Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-698-3 (HB)

I’m feeling the urge to big up the transformative and informational aspect of comics, so expect a few educational reviews – the books, not my blather about them – over the forthcoming days. Here’s an old favourite to start you off…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training is the comic strip.

For well more than a century, advertising mavens have exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply – unless you’re a graph designer for the British government.

Since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. The magnificent Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with his webcomic Raw Materials and such seasoned tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced the occasional tract myself. The medium has also been used to sublimely and elegantly tackle the greatest and most all-consuming preoccupation and creation of the mind of Man…

In 1972, Margreet de Heer was born into a family of theologians and despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life – fascinatingly covered in the ‘Know My Self’ section of this fabulous graphic primer – studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999, she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there – and before becoming a full-time professional in 2005 – she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics. In 2007, with commissions in publications as broad and varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next, she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw. These prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was first released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM two years later as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

This gloriously accessible tome – available in hardback and digital editions – is crafted by a gifted writer with a master’s grasp of her subject, and opens with the core concept ‘What is Thinking?’, examining the processes of mind through a number of elegantly crafted examples before moving onto ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’

Those paradigms of ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Logical Thinking’, ‘Language’, ‘Symbols’, ‘Abstract Thinking’ and ‘Humor’ are captivatingly and comprehensively covered before the history and cognitive high points of civilisation are disclosed with ‘The Foundation of Western Philosophy’.

This potted history of ‘Dualism’ relates the life stories, conceptual legacies and achievements of ‘Socrates’ and the ‘Socratic Discourse’; his star pupil ‘Plato’ and the universal man ‘Aristotle’: all winningly counterpointed by a balancing sidebar autobiography in ‘Know My Self’ plus some cogent observations and a few comparisons with the Eastern philosophy of ‘Unity’

‘Medieval Philosophy’ then deals with the influence of the Christian Church on ‘Augustine’ and ‘Thomas Aquinas’; the “Great Thinkers” of early Europe by examining the warring concepts of ‘Free Will’ and ‘Predestination’ and explores the lives of ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Humanism’; ‘Descartes’ and his maxim ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ and ‘Spinoza’, whose consummate faith-based dictum was ‘Know Thyself’

The charming, beguiling foundation course continues with ‘What is Reality?’ bringing us up to the modern age with ‘And Now’ comprising another brilliantly clever diversion as de Heer includes the ‘Personal Philosophies’ of families and friends.

Her husband – and this book’s colourist – Yiri bases his outlook on the incredible life of outrageous comedian ‘George Carlin’; her aged friend Gerrit looks to ‘Nietzsche’, mother-in-law Yolanda modelled herself on Cambridge lecturer and intellectual ‘George Steiner’ whilst De Heer’s little brother Maarten prefers to shop around, picking up what he needs from thinkers as varied as ‘Aldous Huxley’ to cartoonist ‘Marten Toonder’. The author bravely puts her money where her mouth is and reveals her own thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything before asking again ‘What Do You Think?’

This is a truly sharp and witty book – the first of a trilogy also examining Religion and Science – which adroitly reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly enthralling experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy, comics fans or not.
© @2010 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2012 Margreet de Heer & Yiri T. Kohl.

A Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas


By Evie Robillard & Rachel Katstaller (Kids Can Press)
ISBN: 978-1-5253-0056-1 (HB)

We don’t cover nearly enough kids’ books here, nor those with an Arts or educational underpinning, and that’s because I lazily prefer to read stuff that’s entertaining, worthwhile and well-produced. And yes, I know they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive but somehow, so often…

Happily, this gloriously inclusive biographical primer into one of the world’s most interesting and accomplished women and her life partner is all of that and more.

Delivered as a delicious and enthralling picture book for 6 to 9-year-olds, A Portrait in Poems précis’ and shares some notable Parisian moments in the life of author Gertrude Stein and her muse Alice B. Toklas. This unconventional couple led the upcoming arts glitterati of Europe and collected one of the most astounding art collections in history prior to one World War and before another. The book is drafted in episodic free verse by librarian, teacher and writer Evie Robillard and painted with idyllic verve by El Salvadoran illustrator Rachel Katstaller in a superbly subtle manner guaranteed to get youngsters addicted to learning more.

In short order you’ll visit the protagonists’ first home at ‘27 Rue de Fleurus’, observe as ‘Picasso Paints a Portrait’, share ‘Saturday Evenings’ and enjoy ‘The Room with All the Paintings’ before meeting ‘Gertrude Stein, the Genius’

The couple shared their exalted existence with ‘A Dog Named Basket’ (two actually) and we see more of them all in ‘Gertrude & Alice & Basket in a Book’ before wrapping up the history with what happened ‘After’

Adding learning and lustre a ‘Time Line’ supplies dates and hard facts, while glimpses of character shine in a trio of epigrammatic ‘Snapshots’, whilst ‘Sources’ offers some of Gertrude’s best works to check out and a bibliography reveals more books about her, before a final ‘Author’s Note’ deals with the contentious period when the couple abided under Nazi occupation in Vichy France.

It’s never too early to give children a hunger to know stuff, and this bright, inclusive foray into the mind and life of one of our most remarkable thinkers is a welcome addition to any junior library or kids’ book stash because it simply cries out for readers to go absorb more…
Text © 2020 Evie Robillard. © 2020 Rachel Katstaller. All rights reserved.

The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle – a Graphic Investigation


By John Stuart Clark AKA Brick (A BrickWorks Limited Edition Monograph)
No ISBN

Do you love a mystery? How about conspiracy theories? What about science, truth and common sense, all overwhelmed and overturned by venality, self-seeking scholarly self-aggrandizement and national pride? All that and more are on show in the witty, incisive and superbly engaging exposé of not just Fake News but actual Fake History from Nottingham-based investigative, political cartoonist and campaigning educator Brick.

The name might not be familiar but if you’re politically aware, socially active and can remember the real cost of Thatcherism, you will probably have seen John Stuart Clark’s excoriating artwork for decades-worth of trade unions, NGOs and pressure groups. You might also have seen his masterful graphic novel Depresso.

That’s still available online and digitally, whereas the subject of today’s lesson is not. A forensic deconstruction of the unethical nature of special interests (no matter how minor) and the sheer gullibility of humans in groups of more than one, The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle is a hefty paperback tome packed with detail, deliberations and deliciously confirmable data that you can – and should – only get direct from the publisher. Fret not: I’ll tell you how at the end…

Using humour as his scalpel, Brick peels back decades of nonsense generated by assorted factions with something to gain and corrects a bizarre blip in the history of knowledge which can be broken down thusly. Around 1820, minor German noble and inveterate inventor Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn created the world’s first recognisable bicycle. In 1974, minor Italian historian Professor Augusto Marinoni discovered drawings by intellectual paragon Leonardo Da Vinci that “proved” the old master had perfected all the necessary mechanical principles – and provided a blueprint for the bicycle – 324 years previously. Cue global frenzy, intrigue in the highest levels of the Catholic Church, nationalist upsurges in Italy and a massively profitable boost in the ever-expanding Leonardo Industry…

Broken down into diligently researched, easily digested portions, the wide-ranging story unfolds after meeting our affable, scene-setting host on tour in the Vinci region for ‘The Introduction’. We observe the politically dangerous von Drais at the start of the 18th century as he unleashes ‘The Invention’ and, in 1974 Italy, ‘The Lecture’ by Marinoni that launched the miasma of misinformation…

Connecting dots far and wide, Brick explores the provenance of ‘The Notebooks’ Da Vinci’s bike was “found” in, as well as the parlous time of political unrest in 1960s Italy which led to ‘The Terror’ and a need for a patriotic distraction, before moving on to recount how ‘The Sceptics’ and ‘The Fakes’ thrown up by a prejudicial scan of history muddied the tracks even further…

Some cartoon time travel introduces us to ‘The Maestro’ in his heyday while ‘The Crazies’ he inspired and ‘The Industry’built around him in the 20th century show us how such preposterous notions can take on an unstoppable life of their own (can you say “Anti-Vaxxer”?) after which ‘The Godforsaken Years’ takes us back to 1815 and shows how geological catastrophe sparked the need for the German genius to devise a manpowered substitute for horses in the first place…

‘The Democrat’ Von Drais then gets his time in the sun before ‘The Reveal’ finally investigates who might actually have created Leonardo’s drawing – and why – before ‘The Epilogue’ engages outrage overload with a fresh revelation. Apparently 500 years before the birth of Christ, mythical Chinese artisan Lu Ban built a wooden velocipede. There are even photos…

Like all proper theses, this magnificent filleting of populist nonsense comes fully loaded with ‘The Appendix’: a weighty tract of annotations and acknowledgements adding even more punch to the arguments.

Sharp, smart and truly compelling, The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle is a rationalist triumph, comprehensively applying Occam’s Razor to the tyres of runaway fabulism and delivering a shockingly unforgettable joy ride along the way.
© John Stuart Clark (AKA Brick) 2019. All rights reserved.

Accepting cheques, BACS bank transfers or Paypal, the book is available from www.brickbats.co.uk/bookshop. You could also enquire about the Signed and Numbered limited edition, if you have a bike fanatic in your life you need to impress or mollify…

Paul Robeson for Beginners


By Paul Von Blum, illustrated by Elizabeth Von Notias & Ramses (For Beginners)
ISBN: 978-1-934389-81-2 (PB)

The For Beginners book series produces heavily illustrated text primers: graphic non-fiction foundation courses in a vast variety of subjects from art to philosophy, politics to history and much more, all tackled in an accessible yet properly respectful manner. This particular volume was written by Paul Von Blum, author and Senior Lecturer in African American Studies and Communication Studies at UCLA with a wealth of strips and illustrations by graphic design specialist Elizabeth Von Notias and self-taught multi-media creator Ramses.

If remembered at all, Paul Robeson (April 9th 1898 – January 23rd 1976) is thought of by most people as that African American singer/actor with an incredible bass voice. Maybe some will recall that he was a left-wing political activist who fell foul of Senator Joe McCarthy during America’s infamous “Red-baiting” witch-hunting period.

That’s true enough, but he was also one of the most accomplished and gifted individuals in the nation’s history: a true Renaissance man cheated of his ultimate potential simply because his skin was the wrong colour…

The Introduction lists Robeson’s astonishing accomplishments – all the more amazing when you realise the lack of opportunities if not outright repression facing negroes in segregated America at the time of his birth, and not truly confronted until the Civil Rights movement began gaining traction in the late 1950s.

As told in more telling detail – both in word and pictures in ‘The Early Days’, ‘Paul Robeson the Athlete’, ‘Paul Robeson the Stage Actor’, ‘Paul Robeson the Screen Actor’ and ‘Paul Robeson the Singer’ – the unheralded superman was born in Princeton, New Jersey; the son of a preacher. He was the last of five children in a time and place rigidly defined by class and race divisions.

A brilliant student, Robeson graduated Somerville High School in 1915 and won a four-year scholarship to Rutgers University where, despite initial hostility and actual physical assaults, he became the star of the Football, Baseball, Basketball and Athletics squads, and was twice designated “All-American”.

From there he attended New York University Law School, before transferring to Columbia University Law School. Talented and seemingly tireless, he turned an interest in the dramatic arts into a part-time stage career and also became a professional Football player in 1920. He got married, acted, sang, played Pro ball and kept on studying. Graduating from Columbia in 1923, he worked as a lawyer at a prestigious law firm until the bigotry he experienced from his own subordinates became too much.

In 1924 he switched from stage acting to movies, but still carried on a glittering international career: starring as Othello in London and playing in many hit plays and musicals such as Showboat, Emperor Jones, Stevedore and All God’s Chillun’s Got Wings

Politically active, he visited the Soviet Union in 1934, spoke out against Fascism during the Spanish Civil War, co-founded the anti-colonial Council on African Affairs and used his name and fame to agitate for social and legal changes in such contentious areas as Southern lynch law and trade union legislation. These activities made him a prime target in the USA and in 1941 J. Edgar Hoover ordered the FBI to open a file on him…

In 1950 the US government took away Robeson’s passport because he refused to recant his pro-Soviet, pro-socialist stance and he became an exile in his own country. He was unable to leave America for eight years, until a Supreme Court ruling decreed the State Department had no right to revoke passports due to an individual’s political beliefs.

Robeson’s life was filled with such social and cultural landmarks. Once free to travel again, he became an international political celebrity and social commentator, using his concerts and stage appearances in places as disparate as Wales, Australia, Russia, East Germany and elsewhere to promote a dream of World “Freedom, Peace and Brotherhood”…

His beliefs, struggles achievements and failures are examined in ‘Paul Robeson the International Activist’, ‘Paul Robeson the Domestic Political Activist’ before culminating in a thorough appreciation of ‘The Final Years and His Lasting Legacy’

Augmented by a ‘Bibliography’, ‘Selected Chronology’ and creator biographies, this absorbing documentary – available in paperback and digital editions – proves again the astounding power of visual narrative when wedded to the life story of a truly unique individual.
© 2013 Paul Von Blum. Illustrations © 2013 Elizabeth Von Notias & Ramses. All rights reserved. A For Beginners Documentary Comic Book © 2013.

Civil War Adventure volume 1


By Chuck Dixon & Gary Kwapisz with Esteve Polls, Enrique Villagran, Silvestre & Erik Burnham and various (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-48679-509-6 (TPB)

From its earliest inception, cartooning and graphic narrative has been used to inform. In newspapers, magazines and especially comic books the sheer impact of pictorial storytelling – with its ability to distil technical recreations of time, place and personage whilst creating deep emotional affinities to past or imagined events – has been used to forge unforgettable images and characters within us. When such stories affect the lives of generations of readers, the force they can apply in a commercial, social, political or especially educational arena is almost irresistible…

Thus, 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, social or historical component.

Comics have brought the past to life since they began. Superb examples of a broad view include such triumphs as Jack Jaxon’s Los Tejanos and Comanche Moon or Of Dust and Blood by Jim Berry & Val Mayerik, but the medium is equally adept in crafting more personal biographs such as Terry Eisele & Jonathon Riddle’s With Only Five Plums and others…

And that brings us to another superb re-release from Dover Comics & Graphic Novels (available in trade paperback and digital formats) designed to bring “The War Between the States” to life for younger readers.

Originally published by History Graphics Press in 2009 as Civil War Adventure 1: Real History Stories of the War that Divided America, this marvellous monochrome tome – crafted primarily by comics veterans Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz – switches between actual historical events – with handy maps, diagrams and found writings – and a fictionalised thread of tales depicting how the conflict affected one poor Southern family.

The graphic re-enactments are preceded by a ‘Map of the United States’ detailing the division of the States in 1860 and a‘Civil War Timeline’ which marks key moments and battles (sensibly linking them directly to the stories which follow), after which ‘Choice of Targets’ by Dixon and Esteve Polls offers a text vignette explaining the development of snipers and sharpshooters.

That’s counterpointed by a pithy moment during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 when opposing marksmen find themselves in a life-or-death duel…

‘Berdan’s Sharpshooters’ is a short cartoon lesson on the inspired Union soldier who invented the concept of snipers, and is promptly followed by a chilling and heartrending incident of battlefield misfortune in Dixon & Kwapisz’s ‘Home Again’ plus an illustrated info-&-glossary page which reproduces an actual letter from a Confederate lad the night before he fell…

All-Kwapisz affair ‘Mosby Bags a General’ combines a potted history of the South’s most successful raider with a compelling strip revealing how bold Lieutenant John Mosby infiltrated far behind Union lines to capture 58 horses, thirty prisoners and their captain, plus sleeping General Stoughton, all in one night…

‘Tempered in Blood’ (Dixon & Kwapisz) then introduces the narrative strand as the modest Campbell clan are torn apart when, after heated family discussion, both father and first son Tybalt sneak off from the farm to enlist in the Spring of 1861. Each confidently assures themselves that all the shooting will all be over long before harvest as they unknowingly individually abandon Mrs. Campbell and the little sisters to link up with overconfident volunteers massing for what everybody believes will be one fast knockout blow…

After barely surviving the brutal training that turns hunters, croppers and ploughmen into real soldiers, the Southern heroes finally learn what warfare means at Bull Run…

More contemporary terms, facts and historical insight are offered in ‘The War is Joined!’ before ‘The Devil’s Due’(Kwapisz) delves into the atrocity of total warfare as a Bluecoat patrol diligently follows its bald orders to “turn the South into a wasteland”…

A fact-feature page on ‘John Singleton Mosby’ leads to a feature on rising star and flamboyant self-aggrandiser George Armstrong Custer whose rash adventuring leads ‘The Boy General’ (Dixon & Enrique Villagran) into desperate straits against overwhelming rebel opposition… resulting in Custer’s First Stand…

Data pages on the devastating ‘Sharps Rifle’ and double-pronged naval blockade of the Mississippi River spins off into an account of the duel between ironclad vessels and the brilliant countermeasure devised by Colonel Charles Ellet in ‘Ram Squadron’ (Dixon & Silvestre), capped off by a Kwapisz segment detailing ‘Hell on the Mississippi’, as a Union flotilla horrifically fails to sneak past the naval guns established above Vicksburg…

‘Tempered in Blood II’ returns to the troubled Campbell Clan as Ty wakes in the bloody aftermath of battle to discover his best friend Seth has had enough and absconded. However, by the time he’s found and brought back Seth, Ty discovers his own father has similarly fled.

The elder is not running from bloody death but heading home to save his farm from ruin and family from fever, but that won’t make any difference if he’s picked up by ruthless and remorseless Confederate Picquets…

The tragic true tale of ‘Colonel Cocke’ and his unseemly death gives way to the ribald eccentricity of ‘Darnel Dingus is a…’ which reveals the insane and impecunious ends to which some States descended to ensure their manpower obligations were met. The tale is couched in the story of famous war artist Winslow Homer and a practical joking jackass who learns the hard way that war isn’t funny: appended by a grim examination of ‘The Ultimate Punishment’ for desertion under fire and other – even worse – infringements…

The strip section closes with a sobering and ironic tale of comeuppance in ‘The Letter’ (by Erik Burnham & Kwapisz) wherein a burned-out sawbones steals a missive from one of his less-lucky patients and chases a dream to a woman he’s fallen for based solely on her handwriting and prose…

Following one last Kwapisz-illustrated info page – on ‘Battle Field Surgery’ – this stunning introduction to the birth of modern warfare ends with a comparative list of ‘Further Reading’ and a moving notification of how to learn more in ‘If the Valley Was Lost’.

Similar in tone and style to the best of Harvey Kurtzman’s magnificent anti-war classics from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, this is a rousing, evocative, potently instructive collection amalgamating history and horrific entertainment – and not a little grim wit and actual belly-laughs – to bring a pivotal time to vivid life.
© 2009 Chuck Dixon & Gary Kwapisz. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

Bob Marley in Comics


By Gaets & Sophie Blitman, illustrated by Olivier Desvaux, Ammo, Didier Millotte, Tanguy Pietri, Matthieu Beaulieu, Jena, Efix, Domas, Simon Léturgie, Sarah Williamson, Cyrille Brégère, Julien Modde, Moh, Armel Ressot, Lu-K, Clément Baloup, Joël Alessandra, Julien Atika, Gil & various: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-250-2 (HB)

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2018 – is another cracker likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to as it captivatingly deconstructs the life of a truly unique force in music and popular culture…

If you’ve never heard of Bob Marley or don’t like reggae, you might still want to check this out. The singer was deeply spiritual and it’s never too late to see the light and convert or, failing that, just buy a record…

Gathered in this fetching hardback (or eBook) edition are context-providing essays backing up individual comics sections; each chronological article and comics vignettes written by the ever-informative comics scribe Gaets and journalist/children’s author Sophie Blitman, supported by a veritable legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant strips, beginning with ‘From Nesta to Robert’ – limned by Olivier Desvaux.

The early life of the musician introduces us to his mother Cedella Malcolm and the old white soldier she married. With Norval Marley disinherited and promptly absconding, Nesta Robert Marley spent his early years in the rural farming community of Nine Miles in Jamaica until at age six, when he was whisked away to Kingston by his dad… who simply dumped him with another woman and vanished again…

Happily, a few years later Cedella joined the boy who was already showing promise as both a fortune telling mystic and award-winning singer. Rendered in stark monochrome by Ammo, ‘The Rude Boys of Trenchtown’ exposes the appalling poverty Nesta endured and the lasting friendships that privation engendered as they played, made music and hung out together: relationships expanded upon in the essay ‘Growing Up Between Worlds’.

Working in muted full colour, Didier Millotte explores ‘Reggae in the Ghetto’ as Robert Marley – now working as a full-time (14-year-old) welder – and his mates Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are taken under the wing of pro musician Joe Higgs who teaches young Marley to play guitar…

‘Making Friends in Trenchtown’ details the development of the musical genre Reggae from Ska and Marley’s growing influence after which Tanguy Pietri illuminates sordid conditions and lack of opportunities which compel him to make music his life in ‘A Ray of Light in the Dark’

Matthieu Beaulieu reveals the unique way poor Jamaicans consumed pop music in ‘Sound Systems, Ska & Studio One’, how the blossoming star is ripped off for the first – of many – times and how he meets wife-to-be Rita Anderson: a relationship which grows in Jena’s vignette ‘Is This Love?’

Efix delineates Marley’s spiritual growth in historical lecture ‘The Roots of the Rasta Movement’, whilst Domas’ ‘Tuff Gong in Nine Miles’ follows his musical journey to America – until the threat of being drafted into Vietnam – and ultimately to London, where The Wailers become stranded…

Essay ‘The Path to Success’ concentrates upon Marley’s song-writing and musical self-determination which led to the critical meeting with British Producer Chris Blackwell in ‘The Reggae Wave’ (art by Simon Léturgie) and the release of first album Catch a Fire. Now a growing global sensation among young white music fans – as detailed in essay ‘An “International Reggae”’ – Bob Marley and The Wailers retire to Blackwell’s ‘Villa Rasta’ (illustrated by Sarah Williamson), to make more music and bask in fame in their own country whilst enjoying a few rock star trappings of success…

One such is covered in ‘Bob Marley, Rita… And All the Other Women’, recounting the numerous affairs and children the singer indulged in even as the parade of mega-hits began. Cyrille Brégère encapsulates the tone of the times in ‘The Sheriff Died Tonight’ with the financial sharks already circling, as seen in ‘Around the World’ (Julien Modde), leading to the breakup of the founding members…

Throughout this period, Jamaica was descending into political chaos and gangsterism fuelled by economic disparity. This was something no amount of interviews or comments from the pacifist, life-loving musician could affect, but did result in the assassination attempt depicted by Moh in ‘Panic in the Hen House’.

The spark was believed to be proposed peace and reconciliation concert Smile Jamaica, but despite being wounded, three days later the show went on with Marley proudly in the spotlight…

Following more history in ‘The Price of Fame’, Armel Ressot graphically caters a ‘Punk Reggae Party’ as the leading proponents of two landmark musical movements meet and cross pollinate, despite falling foul of British Law, after which ‘From Exile to Exodus’ covers the creation of the classic album before ‘Red Card’ (art by Lu-K) heralds the beginning of the end after an impromptu kickabout in Paris leads to a shocking discovery…

The star’s obsessive passion for the sport of the ghettos is examined in ‘Bob Marley and His Love of Soccer’, as is his refusal to compromise his Rastafari principles by accepting medical treatments unacceptable to his faith. Clément Baloup then pictorially details the escalating civil war in Kingston and Marley’s controversial pre-election solution of a One Love Peace Concert in ‘Ablaze’.

Knowing his end was near, Marley finally visited Ethiopia in 1978 before finishing the album Survival and discovering yet another friend and manager had been stealing from him and his fans. He played controversial concerts in Africa – including the independence ceremony of recently liberated and newly-created Zimbabwe – twice in fact, as the authorities cut the first one short through force of arms – as seen Joël Alessandra’s ‘Roots’.

Penultimate essay ‘For Peace and Unity Among Peoples’ shares his philosophies, awards and legacy, via the peace concerts he headlined, backed up by a moving strip of his final days in ‘All the Way’ (by Julien Atika), after which closing essay ‘Death of the “Pope of Reggae”’ fills in the detail of his passing and ‘What Next?’ by Gil closes the show with the events of the Tuff Gong’s state funeral and his musical legacy, courtesy of his many children.

Bob Marley in Comics is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that resonates with anybody who loves to listen and look. Without it, you’re simply nowhere, man…

© 2016 Petit as Petit. © 2018 NBM for the English translation.
Bob Marley in Comics will be released in the UK in February 2020 and is available for pre-order now. NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King – The Special Edition


By Ho Che Anderson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-310-1 (HB)

There are books to read, books you should read – and some perhaps, more controversially, that you shouldn’t – and there are important books. The still relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but precious few really important books yet.

It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry (simply excelling at your craft is not enough) but when we do generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast – so I’m not going to spend acres of text praising this superbly comprehensive examination of the man that lived beside – not “behind” or “within” – the modern myth of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over the course of ten years (1993-2002) Canadian cartoonist Ho Che Anderson struggled to produce three comics books propounding a less hagiographic perspective of a man who was as much sinner as saint, but whose determination, passion, energy and often sheer luck (or divine inspiration?) drove a cleansing wedge into a rotting, repressive, stifled society and succeeded in opening enough doors for America’s racial underclass, so that forty years later a black American could be elected to govern the World’s greatest superpower.

Not that four decades is so brief an interlude. But then again, how many European or white Commonwealth countries can boast that their highest echelons of power have made even that much progress?

In both stark black & white and mesmerising colour, Anderson uses all the strengths and tools of sequential narrative to reveal, relate, question and challenge the oft-recounted facts of the Georgia Pastor’s life in this magnificent volume (available in luxurious hard cover and all-purpose digital editions) which was originally released to celebrate Barack Obama’s – and the American people’s – landmark achievement. From here and now he’s looking to have been the last Great – or even Sane – chief of the Land of the Free

Gathered into one compelling tome is this hard-crafted triptych of issues, including restored extra and deleted scenes; the thematically linked one-shot Black Dogs plus many bonus features, as well as a fascinating overview from Anderson; sketches and reminisces, a treatise on his working practises and a gallery of related art.

This is an authentic historical examination and a perfect example of the comics medium at its most effective – incisive biography not pictorial puff piece – and as important a landmark achievement for our art-form as Maus, American Splendor, Watchmen, Pride of Baghdad and Persepolis.

Whenever and wherever we have to defend our Art from decriers and peddlers of prejudice, King will be one of the handful of examples which cannot be refuted, contradicted or ignored. It’s a book no thinking fan or socially responsible human being can afford to miss.
King: The Special Edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All content © 2010 Ho Che Anderson. All rights reserved.

Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful


By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-822-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timely Heads-Up for the Upcoming Spendfest Season… 9/10

There are books to read, books you should read – and some, perhaps, that you shouldn’t – and there are important books. The relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but still boasts precious few important books yet. Thankfully, British documentarian, journalist and cartoonist Darryl Cunningham seems to specialise in the latter…

It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry (simply excelling at your craft is not enough) but when comics does generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast – so I’m not going to spend acres of text praising this forthright, potentially controversial and damning examination of Earth’s Newest (but hopefully not Last) Gods – the Super Rich.

Multi-disciplined artist Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all?) 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 and many others.

In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit and it remains one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly sidelining comics as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period that 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 on his creations Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been consolidating a pole position in 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 and The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis.

His latest offering details the rise and pernicious all-pervasive influence of three icons of the plutocratic ideal while debunking such self-deluding and damaging public myths as “self-made”, “coming from nothing” or “fair and honest”.

It opens with a pictorial Introduction outlining how late 19th and early 20th century robber barons of the Gilded Age set the scene for the rise of today’s financial overlords – and how governments responded to them…

Delivered in clear, simple, easily accessible imagery, Cunningham then deconstructs the carefully crafted legends and official biographies of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, energy barons Charles & David Koch and internet retail supremo Jeff Beez with an even-handed fairness I’m not sure any other investigative author could match – or would want to.

Via an avalanche of always-attributable, deftly delineated facts and reported events, the artist delivers the very opposite of hard-hitting polemic, instead massaging and lathering readers with an ocean of appetising data that allows us make up our own minds about proudly ruthless apex business predators who have controlled governments, steered populations and reshaped the planet in their quest for financial dominance.

Best of all, Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs in his Afterword, and – should anybody’s lawyers or tax accountants be called upon – backs up all his cartoon classwork with a vast and daunting list of References for everything cited in the book.

Comics has 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 Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful we finally see that force being used against today’s greatest threat to continued existence…
© Darryl Cunningham 2019. All rights reserved.

Wildcat Anarchist Comics


By Donald Rooum & guests (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62963-1-271 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because the Good Fight Never Ends… 10/10

I’m afraid I’m going to overshare a bit here.

This summer was a time of great personal upset and travail for me and mine: a succession of unwelcome events that culminated in the death of a beloved pet, one family funeral, an eventually happily-resolved health scare and another literally hours-from-death life-saving heroic intervention by doctors and nurses of the National Health Service.

How any plutocratic, greedy, self-serving scum can denigrate, gaslight or deny these true heroes decent pay and conditions and job security in the name of economy or ideology is beyond my capacity to understand and I will mock and maim any agent of authority seeking to sell them out…

Sorry: it’s all still a bit raw.

However, the actual point is that – in the throes of trying to maintain an even keel and honour my personal and professional commitments over that period – I managed to completely miss the passing of one of my oldest friends and greatest mentor. I only found out that Donald Rooum died a few days ago, and it’s really preying on me now.

Thankfully, I was raised Catholic and have decades of early programming in accepting and forever internalising burdensome guilt, so I’m dealing it with it my own manner. This is part of it…

Donald Rooum (20th April 1928 – August 31st 2019) became an Anarchist in 1944 and fought the good, reasoned, acerbic but never strident fight for his particular non-political ethical standpoint since the 1950s – most notably, in cartoon form, where he used that most devastating of weapons, the pen, to deliver his payloads of well-reasoned integrity and intellectual challenge.

He was also a thinker, educator, lecturer and tireless seeker after knowledge, adding degrees in Life Sciences to his ever-expanding list of qualifications (which also included Designer, Calligrapher and Historian) before, after years of writing learned articles, becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Biology at the age of 76.

From 1952 onwards, he enjoyed a long career as a cartoonist, providing gags and strips for The Syndicalist, She, The Daily Mirror, Private Eye, The Spectator and many more. He authored many books, illustrated countless articles and bought all of us students in his wake over generations many pints when we couldn’t, and even after we could.

One of his last was Wildcat Anarchist Comics (available in both traditional paperback and cutting edge digitality) which combined a long-overdue and far too short autobiography with a selection of his decades of cartoon triumphs. Donald usual worked in black-&-white but in this compilation most of the material was diligently coloured by Jayne Clementson, making it even more accessible to our overseas cousins.

The book opens with a Foreword by Jay Kinney (Founder and Editor of legendary underground publication Anarchy Comics and a man also still fighting The Fight) before ever gracious and humble Donald uses an extended, copiously illustrated Introduction to share the salient points of his remarkable life and career with typically understated deference.

‘How and Why I Became an Anarchist’ provides historical background, revelatory moments and quite a few laughs before ‘More autobiographical stuff (in case anyone might be interested)’ traces his early exploits, allowing him to slip into lecture mode for ‘The anarchist revolution is now’.

If you check his (extremely fair but too short) Wikipedia entry you’ll see that he was responsible for exposing corruption and changing British Case Law. ‘My fifteen minutes of fame: The Challenor case’, ‘Regina v. Rooum. The Queen versus me.’, ‘Too much other news’ and ‘The public inquiry and the James Report’ gives his side of a time in 1963 when a high-ranking police officer tried (not for the first time and too often successfully) to frame CND protesters, anti-monarchists and anyone else he didn’t like with planted evidence.

Donald was instrumental in the downfall of said corrupt policeman and the changing of English Law. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. It’s still – for now – a free country. When you have checked, then you’ll know who to thank…

Donald Rooum was a force in comics, in education, in science and in the Anarchist movement for longer than I’ve been alive. As well as sharing his knowledge and honing the skills of generations of creative people and producing some of the most gently powerful and trenchant political cartooning of the last half century, he was actually a wonderfully interesting person to talk to – he would engage with anyone: you couldn’t stop him – and we’re all the poorer for his passing.

He was also a bloody fine cartoonist whose drawings and unique lettering skills are overwhelmingly entertaining. You can see that from the merest selection of his work culled from many books and strips that fills the rest of this book.

The majority of the section dubbed The Comics is filled with his signature star, eponymous impatient instigator Wildcat. She is a strident, impatient and unstoppable anthropomorphic feline who has spent decades on the pages of Freedom magazine, puncturing pomposity, inviting debate – and also abruptly ending it – whilst attempting to educate the willing in the ways the world works. She hangs around with a strange crowd of meek but dedicated, intellectual souls such as The Free Range Egghead who offers counterpoint and calming tones. Guess who usually has the last word… or action…

The collection opens with a history lesson or two and some views of alternative politics all delivered in a gentle, charming yet tellingly informative and subtly subversive manner. The jokes don’t forget to be funny and more importantly, there are no blind spots. Anarchists are as good a target as any Establishment or Vested Interest if the aim is to skewer pomposity, injustice or stupidity.

The Enemy is exemplified as Governments, Police, Big Business, The Church and smug Know-It-Alls of all nations, but there are always telling shots at Anarchists themselves – who, as you might suspect, are usually their own worst enemies if there are more than three in any location at once.

The truly amazing – and most depressing – thing is not the superb drawing talent displayed nor even the range of subjects that fall under the bellicose scrutiny of his team of lampooning and lambasting characters. It is that the issues Rooum and his occasional collaborators highlight and skewer never go away. The names and faces of political and industrial scoundrels and mountebanks may change, but the mistakes and problems they create just keep going.

The collection An Anarchist Alphabet is reproduced in its entirety: a discourse and primer on the true meaning and terminology of the work and society as viewed from a purely Anarchist perspective.

Just for the record: since the strips have to spend so much time clarifying this point, I will too. Suspend preconceptions you’ve grown used to. Actual Anarchism is the belief and aspiration that “Society should be a system where there is no Government and Social Relationships are all voluntary.” And while I’ve got the Quotation marks key under my thumb, here’s a couple from the book itself…

“Boss: one who directs, controls or dominates others” and “Government: body of persons who direct, control or dominate a state or other organisation”

Under the guise of a slide show lecture in a church hall, we see some funny and thought-provoking alternatives to commercialism and globalism, and the discussion portion after the lesson continues the mirth with worth.

Clever, challenging, and potentially life-changing: Surely this is what all art dreams of being? And when it makes you laugh too? This alone is a must-have item for any child of the 21st century.

We take a trip into history next as ‘Spartapuss’ gives a long view on the struggle for autonomy and self-reliance before dipping into pertinent paradigms from Anarchists Against Bombs where all the power and vitriol of his deceptively gentle gaze and accessible penmanship target the Arms Industry and the dubious political processes that equate freeing the victims of brutal oppression with blowing them up before their oppressor can get around to doing it themselves.

More deftly-drafted diatribes follow as we prowl the corridors of power and revisit ‘The Big Bang’ and even get the graphic lowdown on Challenor’ before moving on to other triumphs in The Strips.

‘Gandaft the Famous Wizard’ offers less polemical laughs yet still managed to gather controversy after ‘Gandaft’s Garden’ was created for 1987 comics collective chronicle Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament. The tale reinterprets the Christian creation myth with typically gentle savagery and wit, and sees a hairy bloke in a big hat standing in for the Big Man in the Sky…

One of Donald’s longest gigs was delineating the wry adventures of ‘Sprite’: a fairy of Shakespearean mien who debuted in The Skeptic in 1987 and just kept on charming and bewildering the readership.

Wrapping up the show is a canny, politically shaded reinterpretation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy story as ‘The Tale of the Straw Boggart’ reveals the true human costs and rewards of trying to buy love…

This superb book is a smart, incisive primer for a brilliant and dedicated creator’s treasure trove of cartoon gold. It never forgets that you have to be funny as well as sharp if you want to get your message to stick.

We should cluster-bomb Westminster and all Fifty States (I’m assuming of course that it will still be 50 by the time you read this) of the USA with copies of this book and every election campaign should begin with televised selected readings therefrom. Yeah, Right, If Only…

Just remember, Anarchism is about taking responsibility, not taking charge. I’m trusting you to get your own copy of this book, read it often and tell everyone you know about it.
But please, do it politely and honestly. Just like Donald would.
© Donald Rooum. This edition © 2016 PM Press. All rights reserved.

Why Art? (Fourth Edition)


By Eleanor Davis (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-082-9 (PB)

Probably everybody here will agree that comics is art sequentially wedded to pictures. However, when asked to define what constitutes “Art”, the answers become a little more nuanced and open to debate. What’s needed is someone sharp, talented and well-travelled – preferably a practitioner – who can give us all a full and final assessment…

Eleanor Davis is one of those rare sparks that just can’t help making great comics. Born in 1983 and growing up in Tucson, Arizona, she was blessed with parents who immersed their child in classic strip literature such as Little Nemo, Little Lulu and Krazy Kat.

Following unconventional schooling and teen years spent making minicomics, Davis studied at Georgia’s prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design, where she now teaches. Her own innovative works have appeared in diverse places such as Mome, Nobrow and Lucky Peach.

A life of glittering prizes began after her award-winning easy reader book Stinky was released in 2008. Davis subsequently followed up with gems such as The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook (with her husband Drew Weing), You & a Bike & a Road and How to be Happy. Who better, then, to lay to rest possibly the most infuriating conundrum of the modern age?

In 2018, Fantagraphics released Why Art?, based on elements of her presentation for ICON: The Illustration Conference 9. The result is a whimsical exploration of what the term means – albeit seen through the lens of one of the slyest, driest and most cultured senses of humour in the business…

If you can keep your own wits about you, in this deliriously addictive paperback/eBook you will glean potential solutions to perennial mysteries all de- and re-mystified in chapters on ‘Color’ as interpreted through scale; ‘What is our audience searching for’ via an examination of Masks; how to use physical and metaphorical ‘Mirrors’ and how some art is ‘Edible’

Narrative fully enters the frame in a section on ‘Concealment artworks’ and the liberational force of ‘Shadowbox’ creations. which serves to introduce a repertory cast of creatives who work in different media and then take us on their shared journey of catastrophic revelation…

Wry and surreal, strong>Why Art? is a delicious tease and poker of hornets’ nests that slickly tackles loads of old, overused questions while offering a few new queries you never thought of…

It’s also beautifully drawn and rendered: A brilliant diversion combining wit and wisdom in a manner every self-accused intellectual and unrepentant picture lover can revel in.
© Eleanor Davis 2018. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.