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


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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

The incredible Sailor-Man first shumbled onto the world stage in comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17th 1929. Even though last year Fantagraphics began rereleasing this material in smaller less copious volumes – which I’ll also be reviewing – this initial colossal collection is probably my favourite vintage book ever and I mourn much that it’s out of print and unavailable digitally. I live in hope though…

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

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on those expressive cinema antics. 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 sailed 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, 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 readers: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale, the 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 sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. After escaping 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 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 adventurers tumbling along. Even Mickey Mouse donned metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass for much of his own strip service…

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 extraneous 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 witty 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. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 93 years after their first? 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 and library should have.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Beano and Dandy Gift Book 2022- Arty Farty!


By Dudley D. Watkins, Allan Morley, Reg Carter, Davy Law, Bill Holroyd, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Eric Roberts, James Crichton, Paddy Brennan, and many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-856-3 (HB)

This splendidly oversized (225 x 300mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy, colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history… aren’t they all? Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Until it folded and was briefly reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

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

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

This particularly tome is a collation of strips examining “Art” and a superb tribute to Celtic creativity, packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips, with the mirth starting on the inside front with a rather psychedelic and fourth-wall rending confrontation between The Bash Street Kids and the ever-interventionist “Beano/Dandy artist” actually illustrated by David Sutherland, I suspect.

Sadly, as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

When not in monochrome or full colour, DC Thomson titles were always extremely inventive in using their two-colour printing plate format. Way back when, most annuals and many comics were jazzed up by a wonderful “half-colour” process British publishers used to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections (“Signatures”) of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black. The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding…

This book shows that pagination skill over and over again in strips that exploit the print process and deftly subordinate it to the narratives. What splendid fellows their printers must have been to go to all that extra effort…

Here and now though, the picture-in-picture gag cover of Dandy Annual 1971 – a Korky the Cat visual pun by James Crichton or possibly Richard Nixon – segues into a monochrome Big Eggo strip from Reg Carter before indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins shines in black, white and red with magical lad Peter Piper (from short-lived junior title The Magic Comic) animating pictures at an exhibition before Good King Coke (He’s Stoney Broke) seeks fame in a frame thanks to early art and orange tints from Eric Roberts.

Also from The Magic Comic comes Dolly Dimple – Not So Simple: a monochrome romp by Allan Morley that leads to an Orange section starting with Julius Sneezer the Sneezing Caesar (Morley); Lord Snooty, by the incredibly prolific Watkins, detailing an art heist from an early annual, after which Morley renders more magic with Sammy’s Super Rubberand posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz – by Charles Holt – makes more enemies with a school painting competition…

Morley’s Old Ma Murphy the Strong-Arm School-Ma’rm gets away with what we’d deem child abuse in her art class before three Dennis the Menace strips from David Law prove that chaos is an art. They’re followed by a drawing lesson with Minnie the Minx (by Jim Petrie?) and a Law full colour Beryl the Peril strip he did for a Topper Annual with the girly menace trying her hand at photography before we enjoy some black, white and red poetry-appreciation piece from a Beano Book The Bash Street Kids extended episode by Sutherland. It precedes a classic Desperate Dan diversion where he paints the town – guess what hue? – and Korky’s Catty Dictionary by Robert Nixon.

A red-toned double bill of Roger the Dodger japes by Ken Reid neatly diverts to fantastic crime as an extended (orange-flavoured) Captain Woosh caper sees the wily jetpack bandit again outwitted by good-hearted errand boy Terry Ball in a stunning Dandy Annual exploit from Charles Grigg, after which Sutherland triumphs in a pan-toned (black, red, yellow and white) classic starring The Bash Steet Kids and Teacher

Following colourful puzzle pages ‘Blank Looks’ and ‘You Can Draw Me!’, Law’s Dennis the Menace plays ‘Pranks with Paint!’ and shares ‘Drawings by Dennis’ before we all go green with Watkins’ Desperate Dan and enjoy ‘Arty-Crafty!’and ‘Crafty Arty!’ hijinks with perilous Beryl…

Winker Watson gets a fresh look – courtesy of Terry Bave, I believe – as the wily waif interrupts a school painting chore before Ken H. Harrison’s blue period sees Harry and his Hippo get the snapping bug before the Bash Street Dogs of Pup Parade (Nigel Parkinson?) get their portraits done and Bill Holroyd’s robot rascal Brassneck saves the school play – from surly teacher Mr. Snodgrass

Minnie the Minx endures a multi-coloured assault from a mischievous Beano artist (Tom Paterson?) before Dennis regrets ‘Making his Mark’ as a prelude to more full colour fun from Bill Ritchie’s Baby Crockett and Gordon Bell’s Colonel Blink, before Pup Parade with the Bash Street Dogs resorts to orange tints for a kennel painting prank…

Advancing print technology finally catches up and the remainder of the collection is all full-colour, beginning with Neighbourhood Witch as a little sorceress gets too interested in the family tree, after which Ritchie’s love-starved Smittengoes to extraordinary lengths to find a girlfriend…

Harrison’s Lord Snooty makes no friends when he voluntarily takes up the trumpet, whilst Paterson’s Little Larry truly turns heads (away) with his candid snaps before Bully Beef and Chips (Wayne Thompson?) clash over painted portraits whilst Dennis decrees ‘It’s a Draw’ and The Bash Street Kids romp in extended mayhem looking for cash rewards in ‘A Load of Junk’

Robot toy manipulator General Jumbo then gets some highly specialised new units to win a painting competition, before activity page ‘Be a Dandy Artist’ segues into a Korky curated museum visit before ‘Quick on the Draw with Ivy the Terrible’ (by Lew Stringer?) ends the tour with a far more accessible lesson learned.

As you leave the volume please be sure to enjoy Sutherland’s classic Beano Book 1971 cover and denouement of the frontispiece saga that opened this extravaganza, and don’t forget to tip your reviewer…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.
© DCT Consumer Products (UK) 2021 Ltd.

Calling Dick Tracy!™ volume 1


By Mike Curtis, Joe Staton & various (Rabbit Hole)
ISBN: 978-0-930645-11-0 (digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Brilliant Fun and the Only Way to Make Crime Pay… 8/10

Time for another anniversary celebration. Here’s a superb collection crying out for revival in either physical or digital forms. Time to agitate against the publishing powers-that-be, I think…

All in all, comics have a pretty good track record for creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional (or is that “meta”, now?) characters on Earth – usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman and Tarzan – and supplement the list with Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin,Spider-Man, Garfield, and – not so much now, but once, most definitely – Dick Tracy

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould sought fresh strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone – who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers – the doughty doodler settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion…

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident who hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ charisma. He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation.

He took his proposal – “Plainclothes Tracy” – to Captain Joseph Patterson, the legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali whose golden touch had already blessed strips like The Gumps, Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle, Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others. Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson promptly renamed the hero Dick Tracy, whilst also revising his love interest into steady, steadfast girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The daily series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s own Chicago Tribune Syndicate, growing quickly into a phenomenon and monumental hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows. Bolstered by toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. Gould unfailingly wrote and drew the strip for decades until retirement in 1977.

The legendary lawman was a landmark creation who influenced not simply comics but the entirety of American popular fiction. Its signature use of baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips (most notably Batman), shows and movies since then, whilst the indomitable Tracy’s studied, measured use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crimefighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries such as CSI decades before the current fascination took hold.

As with many creators in it for the long haul, the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Gould’s grizzled gangbuster especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the move towards science fiction (Tracy went off-Earth into space and the character Moon Maid was introduced) as the improbable, Bond-movie-style villains or its perceived “old-fashioned” attitudes. Even the introduction of more minority and women characters and hippie cop Groovy Groovecouldn’t stop the rot. However, the feature soldiered on regardless…

When Gould retired in 1977, 29-year old author Max Allen Collins (Road to Perdition Nathan Heller, Mike Mist, Ms. Tree) won the prestigious role as scripter, promptly taking the series back to its crime-busting roots for a breathtaking run, ably assisted by Gould as consultant with his chief artistic assistant Rick Fletcher promoted to full illustrator.

After 11 years, in 1992 Collins was removed and replaced by Mike Kilian – who apparently worked for half the up-&-coming author’s price – until his death in October 2005, whereafter Dick Locher took over story and art, with assistant Jim Brozman assuming drawing duties from March 2009. On January 19th 2011, Tribune Media Services announced Locher’s retirement and replacement by a new team. That’s where this digital only book begins…

Incredibly versatile artist and inker Joe Staton (E-Man, Mike Mauser, The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, Green Lantern, Legion of Super-Heroes) has been an integral part of American comic books since the early 1970s and in later years made kids comics his metier. During a spectacular run on licensed classic Scooby Doo, he and series scripter Mike Curtis (Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, Shanda the Panda) discovered a mutual love for Dick Tracy and – mostly for their own amusement – created a tribute strip entitled Major Crime Squad.

How that landed them the duty of continuing the ultimate cop’s official adventures is addressed in introductory text feature ‘Publisher’s Note – aka “The Dick Tracy vs. Major Crime Squad Caper”’ by Steve Tippie (VP of Licensing, TMS News & Features, LLC) before a stunning chronological re-presentation of this all-new classic begins

Preceding those comic capers are more text-based insights and revelations: a Foreword by Mike Gold; former sheriff Curtis’ ‘How We Got the Job’ (supplemented by samples done in 2005 when they first tried to take on the strip) and Staton’s ‘Waiting For Dick Tracy’

Next up is a brief visual refresher course of ‘Tracy and His Allies’ and the most nefarious of the repeat offenders in a ‘Rogues Gallery’ before the war on crime resumes in ‘Flyface and the Fifth Return’.

The strip has sadly long passed its heady glory days of mass sales, but that’s more about the death of print periodicals than this material. It still appears in a number of papers and as a potent online presences which means every episode is in full colour, with half-page Sunday strips still offering extras such as the ‘Crimestoppers Textbook’. One welcome addition is full credits so we can thank Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher for their inks, colours and lettering…

The plot sees the long separated traditional squad fully reunited to combat right wing terrorism and gradually reintroduced to the fanciful gadgets and controversial space tech after Tracy’s inventor pal Diet Smith gets in touch. A disgruntled former employee has stolen plans for his energy-beam weapon “Thor’s Hammer”…

After selling it to old lags Flyface and the Fifth – who kidnap officer Lizz Worthington to set a trap for their old nemesis – events spiral out of control, but only the wicked pay the final price this time…

Longtime comedy characters B.O. Plenty and his wife Gravel Gertie resurface, celebrating the birth of their second child – the ugliest boy on earth! – and falling foul of a manipulative foodie TV celebrity who sees a chance to own the airwaves with the stomach-churning infant in ‘Flakey Biscuits Makes the Dough’. Sadly, her bribing gifts to the couple include a shipment of cocaine being secretly couriered by her assistant Hot Rize and soon bodies start dropping as the city’s  top drug lord seeks his missing product. Once Tracy realises what’s what, it’s all over bar the shooting…

‘Doubleup and the Scarlet Sting’ features the making of a movie starring a fictional superhero and how childhood fan and modern-day gangster Doubleup barges in: infiltrating the cast to shakedown the production. Soon he’s too involved and after murdering his girlfriend all that’s left is being caught facing real-world justice…

At this time alternate Sunday extra ‘Tracy’s Hall of Fame’ – celebrating police officers – began, days before an officially deceased and clearly incorrigible arch enemy reappeared in ‘B-B Eyes and Honeymoon’. When Tracy’s adopted son Junior goes undercover to investigate a video piracy ring, the case soon involves the old cop’s granddaughter too, when Honeymoon Tracy tries to help out and almost dies because of her enthusiasm and lack of training. Almost…

With the comics component concluded, there’s more informational extras to enjoy as Curtis offers ‘Dick Tracy vs. the Villains: A Comparison’ and we meet the creators in ‘Joe Staton’s Bio’, ‘Mike Curtis’ Bio’ and ‘Team Tracy Bios’ to end this initial casebook – hopefully the first of many.

Dick Tracy has always been a fantastically readable feature and this potent return to first principles is a terrific way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough Love, Hard Justice world.

Comics just don’t get better than this…
© 2013 TMS News & Features, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Moomins and the Great Flood


By Tove Jansson, translated by David McDuff (Sort Of Books)
ISBN: 978-1-90874-513-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartfelt, Fantastic, Perfect… 10/10

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive with basic primal tools like pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to manifest sublime realms of fascination, whilst her deeply considered dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and practically bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its tight-knit intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom – or immortal kids’ fantasy – as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study (from 1930-1938, at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) she became a successful exhibition artist throughout the troubled Second World War period. She was immensely creative in numerous fields, and began her first novel as war clouds began blighting Europe in 1939. As she recounts in her Preface to the 1991 Scandinavian edition, it soon became too much and she laid it aside. Only once the war was over did she acquiesce to the urgings of friends to complete it.

In 1945 the first fantastic Moomins adventure was published: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningenThe Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood – a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends, all searching for something precious but now lost in the aftermath of a terrible calamity…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 she worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch (of Hitler in nappies) that lampooned the Appeasement policies of British Premier Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II.

She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books, and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929. Moomintroll was her signature character.

Literally.

The lumpy, lanky, gently adventurous big-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in her political works. She called him “Snork”: claiming to have designed him in a fit of pique as a child. He was the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine and a response to losing an argument with her brother about Immanuel Kant.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen: creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Over the years Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a bit clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood didn’t make much of an initial impact but Jansson persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 her second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many critics and commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of impending Nuclear Armageddon. I’m sure we all have some idea what that feels like, these days…

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948’s Finn Family Moomintroll also occasionally seen as The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952, they reaped great acclaim, prompting British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings, pretensions or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature, so she readily accepted the chance to invite her eclectic family into homes across the world.

In 1953, The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which inevitably captivated readers of all ages. Tove’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited brother Lars to help. He took over completely, continuing the feature until its end in 1975, captivating generations of children and adults alike and pushing Jansson’s gentle gang to the forefront of literary universes…

Eventually, after a succession of 9 novels, 5 picture books and that sublime strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera as well as 13 books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001 and her awards are too numerous to mention, but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

Her Moomin strips are now available in many languages – including English – and just waiting for you to enjoy. Expect untrammelled delight and delectation.

Available in hardback and ecologically sound digital editions, The Moomins and the Great Flood was out of print for years in Europe and never translated into English at all until 2005 – published by Schildts of Finland in a 60th anniversary of the series – probably because it’s slightly more sombre than the later tales. This particularly resplendent hardback hails from 2012, published in Britain by Sort Of Books and a charmingly moving little thing it is.

Neither comic strip or graphic novel, but rather a beautifully illustrated picture book, it remains unafraid to be allegorical or scary or sad yet closes with a message of joy and hope and reconciliation. Something else we could all do with…

It begins one day at the end of August as quietly capable Moominmamma and her nervous little son enter the deepest part of the great Forest. They are tired and hungry and have been searching for the longest time for Moominpappa. The big gallant oaf went off adventuring with the crazy wandering Hattifatteners and no one has seen him since. It’s been years…

Soon they are joined by a nervous Little Creature and, after escaping a Great Serpent, meet a blue haired girl named Tulippa who used to live in a flower…

Travelling together, they meet an old gentleman who lives in a tree containing a huge park full of sweets and treats, traverse a terrific abyss in a railway cart and narrowly escape an ant-lion. Persevering, the hopeful party continue their wandering search until encountering a band of Hattifatteners: joining them on their boat just as the skies begin to darken and a vast deluge begins…

The tumultuous voyage search takes all concerned through a world turned upside down by calamity, but eventually leads to a joyous reunion after all the assorted individualistic creatures affected by disaster pull together to survive the inundation and its effects…

Augmented with 14 stunning sepia-wash illustrations and 34 spot-illos in various styles of pen and ink scattered like cartoon confetti throughout the confection, this is a magical lost masterpiece for the young, laced with unfettered imagination, keen observation and mature reflection. It all enhances and elevates a simple kid’s story into a sublime classic of literature. Charming, genteel, amazingly imaginative and emotionally intense, this is a masterpiece of fantasy no one could possibly resist…
Text and illustrations © Tove Jansson 1945, 1991. English translation © David McDuff 2012.

Deitch’s Pictorama


By Kim, Simon & Seth Kallen Deitch (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-560979-52-4 (TPB)

There may be something to this DNA stuff. Eugene Merril “Gene” Deitch (August 8th 1924-April 16th 2020) was a revered, Oscar-winning animator, filmmaker and cartoonist who worked on or created timeless classics like Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Munro, Tom Terrific and Nudnik, whilst his first son Kim has been at the forefront of comics’ avant-garde since the days of the Counter Culture and “underground commix” scene. Kim’s brothers Simon and Seth Kallen have both made their mark in the popular creative arts. Then again, maybe it’s simply growing up exposed to open-minded creativity that makes exemplary artists and artisans…

In this classic collaborative venture the Deitch boys crafted a graphic narrative oddity that is both compelling and utterly captivating. Cunningly combining heavily illustrated prose, comics, calligraphy, illustrative lettering, cartooning and plain old strips, the five tales herein contained blend into a tribute to the versatility of illustrated storytelling in all its variations.

It begins more-or-less traditionally with ‘the Sunshine Girl’: a potent and beguiling paean to bottle caps and the all-consuming collecting bug, promptly followed by intriguing prose-ish fantasy, ‘The Golem’. This salutary account in turn leads into the disturbing ‘Unlikely Hours’, and whimsical shaggy (talking) dog story ‘Children of Aruf’.

Wisely leaving the very best until last, the Picto-fictorial fun concludes with the superbly engaging and informative semi-autobiographical ‘The Cop on the Beat, the Man in the Moon and Me’: a particular treat for anyone interested in the history of comics and popular music.

Naturally I’ve been as vague as I can be, because this is a book that revels and rejoices in storytelling, with half the artistry and all the joy coming from reading it for yourself, so – as long you’re an older reader – you should do just that.
© 2008 Gene, Kim, Seth Kallen and Simon Deitch. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Bogart Creek volume 2


By Derek Evernden (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-390-3 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-397-2

Welcome to September, start of Autumn and notionally a season of mellow fruitfulness. Sod all that though, let’s kick off with some much-needed hearty chuckles, thanks to a second helping of quirkily Canadian observational comedy…

Cartoonist Derek Evernden has a skewed, devious way of looking at the world and its many potentialities; probably the result of growing up in a small, quiet, very pleasant place. Everyone knows early and repeated exposure to that kind of environment twists your brains…

You know that old line about writing/drawing what you know? Evernden grew up in actual Bogart Creek, Ontario, so let’s all hope at least some of this stuff is just made up, right? He’s Canadian, so must be polite and sympathetic, but clearly, he’s also the other sort of Canadian: someone with a lot to laugh at, plenty of time to take notice and probably perfused with that slow-burning, ever-mounting rage everyone gracious and well-mannered has boiling inside, because of the nonsense the rest of us get up to…

Bogart Creek is a daily single panel gag delivered in a variety of artistic styles; viewing the world – especially popular culture – with a mordant, cruelly satirical eye. It deftly delivers charmingly rendered and seditious examples of how reality actually operates, through popular themes like murder, philosophy, crime, history, vengeance, psychiatry, cryptozoology and the natural world. Think of it as a school for smirking realists…

Like all of us, Evernden is a child of mass-culture, inspired by movies, fashion, sports, popular culture, the media and anything else passing strangers might discuss at a water cooler or bus stop in deference to social convention…

The strip is also hopelessly mired in painful punning on a mega “dad-joke” scale; absurdist revelation and surreal slapstick. The creator has mastered the art of wedding funny notions to effective dialogue and efficient, smart cartooning. Evernden proudly admits his debt to and influence of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, but he can’t keep blaming that poor guy for all of this new stuff in this second collection of infectious, debased hilarity…

On prominent display here are monochrome and full-colour japes and jests concerning home-schooled surgeons, morgue sports, school days, lab animals, manufacturing and the job market, animal amusements, protesting, historical moments, fat-shaming, driving, monsters, inventors, bucket lists and Christmas. There’s also a frighteningly large number of gags aimed at (and scoring palpable hits on) superhero, sci fi and horror movies, balanced by a delightful concentration on the sheer arbitrary lunacy of modern life…

Smart, inventive, cruelly witty, instantly addictive and cheekily outrageous, this is a collection (in paperback or digital editions) to restore any weary adult in need of tension release and a therapeutic schadenfreude. We’ve all been proverbially up the creek before, but at least now you have a jolly tome to paddle back to reality with.
Cover illustration, book design and cartoons all © 2020 Derek Evernden. All rights reserved.

 

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant volume 13: 1961-1962


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-925-7 (HB)

Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur premiered on Sunday February 13th 1937: a fabulous rainbow-colour weekly peek into a world where history met myth to produce something greater than both. Pioneering comics creator Hal Foster developed the feature after a groundbreaking and astoundingly popular run on the Tarzan of the Apes strip.

Prince Valiant offered action, adventure, exoticism, romance and a surprisingly high quota of laughs in its engrossing depiction of noble knights and wicked barbarians played out against a glamorised, dramatized Dark Ages backdrop. The never-ending story follows a refugee lad of royal blood, driven from ancestral Scandinavian homeland Thule who grows up to roam the world, attaining a paramount position amongst the fabled heroes of Camelot.

Foster wove his complex epic romance over decades, tracing the progress of a feral wild boy who became a paragon of chivalric virtue: knight, warrior, saviour, avenger and ultimately family patriarch through a constant storm of wild, robust and joyously witty wonderment. The restless champion visited many far-flung lands, siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes, enchanting generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

The glorious epic spawned films, an animated series and all manner of toys, games, books and collections. Prince Valiant was – and remains – one of the few adventure strips to have run continuously from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (more than 4000 episodes and still going strong) – and, even here at the end-times of newspaper strips as an art form, it continues in more than 300 American papers and via the internet.

Foster soloed on the feature until 1971 when John Cullen Murphy (Big Ben Bolt) succeeded him as illustrator whilst the originator remained as writer and designer. That ended in 1980, when he finally retired and Cullen Murphy’s daughter Mairead took over colouring and lettering whilst her brother John assumed the writer’s role.

In 2004 the senior Cullen Murphy also retired, since when the strip has soldiered on under the auspices of other extremely talented artists such as Gary Gianni, Scott Roberts and latterly Thomas Yeates & Mark Schultz.

This luxuriously oversized (362 x 264 mm) full-colour hardback (tragically, the series is still unavailable digitally) re-presents pages spanning January 1st 1961 to 30th December 1962 (individual pages #1247-1351) and comes with all the regular bonus trimmings. This time, renowned illustrator and storymaker Charles Vess (The Book of Ballads and Sagas; The Sandman; Spider-Man: Spirits of the Earth; Stardust; The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition) discusses and critically appraises his creative roots and the influential role of the strip – including his own contributions – in the Foreword ‘We Are All the Sum of the Stories We Have Been Told’, after which the illuminated wonders resume.

At the other end of this titanic tome Brian M. Kane continues plumbing the master draughtsman’s commercial endeavours with a lavish exhibition of stunning colour and monochrome illustrations highlighting the acme of domestic luxury available to well-heeled customers in ‘Hal Foster’s Advertising Art: Home and Hearth’. Captivating as they are though, the real wonderment is, as ever, the unfolding epic that precedes them…

What Has Gone Before: After a ceaseless session of troubleshooting for King Arthur, and with his long-suffering wife Aleta increasingly aggrieved at Valiant’s wanderlust and neglect, tensions boil over in the apartments of the Prince of Thule, Valiant again leads a Royal Quest: perhaps the most crucial in Camelot’s troubled history…

The Knights of the Round Table have become obsessed with the search for the Holy Grail. Arthur, agonised as his best and bravest are lost or maimed in search of it, charges Val with proving once and for all whether the story of the sacred cup is fact or myth…

The search takes Val the length and breadth of the nation, eventually brings him to the Mendip hills in search of the isle of Avalon. At the Great Tor and Glastonbury, he finds a Papal mission from Rome building a cathedral, and meets again an old acquaintance from Ireland. St. Patrick happy shares all he knows about the Holy Grail and the questor at last realises what he must tell Arthur…

Returning to Camelot, he embraces every opportunity to fight and delay attempts to reconcile with Aleta. A brief and brutal war almost costs the prince his life, but finally bring him and Aleta together again, and the family decide to return to Thule for his recuperation. With son Arn in tow, the entire clan head for Aleta’s ancestral kingdom in the Misty Isles, escorted by Viking reiver Boltar to shield them from Mediterranean pirates and brigands…

At their destination, rival ruler Thrasos has resolved to add Aleta’s islands to his growing empire, but has never encountered as savvy a strategist as Aleta or canny tacticians like Valiant and Boltar. His dreams of a Mediterranean empire explosively founder against the devious ploys and armed might of the northern warriors, and he perishes in a cataclysmic last battle…

Now, having barely survived the elemental duel, the exhausted prince learns that Aleta too has barely escaped death, and that he is now the father of four! As the parents recover slowly together, focus shifts to Arn and his commoner pals Paul and Diane, whose idyllic beach frolics are shattered when prisoners of war from Thrasos’ crushed army escape abduct them. Fleeing out to sea, the rogues plan on ransoming the royal heir, and selling the other children…

Quickly discovering the crime, Valiant pursues in the speedy vessel of viking Gundar Harl, but is almost too late as his capable son has already escaped and plots to save his comrades from a slavers’ auction block. When a greedy local governor seeks to exploit the little princeling, he falters as soon as the elder Valiant arrives with blood in his eye and the Singing Sword in his mailed fist…

With peace and quiet abundant, the Misty Isles welcome many ambassadors and prepare to ceremonially christen the new addition, granting Val time to spend with Arn, but that ends when a shipwreck washes up pilgrims heading for the Holy Land. Duty-bound to offer aid, and eager to promote the produce and wares of his island home, Valiant ships out beside them, taking his firstborn too. Arn’s days of childhood indolence are over and the time has come time to learn his place in the world…

Arriving in Jaffa, father and son proceed to the Dead Sea, acquiring a manservant/body-slave named Ohmed, and extending their commercial embassage and religious tour into Damascus where they hire wily, canny – and ultimately, dishonest – Greek Nicilos to manage the trade side of their mission. Their odd caravan is finally bolstered in Baghdad by the addition of a Mongol outcast: a warrior woman skilled in handling horses. Despite the constant strife and many close calls that has marked all the players in their recent journeys alone and together, Taloon will inadvertently spark envy, chaos and the bloody end of the alliance…

Eventually, the pilgrimage ends in Aleppo where Boltar waits to ferry father and son back to a recovered and much wealthier Aleta. A brief period of glorious relaxation ends when a knight near death arrives, carrying a desperate plea from King Arthur. Gaul is besieged by Goth hordes, and safe passage across Europe has ended. England’s ruler needs his greatest hero to be his representative to the Pope and end the crisis…

Aleta heads for Albion to secure a sea route, while Valiant and Arn perilously trek overland from Ostia to Rome, finding the city and province a corrupt and degraded viper’s nest of self-serving officials keeping him from the Pontiff. Eventually, Val accepts his mission cannot succeed, but at least young Arn adds fleeting escape and joy to the life of a dying blind girl…

Undaunted, Valiant turns his energies and ingenuity to creating an alternative trade route between the Holy Father and still-imperilled Christian Britain: visiting the future Spain and France and encountering a lost land where monks seem to be guarded by monsters.

The bedevilled region is a hidden bulwark against the superstitious Goths, and introduces the English warriors to a doughty but distressed noble from neighbouring Aqueloen, where Stephan has been disinherited by sadistic usurper Duke Sadonick. The greedy villain’s machinations and bloody intentions for the princely travellers quickly falls foul of Val battle-savvy and political acumen and soon the province welcomes back Stephan as its rightful ruler…

Meanwhile, Aleta’s ships are anchored in the Bay of Biscay. While awaiting her men’s arrival the Queen strikes up a friendship with an otter, accidentally donating a crown jewel to the beast’s campaign to secure his own mate, but at last Valiant and Arn ride up, and a grand trade armada forms a convoy to embattled Britain…

With material needs assuaged, a fresh crisis mounts after a stopover at a monastery unleashes a charismatic iconoclast whose revolutionary spin on Christian doctrine furiously foments civic unrest, starvation and potential regime-change. When Arthur despatches newly-debarked Valiant to investigate, the troubleshooter must first decide if Wojan “the Voice” is a true instrument of God, a well-meaning anarchist or a simple dupe of his scurrilous scholar attendants/business managers Sleath and Dustad

As the near-insurrection ends, bored Aleta decides to join her husband and takes Arn with her. They reunite at the site of a new church under construction, not far from the fens where the boy Valiant grew up. The lure of his sire’s old adventures beguiles Arn, who takes off to explore the boggy waterways and is soon hopelessly lost. In the week that follows, he experiences many of the same privations and perils his father had, before Valiant finds him.

However, as they all thankfully take ship to comfortably return to Camelot, the Royal Family are unaware that greedy, ambitious eyes are watching…

To Be Continued…

A mind-blowing panorama of visual passion and precision, Prince Valiant is a tremendous procession of boisterous action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending epic fantasy with dry wit and broad humour, soap opera melodrama with shatteringly dark violence.

Lush, lavish and captivating lovely, it is an indisputable landmark of comics fiction and something no fan should miss.
© 2016 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2016 their respective creators or holders. This edition © 2016 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies volume 1 1936-1937


By Lee Falk & Ray Moore: introduction by Ron Goulart (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-932563-41-5 (HB)

There are plenty of comics-significant anniversaries this year, and this guy is probably right at the top of the birthday cake.

For such a long-lived, influential series, in terms of compendia or graphic novel collections, The Phantom has been very poorly served by the English language market (except in Australia where he has always been accorded the status of a pop culture god).

Numerous companies have sought 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. At least the former issue began to be rectified with this initial curated collection from Archival specialists Hermes Press…

This particular edition is a lovely large hardback (albeit also available in digital formats), printed in landscape format, displaying two days strip per page in black and white with ancillary features and articles in dazzling colour where required.

Born Leon Harrison Gross, Lee Falk created the Jungle Avenger at the request of his King Features 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 champion in comics, The Phantom became the prototype paladin to wear a skin-tight body-stocking and the first to have a mask with opaque eye-slits…

The Ghost Who Walks debuted on February 17th 1936 in an extended sequence pitting him against an ancient global confederation of pirates. Falk wrote and drew the daily strip for the first two weeks before handing over illustration to artist Ray Moore. A spectacular and hugely influential Sunday feature began in May 1939.

In a text feature stuffed with sumptuous visual goodies like movie posters; covers for comics, Feature and Little Big Books plus merchandise, Ron Goulart’s eruditely enticing ‘Introduction: Enter the Ghost Who Walks’ tells all you need to know about the character’s creation before the vintage magic begins with ‘Chapter 1: The Singh Brotherhood’.

American adventurer Diane Palmer returns to the USA by sea, carrying a most valuable secret making her the target of mobsters, society ne’er-do-wells and exotic cultists. Thankfully, she seems to have an enigmatic guardian angel who calls himself  “the Phantom”…

As successive attacks and assaults endanger the dashing debutante, she learns that an ancient brotherhood of ruthless piratical thieves wants her secret, but that they have been opposed for centuries by one man…

Kidnapped and held hostage at the bottom of the sea, she is saved by the mystery man who falls in love and eventually shares his incredible history with her…

In the 17th century a British sailor survived an attack by pirates, and – washing ashore on the African coast – swore on the skull of his murdered father to dedicate his life and that of 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 war against injustice 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. And he’s looking to propagate the line…

In the meantime, however, there’s the slight problem of Emperor of Evil Kabai Singh and his superstitious armies to deal with…

‘Chapter 2: The Sky Band’ (originally published from 9th November 1936 to April 10th 1937) finds the mystery avenger caught in love’s old game as a potential rival for Diana’s affections materialises in the rather stuffy form of career soldier Captain Meville Horton – an honourable man who sadly knows when he’s outmatched, unwanted and in the way. Mistakenly determined to do the right thing too, The Phantom concentrates on destroying a squadron of thieving aviators targeting the burgeoning sky clipper trade: airborne bandits raiding passenger planes and airships throughout the orient.

His initial efforts lead to the Phantom’s arrest: implicated in the sky pirates’ crimes, before escaping from police custody with the aid of his devoted pygmy witch doctor Guran and faithful Bandar tribe allies, he’s soon hot on the trail of the real mastermind…

On infiltrating their base, he discovers the airborne brigands are all women, and that his manly charms have driven a lethal wedge between the deadly commander and her ambitious second in command Sala

A patient plaything of the manic Baroness, The Phantom eventually turns the tide not by force but by exerting his masculine wiles upon the hot-blooded – if psychopathic – harridan, unaware until too late that his own beloved, true-blue Diana is watching. When she sets a trap for the Sky Band, it triggers civil war in the gang, a brutal clash with the British military and the seemingly end of our hero, triggering Diana’s despondent decision to return alone to America…

‘Chapter 3: The Diamond Hunters’ opened on April 12th 1936 and revealed how the best laid plans can go awry…

In Llongo territory, white prospectors Smiley and Hill unearth rich diamond fields but cannot convince or induce local tribes to grant them mineral rights to the gems they consider worthless. Like most native Africans, they are content to live comfortably under the “Phantom’s Peace” and it takes all the miners’ guile – including kidnapping a neighbouring chief’s daughter and framing the Llongo; gunrunning and claiming the Ghost Who Walks has died – to set the natives at each other’s throats. Recovering from wounds, the Phantom is slow to act, but when he does his actions are decisive and unforgettable…

With the plot foiled and peace restored, Smiley flees, only to encounter a returned Diana who has acted on news that her man still lives. Seeing a chance for revenge and profit, Smiley kidnaps “the Phantom’s girl”; provoking his being shunned by all who live in the region, a deadly pursuit and a spectacular last-minute rescue. Smiley’s biggest and last mistake is reaching the coast and joining up with a band of seagoing pirates…

At least he is the catalyst for Diana and The Ghost finally addressing their romantic issues….

To Be Continued…

‘Afterword: For Those Who Came in Late…’ then sees editor Ed Rhoades offer his own thoughts on the strip’s achievements and accomplishments.

Stuffed with chases, assorted fights, torture, blood & thunder antics, daredevil stunts and many a misapprehension – police and government authorities clearly having a hard time believing a pistol-packing masked man with a pet wolf might not be a bad egg – this a pure gripping excitement that still packs a punch and quite a few sly laughs. …

© 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc.: ® Hearst Holdings, Inc.; reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Dick Tracy: The Collins Casefiles volume 1


By Max Allan Collins & Rick Fletcher (Checker Books)
ISBN: 978-0-97416-642-1 (TPB)

Time for another anniversary celebration. Here’s a superb collection crying out for revival in either physical or digital forms. Time to agitate against the publishing powers-that-be, I think…

All in all, comics have a pretty good track record for creating household names. We could play the game of picking the most well-known fictional characters on Earth – usually topped by Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman and Tarzan – and supplement the list with Popeye, Blondie, Charlie Brown, Tintin, Spider-Man, Garfield, and – not so much now, but once definitely – Dick Tracy

At the height of the Great Depression cartoonist Chester Gould sought fresh strip ideas. The story goes that as a decent guy incensed by the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone – who monopolised the front pages of contemporary newspapers – the scribbler settled upon the only way a normal man could fight thugs: Passion and Public Opinion…

Raised in Oklahoma, Gould was a Chicago resident and hated seeing his home town in the grip of such wicked men, with far too many honest citizens beguiled by the gangsters’ charisma. He decided to pictorially get it off his chest with a procedural crime thriller that championed the ordinary cops who protected civilisation.

He took his proposal – “Plainclothes Tracy” – to legendary newspaperman and strips Svengali Captain Joseph Patterson, whose golden touch had already blessed strips like The Gumps, Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, Winnie Winkle,Smilin’ Jack, Moon Mullins and Terry and the Pirates among others. Casting his gifted eye on the work, Patterson renamed the hero Dick Tracy, also revising his love interest into steady, steadfast girlfriend Tess Truehart.

The series launched on October 4th 1931 through Patterson’s Chicago Tribune Syndicate and quickly grew into a monumental hit, with all the attendant media and merchandising hoopla that follows. Amidst toys, games, movies, serials, animated features, TV shows et al, the strip soldiered on, influencing generations of creators and entertaining millions of fans. Gould unfailingly wrote and drew the strip for decades until retirement in 1977.

The legendary lawman was a landmark creation who influenced not simply comics but the entirety of American popular fiction. Its signature use of baroque villains, outrageous crimes and fiendish death-traps pollinated the work of numerous strips (most notably Batman), shows and movies since then, whilst the indomitable Tracy’s studied, measured use – and startlingly accurate predictions – of crimefighting technology and techniques gave the world a taste of cop thrillers, police procedurals and forensic mysteries such as CSI decades before the current fascination took hold.

As with many creators in it for the long haul, the revolutionary 1960s were a harsh time for established cartoonists. Along with Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon, Gould’s grizzled gangbuster especially foundered in a social climate of radical change where popular slogans included “Never trust anybody over 21” and “Smash the Establishment”.

The strip’s momentum faltered, perhaps as much from the move towards science fiction (Tracy moved into space and the character Moon Maid was introduced) and even more improbable, Bond-movie style villains as any perceived “old-fashioned” attitudes. Even the introduction of more minority and women characters and hippie cop Groovy Groovecouldn’t stop the rot. However, the feature soldiered on regardless…

Max Allen Collins is a hugely prolific and best-selling author of both graphic novels (Road to Perdition, CSI, Mike Mist, Ms. Tree) and prose thriller series featuring crime-creations Nathan Heller, Quarry, Nolan, Mallory, Krista Larson and a veritable pantheon of others. When Gould retired from the Tracy strip, the young author (nearly 30!) won the prestigious role as scripter, promptly taking the series back to its roots for a breathtaking 11-year run, ably assisted by Gould as consultant even as his chief artistic assistant Rick Fletcher was promoted to full illustrator.

This criminally scarce but splendidly enthralling monochrome paperback compilation opens with publisher Mark Thompson’s informative Introduction ‘Flatfoot’, and offers a frankly startling ‘Dick Tracy Timeline’ listing the series achievements and innovations from 1931 to 1988 even before the captivating Cops-&-Robbers clashes recommence with Collin’s inaugural adventure.

Angeltop’s Last Stand’ (3rd January-March 12th 1978) rapidly sidelined all the fantastical science fiction trappings (Tracy’s adopted son Junior had previously married lunar princess Moon Maid) whilst reviving grittily ultra-violent suspense as old friend Vitamin Flintheart is targeted for assassination.

With the senior detective’s assistants Sam Catchem and Lizz Worthington on the case, it’s soon clear the assault is part of a plan to make Tracy suffer. Solid investigation turns up two suspects, relatives of old – and expired – enemies Flattop Jonesand The Brow confirming familial revenge is the motive…

Sadly, the Police Department’s resources are inadequate to prevent aggrieved daughter Angeltop Jones and the new Browfrom abducting Tracy. Tragically for the vengeful felons, the grizzled crimebuster might be old but he’s still inventive and indomitable, and a cataclysmic confrontation leads to a fatal conflagration at the place of Flattop’s demise…

The next tale features an original Gould villain making a surprise comeback in the ‘Return of Haf-and-Haf’ (March 13th-June 11th) as maniac murderer Tulza Tuzon – whose left profile had been hideously scarred with acid – is released from the asylum, rehabilitated by modern psychology and groundbreaking plastic surgery…

Of course, only his face was fixed and the fiend quickly tries to murder ex-fiancée Zelda – who had betrayed him to the cops a decade previously. Tracy is on hand to save her life but unable to prevent her from enacting grisly retribution on her attacker, leaving Tuzon woefully in need of fresh cosmetic repair.

The unscrupulous surgeon who fixed him on the State’s dime wants a huge amount of clandestine cash to repeat the procedure and the stage is soon set for doom and tragedy on a Shakespearean scale…

This first Collins collection concludes with an epic minor classic that harked back to Tracy’s first published case. ‘Big Boy’s Revenge’ – AKA ‘Big Boy’s Open Contract’ – ran from 12th June 1978 to January 2nd 1979) detailing the unexpected return of the thinly-disguised Al Capone analogue Tracy had sent to prison at the very start of his career.

Decades later Big Boy, still a member of the crime syndicate known as The Apparatus, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and wants to take with him the cop first who brought him down…

Ignoring and indeed eventually warring with the other Apparatus chiefs, the dying Don puts a $1,000,000 contract on Tracy’s head and lies back to watch the fireworks as a horde of hitmen and women zero in on the blithely unaware Senior Detective…

The resulting collateral damage costs the hero one of his nearest and dearest, removes most of the strip’s accumulated sci fi trappings and firmly resets the scenario in the grim and gritty world of contemporary crime. The Good Guys triumph in the end but the cost is shockingly high for a family strip…

Dick Tracy has always been a fantastically readable feature and this potent return to first principles is a terrific way to ease yourself into his stark, no-nonsense, Tough-Love, Hard Justice world.

Comics just don’t get better than this…
© Checker Book Publishing Group 2003, an authorized collection of works © Tribune Media Services, 1978, 1979. All characters and distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of Tribune Media Services. All rights reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 6: 1961-1962


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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