Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery (10th Anniversary edition)


By Mat Johnson & Warren Pleece, with Clem Robbins (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-564-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-50670-591-0

What’s prejudice? How does bigotry and unthinking fear and hatred of otherness work? What happens when haters can’t tell the difference between “us” and “them”?

Those are frankly disturbing and astonishing questions first asked in 2008 in an Original Graphic Novel released by DC’s Vertigo imprint which made a lot of noise and changed some lives. The book won acclaim and awards and its subject matter started conversations in exactly the right places: classrooms where it became a selected text for high schools and colleges. The questions have not gone away and the issues have not been resolved but the book and its sequel remain to carry on asking them.

This 10th Anniversary edition reprints the original tale in all its moody monochrome glory, backed up by a contextualising Author’s Note (‘I grew up a black boy who looked white’) and Afterword plus a copious sketchbook section featuring designs by Warren Pleece and ‘Reading Group Guide/Questions & Topics for Discussion’.

The tale itself is set in the segregationist South of the early 1930s and opens at a social gathering in Tuscaloosa with families all cheerfully gathering to see a black boy strung up. As the attendees patiently queue for a picture with the “strange fruit”, a newcomer takes their names and addresses. It’s only when the commemorational photographer denies hiring him that Zane Pinchback of (New York City’s African American newspaper) The New Holland Herald realises that he’s pushed his luck and needs to run for his life now.

Sadly, however, not before a visiting bigwig from the Ku Klux Klan gets a good look at him and starts wondering…

Safely back north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Pinchback’s latest headline grabber upsets liberals and shames the perpetrators, but the journalist is still unhappy. His exposés change nothing and he feels a fraud: a proud black man who makes a living pretending to be white. He can’t even use his own name – hence his byline “Incognegro” – or face on his widely syndicated columns: that would instantly negate the genetic advantage of a negro who can “pass” for white. Things are liberal enough in Manhattan that he and his debonair wastrel pal Carl can intermingle with most folk and go drinking in swish clubs, but Zane knows things can go bad easily enough and resolves to quit and go legit…

His editor staunchly refuses to accept, instead offering him a deal: one more undercover assignment. He’s certain Zane will accept. The negro jailed in Tupelo, Mississippi accused of killing a white woman is someone he’s known his entire life. Heading off in a hurry and readying himself to play the high stakes game of his life, Zane has no idea how complex and convoluted this job will be, or that blithely incautious Carl has invited himself along to a place where his kind of playful idiocy has lethal consequences…

Author Mat Johnson took inspiration from his own childhood and exploits and activities of Walter White (ultimately Chief Exec of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) who began his career investigating lynchings because of the same genetic quirk as Zane Pinchback.

Still available in hardcover, trade paperback, digital editions and even in the original DC/Vertigo edition, Incognegro is smart, funny where it can be and devastatingly effective whenever it needs to be. As well as the racial injustice so savagely skewered here, this is a cunning and engrossing murder mystery with plenty of twists, which even finds room to have a stab at the still largely unaddressed problems of women’s independence and transgender acceptance. If you love great storytelling underpinned by real-world issues, this is something you must see.
Incognegro ™ & © 2008, 2018 Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece. All rights reserved.

Glorious Summers volume 2: The Calanque 1969


By Zidrou & Jordi Lafebre, with additional colour by Mado Peña, translated by Lara Vergnaud (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: Digital edition only

It’s close (OMG! LESS THAN A WEEK!) to the most stressful and commercialised event of the singleton calendar for unattached people who wish they weren’t, so let’s look at what all that amorous manoeuvring and romantic strategizing is supposed to lead to as perfectly depicted in a sublime and delightful family feast of “Happy Ever Afters”…

Until comparatively recently, comics in the English-speaking world mostly countenanced comedic or numerous adventure sub-genres (crime, superhero, horror, sci fi), with only a small but vital niche of “mundane world” ventures, usually depicted via graphic biographies and autobiographies like They Called Us Enemy, Breakwater, Love on the Isle of Dogs, Wage Slaves or Sour Pickles offering a different feel and flavour. Even historical sagas were treated as extraordinary moments with larger-than-life characters whenever possible.

What we have never had – and still largely don’t – is a comics equivalent to general fiction, drama and melodrama. That’s not so in Japan, South Korea or Europe, where a literal “anything goes” attitude has always accommodated and nurtured human-scaled, slice-of-life tales depicting ordinary people in as many quiet as extraordinary moments. Surely it can’t be that hard to tell engaging stories in pedestrian, recognisably ordinary settings? Medical traumas, love stories, school tales and family tragedies about common folk seem to play well on various-sized screens around the world, so why not in English language comics? The closest we seem to get are comedies like John Allison’s superb Giant Days (which I really must review soon)…

People being people is more than enough for Europeans. There apparently is an insatiable appetite for everyday events aimed at properly “mature readers”, joyfully sans vampires, aliens or men in tights. These even have sub-genres of their own. For example, there’s a wealth of superb material just about going on holiday. So, since our own Government-in-Absentia have ensured that it’s now all-but-impossible for any UK-based citizens to pop across and have une petite vacances in Europe, let’s stare & glare covetously at them having a good time. After all, over there holidays are an inalienable right, and they have some simply fabulous tales about a simple break. This one is probably amongst the best you’ll ever see…

An absolute exemplar of fantasy vacations made real, Glorious Summers: Southbound! (1973) was a nostalgia-drenched confection by Zidrou and regular collaborator Jordi Lafebre: a sublime example of idyllic group memory made into graphic sorcery in an everyday account utterly unafraid to temper humorous sweetness and light with real-world tragedy and suspense.

Perhaps some context is in order. Summer holidays – “Midi” – are a big deal in France and Belgium. The French divide into two tribes over the annual rest period, which generally lasts an entire month. Juilletistes only vacation in July, wielding dogmatic facts like rapiers to prove why it’s the only way to take a break. They are eternally opposed, heart, soul, and suntan lotion, by majority faction the Aoûtiens, who recharge their batteries in August whilst fully reciprocating the suspicion, disdain and baffled scorn of the early-leavers. Many European sociologists claim the greatest social division today is not race, religion, gender, political affiliation or whether to open boiled eggs from the top or the bottom, but when summer holidays begin and end…

Les Beaux Étés 1: Cap au Sud! was first in a string of family visits that began in 2015 courtesy of scripter Benoît “Zidrou” Drousie and Spanish illustrator Jordi Lafebre. Drousie is Belgian, Brussels-born in 1962 and was a school teacher prior to quitting marking books in 1990 to begin making them. His main successes include school dunce series L’Elève Ducobu, Petit Dagobert, Scott Zombi, La Ribambelle, Le Montreur d’histoires, the revival of Ric Hochet, African Trilogy, Léonardo, Shi and many more. His most celebrated and beloved stories are this memorable sequence and 2010’s Lydie, both illustrated by Lafebre.

That gifted, empathically sensitive illustrator and art teacher was born in Barcelona in 1979 and has created comics professionally since 2001, first for magazines like Mister K, where he limned Toni Font’s El Mundo de Judy. He found regular work at Le Journal de Spirou, creating the romance Always Never and collaborated with Zidrou on La vieille dame qui n’avait jamais joué au tennis et autres nouvelles qui font du bien, Lydie, and La Mondaine.

A combination of feel-good fable and powerful comedy drama, Glorious Summers depicts memories of an aging couple recalling their grandest family moments, beginning with a momentous vacation in 1973 where their four kids nearly lost their parents….

Here however, second volume The Calanque focuses on August 1969 as pregnant Maddie Faldérault (soon to deliver precociously hyperactive Paulette AKA Peaches) tries to amuse her three impatient kids whilst hubby Pierre frantically puts finishing touches to his latest comic strip. It’s a regular ritual before his month off, but this time less annoying as it’s also his first work as a named creator rather than an anonymous ghost artist for others. Apparently the world is finally ready for a four-armed cowboy gunfighter…

Their kids are immune to bedtimes and indulge in time-honoured holiday rituals like shouting, fighting and singing odd songs, before Pierre downs his brushes. Now the annual Faldérault escape from gloomy Brussels for a month in sun-drenched France can start.

Only… on the way they need to see his dad. Pépé Buelo moved to Brussels when General Franco took over Spain. He made a good life as bricklayer and husband, but now he’s on his own and a little lonely…

Eventually, the family set off with introspective toddler Louis reading, drawing and constantly sharing his far from limited knowledge of where babies come from, even as self-conscious oldest girl Jolly-Julie anxiously ponders life without bathrooms and in-betweener Nicole tells everyone they meet that mummy is going to be a mummy again. As they motor south in the dark – they left really, really late – they play their annual game of deciding where they’re going by solving riddles because planned destinations and pre-booked rooms are for wimps…

True free spirits, they pick up a hippie hitchhiker and scare him witless with their laid back attitudes – especially teasing Jolly-Julie’s reticence to use nature as a restroom. When he drops out they resume southern roaming and finally decide to camp in a shady wood for the night. In the morning the family Faldérault realise their error as elderly French couple Rufus and Ramona discover they have Belgians in the back garden…

After a few lovely days as guests who can’t politely escape, Pierre and Maddie learn that Rufus knows the perfect spot for travellers to enjoy their break, directing them to a hidden cove on the sea coast. It’s beautiful: an idyllic cliff-screened rustic paradise with a ramshackle fishing hut just ready to be temporarily occupied. Rufus even provides a guide in the form of his exuberant older brother – aging fisherman Marius.

What follows is timeless weeks of wonder and unforgettable explorations on endlessly sunny days, with local villagers taking the wanderers to heart and welcoming them to a taste of rustic heaven. Even the Americans landing on the moon or the Tour de France victory of Belgian Eddie Merckx can’t compare…

Ultimately the real world calls them back and the holidaymakers pack up for home. Awaiting them is bad news for Pierre, a new job for Maddie and a rainy grey hometown. One clear sign of normality resuming comes as they find a dog abandoned by the roadside, but brilliantly and boldly they turn that traumatic event into a lasting positive…

This tale is another beautifully rendered and realised basket of memories stitched seamlessly together. It’s funny, sweet and charming whilst delivering painful blows you never see coming. There aren’t any spectacular events and shocking crises and that’s the whole point…

If you’re British – and old enough – this series (six translated albums thus far, plus a French omnibus edition) will echo revered family sitcoms like Bless This House or Butterflies and generational ads starring the “Oxo Family”. (If that description doesn’t fit you, I pity your browsing history if you look up any of that…). The rest of you in need of an opening (but unfair) comparator could break out the Calvin and Hobbes collections and re-examine the bits with his embattled parents when the kid’s out of the picture…

Lyrical, laconic, engagingly demure, and debilitatingly nostalgic, this holiday romance is sheer visual perfection wrapped in sharp dialogue and a superbly anarchic sense of mischief. Vacations are built of moments and might-have-beens, packaged here in compelling clips making the mundane marvellous.
© 2018 -DARGAUD BENELUX (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – ZIDROU & LEFEBRE, LLC. All rights reserved.

What Am I Going To Do Without You?


By Patt Kelley (Top Shelf Digital)
No ISBN. A Digital Exclusive (2012)

We live not just in the End Days but also truly Fortean Times. That’s artfully demonstrated and perfectly embodied in this forgotten gem from Patt Kelley (Fedor, Scout, And Then There Was Nothing, What’s for Breakfast?) who here pokes gently with a soft stick the sore subjects of love, loss, loneliness, mortality and embracing enforced change…

A dozen years ago in his debut graphic novel Kelley captivatingly mixed small town small mindedness with a look at enduring relationships and dawning independence played against a backdrop of the world turned upside down…

When little kids discover a dead dinosaur (an apatosaurus, if you’re asking) in the woods it soon escalates into a full-on media circus with gawkers, reporters and chancers invading a little piece of hamlet heaven we’re all programmed to crave. The news sensation doesn’t really affect Jeanie, who’s more concerned with stopping her moronic provincial classmates – especially Kaylee and her God-fearing Mean Girls – picking on her because she’s the only goth in high school. Typically though, her miracle-hungry mom goes crazy and drags the rebel sophisticate into the building gossip frenzy.

Across town, Flo and her husband Murray get some bad news when the doctor reveals what’s causing his persistent cough. Flo is facing the rest of her life alone and asks herself a question she doesn’t want answered…

When Kaylee starts spiteful Satanic rumours about Jeanie it’s not long before the faculty jump on board to ostracise the nonconformist weird kid, but the authorities’ disposal of the dead dino is what’s really gripping the parochial townsfolk. Even rapidly-declining Murray is blown away by the big lizard story. Hubby seems pretty accepting of his own imminent extinction, and just won’t shut up about what Flo should do once he’s out of the picture…

Everywhere strangers start talking to each other, moved by the incredible once-in-a-lifetime event, but Kaylee is gleefully punishing proudly unrepentant voluntary outsider Jeanie… until another unique one-in-a-billion happenstance settles that confrontation. It’s only the start of more strange encounters and freak accidents that Flo is oblivious to. For now Murray is all the world to her…

As chaos increasingly unfolds peaks and finally fades, the inevitable comes and many players confront their fears and reconcile regrets where they can. In the aftermath, widow Flo tries to adjust and on a whim heads for those woods where the dinosaur died and happens on one last once-in-a-lifetime meeting…

Slowly building and beguilingly understated, the interplay of little lives Kelly unpicks and puts under the microscope here form a mosaic of overwhelming emotion, wedding pedestrian and universally shared aspects of human existence with the reminder that there is wonder everywhere if you just look. So why don’t you?
What Am I Going To Do Without You? © & ™ Patt Kelley. All Rights Reserved.

The Silver Metal Lover


By Tanith Lee, adapted by Trina Robbins (Harmony/Crown Books)
ISBN: 0-517-55853-X (Album PB)

In the 1980s, comics finally began fully filtering into the mainstream of American popular culture, helped in no small part by a few impressive adaptations of works of literary fantasy such as Michael Moorcock’s Elric or DC’s Science Fiction Graphic Novel line. In 1985 pioneering cartoonist, feminist, author and comics historian Trina Robbins (A Century of Women Cartoonists, It Ain’t Me, Babe Comix, Dope, The Legend of Wonder Woman, Choices: A Pro-Choice Benefit Comic Anthology for the National Organization for Women, Misty, Honey West) joined that small but proliferating throng with this deceptively powerful and effectively bittersweet romance adapted from Tanith Lee’s short tale about an earnest young girl in a spoiled, indolent world who discovers abiding love in the most unexpected of places….

In the far-flung, ferociously formal and crushingly civilised future everything is perfect – if you can afford it – but human nature has not evolved to match Mankind’s technological and sociological advancements. Plus ca change plus ca meme chose, right?

Jane has everything a 16-year old could want but is still unhappy. Her mother Demeta provides all she needs – except human warmth – whilst her six registered friends do their best to provide for her growing associative and societal needs. Of her carefully selected peer circle, Jane only actually likes flighty, melodramatic needily narcissistic Egyptia – whom Jane’s mother approves of but considers certifiably insane.

In this world people can live in the clouds if they want, with robots performing most manual toil and providing all those tedious but necessary services, but it’s far from paradise. Humans still get suspicious and bored with their chatty labour-saving devices and monumental Electronic Metals, Ltd strive constantly to improve their ubiquitous inventions…

One day Jane accompanies Egyptia to an audition where the fully made-up thespian is accosted by a rude man who mistakes her for a new android and persistently seeks to buy her.

Ruffled by the pushy lout’s manner, Jane’s attention is suddenly distracted by a beautiful metal minstrel busking in the plaza. The robot’s performance and his lovely song move and frighten Jane in way she cannot understand. When S.I.L.V.E.R. (Silver Ionized Locomotive Verisimulated Electronic Robot) affably introduces himself the flustered girl bolts, running for the relative security of the nearby home of sardonic friend Clovis, where the beautiful man-tart is in the process of dumping yet another lover.

He proves unsurprisingly unsympathetic to Jane’s confusion and distress, telling her to go home where, still inexplicably upset, she tries to talk the experience out with mother. Impatient as always, the matron simply enquires if Jane is masturbating enough before telling her to record whatever’s bothering her for mummy to deal with later…

Sulking in a bath, Jane is awoken from a sleep by ecstatic Egyptia who has passed her audition. Bubbling with glee the neophyte actress demands Jane join her at a big party, but whilst avoiding a persistent old letch creepily fixated on the fresh young thing, Jane stumbles again upon S.I.L.V.E.R. … and once more reacts histrionically to his singing.

As he profusely apologizes for the inexplicable distress he’s somehow caused her, Jane realizes the disturbing mechanical minstrel has been rented by Egyptia for quite another kind of performance later – a private and intimate one. With a gasp of surprise Jane finally understands what she’s feeling and kisses the alluring automaton before fleeing…

Her mother is as useless as ever. Whilst futilely attempting to explain her problem but failing even to catch Demeta’s full attention, Jane gives up and claims she’s in love with Clovis just to cause a shock. The next day the heartsick waif visits the offices of Electronic Metals, Ltd ostensibly to rent the droid of her dreams – as a minor she has to lie about her age – but is sickened when she finds him partially dissembled as techs try to track down an anomalous response in his systems…

Despondent, she is astonished when Machiavellian Clovis intervenes, renting S.I.L.V.E.R. for Egyptia and convincing the too, too-busy starlet to let Jane look after it for her…

Alone with the object of her affection, insecure Jane’s imagined affair quickly becomes earthily, libidinously real, but the honeymoon ends far too soon when Clovis informs her the rental period is over. Crippled by her burning love for the artificial Adonis, Jane begs her mother to buy him for her. When the coldly withholding guardian refuses, the obsessed child at last rebels…

When Demeta disappears on another of her interminable business trips, Jane sells her apartment’s contents, moves into the slums and desperately claims her dream lover with the ill-gotten gains…

Following a tragically brief transformative period of sheer uncompromised joy with her adored mechanical man, reality hits the happy couple hard when Demeta tracks Jane down and smugly applies financial pressure to force her wayward child to return. Undaunted, the pair become unlicensed street performers and grow even closer but as Jane grows in confidence and ability, and becomes fiercely independent, public opinion turns against the latest generation of far-too-human mechanical servants. When Electronic Metals recalls all its now hated products, the improper couple flee the city. However, the heartless auditors track them down and reclaim Jane’s Silver Metal Lover…

Lyrical and poetic, this is a grand old-fashioned tale of doomed love which still has a lot to say about transformation, growing up and walking your own path, with Trina Robbins’ idyllic and idealised cartooning deceptively disguising the heartbreaking savagery and brutal cruelty of the story to superb effect, making the tragedy even more potent.

Regrettably out of print for years, this is a comics experience long overdue for revival – perhaps in conjunction with new interpretations of the author’s later sequels to the saga of love against the odds…
Illustrations © 1985 Trina Robbins. Text © 1985 Tanith Lee. All rights reserved.

It’s a Bird…


By Steven T. Seagle, Teddy Kristiansen & various (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0109-8 (HB) 987-1-4012-7288-3 (TPB)

Since his debut in June 1938, Superman has proven to be many things to billions of people, to the point of even changing their lives and shaping their actions. It’s a Bird… was first released in 2004, offering a departure from typical Superman graphic novel fare with author Steven T. Seagle working through his understandable creator-angst about writing the ongoing adventures of the Man of Steel without simply rehashing what has gone before.

Seagle (whose other comics work includes Uncanny X-Men, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Big Hero 6 and Genius, and is part of TV cartoon creation collective Man of Action) actually scripted Superman #190-200 – published between April 2003 and February 2004. The intriguing, demi-therapeutic exercise revealed in this slim and beguiling pictorial introspection deals with the author’s misgivings about contributing to the canon of an eternally unfolding legend.

However, underpinning what might so easily become a self-gratifying ego-stroke is a subtle undercurrent of savvy verity that struck a chord with many fellow industry professionals and insightful consumers as the professional writer finally found themes he needed to explore to be satisfied with his commission.

Let’s be honest here, every comic fan, indeed every twitcher and hobbyist, looks for a way to present and explain their particular passion to the “real” or perhaps “civilian” world and not feel like an imbecile in the process…

Employing barely One Degree of Separation, “Steve” is a writer working through some emotional baggage. He is still coming to terms with his family’s gradual but inescapable disintegration – mental, physical and spiritual – from hereditary genetic disease Huntington’s Disease (Chorea, as was).

In everyday life, his father has gone missing, and his mom and partner are making the “let’s have kids” noises whilst Steve is helplessly waiting for a hammer to fall regarding his own potential prognosis with a condition that cannot be beaten…

He never wanted to write comics – even though he’s successful at it – and now his editor wants him to write Superman. Steve has never had any feeling for the character or the medium and his damned editor just keeps on and on and on about…

You get the picture?

It’s a Bird… is slow and lyrical in its deconstructive self-absorption as Steve – eventually – makes his choices, whilst Teddy (The Sandman, The Dreaming, Grendel Tales, Genius) Kristiansen’s range of enticing drawing styles provides an eye-catching display of sensitivity and versatility – one which won him the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior). If you feel the urge to go beyond panel borders of your private obsession, this one is well worth a look, and a book demanding a digital rerelease ASAP.
© 2004, 2017 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Bugle Boy


By Alexandre Clérisse, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBN – digital only edition

The dead don’t care what we do, but how we treat and remember them defines who we are as a culture and species. Inspired by a true story, Trompe la mort was first published in 2009, offering a humorous, whimsical tone to what must have been a pretty depressing situation…

Translated by digital-only Europe Comics and apparently now only available digitally, The Bugle Boy is a story of debts paid and brothers-in-arms honoured, which begins as an ageing veteran decides to settle some long outstanding affairs…

Marcel is a surviving participant of WWII, and as a surly bugger of 85-years, is inexplicably moved by an impending notion to sort out unfinished business before he joins the rest of his generation in the boneyard.

Back in the war, he was a dashing young company bugler and is now increasingly unsettled at the events which forced him to bury his beloved instrument on a battlefield. As memories of those fraught, often humiliating days keep coming to him, the gritty old sod, with his feisty and unwillingly dutiful granddaughter Andrea, embark on an unpleasant, cross-country bus trek to the distant rural region where – in 1940 – he and his comrades fought their first and last battle…

Before being captured, the idealistic lad he was buried that war horn before it could be employed as it should, and now all he can think of is getting it back.

Sadly but typically, once all the tedious and painful travails of the journey are done, Marcel is left with a still-more difficult problem to solve. The instrument has been already found and turned by the Mayor into a tourist-trap badge of French patriotism. It’s grandly installed in the local town museum – which is now dedicated to bugles of all kinds – as the heart and soul of the town’s rebirth. With elections coming, the wily civic demagogue is planning on exploiting it and the glorious – if comfortably mis-defined – past, as the clarion symbols of his re-election campaign. He has no intention of returning it to its rightful owner.

… Not if Marcel and Andrea have anything to say about it…

Writer/artist Alexandre Clérisse was born in 1980 and began seriously making comics in 1999 through a series of experimental fanzines. In 2002, he graduated from EESI school of Visual Arts in Angoulême and began releasing such superbly readable Bande Dessinee as Jazz Club, Souvenir de l’empire de l’atome (seen in English as IDW’s Atomic Empire) and all-ages Seek-&-Find book Now Playing

Heartwarming and irreverent, poignant and deeply funny, The Bugle Boy has all the impact and gently subversive wit of classic Dad’s Army episodes and cannot fail to hit home with any reader possessing any empathy at all or even just grandparents who remember and kids who wonder what war is really like…
© 2019 – Dargaud – Clérisse. All rights reserved.

Yakari volume 21: Fury From the Skies


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-019-4 (Album PB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Another Kind of Wonderful Life… 9/10

In 1964 children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded by Swiss journalist André Jobin, who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow Franco-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs): working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Thereafter, together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime such groundbreaking strips as Buddy Longway, Celui-qui-est-nà-deux-fois, Jo (first comic to deal with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Over decades, much of Derib’s stunning works have featured his beloved Western themes: magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which led him to his deserved mega-stardom. Debuting in 1969, self-contained episodes trace the eventful, nomadic life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains, with stories set sometime after the introduction of horses (by colonising Conquistadores) but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which also generated two separate animated TV series and a movie – is up to 42 albums thus far: a testament to its evergreen vitality and brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain took on the writing in 2016.

Abundant with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, Yakari’s life is a largely bucolic and happy existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of dramatic delectation however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart and brave – and who can, thanks to a boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle, converse with animals…

In 1996, La fureur du ciel was the 22nd European album, but as always, the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and sublimely accessible, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

Fury from the Skies is painfully topical as Yakari’s wandering people are moving into lands occupied by buffalo after an eventful winter. The spring sun has brought further problems with oppressive heat and tempers fray when the adults start arguing. Medicine man He-Who-Knows wants to stop and set up camp, but Yakari’s father Bold Gaze chooses to follow his wise son a little further on. The action incenses self-appointed leader Bold Crow and magnifies bad feeling in all the riders…

As Yakari’s parents ride on, the boy is unhorsed by a plague of biting bugs, but his painful embarrassment is as nothing to the distress of his former companions as they set up camp. Old pals Slow Motion and Eyes-Always-Shut have their own ways of dealing with debilitating heat and ravenous flies, but for the rest – even children Rainbow and Buffalo Seed – stress and petty bickering looks like igniting a war, and He-Who-Knows fears big trouble ahead…

Those worries are confirmed when the sky is suddenly filled with fleeing ravens ahead of a monstrous whirlwind that smashing through, devasting the camp, scattering the tribe and injuring helpless humans and their animals. By the time Yakari and his parents return to the demolished campsite, their shocked friends are in a daze with Slow Motion bewailing the disappearance into the clouds of his large lazy friend. The Medicine Man is also gone, and Bold Crow harshly decrees the search party he forms should seek the wise one, not the fat, sleepy one…

Of course, Yakari has his own ideas and – riding his sarcastic steed Little Thunder – sets off to learn what happened to Eyes-Always-Shut. The answer is astonishing and quite troublesome, but at least the lad has a still-stunned camp dog and some very helpful wild turkeys to help him solve a very tricky and potentially dangerous puzzle.

With the big guy recovered, Yakari can turn his attention to finding out what happened to He-Who-Knows, before the adults all go crazy. They had depended on the wise man for years and are beginning to panic and lash out. This task is far more difficult and requires a long journey over spectacularly-realised terrain, some assistance from the Great Eagle himself and literally changing horses in mid-stream before the boy wonder can save the shaman and his world…

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing and entertaining all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right next to Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins. It’s never too late to start reading something wonderful, so why not get back to nature as soon as you can?
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud – Lombard s. a.) – 2000. All rights reserved. English translation 2023 © Cinebook Ltd.

Blankets – 20th Anniversary Edition


By Craig Thompson (faber)
ISBN: 978-0-571-38784-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect Story of Imperfect Humanity… 10/10

This is one of those reviews where I try not to say too much about the story, because it’s a sin and a form of theft to deprive readers of the joy of it unfolding just for them.

When first released in July 2003, Blankets started slowly but soon achieved monumental fame and almost unanimous critical approval from comics’ Great and Good and Fabled. If you have a favourite author or artist they probably loved this book – and rightly so.

After taking 3½ years to create, in 2004 Blankets scooped 3 Harvey Awards, 2 Eisners, 2 Ignatz Awards and – a year later – France’s Prix de la Critique. Translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Greek, German, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Czech, Polish, Korean, Hungarian, Slovenian, Estonian, Serbian and Greek, it was latterly published in 17 foreign editions (so far). It’s also winner of a YALSA Popular Paperback for Young Adult prize and is listed as one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten Graphic Novels of All Time. Portland band Tracker were so impressed that they recorded an entire soundtrack to accompany your inevitable reading and re-readings of the modern masterpiece.

Divided into 8 chapters – ‘Cubby Hole’, ‘Stirring Furnace’, ‘Blank Sheet’, ‘Static’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’, ‘Teen Spirit’, ‘Just Like Heaven’, ‘Vanishing Cave’, and ‘Foot Notes’, Blankets tells of the formative experiences, hopes and dreams of Craig and younger brother Phil, growing up in a devout, proudly intolerant Evangelical Baptist family in Wisconsin, primarily in the winters where snow whitewashes and transforms everything.

A harsh life changes forever when Craig attends Christian Church Camp and meets Raina. Her faith is being increasingly tested by the shock and shame of a parental divorce and being left to look after her two cognitively impaired adopted siblings Laura and Ben and an infant niece.

Although devout and truly devoted to Jesus and Ministry, Craig’s life shifts, altering forever when he’s allowed to visit Raina’s family in (relatively) faraway Michigan. There, friendship blossoms in the cold and dark, becoming irresistible first love…

Inspirationally and movingly addressing eternal issues of spirituality and control, child/adult sexuality, sibling relationships and Becoming Independent, this celebratory edition also includes ‘XX Years: Dreaming & Drawing’: a copious and revelatory look at the story’s development, liberally supported by candid treats from Thompson’s 100+ sketchbooks, used in mapping out his magnum opus. There’s even a plug for his debut tome Good-bye Chunky Rice, and subsequent books Carnet de voyage, Habibi, Space Dumplins and Ginseng Roots. You should sample them too.

For such a weighty tome, Blankets is a remarkably quick and easy read, with Thompson’s imaginative and ingenious marriage of text and images carrying one along in the way only comics can. One of the most powerful and lovely tales of first love and faith lost, this book has lost none of its charm and seductive power over the decades. If you aren’t slavishly addicted to skimpily-clad incel-fodder or punch-in-the-face comics and have held on to the slightest shreds of your innate humanity, this is that rarest of beasts – a perfect story in pictures.
Entire contents © 2023 Craig Thompson. All rights reserved.

Blankets 20th Anniversary Edition will be published on November 2nd 2023 and is available for pre-order now.

Red Harvest – A Graphic Novel of the Terror Famine in 1930’s Soviet Ukraine


By Michael Cherkas (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-320-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-323-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Truth is the Greatest Gift… 10/10

Generally this month varies between Halloween scary stories and material pertinent to Black History month, but today we’re looking at something that is best described as a true horror story.

In 1954 Michael Cherkas was born in Oshawa Ontario. He grew up, studying cartooning at Sheridan College in nearby Oakville, before delving deeper into the art world through Illustration and Design courses at The Ontario College of Art in Toronto. A professional graphic artist, cartoonist and art director for over three decades, he has also – with associates Larry Hancock, John van Bruggen, John Sabli’c – winningly blended social commentary with subversion and paranoic science fiction in comics and books like The Silent Invasion quartet and spin-offs The Purple Ray, The New Frontier and Suburban Nightmares.

Cherkas’ family came to Canada from Ukraine, and Red Harvest is a far more personal comics narrative: one he has taken fifteen years to tell…

The deeply personal passion project details how one prosperous, self-sufficient farming village – Zelenyi Hai – was caught up in and destroyed by the doctrinaire and utterly botched “collectivization of farming” program initiated by Josef Stalin in 1931. That triumph of dogma over logic, common sense and physical practicality stated that the principles of industrialisation be applied to farming to maximise yields, with the resultant increase being sold to the rich-but-failing capitalist nations to secure much-needed funds and resources.

It didn’t work out that way and – aggravated by inefficiency and abetted by levels of regional featherbedding and root-&-branch institutional corruption unmatched until the current British Government started handing out contracts during the Covid crisis – resulted in a wholly man-made famine that killed over five million and displaced millions more.

Ukrainians call that time in 1932 and 1933 the “Holodomor” (literally “death/murder by hunger”). The policy (or naked landgrab) was forcibly applied to the Soviet-controlled (and non-Russian) regions of eastern and central Ukraine, northern Kuban and Kazakstan, with cautious modern estimates reckoning their populations diminished by 35%. However, thanks to decades of Party gag-orders, news-editing and fact-suppression, barely anywhere else knows it ever happened…

How this graphic novel came about – and particularly the powerful illustrative style used – is discussed in Cherkas’ Introduction, and the tale is preceded by a Glossary of language used to add impact and colour to this bleak monochrome masterpiece.

A targeted investigation rather than a straight memoir, the fictionalised saga opens in 2008 as aging Canadian citizen and recently-retired farmer Mykola Kovalenko prepares for his first visit to Ukraine since leaving in 1942. The big event has made him anxious and he’s started dreaming of the past and remembering…

What follows is a compelling yet engaging narrative exposing a war crime and systematic genocide the world has been happy to forget. Rendered with wit, tact and great reserve, it adds meat to history’s bones, tracing the slow, gradual, hopeless decline and repercussions very much in the manner later employed in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That author also knew human nature, political chicanery; he has painful inescapable truths and a bit of history…

Cherkas is astoundingly adept at giving the many contributory factors and factions human faces: by turn hopeful, enthusiastic, stoic, enduring, fanatical, ruthless, crushed, despondent and ultimately hopeless. By blending Mykola’s contemporary return with the concatenation of cozening deceptions, betrayals, mismanagements, brutally enforced separations, family divisions and stupid changes applied with ruthless inefficiency by Party Officials local and Russian, the author has shone a light on a story that never goes away and never ends happily.

Couched in terms of a family drama, Red Harvest is potent, and unforgettable: a dish we should all dip into and accept that sometimes bitterness is the best we can aspire to.

Red Harvest is © 2023 by Michael Cherkas. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Red Harvest will be released on November 14th 2023 and is available for digital and physical copy pre-orders now.

Most NBM books are available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/.

The Hard Switch


By Owen D. Pomery (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-70-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Worlds Enough but Never the Time… 9/10

It’s a dog-eat-dog universe and commerce is the only weapon with real power. Everything knows that. However, in what appears to be a barely-fictionalised acknowledgment of the tone of our times, Owen D. Pomery (after wowing discriminating comics fans with books Victory Point & British Ice, or shorter pieces Between the Billboards, The Megatherium Club Vl. 1: The Great Ape) has again picked imagination as his instrument for low-key speculative pessimism and wrought one of the most sinister sagas in utterly ages.

After studying architecture, mastering printmaking and succeeding in commercial illustration venues as varied as Tribune, Monocle and The New Yorker, subtle visualizer Pomery turns his Ligne Claire-influenced eye (like Hergé jamming with Moebius) and seditious tendencies upon a declining tomorrow too much like the one we’re all enduring…

A glorious paean to traditional “hard sci fi”, The Hard Switch follows hard-working independent traders at the end of civilisation. Interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic travel/trade depend on a substance called Alcanite. The mineral facilitates all converse between worlds and it’s almost all gone. When there’s no more, the universe faces an abrupt and total reversion to complete isolation-by-distance and everyone gets stuck wherever they are when the lights go out and the other shoe drops…

In advance of imminent inescapable disaster, many seek to monopolise what resources remain, whilst others – like cargo freighter crew Ada, pilot Haika and octopoid engineer Mallic – graft even harder. They are exploring every wreck and rumour: stockpiling exotic artefacts or simple offworld nuts-&-bolts in anticipation of the worst panic buying spree in history…

On desolate desert world Dakhos, a chance encounter with other salvage-scavengers leads to a staggering theory when a truly ancient artefact hints at another method of star-travel predating – and utterly exclusive of – Alcanite. Humanoid Ada is descended from Mateaic nomads and the relic holds clues arguably confirming the legends that her kind roamed the stars before the over-exploited mineral was ever discovered…

Sadly, proving it won’t pay bills, so they continue hauling cargo while quietly looking for more data. Their search sparks clashes with organised crime, murderous “hunters”, and even people-smugglers, before their misplaced – and unaffordable – ethics lead to another mouth to feed after cargo-turned-sole-survivor Hodge joins the crew. The 12-year-old also has plenty of close calls before the crew fetch up the world of a super-rich scientist who might have the information they need to offer civilisation a second chance, if not actual salvation…

Naturally, he’s not at all what he seems, or what they need.

Tense and action-oriented, subtle and potently affable, this yarn is packed with tension and intrigue as our unlikely stars seek a whole new/old manner of interstellar transit and just staying alive for a sequel. Seductive and restrained in the Continental manner, The Hard Switch is a potent confection delivered in a beautiful, evocative and utterly compelling way no one could possibly resist. Therefore just don’t… possibly all the vacation you’ll need this year…
© Owen D. Pomery 2023.

The Hard Switch is scheduled for release on October 24th 2023 and is available for pre-order now.