Leonard & Larry 3: Extracts From the Ring Cycle at Royal Albert Hall


By Tim Barela (Palliard Press)
ISBN: 978-1-88456-805-3 (Album PB)

We live in an era where Pride events are world-wide and commonplace: where acceptance of LGBTQIA+ citizens is a given… at least in all the civilised countries where dog-whistle politicians, populist “hard men” totalitarian dictators (I’m laughing at a private dirty joke right now) and sundry organised religions are kept in their generally law-abiding places by their hunger for profitable acceptance and desperation to stay tax-exempt, scandal-free, rich and powerful.

There’s still too many places where it’s not so good to be Gay but at least Queer themes and scenes are no longer universally illegal and can be ubiquitously seen in entertainment media of all types and age ranges… and even on the streets of most cities. For all the injustices and oppressions, we’ve still come a long, long way and it’s and simply No Big Deal anymore. Let’s affirm that victory and all work harder to keep it that way…

Such was not always the case and, to be honest, the other team (with religions proudly egging them on and backing them up) are fighting hard and dirty to reclaim all the intolerant high ground they’ve lost thus far.

Incredibly, all that change and counteraction happened within the span of living memory (mine, in this case). For English-language comics, the shift from illicit pornography to homosexual inclusion in all drama, comedy, adventure and other genres started as late as the 1970s and matured in the 1980s – despite resistance from most western governments – thanks to the efforts of editors like Robert Triptow and Andy Mangels and cartoonists like Howard Cruse, Vaughn Bode, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs. Gerard P. Donelan, Roberta Gregory, Touko Valio Laaksonen/“Tom of Finland” and Tim Barela.

A native of Los Angeles, Barela was born in 1954, and became a fundamentalist Christian in High School. He loved motorbikes and had dreams of becoming a cartoonist. He was also a gay kid struggling to come to terms with what was still judged illegal, wilfully mind-altering psychosis and perversion – if not actual genetic deviancy – and an appalling sin by his theological peers and close family…

In 1976, Barela began an untitled comic strip about working in a bike shop for Cycle News. Some characters then reappeared in later efforts Just Puttin (Biker, 1977-1978); Short Strokes (Cycle World, 1977-1979); Hard Tale (Choppers, 1978-1979) plus The Adventures of Rickie Racer, and cooking strip (!) The Puttin Gourmet… America’s Favorite Low-Life Epicurean in Biker Lifestyle and FTW News. Four years later, the cartoonist unsuccessfully pitched a domestic (AKA “family”) strip called Ozone to LGBTQA news periodical The Advocate. Among its proposed quotidian cast were literal and metaphorical straight man Rodger and openly gay Leonard Goldman… who had a “roommate” named Larry Evans

Gay Comix was an irregularly published anthology, edited at that time by Underground star Robert Triptow (Strip AIDs U.S.A.; Class Photo). He advised Barela to ditch the restrictive newspaper strip format in favour of longer complete episodes, and printed the first of these in Gay Comix #5 in 1984. The remodelled new feature was a huge success, included in many successive issues and became the solo star of Gay Comix Special #1 in 1992.

Leonard & Larry also showed up in prestigious benefit comic Strip AIDs U.S.A. before triumphantly relocating to The Advocate in 1988, and – from 1990 – to its rival publication Frontiers. The lads even moved into live drama in 1994: adapted by Theatre Rhinoceros of San Francisco as part of stage show Out of the Inkwell. In the 1990s their episodic exploits were gathered in a quartet of wonderfully oversized (220 x 280 mm) monochrome albums which gained a modicum of international stardom and some glittering prizes. This third compendium compiled by Palliard Press between 1996 -2000, follows Domesticity Isn’t Pretty and Kurt Cobain & Mozart Are Both Dead, whilst paving the way for last volume (to date) How Real Men Do It.

As previously stated, as well as featuring a multi-generational cast, Leonard & Larry is a strip that progressed in real time, with characters all aging and developing accordingly. The strips are not and never have been about sex – except in that the subject is a constant generator of hilarious jokes and outrageously embarrassing situations. Triumphantly skewering hypocrisy and rebuking ignorance with dry wit and superb drawing, episodes cover various couples’ home and work lives, constant parties, physical deterioration, social gaffes, rows, family revelations, holidays and even events like earthquakes and fanciful prognostications.

Following an Introduction from Animation historian Charles Solomon and Lief Wauters potted history of the strip ‘The Life and Times of Leonard & Larry’, a ‘Leonard & Larry Timeline’ provides a crucial curated recap in copious detail, including reintroducing the vast Byzantine, deftly interwoven cast, with past highlights and low points and reminds readers that this strip passes in real time and the players are aging just like we are…

Star couple Leonard Goldman and Larry Evans live together despite vast family circles and friend groups all apparently at odds with each other. The feature also prominently and increasing plays with fantasy as dream manifestations – or are they actual ghosts? – of composers Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his bitter frenemy Johannes Brahms plague cast members: acting as a vanguard for even odder occurrences to come…

This family saga is primarily a comedy of manners, played out against social prejudices and grudging gradual popular acceptances, but it also has shocking moments of drama and tension and whole bunches of heartwarming sentiment set in and around West Hollywood.

The extensive Leonard & Larry clan comprise the former’s formidable unaccepting mother Esther – who still ambushes him with blind dates and nice Jewish girls – and the latter’s ex-wife Sharon and the sons of their 18-yeat marriage Richard and David. Teenaged Richard recently knocked up and wed equally school-aged Debbie, making the scrappy couple unwilling grandparents years (decades even!) before they were ready. The oldsters adore baby Lauren but didn’t need to relive all that aging trauma when Debbie announced there would soon be an older sister…

Maternal grandparents Phil and Barbra Dunbarton are ultra conservative and stridently Christian, spending a lot of time fretting over Debbie and Lauren’s souls and their own social standing. They’re particularly concerned over role models and what horrors she and her brother Michael are being exposed to whenever the gay guys babysit. Their appearances are always some of funniest and most satisfying as the deviant clan expands exponentially in this volume…

David Evans is as Queer as his dad, and works in Larry’s leather/fetish boutique store on Melrose Avenue. That iconic venue provides loads of quick, easy laughs and many edgy moments thanks to local developer/predatory expansionist Lillian Lynch who still wants the store at any cost. It’s also the meeting point for many other couples in Leonard & Larry’s eccentric orbit. Their friends/clients enjoy greater roles this time, offering other perspectives on LA life.

Flamboyant former aerospace engineer Frank Freeman lives with acclaimed concert pianist Bob Mendez and is saddled with an compulsive yen for uniforms. It comes in handy again when Bob’s sex-crazed celebrity stalker Fiona Birkenstock breaks jail to re-kidnap him – at least until she switches affection to a certain celebrity judge sentencing her…

Larry’s other employee is Jim Buchanan whose alarming dating history stabilised when he met a genuine cowboy at one of L & L’s parties. Merle Oberon was a newly “out” Texan trucker who added romance and stability to Jim’s lonely life. Sadly, it got complicated in other ways once Merle became a Hollywood soap star and his agents, managers and co-star convinced him his career needed Oberon back in that closet…

Jim, by the way, is the original and central focus of the overly-critical dead composers’ puckish visits…

Also catching attention this time are heated discussions on the supernatural as the ghost composers graduate from dream-based plot device to active participants, playing pranks on many more of the minor cast members. Their games re balanced with ever-kvetching aging-averse Larry painfully adapting to being a doting grandad/perennial babysitter. Jim and Merle meanwhile engage a psychic to exorcise their haunt housemates, blithely unaware that she’s an undercover tabloid hack looking for a juicy exposé…

Younger players take centre stage, offering the author opportunity to spike not just anti-gay bigots but take on good old-fashioned racism too, even delivering a gleefully potent poke at American fundamentalism when the “Christian Coalition” relentlessly pursues good old white, Texan celebrity Merle to be the face of their next “decency campaign” and just won’t take no for an answer…

A surprisingly hard-hitting – if deviously velvet-gloved – storyline sees Jim discovering he was adopted: in fact the child of an unwed catholic girl exploited by the Irish Church’s baby-selling scandal (you really should look up Ireland’s Mother & Baby Homes). Reeling and despondent, his downward spiral is resolved by Merle who secretly arranges a trip to Ireland and a family reunion no-one wanted but everyone benefitted from…

David is Larry’s gay son and not expected to cause chaos and consternation, but that ends when he and his bestie Collin help their lesbian roommate Nat get pregnant and our freaked out oldster contemplates becoming a grandfather yet again…

That hilariously potent arc is compounded when ex-wife Sharon attends one of their frequent dinner parties and gets off with the still-sore former spouse’s only straight acquaintance (classical violinist Gene Slatkin). The liaison sparks incomprehensible jealousy and primeval macho ownership behaviour in Larry, but it’s so much worse when he learns the result is geriatric pregnancy and his becoming an unpaid baby sitter for another family addition…

Extended saga ‘The Baby Shower’ finds the entire conflicted and in many parts intolerant extended family in one room and scoring points As first Sharon and then Nat go into labour it sparks fourth wall shenanigans as Larry again has a meltdown and flees from the hospital, archenemy Mike the midwife, all semblance of parental responsibility and general biological “ickiness”.

The feature provides plenty of moments of wild abandon too, such as when Larry loses a friend’s beloved dog and finds an enormous python with a very full stomach, fun with tarantulas and a startling dream sequence wherein grandkids (7-year-old Lauren and 3-year-old Michael) take over “creating” strip a few times, ultimately confirming grampy’s crazed conviction that he’s nothing but a character in a comic strip crafted by a sadist. Further hallucinogenic riffs – including cowboy antics and a rebellion of Barbie dolls – leads finally to a major emotional growth spurt and Larry’s return to the hospital just in time to join the happy events…

Leonard & Larry is a traditionally domestic marital sitcom/soap opera with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz – or more aptly, Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore – replaced by a hulking bearded “bear” with biker, cowboy and leather fetishes and a stylishly moustachioed, no-nonsense fashion photographer. Taken in total, it’s a love story about growing old together, but not gracefully or with any dignity. Populated by adorable, appetising fully fleshed out characters, Leonard & Larry was always about finding and then being yourself and remains an irresistible slice of gentle whimsy to nourish the spirit and beguile the jaded. If you feel like taking a Walk on the Mild Side now this tome is still at large through internet vendors. So why don’t you?
Excerpts from the Ring Cycle in Royal Albert Hall © 2000 Palliard Press. All artwork and strips © 2000 Tim Barela. All rights reserved The Life and Times of Leonard & Larry © 2000 Lief Wauters.

After decades of waiting, the entire ensemble is available again courtesy of Rattling Good Yarns Press. Sublimely hefty hardback uber-compilation Finally! The Complete Leonard & Larry Collection was released in 2021, reprinting the entire saga – including rare as hens’ teats last book How Real Men Do It (978-1955826051). It’s a little smaller in page dimensions (216 x280mm) and far harder to lift, but it’s Out There if you want it…

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Brittle Mastery of Donald Duck


By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #7)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-906-8 (Album PB)

Although experts quibble over the details of Donald Duck’s debut (I cleave to the notion we should use the premier of The Wise Little Hen on 3rd May rather than the June 9th US general release date), everybody agrees 1934 was the year and that the magnificent mallard is 90 this year. In honour of that achievement, here’s a lovely old book starring Disney’s top cartoon star that you might be lucky enough to find. Even if you can’t, the stories are scattered throughout Fantagraphics’ magnificent Carl Barks library editions which we will continue sporadically reviewing and which you really should already own…

Donald Duck ranks among a small group of fictional characters to have transcended the bounds of reality and become – like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Popeye and James Bond -meta-real. As such, his origins are complex and convoluted. His official birthday is June 9th 1934: a dancing, nautically-themed bit-player in the Silly Symphony cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.

The animated cartoon was adapted by Ted Osborne & Al Taliaferro for the Silly Symphonies Sunday newspaper strip and thus classified by historians as Donald’s official debut in Disney comics. Controversially, he was also reported to have pre-originated in The Adventures of Mickey Mouse strip which began 1931. Thus the Duck has more “birthdays” than he knows what to do with, which presumably explains why he’s such a bad-tempered cuss.

Visually, Donald Fauntleroy Duck was largely the result of animator Dick Lundy’s efforts, and, with partner-in-fun Mickey Mouse, is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. The Duck has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has appeared in more films than any other Disney player. Throughout the 1930s, his screen career grew from background and supporting roles via a team act with Mickey and Goofy to a series of solo cartoons beginning with 1937’s Don Donald. That one also introduced love interest Daisy Duck and the irrepressible nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey

By 1938 The Duck was officially more popular than corporate icon Mickey Mouse, and even more so after his national service as a propaganda warrior in a series of animated morale boosters and information features during WWII. The merely magnificent Der Fuehrer’s Face garnered the 1942 Academy Award for Animated Short Film

Crucially for our purposes, Donald is also planet Earth’s most-published non-superhero comics character, and blessed with some of the greatest writers and illustrators ever to punch a keyboard or pick up a pen or brush. A publishing phenomenon and megastar across Europe – particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – Donald (& Co) have spawned countless original stories and many immortal characters. Sales are stratospheric across all age groups there and in upwards of 45 other countries they export to. Japan’s manga publishers have their own iteration too…

The aforementioned Silly Symphonies adaptation and Mickey strip guest shots were trumped in 1937 when Italian publisher Mondadori launched an 18-page comic book story crafted by Federico Pedrocchi. It was quickly followed by a regular serial in Britain’s Mickey Mouse Weekly (a comic produced under license by Willbank Publications/Odhams Press that ran from 8th February 1936 to 28th December 1957). Issue #67 (May 15th 1937) premiered Donald and Donna – a prototype Daisy Duck girlfriend – drawn by William A. Ward. Running for 15 weeks, it was followed by Donald and Mac before ultimately settling as Donald Duck – a fixture until the magazine folded. The feature inspired similar Disney-themed publications across Europe, with Donald regularly appearing beside company mascot Mickey…

In the USA, a daily Donald Duck newspaper strip launched on February 2nd 1938, with a colour Sunday strip added in 1939. Writer Ted Karp joined Taliaferro in expanding the duck cast and history: adding a signature automobile, pet dog Bolivar, goofy cousin Gus Goose, and grandmother Elvira Coot whilst expanding the roles of both Donna and Daisy. In 1942, his comic book life began with October cover-dated Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9: AKA Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. It was conceived by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves, scripted by Karp and illustrated by Disney Studios employees Carl Barks & Jack Hannah. That was the moment everything changed…

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, and raised in rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks was a cartoonist, then an animator before quitting the Studio in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books. From then until his retirement in the mid-1960s (he officially downed tools in 1966 but was cajoled into scripting stories well into 1968), Barks worked in self-imposed seclusion: writing, drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement the Studio’s stable of cartoon actors.

His greatest creation was crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged nonagenarian and frequent spur/gadfly and reluctant sugar daddy to the adventuresome youngsters…

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was also just a working guy, generating cover art, drawing other people’s scripts as asked, and always adding stories to a burgeoning international canon of Duck Lore. Only after Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material in books like this during the 1980s, did he discover the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed. Media Historian Leonard Maltin called Barks “the most popular and widely read artist/writer in the world”…

So potent were Barks’ creations that they fed back into Disney’s overarching animation output, despite all his brilliant comic work being for Dell/Gold Key and not the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly animated series Duck Tales, based on his classic Uncle Scrooge adventures. Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones

During his working life Barks was utterly unaware that his work – uncredited due to company policy, as was all Disney’s comics output – had been recognised by a rabid and discerning public as “the Good Duck Artist”. When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, belated celebrity began.

In 2013, Fantagraphics Books began chronologically collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally did justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. Physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 260mm – to grace any bookshelf.

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material and sundry other Disney strips in the late-1980s and this album is one of their best. Printed in the European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this joyous compendium collects an occasional series of similarly-themed yarns: some of the best and funniest Duck tales ever crafted.

The “Brittle Master” series is the name given by devotees to a group of stories wherein the perennial failing, fiery-tempered and eternally put-upon everyman Donald displays an excellence in some unique skill or service, winning the approval and veneration of all and sundry – only to have his own smug hubris bring about his ultimate humiliation and downfall.

The first untitled tale, from Walt Disney Comics and Stories #156 (1953) sees Donald as an airplane-piloting, cloud-sculpting Master Rainmaker catering to increasingly outrageous requests from his adoring public. This leads him inevitably to disaster – in this case the creation of a full-blown, devastating Ice-storm…

Next, from WDC&S #222 (1959) comes the tale of the Master Mover, as Donald displays an uncanny ability to transport anything anywhere, only to come a crushing cropper when he guarantees to shift an entire zoo to a mountaintop in one afternoon!

From Donald Duck #68 (also from 1959) ‘The Master Glasser’ (we’d call him a glazier) is a wickedly satirical glimpse at small-town America as the arrogant artificer at the height of his fame attempts to repair the aged fascia of Duckburg’s giant clock. Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to do it live on TV?

The fourth tale is one where I suspect Donald actually found his true calling. The ‘Master Wrecker’ (WDC&S #26, 1962) is the go-to-duck if you need something demolished with no muss or fuss, and even in this hilarious yarn Donald doesn’t actually fail. The target is utterly razed: it’s just not the one he was supposed to demolish…

This delightful collection ends with the satisfyingly sharp ‘Spare That Hair’ (WDC&S #272, 1963) as Donald the Master Barber finally wins one for a change, even though he mistakenly shaves a gorilla and inspires the ire of a rowdy circus ringmaster…

Barks was as adept with quick-fire gag stories as epic adventures; blending humour with drama and charm with action, and even if you can’t find this particular volume, most of his unforgettable work is readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets and in many languages. So if you seek to become a Master Reader, you know what you need to do…
© 1988, 1963, 1962, 1959, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Anarchy Comics – The Complete Collection


By Jay Kinney, Paul Mavrides, Clifford Harper, Gerhard Seyfried, Spain Rodriguez, Melinda Gebbie, Gilbert Shelton, Épistolier, Volny, Michel Troblin, John R. Burnham, Ruby Ray, Steve Stiles, Sharon Rudahl, Peter Pontiac, Guy Colwell, Matt Feazell, Gary Panter, Donald Rooum, Albo Helm, Adam Cornford, Norman Dog, Greg Irons, Steve Lafler, David Lester, brooke Lydbrooke, Pepe Moreno, Harry S. Robins, R. Diggs, S. Zorca, Byron Werner, & various, compiled and edited by Kinney (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-531-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

During the “anything goes” 1960s and early1970s issues of personal freedom, sexual liberation, mind-altering self-exploration, questioning of authority and a general rejection of the old ways gripped the young and terrified the establishment. Artists and cartoonists especially began creating the kind of comics and art they wanted and an “Underground Commix movement” became the forefront for “radicalisation” (that’s “The Man’s” terms not mine) of many young intellectuals in America and throughout the world. It consequently led to the rise of and acceptance of comics narrative for adults.

Whenever anybody discusses the history and influence of the Underground and Counter-Culture movements, focus is generally on the exuberant and often racially or sexually offensive expressions of comedic or violent excess – especially in regard to sex and drugs – but that’s a rather cruel and biased oversimplification. The whole phenomenon stemmed from rebellion and the exercise of new-found freedoms. Equally apparent was a striving for new ways of living one’s life – and that’s Politics, Baby, pure and simple…

By 1978 that unchecked artistic flourishing had died back in every sphere – especially the wholesale creation of comics – and the mainstream world, having assimilated what it liked of the explosively fresh thought and deeds, appropriated or adopted some of the tone and tenets of the movement before getting back to making money and suppressing masses in a “new normal”…

However, once creative passions have been aroused and stoked they are hard to suppress. There is no more powerful medium of expression or tool of social change than graphic narrative – although music and poetry come close – and some kids found it harder to surrender their ideals than others. In 1977, as Disco, indolence, hedonism and the pursuit of money increasingly obsessed media and populace, a bunch of left-leaning liberal intellectual cartoonists got together in San Francisco. They wanted to create a comics anthology dedicated to propounding ideals of willing co-operation, personal responsibility and a rejection of unwanted oppressive authority – governmental, religious or corporate. By entertaining and educating through cartoons they intended to highlight issues of inequality and iniquity: in short, they went to bat for Anarchy…

Just as the global Punk movement began to take hold in a new generation of angry, powerless and disenfranchised Youth, West Coast cartoonist, satirist designer, editor and socialist political activist Jay Kinney – who had co-created the seminal underground title Young Lust (and yes that was a pun; so sue me!) – reached out to like-minded old associates like Paul Mavrides with the intention of creating an international comic book to promulgate their world view.

Kinney had been corresponding with British Anarchist artist Clifford Harper (Class War Comics) and had similarly-inclined West German cartoonist Gerhard Seyfried kipping on his floor at that time, so the idea of a forum for graphic expression of political ideas must have seemed like a no-brainer…

Of course, there’s no such thing as slavish doctrinaire consensus in Anarchist idealism – that’s pretty much the whole point – and the comic was envisioned more as a platform to present wide-ranging Left-Libertarian ideas through satire and historical reportage as a basis for further debate.

How the project developed from there and its ultimate effects and influence is fully described in author/historian Paul Buhle’s ‘Anarchy Comics Revisited’ and Kinney’s own expansive, evocative ‘Introduction’ before the entire 4-issue, 9-year run is re-presented in all its monochrome glory. beginning with Anarchy Comics #1 from 1978. It sports a witty cover by Kinney and deliciously wry intro page Inside Cover by Kinney & Seyfried. The editor then opened the attack with ‘Too Real’: using collage images from comic book ads to spoof the American Dream of prosperity and suburban bliss, after which counterculture legend Spain Rodriguez recounts the story of ‘Nestor Makhno’ whose fight for independence led to his betrayal by his Soviet allies in the early days of their Revolution.

Kinney’s ‘Smarmy Comics’ presents a decade of strip spoofs dedicated to exposing ‘Fascism: the Power to Finance Capital Itself’, after which the amazing Melinda Gebbie constructs a strident feminist call to arms against female oppression in educational diatribe ‘The Quilting Bee’ before Spain returns with a brutal true tale of the Spanish Civil War ‘Blood and Sky’ and an Underground superstar offers a frightening prognostication in ‘Gilbert Shelton’s Advanced International Motoring Tips’

For someone with no appreciable budget or resources, Kinney was astonishingly successful in securing international contributions. From France’s L’echo Des Savannes #29 came a translated tale of more Bolshevik perfidy in ‘Liberty Through the Ages: Kronstadt’ by Épistolier (Yves Frémion) & Volny (Françoise Dupuy) wherein a local dispute escalates into an horrific early instance of merciless repression in the People’s Paradise, before Bay area cartoonist John R. Burnham challenges the future with his polemical ‘What’s the Difference?’

True Brit Clifford Harper offers a moving and witty account of grass roots resistance in the tale of ‘Owd Nancy’s Petticoat’ (set in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre), after which Kinney delivers wry Comic Strip parodies ‘Safehouse’, ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘Today’s Rhetoric’ – complete with faux ad – before Mavrides hilariously attacks the utopian/dystopian debate with ‘Some Straight Talk about Anarchy’. The issue ends with a stylish ad for like-minded publications from Kinney & Seyfried, which last also crafted a humorous depiction of a mass anarchist demonstration in Tiananmen Square 11 years before the tragic, monstrous real thing…

Issue #2 didn’t appear until 1979 and opened with a photographic punk cover by Ruby Ray & Kinney, with the latter & Seyfried collaborating on another hilarious introductory page before the fireworks kicked off with Steve Stiles’ chilling account of his brush with Military Intelligence. Once the brass realised he might have had associations with turn-of-the-century Labour Movement The Industrial Workers of the World, the baffled soldier-boy found himself suspected of crimes he didn’t know existed. How the ‘Wobblies!’ could subvert a hapless GI in 1967 is still unclear to the author of this smart but scary tale…

‘Believe It!’ by Sharon Rudahl exposes true but crazy beliefs from history whilst

‘Kultur Dokuments’ (Kinney & Mavrides) brilliantly blends styles and metaphors to harangue the working world in a clever tale that starts as pictograms and ends as a vicious swipe at Archie Comics. Harper then adapts “Bert” Brecht’s grim ballad ‘The Black Freighter’ (perhaps better known in English as “Pirate Jenny” via Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera), Spain details the life of Civil War freedom-fighter Buenaventura ‘Durruti’ and Dutch artist Peter Pontiac exposes sexual fantasy and other anti-spontaneity heresies in ‘Romantic! Anarchy’ before Kinney dryly restores order with spoof talk-show ‘Radical Reflections’.

Épistolier & Michel Trublin relate how radicals Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman changed the smugly complacent nature of Wall Street in ‘Liberty Through the Ages: The Yippies at the Exchange’ before Gebbie potently limns illustrated ‘Quotes from Red Emma’ (Goldman) after which ‘The Bizarre yet Familiar World of Commodity Fetishism!’ (Kinney) embellishes a Seyfried Inside back-cover ad with the glorious whole finished off in a painted Black Velvet portrait of Chairman Mao by Mavrides.

Anarchy Comics #3 arrived in 1981, sporting a traditional anarchic rampaging rogue by Pontiac & Guy Colwell and – after a clever introduction by Kinney & Mavrides – proceeds with the duo’s hilariously dark time-travel tale ‘No Exit’ showing how even the perfect future can’t please some activists. Next is Épistolier & Trublin’s trenchant examination of Church repression of workers in ‘Anarchy in the Alsace: The Revolt of the Rustauds’ and a welcome appearance for Donald Rooum’s iconic feline thought-experiment Wildcat.

Rooum was a spectacularly talented, gentle, fiercely pacifist freedom-fighter, educator and eternal knowledge seeker who contributed brilliant cartoons to British comics, magazines and the Anarchist press for over 60 years. His Wildcat cartoons have been collected continually and are a must have item whatever your political leaning…

The merriment continues in ‘The Act of Creation According to Bakunin’ by Dutch cartoonist Albo Helm, giving the genesis myth a thorough re-evaluation, after which Harper interprets French politician/philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s pointed ‘What is Government?’ with telling graphic savagery.

More of Kinney’s ‘Radical Reflections’ follow before Spain (with Adam Cornford & Kinney) examines the rise of the Red Brigade through Italian labour agitation and student unrest via ‘Roman Spring’, whilst Steve Laffler restores much-needed absurdity through deployment of rude, anti-Capitalist superhero the ‘Naked Avenger’.

Seyfried crafts a sharp display of police mentality in ‘Walkie Talkie’ before then relative newcomer Gary Panter plays with traditional bomb-throwing view of anarchists in his vicious comedy ‘Awake, Purox, Awake!’, whilst Gebbie & Cornford collaborate on a psychedelic tribute to ‘Benjamin Peret: Poet as Revolutionary and Rudahl supplies a slyly effective castigation of workers’ children-turned-capitalists in ‘The Treasure of Cabo Santiago’.

Comix iconoclast Greg Irons is represented here with moodily scary tale ‘Who’s in Charge Here?’ and Canadian cartoonist David Lester tackles sexual politics and the New Man in ‘Men Strips: Men March On’, ‘The Amazing Colossal Men’ and ‘The March of Men’ before Marian (now just brooke) Lydbrooke spoofs marital oppression in ‘At Home With…’ with Kinney exploring similar territory in ‘New Age Politics’.

Matt (Amazing Cynicalman) Feazell debuted here with an impressive bug-eyed view of class warfare and divisive manipulation by the bosses in the excellent ‘Pest Control’ before Kinney & Seyfried cobble together an inside back-cover ‘Bulletin Board’ and the garrulous German ends the issue with a classy spoof ad touting ‘New! Improved! Anarchy’ to end all our global pest woes…

After this issue Kinney’s time was increasingly taken up with other projects, and it wasn’t until 1987 that new editor Mavrides released Anarchy Comics #4, with both cover and introduction page products of his sublimely prolific satirist’s pen. He nonetheless joined with Kinney on apocalyptic parody on the End of Days ‘Armageddon Outahere! before the always challenging Harper contributes a terrifyingly true case regarding British poet Jimmy Heather-Hayes’ death in police custody at Ashford Prison, Kent ‘On the Night of March 3, 1982’.

Norman Dog creates a choose-your-own-ending role-playing strip in ‘You Rule the World!’ and Spain details the fall of Emperor Napoleon III, the entire Franco-Prussian War and the meteoric coming and going of the Communards in ‘1871’, after which Gebbie relates her own clash with British censorship in magically metaphoric fable ‘Public Enemy’.

‘Mr. Helpful’ is a more traditional cartoon quandary posed by Norman Dog whilst S. Zorca’s prose vignette ‘Executive Terrorism’ take a hefty swipe at Presidential Privilege and R. Diggs goes for the jugular in his logical extension of economic Darwinism ‘Korporate-Rex’.

The final issue closes with Harry S. Robins tapped into his Church of the SubGenius roots, addressing the apparent dichotomy of the philosophy in ‘Anarchy = Panarchy’ before Byron Werner’s ‘One-page strip’ suggests the only way we can rationally deal with intelligent extraterrestrial life, Mavrides & Kinney clashwith the Military-Industrial Complex in ‘Cover-up Lowdown’ and a final Back Cover offers a photo of Hiroshima after all the dust settled…

As you’d expect, this fabulous collection doesn’t stick to tradition, and after a standard section of contributing Cartoonist Biographies, and a sumptuous colour section including all covers, Outtakes, Sketches Roughs and a fulsome photographic Anarchy Comics Family Album, a New Comix addendum features a stunning new strip which would certainly have been in a fifth issue… if there had been one.

‘The Amazing Tale of Victoria Woodhull’ by Rudahl depicts the life of the most incredible woman you’ve never heard of: a libertine, suffragette, opportunist and crusader for women’s rights and female emancipation who started out as an American white trash huckster and died the wife of a British aristocrat.

This is followed by Sketchbook Drawings and Outtakes from Kinney, revealing abortive ideas and graphic dead ends such as Anarchy Chic, Shoot-Out at the Circle A Ranch, Revolt, Sectarianism, Marx my Words, spoof political mags, the Amazing Rhetoric Translator and the marvellous Oppressive Dichotomies – all strips that might well have found fans… if…

A stunning reminiscence of a time when we thought the world could still be changed and, hopefully, a stark example for the current generation who just won’t take it anymore, Anarchy Comics is still, funny, powerful, inspirational and out there.

And that’s not up for debate…
© 2013 Jay Kinney, Paul Mavrides and respective writers & artists. All rights reserved.

Toby and the Pixies: Worst King Ever!


By James Turner & Andreas Schuster with Kate Brown & Austin Boechle (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-296-0 (TPB)

Way back in January 2012, Oxford-based David Fickling Books made a rather radical move by launching a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at under-12s. It revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

To this day each issue features humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. The Phoenix has successfully established itself as a potent source of children’s entertainment because, like The Beano and The Dandy, it is equally at home to boys and girls, and mastered the magical trick of mixing amazingly action-packed adventure series with hilarious humour strip serials such as this one. Most of the strips have also become graphic collections just like this one…

Crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Star Cat, Super Animal Adventure Squad, Mameshiba, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve) and Canadian cartoonist/designer/animator Andreas Schuster, Toby and the Pixies began in January 2020 (as I Hate Pixies) and those first forays are remastered right here, right now, beginning with Chapter 1: Meet Toby’ as at Suburbiton high school – nerdly 12-year old overachiever (what in my cruel school days was deemed a “swot”) is trying to fit in. It’s already hard enough enduring overbearing popular classmates like smarmy trendy “online influencer” Joe and snarky bully Steph but at least fellow style exile Mo is in the same boat, as evidenced by their idea to become acceptable by playing football turns out…

Reality reasserts itself when Toby is ordered by his electric toaster-obsessed Dad to tidy the garden before vanishing forever when the grumbling kid accidentally kills gleefully sadistic pixie tyrant King Thornpickle in ‘Chapter 2: Long Live the King’.

Unknown to any human, a fabulous fey realm has thrived in the green shambles of the Cauldwell backyard for the longest time, and now – due to an inept and inadvertent act of emancipation sparked by Toby kicking an unfortunately placed plaster garden gnome – the reluctant boy finds himself new ruler of a hidden kingdom of magical morons…

Thanks to pixie law – as interpreted by the former King’s advisors Mouldwarp (Royal Druid), wise(ish) Gatherwool (Lore Keeper/Potion Master) and Toadflax (she eats stuff) – killing Thornpickle makes Toby the new absolute monarch. Pixie law also states the ruler can do anything they want… a prospect so laden with responsibility it makes Toby weep with terror…

Just coming to terms with the thought of magic actually existing and that freaky, anarchic little imps can do it whilst still being absolute idiots and morons is bad enough, but young Cauldwell quickly learns just how awful it can be ‘Living the Dream’ as the advisors pester and bedevil him to give in and take on the job…

With dad increasingly obsessed with making the perfect, ultimate piece of toast and bonkers goblins infesting his home Toby heads for the relative sanctuary of school only to find the pixies waiting for him still insistent he take charge. Granting them liberty and autonomy proves disastrous in ‘Free Period’ and turns unto chaos when ravenous magic mushrooms maraud through classrooms until he capitulates and in chapter 5 dispenses ‘The Wisdom of Toby’…

Thanks to the mystic mooncalves’ utter literal-mindedness, the task is like herding floodwater, and the reluctant despot retreats for a bit of quiet time playing videogame ‘Camel Calamity’ with Mo. With the demanding pixies around, though, peace cannot be guaranteed and after the “bathtub badger crisis” and Mo’s being magicked into a bird, Toby takes his only friend into his confidence, spilling all. The response is not what the unhappy king expects…

Another shock follows the morning Toby is forced into dire state duty and compelled to become the groom at a ‘Royal Wedding’. The bride isn’t even human-shaped and his potential father in law even worse, but just this once fate seems to be on the boy’s side…

Going to school is also inescapable – and Toby’s only real joy – but royal duties increasingly encroach. Mystic meddling with his beloved ‘Homework’ results in embarrassment and ultimately a rampaging water sprite wrecking the adored institute of learning, after which Mo is kidnapped by the vengeful daughter of dead King Thornpickle.

Princess Sugarsnap is as mean as her dad and wants her inheritance – which Toby is happy to give to her – but of course it isn’t that easy to abdicate and instead the new King has to undertake a Royal Quest and face her “Army of Slimes”. Luckily, his faithful dachshund Digby goes along on the ‘Rescue Mission’…

The exploit leads to ‘Mo’s First Trip to Pixieland’, but being mistaken for the King’s jester – and worse – is just a prelude. Trouble really kicks off when jealous Toadflax challenges him for the position and Sugarsnap ambushes everybody before the pixies discover what Mo’s terrifying cell phone camera can really do…

As King’s Champion, his best pal also offers a real service by stepping in as ‘King Mo’ to give Toby a break. Sadly, he’s suckered into a day of questing that has lasting and laughable repercussions, prior to human life reasserting itself when Mo and Toby at last and unhappily become school sports stars thanks to being dragooned into ‘The Big Match’. Fair play is not on the cards though, as the pixie advisors secretly augment Toby’s kit with magic slugs…

The resultant humiliation leads to one final calamity as Chapter 13 ‘Falling Out’ sees Mo ostracised and banished after apparently cheating during a boardgame: a situation the three advisors are quick to capitalise on…

The premise of pixie promise is instantly and eternally engaging, and will further confound and beguile in a forthcoming volume…

Wrapping up the fey foolishness is an activity section detailing ‘How to Draw Toby’ with supplemental instruction on his ‘Expressions’, ‘Toby’s Body’ and thereafter ‘How to Draw Mo’, plus his ‘Expressions’ and ‘Body’ as well as graphic gen for rendering ‘Gatherwool’ ‘Mouldwarp’ and ‘Toadflax’ before closing with the now-standard Special Preview feature focusing on what other wonders await in the periodical Phoenix

Toby and the Pixies is a gloriously daft and hilarious comic treasure: surreal, ingenious and fabulously fun. No laugh-loving LARPER, junior gamer, comedy connoisseur or devotee of madcap magical mayhem should miss this pixilated picture postcard from beyond.
Text and illustrations © The Phoenix Comic 2024. All rights reserved.

Toby and the Pixies: Worst King Ever! is published on June 6th 2024 and available for pre-order now.

Lucky Luke volume 22 – Emperor Smith


By Goscinny & Morris, translated by Jerome Sanicantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-026-9 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Far be it for me to publish a book recommendation that somehow impacts upon current events or hints at the fallibility of popular leaders, but…

Doughty, dashing and dependable cowboy “good guy” Lucky Luke is a rangy, implacably even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably ambles around the mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures on his petulant and rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. For nearly 80 years, his exploits have made him one of the top-ranking comic characters in the world, generating upwards of 85 individual albums and spin-off series like Kid Lucky and Ran-Tan-Plan, with sales thus far totalling upwards of 300 million in 30 languages. That renown has translated into a mountain of merchandise, toys, games, animated cartoons, TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet, but you never know…

Originally the brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (AKA “Morris”) and officially first seen in Le Journal de Spirous seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke actually sprang to (un-titled) laconic life in mid-1946 in the popular periodical before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th of that year.

Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre”– The Gang of Four – also comprising Jijé, Will and Franquin: leading proponents of a fresh, loosely free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School”. The compelling cartoon vision came to dominate Le Journal de Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style favoured by Hergé, E.P. Jacobs and other artists in rival publication Le Journal de Tintin. In 1948 said Gang (all but Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, befriended René Goscinny, scored some work at newly-formed EC sensation Mad and constantly, copiously noted and sketched a swiftly disappearing Old West.

Working solo until 1955 (with early script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere), Morris crafted nine albums – of which today’s was #7 – of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow transatlantic émigré Goscinny. With him as regular wordsmith, Luke attained dizzying, legendary heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie) which began serialisation on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote in La Diligence (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, whereupon Morris soldiered on both singly and with other collaborators. He went to the Last Roundup 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 more, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante.

Lucky Luke has a long history in Britain, 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 nom de plume Buck Bingo. And that’s not counting the many attempts to establish him as a book star starting with Brockhampton Press in 1972 and continuing via Knight Books, Hodder Dargaud UK, Ravette Books and Glo’Worm, until Cinebook finally found the right path in 2006.

As so often seen the taciturn trailblazer regularly interacts with historical and legendary figures as well as even odder fictional folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European notions, and interpretations. That principle is smartly utilised to sublime effect in Emperor Smith (first seen au continent in1976 as 45th tome Lucky Luke: L’Empereur Smith) which became Cinebook’s 22nd album in 2010.

Since Europeans take their comics seriously – especially the funny ones (and you know I mean the strips not the readers!) – they aren’t afraid to be bold or brave in content. This riotous romp cheekily employs some creative anachronism to carry an edged – if not actually barbed – account of whimsy and pride going before a fall and why people with vision should really be careful of who they share them with or make their advisors…

One day, as the lone rider is pleasantly roaming, he encounters a fancy foreign army battalion escorting a royal coach and just has to know what’s going on. Hot pursuit brings him to typical frontier hamlet Grass Town, Texas, where he learns its citizens are making a mint by humouring local rancher Dean Smith. The magnate’s head was turned by sudden immense wealth, and he anointed himself Emperor of the United States, rehiring his cattle workers and other toilers as an extremely highly paid army, cabinet and personal staff.

Decked out in swishy colourful gold braided uniforms, sparkly medals, big hats with feathers and titles like Baron of Abilene or Duke of Fort Worth, and huge regular wages it’s not surprising they all play along. Some of the bigger wigs of the court even had their heads turned too…

The story is inspired by famed historical San Francisco eccentric Joshua Abraham Norton (1818-1880) who in 1859 declared himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” and (in 1863) “Protector of Mexico”, but here the fable offers a funnier and far darker extrapolation of what the world saw…

Lucky catches up to the cortege just as the royal party enter the town saloon, and sees a succession of normal folk bow and kowtow to a fancily attired little man. The situation is explained by local Judge Barney but overheard by villainous drifter Buck Ritchie who thinks he can have a little fun by baiting the looney. Sadly, he underestimates Lucky’s tolerance for gunplay and bullying and is humiliated and forcibly ejected…

The act deeply impresses the Emperor – if not his obsequious former cook “Colonel” Gates – and the genial gunslinger is summoned by decree to visit the palace. As a reward for foiling an assassination attempt…

After complying and again graciously declining joining the Court or being made Grand Officer of the Golden Buffalo, Marshall of the Empire, Prince of the Rio Grande and Duke of Houston, Lucky comes away a little shaken. Smith might be harmlessly crazy, with an unhealthy admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, a loyal private army and enough cannon and other military ordinance to conquer the state if not the country, and seems content to play his games and write letters to all the other monarchs in the world, but the same isn’t necessarily true of Gates and the other inner courtiers…

Matters take a deep downturn when Lucky shares his experiences with Judge Barney, newspaper editor Whitman and Sheriff Linen. Eavesdropping, Buck Ritchie hears of the big guns and soon bamboozles the Emperor into invading Grass Town and razing it… because they don’t really believe he’s an Emperor…

Promoted to Minister for Foreign Affairs, Prince of Phoenix, Duke of Tucson, and Imperial Plenipotentiary, Ritchie just wants the contents of the bank and whatever cash he can grab, but finds himself unable to stop – or escape – the stampede of war and idiocy he has started. With Grass Town equal parts cowed and embracing aristocratic madness, curfews in place and grand balls at the saloon, Smith makes the hamlet his capital and lays plans to oust Grant and the rebels in Washington DC, impose direct imperil rule and Make America His Again…

Convicted of treason, Lucky and Barney escape and make their own plans to restore order. All they need do is to kidnap Smith, scuttle his useless, greedy hangers-on, wage financial war on the hirelings and have a little showdown with Buck. Of course, now the desperado is packing artillery as well as a six-gun…

Wry, savvy and heavy on action, 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 1976 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection volume 1


By Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Steve Lavigne & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-007-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-298-3

FORTY(!!!) years ago this month an indie comic by a pair of cannily adroit wannabe creators began making waves and soon sparked a revolution. The guys were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and their work did remarkably well, interesting companies outside our traditionally cautious insular industry and garnering a few merchandising deals. Thanks to TTE (the Telescoping Time Effect that renders the passage of many years between adulthood and the grave to the blink of an eye), my comics generation still regard these upstart critters as parvenu newcomers.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in May 1984, bombastically occupying an oversized, self-published black-&-white parody mag. Eastman & Laird were huge fans of Ditko and Kirby, and so set up Mirage Studios so they could control their efforts, having great fun telling pastiche adventures notionally derived and inspired by contemporary superhero fare.

They especially honed in on the US marketplace’s obsession with Frank Miller’s reinterpretations of manga stars Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima: particularly Lone Wolf & Cub. There were also smart pokes at and conceptual themes poached from other top trends as inspired by The X-Men, New Teen Titans and outsider icon Howard the Duck. This was at a time when the US industry was experiencing an explosive boom in do-it-yourself comics: one that changed forever the very nature of the industry and destroyed the virtual monopoly od DC and Marvel.

Eastman & Laird’s quirky concept became the paradigm of Getting Rich Quick: a template for many others and – in their case at least – an ideal example of beneficial exploitation. Their creation expanded to encompass toys, movies, games, food, apparel, general merchandising and especially television cartoons. In 1987 it became – and remains – a globally potent franchise. There’s probably another movie on the go even as I type this…

None of that matters here as I want to look at the actual comics that started everything and there’s no better way than with this carefully curated edition chronologically covering the primal tales and offering commentaries and reminiscences from the guys who were there…

Just as Los Bros Hernadez had done with Love and Rockets in 1981, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a self-published (print run of 3000 copies), self-financed one-shot that was swiftly picked up by a legion of independent comics shops run by fans for fans. Word of mouth and frantic demand generated a wave of reprintings and much speculative imitation. The rest is history…

This book – re-presenting issues #1-7 and one-shot Raphael Micro-Series – was the first of a sequence of collections published a dozen years ago by licensing specialists IDW. By that time the original creators had long sold the rights and moved well on, to the extent of even occasionally revisiting their baby through nostalgia, but here their fevered passion in their creation and the sheer joy of having fun by learning was at its intoxicating height.

Drafted with verve, gusto and no respect for “the rules”, the saga of ‘Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens with four outlandish humanoids fighting for their lives in a dingy alley. The enemy are thugs and street scum and – once they’re emphatically taken care of – with victory assured, the bizarre heroes retreat into the sewers…

Here they greet a giant rat dressed as a sensei and discuss their origins and goals. You all already know the tale – or just don’t care – but briefly: the pet rat of martial artist Yoshi absorbed kung fu skills and concepts of honour and duty by observation. He also witnessed romantic rivals become arch foes. The losing suitor’s brother subsequently destroys the lovers (even after they fled to New York) and is now leader of ninja clan The Foot.

The youngster – Oroku Saki but known as The Shredder – pursued his warped obsession in the New World and murdered the lovers, even as nearby a boy saved an old one from being hit by a truck carry toxic material. The kid was blinded when the cannister hit his eyes, but as he was carted off to his own comics destiny, the canister that hit him broke, leaking mutagens into sewers where an uncaring owner had dumped somebaby turtles and where Yoshi’s escaped pet was hiding…

Over years exposure changed them all. The rat called Splinter became a sagacious humanoid rodent who diligently trained four brilliant, rapidly growing reptiles in the skills he had observed with his master. Splinter named them Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael and at last deemed them sufficiently advanced to obtain vengeance for his murdered master.

Called to battle, the villain employs all his minions but nevertheless falls to turtle justice…

Fast-paced and action-packed, the tale delivers a sure no-frills punch and – as revealed in the commentary ‘Annotations’ section that follows – left the creators with a rare dilemma: overnight success, demands for reprints and readers demanding more of the same…

Each issue’s bonus section also provides background, insights and developmental drawings but the meat is contained in the stories as the debutantes quickly gained confidence and ran wild. The second issue introduced insufferable mad scientist Baxter Stockman who unleashes robot rat-hunters (“Mousers”) in a scheme to get rich by cleaning up the sewers. In fact, he is also using them to rob from below and when his assistant April O’Neil finds out he frames and tries to kill her. Thankfully the turtles step in to save her and New York…

The third episode reveals heroism comes at a cost: when they return to their underground lair, the Turtles discover it devastated, with Mouser fragments and rat blood everywhere… but no Master Splinter…

When April offers them shelter, relocation turns into a major headache as the strange, heavily shrouded quartet are mistaken for burglars, triggering a massive police car chase through the streets. The spectacular road riot is appended by an ‘Epilogue’ revealing exactly what happened to Splinter, leading to major plot developments in #4, as mystery company TCRI are revealed as the creators of the mutagen and far more than they seem.

Before that though, the Raphael Micro-Series offers all-action romp ‘Me, Myself and I’ as the moody, anger-management-challenged young warrior loses control whilst sparring and flees the team in shame. Sadly, Raphael seeks to calm down by prowling the streets and encounters well-meaning street vigilante Casey Jones thrashing a gang of molesters. Of course, a violent misunderstanding ensues…

In TMNT #4, the search for Splinter is interrupted by an army of Foot ninjas, but the ambush drops our heroes right into TCRI HQ. With the corporate logo from that fateful cannister blazoned across a skyscraper, priorities shift and the turtles retrench. When they infiltrate the building, the shock of finding Splinter is instantly erased by finding out just what they’re facing, but it is as nothing to the trauma of being teleported to another universe…

The fifth issue came out in November 1985, the first to sport a full colour cover and used to expand a phenomenon into a merchandisable continuity universe by guest-starring another, subsequent Eastman & Laird creation – Fugitoid. The little droid was a (non-Terran) human teleportation scientist whose discoveries made him a target of the local military dictatorships on a world packed with hundreds of different sentient species. When Honeycutt was killed, his mind was trapped in a small mechanoid and his plight intersected that of the shanghaied shellbacks. They join forces to thwart evil tyrant General Blanque and an army of secretly invading “Triceratons”, all whilst Honeycutt finds a way to send them home…

Sadly, that route leads directly to an orbiting Triceraton war base in #6 and magnifies the manic mayhem and martial arts magic as the Turtles battle every creature imaginable and still end up as interstellar gladiators before another transmat glitch sends them, Fugitoid and some Triceratons back to Earth and the heart of TCRI.

Of course, in the interim, the building has been surrounded by America’s military and the robotic-augmented Kraangs who run the place are in full battle mode. Cue much more ray gun shenanigans and sword-filled fists of fury as TMNT #7 offers conflict, contusions, confusions, conclusion, explanations and a long-awaited reunion…

To Be Continued…

Fast, furious, fun-filled and funny, but with all sharp edges prominently featured (so nervous parents might want to pre-assess the material before giving this book to true youngsters) this debut saga of the shell-backed sentinels of the sewers offers a superb slice of excitement and enjoyment that will keep kids and adults alike bouncing off the walls with eager appreciation.
© 2011 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Gomer Goof volume 8: A Giant Among Goofs


By Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-021-0 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Like so much else in Franco-Belgian comics, it all started with Le Journal de Spirou, which debuted on April 2nd 1938, with its iconic lead strip created by François Robert Velter AKA Rob-Vel. In 1943, publisher Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, and comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (Jijé) took the helm for the redheaded kid’s further exploits as the magazine gradually became a cornerstone of European culture.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin was handed creative control and slowly abandoned short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. Franquin introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars and created the phenomenally popular Marsupilami. Debuting in 1952 (Spirou et les héritiers) the beast became a spin-off star of screen, plush toy stores, console games and albums in his own right. Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. He 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. When WWII forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels and met Maurice de Bévére (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 and illustrator, producing 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 LJdS. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative team known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They ultimately revolutionised and reshaped Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” graphic style.

Over two decades he had enlarged Spirou & Fantasio’s scope and horizons, until it became purely his own. Constantly, fans met startling new characters as the strip evolved into the saga of globetrotting journalists who visited exotic places, exposed crimes, explored the incredible and clashed with bizarre and exotic arch-enemies. Throughout it all, Fantasio remained a full-fledged – albeit entirely fictional – reporter for Le Journal de Spirou: regularly popping back to the office between cases. Sadly, lurking there was an arrogant, accident-prone, junior tasked with minor jobs and general dogs-bodying. He was Gaston Lagaffe – Franquin’s other immortal invention…

There’s a hallowed tradition of comics personalising fictitiously mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in, whether it’s Marvel’s Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at The Beano and Dandy – it’s a truly international practise. At first cameos in Spirou yarns and occasional asides on text pages featured well-meaning foul-up and ostensible office gofer “Gaston” who debuted in issue #985, cover-dated February 28th 1957. The affable conniving dimwit grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic, whether as guest in Spirou’s adventurous comics cases or his own comedy strips and faux reports on the editorial pages he was supposed to paste up.

In terms of actual schtick and delivery, older readers will recognise favourite beats and timeless elements of well-intentioned self-delusion as seen in Benny Hill and Jacques Tati and recognise recurring riffs from Some Mothers Do Have ’Em and Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, infernal ingenuity and inspired invention, all to mug smugness, puncture pomposity, lampoon the status quoi? (there’s some of that punning there see?) and ensure no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

As previously stated, Gaston/Gomer obtains a regular salary (let’s not dignify what he does as “earning” a living) from Spirou’s editorial offices: reporting to top journalist Fantasio, or complicating the lives of office manager Léon Prunelle and the other, more diligent, staffers, whilst effectively ignoring those minor jobs he’s paid to handle. These include page paste-up, posting (initially fragile) packages and editing readers’ letters… and that’s the official reason fans’ requests and suggestions are never acknowledged or answered…

Gomer is lazy, over-opinionated, ever-ravenous, impetuous, underfed, forgetful and eternally hungry, a passionate sports fan and animal lover, with his most manic moments all stemming from cutting work corners and stashing or consuming contraband nosh in the office. This leads to constant clashes with colleagues and draws in seemingly notionally unaffiliated bystanders like traffic cop Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, as well as many simple passers-by who should know by now to keep away from this street.

Through it all our office oaf remains eternally affable, easy-going and incorrigible. Only three questions really matter here: why everyone keeps giving him one last chance, what can gentle, lovelorn Miss Jeanne possible see in the self-opinionated idiot, and will ever-outraged capitalist financier De Mesmaeker ever get his perennial, pestiferous contracts signed?

In 1972 Gaston – Le géant de la gaffe became the 10th European album and in 2021 was Cinebook’s 8th translated compilation: again focussing on non-stop, all-Franquin comics gags in single-page bursts. Our well-meaning, overconfident, overly-helpful know-it-all office hindrance invents more stuff making life unnecessarily dangerous and continues his pioneering and perilous attempts to befriend and boost fauna and flora alike and improve the modern mechanised world…

Despite resolute green credentials and leanings, Gomer is colour-blind to the problems his antiquated automobile causes, even after numerous attempts to soup up, cleanse, and modify and mollify the motorised atrocity he calls his car. The decrepit, dilapidated Fiat 509 is more in need of merciful execution than his many well-meant engineering interventions as seen here in a range of cold weather exploits proving the indomitable optimism of office editor Léon Prunelle who really should know by now the cost of accepting lifts from his incorrigible subordinate… especially in light of Gomer’s pioneering seat belt invention and obsession with solving road pollution.

…And when not actually the cause of automotive disasters, Gomer’s car attracts the Ahab-like attentions of increasingly obsessed traffic cop Longsnoot

At the office, work avoidance is masked as “improving” perfectly functional equipment, speeding up these newfangled copiers, printers and the like, but his monorail messaging system – adjusted to average head height – proves to be the next best thing in concussion causation…

One evergreen strand of anarchic potential is a subgenre of strips involving “guest-shots” by other LJdS stars. Previously falling foul of the fool were creators such as Lambil (Bluecoats) and Roba (Billy & Buddy), and here the gofer’s disturbing tendency to don mascot costumes and paying heavily for it continues as Gomer garbs himself as (cartoonist Charles DeGotte’s) big yellow bird The Flagada and rapidly regrets it…

Just as much fun if not actually safer are the feral creatures Gomer’s big heart compels him to adopt. These include a sassily savage alley cat and nastily nefarious black-headed gull to accompany illicit studio companions Cheese the mouse and goldfish Bubelle.

Here the combined critter chaos factor repeatedly lands the oaf in hot water… and swamp mud and potholes and wild woodland paths and rooftops and… Gomer almost adds a skunk to the menagerie before animal instinct and nature convince him otherwise…

However, their hyperactive gluttonous presences are as nothing compared to the spiky depredations of a rapidly mutating cactus Gomer rescued from his Aunt Hortense’s home and which is increasingly dominating the Spirou offices. It doesn’t fit there either, but at least has plenty of fresh victims to puncture and terrify. When he also introduces Hortense’s creeper, it soon becomes a case for applying the un-soothing, discomforting tones of his manic musical WMD the Brontosaurophone…

Heavily featured are episodes of (imagined) sporting glory, dalliances with fishing and clay pigeon shooting plus an extended run of strips with Gomer and opposite number Jules-from-Smith’s-across-the-street seeking to smuggle a radio into work to follow the football. Old habits die hard however and there are still moments of culinary catastrophe and inventive debacle – like when he beefs up the office chainsaw or creates tomato soup gas…

The holidays and Year’s End festivities offer their own hazards, generating much mayhem but still prevent benighted business bod De Mesmaeker getting an even break whenever he brings contracts for poor Prunelle to sign.

Far better enjoyed than described, these strips let Franquin flex his sardonically whimsical creative muscles and subversively propound his views on environmentalism, pacifism and animal rights. These gags are sublime examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with each re-reading.

So… fancy a bit of Goofing off yet?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2009 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 Cinebook Ltd.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle, Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75289-154-5(HB) 978-1-44400-423-6(TPB)

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export. The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France.

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters, with his first official appearance being October 29th in Pilote #1, even though he had actually debuted in a pre-release teaser – or “pilot” – some weeks earlier. Bon Anniversaire mon petit brave!

René Goscinny was arguably the most prolific – and remains one of the most read – writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts and graduated in 1942. Three years later, while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency, his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he worked as a translator.

After National Service in France, he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming, in 1948, an assistant in a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis & John Severin, as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou. After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office. Here he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, René also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (“Martial”) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio. In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier & Jean Hébrad formed independent syndicate Édifrance/Édipresse, creating magazines for business and general industry like Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory. With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under nom-de-plume Agostini, he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 began an association with revolutionary periodical Le Journal de Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio (Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martien and Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and with Uderzo fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. Goscinny also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édifrance/Édipresse launched Pilote, and René went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou (drawn by Godard), plus a little something called Astérix le gaulois: inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, still making time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustré (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx). He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips like Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record – illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen at age seven and dreamed of being an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII came, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon, the region was the only choice…

In France’s post-war rebuilding, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s 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- Françoise Calvo (The Beast is Dead). Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated novels, worked in animation, as a journalist, as illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met 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 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 devised for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio. The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in October 1959, Uderzo was its major creative force, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a humorous historical strip about Romans…

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first historical serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it was clear the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every 3-to-5).

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009. According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all the best entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here 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 the English tongue).

Originally serialised in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959 – 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0 distributed from June 1st 1959), the story is set in the year 50 BC (not BCE!) on the outermost tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment, leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by heavily fortified permanent garrisons – Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium. The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul, this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus – fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free pre-Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength. The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, wise and wily Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but crafty Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and resolved to teach the Romans a lesson, he drives them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, until abruptly wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate. They make the Romans a magic potion… but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style. From the second saga on, the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle originally unfolded in Pilote #42-74, recounting disastrous consequences after Getafix loses his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want) to find another.

Since Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he volunteers for the trip too and the punning pair are swiftly away, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways, but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar. There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The Druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing too.

When Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner they discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format of ongoing weekly episodes slowly building into complete readily divisible adventures. The next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed a dangling plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However, on Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered despite the might of the Empire – have crossed into pacified Roman territory. These barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix & Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the Conference competition round ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph. Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix & Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

By now well-used to being held prisoner, Getafix is making himself a real nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering appointed translator. When Asterix & Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, they concoct a cunning plan to end the ever-present threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

Astérix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages, with a host of animated and live-action movies, games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). Approaching 400 million copies of 40 Asterix books and a handful of spin-off volumes have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors. This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase those statistics by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Self-Esteem and The End of the World


By Luke Healy (Faber)
ISBN: 978-0-571-37560-8 (HB)

Ireland’s multi-award-winning low-key iconoclast Luke Healy studied journalism at Dublin University and earned an MFA in Cartooning from the Center for Cartoon Studies (Vermont, USA). An occasional stand-up comedian, his previous cartoon works – such as Americana, Permanent Press and How to Survive in the North – have won prizes and acclaim, and he’s also done gallery shows in places like Manhattan’s Museum of Comics & Cartoon Art.

His aforementioned comics for VICE, The Nib, A24, Medium, Nobrow and Avery Hill are exceptionally good and, as I hinted, he apparently likes exposing himself to ridicule on stage. But not so much, these days.

By combining all that trauma, weltschmerz and experience into tales exploring basic big stuff like life, friends, and how to keep your head above emotional water, he has kept many of us wonderfully entertained and himself alive for a decade. Here and now, that self-excoriating journey manifests as bursts of small-scale prediction and prognostication. By looking inwards and backwards, Healy has unlocked a doorway to our probable mutual future…

As seen in prior books (like The Con Artists) our absolutely Unreliable Narrator is London-based, Irish, gay, formerly Catholic, clinically anxious and helplessly honest. He’s still undergoing treatment for his head problems and other self-diagnosed personal issues whilst perennially building pre-emptive stress for the next Big Bad Thing. Incisive, sentimental absurdist, pedestrian and casually surreal, the collective appointments with destiny are delivered in three acts each entitled Luke Healy is…’ with the first preceded by tone-setting prelude ‘fig (i) Self (ish)’.

Here the aging worry-wort consults his treatment advisor and grudgingly accepts a new tactic to process feelings and responses. The first prophetic episode then sees him making Plans’ as a moment of elation at a family gathering plunges him back down and confirms his gloomy assessment of everything after he attends twin brother Teddy’s engagement party and endures a major disappointment. Retreating if not exactly retrenching, Luke immerses himself in a tidal wave of self-help books and runs away to a hotel where he indulges in some unwise acts. And then Teddy tracks him down…

The narrative digresses for ‘Interlude (i) Luke brings a date back to his flat’ after which hilarious encounter we jump ahead five years to reveal ‘Luke Healy is…’ a paid writer scripting a work-training play for a major company. Sadly, devising ‘L’hotel du Murder’ as a whodunnit was a doomed proposition from the start.

The country is on viral lockdown again, Wye Valley’s Regional Hereford Gotel experiences an actual real murder the night before the premiere and with his Mam in the invited audience, Luke has to stage-manage rubbish players, his own stress, a deadly flood and the revelation that he’s subconsciously made the entire story all about him and his bosses and now faces inevitable exposure and humiliation. It never rains but it pours…

Another strange break comes with ‘Interlude (ii) Luke has a video conference with his former agents’ and he learns his books have been re-optioned. The pittance paid means the studio still aren’t making the film they’ve already “bagsied” – and so no one else can – but his reps are keen to sell something else. Surely he must have some old comics or small press stories they can push?

Another five years go by and ‘Luke Healy is…’ in Lefkada. The Greek island – like much of the planet – is mostly submerged now. Although officially working as a telemarketer at and from home, Luke has come to the expanded Aegean on a deeply personal mission. Soon he’s adopted by fellow traveller Beth: there to explore the unearthed archaeological detritus of the past.

Framed from the start in deceit, the jaunt ends painfully for all concerned and – after returning to England – ‘Interlude (iii) Luke receives a phone call’ which promises to change his life forever. Following another ‘fig (ii) Self (ish)’ moment, ‘Luke Healy is… OTMPOW’ finds the bewildered failed author and his Mam five years further on: whisked to Palm Springs (the new Hollywood ever since Los Angeles slipped beneath the seas) where a sleazy producer is turning Healy’s old comic about whale-watching into a mega blockbuster. It’s such a shame the cetaceans aren’t real and the filmmaker is hiding his secret agenda…

An ‘Epilogue’ details the sorry aftermath of all that and is accompanied by ‘appendix (ii) Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales’ which “reprints” the college mini comic notionally adapted into that ludicrous and conniving movie, with young teens in Reykjavik hanging out, having sex and making mistakes on an Icelandic whale-spotting boat: a terse and grittily witty romance I’d certainly watch…

It seems fittingly ironic that this wry and introspective examination of the fustercluck that has become the totality of All Human Endeavour is released on the day much of Britain goes to the polls to choose the minor nabobs who will mis-guide and mis-lead us until our next general election, but that’s really just a peculiar and coincidental facet of publishing schedules. There’s certainly nothing conspicuously covert or conspiratorial. Nope. Nu-uh. No sirree-bob. Read nothing into it, but please do read this book…
© Luke Healy, 2024. All rights reserved.

Self-Esteem and The End of the World is published today.

Prez: The First Teen President


By Joe Simon, Jerry Grandenetti & Creig Flessel, with Cary Bates, Neil Gaiman, Ed Brubaker, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Art Saaf, Mike Allred, Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, Eric Shanower & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6317-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

At a time when American comic books were just coming into their adolescence – but not maturity – Prez was a hippie teenager created by industry royalty. In the early 1970s, Joe Simon made one of his irregular yet always eccentrically fruitful sojourns back to DC Comics, managing to sneak a bevy of exceedingly strange concepts right past the usually-conservative powers-that-be and onto the spinner racks and newsstands of the world.

Possibly the most anarchic and subversive of these postulated a time (approximately 20 minutes into the future) when US teenagers had the vote. The first-time electorate – idealists all – elected a diligent, honest young man every inch the hardworking, honest patriot every American politician claimed to be.

In 2015 that concept was given a devilishly adroit makeover for post-millennial generations. The result was a superbly outrageous cartoon assessment of the State of the Nation – Prez: Corndog-in-Chief. Once you’re done here, you should read that too and then ferociously lobby DC to release the concluding chapters in that saga…

Back here, however, and still in 1972, Simon (Captain America, Fighting American, The Fly, Black Magic, Young Romance) was passionately doing what he always did: devising ways for ever-broader audiences to enjoy comics. This carefully curated compilation gathers every incidence of the best leader they never had, from original run Prez #1-4 (September 1973 – March 1974), through unpublished tales from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, guest cameos and revivals in Supergirl #10, The Sandman #54, Vertigo Visions: Prez #1, The Dark Knight Strikes Again and The Multiversity Guidebook #1.

It all begins in the little town of Steadfast where average teen Prez Rickard makes a minor splash by fixing all the clocks and making them run on time. Throughout the rest of the USA, dissent, moral decay and civil breakdown terrify the populace in an election year. Corrupt businessman and political influencer Boss Smiley wants to capitalise on a new amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote. He picks Rickard as a perfect patsy, but his chicanery comes awry when newly-elected Prez turns out to have a mind, backbone and agenda of his own…

With early – if heavy-handed – salutes to ecological and native rights movements, ‘Oh Say Does That Star Spangled Banner Yet Wave?’ by Simon, veteran illustrator Jerry Grandenetti set the scene for a wild ride unlike any seen in kids’ comics. Equal parts hallucinogenic political satire, topical commentary and sci-fi romp, the mandate mayhem expanded in ‘Invasion of the Chessmen’, as a global goodwill tour threatens to bring worldwide peace and reconciliation… until America’s grandmaster provokes an international incident with the chess-loving Soviet Union. Cue killer robots in assorted chess shapes and a sexy Russian Queen and watch the fireworks…

‘Invasion of America’ tackles political assassination and social repercussions after Prez decides to outlaw guns. I think no more need be said…

The original run ended with the fourth episode, spoofing international diplomacy as Transylvania dispatches its new Ambassador to Washington DC: an actual werewolf paving the way to devious conquest which led briefly to a ‘Vampire in the White House’ (inked by Creig Flessel).

Although the series was cancelled if not impeached, a fifth tale was in production when the axe fell. It eventually appeared with other prematurely curtailed stories in 1978’s Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2 and appears here in monochrome as ‘The Devil’s Exterminator!’ with a bug infestation in DC tackled by a mythical madman. When Congress refuses to pay his sky-high bill ($5 million or three lunches in today’s money!), Clyde Piper abducts all the children, and PotUS is forced into outrageous executive action…

There was one final 1970s appearance. Supergirl #10 (October 1974 by Cary Bates, Art Saaf & Vince Colletta) featured ‘Death of a Prez!’ wherein the Commander in Chief was targeted for assassination by killer witch Hepzibah, using an ensorcelled Girl of Steel to do her dirty work – with predictable results…

Prez Rickard vanished in a welter of superhero angst and science fiction spectacle after that, but made a quiet cameo in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story arc World’s End. Illustrated by Michael Allred, Bryan Talbot & Mark Buckingham, ‘The Golden Boy’ (The Sandman #54 October 1993) offers a typically askance view of the boy leader’s origins, his enemies, the temptations of power and the ends of his story. It generated enough interest to spark follow-up one-shot Vertigo Visions: Prez #1 (September 1995) as Ed Brubaker & Eric Shanower crafted ‘Smells Like Teen President’. After being missing for years, America’ youngest President is being trailed by a young hitchhiker who might well be his son…

The moving search for family, identity, belonging and purpose is followed by a typically iconoclastic vignette by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley taken from The Dark Knight Strikes Again (December 2001) with the Leader of the Free(ish) World exposed as a computer simulation after which the history lesson concludes with Grant Morrison, Scott Hepburn & Nathan Fairbairn’s page on Hippie-dippy ‘Earth 47’ and its comic book landmarks (Prez, Brother Power, The Geek, Sunshine Superman and others) as first seen in The Multiversity Guidebook #1 (January 2015).

I used to think comics were the sharpest reflection of popular culture from any given era. That’s certainly the case here, and maybe there are lessons to be learned from re-examining them with eyes of experience. What is irrefutable, and in no way fake news, is that they’re still fun and enjoyable if read in a historical context. So read this, vote if you can and get ready. I can guarantee not even funnybook creators can predict what’s coming next.
© 1973, 1974, 1978, 1993, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.