Plastic Man Archives volume 7


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Plastic Man Archives volume 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Complete Peanuts volume 6: 1961-1962


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

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

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bunny vs Monkey and the League of Doom!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The good guys then try to infiltrate ‘The Temple!’ (Skunky’s new high-tech citadel of evil), just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the musky mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom. Sadly, the only one making the grade is meek misfit Pig in his new gruesome guise of ‘Pigulus!’

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

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

Occasional ally Le Fox cultivates an air of mystery, but when the League of Doom unleashes a deadly custard assault his annoying old ‘Uncle Fox!’ soon proves to be the real superspy deal, just as Monkey’s latest property deal lands Bunny with an obnoxious ‘Bad Neighbour!’ in the form of musician Bert Warthog.

…But not for long…

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

More mad science sees the launch of a weather station and an unseasonal snow barrage, but Skunky’s malignant fun is ruined after Weenie Squirrel demonstrates astounding piste pizazz in ‘Ski-Daddle!’, before a lost little skunk destabilises the wicked stinker. Thomas is unmoved by monster robots like the rampaging Octobosh and truly gets to the emotional soft side of his newfound ‘Uncle Skunky!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spirou & Fantasio volume 17 – The Marsupilamis’ Nest


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domesticity Isn’t Pretty – a Leonard & Larry Collection


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Killer Condom and Down to the Bone


By Ralf König: translated by Jim Steakley and Jeff Krell (Northwest Press/Ignite! Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-96563-238-6 (Killer Condom PB) 978-0-96563-239-3 (Down to the Bone PB)
Digital editions by Northwest Press – no ISBN

Standard Disclaimer: These comedy stories contain rude words, explicit nudity, depictions of graphic and hilarious sexual situations and normal non-Biblical lifestyles. If any of these are likely to offend, what the hell are you doing here anyway?

I’d like to think that most 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 LGBTQIA+ 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; Prototyp; Archetyp; Antityp and Stehaufmännchen– 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. Many of his works have been rereleased as eBooks from Northwest Press.

The two volumes covered here were major sellers all over the world: blending the sordid shock-chic of 1970s American crime films and TV shows like Dirty Harry, The Warriors or Kojak and schlocky Sci Fi-horror (as in Scanners or Critters) with absurdist humour and the delicious notion of New York’s toughest Top Cop being Out, Loud and obnoxiously Proud…

First released in Britain in 1991 and wholly embracing the conceit of being an art house movie, The Killer Condom originally debuted in 1987 as Kondom des Grauens: a whole-hearted genre spoof introducing disgraced and disgraceful New York detective Luigi Macaroni, called on by his reluctant and harassed boss to solve a rash of gory emasculations plaguing the area around the notorious pay-by-the-hour Hotel Quickie.

Brash, gruff and deliberately sleazy, Macaroni is too good a cop to get rid of, despite his brazen attitude, and begins to work just like in every other case his straight colleagues won’t touch. However, as he investigates the brutal street scene he quickly realizes that no human agency is biting the dicks off an escalating stream of unfortunate sinners…

When he picks up a rent boy for a little relief, they too go to the Quickie and soon face terror beyond imagination and every man’s darkest nightmare…

Crafted at a time when HIV/AIDS was ravaging the gay community and scaring the pants off the wider world, this darkly trenchant satire adds a bizarre codicil to the still-ongoing debate about safe sex and condom use, but remains at its core an outrageously funny romp for grown-ups. In 1996, it and sequel Down to the Bone were adapted as a German comedy horror movie, latterly released in America as Killer Condom.
The Killer Condom © 1988 by Editions Kunst der Comics/Ralf König. Revised Edition © 2009, Published by Ignite! Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Down to the Bone emerged in 1990. As Bis Auf die Knochen, it heralded the triumphant return of Detective Inspector Macaroni – an even-more embittered man following his failure to maintain a loving relationship. It’s New Year’s in New York and the city is darker and nastier than ever. In the dead of winter, a fresh horror stalks the streets…

When a man hungry for negotiable affection encounters an oddly familiar “leatherman” hooker, it turns into the last trick of his life. Meanwhile, celebrity restauranteur Joe Baluga meets a similar fate, as does another hapless John triggering another campaign of atrocity in the mouldy, worm-infested Big Apple.

This time, it’s not dicks that are disappearing: now entire bodies are being instantly reduced to bleached skeletons and the Captain needs the department’s top Queer to stop the rot. As the third victim is the wealthy son of an infamous billionaire, and just to be safe, the embattled chief assigns painfully straight whitebread Detective Brian Plumley to assist him – affording Macaroni an irresistible opportunity to play pranks and reaffirm his reputation as a total bastard…

As they trawl the leather bars and other outposts of “the scene” they quickly establish an apparent link to the gay porn industry. But other than providing the inspector with a celebrity hook-up, the investigation stalls until a bizarre find proves that what they’re all hunting is far from human…

From there the pieces swiftly fall into place and the escalating horror leads back to an old case involving carnivorous latex prophylactics. With bodies still dropping, Macaroni and a far-more woke Plumley track down an old mad scientist and his ghastly creation and encounter a deranged fundamentalist determined to enforce Biblical mandates at all costs…

Wry, witty, coarsely hysterical, these books marry the surly, unsavoury thrills of urban cop fiction with a bawdily outrageous whimsy that sadly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you love big raucous ludicrous belly laughs with your thrills and chills, these might well become some of your favourite reads.
Down to the Bone © 1990 by Editions Kunst der Comics/Ralf König. Revised Edition © 2011, and published by Ignite! Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Spirou & Fantasio volume 15 – Shadow of the Z


By André Franquin, with Jidéhem & Greg; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-419-9 (Album PB)

Spirou (whose name translates as both “squirrel” and “mischievous” in the tongue of the Walloons) was created by French cartoonist François Robert Velter – AKA Rob-Vel – for Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in response to the phenomenal success of Hergé’s Tintin at 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 the publisher’s premier periodical Le Moustique) whose improbable adventures with his pet squirrel Spip eventually evolved into high-flying surreal comedy dramas.

The Spirou cast have been the magazine’s vanguard 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 retiring short, gag-like vignettes in favour of longer epic adventure serials, introducing a wide and engaging cast of regulars. He ultimately devised a phenomenally popular nigh-magical animal dubbed Marsupilami, with the wondrous critter debuting in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952.

On January 3rd 1924, Belgian Franquin was born in Etterbeek. Drawing from an early age, he 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. The eager beaver 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 & Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, endlessly expanding their weekly exploits in unbroken four-colour glory. They travelled to exotic climes, exposing crimes, revealing the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of arch-enemies such as Zorglub and Zantafio and 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 (now known in Britain 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.

Cinebook have published Spirou and Fantasio’s exploits since 2009, initially concentrating on Tome & Janry’s superb pastiche/homages of Franquin, with infrequent doses of the original article also available in paperback and digitally.

Here, in the sequel to Z is for Zorglub (also by Franquin, Greg & Jidéhem) we head back to 1960 for a return engagement with a super-scientific arrogant buffoon whose believes he is the rightful ruler of Earth and the solar system thanks to his discovery of the mind-bending “Zorglwave”.

Previously, the smug weirdo had used his hypnotic rays to make Fantasio one of his mind-controlled Zorglmen whilst attempting to destroy their inspirational boffin acquaintance: mushroom-mad Count Champignac. Apparently, they were at school together…

After an epic encounter, Zorglub was outwitted by Spirou, Spip and the Marsupilami, and all his grand plans scuttled, but as this volume opens our heroes are cleaning up in the generally placid hamlet of Champignac-in-the-Sticks where one last Zorglman is still prowls, armed with a paralysis ray and causing a catastrophic kerfuffle…

Sadly, no sooner do our heroes solve that problem than Zorglub himself turns up to reclaim the last of his evil machines and advanced aircraft: keen to resume his duel with the kindly Count. An inconclusive clash results in Zorglub heading off for his last hidden base – creating a shocking swathe of chaos and destruction in his wake – unaware that he has left a crucial clue.

Soon the heroic gang are off to Palombia – home of wild Marsupilami – landing just in time to become embroiled in the madman’s latest outrage: dominating the local toiletries market through his hypnotic devices. With all that operating capital, his conquest of Earth is assured…

As economic unrest drags the Palombian populace towards destitution and revolution, the Count perfects his anti-Z wave technology and our heroes’ counterattack, but unknown to all, a malicious old enemy has formed a third faction to exploit Zorglub’s grand scheme for shoddy personal gain. When he’s finally exposed, the monster resorts to the death-ray even Zorglub was too ashamed to use but has underestimated Spirou, the Count and the marvellous Marsupilami. The end is a sudden, shocking, comeuppance but we have not seen the last of Zorglub…

Stuffed with an astounding array of astonishing hi-tech spoofery, riotous chases, sight gags and verbal ripostes, this exultant escapade is a fast and fabulous fiesta of angst-free action and thrills. Readily accessible to readers of all ages and drawn with beguiling style and seductive élan, this is pure cartoon gold, truly deserving of reaching the widest audience possible.

Buy it for you, get another for the kids and give copies to all your friends…
Original edition © Dupuis, 1962 by Franquin, Jidéhem & Greg. All rights reserved. English translation 2018 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Complete Peanuts volume 5: 1959 to 1960


By Charles M. Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-149-3 (Canongate HB) 978-1-60699-921-9 (Fantagraphics PB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal.

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

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

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

Following a Foreword of fun and frank shared reminiscences between editor Gary Groth and mega star Whoopi Goldberg, the timeless times of play, peril and psychoanalysis resume as ever in marvellous monochrome, but this time major changes are in motion as the feature enters its true glory days …

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

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

Mean girl Violet, prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy and her off-kilter little brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” are fixtures sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles, but a new disruptive force is introduced. The existential angst of Charlie Brown is magnified by more responsibility with the coming of his new baby sister Sally

Resigned to his role as eternal loser and singled out by fate and the relentless, diabolical Lucy – who now intensifies and monetises her spiteful verve with a 5¢ walk-in psychoanalysis booth – the round-headed kid really endures the trials of Job from now on. His attempts to fly a kite or kick a football are perpetually sabotaged, and he faces from all the females in his life constant face-to-face reminders of how rubbish he is. Can this new one in his own house be any different?

Other notable events include the first instances of Linus’ doomed relationships: primarily with alternative mythical entity The Great Pumpkin, but also unattainable, equally unseen schoolteacher/inamorata Miss Othmar

Wonder beagle Snoopy increases his strange development in all ways. His extended Cold War duel for possession of Linus’ cherished comfort blanket escalates but the manic mutt also finds time to philosophise, dance like a dervish and battle City Hall to save his doghouse from a proposed Freeway Bypass…

The Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than 4-panel dailies. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements as these weekend wonders gave the auteur room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

By 1959, rapid-fire raucous slapstick gags were riding side-by-side with increasingly abstract, obscure, edgy, psychologically barbed introspections: deep ruminations in a world where kids and animals were the only actors. The relationships are now deep, complex and absorbing but there was still room and time for pure artistic expression. The “Clouds” page for Sunday August 14th was instantly revered by readers and cited by Schulz as his all-time personal favourite.

Sheer exuberance and a spontaneous tendency to barrack perceived failure or weakness at any provocation remains a trusted standby, supported by sporting crises, loneliness, the difficulties of learning to read and wearing long pants, plus a growing attention to issues of motherhood.

Particular moments to relish here involve Snoopy’s muzzle-pugilism; Charlie Brown’s “pencil-pal”; snow-games, rain, cooking gaffes; television, the dread power of romance and grandeur and weirdness of Autumn: all while offering more examples of Schroeder’s eternal love affair of Beethoven and inability to discern Lucy’s far-from-apparent attractions.

The general trends for all the kids being beguiled by stargazing, waxing philosophical at the heavens’ splendour and enduring St. Valentines’ Day traumas continues and there’s even a sighting of Lucy’s softer side. This collection features the first incidence of a minor phenomenon springing from the April 25th daily which first disclosed that “Happiness is a warm puppy…”

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

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, this volume offers a rare example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue metamorphosing into an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery that remains part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to make new fans and devotees long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1959-1960 (volume 5) © 2006 United Features Syndicate, Inc. The Foreword is © 2006 Whoopi Goldberg. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2006 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Beano: Beanopedia


By Rachel Elliot, Hannah Baldwin, Rob Ward & various (Studio Press Books/D.C. Thomson)
ISBN: 978-1-7874-1-705-2 (HB)

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of traditional British comics’ antecedents by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames. A huge success, it was followed eight months later by The Beano – which launched on July 30th 1938. Together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed, rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941, only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. The rascally rapscallions only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949. Although The Dandy closed up in 2012, The Beano has soldiered on, amusing generations of glad gigglers and fuelling a minor industry in TV adaptations, toys, games, food, apparel, “how to” books and so much more.

August 28, 2019 saw the landmark 4,000th issue and it’s still going strong. That’s a lot of years and countless pranks, japes, dodges, menacings and all, so last year this cheery tome was released: a vibrant dossier of pertinent info on the current status and occupants of kids’ comedy Ground Zero…

Aimed at the younger end of the market and offering all the facts and pictures any devotee could dream of, this slight-but-detailed tour around Beanotown offers tips and hints, insiders’ insights and intimate introductions to all the funny folk living there.

The indispensable hardback guide opens with a welcoming ‘Visitors’ Guide’ hosted by Dennis the Menace and cunning canine collaborator Gnasher, detailing the top nine points of civic pride and interest, backed up by vivid advice on ‘How to get here (and how to leave)’, ‘Weird ways to travel’, ‘How to completely escape’ and ‘How to find your way around’

A major portion of this guide features the lowdown on the town’s most notable inhabitants rendered as brief text, fact files, descriptive key quotes and a game. Of course, the first subjects are ‘The Menace Family’: Dennis, baby sister Bea, parents, Gran, pets and pesky archenemies, all supplemented by ‘Dennis’ Most Impressive Pranks’ and (cousin) ‘Minnie’s Most Magnificent Minxes’.

Minnie the Minx then similarly introduces her lot in ‘The Makepeace Family’, before a broad barrage of pages covers ‘The Bash Street Kids’ individually and collectively, with sections on the war-weary staff, ‘The Bash Street Pups’, the history of ‘Bash Street School’ and its ancestor institution ‘Horrible Hall’ and tips on ‘How to rule Bash Street School’

Posh, privileged foes of all fun ‘The Brown Family’ are examined next from sneaky Walter to his greedy, ambitious parents Wilbur and Muriel, after which shorter files give us the facts on lesser stars ‘Peter “Pieface” Shepard’, sporty ‘JJ’, ‘Billy Whizz’, ‘Betty and the Yeti’ and wheelchair wonder/girl gadget-boffin ‘Rubidium von Screwtop (Rubi)’.

Secret philanthropist and truly-decent rich kid ‘Lord Snooty’ has survived relatively unscathed since the comic’s earliest days and his profile neatly segues into the home set-up of Roger the Dodger in ‘The Dawson Family’ files and the kids’ garage band ‘The Dinmakers’, after which (relatively) recent arrivals ‘Dangerous Dan’ and ‘Tricky Dicky’ precede a large section on ‘Eric Wimp (Bananaman)’ which includes a rundown on ‘Bananaman’s Fiendish Foes’.

Unlucky lad ‘Calamity James’ is followed by the Numskulls ‘Lurking Unseen’ lead to a self-help section detailing ‘How to be a Top Beanotown Resident’ and sharing ‘Beanotown Friendship’ rituals, leading to a rundown of ‘Beanotown’s History’, ‘Where to Go’, ‘What to Do’ and graphic lectures on ‘Sport and Leisure’ with a few helpful scenes to visit, after which‘Wildlife’ sets a thrilling agenda and ‘Baby Minder’ suggests individuals every parent should have on speed dial…

Moving on to the end of our tour, ‘Beanotown’s Secrets’ lists unmissable sites you might have overlooked while ‘Perfect Pranks’ suggest some anarchic homework for later, rounded up lists of ‘Where Not to Go for Help’ and ‘Where to Go for Help’.

And because it’s not a proper day out without one, this lovely tome concludes with a ‘Beanotown Quiz’ immediately followed by the ‘Answers’

Slick, sleek, jolly and amazingly compelling, this is a perfect delight to bolster any kid’s introduction or re-submersion in a truly British icon.
A Beano Studios Product © D.C. Thomson Ltd 2020

“The Beano” ® © and associated characters ™© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Jim – Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal


By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-752-9 (HB)

There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply defy categorisation or even description. There’s a pantheon of artisans: Kirby, Ditko, Hergé, Eisner, Clowes, Meskin, Millionaire and a few others who bring something utterly personal and universally effective to their work just beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate, encapsulate or convey. They are perfect in their own way and so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

You just have to read the stuff yourself.

Arguably at the top of that distinguished heap of graphic glitterati is Jim Woodring. It’s a position he has maintained for years and clearly appears capable of holding for generations to come.

Woodring’s work has always been challenging, funny, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, beautiful and extremely scary. Moreover, even after reading that sentence you will still be absolutely unprepared for what awaits the first time you encounter any of his books – and even more so if you’ve already seen everything he’s created.

Cartoonist, animator, fine artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance man, Woodring’s eccentric output has delighted far too small and select an audience since his first mini-comics forays in 1980.

The reader may have avidly adored his groundbreaking, oneirically autobiographical Fantagraphics magazine Jim (1986 and cherry-picked for this collection) or its notional spin-off series Frank (of which Weathercraft won The Stranger 2010 Genius Award for Literature whilst 2018’s Poochytown marked Woodring’s last Frank foray to date). Perhaps it was Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things or more mainstream features like his Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse Comics that hit home but, always, there is never anything but surprise waiting when his next story appears…

An accomplished storytelling technician these days, Woodring grows rather than constructs solidly surreal, abstractly authentic, wildly rational, primal cartoon universes, wherein his meticulous, clean-lined, sturdily ethereal, mannered blend of woodblock prints, R. Crumb landscapes, expressionist Dreamscapes, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria all live and play …and often eat each other.

His stories follow a logical, progressional narrative – often a surging, non-stop chase from one insane invention to the next – layered with multiple levels of meaning yet totally devoid of speech or words, boldly assuming the intense involvement of the reader will participate and complete the creative circuit.

Such was not always the case and this superbly sumptuous oversized (292 x 228mm) hardcover compilation (also available digitally) gathers earlier formative and breakthrough efforts in colour and monochrome: offering the very best of his strips, paintings, poems and stories from JIM and other (sadly unnamed) sources between 1980 and 1996.

This compulsive collection also includes a new 24-page strip starring the artist’s hulking, bewhiskered, aggressively paranoid, dream-plagued family man/cartoonist alter ego, cementing his reputation as a master of subconscious exploration, surreal self-expression and slyly ironic comedic excoriation – and it’s still almost impossible to describe.

You really, really, really have to dive in and discover for yourself…

Packed with hallucinatory spot-images and JIM cover illustrations, the furtive fruits of Woodring’s ever-present dream-recording “autojournal” are prefaced by a beguiling and informative ‘Author’s Note’ before the wonderment begins with ‘Jim #1 in its entirety’: the complete contents of his very first self-published fanzine from 1980.

A master of silent expressive cartooning, Woodring’s playfully inventively fascination with and love of words and tale-making shines through in such laboriously hand-lettered, illustrated epigrammatic vignettes as ‘Lozenge’ and ‘Jim Today’, as well as witty iconographic concoctions like ‘Tales of Bears’ and ‘Troutcapper Hats’ before the premier strip saga details a doomed fishing trip in ‘Seafood Platter from Hell’, and a moment of early silent psychedelia reveals how ‘Two Children Inadvertently Kill an Agent of the Devil Through an Excess of Youthful High Spirits’

Another personal true story and painful brush with disability and imperfection is disclosed in ‘Invisible Hinge’ whilst ‘The Hour of the Kitten’ returns to distressed, disturbed prose before the first of many outrageous faux-ads offers indispensable conscience-pets ‘Niffers’, preceding another text-trek in ‘A Walk in the Foothills’.

Cats play a large part in these early strips and ‘Big Red’ is probably the cutest bloody-clawed, conscienceless killer you’ll ever meet whilst ‘Enough is Enough’ offers graphic pause before an ad for the home ‘Dreamcorder’ segues into a disturbing poster of rural excess in ‘A Lousy Show’.

‘Particular Mind’ provides a strip encapsulating relationships, hallucinations and life-drawing, after which the tempting services provided by ‘Jim’s Discipline Camp’ are counterbalanced by a paean to pharmacopoeia in ‘Good Medicine’.

More savage exploits of ‘Big Red’ lead to a commercial presentation in ‘This is the Meat (…That Changed Me, Dad!)’, whilst ‘Horse Sinister’ describes – in prose and pictures – another disturbing dream dilemma and ‘At the Old Estate’introduces a sophisticated loving couple whose wilderness paradise is forever altered by an unwelcome visitor’s incredible revelation. Thereafter, a worried young child describes how life changed after he found his parents’ ‘Dinosaur Cage’

The truly eccentric tale of ‘Li’l Rat’ (from a 1965 story by John Dorman) is followed by a visual feast of images from ‘Jim Book of the Dead’ and a surreal flyer for ‘Rolling Cabine’, after which ‘What the Left Hand Did’ captures in strip form the horrors of mutilation and malformation. The macabre tone-painting ‘Almost Home’ then leads to an epic strip of father and son fun beginning with ‘Let’s Play!’

Jim’s jaunt soon transports him to ‘Powerland’ where dad meets himself, whilst ‘Nidrian Gardner’ revisits a couple of suave swells whilst ‘Looty’ offers consumers a toy they just shouldn’t own…

‘The Hindu Marriage Game’ leads our unhappy bearded fool to a place where his lack of judgement can truly embarrass him, whilst ‘Quarry Story’ explores a debilitating recurring dream about the nature of artistic endeavour and ‘This House’explains how you can live life without ever going outside again – and how’s that for prophetic and timely?

The first inklings of the mature creator emerge in absurdist romp ‘The Birthday Party’ after which prose shaggy-dog story ‘The Reform of the Apple’ leads to a dark, distressing cartoon confrontation with doom on ‘The Stairs’, before largely monochrome meanderings give way to stunning full-colour surreal reveries in ‘Screechy Peachy’.

The radiant hues remain for galvanic image ‘Vher Umst Pknipfer?’ and pantomimic rollercoaster romp ‘Trosper’ after which bold black & white introspection resumes with a naked lady and a garrulous frog in ‘Dive Deep’.

A ghostly Hispanic condition of drunkenness haunts cruelly playful kids in ‘Pulque’ whilst little Max asks dad a leading question in ‘Echo’ and radio rebels Chip and Monk meet some girls and risk the wrath of civic authority with illegal broadcasting in ‘A Hometown Tale’, before an ideal wife has a bad-tempered off-day in ‘Obviously Not’.

As the years passed, many of Woodring’s later spiritual and graphic signature creatures slowly begun to appear in his strips. Old met new in ‘His Father Was a Great Machine’ wherein strident Jim has an encounter with a phantasmagorical thing, after which little Susan and a determined slug shaped up for an inevitable collision in the prose fable ‘When the Lobster Whistles on the Hill’.

Sheer whimsy informs ‘Cheap Work/Our Hero is a Bastard’ and the bizarre offerings of ‘Jimland Novelties’, whilst ‘The Smudge-Pot’ shows what all magazine letters pages should be like. ‘Pulque’ – in full colour strip mode – returns with a message for the dying before ‘Boyfriend of the Weather’ wraps up the surreal voyaging with a homey homily, and reproductions of Jim #1, volume 2 back cover and Jim #2, volume 2 cover bring this festival of freakish fun to the finale with style, aplomb and oodles of frosting…

Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – otherwise why would I need to plug his work so earnestly – and, as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump long after the book has been put away, but the artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself.

He makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more, and these early offerings provide the perfect starter course for a full-bodied feast of fantasy…

Are you feeling peckish yet…?
© 2014 Jim Woodring. All rights reserved.