Attack of the Stuff – “The Life and Times of Bill Waddler”


By Jim Benton (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-498-8(HB) 978-1-54580-499-5(PB)

Jim Benton began his illustration work making up crazy characters in a T-Shirt shop and designing greetings cards. Born in 1960, he’d grown up in Birmingham, Michigan before studying Fine Arts at Western Michigan University.

Tirelessly earning a living exercising his creativity, he started self-promoting those weird funny things he’d dreamed up and soon was raking in the dosh from properties such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dog of Glee, Franny K. Stein, Just Jimmy, Just Plain Mean, Sweetypuss, The Misters, Meany Doodles, Vampy Doodles, Kissy Doodles, jOkObo and It’s Happy Bunny via a variety of magazines and other venues…

His gags, jests and japes can most accessibly be enjoyed on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded, and his SpyDogs effortlessly made the jump to kids animated TV success.

He seamlessly segued into best-selling cartoon books (those are the best kind) such as Man, I Hate Cursive, Clyde, Catwad and Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats) and now joins the glorious pantheon of authors and artists championed by Papercutz with his latest creation…

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers, combining licensed properties such as The Smurfs and Nancy Drew with intriguing and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and this supremely surreal and outrageous outing…

In a primary-coloured anthropomorphic world, Bill Waddler is a distressed duck with a lot on his mind. His nights are plagued with nightmares about farting snakes inundating him whilst his days make him feel out of touch with hectic modern ways. Is it so hard to just sell his hay the way he always has?

Since Bill has a rather unique talent, his waking life is a bit of a misery too. Whether he wants to or not – and he doesn’t – Bill can communicate with stuff. Appliances, electronics and household objects of every sort all talk to him. Or more accurately they all whine and carp and moan at him. No one wants the toilet expressing her dreams and aspirations during those sacrosanct private moments, or to be mocked by the cruet set or told to stop snoring by the alarm clock…

Moreover, nothing he owns or people he knows care about Bill’s lifelong frustrations at never becoming a musician…

Stuck in this depressing rut, Bill’s life changes the day a curmudgeonly bear has a rant and sets the duck thinking about abandoning civilisation to become a hermit in the wilds of nature…

However, as he vanishes into the wilds to commune with snakes, a global crisis kicks off. The Internet gets into a tizzy and completely shuts down. As the entire planet descends into a chaos of non-communication and everything stops working, someone suggests the baffled experts track down that weird guy who could talk to stuff and see if he can help…

Bizarre, tetchy and hilariously off-kilter, Benton’s daft duck deliverer fends off a very modern apocalypse with astoundingly infectious grumpiness in this fabulously inventive fable that combines gently-barbed social commentary (such as when a cop stands on Bill’s neck and is shamed by his own taser!) and delicious swipes at sexism and gender stereotyping with wild laughs and devious subversion in an ultimately upbeat tale about doing the right thing…

Attack of the Stuff is sheer irresistible fun and on-target educational messaging no one should miss.
© 2020 Jim Benton. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 5

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By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-175-6(HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-720-9

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. He worked as a decorator, house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918, Segar married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and the homely ingenue’s plain and (very) simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (latterly, just Ham Gravy).

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. But then, finally, Bud arrived…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery, Sagendorf finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards was exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures. These launched in February of that year in a regular monthly title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in digital editions) are issues #20-24 of Popeye’s comic book series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning April-June 1952 to April-June 1953.

The stunning, almost stream-of-consciousness slapstick stories are preceded as ever by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’– by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement.

Every volume includes a collation or ephemera and merchandise courtesy of the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’. Included here are newspaper clippings, ads and assorted trivia such as packaging for candy, toys, stationery, fridge magnets, plates, Dutch newspaper strips & comics covers plus a selection of images from a colouring book.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with #20 which opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning both inside front and back covers. ‘Big House Bill in “House for Rent”’ reveals how a churlish sea snail is inveigled to join the other molluscs’ games…

Sagendorf was a smart guy who kept abreast of trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked and these tales are timeless in approach and delivery. In the era of rapid television expansion, cowboys were King, with westerns dominating both large and small screens as well as plenty of comics. Thus, many sagas featured Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting…

The comics kick off with ‘Here Comes the Bride!!’ detailing how the saddle-sore Sailor-Man upsets a lost tribe of Indians and can only end his sea of trouble by marrying the chief’s beautiful daughter. Of course, that assuming his ferociously possessive – and possibly psychic – sweetie-pie Olive doesn’t find him first…

‘Little Kids Should Have Ice Cream! or Swee’ Pea Gets It!’ then pictures the precocious kid pushing the limits of everyone’s patience to score a cold treat, after which back-up feature Sherman sees another bright spark youngster become an inadvertent counterfeiter – and getaway driver – in ‘Rolling Along!’ The issue concludes with a salutary back cover Popeye gag as Swee’ Pea digs a backyard well with catastrophic results…

Issue #21 of the quarterly delight covered July-September 1952 and again offered a Sagendorf illustrated prose yarn on the interior covers: this one detailing how ‘Harry the People Horse’ attempts to assimilate with humanity by wearing clothes…

The comics commence with ‘Interplanetary Battle’ which taps into the era’s other mass obsession: a growing fascination with UFOs. On Earth prize fighter Popeye cannot find an opponent brave enough to face him, so Wimpy innocently seeks to aid his old pal by broadcasting a message to the universe. Sadly, what answers the clarion call is a bizarre, shapeshifting swab with sneaky magic powers…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous yet scrupulously polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy is the perfect foil for a simple action hero who increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

After an unseemly moment of jealousy, Popeye is compelled to take over the redecoration of Olive’s house in ‘Paper and Paste’, but his lack of experience and Wimpy’s assistance soon combine to create the usual chaos after which the back-up feature – now redubbed Sherm – finds the kid in dire straits after leaving his wiener dog Winky alone in the ‘Dog House!’

Proceedings again conclude with a back-cover gag involving Swee’ Pea and eggs…

Another prose ‘Horse Tale’ brackets the interiors of #22 (October-December 1952), detailing a desert steed’s gold prospecting woes before the Old Salt suffers a tragic reversal of fortune during a shortage of his favourite vegetable. Sadly, starting a ‘Spinach Farm’ and making a go of it prove distressingly difficult once Wimpy starts helping…

‘Swee’ Pea’s Vacation!’ then sees the valiant nipper take an eventful voyage to Spinachovia, that shatters the island’s economy and devastates their armed forces, before Sherm takes ‘The Long Way Home!’ in a wry episode incorporating a host of puzzles and mazes to keep reader interest honed and the back cover Popeye gag sees Swee’ Pea become a dirt magnet…

Popeye #23 (January-March 1953) opens and closes with prose tale ‘The Rocket Horse’ detailing a non-consensual trip to Mars, whilst lead strip ‘Boom! Boom! or Pirates is Rodents!’ returns the Sailor-Man to his nautical roots to eradicate scurvy corsairs besmirching his beloved seven seas. His only miscalculation is bringing Olive and Wimpy with him…

His sweety takes centre stage in ‘Ship Shape!’ as she tries to make Popeye and his dad Poopdeck Pappy clean up their scruffy sea-going vessel, whist Sherm indulges in winter sports and a spot of detecting when Pa goes missing in ‘Snow-Father!’, and the issue closes with Popeye and Swee’ Pea disastrously disputing ownership of a dingy in the traditional back-cover vignette.

Closing this vivid and varied volume is #24 (April-June), which begins and ends with text triumph ‘Apple House’ – highlighting a housing crisis for cute maggot Vernon Greentop – before cartoon chaos ensues with ‘Popeye an’ Pappy in Golden Street!’ as the seasoned mariners become western prospectors and the incorrigible elderly reprobate finds gold in the most likely place imaginable, leaving Popeye to fix the mess as usual…

Fantasy reigns supreme in ‘Hole in the Mountain!’ as Popeye & Swee’ Pea discover a fantastic unknown kingdom on a desert island ruled by a perilously familiar tyrant before more puzzles and mazes bedevil automobile-mad Sherm and the readership in ‘The Race!’ The last word again goes to a short sharp back-page gag starring innocent demon Swee’ Pea to wrap up another treasure trove of timeless entertainment…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre and its most successful son have unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book – available in sturdy hardback or accessible eBook formats – is simply one of many but definitely top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 5 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist


By Norman Pettingill, edited by Gary Groth, with an introduction by Robert Crumb (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-319-4 (HB)

Laugh and the world laughs with you. Sulk in your house and you’re on your own, mate. Here’s another comedy treat you can enjoy via assorted digital means, or if you prefer you can support the local economy by buying a hardback copy and waiting… and waiting… and waiting…

It’s a big planet and there are many places to hide an artistic prodigy. That’s never been more capably proved than in the case of Norman Pettingill, a lost hero of the workaday craft aesthetic who lived and died in Wisconsin, revelling in a backwoods life lived off the land. He supported his family with personalised cartoons, jobbing art such as postcards and commercial signage, commissioned illustrations and through simply stunning personal works: mostly natural scenes and reportage of the hunting and fishing community he lived in.
Pettingill worked in seclusion (and we all know what that’s like now, don’t we?) until his incredibly intense, ribald and frenetic postcard art was discovered by Robert Crumb who immediately reprinted them in his Underground Commix magazine Weirdo.

These over-sized scenes were multi-layered, packed with hundreds of characters acting in micro-scenes and grotesquely raw and vulgar: like Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel (the Elder), Basil Wolverton and Leo Baxendale working all on the same page.

This superb book, rough and rustic – with a wooden front cover for the hardback version – tells the life-story of this truly driven artist; who could no more stop drawing than breathe underwater. Self-taught and clearly besotted with the creative process, Pettingill was not afraid to fill a page with copious extras, and the work gathered here, collected by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (conservators of folk art of the American mid-west) shows a true original equally at home drawing pictures to pay bills and making masterpieces because he couldn’t stop himself.

On view are astoundingly frantic, charmingly gruesome postcard tableaux, featuring hunters, boozers and what we’d call hillbillies, but Pettingill knew them as the folk next door, as well as more intimate creations: family collages, entrancing pen-&-ink studies of beasts and birds he lived amongst – and hunted. There are even doodles he adorned the envelopes of letters with.

His surreal, bawdy, raw concoctions mirrored and presaged the graphic license and social freedoms of the 1960s counterculture (although he really started his own artistic journey twenty years earlier), but even though his fans today include such iconoclastic cartoonists as Crumb and Johnny Ryan, Pettingill’s appeal is far wider than simple grist for us doodle-pushers.

With his fondly cynical, wry observation and piercingly incisive eye, Norman Pettingill became a societal camera onto a time and place in rural – and even wild – America that we seldom see nowadays: an honest raconteur, part of a tradition that includes and spans the fierce and gentle ranges from Garrison Keillor’s elegiac (and positively provincial) Lake Wobegon tales to the razor-edged self-examination of Southern kinfolk and mid-west archetypes typified by the gagsters of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour: a purely American humour by and for the ordinary guy.

This retrospective of Pettingill’s art presents more than a hundred of his most telling monochrome pieces and will appeal to cartoon-lovers and people watchers equally.
© 2010 Fantagraphics Books. Individual contributions © 2010 their authors. Unless otherwise noted all photography and art © 2010 John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Art from the collections of Glenn Bray, R. Crumb & Jim Pink © 2010 the estate of Norman Pettingill.

Mickey’s Craziest Adventures


By Lewis Trondheim & Keramidas, with Brigitte Findakly: translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger & David Gerstein (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-694-2 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68406-124-2

In his ninety years of existence, Walt Disney’s heroic everyman Mickey Mouse has tackled his fair share of weirdos and super freaks in tales crafted by creators from every corner of the world. A true global phenomenon, the little wonder has staunchly overcome all odds, and he’s always done so as the prototypical nice guy beloved by all. Mickey might have been born in the USA, but he belongs to all humanity now and thus some of his very best comics adventures come from countries like Denmark, Holland, Italy and France. This translation of a saga by Lewis Trondheim & Keramidas ranks right up at the top of the list…

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor/animator and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing cartoons adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot (seen in English as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (co created with Joann Sfar and translated as conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years), comedy fable Ralph Azham and an utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence entitled Little Nothings.

In his spare time – and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival – the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant wrote for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Ostensibly retired but still going strong, Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

Nicolas Kerimidas (Donjon Monstres, L’Atelier Mastodonte, Donald’s Happiest Adventures) is a French cartoonist hailing from Grenoble who studied animation at the Gobelins School. He worked at Walt Disney Animation France’s Montreuil Studious for almost a decade before switching to comics as illustrator of Didier Crisse’s Luuna. He branched out and carried on, scripting his own stuff as well as being a much sought-after artist for others…

Patterned on Gold Key’s fabulous 1950-1960s run of anthological Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, Mickey’s Craziest Adventures purports to be a restored – but tragically incomplete – compilation of a lost serial that ran in those vintage comics, “rediscovered” by the author and artist. The overwhelmingly successful conceit of this little gem – available in hardback and digital formats – is that we all love comics and can’t resist the mystery of an unread one we’ve never heard of…

After opening with essay ‘A Forgotten Treasure’ the yarn jerks into high gear once the “found” pages appear, starting with ‘Chapter 2’ as Mickey gives Donald Duck a lift to Uncle Scrooge’s Money Bin. On arrival, they witness the entire kaboodle swiped via Gyro Gearloose’s shrinking ray before being perilously diminished themselves!

Hot pursuit takes our heroes into a primeval world of (comparatively) giant insects and backyard jungles, but the game is afoot and even stranger hazards await them as they pursue the mystery bandits…

With cameos from most of Duckburg and Mouseton’s pantheon of major and minor stars and veteran villains such as Pegleg Pete and the Beagle Boys, this pell-mell romp across the world also encompasses monsters, cavemen, outer space perils and even the gods themselves, to create an unmissable delight for both aged aficionados like you and me and the newest generation of fans.

Frantic, frenzied fun for one and all. You know you have to have it!
© 2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud and the Magic Computer (volume 4)


By Goscinny & Tabary translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3 (PB Album)

How are you coping with voluntary incarceration? If you’re feeling a little frustrated, why not chill out with a good book – instantly available via digital purchasing and still accessible if you go the physical delivery route as a spiffy paperback tome – and see what real frustration looks like and costs…

During his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, 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. There are so many others, too such as this timeless classic…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swede Jean Tabary (1930-2011) who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips.

Together they produced 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 little weasel’s only successful scheme.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record, with the first instalment appearing in 1962 in the January 15th issue. A minor hit, it latterly jumped ship to Pilote – a magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly hogged all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for younger readers as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a cropper, and as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix. Happily, it’s also translated here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue. Best of all, the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily-laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly applied creative anachronism to keep the plots bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Our insidious anti-hero is Grand Vizier to affable, generous, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The revamped series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly becoming a huge European hit, with 29 albums so far (with 14 translated into English to date). The series has been carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas, in his own solo comic, and has spun-off into a game, TV cartoon show and live action movie.

Goscinny died in 1977, having completed a dozen book’s worth of wonderment and Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified their collaborations.

This fourth Cinebook album was the sixth French album (released in 1970 as L’ordinateur magique) and features a clenched and grasping fistful of short, sharp salutary tales beginning – after a handy catch-up profile page – with ‘A Calculated Risk’, wherein the cunning conniver, desperate to forestall a pact between the Caliph and mighty military neighbour Sultan Pullmankar, hires forward-thinking I-Bee’Em and his ponderous problem-solving “computer” to stop the signing of the treaty. The big grey box might be brilliant, but it’s agonisingly slow in reaching its infallible conclusions…

Things then get hilariously surreal after Iznogoud and his long-suffering, bumbling assistant Wa’at Alahf discover a mystic crossroads that can lead unwary travellers onto an unending, pointless journey from which they can neither escape nor return. Dashing back to Baghdad to lure the Caliph onto ‘The Road to Nowhere’, our wicked wayfarers eventually realise that they’ve been stuck on it all along…

Eventually reality resumes and back home and itching to take over, the Vile Vizier then seeks to employ the tragic gifts of lonely hermit Ghoudas Gho’ld: a direct descendent of legendary King Midas in ‘The Golden Handshake’. All Iznogoud has to do to remove the Caliph is get the accursed involuntary metal-maker back to the palace without him touching anything. Easy, no? No…

There’s more tacit skulduggery afoot in ‘The Caliph’s Sceptre’ when Iznogoud hires a master thief to sneak him into the high-security vault where the Staff of Office is cached. If he can prevent the Caliph from presenting it to the people in the annual reaffirmation of worthiness to rule ceremony, the Vizier can legally assume control of the country. Of course, it doesn’t quite play out that way…

This fine kettle of funny fish concludes with ‘The Mysterious Ointment’ as fabled explorer Notsobad the Sailor returns to the port of Basrah. Having forgotten to bring the undetectable Occidental poisons he promised the Vizier, the wily voyager palms him off with a tube of “Schpouk toothpaste’.

Assured the container holds a lethal and undetectable toxin, Iznogoud embarks on an eccentrically convoluted campaign to convince the Caliph and the court that cleaning one’s choppers is the latest and most beneficial of scientific advancements. Care to guess how well that goes?

Snappy, fast-paced hi-jinks and gloriously agonising pun-ishing badinage abound in this mirthfully infectious series which is a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.

When first released here in the 1970s, these tales made little impression, but hopefully have finally found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…
© 1970 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved.

Take it Away, Tommy! – a Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-5248-6209-1 (PB)

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet. Those of us “blessed” with designated feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

Some years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy housemates earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Thus was born Breaking Cat News: a hilariously beguiling web-based comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is the third collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and rather moving moments starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters that share space with them.

If you’re a returning customer or already follow the strip, you’re already au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than which the author intends……

Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and this time around a more formal narrative underpins the episodic joys. We learn more about the old converted mansion house the cats inhabit – as well as the history of the previous inhabitants and their humans – in an extended ghost story filled with chuckles and shattering poignancy. I’m not kidding. Bring hankies. Many, many hankies.

The first hints come in ‘The People have abandoned the Children’, build in ‘Something’s gotten into Puck’ and ‘There’s been… a disturbance… on the ceiling’ before ‘Things are getting Strange’ prompts The People into doing a little research and discovering what occurred in the old pile they are abiding in amongst numerous other cat-owning tenants. The mystery is finally resolved in a long-delayed ceremony and ethereal reunion in ‘The People are going outside’

More recognisable comedy fare comes as ‘Bacon has been spotted on the breakfast table!’, ‘It’s fuzzy blanket season!’, ‘The laundry is out of control’ and ‘Elvis has a new toy’ whilst the team expands after ‘There’s a new cat in the backyard’ introduces cocksure barn moggy Burt (who ultimately takes on the role of AV facilitator) and ancient wisdom source and problem-solver Baba Mouse (she’s a barn cat too and has been for a very long time)…

Recently rehabilitated wandering cat Tommy introduces his four-footed home-share companion Sophie. Could she be more than just a talented creative type? ‘Local artist creates magnetic masterpieces’ suggests otherwise, but Tommy is hopeful and persistent…

Covering traditional festive cat events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, an edge of drama creeps in after the Robber Mice Gang abducts Puck’s greatest friend and toy, demanding an impossible ransom…

Outright war ensues until sagacious Baba intervenes, ensuring the Holiday Season and New Year’s are times of joy and rapprochement…

The rolling news continues with such items as ‘The Man has been groomed’, ‘The new plant is armed and dangerous’, ‘Elvis got into the butter’ and ‘Vacuum Cleaner Preparedness’.

Augmenting the tons of mirth and moving moments are further activity pages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore! close out this tome: sharing how to create your own ‘Pet Rock Reporters!’, as well revealing the details of ‘The Big Pink House’ comprising their home, a map of ‘The Apartment’ . 

Warm, witty, imaginative, deliciously whimsical and available instantly in digital formats – as well as paperback should you be so inclined – this glorious romp of joyous whimsy will brush away the blues and dangle hopes of better times in your face until you swipe at with a frantic paw (well, probably not, but you know what I mean…).

Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch that will delight not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. And there’s no better time than now for those, right?
Take it Away, Tommy! © 2020 Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio volume 3 and 4: Running Scared and Valley of the Exiles


By Tome & Janry, colored by Stephane de Becker & translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-116-7 (Running Album PB), 978-1-84918-157-0 (Exiles Album PB)

For most English-speaking comic fans and collectors, Spirou is probably Europe’s biggest secret. The character is a rough contemporary – and calculated commercial response – to Hergé’s iconic Tintin, whilst the comic he has headlined for decades is only beaten in sheer longevity and manic creativity by our own Beano and America’s Detective Comics.

Conceived at Belgian Printing House by Jean Dupuis in 1936, this anthological magazine targeting a juvenile audience debuted on April 21st 1938; neatly bracketed by DC Thomson’s The Dandy which launched on 4th December 1937 and The Beano on July 30th 1938. It was edited by Charles Dupuis (a mere tadpole, only 19 years old, himself) and took its name from the lead feature, which recounted improbable adventures of a plucky Bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a sly reference to the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique).

Joined on June 8th 1939 by pet squirrel, Spip (the longest running character in the strip after Spirou himself), the series was visually realised by French artist Robert Velter (who signed himself Rob-Vel). A Dutch language edition – Robbedoes debuted a few weeks later, running more-or-less in tandem with the French parent comic until cancellation in 2005.

The bulk of the periodical was taken up with cheap American imports – such as Fred Harman’s Red Ryder, William Ritt & Clarence Gray’s Brick Bradford and Siegel & Shuster’s landmark Superman – although home-grown product crept in too. Most prominent were Tif et Tondu by Fernand Dineur (which ran until the1990s) and L’Epervier Blue by Sirius (Max Mayeu), latterly accompanied by work from comic-strip wunderkind Joseph Gillain – “Jijé”.

Legendarily, during World War II Jijé drew the entire comic by himself, including home grown versions of banned US imports, simultaneously assuming production of the Spirou strip where he created current co-star and partner Fantasio).

Except for a brief period when the Nazis closed the comic down (September 1943 to October 1944) Le Journal de Spirouand its boyish star – now a globe-trotting journalist – have continued their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory. Among other myriad major features that began within those hallowed pages are Jean Valhardi (by Jean Doisy & Jije), Blondin et Cirage (Victor Hubinon), Buck Danny, ‘Jerry Spring, Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs to you and me), Gaston Lagaffe/Gomer Goof and a certain laconic cowboy named Lucky Luke.

Spirou the character (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous”) has starred in the magazine for most of its life, evolving under a series of creators into an urbane yet raucous fantasy/adventure hero with the accent heavily on light humour. With comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac, Spirou voyages to exotic locales, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and garnering a coterie of exotic arch-enemies.

During WWII when Velter went off to fight, his wife Blanche Dumoulin took over the strip using the name Davine, assisted by Luc Lafnet. Publisher Dupuis assumed control of and rights to the strip in 1943, assigning it to Jijé who then handed it to his assistant André Franquin in 1946. It was the start of a golden age.

Among Franquin’s innovations were the villains Zorglub and Zantafio, Champignac and one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine for Cinebook’s English translations), but his greatest creation – one he retained on his own departure in 1969 – was incredible magic animal Marsupilami. The miracle beast was first seen in Spirou et les héritiers (1952), and is now a star of screen, plush toy store, console… and albums too.

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spiroulimit and resigned, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him. He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of 9 rousing yarns tapping into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times, telling tales of environmental concern, nuclear energy, drug cartels and repressive regimes.

By the 1980s, the series seemed to stall: three different creative teams alternated on the serial: Raoul Cauvin & Nic Broca, Yves Chaland and the author of the adventure under review here: Philippe Vandevelde writing as Tome and artist Jean-Richard Geurts AKA Janry. These last adapted and referenced the still-beloved Franquin era and revived the feature’s fortunes, producing 14 wonderful albums between 1984-1998. Since their departure, Lewis Trondheim and the teams of Jean-Davide Morvan & Jose-Luis Munuera and Fabien Vehlmann & Yoann have brought the official album count to 55 (there also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Running Scared is from 1988: originally entitled La frousse aux trousses or ‘Fear on the Trail’. It was their eighth and the 40th collection of the evergreen adventurers. Harking back to the Fournier years, it comprises the first of an excellent extended 2-part thriller which concluded in Valley of the Exiles (originally released as La vallée des bannis AKA ‘Valley of the Banished’ in 1989).

Running Scared opens with a frantic and mesmeric chase scene as our eponymous young star races across the city in splendid breakneck tribute to the silent movie chases of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. He’s late for a conference where he will recount his many harrowing, career-related escapes and show films of his numerous close shaves…

Barely making it, Spirou is disappointed by the reaction of the audience: those that don’t faint dead away from fear, flee the theatre in horror…

It’s a huge disappointment: the daring reporter was hoping to use the profits from the lecture tour to fund an upcoming expedition to discover the fate of two explorers who vanished in 1938. They were attempting to climb a mountain and discover the legendary “Valley of Exiles” in the mysterious Himalayan nation of Yurmaheesun-shan

Since 1950, the tiny country has been subject to numerous invasions by rival super-powers and is a hotbed of rebellion, insurgency and civil war. Nevertheless, ever-undaunted Spirou and Fantasio are utterly determined to solve the ancient mystery.

Happily, their plans are only temporarily derailed. One of the fainters at the conference is timid but esteemed Dr. Placebo: renowned authority on the medical condition Spasmodia Maligna and a man convinced that the only cure for the condition – prolonged, sustained and life-threatening synchronous diaphragmatic flutters (hiccups to you and me) – is to be scared out of one’s wits.

Having seen Spirou in action, Placebo wants the reporters to take his most chronic patients with them on the assignment and offers to fund the entire expedition to the war-torn hell-hole…

Over Fantasio’s cynical but sensible objections, a deal is struck and soon the lads, Spip and five disparate, desperate hiccupping victims are sneaking across the Nepalese border where diligent Captain Yi is tasked with keeping all foreigners – and especially western journalists – out of the country as it undergoes its pacification and re-education…

However, thanks to native translator Gorpah (a wily veteran guide who once proved invaluable to another red-headed reporter, as well as his little white dog and foul mouthed-sea captain pal) the daring band are soon deep in-country, but the occupying invasion forces are quickly hot on their trail in tanks, armoured cars and attack helicopters: providing plenty of opportunities for the annoyingly obnoxious singulitus flutterers to be terrified – but with little evidence of a cure…

And then, just as they find their first real clue as to the location of the lost Valley of Exiles, the explorers are captured by native partisans and rebels. Even this doesn’t scare off any hiccups, nor does the daring later escape attempt masterminded by Spirou and Fantasio.

As the liberated captives pile into a lorry, a huge storm breaks and the rebels give chase, but when one of their pursuer’s vehicles plunges over a cliff, the valiant fugitives frantically form a human chain to rescue the driver and in the horrendous conditions Spirou is washed away and lost in the raging torrent.

…And that’s when all the hiccupping finally stops…

To Be Continued…

Starting in superb slapstick comedy mode and with gallons of gags throughout, Running Scared quickly evolves into a dark-edged, cunningly shaded satirical critique of then current geo-political scandals like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and systematic eradication of Tibetan culture by the Chinese – which both of course still resonate in today’s world – as it unfolds an epic and utterly compelling rollercoaster of fun and thrills.

Valley of the Exiles! concludes the excellent exotic escapade with the roving reporters retracing the steps and uncovering the whereabouts of explorers who vanished climbing a mountain before discovering a legendary lost valley in the inscrutable, isolated Himalayan nation of Yurmaheesun-shan

The story resumes with the battered, weary duo entombed deep within a Himalayan mountain. Slowly, blindly, they grope their way towards a faint light, emerging through an ancient, barbaric idol’s head into the very place they’ve been seeking…

Utterly enclosed by peaks, the Valley is an idyllic paradise but its very isolation has led to the development of a number of truly unique species of flora and fauna. There are colossal carnivorous waterlily pads, ferociously determined man-eating turtles, electric geckoes, the seductive Hammock Flytrap and many more bizarre and potentially lethal creatures.

The one that most imperils the lost boys is the diminutive Manic Midgie: a mosquito-like bug carrying the disease “raging hostiliasis”. Not long after one bites Fantasio, poor Spirou realises his best friend has become a homicidal maniac determined to kill him and everything else in range…

The deranged lad goes completely off the deep end, and only luck and a handy itching-powder boxing glove plant prevents our favourite reporter’s gory demise. Wounded, hunted by his best friend and perhaps the only human in the apparently inescapable enclosed wilderness, near-despondent Spirou – and Spip – begin exploring their incredible prison and find a rough shack, proving that at some time other humans have been there.

Further investigation reveals it to be the last resting place of the lost explorers Siegfried and Maginot. The mystery of the 1938 expedition is solved – even though Spirou has no way of filing this scoop!

More worryingly, Maginot’s copious notes on the creatures of the valley offer some grim hypotheses as to the nature of the nature in this fantastic hidden gorge: creatures inimical to both body and mind of man. Plants that cast illusions, murderous mammals mimicking harmless life, bugs whose bite produces madness…

Crazed beyond imagining – and burbling hilarious, fourth-wall breaking nonsense – Fantasio is determinedly hunting his old friend. The frantic chase drives our limping hero deep into a hidden temple where he uncovers the remnants of fantastic lost civilisation Backik: a race banished by Mongol conquerors to this distant valley. These reluctant settlers lived just long enough for the manic-midgies to bring their unlucky lives crashing down into doom and disaster…

As Spirou lurches through the eerie tombs of the fallen Backiks, Fantasio ambushes him and prepares to finish off his former friend when a mysterious figure attacks…

A little later, Spirou awakens in the warming sunlight of the valley, with deranged Fantasio securely bound beside him. Resolved to escape this fantastic trap and get his crazy pal back to civilisation and medical assistance, our red-headed hero begins to explore his best options only to feel the terrifying sting of a mosquito. Is all lost?

Of course not…

Packed with oodles of action and a host of incredible surprises and revelations, Valley of the Exiles is a truly splendid escapade, with thrills, chills, spills, a mountain of choice comedy moments and eccentric, surreal mysteries to keep readers spellbound.

This kind of engaging, lightly-barbed adventure comedy-thriller is a sheer joy in an arena far too full of adults-only carnage, sordid cheesecake titillation, testosterone-fuelled breast-beating, teen-romance monsters or sickly-sweet fantasy. Easily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive but wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, The Bluecoats and Iznogoud so compelling, this is another cracking read from a long line of superb exploits, certain to be as much a household name as those series – and yes, even that other red-headed kid with the white dog…
Running Scared original edition © Dupuis, 1988 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2012 © Cinebook Ltd.
Valley of the Exiles original edition © Dupuis, 1989 by Tome & Janry. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

‘There’s a Lot of it About’


By Geoffrey Dickinson (Columbus Books)
ISBN: 978-0-86287-253-3 (PB)

The government are keen on co-opting and channelling the “Blitz Spirit” these days to embody the nation’s resistance to adversity, but it wasn’t our dogged determination that pulled us though our darkest hours. It was the national ability to find humour in the most appalling circumstances that kept us going…

Since we’re all absorbed by snot and sniffles and sudden death, I thought I’d cheer myself up for a moment with this handy handbook of ailments and medical mis-practice from one of Britain’s best and most influential cartoonists and a time far less fraught.

Geoffrey Dickinson was a veteran mainstay of Punch, Time, The Financial Times and many other periodical venues. This is probably his best collection of gags but his second opinion on medical matters ‘Probably Just a Virus’ is almost as good but a lot harder to find these days…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities and feeding our fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our rocky relationship with the beloved yet criminally underfunded National Health Service.

Award-winning scribbler Geoffrey Samuel Dickinson was born on May 5th 1933 in Liverpool and studied at Southport School Art (1950-1953) before graduating to the Royal Academy Schools. Set on a career as a landscape painter, he taught art in Croydon, at Tavistock Boys School and the Selhurst Grammar School until 1967.

To supplement his meagre income – governments have never reckoned much to the value of teachers either – he freelanced as a graphic designer and animator for the BBC and began selling gags to Punch as early as 1963.

In 1966, his famous cover for the April 15th issue of Time Magazine was deemed to have officially launched “the Swinging Sixties” and London as the capital city of cool. A year later he took a staff position with Punch as Deputy Art Editor under the legendary Bill Hewison, but still found time to freelance, working for Reader’s Digest, Which?Esquire, Highlife, Hallmark Cards and many more.

In 1984, Dickinson left the humour standard to take up a position at the Financial Times, drawing cartoons for the daily and producing illustration material for the weekend supplement. He died far too young in 1988.

Within the pages of ‘There’s a Lot of it About’ – and following a pithy introduction from much-missed master of acerbic wit Alan Coren – the fit, the fat, the festering and the foolish will all learn the truth about the health of the nation in such chapters of chilling encounters and dodgy diagnoses as ‘The Waiting-Room’, ‘In the Surgery’ and ‘Sharp Practice’, before meeting stroppy secretaries, seen-it-all sawbones and formidably starched matrons, as well as the puling punks, cadaverous clerks and clerics, cocky kids, goofy old gaffers, loony little old ladies, brusque businessmen and other tedious time-wasters all abusing valuable visiting hours ‘On the Touchline’, ‘At the Barbers’ and ‘At the Dentist’

Moreover, as well as warning of ‘Student Doctors’, ‘Showbiz Doctors’ and the ‘Bogus Doctor’, we follow fully-rounded physicians into their private lives ‘On Holiday’, ‘At the Wheel’, in the garden with ‘Doctor Greenfinger’, at the ‘Doctor’s Wedding’, over ‘The Festive Season’ and on ‘The Morning After’, before examining doctors in love undergoing ‘Affairs of the Heart’

These kinds of cartoon collections were once ubiquitous best-sellers available everywhere, but these days are perennial library and jumble sale fare – in fact, I actually found this brilliant cure-all for the blues at a Hospital charity shop in the days before they became so frantically overburdened – but if you ever see a Dickinson (or indeed, any cartoon collection) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a healthy horse-laugh with these all-but-forgotten masters of illustrative mirth.

They’re really good for what ails you…
© 1985 Geoffrey Dickinson.

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


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

I’ve just heard the sad news about Albert Uderzo, who has just passed away after 92 amazing, gloriously productive and fun-filled years. In the current climate of horrific global crisis, it’s ultimately just one more death, no more or less important than any other, but I’m compelled to mark his end with sadness, inexpressible gratitude and this rerun of a review for his greatest work.

In a career absolutely packed with joyous invention, Uderzo brought happiness and inspiration to generations of readers across the world through Asterix and his many other creations, so I can only say “thank you” to him and urge you to revisit his works if you’re already au fait. If you have never seen his genius in action – especially in conjunction with his perfect partner René Goscinny – this collection is the ideal place to start, and you won’t be sorry…

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

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters…

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

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

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, Rene also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

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

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

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussahfor Record and illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen when he was seven and dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region was the only choice…

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

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

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

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story is set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC.

Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus– fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

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

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

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

As Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar…

There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing. Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

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

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

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

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

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 380 million copies of 38 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Adulthood is a Myth – A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection


By Sarah Andersen (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44947-419-5 (PB)

Scary times need radical solutions, but in lieu of that and considering how helpless we all are, all I can suggest is burying yourself in a book (gallows pun not intended). Here’s one that both funny and incisive and is available online either in physical form or digitally. Moreover, as it’s about – and by – a millennial, all us old sods who lived through a few crises can chortle and feel smugly superior in the knowledge that problems such as these in here are transitory and shall also pass. That one was deliberate…

Sarah’s Scribbles started in 2013 as a webcomic (first on Tumblr, and latterly Facebook, Instagram and Line Webtoon) before going legit in 2016 in book from Andrews McMeel. Adulthood is a Myth was followed by Big Mushy Happy Lump in 2017 and Herding Cats in 2018. Each collection won that year’s Goodreads Choice Award. That’s because the strips and lead character are accessible, personable, relatable and fetchingly funny.

Autobiographical to a degree I’m unqualified to assess and distressed to acknowledge, what you get are pithy observational comedy gag strips with a semi-surreal undertone about the thoughts and (mostly) inactions of an arty student who lives with an exceptionally critical but ultimately supportive rabbit. Think of it as pictorial inner monologue from a very nervous and unconfident teen, roaring and giddy with hormones and expectations she can’t possibly hope to meet and indoctrinated with standards she can’t let go of…

As well as casual interactions with her peers, major causes of cartoon comment include projections of her eventual senility and decrepitude (‘Me in the Future’), social anxiety, body issues, relationships, housework, fashion, awkwardness, bingeing and attraction through episodes with such enticing titles as ‘Nightmares for Introverts’, ‘When to Change/Wash’, ‘Things I Know’, ‘Habits of the Common Bookworm’, ‘Getting Drunk (For Beginners)’, ‘Social Media in Real Life’, ‘What I Eat on a Typical Day’, ‘5 Phrases that make My Blood Run Colder than Ice’, ‘Watching Stuff’, ‘Things that make me Feel Safe’ and ‘Benefits of Stealing Boys’ Hoodies’.

On less excoriating days you’ll share her views on ‘Normal People’ versus ‘Me’, ‘How Graduating Feels’, ‘Internet Comment Threads’, ‘Folding Laundry’, ‘The Introvert’s Brain’, ‘How to know Your Partner is Serious about the Future’, and the potential of ‘The Future’, so that’s pretty much a view on everything to deal with…

Brooklyn-based Sarah Andersen was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art before this took over her life so she knows the value of Extra Credits. That’s why this tome includes lots of strips created specifically for the collection so if you’ve been following her on the interwebs, you’ll still miss some good stuff if you don’t get this delirious delight.
© 2016 by Sarah Andersen. All rights reserved.