Georgia O’Keeffe

By María Herreros; translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-05-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

Georgia Totto O’Keeffe entered the world in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on November 15th 1887, second of seven children born to a dairy farmer turned (failed) construction entrepreneur. Seized and overwhelmed by the artistic impulse before the age of ten, she overcame financial hardship to secure an impressive traditional artistic education which she promptly rejected in favour of finding her own path.

From 1917 and her first exhibition, to her death in 1986, she made art her way, most famously with series of paintings of flowers, buildings and ultimately desert scenes which became a catalyst of taste and part of global artistic culture. She is regarded as America’s first abstract artist and has been called The Mother of American Modernism.

Innocently controversial from the start, O’Keeffe increasingly sought to understand colour and shape via stark cityscapes and florid blossoms but had to endure censure and gossip over nude photos exhibited by her patron Alfred Stieglitz, and the indignity of having her flower paintings mansplained by critics – even female ones – who continuously likened them to female sexual organs.

Bored with saying “they’re just flowers” and self-important fools, she began a gradual, years-long process of quitting metropolitan civilisation for peace, contentment and endless inspiration under the big skies and vivid deserts of New Mexico.

Over a decades-long career. O’Keefe garnered international acclaim and many awards. These included an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the College of William and Mary (1938); election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a fellowship of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences(1966); receiving the M. Carey Thomas Award from Bryn Mawr College (1971) and another honorary degree (from Harvard in 1973) as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), The National Medal of Arts (1985) and – in 1993 – posthumous induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

As you’d expect of a determined, driven professional woman of that period in that country, making extremely successful headway in a predominantly male preserve, her personal life was something of a trainwreck, but this compelling examination chooses to downplay those aspects.

Sensibly side-lining the more sensationalised moments of O’Keefe’s past in favour of tracing her accomplishments and victories, graphic biographer María Herreros has employed her painterly, primitivistic narrative style which liberally samples O’Keeffe’s copious canon of letters and idiosyncratic writings to bring us inside the head of a profoundly visual and arguably obsessive being.

Based in Madrid, but born in Valencia in 1983, Herreros is a modern multidisciplinary artist. She studied at the University of Fine Arts, San Carlos and since 2011 has combined high level commercial commissions with gallery shows, book collaborations and comics such as Viva la Dolce Vita, Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies, and Paris sera toujours Paris. Her personal works explore human emotion, societal evolution and the concepts of beauty and normative states.

Although remaining primarily positive and inquisitive here, Herreros touches on O’Keeffe’s mental ill health issues, her Svengali-like attachment (later marriage) to older, already-married Fine Art photographer/gallery owner Stieglitz and her end-of-life companion John Bruce “Juan” Hamilton – both notorious age-inappropriate public scandals that Georgia casually, magnificently, ignored.

Via communications with Georgia’s close female friends and Stieglitz, Herreros takes us inside the painter’s mind, revealing the creative process and progress in navigating society, the public and the poison chalice of simply having to exhibit art to survive, while emphasising making the images she wanted to in places she truly loved which became her greatest joy and solitary citadels.

Less a biography than a carefully crafted appreciation and appraisal of a career and legacy by a fellow fully emancipated, self-determining female creator, Georgia O’Keeffe is a compelling and beguiling glimpse into the forces that shape art and artists.
Text and illustrations © 2021 by María Herreros. All rights reserved. Published by agreement with Astiberri Ediciones and Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero.

The Boxer – the True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

By Reinhardt Kleist; translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-906838-77-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

In 2011 he again turned to boxing for inspiration, adapting a Holocaust biography written by the son of a survivor of the death camps. Hertzko/Herschel “Harry” Haft might be regarded amongst the more noteworthy of those benighted souls: a ruthlessly determined individual who overcame every iteration of horror and privation, using his fists and low cunning.

His life was first recounted in 2006 by his son Alan Scott Haft in prose biography Harry Haft: Auschwitz Survivor, Challenger of Rocky Marciano, and as well as the graphic novel under review here, you can absorb the tale in filmic form in Barry Levinson’s movie adaptation The Survivor.

Delivered in stark monochrome, Kleist’s compelling and uncompromising interpretation opens with the protagonist a humble grocer in America, trying to relate to his young son. Harry is a hard man to relate to, but in a moment of contrition he promises to one day share with his boy what made him that way.

Alan waited another forty years to hear the truth and turned it into a narrative for everyone…

The story proper opens in 1939, in the Polish town of Belchatow. Since the Germans came, the Jewish Haft family have become smugglers, and 14-year old Hertzko thinks himself invincible.

His father had sold fruit and veg but found it increasingly difficult to support a wife and eight children. When he died, the family splintered and only Hertzko and brothers Aria and Peretz stayed with their mother. When the invasion took hold, their illicit activities made them all targets, but amidst daily outrages, he found opportunity for love and was betrothed to Leah Pablanski, daughter of the receiver of all the contraband he shifted across the Nazis’ new borders…

When Hertzko was transported to his first labour camp, seeing Leah again one day was the dream that kept him going. Barely literate but strong and determined he had a gift for being useful and, despite toiling in the most horrific circumstances and being present for every atrocity of the regime, he endured – especially after his smuggling experience made him an essential tool of one particular guard officer who was methodically enriching himself at the prisoners’ expense…

Moved from camp to camp as a slave labourer, Hertzko eventually arrived in Jaworzno camp and was reunited with his brother Peretz. Here his sponsor found him less egregious duties. All he had to do was fight other prisoners in Sunday exhibition matches for the officers. Haft had never boxed before, but would do anything for better conditions and what passed for “guaranteed” survival. What he did there remained with him for the rest of his life…

Despite his resilience and adaptability, Haft always found himself at the mercy of superior and more ruthless forces. As the Allies slowly pushed the Nazis back on all fronts, he was left to the “death marches” the SS instigated to empty the camps and hide evidence of their industrialised slaughter factories. Over and again, Haft dodged certain death and committed more sins until finally captured by American troops. Soon his underworld experience was being exploited by the GIs as Hertzko ran a bordello for the soldiers. When Peretz resurfaced, Haft finally had time and enough money to go looking for Leah. That trail led ultimately to America.

While in US-occupied Straubing, Haft had won a boxing competition organised by the Army, and was – after further machinations – allowed to emigrate in 1946. He was 23 years old…

The second half of Haft’s life began in the New World. He still wanted Leah and decided fame would be the key. The fight game in America was popular but increasingly under the control of organized crime. Nevertheless, Haft – now calling himself “Hershel” and “Harry” – pursued his chosen path with relentless zeal.

Overcoming every administrative obstacle, he found a manager, learned how to actually box rather than fight and kept on winning.

The equation was simple. Leah was here somewhere. If he could get his picture in the papers or newsreels or even on this new television thing, she would see him and get in touch. Sadly, it only brought him to the attention of mobsters. After his moment of glory fighting Rocky Marciano in 1949, Haft learned how his chosen world really worked…

Walking away, he married a neighbour’s daughter in November and opened a grocery store in Brooklyn. In 1963 the family took a trip to Florida and young son Alan helped locate a woman named Leah Lieberman…

Please be warned: The Boxer is not just a testament of atrocity or celebration of the human spirit under the most appalling conditions. It’s also a real world love story where the always-inevitable ultimate reunion does not follow the rules of romantic fiction or bring about a happy ending.

Kleist’s graphic tour de force is supplemented by a stunning gallery of sketches and working drawings, and backed up with a picture-packed essay from sports journalist Martin Krauss.

‘Boxing in concentration camps – a report’ details the long-neglected topic of Nazi sports exhibitions in work and death camps and relates it to Haft’s later professional career in America, including a chilling sidebar on ‘US boxing and the Mafia’. Also on the bill are biographies of other ‘Forgotten champions’ of the camps: Victor “Young” Perez; Noach Klieger; Leendert “Leen” Josua Sanders; Leone “Lelletto” Efrati; Salamo Arouch; Jacko Razon; Johann “Rukelie” Trollman; Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski and Francesco “Kid Francis” Buonagurio.

Potent, powerful, moving and memorable, this is a quest tale well told and one not easily forgotten.
© Text and illustrations 2012 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. © Appendix 2012 Martin Krauß and CARLSEN Verlag. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

Days of Sand

By Aimée De Jongh, translated by Christopher Bradley (SelfMadeHero) 
ISBN: 978-1-914224-04-1 (HB)  

Certain eras and locales constantly resonate with both narrative consumers and creators. The mythical Wild West, the trenches of the Somme, Ancient Rome, 1940s Hollywood and so many more emotionally evocative enclaves of mythologised moments spark responses of drama, tension and tales crying out to be told.  

One of the most evocative derives from Depression-era America, but rather than a noir-drenched misty Big City, Aimée De Jongh drew her inspiration from a scrupulously documented decade long human catastrophe that inescapably presages ecological collapse in our imminent future. 

The Netherlands-born comics creator, story-boarder, Director and animator studied at Rotterdam, Ghent and Paris before beginning her career as a newspaper cartoonist. While releasing graphic novels The Return of the Honey Buzzard, Blossoms in Autumn and Taxi!, the multi-disciplined, multi award-winning artist worked in television, on music videos and animated movies (Aurora), for gallery shows (Janus), and latterly turned to graphic journalism, detailing refugee life in Greece’s migrant camps. 

Combining overlapping interests in travel, documentary and ecology, her latest opus tells a carefully curated and fictionalized account of one young man’s reaction to the 1930’s Dust Bowl disaster and the resultant diaspora it triggered over ten years of drought.  

To research the tale – released in Europe in 2021 as two-volume Jours de sable – De Jongh travelled extensively through the region (Oklahoma to California), visiting remaining historical sites and museums while accessing the precious wealth of photographic material sponsored by the contemporary Farm Security Administration. This federal entity recorded the tragedy which forms the narrative spine of this story.  

De Jongh’s blog offers interested readers further insights and this book includes commentary and many of the original photographs that ultimately moved the event from environmental aberration to cultural myth and human tragedy. 

This is not a tale about plot and action but premise and reaction. Captivatingly rendered with colour acting as a special effects suite and utilizing original 1930s photographs throughout, it sees unemployed photographer John Clark take a job in 1937: hired like many others to document the human and economic effects of a decade-long drought and bad farming practises on the people of Oklahoma. Trapped at the heart of an un-Natural Disaster, they daily endure the frightening and no-longer gradual transition of their once lush lands of milk and honey and grass and fruitfulness into a new Sahara desert… 

Unfortunately, Clark has more baggage than just a shooting script and camera cases, and as he carries out his task, he slowly loses perspective and secure distance in the face of awestriking nature and humanity in its rawest, most reduced state. How can his camera intrude and explore when he’s as much lost and unbalanced as any of his subjects? 

It’s easy to read in subtextual messages and apply modern tropes and memes ranging from the movie Dune to the current global migrant crisis or each and every western government’s insipid pettifogging disinclination to take charge or an iota of responsibility. The world has never been in a worse state and if this book motivates anyone to make a change – however small – that’s a big win. However, it’s not the point.  

Terror, loss, hopeless misery and hunger for a better life have always been with us. The fact that our imminent doom is self-inflicted is irrelevant. The fact that everyone is/will be affected is a non sequitur. What’s germane is that when Kent or Hampshire are dust bowls and all Pacific islands are underwater, it’s still going to come down at some point to every one of us making a decision…  

An international hit garnering many honours and accolades, Days of Sand is staggering beautiful, distressingly unforgettable and never more timely, but please don’t dismiss it as a trendy and pretty polemic. This is a timeless examination of individual human choice in reaction to overwhelming, immeasurable forces and how individuals may respond. What’s presented here is one concerned artist’s narrative riposte. What’s yours? 

Jours de sable © DARGAUD-BENELUX (DARGAUD-LOMBARD S.A.) 2021, by Aimée De Jongh. All rights reserved  

Comics Ad Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hubert Reeves Explains BiodiversitY

Hubert Reeves, Nelly Boutinot & Daniel Casanave, coloured by Claire Champion and translated by Joseph Laredo (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Lasting Lessons Lavishly Limned and Laudably Learned… 9/10

It’s sometimes easy to forget that other countries have national treasures, too: popular spokes-folk sharing their passions for the good of us all. Living folk, that is, not pilfered artefacts taken into “protective custody” by most western “explorers” whilst visiting other people’s continents: that’s just shameful and unforgivable…

Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Professors Brian Cox, Lucy Worsley, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and many others have translated their passions into education, elucidation, mass entertainment and good works, but they are not alone and most nations have their own voices of wonder, reason and sanity. For French-speakers, one of those effulgent natural educators is Professor Hubert Reeves.

Born Quebecois in 1932, raised and educated in Montreal but now resident in Paris, the physicist and professional educator is a major name in Thermonuclear Reactions, Light Nuclei and “Positronium”; advises NASA and has – since 1965 – been Director of Research at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique.

In later life he became the go-to guy for science stuff on French TV and has contrived a series of bande dessinée detailing Earth’s rapidly dwindling and almost expired bounties. Following the translated book featured here – which started life in 2017 as Hubert Reeves explique: La bioversité – he turned his sagacious eye to Oceans and Forests, which I’ll probably get around to later, assuming we still have any next year…

Working with co-writer Nelly Boutinot (vice-president of the Humanity and Biodiversity Association) and publisher/illustrator Daniel Casanave (Shelly; Romantica; Une Aventure rocambolesque) the Man of Letters has here inserted himself into a gentle and laconic nature ramble with a group of school children exploring lush countryside which inescapably includes all our mighty works. Delivered with simple but strictly factual directness in a captivating cartoon style that enchants and seduces, the relationships and shared history of cities, suspension bridges and other technologies is deconstructed in terms of their impact on the natural world.

Clarifying and connecting the link between microorganisms and petrochemicals; weather cycles and climate change; the balance between prey and predators in healthy ecosystems; the impact of invasive species (both deliberately imported and free-roaming); the cost to us all of every extinction and the no-brainer importance and function of the oxygen cycle that keeps us all alive, Le Professeur makes his case and proves his points while exulting in the majesty and complexity of existence…

Explained with stunning clarity using powerful symbols and examples from all across the embattled globe, yet still able to end on an optimistic note, Hubert Reeves Explains Biodiversity affords a superb and satisfying life lesson that belongs in every classroom, library and boardroom. Get it for the kids, or maybe they’ll get it for you…

The Chagos Betrayal – How Britain Robbed an Island and Made Its People Disappear

By Florian Grosset (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-67-2 (TPB) eISBN 978-1-912408-93-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Knowledge is Power and Shame is a Weapon… 9/10

Words wedded to images have long been a cheap and reliable tool of the functionally powerless in addressing injustice. When used to craft potent and damning testaments of authoritarian oppression and atrocity, they stand a pretty good chance of shifting balances of power, changing the course of events and auditing history. Let’s hope it’s still the case here…

Comics and Graphic Novels carry a powerful ability to whip up empathy, deliver damaging detail, summarise complex issues and events without lessening emotional impact, and visually embed nuance that dry reports and impassioned novels cannot, at a fraction of the cost of a live action documentary. That’s exactly what graphic designer and first person witness Florian Grosset has achieved here as she details how successive British governments have displaced, lied to and fatally ignored some of their poorest, weakest and most trusting subjects, simply to curry favour with foreign allies and obtain discount weapons systems…

The uprooting and forced relocation of thousands of mostly brown-skinned, generally poor and universally uneducated British citizens by the British government in London to lease America a strategically advantageous naval base in the Indian Ocean has been a shameful ongoing affair since 1965. The plight of the displaced people of the Chagos archipelago as they perpetually petition British and International Courts and struggle to return to their ancestral homes on the island of Diego Garcia is still a slowly unfolding current affair, not a done and dusted historical footnote.

Utilising beautiful imagery, blunt facts and beguiling personal testimonies Grosset has assembled a grimly unforgettable argument, detailing how the Chagos litigants were belittled, lied to, discounted, ignored and ultimately stalled in hope that they would die out or go away.

A tragically effective tactic still in use – especially by civilised First World governments – is to rewrite the terms rules and definitions. Great Britain is a past master of this: even today glibly changing the status of any troublesome citizen from “British” to “Somebody Else’s Problem, Now”.

In the case of the former Chagos Archipelago islanders, redefining their centuries-old home as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) and its British-citizen inhabitants as “migrant workers” before summarily shipping them off against their will to imminently independent Mauritius probably seemed a “cunning wheeze”, but what it was – and remains – is damning proof of how elites regard the rest of us…

This staggeringly moving account – broken down into understated but powerfully enthralling chapters ‘You must leave and never return’, ‘Life in the slums’, ‘A troubled history’, ‘We must be very tough about this…there will be no indigenous population except seagulls..’, ‘There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.’ And ‘…any person who enters BIOT without permission may be liable to imprisonment for three years and/or a fine of £10,000…’ – summarises the current state of play and offers a chance for us all to make ourselves heard about the things done in our name but without our knowledge or consent.

Fully backed up by a ‘Sources’ section and grateful ‘Acknowledgements’ this is a superbly designed weapon of enlightenment no concerned citizen of our dying Earth should miss.
© 2021 Florian Grosset. All rights reserved.

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

By Gary Larson, coloured by Nick Bell (Little, Brown and Co/HarperCollins)
ISBNs: 978-0-31664-519-5 (HB) 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, Jazz and Life Sciences.

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

Larson was born in 1950 and raised in Washington State. After school and college (also Washington State where 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 Magazine) in Seattle, who 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 is still passionately crusading for environmental reform – hell, even a slim simple common sense will do – and other issues affecting us all. Happily, on July 7th this year, he began releasing new material online: just go to the Far Side website and check out “New Stuff”…

Of course, even back in the 1990s, he couldn’t stop drawing or thinking or, indeed, teaching even if officially off the clock. In 1998 he crafted this stunningly smart and cool children’s book for concerned and nervous adults. It was a huge hit and is more relevant now than ever…

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 up 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 the whole world. Dwelling in the woods, she was enraptured with the bountiful Magic of Nature and on one particularly frolicsome day encountered cute squirrels, lovely flowers, icky bugs, happy birds, playful deer, tortoises and every kind of creature… and completely missed the point about all of them…

Masterfully mimicking an acerbic 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 – 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…

There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! is one of the smartest, funniest and most enticingly educational kid’s books 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.

Knock Out! – The True Story of Emile Griffith

By Reinhard Kleist, translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-91059-386-8 (TPB)

Fairness and Justice are human constructs that afford many opportunities to prove that the universe works on other principles. Ritualized combat – like boxing – seeks to even out the most egregious imbalances between contestants to provide a balanced and equitable battle, but no amount of rule-making and legislation can shield participants from society, the environment they live in or the genetic heritage that shaped them.

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

Here his powerfully moody yet joyous exuberant monochrome stylings recount the amazing life of a born fighter who triumphs in the best storybook traditions, whilst never deviating from the inescapable chains of history or escaping the sordid realms of real life…

Even if they’ve heard of him, most boxing fans don’t talk about Emile Alphonse Griffith. Born in the US Virgin Islands in 1938, Emile was black, poorly educated and endured abuse at home before moving to America. In 1956, while working in a New York hat factory, his foreman – a former boxing coach – noticed his astounding physique and encouraged the affable easy-going kid to try boxing as a way to improve his financial woes.

Although Emile preferred ping-pong, singing and making hats (later, at the height of his fame, Emile designed hats for women and made upbeat pop records), he went along with his white mentor. Turning Pro in 1958, Emile was soon a Golden Gloves winner and World Champion in the Welterweight, Junior Middleweight and Middleweight categories.

At that time in America, the sporting barriers to black boxers were mostly gone, but Emile laboured under another “handicap” – he slept with men and didn’t particularly care who knew about it.

Just like showbiz and popular entertainer Liberace, Emile’s status was an “open secret” in the 1960s Boxing community, which maintained a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality, but that only went so far in the days before the game-changing Stonewall Riots (look it up if you have to – its important). The happy-go-lucky pugilist’s privileged status evaporated after the third of three fights with Cuban Benny Paret, whom Emile defeated to become World Champion, before losing the rematch.

In 1962, they met one final time. After Paret taunted Griffith with homosexual and racial slurs, the match was a savage and unrelenting bout that resulted in the death of Paret…

However, that’s simply the first act of this tale, which follows Griffith – who was allowed to continue boxing until 1977 – as he confounded critics and bigots, breaking down barriers and living a full and extremely varied life… as much as his troubled conscience would allow.

This is a supremely uplifting story of triumph and tragedy which shows just how meaningless such concepts are outside of fiction. It’s a happy-sad example of how life goes on in a personal and macroscopic manner until it just ends: and it successfully argues that all you can do is the best you can…

Available in paperback and digital editions and supported by a Preface from Kleist acknowledging his influences and debt to Griffith biographer Ron Ross; Jonathan W. Gray’s context-enlightening Foreword ‘The Sweet Science and Open Secrets’ and a socio-cultural appraisal of Emile and other gay black boxers by Tatjana Eggeling (European Ethnologist and expert on Homophobia in Sports) plus a superb gallery of sketches and working drawings by Kleist, this is an unqualified hit that resonates far beyond the square ring and the closeted environs of LGBTQIA+ literature. It’s a surefire winner for everyone.
© Text and illustrations 2019 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

The Killer Condom and Down to the Bone

By Ralf König: translated by Jim Steakley and Jeff Krell (Northwest Press/Ignite! Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-96563-238-6 (Killer Condom PB) 978-0-96563-239-3 (Down to the Bone PB)
Digital editions by Northwest Press – no ISBN

Standard Disclaimer: These comedy stories contain rude words, explicit nudity, depictions of graphic and hilarious sexual situations and normal non-Biblical lifestyles. If any of these are likely to offend, what the hell are you doing here anyway?

I’d like to think that most social problems humanity suffers from can be fixed by a little honesty and a lot of communication – especially when it comes to relationships. Being able to laugh together probably helps too. In regard to sexual politics and freedom it’s an attitude Germany adopted decades ago. As a result, the country has an admirable record of acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community and a broad penetration (yes, I’m awful! And Not Funny!) of gay comics into the general population.

Undisputed king of home-grown graphic novels is Ralf König, a multi-award-winning cartoonist, filmmaker and advocate with almost fifty titles – such as Suck My Duck; Santa Claus Junior; Prototyp; Archetyp; Antityp and Stehaufmännchen– under his belt.

He was born in August 1960 and came out in 1979, crafting an unceasing parade of incisive and hilarious strips and sagas set in and around the nation’s ever-evolving gay scene. Much to his own surprise, he discovered that his work had vaulted the divide from niche market to become a staple of popular mass market book sales. Many of his works have been rereleased as eBooks from Northwest Press.

The two volumes covered here were major sellers all over the world: blending the sordid shock-chic of 1970s American crime films and TV shows like Dirty Harry, The Warriors or Kojak and schlocky Sci Fi-horror (as in Scanners or Critters) with absurdist humour and the delicious notion of New York’s toughest Top Cop being Out, Loud and obnoxiously Proud…

First released in Britain in 1991 and wholly embracing the conceit of being an art house movie, The Killer Condom originally debuted in 1987 as Kondom des Grauens: a whole-hearted genre spoof introducing disgraced and disgraceful New York detective Luigi Macaroni, called on by his reluctant and harassed boss to solve a rash of gory emasculations plaguing the area around the notorious pay-by-the-hour Hotel Quickie.

Brash, gruff and deliberately sleazy, Macaroni is too good a cop to get rid of, despite his brazen attitude, and begins to work just like in every other case his straight colleagues won’t touch. However, as he investigates the brutal street scene he quickly realizes that no human agency is biting the dicks off an escalating stream of unfortunate sinners…

When he picks up a rent boy for a little relief, they too go to the Quickie and soon face terror beyond imagination and every man’s darkest nightmare…

Crafted at a time when HIV/AIDS was ravaging the gay community and scaring the pants off the wider world, this darkly trenchant satire adds a bizarre codicil to the still-ongoing debate about safe sex and condom use, but remains at its core an outrageously funny romp for grown-ups. In 1996, it and sequel Down to the Bone were adapted as a German comedy horror movie, latterly released in America as Killer Condom.
The Killer Condom © 1988 by Editions Kunst der Comics/Ralf König. Revised Edition © 2009, Published by Ignite! Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Down to the Bone emerged in 1990. As Bis Auf die Knochen, it heralded the triumphant return of Detective Inspector Macaroni – an even-more embittered man following his failure to maintain a loving relationship. It’s New Year’s in New York and the city is darker and nastier than ever. In the dead of winter, a fresh horror stalks the streets…

When a man hungry for negotiable affection encounters an oddly familiar “leatherman” hooker, it turns into the last trick of his life. Meanwhile, celebrity restauranteur Joe Baluga meets a similar fate, as does another hapless John triggering another campaign of atrocity in the mouldy, worm-infested Big Apple.

This time, it’s not dicks that are disappearing: now entire bodies are being instantly reduced to bleached skeletons and the Captain needs the department’s top Queer to stop the rot. As the third victim is the wealthy son of an infamous billionaire, and just to be safe, the embattled chief assigns painfully straight whitebread Detective Brian Plumley to assist him – affording Macaroni an irresistible opportunity to play pranks and reaffirm his reputation as a total bastard…

As they trawl the leather bars and other outposts of “the scene” they quickly establish an apparent link to the gay porn industry. But other than providing the inspector with a celebrity hook-up, the investigation stalls until a bizarre find proves that what they’re all hunting is far from human…

From there the pieces swiftly fall into place and the escalating horror leads back to an old case involving carnivorous latex prophylactics. With bodies still dropping, Macaroni and a far-more woke Plumley track down an old mad scientist and his ghastly creation and encounter a deranged fundamentalist determined to enforce Biblical mandates at all costs…

Wry, witty, coarsely hysterical, these books marry the surly, unsavoury thrills of urban cop fiction with a bawdily outrageous whimsy that sadly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you love big raucous ludicrous belly laughs with your thrills and chills, these might well become some of your favourite reads.
Down to the Bone © 1990 by Editions Kunst der Comics/Ralf König. Revised Edition © 2011, and published by Ignite! Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Women Discoverers: 20 Top Women in Science

By Marie Moinard & Christelle Pecout, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-270-0 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-271-7

Comics and graphic novels have an inconceivable power to deliver information in readily accessible form, and – like all the best teachers – can do so in ways that are fascinating, fun and therefore unforgettable. Here’s a fresh entrant in a wave of historical and biographical visual celebrations seeking to redress centuries of gender injustice while providing true life role models for the coming generations.

Crafted by writer, editor and journalist Marie Moinard (En chemin elle recontre, La petite vieille du Vendredi) & Christelle Pécout (Lune d’Ombre, Hypathie, Histoires et légendes normandes), Les découvreuses is a cheery hardback – or digital – compendium made comprehensible to us, via translation into English by those fine folk at NBM.

As the name suggests, Women Discoverers focuses on twenty female scientists who generally Рwithout fanfare or even fair credit Рchanged the world. Some are still doing so. A combination of comics vignettes and short illustrated data epigrams preceded by an impassioned Introduction from Marie-Sophie Pawlak (President of Elles Bougent scientific society), the revelations begin an extended strip history of the achievements of the peerless Marie Curie whose discoveries in chemistry and physics practically reinvented the planet. She is followed by brief vignettes of French biologist Fran̤oise Barre-Sinoussi (discoverer of the HIV retrovirus), Canadian physicist Donna Th̩o Strickland (laser amplification) and African-American Dorothy Vaughan whose mathematical and computing skills served the world at NASA.

It’s back to comics for Ada Lovelace who revolutionized mathematics by inventing computer programming, after which single page biographies describe the achievements of lengths undertaken by French mathematician Émilie du Châtelet to attend men-only institutions in the days of the Enlightenment.

Although separated by centuries, mathematicians Emmy Noether (Germany 1882-1935) and Grace Alele-Williams (born in Niger in 1932) both excelled and triumphed despite male opposition but their stories pale beside the strip-delivered hardships of actress, engineer and mobile phone pioneer Hedy Lamarr…

Another Nasa stalwart, mathematician/astrophysicist Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, famously calculated Apollo 11’s life-saving orbit, while paediatrician Marthe Gautier discovered the origins of Downs’ Syndrome and Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani’s geometry discoveries were tragically cut short by illness…

The shameful treatment and fate of British researcher Rosalind Franklin also ended in a cruelly early death and belated fame, unlike French mathematician, philosopher and physicist Sophie Germain whose many (posthumous) triumphs never brought her inclusion in the numerous scientific organisations barring female membership during her lifetime.

Whereas Marie Curie’s daughter Irène Joliot-Curie won similar accolades to her mother, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars only to have her (male) supervisor steal the credit. At least she’s still alive to see the record set straight…

In pictorial form, astronaut Mae Jemison reveals her life and medical successes on Earth, before this potent paean closes with a trio of one-page wonders: Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek, Navy mathematician Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (writer of the COBOL programming language) and Chinese chemist Xie Yi whose advances in nanotechnology have made the world a very different place.

Sure, you could Google them, but this book is a far more satisfying and charming alternative and the very fact that you probably haven’t heard of most of these astounding innovators – or even a few of the more ancient ones – only proves, without doubt, that you need this book.
© 2019 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

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