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.

Batman: Tales of the Demon


By Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams, Bob Brown, Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, Michael Golden, Don Newton & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401299439 (HB)

After three seasons the overwhelmingly successful Batman TV show ended in March, 1968. Clocking up 120 episodes plus a theatrical-release movie since its premiere on January 12, 1966 it had triggered a global furore of “Batmania” fomenting hysteria for all things costumed, zany and mystery-mannish.

Once the series foundered and crashed, global fascination with “camp” superheroes burst as quickly as it had boomed, and the Caped Crusader was left to a hard core of dedicated fans and followers who hoped they might now have “their” hero back.

For comic book editor Julius Schwartz – who had tried to keep the most ludicrous excesses of the show off his pages whilst still cashing in on his global popularity – the solution was simple: ditch the tired shtick, gimmicks and gaudy paraphernalia and bring Batman back to basics, solving baffling mysteries and facing life-threatening perils.

That also meant phasing out the boy sidekick. Although the college freshman Teen Wonder would pop back for the occasional guest-shot yarn, this monument to comics ingenuity and narrative brilliance features him only sporadically. Robin had finally spread his wings and flown the nest for a solo back-up slot in Detective Comics, alternating with TV-derived newcomer Batgirl.

This themed collection re-presents some of the key clashes between the Gotham Guardian and immortal mastermind eco-activist Ra’s al Ghul – a contemporary and more acceptable visual embodiment of the classic inscrutable foreign devil as typified in a less forgiving age as the Yellow Peril or Dr. Fu Manchu. This kind of alien archetype permeates fiction as an overwhelmingly powerful villain symbol, although the character’s Arabic origins, neutral at the time, seem to embody a different kind of ethnic bogeyman in today’s post 9/11 world. These legendary tales and supplementary material come from Batman #232, 235, 240, 242-244; DC Special Series #15; Detective Comics #411, 485, 489-490; Limited Collector’s Edition C-51; and Saga of Ra’s al Ghul #1-4.

The concept of a villain who has the best interests of the planet at heart is not a new one, but Ra’s Al Ghul, whose avowed intent is to reduce teeming humanity to viable levels and save the world from our poison, hit a chord in the 1970s – a period where ecological issues first came to the attention of the young. It was a rare kid who didn’t find a note of sense in what the Demon’s Head planned. I wonder how the latest crop of youthful would-be planet-savers feel about him?

Background and more is discussed in screenwriter Sam Hamm’s recycled 1991 Introduction to that year’s landmark graphic novel compilation of this saga, before the timeless contest of indomitable wills begins with a seminal story from Detective Comics #411. ‘Into the Den of the Death-Dealers’ was written by Denny O’Neil, illustrated by the great Bob Brown, and inked by Dick Giordano, featuring the sinister League of Assassins and introducing exotic mystery woman Talia.

Neal Adams & Dick Giordano joined O’Neil for Batman #232’s ‘Daughter of the Demon’: a signature high-point of the entire Batman canon. It details an exotic chase and mystery yarn drawing an increasingly Dark Knight from Gotham’s concrete canyons to the Himalayas in search of hostages Robin and Talia. If you’re one of the few who hasn’t read this much reprinted tale, I’m not going to spoil the joy that awaits you…

Batman #235 sees penciller Irv Novick join regulars O’Neil & Giordano for ‘Swamp Sinister’, a tale of bio-hazard and double cross affording some early insights into the true character of Talia and her ruthless sire. The same creative team sets the scene for the groundbreaking “series-within-a-series” soon to follow when ‘Vengeance for a Dead Man’ (Batman #240) has Batman uncover one of Ra’s Al Ghul’s less worthy and more grisly projects. As a result, open war begins between Batman and the Demon…

Batman #242-244 and an epilogue from #245 (still-infuriatingly absent from this supposedly definitive collection) formed an extended saga and was taken out of normal DC continuity. It promised what was to be the final confrontation between two opposing ideals. Novick pencilled first episode ‘Bruce Wayne – Rest in Peace!’ wherein Batman gathers a small team of allies – including still-active-today underworld insider Matches Malone – to destroy the Demon forever. Adams returned with second chapter ‘The Lazarus Pit’, which offered titanic action, rollercoaster drama and what seemed to we consumers of the day to be a brilliant conclusion to the epic. But with the last three pages the rug was pulled out from under us and the saga continued!

How sad for modern fans with so many sources of information today: the chances of creators genuinely surprising devoted readers are almost non-existent, but in the faraway 1970s we had no idea what to expect from #244 when ‘The Demon Lives Again!’ hit shops and newsstands.

In a classic confrontation, Batman ultimately triumphs and Ra’s Al Ghul disappeared for years. He was considered by DC as a special villain and not one to be diluted through overuse. How times change…

By 1978 the company was experimenting with formats and genres in a time of poor comic sales. Part of that drive was an irregular anthology entitled DC Special Series and from the all-Batman #15 comes an oddly enticing gem scripted by O’Neil and drawn by a talented young newcomer called Michael Golden, with inks from the ubiquitous Dick Giordano.

‘I Now Pronounce you Batman and Wife’ is a stylish, pacy thriller that anticipates the 1980s sea-change in comics storytelling, but its most interesting aspect is the plot maguffin which later inspired a trilogy of graphic novels in the 1990s and today’s Damien Wayne/Robin.

September 1979 brought another key multi-part epic, represented here by Detective Comics #485, 489 and 490. Although picky me still wishes that all parts were included, the truncated version here suffers no significant loss of narrative flow as Batman is dragged into a civil war for leadership of the Al Ghul organization between the Demon and the aged oriental super-assassin the Sensei – whom older fans will know as the villain behind the murder of aerialist Boston Brand and birth of Deadman.

O’Neil, Don Newton & Dan Adkins open proceedings in ‘The Vengeance Vow!’ as a long-standing member of the Batman Family is murdered, drawing Batman into battle with deadly mind-controlled martial artist Bronze Tiger. After thwarting the Sensei’s schemes for months, the saga cataclysmically concludes in ‘Where Strike the Assassins!’ and ‘Requiem for a Martyr!’

Whilst perhaps not as powerful as the O’Neil/Novick/Adams/Giordano run, this serial is a stirring thriller with a satisfactory denouement, elevated to dizzying heights by the magnificent artwork of Don & Adkins. Newton’s Batman could well have become the definitive 1980s look, but the artist’s tragically early death in 1984 cut short what should have been a superlative and stellar career.

In recent years, Ra’s Al Ghul has become Just Another Bat-Foe: familiarity indeed breeding mediocrity, if not contempt. But these unique tales from a unique era are comics at their very best in this definitive archival landmark.

Adding lustre to proceedings is a gallery of pertinent covers taken from early trade paperback collections. Brian Stelfreeze produced a brace of stunners with 1991’s Batman: Tales of the Demon TPB in editions for DC Comics and Warner Books; Adams created the potent image used on this very edition in a wraparound treat gracing Limited Collector’s Edition C-51 (August 1977) whilst Jerry Bingham & Dick Giordano and Adams & Rudy Nebres delivered a quartet of covers for Saga of Ra’s al Ghul #1-4 (January-April 1988). Also included here are an Afterword by Denny O’Neil and John Wells’ ‘The Saga of the Demon’s Head’ detailing the later schemes of the eternal thorn in humanity’s skin…

With the game-changing classics in this volume, Batman finally returned to the commercial and critical top flight he had deserved and enjoyed in the 1940s: reviving and expanding upon his original conception as a remorseless, relentless avenger of injustice. The next few years would see the hero rise to unparalleled heights of quality so stay tuned: the very best is just around the corner… that dark, dark corner…
© 1971, 1972, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1988, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 5: 1959 to 1960


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim – Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal


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

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

You just have to read the stuff yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Valentine for Charlie Brown


By Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699- (HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most broadly accepted, since – after the characters made the jump to television – the little nippers become an integral part of the American mass cultural experience.

Charles M. Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for 50 years, publishing 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 TV spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire. That profitable sideline – one Schulz devoted barely any time to over the decades – is where this little gem originates from…

Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

The usual focus of the feature (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who, with high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy, endures a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast who hang out doing kid things in a most introspective, self-absorbed manner.

The daily gags centred on playing (pranks, sports, musical instruments), teasing each other, making ill-informed observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The consistently expanding cast also includes mean girl Violet, child prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy Van Pelt, her other-worldly baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen”: each with a signature twist to the overall mirth quotient and sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles. As a whole, the kids tackled every aspect of human existence in a charming and witty manner, acting as cartoon therapists and graphic philosophical guides to the world that watched them.

Charlie Brown is settled into his existential angst and resigned to his role as eternal loser as if singled out by a gleeful Fate. It’s a set-up that remains timelessly funny and infinitely enduring…

Available in a child-friendly hardback and the usual digital formats, A Valentine for Charlie Brown offers a trio of extended vintage sequences revolving around further crushing the spirit of the saddest, yet most optimistic kid on Earth. All he wants is someone to love, but for many of us, it’s not that easy to find the one – or even anyone…

The tales are told in a series of monochrome panels (generally four to a page) and we open with ‘Valentine’s Vigil at the Mailbox’ as the perpetually anxious and responsibility-burdened Charlie anticipates a card or maybe more at this time of romantic intensity. Sadly, the mail is not an ally and most post goes to the hairy pal who truly does dote on him…

Of course, there’s always Linus to share thoughts with, sister Sally to show him up and Lucy to be… well Lucy…

Not that Van Pelt has much joy with her own chosen inamorata. Schroeder loves music and would do anything to be alone with his passion

A new year brings fresh hope as Charlie discovers ‘The Little Red-Haired Girl’, but even after burdening all his pals with his aspirations and disappointments, our gallant would-be swain painfully realises the course of true love never yadda, yadda, yadda…

Wrapping up the melancholy mirth is delicious change of pace ‘My Sweet Babboo’ which sees Sally set her cap for Linus with terrifying determination: an all-points pursuit to delight jaded older souls and simultaneously chill the heart of anybody with pet bunnies..

Sally and Linus take centre stage in this outrageous and inventive sequence but there’s still plenty of time for Charlie and the others to suffer their usual hang-ups, between marvelling at the dogged determination on show…

Timeless and evergreen, Charlie Brown’s existentialist travail and amorous aspirations have been delighting readers seemingly forever and clearly will not be stopping or superseded anytime soon. If you haven’t joined this club yet, why not sign up now?
A Valentine for Charlie Brown © 2015 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.