Chicken Fat: Drawings, Sketches, Cartoons and Doodles


By Will Elder (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-704-9 (PB)

Wolf William Eisenberg was born in The Bronx on September 22nd 1921, and you probably have never heard of him. He became a cartoonist, illustrator and commercial artist after changing his name to Will Elder.

Tragically, for many of you, that name won’t ring any bells either, even though he was one of the funniest and most influential cartoonists of the 20th century. Another of those slum kids who changed comics, “Wolfie” studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art – as did future comrades in comedy Al Jaffee, Al Feldstein, John Severin & Harvey Kurtzman.

An artist of astounding versatility, he served in WWII as part of the 668th Engineer Company (Topographical) of the US First Army, instrumental in assuring the success of the Normandy landings. After returning to America, he changed his name and set up the Charles William Harvey Studio with Charles Stern and Kurtzman, operating as a comics shop providing strips and other material for Prize Comics and other publishers.

Elder inked old pal John Severin at EC, and in 1952 when Kurtzman created satire comic Mad, he became a regular contributor of pencils and inks. The spoofs and parodies he crafted for the landmark comic book and sister publication Panic were jam-packed with a host of eye-popping background gags and off-camera shtick, all contributing to the manic energy of the work. He called those extras “chicken fat” and to learn why you should pick up this slim yet satisfying companion collection to comprehensive bio-tome Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art. On offer here is a delightful peek at his working process (and outrageous, never-suppressed sense of humour) through roughs, sketches, architectural studies, test runs and abortive strip projects (such as The Inspector, Luke Warm and Adverse Anthony) for numerous clients over the decades, rendered in every medium from loose pencils to charcoal portraits to fully painted finished works, all supplemented by a fulsome Foreword from his son-in-law Gary Vandenbergh and even art from his grandson and successor Jesse Vandenbergh.

A certified touchstone for budding artists, here you’ll see technical illustrations and colour studies, landscapes and murals, as well as candid photos. There are EC model sheets, pop studies confirming Elder’s status as a cultural sponge and perfect mimic of other artist’s styles – a gift Jaffe claimed could have made the cartoonist the “world’s greatest forger”…

Straight magazine illustration lies with a host of sketch research on hundreds of subjects but what most comes out is a never-ending parade of gags and jests, many of which turned up in general interest magazines such as Pageant or Playboy. Elder loved to laugh and he had a very broad and earthy sense of humour so be careful to always swallow what you’re drinking before turning pages here…

As a jobbing cartoonist, Elder was always looking for the next gig and included here are a wonderful assortment of mock – and racy – sci fi pulp covers, star caricatures, political portraits, Time and Newsweek cover roughs and a section devoted to his and Kurtzman’s Goodman Beaver and scathing satirical masterpiece Little Annie Fanny – which Elder limned for 24 years, as well  as wealth of spoofs starring the great and good of comics and the media from Dick Tracy to Popeye to Prince Charles and Lady Diana

A visual tour de force, this is a perfect illustration of how and why cartoonists are and why we’re so lucky to have them.

All material, unless otherwise noted, is © 2006 Will Elder. Little Annie Fanny © 2006 Playboy Enterprises, Inc. Text © 2006 Gary Vandenbergh. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 18: The Escort


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-98-4 (PB Album)

Doughty, Dashing and Dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, implacably even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the top-ranking comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… thus far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before inevitably ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny. When he became regular wordsmith, Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie) which began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with La Diligence (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators. The artist died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous sidebar sagebrush sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has history in Britain too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled young readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy paper Giggle, using the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix– Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

Strictly for the sake of historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages. The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re beyond 75 translated books and still going strong. That’s not even considering the hefty compilations of early adventures and the inclusion of spin-offs such as Kid Lucky

L’escorte was Morris & Goscinny’s 19th collaboration, originally serialised in 1966 before becoming the 28th album release in the same year: a wittily hilarious outing incorporating a little in-story continuity as the dutiful volunteer lawman is called upon to deal with a troublesome old acquaintance…

In the very first Cinebook translation, Lucky ended the shameful depredations of juvenile delinquent and legend in the making Billy the Kid. The young offender was sentenced to 1247 years at hard labour and our hero thought the matter ended.

Now, two years later, as Lucky and Jolly Jumper show their mettle in a rodeo competition, word comes of a judicial crisis which compels the gentle gunman to take the Kid from penal servitude in Texas to stand trial for further crimes in in New Mexico…

The usually cheery champion’s patience is tested to the limits as he rides with the smug thug who takes every opportunity to terrify the populace, rile his guard and, of course, escape…

While locked up overnight in the Gun Gulch jail, Billy even gulls petty thief Bert Malloy into following them and attempt to free him on numerous occasions…

The ongoing instances of ineptitude and accidental hilarity all ultimately fail – even when Malloy recruits real outlaws to help – and eventually Billy is handed over to the authorities in Bronco Pueblo, NM and that when the real surprises begin…

Trigger-fast pacing and amply packed with set-piece slapstick and pun routines, The Escort is a potent blend of daft wit and rapid action heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of canny twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

This is another wildly entertaining all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

The Terror of St Trinian’s and Other Drawings


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asterix Omnibus volume 11: Asterix and the Actress, Asterix and the Class Act, Asterix and the Falling Sky


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books)
ISBNs: 978-0-75289-156-9 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-426-7 (PB Album)

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marn. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, the lad dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

After becoming a French citizen at age seven, Uderzo found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII broke out, Albert spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business.

Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is still long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a timely warning shot in these frighteningly familiar-feeling times…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, and as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche. He created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir and in 1950, even illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right, or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth from their fevered brows.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior before they devised a wry western with a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and, in 1957, added Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a permanent home and rapturous audience. In his quieter moments, Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier onTanguy et Laverdure whilst producing with Goscinny a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as hit album Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original book before being serialised. Thereafter, each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

When the heroes are playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resort to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Laudanum, Compendium, Totorum and Aquarium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for almost a quarter of a century and Uderzo had found his own authorial voice, whilst keeping the immortal characters rock steady in their natures…

Uderzo’s seventh session as sole auteur was Astèrix et Latraviata: released in 2001 as the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Actress.

The revelatory epic opens with romance in the air as Obelix and his lifelong pal return to the village, laden down with boars and more battered keepsakes of the ongoing contretemps with the woefully-outmatched Romans.

They amiably amble into a huge surprise party. The heroes coincidentally share the same birthday and their garrulous Gaulish friends have arranged the event to commemorate the occasion. Even their respective mothers have come down for a visit from fashionable regional capital Condatum

Soon a feast is in full swing but after handing over their spectacular gifts (culled from the parents’ fashionable souvenir shop) – a fabulous jewelled sword for Asterix and an equally splendid Roman helmet for Obelix to add to his huge collection – the mothers begin a battle of their own with their sons.

Fed up with waiting for their hardworking husbands to arrive from the Big City, the impatient matrons start in on the birthday boys with lectures about settling down and providing some grandchildren…

Overruling Asterix and Obelix’s complaints, the insistent Sarsaparilla and Vanilla conduct acutely embarrassing interviews with the village’s contingent of eligible females and their potential mothers-in-law. They even organise a formal dance to show off their sons’ matrimonial potential, but the matchmaking is a succession of fiascos since the oafish louts just don’t want to play ball…

Fathers Astronomix and Obeliscoidix are now long overdue. Unknown to all, they have been arrested by Prefect Bogus Genius. The wily official has a problem which needs some clever and extremely delicate handling…

Already in custody is dipsomaniac former legionary Tremensdelirious (from Asterix and Caesar’s Gift), who sold the aforementioned sword and helmet to the Gaulish souvenir traders. Sadly, the items’ true owner is Caesar’s greatest enemy Pompey and incontrovertible proof positive that the usurping former tribune is back in Europe. The items must be quietly recovered before Rome realises…

Well aware of the ferocious reputation of the sons of his Gaulish captives, the Prefect enacts a devious scheme suggested by his spies. Mighty Obelix turns to jelly whenever he sees the beautiful Panacea (another village émigré now living in Condatum with her husband Tragicomix – as first seen in Asterix the Legionary) so the devilish plotter has hired the Empire’s greatest actress Latraviata to impersonate her and steal back the incriminating evidence…

As the despondent dads tire of waiting for rescue by their doughty boys and strike a deal with their cellmate Tremensdelirious, Decurion Fastandfurius is pretending to be a merchant escorting “Panacea” back to her home village. Apparently, the poor thing has a very selective case of amnesia…

In that certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica the actress is readily accepted with only Getafix in the least suspicious. Soon, her fawning attention to besotted Obelix wins her the helmet but Asterix is not so easily wooed. That changes when a spat with his now-jealous bosom buddy results in a mighty blow to the head which deprives him of his usually superior wits…

If not for overprotective mother Vanilla the plot would have succeeded then and there, but she stops the ingénue making off with the sword and calls in Getafix to cure her addled son. Unfortunately, the magic potion has a bizarre effect on the little zombie and Asterix goes wild, acting like an animal and scrapping with Obelix before hurtling out to sea like a torpedo…

He regains his senses on a rock in the middle of nowhere just as a massive storm erupts about him and only survives due to the intervention of old frenemies The Pirates and a particularly accommodating dolphin…

In the meantime, Latraviata and Fastandfurius have secretly secured the sword and started back for Condatum. Still unaware of their true nature, freshly reconciled Asterix and Obelix – who are heading in the same direction to find out what has delayed their dads – cadge a lift on the infiltrators’ cart.

Elsewhere, other agents are coming into play. A certain spy has already informed Caesar of trouble brewing and the real Panacea, having seen Astronomix and Obeliscoidix’s wrecked shop, has rushed off with Tragicomix to warn the village…

As our heroes head for the city, they are baffled to see Romans so busy fighting each other that they don’t even notice their usual nemeses, and everything comes to a startling head when Panacea apparently meets herself on the road…

After explanations, apologies and a surprising change of heart on behalf of one of the conspirators, Asterix and Obelix dash on to Condatum to rescue their fathers, only to stride straight into a major melee as Caesar and Pompey’s forces furiously clash…

Of course, it all works out in the end and cartoon dog-lovers everywhere will rejoice in the last moment arrival of the missing wonder mutt Dogmatix…and the introduction of his new “wife” and family. Apparently, some heroes cansuccessfully combine romance and duty…

Packed with outrageous action, good-natured joshing, cleverly applied raucous family humour, bombastic spectacle and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking affirmation of life’s eternal verities further confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art.

Diminutive, doughty daredevil Asterix is one of the Ninth Art’s greatest achievements, and by the mid-1960s had become a global brand and premium French export. He continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. As such prominent and ever-ascending stars, their presence was often requested in other places, as varied as fashion magazine Elle, global icon National Geographic and even a part of Paris’ 1992 Olympic Bid…

In 2013 new yarn Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much-anticipated continuation of the franchise. Before that, however, Uderzo was convinced to gather and – in many instances – artistically re-master some of the historical oddments and pictorial asides which had incrementally accrued over the glory-filled decades: features by the perfect partners which just didn’t fit into major album arcs, tales done for Specials, guest publications and commercial projects starring the indomitable Gaul. To cap off the new-old package Albert crafted an all-original vignette from that halcyon world of immortal heroes…

This intriguing compilation first appeared in France as Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993 – and a decade later in English – gathering those long-forgotten side-pieces and spin-off material starring the Gallant Gauls and frequently their minor-celebrity creators too.

Following an expansive and explanatory ‘French Publisher’s Note’ – and the traditional background maps and cast list – a press conference from Chief Vitalstatistix leads directly into the eponymous ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ (originally seen in Pilote #363 October 6th, 1966) wherein the first day of school finds the little legend and his big buddy sadly miscast as truant inspectors and kid catchers for headmaster Getafix…

Each little gem is preceded by an introductory explanatory piece, and following the hard facts comes ‘The Birth of Asterix’. Taken from October 1994’s Le Journal exceptionnel d’Astérix, the tale is set ‘In the Year 35 BC (Before Caesar)’ and finds a certain village in high dudgeon as two young women go into labour. Their distraught husbands soon find a way to distract themselves – and everybody else – with a mass punch-up that quickly becomes the hamlet’s preferred means of airing issues and passing the time…

‘In 50 BC’ comes from May 1977 and re-presents newspaper-style strips produced at the request of an American publisher hoping to break the European stalwarts in the USA. The endeavour inevitably stalled but the panels – introducing and reprising the unique world of the Gallic goliaths – wound up being published in National Geographic.

Apparently Uderzo loves chickens and, especially for the original August 2003 release, he concocted the tale of ‘Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel’, detailing the struggle between the village’s ruling rooster and a marauding Roman Eagle. It sounds pretty one-sided, but faithful mutt Dogmatix knows where the magic portion is kept…

Pilote #424 (7th December 1967) was full of Seasonal festive fun so ‘For Gaul Lang Syne’ saw Obelix attempting to use druidic mistletoe to snaffle a kiss from beautiful Panacea. He soon comes to regret the notion…

‘Mini, Midi, Maxi’ was produced for fashion magazine Elle (#1337 2nd August 1971) but the discussion of ancient Gaulish couture soon devolves into the kind of scraps you’d expect, after which ‘Asterix As You Have Never Seen Him Before…’ (Pilote #527, 11th December 1969) displays Uderzo’s practised visual versatility as our heroes are realised in various popular art styles from gritty superhero to Flash Gordon, a Charles Schulz pastiche and even as an underground psychedelic trip…

Approached to contribute a strip to Paris’ bid, the partners produced ‘The Lutetia Olympics’ which was later published in Jours de France #1660 (25th October 1986) and depicts how Caesar’s attempts to scotch a similar attempt to hold the great games in Gaul fails because of a certain doughty duo, whilst ‘Springtime in Gaul’ (from Pilote #334, 17th March 1966) is an early all-Albert affair wherein our heroes help the mystic herald of changing seasons give pernicious winter the boot…

‘The Mascot’ originated in first digest-sized Super Pocket Pilote (#1, 13th June 1968), revealing how the constantly-thrashed Romans decide to acquire a lucky animal totem, but chose the wrong-est dog in the world to confiscate, after which ‘Latinomania’ (crafted in March 1973 and re-mastered for the first Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993) takes a sly poke at the fragile mutability of language.

‘The Authors Take the Stage’ describes how usually-invisible creators became characters in their own work and ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ collects a continuing panel strip which began in Pilote #172 (7th February 1963) and ran until #186, wherein Mssrs. Goscinny & Uderzo encounter a modern day Gaulish giant and track his ancestors back through history.

Everything ends with ‘How Do They Think It All Up?’ (Pilote #157, 25th October 1962) as two cartoonists in a café experience ‘The Birth of an Idea’

Adding extra lustre to an already stellar canon, these quirky sidebars and secret views thankfully collect just a few more precious gags and wry capers to augment if not complete the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterpieces. Not to be missed…

Uderzo’s controversial eighth solo outing (originally entitled Le Ciel lui tombe sur la tête) was released in 2005 as the 31st volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language edition was released that same year as Asterix and the Falling Sky. Apart from unlikely thematic content and quicker pacing, the critics’ main problem seemed to stem from a sleeker, slicker, less busy style of illustration – almost a classical animation look – but that’s actually the point of the tale. The entire book is a self-admitted tribute to the Walt Disney cartoons of the artist’s formative years, as well as a sneakily good-natured critique of modern comics as then typified by American superheroes and Japanese manga…

The contentious iconoclasm opens with the doughty little Gaul and affable pal Obelix in the midst of a relaxing boar hunt when they notice that their quarry has frozen into petrified solidity.

Perplexed, they head back through the eerily silent forest to the village, only to discover that all their friends have been similarly stupefied and rendered rigidly inert…

Somehow faithful canine companion Dogmatix and aged Getafix have some life in them, but only when Obelix admits to giving the pooch the occasional tipple of Magic Potion does Asterix deduce that it’s because they all have the potent brew currently flowing though their systems…

With one mystery solved they debate how to cure everybody else and all the woodland creatures – especially the wild boars – but are soon distracted by the arrival of an immense golden sphere floating above and eclipsing the village…

Out of if drifts a strange but friendly creature who introduces himself as “Toon” from the distant star Tadsilweny (it’s an anagram, but don’t expect any help from me), accompanied by a mightily powered being in a tight-fitting blue-and-red costume with a cape. Toon calls him Superclone

The mighty minion casually insults Obelix and promptly learns that he’s not completely invulnerable, but otherwise the visitors are generally benevolent. The paralysis plague is an accidental effect of Toon’s vessel, but a quick adjustment by the strange visitor soon brings the surroundings back to frenetic life.

That’s when the trouble really starts as the villagers – and especially Chief Vitalstatistix – see the giant globe floating overhead as a portent that at long last the sky is falling…

After another good-spirited, strenuously physical debate, things calm down and Toon explains he’s come from the Galactic Council to confiscate an earthly super-weapon and prevent it falling into the hands of belligerent alien conquerors the Nagmas (that’s another anagram) and there’s nothing the baffled Earthlings can do about it…

At the Roman camp of Compendium Centurion Polyanthus is especially baffled and quite angry. His men have already had a painful encounter with Superclone but the commander refuses to believe their wild stories about floating balls and strangers even weirder than the Gauls, but he’s soon forced to change his mind when a gigantic metal totem pole lands in a blaze of flame right in his courtyard.

Out of it flies an incredible, bizarre, insectoid, oriental-seeming warrior demanding the whereabouts of a powerful wonder-weapon. Extremely cowed and slightly charred, Polyanthus tells him about the Magic Potion the Gauls always use to make his life miserable…

The Nagma immediately hurries off and encounters Obelix, but the rotund terrestrial is immune to all the invader’s armaments and martial arts attacks. He responds by demonstrating with devastating efficacy how Gauls fight…

After zapping Dogmatix, the Nagma retreats. When Obelix dashes back to the village it follows. No sooner has Toon cured the wonder mutt than the colossal Nagma robot-ship arrives, forcing the friendly alien to fly off and intercept it in his golden globe…

The Nagma tries to trade high-tech ordnance for the Gauls’ “secret weapon” but Asterix is having none of it, instead treating the invader to a dose of potion-infused punishment.

Stalemated, the Nagma then unleashes an army of automatons dubbed Cyberats and Toon responds by deploying a legion of Superclones. The battle is short and pointless and a truce finds both visitors deciding to share the weapon…

Vitalstatistix is outraged but Getafix is surprisingly sanguine, opting to let both Toon and Nagma sample the heady brew for themselves. The effects are not what the visitors could have hoped for and the enraged alien oriental unleashes more Cyberats in a sneak attack.

Responding quickly, Asterix and Obelix have two Superclones fly them up to the marauding robots, dealing with them in time-honoured Gaulish fashion.

The distraction has unfortunately allowed the Nagma to kidnap Getafix and Toon returns to his globe-ship to engage his robotic foe in a deadly game of brinksmanship whilst a Superclone liberates the incensed Druid. None too soon, furious, frustrated Nagma decides enough is enough and blasts off, determined never to come back to this crazy planet…

Down below Polyanthus has taken advantage of the chaos and confusion to rally his legions for a surprise attack, arriving just as the Gauls are enjoying a victory feast with their new alien ally. The assault goes extremely badly for the Romans, particularly after a delayed effect of the potion transforms affable Toon into something monstrous and uncanny…

Eventually all ends well and, thanks to technological wizardry, all the earthly participants are returned to their safely uncomplicated lives, once again oblivious to the dangers and wonders of a greater universe…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is a joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and all open-minded devotees of comics. This still-controversial award-winning (Eagle 2006 winner for Best European Comic) yarn only confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller willing to take risks and change things up, whilst his stunning ability to pace a tale was never better demonstrated. Asterix and the Falling Sky proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.

If you still haven’t experienced the sublime example of graphic élan that is Asterix, it’s never too late…
© 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

Smash! Annual 1975


By many and various (IPC Magazines, Ltd)
SBN: 85037-166-X

Smash! launched with a cover-date of February 5th 1966: an ordinary Odhams anthology weekly which was quickly re-badged as a Power Comic at the end of the year; combining home-grown funnies and British originated thrillers with resized US strips to capitalise on the American superhero bubble created by the Batman TV series.

Power Comics was a sub-brand used by Odhams to differentiate those periodicals which contained reprinted American superhero material from the company’s regular blend of sports, war, western, adventure and humour comics – such as Buster, Valiant, Lion or Tiger.

During the Swinging Sixties the Power weeklies did much to popularise the budding Marvel universe characters in this country, which was still poorly served by distribution of the original American imports.

The increasingly expensive American reprints were dropped in 1969 and Smash! was radically retooled with the traditional mix of action, sport and humour strips. Undergoing a full redesign, it was relaunched on March 15th 1969 with all-British material and finally disappeared into Valiant in April 1971 after 257 issues.

However, the Seasonal specials remained a draw until October 1975 when Smash Annual 1976 properly ended the era. From then on, the Fleetway brand had no room for the old guard – except as re-conditioned reprints in cooler, more modern books…

As I’ve monotonously repeated, Christmas Annuals were forward-dated so this monumental mix of shock, awe and haw-haw was probably being put together between spring and September 1974, combining new strip or prose stories of old favourites with remastered reprints from other Fleetway-owned comics and a wealth of general interest fact features.

Here then, following a contents page/cast pin-up double page spread of the Swots and Blots, the festive fun kicks off with a promise of trouble to come – and a modicum of editorial fourth wall-busting – from ‘Bad Penny’ with what today seems a rather uncomfortable photo spread featuring chimps in human dress entitled ‘Monkey Music Tricks’

Devised by Barrie Mitchell and unbelievably popular, ‘His Sporting Lordship’ was a light-hearted everyman comedy drama and one of the most popular strips of the era. Debuting in Smash!, in 1969 Henry Nobbins survived the merger with Valiant and only retired just before the comic itself did.

Cover-featured Nobbins was only a common labourer when he unexpectedly inherited £5,000,000 and the title Earl of Ranworth. Unfortunately, he couldn’t touch the cash until he restored the family’s sporting reputation… by winning all the championships, prizes and awards that his forebears had held in times past…

Further complicating the issue was rival claimant Parkinson who, with henchman Fred Bloggs, constantly tried to sabotage his attempts. Luckily the new Earl was ably assisted by canny, cunning butler Jarvis…

With art (possibly?) by Douglas Maxted, this red-&-black-hued romp is his last ever appearance as the unlikely toff and his capable manservant attempt a sporting double – in ballooning and knitting – despite the scurrilous efforts of the skulking nemeses…

The first of a series of puzzle pages is next as ‘Smash Quiz No. 1’ asks questions on sporting subjects after which a prose tale of ‘Master of the Marsh’ (illustrated by the Solano Lopez studio) sees enigmatic hermit/P.E. teacher Patchman taking his pack of hooligans and rabble-rousers on an exchange trip to America, after which gags return in a perilous sub-sea lark for the crew of ‘Ghost Ship’ (by Sid Burgon?) and a nasty dose of civic pride causes carnage amidst the ongoing class war on Reg Parlett’s ‘Consternation Street’.

Also splitting sides and tickling ribs is Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Swots and the Blots’ – with a cataclysmic snowy guest shot from minxish Penny – whilst Fool who Fell to Earth ‘Monty Muddle’ (originally Milkiway – The Man from Mars in Buster) explores Earthlings’ obsession with digging holes.

Prose fact-feature ‘Fishing Can be Fun’ – illustrated by Ted Andrews and with photos – leads to history vignette ‘Pursuit in the Snow’ detailing an alpine pursuit during WWII before we enjoy a true gem of British comics suspense.

Written by Scott Goodall with Ken Mennell and Chris Lowder, ‘Cursitor Doom’ is the unquestioned masterpiece of Eric Bradbury – one of our greatest ever stylists. The strip is a darkly brooding Gothic thriller quite unlike anything else in comics then or since. If pushed, I’ll liken it most to William Hope Hodgson’s Karnacki the Ghost Breaker novelettes – although that’s more for flavour than anything else and even that doesn’t really cover it.

Doom is a fat, bald, foul-tempered, cape-wearing know-it-all who is also humanity’s last-ditch defence against the forces of darkness. With his strapping and rugged young assistant Angus McCraggan and Scarab, a trained raven (or is it, perhaps, something more?), Doom crushes without mercy any threat to humanity’s wellbeing. Here, that’s the sudden rising of ancient pagan gods animating the nations flora and imbuing it with a taste for blood…

Refreshing ourselves with more laughs, a brace of animal antics in Stan McMurtry’s ‘Percy’s Pets’ segues neatly into chilling chuckles in Leo Baxendale’s ‘The Haunts of Headless Harry’

Globe trotting journalist/adventurer Simon Test barely survives the diabolical ‘Revenge!’ of mad millionaire boffin Jabez Coppenger: a breathtaking thriller courtesy of Angus Allen & Bradbury, after which ‘Smash Hits’ doles out a double helping of single-panel gags and ‘Wacker’ (originally Elmer when first seen in Buster) finds the oaf trying out the job of lorry driver in a riotous romp from Roy Wilson, before we pause once more for intellectual stimulation as ‘Smash Quiz No. 2’ tests our affinity ‘For Motorcars’

A full-colour section begins and ends with a brace of strips starring smug know-it-all ‘Big ’Ead’ (another Buster ex-pat, limned by Nadal), bookending a lengthy photo-feature on model railways dubbed ‘Weeny Wonders’ before monochrome returns with ‘Smash Quiz No. 3 (For Animals)’ and another Baxendale (or maybe the legendary Mike Brown? You should look him up…) clash between ‘The Swots and the Blots’: a seasonal shocker as the kids perform a panto…

Another historical photo-feature on the British NRA and the shooting range at ‘Bisley’ follows, after which the spooks of the ‘Ghost Ship’ clash with a seagoing saurian and ‘Sam’s Spook’ gets his adopted mortal into more trouble before ‘Storm Hero’ tantalises in text with the tale of a daring cliff rescue.

‘Percy’s Pets’ (McMurtry or possibly Cyril Price) sees a skunk save the day before ‘Giants of Sport’ offers a roundup of contemporary legends and triumphs and ‘The Swots and the Blots’ indulge again in their own class war and thus won’t join us for ‘Smash Quiz No. 4 – For Soldiers’

Returning to full-colour, Victorian escapologist and showman ‘Janus Stark’ involves himself in a police hunt for a fantastic band of thieves only to discover all is not as it seems…

Stark was a fantastically innovative and successful strip. Created by Jack Legrand, and written by Tom Tully for the 1969 relaunch of Smash!, the majority of the art was from Francisco Solano Lopez’s Argentinean studio (including stints by Francisco Fuentes-Man, Juan García Quirós and Tom Kerr). The eerie moodiness well-suited the saga of a foundling who grew up in a grim orphanage to become the greatest escapologist of the Steam Age.

The Man with Rubber Bones also had his own ideas about Justice, and would joyously sort out scoundrels the Law couldn’t or wouldn’t touch. A number of creators worked on this feature, which survived until the downsizing of Fleetway’s comics division in 1975 – and even beyond – as Stark escaped oblivion when the series was continued in France – even unto Stark’s eventual death and succession by his son!

Back in black & white for the final stages, ‘Smash Quiz No. 5’ tests For Hobbies, ‘Big ’Ead’ goes skiing and photo-essay‘Clowning Around’ clues us in on everything we need to know about making kids laugh and some adults scream.

‘The World-Wide Wanderers’ were a literally international team of footballers drawn from many different countries – talk about prophetic! – who here star in prose yarn ‘Five-A-Side’ as acrimony and resentment between attack and defence divides the team, with unexpected benefits for a local charity before everything ends with ‘It’s Bad Penny Again’ as the tiny terror learns a painful lesson…

As my knowledge of British creators from this time is so woefully inadequate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve misattributed and besmirched the good names of Leo Baxendale, Gordon Hogg, Stan McMurtry, Graham Allen, Mike Lacey, Terry Bave, Artie Jackson and numerous international artists anonymously utilised throughout this period. Even more so the unsung authors responsible for much of the joy in my early life – and certainly the childhoods of millions of others…

Christmas simply wasn’t right without a heaping helping of these garish, wonder-stuffed compendia offering a vast variety of stories and scenarios. Today’s celebrity, TV and media tie-in packages simply can’t compete, so why not track down a selection of brand-old delights with proven track record and guaranteed staying power…?
© IPC Magazines, Ltd. 1974.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. But then, finally, Bud arrived…

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

When Sagendorf became the main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

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

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

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

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

The stunning, almost stream-of-consciousness slapstick stories are preceded as ever by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement and fabulous collation of candid photos and assorted gems of merchandise.  Included here are newspaper strips from 1944 when Bud was ghosting the feature for Tom Sims & Bela Zaboly, and assorted Play-Storeactivity segments which Sagendorf contributed to Segar’s Sunday funny pages as his assistant in 1938 all contributing tothe wonder of the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

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

Sagendorf was a smart guy who kept abreast of trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked and these tales are timeless in approach and delivery. ‘Animal Talk’ rockets along from gag to gag as the Sailor Man is captured by a mad scientist who accidentally imparts the ability to communicate with all “aminals”, after which Popeye becomes a constant mouthpiece for the beasts as they seek better conditions, culminating in the old sea dog harbouring an escaped circus ape and setting up a counselling service for fauna…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Asterix Omnibus volume 10: Asterix and the Magic Carpet, Asterix and the Secret Weapon, Asterix and Obelix all at Sea


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books and others)

ISBNs: 978-1-40910-134-5 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-425-0 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrating the Season with Historical Hysterics… 10/10

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marne, a son of Italian immigrants. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

He became a French citizen at age seven and found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society, where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, Albert spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a warning shot…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche, and created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir. In 1950, he illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

An inveterate traveller, the prodigy met Rene Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right, or perhaps gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior before they devised a western with a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine, and in 1957 added Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. In his quieter moments Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier on Tanguy et Laverdure and launching – with Goscinny – a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as hit album Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original book before being serialised. Thereafter, each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and the grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

When the heroes are playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resort to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for a decade and Uderzo was slowly but surely finding his own authorial voice…

Asterix and the Magic Carpet (originally and rather ponderously entitled Astérix chez Rahàzade ou Le compte des mille et une heures – which translates as Asterix meets Orinjade or the 1001 Hours Countdown) was released in 1987 and once again saw Asterix and Obelix undertake a long voyage into the unknown: one packed with exotic climes, odd people and bold adventure, all deliciously underpinned by topical lampooning and timeless swingeing satire.

Before the Arabian adventure begins, a delightful in-character portrait of Goscinny and Uderzo as their greatest creations Asterix and Obelix whets the appetite for the fun to come, after which the 28th saga starts with a friendly feast, abruptly ruined twice over by the musical efforts of raucous Bard Cacofonix.

Firstly, there’s the plain fact that he is singing at all, but the real problem is that his newly discovered vocal style summons up storms and creates violent downpours.

The thunderous deluge delivers a surprised visitor to the village. Watziznehm the Fakir was passing by far above on his flying carpet when the tempest tossed him to earth. It’s a painful but happy accident since the Indian wise man is on a mission to find some miraculous Gauls and a certified rainmaker…

Soon Asterix, Obelix and canine wonder Dogmatix are heading Due East to save beautiful princess Orinjade from the machinations of Guru Hoodunnit, who wants to sacrifice her to end a terrible drought and consequently seize the reins of power from her father Rajah Watzit. When the flying wizard left home, it was with a countdown of 1001 hours to doomsday…

Our heroes are only accompanying the real star of the Fakir’s quest: with a deadline looming to execute the princess, Watziznehm needs to get Cacofonix there in time to sing up a storm – or rather a monsoon…

Travel aboard a flying carpet is swift and comfortable but ever-hungry Obelix is continually holding up proceedings with many pit-stops to refuel his cavernous stomach, whilst the Bard’s practising frequently leads to stormy weather and unnecessary diversions…

After the usual dalliance with pirates, a bird’s eye tour of Rome and a brief voyage on a Greek trading ship, our tourists soar over Athens and get shot at above Tyre before a natural storm sets the carpet alight and they crash-land in Persia.

Despite being in the land of carpets, the travellers are unable to secure a replacement until a band of Scythian raiders attack the village. Once Asterix and Obelix negotiate a trade deal, the embattled villagers take charge of hundreds of pummelled plunderers in return for a freshly unbeatable new rug…

As the heroes plunge ever eastward, in the Valley of the Ganges Hoodunnit and his creepy mystic crony Owzat gloat at their impending takeover, even as poor Orinjade’s stout defiance begins to weaken.

When the Gauls and their Fakir chauffeur arrive with only a day to spare, it all seems over for the ghastly guru, but as the Bard begins his song, Cacofonix discovers that the arduous journey has given him laryngitis.

For the first time ever, somebody wants him to sing and he has lost his voice…

With time running out, the Rajah’s doctors’ diagnosis seems crazy: immersion in various unwholesome by-products of sacred elephants. Rather than settle for half-measures the Gauls decide to take Cacofonix to the jungle abode of Howdoo the Elephant Trainer and bury him in the curative well away from civilised senses…

This only gives the villains the opportunity they have been hoping for. When Watziznehm and the Gauls go to collect the Bard in the morning, Owzat engages the Fakir in a magical duel. Leaving them to their tricks Asterix and Obelix press on and find that the storm-singer has been kidnapped…

Happily, dashing Dogmatix is on hand to track down the Bard, an especially easy task as he now smells like he sings…

Hoodunnit is mirthfully preparing the stage for Orinjade’s sacrifice when, after the usual Gallic fisticuffs from our heroes, Cacofonix makes his Asian debut and sets everything – including the skies – to rights in the very nick of time…

Stuffed with light-hearted action, good-natured joshing, raucous, bombastic, bellicose hi-jinks and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this tale is full of Eastern Promise, a sublime slice of whimsy and all you need to make any holiday excursion or comfy staycation unforgettable.

The 29th volume Asterix and the Secret Weapon (originally Astérix: La Rose et le Glaive) was released in 1991 and Uderzo’s fifth as solo creator. It begins in the boisterous, far from idyllic little hamlet with a multi-generational battle of the sexes in full swing…

The perpetual jockeying for position between males and females comes to a head when Chief’s wife Impedimenta and the village matrons fire Cacofonix from his role as teacher of their children and bring in a new educator more to their liking.

Bard Bravura is a woman – and someone who knows how to get things done properly. With the village men reluctant to get involved, Cacofonix has no choice but to resign in high dudgeon and go live in the forest…

The situation worsens when the massed mothers demand a party to welcome their new tutor and Chief Vitalstatistix is bullied into arranging it. At the feast, Bravura sings and is discovered to be just slightly less awful than Cacofonix ever was. At least her bellowing doesn’t result in instant thunderstorms…

Meanwhile in Rome, Julius Caesar is listening to another bright spark with an idea to defeat and destroy the Gallic Gadflies who won’t admit they are part of his empire. Wily Manlius Claphamomnibus is convinced he has discovered a fatal chink in the rebels’ indomitable armour…

Bravura is rapidly becoming unwelcome to at least half the village: enflaming the women with her talk of “masculine tyranny”, and aggravating the men by singing every morning before the sun comes up. She even manages to offend easygoing Obelix by refusing to let him bring Dogmatix to the kindergarten class his owner attends every day…

Most shocking of all, the Bard has convinced the women to wear trousers rather than skirts, and Impedimenta has taken to being carried around on a shield just like a proper – Male – Chief…
With the situation rapidly becoming intolerable, outraged Vitalstatistix orders his top troubleshooter to sort it out, but Bravura won’t listen to the diminutive warrior. She thinks Asterix is an adorable little man and bamboozles him into giving her his hut.

… And at sea a band of phenomenally unlucky pirates attack a Roman ship filled with Claphamomnibus’ secret weapons and quickly wish it had been the Gauls who usually thrash and sink them, instead of these monsters sending them to the bottom of the sea…

Relations have completely broken down in the village. The new Bard’s suggestion that Impedimenta should be chief has resulted in a massive spat and Vitalstatistix has repaired to the forest for the foreseeable future. It’s not long before every man in town joins him…

In an effort to calm the seething waters, Druid Getafix organises a referendum to decide who should rule, but whilst all the women naturally vote for Impedimenta, no men except Asterix and Obelix dare to vote for Vitalstatistix. After all, they don’t have wives…

When the little warrior confronts Bravura, she again belittles him: even suggesting that if they get together, they can rule the village jointly. Incensed beyond endurance, the furious hero slaps her when she kisses him and immediately crumbles in shock and horror.

He has committed the unpardonable sin. The Gaulish Code utterly forbids warriors to harm women or maltreat guests and in his honest outrage has betrayed his most sacred principles…

He’s still in shock when Getafix defends him at a trial where Bravura even angers the wise old sage to the point that he also storms off to join Cacofonix and Vitalstatistix…

Before day’s end the entire male contingent – overcome by a wave of masculine solidarity and “Sod This-ery” – is living a life of carefree joy under the stars and Impedimenta is rightly concerned with how the village can be defended without the Druid’s potions.

Bravura has an answer to that too: an infallible peace plan to present to the besieging Romans…

Meanwhile on the dock at Aquarium, the Secret Weapons are disembarking to the amusement and – quite quickly – sheer terror and consternation of the weary garrison. From the safety of some bushes, Asterix and Obelix watch in astonishment as an army of ferocious women – a female Legion of lethal warriors – takes over the running of the fort and prepares for total war…

Extremely worried, the spies quickly report back to the men in the trees. The situation is truly dire for no honourable Gaul could possibly fight a woman. Despite the ongoing domestic situation, Vitalstatistix decides the women of the village must be warned and despatches the horrified Asterix and still-bewildered Obelix to carry the message.

Worried and nervous at their potential reception, the unlikely lads wander into a rather embarrassing fashion show and are greeted with a wave of questions from the women who are missing their men more that they realised…

Bravura arrogantly refuses the offer to provide the women with their own magic potion, confident in her peace plan, but when she meets with Claphamomnibus she is beaten, abused and humiliated by the cocky Roman. She surprisingly finds a sympathetic ear and keen collaborator in Asterix, who has a scheme to take appropriate vengeance and send the notionally irresistible female furies packing…

It will, of course, mean the men and women of the village working closely together…

Although quite heavy-handed by today’s standards, this is at its core a superb lampooning of the endlessly entertaining “Battle of the Sexes”: combining swingeing satire, broad slapstick and surreal comedy in a delicious confection of sexual frisson and eternally evergreen “My Wife…” jokes.

Bravura is one of Uderzo’s most enigmatic caricatures, bearing resemblances to a number of high profile female public figures of the time, including then-French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, Belgian tele-journalist Christine Ockrent and German operatic star Diana Damrau, but the grievances of both male and female combatants are as unchanging and perennial as the characters here who enact and – for a short time at least – embody them…

Uderzo’s sixth solo session was Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (released in 1996 as La Galère d’Obélix) and the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga.

It opens in the cruel and callous capital of civilisation wherein the Master of the World is having a bit of a bad day. Not as bad, however, as his Grand Admiral Crustacius, who has just allowed a bunch of galley slaves to mutiny and steal Julius Caesar’s personal galley…

As the severely tongue-lashed mariner and his browbeaten aide Vice-Admiral Nautilus scurry away to pursue the fugitives, aboard the magnificent vessel magnificent Greek rebel Spartakis – bearing a striking resemblance to the magnificent Kirk Douglas in all his glory – debates with his recently-liberated comrades from many nations on where in the Rome-ruled world they can go to remain free…

A British oarsman then suggests a certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica which the empire has never conquered…

Meanwhile in the faraway subject of the rebels’ discussions, Asterix and Obelix are in an argumentative mood too, but their clash is put aside when word comes that the entire complement of all four encircling garrisons are massing on the far side of the forest…

Always eager for a little martial recreation, the villagers dose up on Getafix the Druid’s strength-boosting magic potion. Once again, Obelix is frustrated in his attempt to get a share of the tantalising elixir and stumbles off in high dudgeon. The generally genial giant had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby and grown up a permanently superhuman, eternally hungry hulk who hates being told no and doesn’t believe more of the mouth-watering miracle mixture might harm him…

The Romans are utterly unaware of the danger insouciantly sauntering towards them, engaged as they are in military drills to celebrate the imminent arrival of Admiral Crustacius. Thoroughly thrashing the amassed legions, the victorious Gauls wonder why Roman-bashing addict Obelix is absent and Getafix, dreading the worst, dashes back to discover his greatest fears realised.

The intransigent idiot has foolishly imbibed deeply from the potion and been turned to stone…

Nothing the Druid can conceive seems able to cure the calcified colossus and it’s during this time of trouble that Spartakis and his freed slaves arrive, requesting sanctuary. As the welcoming villagers carry the huge ornate galley into the village, the Obelix ordeal takes a strange turn as his stony spell wears off and the former fighting fool returns to flesh and blood – albeit as the puny helpless little boy he was before ever falling into the potion pot. The little wimp can’t even eat roast boar anymore…

The puny pipsqueak is the darling of the town but cannot abide his weak ineffectual status. The situation becomes truly intolerable after the boy is captured by Crustacius and shipped off to Rome. After suitably castigating the soldiery, Asterix, Getafix and faithful mutt Dogmatix give chase in Caesar’s ship, crewed by Spartakis and his valiant band of brothers.

Powered by potion, the pursuers easily overtake the Romans, who have been hampered by the obnoxious antics of Obelix and the predations of the perennially, phenomenally unlucky pirates to whom – after a period of traditional chastisement – Asterix gives Caesar’s stolen galley.

Crucially, however, in his haste the little warrior leaves behind a barrel of potion when his comrades and little Obelix all transfer to a new, less conspicuous vessel.

As the Gauls sail off in the pirate’s ship, Getafix has an inspired idea and suggests to Spartakis that they make for the last remnant of Atlantis, explaining that the idyllic Canary Islands survived the inundation of the magic continent and the people living there now are reclusive beings of great power and knowledge who might be able to restore Obelix to his natural state…

When they arrive in that beautiful land of miracles, they are greeted by aged Absolutlifabulos and hordes of beautiful, happy children riding dolphins, centaurs, swans and winged cattle. The jolly dotard explains that the Atlanteans reverted themselves to carefree immortal childhood, but their powers cannot do anything to cure Obelix. As the downhearted Gauls make their way home, Spartakis and his men opt to stay and become forever kids too…

Meanwhile on Caesar’s galley, Crustacius has discovered Getafix’s stashed potion and powered up, dreaming of ousting his foul-tempered boss and making himself Emperor, even as leagues away, a Roman boarding party invades the pirate galley and menaces the powerless Gauls.

With Asterix about to be killed, little Obelix goes berserk and the emotional overload restores him to his corpulent, hyper-charged older self, much to the distress of the terrified soldiers…

By the time Crustacius reaches Rome, he has made the same mistake Obelix did and his rapid overdosing on potion only provides Julius Caesar with another statue for the Circus Maximus…

In Gaul however, Obelix – with a lot of frustration to work through – debarks at recently repaired Aquarium for a spot of cathartic violence before he accompanies his faithful chums back to the village for a celebratory feast…

This rollicking fantasy and paean to family and true friendship cemented Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch. If you still haven’t experienced this sublime slice of French polish and graphic élan, it’s never too late…
© 1980-1996 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2002-2003 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Wildcat Anarchist Comics


By Donald Rooum & guests (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62963-1-271 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because the Good Fight Never Ends… 10/10

I’m afraid I’m going to overshare a bit here.

This summer was a time of great personal upset and travail for me and mine: a succession of unwelcome events that culminated in the death of a beloved pet, one family funeral, an eventually happily-resolved health scare and another literally hours-from-death life-saving heroic intervention by doctors and nurses of the National Health Service.

How any plutocratic, greedy, self-serving scum can denigrate, gaslight or deny these true heroes decent pay and conditions and job security in the name of economy or ideology is beyond my capacity to understand and I will mock and maim any agent of authority seeking to sell them out…

Sorry: it’s all still a bit raw.

However, the actual point is that – in the throes of trying to maintain an even keel and honour my personal and professional commitments over that period – I managed to completely miss the passing of one of my oldest friends and greatest mentor. I only found out that Donald Rooum died a few days ago, and it’s really preying on me now.

Thankfully, I was raised Catholic and have decades of early programming in accepting and forever internalising burdensome guilt, so I’m dealing it with it my own manner. This is part of it…

Donald Rooum (20th April 1928 – August 31st 2019) became an Anarchist in 1944 and fought the good, reasoned, acerbic but never strident fight for his particular non-political ethical standpoint since the 1950s – most notably, in cartoon form, where he used that most devastating of weapons, the pen, to deliver his payloads of well-reasoned integrity and intellectual challenge.

He was also a thinker, educator, lecturer and tireless seeker after knowledge, adding degrees in Life Sciences to his ever-expanding list of qualifications (which also included Designer, Calligrapher and Historian) before, after years of writing learned articles, becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Biology at the age of 76.

From 1952 onwards, he enjoyed a long career as a cartoonist, providing gags and strips for The Syndicalist, She, The Daily Mirror, Private Eye, The Spectator and many more. He authored many books, illustrated countless articles and bought all of us students in his wake over generations many pints when we couldn’t, and even after we could.

One of his last was Wildcat Anarchist Comics (available in both traditional paperback and cutting edge digitality) which combined a long-overdue and far too short autobiography with a selection of his decades of cartoon triumphs. Donald usual worked in black-&-white but in this compilation most of the material was diligently coloured by Jayne Clementson, making it even more accessible to our overseas cousins.

The book opens with a Foreword by Jay Kinney (Founder and Editor of legendary underground publication Anarchy Comics and a man also still fighting The Fight) before ever gracious and humble Donald uses an extended, copiously illustrated Introduction to share the salient points of his remarkable life and career with typically understated deference.

‘How and Why I Became an Anarchist’ provides historical background, revelatory moments and quite a few laughs before ‘More autobiographical stuff (in case anyone might be interested)’ traces his early exploits, allowing him to slip into lecture mode for ‘The anarchist revolution is now’.

If you check his (extremely fair but too short) Wikipedia entry you’ll see that he was responsible for exposing corruption and changing British Case Law. ‘My fifteen minutes of fame: The Challenor case’, ‘Regina v. Rooum. The Queen versus me.’, ‘Too much other news’ and ‘The public inquiry and the James Report’ gives his side of a time in 1963 when a high-ranking police officer tried (not for the first time and too often successfully) to frame CND protesters, anti-monarchists and anyone else he didn’t like with planted evidence.

Donald was instrumental in the downfall of said corrupt policeman and the changing of English Law. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. It’s still – for now – a free country. When you have checked, then you’ll know who to thank…

Donald Rooum was a force in comics, in education, in science and in the Anarchist movement for longer than I’ve been alive. As well as sharing his knowledge and honing the skills of generations of creative people and producing some of the most gently powerful and trenchant political cartooning of the last half century, he was actually a wonderfully interesting person to talk to – he would engage with anyone: you couldn’t stop him – and we’re all the poorer for his passing.

He was also a bloody fine cartoonist whose drawings and unique lettering skills are overwhelmingly entertaining. You can see that from the merest selection of his work culled from many books and strips that fills the rest of this book.

The majority of the section dubbed The Comics is filled with his signature star, eponymous impatient instigator Wildcat. She is a strident, impatient and unstoppable anthropomorphic feline who has spent decades on the pages of Freedom magazine, puncturing pomposity, inviting debate – and also abruptly ending it – whilst attempting to educate the willing in the ways the world works. She hangs around with a strange crowd of meek but dedicated, intellectual souls such as The Free Range Egghead who offers counterpoint and calming tones. Guess who usually has the last word… or action…

The collection opens with a history lesson or two and some views of alternative politics all delivered in a gentle, charming yet tellingly informative and subtly subversive manner. The jokes don’t forget to be funny and more importantly, there are no blind spots. Anarchists are as good a target as any Establishment or Vested Interest if the aim is to skewer pomposity, injustice or stupidity.

The Enemy is exemplified as Governments, Police, Big Business, The Church and smug Know-It-Alls of all nations, but there are always telling shots at Anarchists themselves – who, as you might suspect, are usually their own worst enemies if there are more than three in any location at once.

The truly amazing – and most depressing – thing is not the superb drawing talent displayed nor even the range of subjects that fall under the bellicose scrutiny of his team of lampooning and lambasting characters. It is that the issues Rooum and his occasional collaborators highlight and skewer never go away. The names and faces of political and industrial scoundrels and mountebanks may change, but the mistakes and problems they create just keep going.

The collection An Anarchist Alphabet is reproduced in its entirety: a discourse and primer on the true meaning and terminology of the work and society as viewed from a purely Anarchist perspective.

Just for the record: since the strips have to spend so much time clarifying this point, I will too. Suspend preconceptions you’ve grown used to. Actual Anarchism is the belief and aspiration that “Society should be a system where there is no Government and Social Relationships are all voluntary.” And while I’ve got the Quotation marks key under my thumb, here’s a couple from the book itself…

“Boss: one who directs, controls or dominates others” and “Government: body of persons who direct, control or dominate a state or other organisation”

Under the guise of a slide show lecture in a church hall, we see some funny and thought-provoking alternatives to commercialism and globalism, and the discussion portion after the lesson continues the mirth with worth.

Clever, challenging, and potentially life-changing: Surely this is what all art dreams of being? And when it makes you laugh too? This alone is a must-have item for any child of the 21st century.

We take a trip into history next as ‘Spartapuss’ gives a long view on the struggle for autonomy and self-reliance before dipping into pertinent paradigms from Anarchists Against Bombs where all the power and vitriol of his deceptively gentle gaze and accessible penmanship target the Arms Industry and the dubious political processes that equate freeing the victims of brutal oppression with blowing them up before their oppressor can get around to doing it themselves.

More deftly-drafted diatribes follow as we prowl the corridors of power and revisit ‘The Big Bang’ and even get the graphic lowdown on Challenor’ before moving on to other triumphs in The Strips.

‘Gandaft the Famous Wizard’ offers less polemical laughs yet still managed to gather controversy after ‘Gandaft’s Garden’ was created for 1987 comics collective chronicle Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament. The tale reinterprets the Christian creation myth with typically gentle savagery and wit, and sees a hairy bloke in a big hat standing in for the Big Man in the Sky…

One of Donald’s longest gigs was delineating the wry adventures of ‘Sprite’: a fairy of Shakespearean mien who debuted in The Skeptic in 1987 and just kept on charming and bewildering the readership.

Wrapping up the show is a canny, politically shaded reinterpretation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy story as ‘The Tale of the Straw Boggart’ reveals the true human costs and rewards of trying to buy love…

This superb book is a smart, incisive primer for a brilliant and dedicated creator’s treasure trove of cartoon gold. It never forgets that you have to be funny as well as sharp if you want to get your message to stick.

We should cluster-bomb Westminster and all Fifty States (I’m assuming of course that it will still be 50 by the time you read this) of the USA with copies of this book and every election campaign should begin with televised selected readings therefrom. Yeah, Right, If Only…

Just remember, Anarchism is about taking responsibility, not taking charge. I’m trusting you to get your own copy of this book, read it often and tell everyone you know about it.
But please, do it politely and honestly. Just like Donald would.
© Donald Rooum. This edition © 2016 PM Press. All rights reserved.

Leo Baxendale’s Sweeny Toddler


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter


By Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad, coloured by Thierry Mébarki and translated by Adriana Hunter (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-51010-713-7 (HB) 978-1-51010-714-4 (PB Album) eISBN: 978-1-5101-0720-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrate the Season in Classical Style… 9/10

Asterix le Gaulois debuted in 1959 and has since become part of the fabric of French life. His exploits have touched billions of people all around the world for five and a half decades and for almost all of that time his astounding adventures were the sole preserve of originators Rene Goscinny and/or Albert Uderzo.

After nearly 15 years dissemination as weekly serials (subsequently collected into book-length compilations), in 1974 the 21st saga – Asterix and Caesar’s Gift – was the first to be released as a complete, original album prior to serialisation. Thereafter each new tome became an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for legions of devotees.

The eager anxiety hasn’t diminished any even now that Uderzo’s handpicked replacements -scripter Jean-Yves Ferri (Fables Autonomes, La Retour à la terre) and illustrator Didier Conrad (Les Innomables, Le Piège Malais, Tatum) have properly settled into the creative role since his retirement in 2009.

Whether as an action-packed comedic romp with sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts or as a sly and wicked satire for older-if-no-wiser heads, these new yarns are just as engrossing as the established canon.

As you already know, half of the intoxicating epics take place in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, whilst the alternating rest are set in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany where, circa 50 BC, a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Although the land is divided by the conquerors into provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Armorica, the very tip of the last-named region stubbornly refuses to be properly pacified. The otherwise supreme overlords, utterly unable to overrun this last little bastion of Gallic insouciance, are reduced to a pointless policy of absolute containment – even though the irksome Gauls come and go as they please…

Thus, a tiny seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by heavily fortified garrisons Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium, filled with veteran fighters who would rather be anywhere else on earth than there…

Those contained couldn’t care less; daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine by going about their everyday affairs, bolstered by magic potion brewed by resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits and strategic aplomb of diminutive dynamo Asterix and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Ferri & Didier’s fourth album (and 38th canonical chronicle of Asterix) La Fille de Vercingétorix was released on October 17th 2018, with an English edition hitting shelves – and the digital emporia – as Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter on the 24th.

It similarly debuted that day in 19 other languages with an initial global print run of more than 5,000,000 copies.

As proof that time marches and on that youth will ultimately have its day, the narrative focus here is on a new generation of characters, but as always, action, suspense and comedy are very much in evidence. There’s a healthy helping of satirical lampooning of the generation gap, fads and trends as well as the traditional regional and nationalistic leitmotifs…

It all begins one evening when elderly Averni warriors Monolithix and Sidekix arrive at the village in search of Chief Vitalstatistix. They are aged survivors of the climactic battle of Alesia which culminated in the Romans taking control of Gaul. That occurred after great Vercingetorix ignominiously capitulated to Julius Caesar: a shame so great that most Gauls can no longer speak his name aloud…

In his grand hut, Vitalstatistix hears out his old comrades and agrees to take in a young girl. Surly teenager Adrenalin is the daughter of the defeated commander in chief and wears the great gold torc that symbolised his rule. Resolved that she will one day lead a liberating revolt, Monolithix and Sidekix have reared the girl in secret, but recently learned that a Gaulish traitor – Binjwatchflix – has informed Caesar of her existence.

Now the emperor wants the torc and the girl – whom he plans to indoctrinate into Roman ways and use as a puppet proxy – so the wrinkly resistance fighters need time to arrange a smuggled flight to Britain for their juvenile charge.

The skulking traitor is not the only problem: truculent Adrenalin is currently rebelling against her destiny and tends to run away at every opportunity. Suitably warned and worried, the Chief assigns his two top men – and their canine companion Dogmatix – to watch over her…

As the girl is assimilated into the village, nefarious Binjwatchflix steals into the garrison of Totorum and drafts the unwilling commander into a nasty scheme to capture the unwary, unruly child…

Back in the village, Adrenalin is causing a bit of a stir amongst the younger crowd. She’s rude, insolent and dresses in men’s clothes: the local lads just can’t stop following her about…

She’s especially interesting to the sons of Unhygienix the fishmonger and his great rival Fulliautomatix the blacksmith. Little Crabstix thinks she’s cool, but his elder sibling Blinix and the armourers’ boy Selfipix both know she’s far more than that…

Soon there’s a new gang in town, rejecting all the old ways and sassing their elders – and their music is just appalling and incomprehensible. Raucous bard Cacofonix is the only adult they can tolerate…

Already overmatched, Asterix and Obelix try to stay close, but although the massive menhir man is extremely childlike, he’s no teenager and is soon well out of his depth. Doughty Asterix just doesn’t understand what’s happening these days…

Adrenalin has already planned her escape: she’s going to ditch all the expectations of her elders, the plans to fight and liberate the land and run away to fabled Thule…

Oblivious to the rapidly-coalescing plot of vile Binjwatchflix, she convinces the village lads to help, just as the far-from-eager soldiers from Totorum infiltrate the forest surrounding the town and the long-suffering, lethally-optimistic and unlucky sea pirates make a disastrous foray upriver and unwittingly provide her with the one thing her plans lacks thus far: a ship…

As Monolithix and Sidekix covertly sail back from Britain with gorgeous mariner Captain Peacenix to retrieve their regal charge, all the enemy forces arraigned against Adrenalin close in.

Realising almost too late that she’s gone, odd-men-out Asterix and Obelix follow in their own boat, but happily, they’re not the only magic-potioned players in action as the Roman navy intercepts: further complicating a rapidly escalating catastrophe in the making…

Cue, glorious, uproarious action and a host of twisty, turny surprises…

Despite Asterix, Obelix and old our favourites very much playing second fiddle in this riotous tale of kids in revolt, the result is refreshingly off-kilter yet still suitably engaging. Teen-oriented, heavy on sardonic caricatures and daft wordplay – especially pop tunes given the old Crackerjack! (“Crackerjack! ..ack! …ack! …ack!!”*) – punny-rewrite treatments – and cannily sentimental, this yarn is awash with sneaky diversions, dirty tricks and vile villainy; providing non-stop thrills and spills to as we battle our way to the most effective of happy endings.

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter is a sure win and another triumphant addition to the mythic canon for laugh-seekers in general and all devotees of comics.
© 2019 Les Éditions Albert René. English translation: © 2019 Les Éditions Albert René. All rights reserved.
*You must be British, at least 40 years old or aware of what’s coming in 2020 to understand this reference…