Walt Disney’s Donald Duck by Carl Barks: volume 6 – The Old Castle’s Secret


By Carl Barks & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-653-9 (HB/Digital edition)

Donald Duck ranks among a number of fictional characters who have transcended the bounds of reality to become – like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Popeye and James Bond -meta-real. As such, his origins are complex and convoluted. His official birthday is June 9th 1934: a dancing, nautically-themed bit-player in the Silly Symphony cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.

However, that date is based on the feature’s release, as announced by distributors United Artists and latterly acknowledged by the Walt Disney Company. Recent research reveals the piece was initially screened at Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles on May 3rd, part of a Benefit show. The Wise Little Hen officially premiered on June 7th at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City, before the general release date was settled.

The animated cartoon was adapted by Ted Osborne & Al Taliaferro for the Silly Symphonies Sunday comic strip and thus classified by historians as Donald’s official debut in Disney comics. Controversially though, he was also reported to have originated in The Adventures of Mickey Mouse strip which began 1931. Thus the Duck has more “birthdays” than the Queen of England (plus the generally disUnited Kingdom and gradually diminishing Commonwealth) which probably explains why he’s such a bad-tempered old cuss.

Visually, Donald Fauntleroy Duck was largely the result of animator Dick Lundy’s efforts, and, with partner-in-fun Mickey Mouse, is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. The Duck has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has appeared in more films than any other Disney player.

During the 1930s his screen career grew from background and supporting roles to a team act with Mickey and Goofy to a series of solo cartoons that began with 1937’s Don Donald, which also introduced love interest Daisy Duck and the nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey. By 1938 Donald was officially more popular than company icon Mickey Mouse, especially after his service as a propaganda warrior in a series of animated morale boosters and information features during WWII. The merely magnificent Der Fuehrer’s Face garnered the 1942 Academy Award (that’s an Oscar to you and me) for Animated Short Film…

Crucially for our purposes, Donald is also planet Earth’s most-published non-superhero comics character and has been blessed with some of the greatest writers and illustrators ever to punch a keyboard or pick up a pen or brush.

A publishing phenomenon and mega star across Europe – particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – Donald & Co have spawned countless original stories and characters. Sales are stratospheric there and in the more than 45 other countries they export to. Japanese manga publishers have their own iterations too…

The aforementioned Silly Symphonies adaptation and Mickey Mouse newspaper strip guest shots were trumped in 1937 when Italian publisher Mondadori launched an 18-page story by Federico Pedrocchi in comic book format. It was quickly followed by a regular serial in Britain’s Mickey Mouse Weekly. The comic was produced under license by Willbank Publications/Odhams Press and ran from 8th February 1936 to 28th December 1957.

In #67 (May 15th 1937) it launched Donald and Donna (a prototype Daisy Duck girlfriend), drawn by William A. Ward. Running for 15 weeks it was followed by Donald and Mac before ultimately settling on Donald Duck, and a fixture until the magazine folded. The comic inspired similar Disney-themed publication across Europe with Donald regularly appearing beside company mascot Mickey…

In the USA, a daily Donald Duck newspaper strip launched on February 2nd 1938, with a colour Sunday strip added in 1939. Writer Ted Karp joined Taliaferro in expanding the duck cast, adding a signature automobile, dog Bolivar, cousin Gus Goose, grandmother Elvira Coot and expanded the roles of both Donna and Daisy…

In 1942, his licensed comic books canon began with the October cover-dated Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 as Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold: conceived by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves, scripted by Karp and illustrated by Disney Studios employees Carl Barks & Jack Hannah. It was the moment everything changed…

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, and raised in rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks was an animator before quitting in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books.

With studio partner Jack Hannah (another future strip illustrator) Barks adapted Karp’s rejected script for an animated cartoon short into Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, and although not his first published comics work, it was the story that shaped the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s, Barks operated in self-imposed seclusion: writing, drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters. These included Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged nonagenarian.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was also just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked, and contributing stories to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. After Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material amongst other Disney strips in the 1980s, he discovered the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed…

So potent were his creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for Dell/Gold Key and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales: heavily based on his classic Uncle Scrooge tales.

Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones…

During his working life Barks was blissfully unaware that his work (uncredited by official policy, as was all Disney’s comics output) had been recognised by a rabid and discerning public as “the Good Duck Artist.” When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, a belated celebrity began.

In 2013, Fantagraphics Books began chronologically collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in wonderful, carefully curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally do justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 261 mm – that would grace any bookshelf, with volume 6 re-presenting works from 1948 – albeit not in strict release order. I should also note that all the Four Color issues come from Series II of that mighty anthological vehicle and all cover are by Barks.

It begins eponymously with ‘The Old Castle’s Secret’ (FC #189, June 1948) as a crisis in the McDuck financial empire triggers a mission for Donald and the nephews: accompanying Scrooge to the ancestral pile in Scotland to search for millions in hidden treasure. Apparently the craggy citadel is haunted, but what they actually encounter is both more rationalistically dangerous and fantastically unbelievable…

Two single-page gags from the same issue follow, with ‘Bird Watching’ exposing the hidden perils of the hobby whilst superstition is painfully debunked in ‘Horseshoe Luck’ before ‘Wintertime Wager’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #88, January) introduces annoying cousin Gladstone Gander. Amidst chilling winter snows, the miraculously lucky, smugly irksome oik invites himself over for Christmas and soon he and Donald are involved in an escalating set of ordeals that might cost the Duck his house. Thankfully, Daisy and the boys are there to solve the problem…

Gainful employment was a regular dilemma for Donald and February’s ‘Watching the Watchman’ (WDC&S #89) finds him taking a midnight-to-daybreak job at the docks, but pitifully unable to alter his sleep patterns. Once again, Huey, Louie and Dewey offer outrageous assistance but this time it’s the Duck’s inability to stay awake that foils a million dollar heist….

They’re actually Donald’s rivals in ‘Wired’ (WDC&S #90, March) when all seek big bucks as telegram messengers. Sadly, millionaires are not generally friendly, welcoming or prone to giving giant gratuities…

A dedicated social climber, Donald plans a garden party in WDC&S #91 (April), but his notion of fancy dress and family solidarity utterly anger the boys, who retaliate with manic mesmerism in ‘Going Ape’, after which March of Comics #20 finds butterfly-hunter Donald at war with avaricious lepidopterist Professor Argus McFiendy across two continents.

Donald’s sharp and ruthless tactics inspire onlooker Sir Gnatbugg-Mothley to fund a safari to ‘Darkest Africa’ in search of the rarest butterfly on Earth. The daunting quest for the Almostus Extinctus is frenetically fraught, astoundingly action-packed and fabulously fun-filled but please be aware that despite Barks’ careful research and diligent, sensitive storytelling some modern folk could be upset by his depictions of indigenous peoples in terms of the accepted style of those decades-distant times.

Nevertheless, the bombastic war ends with a delicious sting in the tail.

In case you were wondering: March of Comics releases were prestigious promotional giveaways tied to retail products and commercial clients like Sears, combining licensed characters from across Whitman/KK/Dell’s joint catalogue. The often enjoyed print runs topping 5 million copies per issue. Being a headliner for them was a low key editorial acknowledgement of a creator’s capabilities and franchise’s pulling power…

Back in the regular world, Donald’s eternal war of nerves with the kids boiled over in FC #189 (June) as ‘Bean Taken’ saw his obsessive side dominant in a guessing game, a single-pager, preceding another exploring the downside of sandlot baseball in ‘Sorry to Be Safe’ (FC #199, October) and standard 10-page romp ‘Spoil the Rod’ (WDC&S #92, May). Here passing do-gooder Professor Pulpheart Clabberhead seeks to stop Donald’s apparent abuse of Huey, Louie and Dewey – but only until he gets to know them…

Although the science fiction boom and flying saucer mania was barely beginning in 1948, Barks was an early advocate and ‘Rocket Race to the Moon’ (WDC&S #93, June) sees newspaper seller Donald suckered into piloting an experimental lunar exploration ship. Tragically, Professors Cosmic and Gamma seem more concerned with a large cash-prize contest than advancing science and rival rocketman Baron De Sleezy is a ruthless schemer, but no one – not even the stowaway nephews – were prepared for what lived on the moon…

Patriotism inspires our bellicose birdbrain to enlist as ‘Donald of the Coast Patrol’ (WDC&S #94, July) but it’s his innate gullibility and bad temper that helps him bag a bunch of spies before true wickedness rears its downy head as ‘Gladstone Returns’ (WDC&S #95, August).

The ghastly Gander was designed as a foil for Donald, intended to be even more obnoxious than the irascible, excitable film fowl.

This originally untitled tale reintroduces him as a big noxious noise every inch as blustery a blowhard as Donald but still lacking his seemingly supernatural super-luck talent. Here, both furiously boast and feud, trying to one-up each other in a series of scams that does neither any good… especially once the nephews and Daisy join the battle…

Arguably Barks’ first masterpiece, ‘Sheriff of Bullet Valley’ was the lead tale from Dell Four Color Comics #199, drawing much of its unflagging energy and trenchant whimsy from Barks’ own love of cowboy fiction – albeit seductively tempered with his self-deprecatory sense of absurdist humour. For example, a wanted poster on the jailhouse wall portrays the artist himself, offering the princely sum of $1000 and 50¢ for his inevitable capture.

Donald is – of course – a self-declared expert on the Wild West (he’s seen all the movies) so when he and the boys drive through scenic Bullet Valley, a wanted poster catches his eye and his imagination. Soon he’s signed up and sworn in as a doughty deputy, determined to catch rustlers plaguing the locals. Unfortunately for him, the good old days never really existed and today’s bandits use radios, trucks, tommy guns and ray machines to achieve their nefarious ends. Can Donald’s impetuous boldness and the nephews’ collective brains and ingenuity defeat the ruthless high-tech raiders?

Of course they can…

That same issue first saw a brace of short gags, beginning with ‘Best Laid Plans’ as Donald’s feigned illness earns him extra hard labour rather than a malingering day in bed and closing with ‘The Genuine Article’ wherein suspicions of an antiques provenance leads to disaster…

The lads plans to go fishing are scuppered – but not for too long – when Donald demands their caddying services in ‘Links Hijinks’ (WDC&S #96, September). It all really goes south once Gladstone horns in and Donald’s competitive spirit overwhelms everybody…

That tendency to overreact informs ‘Pearls of Wisdom’ (WDC&S #97, October) when the nephews find a small pearl in a locally-sourced oyster and big-dreaming Donald goes overboard in exploiting the” hidden millions” probably peppering the ocean floor, before we close with another mission for Uncle Scrooge.

To close a deal with British toff Lord Tweeksdale, McDuck must prove his family pedigree by excelling in the most “asinine, stupid, crazy, useless sport in the world”: fox hunting. Designating Donald his champion, the Downy Dodecadillionaire of Duckburg is thankfully unaware Huey, Louie and Dewey also consider themselves ‘Foxy Relations’ (WDC&S #98, November), injecting themselves covertly into proceedings with catastrophic repercussions…

The visual verve over, we move on to validation as ‘Story Notes’ offers commentary for each Duck tale and Donald Ault relates ‘Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks’, before ‘Biographies’ explain why he and commentators Alberto Beccatini, R, Fiore, Craig Fischer, Jared Gardner, Leonardo Gori, Rich Kreiner, Ken Parille, Stefano Priarone, Francesco (“Frank”) Stajano and Mattias Wivel are saying all those nice and informative things.

We close with an examination of provenance as ‘Where Did These Duck Stories First Appear?’ explains the somewhat byzantine publishing schedules of Dell Comics.

Carl Barks was one of the greatest exponents of comic art the world has ever seen, and almost all his work featured Disney’s Duck characters: reaching and affecting untold millions of readers across the world and he all too belatedly won far-reaching recognition. You might be late to the party but it’s never too soon to climb aboard the Barks Express.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “The Old Castle’s Secret” © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

David Bowie in Comics


By Thierry Lamy & Nicolas Finet; illustrated by Bast, Martin Trystam, Thomas Gilbert, Marcello Quintanilha, Christelle Pécout, Jérémie Royer, Nicolas Pitz, Monsieur Iou, Christopher, Claire Fauvel, Léonie Bischoff, Joël Alessandra, Samuel Figuière & various: translated by Christopher Pope (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-298-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-299-1

In recent years graphic biographies have become a major component of publishers’ output. This one – originally released on the continent in 2020 – will appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach: unlocking some secrets of someone with many identities; a musician and performer who changed popular culture and modern society and an agent provocateur ushering in a digital age…

Gathered in this fetching account are context-providing photo-enhanced essays bookending individual comics sections. Each chronological article and attendant comics vignette is written by French author/comics scripter Thierry Lamy and author, filmmaker, journalist, publisher, educator and music documentarian Nicolas Finet – who has worked in comics for three decades, generating a bucketload of reference works like Mississippi Ramblin’ and Forever Woodstock).

In this vivid exploration of a one-man cultural revolution, they are supported by an army of illustrators crafting vividly vibrant strips, beginning with ‘The 1950s: Plastic Saxophone’. An introductory text briefing leads to a comic strip nativity scene limned by Martin Trystam, as David Robert Jones is born in post-war Brixton on January 8th 1947. What follows traces his middle class boyhood in Bromley, South London, introduction to music and science fiction by his tragic step-brother Terry, and how his new dad got the little “spaceboy” his first instrument and lessons…

Following a context-packed essay on the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Thomas Gilbert illustrates ‘1962: A Unique Gaze’ as schoolboy David and classmate/best friend George Underwood clash over a girl, inadvertently gifting the future star with his signature look. Another text piece – on the star’s appearance and early relationships – segues into ‘1962-1966: First Bands’, with Marcello Quintanilha delineating how music obsessed Jones and Underwood pursue their dream in a succession of blues bands (The Hooker Brothers, The Konrads, King Bees and others) and cut their first single. Following further text and photo details on those heady days, Christelle Pécout’s strip ‘1966: When David Jones Became David Bowie’ heralds the moment everything changed…

An essay on personal reinvention moves the story along to when Bowie studied with theatrical legend Lindsay Kemp, visualised by Jérémie Royer in ‘1969: Ground Control to Major Tom’ and highlighting the role the first Moon Landing played in Bowie’s breakout hit. A feature on the influence of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey closes one era as Nicolas Pitz illustrates the meeting of Bowie and his new inspirational inamorata Angela Barnett in ‘1969-1971: Angie’. Her freewheeling lifestyle and attitudes would liberate her eventual husband and drive his rise, as seen in a prose feature and Monsieur Iou’s strip ‘1972: Top of the Pops: The Birth of a Legend’…

Bowie early realised the power of image tied to story and his first musical alter ego is examined in ‘1972-1973: An Alien Named Ziggy Stardust’, courtesy of Christopher, after which Claire Fauvel details the growth of the major musical theoretician behind the stage performer. ‘1972-1973: Bowie the Producer: Lou Reed & Iggy Pop’ sees David save the careers of two fading American icons and gain friends who will save him in his troubled years to come…

Having cycled through two performer personalities – Ziggy and Aladdin Sane – Bowie endured creative ennui and branched out into theatre, as seen in Léonie Bischoff’s ‘1974: A Hint of Science Fiction’. When his proposed adaptation of Orwell’s 1984 foundered, Bowie reinvented key elements for his Diamond Dogs show before the Quintanilha strip ‘1975: Turning to Soul: Young Americans’ outlines the next step in the musician’s mercurial career. Christelle Pécout’s comics contribution reveals how drug abuse and legal struggles with his embezzling manager left Bowie burned out and ready for another reinvention in ‘1976: The Thin White Duke’…

With this chapter’s essay concentrating on Bowie’s role in Nick Roeg’s film The Man Who Fell to Earth, Christopher’s encore art act ‘1976-1979: A Date with Berlin’ focusses on relocation to West Germany at the height of Cold War tensions and creation of a landmark series of albums comprising “The Berlin Trilogy”.

Discussions of minimalism and masterpieces are complemented by Monsieur Iou’s cartoon coverage of the performer’s golden years as ‘1980-1984: The Global Icon: Let’s Dance’ detail Broadway acting triumphs and collaboration with Funk genius Nile Rodgers. Always with his mismatched eyes on the future, Bowie was the first mega-star to grasp the potential of a new phenomenon. MTV’s launch shifted his focus to musical videos and his status grew even more…

Illustrated by Joël Alessandra, ‘1983: Bowie in Film: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence’ explores his astounding performance and heralds his gradual move away from pop stardom towards musical exploration and personal experimentation. Trystam returns for ‘1989-1992: Forever Innovating: Bowie and Tin Machine’…

By then, Bowie’s car-crash home life had steadied and Samuel Figuière shares the happiest times as the music man finds his true life partner in ‘1992: Iman’, after which Alessandra illustrates ‘1992-1999: Experiments in Genre’ as Bowie increasingly explored digital technology (in 1997, he released the first digital music single for fans to download) before Figuière visually catalogues ‘2004-2014: Quiet’ as the star’s progressively poor health ends his performing career…

The story ends with one final essay appreciation, supplementing Pitz’s fantasy montage ‘2014-2016: The Last Dance’ commemorating the last work and The End of All The Songs…

A human agent of social change, David Bowie made sublime music, offered groundbreaking and pioneering advocacy of the barely post-natal internet and provided an example for generations of confused kids seeking to fit their own personally perceived oddities into a binary world that never really existed except in the minds of a few hidebound religious bigots.

In so many ways, he inspired and reshaped people on the margins and did so by example. Always aware of what could be, he even patterned the way modern social media and eCommerce evolved. He also made life extraordinary and much of that is captured here.

Also equipped with a Discography, Filmography, Sitography and Recommended Reading list, David Bowie in Comics is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one to resonate with anybody who loves to listen and look. It can’t actually play you the songs, but you can read it while listening to them on your aural medium of choice, so everything’s Hunky Dory,

© 2020 Petit as Petit. © 2022 NBM for the English translation.
David Bowie in Comics is scheduled for UK release June 16th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats.

Walt Disney’s Donald Duck volume 5: “Christmas on Bear Mountain” by Carl Barks


By Carl Barks (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-697-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Utter Acme of All-Ages Entertainment… 10/10

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, growing up in the rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks worked as a animator at Disney’s studio before quitting in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books.

With cartoon studio partner Jack Hannah (another occasional strip illustrator) Barks adapted a Bob Karp script for an animated cartoon short into the comic book Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. It was published as Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9 in October of that year and – although not his first published comics work – it was the story that shaped the rest of his career.

From then until his official retirement in the mid-1960s, Barks worked in self-imposed seclusion, writing and drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters. These included Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement Disney’s stable of cartoon actors. His greatest creation was undoubtedly the crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged septuagenarian and the harassed, hard-pressed star of this show.

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was just a working guy, generating cover art, illustrating other people’s scripts when asked and contributing stories to the burgeoning canon of Duck Lore. After Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material – and a selection of other Disney strips – in the 1980s, he discovered the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed…

So potent were his creations that they inevitably fed back into Disney’s animation output itself, even though his brilliant comic work was done for licensing company Dell/Gold Key, and not directly for the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly the animated series Duck Tales: heavily based on his comics output.

Most notably, Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones…

Throughout his working life 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.

In 2013 Fantagraphics Books began collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in wonderful, carefully curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally do justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. The physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 261 mm – that would grace any bookshelf, with volume 5 – Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: “Christmas on Bear Mountain” (for reasons irrelevant here) acting as debut release, re-presenting works from 1947 – albeit not in strictly chronological release order.

It begins eponymously with landmark introduction of Bark’s most enduring creation. Scrooge McDuck premiered in seasonal full-length Donald Duck yarn ‘Christmas on Bear Mountain’ (Four Color #178 December 1947): a mere disposable comedy foil to move along a simple tale of Seasonal woe and joy. Here a miserly relative seethed in opulent isolation, hating everybody and opting to share the gloom by tormenting his nephews Donald, Huey, Louie and Dewey by gifting them his mountain cabin for the Holidays. Scrooge schemed, intent on terrorising them in a bear costume, but fate had other ideas…

The old coot  was crusty, energetic, menacing, money-mad and yet oddly lovable – and thus far too potentially valuable to be misspent or thrown away. Undoubtedly, the greatest cartoon creation of the legendary and magnificent story showman Carl Barks, the Downy Dodecadillionaire returned often and eventually expanded to fill all available space in the tales from the scenic metropolis of Duckburg.

From the same issue a brace of one-page gags expose Donald’s views on car culture in ‘Fashion in Flight’ and annoying people looking for directions in ‘Turn for the Worse’ before

‘Donald’s Posy Patch’ (Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories#80, May) turns into another painful and humiliating experience as the bellicose bird tries getting rich by growing blooms…

June’s WDC&S #81 finds him and the kids prospecting and running foul of the post-war arms and rocket-race in ‘Donald Mines his Own Business’ before Four Color #147 (May) takes them on an epic voyage of fantastic discovery to ‘Volcano Valley’ after accidentally buying an army surplus bomber…

Always looking for a quick buck, Donald and the kids turn to commercial charters: flying innocuous-seeming Major Pablo Mañana back to Central American beauty-spot Volcanovia, but they all have a devilishly difficult time getting out again. This yarn sets a solid pattern for Bark’s adventure/travelogue yarns in years to come, blending comedy, thrills, whimsy and social commentary into an irresistible treat…

WDC&S #82 (July) sees adult and juvenile ducks in an ever-escalating war over who’s the best conjuror in ‘Magical Misery’ and by the time Daisy Duck deals with them, Donald is ready for a day of peace and quiet. Sadly, ‘Ring Wrongs’(AKA ‘Vacation Time’ from August’s Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #83 reveals that thanks to Huey, Louie and Dewey, he’s the target of a relentless wave of door-to-door salesmen and reacts with typical zest and vigour…

An inappropriate experiment in hypnosis transforms Donald (mentally) into a kangaroo and prompts an ‘Adventure Down Under’ (Four Color #159 August) with the eventually restored Drake and his nephews compelled to become ‘roo hunters to pay for return passage to Duckburg. They are mightily outmatched by Mournful Mary “Queen of the Kangaroos” until they meet some local aborigines and experience a change of heart.

Please be aware that – despite Bark’s careful research and diligent, sensitive storytelling – some modern folk might be upset by his depictions from over seven decades ago.

‘If the Hat Fits’ is a gag-page of chapeau japery from Four Color #147 (May), that precedes a medium-length tale describing Donald’s efforts to master dancing in ‘The Waltz Kings’ from WDC&S #84 (September) counterbalanced a month later by #85’s ‘The Masters of Melody’ wherein the boys struggle to learn to play musical instruments…

‘Donald Duck and the Ghost of the Grotto’ is an early masterpiece originating in Four Color #159 (August 1947), with Donald and the kids in the West Indies, running a kelp boat and harvesting seaweed from the abundant oceans.

After being temporarily stranded on an isolated reef, they discover monsters, a shipwrecked galleon, an ongoing abduction mystery dating back centuries and a particularly persistent phantom all blending into a supremely thrilling and beguiling mystery that has never dated…

WDC&S #86 exposes the rise and fall of ‘Fireman Donald’ whose smug hubris deprives him of a job he’s actually good at, after which ‘The Terrible Turkey’ from details the Duck’s frankly appalling efforts to secure a big bird for the Thanksgiving feast despite skyrocketing poultry prices…

Donald and Mickey Merry Christmas 1947 (cover-dated January 1948) sees the boys strive a little too late and much too hard to be ‘Three Good Little Ducks’ and ensure a wealth of swag on Christmas morning before one final single-pager sees kitchen confusion for Donald in ‘Machine Mix-up’ from Four Color #178 (December)…

With the visual verve done we move on to validation as ‘Story Notes’ provides erudite commentary for each Duck tale and Donald Ault relates ‘Carl Barks: Life Among the Ducks’ before ‘Biographies’ reveals why he and commentators Alberto Beccatini, Joseph Robert Cowles, Craig Fischer, Jared Gardner, Rich Kreiner, Ken Parille, Stefano Priarone, R, Fiore, Mattias Wivel are saying all those nice and informative things.

We then close with an examination of provenance as ‘Where Did These Duck Stories First Appear?’ explains the somewhat byzantine publishing schedules of Dell Comics.

Carl Barks was one of the greatest exponents of comic art the world has ever seen, and almost all his work featured Disney’s characters: reaching and affecting untold millions of readers across the world and he all too belatedly won far-reaching recognition. You might be late to the party but it’s never too soon to climb aboard the Barks Express.
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck “Christmas on Bear Mountain” © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All contents © 2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.

Comics Ad Men


By Many & various, written and compiled by Steven Brower (Fantagraphics Underground Press)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-307-3 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Catalogue of Cartoon Nostalgia… 8/10

From its earliest inception, cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but inevitably actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comic books the sheer power of narrative – with its ability to create emotional affinities – has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial arena is almost irresistible…

Any ad exec worth their salt knows instinctively how to catch and hold public attention so as comics developed its star characters and top creators became invaluable resources and many accounts rose and fell on the force of celebrity Brand spokes-doodles rendered by the best artists around – often the very cartoonists creating strips and comic books. Ultimately, many of comics’ greatest were seduced away from the harsh deadlines of strips for the better-paid environs of the marketing moguls. That’s where this delightful collation from design wizard, Creative Director, Educator, art lover and comics afficionado Steven Brower (From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin; Golden Age Western Comics; Astounding, Mysterious, Weird and True: The Pulp Art of Comic Book Artists) comes in: a fascinating picture-packed directory of top comics creators leasing their talents to sell stuff…

It’s a guaranteed nostalgia-fest: I know of many – including star industry folk and Plain Old me – who have bought assorted Golden Age comics just because they carry CC Beck Captain Tootsie ad pages or Twinkies shills concocted and populated by Marvel and DC’s top guns…

Delivering an effusive and erudite essay and lecture on the history and development of the phenomenon – liberally accompanied by dozens of captivating illustration examples – Brower makes a compelling case for further study and successfully jingles the heartstrings of comics devotees with a delicious roster of astoundingly impressive artists clandestinely operating in the real world of commerce. Did you know that Golden Age Green Lantern originator Martin Nodell also created the Pillsbury Doughboy? You do now, and so much more can be yours to bemuse your chums…

The big draw is a carefully curated and stunning Gallery of historical examples comprising star turns and their famous creations. Here Sydney Smith co-opts The Gumps to sell “Funy Frostys”, E.C. Segar’s Popeye crew tout Mazda Lamp lightbulbs and Al Capp’s Li’l Abner recommends Cream of Wheat.

The parade of stars continues with Mel Graf (Secret Agent X-9; Captain Easy), Frank Robbins (Jonny Hazard; Batman, The Invaders), Vic Herman (Little Dot; Elsie the Cow), Clifford McBride (Napoleon and Uncle Elby), Sheldon Moldoff (Hawkman; Batman), Basil Wolverton (Spacehawk; Powerhouse Pepper; Mad), Noel Sickles (Scorchy Smith) and  Jacob Landau (Military Comics; Captain America).

Some artists’ styles were perfect for changing times and were in high demand. Otto Soglow (The Little King) and Dik Browne (Hagar the Horrible; Hi and Lois) were highly sought after with Browne being represented here by solo strips and in collaboration with Gill Fox (Torchy; Hi and Lois) and Roland Coe (The Little Scouts), VIP – AKA Virgil Partch – (Big George), Bill Williams (Henry Aldrich; Millie the Model), Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace – the American one), Marvin Stein (Justice Traps the Guilty; Young Love) and Paul Fung (Dumb Dora).

There were even agencies repping many illustrators, and a copious sampling of Young & Rubicam and Johnstone & Cushing alumni precede beguiling work from Stan Drake (The Heart of Juliet Jones; Blondie; Kelly Green), Lou Fine (Doll Man; The Ray; The Spirit; Black Condor), Creig Flessel (The Sandman, Detective Comics; Pep Morgan; Superboy), Jack Betts (Britannia Mews), Bob Bugg (The New Neighbors; Popular Comics), Kelly Freas (assorted covers), Alex Kotzky (Blackhawk; Apartment 3-G), George Roussos (Air Wave; Batman; Crypt of Terror; Fantastic Four) and Tom Scheuer (Flash Gordon; My Love Story).

Neal Adams (Batman; X-Men; Ben Casey) actually set up his own agency Continuity Associates, employing many contemporaries such as Dick Ayers (Human Torch, Ghost Rider; Sgt. Fury  and his Howling Commandos) and talented newcomers but there was always a demand for older veterans like Mort Meskin (Sheena; Johnny Quick; Vigilante; Mark Merlin), Joe Simon (Captain America; The Fly; Fighting American; Boy Commandos) and Wallace Wood (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents; Daredevil; Weird Science; Mad; Witzend), all seen here in a wealth of amazing art.

Wrapping up the with a final push of superb selling points are briefs filled by Ken Penders (Sonic the Hedgehog), some Twinkies moments courtesy of John Romita Snr. (Amazing Spider-Man) and Ross Andru & Mike Esposito (Wonder Woman; The War that Time Forgot; The Metal Men; Amazing Spider-Man), a drinks campaign designed to reach modern youth featuring Daniel Clowes (Lloyd Llewellyn; Eightball; Ghost World; Patience) and an abundance of superb stuff from the mightily prolific Jack Davis (Mad; Frontline Combat; Rawhide Kid).

Available in paperback or instantly gratifying digital editions and stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering bouts of nostalgia, Comics Ad Men is an absolute visual delight no fan of pop culture, comics or narrative illustration will be able to resist.
© 2019 Steven Brower and Fantagraphics Books. All art and trademarks © & ™ & their respective copyright and trademark holders. Essay © Steven Brower. All rights reserved.

Putin’s Russia – The Rise of a Dictator


By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-91-7 (TPB)

Artist and journalist Darryl Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all back then?) and graduated from Leeds College of Art. A regular on the Small Press scene of the 1990s, his early strips appeared in legendary paper-based venues such as Fast Fiction, Dead Trees, Inkling, Turn amongst many others. In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit. It is still one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly putting comics on the backburner as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period which informed 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales, a revelatory inquiry into mental illness delivered as cartoon reportage.

When not crafting web comics for Forbidden Planet or working on his creations Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been steadily consolidating his position at the top of the field of graphic investigative reporting; specifically science history, economics and socio-political journalism through books such as Science Tales, Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy, Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery, The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis and Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful.

His latest offering is his boldest yet, particularly as the subject of these investigations and revelations has a scary track record of suddenly outliving every critic, commentator, judge and denouncer. Of course, part of that murderous mystique also includes ludicrous gaffes, fumbles and cock-ups, so perhaps it’s a fair risk for a potential big reward…

Simply put, what’s on show here is another sublimely forensic and easily digestible dissection of one more major cause of global concern, in the form of a mediocre Soviet spy who became the biggest crook on Earth.

Cunningham methodically traces the path of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin from childhood in a St Petersburg (then Leningrad) communal apartment to the world’s most tasteless billionaire mancave (“Putin’s Palace” at Gelendzhik), translating dry facts and shocking atrocities into irrefutable, easily assimilated data snippets, tracing the Dictator-in-Chief’s cunning rise in the shadow of and on the coattails of far more flamboyant and unwise would-be leaders until suddenly he’s the last man standing…

A much-curated personal life is unmade and remeasured against a historical yardstick as the Soviet Union stumbles into oblivion: broken up and its riches redistributed by pirates and brigands in suits amongst a cabal of soon-to-be Oligarchs only marginally less unsavoury than their notional leader.

Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Sobchak and a flurry of Western appeasers and greedy bankers are all indicted for their failings as Putin climbed a greasy pole soaked in the blood of opponents, competitors and particularly journalists and critics. Especial attention is rightly paid to manufactured and proxy wars, terrorist acts and inept interventions; modern imperialism and global calamities, weaponized bigotry, harnessed ancient grudges and sheer unrelenting opportunism at every possible juncture. That’s a big bill to lay on one person, but the arguments are all there in black and white and magenta and green and…

You will also be sagely reminded of assassinations as acts of petty spite; western money laundering of a nation’s pilfered assets, the suborning of national leaders (and we’re not just talking about orange hairpiece #45, here!) and the sadly pathetic ongoing quest for validation of a self-described hard man…

A heady mix of cold fact, astute deduction and beguiling visualisation, this deft examination of a bandit who stole a nation and how at last his comeuppance is at hand is a delicious blend of revelation and confirmation, and Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs, all backed up with a vast and daunting list of References from print, media and other sources for everything cited in the book.

Comics have long been the most effective method of imparting information and eliciting reaction (that’s why assorted governments and militaries have used them for hard and soft propaganda over the last century and a half), and with Putin’s Russia you can see that force deployed against one of today’s greatest threats…
© Darryl Cunningham 2021. All rights reserved.

Putin’s Russia will be released on September 16th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Orwell


By Pierre Christin & Sébastien Verdier, with André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch, Isabelle Merlet, Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal & more: translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-87-5 (TPB)

We all have our heroes. One whom I apparently share with another of my most admired and revered favourites is Eric Arthur Blair, who you’ll know as George Orwell.

One of the most significant literary, societal, cultural and political figures of the 20th century, Orwell is also a particular fascination of comics icon Pierre Christin, co-creator of epically barbed, venerable sci fi masterpiece Valerian and Laureline. A seditiously canny political commentator in his own right – as seen in such thought-provoking graphic subversions as The Town That Didn’t Exist, The Black Order and The Hunting Party – Christin began this particular piece of literary reportage after completing a personal project investigating the world’s various functioning – if not necessarily functional – Communist regimes…

A writer to his core, Eric Blair was a true and ardent democratic socialist: an author, critic, essayist and unflinching observer of humanity saddled with a loathing of privilege and an inescapably, embarrassingly obvious upper-class education.

Blair was a solitary individual who loved people, and an angry humanist vehemently opposed to greed, stupidity, totalitarianism, extremism and oppression (equally from the Left, Right and religious alike). He fought for his ideals during the Spanish Civil War and loathed Stalin, Hitler and probably his own and all other national leaders with equanimous passion.

The complex man’s fascinating private life is brilliantly and addictively detailed in Orwell: Old Etonian, copper, prole, dandy, militiaman, journalist, rebel, novelist, eccentric, socialist, patriot, gardener, hermit, visionary: Christin’s compelling graphic biography and appreciation primarily illustrated by Sébastien Verdier (Ultimate Agency; Le marathon de Safia; Zodiaque) with additional visual contributions from André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch, Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal, colourist Isabelle Merlet and more.

Divided into ‘Orwell Before Orwell’, ‘Blair Invents Orwell’ and ‘Orwellian Orwell’, with an assessment of the world ‘After Orwell’, the narrative message and potent documentary depictions are bolstered with adapted snatches from Orwell’s groundbreaking stories and non-fiction, plus plenty of quotes taken from the cultural witness/prophet’s diaries.

Moving, revelatory, potent and supplemented by a methodological Afterword from Christin, this is a captivating graphic triumph no fan of graphic biography or devotee of the only man to provably predict the future should be without.
Orwell © DARGAUD 2019, by Christin, Verdier. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero.

Michael Jackson in Comics


By Céka, illustrated by Patrick Lacan, Filippo Neri & Piero Ruggeri, JGSB, Laurent Houssin, Lu-K, Guillaume Griffon, Sarah Williamson, BiG ToF, Nikopek & Lou, Vox, Domas, Clément Baloup, Martin Trystram, Bast, Guillaume Tavernier, Aurélie Neyret, Anthony Audibert, Yigaël, Julien Akita, Lapuss, Kyung-Eun Park, Jean-Christophe Pol & Vallale; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-228-1 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-230-4

Graphic biographies – especially those produced in Europe dissecting the lives of iconic celebrities and artists – are incredibly popular these days. This one was originally released in 2018: an inevitable but accessible addition and one featuring probably the most popular and controversial musical star of all time.

If you’ve never heard of Michael Jackson, there’s very little point in you carrying on any further.

Still with us? Okay then…

Offering cannily repackaged popular culture factoids and snippets of celebrity history, this tome – written by journalist Céka, with a legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant mini-strips – hones in on key moments in the controversial star’s career: detailing them through brief text essays.

It all began at ‘2300 Jackson Street’ where an extended family of juvenile performers were harshly schooled by their ruthless dad, after which the inner life of an abused kid is depicted in ‘I Wish I Could Have Been… A Child’, as portrayed in strip-form by Patrick Lacan.

The euphoria of winning talent contests and getting picked up by a major label is described in text article ‘From the Apollo Theater to Motown’ before Filippo Neri & Piero Ruggeri detail the draconian rehearsal regimen forced on the Jackson 5 by ambitious father Joe.

As their fame grew, little Michael constantly sought surrogate maternal relationships from a string of female celebrities. This is detailed in ‘One Father and Five Mothers’, with vividly lurid cartoon extrapolation ‘Diana Ross: THE Lady in his Life’ exploring the situation courtesy of JGSB.

‘From the Jackson 5 to Michael’ details the fractious move to solo stardom and hard-won autonomy ‘Made in Motown’(art by Laurent Houssin), whilst ‘5% Talent, 95% Hard Work’ explore the boy star’s ultimate idol in Lu-K’s ‘James Brown, the Mentor’.

The start of autonomy comes with ‘The Quincy Jones Trilogy’, depicting the global-shocks attending the making of‘Thriller: No Mere Mortal Can Resist!’ by Guillaume Griffon. Status is confirmed by ‘Birth of an Icon’ and attendant Moonwalk step-chart ‘An Extraterrestrial on Earth’ (Sarah Williamson art) before ‘I Have a Dream’ starts tracing the cracks, and ‘The MTV Blackout’ – by Big ToF – discloses the colour bar keeping certain performers’ videos off pioneering music channels…

‘Jackson’s Jackpot’ and Nikopek & Lou’s linked visualisation of ‘A 47-and-a-Half Million-Dollar Blunder’ explore the tensions between the young star and Paul McCartney as well as music ownership rights, whilst – courtesy of Vox – carton strip ‘The Man with the White Socks’ illustrates the consequences of Prince of Pop’s style decisions as textually defined and described in ‘Fashionista’. ‘Dancing Machine’ examines signature moves, with Domas limning the steps in cartoon guide ‘The Man Who Slides on Clouds’. Before, social conscience engaged, ‘We are the World’ recalls the era of charity mega-records, with Clément Baloup depicting how the song was written in ‘Check Your Egos at the Door’.

The crown starts to wobble as ‘Neverland’ reveals how the fabulous ranch of dreams began, with Martin Trystram illustrating ‘Now Go Go Go Where you Want’, after which the media rumour mill runs wild in ‘Animal Spirit’, with Bast fancifully sketching out the story of exotic pets like ‘Bubbles, Muscles, and Co.’

Once unleashed, the press is relentless and ludicrous, as exposed in ‘Tabloid of Fact?’, with Guillaume Tavernier offering a strip further covering ‘The Rumor Mill’, whilst Aurélie Neyret’s cartoon tale of ‘Ryan White: Gone Too Soon’ adds balance to the uncomfortable reports of child-centred indiscretions recounted in ‘The Lost Children’…

Excesses real or otherwise dominate in ‘Tabloid Junkie’, with Anthony Audibert vignetting ‘The Elephant Man Case’before the years of defensive self-isolation are detailed in ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ and Yigaël draws the benefits – and not – of ‘Privacy’.

‘Scandal at Neverland’ leads to Julien Akita’s sensitive exploration of ‘Jordan Chandler vs Peter Pan’, a review of ‘Family Life’ with attendant strip ‘Once Upon a Time’ from Lapuss, after which ‘The Man With 240 Awards’ reveals ‘The Whims of a Star’ thanks to cartoonist Kyung-Eun Park.

The final days approach, as seen in essay ‘Fans, I Love You More!’ with Jean-Christophe Pol & Vallale visually enquiring ‘What Kind of Fan Are You?’ of the music man’s broad church of devotees.

The star-studded, star-crossed story concludes with ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ as Clément Baloup draws things to a close with ‘Michael Forever’…

Although intellectually slight and far from incisive or comprehensive in addressing the many controversies surrounding the star in question, Michael Jackson in Comics is far from a concealing hagiography either and presents a remarkably readable and beautifully rendered confection for comics and music fans alike.
© 2018 Editions Petit a Petit. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson: volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5 (HB)

Once more, I’m altering the fixed schedules to note the passing of a giant. Everybody’s losing loved one in far greater numbers than we can really afford or cope with, but this one is even more poignant and powerful: the death of one of the most vital and vigorous cartoonists we’ve ever been privileged to enjoy. Here’s a parental warning to prove it…

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. If that hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contains images of nudity, extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homosexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and school playgrounds whenever adults aren’t present.

If the thought of all that offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will just enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted – or perhaps had – to.

Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative and hilariously violent.

The manly, hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The modern successor to Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered, but he never toned down his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and underwent full-time palliative care ever since. He died aged 79, on Sunday February 7th 2021.

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and graphic overview – also available in digital formats – is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover, each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously-unpublished artworks, and each chapter offers a wealth of gloriously outrageous strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

It opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and into college, but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ (from Gothic Blimp Works #1), ‘River City Shoot-Out’ from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all circa 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ (Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970) and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics, 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations, 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ (Insect Fear #1),‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’ from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop-out life style, topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also supplies ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’ and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’, ‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’ and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’. Zap #5 (1970) barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’ and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’: a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of countercultural thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity, comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics, 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974), which also offers a quartet of single-frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’; a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadrés like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso, made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume (of three) and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975; illustrations for William Burroughs’ seminal short story ‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’ (Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, front-&-back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork; ‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1 (1971), 8-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. This is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Race to Incarcerate – A Graphic Retelling


By Marc Mauer & Sabrina Jones (The New Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59558-514-7 (TPB)

When I first read it, this book made me really, really angry.

That’s okay though; it was supposed to.

I read it again yesterday. Still angry, so it’s your turn…

Marc Mauer has worked to end criminal inequality since 1987. In 2005 he became Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation working for nearly 35 years to establish “a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration”.

The Project provides training for American defense lawyers; explores methods of changing the ferociously slanted legal system in regard to socially disadvantaged and racial minorities; seeks to debunk politically advantageous myths about the efficacy of incarceration, and works towards reducing the USA’s reliance on prison sentences through advocacy and by affecting policy on how best to safeguard the citizenry and punish criminals.

Highlighting disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system since 1986 – especially in the treatment of non-white and juvenile offenders – the organisation has been consulted by Congress, The United States Sentencing Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other Federal Agencies, subsequently overseeing changes to national drug policy guidelines and helping shape The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

I’m assuming they were not contacted by the Trump Administration when Orange Donnie decided to free up all those Federal Cells on Death Row at the end of his regime…

The Sentencing Project particularly concerns itself with combating racial disparity in detention, cataloguing various forms of felony disenfranchisement and has led campaigns to end the still-widespread practice of condemning juveniles to life without parole, as well as working to beef up the mandate of The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

All of which made Mauer the perfect person to write 1999’s landmark exposé Race to Incarcerate, which shockingly detailed the causes and minutia of the meteoric rise in America’s prison population since 1970.

Mauer followed up in 2002 with Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (co-edited by Meda Chesney-Lind). A telling indictment of a flawed, cruel, unfair and unscrupulous system, Race to Incarcerate was re-released in 2006, and in 2013 the powerfully polemical tract was brilliantly updated, revised and adapted by cartoonist Sabrina Jones into a ferocious pictorial broadside, re-positioned to engage and inform the general public and especially older kids who were most likely to experience the wrong arm of the Law.

Jones is a painter, illustrator, scenic artist, writer and activist whose evocatively lush and organically primitivist work has graced such politically aware publications as Studs Terkel’s Working, FDR and the New Deal for Beginners, The Real Cost of Prisons, graphics collective World War 3 Illustrated and autobiographical anthology GirlTalk amongst many others. Her most notable solo project to date is the beguiling Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography.

Following an evocative Foreword from Civil Rights lawyer and author Michelle Alexander, and heart-rending yet hope-filled Preface by author Mauer, the bare, bald facts are starkly presented in ‘Introduction: U.S. Prisons from Inception to Export’: tracing the invention of penitentiaries by the Puritans to the current situation where America has the disturbing honour of being number 1 country in the field of locking up citizens. The USA still boasts the highest rate of incarceration in the world – despite heavy and ever-increasing competition from old rivals Russia and China.

Perhaps that’s because they don’t just execute their criminals… no, wait…

The stunningly effective visual history lesson is followed by the American sector’s political background and lowdown on ‘The Rise of the “Tough on Crime” Movement’ from 1973: examining the divisive policies and calculated duplicity of Nixon and the Republicans in the wake of the triumphant Civil Rights Movement, and tracking the switch from programs of rehabilitation to specious but vote-winning punitive prison policies.

The situation culminated with ‘The Triumph of “Tough on Crime”’ which casts a spotlight on the disparities in dealing with increasing drug abuse during the rise of the Black Power movement and focuses on the draconian, tragically trend-setting policies of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who instigated the harshest drug laws in the USA when ‘The Rock Gets Rolling’…

With prison populations rising rapidly and disparately, things took a turn for the worst from 1980, as seen in ‘Crime as Politics: The Reagan-Bush Years’, after which a particularly heinous travesty of justice is spotlighted in ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’.

The problem was not simply the self-serving prejudice of one party as poignantly, frustratingly illustrated in ‘Crime as Politics: The Clinton Years’, but plumbed new depths of hypocrisy in 2000 as ‘Crime as Politics: The George W. Bush Years’ stomach-churningly reveals…

Over the last 60-odd years, the whole situation seems to have been predicated upon a few fallacious, if not deliberately disingenuous dictums clearly exposed in ‘The Prison-Crime Connection’ which inexorably led to a monumental, institutionalised injustice system generating ‘Color-Coded Justice’: a concentration on profiling or criminality as seen in ‘The War on Drugs and African-Americans’.

The biggest shock however comes in ‘A New Direction’ as the authors reveal that – despite all the rhetoric and entrenched biases – the situation was actually improving as more and more States abandoned old, costly, failing punishment policies to try something new and humane – and more cost-effective. I wonder how the years 2016 to 2020 affected those policies?

After decades where States stopped building schools to pay for bigger and bigger prisons – with no appreciable effect other than depriving kids of an education – various localities tried different approaches; finding that where costly incarceration and harsh punishments don’t work, social programs, rehabilitation projects and investment in people do…

Coda:  Also included in this (long overdue for an update) book are details of outreach projects asking readers to contribute books to prisoners or become pen-friends with inmates, illustrated by Carnell Hunnicutt, a long-term inmate whose comics about his penal experiences and prison issues initially inspired Mauer to release Race to Incarcerate as a graphic novel (now available in paperback and digital editions).

Packed throughout with shocking, well-documented, specific cases and backed up by an eye-watering torrent of shameful statistics, this is a work with the potential to change society, so, with British politicians increasingly emulating idiotic mistakes and politically-advantageous, socially destructive criminal justice policies of our oversea friends, Race to Incarcerate remains a book every school library and home should have.

Moreover, if you care about people and justice it’s one you must read…
© 2013 by The New Press, based on Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer © 1999, 2006 by The Sentencing Project. ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’ © 2013 by Sabrina Jones. Foreword © 2013 by Michelle Alexander. Preface © 2013 by The Sentencing Project. All rights reserved.

Fight the Power – A Visual History of Protest Among the English-Speaking Peoples


By Seán Michael Wilson, Benjamin Dickson, Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, Adam Pasion with additional cartoons by Polyp (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-122-5 (PB)

Politics is composed of and utilised equally by firebrands and coldly calculating grandees, and that’s probably the only guiding maxim you can trust. Most normal people don’t give a toss about all that until it affects them in the pocket or impacts their kids and, no matter to what end of the political spectrum one belongs, the greatest enemy of the impassioned ideologue is apathy. This simple fact forces activists and visionaries to ever-more devious and imaginative stunts and tactics…

However, all entrenched Powers-That-Be are ultimately hopeless before one thing: collective unified resistance by the very masses they’re holding down through force of arms, artificial boundaries of class or race, capitalist dogmas, various forms of mind control like bread, circuses and religion, divisive propagandas or just the insurmountable ennui of grudging acceptance to a status quo and orchestrated fear that unknown change might make things worse.

Perhaps you can see how such musings might be of relevance in these sure to be unforgettable days?

From its earliest inception, cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comic books the sheer power of narrative – with its ability to create emotional affinities – has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial, social or especially political arena is almost irresistible…

The compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political or social component. That’s never been more evident than in this stunning and scholarly graphic anthology detailing infamous and effective instances of popular protest.

In Britain the cartoonist has always occupied a perilously precarious position of power: with deftly designed bombastic broadsides or savagely surgical satirical slices ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally comprehensible visual metaphor …or sometimes just the plain and simple facts of the matter…

For this universal and welcomingly basic method of concept transmission, levels of literacy or lack of education are no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised, sanitised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words, and as William the Conqueror saw with the triumphalist Bayeux Tapestry, picture narratives are worth a few million more…

Following a thought-provoking Introduction by author, journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali, this procession through the history of dissent compiled and scripted by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson begins with an agenda-setting ‘Prologue’ – illustrated by Adam Pasion – best described – without giving the game away – as “Uncle Sam, John Bull and the Statue of Liberty (AKA ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’) walk into a bar…”

Their heated discussion on the value and need of people using their right to dissent is then captivatingly illustrated through a series of erudite, fascinating, shocking and deliciously funny tutorial episodes, beginning with a compelling account of ‘The Luddites and the Swing Riots, 1811-1832’ written by Wilson and rendered both palatable and mesmerising by comics legend Hunt Emerson.

The artist then turns his talents to recreating the horrific events and aftermath of ‘The Battle of Peterloo, 1819’ from Dickson’s script before, with Wilson, cataloguing a wave of ‘Colonial Rebellions, 1836-1865’ which the British Empire dealt with in its traditional even-handed, temperate manner (and in case you were wondering, that’s me doing sarcasm).

Wilson & Pasion then detail the global impact of the ‘Irish Rebellions, 1791-1922’ whilst Dickson & Emerson’s account of ‘The Suffragettes, 1903-1918’ follows the story of Votes for Women right up to the present. Practically forgotten and brutally savage, ‘The Australian General Strike, 1917’ (by Wilson & Pasion) and the equally appalling landmark events of ‘The Boston Police Strike, 1919’ – as told by Dickson & John Spelling – reveal a pattern to modern labour conflicts, with working folk ranged against intransigent and greedy commercial interests.

The age-old struggle escalated during the ‘UK General Strike and the Battle of George Square, 1918-1926’ (Wilson & Spelling) and reached an intolerable strike-busting peak in Ohio during ‘The Battle of Toledo, 1934’ (Wilson & Spelling): a struggle which cemented management and labour into the intractable ideologically opposed positions they still inhabit today in the aforementioned English-speaking world…

The championing of Human Rights is commemorated by Dickson & Pasion in ‘Rosa Parks and the Bus Boycott, 1955-1956’ followed by a deeply moving account of ‘The Trial of Nelson Mandela, 1964’ whilst the modern American soldier’s method of combating unwelcome or insane orders is reviewed in the brilliantly trenchant ‘Fragging’ by Wilson & Emerson…

Back home and still etched in many peoples’ memories, Dickson & Spelling’s ‘The Poll Tax Riots, 1989-1991’ offers a surprisingly even-handed account of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest political blunder, before hitting recent headlines with the origins and outcomes of ‘Occupy, 2011-’…

Returning to that bar and Lady Liberty, Dickson, Wilson & Pasion draw a few telling Conclusions to close the cartoon course in mass resistance, after which the writers discuss their process in Authors Notes: Why This Book? before then listing the truly phenomenal rewards of all those campaigns and protests with a long list of Rights Won. These range from Women’s Suffrage to the universal formal acknowledgement of the Human Right to Protest.

Understanding the value of a strategically targeted chuckle, this fabulous monochrome chronicle concludes with one last strip as Dickson & Emerson hilariously reveal ‘The Four Stages of Protest’ courtesy of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. Of course, cartooning can only accomplish so much, and whilst Fight the Power! recounts a number of instances where physical and intellectual action were necessary to achieve or maintain justice, at least comics can galvanise the unconvinced into action and help in the useful dissemination of knowledge about protest: the Who, Where, When, and How.

If you don’t understand What or Why then you’re probably already on the other side of the barricades – and complaining about who gets what vaccine…
© 2013 Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson. Illustrations © 2013 Hunt Emerson, John Spelling and Adam Pasion. Cartoons © 2013 Polyp. All rights reserved.