Pep Digital #22: Arrrchie’s Buried Treasure


By George Gladir, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Kathleen Webb, Bob Bolling, Mike Pellowski, Angelo DeCesare,Rex Lindsey, Dan DeCarlo, Henry Scarpelli, Jeff Shultz, Dexter Taylor, Pat Kennedy & various (Archie Comics)
No ISBN: digital only

Since his debut in Pep Comics #22 (cover-dated December 1941) Archie Andrews has epitomised good, safe, wholesome cartoon fun, but the company that now bears his name has always been a deviously subversive one. Family-friendly iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills, licensed properties and genre yarns of every stripe have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s clean-cut teens.

As initially realised by John L. Goldwater and Bob Montana, the first escapade set the scene and ground rules for decades to come Archie has spent his entire existence chasing both the gloriously attainable Betty Cooper and wildly out-of-his-league debutante Veronica Lodge, whilst best friend Jughead Jones alternately mocked and abetted his romantic endeavours and class rival Reggie Mantle sought to scuttle every move…

Crafted over time by a veritable legion of writers and artists who’ve skilfully created the stories of teenage antics in and around the idyllic, utopian small town of Riverdale, these timeless tales of decent, upstanding, fun-loving kids have captivated successive generations of readers and entertained millions worldwide both on comic pages and in other media such as film, television, radio, newspaper strips, music and even fast food.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always capitalised on contemporary trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. In times past they have cross-fertilised their stable of stars through unlikely team-ups like Archie Vs. Predator, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation has invariably been incorporated and explored within the pages of the regular titles. The gang has been reinvented and remodelled numerous times, even stepping outside the parameters of broad comedy to offer dramatic – albeit light-hearted – “real-world” iterations of the immortal cast of characters and clowns…

The company the idiot built is celebrating a major anniversary this December, so here’s a chance to revel in Archie’s unique madness with a bucket of yarns primarily sparked by the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but which also finds room for a few golden oldies and classic romps on the theme of Corsairs and Privateers. This lot are all electronically cached by pirates of the airwaves commandeering a little of your time and attention for a digital-only experience. Enjoy International Talk Like a Pirate Day 2021, me buckos…

The madness begins without fanfare as the gang all go Gung Ho for the latest movie fad: dressing up for film fun and daydreaming personal period peril in ‘Pirates Ahoy’ as originally seen in Archie & Friends #87 (February 2005) courtesy of George Gladir, Rex Lindsey & Rich Koslowski.

Veronica #171 (August 2006) featured ‘One Man’s Treasure’ by Dan Parent & Jim Amash, with the star stuck rich kid finding actual buried (and cursed) loot on a film shoot but caring only about impressing hot star Johnny Dredge. Boy, does she!

‘Treasure Quest’ comes from Tales of Riverdale Digest #9 (April 2006): an Archie & Friends charmer by Fernando Ruiz & Al Nickerson, with Archie and Reggie completely fooled by an advertising flyer that looks like a treasure map. Cue signature chaos and catastrophe…

‘Soul Mates’ from Betty & Veronica #151 (September 2000 by Kathleen Webb, Dan DeCarlo and Henry Scarpelli) then pictures the Caribbean-vacationing teens as freebooting female furies, but still unable to curtail their legendary rivalry.

The Adventures of Little Archie #21 (Winter 1961-1962) then stands and delivers a classic mystery yarn by the brilliant Bob Bolling as ‘Pirates’ sees the mischievous kid exposed to a strange gas carried by an old weirdo on a bus – yes; much, much simpler times – that somehow lands him a stagecoach en route to the 18th century and his own pressganging.

Condemned to be a cabin boy on Blackbeard’s ship, he is present at the deadly sea battle between the wicked rogue and valiant naval hero Captain Morgan

Crafted at a time when kids were considered smarter and not made of porcelain, this is a grand romp blending action, suspense and humour in perfect balance, followed by a more modern take as (sadly uncredited) Little Jughead vignette ‘The Mystery Treasure’ from Jughead’s Double Digest #152 (September 2009) sees Arch and his ever hungry pal uncover a haunted chest, whilst Archie Giant Series Magazine #583 (September 1988, by Bolling & Mike Esposito) pits the juvenile lead in solo action against time-travelling arch nemesis Mad Doctor Doom who seeks buried loot from 1743 in ‘Close Scrape in Barnacle Bay’

‘Treasure Trove’ (Laugh #7, June 1988, by Gladir, Bolling & Esposito) then offers a fantasy lay with The Mighty Archie Art Players re-enacting an undying rivalry between righteous Cap’n Booty (Archie) and piratical Cap’n Skull (Reg) on the high(larious) seas, after which Veronica #180 (July 2007) refocused on romance in ‘An Old Story’ as Ronnie’s bookshop binge unearths a saucy bodice-ripper that sets her imagination racing before ‘Digging for Buried Treasure’ (Betty & Veronica #163, August 2001 by Gladir, DeCarlo & Alison Flood) sees the lasses reminiscing – and speculating – about their childhood games at the beach.

In Betty & Veronica Spectacular #55 (September 2002) Angelo DeCesare, Parent & Jon D’Agostino bring supernatural romance and comedy capers in two-parter ‘Teen Spirit’ as the girls become the obsession of a piratical spook who’s been a horny teen since his death centuries ago. Things turn ugly when he decides to get rid of rivals Archie and Reggie and drastic steps need to be taken…

Archie Comics Digest #235 (August 2007) revisited ‘Pirates Ahoy!’ courtesy of Pellowski, Scarpelli & D’Agostino as another movie (this one starring Jon E. Depth) provokes poolside nightmares for our red rascal, Ronnie enjoys a ‘Treasured Moment’ (Veronica #175, December 2006 by Pellowski, Parent & Amash) after pinch-hitting for Betty and reading pirate stories to little kids. one last brace of gold comes with ‘Festival Time’ (Betty & Veronica #256, December 2011 by Gladir, Jeff Shultz & Amash) as high school eco-club Green Girls organises a fundraiser celebrating women pirates like Annie Bonnie or Ching Shih, only to lose their men to thieving flirty rivals before we hit the far shore with ‘Scene in Public’ (Archie Comics Digest #259, January 2010 by Pellowski, Pat Kennedy & Amash) as Archie, Jughead and Reggie literally patronise a pirate-themed diner on their way to a sporting event in full supporters’ garb…

Daftly delightful, these arrr ideal example of classic comics fun: brilliant gems no Funnybook Fan or Crafty Corsair would care to share. Enjoy your spoils and bask in the knowledge that some treasures can really be yours alone.
© 2012 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Clifton volume 2 The Laughing Thief


By De Groot & Turk, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-07-4 (Album PB)

For some inexplicable reason most of Europe’s comics cognoscenti – most especially French and Belgians – seem fascinated with us Brits. Maybe it’s our shared heritage of Empires lost and cultures in transition? An earlier age would have claimed it’s simply a case of “Know your Enemy”…

Whether we look at Anglo air ace Biggles, indomitable adventurers Blake and Mortimer, the Machiavellian machinations of Green Manor or even the further travails of Long John Silver, the serried stalwarts of our Scepter’d Isles cut a dashing swathe through the pages of the Continent’s assorted magazines and albums.

And then there’s Clifton

Originally devised by child-friendly strip genius Raymond Macherot (Chaminou, Les croquillards, Chlorophylle, Sibylline) for iconic magazine Le Journal de Tintin, this doughty True Brit troubleshooter first appeared in December 1959. After three albums worth of material – compiled and released between 1959 and 1960 – Macherot quit Tintin for arch-rival Le Journal de Spirou leaving his eccentric comedic crime-fighter to flounder until LJdT revived him at the height of the Swinging London scene, courtesy of Jo-El Azaza & Greg (Michel Régnier).

Those strips were subsequently collected as Les lutins diaboliques in French and De duivelse dwergen for Dutch-speakers in 1969.

Then it was back into retirement until the early 1970s when writer Bob De Groot and illustrator Philippe “Turk” Liegeois revived Clifton for the long haul, producing ten tales of which this – Le voleur qui rit – Clifton (from 1973) – was their second collaboration.

From 1984 on, artist Bernard Dumont – AKA Bédu – limned De Groot’s scripts; eventually assuming the writing chores as well, persevering until the series ended in 1995. In keeping with its rather haphazard nature and typically undying nature, the Clifton experience resumed once again in 2003, crafted by De Groot & Michel Rodrigue in four further adventures; a grand total of 26 to date.

The setup is deliciously simple: pompous and irascible Colonel Sir Harold Wilberforce Clifton, ex-RAF, former Metropolitan Police Constabulary and recently retired from MI5, has a great deal of difficulty dealing with being put out to pasture in rurally bucolic Puddington. He thus takes every opportunity to get back in the saddle, occasionally assisting the Government or needy individuals as an amateur sleuth.

Sadly for Clifton – as with that other much-underappreciated national treasure Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army – he is convinced that he is usually the only truly competent man in a world full of blithering idiots…

In this second translated album from 2005, the Gentleman Detective is embroiled in not one but two uncanny incidences, beginning with eponymous epic ‘The Laughing Thief’ wherein the still much-missed lawman rather forcefully inserts himself into a current case baffling Scotland Yard.

London is wracked by devilishly clever crimes executed with infallible precision by a crack crew of blaggers, but the profits of each caper seem far below what such expert criminals should be bothering with. Moreover, each perfectly executed heist is preceded by a telephone warning from a braying braggart with the most annoying and distinctive laugh imaginable…

These felons are incredibly bold and arrogant. Even after Clifton intervenes in the second robbery, the scoundrels easily outwit him, leaving the dapper sleuth unconscious with dozens of other peculiarly proud and strangely supportive victims…

Moreover, although police “higher-ups” welcome Clifton’s help, officer-in-charge Lieutenant Hardfeeling doesn’t want the show-stealer around and is doing all he can to impede the Colonel’s investigations, despite protests from senior colleagues and the bobbies on the beat…

Nevertheless, persistence is its own reward, and when Clifton finally deduces the true reasons for the publicity-seeking crime-spree, the resultant confrontation is spectacularly satisfying and hilariously rewarding…

Being British and an ex-spy, Clifton has hung on to the odd gadget or two, such as an amazingly tricked out umbrella which plays a major part in this volume’s second tale ‘The Mystery of the Running Voice’. A suspenseful spooky yarn, it begins when the unhappy pensioner meets old comrade Donald McDonald Muckyduck, who appears to have worn out every vestige of verve and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown…

Close consultation reveals that the former Police Inspector is being haunted by a robber ghost; one that has already claimed six victims. However, upon viewing crime scene photos Clifton gains an inkling into how the trick is done and temporarily moves to sedate and sedentary village Flatfish-on-Apron, setting himself up as bait for a diabolical genius with a penchant for clever gimmicks…

Visually spoofing Swinging Sixties London and staidly stuffy English Manners with wicked effect, these gentle thrillers are big on laughs but also pack loads of consequence-free action into their eclectic mix. Delightfully surreal, instantly accessible and doused with daft slapstick à la Jacques Tati and intrigue like Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple, this brace of romps rattle along in the grand old tradition of Will Hay, Terry-Thomas and Alistair Sim – or Wallace and Gromit if you’re of a later generation – offering splendid fun and timeless laughs for all.
Original edition © 1973 Le Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard S. A.) 1988 by De Groot & Turk. English translation © 2005 Cinebook Ltd.

Iznogoud and the Magic Carpet (volume 6)


By Goscinny and Tabary (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918- 044-3 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977), René Goscinny was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts as Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah. However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th1962 issue. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on many levels: as a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper for the youngsters, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire of marvellously accessible episodic comic capers.

The same magic formula had made its more famous cousin Asterix a global success, and just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nitwit is adapted by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover, the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly delivered creative anachronism which keeps the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious antihero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always declaiming “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, and soon became a massive European hit, with 30 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas); his own solo comic, computer games, animated films, a TV cartoon show and even a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary began scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

There haven’t been any new translated volumes since 2017, but this sixth Cinebook album (actually the ninth French album, released in 1973 as Le Tapis Magique) is now available in digital formats and opens with lead tale ‘The Magic Carpet’: an exceptional, extended 20-page epic bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the unusual suspects…

It all starts in gloriously bustling Baghdad where the verminous Vizier unaccountably encounters a few famous faces (moonlighting from their day jobs in Le Journal de Tintin) before returning to plotting how to remove the gentle, isolated and very dim obstacle to power …

It’s the birthday of corpulent oaf Haroun Al Plassid and a nasty notion finally occurs: employing impecunious Fakir Khaledonyahn to make a very special kind of rug. Flying carpets are no big deal in the empire and the skies of Baghdad are crammed with them, but the Fakir’s are extraordinary…

They only travel one way. Anybody standing on one of these when the trigger word is pronounced takes a flight to who-knows-where and never returns…

Who-knows-where is actually Ancient Peking (you can say Beijing if you want) and soon the venerably inscrutable and imperturbable citizens there are having their legendary patience and implacability tested as rug after rug arrives because untrusting Iznogoud continually demands proof of concept before parting with cash. Meanwhile, the gullibly hapless Caliph can’t get the hang of the magic word his trusted advisor wants him to repeat…

This sharply convoluted pun-punctuated yarn is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘Incognito’. The well-meaning Caliph has no idea of the dire depredations Iznogoud inflicts upon the populace in his name, or that his beloved people fear, despise and revile the Caliphate because of excessive taxes, prisons filled with tortured citizens and schools empty of children. When chimerically inquisitive Haroun Al Plassid decides to go out amongst the populace in all his regal splendour, he is disappointed and surprised to find the streets utterly deserted by the terrified common folk…

Asking his precious Iznogoud for advice, the Commander of the Faithful is then convinced to sneak out alone dressed as a common beggar. Unable to believe his luck, the venal Vizier quickly briefs bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahfand orders the guards to throw into the deepest dungeon any beggars who approach the palace.

On his fact-finding mission, the shabby Caliph learns a lot he doesn’t like and determines to fix things as soon as he gets back. Unfortunately, being a newcomer in his own city he gets lost…

Soon Iznogoud is going insane with suspense. Al Plassid should be back and languishing in jail by now, but as long as he’s out there somewhere the coup cannot begin. Thus, the despot-in-waiting and his fatuous flunky are forced to disguise themselves as beggars, covertly creeping out into Baghdad to search for their missing lord.

In the meantime, the Caliph has the brilliant notion of asking for directions and shambles home just as the Guard is being changed. Nobody even notices the scruffy indigent who shambles back to his apartments and becomes again The Caliph. Down in the city the tired and frustrated plotters give up and head for home, just as the order to arrest all beggars becomes law…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the perfectly paced saga of ‘The Tiger Hunt’ when Iznogoud convinces his boss to go for a low key safari – just him, the Vizier and faithful Wa’at Alahf, all armed with bows and blunt arrows – to bag the perfect bedside rug.

Typically, the murder plot goes hideously awry as a succession of hunters provide perfectly suitable, already skinned rugs to the happy ruler and the only living apex predators they can find are just not interested.

Forced to improvise, Iznogoud resorts to digging a huge pit, but whilst he’s at the bottom of it Haroun at last finds a way to really tick off a tiger – just before it tumbles into a great big hole in the ground…

The manic mirth concludes with ‘The Box of Souvenirs’ as a visitor from distant Nippon visits Baghdad with a strange device. Judoka Karate is a destitute tourist whose incredible hand-held cube can turn solid objects into two-dimensional pictures.

Instantly sensing an opportunity Iznogoud – after much spirited dickering – acquires the mystic souvenir-maker, but hasn’t fully considered the details. To turn a jug, jewel or Caliph into a black-&-white image, the object has to be the proper distance from the lens and the subject absolutely must keep completely still for a minute or two.

Confident he can cope, the Vizier has utterly underestimated the Caliph’s mayfly attention span and ingrained vanity which has led to large mirrors being placed all over the palace…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

When first released in Britain in the 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comic book) these tales made little impression, but this snappy, wonderfully beguiling strip deserves an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids of All Ages…
Original edition © Editions TABARY 1991, by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2010 by Cinebook Ltd.

Sock Monkey Treasury: A Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey Collection


By Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-696-6 (HB)

Tony Millionaire loves to draw and does it very, very well: referencing classical art, classic children’s book illustration and an eclectic mix of pioneering comic strip draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman. These influences, styles and sensibilities he seamlessly blends with the vision of European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the pictorial storytelling racket. The result is eye-popping

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences.

He has a variety of graphical strings to his bow – such as his own coterie of books for children like the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series; animation triumphs and the brilliant if disturbing weekly strip Maakies – which describes the riotously vulgar and absurdly surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his fellow über-alcoholic and nautical adventurer Drinky Crow. They are abetted but never aided by a peculiarly twisted, off-kilter cast of reprobates, antagonists and confrontational well-wishers. However, those guys are the mirror universe equivalents of the stars of this sublime confection, gathering many past glories in one huge (286 x 203mm), sumptuous 336-page hardback – 80 in full colour. It collects twelve uniquely dark and fanciful multiple award-winning, all-ages adventures originally published as occasional miniseries between 1998 and 2007 by Dark Horse Comics. Also included are the two-colour hardcover storybooks Millionaire created in 2002 and 2004. Should you prefer, the tome is also available in digital editions.

In a Victorian House – of variable shape and size – by the sea, an old Sock Monkey named Uncle Gabby has great adventures and ponders the working of a wonderful yet often scary world. His constant companion is a small cuddly-toy bird with button eyes. Mr. Crow doesn’t understand why he cannot fly and sometimes eases his sorrow with strong spirits.

Their guardian is a small girl named Ann-Louise, and many other creatures living and artificial share the imposing edifice…

The gloriously imaginative forays into the fantastic begin as the material monkey is chased through the house by marauding toy pirates in their bombastic brigantine. In his flight, Uncle Gabby espies a gleaming, glittering glass concoction hanging from the ceiling. Convinced something so beautiful must be the Promised Land, he enlists his artificial avian pal to help him enter ‘Heaven’. Sadly, the pirates have not given up and the chaos soon escalates…

‘Borneo’ describes the pair’s discovery of a shrunken human head and subsequent heroic oceanic odyssey to return the decapitated talisman to its home. Of course, if they had thought to unseal the sewn-shut lips, he could have told them they were going in the wrong direction…

The next tale is a macabre all-action thriller which begins when a lost bat gets stuck in the attic ‘Dollhouse’. Mr. Crow, meanwhile, is attempting to console freshly widowed Mrs. Smalls in the cellar. Things go even more savagely awry when the faux crow and well-meaning matchmaker Monkey seek to introduce the grieving mouse to the strapping, winged stranger, utterly unaware of his pedigree as a South American Rodent-Eating Bat…

Knick-knacks, trinkets and ornaments have been going missing in the next tale, and Ann-Louise attributes the thefts to ‘The Trumbernick’ who lives in the Grandfather clock. Having mislaid his hipflask, Mr. Crow investigates and finds the horde of goodies, in truth purloined by a capricious Blue Jay…

Disillusioned by the death of a beloved myth and disheartened by the antics of a venal – and extremely violent – bird, they are subsequently stunned to see an actual Trumbernick return, righteously enraged at the blow to his spotless reputation…

In ‘The Hunters’, stuffed bird and Sock Monkey – inspired by a room full of trophies and stuffed beasts – decide to take up the sport of slaughter. All too soon they find that their size, relative ineffectuality and squeamishness – not to mention the loquacity and affability of their intended prey – prove a great impediment to their ambitions…

Millionaire proves the immense power of his storytelling in ‘A Baby Bird’, as Uncle Gabby’s foolish meddling with a nest – after being specifically told not to – results in tragedy, with brutal self-immolating repercussions that would make King Lear quail…

The author abandoned masterful pen-&-ink etching style for soft mutable charcoal rendering in ‘The Oceanic Society’, wherein excitable doll Inches unknowingly performs an act of accidental cruelty at the shore: inviting the vengeance of many outraged sea creatures against the inhabitants of Ann-Louise’s house…

An innocent attempt by the little girl and Mr. Crow to find Uncle Gabby a romantic companion goes hideous wrong and results in monstrous ‘Heartbreak’ when they throw away his actual true love and replace her with a ghastly mechanical monkey horror. The bereft puppet can then only find surcease in escalating acts of hideous destruction…

In 2002 Millionaire took his characters into a whimsical watercolour wonderland with “a Populare Pictonovelette” hardback entitled ‘The Glass Doorknob’. The beguiling tale is included here in a series of full-colour plates supplemented by blocks of text, describing how the house dwellers once saw an indoor rainbow beneath a doorknob and subsequently spent all summer trying to recreate the glorious spectacle by acquiring and aligning every other item of glass, crystal or pellucid material they could find or steal…

The return to stark monochrome augurs the onset of terrifying 4-part epic ‘The Inches Incident’ which begins off the coast of Cape Ann when grizzled mariner Oyster Joe discovers thieving stowaways plundering his sailing ship.

Amidst spectacular hunts for sea monsters, those villains Uncle Gabby and Mr. Crow explain how their former friend Inches mysteriously shanghaied and dumped them at sea…

Their new ally returns them home, but upon arrival they discover that the doll has become Evil! Boldly braving the house, they discover the poor creature has been possessed by an inconceivable horror which drives them off and provokes a fantastic sea voyage to find the devil’s only nemesis…

This staggering, bleakly charming compendium closes with an existential treat from 2004. Coloured by Jim Campbell, ‘Uncle Gabby’ was another one-shot hardback – albeit in standard comics format – which offered a few revelatory indulgences on the puppet heroes’ poignant origins, all wrapped up in a baroque bestiary and imaginative travelogue as Sock Monkey discloses his shocking ability to un-name things and thereby end their existences…

Visually intoxicating, astoundingly innovative and stunningly surreal, Sock Monkey yarns judiciously leaven wonder with heartbreak and gleeful innocence with sheer terror. Millionaire describes them as for “adults who love children’s stories” and these tall tales all offer enchanting pictorial vistas and skewed views of the art of storytelling that no fan of comics or fantasy could ever resist.
Sock Monkey Treasury © 2014 Tony Millionaire. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books.

Lucky Luke: The Complete Collection volume 2


By Morris, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-455-7 (Album HB)

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics: according them academic and scholarly standing as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as an art form. This hardback/digital compilation celebrates the formulative early triumphs of a fictional hero who is certainly a national treasure for both Belgium and France, whilst tracing the lost origins of a global phenomenon. It’s also timely in that the worldwide western wonder celebrates his 75th Anniversary this year…

As we know him now, Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy roaming the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his horse Jolly Jumper whilst interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures and icons.

His ongoing exploits have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (81 collected books and more than 300 million albums in at least 33 languages thus far), with all the usual spin-off toys, computer games, puzzles, animated cartoons, TV shows and live-action movies.

This wild and woolly delight – originally released in 2017 as L’Intégrale 2 – features a far more boisterous and raw hero in transition, who hits his stride and struts his stuff after a preliminary text feature fills us in on the tone of the times, Morris’ filmic and comics influences and an eventful US sojourn…

Lucky Luke was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”). For years we believed it was for Le Journal de Spirou Christmas Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947), before being launched into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880′ on December 7th 1946. However, the previous volume in this superb archival series (in hardback album and digital editions) revealed the strip actually debuted in the multinational weekly comic, but without a title banner and only in the edition released in France…

This second outing re-presents – in strict chronological order – strips created between October 1949 and December 1952 before being collected in albums Under a Western Sky (1952), Lucky Luke versus Poker Pat (1953) and Outlaws (1954). Here all the art and pages have been restored, rejiggled and remastered to achieve maximum contemporary authenticity with the original weekly serialisation.

The previous collection covered how the neophyte auteur became a dependable staple of the Euro-comics scene whilst toiling as a caricaturist for magazine Le Moustique and working at the CBA (Compagnie Belge d’Actualitiés) cartoon studio, where he met future comics superstars Franquin and Peyo. Morris was one of “la Bande des quatre” – The Gang of Four – comprising Jijé, Will and old comrade Franquin: leading proponents of a new, loosely free-wheeling artistic style known as the “Marcinelle School” which dominated Le Journal de Spirou in aesthetic contention with the “Ligne Claire” style used by Hergé, EP Jacobs and other artists in Le Journal de Tintin.

In 1948 said Gang (excluding Will) visited America, meeting US creators and sightseeing. Morris stayed for six years, meeting fellow traveller René Goscinny, scoring work at newly-formed EC sensation Mad and always making copious notes and sketches of the swiftly vanishing Old West. Morris stayed for six years, an “American Period” seeing him chase an outsider’s American Dream while winning fame and acclaim in his own country. That glittering sojourn is carefully unpicked and shared by expert researchers Christelle & Bertrand Pissavy-Yvernault.

Their heavily-illustrated essay covers his East-to-West trek, family life and quest to experience the wonderland of his fantasies. The in-depth treatise is packed with intimate photos and his published illustrations of the period, culled from Le Moustique, plus comics pages, film memorabilia (from the movies that so influenced his stories at that time) and also includes both art work from European and US publications by fellow expat and eventual collaborator Rene Goscinny. There’s even an in-depth analysis of how what Morris Saw became what Lucky Did closely referencing the comics stories that follow…

Working solo (with early script assistance from his brother Louis De Bevere) until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush parody and action before formally uniting with Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Le Journal de Spirou on August 25th 1955.

Before we get there though, there’s plenty of solo action to enjoy beginning with ‘The Return of Trigger Joe’ from LJdS #602-618 (October 27th 1949-February 16th 1950) and collected in 1952’s Sous le Ciel de l’ouest/Under a Western Sky) album. Here the lonesome wanderer meets another prairie nomad who’s his match in all cowboy disciplines, who becomes a rather ruthless competitor when they sign up for the Nugget Gulch horse race. Of course, “John Smith” believes he’s a shoo-in since he’s riding the stolen Jolly Jumper, but hasn’t counted on Luke’s close relationship with the wonder horse. Once that scheme fails – but not before extended slapstick shenanigans in the race scenes – Smith falls back on his old ways as bank robber Trigger Joe, but his pilfering the prize money only leads to disaster when Lucky trails him deep into the searing desert…

Next up chronologically and also from Under a Western Sky, ‘Round Up Days’ (LJdS #619-629; February 23rd – May 4th 1950) sees Lucky actually working as a cowboy, hiring on for a cattle round-up (lots of rodeo style comedy here!) before encountering rustlers and cleaning up cow town Bottleneck City…

Closing the first album, ‘The Big Fight’ (LJdS #630-646; May 11th – August 31st 1950) sees Luke briefly adopt a two-fisted simpleton with the strength of Hercules and school him in the arts of pugilism for a prize-fight against infamous Killer Kelly. Things are going well until bookmaker Slats “Slippery” Nelson tries to fix the outcome. Thankfully, Lucky is his match in cunning and a faster gun than the gambler’s hirelings…

The next album release was December 1953’s Contre Pat Poker/ Lucky Luke versus Pat Poker, but its contents – ‘Clean-up in Red City’ and ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ were reprinted out of chronological order so here the former (from LJdS #685-697; May 31st – August 23rd 1951) and detailing how Lucky becomes a sheriff after being embarrassingly robbed, and kicks out all the gamblers, shysters and crooked saloon owners led by sinister charlatan Pat Poker – is followed by the eponymous lead adventure from 1954 album Hors-la-loi/Outlaws: a highly significant action romp signalling the debut of Lucky’s greatest foes.

The strip ‘Outlaws’ originally ran in LJdS #701-731 from September 20th 1951 to April 17th 1952 with our hero hired by the railroad companies to end the depredations of Emmett Bill, Grat and Bob Dalton – real life badmen who plagued the region during the 1890s, imported into the strip and given a comedic, but still vicious spin. The cat & mouse chase across the west sees Luke constantly frustrated by close calls and narrow escapes in superbly gripping movie set-pieces until, inevitably, justice claims the killers.

Morris ended the gang forever, but they were insanely popular with fans and the ideal foils for Lucky, so eventually they returned in the form of their own cousins, but we’ll tell that tale another time and place…

Here it’s back to ‘Rough and Tumble in Tumbleweed’ (LJdS #735-754; May 15th – September 25th 1952) as sheep farmers are harassed and imperilled by cattlemen. Luke’s attempts to broker peace are swiftly derailed after escaped convict Pat Poker slips into town and uses his gift for cheating to take over the local saloon and hire shepherd-hating gunslinger Angelface to remove their mutual enemy. Sadly for them, even this alliance of evil is insufficient to tame the wily western wonder…

By now a certified Christmas must-have item, December 1954’s Lucky Luke album Outlaws also carried the ‘Return of the Dalton Brothers’ as first seen in LJdS #755-764 (October 2nd – December 4th 1952). Here, a fraud named Bill Bonney campaigns to become sheriff of a prosperous frontier town by claiming to be the killer of the infamous owlhoots, and seems unstoppable until Lucky orchestrates a brief and equally fraudulent resurrection of the bandit brothers…

Morris died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus spin-off yarns of Rantanplan (“dumbest dog in the West” and a charming spoof of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin), with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac taking over the franchise, producing more tales of the immortal cowboy.

A treasure trove of vintage cartoon material, designs and sketches, contemporaneous extras, commentary, original art, creator biographies and more, this is a delight for older kids who have a gained a bit of perspective and historical understanding, although the action and slapstick situations are no more contentious than most Laurel and Hardy films (perfectly understandable as Morris was a devout fan of the bumbling duo).

These youthful forays of an indomitable hero offer grand joys in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Support Your Local Sheriff, superbly executed by a master storyteller: a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for modern kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of the Wild West that never was…

Bon anniversaire, Lucky!
© Morris/Dupuis, 1949 to 1954 for the first publications in Le Journal de Spirou.
© Morris/Dupuis 2017 for this volume of the collection. All other material © 2017 its respective creators/owners.

Plastic Man Archives volume 7


By Jack Cole, with Joe Millard, Gwen Hansen, John Spranger, Alex Kotzky & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0413-6 (HB)

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets, he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

Plastic Man debuted at the back of Police Comics #1 (August 1941) as a slight, comedy filler feature amongst the more serious Cops ‘n’ Robbers fare but “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian is a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he is saved by a monk who nurses him back to health and proves to the hardened thug that the world is not filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolves to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with. Creating a costumed alter ego, he starts a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopts the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks is a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who once – accidentally – saved a wizard’s life. He was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature will henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces feel like it…

After utterly failing to halt the unlikely untouchable’s subsequent crime spree, Plas appeals to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repents, is compelled to keep him around in case he ever strays again. The oaf is slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembles, Winks is the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who gets all the best lines, possessing an inexplicable charm and habit of finding trouble. It was always the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

Despite being a fan favourite for decades and regularly reinvented for both comics and television Plas, is woefully underrepresented in the archival reprint realm. These long out-of-print Archive editions are the only seriously curated collections of his outlandish adventures, but hope springs eternal for new editions or – at the very least – a digital collection someday…

Covering May to October 1947, this sublimely sturdy seventh full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #7 and 8 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics #66-71. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Bud Plant offers a historical assessment of Cole and his collaborators in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947) commence with ‘The Evil Doctor Volt’by scripter Joe Millard and Cole, wherein an elite criminal genius’ plans are continually scuppered by common uneducated crooks and the world’s dumbest hero sidekick, after which Woozy’s eagerness to do good deeds lands him on a treasure-hunter’s ship after he’s ratcheted by a sinister seductress pressganging innocent men into a ‘One-Way Voyage of Villainy’ (by Cole with Millard & Alex Kotzky)…

Woozy had his own regular solo feature in Plastic Man, and here the Stalwart Simpleton seek to improve his deductive abilities and crimebusting skills at ‘Professor Rudge’s Mind-Training School’ (Gwen Hansen & Cole), Perhaps, he should have asked where teacher got all his knowledge and experience from…

Prose science fiction tale ‘The Glass Planet’ leads back to comical comics as Millard & Cole reveal ‘The Billboard’s Tale’, closing the issue with a skyscraper ad display detailing a war between marketing companies that endangered the entire city and made the signage feel really special again…

Cole expended most of his creative energies and multitalented attentions on the monthly Police Comics and in #66, depicts Plas trying to get the goods on ruthless construction cheat Naughty Nikko as he skimps on a new West River Tunnel. Everybody would be far better served watching stylish concubine ‘Beauteous Bessie’. Woozy sure is…

For #67, our heroes are put through the wringer by jolly joker ‘The Gag Man’ whose love of kids extends to their worth as police diversions and human shields after which Plastic Man #8 opens with ‘The Hot Rod’ (Hansen & Cole) wherein a contract killer successfully eludes all efforts to catch him until injected by one victim with a serum that turns him into a human firebrand before ‘Concerto for Murder’ (Hansen & Cole) sees Woozy join an orchestra just in time to see the conductor murdered in full view of everyone. Happily, supportive Plas is on hand…

Winks’ solo strip – by Hansen & John Spranger – sees the affable goon befriend a crazy artist who can instantly change the appearance of everything by covering it with ‘The Mystery Paint’, whilst anonymous prose vignette ‘Doomsby’s Doom’explodes a monster myth threatening a plantation crop, after which the comic concludes with the tragedy of deranged criminal Mr. Uglee who offers a huge pay-out to the person who can turn himself into ‘The Homeliest Man in the World’(Millard & Spranger)…

Police Comics #68 (July 1947) follows the FBI star – and Woozy – as he trails an escaped criminal mastermind to California and is sucked into showbiz inPlas Goes to Hollywood’ before returning home to meet his match in #69’s ‘Stretcho, the India Rubber Man’: a murderous performer who frames the hero at the behest of vengeful convicts.

Spies frantically, lethally hunting a hidden secret shade #70’s ‘It’s an Ill Wind that Blows the Hat’, with Woozy sporting a string of chapeaus likely to lose him his head before the manic mayhem pauses once more with a case in cowboy country as ‘East is East and West is West’ finds FBI tenderfeet Plas and Woozy hunting rustlers and stamp-stealers and finding an East Coast bigshot who’s gone native…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious gag-packed covers, this is a true masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating eight decades after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans should take every opportunity to enjoy, so let’s pray someone at DC is paying attention…

© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

 

29th Plas 7 (Comedy/DC Superhero/Humour/Plastic Man)

Plastic Man Archives volume 7

By Jack Cole, with Joe Millard, Gwen Hansen, John Spranger, Alex Kotzky & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0413-6 (HB)

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets, he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

Plastic Man debuted at the back of Police Comics #1 (August 1941) as a slight, comedy filler feature amongst the more serious Cops ‘n’ Robbers fare but “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian is a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he is saved by a monk who nurses him back to health and proves to the hardened thug that the world is not filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolves to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with. Creating a costumed alter ego, he starts a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopts the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks is a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who once – accidentally – saved a wizard’s life. He was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature will henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces feel like it…

After utterly failing to halt the unlikely untouchable’s subsequent crime spree, Plas appeals to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repents, is compelled to keep him around in case he ever strays again. The oaf is slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembles, Winks is the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who gets all the best lines, possessing an inexplicable charm and habit of finding trouble. It was always the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

Despite being a fan favourite for decades and regularly reinvented for both comics and television Plas, is woefully underrepresented in the archival reprint realm. These long out-of-print Archive editions are the only seriously curated collections of his outlandish adventures, but hope springs eternal for new editions or – at the very least – a digital collection someday…

Covering May to October 1947, this sublimely sturdy seventh full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #7 and 8 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics#66-71. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Bud Plant offers a historical assessment of Cole and his collaborators in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947) commence with ‘The Evil Doctor Volt’by scripter Joe Millard and Cole, wherein an elite criminal genius’ plans are continually scuppered by common uneducated crooks and the world’s dumbest hero sidekick, after which Woozy’s eagerness to do good deeds lands him on a treasure-hunter’s ship after he’s ratcheted by a sinister seductress pressganging innocent men into a ‘One-Way Voyage of Villainy’ (by Cole with Millard & Alex Kotzky)…

Woozy had his own regular solo feature in Plastic Man, and here the Stalwart Simpleton seek to improve his deductive abilities and crimebusting skills at ‘Professor Rudge’s Mind-Training School’ (Gwen Hansen & Cole), Perhaps, he should have asked where teacher got all his knowledge and experience from…

Prose science fiction tale ‘The Glass Planet’ leads back to comical comics as Millard & Cole reveal ‘The Billboard’s Tale’, closing the issue with a skyscraper ad display detailing a war between marketing companies that endangered the entire city and made the signage feel really special again…

Cole expended most of his creative energies and multitalented attentions on the monthly Police Comics and in #66, depicts Plas trying to get the goods on ruthless construction cheat Naughty Nikko as he skimps on a new West River Tunnel. Everybody would be far better served watching stylish concubine ‘Beauteous Bessie’. Woozy sure is…

For #67, our heroes are put through the wringer by jolly joker ‘The Gag Man’ whose love of kids extends to their worth as police diversions and human shields after which Plastic Man #8 opens with ‘The Hot Rod’ (Hansen & Cole) wherein a contract killer successfully eludes all efforts to catch him until injected by one victim with a serum that turns him into a human firebrand before ‘Concerto for Murder’ (Hansen & Cole) sees Woozy join an orchestra just in time to see the conductor murdered in full view of everyone. Happily, supportive Plas is on hand…

Winks’ solo strip – by Hansen & John Spranger – sees the affable goon befriend a crazy artist who can instantly change the appearance of everything by covering it with ‘The Mystery Paint’, whilst anonymous prose vignette ‘Doomsby’s Doom’explodes a monster myth threatening a plantation crop, after which the comic concludes with the tragedy of deranged criminal Mr. Uglee who offers a huge pay-out to the person who can turn himself into ‘The Homeliest Man in the World’(Millard & Spranger)…

Police Comics #68 (July 1947) follows the FBI star – and Woozy – as he trails an escaped criminal mastermind to California and is sucked into showbiz inPlas Goes to Hollywood’ before returning home to meet his match in #69’s ‘Stretcho, the India Rubber Man’: a murderous performer who frames the hero at the behest of vengeful convicts.

Spies frantically, lethally hunting a hidden secret shade #70’s ‘It’s an Ill Wind that Blows the Hat’, with Woozy sporting a string of chapeaus likely to lose him his head before the manic mayhem pauses once more with a case in cowboy country as ‘East is East and West is West’ finds FBI tenderfeet Plas and Woozy hunting rustlers and stamp-stealers and finding an East Coast bigshot who’s gone native…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious gag-packed covers, this is a true masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating eight decades after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans should take every opportunity to enjoy, so let’s pray someone at DC is paying attention…
© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 6: 1961-1962


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-672-1 (HB) 978-1-60699-949-3 (PB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical surreal epic for half a century: 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

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 his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that matters. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived: proving cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

Following Diana Krall’s Foreword – discussing past times and secular humanism – the timeless times of play, peril and psychoanalysis resume as ever in marvellous monochrome, with more character introductions, plot advancements and the creation of even more traditions we all revere to this day…

As ever our focus is quintessential inspirational loser Charlie Brown who, with increasingly fanciful high-maintenance mutt Snoopy, remains at odds with a bombastic, mercurial supporting cast, all hanging out doing kid stuff.

As always, daily gags centre on playing, musical moments, pranks, and a seasonal selection of sports; teasing, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. However, with this tome, the themes and tropes that define the series (especially in the wake of all those animated TV specials) become mantra-like and endlessly variable.

Mean girl Violet, prodigy Schroeder, self-taught psychoanalyst and world dictator-in-waiting Lucy, her off-kilter little brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” are fixtures perfectly honed to generate joke-routines and gag-sequences around their own foibles, but now another clutch of new disruptive players join the mob.

Moreover, Charlie Brown’s existential responsibility for baby sister Sally expands crushingly as she grows and he assumes the mantle of dumber, yet protective, big brother…

Resigned – almost – to being an eternal loser singled out by fate, Charlie is helpless in the clutches of relentless Lucy who monetises her spiteful verve via a 5¢ walk-in psychoanalysis booth – ensuring that whether at play, in sports, flying his kite or just brooding, the round-headed kid truly endures the trials of the damned…

Perpetually sabotaged, and facing face-to-face abuse from all females in his life. Charlie Brown now endures a fresh hell in the form of smug attention-seeking Frieda who demands constant approval for her “naturally curly hair” and champions the cause of shallow good looks over substance. Even noble Snoopy is threatened, as the newcomer drags – literally – her boneless, functionally inert – but still essentially Feline – cat Faron into places where cats just don’t belong!

Other notable events include a sinister escalation in the Blanket war as Lucy sadistically seeks ways to decouple Linus from the fabric comforter that sustains him in the worst of times…

Moreover, when she isn’t stealing, slicing, mutilating, interring or otherwise assaulting the cloth, Snoopy is there to fight the tormented kid for it. And worst of all, Linus is afflicted with the compulsion to collect things and diagnosed with a need to wear eyeglasses. Oh, the humanity…!

The bizarre beagle increases his strange development in all ways. Other than his extended Cold War duel for possession of the cherished comfort blanket, the manic mutt must adapt to that darn cat, but still finds time to philosophise, eat, dance like a dervish, stand on his head, converse with falling leaves, play with sprinklers, befriend birds, eat more, brave the elements and coin a bucketload of new slogans like “Happiness is a piece of fudge caught on the first bounce”…

The Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than 4-panel dailies. Thwarted ambition, sporting failures, explosive frustration – much of it kite-related – and Snoopy’s inner life became the strip’s signature denouements as these weekend wonders afforded Schulz room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

Particular moments to relish this time involve the increasingly defined and sharply-edged romantic triangle of Lucy, Schroeder and Beethoven; Sally’s extended performance anxiety over starting kindergarten; Linus discovering the magic of a library card; the satisfaction of shoelace-tying; more “pencil-pal” communications; snow-games, rain, hiccups, stargazing ruminations; cooking gaffes; television, and grandeur and weirdness of Autumn.

There’s also slow-maturing madness through the first converts to the cult of The Great Pumpkin and the dread power of romance manifests with the return of Linus’ unattainable schoolteacher/inamorata Miss Othmar

To wrap it all up, Gary Groth celebrates and deconstructs the man and his work in ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000’whilst a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again….

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, this volume ensures total enjoyment: comedy gold and social glue metamorphosing into an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery that still adds joy to billions of lives, and continues to make new fans and devotees long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962 (volume Six) © 2006, 2014 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. The Foreword is © 2006, Diana Krall. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2006 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the League of Doom!


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-230-4 (TPB)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British comics phenomena The Phoenix since the very first issue in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), his trend-setting, mind-bending yarns have recently been retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 5 & 6, then entitled Destructo and Apocalypse

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargey began after an obnoxious little beast popped up in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite sustained efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just could not contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who was – and is – a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker…

The original collected volumes dispensed disaster-drenched doses of daftness in six-month courses of ill-treatment, but this new compilation covers Year Three from Winter to Winter as first enjoyed in Destructo and Other Ridiculous Stories! and Apocalypse and Other Surprising Stories!.

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-weapons resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise,p finally pick a side: shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a “motorway” right through the sylvan glades and (apparently) unprotected parks…

It all resumes with tiny terror Monkey manifesting more mayhem and almost turning his own stomach inside out whilst attempting to weaponise some very nasty stuff he finds under his feet in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and latterly sets back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a 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 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 evil genius ‘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 eco-warrior 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!’

As Spring unfolds, the wee woodlanders 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 ‘The Temple!’ (Skunky’s new high-tech citadel of evil), just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the musky mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom. Sadly, the only one making 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!’ – which only incites the previous incumbent to up his aggravating game…

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

Occasional ally Le Fox cultivates an air of mystery, but when the League of Doom unleashes a deadly custard assault his annoying old ‘Uncle Fox!’ soon proves to be the real superspy deal, just as 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!’, leading to the mega-machine’s demise, but by the time brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman 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 regrets ever thinking of it…

His Quantum Bibble Fobbulator also goes wrong, tearing ‘Wormholes!’ in the forest fabric, but the rustic residents 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 the escalates with a frankly disturbing insight into the simian star’s softer side as he administers first aid to ailing Bunny and subsequently descends into megalomania as the truly terrifying ‘Nurse Monkey!’

Easing effortlessly into the middle of the year, ‘The Importance of Being Monkey’ layers on the intrigue as the human scientists who originally rocketed the simian sod – and his evil successor – into paradise come looking for their property – accidentally revealing a deeper plot and properly mad doctor in charge. At least, Monkey has finally been allowed to join the League of Doom…

The deployment of ‘Poop!’ bins outrages and baffles the woods-folk, leading to a disastrous attempt to excise the humans’ daft innovations, after which human child Elouise reclaims her old toy Metal Steve, unaware that Skunky’s “improvements” will soon lead to them all needing ‘A New Home’…

Careless and catastrophic piloting of cetacean construct ‘Wahey-Ell’ reveals Monkey’s astigmatism whilst a new sinister faction targets Bunny in ‘The Order of the Woods’ but events take a deeply disturbing turn when Skunky’s new submersible uncovers a fantastic sunken kingdom ‘Beneath the Waves’ and affable nutter ‘Super Action Beaver’ gets a handy superhero makeover, but nothing prepares the woodlanders for Monkey’s weaponisation of concrete in ‘Stone Cold’…

A beloved hero embraces his evil side in ‘The Crimson Gobbler!’ while Skunky initiates Monkey into the secrets of ‘The Destroy-o-torium’, but wickedness is not restricted to the League as Terence the evil Anti-Bunny cruelly meddles with his good twin’s downtime in ‘Bunny TV’. Having said that, there’s no substitute for the real thing as seen when ‘Monkey with a Flame Thrower’ depicts what happens when the meddler gats access to Skunky’s Cannon Barrel…

The truth behind the chaos and super-science mayhem is revealed in ‘An Important Message’, but as Le Fox leaves it with Weenie and Pig, it’s as good as lost before he’s finished speaking, leaving Skunky and Robot Steve to slice, dice and splice animal DNA and make mockery of nature in ‘Mixey-matosis’

As Autumn falls, Action Beaver’s inner monologue is explored in ‘Noises’ before Bunny learns never ever to go ‘Camping’ with Pig and Squirrel even as Skunky’s brilliance in stealing all Earth’s colours with ‘The Mono-Chromatron!’ founders on the rocks of sheer idiocy…

The grand design of sinister humans running MeanieCorp Laboratories, the origins of ultimate destroyer the Moshoggothand the truth about Monkey are then systematically exposed in a time-bending extended epic beginning with ‘The Last Broadcast’. The daft drama is expanded upon in ‘To Destinyyy’ and ‘Find the Monkey’ before a valiant defender risks everything to save the Woods, the world and all reality, beginning with ‘Sabotage’; navigating the alternate timeline terrors of ‘Monkey in Charge’ and closing in Winter as the sinister schemes and cosmic carnage affect the memories of those who barely survived in ‘Onwards to Skunky’…

It’s not all safe and fine yet, however, and a final sacrifice is called for as ‘The Monstrous Below’ liberates the Moshoggoth and activates a Reality Discombobulator. Thankfully,
‘Fantastic Le Fox’ is on hand and ensures there’s enough of creation left to carry on by ‘Remembering Friends’

Adding lustre and fun, this superb treat includes detailed instructions on How to Draw Action Beaver’ and ‘How to Draw Le Fox’, so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning all in one eccentric package: providing irresistible joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Is that you yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2021. All rights reserved.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 17 – The Marsupilamis’ Nest


By André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-533-2 (Album PB)

Spirou (whose name translates as “squirrel”, “mischievous” and “lively kid” in the language of Walloons) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter – AKA Rob-Vel – for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis. The evergreen star was a response to the success of Hergé’s Tintin at rival outfit Casterman. At first, the character Spirou was a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (an in-joke reference to Dupuis’ premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip evolved into astounding and often surreal comedy dramas.

The other red-headed lad debuted on April 21st 1938 in an 8-page, French-language tabloid magazine that bears his name to this day. Fronting a roster of new and licensed foreign strips – Fernand Dineur’s Les Aventures de Tif (latterly Tif et Tondu) and US newspaper imports Red Ryder, Brick Bradford and Superman – the now-legendary anthology Le Journal de Spirou grew exponentially: adding Flemish edition Robbedoes on October 27th 1938, increasing page count and adding compelling action, fantasy and comedy features until it was an unassailable, unmissable necessity for Franco-Belgian kids.

Spirou and chums spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with many impressive creators building on Velter’s work, beginning with his wife Blanche “Davine” Dumoulin, who took over the strip when her husband enlisted in 1939. She was aided by Belgian artist Luc Lafnet until 1943, when Dupuis purchased all rights to the feature, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took over.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin inherited the feature. Gradually, he retired traditional short gag-like vignettes in favour of longer adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars. He ultimately devised a phenomenally popular nigh-magical animal dubbed Marsupilami, who debuted in 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers.

Jean-Claude Fournier succeeded Franquin: overhauling the feature over nine stirring serial adventures between 1969-1979 which tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist with tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s, the series seemed stalled, with three different creative teams alternating on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland, and Philippe Vandevelde – writing as “Tome” & artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry.

These last reverently referenced the still-beloved Franquin era: reviving the feature’s fortunes in 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. After their departure the strip diversified into parallel strands: Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…

Efforts by Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann brought the official album count to nearly 80 (if you include specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise), but there are still plenty of the older vintages uncollected, just waiting for another nostalgia wave to revive them (perhaps in Complete Collections as has been done with Lucky Luke and Valerian and Laureline…?)

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou & Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, mostly concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this manic marvel (available in paperback and digitally) we hark all the way back to 1960 for pure Franquin-formulated furore and fiasco.

The contents are actual two separate yarns, originally serialised in LJdS #699-991 (1956-1957) and #1034-1045 (1958) before being collected in 1960 as 12th European album Le nid des Marsupilamis. It’s brought to you as The Marsupilamis’ Nest

In 1952’s Spirou et les héritiers, intrepid heroes Spirou and Fantasio encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Central American nation Palombia: ultimately bringing the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation and a string of bizarre and absurd adventures.

Franquin had assumed all creative responsibilities for Dupuis’ flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (LJdS #427, June 20th 1946). He ran wild and prospered for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons of the stories until the feature became purely his own.

As the Bellboy became a globe-trotting journalist, fans continuously met startling new characters such as comrade/rival reporter Fantasio; crackpot inventor Count of Champignac and inept colleague Gaston Lagaffe (known in Britain as Gomer Goof). Travelling to exotic places, they uncovered crimes, challenged the fantastic unknown and clashed with nefarious arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio. They also competed with one of the first strong female characters in European comics – rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in the current English translation).

In this compilation, the eponymous lead story sees the enquiring lads lose out on a prestigious film-&-lecture gig to Cellophine, who has truly scooped them by penetrating the Palombian rain forest to create a compelling documentary of the language, mating habits and daily life of Marsupilamis…

Dramatic, action-packed, romantic, passionate and utterly hilarious, the tale depicts the earliest moments of the manic monkey’s adorable triplets and was apparently crafted by Franquin as his wife Liliane was carrying their first child…

The joys of the wilderness are counterbalanced by an enthralling graphic essay on civilisation and human nature as La foire aux gangsters AKA ‘The Gangster Fair’ sees Spirou and Fantasio – after some spectacular initial resistance – trained in the martial arts by innocuous-seeming Yudai Nao.

The aging oriental gentleman is the dutiful bodyguard of Yankee oil tycoon John P. Nutt, whose upcoming visit to Europe has afforded gangster Lucky Caspiano a chance to extract money and exact vengeance on a despised old enemy. Our heroes’ training is intended to create unsuspected back-up for the sentinel, but when the villains brutally remove Mr Nao and kidnap Nutt’s infant son, the likely lads find themselves on their own and painfully probing a sordid street fair for clues. Eventually their investigations centre on an all-comer’s boxing booth…

Happily, the reporters have unexpected allies – such as hapless office intern Gomer Goof and a thug with a conscience – but as the caper devolves into a manic, violent chase, Spirou deduces that they have been lied to, and that not every player in this game is on the side of the angels…

The Marsupilamis’ Nest offers the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller that delights readers fed up with a marketplace far too full of adults-only carnage, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly-sweet fantasy.

Easily accessible to readers of all ages and rendered with the beguiling style and seductively wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a delicious tale from a long line of superb exploits that cries out to be a household name as much as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1960 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2020 © Cinebook Ltd.

Domesticity Isn’t Pretty – a Leonard & Larry Collection


By Tim Barela (Palliard Press)
ISBN: 978-1-88456-800-8 (Album PB)

In an era where Pride events are just another way to hold up traffic and where acceptance of LGBTQIA+ citizens is a given – at least in all the civilised countries where organised religions and “hard men” totalitarian dictators (I’m laughing at a private dirty joke right now) are kept in their place by their desperation to stay tax-exempt, rich and powerful – Gay themes and scenes in entertainment are ubiquitous and simply No Big Deal anymore.

That’s a good thing but was not always the case. In fact, it has only changed within the span of (my) living memory. For English-language comics, the change from simple illicit pornography to homosexual inclusion in all drama, comedy, adventure and other genres started as late as the 1970s and matured in the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of editors like Robert Triptow and Andy Mangels and cartoonists like Tim Barela.

A native of Los Angeles, Barela was born in 1954, and became a fundamentalist Christian in High School. He had dreams of becoming a cartoonist and loved motorbikes. He was also a gay kid struggling to come to terms with what was still judged illegal, wilful deviancy and appalling sin…

Following an appreciative Foreword from John Preston, author, critic, journalist, producer, media-maven and former Gay Comix editor Andy Mangels’ Introduction tracks the history and evolution of the characters who eventually gelled into Barela’s extended Leonard & Larry clan.

In 1976, Barela began an untitled comic strip about working in a bike shop for Cycle News. Some characters then reappeared in later efforts Just Puttin (Biker, 1977-1978); Short Strokes (Cycle World, 1977-1979); Hard Tale(Choppers, 1978-1979) plus The Adventures of Rickie Racer, The Adventures of Rickie Racer and cooking strip (!) The Puttin Gourmet… America’s Favorite Low-Life Epicurean in Biker Lifestyle and FTW News.

In 1980, the cartoonist unsuccessfully pitched a domestic strip called Ozone to LGBT news periodical The Advocate. Among the quotidian cast were literal and metaphorical straight man Rodger and openly gay Leonard Goldman who had a “roommate” named Larry Evans

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

L&L also showed up in prestigious benefit comic Strip AIDs U.S.A. before triumphantly moving into The Advocate in 1988, and from 1990, its rival Frontiers. The lads even moved into live drama in 1994: adapted by Theatre Rhinoceros of San Francisco as part of stage show Out of the Inkwell.

Following all the warmly informative background and wonderful examples of those earlier strip ventures, this wonderfully oversized (220 x 280 mm) monochrome tome then divides the main feature into specific periods, beginning with ‘Early Stories from Gay Comix, and opening with the Strip AIDs U.S.A. tale ‘Hi there, We’re the Gay Neighbors’.

Actual introductory yarn ‘Revenge of the Yenta’ comes from Gay Comix #5, setting the scene with established couple Leonard & Larry navigating another meal with Leonard’s formidable unaccepting mother who is still ambushing him with blind dates and nice Jewish girls…

‘Lovers and Other Uninvited Guests’ focuses on a dinner party disaster which includes Leonard’s outrageous former lover Dennis and his new man Leon meeting Larry’s ex-wife Sharon and her Christian Moral Majority champion/fiancé Gordon

‘…Till Tricks Do Us Part.’ features Gordon’s shock return as a fully out-&-proud leatherboy cruiser, stalking Larry from his exotic good store on Melrose Avenue to his favourite gay clubs in search of all the experiences and passion he’s been denying himself…

A parental milestone is reached and botched during a visitation weekend for Larry’s teenaged sons Richard and David. ‘Chocolate Chip Cookies and Sympathy’ is required when Larry finds (hetero) porn in oldest son’s room and braces himself to have “the Talk”. Thankfully, Leonard is there to offer back-up…

An untitled tale provides an origin as L&L celebrate Leonard’s birthday and eight years as a couple, after which ‘Little Victories’ leavens the comedy with contemporary reality as the guys discuss the loss of a friend to a lethal new disease…

As well as featuring a multi-generational cast, Leonard & Larry is a strip that progresses in real time, with characters all aging and developing accordingly. ‘From the pages of The Advocate spans 1988-1990 with episodes covering the couple’s home and work lives, constant parties, physical deterioration, social gaffes, rows, family revelations, holidays and even events like earthquakes and fanciful prognostications such as ‘West Hollywood 1999’; with the now-decrepit pair whining about the old days…

Rounding off this initial compilation, ‘Recent Stories from Frontiers Magazine’ particularly highlights how the world goes on without regard for personal feelings as one of Larry’s kids comes out and the other makes them grandparents. The couple’s friends and clients win larger roles and offer other perspectives on LA life and the ever-evolving gay scene. Larry stumbles into commercial conflict with an expansionist storekeeper who wants his store at any cost, and time plays its cruellest tricks on many key players who must re-evaluate their activities and fashion choices, erotic and otherwise….

We meet Larry’s no-nonsense-but-painfully-sheltered mom and dad Earl and Wilma; enjoy another take on inclusion and – during a long-dreaded High School reunion – learn some deliciously entertaining facts about Leonard in the days before he accepted his attraction to men. That leads to a delightful seasonal yarn that finally reunites his large, long-warring painfully-buttoned-down Jewish family. Moreover, as Larry’s 40th birthday looms, the couple’s already rich dream life goes into overdrive as religious icons and beloved dead composers come calling with rest-rending dilemmas.

…And through it all, the real world always intrudes, as when flamboyant engineer Frank Freeman loses his aerospace job because his “lifestyle” is considered a security risk by the Federal government or when publicity hungry religious zealots picket Larry’s shop…

The strips are not and never have been about sex – except in that the subject is a constant generator of hilarious jokes and outrageously embarrassing situations. Leonard & Larry is a traditionally domestic marital sitcom soap opera with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz – or more aptly, Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore – replaced by a hulking bearded “bear” with biker, cowboy and leather fetishes and a stylishly moustachioed, no-nonsense fashion photographer. Taken in total, it’s a love story about growing old together, but not gracefully or with any dignity…

Populated by adorable, fully fleshed out characters and in a generational saga about being yourself, Leonard & Larry is an irresistible slice of gentle whimsy to nourish the spirit and beguile the jaded. Four volumes of the strip were compiled by Palliard Press between 1993 and 2003 – all long overdue for rerelease and in properly curated digital editions – but until then you can at least take your Walk on the Mild Side through internet vendors. And you should…
Domesticity Isn’t Pretty © 1993 Palliard Press. All artwork and strips © 1993 Tim Barela. Foreword © 1993 John Preston. Introduction © 1993 Andy Mangels. All rights reserved.