10, 20 and 30 volume 1

By Morim Kang (Net comics)
ISBN 13: 978-1-60009-183-4 (Tankōbon PB)

Some stories are great because of their innovation and novelty, whilst others just tell the same old tale over and over. When these latter tales succeed, it’s solely because of the nuance, skill and artistry with which the commonplace has been shaped to feel fresh and new.

Available in paperback and digital editions, 10, 20, And 30 is an evergreen saga of women and the search for love, tenderly observed, pragmatically and humorously told. Rok Nah is a young teenaged girl (a “10-Something”) going through those difficult years. She has a boyfriend – sort of – but is obsessed with all the other confusions of growing up to deal with.

Her mother Krumb Yoon (“30-Something”) is a widow with a thankless job at a fashion company. Recently, though, the company boss has been taking an inappropriate (but still chaste) interest in her. The “20” part of the equation is Krumb’s niece Belle Woo who has become like an older sister to Rok since her parents all but disowned her for having sex and refusing to get married. As the totally different, yet painfully similar, problems of love confront the three, their natures and unique responses make for an entrancing and addictive read.

Although a standard soap-opera romance in conception, the light treatment and strong characterisations give this Manhwa (manga style comics produced in and for South Korea) a compelling edge that should win it fans across not just the age but also the gender divide…
© 1998 Morim Kang. All Rights Reserved. English text © 2007 NETCOMICS. All Rights Reserved.

Bogart Creek volume 1

By Derek Evernden (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-349-1 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-355-2

Fancy a laugh? Not one of those genteel chuckles, but a big hearty guffaw laced with a heaping dose of old-fashioned guilt because the subject matter might be a bit cruel or near-the-knuckle. Hilarity evincing undertones of nervous titters because the whole thing is just a bit strange and surreal?

If so, Derek Evernden has got you covered…

You know that old line about writing/drawing what you know? Evernden grew up in actual Bogart Creek, Ontario, so let’s all hope at least some of this stuff is just made up, right? He’s Canadian, so is polite and sympathetic, but clearly, he’s also the other sort of Canadian: someone with a lot to laugh at, plenty of time to sit up and take notice and probably perfused with that slow-burning, ever-mounting rage everyone gracious and well-mannered has boiling inside, because of the nonsense the rest of us get up to…

The strip Bogart Creek is a daily single panel gag delivered in a variety of artistic styles; turning a mordant, trenchant and cruelly satirical eye on modern life. It deftly offers the lighter side of suicide, philosophy, crime, psychiatry, the natural (!?) world, murder, movies, fashion, vengeance, sports, cryptozoology, popular culture and anything else two strangers might feel compelled to discuss at a water cooler or bus stop in deference to social convention…

The strip is also hopelessly addicted to painful punning on a mega “dad-joke” scale, absurdist revelation and surreal slapstick. The creator has mastered the art of marrying funny notions to effective dialogue and efficient, smart cartooning. Evernden proudly admits his debt to and influence of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, but he can’t blame that guy for all of this stuff…

Sick, inventive, witty: instantly addictive and charmingly outrageous, this is a collection (in paperback or digital editions) to delight any weary adult in need of tension release and a therapeutic slice of schadenfreude.
Cover illustration, book design and cartoons all © 2019 Derek Evernden. All rights reserved.

Black Jack volume 1

By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Camelia Nieh (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1934287-27-9 (Tankōbon PB)

There aren’t many Names in comics. Lots of creators; multi-disciplined or single focussed, who have contributed to the body of the art form, but we don’t have many Global Presences whose contribution have affected generations of readers and aspirants all over the World, like a Mozart or Michelangelo or Shakespeare. There’s just Hergé and Jack Kirby and Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka was born in Qsaka Prefecture on 3rd November 1928, and as a child suffered a severe illness that made his arms swell. The doctor who cured him inspired him to study medicine, and although Osamu began his professional drawing career while at university, he persevered with his studies and qualified as a doctor too. As he faced a career crossroads, his mother advised him to do the thing that made him happiest. He never practiced as a healer but the world was gifted with such classic cartoon masterpieces as Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro-boy), Kimba the White Lion, Buddha, Adolf and literally hundreds of other graphic narratives. Along the way Tezuka incidentally pioneered, if not created, the Japanese anime industry…

Able to speak to the hearts and minds of children and adults equally, Tezuka’s work ranges from the charming to the disturbing and even terrifying. In 1973 he turned his storyteller’s heart to the realm of medicine and created Burakku Jakku, a lone wolf surgeon living outside society’s boundaries and rules: a scarred and seemingly heartless mercenary working miracles for the right price but also a deeply human wounded soul who makes surgical magic from behind icy walls of cool indifference and casual hostility – think Silas Marner before the moppet turns up or Ebenezer Scrooge before bedtime; except Black Jack never, ever gets soft and cuddly.

These translated, collected adventures – available paperback and digital formats – begin with the frankly startling ‘Is There a Doctor?’, wherein the joyriding son of the richest man in the world is critically injured. The boy’s ruthless father forces Black Jack to perform a full body transplant on an unwilling victim… but the super-surgeon still manages to turn the tables on the vile plutocrat…

Each story is self-contained over about 20 pages, and the second – ‘The First Storm of Spring’ – tells the eerie, poignant tale of a young girl whose corneal transplant has gone strangely awry. Can the handsome boy she keeps seeing possibly be the ghostly original owner of the eye, and if so, what was he truly like?

With ‘Teratoid Cystoma’ the series solidly enters into fantasy territory whilst ramping up the medical authenticity. Tezuka chose to draw in a highly stylised, “Big-foot” manner (he was the acknowledged inventor of the Manga Big-Eyes artistic device) but with increasing dependence on surgical and anatomical veracity, his innate ability to render anatomy and organs realistically truly came to the fore.

A teratonous cystoma occurs when twins are conceived but one of the embryos fails to cohere. Undifferentiated portions of one twin, a limb or organ grows within and nourished by the other. As the surviving twin matures, the enclosed “spare parts” start to distend the body, appearing like a cyst or growth.

For the sake of narrative – and possibly to just plain freak you out – in this story a famous personage wishing total discretion requires the Ronin Doctor to remove a huge growth from her. Many Japanese have a frankly unhealthy prejudice against physical imperfection – for more search “the Hibakusha” – and this case is a much about stigma and position as wellbeing…

The mystery patient’s problem is exacerbated because whenever other surgeons have tried to operate, they have been debilitated by a telepathic assault from the growth. Overcoming incredible resistance, Black Jack succeeds, removing a fully-formed brain and nervous system. Ignoring the disgust of the patient and doctors, he then builds an artificial body for the stunted, sentient remnants; and calls her Pinoko.

‘The Face Sore’ combines Japanese legends of the Jinmenso (intelligent, garrulous tumours) with cases of disfiguring carbuncles and rashes to produce a very scary modern horror story – and by modern, I mean lacking a happy ending…

Pinoko, looking like a little girl (whether she’s a year old or eighteen is a running gag throughout the series) has meanwhile become Black Jack’s secretary/major domo and gadfly. In ‘Sometimes Like Pearls’, she opens a unique parcel addressed to him which leads to some invaluable back-story as the solitary surgeon travels to see his great teacher and learns one final lesson…

‘Confluence’ provides a little twisted romance as the medical maverick loses out on a chance at love when undertaking a radical procedure to save a young woman from uterine cancer, whilst in ‘The Painting is Dead!’ an artist caught in a nuclear test endures a full brain transplant just to be able to finish his painting condemning atomic warmongers.

‘Star, Magnitude Six’ exposes the pompous venality and arrant cronyism, not to mention entrenched stupidity, of hospitals’ hierarchical hegemonies in a tale satisfyingly reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s H series and J series of polemical objectivist parables before the ruthless outlaw surgeon meets his female counterpart in the bittersweet ‘Black Queen.’

‘U-18 Knew’ moves us into pure science fiction territory when the unlicensed doctor is hired by an American medical facility to operate on a vast medical computer that has achieved true sentience, leading to some telling questions about who – and what – defines “humanity.”

An annoying sidebar I feel compelled to add here: For many years broad, purely visual racial stereotypes were common “shorthand” in Japanese comics – and ours, and everybody else’s. They crop up here, but please remember that even at the time this story originated from, this was in no way a charged image; Tezuka’s depictions of native Japanese were just as broad and expressionistic. A simple reading of the text should dispel any notions of racism: but if you can’t get past these decades-old images, just put the book down. Don’t buy it. It’s your loss.

A heartrendingly powerful tale of determination sees a young polio victim almost fail a sponsored walk until an enigmatic stranger with a scarred face bullies, abuses and provokes him to finish. It also provides more clues to Black Jack’s past in ‘The Legs of an Ant’ before this first collection concludes with ‘Two Loves’ as a van driver deprives the greatest sushi artist in the world of his arm and his dreams when he runs him over. The lengths to which the driver goes to make amends are truly staggering… but sometimes Fate just seems to hate some people…

One thing should always be remembered when reading these stories: despite all the scientific detail, all the frighteningly accurate terminology and trappings. Black Jack isn’t medical fiction; it is an exploration of morality with medicine raised to the level of magic… or perhaps duelling.

This is a saga of personal combat, with the lone gunfighter battling hugely oppressive counter-forces (the Law, the System, himself) to win just one more victory: medicine as mythology, battles of a prescribing Ronin with a Gladstone bag.

Elements of rationalism, science-fiction, kitchen sink drama, spiritualism and even the supernatural appear in this saga of Japanese Magical Realism to rival the works of Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez. Mostly though, these are highly addictive tales of heroism; ones that that will stay with you forever.
© 2008 by Tezuka Productions. Translation © 2008 by Camelia Nieh and Vertical, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Biscuits Assorted

By Jenny Robins (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-82-90 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Captivating Human-Scaled Enticement… 10/10

There’s a 1944 Powell & Pressburger film called A Canterbury Tale, where a group of disparate but loosely associated characters weave in and out of each other’s klives for a defined period, gradually proceeding towards a shared denouement. It’s about far more than that and is really good. You should see it.

Biscuits Assorted is a bit like that, but also completely different. You should read it. It’s really, Really good.

Artist, teacher, Small Press artisan and author Jenny Robins is clearly a keen observer and gifted raconteur deftly attuned to nuance and ambiance and quite possibly hopelessly in love with London. Her award-winning debut graphic novel is a paean to modern living in the city, recounted through overlapping snapshots of many women’s lives in the months of June, July and August of a recent year (and don’t worry about which one).

If you need the metaphor explained, there are different varieties and, occasionally, they don’t do what it says on the tin…

Seriously though, here in captivating monochrome linework are a plethora of distinct and well-round individuals of differing ages and backgrounds working, playing, living, dying, risking, winning, failing and constantly interacting with each other to a greater or lesser extent, all united by place, circles of friends, shared acquaintances and enjoying – for once – full access to their own unexpurgated voices.

Strangers or intimates, life-long or Mayfly-momentary, this addictively engaging collection of incidents and characters all share locations and similar pressures as they go about their lives, but the way in which they all impact upon each other is truly mesmerising. I’m a bluff old British codger and I’ve met these very women and girls all my life, except for those who are completely new to my white male privileged experience. Now, however, I know what they’re like and what they’ve been thinking all this time…

And it’s outrageously funny and terrifying elucidating, rude in all the right ways and places and able to break your heart and jangle the nerves with a turn of a page.

Biscuits Assorted is a brilliant and revelatory picaresque voyage that is impossible to put down and certain to become a classic of graphic literature. It’s also the most fun you can have with your brain fully engaged.

Yesterday we published our Top Ten of 2020. Be sure to add this to the list. We did.
© Jenny Robins 2020. All rights reserved.

Geek-Girl Volumes 1: Lightning Strikes! & 2: Crime War

By Sam Johnson, Carlos Granda, with Nahp, Chunlin Zhao & Paul McLaren (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-911243-31-1 (Lightning Strikes!) 978-1-912700-64-6 (Crime War)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fan Friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights Fun… 8/10

Because I’m such an ethical idealogue I’m again admitting a potential conflict of interest before telling you to haul off and buy something. During the 1980s and 1990s, I worked for the London College of Printing, The London Cartoon Centre and other fine educational institutions, teaching eager youths of all ages the rudiments of scriptwriting and comic production. You may have subsequently bought comics and graphic novels produced by a handful of them. Sam Johnson was one of several hundred – if not actually more than a thousand – who put up with me. The sheer volume of those who haven’t achieved fame, wealth and glory should tell you all you need to know about my teaching abilities whilst placing the credit where it firmly belongs…

When I was teaching comics, almost all of the students expressed a strange love-hate relationship with the concept of superheroes. They all knew that was where the money was, and most – like me – were still hopelessly nostalgically engaged with the whole cathartic, wish-fulfilling rigmarole, whether or not they avowed the higher aspirations of an Eisner, Spiegelman, Moebius or Jodorowsky.

One or two fully embraced the maligned genre and looked for ways to modernise and contextualise it. Nowadays, Superheroes rule global popular culture, and people like me have the devil’s own time getting anyone to read books like Mikaël’s Giant, The Silent Invasion, Blackwood or anything by Tillie Walden. So it goes…

Sam Johnson clearly loves Costumed Dramas but has also given a lot of thought to them: especially considering how their stars must act as ordinary people once the masks and capes come off…

Gathering the first four issues of the eponymous comic book series, Geek-Girl: Lightning Strikes! takes us to Acorn Ridge, Maine, where flighty fun-loving student Ruby Kaye finds her hedonistic lifestyle taking an abrupt left turn into chaos, after flirtatiously tricking brilliant but sheltered science geek Trevor Goldstein into giving her his latest invention: spectacles that give the wearer super-powers…

In rapid time and before the booze can really wear off, Ruby is patrolling town in a skimpy costume, saddled with an unwelcome code-name thanks to best friend and fellow usual suspect Summer James

And that’s when it all gets real. Ruby sees one of the municipality’s genuine costumed do-gooders almost murdered by a genuine supervillain – and freezes. Ruby is an appalled and helpless witness to a brutal beating, after which almost-dead Neon Girl demands that neophyte Geek-Girl avenge her and bring the deadly Lightning Storm to justice…

So far so standard, right, but this author and his able co-creator Carlos Granda aren’t really about the fist-to-face action. This series concentrates more on superhero comics’ propensity for soap opera drama and laughs, particularly channelling the dynamic of shows like How I Met Your Mother and Friends.

As Ruby tries to focus on her mission, distractions like the college crowd, drinking, the guys and girls now constantly hitting on her, booze, that psycho Nina Dante, studies and late night partying all keep delaying her. Even top costumed champion Pit Bull is an inveterate booze hound and is soon also benched. Happily – or maybe not – Lightning Storm has her own agenda and isn’t the patient sort…

As opportunistic villains like Mr. Mash-up and Silver Speedz take advantage of the super power vacuum, Ruby’s social life gets increasingly complex but, ultimately, it’s bound to end in a big fight…


Set some later, second volume Crime War reveals that ‘There’s a New Geek in Town!’ as a slowly recuperating Ruby wallows in the aftereffects of a rather pyrrhic victory. While she’s bed bound in hospital Summer has been wearing the glasses and costume and proving to be a far more dedicated and effective crimebuster. All Ruby can do is fret and try to fend off the attentions of distinctly off-kilter frenemy Stacy and low watt bulbs Caitlin and Jennifer while the new Geek-Girl and her mentor Pit Bull clean up minor rogues such as The Cad.

Tragically, they’re not prepared for a concerted campaign from the League of Larcenists

As events escalate, ‘Welcome Back Ruby’ sees the return of the original Geek, an emotional tussle for the super-spectacles, manic mecha combat on the streets of Acorn Ridge and even Nina Dante getting her own power upgrade in ‘The Welcoming Party’, all leading to an inevitable riotous assembly and a major smackdown in Maine…

With a gallery of variant covers by Granda, Iván Sarnago, William Calleja, this homegrown hero-fest is a splendidly engaging feast of straightforward super shenanigans and character driven fun every fan of the genre should see – if only to prove it’s not all about angst, adrenaline and bicep size.
™ & © 2017 & 2019 Sam Johnson & Markosia Enterprises Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Marney the Fox

By Scott M. Goodall & John Stokes (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-598-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Unforgettable and Unmissable British Drama… 10/10

At first glance British comics prior to the advent of 2000AD seem to fall into fairly ironclad categories. Back then, you had genial and fantastic preschool fantasy, a large selection of adapted TV and media properties, action, adventure, war and comedy strands. A closer look though, would confirm that there was always a subversive undertone, especially in such antihero series as Dennis the Menace, The Spider or the early Steel Claw.

…And then there was Marney the Fox.

Created and scripted by prolific veteran Scott Goodall (Captain Hurricane, Kelly’s Eye, Cursitor Doom, Captain Scarlet and dozens more), the series ran in multipurpose anthology Buster from June 22nd 1974 to September 4th 1976 and – even in a weekly periodical notorious for its broad and seemingly mismatched mix of themes and features – stuck out like a sore thumb.

Not for any lack of quality, of course.

Compellingly scripted by Goodall and set in his beloved Devonshire country, the serial was lavishly, almost hauntingly illustrated by frequent collaborator John Stokes (Black Knight, Father Shandor, Maxwell Hawke, L.E.G.I.O.N., Aliens, Star Wars, The Invisibles), with whom the writer had already crafted for Buster seminal classics Fishboy and The War Children.

Marney the Fox was very much a passion project and a creature of its times. If you look at the ordering descriptions online or even revel in the gorgeous and serene cover embellishing this luxurious hardback or digital compilation, you might conclude it’s a natural history strip or animal adventure along the lines of Lassie or Black Beauty.

Don’t be deceived. The books you should be thinking of here are Ring of Bright Water, Tarka the Otter and A Kestrel for a Knave (or Kes, if you don’t read As Much As You Should, but do watch movies). The deftly-constructed atrocities beautifully limned in every 2-page monochrome instalment were – and remain – brilliant naturalist propaganda and should be mandatory reading for every person who lives in, near or with the natural environment…

For two years the trials and tribulations of barely-weaned orphan fox cub Marney the Wandering One were a painfully beautiful, harrowing account of the horrors rural folk – from poachers to soldiers on manoeuvres to roadbuilders to landed gentry and their bloody hounds – all casually inflicted on unwelcome wildlife and ones that must have traumatised and successfully indoctrinated a generation of kids.

From his first encounter with and narrow escape from despicable mankind, young Marney endures a ghastly litany of close shaves, bolstered by far too few happy, peaceful moments as he flees from crisis to crisis until mercifully finding refuge and contentment. I had to put that last bit in because this is a sublime piece of comics wonderment, that everybody should read, but the weekly cliff hangers and sheer mental and physical abuse the little guy barely survives every seven days would have Batman, Captain America and Judge Dredd rushing for Valium and comfort blankies in an instant…

So take it from me: the fox lives happily ever after, okay?

Augmented by an Introduction from John Stokes, this is magical and unique comics entertainment, suitably acid-coating the hard, harsh life of British wildlife and the ignorance and cruelty of many – but not all – people. It’s also a story you must see and will never forget.
™ & © 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott

By Zoe Thorogood (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-56-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Topical Tale of Tragedy and Triumph Over Adversity… 9/10

I almost included this stunning debut in our Halloween horror program, but decided that no matter how disturbing the concept, this is essentially a very upbeat and joyous tale and one in need of being read on its own terms…

Zoe Thorogood is a young freelance artist and concept designer from Middlesbrough, who pays attention and thinks through what she conceives. That sounds overly obvious, but – speaking as an extremely aged freelance artist and concept designer from the halcyon days of social equality, equal opportunities and a sense of responsibility – it’s a rare level of consciousness that usually takes decades of mistakes to attain.

Having branched out into graphic novel storytelling, Thorogood has sagely stuck to what she knows for irony-drenched The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott. Here a struggling artist doubting and second-guessing her life in a poverty-afflicted northern town suddenly realises her greatest dream at the beginning of her career. After – incredibly – winning the “2020 New Artist of the Year Competition”, Billie is awarded her own gallery show of new works in London, and a guaranteed entrée to the shimmering world of the Art Business glitterati.

After an understandable moment of confusion and prevarication, she gets to work on the ten new paintings only to learn that she is going to abruptly, rapidly and incurably lose her sight in mere months…

Confronting her past and future, Billie packs up the bare essentials and heads on a pilgrimage to London, encountering and embracing the lowest tawdry dregs and survivors of modern society as she races to complete the last and most meaningful images she will ever see herself create…

Will she make it? Is it even worth the effort?

The concept isn’t new, but this delightful and evocative take on the Trials of Job is at its heart a delicious celebration of simple humanity and the fact that people are complex and must not be reduced to talking points for the worthy or used as PR fodder for governments who seek to equate being poor or nonconformist with criminality, deviancy, otherness or antisocial “unworthiness”.

…And, as every sanctimonious plutocrat, pious reformer or obsequious political self-server always seems to forget, if you push us too far for too long, eventually we rise…

In equal parts an examination of the creative impulse, indictment of Post-Austerity Britain and affirmation of the human spirit, this book is also a captivating tale beautifully rendered in smart line, restricted palettes and – when most impactful – glorious full colour. Positively Dickensian in tone, sublimely modernistic in delivery and splendidly displaying the community we all need to be, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is a damn fine read we all need to share.
© Zoe Thorogood 2020. All rights reserved.

Sublife volumes 1 and 2

By John Pham (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-946-3 (TPB vol 1) 978-1-60699-309-5 (TPB vol 1)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Excellence Cannot be Allowed to Wither… 9/10

Born in Saigon and raised in the USA, self-publishing wizard and minicomic genius John Pham joined with the wonderfully progressive Fantagraphics to release two volumes in a proposed twice-a-year book series dedicated to the sheer joy of pictorial storytelling in our modern, miracle-free world, blending joyous creation with incisive social interrogation. These astoundingly satisfying anthologies are still available in paperback or digital formats and if you or yours love the power of comics to engender reaction, they really belong with you….

The initial offering, a sublimely designed landscape-format tome printed in quirky two-tone (Magenta and Cyan combined to produce a huge variety of colours welcomingly familiar to anybody who grew up reading Beano or The Dandy) features a series of intertwined tales featuring the odd denizens of ‘221 Sycamore St.’

Poignant and surreal by turns, the lives of exhausted ‘Mildred Lee’, dubious stud ‘Vrej Sarkissian’, tragic and disturbing religious studies teacher ‘Hubie Winters’ and those guys ‘Los Hermanos Macdonald’ are a captivating and laconic examination of the kind of people you probably wouldn’t like or make time for…

The silent, deadly pantomime of the house cat seeking safety outside is worth the price of admission alone, but when the abstract and symbol-stuffed existences on display here shuffle into your head and just sit there twitching, you too will wonder how you ever got on without this on your “must-read” list.

The second volume dedicated to the sheer expressive joy of pictorial storytelling in our modern, wonder-deprived world, is also crafted in an immaculately designed landscape-format tome, printed in quirky two-tone (orange and blue here combined to produce a huge variety of colours) features another series of seemingly unconnected tales linked more by sensibility and tone rather than content.

After faux newspaper strip ‘Mort’ examines the passions of a failed blogger, the main experience begins with a continuation of ‘Deep Space’, wherein extraordinarily pedestrian star-farers strive to find their way home: a beautifully rendered piece reminiscent of a wistful Philippe Druillet, before resuming Pham’s exploration of the frankly peculiar residents of ‘221 Sycamore St.’

This time runaway teen Phineas sees a disturbing side to his cool uncles when they all go “dog-training”…

This leads into anti-elegiac autobiographical memoir ‘St. Ambrose 1984-1988’ before the majority of the volume recounts the adventures of ‘The Kid’: a practically wordless post-apocalyptic science fiction yarn. It deals with scavenging and the price of love, channelling of – and deeply respectful to – Mad Max, with perhaps just a touch of A Boy and his Dog thrown in, all drawn in a pencil-toned style that is both deeply poignant and powerfully gripping.

The volume fun finishes with nostalgic one-pager ‘Socko Sarkissian’: a fond paean to baseball’s greatest fictional Armenian batsman.

Seductive, quietly compulsive, authentically plebeian and surreal by turns, John Pham’s work is abstract, symbol-stuffed and penetratingly real. Fascinated by modern prejudices, he tells strange stories in comfortable ways and makes the bizarre commonplace without ever descending to histrionics: like a cosmic witness to everything you might or might not want to see.

If you’re wearied by mainstream comics but still love the medium too much to quit, you need to see these stories and refresh your visual palate. In fact, even if not, check out Sublife anyway, in case it’s your horizons not your tastes which need the attention…
© 2008, 2009 John Pham. All Rights Reserved.

Two Dead

By Van Jensen & Nate Powell (Gallery 13/Simon & Schuster)
ISBN: 978-1-50116-895-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Dark Winter’s Tale you must not miss… 9/10

It’s been a while since we covered a crime yarn and this new release looks like making a few well-deserved waves, so let’ go back a lifetime or two and look at events that have passed into history while regrettably remaining all too fresh, familiar and immediate… like any wound…

Before moving into screen scripting and writing comics and graphic novels such as Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, Cryptocracy and Valkyrie Beer Delivery – as well as established properties like The Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman and James Bond, Van Jensen worked as a crime reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. It was there and while palling around with local cops that he first learned of this case. The facts never let go of him and, years later, with the stunning collaboration of multi award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell (March, Come Again, About Face, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole, The Silence of Our Friends) the events were dramatized here as Two Dead.

Even after separating the True Crime nature of the story, this is a chilling and unforgettably potent crime noir examining institutional racism, police bias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders through the lens of history. It’s set in Little Rock, Arkansas where recently demobbed war hero Gideon Kemp is starting his new job as a police detective. It’s October 1946 and the FBI-trained family man just wants to put his past behind him and do good.

He cannot, however, escape the pressure of a crushing and tragic mistake made during his service that still haunts him, blighting his days and nights…

From the start, the new job is a trial. Secretly enlisted by Mayor Sprick, Gideon is supposed to fight a deeply entranced organised crime presence in the town as a detective, while secretly getting the goods on his own boss. Veteran old school cop Abraham Bailey hasn’t met a problem yet that couldn’t be solved with volleys of gunfire and – despite being popular with the white voters in town – he’s becoming a problem for the powers that be.

Just how much so, and what ghosts and demons drive the ethically-challenged hardliner, neither conspirator can truly guess…

Little Rock is prosperous, growing and segregated, with a strong but hidden Klan presence. Across the poverty-ridden tracks, the coloured citizens live separate lives. Esau Davis makes ends meet here running errands and taking bets for mob chief Big Mike. He is well aware of the dangers of upsetting – or even being noticed by – white cops.

Originally the police had tried recruiting blacks into the force, but as they kept turning up dead, the authorities eventually let the program drop. Now Esau’s war hero brother Jacob tries to keep the peace in their part of town with an unpaid, unarmed volunteer militia, but they’re no match for gangsters or self-righteous police looking for easy arrests. They are especially unprepared for gun-happy Chief Bailey, who has an obsessive hatred of all criminals, likes keeping trophies of all his “justified” kills, and never met a door he couldn’t kick down or anybody who wasn’t guilty of something…

Every player is tormented by their own ghosts, but as Kemp and Bailey warily test each other out while successfully dogging the footsteps of the murderous mobster – who has his own appallingly bloody peccadillo to assuage – an uneasy trust is formed. Rather than expeditiously doing the Mayor’s bidding, by-the-book Gideon stalls and prevaricates as the war of decency against crime escalates, exposing corruption among the city’s leaders and dragging in honest Jacob, who is soon just another gun in Bailey’s relentless war.

With blood running and the death toll mounting, Gideon and Jacob are powerless to head off a brutal confrontation. It seems no one can atone or win achieve redemption here…

The ending is one you won’t forget…

Rendered by Powell in sepia and black line utilising a style gloriously reminiscent of classic Will Eisner, Two Dead is a superb and upsetting thriller, made irresistibly compelling by Jensen’s deft use of language, gift for building suspense and multiple narrative perspectives and, like all the great noir tales, revels in a world of villains with no heroes to balance them…
© 2019 by Blue Creek Creative, LLC and Nate Powell. All rights reserved.

Mother Come Home

By Paul Hornschemeier (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-973-9 (HB) 978-1593070373 (PB)

Paul Hornschemeier is a Californian author, artist, musician and film maker whose non-comics work has appeared as far afield as in Life Magazine to The Wall Street Journal to McSweeney’s. He’s produced animations for TV, lectures on YouTube and is part of the Creative Writing Faculty of the University of Chicago. He is internationally renowned for his lectures on the philosophy of narrative and art creation.

Mother, Come Home originally ran in marvellous indie publication Forlorn Funnies, before being gathered into a lyrically stunning and dreamily magnetic exploration of grief and coping mechanisms in a soft cover collection in 2004. In 2009 Fantagraphics produced a beautiful and magnificent deluxe hardback edition of one of the best, most emotionally complex and graphically symbolic tales ever to grace our medium.

Tom is a seven-year old boy whose mother has just died. As his father David – a deeply intellectual college professor of symbolic logic – slowly retreats into a nervous collapse, the youngster assumes the household duties as much as he is able. Throughout his trials, the boy is bolstered by his love and sense of duty, as well as the innate half-world of fantasy that is the rightful domain of the very young.

Empowered by a dime-store lion-mask his mother bought him, Tom becomes the head of his diminished clan and guardian of the home… until his aunt and uncle discover how ill his father has become.

When David voluntarily commits himself to an institution, Tom goes to live with them, but dreams of reuniting with his true family; even planning a meticulous escape and joyous reunion. However, when he takes action the consequences are painfully revelatory, inevitably tragic and hauntingly real…

Rendered in a number of simple, powerful styles, utilising a mesmeric, muted colour palette to bind ostensibly neutral images (that nevertheless burn with a highly charged intensity) with a simplified heavy line, this subtle, seductive, domestic tragedy is a perfect example of how our medium can so powerfully layer levels of meaning and abstract a personal reality until it becomes greater than itself.

Deeply moving, monstrously deep and overwhelmingly simple, Mother, Come Home is a true classic and ranks beside such noteworthy pictorial novels as Maus, Barefoot Gen, Stuck Rubber Baby, Pride of Baghdad, Persepolis or My Favorite Thing is Monsters. This is a tale nobody could ever be embarrassed about reading, but they should feel ashamed if they haven’t…
© 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 Paul Hornschemeier. All Rights Reserved.