A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities


By Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg (Limerance Press/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-586-3 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-587-0

Here’s a handy rule of thumb for getting along. People get to decide what to call themselves. You get to accept and agree with them, as long as no one is being actually harmed. That assessment is to be made by Law, not personal belief or some higher calling. If you can’t accept their definitions of themselves, you have the right to leave people alone and never interact with them.

Okay?

We are the naming primate. If we encounter something unknown and/or scary, we give it a description, definition and title and accept it into our ever-expanding understanding of Reality. It’s what enabled us to take over this world. Naming things is generally a good thing and allows us to navigate our universe.

Some people, however, use the power of naming to isolate, ostracise and wound. They are not doing it right. People like us have plenty of really fitting names for people like them when they abuse our gift…

Seriously though, it seems like every time we make a move towards greater inclusivity, some faction of retrograde, regressive backwards-looking churl and biological luddite manufactures a reason why we can’t all get along.

I personally favour retaliation, but the only way to truly counter them is with understanding, so here’s a book that offers plenty of names and definitions we should all be adding to our lexicons…

I’ve frequently argued that comic strips are a matchless tool for education: rendering the most complex topics easily accessible and displaying a potent facility to inform, affect and alter behaviour. Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as well as awareness or solidarity.

Here, coast-to-coast cartoonists Mady G. and J. R. Zuckerberg collaborate on a bright and breezy primer covering the irrefutable basics on establishing one’s own sexual and gender identity (including the difference between those terms), safely navigating all manner of relationship and exploring the spectrum of experiences available to consenting adults.

A major aspect of us People Primates is that we spend a lot of our lives trying to work out who we are. It takes varying amounts of time for every individual and lots of honesty.

It’s like most work. It can be unwelcome, laborious, painful and even dangerous and nobody should attempt it too soon or alone.

Moreover, all too often, assistance and advice offered can be unwelcome and stemming from somebody else’s agenda. In my own limited experience for example, any sexual guidance offered by anybody with a religious background is immediately suspect and a waste of breath. Perhaps your experience is different. That’s pretty much the point here. In the end, you have make up your own mind and be your own judge…

Unlike me, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities takes no sides and offers no bias as it runs through the fundamentals, but only after a Foreword from cartoonist and author Roz Chast and an Intro by Mady lay out the rules of engagement on the attaching and utilisation of the labels and roles gradually becoming common modern parlance…

The micro lectures are set during a wilderness trek where an agglomeration of troubled humans have a group teaching encounter under the supervision of a “Queer Educator” endeavouring to define for them the nature of ‘Queerness’

The useful commentary, educational asides and plentiful laughs are generated by a colony of snails avidly observing proceedings like a raucous and bewildered Greek Chorus. Such gastropods, as I’m sure you recall from school, are either male, female, hermaphroditic or something else entirely, depending on what time it is. Now that’s perspective…

Subjects covered with forthright verve, clarity and – crucially – wry wit begin with ‘What is Queer?’, proffering terms for defining Sexuality and Gender as subdivided into Bisexuality, Asexuality, Pansexuality amongst other permutations. These and later lessons are illustrated with examples starring primarily neutral vegetable critters dubbed The Sproutlingswho are conveniently pliable and malleable…

‘What is Gender Identity?’ digs deeper, discussing Gender vs Sex via a little biology tutorial before ‘Now… What’s Gender Expression?’ expands the debate, determining modern manners and ways of signalling the world what one has decided is a person’s (current, but not necessarily permanent) status. The lecture comes with carefully curated real-world examples…

This is all fine in an ideal world, but contentious, often life changing problems that can occur are tackled head-on in ‘What Does Dysphoria Mean?’, detailing examples of the traumas accompanying the realisation of not being how you believe you ought to be. Divided into Physical, Social and non-binary Dysphoria, the examination includes ways of combatting the problems and more case histories courtesy of the human wilderness students…

In swift succession ‘So, what is Asexuality?’ and ‘What does it mean to Come Out?’ offer further practical thoughts and prospective coping tactics before vital life lessons are covered in ‘Here are some Relationship Basics’.

Also included here are an “Outro” by Zuckerberg and a section of activities including ‘Design a Pair of Friendship Jackets’, ‘Create Your Own Sprout-sona!’ and ‘How to make a Mini Zine!!’ as well as information on ‘More Resources!’and Creator Biographies.

I hail from a fabulous far-distant era where we happily ravaged the planet without a qualm but believed emotional understanding led to universal acceptance. We’re apparently smarter about the planet now, and it’s wonderful to see that the quest to destroy intolerance and ignorance still continues. This witty, welcoming treatise offers superb strategies for fixing a pernicious issue that really should have been done and dusted decades ago.

Hopefully, when we all share appropriate, non-evocative and un-charged terms for discussing human sexuality and gender – such as seen here – we can all make decisions and assessments that will build a fairer, gentler world for everybody…
A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities ™ & © 2019 Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability


By A. Andrews (Limerance/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-694-5 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-706-5

Comic strips are an incredibly powerful tool for education, rendering the trickiest or most complex topics easily accessible. They also have an overwhelming ability to affect and change behaviour and have been used for centuries by politicians, religions, the military and commercial concerns to modify how we live our lives. Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as much as awareness or solidarity. Here, disabled cartoonist A. Andrews (Oh, Hey! It’s Alyssa!) shares experiences and highlights situations too many people would prefer never having to think about…

Before we go any further though, let’s just state something that ought to be obvious. Most human beings want and have sex.

Even amongst the majority, that encompasses a variety of preferences, techniques and practices generally undertaken in a spirit of cooperation and carried out on a sliding scale of satisfaction and success for (at least one of) those taking part. The goal however, surely must be mutual gratification for all involved, right?

Sadly, for a large section of humanity, this fundamental function presents many difficulties. Most have been previously addressed in many learned clinical tracts and therapeutically-themed sources but this welcomingly frank cartoon lecture isn’t one of those. It’s a chat session led by a person who’s lived some of those difficulties and who uses passion, humour, common sense and earnest language to cope. Think here not about achieving sex, but rather making your version of sex better, if not best…

After starting out with some daunting statistics from the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization to establish the state of play for disabled people (Earth’s largest minority group, accounting for 15% of global adult population), Andrews quickly moves to the meat of the matter in ‘Disability Sexuality’.

Defining different forms of disability – congenital, acquired, intellectual and invisible – and outlining intersecting impacts on individuals as well as tackling the differences between sexuality and gender, naturally leads to an examination of ‘Myths About Disabled Bodies’ before revealing the big secret… ‘Communication’

Following short and pertinent questionnaire ‘Activity Time’, the talk about talking resumes with ‘Instead of … Try This…’ and more sage advice, plus a fascinating ‘Self-Care Plan’ and the value of preparedness and tools, enhancements and toys in ‘Getting Down’, ‘Positioning’ and ‘Aftercare’

Also included is a listing of additional information and resources in print, podcast and web formats.

I hail from a distant era when we believed understanding led to acceptance, so it’s wonderful to see that the quest to destroy intolerance and ignorance still continues. This witty, welcoming comics guide tackles an issue that really should have been done and dusted decades ago, but until disability (and race and gender and sexuality and body size and even bloody hair colour) lose every shade of meaning and connotation except purely descriptive, books like this one will remain a necessity and utterly welcome…
A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability ™ & © 2020 A. Andrews. All rights reserved.

The Period Comic – A Girl’s Easy Guide to Puberty & Periods


By Florence Igboayaka & Martin Okonkwo
ISBN: 979-8-60215-669-0 (PB)

Comics are an incredible resource for dispensing information and – more importantly – changing or reinforcing attitudes. Text and illustration working in union have been used for generations to educate: efficiently and clearly demonstrating practical methodology whilst relating the most difficult theoretical material. They also have the added bonus of being kid-friendly by their very nature…

This particular independent paperback (or digital) treatise is a no-nonsense introduction into the implications and ramifications of female puberty, offering in fictive form explanations, advice and practical solutions to demystify and defuse a distressing and all-too-often traumatic time in every woman’s life.

Aimed at girls aged nine and above, the lesson focuses on schoolmates Anabel, Ada and Misha as a weekend sleepover turns into an impromptu social biology class. Introduced through potted biography pages before our tale opens, the trio are happily primed for their revelatory rite of passage following a Friday afternoon Health lecture in Chapter 1: Growing up & My Body.

Encompassing ‘Puberty. What’s that?’, ‘Help! I feel weird’, ‘Do boys change too?’ (to which I can’t help but interject, Yes, but sadly not enough and far too slowly), ‘Fill your plate with colour’ (sensible dietary advice, albeit perhaps owing more to cultural bias than the latest science) and ‘Don’t pop that pimple’, the basic science and biology is covered in easy to assimilate steps. There’s also a wealth of sensible tips on how to cope with the progression of physical changes and why one should adjust clothing requirements accordingly…

More specific information is sensitively delivered in Chapter 2: What Are Periods? beginning with ‘Help! I’m Bleeding’, punctuated with few of the most common methods of countering the cyclical crisis before we graduate to ‘How long will this last?’

Chapter 3: Period Hygiene then asks and answers ‘How can I protect myself?’, revisiting ‘How long will this last?’ before finding time and space to reveal and challenge the iniquities of ‘Period Poverty’

Chapter 4: What to Expect During Periods advocates ‘Be prepared’, and asks ‘Are cramps and PMS normal?’, leading into an aspirational Q&A session to end proceedings.

Speaking as exactly who this book is not aimed at and least likely to benefit from its efforts, I have to say The Period Comic is far from perfect but it’s a great start in normalising the commonplace function which modern society has somehow made both shockingly taboo and simultaneously unworthy of notice.

How we can attach so many appalling and absurd reactions to something so ubiquitous and inevitable has always astounded me (I know for absolute fact of one husband and father who won’t allow his wife and daughter’s period (let’s all stop calling them “sanitary”) products to be stored in the bathroom – or even mentioned in the house!) and we sadly seem a long, long way from any kind of parity in accepting that all humans are as much muck and mire as we are dreams and aspirations.

If this tract helps its target audience avoid unfair stigma and the unjustifiable twaddle of mythology and outright bigotry that’s grown around the process of menstruation, I’m all in favour.

Perhaps, it’s a touch too self-laudatory in places and there’s a tendency to overstress the hygiene aspect whilst underplaying the still too-prevalent negative social stigma. My female associates and intimates also assure me that there’s lots more this primer could and should cover – such as ecologically sustainable alternate methods of coping with the cycle – but all in all, this is a supremely sensible, minimum fuss treatment of a natural occurrence that really shouldn’t be a sensitive issue in any modern egalitarian society. Why not see for yourself and or check it out with your own youngsters?
2019. No © invoked.

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.

Science – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-750-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Scientifically approved and comically perfect… 10/10

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

Advertising mavens have always exploited the subversive impact of well-chosen words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, 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.

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 such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment, Genetics, Sex and more).

Japan employs vast quantities 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 ingrained apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans.

Here Margreet de Heer and husband Yuri again employ the medium to sublimely and elegantly tackle another all-consuming preoccupation and noble creation of the mind of Man, following their previous endeavours elucidatory endeavours…

She was born in 1972 into a family of theologians and, despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life, 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 she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics before becoming a full-time artist in 2005, with commissions in publications as varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next.

In 2007 she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw, which prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

An inveterate questioner, she then turned her thoughts and pens to Religie in Beeld – which I’m assuming is “Religion in Comic Pictures” as I don’t think it’s been translated into English yet – before logically moving on to the third leg of the fabled Pillars of Wisdom.

Science – A Discovery in Comics is one more superb full-colour strip foundation course packed with information and gentle humour. Dissecting and disseminating the essence and fundamentals of a big, big subject in a subversively calm and accessible way, de Heer crafts her hypotheses and findings with the instruments of a gifted writer and synthesist and a master’s grasp of the medium.

This supremely engaging discourse opens with a searching ‘Prologue’pointing out the core contradictions of supposedly unambiguous scientific thought before a few working definitions lead to a discussion of ‘What is Science?’ before the lectures begin with the core concept ‘The Beginning of Modern Western Science’.

This examination of the astounding achievements – and now obsolete observations – of Ancient Greece, paying particular attention to ‘Thales of Miletus’, ‘Anaximander’, ‘Pythagoras’, ‘Archimedes’ and ‘Euclid’ then elegantly diverts into a discourse on Mathematics, divided into ‘History of Math’ concentrating upon ‘Four Fascinating Mathematical Phenomena: Pi, Infinity, The Golden Ratio and Zero’.

Those sagacious Greeks are represented here by ‘Aristotle’ who laid the foundations of ‘The Scientific Method’

Science in the Middle Ages is covered ‘…At a Glance’ and through ‘The Medieval Worldview’, after which the subject switches to Chemistry, complete with a ‘History of Chemistry’, a quirky look at ‘the Periodic Table’ and some surprising things you didn’t know about famous scientists – and many who should be but aren’t.

A summary of where we’re at leads into the revelatory Mrs. Scientist which details just a few of the brilliant female thinkers and doers sidelined and short-changed by mainstream history before the journey resumes with a visit to The Renaissance paying particular attention to ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’.

Progressing to The Scientific Revolution where ‘New Ideas’ at last supplanted the accepted wisdom of the ‘Ideas of Aristotle’, the focus is on ‘Galileo Galilei’ and the destructive, increasingly toxic ‘Relationship Between Science and Religion’

The section on Astronomy opens with ‘History of Astronomy’ and a glimpse at ‘Space’ after which Newton gets his own chapter, culminating in a brilliant explanation of ‘Newton’s Laws’ before the spotlight falls on Physics

Following the preliminary and compulsory ‘History of Physics’, a short treatise on ‘Three Sub-areas of Physics: Electricity, Thermodynamics and Motion’ as visually verified in ‘Classical Mechanics’ takes us to The Nineteenth Century – Age of Discoveries with a potted history of ‘Charles Darwin’ evolving into the furore surrounding ‘Natural Theology’ and a section on the new discipline of Biology

‘History of Biology’, naturally results in a thorough examination of ‘Genetics’ and a personal moment for Margreet and Yuri as they take advantage of a very modern facility in ‘The Chromosome Chronicles’.

Geology surfaces next with ‘History of Geology’, revealing and revisiting the protracted debate over ‘The Age of the Earth’, ‘History of the Earth’ and ‘History of Man’.

Einstein of course, rates a section to himself, and ‘Albert Einstein’, ‘The Theory of Relativity’ and ‘Funny Facts’ happily lead to the contentious Quantum Theory,

This doctrine divided theoreticians for most of the 20th century – as seen in ‘History of Quantum Theory’ – examining the confounding paradox of ‘Wave and/or Particle’, ‘The Classical Worldview’ versus ‘The Quantum Worldview’ and asks ‘Next Stop: a Theory of Everything?’

And because proper science is about sharing knowledge, this scintillating speculation concludes with ‘Where are we Heading? – Science of the Future’, offering a quick survey of current affairs and prospective avenues of exploration…

This pictorial peroration also includes a handy page of recommendations of other books, films and graphic novels to check out, such as Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything and Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos and Anna di Donna.

This is a truly sharp and witty book, which marvellously reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly accessible experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny, Science – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book (even available scientifically in e-formats) we can all enjoy.

© 2012 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. English translation © 2013 Margreet de Heer.

The Phoenix Presents… Lost Tales


By Adam Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-19-7

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be taught better with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive and reveal how even the most ancient or alien of cultures is just people like us wearing different hats…

The same amiable ethos and graphic versatility that made Adam Murphy’s wonderful Corpse Talk collections such a treasure to read and learn with also informs this superb collection of visualised folk tales, gathered from distant, less-frequented corners of the world; ones not generally seen in our schools or nurseries.

In 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an anthological weekly comic for girls and boys channelling the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment. Every issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy.

Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally engaged kids and parents who read it. Inevitably the publishers have branched out into a wonderful line of superbly engaging graphic novel compilations, the latest of which will magically broaden every reader’s fantasy landscape…

This superb compilation of tales – first seen in The Phoenix – goes beguilingly beyond mythical borders established by generations of westernised kids reared primarily on the works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, and offers tantalising flavours far fresher to the jaded fantasy palate.

However, when you look closer, you’ll soon see that the themes, problems and solutions don’t vary that much and might well be universal…

Opening proceedings is ‘Strong Wind and Little Scabs’ which comes from the Mi’kmaq tradition of North America, detailing how a poor girl brutalised and maltreated by her older sisters becomes the wife of a god-like hero, after which ‘The Gifts of Wali Dad’ takes us to the ancient Punjab where a poor yet virtuous man finds his harmony and inner peace disrupted by too much wealth…

An old Romani legend becomes ‘Lucky Jim and the Golden Hair of the Sun’ as a vile king learns his daughter is fated to marry a simple gypsy peasant. His many scandalous attempts to thwart fate are futile and bring about his own doom, whilst a tale of avarice and guile defeated by honesty and ever sharper wits is revealed in ‘Two Merchants’, which comes from the lost Central African kingdom of Kanem-Bornu…

An honest, adoring but extremely simple peach-seller once married a beautiful and smart woman who gave him a drawing of her to keep him always happy. When he lost ‘The Picture Wife’ she was then compelled to orchestrate his rise to the heights of society in feudal Japan, before Brazil brings us a heartbreaking tragedy of sea-monsters, broken friendships and shallow, forgetful princesses which explains ‘Why the Sea Moans’

The high price of casual ingratitude informs the Russian fable of ‘The Snow Daughter’ who was magically bestowed upon a childless old couple and this fabulous lexicon of international wonders closes far closer to home with a Scottish tale of greedy, gullible and ultimately evil landowners who covet the precious few passions of a poor crofter. Thankfully, the old farmer has wits far surpassing the money and vicious intentions of his adversaries and ‘Riben, Robin and Donald McDonald’ has a happy ending with just deserts liberally served all around…

Witty, welcoming and utterly beguiling, The Phoenix Presents… Lost Tales seductively introduces readers to the myths of a wider world, and is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist.
Text and illustrations © Adam Murphy 2015. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Lost Tales will be released on August 4th 2016 and is available for pre-order now.
Why not check out the Phoenix experience at https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/ and see what Adam’s up to at http://adammurphy.com/portfolio/comics/

Science – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-750-8

There’s no use denying it: Annual Gift-Giving Season isn‘t far off and it’s never too early to think of the ideal item for that troublesome family/friend unit. So here’s something scientifically approved and tested to fit the bill for any disputative colleague fed up with socks, pants, pen-sets or One Direction action figures…

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

Advertising mavens have always exploited the subversive impact of well-chosen words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, 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.

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 such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment, Genetics, Sex and more).

Japan employs vast quantities 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 ingrained apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans.

Here Margreet de Heer and husband Yuri again employ the medium to sublimely and elegantly tackle another all-consuming preoccupation and noble creation of the mind of Man, following their previous endeavours elucidatory endeavours…

She was born in 1972 into a family of theologians and, despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life, 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 she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics before becoming a full-time artist in 2005, with commissions in publications as varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next.

In 2007 she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw, which prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

An inveterate questioner, she then turned her thoughts and pens to Religie in Beeld – which I’m assuming is “Religion in Comic Pictures” as I don’t think it’s been translated into English yet – before logically moving on to the third leg of the fabled Pillars of Wisdom.

Science – A Discovery in Comics is one more superb full-colour strip foundation course packed with information and gentle humour. Dissecting and disseminating the essence and fundamentals of a big, big subject in a subversively calm and accessible way, de Heer crafts her hypotheses and findings with the instruments of a gifted writer and synthesist and a master’s grasp of the medium.

This supremely engaging discourse opens with a searching ‘Prologue’ pointing out the core contradictions of supposedly unambiguous scientific thought before a few working definitions lead to a discussion of ‘What is Science?’ before the lectures begin with the core concept ‘The Beginning of Modern Western Science’.

This examination of the astounding achievements – and now obsolete observations – of Ancient Greece, paying particular attention to ‘Thales of Miletus’, ‘Anaximander’, ‘Pythagoras’, ‘Archimedes’ and ‘Euclid’ then elegantly diverts into a discourse on Mathematics, divided into ‘History of Math’ concentrating upon ‘Four Fascinating Mathematical Phenomena: Pi, Infinity, The Golden Ratio and Zero’.

Thos sagacious Greeks are represented here by ‘Aristotle’ who laid the foundations of ‘The Scientific Method’

Science in the Middle Ages is covered ‘…At a Glance’ and through ‘The Medieval Worldview’, after which the subject switches to Chemistry, complete with a ‘History of Chemistry’, a quirky look at ‘the Periodic Table’ and some surprising things you didn’t know about famous scientists – and many who should be but aren’t.

A summary of where we’re at leads into the revelatory Mrs. Scientist which details just a few of the brilliant female thinkers and doers sidelined and short-changed by mainstream history before the journey resumes with a visit to The Renaissance paying particular attention to ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’.

Progressing to The Scientific Revolution where ‘New Ideas’ at last supplanted the accepted wisdom of the ‘Ideas of Aristotle’, the focus is on ‘Galileo Galilei’ and the destructive, increasingly toxic ‘Relationship Between Science and Religion’

The section on Astronomy opens with ‘History of Astronomy’ and a glimpse at ‘Space’ after which Newton gets his own chapter, culminating in a brilliant explanation of ‘Newton’s Laws’ before the spotlight falls on Physics

Following the preliminary and compulsory ‘History of Physics’, a short treatise on ‘Three Sub-areas of Physics: Electricity, Thermodynamics and Motion’ as visually verified in ‘Classical Mechanics’ takes us to The Nineteenth Century – Age of Discoveries with a potted history of ‘Charles Darwin’ evolving into the furore surrounding ‘Natural Theology’ and a section on the new discipline of Biology

‘History of Biology’, naturally results in a thorough examination of ‘Genetics’ and a personal moment for Margreet and Yuri as they take advantage of a very modern facility in ‘The Chromosome Chronicles’.

Geology surfaces next with ‘History of Geology’, revealing and revisiting the protracted debate over ‘The Age of the Earth’, ‘History of the Earth’ and ‘History of Man’.

Einstein of course, rates a section to himself, and ‘Albert Einstein’, ‘The Theory of Relativity’ and ‘Funny Facts’ happily lead to the contentious Quantum Theory,

This doctrine divided theoreticians for most of the 20th century – as seen in ‘History of Quantum Theory’ – examining the confounding paradox of ‘Wave and/or Particle’, ‘The Classical Worldview’ versus ‘The Quantum Worldview’ and asks ‘Next Stop: a Theory of Everything?’

And because proper science is about sharing knowledge, this scintillating speculation concludes with ‘Where are we Heading? – Science of the Future’, offering a quick survey of current affairs and prospective avenues of exploration…

This pictorial peroration also includes a handy page of recommendations of other books, films and graphic novels to check out, such as Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything and Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos and Anna di Donna.

This is a truly sharp and witty book, which marvellously reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly accessible experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny, Science – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy.

© @2012 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2013 Margreet de Heer.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for anybody with a brain and a question… 9/10

Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny


By Justine & Ron Fuentes and Thomas Yeates (Graphic Universe)
ISBN: 978-1-58013-317-3

The heroic tales and beliefs of ancient cultures have for centuries formed an integral part of children’s educational development – and a good thing too. These days though, those magnificently inspiring and unforgettably visual yarns are as likely to be disseminated via graphic novel as through the sparsely illustrated prose books which had such a formative influence on my early days.

Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny was released in 2007, one self-contained chronicle in a large series which similarly retold through sequential narrative many other myths and legends such as Jason’s Quest with the Argonauts, the Labours of Hercules or the Saga of King Arthur.

Illustrated by the brilliant Thomas Yeates (Saga of the Swamp Thing, Time Spirits, Zorro and more) and adapted from traditional sources by Justine and Ron Fontes, the tragic tale of the World’s first feminist and a ferociously independent woman opens in heaven as the gods of Olympus observe a king railing at his wife, furious that she has given him a useless daughter instead of the son and heir he needed.

Ordering the infant to be ‘Abandoned’ on an exposed hillside, he thinks of her no more, blithely unaware that the baby has been found and adopted by a she-bear…

Nurtured and reared by her ursine protector the child grew strong and tough and exceedingly swift. Nothing could match her speed.

One day, years later, she was ‘Found’ and adopted by hunters who civilised her and gloried in her might and skill with a bow. These simple folk had no time for traditional women’s work and Atalanta grew with no knowledge of a woman’s traditional role in Greek society. She could not spin wool, weave or sew and knew nothing of cleaning or keeping a man’s house in proper order. Moreover she had no time or need to idly make herself pretty for a man…

As she grew to womanhood she often pondered her role and fate. Eventually she was advised by her adopted family to consult an oracle and journeyed to Delphi to seek ‘Answers and Adventures’ from the oracle of Apollo, where her shocking manner, dress and attitudes scandalised the refined citizens.

Sadly the responses of the closeted, drugged seer were far from helpful. The Oracle merely mumbled “avoid husband… can’t avoid… keep life… lose self” and the interpretations and rationalisations of the male priests were little better.

Atalanta returned to a life of hunting and lived day to day until an invitation came to enter a great competition to destroy a fearsome boar ravaging distant Calydon, kingdom of Oeneus and his son Prince Meleager.

Invitations had gone out to the greatest heroes of Greece and en route Atalanta met fabled Jason, and many Argonauts including Castor and Pollux, Theseus, Nestor, last survivor of the Trojan War, and Telemon who was once companion to Hercules himself. All hungered for glory and readily accepted her amongst their company as they discussed the fearsome beast they were to fight against.

Legend had it that the boar was a divine punishment sent by Artemis to punish a slight accidentally perpetrated by Oeneus, but as the champions talked the huntress realised many of the heroes also thought of her as a beguiling quarry…

The hunt for the boar was a disaster. Although she easily outdistanced her companions and drew first blood, many heroes died that day and when Meleager finally slew the beast he wanted Atalanta to share in the triumph. Her skill had indeed led to his killing stroke, but his jealous uncles refused to let a woman share in his glory and a fight broke out.

Besotted with her – and she with him – the Prince slew his uncles in a rage and called upon himself the final, fatal vengeance of the gods as well as his own mother.

Heartbroken and uncomprehending of the sheer spitefulness of celestials, Atalanta returned to the wilds, convinced that her love would ever doom any man she favoured…

Her legend grew however and in a far away kingdom her father pieced together the details and realised the celebrated huntress must be the daughter he had tried to kill. Seeing an opportunity he invited her into his household and the dutiful, curious young woman complied.

It was a disaster. She hated the rules and confinements of a palace princess and her sire only saw her as a means of gaining power, wealth and prestige. When he proffered the famed huntress in wedlock, many suitors came forward. Although the horrified, prophecy-haunted Atalanta knew that any man she married would die, she soon realised her greedy father did not care…

Thus she desperately devised a cunning competition to warn the fools away, demanding that only a man who could catch her would have her hand. To deter them further she insisted that any who failed must die but she had greatly underestimated the arrogance, greed and lust of princes…

A beautiful suitor named Hippomenes did get the message however and acted only as judge for ‘The Race of her Life’, watching the beautiful girl easily outdistance and thereby doom a host of potential husbands. Seeing her run though, he too was smitten and began his own campaign to win the lonely, tragic princess.

A great grandson of sea-god Poseidon, he made Atalanta feel she could beat her oracular curse and then petitioned love goddess Aphrodite to aid him in beating the unbeatable girl in a second race…

Equipped with the gleaming Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the wily youth distracted the fleet huntress enough to cross the finishing line first and won ‘A Bride After All’ but in his elation Hippomenes forgot to properly thank Aphrodite and the outraged deity promptly planned an awful vengeance for the slight.

At the moment of her greatest joy Atalanta learned the true power of prophecy when Aphrodite tricked the happy newlyweds into desecrating a shrine to Zeus’ mother Rhea for which sacrilege she furiously transformed them into a lion and lioness.

For the rest of eternity the lovers would remain together, keeping their lives but losing their selves, becoming the divine beasts pulling Rhea’s chariot across the world…

All religious stories are devised to explain away contemporary unsolved questions, unknowable mysteries or established social structures.

The liturgical history lesson retold here was one proudly patriarchal people’s attempt to rationalise their lives whilst explaining how and why such laws and customs exist and, although grossly simplified here, works in an engaging manner that should certainly tempt readers to go and find out more.

Engrossing, dynamic, pretty and blessed with a light touch, this splendid introduction to mythology is designed for kids with a reading age of nine or above – that’s Year 4, I suspect – and also contains a full ‘Glossary’ of characters and concepts, suggested ‘Further Reading, Websites and Films’, background on ‘Creating Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny, creator biographies in ‘About the Author and the Artist’ and an ‘Index’.

Packaged as full-colour, 48 page, card-cover booklets, they were designed to introduce youngsters to the magical riches of human history and imagination.

Although this particular saga retells a rather tragic and indubitably unfair tale of sexism, oppressive destiny and the costs of attempting to defy fate, it does read very well as sequential narrative in its own right and serves not just as an educational aid or social warning but as a smart way to get your youngsters into comics.
© 2007 Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Isis & Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth – An Egyptian Myth

Isis
By Jeff Limke & David Witt (Graphic Universe)
ISBN: 978-1-58013-320-3, 978-0-82256-570-3

The heroic tales and beliefs of ancient cultures have for centuries formed an integral part of children’s educational development – and a good thing too. These days though, those magnificently inspiring and unforgettably visual yarns are as likely to be disseminated via graphic novel as through the sparsely illustrated prose books which had such a formative influence on my early days.

Isis & Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth was released in 2007, one self-contained chronicle in a larger series which similarly retold through sequential narrative many other myths and legends such as Jason’s Quest with the Argonauts, the Labours of Hercules or the Saga of King Arthur.

Packaged as full-colour, 48 page, card-cover booklets, they were designed to introduce kids to the magical riches of human history and imagination. This particular epic retells one of the oldest stories of our species, revealing a story of love, hate and the devotion of marriage, as well as describing the invention of Egypt’s infamous burial ceremony and system of justice.

The story begins in the most ancient of days as the divine Isis begins a holy ritual with the royal infant Dactyl, simultaneously regaling him with a tale of ‘A Party to End all Parties’. At that long-ago festival her beloved and revered husband Osiris was betrayed by his jealous, ambitious and infinitely wicked brother Set.

The dark plotter had brought a lavish and ornate stone sarcophagus carved from solid rock to the celebration and proposed a party game: whomever the beautiful bier best fitted would win it forever. Everybody tried and failed to settle into it until noble, jolly Osiris at last lay within, at which time it magically sealed itself, trapping the king of the gods within ‘A Stone-Cold Prize’

His fate sealed, Osiris and the sarcophagus were hurled into the mighty Nile River by Set’s servants, to vanish from sight as the triumphant usurper assumed control of the world. Heartbroken but determined, Isis became a ‘Goddess Interrupted’ as she roamed the Earth for years, searching for her lost husband.

The Nile was the source of all life and Osiris’ magical passage had wrought wondrous changes and transformations Isis could track as she wearily walked the world. Eventually Isis arrived in the land ruled by Queen Astarte where she was made most welcome even as she saw the stump of a huge Tamarisk tree and felt the presence of he long-lost love.

The mighty growth was so impressive that the King had ordered it to be carved into a glorious imperial column for his palace, and when she travelled there Isis knew her quest was ended.

Arriving at our story’s starting point, the divine goddess, in her gratitude, was attempting to bless Astarte’s infant son Dactyl with her heavenly gifts when the suspicious queen inadvertently burst into her chamber and interrupted the benison. This contravention of the law of courtesy cost the mother and her son greatly…

Angered and impatient, Isis shattered the ceremonial column and released the hated sarcophagus from within it, before commandeering a boat and crew to take her beloved back up the Nile to his stolen kingdom.

‘A God Comes Home, a God Goes Missing’ found the reunited couple preparing to celebrate Osiris’ resurrection, with amazing new gifts for the people – such as farming tools and wheat – aided by their hawk-headed son Horus and Set’s jackal-headed boy Anubis. As they busied themselves, nobody saw a giant boar steal in and remove the still-slumbering Osiris…

When she discovered him missing the goddess exploded in fury, unleashing her wrath against the people until fair-minded Horus calmed her down and restored her reason.

By the banks of the river, the boar resumed his true shape and spiteful, jealous Set, determined never to lose or share the worship of mankind, cut his brother into many pieces and scattered them ‘To the Ends of the World’

Shattered and disconsolate, Isis is comforted and encouraged by Set’s wife Nephthys, who urges her to find the strength to search for her husband again. With the aid of her sister-in-law, Anubis, and Horus, Isis once more roams the earth until all the scattered segments of Osiris are found and reconstituted. All but one…

With a vital fragment missing, Isis has a potter construct a clay replacement from the earth her husband had previously blessed, and undertakes a new ceremony to recombine, reunite and reanimate the pieces. By ‘Making a Mummy’ she and her priests totally heal the withered husk and bring Osiris back to vibrant life.

His journey to the Land of the Dead had greatly changed the mighty ruler and, restored to health and power, he has accepted a great burden. Henceforth he will judge all those going to the afterlife with a set of scales balancing the evil in men’s hearts against the weight of a heavenly feather…

All religious stories are devised to explain away contemporary unsolved questions and unknowable mysteries. The liturgical history lesson retold here was one people’s attempt to rationalise the course of their lives as farmers whilst explaining how and why their laws and customs began and, although grossly simplified here, works in an engaging manner that should certainly tempt readers to go and find out more.

Engrossing, dynamic, pretty and blessed with a light touch, this splendid introduction to mythology is designed for kids with a reading age of nine or above – that’s Year 4, I suspect – and also contains a full ‘Glossary’ of characters and concepts, suggested ‘Further Reading, Websites and Films’, creator biographies in ‘About the Author and the Artist’ and an ‘Index’.

They also read very well as sequential narrative in their own right and would serve not just as educational aid but as a smart way to get your youngsters into comics.
© 2007 Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! – A Worm’s Story


By Gary Larson, coloured by Nick Bell of Wildstorm Productions (Little, Brown and Co/HarperCollins)
ISBNs: 978-0-31664-519-5 (HC)       978-0060932749 (PB)

We may not be rocket scientists but all cartoonists tend to lurk at the sharp end of the IQ bell curve – and then there’s Gary Larson. He could be a rocket scientist if he wanted to. Happily though, his inclinations tend towards natural history and the Life Sciences.

And making people laugh in a truthful, thinking kind of way…

Larson was born in 1950 and raised in WashingtonState. After school and college (also WashingtonStatewhere he got a degree in communications) he bummed around and got a job in a music store – which he hated. During a self-imposed sabbatical he evolved into a cartoonist by submitting to Pacific Search (now Pacific Northwest Magazine) in Seattle who promptly astonished him by accepting and paying for his six drawings. Bemused and emboldened Larson kept on doodling and in 1979 The Seattle Times began publishing his strip Nature’s Way. When The San Francisco Chronicle picked up the gag feature they renamed it The Far Side

From 1980 on the Chronicle Syndicate peddled the strip with huge success. The Far Side became a global phenomenon and Larson’s bizarre, skewed and bitingly surreal strip starring nature Smug in Tooth and Claw almost took over the world. With 23 collections (over 45 million copies sold), two animated movies, calendars, greetings cards and assorted merchandise seemingly everywhere, the smartypants scribbler was at the top of his game when he retired the feature on January 1st 1995.

After fifteen years at the top, Larson wanted to quit while he was ahead. He still did the occasional promo piece or illustration but increasingly devoted his time to ecological causes and charities such as Conservation International. He still does.

Of course he couldn’t stop drawing or thinking or, indeed, teaching and in 1998 created the stunningly smart and cool children’s book for concerned and nervous adults under the microscope here.

There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! brilliantly, mordantly tells a parable within a fable and serves up a marvellously meaningful message for us to absorb and ingest whilst simultaneously making us laugh like loons and worry like warts.

One day underground a little worm having dinner with his folks finds something unnatural and icky in his meal and starts bemoaning the lowly status and general crappiness of his annelidic existence (look it up, I’m showing off and making a comedic point too…). To counter this outburst of whingeing Father Worm offers a salutary tale to put things into their proper perspective…

Thus begins the tragic tale of Harriet, a beautiful human maiden living – she believed – at one with world in the woods, enraptured with the bountiful Magic of Nature and of one particular frolicsome day encountering cute squirrels, lovely flowers, icky bugs, happy birds, playful deer, tortoises and every kind of creature… and completely missing the point about all of them…

Masquerading as an acerbic faux fairytale teller, Larson delivers an astoundingly astute and unforgettable ecology lesson equally effective in educating young and old alike about Nature’s true nature – and yet still miraculous wonders – all whilst maintaining a monolithic amount of outrageous comic hilarity.

This sublime illustrated yarn became a New York Times Best Seller on its release and still serves as a fabulous reminder of what really clever people can achieve even if they don’t do rocket science…

Seriously though: There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! is one of the smartest, funniest and most enticingly educational kid’s book ever created and should be on every school curriculum. Since it isn’t, perhaps it’s best if you picked one up for the house…?
© 1998 FarWorks, Inc. All rights reserved.