Bloom County: Real, Classy, & Compleat 1980-1989

By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co./IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-976-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it Ain’t Seasonal Without Svelte Yet Approachable Waterfowl… 13/10

This review is a blatant deception. As usual, I’ve cited a specific release you should have – especially if you’re a hedonistic sucker for the comfortingly tactile and simultaneously intoxicating buzz of a sturdy, well-bound block of processed tree, glue, stitches and inks containing wonderful stories and images – and it’s worth every penny, but I’m really telling you to take a look at one remarkable creator’s entire output…

For most of the 1980s and half of the 1990s, Berké Breathed dominated the American newspaper comic strip scene with his astoundingly funny, edgy-yet-surreal political fantasy Bloom County (8th December 1980 – August 6th 1989) – and latterly, its Sunday-only spin-off Outland (3rd September 1989 – March 26th 1995)

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 from strip work to concentrate on a series of lavish children’s fantasy picture books – such as Red Ranger Came Calling and Mars Needs Moms! 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 Breathed’s signature character, and his most charmingly human. Opus is a talking penguin, reasonably well-educated (for America), archaically erudite, genteel, emotionally vulnerable; insecure yet unfalteringly optimistic. His two most fervent dreams are to be reunited with his absent mother one day, and that one day he might fly like a “real” bird…

From 2003 to 2008, Breathed revived Opus as a Sunday strip, but eventually capitulated to his career-long antipathy to manic deadline pressures in newspaper production and the 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.

And then the internet provided a platform for Breathed to resume his role as a gadfly commentator on his own terms. Since 2015, and thanks to Facebook, Bloom County has returned to mock, expose and shame capitalism, celebrities, consumerism, popular culture, politicians, religious leaders and people who act like idiots.

These later efforts, unconstrained by syndicate pressures to not offend advertisers, are also available in 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 compensate for 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 that divine retribution and the other tea-cup storms that have made us Baby Boomers so rude and defensive…

Once more, I find myself recommending an entire canon of work rather than a specific volume, but Bloom County, Outland, Opus and – oh, Joy of Joys, unbound! – the triumphant second coming of Bloom County in recent years are absolute classics of comics creation: political, polemical, sardonic, surreal, groundbreaking, witty, acerbic frequently angry and always, ALWAYS cripplingly funny.

I barely survived those years and can honestly admit it’s probably the best treatise of modern history and social criticism you will ever see.

Set firmly in The Heartland – what we’ve recently accepted as Trump’s fact-resistant base territory – the strip lampoons fads, traditions and icons through the lens of young kids and a menagerie of astute talking animals all living in or around the Bloom Boarding House. Also adding to the confusions are bastions and bulwarks of American society: horny ambulance-chasing jock lawyer Steve Dallas, Vietnam survivor Cutter John, liberal feminist school teacher Bobbi Harlow, New Age hippie Quiche Lorraine, corrupt Senator Bedfellow and many more lampoonable archetypes…

The true stars though are the kids and beasts who perpetually vex, perplex and test them, asking questions and taking actions to set the old order “all higgledy-piggledy” – such as their creation of a third force in politics: The Meadow Party that has (unsuccessfully, thus far) fought every presidential election since 1980…

Hilarious, biting, wildly imaginative and crafted with a huge amount of sheer emotional guts and empathy, these strips are simply incomparable. If you love laughter, despise chicanery and adore unique characters and great art, this is a universe you simply must inhabit.

And while you’re at it, get those other books I mentioned. It can’t be Christmas without them. When the family have almost ruined the holiday, of if you find yourself somewhere other than where you’d want or expect to be, this is what you want to restore your spirits. Kids too…
© 2017, 2020 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.

Rupert: A Celebration of Favourite Stories – 100 Years of Rupert Bear 1920-2020


By Alfred E. Bestall & various (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-9800-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Seasonal Tradition with Universal Appeal… 10/10

We’ve all simultaneously stared death in the face and tried to celebrate a wealth of what should have been joyous anniversaries this year. With no snarky comment or obtuse political swipe to hand, I’ve opted to review here a genuine cultural icon of our Island Nation, and one I think we can all agree we’d be happy to find overseeing our future health and wealth…

As I’ve interminably stated recently, this year celebrates many, many comics anniversaries. For Britain, the biggest of those is probably this one.

Long before television took him, hirsute national treasure Rupert Bear was part of our society’s very fabric and never more so than at Christmas when gloriously rendered and painted, comfortingly sturdy rainbow-hued Annuals found their way into innumerable stockings and the sticky hands of astounded, mesmerised children.

Our ursine über-star was created by English artist and illustrator Mary Tourtel (1874-1948) and debuted in the Daily Express on November 8th 1920; the beguiling vanguard and secret weapon of a pitched circulation battle with rival papers the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. Both papers had cartoon characters for kiddies – Teddy Tail in the Mail and the soon-to-be legendary Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Mirror.

Tourtel’s daily serial of the Little Lost Bear initially ran for 36 monochrome instalments and triggered a phenomenon which remains in full force to this day, albeit largely due to the diligent efforts of her successor Alfred Edmeades Bestall, MBE (14th December 1892 – 15th January 1986), who wrote and illustrated the rapidly eponymous Rupert Bear from 1935 to 1965. Bestall was responsible for the magnificently reassuring Christmas Annuals which began with the 1936 edition, and in truth crystalised the curious little nipper’s existence into the quintessence of middle-class English pluck and gentility.

The artist who originally spearheaded the Express cartoon counterattack was already an established major player on the illustration scene – and fortuitously married to the paper’s News Editor Herbert Tourtel, who had been ordered by the owners to come up with a rival feature…

The unnamed little bear was illustrated by Mary and initially co-captioned by Herbert, appearing as a pair of cartoon panels everyday day with a passage of text underneath. The bonny bruin was originally cast as a brown bear until the Express sought to cut costs and inking expenses, resulting in the iconic white pallor we all know and love today.

Soon, though, early developmental “bedding-in” was accomplished and the engaging scenario was fully entrenched in the hearts and minds of readers. Young Rupert lives with extremely understanding parents in idyllically rural Nutwood village: an enticing microcosm and exemplar of everything wonderful and utopian about British life. The place is populated by anthropomorphic animals and humans living together but also overlaps a lot of very strange and unworldly places full of mythical creatures and legendary folk. Naturally, pluck, good friends and a benevolent adult always help our hero win through no matter what uncanny situation he finds himself in…

A huge hit, Mary’s Rupert quickly expanded into a range of short illustrated novels; 46 by my count from the early 1920s to 1936, with a further run of 18 licensed and perpetually published by Woolworth’s after that.

Tourtel’s bear was very much a product of his times and social class: smart, inquisitive, adventurous, helpful yet intrinsically privileged and therefore always labouring under a veiled threat of having his cosy world and possessions taken away by the wicked and undeserving.

Heretical as it might sound, like the unexpurgated fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, Tourtel’s Rupert yarns all have a darker edge and often a worrisome undercurrent, with mysterious forces casually, even capriciously targeting our innocent star – and especially so after Herbert Tourtel died and Mary worked on alone.

This glorious tome however – reworked and skilfully re-edited to accommodate modern sensibilities – is a modified re-release of a 2007 compilation celebrating the quiet genius of Tourtel’s successor: the man most people still living think of when Rupert comes to mind…

Alfred Edmeades “Fred” Bestall, MBE, was born in Mandalay on December 14th 1892, to Methodist missionaries stationed in Burma. He and his sister were despatched back to England when he was five, ultimately rejoined by their parents in 1910. Schooled in Colwyn Bay, he won a scholarship to Birmingham Central School of Art and later attended the LCC Central School of Art and Crafts in Camden. His studies were interrupted by the Great War where he served as an army transport driver in Flanders, before concluding his courses at Camden and setting up as an illustrator.

He worked for Amalgamated Press crafting paintings and drawings for The Tatler and Punch and was hired to illustrate Enid Blyton’s books.

At the top of his game Bestall was picked to replace Tourtel on Rupert. Despite never having seen the strip and with only 5 weeks’ lead-in time, he wrote and drew his first exploit – ‘Rupert, Algy and the Smugglers’ which began on June 28th1935 while designing and filling the first Annual. For inspiration, he channelled his memories of rural North Wales and the regions around Snowdonia, while adhering to the Daily Express Children’s Editor’s sole instruction – “no evil characters, fairies or magic”.

Clearly, no problem…

Preceded by an Illustrator’s Note courtesy of current Rupert creator Stuart Trotter, a Foreword from profoundly English raconteur and Teddy Bear Museum curator Gyles Brandreth and effusive, intimate reminiscences in an Introduction by Bestall’s goddaughter Caroline Bott, this magical hardback tome is also graced with a gallery of lavish double-page spread Endpapers, plus a stunning selection of previously unseen pencil works and designs from Bestall’s own Sketch books, affording a fascinating glimpse at how the master worked.

The main course is eight (textually modified) classic tales in the traditional and oh-so-welcoming format – 4 illustrations per page, each accompanied by a rhyming couplet and brief passage of descriptive text.

They are cunningly interspersed with breathtaking cover images from 1944, 1969, 1963, 1949, 1956 and 1966 annuals plus a selection of puzzles Bestall crafted over the decades to create a guaranteed debilitating nostalgic wave in the old and fresh wonder in the young.

The stories themselves are presented in a random order and are terrifying in that, veteran reader though I am, I cannot detect any change or improvement in style. The writer/artist started perfect and remained that way for his entire tenure…

First here is ‘Rupert and The Tiny Flute’ from Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944, which sees the bear stumble upon a minute musical instrument that seem to create disasters when played, leading the little chap into contention with the Imps of Spring as they seek to trigger the long-delayed Spring and facilitate a new growing season…

Following a stunning endpaper spread (‘Autumn Elf and the Imps in the Pine Trees’ from 1957’s inside front covers), Rupert Annual 1969 offers ‘Rupert and Raggety’ wherein a tremendous storm buffets Nutwood village, toppling a mighty tree and displacing a rather unpleasant troll made of roots. The surly tyke is most unpleasant to all, until Rupert finds him a new home…

Serene endpapers painting ‘Little Chinese Islands’ precedes observational puzzle ‘Rupert and the Bs’ and ‘Rupert and the Mare’s Nest’ (both from More Rupert Adventures Annual 1952) as the word-loving little bear hunts a hoary old metaphor and is fantastically introduced to the hidden realm of Earth’s feathered folk and their incredible monarch. Appropriately, the originating Annual’s Endpaper image ‘King of Birds’ beguilingly follows…

Maze puzzle ‘Rupert’s Short Cut’ (Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944) leads into ‘Rupert and the Lost Cuckoo’from 1963’s edition, wherein strange events lead to all Nutwood’s artificial birds vanishing – everything from the Squire’s weathercock to the little wooden token in Mummy Bear’s cuckoo clock. Dedicated detective Rupert is soon on the trail and uncovers the incredible cause and solution in double-quick time…

Aquatic Elves in ‘Hovercraft’ culled from the 1968 Endpapers lead into a rather dramatic escapade as the bear and his pal Sailor Sam save a baby elephant from a flash flood in ‘Rupert’s Rainy Adventure’ (Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944), after which Santa Clause and his trusty operative the Toy Scout seek to acquire the bear’s latest bugbear: a homemade soft toy accidentally filled with magic stuffing, originally seen in the 1949 book as ‘Rupert and Ninky’

Moodily magnificent endpaper image ‘The Frog Chorus’ (1958) is followed by seasonal treat ‘Rupert’s Christmas Tree’(More Adventures of Rupert Annual 1947) in which the bear’s quest for the perfect yule adornment leads to uncanny events, a hidden forest and far more than he bargained for…

Bringing the joy and wonder to a close, observational brainteaser ‘Tigerlily’s Party’ from Rupert in More Adventures Annual 1944 leads to ‘Rupert and Jack Frost’ from The Rupert Book Annual 1948, with a reunion of the bear and the ice sprite, leading to a parade of flying Snowmen, a trip to the Frozen Kingdom and a singular award for the brave little wanderer…

Beautifully realised, superbly engaging fantasies such as these are never out of style and this fabulous tome should be yours, if only as means of introducing the next generation to a truly perfect world of wonder and imagination.
Rupert Bear ™ & © Express Newspapers and DreamWorks Distribution Limited. All rights reserved.

Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics


By Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-612-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: One Last Hard-Earned Laugh in the Face of the Toughest Holiday Season in Living Memory… 9/10

Born on February 18th 1930 and dying a year ago today, Gahan Allen Wilson was an illustrator, cartoonist, essayist and author who always had his eyes and heart set on the future. According to Gary Groth’s Afterword in this sublime collection, he and grew up reading comic strips as much as fantasy fiction.

It always showed.

The mordantly macabre, acerbically wry and surreal draughtsman tickled funnybones and twanged nerves with his darkly dry graphic confections from the 1960s; contributing superb spoofs, sparklingly horrific and satirically suspenseful drawings and strips and panels as a celebrated regular contributor in such major magazines as Playboy, Collier’s, The New Yorker and others. He also wrote science fiction for Again Dangerous Visions, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Twilight Zone Magazine and Realms of Fantasy as well as contributing criticism, book and film reviews for them all.

In an extremely broad and long career he wore dozens of creative hats, even embracing the modern digital universe by creating – with Byron Preiss – his own supernatural computer game, Gahan Wilson’s the Ultimate Haunted House.

When National Lampoon first began its devastatingly satirical (geez, do modern folk even recognize satire anymore?) all-out attack on the American Dream, Wilson was invited to contribute a regular strip to their comics section. His sublimely semi-autobiographical, darkly hilarious paean to lost childhood ran from 1972 and until 1981 and was collected as Nuts, another superb compilation from this publisher that you should own and share.

Few people – me included – knew that during that period he also, apparently more for fun and relaxation than profit, produced his own syndicated Sunday strip feature. For two years – beginning on March 3rd 1974 – Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics appeared in a small cross-section of newspapers from Boston to Los Angeles and, as with all his work, it bucked a trend.

At a time when most cartoonists were seeking a daily continuity strip, building a readership and eking jokes out with sensible parsimony, Wilson let himself go hog-wild, generating a half-dozen or so single-shot gags every Sabbath, blending his signature weird, wild monsters, uncanny aliens and unsavoury scenes with straight family humour, animal crackers, topical themes and cynically socio-politically astute observations.

Looking at them here it’s clear to me that his intent was to have fun and make himself laugh as much or even more than his readership; capturing those moments when an idea or notion gave him pause to giggle whilst going about his day job…

I’m not going to waste time describing the cartoons: there are too many and despite being a fascinating snapshot of life in the 1970s they’re almost all still outrageously funny in the way and manner that Gary Larson’s Far Side was a scant six years later.

I will say that even whilst generating a storm of humorous, apparently unconnected one-offs, consummate professional Wilson couldn’t restrain himself and eventually the jokes achieved an underlying shape and tone with recurring motifs (clocks, beasts, wallpaper, etc), guest appearances by “The Kid” (from Nuts) and features-within-the-feature such as The Creep and Future Funnies

Collected in a gloriously expansive (176 pages, 309x162mm) full-colour, landscape hardback, as well as in digital formats, this complete re-presentation of a lost cartooning classic offers a freewheeling, absurdist, esoterically banal, intensely, trenchantly funny slice of nostalgia. These fabulous joke page compendiums range from satire to slapstick to agonising irony and again prove Wilson to be one of the world’s greatest visual humourists.

This is a book no fan of fun should miss and, with Christmas oppressively bearing down on us, could be a crucial solution to the perennial “what to get him/her/them/they” question…
All comic strips © 2013 Gahan Wilson. This Edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-772-7 (HB)

Peanuts is 70 years old today and not even death can stop it. Many happy returns Chuck…

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most broadly accepted, since – after the characters made the jump to television – the little nippers become an integral part of the American mass cultural 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 TV 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 centred on playing (pranks, sports, musical instruments), teasing each other, making ill-informed observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The consistently expanding 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. As a whole, the kids tackled every aspect of human existence in a charming and witty manner, acting as cartoon therapists and graphic philosophical guides to the world that watched them.

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

This outing – available in a child-friendly hardback and the usual digital formats – celebrates the whimsy at the feature’s core and spotlights Lucy’s weird little brother Linus and a peculiar belief system all his own…

Waiting for the Great Pumpkin offers a quartet of vintage seasonal sequences dedicated to the kid’s attempts displace Santa Claus as the benevolent bestower of largesse to the good little boys and girls and promote a far earthier patron: one who comes to good children from a gourd plantation somewhere in America…

Like all zealots, Linus never ceases to proselytise, and Charlie Brown and Snoopy are happy to go along and see for themselves in ‘You Believe in Santa Claus and I’ll Believe in the Great Pumpkin’, but there’s a time limit to their willingness to convert…

Another year and the kids are back in fraught contention for ‘Santa Claus vs. the Great Pumpkin’, but how long can even the most devout devote last in the face of perpetual disappointment? According to ‘Oh, Great Pumpkin, You’re Going to Drive Me Crazy!’, not forever, but the year Linus convinces Charlie’s little sister Sally to wait with him is painfully revelatory as seen in ‘True Love Revealed in the Pumpkin Patch’

The tales are told in a series of monochrome panels (generally four to a page) that never fail to delight, recapturing the hilarious seriousness of childhood in a manner nobody else can match. Since you and yours are almost certainly not going out for “tricks or treats” this year, why not ameliorate your own existentialist family travails with online sweets deliveries and this handy gem?
Waiting for the Great Pumpkin © 2014 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.

Ken Reid – World Wide Weirdies volume 1


By Ken Reid (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-692-6 (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 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: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to 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. 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 Jinxamongst 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. Ken Reid died that year 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 it until cancelation in October 1988.

All his working life, Reid innovated; devising a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World, Creepy Creations and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid luxury hardback (and eBook) – is World-Wide Weirdies.

A full colour back page every week found Ken crafting a batty and bizarre image – usually suggested by a lucky reader – depicting a pun-ishingly strained groaner gag elevated to a manic masterpiece. Most were locations but just plain crazy stuff like ‘the Aussie Doomerang’, ‘The Gruesome Gondola’ and the staggering visual ‘Jumbo Jet’ also got in. Where was first in Whooppee! and then Shiver and Shake with this first titanic hardback tome – also available digitalis-ly (see what I did there?) – covering 12th October 1974 to 6th November 1976, but you don’t care about that, what you want is ‘orrible, pictures right?

Preceding 108 of them is text feature ‘The Weirdies Years of Ken Reid – 1974-1978’ by his son Antony J. Reid which precedes a unique map indicating where in the weird wide world the 108 ghastly holiday destinations from hell are located…

The atlas of the unknowable then commences with ‘The Petrifying Pyramid’ with subsequent shocking submissions such as the ‘Trifle Tower’, ‘Vampire State Building’, ‘Bone Henge’, ‘Mucky-Hand Palace’ and the still horrifically relevant ‘Houses of Horrorment’

We aren’t just restricted to UK unpleasantries such as ‘The Fright Cliffs of Dover’ or ‘The Cheddar Gorger’ but also an assemblage of international oddities such as ‘The Sahara Dessert’, ‘Shock Rock of Gibraltar’, ‘Gruesome Grand Canyon’, ‘The Not So N-Iceberg’, ‘The Coloscream’ and – so pertinent today, apparently – ‘The Statue of Stupidity’

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. Part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, this is a superb tribute to the man and a brilliant reminder of what it means to be brutish…
© 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2019 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 2 1936-1937


By Roy Crane with Les Turner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-391-0 (HB)

The comics industry evolved from newspaper strips and these circulation-boosting pictorial features were, until relatively recently, utterly ubiquitous, hugely popular with the public and regarded as invaluable by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee consumer loyalty, increase sales and ensure profits. Many a scribbler became a millionaire thanks to their ability to draw pictures and spin a yarn…

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

From the very start humour was paramount; that’s why we call them “Funnies” or “Comics”, after all. From these gag and stunt beginnings, blending silent movie slapstick, outrageous antics, fabulous fantasy and vaudeville shows, came a thoroughly unique entertainment hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924 Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip not entirely dissimilar from confirmed family favourite Harold Teen (by Crane’s friend and contemporary Carl Ed).

Tubbs was a diminutive, ambitious young shop clerk when the strip began, but gradually he moved into mock-heroics, then through harm-free action into full-blown, light-hearted rip-roaring adventures with the introduction of pioneering he-man, moody swashbuckling prototype Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929.

As the tales became increasingly more exotic and thrill-drenched, the globe-trotting little dynamo clearly needed a sidekick who could believably handle the combat side of things, and thus in the middle of a European war Tubbs liberated a mysterious fellow American from a jail cell and history was made. Before long the mismatched pair were inseparable comrades; travelling the world, hunting treasure, fighting thugs and rescuing a bevy of startlingly comely maidens in distress…

The two-fisted, bluff, completely capable and utterly dependable, down-on-his-luck “Southern Gentleman” was something not seen before in comics, a raw, square-jawed hunk played straight rather than the buffoon or music hall foil of such classic serials as Hairsbreadth Harry or Desperate Desmond. Moreover, Crane’s seductively simple blend of cartoon exuberance and compelling page-design was a far more accessible and powerful medium for action story-telling than the static illustrative style favoured by artists like Hal Foster (just starting to make waves on the new Tarzan Sunday page).

While were thinking of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it’s difficult to re-read the phrase “Southern Gentleman” these days without pausing to consider how much of that term originally denoted chivalric do-gooder, rather than Defender of Slavery, to most readers. Frankly, I’m not sure Crane gave a moment’s thought to political or social implications, although his heroes never made a distinction between races and treated all characters equally, even back then. Their only motivations were getting rich honestly and helping folks in trouble. These stories come from a long time ago, so just read with a sense of historical perspective, please…

Tubbs and Easy were easily as exotic and thrilling as the Ape Man but rattled along like the tempestuous Popeye, full of vim, vigour and vinegar, as attested to by a close look at the early work of the would-be cartoonists who followed the strip with avid intensity: Floyd Gottfredson, Milton Caniff, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner and especially young Joe Shuster

After a couple of abortive attempts starring his little hero, Crane bowed to the inevitable and created a full colour Sunday page dedicated to his increasingly popular hero-for-hire. Captain Easy debuted on 30th July 1933, in madcap, two-fisted exploits (originally) set before his fateful meeting with Tubbs.

Following a foreword from historian, archival publisher and critic Rick Norwood, ‘Stealing Color From Black and White’, a fascinating extended introduction by award-winning cartoonist Paul Pope and ‘Three Strip Monte ’– a brief history of Crane’s career gambles by legendary strip historian Bill Blackbeard – this second volume (of four) really begins with ‘Gold of the Frozen North’ as the dour, sour soldier of fortune reaches the chilly snow-swept mining boom-town of Bugaboo.

Exhausted after his part in the war between Nikkateena and Woopsydasia (as seen in Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 1) all Easy wanted was a meal and a bed, but his innate chivalry defending a bar-girl’s honour soon has him on the run from Nikky Eskota, the savage gang-boss who runs the town. Easy then compounds the error by helping beautiful Gizzy escape the brute’s amorous attentions before escorting her down the frozen river to trade her fathers’ diamonds.

Of course, the wicked thug dispatches an army of heavies to stop them…

This spectacular icy wilderness adventure ran from 8th December 1935 to 19th April 1936, after which ‘The Hook-Nosed Bandit’ (4th April -8th August 1936) finds the footloose paladin heading to the trouble-soaked nation of Hitaxia where his penchant for trouble soon brands him a wanted criminal fugitive and lands him in the midst of a civil war. As usual, a pretty girl is the immediate cause of his many woes and the method of his eventual escape… that and the advent of a bombastic new companion – unconventional millionaire inventor Mr. Belfry. With Easy and Belfry’s daughter languishing in a Hitaxian jail, the sagacious entrepreneur acts to end the crisis in unique manner with a handy shipment of pigs…

When the Belfrys return to America, Easy accompanies them, only to become embroiled in a whirlwind cops ‘n’ robbers thriller as mobsters and businessmen alike try to obtain by every means fair and foul ‘The Diamond Formula’ (16thAugust – 13th December 1936): the inventor’s new process for creating gems from coal or sugar…

After this wild and woolly Manhattan escapade, Crane opted for wholly different territory as Easy takes a mild-mannered old daydreamer from Belfry’s Gentleman’s Club on the Screwball comedy of ‘Dinwiddy’s Adventure’: a fast-paced rollercoaster romp of intrigue, suspense and multiple practical jokes, with a twist and turn on every gloriously rendered page, which was first published between 13th December 1936 and March 14th 1937…

The Club also provides the maguffin for ‘Lost at Sea’ (March 21st – May 9th 1937) as hen-pecked and harassed Benjamin Barton hired the laconic Southern Gentleman to engineer his escape from his ghastly social climbing wife and wastrel children. Barton even left them all his money: the rattled old goof simply wants peace and quiet… and perhaps a little fishing. Despite all Easy’s best efforts, he doesn’t get any of that…

Clearly on a roll with the emphasis on comedy, Crane then introduced one of his wackiest characters in ‘The King of Kleptomania’ (16th May – November 14th1937), as an audacious, freeloading, lazy, good-for-nothing hobo actually turns out to be Kron Prinz Hugo Maximillian von Hooten Tooten: audacious, freeloading, lazy, good-for-nothing spendthrift heir to a European nation who is paid by the Dictator of Kleptomania to stay away and not seek his rightful throne.

Saving the bum’s life in America only causes the lovable leech to attach himself to Easy, but after going through his bi-annual stipend of $25,000 in mere days, “Hoot” decides to welsh on his deal with the despot and take back his country. Against his better judgement and to his lasting regret, Captain Easy goes along for the ride and is soon knee deep in ineptitude, iniquity and revolution…

With the war over Easy is stranded in Ruritanian Europe and stumbles into an espionage plot culminating in a welcome reunion and ‘The Firing Squad’ (21st November 1937 – 15th May 1938). Framed and jailed again, Easy is to be shot so it’s lucky that the captain of the aforementioned executioners is long-lost pal Wash Tubbs!

Risking life and diminutive limb to save his old pal, Wash also rescues sultry spitfire Ruby Dallas, who promptly entangles them in her desperate tale of woe. Ruby was unfortunate enough to have witnessed a murder in America and has been on the run ever since. The killer was a prominent millionaire with too much to lose so he’s been hunting her ever since. Once the trio escape murderous cutthroats, slavers and assassins, they soon settle his hash…

When he began the Sunday page Crane’s creativity went into overdrive: an entire page and vibrant colours to play with clearly stirred his imagination and the results were wild visual concoctions which achieved a timeless immediacy and made each instalment a unified piece of sequential art. The effect of the pages can be seen in so many comic and strips since – even in the works of such near-contemporaries as Hergé and giants in waiting like Charles Schulz.

These pages were a clearly as much of joy to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les Turner in 1937 was NEA Syndicate’s abrupt demand that all its strips be henceforward produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate them being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated. You can actually see the day that happened in this volume.

Whilst the basic drawing of Crane and Turner is practically indistinguishable, the moment when the layout and composition were shackled stands out like a painful sore thumb. Crane just walked away from his playground, concentrating on the daily feature, until in 1943 with contract expired, he left NEA to create the aviation adventure strip Buz Sawyer.

In this selection, Crane’s irrepressible humour comes perfectly into focus and this enchanting serial abounds with breezy light-hearted banter, hilarious situations and outright farce – a sure-fire formula modern cinema directors still plunder to this day.

Easy is Indiana Jones, Flynn (the Librarian) Carsen and Jack (Romancing the Stone) Cotton all at once and clearly set the benchmark for all of them.

This superb and colossal hardback collection is the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s rip-snorting, pulse-pounding, exotically racy adventure trailblazer. The huge pages in this volume (almost 14 ½ by 10½ inches or 21x14cm for the younger, metric crowd) provide the perfect stage to absorb and enjoy the classic tale-telling of a master raconteur. The volumes are even still readily available from online retailers, but regrettably haven’t yet been digitised …

This is storytelling of impeccable quality: unforgettable, spectacular and utterly irresistible. These tales rank alongside the best of Hergé, Tezuka, Toth and Kirby and unarguably fed the imaginations of them all as he still does for today’s comics creators. Now that you have the chance to experience the strips that inspired the giants of our art form, how can you possibly resist?
Captain Easy strips © 2011 United Feature Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff


By Emma, translated by Una Dimitrijevic (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-956-0 (TPB) eISBN: 978-160980-957-7

It’s never been a fair world, although that’s a concept we all apparently aspire to create. In recent years, many people have sought to address imbalances between the roles and burdens of men and women in a civil cohesive society, but the first problem they all hit was simply how to state the problems in terms all sides could understand. We have a lot more names and concepts to utilise now in discourse, but the difficulties don’t seem to have diminished…

In 2018, software engineer, cartoonist and columnist Emma crafted a book of strips reflecting upon social issues affecting women: dissecting The Mental Load – all the unacknowledged, unpaid invisible crap that makes up and comes with most modern relationships and revealing how almost all of that overwhelming, burdensome life-tonnage inescapably settled on one side of the bed in most households…

The book – and the strips as seen in The Guardian – caused something of a commotion and as much trollish kickback as you’d expect from all the wrong places, so she’s back with further explanations and revelations in brilliant follow-up The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff.

Because a large proportion of humans who won the genital lottery don’t really give a damn about other people’s woes – especially if the food keeps coming and the appropriate drawers magically refill with clean clothes and groceries – I fear there’s a segment of truly needy folk who won’t benefit from this selection of treatises, anecdotes, statistics and life-changing stories, but since many guys are genuinely clueless and baffled but willing to adapt, maybe enough of us will give change and thought a chance.

Best of all, most women reading this will realise that it’s not just them feeling the way they do and may even risk starting a conversation with their significant others, or at the very least, start talking to other women and organising together…

Working in the manner of the very best observational stand-up comedy, Emma forensically identifies an issue and dissects it, whilst offering advice, suggestions and a humorous perspective. Here that’s subdivided into a series of comical chapters beginning with the autobiographical ‘It’s Not Right, But…’

This explores the concept of consent for women and reveals how, at age 8, she first learned that it was regarded as perfectly normal for men to bother girls…

The debate over sexual independence and autonomy in established relationships is then expanded in ‘A Role to Play’

Seemingly diverging off topic (but don’t be fooled) ‘The Story of a Guardian of the Peace’ then traces the life of honest cop Eric and how he fared over years trying to treat suspects and villains as fellow human beings in a system expressly created to suppress all forms of dissent and disagreement, after which the oppressive demarcation of family duties and necessary efforts are dissected into Productive and Reproductive Labor roles via the salutary example of Wife and Mother ‘Michelle’

‘The Power of Love’ explores how women are expected to police the emotional wellbeing of all those around them and the crushing affect it has on mental wellbeing before the irrelevant “not all men” defence shabbily resurfaces – and is powerfully sent packing – in ‘Consequences’, with a frankly chilling reckoning of the so-different mental preparations needed for men and women to go about their daily, ordinary lives…

As stated above The Mental Load caused a few ructions when it first gained mass popular attention. ‘It’s All in Your Head’ deftly summarises the reactions, repercussions, defanging, belittlement, dismissal and ultimate sidelining of those revelations – particularly in relation to sexual choice and autonomy – with a barrage of damning quotes from France’s political, industrial elites, after which ‘Sunday Evenings’ traces the history of work by oppressed underclasses – like women – and the gaslighting headgames employed to keep all toilers off-balance, miserable and guilt-crushed…

The hopefully life-altering cartoon lectures conclude with an expose of the most insidious form of social oppression as ‘Just Being Nice’ outlines the tactics and effects of sneakily debilitating Benevolent Sexism (and yes, old gits from my generation thought it was okay to do it if we called it “chivalry” or “gallantry”)…

Backed up by a copious ‘Bibliography’ for further research (and probably fuelling some carping niggles from unrepentant buttheads) and packed with telling examples from sociological and anthropological studies as well as buckets of irrefutable statistics, this is a smart, subversively clever look at the roles women have been grudgingly awarded or allowed by a still largely male-centric society, but amidst the many moments that will have any decent human weeping in empathy or raging in impotent fury, there are decisive points where a little knowledge and a smattering of honest willingness to listen and change could work bloody miracles…

Buy this book, learn some stuff. Be better, and please accept my earnest apologies on behalf of myself and my entire gender.
© 2018, 2020 by Emma. English translation © 2020 by Una Dimitrijevic. All rights reserved.

Batter Up, Charlie Brown!


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-725-3 (HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most broadly accepted, since – after the characters made the jump to television – the little nippers become an integral part of the American mass cultural 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 TV 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 centred on playing (pranks, sports, musical instruments), teasing each other, making ill-informed observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The consistently expanding cast also includes mean girl Violet, infant prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy Van Pelt, her other-worldly baby brother Linusand 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. As a whole, the kids tackled every aspect of human existence in a charming and witty manner, acting as cartoon therapists and graphic philosophical guides to the world that watched them.

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

Available in a child-friendly hardback and the usual digital formats, Batter Up, Charlie Brown! offers a trio of extended vintage sequences dedicated to the kids’ attempts to distinguish themselves as sporting superstars in the heady arena of America’s favourite summer pastime. As a metaphor for living life to the full, sports has never been more accurate in its foreshadowings…

The tales are told in a series of monochrome panels (generally four to a page) and begin with ‘Team Manager’ as the perpetually anxious and responsibility-burdened Charlie anticipates the start of a new season. His worries are only further exacerbated by his devoted team who are all eager to act as back seat strategists…

Eponymous delight ‘Batter up!’ sees our gallant but overwhelmed commander stretched beyond his own herculean capacities as the squad call on him to lead from the front as usual but Charlie is weighed down with new familial stress as he’s ordered to push his new sister Sally in her stroller all day long. Can he cope with the stress of twin challenges and still save the game in the final inning?

Wrapping up the field fiascos, ‘Slide!’ sees the plucky player/manager (groundsman, talent scout, coach, organiser, tailor…) called upon to end the team’s permanent losing streak through innovative new tactics and heroic last-minute athleticism…

Timeless and evergreen – although that might just be grass stains – Charlie Brown’s existentialist travail have been delighting readers seemingly forever and clearly will not be stopping or superseded anytime soon. If you haven’t joined this club yet, why not sign up now?
Batter Up, Charlie Brown! © 2014 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.

I Love You, Broom-Hilda


By Russell Myers (Tempo Books/Grossett & Dunlap)
ISBN: 978-0-44805-593-0 (mass market PB)

Broom-Hilda launched on April 19th 1970, the conception of newspaper comics veteran big wheel Elliot Caplin (1913-2000) He was the brother of Al (Li’l Abner) Capp and writer and/or creator of The Heart of Juliet Jones, Little Orphan Annie, Big Ben Bolt, Long Sam, Abbie and Slats and a host of other classic strips). He passed the concept on to then 32-year old Russell Myers to write and draw, choosing to remain in the background as agent and business manager. The strip is still in syndication today, but the 25 collections (of which I Love You, Broom-Hilda was the second) are all inexplicably out of print and you’ll need your trusty search engine of choice to enjoy the zinger-bestrewn mystic marvel in action…

Myers, who’d previously worked as a Hallmark Card artist whilst trying to break in to the strip biz, hit the ground running and the zany antics of the old girl soon garnered lots of fans through the Chicago Tribune Syndicate’s numerous client papers.

Like all popular strips, Broom-Hilda dances on that line dividing homogeneity and uniqueness. Back then – and even now – a successful strip concept has to appeal to a relatively vast audience (not all of them rocket scientists) but be strong enough to provide lots of gags and still be perceived as a stand-out property.

The brief, terse and decidedly surreal adventures of a homely, sharp-tongued witch and her peculiar supporting cast (which in this book from the third year of publication includes Irwin the Troll, Gaylord Buzzard, and the enigmatic and professionally abusive Grelber) proved exactly what the 1970s public wanted.

Claiming to be 1500 years old and Attilla the Hun’s ex-wife, Broom-Hilda’s cleaned up a little over the years. She is no longer a booze-swilling, stogie-smoking harridan, and she’s a little lonely. She’s still looking for a second husband…

Broom-Hilda has had a few brushes with fame. In 1971 she had her own segment on the Filmation animated series Archie’s TV Funnies and in 1978 she was part of the line-up for The Fabulous Funnies – another Filmation vehicle which ranked her alongside strip royalty Alley Oop, Tumbleweeds, and Nancy. There was even serious talk of a stage musical in 2004…

Myers was awarded the Best Humour strip Award in 1975 by the American National Cartoonist Society and the strip is still going strong today. If you do track down any of the collections from the 1970s and early 1980s, the stylish, loose yet meticulous line-work of Myers lends an abstract weight and intensity to the panels that got gradually left behind as papers forced strips into smaller and smaller boxes, although the pointed and deprecating humour remains a constant for this splendid feature.

Happy 50th, Broom-Hilda and many more.
© 1973 The Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

Goliath


By Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-065-2(HB) 978-1-77046-299-1(TPB)

Everybody knows the story of David and Goliath. Big, mean evil guy at the head of an oppressive army terrorising the Israelites until a little boy chosen by God kills him with a stone from his slingshot.

But surely there’s more to it than that…?

In this supremely understated and gentle retelling we get to see what the petrifying Philistine was actually like and, to be quite frank, history and religion have been more than a little unkind…

Like most really big guys, Goliath of Gath is a shy, diffident, self-effacing chap. The hulking man-mountain is an adequate administrator but fifth worst swordsman in the entire army which has been camped in opposition to the Hebrew forces for months. Moreover, the dutiful, contemplative colossus doesn’t even have that much in common with the rough-and-ready attitudes of his own friends…

When an ambitious captain gets a grand idea, he has his titanic towering clerk outfitted in terrifying brass armour and orders him to issue a personal challenge to the Israelites every day.

“Choose a man, let him come to me that we may fight.
If he be able to kill me then we shall be your servants.
But if I kill him then you shall be our servants.”

The plan is to demoralise the foe with psychological warfare: grind them down until they surrender. There’s no reason to believe Goliath will ever have to actually fight anybody. It’s a bit like government policy, where announcing that something is being discussed to be actioned to be carried out is exactly the same as having done the task and moved on to the next crucial problem that needed fixing immediately, if not four years ago…

Elegiac and deftly lyrical, this clever reinterpretation has literary echoes and overtones as broadly disparate as Raymond Briggs and Oscar Wilde and, as it gently moves to its grimly inescapable conclusion, the deliciously poignant, simplified line and sepia-toned sturdiness of this lovely hardback or comforting paperback (unfortunately no digital edition yet!) add a subtle solidity to the sad story of a monstrous villain who wasn’t at all what he seemed…

Tom Gauld is a Scottish cartoonist whose works have appeared in Time Out and the Guardian. He has illustrated such children’s classics as Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man and his own books include Guardians of the Kingdom, 3 Very Small Comics, Robots, Monsters etc., Hunter and Painter and The Gigantic Robot. I particularly recommend his cartoon collections You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, Department of Mind-Blowing Theories and Baking with Kafka
© 2012, 2017 Tom Gauld. All rights reserved.