Batter Up, Charlie Brown!


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-725-3 (HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most broadly accepted, since – after the characters made the jump to television – the little nippers become an integral part of the American mass cultural experience.

Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for fifty years. He published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000 and died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was 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 TV spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire. That profitable sideline – one Schulz devoted barely any time to over the decades – is where this little gem originates from…

Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

The usual focus of the feature (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who, with high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy, endures a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast who hang out doing kid things in a most introspective, self-absorbed manner.

The daily gags centred on playing (pranks, sports, musical instruments), teasing each other, making ill-informed observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The consistently expanding cast also includes mean girl Violet, infant prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy Van Pelt, her other-worldly baby brother Linusand dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen”: each with a signature twist to the overall mirth quotient and sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles. As a whole, the kids tackled every aspect of human existence in a charming and witty manner, acting as cartoon therapists and graphic philosophical guides to the world that watched them.

Charlie Brown is settled into his existential angst and resigned to his role as eternal loser as if singled out by a gleeful Fate. It’s a set-up that remains timelessly funny and infinitely enduring…

Available in a child-friendly hardback and the usual digital formats, Batter Up, Charlie Brown! offers a trio of extended vintage sequences dedicated to the kids’ attempts to distinguish themselves as sporting superstars in the heady arena of America’s favourite summer pastime. As a metaphor for living life to the full, sports has never been more accurate in its foreshadowings…

The tales are told in a series of monochrome panels (generally four to a page) and begin with ‘Team Manager’ as the perpetually anxious and responsibility-burdened Charlie anticipates the start of a new season. His worries are only further exacerbated by his devoted team who are all eager to act as back seat strategists…

Eponymous delight ‘Batter up!’ sees our gallant but overwhelmed commander stretched beyond his own herculean capacities as the squad call on him to lead from the front as usual but Charlie is weighed down with new familial stress as he’s ordered to push his new sister Sally in her stroller all day long. Can he cope with the stress of twin challenges and still save the game in the final inning?

Wrapping up the field fiascos, ‘Slide!’ sees the plucky player/manager (groundsman, talent scout, coach, organiser, tailor…) called upon to end the team’s permanent losing streak through innovative new tactics and heroic last-minute athleticism…

Timeless and evergreen – although that might just be grass stains – Charlie Brown’s existentialist travail have been delighting readers seemingly forever and clearly will not be stopping or superseded anytime soon. If you haven’t joined this club yet, why not sign up now?
Batter Up, Charlie Brown! © 2014 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.

Maybe… Maybe Not and Maybe… Maybe Not Again!


By Ralf König, translated by Jeff Krell (Northwest Press)
No ISBNs:

I’d like to think that most of the social problems humanity suffers from can be fixed by a little honesty and a lot of communication – especially when it comes to relationships. Being able to laugh together probably helps too. In regard to sexual politics and freedom it’s an attitude Germany adopted decades ago. As a result, the country has an admirable record of acceptance of the LGBTQ community and a broad penetration (yes, I’m awful! And Not Funny!) of gay comics into the general population.

Undisputed king of home-grown graphic novels is Ralf König, a multi-award-winning cartoonist, filmmaker and advocate with almost fifty titles (such as Suck My Duck, Santa Claus Junior, Stehaufmännchen, and Kondom des Grauens – released in Britain as The Killer Condom) under his belt.

He was born in August 1960 and came out in 1979, crafting an unceasing parade of incisive and hilarious strips and sagas set in and around the nation’s ever-evolving gay scene. Much to his own surprise, he discovered that his work had vaulted the divide from niche market to become a staple of popular mass market book sales. The two collections covered here – curated, “Foreworded” and translated by American cartoonist Jeff Krell (creator of gay domestic sitcom strip Jayson) and available as eBooks from Northwest Press even inspired the largest grossing film in German history…

Originally published as Der Bewegte Mann in 1987 (and appearing in a UK paperback from Ignite! Entertainment in 2005 if you can find it), Maybe… Maybe Not introduces a cool and comfortable group of gay men enjoying their glamourous, gossipy days and nights in Dusseldorf. However, after ambiguous – and curious – hetero hunk Axel enters their lives, Walter Ruhmann AKA Waltrina and Norbert find composure increasingly rocked and jarred out of kilter…

After failing to trick his girlfriend Doro into taking him back via a fake suicide attempt, Axel rudely returns to the Men’s Support Group where Waltrina acts as the expert voice on homosexuality and related issues as a representative of the Dusseldorf Gay Alliance.

Waltrina cannot take his eyes off Axel, and astonishingly, über-macho Axel seemingly responds. Maybe he’s not totally ‘On the Straight and Narrow’

The confusion mounts in ‘Clothes Make the Man’ as Axel agrees to go to a party with Walter and Norbert also falls under his brawny spell…

An ever-escalating comedy of errors and sexual impolitics launches as Axel adjusts surprisingly well to the alternative lifestyle and scene of those turbulent times, before grudgingly revealing a few secrets from his own past. Before long, he’s couch-surfing with his new pals, but everything comes to a hedonistic head after ‘Attack of the Killer Penis’ exposes the clearly-confused and conflicted brute to the pros and cons of Gay culture, proving he is still ‘Deep in the Closet’ one way or another…

Doro, meanwhile, is having second thoughts about the useless lump she thought she was well rid of. She’s been to the doctor and has some news…

The hilarious and still-outrageous volume ends with a happy event in ‘Epilogue: Two Months Later’ when Axel’s two worlds collide and have to play nice at the church…


Sequel volume Maybe… Maybe Not Again! opens scant months later with ‘Trouble in Paradise’ and Axel still undecided on whether he’s Gay or Straight (modern shades of gender and sexuality being largely unestablished way back in 1988), but definitely less than enamoured of his impending membership in a traditional nuclear family. He’s also blithely unaware of the fallout he’s left in the now-acrimonious friendship circle inhabited by Watrina and new rival Norbert.

A new disruptive element arrives when ‘Muscle Queens’ introduces spitefully provocative bitch Frank Hilsmann – who thrives on infidelity and innuendo. He targets poor Norbert even as Axel’s manic old flame ‘Elke Schmitt’ resurfaces and tempts the undecided oaf with yet another bad choice… hot, commitment-free hetero infidelity while Doro is at her most shouty and unattractive…

Of course he succumbs, and of course he drags in his still-smitten Norbert to provide cover and a comfortable liaison space. And of course, such ‘Commitment’ to friendship and fidelity only makes things worse for poor Norbert as he finds himself overwhelmed by the cost of everyone else’s ‘Primal Urges’. Thankfully the chaos is derailed when Doro turns up on her way to the delivery room…

Simultaneously wry and witty and coarsely hysterical, these books manage to bawdily entertain whilst asking questions that still vex many of us to this day. Maybe… Maybe Not and Maybe… Maybe Not Again! certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you love a big raucous belly laugh about how daft we can all be about one of the most basic drives we’re afflicted with, these might well become some of your favourite reads.
© 1987, 1988 by Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag GmbH, Reinbek bei Hamburg, Germany. All rights reserved.

Life with Kevin


By Dan Parent, J. Bone & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-940-6 (TPB)

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010): a charming, good-looking and exceedingly together lad who seemingly disrupted the eternal cartoon triangle of Archie Andrews, Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper. Keller utterly bowled over the rich go-getter and she was totally smitten with him, although he was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with the boys… especially JugheadJones

The new kid was a much-travelled, journalism-obsessed “Army Brat”, who in short order was elected Class President, made loads of friends and came out as Riverdale High School’s first openly gay student. When Kevin finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became his best buddy: after all they had a lot in common – stylish clothes, shopping and good-looking guys…

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

In recent years the company has created related strands for their iconic characters to explore other realities. Archie has married both Betty and Ronnie, been assassinated, faced supernatural horrors of every kind and even entered the 21stcentury. These parallel lives projects have proved immensely popular and so have quite sensibly been extended to include the other inhabitants of Riverdale…

In 2017, a 5-issue miniseries by Parent, inker J. Bone and letterer Jack Morelli focused on Kevin after finishing at Riverdale and graduating from college. Trade paperback & eBook compilation Life with Kevin – delivered in a limited but superbly effective palette of black, white and blue – follows his career as he moves to New York City and joins a major metropolitan news outlet…

Referencing TV sitcoms such as 30 Rock or Rhoda, and subtitled ‘Kevin in the City’ the fun begins in ‘You’re Gonna Make it After All! (Maybe)’ as young Keller moves into a grim apartment, meets his interesting neighbours and makes an unforgettable impression on his new boss at station NYC-TV.

Sadly, his views on what constitutes journalism don’t match hers in the cutthroat era of click-bait and Twitterstorms. Even more tragically, the fact that the camera loves and viewers adore him means Kevin might be forced into becoming a useless, vapid Screen Celeb himself…

The day ends perfectly when Veronica shows up. On Kevin’s advice, his BFF talked back to daddy and now she’s disinherited, broke and homeless…

‘Room for Change’ resumes a short while later with Kevin finding his love life and dating days seriously curtailed by roommate Ronnie, who, unsurprisingly, cannot hold on to any job she finds and whose efforts to help inevitably go badly awry…

After building a profile on a dating app and then accidentally outing himself on live TV – a strict policy no-no at NYC-TV- Kevin’s life gets even crazier. In ‘I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can!’ his boss Babs is ordered to exploit her camera-shy protégé onscreen as much as legally possible. This leads to Ronnie accidentally endangering the mental health of a shy young gay student Kevin is helping through some difficult times…

The gathering storm breaks on social media in ‘Past Tense!’ with Bab’s ruthless attempt to capitalise on the personal crisis for ratings compelling Kevin to make a world-changing decision, but only after a chaotic comedy of errors devastates the station’s schedules…

The story pauses for now with ‘Moving Forward!’ as the progression of roommate dramas, two-timing bad boyfriends, family health scares and career calamities lead to Kevin taking charge of his life and making the future he wants and deserves…

A charming, feel-good comedy romp, Kevin in the City reads like a pilot for a TV series, packed with tension and hilarity whilst delivering the kind of joyous, life-affirming frolics modern folk enjoy. It also succeeds in being about the characters themselves and the situations they endure, not the inconsequential logistics of who they fancy…

Augmenting the saga is a cover gallery by Parent, and a few bonus stories, all taken from Your Pal Archie #1, and set in modern-day Riverdale.

The madness begins with ‘The Road Worrier’ courtesy of scripter/inker Ty Templeton, penciller Dan Parent, colourist Andre Szymanowicz and letterer Morelli. Here high schoolers Betty, Ronnie, Archie and Jughead plan out their summer holidays before an ordeal of shocking terror is unleashed as that Andrews boy attempts to teach Juggie how to drive…

The main event and compelling cliffhanger comes with ‘A Night at the Opera’ as Ronnie gives Archie the brush-off for a sophisticated sophomore. Once again driven astray by Jughead, Archie then buys a lotto ticket that will change his life forever…

Of course, you’ll have to buy that graphic novel to see what happens next, but at least Life with Kevin is a complete experience, at once hilarious, enthralling and magically inclusive for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
™ & © 2017 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Spirou and Fantasio: The Marsupilami Thieves

y André Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-167-9 (Album PB)

Spirou (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the Walloon language) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter – AKA Rob-Vel – for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuisin response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin for rival outfit Casterman.

The legendary anthology Le Journal de Spirou was launched on April 21st 1938 with this other red-headed lad as lead of the anthology weekly comic which bears his name to this day.

He began life as a plucky bellboy/lift operator employed by the Moustique Hotel (a reference to publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip, eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

Spirou and his pals have spearheaded the magazine for most of its life, with a phalanx of truly impressive creators carrying 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 assumed the reins, slowly sidelining the short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars and ultimately creating a phenomenally popular apparently-magic animal dubbed Marsupilami to the mix, with the magic critter debuting in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952.

He was succeeded by Jean-Claude Fournier who updated the feature over the course of nine stirring adventures that tapped into the rebellious, relevant zeitgeist of the times with 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 and as the strip diversified into parallel strands (Spirou’s Childhood/Little Spirou and guest-creator specials A Spirou Story By…), 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 are also dozens of specials, spin-offs series and one-shots, official and otherwise)…

Cinebook have been publishing Spirou and Fantasio’s exploits since October 2009, mostly concentrating on translating Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, but for this fifth edition (available in paperback and digitally and originally entitled Les voleurs du Marsupilami or The Marsupilami Robbers), they reached back all the way to 1952 to re-present the second appearance of the adorable wonder-beast by the great man himself.

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

In 1945 all but Culliford signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. Throughout those early days, Franquin and Morris were being trained by Jijé, at that time the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He turned the youngsters and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite – AKA Will (Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a perfect creative bullpen known as the La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They promptly revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling.

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée, (LJdS #427, June 20th 1946) and the eager lad ran with it for two decades, enlarging the scope and horizons until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade and rival Fantasio and crackpot inventor the Count of Champignac. Along the way Spirou and Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, continuing their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory.

The heroes travelled to exotic places, uncovering crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio, as well as one of the first strong female characters in European comics, rival journalist Seccotine (renamed Cellophine in the current English translation).

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

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

Franquin soon patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe (known here as Gomer Goof) in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Casterman commitments too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit. He quit, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

His later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and bleak adult conceptual series Idées Noires, but his greatest creation – and one he retained all rights to on his departure – is Marsupilami, which, in addition to comics tales, has become a star of screen, plush toy store, console and albums.

Plagued in later life by bouts of depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

The Marsupilami Thieves was originally serialised in LJdS #729-761 (collected into an album in 1954); a sequel to previous adventure Spirou et les héritiers, in which the valiant lad and his inseparable companion colleague encountered an incredible elastic-tailed anthropoid in the jungles of Palombia and brought the fabulous, affable creature back to civilisation.

Franquin’s follow-up tale – crafted from an idea by fellow cartoonist Jo Almo (Geo Salmon) – sees the triumphant journalists visit the big City Zoo where their latest headline has ended up, only to be stricken with guilt and remorse at the poor creature’s sorry state of incarceration.

Resolved to free the poor thing and return him to his rainforest home, their plan is foiled when the critter suddenly dies in its cage. Distraught and suspicious, they muscle their way in to see the vet and discover the corpse has gone missing…

Acting quickly, Spirou and Fantasio rouse the authorities and the commotion prevents the body thief from escaping. All through the night the keepers and our heroes scour the institution and, in the deadly dark finally spook the mysterious malefactor from his cosy hiding place…

There follows a spectacular and hilarious midnight chase through the zoo, with the lads harrying a dark figure – who must be some kind of athlete – past a panoply of angry animals, hindered more than helped by inept keepers…

They almost catch the intruder, but a last burst of furious energy propels the bandit over a back wall, although not before Spirou snatches a paper clue from him…

The precious scrap takes the determined investigators to the flat of Victor Shanks, where his wife Clementine provides further information. Her man is flying off to the city of Magnana for his new job… and to deliver a package…

The boys’ frantic chase to the airport is plagued by manic misfortune and they miss Victor by mere moments, but, undeterred, borrow a neighbour’s car and attempt to follow overland. This leads to a fractious episode of fisticuffs with striking Customs Officers (they’re withholding their labour, not exceptionally attractive…).

After a night in jail, the undeterred duo and the kvetching Spip eventually fetch up in Magnana and the search begins.

A month later, they are frustrated and ready to throw in the towel when Spirou literally runs into Clementine Shanks and trails her to a football stadium where formerly unemployed, desperate Victor is now a star of the local soccer team…

Confronting the essentially good-hearted rogue, Fantasio and Spirou force the truth from him. In return for his new job Victor drugged and swiped the Marsupilami for ruthless showman The Great Zabaglione as a star attraction for his circus and travelling menagerie…

Determined to see the little creature free, the boys attempt to infiltrate the show but are quickly discovered and forcefully expelled. After a chance meeting with weird science master Count of Champignac they try once more, perfectly disguised as miraculous magic act Cam and Leon

This time the ruse succeeds, but after a phenomenally outrageous opening performance the brutal Zabaglione rumbles the reporters. Things look bleak for the lads and the Marsupilami until guilt-wracked Victor steps in to save the day. Once the dust settles the wondrous beast is free, but happily opts to stay with the boys and share their fun-filled, exciting exploits…

Soaked in superb slapstick comedy and with gallons of gags throughout, this exuberant yarn is packed with angst-free action, thrills and spills and also offers an early ecological message and an always-timely moral regarding the humane treatment of animals. There’s even a fascinating history and creative overview of the timeless wandering heroes in back-up feature ‘Spirou & Fantasio’s Stories Last Through Generations’.

The Marsupilami Thieves is the kind of lightly-barbed, comedy-thriller to delight readers who are 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 drawn with all the beguiling style and seductive yet wholesome élan which makes Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Iznogoud so compelling, this is a truly enduring landmark tale from a long line of superb exploits, and deserves to be a household name as much as those series – and even that other kid with the white dog…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1954 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation 2013 © Cinebook Ltd.

My Favorite Martian – The Complete Series Volume One


By Paul S. Newman, Bob Ogle, Russ Manning, Dan Spiegle, Sparky Moore, Mike Arens & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-79-5(HB) eISBN 978-1-932563-79-2

My Favorite Martian debuted in America in September 29th 1963, the forerunner of a miniature golden age of fantasy-themed sitcoms that included Living Doll, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Nanny and the Professor and many more: all operating on the premise of a science fictional or magical character acting as disruptive outsider and playing hob with “normal” American domestic life.

Coming in at the height of the Space Race, My Favorite Martian ran for three seasons and 107 episodes – the last of which premiered in May 1966 – and particularly shone because of the laidback style, intriguing music, strong scripts and the unparalleled gifts of lead actor Ray Walston and his “straight man” young Bill Bixby. Many episodes haven’t dated at all – at least in term of gags, if not cultural attitudes, something which sadly, cannot be said of Disney’s 1999 movie reboot…

Like most successful television properties, the series spawned a ton of nifty merchandise, including a comic book (nine issues running between January 1964 and October 1966) from licensing specialists Gold Key. Here, the first five are curated in an imposing hardcover (or eBook) collection from comics-resurrection and nostalgia specialists Hermes Press. It’s especially welcome as it unearths incidences of masterful lost work from some of our industry’s biggest names…

Preceded by stunning H. Greer game box art, Kate Walston’s Foreword ‘My Dad and My Favorite Martian’ reminisces over her dad’s career, friendship with co-star Bixby and the show before a photo from the pilot episode (the volume is liberally and peppered throughout with photos) precedes Daniel Herman’s Introduction discussing the careers of ‘The Artists of My Favorite Martian’.

The writers were “King of Comics” Paul S. Newman – whose astoundingly prolific career encompassed scripts for almost every publisher in the US on titles such as The Lone Ranger, Tom Corbett – Space Cadet, Turok, Son of Stone, Dr. Solar, Patsy Walker, G.I. Combat, House of Mystery ad infinitum – and Bob Ogle, an animator and voice actor who also wrote for Gold Key’s vast stable of ties-in and TV shows such as Shirt Tales, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, The Kwicky Koala Show and Yogi’s Gang.

The premise of My Favorite Martian was supremely evergreen, yet smartly contemporary. The pilot episode revealed how 450-year old Martian anthropologist Exigius 12½ is marooned on Earth after his ship almost collides with experimental American rocket-plane X-15, fired from Edwards Air Force Base. The crash is observed by passing journalist Tim O’Hara who takes the alien under his wing – and into his lodgings as his Uncle Martin – until the voyager can repair his wrecked vessel.

Sadly, Tim has a nosy landlady in busybody Mrs Brown and Martin has strong opinions, incredible scientific gifts, a whole raft of uncanny powers and no luck at all…

The comic launched in January 1964 and, behind a photo-cover, was graced with artwork from one of the industry’s greatest exponents. Russ Manning (Magnus, Robot Fighter, Tarzan, Star Wars) was one of comics’ greatest stylists and perfectly caught the tone of the show in Newman’s ‘My Favorite Martian’, which adapted and reprised the origin before revealing how Tim’s scoop on the X-15 – and suppression of his meeting with Martin – lead to his being arrested by the authorities for espionage…

No sooner has the Martian finagled Tim out of a cell and cleared his name than he’s risking his new friend’s life by having them infiltrate a top-secret project in search of a fuel source necessary to power the hidden Martian ship he’s gradually rebuilding…

The romp ends with a monochrome single page gag highlighting Martin’s ability to talk to animals, probably drawn by Mike Arens.

Issue #2 carries a July 1964 cover-date and is the only one to employ an illustrated rather than photographic cover. It and the interiors that follow are by the criminally unsung Dan Spiegle, whose career was two-pronged and incredibly long. Born in 1920, Spiegle wanted to be a traditional illustrator but instead fell – after military service in the Navy – into comics at the end of the 1940s. He was equally adept at dramatic and cartoon narrative art and his portfolio includes impeccable work on Hopalong Cassidy, Rawhide, Sea Hunt, Space Family Robinson, Blackhawk, Crossfire, Nemesis, Scooby Doo, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Indiana Jones, the Hanna-Barbera stable and so much more.

He opens here with ‘Destination Mars’ as a well-meaning intervention by the landlady’s daughter ruins Martin’s latest fuel formulation and he is driven by frustration and loneliness to try stowing away on a robotic Mars probe built by the backward earthmen…

This is counterbalanced by a romantic flight of whimsy in ‘Priscilla Loves Melvin’ as Martin intervenes – with catastrophic effect – to reunite a lovesick zoo gorilla with her missing spouse…

Another monochrome gage strip detailing the danger of Mrs Brown’s pies segues into #3 (February 1965) with Sparky Moore (Rin Tin Tin, The Three Stooges) assuming visual control for ‘It’s a Small World’, with Martin and Tim off to Africa in search of an ancient Martian crash-site and discovering an astonishing connection to the Martian’s past! ‘Sighted! Green Monster’ reveals a startling side effect of Martian food on human physiology when Tim and Martin have a picnic in Florida and set off a E.T. panic…

Ogle took over scripting and Mike Arens (Dale Evans, Chuckwagon Charley, Roy Rogers) became regular artist with MFM #4 (May 1965), nicely balancing the drama and fantasy elements for ‘Once Upon a Ding-Ding’, wherein a trip to the Zoo and an incautious nap manifests a beloved beast of Mars from Martin’s ferociously potent, semi-autonomous subconscious with the now-traditional calamitous results, after which the visitor’s attempts to diminish his own awesome powers inadvertently revert Tim to toddler size and threaten to rejuvenate him out of existence in ‘Kid Stuff’

This initial outing concludes with August 1965’s fifth issue, opening with ‘The Creep of Araby’, as Martin’s latest invention – a molecular duplicator – complicates and endangers Tim’s life just as he’s about to interview a desert sultan. Later, when the Martian’s escaped and now-physically realised subconscious starts recklessly granting wishes in ‘Martin’s Other Self’, Tim has to take extraordinary action to circumvent the chaos that follows…

Wrapping up the vintage wonderment, ‘Memorabilia, Photos and Publicity’ offers a collection of merchandise, art – such as colouring book covers, game and model kit boxes – and publicity stills (including show costume designs) to delight fans old and freshly-minted.

TV-themed compendia of screen-to-page magic were an intrinsic part of growing up in Britain for generations and still occur every year with only the stars/celebrity/shows changing, not the package. The show itself has joined the vast hinterland of fantasy fan-favourites immortalised in DVD and streamed all over the world, but if you want to see more, this rewarding tome is a treat you won’t want to overlook.
My Favorite Martian® © 1966-1965 and 2011 The Contingent Trust of the Jack and Florence Chertok Trust dated October 22, 1990/ Jack Chertok Television, Inc; Peter Greenwood Licensing Manager Worldwide. Reprinted with Permission. All Rights Reserved.

Archie Comics Presents… The Complete Cosmo, the Merry Martian


By Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics, with Tom DeFalco, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Ian Flynn, Jeff Schultz, Tracy Yardley & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-895-9(TPB)

MLJ were a publisher who promptly jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. They began their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders in November 1939, starting with Blue Ribbon Comics, and followed up by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. From December 1941 the masked champions and rugged he-men were gradually but insistently nudged aside by a far less imposing paragon: an “average teen” enjoying ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. The slapstick teen travails of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, Archie’s unconventional best friend/confidante Jughead Jones and filthy rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge in scenic small-town utopia Riverdale were the components of the comic book industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman and superheroes being the first).

By 1946, the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit Sugar, Sugar (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

Throughout that meteoric rise, however, the company never left all its eggs in one basket. Its superhero line periodically resurfaces and reboots and their forays into all-ages supernatural thrillers and straightforward adult-themed horror comics are always worth reading. Archie Comics also periodically sought to repeat the success of its original humour breakthrough with titles such as Katy Keene, Wilbur, Super Duck, Pat the Brat, That Wilkin Boy and many others. Each attempt took inspiration from the tone of the times…

In 1958, the world was abuzz with science, science fiction and the accelerating space race, and the time seemed right for an amusing series about a bold but affable explorer from the Red Planet. The result was Cosmo the Merry Martian by Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics.

Seymour Victory Reit (1918-2001) was an accomplished humourist, children’s author, historian, cartoonist and animator. His many clients and employers included Mad Magazine and his greatest claim to fame now is co-creating – with Joe Oriolo – Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Comics veteran Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005) was an Archie mainstay until the mid-1960s when he was apparently summarily fired for daring to moonlight (on Tower Comics’ Tippy Teen). He had a keen eye for sight gags, a deft line in monster-design and a slick accessible style as seen in this years-ahead-of-its-time gently satirical comedy sci fi series… Often, that term is mere hyperbole, but it’s true here, as Cosmo the Merry Martian was revived in 2014, and has been with us ever since…

Running between September 1958 and October 1959, the series began with ‘Destination Earth!’ as all Mars watches spacer Cosmo and his extremely reluctant co-pilot Orbi blast off on the first flight to another planet. Ship designer Professor Thimk is anxious, and Cosmo’s girlfriend Astra is still trying to finagle her way onto the ship with the astronauts…

Eventually however the ship blasts off, exploiting the close proximity of the worlds to cut travel time. They are only 2000 miles from their destination when a meteor punctures the fuel tanks and forces them to crash land on Luna…

‘Moon Merriment’ then manifests as the explorers are rescued by bizarre, fractious, pun-obsessed but scientifically advanced moon people called Oogs. After much fuss and kerfuffle they ferry Cosmo and Orbi to their intended destination just in time to take in and disastrously disrupt a baseball game. As confusion reigns, the ‘Planet Playmates!’ hastily return to Luna…

When the Martians decide to explore the Dark Side of the Moon in #2 (November 1958), they are drawn into ‘The Great Gillywump Hunt!’: encountering a dread beast with an undeserved reputation and very bad cold. Seeking to placate centuries of misunderstanding in ‘Sneezy Does It!’ our heroes again cadge a lift ‘Down to Earth!’ to secure a cure for that pestilential cold, but the attempt again triggers chaos on the third rock from the Sun…

Meanwhile on Mars, Thimk and Astra board a spare rocket to save Cosmo and Orbi…

The issue then finds time and space for a brace of quick complete tales: one featuring egghead alien jimmy jupiter and his hand-made robot girlfriend whilst the second sees cuboid ET Squarehead pick up a rather unique method of travel…

Cosmo the Merry Martian #3 didn’t launch until April 1959 and found the moon-marooned astronauts ‘Venus Bound!’ after Thimk’s rescue rocket arrives on Luna and delivers orders to explore the second planet. Setting out, the ship carries the quartet of Red Planeteers, a contingent of Oogs, Orbi’s dog Jojo and a subtle stowaway… the bellicose Gillywump…

Arrival on the mysterious misty planet denotes ‘Trouble for Orbi!’ in the form of a sleeping giant, until his comrades rush ‘To the Rescue!’ Eventually, cooperation and communication with the residents offset a ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’ and the adventure ends with the voyagers rushing to meet the boss…

The interplanetary antics then conclude with mathlete jimmy jupiter finding the upside of a hit-&-run in ‘Lovely Day!’

June 1959 saw the release of issue #4 and an audience with ‘The Queen of Venus’. The gorgeous monarch sets Astra’s hackles rising and causes ‘Trouble for Cosmo!’ by declaring her intention to marry him…

His fellow explorers soon devise a way to ‘Rescue in Peace!’ culminating in another example of ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’, but the frantic flight from Venus damages their ship and the appalled escapees find themselves shooting straight for deep space with no way to turn, stop or even decelerate…

The tense cliffhanger is slightly offset by another jimmy jupiter/Squarehead double bill featuring calculus chuckles and cubic cartoon whimsy…

‘Stand by for Saturn!’ opens #5 (August 1959), with the out-of-control Mars ship hurtling towards the planet’s rings. Happily, the collision is not fatal and the voyagers make relatively harmless planetfall before meeting the friendly vegetable inhabitants. All too soon though, the explorers fall foul of ‘The Magic Gumdrops!’ Cosmo’s reluctant co-pilot undergoes shocking transformations in ‘Pardon My Size!’, culminating in ‘A Ride for Orbi!’ to those rings and then astoundingly ‘On to Mars!’, leaving his companions to hitch a lift home with the Saturnians, whilst Squarehead closes the issue with ‘The Mirror the Merrier!’

The series was abruptly curtailed with the October 1959 release, as ‘Make Mine Mars!’ saw the Red Planet hosting a convocation of visitors from Luna and Saturn only to be imperilled by a potential world-conquering villain as ‘Meet Dr. Beatnik!’ introduces a Martian mad scientist intent on conquering Earth.

His horrified compatriots are determined to thwart his plans, resulting in ‘The Great Space Chase!’ and an outer space confrontation in ‘Fire Away!’ before a multi-world coalition finally accomplishes ‘The End of Dr. Beatnik!’ and opts to land on Earth for a friendly visit…

Fun and thrilling, packed with easily-relatable facts and astronomical data, the saga was a splendid example of family-friendly entertainment, but had failed to find sufficient readership over a year of continuous frolicsome adventure. Although it ended there, the series was fondly remembered and was revived in the space-friendly 21st century.

In Archie #655 (June 2014) Tom DeFalco, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski reintroduced a more take-charge iteration of the jolly voyager in short story ‘The Good Guys of the Galaxy!’ Here, Archie and Jughead teamed up with past characters such as Captain Sprocket, Cat-Girl, Captain Pumpernik and Super Duck in a multiversal action romp to save creation from the reality-warping threat of the Miracle Mitten…

The Martian then popped up in ‘From Mars with Love’ (Jughead & Archie Double Digest #15, October 2015, by Ruiz & Bob Smith) with a disastrous gift suggestion for Veronica’s birthday and again as a computer game in ‘Cosmo Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #275 February 2017, by Dan Parent & Jim Amash).

The game version reappeared in ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #285 February 2018 by Parent, Jeff Schultz & Amash), before the Martian finally reclaimed his own comic book series in January 2018. Cosmo #1 was crafted by Sonic the Hedgehog team Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardley & Matt Helms who reinvented the Red Rover as a space cop and leader of a team of cosmic heroes in ‘Space Aces!’

If you’re only interested in the vintage tales, you might want to pick up the cheaper Pep Digital #42 which gathers the Reit & White ‘50’s series and also includes a snippet from 2011’s Archie & Friends: Night at the Comic Shop by Alfonso Ruiz, Bill Galvan & Amash.

In the chapter ‘Comic Cosmosis’ the original Cosmo, Orbi and Jojo explosively arrive in Riverdale’s PEP Comics store at the vanguard of a wave of comics characters from alternate realms – and MLJ/Archie’s back catalogue. It’s a great teaser for the introduction of Archie’s own multiverse…

Packed with charm, elucidation and restrained action, the exploits of Cosmo offer a happy view of the Martian way that will delight fun-lovers and wonder-addicts everywhere.
© 1958-2018 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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!
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