Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge: Back to the Klondike – Gladstone Comic Album #4


By Carl Barks (Gladstone)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-902-0

From the late 1940’s until the mid-1960s Carl Barks worked in productive seclusion writing and drawing a vast array of comedic adventure yarns for kids, creating a Duck Universe of memorable – and highly bankable – characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), The Beagle Boys (1951), Gyro Gearloose (1952) and Magica De Spell (1961) to augment the stable of cartoon actors from the Disney Studio.

His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the star of this show.

So potent were his creations that they fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for licensing publisher Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio.

Throughout this period, Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s cartoon and comicbook output), had been singled out by a rabid and discerning public as being by “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, his belated celebrity began.

Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney comics strips – in the 1980s and kept on going until 2008. Since then cultural saviours Fantagraphics have begun reprinting all the Barks material in a series of snazzy hardcover compilations. Once they’ve done that I’ll start reviewing those but until then this still readily available paperback album is one of the very best you can still find…

Whilst producing all that landmark innovative material Barks was just a working guy, generating covers, illustrating other people’s scripts when necessary and contributing story and/or art to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore.

This album is printed in the large European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) and features one of the best tales Barks ever told.

It’s taken from Four Color Comics #456 (September 1952 and technically the second full story to star the multimillionaire mallard). To further confuse matters, the Byzantine numbering system used by Dell also lists this issue as Uncle Scrooge #2.

‘Back to the Klondike’ is a rip-roaring yet deeply moving yarn, a brilliant comedy and even a bittersweet romance, which added huge depth to the character of the World’s Richest Duck, even whilst reiterating the superficial peccadilloes that make him such a memorable and engaging star.

Scrooge McDuck is old and getting forgetful: he can’t recall how much money he has seconds after he’s finished counting it, nor even where his traps to locate it are hidden. After one too many close shaves he finally shells out for a doctor who diagnoses “Blinkus of the Thinkus” and prescribes some pills to restore his scrupulous memory.

They work! Recalling a gold-strike he made 50 years previously, the old miser drags Donald Duck and his nephews to the Far North to recover the precious hoard cached and forgotten five decades ago, but as the journey progresses he also recalls the rough, tough life of a prospector and the saloon-girl who tried to cheat him of his find: Glittering Goldie O’Gilt

This superb yarn tells you everything you could ever need about the irascible oligarch. It’s the perfect character tale and rattles along like an express train, sad, happy, thrilling and funny by turns, and it’s supplemented in this book with a classic Gyro Gearloose tale from 1960.

‘Cave of the Winds’ is taken from Four Color Comics #1095, and finds Scrooge consulting the fabulously off-kilter feathered inventor on a perfect hiding place for the ever-increasing McDuck cash cache. The answer, sadly, is far from satisfactory…

The cartoon convolutions conclude with a short and punchy untitled tale from Uncle Scrooge #8 (1954) which has Scrooge run for City Treasurer – but without spending any money on expenses (or anything else)…

No matter what your age or temperament, if you’ve never experienced the captivating Carl Barks magic, you can discover “the Hans Christian Andersen of Comics” simply by applying yourself and your own purchasing power to any search engine. The rewards are there for the finding and far more valuable than mere money…
© 1987, 1960, 1954, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Mac Raboy’s Flash Gordon: Volume 1 Sunday Strips from 1948-1953


By Don Moore & Mac Raboy (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-882-7

By most lights Flash Gordon is the most influential comic strip in the world. When the hero debuted on Sunday January 7th 1934 (with the superb Jungle Jim running as a supplementary “topper” strip) as an answer to the revolutionary, inspirational, but quirkily clunky Buck Rogers by Philip Nolan and Dick Calkins (which also began on January 7th, but in 1929) two new elements were added to the wonderment; Classical Lyricism and poetic dynamism. It became a weekly invitation to stunning exotic glamour and astonishing beauty.

Where Rogers blended traditional adventure and high science concepts, Flash Gordon reinterpreted fairy tales, heroic epics and mythology, spectacularly draping them in the trappings of the contemporary future, with varying ‘Rays’, ‘Engines’ and ‘Motors’ substituting for trusty swords and lances – although there were also plenty of those – and exotic craft and contraptions standing in for galleons, chariots and magic carpets. It was a narrative trick that kept the far-fetched satisfactorily familiar – and was continued by Raboy and Moore in their run. Look closely and you’ll see cowboys, gangsters and of course, flying saucer fetishes adding contemporary flourish to the fanciful fables in this volume…

Most important of all, the sheer artistic talent of Raymond, his compositional skills, fine line-work, eye for unmuddled detail and just plain genius for drawing beautiful people and things, swiftly made this the strip that all young artists swiped from.

When all-original comic books began a few years later, literally dozens of talented kids used the clean-lined Romanticism of Gordon as their model and ticket to future success in the field of adventure strips. Almost all the others went with Milton Caniff’s expressionistic masterpiece Terry and the Pirates (and to see one of his better disciples check out Beyond Mars, illustrated by the wonderful Lee Elias).

Flash Gordon began on present-day Earth (which was 1934, remember?) with a rogue planet about to smash the World. As global panic ensued, polo player Flash and fellow passenger Dale Arden narrowly escaped disaster when a meteor fragment downed their airliner. They landed on the estate of tormented genius Dr. Hans Zarkov, who imprisoned them in the rocket-ship he had built.

His plan? To fly the ship directly at the astral invader and deflect it from Earth by crashing into it…!

Thus began a decade of sheer escapist magic in a Ruritanian Neverland: a blend of Camelot, Oz and every fabled paradise that promised paradise yet concealed hidden vipers, ogres and demons, all cloaked in a glimmering sheen of sleek futurism. Worthy adversaries such as utterly evil but magnetic Ming, emperor of the fantastic wandering planet; myriad exotic races and shattering conflicts offered a fantastic alternative to drab and dangerous reality for millions of avid readers around the world.

Alex Raymond’s ‘On the Planet Mongo’ with Don Moore doing the bulk of the scripting, ran every Sunday until 1944, when the artist joined the Marines. On his return he eschewed wild imaginings for sober reality and created the gentleman detective serial Rip Kirby. The continuous, unmissable weekly appointment with sheer wonderment, continued under the artistic auspices of Austin Briggs – who had drawn the daily black and white instalments since 1940.

In 1948, eight years after beginning his career drawing for the Harry A. Chesler production “shop” comicbook artist Emanual “Mac” Raboy took over the illustration of the Sunday page. Moore remained as scripter and began co-writing with the artist.

Raboy’s sleek, fine-line brush style, heavily influenced by his idol Raymond, had made his work on Captain Marvel Jr., Kid Eternity and the especially Green Lama a benchmark of artistic quality in the proliferating superhero genre. His seemingly inevitable assumption of the extraordinary exploits led to a renaissance of the strip and in the rapidly evolving post-war world Flash Gordon became once more a benchmark of timeless, escapist quality that only Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant could touch.

This first 260 page volume, produced in landscape format and printed in bold stark monochrome (although one or two strips appear to have been scanned from printed colour copies) covers the period January 8th 1948 to May 10th 1953 and opens with Flash as President of Mongo when Slyk, a refugee from the believed-uninhabited moon of Lunita, arrives. Beseeching assistance to liberate his world from the tyrannical depredations of the wicked siblings Rudo and Lura, the Lunite accompanies Flash, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov to his hidden moon where the heroes are soon captured before Slyk saves the day.

This short transitional tale set up an unfailingly popular formula of nightmarish beasts, distressed damsels and outrageous adventure that would last until Raboy’s death in 1967.

Returning to Mongo Flash and Co. discovered a red comet hurtling towards that fabulous world. Whilst trying to deflect it they become trapped by the civilisation who inhabit its interior, creatures to whom gravity is but a toy… Once more romance, intrigue and beautifully depicted action were the order of many days until the trio toppled the masters and placed far more agreeable rulers in charge, saving their adopted world and the greater universe.

The saga lasted until June of 1949 and was promptly followed by a stunning undersea odyssey as a brief trip to Mongo’s beaches led Flash and Dale into murky waters when they rescued captivating Merma from monstrous sub-sea marauder Sharki and became enmeshed in a watery range-war and tricky romantic quadrangle involving hidden kingdoms, scaly savages and outrageous leviathans and sea-beasts.

It was off to the frozen principality of Polaria next where ambitious Prince Polon was covering up a plague of giant monsters preying on the people. Of course the scurvy villain was behind the plot, using size-shifting rays and his ultimate aim was to become dictator of all Mongo…

The scheme obviously gave other regional rulers ideas. No sooner did President Flash return than he was off again to the Tropix Islands where “Queen” Rubia had fomented rebellion and seceded from the democratic federation of Mongo States. Hands-on Flash went undercover with Dale in an Arabian adventure to rival Sinbad’s greatest: before the people were liberated and the despots destroyed there was a panoply of spectacular action and fantastic creatures to survive…

Rubia, defeated, was dispatched to the prison moon Exilia, but all was not right on that grim penal colony. Once more surreptitiously investigating our hero discovered that villains had taken over the penal-planet and were preparing to attack civilized Mongo. Luckily Rubia and criminal mastermind Zin believed Flash to be his own double, dispatched to Exilia for impersonating the President – but they’re were not fooled for long…

This awesome extended epic ran from 6th March to November 5th 1950 and was followed by a proposed change-of-pace as Flash and Dale took off for a much-needed vacation on Earth. Unfortunately ever-malicious Rubia sabotaged their ship and they crash-landed on the unexplored Planet Zeta. It surely came as no surprise to fans when they discovered another beautifully barbarous lost civilisation there…

Zeta was a world of colossal plants and feudal warriors, but hid a dangerous secret. Something in the environment consumed metal. Within minutes Flash and Dale saw their ship and weapons melt away… Befriended instead of attacked the castaways found the inhabitants lived on a world seemingly immune to technological advancement, controlled by “wizards” who soon decided that Flash was a threat…

Flash discovers the metal-eating plague was artificial and helped the Zetans rebel and they helped him construct a new ship. Once more en route for Earth Flash and Dale encountered a stranger meteor, but without further mishap arrived safely. On March 25th 1951 (17 years and some months after they departed) two of earth’s first star-travellers finally returned to their birthworld and were feted like royalty. Sadly they should have paid closer attention to that vagrant space-rock as soon, Earth was under attack by strategically aimed meteors.

With Einsteinish Professor Brite in tow, Flash and Dale tracked the attacks to the Moon where they met beetle-men and human dictator Rak who planned to conquer Earth with his lunar meteor gun. He had never encountered a man like Flash Gordon before…

With Rak’s threat ended Flash helped Earth build a sentinel Space Platform, but when he, Dale, engineer Dr. Ruff and his annoying niece Ginger began work 1000 miles up they clashed with a strange race of flying saucer-riding space gnomes from Mars…

At this time Mars clearly preferred, if not actually needed, Earth women and with Dale and Ginger abducted, another sterling romp ensued. Flash outfoxed the malign gnome-king Toxo before subsequently leading a full expedition to the Red planet where he discovered another advanced feudal civilisation and that Martian women – or at least their Queen, Menta – had no worries, looks-wise…

Menta was however, a spoiled and murderous psychopath determined to conquer Earth…

This epic ran until February 24th 1952, whereupon Flash returned to Earth to discover his homeworld gripped in a new Ice Age. Jetting to the Arctic the good guys found Frost Giants from Saturn (the fifth moon Rhea to be exact) and that the big Freeze was artificially induced. Although he destroyed their forward base the Giants dragged Flash back to Rhea and inadvertently introduced human smallpox into their population…

Earth commander “Icy” Stark abandoned Dale after a space battle but Flash, with new Rhean allies rescued her and once more led a hostage society to overthrow its unfit rulers. On the return to Earth the fleet encountered a guided comet and met a new foe in Pyron the Comet Master.

Reunited with Dr. Zarkov the heroes battled the demented scientist’s horrendous creatures, saving Earth from flaming doom but were catapulted helplessly to the surface of enigmatic Venus for the last complete adventure in this stellar collection.

Not only is our solar system teeming with unsuspected life, but it appeared most of it was ruled by complete sods, as Flash, Dale and Zarkov battled winged tree-men, swamp horrors and the nefarious overlord Stang, enduring staggering hardship and hazard before crushing the tyrant and freeing two separate races from terror.

With a new ship, the far-flung travellers set off for Earth but were forced to land on the Moon where a secret human base had been established. For unknown reasons Dr. Stella and her thuggish aide Marc detained and delayed them, but when an increasing number of close shaves and mysterious accidents occurred, a little digging revealed that they were the unwitting guests of ruthless space pirates…

As is probably fitting for one of the world’s greatest continuity strips this first volume ends on a gripping cliffhanger, but with so much incredible action, drawn with such magnificent style there’s no way any fan of classic adventure can possibly feel short-changed

Mac Raboy was the last of the Golden Age of romanticist illustrators, but his lush and lavish flowing adoration of the perfected human form was already fading from popular taste. The Daily feature at this time had already switched to the solid, chunky, He-manly, burly realism of Dan Barry and even Frank Frazetta. Here, however, at least the last outpost of beautiful elegant heroism and gracefully pretty perils prevail, thanks to these Dark Horse volumes which you can visit just as often as Flash and Dale popped between planets…
© 2003 King Features Syndicate Inc. ™ Hearst Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Tintin in America


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-802-4 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-614-3 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi, known the world over as Hergé, began the boy-hero’s third adventure Tintin in America (which ran from 1931-1932), he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer. Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of broad comedy and seemingly directionless, action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, his ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative was still developing.

Georges Prosper Remi 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 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 dedicated boy-scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine.

By 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was 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.

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and 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…

Following directly on from Tintin in the Congo the valiant juvenile journalist heads for Chicago to sort out the gangster Al Capone, whose diamond smuggling enterprise he had inadvertently scotched whilst in Africa. However, Capone and his hoods are ready and waiting…

Thwarting the plots and schemes of the legendary gangster make for thrilling, uproarious reading, full of chases, fights and hairsbreadth escapes, but events take a darker turn – and broad detour – once Capone’s biggest rival Bobby Smiles enters the picture.

Head of the Gangsters Syndicate of Chicago, Smiles first tries to buy Tintin off and, when he is furiously rebuffed, tries repeatedly to have the nosy, crime-busting reporter killed.

Setting a trap with the police, Tintin smashes the GSC and chases Smiles out west to Redskin City, only to fall foul of a tribe of Indians the mobster has hoodwinked into attacking the indomitable lad.

Hergé had a life-long fascination with the American West, and it featured in many of his works (such as Tim the Squirrel and Popol Out West). It’s also clear that he watched a lot of movies, as many signature Western set-pieces are adapted to strip format as Tintin and Snowy hunt Smiles – a thrilling pursuit involving railroad chases, dynamite sabotage, a prairie wildfire and even tying our heroes to the tracks before the boy and his dog finally capture the desperate thug.

Returning to Chicago, Tintin is once more the target of the remaining criminal gangs, but they prove no match for his resourceful ingenuity, and the brave Belgian leaves America a better, cleaner place…

With this somewhat long and rambling series of exploits – still not quite a cohesive narrative – Hergé begins to pepper the instalments with sly, dry social commentary, beginning the process of sophisticating the stories. He also adds satire to the breakneck slapstick – an acknowledgement that adults, too, were devout fans and followers of the strip.

The comedy of such moments as the rush of speculators when oil is found on the Indian Reservation, or the inept way in which cowboys try to lynch Tintin and Snowy (is that PC these days? – Can’t decide, but it is still awfully funny), is graphically interesting, but surely aimed at a more worldly and cynical consumer.

Like your kids, or you…

Tintin in America: artwork © 1945, 1973, 2016 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1978, Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Phantom – The Complete Series: The Gold Key Years volume 2


By Bill Harris & Bill Lignante with George Wilson (Hermes Press)
ISBN: 978-1-61345-023-9

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 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 artist Ray Moore the illustration side. 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…

In the 1960’s King Features Syndicate dabbled with a comicbook line of their biggest stars – Flash Gordon, Mandrake and The Phantom – but immediately prior to that, the Ghost Who Walks helmed a solo-starring vehicle under the broad and effective aegis of veteran licensed properties publisher Gold Key Comics. Each issue was fronted by a stunning painted cover by George Wilson.

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 strip reprints. These Gold Key exploits were tailored to a big page and a young readership.

This second superb full-cover hardcover – with equivalent eBook editions for the modern minded – gathers The Phantom #9-17 (originally released between November 1964 and July 1966) and opens with fan and scholar Pete Klaus’ Introduction ‘The Gold Key Phantom’: offering original art panels (many by Sy Barry) and a welcoming overview of the immortal strip star.

Scripted by Bill Harris and drawn in comicbook format by Bill Lignante, the illustrated adventures resume with full-length epic ‘The Sixth Man’ from #9 as the Ghost Who Walks takes a rare trip into modern civilisation only to be shanghaied by crooks. The miscreants realise too late that they have made the biggest mistake of their shady lives…

Determined to discover what’s behind the nefarious scheme, Kit Walker allows himself to be taken to a remote island ruled by bored, cruel queen Sansamor who thrives on making powerful men duel to the death.

Once the hero sees the kind of creature she is, her downfall is assured…

The issue is concluded by a single-page historical recap of the legend of ‘The Phantom’ and equally brief monochrome run-down of the mystery man’s intended bride ‘Diana’ (Palmer).

Cover-dated February 1965, The Phantom #10 opens with devious action thriller ‘The Sleeping Giant’ wherein the long-peaceful tribe of Itongo headhunters take up the old ways after their ancestral idol Tuamotu comes to life.

Thankfully, the Phantom is on hand to stem the potential carnage and expose crooked diamond prospector Joe Gagnon and his oversized circus performer inciting the tribesmen to war and conquest. All he has to do is defeat the giant warrior in unarmed combat…

Assisting the masked peacekeeper in policing the tribes and criminals of the region is ‘The Patrol’. These worthy soldiers have no idea who their mysterious “Commander” actually is and when the latest recruit tries to find out he receives a startling shock in this wry vignette.

Issue #11 (April 1965) features ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ with two brutal convicts breaking out of the Bengal Penal Colony to terrorise native communities by masquerading as demonic spirits. When the Ghost Who Walks apprehends them as they link up with pirates, he is struck sightless by a flare gun. Not even blindness can stop the resourceful champion from dispensing justice, however…

Closing the issue is a one-page tour of ‘The Skull Cave’ by Joe Certa, after which #12 (June) introduces ‘The Beast of Bengali’, with art by Sparky Moore & Lignante. Here a golden giant capable of seeming miracles subjugates the locality until the masked marvel exposes his magical feats for the tricks they really are…

Following a mouth-watering period ad for the Phantom Revell model kit, issue #13 (August) opens ‘The Phantom Chronicles’ as the Jungle Sentinel consults his ancestor’s meticulous records for tips on defeating seemingly immortal bandit Rachamond

The Phantom #14 (October) begins with ‘The Historian’ as scholar Dr. Heg consults with the Jungle Patrol on a book chronicling their achievements. His ulterior motive is to destroy the only law for hundreds of miles, but he has not reckoned on the true identity of their enigmatic leader…

‘Grandpa’ then switches locales to America where Diana Palmer’s doting ancestor is playing unwelcome matchmaker. Eventually, after violent incidents involving bears and robbers, the old man warms to African mystery man Kit Walker…

Closing 1966, issue #15 (December) details the downfall of ‘The River Pirates’ who ravage along the mighty waterways of the region. Their modern weapons prove little use against the cunning and bravery of the Deep Woods Guardian…

‘The Tournament’ then focuses on an unlucky prison escapee who finds the Phantom’s clothes and is stuck fighting a native gladiator in a centuries-old grudge match. Sadly, if he loses, the prestige lost means chaos will return to the tribes enjoying The Phantom’s Peace…

‘The Chain’ opens #16 (April 1966) as a world-weary Phantom considers quitting after an interminable period negotiating peace between warring tribes. Even Diana cannot change his mind, but when ancient wise man Wuru appears he relates a story of the hero’s father, who endured hardship, mockery and even slavery in a quest to rescue a woman from vile bondage. Her name was Maude, and she was to be the Phantom’s mother…

A brace of single-pagers follow, revealing Kit Walker’s unrecorded boxing bout against ‘The Champ’ and a battle in a bar won by ‘The Milk Drinker’ before ‘The Crescent Cult’ sees the Jungle Ghost crushing an assassination gang determined to murder their country’s new Maharani. The comic concludes with another 1-page yarn as ‘The Diggers’ examine old ruins and discover proof that the Phantom has lived and fought evil for centuries!

This second volume ends on a truly supernatural note as The Phantom #17 (July 1966) discloses how undying witch ‘Samaris’ has preyed on male suitors for centuries, and believes she has last found another cursed to live forever…

Following one-pager ‘The Waterfall’, detailing the secrets of the entrance to the fabled Skull Cave, ‘Samaris Part II’ finds the Ghost Who Walks captive of the Queen but resisting her every wile until justice, fate and an avalanche of deferred years catch up to her at last…

Wrapping up is a monochrome vignette detailing the secrets of The Phantoms’ devout helpers ‘The Bandar’ Poison Pygmy People and a sumptuous cover gallery by George Wilson.

Straightforward, captivating rollicking action-adventure has always been the staple of The Phantom. If that sounds like a good time to you, this is a traditional nostalgia-fest you won’t want to miss…
The Phantom® © 1964-1966 and 2012 King Features Syndicate, Inc. ® Hearst Holdings, Inc. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Footrot Flats book 7


By Murray Ball (Orin Books)
ISSN: 0156-6172

Once upon a time, Britain ran an Empire, and now we’ve found a more equitable station as just one of 53(ish) independent nations in a Commonwealth. This last fortnight we’ve celebrated that with our own sporting Games, then capped that by having Britain (notional head of the Commonwealth) insult every other member of the vast panoply of nations and cultures that we’ve befriended/exploited.

Some of those nations have always been handy with comebacks, rejoinders and cartoon salvos of their own, and whilst this particular item may not have the political venom of the creator’s earlier works, it more than makes up for it by being the absolute best comedy strip the Commonwealth has ever produced (and yes, I’m even including our very own The Perishers).

New Zealand’s greatest natural wonder and National Treasure is in fact a comic strip. Footrot Flats is one of the funniest ever created, designed as a practical antidote to idealistic pastoral fantasy and bucolic self-deception and concocted in 1975 by cartoonist and comics artist Murray Ball after returning to his New Zealand homeland from an extended work tour of the UK and other, lesser, climes.

The fantastical farm feature ran for a quarter of a century, appearing in newspapers on four continents until 1994 when Ball retired it, citing reasons as varied as the death of his own dog and the state of New Zealand politics. Such a success naturally spawned a multitude of merchandising material such as strip compendia, calendars and special editions released regularly from 1978 onwards.

Once Ball officially ceased the daily feature he began periodically releasing books of all-new material until 2000, with a net yield of 27 collections of the daily strip, 8 volumes of Sunday pages dubbed “Weekenders”, 5 pocket books and ancillary publications such as “school kits” aimed at younger fans and their harried parents.

There was a stage musical, a theme park and in 1986 a truly superb feature-length animated film. The Dog’s Tail Tale became New Zealand’s top-grossing film (and remained so until Peter Jackson started associating with Hobbits) – track it down on video or petition the BBC to show it again – it’s been decades, for Pete’s sake…

The well-travelled, extremely gifted and deeply dedicated Mr. Ball had originally moved to England in the early 1960s, becoming a cartoonist for Punch (producing Stanley the Palaeolithic Hero and All the King’s Comrades) as well as drawing numerous strips for DC Thompson and Fleetway and even concocting a regular political satire strip in Labour Weekly.

After marrying he returned to the Old Country and resettled in 1974 – but not to retire…

Ball was busier than ever once he’d bought a small-holding on the North Island to farm in his “spare time”, which inevitably led to the strip under review.

Taking the adage “write what you know” to startling, heartbreaking and occasionally stomach-turning heights, the peripatetic pencil-pusher broke most of the laws of relativity to make time for these captivatingly insane episodes concerning the highs and lows – and most frequently “absurds” – of the rural entrepreneur as experienced by the earthily metaphoric Wallace Footrot Cadwallader: a bloke never too-far removed from mud, mayhem, ferocity and frustration…

Wal is a big, bluff farmer. He likes his grub; loves his sport – Rugby, Football (the Anzac sort, not the kiddie version Yanks call Soccer) Cricket, Golf(ish) and even hang-gliding; each in its proper season and at no other, since he just wants the easiest time a farmer’s life can offer…

Wal owns a small sheep farm (the eponymous Footrot Flats) honestly described as “400 acres of swamp between Ureweras and the Sea”.

With his chief – and only – hand Cooch Windgrass (a latter-day Francis of Assisi), and a verbose and avuncular sheepdog, Wal enjoys being his own boss – as much as the farm cat, goats, chickens, livestock and his auntie will let him…

Other persons of perennial interest include Wal’s fierce and prickly little niece Janice – known to all as Pongo – the aforementioned Aunt Dolly (AKA the sternly staunch and starched Dolores Monrovia Godwit Footrot), smart-ass local lad Rangi Wiremu Waka Jones, Dolly’s pompous and pampered Corgi Prince Charles and Pew, a sadistic, inventive, obsessed and vengeful magpie who bears an unremitting grudge against Wal…

When not living in terror of the monumental moggy dubbed “Horse”, teasing the corpulent Corgi or panic-attacking himself in imagined competition with noble hunting hound Major, the Dog narrates and hosts the strip.

A cool, imaginative and overly sentimental know-all and blowhard, Dog is utterly devoted to his, for want of a better term, Master – unless there’s food about, or Jess the sheepdog bitch is in heat again. However, the biggest and most terrifying scene-stealer was that fulsome feline Horse; a monstrous and imperturbable tomcat who lords it over every living thing in the district …

One of the powerful and persistent clichés of life is that to make people laugh one truly needs to experience tragedy and, having only recently lost my own four-footed studio-mate and constant companion of 15 years, I can certainly empathise with the artist’s obvious manly distress as this otherwise magnificently hilarious collection is movingly dedicated to the uniquely charming real-world inspiration for the battered and bewhiskered juggernaut… which only makes the comedy capers contained within even more bittersweet and effective, beginning with the poem to his departed companion and the bluff, brisk photo tribute which opens proceedings…

Once again the funny businesses comes courtesy of the loquacious canine softie, taking time out from eking out his daily crusts (and oysters and biscuits and cake and lamb’s tails and scraps and chips and…) and alternately getting on with or annoying the sheep, cows, bull, goat, hogs, ducks, bugs, cats, horses and geese, as well as sucking up to the resolutely hostile wildlife and the decidedly odd humans his owner knows or is related to.

Dog – his given name is an embarrassing, closely and violently guarded secret – loves Wal but always tries to thwart him if the big bloke is trying to do unnecessarily necessary farm chores such as chopping down trees, burning out patches of scrub, culling livestock, or trying to mate with the pooch’s main rival Darlene “Cheeky” Hobson, hairdresser-in-residence of the nearest town. As is also the case with the adoring comradeship of proper blokes, Dog is never happier than when embarrassing his mate in front of others, which explains the pages extracted from Wal’s old albums, showing the man to be in various humiliating baby shots and schoolboy scrapes…

Following on is the epic adventure ‘The Invasion of the Murphy Dogs’ – barbaric hounds from a neighbouring farm only afraid of one thing…

This extra-large (262x166mm) landscape monochrome seventh volume again comes from Australian Publisher Orin Books and continues the policy of dividing the strips into approximately seasonal sequences, and after a few more all-original cartoons again opens with ‘Spring’ – the busiest season of the farmer’s year (apart from the other three) – concentrating on Pew’s first attempts at avian home-making, Dog’s libido, horny farmers and hussy-hairdressers, loopy lambs, wild pigs, killer eels and cricket, as well as an extended sequence in which Wal and the Dog become involved in the local school’s curriculum and cuisine…

Once the long hot ‘Summer’ settles in, bringing fun with chicken-shearing, busy bees, a plague of carnivorous Wekas, thistles, Horse’s softer side(!) and his war with Pongo and Aunt Dolly, Hare infestations, river-rafting, Irish Murphy’s Pigs (far worse than his dogs), Cheeky’s picnic charm-offensive and the growing closeness of Rangi and Pongo…

‘Autumn’ brings piglets, scrub-burning, the revenge of dispossessed magpies, amorous bovines, fun with artificial insemination, fence-lining and back country cattle, honey-harvesting, darts and rugby, a confused ram who’d rather pursue Dolly than associate with eager ewes and Horse’s crucial role in the war against the magpies…

As ‘Winter’ again closes in, offering floods, the mixed messy joy of lambing season, mud, mad goats, whitebait fishing and footy, Wal unwisely agrees to take a class of schoolkids and their puritanical, prudish and priggish teacher on an eye-opening nature-lesson around Footrot Flats. Touched by the painful experience, the bluff cove then volunteers to coach the school’s sports and, after much humiliation, spends the rest of the book discovering how hard – and, for observers, funny – farming in a plaster cast can be…

As you’d expect, the comedy content is utterly, absolutely top-rate and the extended role played throughout by the surly star Horse all the more poignant…

Ball – who died in 2017 – was one of those truly gifted individuals who can actually imbue a few lines on paper with the power of Shakespeare’s tragedy and the manic hilarity of jester geniuses such as Tommy Cooper or the Marx Brothers. When combined with his sharp, incisive yet warmly human writing the result was, is, and remains sheer, irresistible magic.

In the early 1990s Titan Books published British editions of the first three volumes and German, Japanese, Chinese and American translations also exist, as well as the marvellous Australian compendia reviewed here – as ever the internet is your friend (although prices for individual volumes can range from £4 to $3,000, so if ever there was an argument for a comprehensive archival re-release, sheer profit would seem to be it)…

Dry, surreal and wonderfully self-deprecating, Footrot Flats always successfully wedded together sarcasm, satire, slapstick and strikingly apt surrealism in a perfect union of pathos and down to earth (and up to your eyebrows) fun that was and still is utterly addicting, exciting and just plain wonderful.

Plant the seeds for a lifetime of laughs by harvesting this or indeed any volume and you’ll soon see a bumper crop of fun irrespective of the weather or market forces…
© 1981-1982 Murray Ball. All Rights Reserved.

Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend


By Winsor McCay (Dover)
ISBN-13: 978-0-48621-347-7

Born in Spring Lake, Michigan, on 26th September, 1869 (or perhaps 1871- records differ) Winsor McCay was a brilliant and hugely successful cartoonist and animator who worked on strips and political cartoons from 1903 until his untimely death in 1934.

The first of these was Jungle Imps (1903), for The Enquirer, after which the dashing dauber moved to New York and created Dull Care, Poor Jake, The Man from Montclair, The Faithful Employee, Mr. Bosh, A Pilgrim’s Progress, Midsummer Daydreams and It’s Nice to be Married for New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett between1903 and 1911.

He also originated Little Sammy Sneeze for the Herald in 1904 and Hungry Henrietta in 1905 before abandoning both for two much more important features.

On October 15th 1905 the most important children’s strip in the world debuted in the Sunday HeraldLittle Nemo in Slumberland.

Even before that momentous moment the tireless McCay had conjured up a version for adult readers of The Evening Telegram, entitled Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. The editor, wishing to distance the feature from other strips, required McCay to use a pen-name, and he complied, signing the strips “Silas”, reputedly after a local garbage cart driver.

Where Nemo was a beautifully clean and surreal fantasy of childish imagination, Fiend was aimed at grown-ups and displayed a creepy, subdued tension that resonated with the fears and worries of its audience. Black, cruel and often outright sick humour pervades the series combining monstrous destruction and expressionist trauma. Even the root cause of the otherworldly nightmares was salutary. Each self-contained episode, every disturbing sequence of unsettling or terrifying, incredibly realistic images was the result of overindulgence; usually in late night toasted cheese treats!

Every anxiety from surreal terror to social embarrassment became grist for the fantasist’s mill and the startling perspectives, bizarre transformations and uncanny scenes – always immaculately rendered – made Fiend a hugely successful and well-regarded strip in its day.

In 1906 the American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter created a landmark 7-minute live action special-effects movie entitled The Dream of a Rarebit Fiend and the Edison company created a cylinder recording with the same name the following year – played by the Edison Military Band.

McCay himself produced four animated films in 1916-17: Dream of a Rarebit Fiend; Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House and Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville.

Despite his other later successes McCay also returned to the feature sporadically over the years: between 1923 to 1925 he revived the strip under the title Rarebit Reveries and attributed the strip to his son who signed the panels Robert Winsor McCay, Jr.

This slim sleek monochrome book is an almost exact reproduction of Rarebit Fiend, a vintage collection of the first year’s strips originally released by the Frederick A. Stokes Company in 1905. The very last strip has been excluded from this edition however, due to its content being regarded as potentially offensive and at odds with modern views on race and ethnicity.

Although working more than a century ago Winsor McCay still affects every aspect of graphic narrative produced ever since. If you can’t locate or afford Ulrich Merkl’s superb complete edition, reprinting everything from 1905-1914, this lovely package – still readily and economically available from internet retailers and packaged as an oversized paperback album or eBook – is a superb introduction to the darker side of an absolute master of our art form.
© 1973 by Dover Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buz Sawyer: The War in the Pacific


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-362-0 (HB)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were until relatively recently utterly ubiquitous and hugely popular with the public – and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to today to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and the vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924 Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip that evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. Crane crafted pages of stunning, addictive quality yarn-spinning whilst his introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929 led to a Sunday colour page that was possibly the most compelling and visually impressive of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (as seen in Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 1).

Almost improving minute by minute Crane’s imagination and his fabulous visual masterpieces achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of those pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé, giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz and comics creators like Alex Toth and John Severin ever since.

The work was obviously as much fun to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les turner in 1937 was the NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary demand that all its strips must henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated – although the compelling text features in this book dedicated to his second masterpiece reveal a few more commercial and professional reasons for the jump from the small and provincial syndicate to the monolithic King Features outfit.

At the height of his powers Crane just walked away from the astounding Captain Easy page, concentrating on the daily feature, and when his contract expired in 1943 he left United Features to create the World War II aviation strip Buz Sawyer; lured away by the grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result is 75 years old this year and still one of the freshest and most engaging comics strips of all time…

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but comedic Lothario and Easy a surly tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a happy amalgam of the two: a plain and simple, good-looking popular country-boy who went to war because his country needed him.

After the gripping and informative text feature ‘Crane’s Great Gamble’ by Jeet Heer, the strip explodes into action on Christmas Eve 1942, as new Essex Class Aircraft Carrier USS Tippecanoe steams for the Pacific Theatre of Operation carrying 100 fighter-bombers and an extremely keen pair of cartoon paladins.

Buz Sawyer is a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot and his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney a bluff, simple ordinary guy – as well as one of the best comedy foils ever created.

The strip is a marvel of authenticity: picturing not just the action and drama of the locale and situation but more importantly capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing whilst staying alive.

Like contemporaries Bill Mauldin and Milton Caniff, Crane was acutely aware that all his readers had someone involved in the action and therefore felt he had a duty to inform and enlighten as well as entertain. Spectacular as the adventure was, the truly magical moments focus on the off-duty camaraderie and candid personal interactions that pepper the daily drama.

This beautiful archival hardback covers the entire war years of the strip from November 1st 1943 to October 5th 1945, wherein the great artist perfected his masterly skill with Craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect used to add greys and halftones which Crane employed to add miraculous depths and moods to his superb drawing) and opens with the lovable lads shot down whilst tackling a Japanese carrier.

Marooned, their life raft washes up on a desolate desert island where they’re hunted by enemy troops and discover a marooned German farmer and his beautiful daughter. At first hostile, lovely fräulein April soon succumbs to Buz’s boyish charm. Helping Buz and Roscoe escape, the trio only make it as far as the next islet where fellow pilot and friendly rival Chili Harrison has also been stranded since his plane went down.

Eventually rescued, the Navy fliers return to “the Tip” for training on new planes (Curtiss SB2C Helldivers; in case you were wondering) in preparation for the push to Japan. Amidst spectacular action sequences shipboard life goes on, but during a raid on an occupied island Buz and Sweeney are once more shot down. In the middle of a fire-fight they effect repairs and head back to the Tippecanoe, but not without cost. Rosco has been hit…

Sawyer’s exemplary exploits haven’t gone unnoticed and, whilst Sweeney is recovering from wounds, the hero is selected for a secret mission deep into enemy territory; ferrying an intelligence agent to a meeting with enigmatic underground leader the Cobra.

It all goes tragically wrong and the American agent is captured. With the enemy hunting high and low for the pilot, Buz then falls back on his most infuriating ability: falling into the willing laps of beautiful women…

‘Sultry’ is a gorgeous collaborator high in the favour of the occupying Japanese, but she too finds the corn-fed aviator irresistible. Of course, it might simply be that she’s also Cobra…

This extended epic is a brilliant, breathtaking romp blending action, suspense, love and tragedy into a compelling thriller that carries Buz all the way to December 1944.

As a result of his trials, the hero is sent back to America on a 30-day leave – enabling Crane to reveal some enticing background and invoke all the passions, joys and heartbreaks of the Home Front.

Buz doesn’t want to go but orders are orders, so to make things a little more bearable he takes the still-recuperating Sweeney with him. It isn’t that the young flier despises his origins – indeed, his civilian life is a purely idyllic American Dream – it’s simply that he wants to get the job done against the enemy. Nevertheless, with a warrior’s grace under pressure, he resigns himself to peace and enjoyment whilst his comrades soldier on. If he knew the foe he would face in his little hometown, Buz would probably have gone AWOL…

Crane’s inspirational use of the War at Home was a masterstroke: it’s not a world of spies and insidious Bundists, but just an appetising little burg filled with home-comforts and proud people: the kind of place soldiers were fighting to preserve and a powerful tool in the morale-builder’s arsenal. It’s also a place of completely different dangers…

Buz is the son of the town’s doctor; plain, simple and good-hearted. In that egalitarian environment the kid was the sweetheart of the richest girl in town, and when Tot Winter’s upstart nouveau riche parents hear of the decorated hero’s return they hijacked the homecoming and turn it into a self-serving publicity carnival.

Moreover, ghastly, snobbish Mrs. Winter conspires with her daughter to trap the lad into a quick and newsworthy marriage. Class, prejudice, financial greed and social climbing are enemies Buz and Sweeney are ill-equipped to fight, but luckily that annoying tomboy-brat Christy Jameson has blossomed into a sensible, down-to-earth, practical and clever young woman. She’s scrubs up real pretty too…

After a staggeringly smart and compelling soap opera sequence that would do Eastenders or Coronation Street proud, Buz ends up (accidentally) engaged to Tot after all. Mercifully the leave ends and he and Sweeney must return to the war… but even then they are disappointed to discover that they won’t immediately be fighting again.

Posted to Monterey, California, they are to be retrained for new planes and a new squadron, reuniting with rowdy rival Chili Harrison: but Mrs Winter is determined to have a war hero in the clan and pursues them with Tot in tow, determined to get Buz married before he returns to the Pacific.

Insights into another aspect of the military experience (Crane had almost unfettered access, consultation privileges and the grateful willing cooperation of the US Navy) are revealed to readers as the whiz-kid is suddenly back in school again – and usually in the dog-house because of his hot-dogging.

Dramatic tension divides evenly between Buz’s apparent inability to be a team-player and the increasingly insistent and insidious ploys of Mrs. Winter.

Moreover, the squadron’s training commander has an uncanny ability to predict which pilots will die in training or combat and Buz’s name is high on that list…

At last the training concludes and – miraculously alive and unmarried – Buz and Sweeney ship out back to the Pacific and the relatively easy task of ending the war. Part of a massive fleet mopping up the island fortresses en route to Tokyo, they are soon flying combat missions and before long, shot down once more. This time they are taken prisoner aboard an enemy submarine…

After another incredible escape and rousing triumph, the war ends, but Crane actually ratcheted up the tension by covering the period of American consolidation and occupation as Buz and Sweeney await demobilisation. Whilst posted to a medical facility in Melatonga, the boys and Chili encounter a woman from Buz’s chequered past they had all believed long dead…

When their discharge papers finally arrive (in the episode for September 9th 1945) an era of desperate struggle ends. However, with such a popular and pivotal strip as Buz Sawyer that only means that the era of Globe-Girdling adventure is about to begin…

This superb monochrome hardback also contains a selection of Sunday strips in full colour. The eternal dichotomy and difficulty of producing Sunday Pages (many client papers would only buy either dailies or Sunday strips, not both) meant that many strip creators would produce different story-lines for each feature – Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon being one of the few notable exceptions.

Crane handled the problem with typical aplomb: using the Sundays to tell completely unrelated stories. For Wash Tubbs he created a prequel series starring Captain Easy in adventures set before the mismatched pair had met; with Buz Sawyer he turned over the Sabbath slot to Rosco Sweeney for lavish gag-a-day exploits, big on laughs and situation comedy.

Set among the common “swabbies” aboard ship it was a far more family-oriented feature and probably far more welcome among the weekend crowd of parents and children than the often chilling or disturbing realistically and sophisticated saga that unfolded Mondays to Saturdays.

Also included here – and spanning November 28th 1943 to 25th February 1945 in delicious full-page fold outs – are fifteen of the best (many with appearances by Buz): a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully one day materialise as an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the grand masters of our art-form.

This initial collection is the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s second magnum opus – spectacular, enthralling, exotically immediate adventures that influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers.

Buz Sawyer: War in the Pacific ranks as one the greatest strip sequences ever created: thrilling, rousing, funny and moving yarn-spinning that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible.
Strips © 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Tintin in the Congo


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-2-20309-650-9 (2016 HB)           :978-0-78595-830-7 (1987 HB)
:978-1-40526-651-2 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known universally as 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 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 seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – himself a dedicated boy-scout – produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette (written by the staff sports reporter) 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 on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930. The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and 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…

Whereas the originally serialised tale was simply black and white and episodic, Tintin in the Congo as a book is much more stylistically familiar to modern readers. This saga, which originally ran in Le Petit Vingtiéme from June 1930 to June 1931, was radically restructured in 1946 for release as a collected album, and later, a rather shocking page featuring a rhinoceros, a hand-drill and a stick of dynamite was deftly replaced with a much funnier scene…

Moreover, this tale was unavailable to English-readers for years due to its depiction of ethic people and its white Eurocentric bias: a situation confronted and addressed head-on in the 2016 Collectors Edition in a forthright and contextualising Forward

So, making allowances for the time frame, what’s here?

Still hampered by his weekly, episodic format, Tintin and Snowy take ship for the Belgian Congo where they perforce have many little adventures, but also incredibly uncover a plot by US gangster Al Capone to take control of Africa’s diamond trade…

The book version features a Tintin retrofitted for both artistic and commercial reasons. By 1946 Hergé had completed thirteen full Tintin adventures and the characters were fully developed. It was both logical and preferable that new readers be presented with a consistent vision. Moreover, as Hergé had grown as both author and artist, the album editions gave him an opportunity to rectify some earlier decisions that he had long regretted.

When producing work for a perpetual deadline not only are you trapped by the urgent need to finish and move on, but you are imprisoned in the context of your own times. When ‘The Congo’ ran in 1930-1931, representations of ethnicities and more importantly the attitudes of a Belgium that was still a Colonial and Imperial Power informed the text and indubitably influenced the Catholic newspaper then paying for the strip.

In later years Hergé admitted to deeply regretting much of his early work and took every opportunity to repair it.

A scene in which natives are taught that they are happy Belgians was gladly replaced with a maths lesson and many images and scenes were subtly altered to enhance the standing and image of native Africans. The ongoing controversy regarding ethnic depictions in historical comics (and remember, this tale is almost ninety years old) seems doubly cynical and politically self-serving when one considers that Hergé was rectifying what he saw as racial slurs in the 1940s whilst modern society is still denying that there’s a problem. For every black African waving a spear and shield in this story there’s another in a suit, a uniform or tee shirt.

This yarn might be potentially controversial but it is also the transitional outing that confirmed the boy-hero’s drawing power: a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative adventure romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.

And, although each exploit can be read singly, since Hergé was an early proponent of extended continuity, this early epic is actually necessary reading if you want a better understanding of the Tintin masterpieces to come.

Tintin in the Congo: artwork © 1946, 1974, 2016 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 2005 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Betty Boop volumes 1-3


By Bud Counihan (Blackthorne Publishing/Comic Strip Preserves)
ISBNs: 0-932629-33-4, 0-932629-47-4 and 0-932629-69-5

Betty Boop is one of the most famous and long-lived fictional media icons on the planet. She’s also probably the one who has generated the least amount of narrative creative material – as opposed to simply merchandise – per year since debuting.

The ultimate passion paragon was created at the Fleischer Cartoon Studios either by Max Fleischer himself or cartoonist/animator Grim Natwick – depending on whoever you’ve just read – premiering in the monochrome animated short movie feature Dizzy Dishes. This was the sixth “Talkartoon” release from the studio, screening for the first time on August 9th 1930.

A deliberately racy sex-symbol from the start, Betty was based on silent movie star Clara Bow. The “the It-Girl” (as in “she’s got…”) was originally anthropomorphised into a sexy French Poodle; voiced in those pioneering days of “the talkies” by a succession of actresses including Margie Hines, Kate Wright, Ann Rothschild and Mae Questel who all mimicked Bow’s soft and seductive (no, really!) Brooklyn accent.

Betty evolved into a fully – if wickedly distorted – human girl by 1932’s Any Rags and, having co-opted and monopolised the remaining Talkartoons, graduated to the Screen Songs featurettes before winning her own animated cartoon series, to reign as “The Queen of the Animated Screen” until the end of the decade.

A Jazz Age flapper in the Depression Era, the delectable Miss Boop was probably the first sex-charged teen-rebel of the 20th Century, yet remained winningly innocent and knowledgably chaste throughout her career. Thus, she became astoundingly, incredibly popular – although her ingenue appeal diminished appreciably when the censorious Hayes Production Code cleaned up all the smut and fun coming out of Hollywood in 1934 – even though the Fleisher Studio was New York born and bred…

Saucy singer Helen Kane, who had performed in a sexy “Bow-esque” Brooklyn accent throughout the 1920s and was billed as “The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl” famously sued for “deliberate caricature” in 1932. Although she ultimately failed in her suit, even Betty couldn’t withstand a prolonged assault by the National Legion of Decency and the Hayes Code myrmidons.

With all innuendo removed, salacious movements restricted and drawn in much longer skirts, Betty gained a boyfriend and family whilst the scripting consciously targeted a younger audience. Her last animated cartoon stories were released in 1939.

The one advantage to Betty’s screen neutering and new wholesome image was that she suddenly became eligible for inclusion on the Funnies pages of family newspapers, romping amidst the likes of Popeye and Mickey Mouse. In 1934 King Features Syndicate launched a daily and Sunday newspaper strip drawn by Bud Counihan, a veteran ink-slinger who had created the Little Napoleon strip in the 1920s before becoming Chic Young’s assistant on Blondie.

The Betty Boop comic strip never really caught on and was cancelled early in 1937, but that relatively short run still leaves us with these three rather charming and wistfully engaging volumes, collected and edited by comics aficionado and historian Shel Dorf as part of Blackthorne’s low-budget 1980s reprint program, alongside other hard-to-find classics such as Tales of the Green Berets and Star Hawks, and one possibly never to be collected again elsewhere, more’s the pity…

There was a brief flurry of renewed Betty activity during the 1980s, leading to a couple of TV specials, a comic-book from First Comics Betty Boop’s Big Break (1990) and another newspaper strip Betty Boop and Felix by Brian Walker (son of Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois creator Mort Walker).

That one she shared with fellow King Features nostalgia alumnus Felix the Cat and it ran from 1984-1988, but that’s still a pretty meagre complete canon for a lady of Betty’s fame, longevity and pedigree.

As stated, the collected strips in these Blackthorne editions feature the freshly-sanitised, family-oriented heroine of the later 1930s, but for devotees of the era and comics fans in general the strip still retains a unique and abiding screwball charm. Counihan’s Betty is still oddly, innocently coquettish: a saucy thing with too-short skirts and skimpy apparel (some of the outfits – especially bathing costumes – would raise eyebrows even now), and although the bald innuendo that made her a star is absent, these snappy exploits of a street-wise young thing trying to “make it” as a Hollywood starlet are plenty racy enough when viewed through the knowing and sexually adroit eyes of 21st century readers…

Book 1 of this cheap ‘n’ cheerful black-and-white series opens with an extended sequence of gag-a-day instalments that combine to form an epic comedy-of-errors as Betty’s lawyers do litigious battle with movie directors and producers. Their aim is to arrive at the perfect contract for all parties – clearly a war that rages to this day in Tinseltown – whilst labouring under the cost restrictions of what was still, after all, The Great Depression.

The full-page Sunday strips are presented in a separate section, but even with twice the panel-count the material was still broadly slapstick, cunning wordplay, single joke stories. However, one of these does introduce the first of an extended cast, Betty’s streetwise baby brother Bubby: a certified cinematic rapscallion to act as a chaotic foil to the star’s affably sweet, knowingly dim complacency.

There’s a succession of romantic leading men (usually called “Van” something-or-other) but none stick around for long as Betty builds her career, and eventually the scenario changes to a western setting as cast and crew begin making Cowboy Pictures, leading to many weeks’ worth of “Injun Jokes”, but ones working delightfully counter to old and unpleasant stereotypes, before the first volume concludes with the introduction of fearsome lower-class virago Aunt Tillie; chaperone, bouncer and sometime comedy movie extra…

Book 2 (Adventures of a Hollywood Star) continues in the same vein with lawyers, entourage and extras providing the bulk of the humour with Betty increasingly becoming the Straight Man in her own strip except in a recurring gag about losing weight to honour her contract (which stipulates she cannot be filmed weighing more than 100 pounds!)

Geez! Her head alone has got to weigh at least… sorry, I know… just a comic, …

Like many modern stars, Betty had a dual career and there’s a lot of recording industry and song jokes before the Native Americans return to steal the show some more.

Book 3 carries on in what is now a clear and unflinching formula, but with Bubby, Aunt Tillie and her diminutive new beau Hunky Dory increasingly edging Betty out of the spotlight and even occasionally off the page entirely…

By no means a major effort of “the Golden Age of Comics Strips”, Counihan’s Betty Boop (like most licensed syndicated features the strip was “signed” by the copyright holder, in this case Max Fleischer) is still a hugely effective, engaging and entertaining work, splendidly executed and well worthy of a comprehensive and complete compilation, especially in an era where female role models of any vintage remain a scarce resource.

With the huge merchandising empire built around the effervescent little cartoon gamin, waif and houri (everything from apparel to wallpaper, clocks and blankets), surely it isn’t too much to expect a proper home for all the wicked little japes, jests and junkets of her sojourn in sequential art?

Additionally, the second and third books also offer a selection of Paper Doll Bettys with outfits to cut out and colour, designed by Barb Rausch (Neil the Horse, Katy Keene, Barbie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast among many others) a traditional “added-value” feature of the earliest comic strips that still finds irresistible resonance with much of today’s audience. Just remember, now we can make copies without cutting up those precious originals…
© 1986, 1987 King Features Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets


By Hergé (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)                    978-1-40526-651-2 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as 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, Hergé 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 Charles Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so 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 seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette (written by the staff sports reporter) 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 on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930.

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and 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

Arriving in Russia, the dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by the Soviets to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular feeling and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse –  a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen to gel on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast and flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters. This is a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself is very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something… an intriguing hint of things to come.

Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in both hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and not ideal for the stated target market of eight years old and up), this is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai.
Text ©1999, 2007Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.