Bunny vs Monkey Book 5: Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walt Kelly’s Our Gang, Vol 1


By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1560977537

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Gomer Goof volume 1: Mind the Goof!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mighty Alice Goes Round and Round


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The last strip appeared on September 23rd 2012.

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

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

So, What’s Going On Here…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Comics All-Star Collection


By Lennie Herman, Sid Jacobson, Stan Kay, Bob Bolling, Warren Kremer, Howard Post & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-4291-1

Once upon a time the American comicbook industry for younger readers was totally dominated by Gold Key with their TV and Disney licenses, and Harvey Comics who had largely switched from general genres to a wholesome, kid-friendly pantheon in the mid-1950s. They totally owned the pre-school sector until declining morals, television cartoon saturation and rising print costs finally forced them to bow out.

Gold Key suffered a slow erosion, gradually losing valuable prime properties like Popeye, Star Trek, assorted Hanna-Barbera and Warner Brothers cartoon stars plus sundry other treasures until parent company Western Publishing called it a day in 1984. Harvey had already shut up shop in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

The latter’s vast archived artwork store was sold off and, with the properties and rights up for grabs, Marvel Comics (who had already secured those lost Star Trek and Hanna-Barbera rights) was frontrunner for licensing the family firm’s iconic characters. These included Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Sad Sack, Hot Stuff – the Little Devil, Wendy the Good Little Witch and many others.

When the bid failed, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, recognising a huge gap in the market, launched a cloned imprint of the Harvey stable (which would also encompass new TV and toy properties such as Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and Fraggle Rock, Alf, Madballs, Care Bears, Thundercats, Ewoks and such like) to devise the next generation of worthy, wholesome, entry-level comics for entertainment-hungry young minds and their concerned parents.

Marvel’s Star Comics line launched in 1985, edited by ex-Harvey head-honcho Sid Jacobson, with oddly familiar titles and an incontestably similar look and feel – achieved primarily by hiring former Harvey stalwarts such as Jacobson, Lennie Herman, Warren Kremer, Howard Post and others.

Millionaire prince and all-around good kid Royal Roy especially invoked the ire of the Harvey heirs who sued for copyright infringement of their astonishingly prolific Richie Rich: a glittering prize who had shone in more than 55 separate titles between his debut in 1953 and the bust of 1982.

Roy was cancelled after 6 issues – as were many Star series – in a brutal “Survival of the Funnest” publishing policy – and the suit was quietly dropped.

None of which affects the fact that those Eighties child stars were, in their own right, a superb agglomeration of all-ages fun, excitement and adventure joyously revisited in this sturdy digest collection from 2009: gathering that first wave of titles.

Featuring Planet Terry #1-2, Top Dog #1-3, Royal Roy #1-2 and Wally the Wizard #1-2 in a veritable nova of bubbly contagious thrills and frolics, the eccentric escapades open with a star who was just a little lost boy in space…

Planet Terry was created by Lennie Herman (who passed away just before the big Star Comics launch) and the truly magnificent Warren Kremer – whose animation-based art style became the defining look of Harvey Comics during its happy heyday – and starred a young lad searching the universe for the parents he had never known.

Introduced in ‘The Search’ (Herman, Kremer & Vince Colletta), Planet Terry was something of a nuisance, periodically landing on alien worlds, pestering the inhabitants and asking “Has anyone seen my mother and father?”

Found wandering in a life-pod which raised and educated him, the only clues Terry had to his past is a name bracelet and an empty picture frame…

However, this time when he returns to the obnoxious planet Bznko Terry accidentally drives off a menace which bores folks to death with bad jokes, so the inhabitants give him a junked lady robot as a reward.

This proves to be a blessing in disguise as Robota inadvertently leads the lonely lad to ‘A Clue’ when they all crashland on a mining asteroid and meet aged Enoch Diggs who recognises the life-pod the infant Terry was found in…

‘Some Answers’ are forthcoming as the dithery prospector reveals he once worked on a Confederation Cosmos Cruiser called the Space Warp where the captain’s wife was going to have a baby. Needing a sterile environment for the newborn infant, the crew placed him in the emergency life-boat, but his jubilant father accidentally triggered it whilst celebrating his son’s birth and the baby was rocketed into deep space.

Although they searched everywhere, the heartbroken spacemen never located the pod and assumed baby Terry was lost forever…

Although Enoch can’t remember the names of Terry’s parents he suggests that another old crewman might and the re-energised searchers rush to another asteroid to find him, only to instead encounter ‘The Malt Shop Menace’. Nevertheless, they recruit another voyager when Robota saves the brutish monster Omnus who gratefully joins their decidedly odd family. Little do they know that a sinister conspiracy is at work to keep the whereabouts and secret of the Space Warp lost forever…

Issue #2, by Herman, Kremer & Jon D’Agostino continues the quest as the family of outcasts encounter sabotage and opposition before landing their freshly repaired ship on the lost world of the Gorkels where the trio clumsily fulfil an ancient prophecy in ‘The Saga of Princess Ugly’.

In return for repairing Terry’s downed vessel, he, Robota and Omnus must rescue the abducted Princess by battling hostile jungles, shape-shifting beasts, killer vines, a whirlpool and a volcano – all controlled by arch-villain Vermin the Vile in ‘Too Close (enough) for Comfort’ before saving the girl from ‘The Doom of the Domed City’ and discovering the final resting place of the elusive Space Warp…

Also by Herman, Kremer & D’Agostino, Royal Roy debuted on his birthday in ‘The Mystery of the Missing Crown’ wherein the Prince of wealthy Ruritanian Cashalot discovers that the traditional, venerable Royal Highness Crown has gone missing on the day of his investiture. Whilst King Regal and Queen Regalia understandably panic, super-cool bodyguard Ascot diligently investigates, assorted resplendent relatives dither and interfere, so Roy and his pet crocodile Gummy keep their heads by ‘Picking up the Scent’. They soon expose a supernatural agency at work after ‘A Midnight Visit’ by ghostly ancestor William the Warhorse

Topping off the first issue was a snappy, snazzy short fun yarn starring the reptilian Gummy in ‘Crocadog’.

‘The Grand Ball’, scripted by Stan Kay, occupied most of Roy’s attention in the second issue as the underage but still eligible Prince took a fancy to simple commoner Crystal Clear whilst ambitious and mean social climber Lorna Loot spent all her time – and considerable cash – unsuccessfully attempting to beguile the boy by turning herself into a modern-day Cinderella in ‘A Strange Stranger’

‘Maneuvers!’ sees Roy fulfil his hereditary duties by joining the Cashalot army on dawn exercises, but as ruler-in-waiting of a rich and peaceful nation, the plucky lad isn’t too surprised to find that the entire armed forces consisted of one reluctant prince and a keen but aging general…

Top Dog featured a far more contemporary and pedestrian situation, depicting the lives of average American boy Joey Jordan and the mutt he brought home one day.

‘The Dog-Gone Beginning’ by Herman, Kremer & Jacqueline Roettcher revealed how, whilst looking for a lost baseball, the kid had accidentally seen a dog reading the newspaper and talking to himself. Exposed, the canny canine begged the boy to keep his secret else all the four-footed wonder could expect was a short and painful life being poked, prodded and probed by scientists…

When the lad swears to keep his secret, Top Dog agrees to come live with Joey in ‘House About a Dog, Mom?’, and whilst the boy tries to teach the pooch to bark – one of the few languages he can’t speak! – his accommodating family gradually get used to the seemingly normal dog and his boy.

However, when Mervin Megabucks – the richest and meanest kid in town – overhears the pair playing and conversing, the spoiled brat refuses to believe Joey is a ventriloquist. When the junior Jordan refuses to sell, Mervin steals Top Dog as the perfect addition to his palatial high-tech house.

Even torture won’t make the purloined pooch speak again however, and when Joey stages ‘The Big Breakout’ Mervin’s mega-robots prove no match for dogged determination and the plutocrat brat is left baffled, bamboozled and dog-less…

Issue #2 exposed ‘Spies!’ when the restless dog of a thousand talents appears to harbour a dark side. Going out on nightly jaunts, the marvellous mutt seemingly leads a double life as a security guard in a Defence Plant, triple-crossing everybody by photographing military secrets for a foreign power.

Of course, it is actually a diminutive enemy agent in a dog suit but Vladimir’s handlers hadn’t reckoned on a real dog looking – and speaking – just like their hairy operative. Thus they accidentally give their purloined plans to the chatty all-American canine…

After spectacularly trapping the sinister spies – without revealing his own astounding intellect – Top Dog is framed in #3 by Joey’s best friend Larry who is feeling rejected and neglected since the Brilliant Bow-wow moved in.

With a feral hound dubbed ‘The Mad Biter’ on the prowl and attacking people, it’s simple to send the perspicacious pup to the Pound, where he encounters lots of bad dogs who probably deserve to be ‘Caged’.

However, faithful Joey never gives up and after bailing his canine comrade out, the pair convince the guilt-ridden perjurer to see the light by treating him to an impromptu midnight ‘Ghost Story’

Even with Larry recanting his lies the neighbourhood families don’t trust Top Dog, but that all changes once the maligned mutt tracks down the real Biter and engages him in ‘A Fight to the Finish’

The final initial entry was written and illustrated by veteran Archie Comics artist Bob Bolling (probably most famous for creating and producing the first eight years’ worth of the award-winning Little Archie spin-off series), who concocted a fabulous medieval wonderland for Wally the Wizard to play in.

In #1’s ‘A Plague of Locusts’ mystical Merlin’s older, smarter brother Marlin is having trouble with his stubbornly inquisitive apprentice. Wally wants to know everything now, has no discipline and is full of foolish ideas and misconceptions. As a serious scientist, Marlin has no time for silly superstitions so after the lad accidentally releases a time-travelling demon from an age-old prison the mage refuses to believe him.

Gorg however swears faithfully to repay the favour before disappearing…

Despatched to deliver a potion to King Kodger, Wally also helps a dragon save his hatchling from a deep well, only just reaches the sovereign in time and has a feed on the Royal Barge where he once again fails to impress beauteous Princess Penelope

Meanwhile in distant Bloodmire Castle, wicked plotters Vastar the Vile, his sister Sybilious the Bilious and wicked warlock Erasmo are conspiring to conquer the kingdom by unleashing a gigantic metal locust to consume all in its path…

Even the noble knights led by invincible Sir Flauntaroy are helpless before the brazen beast and Wally realises only Marlin can save them. Unfortunately, the boy gets lost on route to fetch him, but happily for everybody the dragon and demon which the rationalist sorcerer refuses to believe in are ready to pay their debts to the apprentice…

Sid Jacobson, Howard Post & Jon D’Agostino took over for the second issue as Wally enters the annual apprentice’s games with Marlin now suddenly transformed into a traditional magic-making mage. In fact, Marlin, as a three-time champion of ‘The Magic-a-Thon!’ is secretly regretful that Wally is too inexperienced to compete, a fact his disciple discerns and tries to fix…

Desperately cramming for a week and eventually – with the coaching of his proud master -Wally sets off to compete but a lovelorn barbarian accidentally cleaves the kid’s crib notes in twain, leaving the lad able to create only half-spells and materialise semi-monsters…

Undaunted Wally continues and – even after a huge storm deprives him of the demi-directions and his back-up pouch of herbs and potions – perseveres, determined to win using nothing but his wits, guts and unflagging optimism…

This clutch of classic children’s tales also includes the enchanting covers and the original house-ads which introduced the characters to the Kids in America and more than three decades later is still a fabulous blast of intoxicating wonder and entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love…

With contemporary children’s comics on the rise again after too long a fallow period, it’s still sensible and fun to acknowledge the timeless classics we used to draw upon and which drew kids in. Historical compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every funnybook-loving parent and even those lonely couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes…
© 1985 and 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tiny Titans volume 2: Adventures in Awesomeness


By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2328-1

The links between animated features and comicbooks are long established and I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just entertainment in the end…

DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and consolidated that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 and others.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of their proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the imprint’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at beginning readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily mixed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks and eventually the entire DC Universe to little kids and their parents/guardians in the wholesome kindergarten environment of Sidekick City Elementary School.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with in-jokes, sight-gags and beloved yet gently mocked paraphernalia of generations of strip readers and screen-watchers….

Collecting issues #7-12 (spanning October 2008 – March 2009) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this fourth volume begins on a romantic note with Deep in Like.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with assorted (sort-of familiar) characters getting by, trying to make sense of the great big world.

The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page ‘Meet the… Tiny Titans’ the pint-sized tomfoolery opens with ‘Ya Think?’ with transparent-headed Psimon deliberating over his checkers game with similarly glass-fronted The Brain… until Kid Flash and Wonder Girl start heckling…

Meanwhile, at school Starfire gets a text from her dad telling her to come home. Of course, she invites all her friends and two-and-a-half days later the entire class is wandering around alien planet Tameran…

Once they get back Robin convenes a meeting of his new avian themed ‘Bird Scouts’ only to find his alternate identities causing a little contention and confusion…

The issue ends with a Franco Tiny Titans pinup preceded by a return confrontation between Psimon and his hecklers in ‘To Get to the Other Side’. Sadly, once again his tormentors get the last word…

‘Report Card Pickup!’ finds the adult Justice Leaguers confronting Principal Slade (AKA Deathstroke) and substitute teacher Trigon over the grades of the little folk whilst introducing a new intake from Sidekick City Preschool ominously dubbed the Tiny Terror Titans

Starfire gives Blue Beetle an unwanted makeover in ‘Happy Feeling Blue’ whilst Robin, Batgirl and Ace the Bat-hound get invitations to BB’s birthday party in ‘Joke’s on You’.

Elsewhere, the other Wonder Girl (the series plays extremely fast-&-loose with continuity so suck it up if you’re expecting serious logic, ok?) and tiny winged Bumblebee indulge their ‘Book Smarts’ until Beast Boy shows up even as, under the sea, Aqualad opens a meeting of ‘Pet Club, Atlantis’ until Raven and The Ant spoil things by breaking the first rule…

Concluding with a Puzzler page and a bonus Pinup, #8 gives way to a ninth issue and an inescapable predicament as the kids go ape because of ‘Monkey Magic’

When Beppo the Super-Chimp gets hold of a magic wand at Robin’s Comic Book Party the attendees are soon reduced to hirsute ancestral forms. Thankfully Batgirl and Bumblebee are meeting with the size-shifting Atom family (The Atom, Mrs. Atom, Crumb, Dot, baby Smidgen and dog Spot) and initially missing the ensuing chaos.

The bad boys of the Brotherhood of Evil aren’t so lucky when Beppo flies over and suddenly Brain and Psimon are as simian and banana-dependent as their talking-gorilla comrade M’sieu Mallah and before long Starfire and Batgirl also get monkey-zapped…

Resolute, bureaucratic Robin then institutes the first meeting of ‘the Titan Apes’ but that only provokes the pesky Super-Chimp to really see what his wand can do and even after Raven’s magic sorts everything out, Beppo rises to the challenge…

Closing with another Tiny Titans Puzzler Page and pinup of the diminutive ‘Atom’s Family’ the animal antics carry over into the next month as ‘World’s Funnest!’ finds Supergirl entertaining Batgirl at ‘Tea Time’.

Tragically the Girl of Steel has forgotten to feed her pet cat Streaky and her guest has been equally derelict in her duties to Ace, forcing the powers pets to seek redress as the little ladies set out on a global jaunt, meeting annoying monsters Kroc and Bizarro

A Tiny Titans Word Link Puzzler and Bonus Pinup of the eventually-reconciled stars wraps up the issue before the penultimate outing sees romantically declined Beast Boy in the throes of ‘Terra Trouble’.

The green Romeo’s intended inamorata is a feisty lass with refined tastes and in ‘Counting on Love Rocks’ she shows him the depth and density of her disaffection after which Robin greets visiting Russian student Star Fire and gets wrapped up in a tempestuous ‘Name Exchange’ dilemma. Terra meanwhile is not fooled by a viridian ‘Rock Dog’ and Beast Boy ends up with more bruises. Wiser, younger heads (mask, helmets, etc) just go to a carnival and leave them to it, whilst the lovesick loser escalates his campaign with a little ‘Rock Show’ whereas Aqualad and scary blob Plasmus just attend a monster movie ‘Double Feature’

Agonisingly undaunted, Beast Boy decides on a costume makeover and new origin. Dressed like Superman he builds a ‘Rocket Box’ but yet again fails to kindle a spark…

Silent mirth then illuminates ‘Tiny Titans Presents… The Kroc Files: Changing a Lightbulb’ before another TT Puzzler and a ‘Super Bonus Pin-Up! of Alfred and the Penguins’ escort us smartly to the final outing in this smart and sassy trade paperback or eBook extravaganza…

‘Faces of Mischief’ concentrates on the school staff as ‘Morning with the Trigons’ sees the substitute teacher and demonic overlord called in on short notice. It’s ‘Monday Morning’ and as the Principal and Trigon goof off to a baseball game, Slade leaves cafeteria server Darkseid in charge. This is the chance the Apokolyptian Lord of Destruction has been waiting for…

With the adult slackers listening to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, the kids are forced to endure exams and their ‘Finals Crisis’ seems eternal. After apparent ages, Robin needs a ‘Hall Pass’ but is soon accosted by not just the official Monitor but also the diabolical Anti-Monitor (trust me, if you’re wedded to DC Lore and minutiae, this is comedy gold: for the rest of you, it’s still hilariously drawn…)

Finally, the dread day ends for the kids, but as Raven heads home with Slade’s kids Rose and Jericho, she hears something that could ruin her life and takes drastic steps to ensure ‘Our Little Secret’, just as their dads concoct a sinister do-over for the following week…

Bringing the graphic glee to a halt is a new silent ‘Kroc Files: Sending an E-Mail’, a TT Baseball Unscramble Puzzler and a pin-up of the entire nefarious ‘Sidekick City Elementary Faculty’.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in unadulterated nerdish comic-bookery – are unforgettable gags and japes no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating to readers of any age and temperament. What more do you need to know?
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Earthling!


By Mark Fearing, with Tim Rummel; coloured by Ken Min (Chronicle Books)
ISBN:  978-0-81187-106-8(HB)   978-1-45210-906-0(PB)

For the longest  time I banged on about the dearth of good comics for kids – as opposed to the vibrant and thriving children’s prose book markets or the slavish and impenetrable dead-end niche-genres and daunting cross-marketing of contemporary comicbooks – but nowadays some interesting developments in strip-book publishing look like setting that imbalance to rights…

Earthling! is the first graphic novel by animator Mark Fearing (with some initial creative input from TV producer Tim Rummel) and tells the tale of solitary, nerdy lad Bud, dragged by his astronomer dad to the literal middle of nowhere to take up residence at the vast Von Lunar Radio Telescope Array in the dry wilds of New Mexico.

The place is weird and a little spooky, but with his Mum gone and his father preoccupied with work Bud’s getting used to coping on his own…

The real trouble starts the next morning when he dashes for the school bus. Late and in the middle of a storm Bud inadvertently stumbles into the wrong vehicle and finds himself stuck on a malfunctioning intergalactic shuttle taking a bunch of alien students to Cosmos Academy where all the kids in the Galactic Alliance are educated.

Being the new kid in school is always bad news, but when you’re the only one of your species…

Luckily geeky pariah Gort GortGort McGortGort takes Bud under his wing and steers him through the worst of the culture shock, but the human’s urgent desire to go home is countered by one overwhelming fact: Earth is the most feared planet in the Galaxy, its inhabitants are despised and reviled by every sentient race in creation and its spatial coordinates are a closely guarded secret…

Thinly disguised as a sporty, athletic Tenarian, Bud tries desperately to fit in and luckily fellow outcast Gort is determined to help him return home, but the Academy is almost as dangerous as an Earth school.

There are jocks and bullies and cliques everywhere, the cool sapients run everything and snarky sarcasm is a deadly threat at all times. Although there are some decent and friendly teachers, the robots, rogue or escaped science experiments and especially the cafeteria make daily life an incredible and potentially lethal prospect.

Moreover, Principal Lepton and his administration are brutal bureaucrats with an excessive punishment regime (this is one deep-space satellite school you do not want to be “expelled” from) who have a pretty cavalier attitude to student safety – or even survival – and a hidden agenda which involves using Academy resources to build super-weapons for use against Bud’s lost or hidden home-world…

Gradually though, the boy adjusts, even finding an unexpected flair for the terrifying null-gravity sport of ZeroBall, which is lucky as Gort has deduced that the immensely prestigious championship Tournament is being held tantalisingly close to the diabolical Planet Earth – close enough that a stolen space-pod could reach it, if by some miracle Bud’s team qualified for the finals…

Funny, thrilling, wildly imaginative and utterly engrossing, Earthling! blends elements of Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Joe Dante’s Explorers and Harry Potter’s best bits with the anarchic wit of animated movies such as Despicable Me, Home and Monsters vs Aliens to produce a delightfully compelling adventure yarn with endearing characters and a big, big payoff.

This is a book (or ebook if you prefer) any sharp, fun-loving kid can – and should – read… and so should the rest of you…
© 2012 by Mark Fearing. All rights reserved.

Celeb


By Charles Peattie, Mark Warren & Russell Taylor (Private Eye/Corgi)
ISBN: 978-0-55213-858-1

In terms of taste, as in so many other arenas, our modern world seems to be determinedly heading for Heck in a hand-basket, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to cover a little lost gem of British cartooning delight that’s increasing re-relevant in these appalling days of fame campaigns, dodgy talent show democracy and overwhelming Celebritocracy.

Celeb was a strip which ran in that evergreen gadfly and cultural attack dog Private Eye. Created by Mark Warren and the team of Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor (who were simultaneously crafting the abortive first iteration of greed-glorifying mini-classic Alex for Robert Maxwell’s short-lived London Daily News), it began in May 1987.

For years credited to the pseudonymous “Ligger”, the pithy and hilarious episodes followed the day to day life of Swinging Sixties survivor and disgracefully declining rock-legend Gary Bloke as he dealt with a changing world, thinning hair, parenthood and inexorable middle age.

These days, with 24/7 reality shows, desperate Nonabees enduring career-resuscitating humiliations in locked houses and jungle clearings and a host of other self-inflicted, double-edged B-list exposé freak-shows everywhere on the interweb, the outrageous pronouncements and antics of Gary seem pretty tame, but in those days before Ozzy Osbourne became more famous for parenting and not singing whilst footballers’ performance off the field took precedence over goals scored on it, the sozzled, crass, befuddled, and pitifully pompous cocky cockney-boy-made-good was the very epitome of affably acceptable, ego-bloated, publicity-seeking, self-aggrandizing, drug-fuelled idiocy.

Within this collection from 1991 the legendary “Man of the Peeple” distributes kernels of his hard-won wisdom to the likes of Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Clive James, Cilla Back, Ruby Wax, Barry Norman, Anne Diamond, Selena Scott, Michael Aspel and other interviewers of lesser longevity. Interspersing the almighty interviews, Gary tackles world poverty and the environment head-on (and with eyes tight shut), learns how to cope with those new-fangled rock videos, adapts to the needs of his burgeoning family and, of course, consumes a phenomenal quantity of recreational pharmaceuticals…

Including a selection of interviews from the Sunday Times (October 1989), The Sun (Wednesday August 3rd 1988) and candid shots of Gary with Bob Geldof and George Michael at Live Aid, the collection concludes with the infamous days during which Gary was dead of an overdose and met both God and Elvis. Also revealed is the sordid truth behind his numerous brushes with the law, leading to his 18-month stretch At Her Majesty’s Pleasure and subsequent key role in a terrible prison riot for better conditions and macrobiotic food…

The heady cocktail of drink, sex, drugs, money, sport, music, adoration and always-forgiven crassness is perhaps the reason so many folks are seduced by celebrity. If you want to see another side to the fame-game and have a hearty laugh into the bargain Gary Bloke is your man…
© 1991 Peattie, Taylor & Warren. All Rights Reserved.

Girls Bravo volumes 1-3


By Mario Kaneda, translated & adapted by Asuka Yoshizu & Steve Bunche (TokyoPop)
ISBNs: 978-1-59816-040-6, 978-1-59816-041-3 & 978-1-59816-042-0

Here’s another large, strange slice of manga magic that took the world by storm when it inevitably transferred to the anime screen, and another of those uncomfortably inappropriate teen-sex comedies that so delight the Japanese and generally bewilder we less socially ossified westerners.

Aimed at older teens, this type of tale fully acknowledges and draws seemingly endless amusement from the fact that boys and girls of a certain age are hormone-crazed muskrats desperate to catch furtive snatches of each other’s proscribed bits, and only conscience and social pressure keeps them from being even more intolerable than they are.

If only it got any easier with advanced age…

These stories first appeared in Japanese magazine Shōnen Ace from 2000 to 2005 and were eventually collected in ten volumes of frantic, frenetic slapstick, excruciating comedy-of-manners gaffes, replete with gusset glimpses, shower-scenes, fantasy fun and burgeoning young love.

‘Gārusu Burabō’ is the story of a hapless high school student named Yukinari Sasaki, a short, dim nebbish who is so put upon, teased and bullied by girls – and even his female teachers – that he has developed a condition which brings him out in hives every time anything with no Y chromosomes touches him.

His unfortunate condition is further compounded by the fact that the neighbours’ daughter Kirie, a girl he has known since childhood, and one he can at least talk to, has recently changed.

Her shy and awkward nature has developed into a crush he is utterly oblivious to, but unfortunately said crush has devolved into a series of violent assaults every time she gets flustered, and with Sasaki, she gets flustered a lot…

At some time when nobody was paying attention, she blossomed into an astonishingly well-endowed young woman – something else that embarrasses her greatly and often leads to red-faced punches and breath-curtailing kicks…

After a particularly trying day Yukinari returns home and stumbles into Kirie using his shower. He’s flustered, she’s naked and while he’s being pummelled by the blushing, panicked girl he falls into the bath… and emerges into another world and another naked girl’s bath…

But this is a completely different kind of girl. She is genuinely concerned, solicitous, even shorter than him and – most importantly – not screaming or hitting. Moreover, Miharu can touch him without setting off his allergic reaction. All she cares about is his welfare and what earth food is like.

The world of Siren is a revelation; a magical place where women outnumber men 9-1. When Miharu’s older sister Maharu spots the unattached male she makes a violent play for Yukinari, chasing him into the streets where every female in range also competes to capture the fleeing boy-toy.

Miharu rescues him and they double back to her bathroom, but the pursuers are too close and the fugitives fall into the bath – and arrive back in Yukinari’s shower. It is still occupied by the perplexed, naked and fuming Kirie.

Miharu is apparently stuck on Earth: the perfect companion for the gynophobic lad. She never attacks him, doesn’t cause hives, has magic powers and only cares about food. Unfortunately, she’s bewitchingly beautiful and as naive as a newborn hamster, so the hoi-polloi at school trail after her like dogs after biscuits, especially wealthy school stud Fukuyama.

He’s a real catch: a glorious young god of legendary manliness, but conceals a tragic secret of his own. Unknown to all, he is so male-phobic that he has an attack of hives every time a male touches him. Fukuyama is driven crazy by Miharu’s indifference to him…

Meanwhile, hopeless Yukinari is still being teased and bullied by girls of every type and regularly stumbling into situations where Kirie is undressed, volatile and trigger-primed to explode…

The first volume covers the set-up of the formulae, with lots of stories about simplistic Miharu’s desire to eat anything not nailed down, platonically care for Yukinari and her tendency to be duped into wearing revealing or fetishistic clothing by the lecherous Fukuyama.

Despite being always hungry and able to consume practically anything Miharu is a brilliant cook, unlike Kirie whose recipes are only really appreciated by terrorists looking for new bio-weapons. Yukinari increasingly has to spend his time protecting the gullible alien’s non-existent modesty…

Gradually the series takes a more supernatural turn as the unhappy ménage-a-trouble encounter an undressed ghost girl (and Fukuyama’s sister) Risa: a young sorceress convinced that beleaguered Yukinari is her predestined husband and thus willing to use all her wiles and witchcraft to make him hers. Even if it means destroying or even befriending Miharu and Kirie…

The first volume ends with a light-hearted and hottie-filled adaptation of traditional Japanese folk-tale Momotaro (the Peach Boy).

Volume 2 continues Risa’s campaign. She casts spells on Yukinari, and tries to convince Miharu that her attentions are preventing the diminutive lad from forming normal relationships or shaking his allergic phobia. Things get completely crazy when the Siren girl drinks alcohol and begins to replicate herself uncontrollably…

Yukinari still keeps getting accidental, unwelcome and concomitantly painful glimpses of undraped girls whilst growing increasingly fond of Miharu, even battling the hulking alpha male Fukuyama to protect her, but when amnesiac Koyomi appears thing get very strange indeed.

For one thing she is the only other girl able to resist the school stud’s dubious charms; she doesn’t give Yukinari contact-hives and, when she is flustered or scared, giant pits open in the floor under her…

She is in fact an agent from Siren sent to recover the missing Miharu, and when her memory returns Koyomi transports her quarry home before Yukinari’s tear-filled eyes…

Of course, the adored catalyst does return, and volume 2 concludes with another side story; a day in the life of sexy super-stud Fukuyama – or at least in his fevered, fetid mind…

Volume 3 opens with the cast being coerced by the loathsome Lothario into a game of strip Mah-Jong with the returned Konomi (on a secret mission for Miharu’s sister): Fukuyama’s latest lewd target. Sadly for him, she suffers from the same condition as he does – she too is androphobic and repelled by the touch of men…

Konomi’s mission is at last exposed and she begins searching for a perfect husband for Miharu’s strident, overbearing sister. This inevitably leads to some very uncomfortable situations, as do the girls’ communal attempts to earn some extra money, before everything goes really crazy after Kirie falls through Risa’s mirror into a world where all her friends have reversed personalities…

Sweet-natured Miharu’s attempts to buy all her friends New Year’s Gifts go painfully awry before all ends well, and her celebration of the Setsubun festival (where bad luck is symbolically removed by throwing Soya beans out of the house) also falls flat – but only because Risa summoned real evil spirits to the party…

The volume ends on a heartbreakingly beguiling tale of a little girl abandoned in the snow – a story so moving it’s worth buying all three volumes just to read this sparkling gem in perfect context…

Irrepressibly juvenile and hormone-fuelled but great fun and beautifully drawn, this is a series as likely to titillate as offend, but it’s all good clean smut really, harmless and charming and bound to delight girl watchers and anyone enduring puberty or recalling it with any degree of honesty…
© 2001, 2002 Mario Kaneda. English text © 2005, 2006 Tokyopop Inc. All rights reserved.