Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: “A Brick Stuffed with Moom-bims”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-789-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: En Ebsoloot Epitome of Graphic Wundah… 10/10

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip Krazy Kat is – for most 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, 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, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, 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 a true home and safe haven 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, the 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: 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. And 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 bouncing a brickbat off 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…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these missiles 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; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, 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 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: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“you sim to be cuttin’ a mellin”, “or “it would be much mo’ betta if it was a pot of momma lade or eppil butta”).

Yet for all that, the 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.

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 and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid madness is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of production techniques in ‘Kat of a Different Color’ before the jocularity resumes with January 1st 1939 – 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 a subtle shifting of emphasis as an old face gains far greater presence and impact whilst the one significant new face seems to be a scene-stealing rival for our fuzzy feline ingenue…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen continue to feature, but the eternally triangular confusions and contusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes around the cast…

As well as frequent incarceration, 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… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary… which is expanding in personnel, if not wisdom…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, and introduces mechanised, radiophonic and robotic policing, and sundry innovations in incarceration architecture…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags but now the mouse is often the receiver of painful retribution. His brief preoccupation with hornet’s nests ultimately proves to be a painful dead end though…

Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

A flurry of telescope buying adds an of nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, with spying as big a hobby for all citizens as stargazing and gossip used to be. At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics in town…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

A big shift in status comes to old busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk as she assumes a role akin to 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…

The big change comes on July 7th 1940. Pupp is startled to see Ignatz going back to school and thinks it’s so he can ambush the Kat. That’s until he too meets the new teacher. Miss Mimi is French…

Soon class attendance is at record levels and the males are all making komplete fools of themselves…

This antepenultimate 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 gleeful monument to 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.
© 2007, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-808-6 (HB)                    : 978-0-31619-876-9 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Comics and Presents don’t get better than this… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many 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 the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 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.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of the paper’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities of the world, since the strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Petit Vingtiéme was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move the popular strip to straight daily newspaper. He diligently continued producing strips for the duration, but in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

With this tale we enter the Golden Age of an iconic creator’s work. Despite being produced whilst Belgium was under the control of Nazi Occupation Forces during World War II, the qualitative leap in all aspects of Hergé’s creativity is tangible.

His homeland fell to the invaders in 1940, and Georges Remi’s brief military career was over. He was a reserve Lieutenant, working on The Land of Black Gold when he was called up, but the swift fall of Belgium meant that he was back at his drawing board before the year’s end, albeit working for a new paper on a brand-new adventure. He would not return to the unfinished ‘Black Gold’, with its highly anti-fascistic subtext, until 1949.

Initially Le Crabe aux pinces d’or featured in children’s supplement Le Soir Jeunesse, from October 17th 1940 to September 3rd 1941, when increasing paper shortages resulted in the kid’s section being axed. The strip continued in parent paper Le Soir (Belgium’s premiere French-language newspaper and a most crucial tool for the occupiers to control minds if not hearts) until conclusion on 18th October 1941: the first of six extraordinary tales of light-hearted, escapist thrills, with strong plots and deep characterisation that created a haven of delight from the daily horrors of everyday life then and remain a legacy of joyous adventure to this day.

On completion it was collected as a monochrome book in 1941 and later serialised in French newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (from June 21st 1942), before being re-released as a full colour volume in 1943. Its success sparked a flurry of reissues of earlier albums – all but Tintin in America and The Black Island, both set in countries Germany was still at war with…

This remastered edition of The Crab with the Golden Claws was modified by Studio Hergé and released in 1953: revised to accommodate the wishes of publishers in the US and UK. It opens with Snowy getting his head caught in an empty crab-meat can whilst scavenging in a trash bin. When Tintin meets the detectives Thompson and Thomson, they discuss their latest case and he sees that a vital piece of evidence is a scrap of label from a crab-meat tin – and it matches the torn label on the can he so recently extricated his bad dog from!

And so begins a superb mystery adventure as Tintin follows his lead to the sinister freighter “Karaboudjan” where he uncovers a sinister criminal enterprise and is nearly murdered before the diabolical first mate Allan (last seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh) shanghaies him.

It is whilst a prisoner that the boy reporter meets a drunken reprobate who would become his greatest companion: The ship’s inebriated Master, Captain Haddock.

Escaping together, they eventually reach the African Coast, with Haddock’s dipsomaniac antics as much a threat to the pair as the gangsters, ocean storms, and deprivation. These trials are masterpieces of comedy cartooning that have never been surpassed.

Despite all odds the heroes survive sea, sands and scoundrels to link up with the military authorities. Making their perilous way to Morocco, battling Berber desert raiders and Haddock’s ongoing hallucinations, the plucky pair – and Snowy – track down the criminals to reveal a huge opium smuggling operation. A fast-paced tour-de-force of art and action, liberally laced with primal comedy and captivating exotic locales, this is quite simply mesmerising fare.

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Indiana Jones romp, this is classic adventure to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly as the world experienced a new Dark Age, Hergé was concentrating on the next -Golden – one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
The Crab with the Golden Claws: artwork © 1953, 1981 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Prince Valiant volumes 1-3 Gift Box Set


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1 68396-072-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Ideal for anybody who ever dreamed or wondered… 10/10

Rightly reckoned one of the greatest comic strips of all time, the majestic and nigh-mythical saga of a king-in-exile who became one of the greatest warriors in an age of unparalleled heroes is at once fantastically realistic and beautifully, perfectly abstracted – an indisputable paradigm of adventure fiction where anything is possible and justice will always prevail. It is the epic we all want to live in…

On one thing let us be perfectly clear: Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is not historical. It is far better and more real than that.

Possibly the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived, Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday 13th February 1937, a glorious weekly, full-colour window not onto the past but rather onto a world that should have been. It followed the tempestuous life of a refugee boy driven by invaders from his ancestral homeland of faraway Thule who persevered and, through tenacity, imagination and sheer grit, rose to become one of the mightiest heroes of the age of Camelot.

As depicted by the incredibly gifted Foster, this noble scion would, over the years, grow to mighty manhood helming a heady sea of wonderment; roaming the globe and siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes whilst captivating and influencing generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

There have been films, cartoon series and all manner of toys, games and collections based on the feature – one of the few newspaper strips to have lasted from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (well over 4000 episodes and counting) and, even in these declining days of newspaper cartooning, it still claims over 300 American papers as its home.

Foster produced the strip, one spectacular page a week until 1971, when, after auditioning such notables as Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, Big Ben Bolt artist John Cullen Murphy was selected to draw the feature. Foster carried on as writer and designer until 1980, after which he fully retired and Murphy’s son took over scripting duties.

In 2004 Cullen Murphy also retired (he died a month later on July 2nd) but the strip soldiered on under the extremely talented auspices of artist Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz and latterly Thomas Yeates, conquering one more exotic land by making it onto the world wide web.

The first three exquisite oversized hardback volumes (362 x 268mm) are available as a monumental gift set nobody could resist. They reprint in glorious colour – spectacularly restored from Foster’s original printer’s proofs – the princely pristine Sunday pages cumulatively spanning February 1937 to 20th December 1942: six years of formative forays of an instantly impressive tale which promised much and delivered far more than anybody might have suspected during those dim and distant days…

 

Volume 1 opens with editor Brian M. Kane’s informative picture and photo-packed potted history of ‘Harold Rudolf Foster: 1892-1982’ after which Fred Schreiber conducts ‘An Interview with Hal Foster’ – as first seen in Nemo: The Classic Comics Magazine (1984).

Moreover, after the superb Arthurian epic exploits of the quintessential swashbuckling hero which follows, this initial collection is rounded off by Kim Thompson’s discourse on the many iterations of reprints over the years and around the world in ‘A History of Valiants’

The actual action-packed drama then commences in distant Scandinavia as the King of Thule, his family and a few faithful retainers dash for a flimsy fishing boat, intent only on escaping the murderous intentions of a usurper’s army.

Their voyage carries them to the barbarous coast of Britain to battle bands of wild men before securing a safe retreat in the gloomy fens of East Anglia. After many hard fights they reach an uneasy détente with the locals and settle into a harsh life as regal exiles…

The young Prince Valiant is but five years old when they arrive and his growing years in a hostile environment toughen the boy, sharpen his wits and give him an insatiable taste for mischief and adventure.

He befriends a local shepherd boy and together their escapades include challenging the marauding ancient dinosaurs which infest the swamp, battling a hulking man-brute and bedevilling a local witch. In retaliation the hag Horrit predicts that Val’s life will be long and packed with incredible feats… but always tainted by great sorrow.

All that, plus the constant regimen of knightly training and scholarly tuition befitting an exile learning how to reclaim his stolen kingdom, make the lad a veritable hellion, but everything changes when his mother passes away. After a further year of intense schooling in the arts of battle, Valiant leaves the Fens and make his way in the dangerous lands beyond…

Whilst sparring with his boyhood companion, Val unsuspectingly insults Sir Launcelot who is fortuitously passing by. Although the noble warrior is sanguine about the cheeky lad’s big mouth, his affronted squire attempts to administer a stern punishment and is rewarded with a thorough drubbing. Indeed, Launcelot has to stop the Scion of Thule from slitting the battered and defeated man’s throat.

Although he has no arms, armour, steed or money, Valiant swears that he too will be a Knight…

Luck is with the Pauper Prince. After spectacularly catching and taming a wild stallion, his journey is interrupted by gregarious paladin Sir Gawain, who shares a meal and regales the boy with tales of chivalry and heroism. When their alfresco repast is spoiled by robber knight Sir Negarth who unfairly strikes the champion of Camelot, Val charges in. Gawain regains consciousness to find the threat ended, Negarth hogtied and his accomplice skewered…

Taking Val under his wing, wounded Gawain escorts the boy and his prisoner to Camelot, but their journey is delayed by a gigantic dragon. Val kills it too – with the assistance of Negarth – and spends the rest of the trip arguing that the rogue should be freed for his gallantry…

Val is still stoutly defending the scoundrel at the miscreant’s trial before King Arthur, and is rewarded by being appointed Gawain’s squire. Unfortunately, the lad responds badly to being teased by the other knights-in-training and quickly finds himself locked in a dungeon whilst his tormentors heal and the remaining Knights of the Round Table ride out to deal with an invasion of Northmen…

Whilst the flowers of chivalry are away, a plot is hatched by scheming Sir Osmond and Baron Baldon. To recoup gambling debts, they capture and ransom Gawain, but have not reckoned on the dauntless devotion and ruthless ingenuity of his semi-feral squire.

Easily infiltrating the bleak fortress imprisoning the hero, Val liberates his mentor through astounding feats of daring and brings the grievously wounded knight to Winchester Heath and Arthur…

As Gawain recuperates, he is approached by a young maiden. Ilene is in need of a champion and – over his squire’s protests – the still gravely unfit knight dutifully complies. Val’s protests might have been better expressed had he not been so tongue-tied by the most beautiful girl he has ever seen…

The quest to rescue Ilene’s parents is delayed when an unscrupulous warrior in scarlet challenges them, intent on possessing the lovely maiden. Correctly assessing Gawain to be no threat, the Red Knight does not live long enough to revise his opinion of the wild-eyed boy who then attacks him…

Leaving Ilene and the re-injured Gawain with a hermit, Valiant continues on alone to Branwyn Castle, recently captured by an “Ogre” who is terrorising the countryside. Through guile, force of arms and devilish tactics the boy ends that threat forever.

This is an astonishing tour de force of graphic bravura that no fan could ever forget. Aspiring cartoonist Jack Kirby certainly didn’t: he recycled Val’s outlandish outfit used to terrorise the Ogre’s soldiers as the visual basis for his 1970s horror-hero Etrigan the Demon

Having successfully routed the invaders and freed Ilene’s family, Val begins earnestly courting the grateful girl. His prophecy of lifelong misery seems assured however, when her father regretfully informs him that she is promised to Arn, son and heir of the King of Ord

Even before that shock can sink in, Valiant is called away again. Ailing Gawain has been abducted by sorceress Morgan le Fey, who is enamoured of the knight’s manly charms…

When Val confronts her, she drugs him with a potion and he endures uncounted ages in her dungeon before escaping. Weak and desperate, he makes his way to Camelot and enlists Merlin in a last-ditch ploy to defeat the witch and save his adored mentor…

In the meantime, events have progressed and Val’s bold plans to win Ilene are upset when invitations to her wedding arrive at Camelot. Initially crushed, the resilient youth determines to travel to Ord and challenge Prince Arn for her hand.

Their meeting is nothing like Val imagined but, after much annoying interference, he and the rather admirable Arn finally engage in their oft-delayed death-duel, only to be again distracted when news comes that Ilene has been stolen by Viking raiders…

What follows is another unparalleled moment of comics magnificence as Valiant sacrifices everything for honour, gloriously falls to superior forces, wins possession of Flamberge (the legendary Singing Sword which is brother to Excalibur), is captured and then reunited with Ilene… only to lose her again to the cruellest of fates…

After escaping from the Vikings and covering himself with glory at the Lists in Camelot – although he doesn’t realise it – the heartsick, weary Prince returns to his father in the melancholy Anglian fens, again encountering ghastly Horrit and nearly succumbing to fever.

When he recovers months later, he has a new purpose: he and his faithful countrymen will travel to Thule and rescue the nation from the cruel grip of usurper Sligon. Unfortunately, during the preparations Valiant discovers his region of Britain has been invaded by Saxons and is compelled by his honour to race to Camelot and warn Arthur…

To Be Continued…

(Volume 1: All comics material © 2009 King Features Syndicate except Tarzan page, © 2009 ERB Inc. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 2 reprints in the perfectly-restored Sunday pages from January 1st 1939 to 29th December 1940, following Sir Gawain’s extremely capable squire as he rushes to warn Camelot of invasion by rapacious Saxons via the vast Anglian Fens. Here the Royal Family of Thule have hidden since being ousted from their Nordic Island Kingdom by the villainous usurper Sligon.

After a breathtaking battle which sees the Saxons repulsed and the battle-loving boy-warrior knighted upon the field of victory, Valiant begins a period of globe-trotting through the fabled lands of Europe just as the last remnants of the Roman Empire is dying in deceit and intrigue.

Firstly, Val returns to Thule and restores his father to the throne, narrowly escaping the alluring wiles of a conniving beauty with an eye to marrying the Heir Apparent. Soon bored with peace and plenty, the roving royal wildcat then encounters a time-twisting pair of mystical perils who show him the eventual fate of all mortals. Sobered but not daunted, he makes his way towards Rome, where he will become unwittingly embroiled in the manic machinations of the Last Emperor, Valentinian.

Before that however, he is distracted by an epic adventure that would have struck stunning resonances for the readership at the time. With episode #118 (14th May 1939) Val joins the doomed knights of mountain fortress Andelkrag, who alone and unaided hold back the assembled might of the terrifying hordes of Attila the Hun currently decimating the civilisations of Europe and now gathered to wipe out its last vestige.

With Hitler and Mussolini hogging the headlines and Modern European war seemingly inevitable, Val shares the Battle of Decency and Right against untrammelled Barbarism. His epic struggle and sole survival comprise one of the greatest episodes of glorious, doom-fated chivalry in literature…

After the fall of the towers of Andelkrag, Valiant made his way onward to diminished Rome, picking up a wily sidekick in the form of cutpurse vagabond Slith. Once more he is distracted and delayed by dastardly Huns. The indomitable lad resolves to pay them back in kind, gathering dispossessed victims of Hunnish depredations and forging them into a resistance army of guerrilla-fighters – the Hun-Hunters…

Thereafter he liberates the vassal city Pandaris, driving back the invaders and their collaborator allies in one spectacular coup after another.

Valiant eventually reunites with equally action-starved Round Table companions Sir Tristram and Sir Gawain to make fools of the Hun, who have lost heart after the death of their charismatic leader Attila (nothing to do with Val, just a historical fact). When Slith falls for a beauteous warrior princess, the English Knights leave him to a life of joyous domesticity and move ever on.

An unexpected encounter with a giant and his unconventional army of freaks leads to the heroes inadvertently helping a band of marshland refugees (from Hunnish atrocity) before establishing the nation-state of Venice until at long last – after a after a side-trip to the fabulous city of Ravenna – the trio cross the fabled Rubicon and plunge into a hotbed of political tumult.

Unjustly implicated in a web of murder and double-dealing, the knights barely escape with their lives and split up to avoid pursuit. Tristan goes back to England and a star-crossed rendezvous with the comely Isolde, Gawain takes ship for fun in Massilia and Valiant, after an excursion to the rim of fiery Vesuvius, boards a pirate scow for Sicily and further adventure.

To Be Continued…

(Volume 2: Prince Valiant © 2009 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 3 of the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived offers the Sunday pages from January 5th 1941 to 20th December 1942, but only after erudite foreword ‘Modestly, Foster’ by Dan Nadel.

The action opens in the shadow of fiery Vesuvius as Val’s vessel is attacked by self-proclaimed Sea-King Angor Wrack. Even our fierce warrior-prince’s martial might is insufficient against insurmountable odds and the young Lord is captured and enslaved, his fabled Singing Sword confiscated by the victorious pirate.

Thus begins an astonishingly impressive chapter in the hero’s history. Val becomes a galley slave, escapes and washes up, starving and semi-comatose on the lost shores of the Misty Isles. Delirious, he glimpses his future wife Queen Aleta when she re-provisions his boat before casting him back to the sea’s mercies.

The Misty Isles are secure only because of their secret location and the noble girl has broken a great taboo by sparing the shipwrecked lad. Replenished but lost, Val drifts helplessly away but resolves that one day he will discover again the Misty Isles and the enigmatic Aleta…

Eventually he is picked up by more pirates, but overwhelms the captain and takes charge. Finding himself in the island paradise of Tambelaine courting the daughters of the aged King Lamorack, Val encounters Angor Wrack once again, but fails to recover the Singing Sword, precipitating an extended saga of maritime warfare and spectacular voyaging across the Holy Land from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The vendetta results in both Angor and Val being taken by Arab slavers, but the boy nobly allows Wrack to escape whilst he battles the Bedouin hordes…

Enslaved in Syria, Val’s indomitable will and terrifying prowess are insufficient to his need so he seduces his owner’s daughter to effect an escape, only to stumble into a marital spat between the region’s greatest necromancer and his tempestuous bride.

Reaching Jerusalem, Val finally regains his beloved sword and settles all scores with Angor Wrack before determining to return to the hidden Misty Isles, but once again falls afoul of the pirates infesting the region. After incredible hardships, he is reunited with Aleta but fate drags them apart once more and he departs alone and despondent.

Not for long though, as on reaching Athens he meets the far-larger-than-life Viking Boltar: a Falstaff-like rogue and “honest pirate”. Together they rove across the oceans to the heart of the African jungles…

Securing a huge fortune, their Dragonship reaches Gaul and Val is finally reunited with Gawain. After settling a succession of generational feuds between knights and defeating a seductive maniac, the paladins at last return to Britain courtesy of Boltar, just in time to be dispatched by Arthur to the far North to scout Hadrian’s Wall and see if it can still keep the belligerent Picts out.

Unfortunately, libidinous Gawain abandons Val and the lad is captured by Caledonian wild-men and their new allies – a far nastier breed of Vikings intent on conquering England. Tortured almost unto death, the Prince is saved by the ministrations of Julian – a Roman warrior who has seemingly safeguarded the wall for centuries…

When he is recovered, Prince Valiant begins to inflict a terrible and studied revenge upon his tormentors…

To Be Continued…

Rendered in an incomprehensibly lovely panorama of glowing art, Prince Valiant is a lyrical juggernaut of stirring action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending realistic fantasy with sardonic wit, and broad humour with unbelievably dark violence (the closing text feature ‘Too Violent for American Dog Lovers’, reveals a number of censored panels and changes editors around the world inflicted upon the saga during this period).

Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, Foster’s magnum opus is a World Classic of storytelling, and this magnificent collection is something no adventuresome fan can afford to be without.

(Prince Valiant volume 3 © 2011 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2011 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved).
Gift Set © 2017 King Features Syndicate. Published by Fantagraphics Books.

90th Anniversary Double Feature!! Two reviews to celebrate a cartooning milestone

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Color

By Geoffrey Blum, Thomas Andrae, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks & various: produced by Another Rainbow Publishing Inc. (Pantheon Books 1988)
ISBN: 978-0-39457-519-3 (HB)

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

That’s why most people cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth Mickey feature to be completed – as the debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and paramour Minnie Mouse. It was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound.

The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those timid beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified solid gold sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property and soon moved in on America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

Floyd Gottfredson was a cartooning pathfinder who started out as just another warm body in the Disney Studio animation factory who slipped sideways into graphic narrative and evolved into a pictorial narrative ground-breaker as influential as George Herriman, Winsor McCay or Elzie Segar. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse entertained millions of eagerly enthralled readers and shaped the very way comics worked.

He took a wild and anarchic animated rodent from slap-stick beginnings, via some of the earliest adventure continuities in comics history: transforming a feisty everyman underdog – or rather mouse – into a crimebusting detective, explorer, lover, aviator or cowboy: the quintessential two-fisted hero whenever necessity demanded.

In later years, as tastes – and syndicate policy – changed, Gottfredson steered that self-same wandering warrior into a more sedate, gently suburbanised lifestyle via crafty sitcom gags suited to a newly middle-class America: a fifty-year career generating some of the most engrossing continuities the comics industry has ever enjoyed.

Arthur Floyd Gottfredson was born in 1905 in Kaysville, Utah, one of eight siblings born to a Mormon family of Danish extraction. Injured in a youthful hunting accident, Floyd whiled away a long recuperation drawing and studying cartoon correspondence courses, and by the 1920s had turned professional, selling cartoons and commercial art to local trade magazines and Big City newspaper the Salt Lake City Telegram.

In 1928 he and his wife moved to California and, after a shaky start, found work in April 1929 as an in-betweener at the burgeoning Walt Disney Studios.

Just as the Great Depression hit, he was personally asked by Disney to take over newborn but ailing newspaper strip Mickey Mouse.

Gottfredson would plot, draw and frequently script the strip for the next five decades: an incredible accomplishment by of one of comics’ most gifted exponents.

Veteran animator Ub Iwerks had initiated the print feature with Disney himself contributing, before artist Win Smith was brought in. The nascent strip was plagued with problems and young Gottfredson was only supposed to pitch in until a regular creator could be found.

His first effort saw print on May 5th 1930 (Floyd’s 25th birthday) and just kept going; an uninterrupted run over the next half century.

On January 17th 1932, Gottfredson created the first colour Sunday page, which he also handled until his retirement. In the beginning he did everything, but in 1934 Gottfredson relinquished the scripting, preferring plotting and illustrating the adventures to playing about with dialogue.

His eventual collaborating wordsmiths included Ted Osborne, Merrill De Maris, Dick Shaw, Bill Walsh, Roy Williams and Del Connell. At the start and in the manner of a filmic studio system Floyd briefly used inkers such as Ted Thwaites, Earl Duvall and Al Taliaferro, but by 1943 had taken on full art chores.

Mickey Mouse in Color is a lavish hardback compendium reprinting some of the most noteworthy early strips with fascinating text and feature articles – including interviews with Gottfredson – but the real gold is the glorious strips.

A mix of Sunday page yarns comprising ‘Rumplewatt the Giant (1934)’, ‘Dr. Oofgay’s Secret Serum (1934)’, the magnificent and mesmerising ‘Case of the Vanishing Coats (1935)’ and a whimsical ‘Robin Hood Adventure (1936)’ are, although superlative, mere appetisers.

The best stories and biggest laughs come with the rollickin’ comedy thrill-ride serials ‘Blaggard Castle (1932)’, ‘Pluto and the Dogcatcher (1933)’, ‘The Mail Pilot (1933)’ and the astoundingly entertaining and legendary ‘Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (1939)’.

Consistency is as rare as longevity in today’s comic market-place, and the sheer volume of quality work produced by Gottfredson remained unseen and unsung for generations until Fantagraphics released a complete library of the Mouse’s US-crafted strip adventures. We’ll be covering those in greater detail over the months to come but until then, books like this comprehensive primer (still readily available through online retailers), should be welcomed, cherished, and most importantly, shared.
© 1988 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse in The World of Tomorrow – Gladstone Comic Album #17

By Floyd Gottfredson, Bill Walsh & Dick Moores (Gladstone
ISBN: 978-0-94459-917-4

Floyd Gottfredson’s influence on graphic narrative is inestimable: he was one of the very first to move from daily gags to continuity and extend adventures, created Mickey’s nephews, pioneered team-ups and invented some of the first “super-villains” in the business.

In 1955 – by which time Mickey and his fellow pantheon stablemates were mainstays of comics in dozens of countries – Disney killed the continuities; dictating that henceforth strips would only contain one-off gag strips. Gottfredson adapted easily, working on until retirement in 1975. His last daily appeared on November 15th and the final Sunday on September 19th 1976.

In this still-easy-to-find oversized paperback album from the 1980s, Gottfredson’s middle period of cartoon brilliance comes to the fore and opens with an uplifting and supremely funny saga originally running from July 31st to November 11th 1944 and designed to counteract the woes of a war-weary world…

After D-Day and the Allied push into Occupied Europe, the home-front morale machine began pumping out conceptions of what the liberated happy future would be like. A strip as popular as Mickey Mouse couldn’t help but join the melee and new scripter Bill Walsh produced a delightfully surreal, tongue-in-cheek parable in ‘The World of Tomorrow’: full of brilliant, incisive sight-gags and startling whimsy whilst pitting the Mouse against arch-enemy Peg Leg Pete, who was in extreme danger of conquering the entire planet, using the double-edged advances in modern science!

Walsh, Gottfredson & inker Dick Moores also produced the remainder of this delightful book for kids of all ages, which comprise a dozen one-off gag dailies from 1944 and 1945, plus a cracking sea yarn ‘The Pirate Ghost Ship’ (first serialised from April 17th to July 15th 1944) which found Mickey and faithful hound Pluto searching for treasure, defying black magic and battling sinister buccaneers in a rollicking rollercoaster of fun and frights.

Walsh (September 30th 1913 – January 27th 1975) loved working on the strip and scripted it until 1964 when his increasingly successful film career forced him to give it up.

Like all Disney comics creators these stalwarts worked in utter anonymity, but thanks to the efforts of devout fans efforts were eventually revealed and due acclaim accorded. Gottfredson died in July 1986 and Walsh did achieve a modicum of fame in his lifetime as producer of Disney’s Davy Crockett movies, and as writer/producer of The (original) Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and many others.

He was Oscar™ nominated for his Mary Poppins screenplay.

Even in these modern, accepting times anthropomorphic comics are still often derided as kids’ stuff – and indeed there’s nothing here a child wouldn’t adore – but these magical works were produced for consumers of ALL AGES and the sheer quality of Gottfredson and Walsh’s work is astounding to behold.

That so much of it has remained unseen and unsung is a genuine scandal. Thankfully most of the Gladstone Mickey Mouse albums are still readily available and we now have the scholarly and comprehensive Gottfredson Mickey Mouse Archives so you have no reason not to indulge in some of the greatest comic tails of all time.
© 1989, 1945, 1944 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: King Ottokar’s Sceptre


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-619-8 (HB)                    : 978-0-31613-383-8 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many 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 the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 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.

Like Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair, though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as a weekly monochrome strip Le Sceptre d’Ottokar ran from August 4th 1938 to August 10th 1939. The rousing Ruritanian saga of plot and counter-plot was designed as a satirical critique of Nazi Germany’s nefarious expansionist policies, but in a remarkably short course of time real life terrifyingly caught up with fictional hijinks. Another commercial winner, the tale was promptly released in collected book form upon conclusion and Herge’s team moved straight on to new serial Land of Black Gold. That tale was curtailed by the fall of Belgium in 1940 and the closure of Le Vingtiéme Siécle. We’ll talk more about that later…

When the war ended and Tintin led a resurgence of European comics, Le Sceptre d’Ottokar, was revived, reformatted, reconditioned and rereleased in a full-colour album. It was the first book to make the jump to English editions – in 1956 – and was adapted for the small screen by Belvision Studios. Twice in fact, as Canada’s Ellipse/Nelvana crafted their own animated version in 1991.

Older British readers might have another reason to recall this tale. Many of them had an early introduction to Tintin and his dog (then called Milou, as in the French editions) when fabled comic The Eagle began running King Ottokar’s Sceptre in translated instalments on their prestigious full-colour centre section in 1951.

During the Occupation, Hergé continued producing comic strips for Le Soir and in the period following Belgium’s liberation was accused of being a collaborator and even a Nazi sympathiser.

It took the intervention of Resistance hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing the cash to create the magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands.

The story itself is pure escapist magic as a chance encounter via a park bench leads our youthful hero on a mission of utmost diplomatic importance to the European kingdom of Syldavia. This picturesque principality stood for a number of countries such as Czechoslovakia that were in the process of being subverted by Nazi insurrectionists at time of writing.

Tintin becomes a surveillance target for enemy agents and, after a number of life-threatening near misses, flies to Syldavia with his new friend. The sigillographer Professor Alembick is an expert on Seals of Office and his research trip coincides with a sacred ceremony wherein the Ruler must annually display the fabled sceptre of King Ottokar to the populace or lose his throne.

When the sceptre is stolen it takes all of Tintin’s luck and cunning to prevent an insurrection and the overthrow of the country by enemy provocateurs…

Full of dash, as breathtaking as a rollercoaster ride and as compelling as any Bond movie, this is classic adventure story-telling to match the best of the cinema’s swashbucklers and as suspenseful as a Hitchcock thriller, balancing insane laughs with moments of genuine tension.

Clearly just as the world headed into a new Dark Age, Hergé was entering a Golden one…

These ripping yarns for all ages are an unparalleled highpoint in the history of graphic narrative. Their constant popularity proves them to be a worthy addition to the list of world classics of literature.
King Ottokar’s Sceptre: artwork © 1947, 1975 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1958 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Creepy Presents Alex Toth


By Alex Toth, with Archie Goodwin, Gerry Boudreau, Rich Margopoulos, Roger McKenzie, Doug Moench, Nicola Cuti, Bill DuBay & Steve Skeates and Leopoldo Durañona, Leo Summers, Romeo Tanghal, Carmine Infantino & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-692-1 (HB)                    eISBN: 978-1-63008-194-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Festive Flurry of Fearsome Fun… 9/10

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comicbook profession, where the intent was to deliver as much variety and entertainment fulfilment as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Alex Toth was a master of graphic communication who shaped two different art-forms and is largely unknown in both of them.

Born in New York in 1928, the son of Hungarian immigrants with a dynamic interest in the arts, Toth was something of a prodigy and after enrolling in the High School of Industrial Arts, doggedly went about improving his skills as a cartoonist.

His earliest dreams were of a strip like Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates, but his uncompromising devotion to the highest standards soon soured him on newspaper strip work when he discovered how hidebound and innovation-resistant the family-values based industry had become whilst he was growing up.

At age 15 he sold his first comicbook works to Heroic Comics and, after graduating in 1947, worked for All American/National Periodical Publications (who would amalgamate and evolve into DC Comics) on Dr. Mid-Nite, All Star Comics, The Atom, Green Lantern, Johnny Thunder, Sierra Smith, Johnny Peril, Danger Trail and a host of other two-fisted fighting features.

On the way he dabbled with newspaper strips (see Casey Ruggles: the Hard Times of Pancho and Pecos) and confirmed that nothing had changed…

Constantly aiming to improve his own work, he never had time for fools or formula-hungry editors who wouldn’t take artistic risks. In 1952 Toth quit DC to work for “Thrilling” Pulps publisher Ned Pines who was retooling his prolific Better/Nedor/Pines comics companies (Thrilling Comics, Fighting Yank, Doc Strange, Black Terror and others) into Standard Comics: a comics house targeting older readers with sophisticated, genre-based titles.

Beside his particularly favourite inker Mike Peppe and fellow graphic artisans Nick Cardy, Mike Sekowsky, Art Saaf, John Celardo, George Tuska, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Toth set the bar incredibly high for a new kind of story-telling. In a cavalcade of short-lived titles dedicated to War, Crime, Horror, Science Fiction and especially Romance, the material produced was wry, restrained and thoroughly mature.

After Simon & Kirby invented love comics, Standard, through artists like Cardy and Toth and writers like the amazing and unsung Kim Aamodt, polished and honed the genre, regularly turning out clever, witty, evocative and yet tasteful melodramas and heart-tuggers both men and women could enjoy.

Before going into the military, where he still found time to create a strip (Jon Fury for the US army’s Tokyo Quartermaster newspaper The Depot’s Diary) Toth illustrated 60 glorious tales for Standard; as well as a few pieces for EC and others.

On his return to a different industry – and one he didn’t much like – Toth split his time between Western/Dell/Gold Key (Zorro and many movie/TV adaptations) and National (assorted short pieces, Hot Wheels and Eclipso): doing work he increasingly found uninspired, moribund and creatively cowardly.

Soon he moved primarily into TV animation: character and locale designing for shows such as Space Ghost, Herculoids, Birdman, Shazzan!, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Super Friends among many others.

He returned sporadically to comics, setting the style and tone for DC’s late 1960’s horror line in House of Mystery, House of Secrets and especially The Witching Hour and illustrating more adult fare for Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and The Rook.

In the early 1980s he redesigned The Fox for Red Circle/Archie, produced stunning one-offs for Archie Goodwin’s Batman or war comics (whenever they offered him a “good script”) and latterly contributed to landmark or anniversary projects such as Batman: Black and White.

His later, personal works included European star-feature Torpedo and the magnificently audacious Bravo for Adventure!: both debuting at the independent magazine publishing company owned by Jim Warren.

Alex Toth died of a heart attack at his drawing board on May 27th 2006.

The details are fully recounted in Douglas Wolk’s biographically informative Foreword, as are hints of the artist’s later spells of creative brilliance at DC Comics, the growing underground movement and nascent independent comics scene…

The erudite and economical Mr. Evanier even finds room to describe and critique the differing art techniques Ditko experimented with during his brief tenure…

Whilst working for Warren (only intermittently and between 1965 and 1982) Toth enjoyed a great deal of editorial freedom and cooperation. He produced 21 starkly stunning monochrome masterpieces – many self-penned or written by fellow legend Archie Goodwin – and all crafted without interference from the Comics Code Authority’s draconian and nonsensical rules.

They ranged from wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasy, to spooky suspense and science fiction yarns, limited only by the bounds of good taste… or at least as far as horror tales can be…

The uncanny yarns appeared in black-&-white magazine anthologies Creepy (# 5-7, 9, 75-80, 114, 122-125, 139) and Eerie (2, 3, 64, 65 and 67), affording the master of minimalism time and room to experiment with not only a larger page, differing styles and media, but also dabble in then-unknown comics genres…

Those lost Warren stories were gathered into this spectacular oversized (284 x 218 mm) hardback compendium (or assorted eBook formats): part of a series of all-star artist compilations – which also include Rich Corben, Bernie Wrightson, Steve Ditko amongst others – and begins here – after an appreciative Foreword from critic and historian Douglas Wolk – with the short shockers from Creepy.

Moodily rendered in grey wash-tones ‘Grave Undertaking’ comes from Creepy #5 (October 1965). Scripted by Goodwin the period piece relates the shocking comeuppance of a funeral director who branches out into providing fresh corpses for the local medical school, after which December issue #6 provides insight into ‘The Stalkers’ as a troubled soul seeks psychoanalytic help for the hallucinations of aliens plaguing him…

Prophetic visions play a part in ‘Rude Awakening!’ (#7, February 1966) as man flees omens of being gutted by a madman before Toth reverts to his minimalist line style for ‘Out of Time’ (#9 June). Here a murderous mugger seeks sanctuary for his latest crime and ends up making a devil’s bargain…

A long absence ended in November 1975 as Creepy #75 heralded a wealth of new stories from Toth, beginning with the Gerry Boudreau written crime-thriller ‘Phantom of Pleasure Island’ wherein a mob-owned San Diego funfair is plagued by a sinister sniper. Private Eye Hubb Chapin is on the case, but his dogged determination to find the killer opens a lot of festering sores his client should have left well alone…

Spectacularly experimental and powerfully stark, ‘Ensnared!’ scripted by Rich Margopoulos; #76, January 1976) is another paranoiac psychodrama with science fictional underpinnings before Toth begins writing his own stories in Creepy #77 (February) with a wash and tone tour de force depicting the strange fate of missing air mail pilot ‘Tibor Miko’ in 1928.

March’s issue #78 continued the tonal terrors with another 1920s tale exposing the stunning secret of a celluloid icon in ‘Unreeal!’ before we storm into Indiana Jones territory with ‘Kui’ (#79, May) as a couple of anthropologists make the holiday find of a lifetime on a deserted tropical island…

This tranche of Toth treats ends with ‘Proof Positive’ from June’s issue #80 wherein a gang of fraudulent patent lawyers and their ruthless honeytrap pay the ultimate price for gulling the wrong inventor…

When Toth returned in January 1980 his first story was another chilling collaboration with old comrade Archie Goodwin. Creepy #114’s ‘The Reaper’ was rendered in overpowering scratchy line and solid blacks, detailing how a virologist with six months to live decides he’s not dying alone and leaving a world of idiots behind him…

Issue #122 (October 1980) found Toth inking veteran illustrator Leo Duranona for the Roger McKenzie-scripted civil war yarn ‘The Killing!’ Here a Northern party occupying a mansion enduring conflicting passions of lust and vengeance before death inevitably settles all scores.

Doug Moench writes, Leo Summers draws and Toth inks & tones ‘Kiss of the Plague!’ (#123, November) as a welter of grisly murders slowly subtracts the inhabitant of a seemingly accursed house after which ‘Malphisto’s Illusion’ (#124, January 1981) finds Nichola Cuti, Alexis Romero (AKA Romeo Tanghal) & Toth explaining in grisly detail just how a stage magician pulls off his greatest trick and #125’s ‘Jacque Cocteau’s Circus of the Bizarre’ (McKenzie, Carmine Infantino & Toth) maintains the entertainment motif with a short shocker about a freak show like no other…

Toth’s last Creepy appearance was another collaboration with Goodwin. Issue #139 (July 1982) again featured the master’s moodily macabre tone painting in a grim post-apocalyptic rumination on ‘Survival!’

Toth’s tenure on companion anthology Eerie #2 was relatively brief and began with the second issue (March 1966). ‘Vision of Evil’ was the first of two Goodwin tales limned in tone and bold line, revealing the fate of an overly-arrogant art collector who couldn’t take no for an answer, whilst #3’s ‘The Monument’ (May 1966) saw an equally obnoxious architect accidentally engineer his own doom by stealing ideas from an old idol…

Eerie #64 offered intolerance, fear and sentiment in equal measure in ‘Daddy and the Pie’ (written by Bill DuBay). In Depression era America a very alien stranger is made welcome by one hard-up family despite the barely repressed hostility of his neighbours…

A very modern monster’s exploits comprise the end of this stupendous collection as Steve Skeates pens a wry tale of serial killers and doughty detectives in old London town. ‘The Hacker is Back’ (#65 April) depicts a maniac’s return to slaughter after a decade’s hiatus and leads to an inconclusive resolution before ‘The Hacker’s Last Stand!’ (#67 August) find forces of law and order overwhelmed by a killing spree unlike any other…

This voluminous volume has episodes which terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped-down plots and a mordant tone which lets the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display the sharp wit and dark comedic energy which epitomised both Goodwin and Warren, channelled through Ditko’s astounding versatility and storytelling acumen: another cracking collection of his works not only superb in its own right but also a telling affirmation of the gifts of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill, die or be lost in a devil-dimension for…
Creepy, the Creepy logo and all contents © 1965, 1966, 1975, 1976, 1980. 1981, 1982, 2015 by New Comic Company. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Black Island


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-806-2 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-61-1 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many 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 the Hergé Studio, Remi accomplished 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.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a passionate and dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme and unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work.

He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

Accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits), the clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Originally published as monochrome strip Le Mystère De L’Avion Gris (The Mystery of the Grey Plane) from April 15th to November 16th 1937, the stirring saga was rerun in French Catholic newspaper Coeurs Vallaint from April 17th 1938. Its doom-laden atmosphere of espionage, criminality and darkly gathering storms settling upon the Continent clearly caught the public imagination…

Later that year Éditions Casterman released the entire epic as L’Île noire in a hardback volume that Hergé hated. It was eventually re-released in 1943, reformatted, extensively redrawn and in full colour and was greeted with rapturous success and acclaim.

Further revisions came after Tintin crossed the channel into British bookstores. The Black Island required a number of alterations to suit British publisher Methuen, leading to Herge’s assistant Bob De Moor travelling to England in 1961 for an extensive and extremely productive fact-finding mission which resulted in a new revised and updated edition that appeared not only here but was again serialised in Europe.

One evening as Tintin and Snowy are enjoying a walk in the country, a small plane experiences engine trouble and ditches in a field. When the helpful reporter offers assistance, he is shot…

Visited in hospital by bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson, the patient discovers they’re off to England to investigate the crash of an unregistered plane. Putting the meagre facts together Tintin discharges himself, and with Snowy in tow, catches the boat-train to Dover.

The young gallant is utterly unaware that he’s been targeted by sinister figures. Before journey’s end they have framed him for an assault and had him arrested. All too soon the wonder boy has escaped and is hounded across the countryside as a fugitive.

Despite the frantic pursuit, he makes it safely to England, having temporarily eluded the authorities, but is still being pursued by the murderous thugs who set him up…

He is eventually captured by the gangsters – actually German spies – and uncovers a forgery plot that circuitously leads him to the wilds of Scotland and a (visually stunning) “haunted” castle on an island in a Loch.

Undaunted, the bonny boy reporter goes undercover to investigate and discovers the gang’s base. He also finds out to his peril that the old place is guarded by a monstrous ape…

And that’s when the action really takes off…

This superb adventure, powerfully reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, guarantees the cherished notion that, as always, virtue, daring and a huge helping of comedic good luck inevitably leads to a spectacular and thrilling denouement…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, now is the time series to rectify that sorry situation.

The Black Island: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1966 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The King Years


By Bill Harris, Dick Wood & Bill Lignante, Giovanni Fiorentini & Senio Pratesi & various (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-009-3

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and, washing ashore in Africa, swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of all his descendants to destroying all pirates and criminals. The Phantom fights crime and injustice from a base deep in the jungles of Bengali, and throughout Africa is known as the “Ghost Who Walks”.

His unchanging appearance and unswerving quest for justice have led to him being considered an immortal avenger by the credulous and the wicked. Down the decades one hero after another has fought and died in an unbroken family line, and the latest wearer of the mask, indistinguishable from the first, continues the never-ending battle…

Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his syndicate employers who were already making history, public headway and loads of money with his first strip sensation Mandrake the Magician

Although technically not the first ever costumed hero in comics, The Phantom was the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits.

He debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence that pitted him against a global confederation of pirates called the Singh Brotherhood. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over the illustration side to artist Ray Moore. The Sunday feature began in May 1939.

For such a successful, long-lived and influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market.

Various small companies have tried to collect the strips – one of the longest continually running adventure serials in publishing history – but in no systematic or chronological order and never with any sustained success.

But, even if it were only of historical value (or just printed for Australians, who have long been manic devotees of the implacable champion) surely “Kit Walker” is worthy of a definitive chronological compendium series?

Happily, his comic book adventures have fared slightly better – at least in recent times…

Between 1966 and 1967 King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – developed after the Ghost Who Walks had enjoyed a solo-starring vehicle under the broad and effective aegis of veteran licensed properties publisher Gold Key Comics.

The Phantom was no stranger to funnybooks, having been featured since the Golden Age in titles such as Feature Book and Harvey Hits, but only as straight reformatted strip reprints. The Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership, a model King maintained for their own run.

This splendid full-cover hardcover – or eBook for the modern minded – gathers the contents of The Phantom #19-28 (originally released between November 1966 and December 1967) as well as four back-up vignettes from Mandrake #1-4, spanning September 1966 to January 1967.

Following fascinating Introduction ‘The Phantom, the King Years’ from fans and scholars Pete Klaus and Howard S. Gesbeck (which includes some splendid unseen art and candid photos) the procession of classic wonders resumes.

As with the Gold Key issues, the majority of the stories are scripted by Bill Harris or Dick Wood and drawn in comicbook format by Bill Lignante, with cover by or based on images from the daily strip as limned by Sy Barry.

Opening the King archive is a fabulously wry romp as a coterie of crooks inveigles their way into the Phantom’s jungle home, intent on stealing ‘The Treasure of the Skull Cave’. Over the centuries the Ghost Who Walks has amassed the most fantastic hoard of legendary loot and astounding artefacts, but the trio of crooks can’t agree on what is or isn’t valuable and soon pay the price for their folly and genocidal intent…

Issue #19 tapped into the global excitement as America neared its first manned moonshots with ‘The Astronaut and the Pirates’ finding the Phantom hunting the seagoing brigands who abduct and ransom an American spaceman after his off-course splashdown lands him in very hot water…

The second tale in the issue relies on more traditional themes as ‘The Masked Emissary’ intervenes in a civil war; protecting an ousted democratic leader from a tyrannical despot, until liberty can be restored to the people.

The Phantom #20 – cover dated January 1967 – led with a bold departure from tradition. Scripted by Pat Fortunato ‘The Adventures of the Girl Phantom’ delved into the meticulous family chronicles to reveal how, a few generations previously, the feisty twin sister of a former Ghost Who Walked took her brother’s place to police the jungles of Bengali after he was laid low.

Counterpointing that radical drama is a moody mad science thriller as the current masked marvel battles old enemy Dr. Krazz and aliens from the Earth’s interior in ‘The Invisible Demon’

In #21 ‘The Treasure of Bengali Bay’ finds the Phantom battling bandits using their own fake ghost to secure sunken loot after grudge-bearing Indian Prince Taran lures our hero to the sub-continent as fodder for specially trained animal assassin ‘The Terror Tiger’.

Full-length drama ‘The Secret of Magic Mountain’ pits The Immortal Avenger against sly witch doctor Tuluck who mixes misconceived ancient history and a freshly-active volcano to turn the local tribes against The Phantom, whilst in #23 merciless pirate ‘Delilah’ takes the place of a Peace Corps worker to get lethally close to the guardian of the jungle.

However, her devious wiles, brainwashing techniques and super-submarine prove of little use against the dauntless and implacable Ghost Who Walks…

Girl Phantom Julie steals the show again in #24 as she and faithful friend Maru challenge the forces of darkness to defeat a vicious manipulator in ‘The Riddle of the Witch’

Writer Giovanni Fiorentini and illustrator Senio Pratesi tackle #25 as the modern hero and famous athlete and sportswoman (and prospective wife) Diana Palmer frustrate slave-taking diamond smugglers intent on subjugating ‘The Cold Fire Worshippers’ before issue #26 marks a return to double story instalments.

Lignante’s ‘The Lost City of Yiango’ sees the Phantom compelled to solve a 50-year old mystery and prevent a resurgence of tribal warfare, after which he answers a desperate plea to safeguard an irreplaceable treasure and goes undercover to thwart ‘The Pearl Raiders’

The Phantom #27 reveals the origins of the African Avenger’s wonder-horse as ‘The Story of Hero’ discloses how he once rescued kidnapped Princess Melonie of Kabora and how – following ‘The Long Trip Home’ – he was thanked with a most marvellous equine gift…

The Phantom’s King chronicles concluded in #28 ‘Diana’s Deadly Tour’ as the celebrity embarks on a global exhibition jaunt and is targeted by ruthless spies. Not only must her enigmatic paramour keep her safe but also solve the bewildering mystery of why they keep trying to kill her…

Wrapping up the issue is an ultra-short yarn as a frustrated world champion boxer hunts the Ghost Who Walks determined to prove who’s the toughest guy in ‘The Big Fight’

As mentioned above the Phantom guested in vignettes in Mandrake #1-4. Those ‘Back-Up Stories’ round out the comics cavalcade here beginning with ‘SOS Phantom’ as the Guardian Ghost responds to secret drum signals to quell an outbreak of fever, whilst ‘SOS Phantom: The Pirate Raiders’ finds him answering similar “threat tomtoms” to tackle and terrify superstitious coastal raiders…

Those self-same drums are crucial in thwarting a murderous criminal mastermind intent on penning the Phantom in ‘The Magic Ivory Cage’ and the flurry of little epics ends with another outing for ‘The Girl Phantom’ who here outwits a brutal strongman whose brawn and belligerence are no match for cool head…

Sprinkled liberally with original art, unused cover designs for the never-printed issues #29 and 30, examples from foreign editions and a wealth of original art pages by Jim Aparo (from forthcoming volume The Phantom: The Complete Series: The Charlton Years: volume 1) this another nostalgia drenched triumph: straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure that has always been the staple of comics fiction.

If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional action-fest you can’t afford to miss…
The Phantom® © 1966-1967 and 2012 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-779-7

HAPPY 90th BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

Call me an idiot (you know you want to) but for years I laboured under the misapprehension that comics’ first superhuman hero debuted on January 29th 1929. Eventually. thanks to a superb collection of archival albums from the wonderful folk at Fantagraphics, I was disabused of that erroneous notion. Those mammoth oversized compendia are still the best books about the old Swabbie ever published…

Thimble Theatre was an unassuming comic strip which began on 19th December 1919; one of many newspaper features that parodied/burlesqued/mimicked the silent movies of the era. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies (later and more famously renamed Minute Movies).

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on the cinema antics of the silent era. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy, would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy, as he became, tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, gentle adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928 (the first strip reprinted in this astonishingly lavish and beautiful collection), when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

As eny fule kno Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period.

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they decided to sail for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day and in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of every reader: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale his walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The journey to Dice Island was a terrible one: Olive had stowed away, and Popeye, already doing the work of twelve men, did not like her. After many travails the power of Bernice succeeded and Castor bankrupted Dice Island, but as they sailed for home with their millions Fadewell and his murderous associate Snork hunted them across the oceans. Before long, Popeye settled their hash too, almost at the cost of his life…

Once home their newfound wealth quickly led Castor, Ham and Olive into more trouble, with carpetbaggers, conmen and ne’er-do-wells constantly circling, and before long they lost all their money (a common occurrence for them), but one they thing they couldn’t lose was their sea-dog tag-along. The public – and Segar himself – were besotted with the unlovable, belligerent old goat. After an absence of 32 episodes Popeye shambled back on stage, and he stayed for good.

Although not yet the paramour of Olive, Popeye increasingly took Ham’s place as a foil for the sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. When they escaped jail at the start of ‘The Black Barnacle’ (December 11th 1929) they found themselves aboard an empty ship and at the start of a golden age of comic strip magic…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned and it grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Day by day he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form, inventing narrative tricks and beats that a generation of artists and writers would use in their own works, and he did it while being scary, thrilling and funny all at once.

‘The Black Barnacle’ introduced the dire menace of the hideous Sea-Hag – one of the greatest villains in fiction – and the scenes of her advancing in misty darkness upon our sleeping heroes are still the most effective I’ve seen in all my years…

This incredible tale leads seamlessly into diamond-stealing, kidnappings, spurned loves, an African excursion and the introduction of wealthy Mr. Kilph, whose do-gooding propensities would lead Castor and Popeye into plenty of trouble, beginning with the eerie science fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of Brownstone Hill’ and the return of the nefarious Snork, who almost murders the salty old seadog a second time…

The black and white dailies section ends with ‘The Wilson Mystery’ as Castor and Popeye set up their own detective agency: something that would become a common strip convention and the perfect maguffin to keep the adventures tumbling along – even Mickey Mouse would don metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass (see Mickey and Donald and The Lair of Wolf Barker among many others).

These superb and colossal hardcover albums (200 pages and 368 mm by 268 mm) are augmented with fascinating articles and essays; including testimonial remembrances from famous cartoonists – Jules Feiffer in this first volume – and accompanied by the relevant full colour Sunday pages from the same period.

Here then are the more gag-oriented complete tales from 2nd March 1930 through February 22nd 1931, including the “topper” Sappo.

A topper was a small mini-strip that was run above the main feature on a Sunday page. Some were connected to the main strip but many were just filler. They were used so that individual editors could remove them if their particular periodical had non-standard page requirements. Originally entitled The 5:15, Sappo was a surreal domestic comedy gag strip created by Segar in 1924 which became peculiarly entwined with the Sunday Thimble Theatre as the 1930s unfolded – and it’s a strip long overdue for consideration on its own unique merits….

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character.

Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then.

We saw softer sides of the sailor-man and, when Castor and Mr. Kilph realised how good Popeye was at boxing, an extended, trenchant and scathingly funny sequence about the sport of prize-fighting began. Again, cartoon violence was at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience kept the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and still deserves his place as a world icon. These magnificent volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of EC Segar and his brilliantly imperfect superman. These are books that every home should have.
© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-075-5 (Canongate HB):             978-1-56097-647-9 (Fantagraphics HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. 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 Schulz’ departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

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

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate imposed upon him – changed the way newspaper strips were received and perceived, and proved that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a heartfelt and clearly awestruck Foreword from contemporary cartoon genius Matt Groening, this third gargantuan landscape hardback compendium (218 by 33 by 172 mm in the solid world and infinitely variable in its digital iterations) offers in potent monochrome the fifth and sixth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving bombardment of cruel insight and bitingly barbed hilarity.

Here our increasing browbeaten but resolutely optimistic little round head and his high-maintenance mutt Snoopy respond with increasing bewilderment to the rapidly changing world of TV, sports, games and especially peers who seem designed only to vex, belittle or embarrass the introspective everyboy.

Gaining far greater prominence is obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy who, with her infant sibling Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant – are getting more and more of the best lines and set-ups. Another up and comer settling in (amidst a cloud of dust and detritus) is hapless toxic innocent ‘Pig-Pen’: a sad clown in the grand manner, buffeted by a cruel condition but manfully persevering throughout…

Bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty are slowly being eased out, and brusque Violet is slowly losing ground to gags starring Beethoven-obsessed, long-suffering musical prodigy Schroeder. Linus’ mystic tranquiliser the Security Blanket also gains greater prominence, but his anxiety peaks exponentially whenever raucous, strident newcomer Charlotte Braun ambles by…

The daily diet of rapid-fire gags had now successfully evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically honed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, although even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought…

The relationships, however, were ever-evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continue to develop here. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, regarding Lucy’s ongoing relationship to certain snowmen of her own macabre devising and mounting jealousy that her predestined inamorata would rather look at plaster busts of Beethoven than upon her living form…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing golf, playing baseball, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, playing marbles, the rules of croquet, learning to read, coping with increasingly intransigent if not actually malevolent kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

New themes include America’s fascination with flying saucers, ditto for TV sensation Davy Crockett, art appreciation and Snoopy’s growing desire to be anything but a maligned and put-upon little dog. Especially one starved of tasty treats and bonbons…

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown and his expressions of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the real star here, with episodes seeing her seeking to become Mayor of the United States, duelling Snoopy with skipping ropes and investigating the mystery of why the planet is getting smaller…

More exploration of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and there are plenty of season-appropriate gags about summer sun, winter snow and the Fall of leaves as well as riffs on festive events such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas. During this time Good Ol’ Charlie starts getting those stress-induced head and stomach aches…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

Now and forevermore Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’, rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956 (Volume Three) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2005 Matt Groening. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.