Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: “A Brick Stuffed with Moom-bims”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-789-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: En Ebsoloot Epitome of Graphic Wundah… 10/10

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip Krazy Kat is – for most cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, the Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. And by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in bouncing a brickbat off the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“you sim to be cuttin’ a mellin”, “or “it would be much mo’ betta if it was a pot of momma lade or eppil butta”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid madness is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of production techniques in ‘Kat of a Different Color’ before the jocularity resumes with January 1st 1939 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with a subtle shifting of emphasis as an old face gains far greater presence and impact whilst the one significant new face seems to be a scene-stealing rival for our fuzzy feline ingenue…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen continue to feature, but the eternally triangular confusions and contusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes around the cast…

As well as frequent incarceration, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary… which is expanding in personnel, if not wisdom…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, and introduces mechanised, radiophonic and robotic policing, and sundry innovations in incarceration architecture…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags but now the mouse is often the receiver of painful retribution. His brief preoccupation with hornet’s nests ultimately proves to be a painful dead end though…

Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

A flurry of telescope buying adds an of nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, with spying as big a hobby for all citizens as stargazing and gossip used to be. At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics in town…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

A big shift in status comes to old busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk as she assumes a role akin to wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too…

The big change comes on July 7th 1940. Pupp is startled to see Ignatz going back to school and thinks it’s so he can ambush the Kat. That’s until he too meets the new teacher. Miss Mimi is French…

Soon class attendance is at record levels and the males are all making komplete fools of themselves…

This antepenultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and gleeful monument to whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2007, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Billy and Buddy volume 6: Buddy’s Gang


By Verron, Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Ferri; coloured by Anne-Marie Ducasse and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-314-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Captivating Childhood Capers for Young and Old Alike… 8/10

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least in the French speaking bits, that is; the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie or perhaps Bas et Boef if readers first glimpsed them in legendary weekly Sjors), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy debuted in the Christmas 1959 edition of Journal de Spirou.

The perennial fan-favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy: the magazine’s Artistic Director and Ideas Man who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during a decades-long, astoundingly productive career at the legendary periodical.

Intended as a European answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way, developing a unique style and personality and becoming Rosa’s main occupation for the next 45 years.

Roba launched Boule et Bill as a mini-récit (a 32-page, half-sized freebie insert) in the December 24th 1959 Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a huge hit from the start and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. Older British fans might also recognise the art as some early episodes – (coincidentally) retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s legendary anthology weekly Valiant from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, the strip generated a live-action movie, animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. Like some select immortal Belgian comics stars, Bollie en Billie have been awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels….

Large format album editions began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s and 1970s. These were completely redesigned and re-released in the 1980s, supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Collections are available in 14 languages, selling in excess of 25 million copies of the 37 albums to date.

Roba crafted more than a thousand pages of gag-strips in a beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and his exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel, before eventually surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003.

The successor subsequently took over the scripting too, upon Roba’s death in 2006.

As Billy and Buddy, the strip had returned to British eyes in enticing Cinebook compilations from 2009 onwards: introducing to 21st century readers an endearingly bucolic late 20th century, sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering and short-tempered dad, a warmly compassionate but painfully flighty mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog who has a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble.

This edition is the second translation to feature “Veron” and his team of gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel. The kit and paraphernalia might be marginally updated, but the warmth and humour remain timelessly faithful. Just like a pet, in fact…

Originally released in 2005, La bande à Bill was the 30th European collection, completed by Verron and his team, and even adding a soupcon of continuity (via a few returning circus cronies as seen in the previous volume): admirably resuming in the approved manner and further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) for our delight and delectation. There are a more mod-cons and a bigger role for girls such as skipping sharpie Juliet but, in essence, nothing has changed…

Delivered as a series of stand-alone rapid-fire, single-page gags with titles like ‘Of Mice and Shame’, ‘Tailspin’ and ‘Peek-a-Bone’, visual puns, quips and jests abound: confirming that the socialisation and behaviour of little Billy is measured by carefree romps with four-footed friend Buddy.

Buddy is the perfect pet for an imaginative and playful boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined food and ferociously protective of boy and bones and his ball.

The pesky pooch also cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy also has a fondly platonic relationship with tortoise Caroline (although this autumnal and winter-themed compilation finds her again largely absent through hibernation pressures) and a suspicious knack for clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns over the cost of canine treats, repair bills or the Boss’ latest impositions.

The inseparable duo indulge in spats with pals, play pranks, encounter other unique pets, dodge baths, hunt and hoard bones, rummage in bins, misunderstand adults, cause accidents and cost money; with both kid and mutt equally adept at all of the above. This time, however, the capacity for chaos is radically increased as an entire menagerie of circus beasts pop up whenever it’s most comedically expedient and young Billy is becoming awkwardly, painfully aware of girls. One girl in particular, actually…

Despite the master’s passing his legacy is in safe hands. The strips remain genially paced and filled with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes which run the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft: a charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa.

This is another supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.
Original edition © Dargaud Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2005 by Verron in the style of Roba. English translation © 2016 Cinebook Ltd.

Archie & Friends All Stars volume 5: Archie’s Haunted House


By Fernando Ruiz, Batton Lash, Dan Parent, George Gladir, Stan Goldberg, Mark McKenna, Henry Scarpelli, Rich Koslowski, & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-52-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Family Friendly Fear Fest for Kids of All Ages… 8/10

Archie Andrews has been around for more than seventy years: a good-hearted lad lacking in common sense whilst Betty Cooper, the pretty, sensible girl next door – with all that entails – waits ardently nearby, loving the great ginger goof.

Veronica Lodge is a rich, exotic and glamorous debutante who only settles for our boy if there’s nobody better around. She might actually love him too, though.

Despite their rivalry, Betty and Veronica are firm friends. Archie, of course, can’t decide who or what he wants…

Archie’s unconventional best friend Jughead Jones is Mercutio to Archie’s Romeo, providing rationality and a reader’s voice, as well as being a powerful catalyst of events in his own right. That charming triangle (with significant additions over the years) has been the basis for decades of funnybook magic and the concept is eternally self-renewing…

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

In this paperback and digital collection, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are again plunged deep into whimsy and fable as writers Fernando Ruiz, Batton Lash, Dan Parent & George Gladir delve into the Dark Side for a selection of spooky spoofs and all-ages arcane adventure…

The weird wonders begin with Ruiz & Mark McKenna’s ‘…Clothes Make the Monster’ (Archie & Friends #135, September 2009) as the gang opt for a Halloween costume party at Riverdale High only to fall foul of a sinister sorceress whose bewitched outfits transform the kids into the monsters they’re dressed as…

Thankfully resident genius Dilton Doily has a plan and an unsuspected talent…

An extended gothic extravaganza that ran across a host of titles follows. The epic and episodic ‘…This Old House…’ was devised by Lash, Stan Goldberg & Henry Scarpelli) and opened in World of Archie #17, December 1995, with succeeding chapters erupting in Archie #442 (December 1995), Betty and Veronica #95 and Archie’s Pal Jughead Comics #93, both out for January 1996.

When Reggie vandalises a ramshackle, condemned property it sparks heated debate amongst the gang, all of whom have sentimental memories of the old pile from their younger days.

With the city council being urged to finally pull it down the teens are divided between demolition and declaring it a local landmark…

The politicking ensues in ‘House of Riverdale! Part 1’ even as Archie is plagued by nightmares of the dilapidated dwelling’s old occupants. Second chapter ‘Thou Protest Too Much…’ finds the gang on a picket line preserving the building until Veronica’s dad delivers the good news. The place has been saved for posterity. It turns out that it might not be good news, though, as in a nearby town Sabrina (the Teenaged Witch) pores over ancient records of the original inhabitants and readies herself to intervene…

The tension increases in ‘House of Riverdale! Part 3’ as Betty also does a little digging and connects the seemingly-benevolent name Father Riverdale to a nasty piece of work named Leander van Dermeulen whose 19th century crusade against progress resulted in a magic cult, a police shootout and a dying curse…

Fourth chapter ‘Worn Out Welcome’ finds the terrified Archie reversing his position and petitioning the council to tear down the house before the curse can be reactivated – with the expected reaction from the adults. Betty meanwhile, sneaks into the house to find some of her friends already there and totally ensorcelled…

‘House of Riverdale! Part 5’ sees Archie call on trusted comrade Jughead for help only to lose him to the dire domicile before everything comes to a head in ‘Fall of the House of Riverdale!’ As the malign ghost of van Dermeulen meets his match in ultra-nonconformist Juggy, unlikely hero Archie takes drastic action to save the day in the estate’s ghastly grounds…

With the main event concluded, lighter fare follows as B&V discover ‘An Axe to Grind’ (Betty and Veronica Spectacular #85, November 2008) with Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski revealing how the boys’ plans to crash a girls-only Halloween party go appallingly awry…

The same issue also provides a gallery of faux movie posters ‘Riverdale Style’, fashions and tips for ‘The Ultimate Halloween Bash!’ plus recipes and treats for all ‘Archie Zombies’ before the spooky shenanigans conclude with Gladir, Ruiz & Koslowski’s ‘For Monsters Only!’

First seen in Tales from Riverdale Digest #30 (December 2008) this sly shocker finds Archie and Jughead in full vampire ensemble but stumbling into a sinister soiree for actual devils, demons and creatures of the night…

Co-starring all the adorable supporting characters we know and love, these smartly beguiling skits are a marvellous example of just why Archie has been unsurpassed in this genre for generations: providing decades of family-friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment – complete with goblins, ghosts and ghouls as required…
© 2010 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Funniest Book Ever! (Proven with Science!)


By Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-013-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly, Sensational, Unmissable… 9/10

Nearly Christmas Again! Soon the kids will be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Moreover, parents and extended family will be looking for presents they can afford and actually comprehend.

What about a book? A really, Really Funny Book?

Very much in the manner of classic Christmas Annuals, The Funniest Book Ever! is another wonderful compendium of captivating comics from the fabulous weekly Phoenix, designed to incapacitate your unruly young ’uns with cartoon japery and adventure. Moreover, as it proudly boasts on the cover it’s all done with SCIENCE! So, it’s even scholastically advantageous.

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites, all curated by a team of junior boffins endeavouring to ascertain and confirm their theory that the universe is held together by fundamental forces best described as “The Seven Laughs”…

Acting as a proof of each are seven of the magazine’s most memorable features, as the highly technical treatise begins with Belly Rumble, an argument defined here by more arcadian action from twin stars locked in a spiralling orbit of mutually assured distraction as the execute an ongoing vendetta between implacable woodland warriors…

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap war of nerves and ideologies between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

The tail-biting tension and rural war of wits and wonder-weapons began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of sensibly reasonable Bunny to convince him otherwise.

For all his patience, propriety and poise, the laid-back long-ears simply cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker. Things soon escalated once the simian interloper teamed up with an utterly mad scientist skunk who is master of many malign sciences and technologies…

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and endures great pain after declaring ‘Down with Spring’ before weaponizing Angling in a ‘Fish Off’ with Bunny and abusing history with a wooden Trojan trap in ‘There’s a Moose Loose!’

‘Leaf it Alone!’ finds the hyperactive simian turning simple garden chores into a mini-apocalypse whilst his on-going partnership with the skunk leads to an invisible bovine in the snows. However, their ‘Ca-Moo-Flaaj’ is as nothing compared to Bunny’s natural advantages…

After perverting a simple carrot with chemistry, Skunky anticipates ‘The Biggest, Mostest Enormousest Explosion in the World!’ but has not reckoned on sometime guinea pig Action Beaver’s unique appetites. A true contender for that honour arrives when Humanz chase astoundingly gifted birds into the woods and barely escape ‘The Kakapo Poo Kaboom!’ with their lives…

Even so, the nosy bipedal interlopers stick around causing problems until the critters unite to remove them using ‘A Bear Bum!’

A hunt for ‘Worms!’ then leads to a cacophonous din after which a dragon incursion leads to a need for knight service in ‘Arise, Lord Wuffywuff!’

The abrupt menacing return of ‘Skunky!’ only provides disappointment and confusion, but his crazed influence remains once he unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, resulting in the unthinkable as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-munching machine’s demise.

By the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for Skunky’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself, leading to a doomed summit meeting at a hot spring in ‘Time to Get Along!’

The sinister scientist then proves you can have too much of a good thing after his Multiplyer accidentally creates a tidal wave of ‘Doughnuts!’ before a special event proclaims ‘An Exclusive Bunny Vs Monkey Detective Story: The Curious Case of the Pig in the Night Time’ with our entire outré cast going through their Sherlock Holmesian motions…

‘The Order of the Moose!’ is a secret woodland society sworn to protect nature at all costs and after we see them spectacularly underperform this section concludes with Monkey and Skunky testing their nine-megaton ‘Explosive Sweets!’

The next component of the larger debate is the Cosmic Chuckle and that means a heaping helping of Star Cat: one of the wildest rides in the wondrous weekly anthology as crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Super Animal Adventure Squad, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve).

The strip began in issue #0 and has been synchronising orbits irregularly ever since…

The premise is timeless and instantly engaging, revealing the far-out endeavours of a bunch of spacefaring nincompoops in the classic mock-heroic manner. There’s so very far-from-dauntless Captain Spaceington, extremely dim amoeboid Science Officer Plixx, inarticulate and barely housebroken beastie The Pilot and Robot One, who quite arrogantly and erroneously believes himself one of the smartest thinkers in the cosmos.

The colossal, formidable void-busting vessel they traverse the universe in looks like a gigantic ginger tom because that is what it is: half-cat, half-spaceship. What more do you need to know?

Hypothesised here are a brace of extended exploits beginning with ‘Just Deserts’ as the intrepid band crash on to super Saharan sand world and suffer the agonies of the damned – sort of – before ‘Computational Capers’ finds them back in space and battling a tyrannical computer with ideas above his (work) station…

Evil Cackle cites Evil Emperor Penguin as proof of concept. The strip was conceived and created by children’s book illustrator/author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies) and stars a bad – brilliant but Bad – bird who lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, diminutive, fuzzy, loyal, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene.

Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

The polar pirate starts this particular campaign of terror by attempting to crash a sporty party for the world’s top brass in ‘Human Nature’ parts I & 2. To assist his gatecrashing the Annual World Leader Olympics, the bad bird has to wear a human-shaped robot suit and that’s never a good thing, is it?

Everybody loves cute kittens, which is what Debra is counting on when she uses soppy Eugene to infiltrate the fortress and steal all the Spaghetti Hoops in ‘What’s New Pussy Cat’. She’s the cousin of Evil Cat (EEP’s insidious rival in the Word Domination stakes) and with the team – and even Evil Cat – helplessly trapped, they must all surrender all pride and dignity and call on jolly unicorn Keith to save them in ‘Rainbows to the Rescue’

The nefarious nonsense recommences with 2-part thriller-chiller ‘I Will Crèche You’ wherein EEP’s incredible De-Agefying Youth Juice causes havoc after Evil Cat breaks into the citadel and everybody gets a rejuvenating soaking…

The ice escapades conclude with ‘Eugene’s Day Off’: an unremitting stream of great experiences for the faithful servitor, but, for the Penguin Potentate – having to make do with substandard substitute Neill – a string of catastrophic, humiliating and painful disasters…

Wild Card calculation Squid Fits leads us inexorably to Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions Squid Bits! A proof of Laugh #4: that features gags, absurd Things To Do and odd innovations ranging from Monster Fashion to Red Panda’s Insult Guide and Cut ‘n’ Keep Characters to Official Words for Everyday Sounds!

These Fishy fascinations precede the arrival of next stellar party particle star turn as Critter Titter invites a closer inspection of Gary’s Garden.

This marvellous minibeast comedy-adventure is crafted by Gary Northfield (Beano’s Derek the Sheep, The Terrible Tales of the Teeytinysaurs) and explores human nature through the fauna and flora unnoticed at our feet.

Human laggard Gary, like most of us, doesn’t do as much as he should in his back yard – and the assorted birds, beasts and bugs despise him for it – but at least it means they can all live their lives in relative peace and quiet…

The occasional series began in The Phoenix #2, and this seditious sampling opens with an army of brassed-off birds raiding the lazy lump’s kitchen cupboards, after which nocturnal raiders reveal the basics of bin-raiding whilst at the treeline an ambitious bug steals a golden acorn and dissolves into ego mania as a six-limbed Sith lord…

As Larry Ladybird hunts for his beloved Elaine and dreads her elopement with Dracula, in the pond a tadpole is daydreaming with amazing consequences and an art class is being disrupted by a most intransigent slug.

When Stunt Slug’s attention-grabbing scheme goes awry, a motley band of beasts, birds and bugs occupy themselves by entering the Great Garden Bake Off – in a festive extra-long episode before the examples end with the debut of a chitinous band of merrie “men” and a new Ladybird Robin Hood…

Barbarian Celebrity Chef Gorebrah! crushes evil whilst concocting outrageous recipes and tasty treats so he’s the ideal exemplar of the Gastronomic Guffaw: offering a selection of dishes and disasters including prehistoric demonic biscuits embedded in glacial ice, princess-flavoured milkshakes, monopolised by cloud-dwelling giants, smoky sausage bats and a duel with a rival gustatory wild man.

Later mirth -&-mayhem packed menus include the gnomish origins of pasta salad and the creepiest dish in the world, saved from an alien invader deep inside an Antarctic culinary school…

Th scientific arguments crash to a halt with the Uncontrollable Giggle as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! – seals the thesis with a sleek sheen of feline frenzy and surreal Shock and Awe.

Devised by Jamie Smart (yeah, the guy who invented Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of other brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) this is a brilliantly bonkers addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting the graphic universe.

This anarchic kitty is just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

Quite naturally, the epic begins with an origin of sorts as Mrs Alice Johnson brings home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties at the front of the store, though, but the odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store…

The Johnsons are not your average family. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room whilst Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-pack or potato-powered tractor. It’s not long before those days are gone for good…

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden, her toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault.

Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos whenever and however he can. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

The selection opens with ‘How to Make Friends and Annoy Bears’ as the cat’s nocturnal pranks result in cacophonous calamity after which ‘ThbthbtThhhhhhhhhhhHonk!’ reveals the lengths some folk will go to in executing the perfect raspberry…

‘Danger Sausage’ might not be everyone’s ideal superhero but Looshkin thinks he’s the business, after which a frog glove-puppet claims ‘I’m Not to Blame’ when a bulldozer destroys the garden…

‘Wooooooo – cough – oooooooh!!’ proves that even ghosts know when they’re outclassed in the scaring stakes after which ‘Meanwhile in Croydon’ finds the frenetic feline getting a job in marketing and ‘Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Nee-Naw! Neeeee-Nawww!’ sees the transition to a nursing career after almost fatally injuring Mr. Johnson.

Science then goes Boink! and reality gets temporarily inverted with the mind-bending ‘Big Silly Blue Cat Who Are You and What are you Doing in my House? before consistency, if not normality, are restored in ‘With Great Power Comes Giant Lasers’ as a certain cat becomes US president and leader of the Free World. Don’t scoff; stranger things have happened…

‘Due to an Incident involving Angry Clowns There Now Follows a Change in our Usual Programming’ see the madcap mouser drawn into the mesmerising power of old sitcoms whilst ‘Doorbell Ding Dong!!’ opens a war of postal one-upmanship between cat and Bear…

The brain-blasting advent of the cat’s mercurial Great Uncle Olaf begins with ‘Loooshkin! Oh Looshkin, Where Are You? You’ve Been Missing for Ages’ but is soon sidelined when Edwin’s magical library is used to call up something dreadful by ‘The Lump Whisperer’

When Looshkin indulges in some prognostication the outcome is never in doubt especially for ‘Pig!’, but the cat is back on terrifying form in ‘Ooooh!! I’m Bustin’!’ when an outbreak of gastric unhappiness coincides with the sudden sabotage of every toilet in town…

There’s a big surprise for all concerned when Looshkin invents a vicious new game in ‘A New Challenger Appears!’ before everything wraps up in seasonal spirit with a bizarre trip to the twilight zone of yule tide with ‘A Christmas Special!!’

Arguments thus presented, (see what I did there?) this bonanza tome – packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21 – leaves it to you to judge the veracity of the science. That’s best done by reading and rereading The Funniest Book Ever: a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Christmas is Saved!
Text and illustrations © 2018 Jaimie Smart, James Turner, Laura Ellen Anderson, Jess Bradley, Gary Northfield, James Stayte as appropriate. All rights reserved.

Faceache volume one: The First 100 Scrunges


By Ken Reid, with Ian Mennell & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-601-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Masterfully Macabre Mirthquakes… 10/10

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

He was another of those rebellious, youthful artistic prodigies who, largely unsung, went about transforming British Comics: entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself with constant scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes and hanging about in cafes.

Undaunted he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. He talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963, with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Reid’s brother-in-law was Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work.

On April 18th 1953 Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 and created numerous others including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx among many more.

In 1964 Reid and fellow unappreciated superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship and began working for DCT’s arch rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs in Wham! and Smash! as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Faceache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time he continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Creepy Creations, Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from the complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd, whilst at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Faceache strip.

On Reid’s passing the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancelation in October 1988.

The astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is a perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and revolves around a typically unruly and unlovely scrofulous schoolboy making great capital out of a unique gift, albeit often to his own detriment and great regret…

Ricky Rubberneck early discovered an appalling (un)natural ability of scrunching (or “scrungeing”) up his face into such ghastly contortions that he could revolt, disgust and terrify anyone who gazed upon him. Over the weeks and years, the modern medusa worked hard to polish his gifts until his foul fizzog could attain any formation. Eventually his entire body could be reshaped to mimic any creature or form, real or imagined. Naturally, he used his powers to play pranks, take petty vengeances, turn a temporary profit, deal with bullies and impress his pals.

Just as naturally, those efforts frequently resulted in the standard late 20th century punishments being dealt out by his dad, teachers and sundry other outraged adults…

This stunning hardback (and eBook) celebration – hopefully the first of many – is part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics and collects all 22 Jet episodes (spanning May 1st – 29th September 1971, plus the remaining 78 from Buster & Jet beginning with October 2nd and concluding with March 24th 1973.

The potent package is garnished with an appreciative Introduction by Alan Moore – ‘The Unacceptable Face of British Comics’ – a fondly intimate reminiscence in Antony J. Reid’s ‘My Father Ken Reid’ and a full biography of the great man…

What follows is an outrageous outpouring of raw cartoon creativity as Reid, writing and drawing with inspired effulgence, spins a seemingly infinite skein of comedy gold on his timeless theme of a little boy who makes faces at the world.

Weekly deadlines are a ferocious foe however, and a couple of strips reprinted were written by unsung pro Ian Mennell, whilst – between January and September 1972 – a fill-in artist (possibly Robert Nixon?) illustrated 16 episodes, presumably as Reid’s other commitments such as Jasper the Grasper, The Nervs or his numerous funny football features in Scorcher & Score mounted.

In these pages though, the accent is on madcap tomfoolery as the plastic-pussed poltroon undergoes a succession of fantastic facial reconfigurations: terrifying teachers, petrifying posh and pushy landowners, mimicking monstrous beasts, outraging officious officialdom and entertaining an army of schoolboy chums and chumps.

Orchards are raided, competitions are entered, plays and school trips are upstaged and aborted and even actual spooks and horrors are afforded the shocks of their unlives as Faceache gurns his way through an endless parade of hilarious hijinks.

These cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: smart, eternally funny and beautifully rendered. This a treasure-trove of laughs that spans generations and deserves to be in every family bookcase.
© 1971, 1972, 1973 & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Introduction © Alan Moore. Faceache is ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey Book 5: Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories


By Jaime Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-055-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Never-Ending Mirthful Madness… 9/10

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The publishers would be crazy not to gather their greatest serial hits into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations, but they’re not, so they do. The latest of these is a fifth fractiously frenetic paperback bout of ongoing conflict troubling a once-chummy woodland waif and interloping, grandeur-hungry, hairy-brained simian…

Concocted with feverishly gleeful inspiration by Jamie Smart, Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the very first issue: recounting a madcap vendetta between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories sees the war of nerves and mega-weapons intensify as the unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise shift and twist into ever-more unstable factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that the rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a motorway right through the sylvan glades and apparently unprotected parks…

All that tail-biting tension began when an obnoxious monkey gatecrasher popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry.

Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – lab animal Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

All these collected volumes dispense disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment and this book describes Year Three: January to June as transcribed on another vivid Contents page and commencing after a glorious poster-style spread of our bestial Dramatis Personae page…

This tranche of turbulent two-page episodes begins with tiny terror Monkey manifesting more mayhem and almost turning his own stomach inside out whilst attempting to weaponize some very nasty stuff he finds under his feet in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey then finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and latterly set back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a seemingly new menace manifests to worry the woodland folk in the dark guise of evil arch-villain ‘Destructo!’

When the weather clears up, Monkey’s Double-Barrelled Supercharged Snow-Cannon-Tank is suddenly deprived of ammo until the devilish pest repurposes his toy to fire chutney. Sadly, even this resultant chaos is insufficient to his comprehending ‘The Message!’

A brief and sudden return of ‘Skunky!’ only leads to disappointment, but his crazed influence remains to monsterize the ‘Pretty Flowers!’ whilst the debut of cyborg bounty hunter ‘Alan!’ (Armoured Locating Armadillo Network) threatens to destabilise the ongoing conflict until the big bully gets on the wrong side of gentle, peace-loving Pig’s ice cream…

Too much of the good life eventually slows down our friends so they convince Le Fox to help them ‘Get Fit!’ just in time for the awful ape to celebrate (or desecrate) Easter by eating all ‘The Wrong Eggs!’

The wee woodlanders then face Skunky’s robotic Vulturaptors in ‘Terror from the Skies’, but when night falls huge ‘Bobbles!’ from the sky spark fears of alien invasion…

The good guys then try to infiltrate Skunky’s new high-tech HQ ‘The Temple!’, just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the musky mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom.

Sadly, the only one to make the grade is meek misfit Pig in his new gruesome guise of ‘Pigulus!’

History horrifically repeats itself when another crashed space capsule ejects an even more destructive newcomer in ‘The Evil Monkey!’ Sadly, that only incites the previous incumbent to up his aggravating game…

When the genteel inhabitants of the wood start enjoying ‘Picnics!’ they have no conception that the day will end in chaos after Skunky’s escaped Grasshopalong induces the science maverick to attempt recapture with a giant Tarsier…

Sometime ally Le Fox cultivates an air of mystery, but when the League of Doom unleash a deadly custard assault his annoying old ‘Uncle Fox!’ quickly proves to be the real superspy deal after which Monkey’s latest property deal lands bunny with an obnoxious ‘Bad Neighbour!’ in the form of musician Bert Warthog. But not for long…

When Skunky unleashes his devastating, colossal De-Forester 9000, the unthinkable occurs as Bunny and Monkey declare ‘The Truce!’ that leads to the mega-machine’s demise but by the time Action Beaver becomes ‘The Messenger!’ for the skunk’s poison letters, all bets are off again and it’s every critter for himself…

More mad science sees the launch of a weather station and an unseasonal snow barrage, but Skunky’s malignant fun is ruined after Weenie Squirrel demonstrates astounding piste pizazz in ‘Ski-Daddle!’, before a lost little skunk destabilises the wicked stinker.

Thomas is unmoved by monster robots like the rampaging Octobosh and truly gets to the emotional soft side of his newfound ‘Uncle Skunky!’

Perhaps that episode is what prompts his invention of ‘The Truthometer!’, but when Skunky hears what the woodlanders actually think about him, he soon regrets ever thinking of it…

The Quantum Bibble Fobbulator also goes wrong, tearing ‘Wormholes!’ in the forest fabric, but somehow the woodland residents still make the best of the situation, whilst the skunk’s size-changing ray only makes his victims too tall to tackle in ‘The Embiggening!’

The rural riot concludes with a frankly disturbing insight into our simian star’s softer side as he administers first aid to an ailing Bunny and subsequently descends into megalomania as the truly terrifying ‘Nurse Monkey!’

To Be Continued…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny Vs Monkey is sheers bonkers brilliance and well past definitely on the way to becoming a British Institution of weird wit, insane invention and captivating cartooning. This is another utterly irresistible package of total delight for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2018. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-075-5 (Canongate HB):             978-1-56097-647-9 (Fantagraphics HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since Schulz’ departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. During that time he published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000, and died – from the complications of cancer – the day before his last strip was printed…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate imposed upon him – changed the way newspaper strips were received and perceived, and proved that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a heartfelt and clearly awestruck Foreword from contemporary cartoon genius Matt Groening, this third gargantuan landscape hardback compendium (218 by 33 by 172 mm in the solid world and infinitely variable in its digital iterations) offers in potent monochrome the fifth and sixth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving bombardment of cruel insight and bitingly barbed hilarity.

Here our increasing browbeaten but resolutely optimistic little round head and his high-maintenance mutt Snoopy respond with increasing bewilderment to the rapidly changing world of TV, sports, games and especially peers who seem designed only to vex, belittle or embarrass the introspective everyboy.

Gaining far greater prominence is obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy who, with her infant sibling Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant – are getting more and more of the best lines and set-ups. Another up and comer settling in (amidst a cloud of dust and detritus) is hapless toxic innocent ‘Pig-Pen’: a sad clown in the grand manner, buffeted by a cruel condition but manfully persevering throughout…

Bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty are slowly being eased out, and brusque Violet is slowly losing ground to gags starring Beethoven-obsessed, long-suffering musical prodigy Schroeder. Linus’ mystic tranquiliser the Security Blanket also gains greater prominence, but his anxiety peaks exponentially whenever raucous, strident newcomer Charlotte Braun ambles by…

The daily diet of rapid-fire gags had now successfully evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically honed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, although even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought…

The relationships, however, were ever-evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continue to develop here. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, regarding Lucy’s ongoing relationship to certain snowmen of her own macabre devising and mounting jealousy that her predestined inamorata would rather look at plaster busts of Beethoven than upon her living form…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing golf, playing baseball, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, playing marbles, the rules of croquet, learning to read, coping with increasingly intransigent if not actually malevolent kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

New themes include America’s fascination with flying saucers, ditto for TV sensation Davy Crockett, art appreciation and Snoopy’s growing desire to be anything but a maligned and put-upon little dog. Especially one starved of tasty treats and bonbons…

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown and his expressions of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the real star here, with episodes seeing her seeking to become Mayor of the United States, duelling Snoopy with skipping ropes and investigating the mystery of why the planet is getting smaller…

More exploration of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and there are plenty of season-appropriate gags about summer sun, winter snow and the Fall of leaves as well as riffs on festive events such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas. During this time Good Ol’ Charlie starts getting those stress-induced head and stomach aches…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

Now and forevermore Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’, rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956 (Volume Three) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2005 Matt Groening. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1


By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

The movie shorts series Our Gang (latterly the Li’l Rascals) were one of the most popular in American Film history. Beginning in 1922 they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids”. Atypically though, there was always full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys. Romping together, they all enjoyed idealised adventures in a time both safer and more simple.

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

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

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comicbook written and drawn by Walt Kelly who, consummate craftsman that he was, deftly restored the wit, verve and charm of the glory days via a progression of short comic stories which elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz, Huckleberry Finn or Laura Ingalls of Little House… fame.

Over the course of the first eight issues so lovingly reproduced in this glorious collection, Kelly moved beyond the films – good or otherwise – to scuplt an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

Granted great leeway, Kelly eventually settled on his own cast, but aficionados and purists can still thrill here to the classic cast of Mickey, Buckwheat, Happy/Spanky, Janet and Froggy.

Thankfully, after far too long a delay, today’s comics are once again offering material of this genre to contemporary audiences. Even so, many modern readers may be unable to appreciate the skill, narrative charm and lost innocence of this style of children’s tale. If so I genuinely pity them, because this is work with heart and soul, drawn by one of the greatest exponents of graphic narrative America has ever produced. I hope their loss is not yours.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Gomer Goof volume 1: Mind the Goof!


By André Franquin with Delporte & Jidéhem and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-358-1

Like so much in Franco-Belgian comics, it all starts with Spirou. In 1943 publishing giant Dupuis purchased all rights to anthology comic Le Journal de Spirou and its eponymous star, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant and legend-in-waiting André Franquin assumed the creative reins, gradually side-lining the well-established short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials, introducing a broad, engaging cast of regulars and eventually creating phenomenally popular magic animal Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right) to the mix.

Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. During that period the creator was deeply involved in the production of the weekly comic.

Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943 and, when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, generating covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite AKA “Will” (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) into a smooth creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”.

They would later reshape and revolutionise Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946), who ran with it for two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou & Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies. But throughout all that time Fantasio was still a reporter and had to pop into the office. And lurking there was an accident-prone, big-headed junior in charge of minor jobs and dogs-bodying. His name was Gaston Lagaffe

There’s a long history of fictitiously personalising the mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in to make our favourite comics, whether its Stan Lee’s fabled Marvel Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at the Beano and Dandy. Let me assure you that it’s a truly international practise and the occasional asides on text pages featuring junior office gofer and well-meaning foul-up Gaston (who debuted in #985, February 28th 1957) grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of Le Journal de Spirou.

I’d argue, however, that current iteration Gomer Goof (taken from an earlier abortive attempt to bring the character to American audiences) is an unnecessary step. The quintessentially Franco-Belgian tone and humour doesn’t translate particularly well (la gaffe translates as “the blunder”) and contributes nothing. When the big idiot appeared in a 1970s Thunderbirds annual he was redubbed Cranky Franky. Perhaps they should have kept the original title…

In terms of delivery older readers will recognise beats of Jacques Tati and timeless elements of well-meaning self-delusion Brits might recognise in Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em

It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, pomposity lampooned and no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

This premier compilation consists of half-page shorts and comedic text story “reports” from the comic’s editorial page and ultimately full episodes of madcap buffoonery. As previously stated Gomer is employed (let’s not dignify his position by calling it “work”) at the Spirou office, reporting to go-getting hero journalist Fantasio and in charge of minor design jobs like paste-up and reading readers’ letters (the official reason why fans requests and suggestions are never answered).

He’s lazy, opinionated, forgetful and eternally hungry. Many of his most catastrophic actions revolve around cutting corners and caching illicit food in the office…

These characteristics frequently lead to clashes with police officer Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, but the office oaf remains eternally easygoing and incorrigible.

The real question is why Fantasio keeps giving him one last chance…

Following 26 short, sharp two-tier gag episodes – involving Gomer’s office innovations, his hunt for food, assorted pets and livestock, sporting snafus and his appallingly decrepit and dilapidated Fiat 509 auto(barely)mobile – the first of numerous prose vignettes ‘On the Line’ exposes the fool’s many delusional attempts to become an inventor…

Other text forays – punctuated by more pint-sized gag-strips – follow. These comedy briefs include ‘More Than One String to his Bow’, ‘Police Report’, ‘Open Letter to Mr De Mesmaeker’ (Jean De Mesmaeker being the real name of collaborator and background artist Jidéhem and taken for the self-important businessman who became Gomer’s ultimate arch enemy and foil), ‘Winter Stalactites’, ‘Red vs Blue’, ‘Noise Pollution’, ‘Presence of Mind’, ‘Gomer’s stethoscope’, ‘The Firebug Fireman’, ‘Gas-powered bicycle’ and ‘Definitely-not-surreptitious advertising’. The print then gives way to a long-running procession of half-page strips with the editorial idiot causing a cataclysm of cartoon chaos.

Further prose pieces slip into extended continuity when Fantasio embargoes all canned food (potentially explosive and always a bio-hazard) and Gomer applies all his dubious ingenuity to beating the ban in ‘The tin wars’, ‘Ticking tin bombs’, ‘Diary of a War correspondent’ and ‘Blockade’ before one final flurry of strips brings the hilarity to a temporary pause…

Far better enjoyed than précised or described, these strips allowed Franquin, his fellow scenarist Yvan Delporte and Jidéhem to flex their whimsical muscles and even subversively sneak in some satirical support for their political beliefs in pacifism and environmentalism, but at their core remain supreme examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with every re-reading.

So why not start now?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round


By Richard Thompson (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-7387-7 (HB)                    978-1-4494-3721-3 (PB)

Cul-de-Sac translates as “bottom of the bag” so don’t say you never learned anything from comics.

Richard Thompson took the term in its urban planning derivation – a street/passage closed at one end or a route/course leading nowhere – to describe a convoluted, barricaded oasis of suburban life on the outskirts of Washington DC where a mercurial cross-section of modern humanity lives.

As such it became the setting for one of the best cartoon strips about kids ever created, and one I very much miss.

Richard Church Thompson was born on October 8th 1957 and grew up to become an award-winning illustrator and editorial cartoonist who worked for The Washington Post. He was best known for his acerbic weekly feature Poor Richard’s Almanac (from which came the crushing political prognostication “Build the Pie Higher” – so go google that while you’re at it).

His other mostly light-hearted illustrative efforts appeared in locales ranging from U.S. News & World Report, The New Yorker, Air & Space/Smithsonian, National Geographic and The Atlantic Monthly as well as in numerous book commissions.

In February 2004 Cul de Sac began as a beautifully painted Sunday strip in The Post and quickly evolved into a firm family favourite. In September 2007, the strip was rebooted as a standard black-&-white daily feature with a process-colour Sunday strip and began global syndication with the Universal Press Syndicate and digitally distribution by Uclick GoComics.

It rightly gathered a host of fans, especially other cartoonists such as Bill Watterson and authors like Mo Willems.

The series was collected in four volumes between 2008 and 2012, with other iterations and recombinations (such as this colour & monochrome tome; 152 x 229 mm; released in 2013 and again in 2016) keeping the series popular even after it ended. This particular volume comes in hard, soft and digital formats.

There is precious little of Cul de Sac but what there is all pure gold. In July 2009 the artist publicly announced that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but carried on anyway.

In 2012 a number of fellow artists and devoted admirers – Michael Jantze, Corey Pandolph, Lincoln Peirce, Stephen Pastis, Ruben Bolling and Mo Willems – pitched in to produce the strip while Thompson underwent treatment. When he came back at the end of March, illustrator had Stacy Curtis signed on as inker, but by August Thompson announced he was retiring Cul de Sac.

The last strip appeared on September 23rd 2012.

Richard Thompson died on July 27 2016. He was 58 years old.

Happily, the brilliance of his wit, the warmth of his observation and the sheer uniqueness of his charmingly askew mentality will continue to mesmerise generations of kids and their parents.

So, What’s Going On Here…?

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round offers an unforgettable introduction to the indivisible exterior and interior world of hyperactive four-year old Alice Otterloop as experienced by her family and a definitely quirky circle of friends.

Alice likes to dance, deploy glitter, get excited and be in charge of everything. Her forceful, declaratively propounded opinions make her respected – and most often feared – by the other kids in Miss Bliss’ class at Blisshaven Academy Pre-School.

Not that the other tykes, such as just-plain-weird peeping tom Dill Wedekind or hammer-wielding Beni, are traditional tots either. All these littluns are smart but untutored, and much of the humour derives from their responses to new facts and situations as interpreted through the haze of the meagre experience they’ve previously accumulated – whether taught or overheard…

The result is a winning blend of surreal whimsy and keenly observational gags, punctuated with input from Alice’s dolorous, graphic-novel-obsessed, sports-fearing older brother Petey and their permanently bewildered and embattled parents.

Other regulars include classmate Marcus who thinks he’s being stalked by his own mother; school guinea pig Mr. Danders (a boorish, self-important and pretentious literary snob in love with the sound of his own voice); Peter Otterpoop Senior’s impossibly small car; the family’s bellicose and feral Grandma and her appalling dog Big Shirley; the enigmatic, doom-portending Uh-Oh Baby and Alice’s deranged collection of terrifying spring-loaded toys…

Taking family humour to abstract extremes, Cul de Sac blends inspirational imagination with wry consideration to produce moments side-splitting, baffling and heart-warming in rapid succession.

It’s never too late to appreciate quality material and make lifelong friends, so track down Mighty Alice and Co as soon as you can…
© 2013 Richard Thompson. All rights reserved.