Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale


By Dan Parent & Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-23-5 (TPB)

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly together lad who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. She was totally smitten with him whilst he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead…

When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot in common – stylish clothes, shopping and boys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership and soon guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Trade paperback & eBook compilation Kevin Keller: Welcome to Riverdale collects the first four issues of his groundbreaking solo monthly title and opens here with handy text feature ‘Kevin Keller: Catch up with the Characters’: reintroducing the bonny lad, his (retired army colonel) dad Thomas, mum Kathy and feisty sisters Denise and Patty.

The feature also brings newcomers up to speed on recent history as seen in the previous volume) before the mirth and merriment kick off with ‘There’s a First Time for Everything’ from issue #1 wherein the much-travelled, journalism-obsessed “Army Brat” finally begins settling in at Riverdale High.

In short order he is elected Class President, has his first commercial writing published and reveals a shocking secret…

For all his accomplishments Kevin has never gone on a real date, and when a certain someone asks him out, the Keller kid turns to Betty for some confidence-boosting advice. He isn’t a complete neophyte; there was something like a date before, but due to his catastrophic nervousness it turned into a major disaster…

Unfortunately, Reggie overhears their huddled conversation and the self-proclaimed romance expert elects to give Kevin the benefit of his vast masculine experience…

The exuberant preparations turn into a catalogue of horror and, as more well-meaning friends get involved, it looks certain that Kevin will repeat that horrific experience…

Thankfully a few stabilising words from love-hating Jughead and an eventful morning with the remarkably understanding Colonel Keller quickly restore some necessary calm and equilibrium…

The next tale moves from straight slapstick to heart-warming empathy as Class President Kevin is asked to organise a prom in ‘May I Have this Dance?’ Only then does he discover that he has a secret admirer. Of course, once Veronica finds out it’s not a secret for long…

As the seventies-themed fashion disaster begins to take shape, further furtive communications reveal that the clandestine would-be wooer is someone still not fully at ease with his sexual orientation; forcing Kevin to be at his most understanding and forgiving…

Contentious themes and prejudices are tackled in ‘Stranded in Paradise’ when the summer vacation begins and Kevin gets a job as a lifeguard.

The beach is the time-honoured hangout of all Riverdale kids, but when spoiled princess Cheryl Blossom and her rich Pembroke School cronies invade the space, sparks soon fly. The grubby “Townies” are challenged to a surfing contest for possession of the sands with Kevin a star competitor and secret weapon for the home team. The fair-minded stalwart has, however, completely underestimated the vicious tactics of loathsome homophobe Sloan

The comics portion of this tome concludes with an international epic set at the 2012 London Olympics. ‘Games People Play’ sees Colonel Keller – who has dual British and American citizenship – invited to be a torchbearer.

Having spent four years in England, Kevin is delighted to be going back for a visit and reconnecting with old pal Brian. He doesn’t even mind when shopping-crazy Veronica inveigles an invite to join the family.

Moreover, when his nominated-runner Dad falls foul of London’s Underground at a crucial moment, Kevin is ready and more-or-less willing to step in for what appears to be the unluckiest and most dangerous section of the entire torch route…

Following a moving and appreciative ‘Afterword’ by Dan Parent there’s also a splendid section of ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ including ‘Retro Fashion’ pages, ‘Kevin’s Prom Style’, ‘Kevin’s Summer Style with B & V’, ‘Kevin Keller & Friends Style’ and a triptych of ‘Unreleased Promotional Sketches’.

With a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star, this is a superb, hilarious and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller


By Dan Parent, Rich Koslowski, Jack Morelli & Digikore Studios (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-87979-493-1 (HC)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were one of many publishers to jump on the “mystery-man” bandwagon, concocting their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders. In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving He-Man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having mundane adventures just like the readership, but with the companionable laughs, good times and romance emphasised.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept and tasked writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid obsessed with impressing the pretty blonde next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry and unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. It was a huge hit and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and then a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946 the kids were in charge, and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring most of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman’s, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dry and po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand which encompassed TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and (in the swinging sixties) a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar – from the animated TV cartoon – became a global summer smash hit.

Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, frenetic, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas ranging from surreal wit to frantic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily, genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others), growing into an American institution and part of the American cultural landscape.

The feature has thrived by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly and seamlessly adapting to the changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy and young romance.

Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide and refreshingly broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller became an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski (lettered by Jack Morelli and coloured by Digikore Studios), Kevin debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010). It was the first comicbook in the company’s long history to go into a second printing…

This landmark hardback (and eBook) compendium gathers that delightful debut from Veronica #205 plus the 4-issue Kevin Keller miniseries which cemented the new star’s popularity.

It all begins with context-establishing essay ‘Get to Know Kevin Keller’ before comic introductions are made in ‘Isn’t it Bro-Mantic’ as Veronica encounters a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together lad who utterly bowls her over.

She is totally smitten with him even though he can out-eat human dustbin Jughead and loves sports. Although suave Kevin inexplicably loves hanging out with the ghastly Jones boy she is determined to make him exclusively hers.

Jughead (who clearly possesses fully-functioning gaydar) is truly cool with his new pal, and soon sees an opportunity to pay Ronnie back for many of the mean things she has said and done over the years…

When Kevin finally explains to Veronica why she is wasting her time, she takes it fabulously well and soon they are hanging out as best buds. After all, they have so much in common: chatting, stylish clothes, shopping, boys…

Immensely popular from the outset, Kevin struck a chord with the readership and returned a few months later in ‘The Buddy System’, with Veronica’s bombastic dad giving the obviously perfect new student the all-clear to monopolise his daughter’s time. The following fun-filled days do have one major downside however, as poor Betty is increasingly neglected…

You’d think Archie would be jealous too, but he’s just glad that someone “safe” is keeping other guys away from “his” Ronnie. It seems the ideal scenario for everyone but Betty, but then man-hunting, filthy rich over-privileged and entitled princess Cheryl Blossom hits town and puts everything back into perspective…

The repeat guest shots rapidly evolved into a miniseries, expanding Kevin’s role whilst answering many questions about his past. It started with ‘Meet Kevin Keller’ wherein we learned he was an army brat, born in Britain but raised all over the world, and now lives in Riverdale with his dad (retired and invalided army colonel) Thomas, mum Kathy and feisty sisters Denise and Patty.

It also reveals Kevin is a typical guy: he loves practical jokes as much as food and sports…

Whilst sharing these facts with Betty and Ronnie, he also lets slip some less impressive details: how he was a nerdy, braces-wearing late-developer who was frequently the target of bullies…

‘The Write Stuff’ is set during the build-up to his father’s surprise birthday party and discloses how Kevin plans to serve in the army before becoming a journalist, whilst also showing the gentle hero’s darker side after he is compelled to intervene – and end – the persecution of a young Riverdale student by bullies…

In ‘Let’s Get it Started’ the newcomer is ambushed and pressganged by his new friends into participating in a scholastic TV quiz show where his nerves almost get the better of him. Happily, Ronnie inadvertently breaks his paralysing stage-fright with a humiliating gaffe, but that’s just a palate cleanser for a potent object lesson in the concluding chapter…

As Kevin steps in to shelter and help one of the kids who used to torment him long ago, ‘Taking the Lead!’ also finds him reluctantly running for Class President at the insistent urging of Ronnie and the gang.

It’s not that he wants the position particularly, but when bigoted jock and star school quarterback David Perkins starts a campaign based on intolerance, innuendo and intimidation, Kevin feels someone has to confront the smugly-macho, “real man” who boasts he is the most popular boy in school…

And despite a smear campaign and dirty tactics any Presidential candidate would be proud of, truth, justice and decency win out…

This breezy and engaging collection concludes with ‘An Interview with Kevin Keller’ offering further background direct from the horse’s mouth and also includes a host of covers, variants and remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century star. Archie’s Pal Kevin Keller is a joyous and magically inclusive collection for you and everyone you know and like to enjoy over and over again.
© 2012 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Peach Slices


By Donna Barr (Aeon/Mu)
No ISBN:                    : 978-1-89225-325-5 (2006 Director’s Cut edition)

The Desert Peach is the supremely self-assured and eminently efficient gay brother of Erwin Rommel, the legendary German soldier universally hailed as “the Desert Fox”.

Set mostly in Africa during World War II, this priceless gem of a series effortlessly combines hilarity, absurdity, profound sensitivity and glittering spontaneity, with stories describing the dalliances and daily tribulations of Oberst Manfred Pfirsich Marie Rommel. This younger sibling also served, albeit as an unwilling but dutiful cog in the iniquitous German War Machine, yet one determined to remain a civilised gentleman under the most adverse and unkind conditions.

However, although in his own ways as formidable as his beloved brother, the caring, gracious and genteel Peach is a man who loathes causing harm or giving offence. Thus, he spends his service commanding the dregs of the military in the ghastly misshapes of the 469th Halftrack, Gravedigging & Support Unit of the Afrika Korps, daily endeavouring to remain stylish, elegant, civil and ever-so patient with and to the assorted waifs, wastrels and warriors on both sides of the unfortunate all-encompassing conflict.

It’s a thankless, endless task: the 469th harbours the very worst the Wehrmacht has ever conscripted, from malingerers and malcontents to useless wounded, shiftless conmen, screw-ups and outright maniacs.

Pfirsich unilaterally applies the same decorous courtesies to the sundry natives inhabiting the area and the rather tiresome British and Anzac forces – not all of whom are party to a clandestine non-aggression pact Pfirsich has agreed with his opposite numbers in the amassed Allied Forces. In fact, the only people to truly annoy the peace-loving Peach are boors, bigots, bullies and card-carrying Blackshirts…

The romantic fool is also passionately in love with and engaged to Rosen Kavalier: handsome Aryan warrior and wildly manly Luftwaffe Ace, but arguably the real star of these fabulous frothy epics is the Peach’s long-suffering, unkempt, crafty, ill-mannered, bilious and lazily scrofulous orderly Udo Schmidt.

This is a man (we’re at least assured of that!) of many secrets whose one redeeming virtue is his uncompromising loyalty and devotion to the only decent man and tolerable officer in the entire German army.

This eccentric aggregation of extras, excerpts and exotica was first released in 1993, re-presenting extraneous material from a variety of sources and covering the period 1987-1993: as much an affectionate art-book as delicious dose of non- or mis-canonical hi-jinks.

The entire package was subsequently re-released in 2006 in a Director’s Cut edition which added issue #25’s WWI Transylvanian Hammer-Horror pastiche ‘Beautiful’ to the mix and includes reminiscences, background commentary and creator-kibitzing regarding all the esoteric tales and titbits.

The gloriously visual treat begins with an Unused Pin Design and a splendid Badge Design from the San Diego Comic-Con 1989 after which a quartet of stunning and bizarre Beer Labels (for ales created by micro brewer Wendell Joost in 1988) precedes ‘Peach on Earth’ from A Very Mu Christmas 1992 – one of the very best Christmas stories ever produced in the notoriously twee and sentimental comics field.

Set in the harsh December of 1945, it follows the demobbed and repatriated Pfirsich as he wanders through his broken and occupied homeland, avoiding trouble and American troops but not the gnawing starvation and freezing snows which would kill so many returning, defeated German soldiers. On the verge of despair and death the Peach is brusquely adopted by a strange, brittle and utterly fearless little boy who has only known the Fatherland in the throes of decline, but still looks eagerly to a brighter tomorrow…

This is followed by a rather risqué Rosen Kavalier pinup from Paper Phantasies (1991) and an unused strip originally commissioned by Rip Off Press after which ‘Whipping Boy’ offers a full-on adult escapade of the unconventional lovers as is ‘I Am What I Am… (I Think)’. This was a “Desert Peach Pitt Stop” that also languished unpublished until this collection preserved it.

Bits ‘n’ Pieces was a short-lived self-published magazine the indefatigable author used to disseminate assorted works which never made it into the regular, normal-length Desert Peach title.

‘The Veteran’ comes from the first issue in 1991, returning focus to the motley cast of the hapless 469th for a deliciously philosophical foray starring a most peculiar and innocent warrior named Thommi, whilst, following a frolicsome Desert Peach pinup from the 1989 Amazing Heroes Swimsuit Special, ‘Hindsight’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991) dabbles into personal politics before ‘Reflections’ from #3 offers a few New Year’s observations on the cast and stars from Barr herself.

The 1991 San Diego Comic-Con booklet provided another beguiling Pinup before ‘Udo and the Phoenix’ (from Xenophon #1, 1992) relates another tale of the spirited Arab horse accidentally owned by Udo and cared for by the equally magnificent Pfirsich.

Next ‘Reluctant Affections’ (from Bits ‘n’ Pieces #1 1991, before being redrawn as ‘Pigeonholed’ for Gay Comics #16) explores a tender, fragile moment and adorable chink in the macho armour of uber-Mensch Rosen…

‘The More Things Change’ from benefit book Choices in 1992 debates the abortion issue with characteristic abrasive aplomb after which ‘Sweet Delusions’ (Wimmin’s Comix #16 1991) gets down to the eye-watering nitty-gritty of Rosen & Pfirsich’s love life and ‘Wet Dream’ (Bits ‘n’ Pieces #3 1991) follows up with more of the same in a hilariously wry maritime moment.

Barr’s creations are never far from always internally consistent flights of extreme fantasy, as deliciously seen in glorious diversion ‘The Oasis’ (Centaurs Gatherum 1990) with Pfirsich and brother Erwin finding a militarily priceless waterhole with a fantastic secret and forced to spend a truly outrageous time trapped as hybrid half horses…

This captivating chronicle concludes with a selection of ‘Peach Pits’ miscellanea: illustrations, roughs and small press items culled from the Desert Peach Musical books, T-shirts and posters. There’s some fascinating rough layouts from the aforementioned ‘Peach on Earth’, an unused page from DP #17 (the superb ‘Culture Shock’ as seen in The Desert Peach: Marriage & Mayhem) and assorted stuff from Zine Zone #13, 1992. Even more extras comprise covers from Germanophilic Amateur Press Association magazine ‘Krauts’ and shirt designs before the whole outrageous affair ends well with an implausibly “true tail” starring half-horse Stinz Löwhard, Pfirsich and Erwin in a ‘Character Revolt’ from 1987’s Fan’toons 19.

Desert Peach adventures are always bawdy, raucous, satirical, authentically madcap and immensely engaging: bizarre (anti) war stories which rank amongst the very best comics of the 1990s. Even now they still pack a shattering comedic kick and – if you’re not quite braced – poignantly emotional charge.

The Desert Peach ran for 32 intermittent issues via a number of publishers and was subsequently collected as eight graphic novel collections (1988-2005). A prose novel, Bread and Swans, a musical, and an invitational collection by other artists entitled Ersatz Peach were also created during the strip’s heyday. A larger compendium, Seven Peaches, collected issues #1-7 and Pfirsich’s further exploits continued as part of the Modern Tales webcomics collective…

Illustrated in Barr’s fluidly seductive wood-cut and loose-line style, this book is another must-have item for lovers of wit, slapstick, high drama and belly-laughs as well as grown-up comics in general.

All the collections are pretty hard to find these days but if you have any facility with the digital world they can still be found. You might want to start with these addresses: http://www.donnabarr.com or http://thedesertpeach.com and if you just have to own your own Peach product http://www.lulu.com/desertpeach offers a huge double collection that also comes as economical loadable files and The Desert Peach (plus Stinz and Bosom Enemies) are all re-printed with colour extras at http://www.Indyplanet.com at marvellously economical rates.

So you should do all that, Macho Schnell, before the month is out!
© 1987-1993 Donna Barr. All rights reserved. The Desert Peach is ™ Donna Barr.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Race to Death Valley (Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Classic Collection volume 1)


By Floyd Gottfredson & various; Edited by David Gerstein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-441-2

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

That’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

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

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

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

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

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

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over the newborn but ailing Mickey Mouse newspaper strip. Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

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

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

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

This superb archival hardback compendium – part of a magnificently ambitious series collecting the creator’s entire canon – collects those initial daily romps, packed with thrills, spills and chills, whacky races, fantastic fights and a glorious superabundance of rapid-fire sight-gags and verbal by-play. The manner in which Mickey became a syndicated star is covered in various articles at the front and back of this sturdy tome devised and edited by truly dedicated, clearly devoted fan David Gerstein.

Under the guise of ‘Setting the Stage’ the unbridled fun and revelations begin with gaming guru Warren Spector’s appreciative Introduction ‘The Master of Mickey Epics’ and a fulsome biographical account and appraisal of Floyd Gottfredson and the Mickey Mouse continuities in ‘Of Mouse and Man – 1930-1931: The Early Years’ by historian and educator Thomas Andrae.

The preliminary scene-setting concludes with ‘Floyd Gottfredson, The Mickey Mouse Strip and Me – an Appreciation by Floyd Norman’. Incorporating some preliminary insights from Gerstein in ‘An Indebted Valley’ the strip sequences then begin in ‘The Adventures: Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse Stories with Editor’s Notes’

At the start the strip was treated like an animated feature, with diverse hands working under a “director” and each day seen as a full gag with set-up, delivery and a punchline, usually all in service to an umbrella story or theme. Such was the format Gottfredson inherited from Walt Disney for his first full yarn ‘Mickey Mouse in Death Valley’ which ran from April 1st – September 20th, 1930. The saga was further complicated by an urgent “request” from controlling syndicate King Features that the strip be immediately made more adventure-oriented to compete with the latest trend in comics: action-packed continuities…

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

Next up – after brief preamble ‘Sheiks and Lovers’ – is another lengthy epic, featuring most of the early big screen repertory cast. ‘Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers’ (inked by Gottfredson, Gramatky & Earl Duvall and running from September 22nd – December 29th) starts with Mickey building his own decidedly downbeat backyard golf course before being repeatedly and disconcertingly distracted when sleazy sporty type Mr. Slicker starts paying unwelcome attention to Minnie. Well, it’s unwelcome as far as Mickey is concerned…

With cameos from Horace Horsecollar, Clarabelle Cow, goat-horned Mr. Butt and a prototype Goofy who used to answer – if he felt like it – to the moniker Dippy Dog, the rambunctious shenanigans continue for weeks until the gag-abundant tale resolves into a classic powerplay and landgrab as the nefarious ne’er-do-well is exposed as the fiend attempting to bankrupt Minnie’s family by swiping all the eggs produced on their farm. The swine even tries to frame Mickey for his misdeed before our hero turns the tables on him…

A flurry of shorter escapades follow: rapid-fire doses of wonder and whimsy including ‘Mickey Mouse Music’ (December 30th 1930 – January 3rd 1931 with art by Duvall), ‘The Picnic’ (January 12th – 17th, Gottfredson inked by Duvall) and ‘Traffic Troubles’ (January 5th – 10th with pencils by Duvall & Gottfredson inks) before Gerstein introduces the next extended storyline with some fondly eloquent ‘Katnippery’

With story & art by Gottfredson & Duvall ‘Mickey Mouse Vs. Kat Nipp’ proceeded from January 19th to February 25th 1931, detailing how a brutal feline thug began bullying our hero a sad state of affairs that involved tail-abusing in various inspired forms, after which ‘Gallery Feature – “He’s Funny That Way”’ reveals a later appearance Sunday strip of Kat Nipp in a story by Merrill De Maris with Gottfredson pencils and Ted Thwaites inks. The excerpt comes from June 1938.

Gerstein’s introductory thoughts on the next epic – ‘High Society: Reality Show Edition’ – precede the serialised saga of ‘Mickey Mouse, Boxing Champion’. Running from February 26th – April 29th by Gottfredson, Duvall & Al Taliaferro the hilariously episodic tale relates how ever-jealous Mickey floors a big thug leering at Minnie and becomes infamous as the guy who knocked out the current heavy lightweight boxing champ.

Ruffhouse Rat’s subsequent attempts at revenge all go hideously awry and before long Mickey is acting as the big lug’s trainer. It’s a disaster and before long he champion is in an inexorable physical and mental decline. Sadly, that’s when hulking brute Creamo Catnera hits town for a challenge bout. With Ruffhouse refusing to fight it falls to Mickey to take on the savage contender…

Having accomplished one impossible task, Mickey then sets his sights on reintroducing repentant convict Butch into ‘High Society’ (April 30th – May 30th with story & pencils by Gottfredson and inks from Taliaferro). The story was designed to tie-in to a Disney promotional stunt – a giveaway “photograph” of Mickey – and the history and details of the project are covered in ‘Gallery Feature – “Gobs of Good Wishes”’

‘Mick of All Trades’ introduces the next two extended serial tales, discussing Mickey’s everymouse nature and willingness to tackle any job such as the Taliaferro-inked ‘Circus Roustabout’ which originally ran from June 1st – July 17th.

Here a string of animal-based gags is held together by the Mouse’s hunt for a cunning thief after which ‘Pluto the Pup’ takes centre-stage for a ten-day parade of slapstick antics before Gerstein’s ‘Middle-Euro Mouse’ supplies context to the less-savoury and non-PC historical aspects of a long tale featuring wandering gypsies.

‘Mickey Mouse and the Ransom Plot’ ran from July 20th through November 7th and follows the star and his pals Minnie, Horace and Clarabelle on a travelling vacation to the mountains. Here they fall under the influence of a suspicious band of Romani who exhibit all the worst aspects of thieving and spooky fortune-telling. When Minnie is abducted and payment demanded, Mickey knows just how to deal with the villains…

Essay ‘A Mouse (and a Horse and a Cow) Against the World’ leads into fresh employment horizons for our hero as Gottfredson & Taliaferro test the humorous action potential of ‘Fireman Mickey’ (November 9th – December 5th) in another scintillating cascade of japes, jests and merry melodrama whilst the glimmerings of real continuity sub-plotting and supporting character development shades a budding romance under the eaves of ‘Clarabelle’s Boarding House’ taking us from December 7th, 1931 to January 9th 1932 in fine style… Although the chronological cartooning officially concludes here there’s still a wealth of glorious treats and fascinating revelations in store in The Gottfredson Archives: Essays and Archival Features section which follows.

In the Beginning: Ub Iwerks and the Birth of Mickey Mouse’ by Thomas Andrae offers beguiling background and priceless early drawings from the star’s earliest moments, as does David Gerstein’s ‘Starting the Strip’ which comes packed with priceless ephemera.

As already stated, Gottfredson took over a strip already in progress and next – accompanied by covers from European editions of the period – come the strips preceding his accession. Frantic gag-panels (just like scenes from an animation storyboard) comprise ‘Lost on a Desert Island’ (January 13th to March 31st 1930, as crafted by storyteller Walt Disney and artists Ub Iwerks & Win Smith) and are augmented by Gerstein’s ‘The Cartoon Connection’ and additional Italian strips by Giorgio Scudellari in ‘Gallery Feature – “Lost on a Desert Island”’

Even more text and recovered-art features explore ‘The Cast: Mickey and Minnie’ and Sharing the Spotlight: Walt Disney and Win Smith’ (both by Gerstein) before more international examples illuminate ‘Gottfredson’s World: Mickey Mouse in Death Valley’ whereafter ‘Unlocking the Fox’ traces the filmic antecedents of the hooded stranger. With priceless original art samples in ‘Behind the Scenes: Pencil Mania’.

More contemporary European examples taken from early collections tantalise in ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Mr. Slicker and the Egg Robbers’ before Alberto Beccatini and Gerstein’s ‘Sharing the Spotlight: Roy Nelson, Jack King and Hardie Gramatky’ supplies information on these lost craftsmen.

‘The One-Off Gottfredson Spin-Off’ by Gerstein highlights a forgotten transatlantic comic strip collaboration with German artist Frank Behmak whilst ‘Gallery Feature – The Comics Department at Work: Mickey Mouse in Color (…And Black and White)’ presents lost merchandise and production art before ‘Gottfredson’s World: Mickey Mouse Vs. Kat Nipp’ and ‘Gottfredson’s World: Mickey Mouse, Boxing Champion’ offer yet more overseas Mouse memorabilia.

‘Sharing the Spotlight: Earl Duvall’ is another fine Gerstein tribute to a forgotten artisan supplemented by ‘The Cast: Butch’ and ‘Al Taliaferro’ after which ‘The Gottfredson Gang: In “Their Own” Words’ by David Gerstein with texts by Mortimer Franklin and R. M. Finch reprints contemporary interviews with the 2D stars, garnished with publicity tear-sheets and clippings rounded off with more foreign covers in ‘Gallery Feature – Gottfredson’s World: Strange Tales of Late 1931’, ‘The Cast: Pluto’ and a stunning Christmas message from the Mouse as per “I have it on good authority” giving Gottfredson himself the last word.

Superb work of scholarship and a damn fine read too…

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

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

Like all Disney creators Gottfredson worked in utter anonymity, but in the 1960s his identity was revealed and the voluble appreciation of his previously unsuspected horde of devotees led to interviews, overviews and public appearances, with effect that subsequent reprinting in books, comics and albums carried a credit for the quiet, reserved master. Floyd Gottfredson died in July 1986.

Thankfully we now have these Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives collection to enjoy and inspire us and hopefully a whole new generation of inveterate tale-tellers…
© 2011 Disney Enterprises, Inc Text of “In the Beginning: Ub Iwerks and the Birth of Mickey Mouse” by Thomas Andrae is © 2011 Thomas Andrae. All contents © 2011 Disney Enterprises unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Back to the Klondike – Gladstone Comic Album #4


By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-902-0

From the late 1940’s until the mid-1960s Carl Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, creating a Duck Universe of memorable – and highly bankable – characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), The Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio.

His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the star of this show.

So potent were his creations that they fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for licensing publisher Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio.

Throughout this period, Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s cartoon and comicbook output), had been singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and kept on going until 2008. Since then cultural saviours Fantagraphics have begun reprinting all the Barks material in a series of snazzy hardcover compilations. Once they’ve done that I’ll start reviewing those but until then this still readily available paperback album is one of the very best you can still find…

Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary and contributing story and/or art to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore.

This album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) and features one of the best tales Barks ever told.

It’s taken from Four Color Comics #456 (September 1952 and technically the second full story to star the multimillionaire mallard). To further confuse matters, the Byzantine numbering system used by Dell also lists this issue as Uncle Scrooge #2.

‘Back to the Klondike’ is a rip-roaring yet deeply moving yarn, a brilliant comedy and even a bittersweet romance, which added huge depth to the character of the World’s Richest Duck, even whilst reiterating the superficial peccadilloes that make him such a memorable and engaging star.

Scrooge McDuck is old and getting forgetful: he can’t recall how much money he has seconds after he’s finished counting it, nor even where his traps to locate it are hidden. After one too many close shaves he finally shells out for a doctor who diagnoses “Blinkus of the Thinkus” and prescribes some pills to restore his scrupulous memory.

They work! Recalling a gold-strike he made 50 years previously, the old miser drags Donald Duck and his nephews to the Far North to recover the precious hoard cached and forgotten five decades ago, but as the journey progresses he also recalls the rough, tough life of a prospector and the saloon-girl who tried to cheat him of his find: Glittering Goldie O’Gilt

This superb yarn tells you everything you could ever need about the irascible oligarch. It’s the perfect character tale and rattles along like an express train, sad, happy, thrilling and funny by turns, and it’s supplemented in this book with a classic Gyro Gearloose tale from 1960.

‘Cave of the Winds’ is taken from Four Color Comics #1095, and finds Scrooge consulting the fabulously off-kilter feathered inventor on a perfect hiding place for the ever-increasing McDuck cash cache. The answer, sadly, is far from satisfactory…

The cartoon convolutions conclude with a short and punchy untitled tale from Uncle Scrooge #8 (1954) which has Scrooge run for City Treasurer – but without spending any money on expenses (or anything else)…

No matter what your age or temperament, if you’ve never experienced the captivating Carl Barks magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your own purchasing power to any search engine. The rewards are there for the finding and far more valuable than mere money…
© 1987, 1960, 1954, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes


By Bill Watterson (Time Warner/Sphere/Andrew McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-75151-274-8 (PB)                     : 978-0-8362-1809-4 (HB)

Almost any event big or small is best experienced through the eyes of a child – and better yet if he’s a fictional child controlled by the whimsical sensibilities of a comic strip genius like Bill Watterson.

Calvin is the child in us all; Hobbes is the Tiger of our Aspirations; no, wait… Calvin is this little boy, an only child with a big imagination and a stuffed Tiger that is his common sense and moral sounding board…

No; Calvin is just a little Boy and Hobbes talks only to him. That’s all you need or want.

A best-selling strip and critical hit for ten years (running from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995), Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a comet and we’re all the poorer for its passing. It redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children all possess, and made us adults laugh, and so often cry too.

We all wanted a childhood like that kid’s, bullies, weird teachers, obnoxious little girls and all. At least we could visit…

The strip appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers all over the planet and from 2010 reruns have featured in over 50 countries. There have been 18 unmissable collections including a fabulous complete boxed set edition in both soft and hard cover formats. I gloat over my hardback set almost every day.

Reprints of the strip are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform.

 

Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that follows a comic strip mega-hit and dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest treatments on childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction.

Calvin is a hyper-active little boy growing up in suburban middle-American Everytown. There’s a city nearby, with Museums and such, and a little bit of wooded wilderness at the bottom of the garden. The kid’s smart, academically uninspired and happy in his own world. He’s you and me. His best friend and companion is a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, who – as I might have already mentioned – may or may not be alive. He’s certainly far smarter and more ethically evolved than his owner…

And that’s all the help you’re getting. If you know the strip you already love it, and if you don’t you won’t appreciate my destroying the joys of discovery for you. This is beautiful, charming, clever, intoxicating and addictive tale-telling, blending wonder and laughter, socially responsible and wildly funny.

After a miraculous decade, at the top of his game Watterson retired the strip and himself, and though I bitterly resent it, and miss it still, I suppose it’s best to go out on a peak rather than fade away by degrees. I certainly respect and admire his dedication and principles.

This sumptuous volume is a compendium of the first two collections, Calvin and Hobbes and Something Under the Bed Is Drooling, displaying the beguiling magic of the strip in tales that will make you laugh and isn’t afraid to make you cry. Truly this is a masterpiece and landmark of American cartooning.
© 1988 Universal Press Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

The Marsupilami volume 2: Bamboo Baby Blues


By Franquin, Batem & Greg; coloured by Leonardo and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-364-2

One of Europe’s most popular comic stars is an eccentric, unpredictable, rubber-limbed ball of explosive energy with a seemingly infinite elastic tail. The frantic, frenetic Marsupilami is a wonder of nature and bastion of European storytelling who originally spun-off from another immortal comedy adventure strip…

In 1946 Joseph “Jijé” Gillain was crafting eponymous keystone strip Spirou for flagship publication Le Journal de Spirou when he abruptly handed off the entire kit and caboodle to his assistant Franquin. The junior took the reins, slowly abandoned the previous format of short complete gags in favour of longer epic adventure serials, and began introducing a wide and engaging cast of new characters.

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers he devised a beguiling and boisterous little South American critter dubbed Marsupilami to the mix. The little beast returned over and over again: a phenomenally popular magic animal who inevitably grew into a solo star of screen, toy store, console games and albums all his own.

Franquin frequently included the bombastic little beast in Spirou’s increasingly fantastic escapades until his resignation in 1969…

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Something of a prodigy, he began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943, but when the war forced the school’s closure a year later, the lad found animation work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels. Here he met Maurice de Bevere (Lucky Luke creator Morris), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with publishing house Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those formative early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé – at that time the main illustrator at Spirou. He quickly turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will – (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs/The Garden of Desire) into a potent creative bullpen dubbed La bande des quatre – or “Gang of Four” – who subsequently revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (Le Journal de Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The eager novice ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own.

Almost every week fans would meet startling and zany new characters such as comrade and eventual co-star Fantasio or crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac.

In the ever-evolving process Spirou et Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory and “reporting back” their exploits in Le Journal de Spirou

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy), Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof) and Greg (Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Achille Talon, Zig et Puce), who all worked with him during his tenure on Spirou et Fantasio.

In 1955 a contractual spat with Dupuis resulted in Franquin signing up with publishing rivals Casterman on Journal de Tintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the raucous gag strip Modeste et Pompon.

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Le journal de Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe in 1957, but was now legally obliged to carry on his Tintin work too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit and resigned for good, happily taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics. Moreover, having learned his lessons about publishers, Franquin retained all rights to Marsupilami and in the late 1980’s began publishing his own new adventures of the fuzzy and rambunctious miracle-worker.

He tapped old comrade Greg as scripter and invited commercial artist/illustrator Luc Collin (pen name Batem) to collaborate on – and later monopolise – the art duties for a new series of raucous comedy adventures.

Now numbering 30 albums (not including all-Franquin short-story collection volume #0, AKA Capturez un Marsupilami), the second of these was Le Bébé du bout du monde, released in 1988 and translated here as Marsupilami: Bamboo Baby Blues.

Blessed with a talent for mischief, the Marsupilami is a devious anthropoid inhabiting the rain forests of Palombia and regarded as one of the rarest animals on Earth. It speaks a language uniquely its own and also has a reputation for causing trouble and instigating chaos…

Although primarily set once again in the dense Palombian rainforest, this saga begins in bustling, politically unstable capital city La Grande Ciudad where two young Chinese envoys attempt to charter an aircraft to deliver a very special animal to its ultimate destination in adjoining South American country Palo-Plagia.

The very junior and fiercely idealistic officials have not been prepared for the very shaky – if not shady – nature of all transactions in this part of the capitalist world and, after falling foul of an airline strike, are forced to complete their mission through regrettably “extra-legal” channels.

That’s why they are soon bouncing around in a decrepit ex-WWII bomber piloted by demented drug-runner and former German war criminal Helmut Ersatzauweis von Lilimarlehn who can’t tell their legitimate mission from his usual clandestine recreational pharmaceuticals deliveries…

After taking a most circuitous and totally unnecessary route, the ramshackle Aguila del Paradisio falls apart in mid-air over a certain patch of dense jungle and the befuddled captain ditches, leaving the diligent envoys to their fate. Without a qualm the Democratic People’s Servants attach their parachutes to the baby Giant Panda they have been escorting, trusting it to fate. Their last thoughts are of a particularly worrisome fact: the Panda can only eat bamboo and there is none in Palombia.

All known growing areas in the rogue state have been turned over to the cultivation of poppies and cannabis…

In the green fastness below the commotion is detected by a native fisherman who might be able to turn the tragedy to his advantage. Yafegottawurm is up for the change of pace too; anything is better than sitting on a log waiting for the vile and voracious piranha to bite…

Another witness with far more sympathetic motivations is also quick to react: the infernal, eternally mischievous, big-hearted Marsupilami…

When the golden beast brings the Panda cub back to his family he is disappointed to find the little creature reluctant to eat until it encounters Yafegottawurm’s recently abandoned fishing poles.

Apparently, bamboo is not quite extinct in the verdant interior: the Havoca natives secretly cultivate the grass in enclosed areas. It is a material crucial to their daily existence, highly prized and practically sacred…

That’s a fateful fact Helmut now shares, having being brought to the Havoca village by Yafegottawurm and taken under the wing of local witch doctor Yajussashahm. That dubious charlatan was originally educated at Harvard and Heidelberg and now, after years scamming the natives of their “useless” emeralds, plans on returning to civilisation to enjoy his last years in utter luxury.

Helmut would a useful companion for the return trip but their schemes are suddenly scotched when all that sacred bamboo starts vanishing and the enraged tribesmen demand their shaman sort out the escalating chaos and sacrilege…

The puzzled pilot thinks the Chinese might still be alive and behind the thefts, so all too soon he is despatched to his downed plane to check, while Yajussashahm does his magic act using his huge stockpile of fireworks and explosives. However, things come to a cataclysmic head when the frantically foraging Marsupilamis are cornered during another bamboo raid for their voracious new cub…

Even as the Havoca are painfully reminded why they have never successfully captured the frenetic yellow perils, the situation worsens for Helmut and the Witch Man when the River Police turn up on a diplomatic rescue mission…

Another masterfully madcap rollercoaster of hairsbreadth escapes, close shaves and sardonic character assassinations, this fresh exploit of the unflappable golden monkeys is fast-paced, furiously funny and instantly engaging: providing riotous romps and devastating debacles for wide-eyed kids of every age all over the world. Why not embrace your inner wild side and join in the fun?

Hoobee, Hoobah Hoobah!
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2017 by Franquin, Greg & Batem. English translation © 2017 Cinebook Ltd.

Jamie Smart’s Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!!


By Jamie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-003-4

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

The publishers would be crazy not to gather their greatest serial hits into a line of fabulously engaging album compilations, but they’re not so they do. They’re not; but the latest star to make the jump to book-based legitimacy certainly is…

Devised by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) from what I can only assume is keen close-hand observation and meticulous documentation comes Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!!: a brilliantly bonkers new addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting cartoondom.

This new magnum (dark, nutty, creamy and making your fillings hurt) opus features a totally anarchic kitty just like yours; cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

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

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

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden the toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault. Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

Many of the short tales begin with “This Episode:…” and are frequently interspersed by hilarious pin-ups suggesting ‘What is This Biscuits?’, ‘Can I use your Toilet?’ or ‘Let’s Play… Pig or Fish?’ so consider yourself warned…

‘Colour in with Looshkin’ then details what happens if you let a cat help with home decoration after which Great (rich) Auntie Frank comes to visit with her precious ultra-anxious prize-winning poodle Princess Trixibelle. With an eye to a hefty bequest, the adults consign the kids and Looshkin to a bedroom where they can’t cause offence or make trouble. Challenge Accepted… so watch out for squirrels and exploding toilets!

…And where does that cat keep finding the wherewithal to phone Dial-a-Pig?

‘Mouse House’ then discloses the result of the cat’s dutiful attempt to deal with an invasion of rodents armed with cheese and firecrackers before arch-enemies manifest in the form of former TV host Sandra Rotund and her cat Mister Buns who soon come to regret exploiting Looshkin on the internet…

When the cat decides it’s his big day the rest of the house are too slow playing along and ‘Happy Birthday Looshkin’ becomes more of a battle cry and lament that celebratory wish after which all semblance of reality fades in ‘Blarple Blop Blop Frrpp! (Bipple!)’ when the frenzied feline gets a case of the friskies and starts rushing about…

‘Jeff’s Photocopying Services’ pits cat against street advertisers and a mystic masquerader leading to a longer saga wherein the Johnson’s engage the services of professor Lionel F. Frumples to assess their perturbed and petrifying pet. However, even “the World’s leading expert on Cat Psychology” is no match for the pint-sized barrel of crazy – especially after the kitty binges on super-sugary cereal…

As the insane antics mount, the cat finds a useful alibi after adopting glove-puppet Mister Frogburt to be his patsy in ‘I’m Not to Blame’, whilst ‘What a Lotta Otter Bother (it Nearly Rhymes!)’ reveals a perfectly understandable error: to whit, being sent a mail order shark instead of the cute river-dwelling mammal you wanted as a playmate…

‘The Sparrow (A Funny Story About Things)’ then sees the cat’s response to the advent of new superhero the Bluetit before circus acrobat Fido Lepomp becomes the latest victim of Looshkin’s lunacy and swears eternal vengeance utilising all his freakish carnival comrades…

Great (rich) Auntie Frank returns to be feted by a bonanza of ‘Cheeeeeeeeeeeese! (Please)’ but once again the cat’s misapprehensions lead to anger, upset and a rather nasty stain after which pretty new kitty Lucinda is on hand to see Looshkin at his most Looshkin-y in ‘Thpthbtthhhhhhhhhhhhonk! (How Rude)’.

An escaped penguin incites a bout of thermostat-abuse in ‘Cold for this Time of Year (I Can’t Feel my Legs!)’ and a door-stepping political candidate falls foul of the cat’s anarchic soul and disguise skills in ‘Old Lady Looshkin (Wears Frilly Knick-knacks!)’ after which the cat excels himself in causing catastrophe by consulting Edwin’s satanic grimoire whilst organising Bear’s birthday surprise…

Another dial-a-pig delivery then brings the house down in ‘You Did It (You Finally Did It)’ but – following a pin-up celebrating ‘The Enddddd!’ – one last episode declares ‘This Episode: insert title here. Make it something funny about pigs or monkeys or bottoms. Frilly Pants? Frilly Pants are Funny.’ and reveals why it isn’t clever or pro-survival to put a deranged cat or paranoid toy bear in your luggage and smuggle them aboard a passenger plane…

Utterly loony and deliciously addictive, this fiendishly surreal glimpse at the insanity hardwired into certain cats (probably not yours, but still…) is another unruly and astoundingly ingenious romp from a modern master of the rebellious whimsy that is the very bedrock of British children’s humour.

Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2018. All rights reserved.
Looshkin will be released on 3rd May 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Footrot Flats book 7


By Murray Ball (Orin Books)
ISSN: 0156-6172

Once upon a time, Britain ran an Empire, and now we’ve found a more equitable station as just one of 53(ish) independent nations in a Commonwealth. This last fortnight we’ve celebrated that with our own sporting Games, then capped that by having Britain (notional head of the Commonwealth) insult every other member of the vast panoply of nations and cultures that we’ve befriended/exploited.

Some of those nations have always been handy with comebacks, rejoinders and cartoon salvos of their own, and whilst this particular item may not have the political venom of the creator’s earlier works, it more than makes up for it by being the absolute best comedy strip the Commonwealth has ever produced (and yes, I’m even including our very own The Perishers).

New Zealand’s greatest natural wonder and National Treasure is in fact a comic strip. Footrot Flats is one of the funniest ever created, designed as a practical antidote to idealistic pastoral fantasy and bucolic self-deception and concocted in 1975 by cartoonist and comics artist Murray Ball after returning to his New Zealand homeland from an extended work tour of the UK and other, lesser, climes.

The fantastical farm feature ran for a quarter of a century, appearing in newspapers on four continents until 1994 when Ball retired it, citing reasons as varied as the death of his own dog and the state of New Zealand politics. Such a success naturally spawned a multitude of merchandising material such as strip compendia, calendars and special editions released regularly from 1978 onwards.

Once Ball officially ceased the daily feature he began periodically releasing books of all-new material until 2000, with a net yield of 27 collections of the daily strip, 8 volumes of Sunday pages dubbed “Weekenders”, 5 pocket books and ancillary publications such as “school kits” aimed at younger fans and their harried parents.

There was a stage musical, a theme park and in 1986 a truly superb feature-length animated film. The Dog’s Tail Tale became New Zealand’s top-grossing film (and remained so until Peter Jackson started associating with Hobbits) – track it down on video or petition the BBC to show it again – it’s been decades, for Pete’s sake…

The well-travelled, extremely gifted and deeply dedicated Mr. Ball had originally moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch (producing Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero and All the King’s Comrades) as well as drawing numerous strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway and even concocting a regular political satire strip in Labour Weekly.

After marrying he returned to the Old Country and resettled in 1974 – but not to retire…

Ball was busier than ever once he’d bought a small-holding on the North Island to farm in his “spare time”, which inevitably led to the strip under review.

Taking the adage “write what you know” to startling, heartbreaking and occasionally stomach-turning heights, the peripatetic pencil-pusher broke most of the laws of relativity to make time for these captivatingly insane episodes concerning the highs and lows – and most frequently “absurds” – of the rural entrepreneur as experienced by the earthily metaphoric Wallace Footrot Cadwallader: a bloke never too-far removed from mud, mayhem, ferocity and frustration…

Wal is a big, bluff farmer. He likes his grub; loves his sport – Rugby, Football (the Anzac sort, not the kiddie version Yanks call Soccer) Cricket, Golf(ish) and even hang-gliding; each in its proper season and at no other, since he just wants the easiest time a farmer’s life can offer…

Wal owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) honestly described as “400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Sea”.

With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass (a latter-day Francis of Assisi), and a verbose and avuncular sheepdog, Wal enjoys being his own boss – as much as the farm cat, goats, chickens, livestock and his auntie will let him…

Other persons of perennial interest include Wal’s fierce and prickly little niece Janice – known to all as Pongo – the aforementioned Aunt Dolly (AKA the sternly staunch and starched Dolores Monrovia Godwit Footrot), smart-ass local lad Rangi Wiremu Waka Jones, Dolly’s pompous and pampered Corgi Prince Charles and Pew, a sadistic, inventive, obsessed and vengeful magpie who bears an unremitting grudge against Wal…

When not living in terror of the monumental moggy dubbed “Horse”, teasing the corpulent Corgi or panic-attacking himself in imagined competition with noble hunting hound Major, the Dog narrates and hosts the strip.

A cool, imaginative and overly sentimental know-all and blowhard, Dog is utterly devoted to his, for want of a better term, Master – unless there’s food about, or Jess the sheepdog bitch is in heat again. However, the biggest and most terrifying scene-stealer was that fulsome feline Horse; a monstrous and imperturbable tomcat who lords it over every living thing in the district …

One of the powerful and persistent clichés of life is that to make people laugh one truly needs to experience tragedy and, having only recently lost my own four-footed studio-mate and constant companion of 15 years, I can certainly empathise with the artist’s obvious manly distress as this otherwise magnificently hilarious collection is movingly dedicated to the uniquely charming real-world inspiration for the battered and bewhiskered juggernaut… which only makes the comedy capers contained within even more bittersweet and effective, beginning with the poem to his departed companion and the bluff, brisk photo tribute which opens proceedings…

Once again the funny businesses comes courtesy of the loquacious canine softie, taking time out from eking out his daily crusts (and oysters and biscuits and cake and lamb’s tails and scraps and chips and…) and alternately getting on with or annoying the sheep, cows, bull, goat, hogs, ducks, bugs, cats, horses and geese, as well as sucking up to the resolutely hostile wildlife and the decidedly odd humans his owner knows or is related to.

Dog – his given name is an embarrassing, closely and violently guarded secret – loves Wal but always tries to thwart him if the big bloke is trying to do unnecessarily necessary farm chores such as chopping down trees, burning out patches of scrub, culling livestock, or trying to mate with the pooch’s main rival Darlene “Cheeky” Hobson, hairdresser-in-residence of the nearest town. As is also the case with the adoring comradeship of proper blokes, Dog is never happier than when embarrassing his mate in front of others, which explains the pages extracted from Wal’s old albums, showing the man to be in various humiliating baby shots and schoolboy scrapes…

Following on is the epic adventure ‘The Invasion of the Murphy Dogs’ – barbaric hounds from a neighbouring farm only afraid of one thing…

This extra-large (262x166mm) landscape monochrome seventh volume again comes from Australian Publisher Orin Books and continues the policy of dividing the strips into approximately seasonal sequences, and after a few more all-original cartoons again opens with ‘Spring’ – the busiest season of the farmer’s year (apart from the other three) – concentrating on Pew’s first attempts at avian home-making, Dog’s libido, horny farmers and hussy-hairdressers, loopy lambs, wild pigs, killer eels and cricket, as well as an extended sequence in which Wal and the Dog become involved in the local school’s curriculum and cuisine…

Once the long hot ‘Summer’ settles in, bringing fun with chicken-shearing, busy bees, a plague of carnivorous Wekas, thistles, Horse’s softer side(!) and his war with Pongo and Aunt Dolly, Hare infestations, river-rafting, Irish Murphy’s Pigs (far worse than his dogs), Cheeky’s picnic charm-offensive and the growing closeness of Rangi and Pongo…

‘Autumn’ brings piglets, scrub-burning, the revenge of dispossessed magpies, amorous bovines, fun with artificial insemination, fence-lining and back country cattle, honey-harvesting, darts and rugby, a confused ram who’d rather pursue Dolly than associate with eager ewes and Horse’s crucial role in the war against the magpies…

As ‘Winter’ again closes in, offering floods, the mixed messy joy of lambing season, mud, mad goats, whitebait fishing and footy, Wal unwisely agrees to take a class of schoolkids and their puritanical, prudish and priggish teacher on an eye-opening nature-lesson around Footrot Flats. Touched by the painful experience, the bluff cove then volunteers to coach the school’s sports and, after much humiliation, spends the rest of the book discovering how hard – and, for observers, funny – farming in a plaster cast can be…

As you’d expect, the comedy content is utterly, absolutely top-rate and the extended role played throughout by the surly star Horse all the more poignant…

Ball – who died in 2017 – was one of those truly gifted individuals who can actually imbue a few lines on paper with the power of Shakespeare’s tragedy and the manic hilarity of jester geniuses such as Tommy Cooper or the Marx Brothers. When combined with his sharp, incisive yet warmly human writing the result was, is, and remains sheer, irresistible magic.

In the early 1990s Titan Books published British editions of the first three volumes and German, Japanese, Chinese and American translations also exist, as well as the marvellous Australian compendia reviewed here – as ever the internet is your friend (although prices for individual volumes can range from £4 to $3,000, so if ever there was an argument for a comprehensive archival re-release, sheer profit would seem to be it)…

Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, Footrot Flats always successfully wedded together sarcasm, satire, slapstick and strikingly apt surrealism in a perfect union of pathos and down to earth (and up to your eyebrows) fun that was and still is utterly addicting, exciting and just plain wonderful.

Plant the seeds for a lifetime of laughs by harvesting this or indeed any volume and you’ll soon see a bumper crop of fun irrespective of the weather or market forces…
© 1981-1982 Murray Ball. All Rights Reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 14: The Dashing White Cowboy


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Frederick W. Nolan & Simone Kunzig (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-66-3

Rangy, good-natured Lucky Luke is a doughty cowboy able to “draw faster than his own shadow”, amiably roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic know-it-all wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. He constantly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk…

His unceasing exploits over 70 years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating in excess of 83 individual albums, sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… so far…

That renown has generated the usual mountain of spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

First seen in the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, Lucky was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”), before ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

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

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has previous in this country too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled British readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy weekly Giggle, where he used the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

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

The most successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re at 69 translated books and still going strong.

As Le Cavalier Blanc The Dashing White Cowboy was Morris & Goscinny’s 33rd collaboration, originally serialised in 1974 (and the hero’s 43rd album release a year later): a brash and engaging comedy of errors with the laconic freelance lawman encountering cunning bandits with a seemingly unbeatable modus operandi…

In the desolate wilds between frontier towns Luke and Jolly Jumper cross trails with a small but determined travelling troupe. The merry band consists of actor/impresario Whittaker Baltimore and his repertory company of the range: ingenue/leading lady Gladys Whimple, character (villain) player Barnaby Float and props man, set shifter and applause-starter Francis Lusty.

An affably welcoming bunch, they gift the wanderer with a complimentary ticket for their next performance in the nearby town of Nothing Gulch

Following a sardonic and satirical aside describing the nature of theatrical entertainment at this time and place, the story resumes with that much-anticipated melodrama “The Dashing White Cowboy” before the rowdy a not-particularly-au-fait Nothing Gulch crowd hungry for a break from everyday monotony.

Also eagerly lapping up the raucous entertainment are Luke and good friend Hank Wallace, but the boisterous audience participation turns ugly after a horrified cry of “The bank’s been robbed!” starts a riot…

Despite Lucky’s best efforts, the crime goes unsolved and soon after the motley crew up stakes for the next town. Coincidentally Miner’s Pass is Luke’s next port of call, too. At least it is now…

When the same performance is identically disrupted, the coincidence is too much to swallow… and then Luke – present at both crimes – is accused of robbery!

Barely escaping being lynched, our hero sets off after the Whittaker Company, Catching up to them in Indian Flats, he joins the cast, but when another bold theft occurs, he is once again the prime suspect…

By the time he gets out of jail, the trail has gone cold. Can it be that he has at last met his match?

Of course not, and, following a fortuitous break, the vengeance of the affronted justice-rider finally falls upon the deserving party… or is that parties?

Wry and devious, The Dashing White Cowboy is a fast-paced slapstick romp with plenty of action, vaudevillian chicanery, dirty double-dealing and barrel-loads of hilarious buffoonery. Superbly crafted by comics masters, this performance affords another 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 1975 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.