys’ periodicals blending strips, photo-features and general sports journalism dedicated to the beautiful game.

Preceding them is text feature ‘Kicking it Off…’ by Reid’s son Antony J., describing the circumstances that saw a man in his 50s with no appreciable interest in or knowledge of football accept an offer from a desperate editor and pull off a hat trick (plus one!) of unique series by displaying the seldom seen side of the great scribbler: his inspirational and ironclad professionalism and admirable “have-ago” attitude…

Scorcher kicked off on January 10th 1970, became Scorcher and Score after 77 issues (by merging with Score ‘n’ Roar in early July 1971) and called “time” with the October 5th 1974 issue – a further 171 outings. Its best bits were ultimately absorbed into Tiger, but Annuals and Summer Specials continued to appear until 1984.

As suits the nature of the magazines, each Reid picture riot (originally running from January 1970 to mid-1972) is individually hilarious but in total a bit formulaic. That was never a problem at the time as editors held the belief that readers had a definite shelf-life and would quickly move on to better things… like Chaucer, Len Deighton, or the back pages of The Sun or Daily Mirror…

Moreover, Reid was meant to be a half-time palate cleanser. Straight football comics content was already covered by traditional – if often unconventional – strips like Kangaroo Kid, Royal’s Rangers, Bobby of the Blues, Paxton’s Powerhouse, Lags Eleven, Jack of United, Jimmy of City, and later classics Hotshot Hamish, Nipper, and Billy’s Boots.

The line-up for Scorcher #1 included Reid’s Sub (He’s always on the sidelines!), with unfit, unloved and decidedly fiendish Duggie Dribble on the touchline. He was always there: as well as being hated by Biggleswick Wanderers’ manager and other players, Dribble was useless on the field. His disappointment turned to malice and he spent his days trying to take out his own teammates just so he could get a game…

Before being replaced in the August 15th edition, Duggie conspired to maim, poison, hypnotise, overfeed, electrocute his colleagues, and regularly employed other tactics, like sabotaging kit, relocating matches, wrecking pitches and even occasionally offering to play for the opposition in his fervour for a kickabout in front of roaring crowds – who didn’t much like him either.

Each episode is a single page masterclass in black comedy, macabre timing and grotesque excess that would do the Addams Family proud…

Substituting for Dribble’s doomed tactics, Football Forum (August 15th 1970-January 16th 1971) took a satirical and often absurdly surreal swipe at TV pundits as a panel of experts answered questions posed by readers – for the usual £1 postal order despatched to the lucky cove who fired Reid’s imagination that week. The panel included referee Percival Peeps, Centre-Forward Charlie Cannon and a guest speaker carefully tailored to deliver maximum laughs. Subjects covered included ‘The best way to take a penalty’; ‘is soccer too dirty?’; ‘players’ hair length’; ‘are players overpaid?’, ‘are referees too soft?’ and ‘how to deal with teams who play the offside trap’ but the answers were never helpful and frequently led to mayhem, carnage and use of the damp sponge…

Arguably, Reid’s most well-regarded contribution was Manager Matt, who began his career in the January 23rd edition. Pompous and self-important Matt was fed up with the standard of positions he was offered at the Labour Exchange and was fortunate enough to be passing by Mudchester United’s ground just as the corrupt and doddering Board of Directors agreed that what they needed was a complete fool to take the blame for their mismanagement and malfeasance. Soon the perfect scapegoat was in situ: a man who knew nothing about anything…

To be fair, it was the perfect set-up, because the stadium was a shambolic neglected ruin and the players were little better than beasts and bullies. Over the next 29 weeks, team and neophyte tyrant slowly gelled into a bunch of useless strangers who hated each other but somehow managed to win a few matches and even go on a world tour that enabled them to bring home a sack full of European silverware…

Manic and compulsive, these tales are less about football than the fundamentals of slapstick comedy, but they are astoundingly entertaining.

Concluding this first foray into football fun comes a strip you can’t help but feel is Reid being utterly honest with himself and the readers.

Hugh Fowler – The man who HATES football! launched in the August 14th issue (and ran until May 6th 1972), with a man very much the prototype of Basil Fawlty fulminating and thundering over his loathing for the Beautiful Game.

Each week he attempted to spoil matches, maim players and even excise the sport from the ken of mankind. Obviously he ultimately failed in his endeavours as people still gather to sing songs, eat pies and cheer on fit people as they chase a ball, but that’s probably due more to the interference of pesky kids spoiling his schemes than his facility with explosives, superglue, kidnapping, pitch sabotage, match fixing, ball tampering and so forth.

He even tried to remove the sport from libraries and stop the printing of Scorcher and Score, but somehow his divine crusade never achieved its aims…

There’s a bit of extra time left in this initial foray, and an Annuals sections calls up a couple of Sub shorts from the Scorcher Annual 1970 whilst the 1971 seasonal package finds Manager Matt languishing in laundry woes and the 1973 edition sees Hugh Fowler extend his campaign to include arcade games with equally unpleasant outcomes…

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these lesser known cartoon capers are a welcome reintroduction to the canon of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This is one more treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase. Part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, this is a superb tribute to the man and a brilliant reminder of what we all love…
© 1970, 1971, 1972, & 2021 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Buz Sawyer volume 4: Zazarof’s Revenge


By Roy Crane, with Henry G. “Hank” Schlensker & Edwin Granberry (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-975-2 (HB)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper strips: pictorial features that were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous. Hugely popular with the public and highly valued by publishers who used them as a weapon to secure sales and increase circulation, strips seemed to find their only opposition in blinkered local editors who often resented the low brow art form, which cut into potential ad space and regularly drew complaint letters from cranks…

It’s virtually impossible for us today to understand the overwhelming allure and power of the comic strip – especially from the Great Depression to the end of the 1950s. With limited television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comics sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were universally enjoyed recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality of graphic sagas and humorous episodes.

From the start comedy was king; hence our terms “Funnies” and “Comics”. From these jest and stunt beginnings – blending silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and vaudeville antics – came an entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting in April 1924, Washington Tubbs II was a comedic, gag-a-day strip which evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. For years, Crane spun addictive high-quality pictorial yarns – until his introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy ushered in the age of adventure strips with the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

This led to a Sunday colour page which was possibly the most compelling and visually imaginative of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (see Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volumes 1-4). Improving almost minute by minute, it benefited from Crane’s relentless quest for perfection. His fabulously imaginative compositional masterpieces attained a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of his pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries like Hergé, giants-in-waiting such as Charles Schulz or comic book masters Alex Toth, John Severin and many more.

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

They just didn’t lift the artist any more so he stopped making them. At the height of his powers, Crane walked away from the astounding Captain Easy Sunday page; concentrating on the daily feature until his contract expired in 1943 whereupon he left United Features: lured away by that grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result was an aviator strip set in then-ongoing World War II: Buz Sawyer.

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

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

The wartime strip was – and remains – a marvel of authenticity: portraying not just action and drama of the locale and situation but crucially also capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing and staying alive. When the war ended the action-loving duo – plus fellow pilot/girl-chasing competitor Chili Harrison – all went looking for work that satisfied their thirst for action and adventure…

Crane had mastered popular entertainment tastes, blending adventure with drama and sophisticated soap opera, all leavened with raucous comedy in a seamless procession of unmissable daily episodes. He and his team of assistants – which over decades comprised co-writers Ed “Doc” Granberry, Clark Haas and Al Wenzel, and artists Hank Schlensker, Joel King, Ralph Lane, Dan Heilman, Hi Mankin & Bill Wright – soldiered on under relentless deadline pressure, producing an authentic and exotic funny romantic thriller rendered in his stark signature style as well as a prerequisite full-colour Sunday page.

This fourth stout and sturdy hardcover edition is a mostly monochrome tome re-presenting more magnificent strip shenanigans starring a dynamic All-American good guy, but now Buz is just another fading war hero: albeit admittedly a globetrotting, troubleshooting one and a newlywed husband to boot.

Having – after much kerfuffle, procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed, sexy skulduggery and delay – finally married extremely understanding childhood sweetheart Christy Jameson, our clean-cut boy-next-door then dragged her into his regularly perilous and frequently lethal working world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil: a company with fingers in many international pies and one most modern readers will find hard to consider “the Good Guys”…

These strips – made in collaboration with Granberry & Hank Schlensker – cover the societally turbulent period spanning July 1949 to June 1952, as America leaned hard into its dreams of Exceptionalism and enjoyed domestic boom times while embracing it’s self-appointed role as the World’s Policeman. Crane and his creative laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all beguilingly rendered in black-&-white through Crane’s masterly techniques employing line art and craftint (a tricky mechanical monochrome patterning effect which added greys and halftones to produce miraculous depths and moods to the superb base drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

Before the ten self-contained tales here kick off, heavily-illustrated preliminary prose piece ‘The Three of Us are a Team’ (‘remarks at the New York Banshee Society’ from transcripts donated to Syracuse University) revisits Crane’s acceptance speech on winning the 1961 Silver Lady Award as determined by a collation of contemporary communications executives. Effusive and reminiscent, it sees him give his partners all the credit for the hard work in crafting the feature…

Buz Sawyer began on November 1st 1943 and ran until 1989. Crane officially retired with the April 21st 1977 episode (dying on July 7th) while it continued under Granberry, Schlensker, Haas, Wenzel and John Celardo until cancelation on October 7th 1989.

The story resumes with an example of contemporary trends…

Chimpanzees were becoming a popular story addition for most media as the 1940s ended (just look at movies or comic books) and ‘Monkey Business’ finds our happy couple back in the USA after an African honeymoon (of sorts) which left the them owners of a young chimp named Junior…

Anticipating decades of future sitcoms, the tale details how Junior plays up during a critical dinner party/holiday weekend held by Sawyer’s boss Colonel Harrison but the resulting debacle at a swish soiree on Harrison’s palatial estate fails to impress potential business partner Mr Tidley Bragg. A cheeky excuse for manic screwball comedy and social gaffes, the chaos generates explosive hilarity, humiliation and Buz’s sacking before fate intervenes to show everyone that Junior was a boisterous blessing in disguise…

Swiftly rehired, Buz heads south, encountering ‘Revolution’ (September 19th 1949 – January 18th 1950) in a Central American republic. Frontier Oil was seeking an oil concession, but apparently their agent – Barstain – had played a double game. Before long, Buz is using his war experiences to lead a counter revolution to save democracy…

January 20th- June 17th offers a grimly chilling change of pace as ‘Buz Alone’ sees Christy and her husband on a well-earned vacation at a Florida honeymoon cottage. Tragically, danger is never far from them, and the brief idyll is shattered after a nature-watching boat trip leaves them stranded on a sandbar with no food, water, shelter or prospect of rescue.

A true champion, Buz survives a gruelling swim to the mainland and returns in a seaplane only to find three men on the sandbar and no trace of Christy. When he gets agitated, he’s accused of making it all up and – if she ever existed – doing away with the woman…

Beaten up when he tries to search their boat, Buz is left to pick up the pieces and track down Christy. In his hunger for clues, he is manipulated by a woman seeking a new husband – and someone to remove her current one – before eventually clashing with vengeful old enemy Harry Sparrow. At no time does he ever get near his missing better half…

While he flounders, a comely, capable lady with no memory is picked up on the mainland before losing herself amidst the sleazy local underworld. With the police now assisting, Buz sets out on the fresh trail, aided by trusty pal Sweeney. After more trauma and tribulation, Christy is found, but it’s not the girl Buz married yet – not by a long shot…

A return to lighter intrigue and enterprise comes when spoiled debutante ‘Diana’ (June 19th – November 24th) makes Daddy find her a job. Unluckily for Buz, Remington Chase is a bigwig at Frontier and his bored hellion of a daughter likes the idea of being Sawyer’s secretary – or at least the idea of Sawyer…

Even debonair Chili Harrison can’t sway her aim and when Buz “escapes” into work – despatched to Iron Curtain nation Sovmania just when he and Christy began looking at homes to buy – Miss Chase infuriatingly follows. Negotiating with the Soviets is tricky enough, but when it’s a US corporation demanding the communists hand back wells and refineries they illegally annexed and expropriated, Sawyer knows he can’t win and may end up mysteriously deceased. It’s no surprise to find Diana draws attention and danger like a magnet, but her response when the oppressors decide to arrest them is a life-changing revelation.

Spectacular spy games give way to a lighter interlude when Buz reunites with Christy and they babysit a parrot named ‘William Shakespeare’ (November 24th 1950-January 6th 1951). The beloved baby of a poetry professor, with an astounding talent for repeating what he hears, the bird proves to be even more trouble that their chimp was…

Clearly qualified in policing difficult customers, Buz is then assigned to locate a wandering landowner with 6,000 prime acres to lease. ‘Wish Jones’ (January 8th to April 19th) is old, homely, rich, romantic, suggestible and (suddenly) married to exotic dancer Taffy Fawn. However, he hasn’t signed the contracts Frontier needs, leaving Buz playing catch across all the love nests of the South Pacific. The fixer’s greatest asset is Taffy herself, who never thought wedded bliss and matchless wealth included so much sand, birds or bugs. His biggest problem is that even desert island paradises have crooks, radios and newspapers…

Another episode of animal husbandry catastrophes – this time a dachshund and a voracious baby heron – leads implausibly to a sojourn in ‘Alaska’ (26th April – August 22nd) with Sawyer undercover as John Singer.

While seeking a geologist’s killers, he’s also acting as courier for the Government in a serious and solid spy escapade worthy of Alfred Hitchcock with abductions, misreported deaths, murderous sailors, devious twins, fake relatives and hidden uranium reserves all in play, with Buz’s survival skills pushed to the limit before his mission is accomplished.

In dire need of relaxation, the reunited Mr & Mrs Sawyer trust to fate and pluck a name out of an atlas for a vacation. They land in a lakeside resort boasting peace and quiet but dreary ‘Doldrums’ (August 23rd – September 29th) is soon a pandemonium of envy and excitement as bored couples seek to spice up their passionless lives by emulating the infamous, glamorous newcomers…

Eponymous epic ‘Zazarof’s Revenge’ spans October 1st 1951-January 10th 1952, opening with a global sabotage campaign against Frontier, leading Buz to Switzerland where there’s no doubt of mystery man Igor Zazarof’s guilt, but apparently no way to find or face him.

Ultimately, persistence and charm break down the villain’s obvious pawn Neri, whilst all attempts to bribe, frame, frighten or kill the American fail, leading to an extended and brutal duel to the death on a mountain peak as the only way to deal with Sawyer…

We conclude for now with home-grown bad men ‘The Hawks Boys’ (January 10th – June 19th) terrorising and sabotaging a Frontier installation in Utah. As assault escalates to murder, Buz discovers why the Hawks’ – already well-paid for the oil rights to their land – are doing everything they can to force the company to pull out. What could be worth more than oil and what won’t they do to keep their secret?

Completing this vivid vintage venture is a wry glimpse of Crane’s early days. With text written by Jeet Heer, ‘A Cartoonist’s Travels’ offers a brief gallery of cartoons about bums, hoboes, tramps and voyagers, with the artist drawing upon his own youthful experiences as an itinerant bindlestiff and drifter…

This a sublime slice of compelling comics wonder is an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus. Bold, daring, funny and astonishingly enthralling, these episodic exploits influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The series ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always delivering comics tale-telling unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible. Try it and see for yourself.
Buz Sawyer: Zazarof’s Revenge © 2016 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2016 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Green Eggs and Maakies


By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-618-8 (HB/Digital edition)

As a career and lifestyle, cartooning has far more than its share of individuals with a unique perspective on life. Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Steve Bell, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Gary Larson – the list is potentially endless.

Perhaps it’s the power to create entire carefully curated and scrupulously sculptured worlds coupled with the constant catharsis of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw – or maybe it’s simply the crucible of constant deadlines that makes their efforts so addictive and effective.

Tony Millionaire loves to draw and does it very, very well: referencing classical art, vintage children’s book illustration and an eclectic mix of pioneering comic strip draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and that George Herriman guy. These influences, styles and sensibilities he seamlessly blends with the vision of European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the pictorial storytelling racket. The result is eye-popping…

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as formative influences.

He has a variety of graphical strings to his bow – such as his own coterie of books for children like the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts and Sock Monkey series; animation triumphs and the brilliant if disturbing weekly strip Maakies – which recounts the riotously vulgar and absurdly surreal adventures of Irish monkey Uncle Gabby and fellow dissolute über-alcoholic/nautical adventurer Drinky Crow.

They are abetted but never aided by a peculiarly twisted, off-kilter cast of reprobates, antagonists and confrontational well-wishers such as Drunken Cop, old Wachtel, The Captain’s Daughter and avian Aunt Phoebe whilst constantly opposed by nefarious Gallic crocodile The Frenchman. Or not. Sometimes. It depends…

Launching in February 1994 in The New York Press, the strip is now widely syndicated in US alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly and The Stranger and globally in comics magazines like Linus and Rocky. There was even an animated series on Adult Swim.

Since continuity usually plays second fiddle to the avalanche of inventive ideas and outré action the strips can be read in almost any order, and the debauched drunkenness, manic ultra-violence in the manner of the best Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy cartoons, acerbic view of sexuality and deep core of existentialist angst still finds a welcome with Slackers, Laggards, the un-Christian and all those scurrilous lost Generations since X… and everyone addicted to bad taste tomfoolery. This lovely lush landscape collection from 2013 compiles two years of impossibly wonderful weirdness and plumbs new depths of daft depravity proving clearly time cannot wither his infinitely grotesque variety one little bit…

In the grand tradition of the earliest US newspaper cartoon features, each episode comes with a linked mini-strip running across the foot of the strip – although often that link is quite hard to ascertain. Nominally and notionally based in a naval setting of rousing rip-roaring 19th century sea-faring situations, replete with maritime monsters and stunning vistas, the dark-and-bitter comical instalments vary from staggeringly rude and crude through absolutely hysterical to conceptually impenetrable.

Be warned: Millionaire’s gags are utterly unfettered by bounds of taste or simplistic acquiescence to wholesome fun-squelching decency.

He often promotes his other creative endeavours on Maakies pages and digresses into autobiography and personal rants, brings in guest creators to mess with his toys and even invites the readership to contribute: ideas, pictures, objects of communal interest – especially any tattoos his dedicated readership can be enticed/bothered to submit. This penetratingly incisive, witty and often poignant cartoon arena is his playground and if you don’t like it, leave… but quietly please, ‘cause there’s a hangover going on here most days…

Green Eggs and Maakies offers, in starkly indisputable monochrome, more of the wonderful same with such spit-take, eye-watering, drinks-coming-out-of-your-nose moments as how mermaids and ugly fish are created, fun with snakes, the thoughts of ‘Real Ladies of the Dog Park’; arguably the best Superman fart joke ever, and so much more, scraped like barnacles from the edges of all time and space and history.

Moreover, in a positive frenzy of public-spirited beneficence, this book features ‘Maakies Womb Portraits’; returning visits of ‘Dr. Dubel, Helicopter Faith Healer’; easily absorbed lessons on ‘How to Drink’; scatological marriage proposals, a running commentary on ‘Married Days’ and general sex advice; revelations of ‘The Accidental Sobrietist’; secrets of such self-surgical procedures as removing impacted belly hair or how to conduct an auto-splenectomy; an ode to ‘The Robust Human Liver’ and more bright ideas from ‘The Universal Moon Genius’.

All the timeless favourite themes Millionaire specialises in are on show, and the usual variations of sordid sexual encounters, ghastly interspecies progeny, assorted single entendres, bodily function faux pas and gory death-scenes share space with some of literature’s greatest poets and sots – who never knew what hit them…

There are even a few continued tales starring ‘Noah’s Ark’, barbarian dwarf ‘Klaus Santa, son of Kleas, son of Wachtel’ and two sets of cut-out, colour-and-keep Christmas tree ornaments to make any seasonal pine a domestic no-go zone…

If you’re not easily upset this is a spectacularly funny and rewarding strip, one of the most constantly creative and entertaining in existence today, and if you can thrive on gorge-rousing gags and mind-bending rumination this is an experience you simply cannot deny yourself.

If you’re still not a fan, Green Eggs and Maakies is the perfect opportunity to become one, and if you’re already converted it’s an ideal gift for them that isn’t…
© 2013 Tony Millionaire. All rights reserved.

Popeye volume 1: Olive Oyl & Her Sweety (The E.C. Segar Popeye Sundays


By Elzie Crisler Segar with Sergio Ponchione, Cathy Malkasian & various(Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1- 68396-462-9 (PB/digital edition)

Popeye popped up in the Thimble Theatre comic strip for January 17th 1929. The strip was an unassuming feature that debuted on 19th December 1919: one of many newspaper cartoon funnies to parody, burlesque and mimic the era’s silent  movies serials. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies / Minute Movies .

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy, would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy (as he became) tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, fear-free adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928, when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of readers: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale, the walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The Sailor Man even affably bulldozed his way onto the full-colour Sunday Pages which form the main course of this curated collection spanning 2nd March 1930 through February 28th  1932.

This paperback is the first of four that will contain the entire Segar Sunday canon and is designed to be stored in a forthcoming slipcase. Spiffy as that sounds, the wondrous stories are also available in digital editions if you want to think of ecology or mitigate age and muscle strain in your spinach-deprived muskles…

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character.

Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy, mind games and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then. Olive was well ahead of her time: the serendipitous stick insect knew her mind and always gave better than she got…

Preceding the vintage treats, this tome also offers some modern and very lovely laudatory comic strips in Sergio (DKW; Grotesque; Memorabilia) Ponchione’s ‘Have a Segar’ and Cathy (Percy Gloom; Eartha) Malkasian’s ‘Oomph – A Popeye Short’: each offering their unique interpretations of Segar’s now meta-real cast and how they changed the world…

When the wondrous weekly full-page instalments start we see Castor Oyl heading home at the heart of the Depression accompanied by Ham Gravy who is appalled to find a ghastly sailor man pitching woo at his (presumed) sweet patootie. When the rival suitors clash, it’s Olive who has the final word …and throws the last punch!

From there onwards, in done-in-one gag instalments an unlikely but enduring romance blossomed (withered, bloomed, withered some more, hit cold snaps and early harvests – you get the idea…) as Olive pursued her man and Popeye vacillated between ignoring her and moving mountains to impress her. As she always kept her options open, he spent a lot of time fighting off – literally – her other gentlemen callers…

A mercurial creature, the maiden miss Oyl spent a lot of her time trying to stop her beau’s battles – tricky, as he spent his time ashore as an extremely successful “sprize fighter” – but would batter mercilessly any floozy who cast cow eyes at the devil-may-care matelot…

In these early formative Sundays, we see how Castor becomes Popeye’s manager and how originally-philanthropic millionaire Mr. Kilph moves from eager backer to demented arch enemy, willing to pay any price to see Popeye pummelled. Opponents include husky two-fisted guys with names like Bearcat, Mr. Spar, Kid Sledge, Joe Barnacle, Kid Smack, Kid Jolt, The Bullet, Johnny Brawn, an actual giant dubbed Tinearo and even a trained gorilla (Kid Klutch), but none ever win and Kilph goes crazier and crazier…

Among many timeless supporting characters, mega moocher J. Wellington Wimpy debuts here as a lazy and corrupt ring referee in extended, trenchant and scathingly witty sequences about boxing. Rowdy, slapstick cartoon violence is at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience keeps the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif, albeit one eternally at odds with cops and rich folk…

We see softer sides of the sailor-man as he repeatedly gives away multiple purses – and even houses – to widows and “orphinks”, and his rebellious core with numerous jail sentences self-commuted. Popeye always escapes, but – being scrupulously fair-minded – never fails to turn himself in when his latest escapade ends.

After a riot of fun, bonkers pugilism and mad love, this initial outing closes with the Sailor Man’s bold disclosure that the secret of his strength is spinach. Cue a riot at Rough-House’s seedy diner…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Week after week he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form: inventing narrative tricks and beats that generations of artists and writers would use in their own cartoon creations.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and well deserves his place as a world icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 93 years after their first? These volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of E.C. Segar and his brilliantly flawed superman. These are books that belong in every home and library.
This edition of Popeye Volume 1: Olive Oyl and Her Sweety is © 2021 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All Segar comics and drawings © 2021 King Features Syndicate. Inc./ ™Hearst Holdings, Inc. Strips provided by Bill Blackbeard and his San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, “Have a Segar!” © Sergio Ponchione. Translation © Jamie Richards. “Oomph” © Cathy Malkasian. All rights reserved.

Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-885-4 (TPB)

Richard Sala was a lauded and brilliantly gifted exponent and comics creator who deftly blended beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

A child who endured sustained paternal abuse, Sala grew up in Chicago and Arizona. Retreating into childish bastions of entertainment, he eventually escaped family traumas and as an adult earned a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. He became an illustrator after rediscovering a youthful love of comic books and schlock films that had brightened his youth.

His metafictional, self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw, Blab! and Prime Cuts, with animated adaptations produced for Liquid Television.

He died in 2020 aged 65, but his work remains welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with a host of women as his stars of choice: girl sleuth Judy Drood, the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia and this particular femme so very fatale…

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even Jack Kerouac: illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

This compelling mystery melange from 2015 combines a quartet of short comics treats commencing with the eponymous ‘Violenzia’: a vividly coloured and constructed pastiche of Hammer Horror films of a mystery maid and her gleaming guns, rousing villagers and pitilessly dealing with a sinister murder cult in the manner they deserve all while getting ever-closer to a very familiar monk-like mastermind…

That smartly witty twisty tale segues to an eerie sepia sampled soliloquy, poetically and despondently following a foredoomed soul retracing his steps until horrifying recalling what he’d ‘Forgotten’…

Macabre musings in the mode of a child’s alphabet primer, ‘Malevolent Reveries – An Alphabetical Exhibition’ mixes rhyme with crafty pictures of the artist’s cartoon canon of characters from ‘An Afternoon of Appalling Apparitions’ to ‘Zero Hour on Zombie Island’ cannily calm the nerves before climactic chills are unleashed when ‘Violenzia Returns’. This time her gunsights are set on the Council of Augers and her dogged pursuit throws up some sudden surprises and a whiff of doomed romance; or possibly just doom…

Clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging, this fabulous farrago of fantastic fiends and ferocious fights (also available in digital formats) is a perfect introduction to Sala’s worlds: a sublimely nostalgic escape hatch back to days when unruly children scared themselves silly under the bedcovers at night, and an ideal gift for idle moments for the big kid in your life – whether he/she/they are just you, imaginary or even relatively real…

Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements © 2015 Richard Sala. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-779-7 (HB)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

The incredible Sailor-Man first shumbled onto the world stage in comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17th 1929. Even though last year Fantagraphics began rereleasing this material in smaller less copious volumes – which I’ll also be reviewing – this initial colossal collection is probably my favourite vintage book ever and I mourn much that it’s out of print and unavailable digitally. I live in hope though…

Thimble Theatre was an unassuming comic strip which began on 19th December 1919; one of many newspaper features that parodied/burlesqued/mimicked the era’s (silent) movies. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies (later renamed Minute Movies).

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy, as he became, tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, gentle adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928 (the first strip reprinted in this astonishingly lavish and beautiful collection), when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

As eny fule kno Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of readers: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale, the walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The journey to Dice Island was a terrible one: Olive had stowed away, and Popeye – already doing the work of twelve men – did not like her. After many travails the power of Bernice succeeded and Castor bankrupted Dice Island, but as they sailed for home with their millions Fadewell and his murderous associate Snork hunted them across the oceans. Before long, Popeye settled their hash too, almost at the cost of his life…

Once home, their newfound wealth quickly led Castor, Ham and Olive into more trouble, with carpetbaggers, conmen and ne’er-do-wells constantly circling, and before long they lost all their money (a common occurrence for them), but one they thing they couldn’t lose was their sea-dog tag-along. The public – and Segar himself – were besotted with the unlovable, belligerent old goat. After an absence of 32 episodes Popeye shambled back on stage, and he stayed for good.

Although not yet the paramour of Olive, Popeye increasingly took Ham’s place as a foil for sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. After escaping jail at the start of ‘The Black Barnacle’ (December 11th 1929) they found themselves aboard an empty ship and at the start of a golden age of comic strip magic…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and it grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Day by day he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form, inventing narrative tricks and beats that a generation of artists and writers would use in their own works, and he did it while being scary, thrilling and funny all at once.

‘The Black Barnacle’ introduced the dire menace of the hideous Sea-Hag – one of the greatest villains in fiction – and the scenes of her advancing in misty darkness upon our sleeping heroes are still the most effective I’ve seen in all my years…

This incredible tale leads seamlessly into diamond-stealing, kidnappings, spurned loves, an African excursion and the introduction of wealthy Mr. Kilph, whose do-gooding propensities lead Castor and Popeye into plenty of trouble, beginning with the eerie science fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of Brownstone Hill’ and the return of the nefarious Snork, who almost murders the salty old seadog a second time…

The black and white dailies section ends with ‘The Wilson Mystery’ as Castor and Popeye set up their own detective agency – something that would become a common strip convention and the perfect maguffin to keep adventurers tumbling along. Even Mickey Mouse donned metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass for much of his own strip service…

These superb and colossal hardcover albums (200 pages and 368 mm by 268 mm) are augmented with fascinating articles and essays; including testimonial remembrances from famous cartoonists – Jules Feiffer in this first volume – and accompanied by the relevant full colour Sunday pages from the same period.

Here then are the more gag-oriented complete tales from 2nd March 1930 through February 22nd 1931, including the “topper” Sappo.

A topper was a small mini-strip that was run above the main feature on a Sunday page. Some were connected to the main strip, but many were just extraneous filler. They were used so that individual editors could remove them if their particular periodical had non-standard page requirements. Originally entitled The 5:15, Sappo was a surreal domestic comedy gag strip created by Segar in 1924 which became peculiarly entwined with the Sunday Thimble Theatre as the 1930s unfolded – and it’s a strip long overdue for consideration on its own unique merits….

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character. Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then.

We saw softer sides of the sailor-man and, when Castor and Mr. Kilph realised how good Popeye was at boxing, an extended, trenchant and scathingly witty sequence about the sport of prize-fighting began. Again, cartoon violence was at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience kept the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and still deserves his place as a world icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 93 years after their first? These magnificent volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of EC Segar and his brilliantly imperfect superman. These are books that every home and library should have.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Willie & Joe: Back Home


By Bill Mauldin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-351-4 (HB)

Throughout World War II William Henry “Bill” Mauldin fought “Over There” with the United States Infantry whilst producing cartoons about the fighting men and for the fighting men. He told as much of the real nature of the war as his censors and common sense would allow and became an unwilling international celebrity as much because of his unshakable honesty as his incredible artistic talents.

He was incontrovertibly “one of the guys” and American soldiers and civilians loved him for it. During his time in the service he produced cartoons for the folks back home and intimately effective, authentic and quirkily morale-boosting material for military publications 45th Division News, Yank and Stars and Stripes.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he made his own and introduced to the world at large – giving a trenchant and acerbically enduring view of the war from the point of view of the poor sods ducking bullets in muddy foxholes and surviving shelling in the ruins of Europe.

Willie and Joe, to the dismay of much of the Army Establishment, gave an honest overview of America’s ground war. In 1945, a collection of his drawings – accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay – was published by Henry Holt and Co.

Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Willie even made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23 year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize. Like so many other returning soldiers, however, Mauldin’s hard-won Better Tomorrow didn’t live up to its promise…

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge, anti-bigot views never changed, but found simply new targets at home. However, during the earliest days of the Cold War and despite being a bone fide War Hero, Mauldin’s politically strident cartoons fell ever more out of step with the New America: a place where political expediency allowed racists to resume repressing ethnic sections of the nation now that their blood and sweat were no longer needed to defeat the Axis.

This new America expected women to surrender their war-time freedoms and become again servants and consumers and baby machines: happy to cook suppers in return for the new labour-saving consumer goods America now needed to sell, sell, sell. This nation was far too eager to forget the actual war and genuine soldiers in favour of massaged messages and conformist, inspirational paper or celluloid heroes.

The New America certainly didn’t want anybody rocking their shiny new boat…

When Sergeant Bill Mauldin mustered out in 1945, he was notionally on top of the world: a celebrity hero, youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history, with a lucrative 3-year syndicated newspaper contract and Hollywood clamouring for him.

Unfortunately for him, Mauldin was as dedicated to his ideals as to his art. As soon as he became aware of the iniquities of the post-war world, he went after them. Using his newspaper tenancy as a soapbox, Mauldin attacked in bitterly brilliant barrages the maltreatment and side-lining of actual combat veterans. During the country’s entire involvement in WWII, less than 10% of military men actually fought, or even left their home country, whilst rear-echelon brass seemed to increasingly reap the benefits and unearned glory of the peace.

Ordinary enlisted men and veterans were culture-shocked, traumatised, out of place and resented by the public, who blamed them disproportionately for the shortages and “suffering” they had endured. Black and Japanese Americans were reduced to second class citizens (again, for most of them) and America’s erstwhile allies were pilloried, exploited and demonised, whilst everywhere politicians and demagogues were rewriting recent history for their own advantage…

Mauldin’s fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripesvetoed it, and the demobbed survivors moved into a world that had changed incomprehensibly in their absence…

Always ready for a fight, Mauldin’s peacetime Willie and Joe became a noose around the syndicate’s neck as the cartoonist’s acerbic, polemical and decidedly non-anodyne observations perpetually highlighted iniquities and stupidities inflicted on returning servicemen and attacked self-aggrandising politicians. He advocated such socialist horrors as free speech, civil rights and unionisation, affordable public housing and universal medical care for everybody – no matter what their colour, gender or religion. The crazy cartoonist even declared war on the Ku Klux Klan, American Legion and red-baiting House UnAmerican Activities Commission: nobody was too big. When the Soviet Union and United Nations betrayed their own ideological principles, Mauldin went after them too…

An honest broker, he had tried to quit early, but the syndicate held him to his contract so, trapped in a situation that increasingly stifled his creative urges and muzzled his liberal/libertarian sensibilities, he refused to toe the line and his cartoons were incessantly altered and reworked.

During six years of War service his cartoon had been censored three times; now the white paint and scissors were employed by rewrite boys almost daily…

The movie Up Front – which Mauldin wanted to reflect the true experience of the war – languished unmade for six years until a sappy, flimsy comedy bearing the name was released in 1951. The intended screenplay – by Mauldin, John Lardner and Ring Lardner Jr. – vanished: deemed utterly unsuitable and unfilmable …until much of its tone reappeared in Lardner Jr.’s 1970 screenplay M*A*S*H…

As the syndicate bled clients – mostly in segregationist states – and contemplated terminating his contract, Mauldin began simultaneously working for the New York Herald-Tribune. With a new liberal outlet. His tactics changed in the Willie and Joe feature: becoming more subtle and less bombastic. He still picked up the best of enemies, however, adding J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to the roster of declaimers and decriers…

When his contract finally ended in 1948, neither side wanted to renew. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist, freelance writer and illustrator. He was a film actor for a time (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean Conflict and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1956.

He only finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958 in a far different world: working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before moving to the Chicago Sun-Times, winning another Pulitzer and a Reuben Award for his political cartoons

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and properly-appreciated career. He only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall and to eulogize Milton Caniff).

Also available digitally, this magnificent hardback companion volume to Willie and Joe: the WWII Years covers the period of work from July 31st 1945 to 31st December 1948, supplemented by a brilliant biographical introduction from Todd DePastino: a superb black-&-white compendium collecting the bittersweet return of the forgotten heroes as they faced confusion, exclusion, contention and disillusion, but always with the edgy, stoic humour under fire that was Mauldin’s stock in trade.

Moreover, it features some of the most powerful assaults on the appalling edifice of post-war America ever seen. The artist’s castigating observations on how a society treats returning soldiers are more pertinent now than they ever were; the pressures on families and children even more so; whilst his exposure of armchair strategists, politicians and businessmen seeking to exploit wars for gain and how quickly allies can become enemies are tragically more relevant than any rational person could wish.

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, sanguine observation and uncomprehending betrayal, this cartoon chronicle is an astounding personal testament that shows the powers of cartoons to convey emotion if not sway opinion.

In Willie & Joe: Back Home we have here a magnificent example of passion and creativity used as a weapon of social change and a work of art every citizen should be exposed to, because these are aspects of humanity that we seem unable to outgrow…
This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Cartoons © 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures


By Floyd Gottfredson, with Walt Disney, Bill Walsh, Merrill de Maris, Bill Wright, Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson, Hardie Gramatky, Ted Thwaites, Daan Jippes, David Gerstein & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-122-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68396-225-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: It Ain’t Christmas if it Ain’t Disney… 10/10

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth completed Mickey feature – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound. The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon invaded America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wildly anarchic animated rodent from slapstick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebuster, detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy, the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios. Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the newborn yet ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

Floyd’s first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (his 25th birthday) and he just kept going: an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating adventures to playing about with dialogue. His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system, Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

This tremendous archival hardback compendium (185 x 282 mm but also available in digital editions) gathers and remasters in colour a superb selection of those daily delights, stuffed with thrills, spills and chills, whacky races, bizarre situations, fantastic fights and a glorious superabundance of rapid-fire sight-gags and verbal by-play: an unmissable journey of fabulous cartoon fun.

And I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that this stuff can be deemed “dated content”: created from times when cartoon violence, smoking, drinking and ethnic stereotyping were everyday occurrences, so please read this with that in mind or not at all…

The manner in which Mickey became a syndicated star is covered by editor, savant, truly dedicated, clearly devoted fan David Gerstein in bookend articles at the front and back of this sturdy tome, opening with Floyd Gottfredson: Walt Disney’s Mouse Man and ending with Mickey Mouse: The Hero before the comic capers commence with legendary yarn ‘Mickey Mouse in Death Valley’ which ran from April 1st – September 22nd 1930.

Initially the strip was treated like an animated feature, with diverse hands working under a “director” and each day seen as a full gag with set-up, delivery and a punchline, usually all in service to an umbrella story or theme. Such was the format Gottfredson inherited from Walt Disney for his first full yarn.

‘The saga was further complicated by an urgent “request” from controlling syndicate King Features that the strip be immediately made more adventure-oriented to compete with the latest trend in comics: action-packed continuities…

Also roped in to provide additional art and inking to the raucous, rambunctious rambling saga were Win Smith, Jack King, Roy Nelson & Hardie Gramatky. The resulting saga – coloured by Scott Rockwell & Susan Daigle-Leach – involved a picaresque and frequently deadly journey way out west to save Minnie’s inheritance – a lost mine – from conniving lawyer Sylvester Shyster and his vile and violent crony Pegleg Pete, whom Mickey and his aggrieved companion chased across America by every conveyance imaginable, aided by masked mystery man The Fox while facing every possible peril as immortalised by silent movie westerns, melodramas and comedies…

With cameos throughout from Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, goat-horned Mr. Butt and a prototype Goofy who used to answer – if he felt like it – to the moniker Dippy Dog, we pause to share specially commissioned Illustrations by Gottfredson – a promotional pic and photos of tough guy pal Butch – before moving on to ‘The Picnic’ (crafted by Gottfredson, Earl Duvall & Travis Seitler and coloured by Rick Keane; originally running from January 5th to 10th 1931): a hopefully bucolic moment plagued by natural catastrophe, after which bold deeds are required for exploring the ‘Island in the Sky’ (November 30th 1936 to April 3rd 1937 by Gottfredson, Ted Thwaites, Michel Nadorp, Erik Rosengarten, & Disney Italia).

Having secured a cash reward for capturing a band of smugglers, Mickey and Goofy buy an airplane and become aviators: a plot device that affords plenty of daily gags before one flight brings them into aerial contact with the flying automobile of a mystery scientist. After much detecting and pursuit, they find the floating fortress of reclusive super-genius Doctor Einmug

and soon learn that he’s also being approached – if not outright menaced – by villainous Pegleg Pete. The dyed-in-the-wool thug is acting as the agent of a foreign power, seeking the astonishing secret and unlimited power of “aligned atoms” that fuels Einmug’s aerial miracles, trying everything from bribery to coercion to feigned reformation and – when those fail – good old reliable theft and violence…

Naturally, none of that means anything to the indomitable Mouse…

Appended by Gottfredson’s painting Mickey Mouse on Sky Island and a mini-feature on personalised birthday and anniversary commissions, the cloud-busting crime-caper is followed by a baffling mystery as ‘The Gleam’ (January 19th – May 2nd, 1942 by Gottfredson, Merrill de Maris, Bill Wright, Daan Jippes, Seitler, Gerstein & Daigle-Leach) sees Mickey, Minnie and Goofy plagued by a diabolical hypnotist who plunders Mouseton High Society types at will, and even embroils Minnie’s unwelcome visiting parents in his crimes before our heroes finally bring him to justice. It’s followed by the cover of 1949’s Big Little Book #1464: a modified version of the tale behind a cover by an artist unknown.

Gottfredson, Bill Walsh, Wright, Gerstein & Disney Italia then detail a string of interlinked gags comprising a burst of DIY invention resulting in ‘Mickey Mouse and Goofy’s Rocket’ (September 9th – 21st 1946), before Gottfredson, Walsh, Pierre Nicolas, Gerstein & Digikore Studios resort to full on sci fi as ‘The Atombrella and the Rhyming Man’ (April 30thOctober 9th 1948) finds occasional visitor from 2447 AD Eega Beeva, popping back for fun and a spot of inventing. Most of his whacky gadgets are generally harmless, but when he tinkers up a handheld defence against physical attack which repels everything from pie to nuclear weapons, word gets around fast and some very shifty characters start inviting themselves in. When juvenile genius Dr. Koppenhooper, an unlovely femme fatale and a poetic superspy get involved, things go from bad to calamitous…

The friendly future-man appeared in many commercial commissions. After the brace of monochrome samples reprinted here – courtesy of  Gottfredson – the manic menu of Mouse Masterpieces concludes with ‘Mickey’s Dangerous Double’(March 2nd – June 20th 1953 by Gottfredson, Walsh, Jippes, Paul Baresh, Gerstein & Disney Italia) as a devious “evil twin” trashes his reputation and destroys all his friendships before scapegoating him for a string of crimes in a gleeful but paranoia-inducing tale. Of course, in the end the ingenuity of the original and genuine article wins through but only after a truly spectacular battle…

Gottfredson’s influence on not just the Disney canon but sequential graphic narrative itself is inestimable: he was among the first to produce long continuities and “straight” adventures; he pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

Disney killed the continuities in 1955, dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips, and Gottfredson adapted seamlessly, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday strip on September 19th 1976.

Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but in the 1960s his identity was revealed and the voluble appreciation of his previously unsuspected horde of devotees led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, with effect that subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died in July 1986. Thankfully we have this wealth of his works to enjoy and inspire us and hopefully a whole new generation of inveterate tale-tellers…
Mickey Mouse: The Greatest Adventures © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2018 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. “Floyd Gottfredson: Walt Disney’s Mouse Man” and “Mickey Mouse: The Hero” texts © 2018 David Gerstein. All rights reserved.

Sock Monkey Treasury: A Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey Collection


By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-696-6 (HB)

Tony Millionaire loves to draw and does it very, very well: referencing classical art, classic children’s book illustration and an eclectic mix of pioneering comic strip draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman. These influences, styles and sensibilities he seamlessly blends with the vision of European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the pictorial storytelling racket. The result is eye-popping

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences.

He has a variety of graphical strings to his bow – such as his own coterie of books for children like the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series; animation triumphs and the brilliant if disturbing weekly strip Maakies – which describes the riotously vulgar and absurdly surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his fellow über-alcoholic and nautical adventurer Drinky Crow. They are abetted but never aided by a peculiarly twisted, off-kilter cast of reprobates, antagonists and confrontational well-wishers. However, those guys are the mirror universe equivalents of the stars of this sublime confection, gathering many past glories in one huge (286 x 203mm), sumptuous 336-page hardback – 80 in full colour. It collects twelve uniquely dark and fanciful multiple award-winning, all-ages adventures originally published as occasional miniseries between 1998 and 2007 by Dark Horse Comics. Also included are the two-colour hardcover storybooks Millionaire created in 2002 and 2004. Should you prefer, the tome is also available in digital editions.

In a Victorian House – of variable shape and size – by the sea, an old Sock Monkey named Uncle Gabby has great adventures and ponders the working of a wonderful yet often scary world. His constant companion is a small cuddly-toy bird with button eyes. Mr. Crow doesn’t understand why he cannot fly and sometimes eases his sorrow with strong spirits.

Their guardian is a small girl named Ann-Louise, and many other creatures living and artificial share the imposing edifice…

The gloriously imaginative forays into the fantastic begin as the material monkey is chased through the house by marauding toy pirates in their bombastic brigantine. In his flight, Uncle Gabby espies a gleaming, glittering glass concoction hanging from the ceiling. Convinced something so beautiful must be the Promised Land, he enlists his artificial avian pal to help him enter ‘Heaven’. Sadly, the pirates have not given up and the chaos soon escalates…

‘Borneo’ describes the pair’s discovery of a shrunken human head and subsequent heroic oceanic odyssey to return the decapitated talisman to its home. Of course, if they had thought to unseal the sewn-shut lips, he could have told them they were going in the wrong direction…

The next tale is a macabre all-action thriller which begins when a lost bat gets stuck in the attic ‘Dollhouse’. Mr. Crow, meanwhile, is attempting to console freshly widowed Mrs. Smalls in the cellar. Things go even more savagely awry when the faux crow and well-meaning matchmaker Monkey seek to introduce the grieving mouse to the strapping, winged stranger, utterly unaware of his pedigree as a South American Rodent-Eating Bat…

Knick-knacks, trinkets and ornaments have been going missing in the next tale, and Ann-Louise attributes the thefts to ‘The Trumbernick’ who lives in the Grandfather clock. Having mislaid his hipflask, Mr. Crow investigates and finds the horde of goodies, in truth purloined by a capricious Blue Jay…

Disillusioned by the death of a beloved myth and disheartened by the antics of a venal – and extremely violent – bird, they are subsequently stunned to see an actual Trumbernick return, righteously enraged at the blow to his spotless reputation…

In ‘The Hunters’, stuffed bird and Sock Monkey – inspired by a room full of trophies and stuffed beasts – decide to take up the sport of slaughter. All too soon they find that their size, relative ineffectuality and squeamishness – not to mention the loquacity and affability of their intended prey – prove a great impediment to their ambitions…

Millionaire proves the immense power of his storytelling in ‘A Baby Bird’, as Uncle Gabby’s foolish meddling with a nest – after being specifically told not to – results in tragedy, with brutal self-immolating repercussions that would make King Lear quail…

The author abandoned masterful pen-&-ink etching style for soft mutable charcoal rendering in ‘The Oceanic Society’, wherein excitable doll Inches unknowingly performs an act of accidental cruelty at the shore: inviting the vengeance of many outraged sea creatures against the inhabitants of Ann-Louise’s house…

An innocent attempt by the little girl and Mr. Crow to find Uncle Gabby a romantic companion goes hideous wrong and results in monstrous ‘Heartbreak’ when they throw away his actual true love and replace her with a ghastly mechanical monkey horror. The bereft puppet can then only find surcease in escalating acts of hideous destruction…

In 2002 Millionaire took his characters into a whimsical watercolour wonderland with “a Populare Pictonovelette” hardback entitled ‘The Glass Doorknob’. The beguiling tale is included here in a series of full-colour plates supplemented by blocks of text, describing how the house dwellers once saw an indoor rainbow beneath a doorknob and subsequently spent all summer trying to recreate the glorious spectacle by acquiring and aligning every other item of glass, crystal or pellucid material they could find or steal…

The return to stark monochrome augurs the onset of terrifying 4-part epic ‘The Inches Incident’ which begins off the coast of Cape Ann when grizzled mariner Oyster Joe discovers thieving stowaways plundering his sailing ship.

Amidst spectacular hunts for sea monsters, those villains Uncle Gabby and Mr. Crow explain how their former friend Inches mysteriously shanghaied and dumped them at sea…

Their new ally returns them home, but upon arrival they discover that the doll has become Evil! Boldly braving the house, they discover the poor creature has been possessed by an inconceivable horror which drives them off and provokes a fantastic sea voyage to find the devil’s only nemesis…

This staggering, bleakly charming compendium closes with an existential treat from 2004. Coloured by Jim Campbell, ‘Uncle Gabby’ was another one-shot hardback – albeit in standard comics format – which offered a few revelatory indulgences on the puppet heroes’ poignant origins, all wrapped up in a baroque bestiary and imaginative travelogue as Sock Monkey discloses his shocking ability to un-name things and thereby end their existences…

Visually intoxicating, astoundingly innovative and stunningly surreal, Sock Monkey yarns judiciously leaven wonder with heartbreak and gleeful innocence with sheer terror. Millionaire describes them as for “adults who love children’s stories” and these tall tales all offer enchanting pictorial vistas and skewed views of the art of storytelling that no fan of comics or fantasy could ever resist.
Sock Monkey Treasury © 2014 Tony Millionaire. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books.