Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944: “He Nods in Quiescent Siesta”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-932-6 (TPB)

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation: a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive archival Fantagraphics tomes, is a creation which must always be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst delineating the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It certainly went over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced.

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880-April 25, 1944) was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who’d been noodling about at the edges of his domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – by sheer dint of the overbearing publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and more) adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from those circulation-crucial comics sections designed to entice joe public and the general populace.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s unshakable patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unhampered by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death on April 25th 1944.

This final collection covers the final days of the feature as Herriman succumbed slowly and painfully to cirrhosis caused by Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eschewing the standard policy of finding a substitute to carry on the strip, Hearst decreed that Krazy Kat would die with its creator and sole ambassador.

It was no real sacrifice to profit, but the culmination to years of grand tribute to unique mastery. The strip had declined in syndication for years. By the 1930s it was featured in only 35 papers, but despite that the publisher – acting more as renaissance-era artistic patron than hard-bitten businessman – refused Herriman’s every earnest request that his salary be reduced to fit his dwindling circulation. In 1935 Hearst responded to the requests by promoting the feature to the full-page, full-colour glory it enjoyed until the end.

The epic’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. The smitten kitten apparently always misidentifies these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

By the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse still spends most of his time, energy and ingenuity in launching missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen. However, in these concluding episodes even that fiery warped passion has somewhat cooled: often attempted in perfunctory manner and frequently resulting in failure: just like any loving couple in their twilight years together…

The final critical element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: utterly besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating an ever-mutable stage are a big supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and snoopy sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically, onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“goldin moom bims” or “there is a heppy lend, furfur away…”).

Yet for all our high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, outrageously hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This bittersweet final chapter covers all the strips from 1943 to the middle of 1944 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a suitably serene digital edition.

With far fewer strips to catalogue, this edition is bulked up with a veritable treasure trove of unique artefacts: plenty of candid photos, personal correspondence, vast stores of original strip art and many astounding examples of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (gorgeous hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), as well as a section on the rare merchandising tie-ins and unofficial bootleg items.

Tribute, commentary and analysis is provided by Bill Blackbeard’s final Introduction ‘The Tragedy of a Man with an Absent Mind’ and Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand’s heavily-illustrated essay ‘Herriman’s Last Days (or, All Kats are Gray in the Dark)’ offering superb analysis of the unique talent celebrated herein. This inevitably leads to those superb cartoons, resuming with January 3rd 1943 and a tumultuous exchanging of gifts between cast regulars…

Due to the author’s declining health and perhaps the several personal tragedies that afflicted him in later life, the story atmosphere is mostly ruminatory and philosophical. It is also tinged with topical anxieties as World War II touches even the distant hills and mesas of Coconino. The trials of torrid triangular romance still play out as painfully and hilariously ever, but are balanced by more considered gags. Oblique references to the real world abound: a tortoise named Tank shambles about, Krazy is castigated for growing pretty flowers in the Victory Garden, and Ignatz is perforce compelled to handle bricks on a rationed, time-shared basis…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen still abound, but pell-mell action, devious schemes and frantic chase gradually give way to comfortable chats and the occasional debate before inevitably concluding at the jail house…

Ignatz endures regular incarcerations and numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions, whereas the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many regular characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of drive, often reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many strips.

Pupp suffers with his age, repeatedly trying labour-saving new policing appliances such as electrically booby-trapped or glue-drenched bricks and termites trained to chew on fired clay, and as a steady stream of displaced royals from conquered lands set up in the desert paradise and the phenomenon of zoot-suiters manifests, the forces of law and order seem harder-pressed every day.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk further expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; confirming her status as a leading player. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, and whilst laconic vagabonds such as Bum Bill Bee continue their scams and schemes, the primary cast-members seem inclined to sit back and let them all get on with it……

Welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous or inspiration or simple aesthetic gratification, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity. As arthritis, increasing migraines and age took some of the artist’s physical dexterity, it seemed to liberate his eyes and compositional sensibilities. The later strips are astounding sleek graphic exemplars of cunning design and hue on which the regulars play out their final lines…

The wonderment concludes with ore unearthed artistic treasures and one last instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.

© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Calculus Affair


By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-817-8 (HB) 978-1-40520-629-7 (TPB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, a year later Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine, and by 1928 was producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

After a troubled period during the war years, the Boy Reporter and his companions became a staple of the European childhood experience through weekly trans-national magazine Le Journal de Tintin and regular album collections. The anthology comic regularly achieved a circulation in the hundreds of thousands, allowing the artist and his team to remaster past tales and create bold new romps reflecting the tone of the times.

Although Hergé’s later life was troubled by personal problems and health issues, this only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities. The later adventures are all sleek, polished thrillers, rife with intrigue and camaraderie; perfectly garnished with comedy set-pieces of timeless brilliance. Even after decades of working, the artist/auteur continued fresh and challenging, always seeking new arenas of drama to explore.
Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. That meant a return to observations of contemporary themes and situations, as in this effective treatise on the burgeoning Cold War…

L’Affaire Tournesol began in the Christmas issue of the Belgian edition of Le Journal de Tintin (dated December 22nd 1954) and ran uninterrupted until February 22nd 1956. The French editions ran it from February 1955, and the completed saga was collected as an album in 1956 and is notable for the introduction of three characters who would become semi-regular cast members: Jolyon Wagg, Cutts the Butcher, and recurring villain Colonel Spoons.

The Calculus Affair once again sees the zany Professor abducted from the palatial home of Captain Haddock, resulting in a dire and desperate chase through espionage-infested Europe. Our heroes are hampered in their efforts to save their friend by the introduction of the infinitely annoying and crushingly dull insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg and, more ominously, rival bands of relentless, ruthless spies.

As they doggedly pursue Calculus to Geneva, Tintin and Haddock encounter not only the insidious agents of Borduria but find that their erstwhile allies of Syldavia are also trying to make the Professor “disappear”. After frantic chases, pitched battles and assassination attempts, diplomatic duplicity defeats them, and Calculus becomes an unwilling guest of the totalitarian Bordurians, who are pleased to accept as a “gift” his new invention, which they intend to use as a weapon of mass destruction.

Temporarily stymied, Tintin and Haddock finagle their way into the country, and with the aid of Opera Diva and human tornado Bianca Castafiore, bamboozle the secret police to rescue the Professor and save the day.

Although all the elements in play are tried and trusted ingredients of the Tintin formula, the level of artistic achievement here is superb and the interplay of tense drama, slapstick comedy and breakneck action make this brooding thriller the most accomplished of Hergé’s tales. The simple fact that the contemporary Cold War fever is absent for modern readers makes no difference at all to the enjoyment of this magnificent graphic masterpiece.

The Calculus Affair: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1960 Methuen & Co Ltd/2012 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Broons and Oor Wullie: The Roaring Forties


By R.D. Low & Dudley D. Watkins (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-804-3 (HB)

The Broons is one of the longest running newspaper strips in British history, having run almost continuously in Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post since its delirious debut in the March 8th 1936 edition: the same issue which launched mischievous and equally unchanging wee laddie Oor Wullie.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging working-class family were co-created by journalist, writer and editor Robert Duncan Low in conjunction with DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins. Moreover, once the strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals, those books became as much a Yule tradition as plum pudding or shortbread.

Low (1895-1980) began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his landmark notion was the “Fun Section”: an 8-page pull-out comic strip supplement for national newspaper The Sunday Post. This illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were the headliners…

Low’s shrewdest notion was to devise both strips as comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular where, supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips. These pioneering comics then laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

After some devious devising in December 1937 Low launched the first DC Thomson weekly comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic in 1939.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed the burgeoning strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture paper releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not included in the magazine’s regular roster. In that same year Low & the magnificent Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest advantage in the early days was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style – more than any other – shaped the look and form of DC Thompson’s comics output, until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as an artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. Before too long he was advised to get a job at expanding, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating prose boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the Sunday Post’s new Fun Section. Without missing a beat, Watkins quickly added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, and The Beano’s placidly outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable triumph for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969.

For every week of all those astonishingly productive years, he had unflaggingly crafted a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons, and his loss was a colossal blow to the company.

DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was agreed upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual due to wartime paper rationing) had appeared in 1939, alternating with Oor Wullie – although, due to those same resource restrictions, no annuals were published between 1943 and 1946 – and for millions of readers a year cannot truly end without them.

So What’s the Set Up?: the multigenerational Broon family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (sometimes Auchenshoogle); based in large part on the working class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle. As such, it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing.

As is always the case, the adamant, unswerving cornerstone of any family feature is long-suffering, understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw, and a battalion of stay-at-home kids comprising hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, pretty Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddler referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence but always hanging around is gruffly patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own quaint cottage, constantly seeking to impart decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen…?

Offering regular breaks from the inner city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the nearby Highlands): there to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl and farm-grown…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also debuted on 8th March 1936 with his collected Christmas Annuals appearing in the even years.

The basic set-up is sublimely simply and eternally evergreen, featuring an imaginative, good-hearted scruff with a talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal young rascal with time on his hands and can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular cast includes Ma and Pa, long-suffering local bobby P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Bob, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others…

The Roaring Forties was released in 2002 as part of a concerted drive to keep earlier material available to fans: a lavish hardback compilation (sadly not yet available digitally) which proffers a tantalising selection of strips from 1940-1949, covering every aspect of contemporary existence except a rather obvious one.

Although for half the book World War II was a brutal fact of life, it barely encroached upon the characters’ lives except perhaps in the unexplained occasional shortages of toys, sweets and other scrummy comestibles…

The parade of celtic mirth begins with – and is regularly broken up by – a number of atmospheric photo-features such as a celebration of film stars of the period in ‘A Nicht at the Picters’ (in three glamour-studded showings) and ‘Cartoon Capers’, which reproduces a wealth of one-off gag panels from The Sunday Post by such luminaries as Carmichael, Eric Cook, Campbell and Housley, whilst ‘Whit’s in The Sunday Post Today?’ gathers a selection of the era’s daftest news items.

The endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the usual subject-matter: gleeful goofs, family frolics and gloriously slapstick shenanigans. Whether it’s a visit with family or just trying to keep pace with the wee terror, highlights include plumbing disasters, fireplace fiascos, food foolishness, dating dilemmas, appliance atrocities, fashion freak-outs, exercise exploits and childish pranks by young and old alike…

Punctuated by editorial extras, such as ‘Correction Corner’ – offering an intriguing look into the strips’ creative process – and ‘Dinnae Mention the War’ which reprints a selection of morale-boosting ads and items, are rib-tickling scenes of sledding and skating, stolen candies, torn clothes, recycled comics, visiting circuses, practical jokes, and social gaffes: stories intended to take the nation’s collective mind off troubles abroad, and for every thwarted romance of poor Daphne and Maggie or embarrassing fiasco focussed on Paw’s cussedness, there’s an uproarious chase, riotous squabble and no-tears scrap for the little ‘uns.

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to avoid at all costs, the timeless gentle humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive fun and frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining serving of superbly nostalgic an unmissable treat.

So why not return to a time of local blacksmiths and coalmen, best china and full employment, neighbours you knew by first names and trousers that always fell apart or were chewed by goats? There are even occasional crossovers to marvel at here, with Wullie and Granpaw Broon striving to outdo each other in the adorable reprobate stakes…

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious slapstick hilarity and comfortably domestic warmth, these unchanging examples of happy certainty and convivial celebration of a mythic lost life and time are a sure cure for post-modern glums…
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2002.

Beyond Mars – The Complete Series 1952-1955


By Jack Williamson & Lee Elias (IDW Publishing)
ISBNs: 978-1-631404-35-1 (HB)

The 1950s was the last great flourish of the American newspaper strip. Invented and always used as a way to boost circulation and encourage consumer loyalty, the inexorable rise of television and spiralling costs of publishing gradually ate away at all but the most popular cartoon features as the decade ended, but the earlier years saw a final, valiant, burst of creativity and variety as syndicates looked for ways to recapture popular attention whilst editors increasingly sought ways to maximise every fraction of a page-inch for paying ads, not fritter the space away with expensive cost-centres. No matter how well produced, imaginative or entertaining, if strips couldn’t increase sales, they weren’t welcome…

The decade also saw a fantastic social change as a commercial boom and technological progress created a new type of visionary consumer – one fired up by the realization that America was Top Dog in the world.

The optimistic escapism offered by the stars above led to a reawakening in the moribund science fiction genre, with a basic introduction for the hoi-polloi offered by the burgeoning television industry through such pioneering (if clunky) programmes as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet or Captain Video and movies from visionaries like Robert Wise (Day the Earth Stood Still) and George Pal (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds and others).

For kids of all ages, conceptual fancies were being tickled by a host of fantastic comicbooks ranging from the blackly satirical Weird Science Fantasy to the affably welcoming and openly enthusiastic Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. In the inexorably expiring pulp magazines, master imagineers such as Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, Dick, Bester and Farmer were transforming the genre from youthful melodrama into a highly philosophical art form…

With Flying Saucers in the skies, Reds under every Bed and refreshing adventure in mind, the multifarious Worlds of Tomorrow were common currency and newspaper strips wanted in on the phenomenon. Established features such as Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford and Flash Gordon were no longer enough and editors demanded bold new visions to draw in a wider public, not just those steady fans who already bought papers for their favourite futurian.

John Stewart “Jack” Williamson was one of the first superstars of American science fiction writing, a rurally raised, self-taught author with more than 50 books, 18 short story collections and even volumes of criticism and non-fiction to his much-lauded name. Born in Arizona in 1908, he was raised in Texas and in 1928 sold his first story to Amazing Stories.

Williamson created a number of legendary serials such as the Legion of Space, The Humanoids and the Legion of Time. He is credited by the OED with inventing the terms and concepts of “terraforming” and “genetic engineering.” He was one of the first literary investigators of anti-matter with his Seetee novels.

“See Tee” or “Contra Terrene Matter” is also at the heart of the strip under discussion here, completely collected in this magnificent full colour volume and available in positive matter Hardback and the ethereal pulses technique we dub digital publication.

Following a damning newspaper review of Seetee Ship, Williamson’s second novel in that sequence – which claimed the book was only marginally better than a comic strip – the editor of a rival paper was moved to engage Williamson and artist Lee Elias to produce a Sunday page based in the same universe as the books.

Leopold Elias was born in England in 1920, but grew up in the USA after his family emigrated in 1926. He studied at the Cooper Union and Art Students League of New York before beginning his professional comics illustration career at Fiction House in 1943. He worked on Captain Wings and latterly western strip Firehair. His sleek, Milton-Caniff-inspired art was soon highly prized by numerous publishers, and Elias contributed to the lustre of The Flash, Green Lantern, Sub-Mariner, Terry and the Pirates and, most notably, the glamourous Black Cat strip for Harvey Comics.

Elias briefly left the funnybook arena in the early 1950s after his art was singled out by anti-comicbook zealot Dr. Fredric Wertham. He traded up to the more prestigious newspaper strips, ghosting Al Capp’s Li’l Abner before landing the job of bringing Beyond Mars to life.

He returned to comicbooks after the strip’s demise, becoming a mainstay at DC in the 1960s, Marvel in the 1970s and Warren in the 1980s. He died in 1998, having spent his final years teaching at the School of Visual Arts and the Kubert School.

The glorious meeting of the minds is preceded here by an effusive and informative Introduction from Bruce Canwell – ‘When “Retro” Was Followed by “Rocket”’ – packed with cover illustrations, original art pages and illustrations that set the scene and share lost secrets of the strips genesis and ultimate Armageddon.

With Dick Tracy strip maestro Chester Gould as adviser for the early days, Beyond Mars ran exclusively and in full colour in the New York Daily News every Sunday from 17th February 1952 to May 13th 1955: a gloriously high-tech, high-adventure romp based around Brooklyn Rock in 2191 AD.

This bastion was a commercial space station bored into one of the rocky chunks drifting in the asteroid belt “Beyond Mars” – the ideal rough-and-tumble story venue on the ultimate frontier of human experience.

Although as the series progressed a progression of sexy women and inspired extraterrestrial sidekicks increasingly stole the show, the notional star is Spatial Engineer Mike Flint, an independent charter-pilot based on the rock, and the first tale begins with Flint selling his services to plucky Becky Starke who has come to the furthest edge of civilisation in search of her missing father. A student of human nature, she cloaks that motivation as a quest for a city-sized, solid diamond asteroid floating in the deadly “Meteor Drift”…

Soon Mike and his lisping ophidian Venusian partner Tham Thmith are contending with Brooklyn Rock’s crime boss Frosty Karth, a fantastic raider dubbed the Black Martian, a super-criminal named Cobra and even more unearthly menaces in a stirring tale of interplanetary drug dealers, lost cities, dead civilisations…

There’s even a fantastic mutation in the resilient form of a semi-feral Terran boy who can breathe vacuum and rides deep space on a meteor!

With that tale barely concluded the crew, including the rambunctious space boy Jimikin, fell deep into another mystery – Brooklyn Rock has gone missing!

However, Flint has no time to grieve for the family and friends left behind as he intercepts an inbound star-liner and discovers both an old flame and a smooth-talking thug bound for the now-missing space station. One of them knows where it went…

Unknown to even this mastermind, the Rock, stolen by pirates, is out of control and drifting to ultimate destruction in a debris field, but no sooner is that crisis averted than the heroes are entangled in a “First Contact” situation with an ancient alien from beyond Known Space. Perhaps that might actually be more correctly deemed becoming snared by the devilish devices he/she/it left running…

Ultimately, Mike, Tham, Jimikin and curvaceous Xeno-archeologist Victoria Snow narrowly escape alien vivisection from robotic relics before the tragic, inevitable conclusion…

Snow’s brother Blackie is a fast-talking ne’er-do-well, and when he shows up, old enemy Karth takes the opportunity to try and settle some old scores, leading Flint into a deadly trap on Ceres and a slick saga of genetic manipulation, eugenic supermen and bonanza wealth…

Meanwhile on an interplanetary liner, a new cast member “resurfaces” in the shape of crusty old coot – and Mercurian ore prospector – Fireproof Jones, just in time to help Flint and Sam mine their newfound riches.

As ever, Karth is looking to make trouble for the heroes but he wins some for himself when his young daughter suddenly turns up on the Rock, accompanied by gold-digging Pamela Prim. Suddenly, the murderous raider Black Martian returns to plague the honest pioneers of the Brooklyn frontier…

Glamour model Trish O’Keefe causes a completely different kind of trouble when she lands, looking for her fiancé. Naturally, Tack McTeak isn’t the humble space-doctor he claims to be but is a cerebrally augmented criminal mastermind, and his plans to snatch the biggest prize in space lead to a sequence of stunning thrills and astonishing action.

The scene switches to Earth as the cast visit “civilisation” and find it far from hospitable, so the chance to battle manufactured monsters and the mysterious Dr. Moray on his private tropical island is something of a welcome – if mixed – blessing.

By this time, the writing must have been on the wall, as the strip had been reduced to a half page per week. Even so, the creators clearly decided to go out in style. The sheer bravura spectacle was magnificently ramped up and all the tools of the science fiction trade were utilized to ensure the strip ended with a bang. Moray’s plans are catastrophically realised when the villain employs an anti-gravity bomb to steal Manhattan; turning it into a deadly Sword of Damocles in the sky…

The series abruptly ended when the New York Daily News changed its editorial policy: dropping all comics from its pages. The decision was clearly unexpected, as the saga finished satisfactorily but quite abruptly on Sunday 13th March 1955.

Beyond Mars is a breathtaking lost gem from two master craftsmen that successfully blended the wonders of science and the rollicking thrills of Westerns with broad, light-hearted humour to produce a mind-boggling, eye-popping, exuberantly wholesome family space-opera the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until Star Wars put the fun back into futuristic fiction.

Thankfully, after years of frustrated agitation by fans, the entire saga has been collected into a this beautiful oversized (244 x 307 mm) hardback edition that no lover of futuristic fun and frolics can afford to be without.
© 2015 Tribune Content Agency LLC. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2015 Bruce Canwell.

Fifty Freakin’ Years with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers


By Gilbert Shelton & various (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-261-6 (TPB)

Because you’re all decent, deity-fearing, upstanding citizens you’re probably utterly unaware of the extensive sub-culture which has grown up around the recreational abuse of narcotic pharmaceuticals – and so, of course, am I – but it must be said: those counter-culture chaps certainly know how to craft a comic tale.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers first appeared in Texas local paper The Rag, shambling out of the gradually burgeoning Underground Commix counter-culture wave in 1968. They jumped to Berkeley Print Mint’s Feds ‘n’ Heads, and New York tabloid The East Village Other before creator Gilbert Shelton and a few friends moved to California and founded their own San Francisco based Rip Off Press in 1969.

This effective collective continued to maximise the madness as the hilarious antics of the “Freaks” (a contemporary term for lazy, dirty, drug-taking hippy folks) captured the imagination of the open-minded portions of America and the world.

In 1971, they published the first compilation: The Collected Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – which has been in print all around the planet ever since – and soon assorted underground magazines and college papers were joined by the heady likes of Rip Off Comix, High Times and Playboy (as well as numerous foreign periodicals) in featuring the addictive adventures of Freewheelin’ Franklin, Phineas T. Freakears and Fat Freddy Freekowtski (and his cat): siblings in sybaritic self-indulgence.

Always written by Shelton and, from 1974 illustrated by Dave Sheridan (until his death in 1982) and latterly Paul Mavrides and others, the disjointed strips (sorry; drug-humour is just irresistible…) combined canny satirical cynicism, surreal situations, scatological sauciness and an astounding grasp of human nature in brilliantly comedic episodes that cannot fail to amuse anyone with a mature sense of humour.

All the strips have been collected in various formats (in Britain by the equally fine and fabulous folks of Knockabout Comics) and have been happily absorbed by vast generations of fans – most of whom wouldn’t read any other comic.

Despite the hippy-dippy antecedents and stoner presentiments, Shelton is irrefutably a consummate professional and born storymaker. His ideas are always enchantingly fresh yet deviously skewed, the dialogue is permanently spot-on and his pacing perfect. The stories, whether half-page fillers, short vignettes or full-blown sagas, start strong and relentlessly build to spectacular – and often wildly outrageous, hallucinogenic yet narrative-appropriate – climaxes.

And they’re so very, very funny.

Without Shelton and the Freaks, the whole sub-genre of slacker/stoner movies, from Cheech and Chong’s assorted escapades to Dude, Where’s My Car? and all the rest – good, bad or indifferent – wouldn’t exist. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you…

Freewheelin’ Franklin is the tough, street-savvy one who can pull the chicks best, Phineas T. is a wildly romantic, educated and dangerous (to himself) intellectual, whilst Fat Freddy is you and me; weak-willed, greedy, not so smart, vastly put upon by an uncaring universe but oddly charming (you wish…)

One last point: despite the vast panoply of drugs imbibed, both real and invented, the Freaks don’t ever do heroin – which should tell you something…

This commemorative paperback album – now also available digitally – celebrates the trio’s astounding popularity and longevity, opening with a little look back in astonishment via Shelton’s Introduction ‘Fifty Freakin’ Years’ which offers fascinating historical insights and context in an Authorised History that wonderfully shares and captures the tone of those times, augmented by commentary, sketches, posters and found art, candid photos and loads of wry reflections.

Combining classic tales with 28 pages of new material by Shelton, plus loving spoofs and parodies from select cartoonists, the parade of seditious smut and filth opens with full-colour fiasco ‘Phineas Becomes a Suicide Bomber’, wherein the sensitive soul seeks to impress a rabble-rousing feminist icon and accidentally disrupts a glitzy convocation of smug one-percenters…

A pin-up of ‘Flora & Fawna the Jailbait Twins’ (don’t fret; these drawings admit they’re actually over 18 and only look younger…) is followed by more uproarious mayhem when one of our heroes is mugged by kids. Not at all overreacting, ‘Franklin got his Gun!’ when he stumbles into a right wing (aren’t they all?) Gun Show and accidentally triggers a bloodbath…

Following a transcendental moment from 2013 when ‘Mr. Natural meets Fat Freddy’, eternal quester Freekowtski goes on an all-out quest for enlightenment in the hilariously blasphemous ‘Fat Freddy Gets Religion’ revealing the holy power of alcohol – specifically ‘Tall Toad’ beer…

First seen in 2009, ‘The Adventures of the Fabulous Fat Freddy’ combines his search for love and understanding with an unsuspected appreciation of great art before diverting to a beguiling illustrated prose anecdote about storytelling from Shelton.

A selection of homages spoof and parodies follow, beginning with ‘Geek Brothers!’ by Jay Lynch from Bijou Funnies, backed up in stark monochrome by ‘The Feminine Furry-Legged Freek! Sisters’ and its accompanying bottom strip ‘Fat Frieda’s Ass’; both courtesy of Willy Murphy & Ted Richards from The National Lampoon Book of Comical Funnies.

In living colour, the cover of Shelton tribute book Fabuleux Furieux! is followed by Hunt Emerson’s parody ‘Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ as seen within it, preceding original strip ‘Scotland Yardie vs the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ by Bobby Joseph & Joseph Samuels.

Unused art for a Flash animation, ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brother’s Strut March’ opens a selection of found art and commissioned works, including 2008 art by Shelton for the 40th Anniversary of comic phenomenon Lambiek; Freak Brothers bank notes; illustrations of Mort Walker’s Comic Strip Lexicon, an Amsterdam Street Scene, Armadillo Rodeo, Street Freaks, poster for a Paris music store and more.

Other stuff includes personalised birthday cards, posters, film festival graphics and covers, sticker art, excerpts from Shelton’s Motoring Tips series, a tribute page to the many artistic co-contributors who added to the grubby lustre of the Freaks over the First Fifty Years and much, much more.

Anarchically sardonic and splendidly ludicrous, the madcap slapstick of the Freak Brothers is always an irresistible and joyously innocent tonic for the blues and this book – available in paperback and digital editions – should be a compulsory experience for any fan of the comics medium. However, if you’re still worried about the content, which is definitely habit-forming, simply read but don’t inhale…
© 2017 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.

Will Eisner’s Hawks of the Seas


By Will Eisner & various
ISBN: 1569714274 (Dark Horse)

ISBN: 0-87816-022-1 (HB) ISBN: 0-87816-023-X (TPB) (Kitchen Sink Press)

It is pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the prime creative forces that shaped the comicbook industry, but still many of his milestones escape public acclaim in the English-speaking world. This is one long overdue for fresh efforts and digital immortality.

From 1936 to 1938 Eisner worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production firm known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips to be published in both domestic US and foreign markets.

Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie he wrote and drew the saga of the mysterious American adventurer known only as “The Hawk”, who sailed the 18th century Caribbean seas with his piratical band. An intellectual and dreamer, the freebooter had been taken as a slave, and now dedicated his life to destroying the slave trade and punishing injustice.

With a stalwart and scurvy crew of characters at his back, this charismatic blend of Robin Hood, Sir Francis Drake and the Count of Monte Cristo captivated readers all over the world in single-page instalments of swashbuckling thrills delivered via spectacular bravura art and narrative ingenuity: appearing in newspapers and weekly magazines as far apart as England, South America, France, and Australia.

After years as a lost classic, it was gathered into an awesome collected edition (measuring 376 x 270) by Dennis Kitchen, thanks mainly to happenstance and the good graces of another comics legend, Al Williamson. He had been a huge fan of the strip when it ran in Paquin – a weekly strip anthology magazine he’d read growing up in Bogota, Colombia.

Years later, now revered professional artist Williamson acquired an almost complete run of publisher’s proof sheets – in Spanish – which when translated and re-lettered would form the basis of this volume. Fellow well-wishers in France, England and Australia also contributed pages for an almost complete run.

Almost lost again, Hawks of the Seas was re-issued in 2003 by Dark Horse as part of their Will Eisner Library (although at a more modest and bookshelf-friendly size) and stands as a fascinating insight into this creator’s imaginative power, moral and philosophical fascinations and spellbinding ability to tell a great story with magical pictures. It’s also a thumping good tale of pirates and derring-do that will captivate kids of all ages, so let’s some savvy publisher makes the necessary moves soon.

Forget Jack Sparrow: get on the trail of The Hawk…
© 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. 2003 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon



By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-815-4 (HB Destination) 978-1-40520-627-3 (TPB Destination)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-816-1 (HB Explorers) 978-1-40520-628-0 (TPB Explorers)
As Tintin’s Moon Adventure (Magnet/Methuen) ISBN: 978-0-41696-710-4 (TPB)
Forthcoming – Tintin on the Moon (Egmont) ISBN: 978-1405295901 (HB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy-scout, a year later Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

In 1949 he returned to unfinished yarn Tintin au pays de l’or noir; abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East. Before being convinced to update and complete the tale as Land of Black Gold, Hergé briefly toyed with the notion of taking his cast into space…

Collected albums Objectif Lune and On a marché sur la Lune were huge hits after the initial serialisation in Le Journal de Tintin from 30th March 1950 to 7th September 1950 and – after what must have been an intolerable wait for readers – from 29th October 1952 to 29th December 1953.

The tale was produced after discussions between Hergé and his friends Bernard Heuvelmans (scientist, author and father of pseudo-science Cryptozoology) and Jacques Van Melkebeke (AKA George Jacquet: strip scripter, painter, journalist and a frequent if unacknowledged contributor to the Tintin canon). The sci fi epic that became a 2-volume masterpiece first made the leap to English in 1959.

On a personal note: I first read Destination Moon in 1964, in a huge hardcover album edition (as they all were in the 1960s) and was blown completely away. I’m happy to say that except for the smaller pages – and there’s never a substitute for “Big-ness” – this taut thriller and its magnificent, mind-boggling sequel are still in a class of their own in the annals of science fiction comic strips…

Moreover, during the 1980s the entire tale was (repeatedly) released in a combined tome as Tintin’s Moon Adventure: an utterly inescapable piece of publishing common sense that is finally being repeated this summer in a new hardback album from Methuen…

Our tale begins with our indomitable boy reporter and Captain Haddock returning to ancestral pile Marlinspike Hall only to discover that brilliant but “difficult” savant Professor Cuthbert Calculus has disappeared. When an enigmatic telegram arrives, the puzzled pair are off once again to Syldavia (as seen in King Ottokar’s Sceptre) and a rendezvous with the missing boffin…

Although suspicious, Tintin soon finds that the secrecy is for sound reasons. In Syldavia, Calculus and an international team of researchers and technologists are completing a grand project to put a man on the Moon! In a turbulent race against time and amidst a huge and all-encompassing security clampdown, the scheme nears completion, but Tintin and Haddock’s arrival coincides with a worrying increase in espionage activity.

An enemy nation or agency is determined to steal the secrets of Calculus’s groundbreaking atomic motor at any cost, and it takes all Tintin’s ingenuity to keep ahead of the villains. The arrival of detectives Thompson and Thomson adds nothing to the aura of anxiety but their bumbling investigations and Calculus’ brief bout of concussion-induced amnesia do provide some of the funniest moments in comics history…

As devious incidents and occurrences of sabotage increase in intensity and frequency, it becomes clear that there may be a traitor inside the project itself, but at last the moment arrives and Tintin, Haddock, Calculus, technologist Dr. Frank Wolff – and Snowy – blast off for the Moon!

Cold, clinical and superbly underplayed, Destination Moon is completely unlike the flash-and-dazzle razzamatazz of British and American tales from that period – or since. It is as if the burgeoning Cold War mentality of the era has infected even Tintin’s bright clean world. Once again, the pressure of work and Hergé’s troubled private life resulted in a breakdown and a hiatus in the strip – but this time some of that darkness transferred to the material – although it only seems to have added to the overall effect of claustrophobia and paranoia. Even the comedy set-pieces are more manic and explosive: This is possibly the most mature of all Tintin’s exploits…

Presumably to offset the pressures of creation to weekly deadlines, the master founded Studio Hergé on 6th April 1950: a public company to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features, with Bob De Moor enthroned as chief apprentice.

He became a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market, frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions. De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. An invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, De Moor supervised while filling in backgrounds and, most notably, rendering the unforgettable eerie and magnificent Lunar landscapes that feature here.

If the first book is an exercise in tension and suspense, Explorers on the Moon is sheer bravura spectacle. En route to Luna the explorers discover that the idiot detectives have accidentally stowed away, and along with Captain Haddock’s illicit whisky and the effects of freefall, provide brilliant comedy routines to balance the eerie isolation and dramatic dangers of the journey.

Against all odds the lunanauts land and make astounding scientific discoveries, but must cut short their adventures due to the imminent threat of suffocation caused by the introduction of the extra passengers on the fantastic atomic moon rocket…

Moreover, lurking in the shadows, there is still the very real threat of a murderous traitor to be dealt with…

This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy. The absolute best of the bunch in my humble opinion, and still one of the most realistic and accurately depicted space comics ever produced. If you only ever read one Hergé saga it simply must be this translunar Adventure of Tintin.
Destination Moon: artwork © 1953, 1959, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved. Explorers on the Moon: artwork © 1954, 1959, 1982 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1959 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

A new combined compilation – Tintin on the Moon – will be released on June 27th 2019 and is available for pre-order now

Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: “A Ragout of Raspberries”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1-56097-887-9

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the strip Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Moreover, by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in heaving missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen, but at least in this volume, the brick is supplemented by other projectiles for the sake of variety…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and the increasingly ubiquitous sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“…stomms an’ momsooms, gales an’ tie fooms…” or “octo pusses an’ pinkwins”).

Yet for all that high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, original art and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid pictorial carnival is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of the unique voice of the strip as cited above. This comes in his erudite Introduction ‘Kat Got Your Tongue: Where George Herriman’s Language Came From’ after which the jocularity resumes with January 15th 1941 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with emphasis shifting more to the varied minor cast members. The usual parade of hucksters and conmen return, but the eternally triangular clashes and confusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes and the Second World War begins to slowly shade the strip and affect the characters…

As well as his semi-permanent incarcerations, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions and the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based acquisition and delivery gags but has widened his scope to encompass munition of materials other than clay and shapes more aerodynamic and enticing than bulky rectangles. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of focus, reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many of the strips.

Pupp suffers from double vision on occasion and repeatedly tests labour-saving new policing appliances – such as stilts and periscopes – while Colin Kelly moves away from artisanal brick-baking to conveyor-belt mass production. Ignatz tries to bolster his fading energies through unlikely herbal additives – such as spinach – and the entire township (including buildings) suffer protracted bouts of polka-dottedness after the arrival of a dalmatian “koach kanine”. Joe Stork starts using robot planes to deliver his dread bundles of natal joy and responsibility, Ignatz’s much abused wife Magnesia starts her long-delayed resistance and emancipation, and everybody in town can’t seem to get enough sleep…

The ever-changing skies remain a source of wonder and bewilderment with oddly-shaped stellar phenomena abounding, and the Prof from Coconino’s Museum of Palaeontology, Archaeology and Such unearths primeval precursors to our cartoon cast, while modern times are acknowledged through myriad permutations and adaptations to Ignatz’s home-from-home the county jail.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, whilst laconic vagabond Bum Bill Bee shares his regal origins (a whole bunch of them, in fact) with the hoi polloi in town…

The town barber stokes the flames of passion and reshapes the grizzled heads of many ardent swains seeking to curry the favours of vivacious, exotic new schoolteacher Miss Mimi who is, as everybody is painfully aware, French…

A different form of double vision taxes the Kat’s composure in doses of mirror madness and episodes of powdered katnip overindulgence offer a nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, but doesn’t too much curtail Krazy’s efforts in horticulture, nourishing korn and other useful vegetable crops…

The tone of the strips subtly changes from October 1941 with the introduction of Pupp’s mechanised Listening Post. Spying was always a major interest for all citizens, as was stargazing and gossip. Now however, with war clouds forming in the real world, an edge of gloomy but absurdist satire could be detected in many strips, such as when Kelly cuts off the mouse’s brick supply due to clay – like paper, rubber and gasoline – being officially afforded new status as a Military Priority Material…

There’s a marked increasing in winking around town, although those in the know codify the practice as “nictating” and some citizens – such as the pelicans and Mr. Kenga Roo – are subjected to increased stop-&-search indignities too: what with them being born to conceal bricks and brick-tossers…

At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics too…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora (including a mass ingress of elephants, snakes and worms) for humorous inspiration, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

This penultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Buz Sawyer volume 3: Typhoons and Honeymoons


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-703-1 (HB)

I’m making an effort not to be snarky or political today. Powerless ranting and supposedly scathing asides don’t do much to change the world and nothing at all good for my blood pressure. What does is wonderful comics masterpieces. Here’s one now…

In these seen-it-all 21st century days, science is flashy: astounding and confounding us on a daily basis (I assume you’ve all seen the supermassive black hole doughnut by now?). It’s perhaps an effort, then, to remember simpler times when folk were impressed by amazing things we now take for granted, when human-scaled drama and adventure was enough to set pulses racing and hearts pounding… until you read a book like this one.

This third stout and sturdy hardcover edition re-presents more magnificent newspaper strip exploits of dynamic all-American everyman Buz Sawyer: war hero, globetrotting troubleshooter and here an imminent groom-to-be. The strips cover the epochal period from July 21st 1947 to October 9th 1949 wherein – after much procrastination, intrigue, bloodshed and sexy skulduggery – our boy clean-cut boy-next-door finally marries his extremely understanding sweetheart Christy Jameson.

Of course, he then dragged her into his lethally adventurous world as prime problem-solver for Frontier Oil – a company with fingers in many international pies…

Before the two-fisted romance kicks off, however, the ever-erudite Rick Norwood uses a letter from Crane’s personal papers (donated to Syracuse University) to examine the creator’s history, influence and opinions in his own forthright words in ‘The Life of a Professional Artist’.

Crane and his creative team (see Buz Sawyer volume 2: Sultry’s Tigerfor details) laboured long, hard, often acrimonious hours to produce each daily strip; all beguilingly rendered in monochrome through Crane’s masterly techniques employing line art and craftint (a tricky mechanical monochrome patterning effect which added greys and halftones to produce miraculous depths and moods to the superb underlying drawing) but the toll was heavy on personnel and feelings.

The colour Sundays were usually the province of ghost artist Hank Schlensker and starred Buz’s grizzled old sidekick Roscoe Sweeny, and this volume concludes with a brief selection that primarily guest-starred the named lead and Roscoe in wartime reminiscences and occasional contemporary gag goof-offs…

The never-ending rollercoaster of thrills, spills and chills picks up as Frontier Oil’s Mr. Fixit reels at the realisation that he’s at long last formally engaged to his girl…

Buz is only just coming to grips with the marriage in prospect, whereas avowed “Ladies Man” Chili Harrison is cynically unmoved that his former office-mate is on Cloud 9… at least until they get a desperate call from mutual Navy buddy Thirsty Collins. Their homely shipmate has a problem only Buz can solve…

The old salt had made good since hostilities ended and owns his own plantation on his own island. He has, however, been maimed in an accident whilst wooing a woman by post. Now she is coming to marry her Mr. Collins, based on his winning words and a single photo… of Buz. With the jig up, Thirsty deeds Patricia Patterson all his worldly goods, sets up Sawyer to marry her and attempts his own wildly flamboyant suicide…

Reluctantly flying down to Puerto Rico, Buz is soon embroiled in a ludicrous imbroglio as, even after having everything explained, Pat professes to prefer the hunk at hand rather than her timid, missing matrimonial mystery man.

Thankfully, a colossal hurricane and a conniving, lecherous playboy cad do more to convince Collins to fight for and win his baffled bride than all Buz’s indignant, infuriated, exasperated arguments…

In Roy Crane’s world there are no tidy beginnings and endings. Each adventure follows seamlessly on from the last and even as Buz makes his way back to New York the next escapade is well underway.

Patient sweetheart Christy has had enough waiting around and goes looking for a job, landing up as Chili’s secretary, but only after the unrepentant, blithely unaware hound-dog clears the way by promoting his own highly efficient but unsightly amanuensis – at great personal and financial cost – so that he can have unrestricted access to the pretty stranger joining Frontier Oil.

Naturally, sparks fly when Sawyer finds his fiancée toiling for his dissolute and (probably) degenerate former wingman, whilst Chili is horrified to find he had lost this particular hot babe to “old Buzzo” even before he had hired her…

As Buz lays his wedding plans and retirement, his crafty boss Mr. Wright convinces him to sideline all that mushy stuff for one last job, and soon Sawyer and Sweeney are in the Goat Islands off Portugal, hunting a devious gunrunning ring supplying rebels in Salvaduras.

Masquerading as itinerant writers on a yachting jaunt, our heroes don’t fool bombastic Brobdingnagian bully Hammerhead Gool or his puny, effete but Machiavellian boss Harry Sparrow for a moment. It’s only the diminutive mastermind’s overwhelming squeamishness and sensitivity to the thought of blood that prevents their immediate destruction.

Moreover, when deception, bribery and seduction fail to deter the undercover operatives, Sparrow resorts to abducting them whilst immediately despatching the cached ordnance and munitions to the revolutionaries wrecking Frontier’s Salvaduran oil fields.

That slow voyage of the damned only leads to the explosive loss of Sparrow’s ship and shipment, as well as the end of the coup…

Back in America, Buz has proved himself too valuable to lose, and Frontier’s most important executive J.J. Freeze finds herself – when all is said and done, a “mere woman” – compelled to employ him as a bodyguard on her secret mission to secure lucrative mineral rights deals in Java and points East.

Sawyer is just as reluctant, but the promise of enough money to retire in style proves too tempting. Yet again, patient, understanding Christy is again left behind to fret and worry. She has good reason: Sparrow is still alive and eagerly anticipating the prospect of a vast payoff and some sadistically-enacted vengeance…

Tracking Freeze and Sawyer from Ireland to Egypt to Singapore, the little weasel poisons Freeze, who orders Buz to go on to Surabaya alone, carrying a cash payment of $1,000,000 for the nation’s capricious and over-educated Maharaja.

Harry even brazenly confronts Buz; putting our hero off guard as he instigates his latest master-plan: hiring a double to blacken Sawyer’s name and reputation in prim and proper Javanese High Society.

With the deal effectively scuppered, Sparrow maroons Buz on a desert island to force him to surrender the cash – unsuccessfully – before playing his final stroke: drugging the valiant Yank with a solution that causes amnesia…

Back in America, when word comes that the deal has flopped and both Buz and a million bucks are missing, Christy refuses to accept the slanderous stories and sells everything she owns to buy passage to Java. Soon she is an innocent abroad searching the dives and alleys of Surabaya for her man. When she is targeted by bandits and worse, Christy’s frantic escape brings her into contact with a crazy old lady who collects stray cats – and did the same for a derelict American with no name or memory…

The action seamlessly shifts into romantic melodrama as Christy tries to win back Buz from the lonely and dangerous harridan he has come to love, but even after that struggle heart-wrenchingly succeeds, the greater fight to clear his mind and good name continues…

When that minor miracle is finally accomplished, the restored Buz at last begins the oft-postponed wedding plans, only to be kidnapped by his rich, crazy and somehow not dead stalker Sultry, the Maharani of Batu.

In no mood to be balked, however, the impatient two-fisted groom-to-be fights his way out of her palace and onto a Honolulu-bound plane…

Back in their rural hometown in time for Christmas, Buz and Christy finally tie the knot and prepare for the rest of their lives but the new Mrs. Sawyer is still terrified that domesticity might kill her over-active husband…

As the newlyweds enjoy a carefully sequestered and discreet honeymoon off-panel, Sweeney appropriates the daily strip for a few weeks for a hilarious comedy sequence as he attempts to find them the perfect wedding present and ends up hunting Longhorn Sheep off-season in the near-arctic conditions of the Rocky Mountains in December…

A turning point began in early 1948 as Wright and the Frontier Oil brass track down Buz to offer him a life-threateningly dull desk job or a perilous field assignment in Darkest Africa.

Perfect wife Christy, understanding Buz’s needs, bravely ignores her own feelings and talks him into the latter, offering to share his addiction to danger and the unknown…

Soon the couple are trekking across the Veldt: pioneers tasked with carving an airport and oil installation out of the jungle, but the natural wonders and threats of Africa are as nothing compared to the murderously conniving schemes of their nearest neighbour.

Dashing, debonair Kingston Diamond is solicitous in advice and unctuous in his welcome of the young Americans, but his patient game includes sabotage, terrorism, slaughtering Christy’s menagerie of pets and even murdering Buz to eventually win him the only white woman in 100 miles…

As previously mentioned, also included here are fourteen of the best Sundays – all notionally with appearances by Buz (spanning July 29th 1945 to 17th February 1963) – a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully turn one day into an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the Grandmasters of our art form.

Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons is a sublime slice of compelling comics wonder and an ideal way to discover or reconnect with Crane’s second magnum opus. Bold, daring, funny and enthralling, these adventures influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers. The series ranks amongst the very greatest strip cartoon features ever created: always offering comics tale-telling that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible. Try it and see for yourself.
Buz Sawyer: Typhoons and Honeymoons © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All Buz Sawyer strips © 2014 King Features Syndicate, Inc. All other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 4: Plunder Island


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-169-5 (HB)

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought when you hear the name is the cheerful, indomitable sailor in full Naval whites always fighting a hulking great beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay. The Fleischer Studios and Famous Films animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed all based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into the fully cast and firmly established newspaper strip Thimble Theatre and simple wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure.

In the less than ten years Elzie Crisler Segar worked with his iconic sailor-man (from January 1929, until the creator’s untimely death on 13th October 1938), he built an incredible meta-world of fabulous lands and locations, where unique characters undertook fantastic voyages and experienced big, unforgettable thrills as well as the small human dramas we’re all subject to. His was a saga both extraordinary and mundane, which could be hilarious or terrifying and frequently both at the same time. For every trip to the rip-roaring Wild West or sunken kingdom there was a brawl between squabbling neighbours, spats between friends or disagreements between sweethearts – any and all usually settled with mightily swung fists.

Popeye is the first Superman of comics, but he was not a comfortable hero to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority; uneducated, short-tempered, fickle (when hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or thereabouts – at him), a worrisome troublemaker and gambler who wasn’t welcome in polite society …and he wouldn’t want to be.

The sailor-man is the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wants kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and a man who takes no guff from anyone. Always ready to defend the weak and with absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, he was and will always be “the best of us”…

With this fourth magnificent hardcover collection of Segar’s comic masterpiece the Sunday Colour pages take precedence as, for the first time ever, his magnum opus ‘Plunder Island’ is reprinted in its full, unexpurgated totality. The reprinted selection covers the period December 3rd 1933 to April 7th 1935, with the epitome of stirring sea-sagas taking up the first six months of that time (ending with the July 15th 1934 instalment).

It all kicks off when Popeye’s old shipmate Salty Bill Barnacle invites him to go adventuring in search of fabled Plunder Island; land of stolen treasure, little suspecting that the ghastly villainous Sea Hag has reared her homely head once more…

With her new gang of deadly henchmen – including brutal Mister Skom and the monstrous Goon – she kidnaps Professor Cringly. He is an aged scholar who knows the lost island’s location, and Popeye’s latest voyage is seemingly over before it has begun….

Gathering a bunch of decidedly dubious amateur Argonauts – including but not exclusively comprising – J. Wellington Wimpy, Rough-House, Geezil and private cop G.B. Gritmore, Olive Oyl, Salty Bill and Popeye swiftly give chase, but all seems hopeless until the Witch of the Seas makes her big mistake. When she sends the Goon to take hostages, the uncanny beast returns with the indomitable Popeye and an inexplicably irresistible Wimpy. The latter’s heretofore unsuspected amatory attractions promptly turn the gruesome heads of both the Hag and her Goon (who is apparently a rather decent – if unprepossessing – lady named Alice…)

Rollercoaster adventure, thrills, chills and riotous comedy have never been better blended than in this tale, but even when the victorious crew finally return home the fun doesn’t stop. Next, we examine the bitter aftermath and how the various heroes dispose of or lose the fabulous wealth they’ve won. Wimpy, for example, simply and rapidly eats his way through most of his, whilst Popeye once again gives his away, prompting his return to the world of extreme prize-fighting…

Baby Swee’pea made his Sunday debut on 28th October 1934 (after being initially introduced during a riotous sequence in the daily strip: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight”), becoming the focus of many outrageous gags once Popeye, Wimpy and Olive slip back into their slapstick shtick, allowing the audience to comfortably decompress before the next big drama-drenched story…

The ubiquitous Sappo topper strip became even more imaginative in this period, with demented Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle’s mad science exploits leading to ever-crazier results and the continual breaking of the Fourth Wall. For the unprepared, this was a strip that could regularly make your brain, as well as your sides, split…

The added extra feature ‘Funny Films’ (dioramic scenes through which continuous strips of cartooned “filmstrips” could be moved to create a home cinema) eventually gave way to the fascinatingly informative and entertaining ‘Popeye’s Cartoon Club’, which provided tips and encouragement to budding artists – and Segar’s approach and advice is as sound today as it ever was…

Just because he was setting the world alight with his innovative Sunday adventure serials and complete gag strips is no reason to suppose his daily feature suffered. In fact, the breakneck pace seemed to inspire Segar, as in short order Popeye and his ever-expanding cast of clowns and reprobates rollicked through a memorable run of captivating tales in monochrome from Mondays to Saturdays.

The dailies section here covers 11th December 1933 to 24th July 1934, beginning with the sailor-man – accompanied by Swee’pea, Olive and Wimpy – moving to Puddleburg, ‘The Laziest Town on Earth’ to run their local newspaper and granting the self-deprecating and wickedly trenchant Segar an opportunity to lampoon himself and his profession with the creation of B. Loony Bullony: World Famous Cartoonist…

When Olive inherits 20 million dollars, her marital prospects increase dramatically, but since one of the most ardent converts to her previously well-hidden charms is a certain. J. Wellington Wimpy, she soon realises that money isn’t everything in ‘Romances and Riches’ – especially after Popeye rescues debutante June Vanripple from drowning and becomes the unwilling toast of the “Sassiety Crowd”

This extended morality play on the evils and travails of wealth contains some of the funniest screwball comedy set-pieces of the entire 1930s (books, movies, strips, everything!) with such memorable moments as Popeye in drag (particularly a rather fetching ladies’ swimsuit), the elder Vanripple and the sailor in a wild-oat sowing contest and Olive as a singing, dancing movie star – complete with fake “million-dollar-legs”…

Another classic and beloved sequence is ‘Unifruit or White Savages’ wherein the shock of losing her loot sends Olive into the convulsive shock syndrome of Aspenitis. The only cure is a therapeutic berry that grows on the wacky island of Nazilia, deep in the territory of a lost tribe of hulking man-beasts…

The frantic antics and comedy continue when June and Mr. Vanripple ask Popeye to go west and crush cowboy bandits plundering their gold mines in ‘Black Valley’ (and if you think drag is outrageous, check out Popeye in a tutu as a saloon dance-girl).

Fair warning though: this was an era where casual racial stereotyping was considered completely acceptable and a key part of cartooning. Segar sinned far less than most: his style was far more character-specific, and his personal delight was playing with accents and how folk spoke. George W. Geezil wasn’t merely a cheap Jewish stock figure of fun, but as fully rounded as any one of nearly fifty supporting cast members could be within the constrictions of page and panel count.

In ‘Black Valley’, Castor Oyl has a Negro manservant called Eclipse, who, although superficially little different in speech pattern and appearance from less-enlightened cartoonists’ portrayal of coloured people, played an active role in proceedings. He wasn’t there for cheap easy laughs, but even so it’s clear Segar wasn’t comfortable with him and he wasn’t a permanent addition. He may be quite disquieting to you and I, but please try and recall the tone of the times and – even though there’s still a whole lot of prejudice still to be dealt with today – just how far we’ve come…

The old salt’s greatest “emeny” returned in another bombastic fantasy romp entitled ‘The Sea Hag’s Sister or The Pool of Youth’, as the vile villainess, her scurvy band of cutthroats and Alice the Goon try to seize control of a literal fountain of youth from her own unsavoury sister and 20,000-year-old caveman, Toar.

Unfortunately, Popeye, Castor, Olive and Wimpy are caught in the crossfire…

One less than wonderful “treat” can be experienced at the end of this volume: one that tormented the kids of all ages addicted to Popeye nearly 90 years ago. ‘Popeye’s Ark’ was another spectacular 6-month long lark, wherein the sailor-man attempts to emulate the Biblical mariner who built “Nora’s Ark” to sail the seas in a giant vessel filled with beasts until he found the promised land of “Spinachova”. Sadly, we all get to “enjoy” cliffhanging tension until the next instalment as this sequence ends 12 weeks into the saga. Oh, the unrelenting tension of it all…

At least you can buy this book and its sequel simultaneously now and not wait for my next excessively excitable recommendation…

There is more than one Popeye: most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. Elzie Crisler Segar’s comic strip masterpiece features the very best of them all and you’d be crazy to deny it… or miss him.
© 2008 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2008 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.