Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels & Revolution

Version 1.0.0

By Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez (Burchfield Penney Art Center/Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-782-2 (TPB)

Manuel Rodriguez was one of the most bombastic and well-known pioneering lights of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: a mainstay of the counterculture which subversively reshaped the nation’s psyche in the 1960s and 1970s. However, although always a left-leaning radical, infamous for his raucously hyper-violent, audaciously sexual urban vigilante Trashman, Spain was also a quietly dedicated craftsman, historian, educationalist and graphic biographer.

Born in Buffalo, New York state in 1940, the Hispanic kid spent a lot of time with notorious biker gang The Road Vultures and these experiences, as much as his political upbringing and formal education at the Silvermine Guild Art School in New Canaan, Connecticut (1957-1960), moulded and informed his entire creative career.

In the 1960s he became a regular contributor to landmark alternative magazine the East Village Other, which not only utilised his burgeoning talents as illustrator and designer but also commissioned, in 1968, his groundbreaking tabloid comic book Zodiac Mindwarp. That insert proved so successful that EVO subsequently sponsored a regular anthology publication. Gothic Blimp Works was a turning point and clarion call in the evolution of underground publishing.

However, the excessive exploits of Trashman – “Agent of the 6th International” – against a repressive dystopian American super-state were only the tip of the creative iceberg. Ardent left-winger Spain founded the trade organisation the United Cartoon Workers of America whilst contributing to many of the independent comics and magazines which exploded out of the burgeoning counterculture movement across the world. Manuel Rodriguez was also an erudite and questioning writer/artist with a lifelong interest in history – especially political struggle and major battlefield clashes, and much of his other work revealed a stunning ability to bring these subjects to vibrant life.

The breadth, depth and sheer variety of Spain’s work – from gritty urban autobiography (American Splendor, Cruisin’ with the Hound: the Life and Times of Fred Toote) to psycho-sexual sci fi (Zap Comix, Skull, Mean Bitch Thrills) is a testament to his incredible talent but the restless artist also found time to produce a wealth of other cartooning classics.

Amongst his dauntingly broad canon of comics are literary adaptations (Edgar Allen Poe, Sherlock Holmes’ Strangest Cases), historical treatises (War: The Human Cost) and biographies (Ché [Guevara]:a Graphic Biography, Devil Dog: the Amazing True Story of the Man who Saved America [Marine Major General Smedley Darlington Butler]) as well as educational and design works such as You Are a Spiritual Being Having a Human Experience and Nothing in This Book Is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are (both with Bob Frissell).

He also produced the ongoing comics serial The Dark Hotel for American current affairs, politics and media news aggregation website Salon.

In 2012 Spain finally lost a six-year battle against cancer and this superb book – actually the Exhibition catalogue for a career retrospective at the prestigious Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College – celebrates his tumultuous life and spectacular contribution to the art form of graphic narrative with a compelling series of essays as well as a superb selection of the great man’s best pieces including some little known lost treasures.

The appreciation begins with ‘Stand Up’ by Anthony Bannon (Executive Director, BPAC), before the biographical ‘Grease, Grit and Graphic Truth’ by Edmund Cardoni (Executive Director, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center) explores Spain’s past, whilst ‘Keep the Flames of Buffalo Burning’ by Don Metz examines his lasting effect on comics and society.

However, the true value of this chronicle is in the 60+ covers, designs, story-pages, roughs, panel excerpts and strips both vintage and recent, monochrome and full-colour which demonstrate the sheer talent and drive to communicate that fuelled Spain for his entire life.

The Partial Spain Bibliography 1969-2012 and Selected Spain Exhibitions only hint at the incredible depth and lasting legacy of his career and I’m praying that some enlightened publisher like Fantagraphics or Last Gasp is already toiling on a comprehensive series of “Complete Works of…” volumes…

Stark, shocking and always relevant, the communicative power of Spain is something no true lover of comics can afford to miss….
© 2012 Burchfield Penney Art Center. All rights reserved.

Safer Places


By Kit Anderson (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-77-6 (PB)

If you get a holiday this year and you’re one of those folk that like to read, here’s something a bit different that will certainly add to the desired sense of getting away from it all…

If you’re open to the idea, there’s wonder all around us. It’s not a new notion but remains a potently beguiling one that confirms its power in these interconnected vignettes exploring memory, imagination, inner worlds, nature, secrets, self-help solutions and isolation.

Explored over an initially undisclosed set of parameters and across myriad places and times, these are moments of shared-yet-exclusive realities that appear to be an example of a growing creative vogue/creative zeitgeist – as you’ll see when we imminently review similar but so different Avery Hill release Infinite Wheat Paste: Catalytic Conversions.

Here, however, cartoonist and tale-teller Kit Anderson merges mundane momentary travails with commonplace entertainment escape routes (wizard’s worlds, haunted houses, cyber-realities, alien mindscapes, fresh starts) to explore “liminal spaces and small magic”: digging deep to find the “something greater” we all crave and that must be waiting just out of our sight and other perceptions. Master of short form graphic narratives – you can just call them comics if you want – she hails from Boulder, Colorado but now lives near Zürich. Anderson was ceaselessly making graphic stories even before earning an MFA from The Center for Cartoon Studies in 2022. You can look for her stuff at Parsifal Press and The Rumpus for greater elucidation and edification…

Taking a year to complete, over 18 brief tales Safer Places melds inquisitive inspirations to contemplative cartooning and builds an interlocking sampling of other worlds, times and existences which all lead back to a common core. Blending pedestrian and surreal, employing a variety of art styles and colour palettes, it all begins with ‘Quest I’ as unseen critics speculate upon an old guy who seems to be a wizard who favours the wilds over civilisation, before a bereft boy looking for his cat finds something strange, wondrous and ultimately unsustainable in ‘The Basement’

Tantalising travelogue ‘Wonders of the Lost City’ carries us to ‘Sleep Tape: Country Lane’ and a loving couple under strain and in need of calming talk therapies before the wizard – still moving in mysterious ways – pops back into view for ‘Quest II’, after which a boy in very uncharted waters takes a revelatory ‘Deep Breath’

More calming tactics and rural idyls manifest in ‘Sleep Tape: Forest Walk’ for a woman too wedded to a Wi-Fi-enabled “Smart” world, whereas work pressure taking its toll on a watcher of post dystopian woodlands cannot be as readily assuaged in ‘Lookout Station’. At least the poetic ruminations of ‘Morning’, ‘Hills’ and ‘Waves’ carry us gently into ‘Quest III’ and the wizard’s dramatic interaction with a forest fox, prior to ‘Fallow’ detailing the shocking behaviour of an aged, burned out farmer making amends… and one last lifestyle change.

A computer nerd’s close encounter with digital ‘Wallpaper’ quietly segues into floral terrors as a student succumbs to transformative life-changing illness in ‘Weeds’ whilst ‘Quest IV’ sees a darker day dawn for the wizard before a harassed and lonely wage-slave finding solace and companionship thanks to ‘Sleep Tape: At the Seaside’

‘Whump’ offers a contemplative laugh before a solitary walking tour takes a lonely wanderer to ‘The World’s Biggest Ball of Twine’ even as another recluse escapes connections by grabbing a bike and going for a ‘Ride’, all before the wizard heads home to recharge in ‘Quest V’

Bemusing and seductive, these interlocking voyages reveal the cathartic force of creativity and therapeutic siren call of world-making. Come visit soon, yes?
© Kit Anderson 2024. All rights reserved.

Jack Kirby’s Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth volume 2


By Jack Kirby, D. Bruce Berry & Mike Royer with Gerry Conway, Steve Sherman, Paul Levitz & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-2171 (TPB/Digital edition)

With elections looming, it’s hard not to worry about the world that’s coming, and as usual I’m retreating into comics for emotional sustenance. Sadly the prevailing attitude is one of doom and gloom whoever wins, so – in anticipation of calamity unbounded – here’s a comforting look at another always-rewarding end of world scenario…

Other than Gotham City, Jack Kirby’s Earth AD (After Disaster) is DC’s most successful and inspirational Dystopia. It has migrated to television via numerous animated features and informs many aspects of the greater shared continuity. In so many ways it’s a far more enticing world than the one we currently inhabit… albeit not for much longer…

Jack Kirby (28th August 1917 – 6th February 1994) was – and nearly 30 years after his death, remains – the most important single influence in the history of American comics. There are innumerable accounts of and testaments to what the man has done and meant, and you should read those if you are at all interested in our medium. Kirby was a man of vast imagination who translated big concepts into astoundingly potent and accessible symbols for generations of fantasy fans. If you were exposed to Kirby as an impressionable child you were his for life. To be honest, that probably applies whatever age you jump aboard the “Kirby Express”…

Synonymous with larger than life characters and vast cosmic imaginings, “ The King” was an astute, spiritual man who had lived through poverty, prejudice, gangsterism, the Depression and World War II. He experienced Pre-War privation, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures, but always looked to the future while understanding human nature intimately. Beginning in the late 1930s, it took a remarkably short time for Kirby and his creative collaborator Joe Simon to become the wonder-kid dream-team of the new-born comic book industry. Together they produced a year’s worth of influential monthly mag Blue Bolt, dashed off Captain Marvel Adventures (#1) for overstretched Fawcett, and – after Martin Goodman appointed Simon editor at Timely Comics – launched a host of iconic characters including Red Raven, Marvel Boy, Mercury/Hurricane, The Vision, Young Allies and million-selling mega-hit Captain America. When Goodman failed to make good on his financial obligations, Simon & Kirby were snapped up by National/DC, who welcomed them with open arms and a fat chequebook.

Bursting with ideas the staid industry leaders were never really comfortable with, the pair were initially an uneasy fit, and awarded two moribund strips to play with until they found their creative feet: Sandman and Manhunter. They turned both around virtually overnight and, once safely established and left to their own devices, switched to the “Kid Gang” genre they had pioneered at Timely. Joe & Jack created wartime sales sensation Boy Commandos and Homefront iteration The Newsboy Legion before being called up to serve in the war they had been fighting on comic pages since 1940.

Once demobbed, they returned to a very different funnybook business, and soon after left National to create their own little empire…

Simon & Kirby ushered in the first American age of mature comics – not just by inventing the Romance genre, but with all manner of challenging modern material about real people in extraordinary situations before seeing it all disappear again in less than eight years.

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby established their own publishing house: making comics for a far more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by an anti-comicbook pogrom. Their small stable of magazines – generated for an association of companies known as Prize, Crestwood, Pines, Essenkay and Mainline Comics – blossomed and as quickly wilted when the industry contracted throughout the 1950s, but had left future generations fascinating ventures such as Boys’ Ranch, Bullseye, Crime Does Not Pay, Black Magic, Boy Explorers, Fighting American and the entire genre of Romance Comics…

Hysterical censorship-fever spearheaded by US Senator Estes Kefauver and opportunistic pop psychologist Dr. Frederic Wertham led to witch-hunting Senate hearings. Caving in, most publishers adopted a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Crime and Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of mature themes, political commentary, shock and gore even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Crime comics vanished as adult sensibilities challenging an increasingly stratified and oppressive society were suppressed. Suspense and horror were dialled back to the level of technological fairy tales and whimsical parables…

Simon left the business for advertising, but Jack soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to safer, more conventional, less experimental companies. As the panic abated, Kirby returned briefly to DC Comics, working on bread-&-butter anthological mystery tales and revamping Green Arrow (at that time a back-up feature in Adventure Comics and World’s Finest Comics) whilst concentrating on his passion project: newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force. During that period Kirby also re-packaged a super-team concept that had been kicking around in his head since he and Joe had closed their innovative, ill-timed ventures. At the end of 1956, Showcase #6 premiered the Challengers of the Unknown. Following three further test issues they won their own title with Kirby in command for the first eight. Then a legal dispute with Editor Jack Schiff exploded and the King was gone…

He found fresh fields and an equally hungry new partner in Stan Lee at the ailing Atlas Comics outfit (which had once been mighty Timely) and launched a revolution in comics storytelling…

After more than a decade of a continual innovation and crowd-pleasing wonderment, Kirby felt increasingly stifled. His efforts had transformed the dying publisher into industry-pioneer Marvel, but that success had left him feeling trapped in a rut. Thus, he moved back to DC and generated another tidal wave of sheer imagination and pure invention. The result was experimental adult magazines Spirit World and In the Days of the Mob and a stunning reworking of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen – and by extension, all DC continuity. The latter was a prelude to his landmark Fourth World Saga (Forever People, New Gods and Mister Miracle): the very definition of something game-changing and far too far ahead of its time…

Kirby instinctively grasped the fundamentals of pleasing his audience and always strived diligently to combat the appalling prejudice regarding the comics medium – especially from industry insiders and professionals who despised the “kiddies world” they felt trapped in. After his grandiose, controversial Fourth World titles were cancelled, Kirby explored other projects that would stimulate his own vast creativity yet still appeal to a market growing ever more fickle. These included supernatural stalwart The Demon, traditional war stories starring established DC team The Losers, OMAC: One Man Army Corps and even a new metaphysically mighty Sandman – co-created with old pal Joe Simon and his biggest hit science fictional survival saga Kamandi.

However, although ideas kept coming (Atlas, Kobra, a new Manhunter and Dingbats of Danger Street), once again editorial disputes took up too much of his time. Reluctantly, he left again, choosing to believe in promises of more creative freedom elsewhere…

As early as 1974, worn down by a lack of editorial support and with his newest creations inexplicably tanking, Kirby considered returning to Marvel, but – ever the consummate professional – scrupulously carried out every detail of an increasingly onerous, emotionally unrewarding DC contract. The Demon was cancelled after 16 issues and he needed another title to maintain his Herculean commitments (legally obliged to deliver 15 completed pages of art and story per week!); Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth had found a solid and faithful audience. It also provided further scope to explore big concepts as seen in thematic companion OMAC: One Man Army Corps. Both series gave Kirby’s darkest assumptions and prognostications free rein, and his “World That’s Coming” has proved far too close to the World we’re frantically trying to fix or escape from today…

Here, as DC’s fanatically interconnected universe takes a distant back seat to amazement, adventure and satirical commentary for most of Kirby’s tenure, this frankly monstrous tome gathers the second half of arguably his boldest, most bombastic and certainly most successful 1970s DC creation. Re-presenting cover-dates October/November 1972 – April 1976, Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth #21-40 explores a shattered world that has grown from the rubble of Mankind’s achievements and mistakes, featuring every issue Kirby was involved with, although not the 19 issues that staggered on after under lesser creative lights once he had headed back to the House of Ideas…

A potent signature of the series was large panels, double-page tableaux and vast vistas, particularly spectacular and breathtaking double-page spreads (generally on the second & third pages  of almost every episode) adding an aspect of wide-screen cinematic bravura. It was especially effective in the first issue when a capable, well-armed teenager paddled through the sunken ruins of New York City. The explorer had just emerged from total isolation in a hermetically sealed bunker designated “Command D”, There he had been schooled by his grandfather, constantly accessing a vast library of microfilm and news recordings. The boy called himself “Kamandi”…

Having obliviously sat out a seemingly overnight decline and fall of humanity – in which atomic armageddon clearly played a major if not exclusive role – the boy constantly met incomprehensible change on every level resulting from a mysterious catastrophe called “The Great Disaster” by the recovering survivors. They were not what the lad had been expecting…

This new world was nothing like his education had promised. Wreckage and mutant monsters abound, the very geography has altered and humans had somehow devolved into savage, non-verbal brutes and beasts, hunted and exploited by many animal species who have gained intellect comparable to his own and the power of speech. Now jockeying for pole position in Humanity’s vacated niche in the world, most of them were engaged in wars for dominance, fuelled by territorial aggression and fuelled by the scavenged remnants of Man’s discarded technologies…

When the boy returned to the bunker, it had finally been breached and his grandfather was dead at the hands of opportunistic biped wolves far too much like men. Shocked, furious and utterly alone, Kamandi fought his way out of his former home and set off to find what else was out there in this scary new world…

As he roamed Earth AD seeking more of his own kind he found monstrous mutants and intelligent animals – such as tigers Grear Caesar, his heir Prince Tuftan, and their brilliant scientist/historian/advisor Dr. Canus who were locked into a struggle for dominance against talking gorillas and other hyper-evolved beasts. Ferocious rival civilisations were built on the salvaged discoveries of the mysterious vanished ancients who ruled before the Great Disaster, but he did eventually find rational men like those of his studies. However, Ben Boxer, Steve and Renzi turned out to be far, far from what was traditionally considered human…

The saga resumes as Kamandi flees the biggest disappointment of his young life. He believed he had found humans like himself in Chicago but the truth left him more lonely and broken than ever…

Exploring a rocky shore, Kamandi meets a new ally in ‘The Fish!’, as a dolphin and his support/assistance human enlist the boy’s aid in a vital mission. The charming cetacean’s subsurface civilisation is at war with ancestral enemy Killer Whales, and the wily foe has now perfected and unleashed an ultimate warrior: one who relentlessly patrols the seas and slays at will. When not fighting off marauding sea monsters, the dolphins are steadily failing to stop ‘The Red Baron’, even with the aid of Ben Boxer and his atomic brothers.

The nuclear mutants can transition from flesh & blood to organic steel by internal fission, and know many secrets of the new world, and have been recruited after crashing into the sea: aiding in exploring those vast territories behind a radiation barrier isolating what used to be Canada. Now, as Kamandi rapidly befriends and loses dolphin pals to the Orca’s trained human predator, the steely trio enact a dangerous plan. It works and ends the hunter, but in the aftermath ‘Kamandi and Goliath!’ finds both sides in the eternal sea war forced to face its savage costs and shattering emotional toll…

Adrift and possibly the sole survivor, in issue #24 battered, shellshocked Kamandi at last washes ashore, meeting a ragged troupe of travelling performers sheltering in a ramshackle old mansion. Schooled in human history during his early years in bunker Command D, he recognises it as a classical movie haunted house, especially once eerie lights and cruel poltergeist phenomena target elderly monkey ringmaster Flim-Flam and his three trained humans…

Terrified but always rational, Kamandi deduces who and what is really going on during ‘The Exorcism!’ before joining Flim-Flam’s ‘Freak Show!’ The ensemble is soon further enriched by Ben, Steve & Renzi, before an invasion of monsters forces a rapid evacuation of their shoreside sanctuary: a retreat taking them to ‘The Heights of Abraham!’ and the mystery land where Kamandi’s loyal bug steed/companion Kliklak had originally come from…

The region has been utterly transformed by the Great Disaster, and is a paradise of nature run riot. Sadly, this ‘Dominion of the Devils’ is under assault by the commercially voracious Sacker’s Company, harvesting its fauna and destroying its flora in a rabid quest for profit…

In the previous volume Kamandi had met the sister of his dead first love Flower and discovered a ruthless capitalist, plutocratic sentient snake had been training humans to talk as staff and livestock whilst he ruthlessly plundered Earth for the technological leavings of the ancients. The wanderers’ disgusted first response to stop the atrocity is only halted by the arrival of a ‘Mad Marine!’ in #27: a “Brittanek” bulldog who is advance guard to an armed force from what was once Europe. These cavalry-styled guardians (horses appear to be one species that never made the evolutionary leap to intellectual comprehension and personal autonomy) are sworn to ‘Enforce the Atlantic Testament!’, and marshal their animal armies to rout Sacker and restore this new world’s order.

Of course, that means immense bloodshed, valiant sacrifice and gallant stupidity on the part of the professional soldier, but Ben and Kamandi have no scruples in stopping Sacker’s forces by any means necessary…

Cover-dated May 1975, Kamandi #29 rapidly achieved cult status by apparently confirming the strip’s status as part of a greater DC Universe. This faith-fuelled fable sees Ben and Kamandi stumble upon a fanatical cult of gorillas awaiting the return of a mighty warrior who could leap over tall buildings, bend metal in his hands and was faster than a speeding bullet. The high priest holds in trust the fabled champion’s suit of blue and red cape, awaiting the day when a being would emulate his deeds and claim his birthright.

Outraged at gorillas appropriating humanity’s greatest cultural myth, Kamandi convinces Ben to become a Man of Steel and reclaim the garments of the ‘Mighty One!’

Canny cultural catastrophe is expanded via cosmic intrigue in #30 as the pair are suddenly scooped up by an extraterrestrial stranded on Earth for undetermined ages. ‘U.F.O. The Wildest Trip Ever!’ offers more clues as to how Man fell as the pair are dumped on a beach overflowing with human artefacts retrieved from across the globe. However, as ‘The Door!’ to another world opens and the artefacts start to vanish, Ben and Kamandi discover a suitcase atom bomb that has been primed to detonate since the night of the Great Disaster.

They barely get clear in time before the bomb shatters the portal, trapping an extremely angry alien far from home, but Boxer overdoses on the  radiation and is warped by ‘The Gulliver Effect!’ Reduced to a mindless metal colossus, he is made a monster just as Tuftan and Dr. Canus appear, exploiting a savage sea battle with the gorillas to look for their lost friends…

As that war bloodily expands, the dog boffin establishes contact with energy force Me!’ whilst Kamandi manipulates his giant pal into driving off the gorilla flotilla. When the ape navy resumes its assault, going after the mixed bag of tigers, dogs, humans and unknowns on the beach, the energy alien saves the day by driving off the simians.

Kamandi #32 was a giant-sized special that also reprinted the first issue beside other extras, which here manifests as photo-feature/interview ‘Jack Kirby – A Man With a Pencil’ by Steve Sherman and a new, extended double-page map of ‘Earth A.D.’, before resuming abnormal service in #33. In the enforced calm, Canus helps the alien stranger build a physical body in ‘Blood and Fire!’: conditions in great abundance offshore as Tuftan’s tigers and the gorillas mercilessly restart hostilities…

By this time Kirby was evidently riding out his contract and #34 (October 1975) saw him relinquish cover duties and the editor’s blue pencil. From this issue on Joe Kubert drew those front images and Gerry Conway edited whilst the King concentrated on interiors, introducing flamboyant, inquisitive and emotionally volatile ‘Pretty Pyra!’ – who promptly soared off to investigate the sea battle. Whilst “she” is distracted, Kamandi and Canus unwisely try to pilot her ship and stop the fight, but instead end up in space, encountering a Cold War holdover who had become a living horror. ‘The Soyuz Survivor!’ is determined to carry out his doomsday scenario instructions, so it’s a good thing Pyra comes looking for them…

Returning to Earth, the voyagers land in ex-Mexico, finding respite of sorts in ‘The Hotel!’ The resort is still a valued destination but now runs on purely Darwinian principles as administered by intelligent – but really mean – jaguars. Visitors can stay where they want and do what they wish, until some other person or group takes the rooms from them. When Kamandi witnesses a tribe of humans driven off, he uses crafty, cruel cunning to set crocodiles and wolves at each other’s throats…

Cover-dated January 1976, ‘The Crater People’ was Kirby’s final script, disclosing how the Last Boy stays to shepherd the hotel humans when Canus and Pyra go off exploring. The boy is soon captured again, this time by what appear to be normal, technologically astute humans. They are anything but…

Initially beguiled into joining them, Kamandi soon learns they too are mutants: living at a hyper-rapid pace and dying of old age in five years. They are harvesting wild human DNA in search of the secret of extended longevity and regard this intelligent, slow-aging homo sapiens from the old world as a genetic goldmine. If only they’d been completely honest with him, instead of trying to exploit the boy via honeytrap Arna

Kamandi #38 February 1976) was scripted by Conway and Mike Royer returned as inker with the story splitting focus between the plight of the crater people who overstepped their bounds and drove the appalled last boy away whilst in space, ‘Pyra Revealed’ details the truth about her world and mission…

Frantic fugitives, Kamandi and Arna are captured by intelligent lobsters and imprisoned in ‘The Airquarium’ run by a coalition of crustaceans, molluscs and sea snails, just as Canus and Pyra return to terra firma and encounter a nation of saurians. All this time, the tigers and gorillas have been engaging at sea and obliviously continue doing so, even as Kamandi engineers a mass breakout to liberate all the lobster league’s undersea playthings…

Issue #40 ended Kirby’s involvement entirely with the pencils for ‘The Lizard Lords of Los Lorraine!’ scripted by Conway and Paul Levitz. Kamandi & Arna and Canus & Pyra are gulled into stealing a heat-generating ‘Sun Machine’ for rival factions (lizards vs donkeys!) seeking absolute control of the rain forest region. Fast-paced but innocuous, it closed with the unlikely rivals reunited again and ready for fresh, non-Kirby adventures…

Rounding out this paper monolith are pertinent pages from Who’s Who in the DC Universe (Kamandi and Ben Boxer, illustrated by Kirby & Greg Theakston), before a selection of un-inked story pages reveal why ‘The Art of Jack Kirby’ is just so darn great.

For sheer fun and thrills, nothing in comics can match the inspirational joys of prime Jack Kirby. This is what words and pictures were meant for and if you love them you must read this.
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 2023 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Should you opt for complete full-on inundation in the world of Kamandi, all 40 tales in these two paperback tomes are available as the Kamandi by Jack Kirby Omnibus edition, but as there’s no digital iteration, you’ll need mutant muscles of steel to derive the best results…

The Flood That Did Come


By Patrick Wray (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-53-0 (PB)

We have a proud and hard-won and passionately defended tradition in this country of using fiction and fantasy – especially those presented in the form of kids’ books – to hold up a light to cultural iniquities, political malfeasance and social dystopias. It works for Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm and dozens more plus a wealth of comics and graphic novels from Judge Dredd to Flook. This is one more and it’s supremely, chillingly good at what it does.

Artist, writer and musician Patrick Wray studied at the Dartington College of Art and took a long time living before crafting this telling and subtle exploration of property laws and the role of the people in how they’re governed…

Mimicking the look and narrative tone of children’s reading primers (and kids’ comics) The Flood That Did Come is set in the hilltop village of Pennyworth in the year 2036. It’s all the home little Jenny and her brother Tom know, but their happy, innocent days end when it starts to rain heavily… and never stops.

Soon, all of Kingsby County and the entire country are under water, with only a few high-lying hamlets remaining above water. The kids and their friends make the best of the new normal and enjoy the changes to the wildlife around them, leaving the adults to worry about the details such as being resupplied by airdrops…

One day, however, the holiday ends when a sailing boat arrives from nearby industrialised town Brooks Falls. The youngsters aboard have come to warn Pennyworth residents that the adults of their drowned conurbation are coming, armed with the latest technologies and The Law. It transpires that long ago – back in 1851 – Pennyworth was merely an outlying district of the sprawling metropolis and still remains part of the greater whole. Now that it’s the only part above water, the Mayor and council of Brook Falls intend to move their entire operation here and carry on their business as usual…

Sadly, as always when politicians and big business want something, the rights and feelings of ordinary people don’t count for much…

Simple, breezy and chilling to the core, this tale of resistance and capitulation is made all the more effective by Wray’s cunning choice of art style and faux children’s story feel. The result is reminiscent of school workshops and protest marches supplied with stencil screens, or of street-rebel print slogans and tagging-inspired found imagery and marches of solidarity and protest.

The industrial-flavoured visuals magnificently disguise the potency of the political allegory making this a tale no tuned-in, socially aware grown up looking to make changes can afford to miss.
© 2020 Patrick Wray. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents World’s Finest volume 4


By Cary Bates, Bob Haney, Robert Kanigher, Denny O’Neil, Mike Friedrich, Curt Swan, Ross Andru, Dick Dillin, Mike Esposito & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3736-3 (TPB)

For decades Superman and Batman were quintessential superhero partners: the “World’s Finest team”. The affable champions were best buddies as well as mutually respectful colleagues, and their pairing made sound financial sense since DC’s top heroes could happily cross-pollinate and cross-sell their combined readerships.

This fourth monochrome compendium re-presents cataclysmic collaborations from the dog days of the 1960’s into the turbulent decade beyond (World’s Finest Comics #174-202, spanning March 1968 to May 1971), as shifts in America’s tastes and cultural landscape created such a hunger for more mature and socially relevant stories that even the Cape & Cowl Crusaders were affected – so much so in fact, that the partnership was temporarily suspended: sidelined so that Superman could guest-star with other icons of the DC universe.

However, after a couple of years, the relationship was revitalised and renewed with the “World’s Finest Heroes” fully restored to their bizarrely apt pre-eminence for another lengthy run until the title was cancelled in the build-up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986.

The increasingly grim escapades begin with ‘Secret of the Double Death-Wish!’ by Cary Bates, Pete Costanza & Jack Abel from #174 (cover-dated March 1968, so actually the last issue of 1967) wherein mysterious voyeurs seemingly kidnap the indomitable heroes and psychologically crush their spirits such that they beg for death.

Smart and devious, this conundrum was definitely old-school, but a New Year saw subtle changes as, post-Batman TV show, the industry experienced superheroes waning in favour of war, western and especially supernatural themes and genres. Thus 1968 saw radical editorial makeovers at National/DC. Edgier stories of the costumed Boy Scouts began as iconoclastic penciller Neal Adams started turning heads and making waves with his stunning covers and two spectacularly gripping Cape & Cowl capers. It began in WFC #175 with ‘The Superman-Batman Revenge Squads!’, scripted by Leo Dorfman and inked by Dick Giordano. The story details how an annual contest of wits between the crimebusting pals is infiltrated by alien and Terran criminal alliances intent on killing their foes whilst they are off guard.

Issue #176 featured beguiling thriller ‘The Superman-Batman Split!’ (Bates, Adams & Giordano). Ostensibly just another alien mystery, this twisty little gem has a surprise ending for all and guest stars Robin, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl and Batgirl, with the artist’s hyper-dynamic realism lending an aura of credibility to the most fanciful situations, and ushering in an era of gritty veracity to replace the anodyne and frequently frivolous Costumed Dramas.

Jim Shooter, Curt Swan & Mike Esposito also edged closer towards constructive realism with #177’s ‘Duel of the Crime Kings!’ as Lex Luthor again joins forces with The Joker. This go-round the dastardly duo used time-busting technology to recruit Benedict Arnold, Baron Hieronymus Carl Friedrich von Munchausen and Leonardo Da Vinci to plan crimes for them, only to then fall foul of the temporally displaced persons’ own unique agendas…

WFC #178 began a 2-part Imaginary Tale with ‘The Has-Been Superman!’ (Bates, Swan & Abel) which has the Action Ace lose his Kryptonian powers and subsequently struggle to continue his career as Batman-style masked crimebuster Nova. More determined than competent, he soon falls under the influence of criminal mastermind Mr. Socrates – a brainwashed stooge programmed to assassinate Batman…

The moody suspense saga was interrupted by #179 – a regularly scheduled, all-reprint 80-Page Giant featuring bright-&-shiny early tales from the team’s formative years – represented in this collection by its striking Adams cover – before the alternate Earth epic concludes in #180 with ‘Superman’s Perfect Crime!’ courtesy of Bates and new regular art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

During the late 1950s when the company’s editors cautiously expanded the characters’ continuities, they learned that each new tale was an event which added to a nigh-sacred canon, and that what was printed was deeply important to the readers – but no “ideas man” would let all that aggregated “history” stifle a good plot situation or sales generating cover.

Thus “Imaginary Stories” were conceived as a way of exploring non-continuity plots and scenarios, devised at a time when editors knew that entertainment trumped consistency and fervently believed that every comic read was somebody’s first and – unless they were very careful – potentially their last…

Bates, also scripted #181’s ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’ wherein an impossibly powerful being from far away in space and time relentlessly pursues and then whisks away the heroes to a world where they were revered as the fathers of the race, whilst in the next issue ‘The Mad Manhunter!’ depicted a suspenseful shocker which found Batman routinely rampaging like a madman due to a curse. Naturally, what seemed was far from what actually was

Another massive con-trick underscored #183’s Dorfman-scripted drama as apes from the future accused the Man of Steel of committing ‘Superman’s Crime of the Ages!’ and Batman and Robin had to arrest their greatest ally. In WFC #184 Bates, Swan & Abel concocted another bombastic Imaginary Tale which revealed ‘Robin’s Revenge!’, tracing the troubled teen sidekick’s progress after Batman is murdered, with Superman powerless to assuage the Boy Wonder’s growing hunger for revenge…

Robert Kanigher joined old collaborators Andru & Esposito from #185 onwards, detailing the bizarre story of the ‘The Galactic Gamblers!’ who press-ganged Superman, Batman, Robin and Jimmy to their distant world to act as living stakes and game-pieces in their gladiatorial games of chance, before taking the heroes on a time-tossed 2-part supernatural thriller.

In #186, anecdotal stories of Batman’s Colonial ancestor “Mad Anthony Wayne” prompt the heroes to travel back to the War of Independence where the Dark Knight is accused of infernal deviltry as ‘The Bat Witch!’ and sentenced to death. Of course, it’s actually the Action Ace who is possessed to become ‘The Demon Superman!’ in the follow-up before all logic and sanity are restored by exorcism and judicious force of arms…

After the cover to World’s Finest #188 – another reprint Giant – Bates returns in #189 with a (still) shocking 2-parter opening in ‘The Man with Superman’s Heart!’ wherein the Caped Kryptonian crashes from space to Earth and is pronounced Dead On Arrival. As per his wishes, many of his organs are harvested (this was 1969 and still purely speculative fiction at that time) and bequeathed to worthy recipients. When Batman refuses to accept any organic bequests, Superman’s eyes, ears, lungs, heart and hands (yes, I know… just go with it) are simply stored …until Luthor steals them to auction off to gangland’s highest bidders…

Concluding episode ‘The Final Revenge of Luthor!’ sees a quartet of crooks running wild as the transplants bestow mighty powers Batman and Robin cannot combat, but the tragedy has a logical – if rather callous – explanation as the real Man of Steel appears to save the day…

Bates, Andru & Esposito then explore ‘Execution on Krypton!’ in WFC #191, as incredible events on Earth lead Superman and Batman back to Krypton before Kal-El was born. Here he learns how his revered parents Jor-El and Lara became radicalised college lecturers, and why they were teaching their students all the subversive tricks revolutionaries needed to know…

Bob Haney joined Andru & Esposito from #192 for a dark, Cold War suspense thriller as Superman is captured by the Communist rulers of Lubania and held in ‘The Prison of No Escape!’ When Batman tries to bust him out, he too is arrested and charged with spying by sadistic Colonel Koslov, utilising brainwashing techniques to achieve ‘The Breaking of Superman and Batman!’ in the next issue. However, the vile totalitarian’s torturous treatment disguises an insidious master-plan which the World’s Finest almost fail to foil…

Popular public response to Mario Puzo’s phenomenal novel The Godfather most likely influenced Haney, Andru & Esposito’s next convoluted 2-parter. WFC #194 sees Superman and Batman undercover ‘Inside the Mafia Gang!’ and hoping to dismantle the organisation of “Big Uncle” Alonzo Scarns from within. Sadly, a head wound muddles the Gotham Gangbuster’s memory and Batman begins to believe he is actually the “Capo di Capo Tutti”, condemning Robin and Jimmy to ‘Dig Now, Die Later!’ Helplessly watching, Superman is almost relieved when the real Scarns shows up…

An era ended with #196 as ‘The Kryptonite Express!’ (Haney, Swan & George Roussos) details how a massive meteor shower bombards the US with tons of the deadly green mineral. After countless decent citizens gather up the Green K, a special train is laid on to collect it all and ship it to somewhere it can be safely disposed of. Superman is ordered to stay well away whilst Batman takes charge of the FBI operation, but they have no idea master racketeer and railway fanatic K.C. Jones has plans for the shipment and a guy on the inside…

After #197 – another all-reprint Superman/Batman Giant – a new era launches (for the entire experiment you should see World’s Finest: Guardians of Earth please link to 2021, June 3rd) as the Fastest Man Alive teams with the Man of Tomorrow. DC Editors of the 1960s generally avoided questions like who’s best/strongest/fastest for fear of upsetting a portion of their tenuous and assuredly temporary fanbase, but as the tide turned against superheroes in general and upstart Marvel began making serious inroads into their market, the notion of a definitive race between the almighty Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster became increasingly enticing and sales-worthy.

They had raced twice before (Superman #199 and Flash #175 – August & December 1967) with the result deliberately fudged each time, but when they met for a third round a definitive conclusion was promised – but please remember it’s not about the winning, but only the taking part. As World’s Finest became a team-up vehicle for Superman, Flash again found himself in contrived competition. ‘Race to Save the Universe!’ and conclusion ‘Race to Save Time!’ (#198-199, November and December 1970, by Denny O’Neil, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella) up the stakes as the high-speed heroes are conscripted by the Guardians of the Universe to circumnavigate the cosmos at their greatest velocities thereby undoing the rampage of mysterious Anachronids: faster-than-light creatures whose pell-mell course throughout creation is unwinding time itself. Little does anybody suspect Superman’s oldest enemies are behind the entire appalling scheme…

In anniversary issue #200, Mike Friedrich, Dillin & Giella focus on brawling brothers on opposite sides of the teen college scene, abducted with unruly youth icon Robin and “Mr. Establishment” Superman to a distant planet. Here undying vampiric aliens wage eternal war on each other in ‘Prisoners of the Immortal World!’ Green Lantern then pops in for #201, contesting ‘A Prize of Peril!’ (O’Neil, Dillin & Giella) which will give either Emerald Gladiator or Man of Steel sole jurisdiction of Earth’s skies.

Batman returns for a limited engagement in #202. The final tale in this compilation, O’Neil, Dillin & Giella’s ‘Vengeance of the Tomb-Thing!’ sees archaeologists unearth something horrific in Egypt as Superman seemingly goes mad: attacking his greatest friends and allies. A superb ecological scare-story, this tale changed the Man of Tomorrow’s life forever…

These are gloriously smart, increasingly mature comic book yarns whose dazzling, timeless style informed the evolution of two media megastars, which still have the power and punch to enthral even today’s jaded seen it-all audiences. The contents of this titanic team-up tome are a veritable feast of witty, gritty, pretty thrillers packing as much punch and wonder now as they always have. Utterly entrancing adventure for fans of all ages!
© 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Gomer Goof volume 8: A Giant Among Goofs


By Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-021-0 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Like so much else in Franco-Belgian comics, it all started with Le Journal de Spirou, which debuted on April 2nd 1938, with its iconic lead strip created by François Robert Velter AKA Rob-Vel. In 1943, publisher Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, and comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (Jijé) took the helm for the redheaded kid’s further exploits as the magazine gradually became a cornerstone of European culture.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin was handed creative control and slowly abandoned short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. Franquin introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars and created the phenomenally popular Marsupilami. Debuting in 1952 (Spirou et les héritiers) the beast became a spin-off star of screen, plush toy stores, console games and albums in his own right. Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. He was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When WWII forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels and met Maurice de Bévére (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at LJdS. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative team known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They ultimately revolutionised and reshaped Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” graphic style.

Over two decades he had enlarged Spirou & Fantasio’s scope and horizons, until it became purely his own. Constantly, fans met startling new characters as the strip evolved into the saga of globetrotting journalists who visited exotic places, exposed crimes, explored the incredible and clashed with bizarre and exotic arch-enemies. Throughout it all, Fantasio remained a full-fledged – albeit entirely fictional – reporter for Le Journal de Spirou: regularly popping back to the office between cases. Sadly, lurking there was an arrogant, accident-prone, junior tasked with minor jobs and general dogs-bodying. He was Gaston Lagaffe – Franquin’s other immortal invention…

There’s a hallowed tradition of comics personalising fictitiously mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in, whether it’s Marvel’s Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at The Beano and Dandy – it’s a truly international practise. At first cameos in Spirou yarns and occasional asides on text pages featured well-meaning foul-up and ostensible office gofer “Gaston” who debuted in issue #985, cover-dated February 28th 1957. The affable conniving dimwit grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic, whether as guest in Spirou’s adventurous comics cases or his own comedy strips and faux reports on the editorial pages he was supposed to paste up.

In terms of actual schtick and delivery, older readers will recognise favourite beats and timeless elements of well-intentioned self-delusion as seen in Benny Hill and Jacques Tati and recognise recurring riffs from Some Mothers Do Have ’Em and Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, infernal ingenuity and inspired invention, all to mug smugness, puncture pomposity, lampoon the status quoi? (there’s some of that punning there see?) and ensure no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

As previously stated, Gaston/Gomer obtains a regular salary (let’s not dignify what he does as “earning” a living) from Spirou’s editorial offices: reporting to top journalist Fantasio, or complicating the lives of office manager Léon Prunelle and the other, more diligent, staffers, whilst effectively ignoring those minor jobs he’s paid to handle. These include page paste-up, posting (initially fragile) packages and editing readers’ letters… and that’s the official reason fans’ requests and suggestions are never acknowledged or answered…

Gomer is lazy, over-opinionated, ever-ravenous, impetuous, underfed, forgetful and eternally hungry, a passionate sports fan and animal lover, with his most manic moments all stemming from cutting work corners and stashing or consuming contraband nosh in the office. This leads to constant clashes with colleagues and draws in seemingly notionally unaffiliated bystanders like traffic cop Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, as well as many simple passers-by who should know by now to keep away from this street.

Through it all our office oaf remains eternally affable, easy-going and incorrigible. Only three questions really matter here: why everyone keeps giving him one last chance, what can gentle, lovelorn Miss Jeanne possible see in the self-opinionated idiot, and will ever-outraged capitalist financier De Mesmaeker ever get his perennial, pestiferous contracts signed?

In 1972 Gaston – Le géant de la gaffe became the 10th European album and in 2021 was Cinebook’s 8th translated compilation: again focussing on non-stop, all-Franquin comics gags in single-page bursts. Our well-meaning, overconfident, overly-helpful know-it-all office hindrance invents more stuff making life unnecessarily dangerous and continues his pioneering and perilous attempts to befriend and boost fauna and flora alike and improve the modern mechanised world…

Despite resolute green credentials and leanings, Gomer is colour-blind to the problems his antiquated automobile causes, even after numerous attempts to soup up, cleanse, and modify and mollify the motorised atrocity he calls his car. The decrepit, dilapidated Fiat 509 is more in need of merciful execution than his many well-meant engineering interventions as seen here in a range of cold weather exploits proving the indomitable optimism of office editor Léon Prunelle who really should know by now the cost of accepting lifts from his incorrigible subordinate… especially in light of Gomer’s pioneering seat belt invention and obsession with solving road pollution.

…And when not actually the cause of automotive disasters, Gomer’s car attracts the Ahab-like attentions of increasingly obsessed traffic cop Longsnoot

At the office, work avoidance is masked as “improving” perfectly functional equipment, speeding up these newfangled copiers, printers and the like, but his monorail messaging system – adjusted to average head height – proves to be the next best thing in concussion causation…

One evergreen strand of anarchic potential is a subgenre of strips involving “guest-shots” by other LJdS stars. Previously falling foul of the fool were creators such as Lambil (Bluecoats) and Roba (Billy & Buddy), and here the gofer’s disturbing tendency to don mascot costumes and paying heavily for it continues as Gomer garbs himself as (cartoonist Charles DeGotte’s) big yellow bird The Flagada and rapidly regrets it…

Just as much fun if not actually safer are the feral creatures Gomer’s big heart compels him to adopt. These include a sassily savage alley cat and nastily nefarious black-headed gull to accompany illicit studio companions Cheese the mouse and goldfish Bubelle.

Here the combined critter chaos factor repeatedly lands the oaf in hot water… and swamp mud and potholes and wild woodland paths and rooftops and… Gomer almost adds a skunk to the menagerie before animal instinct and nature convince him otherwise…

However, their hyperactive gluttonous presences are as nothing compared to the spiky depredations of a rapidly mutating cactus Gomer rescued from his Aunt Hortense’s home and which is increasingly dominating the Spirou offices. It doesn’t fit there either, but at least has plenty of fresh victims to puncture and terrify. When he also introduces Hortense’s creeper, it soon becomes a case for applying the un-soothing, discomforting tones of his manic musical WMD the Brontosaurophone…

Heavily featured are episodes of (imagined) sporting glory, dalliances with fishing and clay pigeon shooting plus an extended run of strips with Gomer and opposite number Jules-from-Smith’s-across-the-street seeking to smuggle a radio into work to follow the football. Old habits die hard however and there are still moments of culinary catastrophe and inventive debacle – like when he beefs up the office chainsaw or creates tomato soup gas…

The holidays and Year’s End festivities offer their own hazards, generating much mayhem but still prevent benighted business bod De Mesmaeker getting an even break whenever he brings contracts for poor Prunelle to sign.

Far better enjoyed than described, these strips let Franquin flex his sardonically whimsical creative muscles and subversively propound his views on environmentalism, pacifism and animal rights. These gags are sublime examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with each re-reading.

So… fancy a bit of Goofing off yet?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2009 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 Cinebook Ltd.

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor volume 1: A New Beginning


By Jody Houser, Rachael Stott, Giorgia Sposito, Valeria Favoccia, Enrica Eren Angiolini, Viviana Spinelli with Sara Michieli, Andrea Moretto, Adele Matera, Comicraft’s Sara Jacobs and John Roshell & various (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-78586-676-0 (Standard edition ) 978-1-78773-233-9 (FP edition)

Doctor Who first materialised on black-&-white television screens on November 23rd 1963 in the first episode of ‘An Unearthly Child’. Less than a year later his decades-long run in TV Comic began in issue #674 with the first instalment of ‘The Klepton Parasites’. Throughout the 60s and early 1970s, strips appeared in Countdown (later retitled TV Action) before shuttling back to TV Comic. On 11th October 1979 (although adhering to the US off-sale cover-dating system so it says 17th) Marvel’s UK subsidiary launched Doctor Who Weekly, which became a monthly magazine in September 1980 (#44) and has been with us under various names ever since.

All of which only goes to prove that the Time Lord is a comics hero with an impressive pedigree. In recent years the picture strip portion of the Whovian mega-franchise roamed far and wide and currently rests with British publisher Titan Comics who sagely opted to run parallel series starring all later incarnations of the trickily tumultuous Time Lord, as well as a few yarns of the earlier peregrinating pathfinders of peril.

This initial volume of Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor collects issues #1-4 of the monthly comic book, set during the first season starring Jodie Whittaker.

The raucous riot of chronal chaos commences with a handy ‘Previously…’ section, reintroducing The Doctor and her companions – Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin “Yaz” Khan, Graham O’Brien and the TARDIS – prior to transiting to a Florida art gallery in 1999, where a couple of extremely reluctant time travellers pull off an art heist. Meanwhile in 3912, a rather memory-addled Time Lord shares some big sky moments with her crew when an anomaly alerts her to something tantalisingly familiar and somehow disturbing. Also, someone somewhere sometime is in deep trouble…

Bundling everyone back into the Blue Box (“it’s bigger on the inside!”) The Doctor tracks the temporal phenomenon to a place outside reality where the thieves are being tormented by a magpie minded cosmic packrat using unsafe time tech to amass an infinite volume of sparkly pretty things and two very chastened scientists to do the fetching and carrying across all of creation…

When one of them – Dr. Leon Perkins – is accidentally plucked from the tormentor’s clutches by the meddling, muddled Time Lord, the gobsmacked Gallifreyan learns just how bad things are from the state of the mangled Vortex Manipulator he’s using… And that’s when a platoon of brutish drones dubbed The Grand Army of the Just pounce and try to arrest everyone, giving Yaz an opportunity to test her knowledge of universal police procedures and tactics…

Perkins fills in the background as they all languish in a cell, revealing how he and his boss Dr. Irene Schulz were captured during a temporal travel test and enslaved by a cosmic devil with a penchant for pretty gewgaws, petty pilfering, slavery, torture and extortion…

Fully genned-up, The Doctor cobbles together a plan to fix things and sort out the horrific Hoarder, but first there’s just a little matter of a traitor on her team…

Scripted by Jody Houser (Faith, Mother Panic, various Star Wars, Spider-Man, X-Files, Orphan Black and more), illustrated by Rachael Stott (Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Ghost Busters) and coloured by Enrica Eren Angiolini and a truly international team, this is a bright & breezy, fast-paced fable to bring the latest, extended time team to comic readers’ attention: a fantasy romance working hard yet never really challenging hearts or minds, a;; while setting up grander things to come.

The Doctor is at her distractingly daffy best, gadding about and playing dim whilst dealing with a horrendous ET and cosmic calamity in suitably collegiate manner, and still coming up with snappy solutions in the blink of an eye. Also on show is another Gallifreyan art gallery: a Baker’s Dozen of alternate/variant covers (puppetry, digitally manipulated, painted and/or drawn) by Babs Tarr, Alice X. Zhang, Rachael Stott, Sanya Anwar, Paulina Ganucheau, Sarah Graley, Katie Cook, Alisa Stern, Rebekah Isaacs & Dan Jackson, Rachael Smith, Giorgia Sposito & Ariana Florean, as well as a timely serving of other comics in a ‘Readers Guide’ to other Whovian collections and ‘Biographies’ of the main creators involved in A New Beginning.

If you’re a fan of only one form, this book might make you an addict to both. It’s a fabulous treat for casual readers, a fine shelf addition for devotees of the TV show and a perfect opportunity to cross-promote our particular art-form to anyone minded to give comics a proper go.
Doctor Who (wordmarks, logos and devices) and TARDIS (wordmarks and devices) are trademarks of the British Broadcasting Corporation and are used under licence. BBC logo © BBC 1996. Doctor Who logo and insignia © BBC 2018. Thirteenth Doctor images © BBC Studios 2018. Licensed by BBC Worldwide First edition.

Prez: The First Teen President


By Joe Simon, Jerry Grandenetti & Creig Flessel, with Cary Bates, Neil Gaiman, Ed Brubaker, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Art Saaf, Mike Allred, Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, Eric Shanower & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6317-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

At a time when American comic books were just coming into their adolescence – but not maturity – Prez was a hippie teenager created by industry royalty. In the early 1970s, Joe Simon made one of his irregular yet always eccentrically fruitful sojourns back to DC Comics, managing to sneak a bevy of exceedingly strange concepts right past the usually-conservative powers-that-be and onto the spinner racks and newsstands of the world.

Possibly the most anarchic and subversive of these postulated a time (approximately 20 minutes into the future) when US teenagers had the vote. The first-time electorate – idealists all – elected a diligent, honest young man every inch the hardworking, honest patriot every American politician claimed to be.

In 2015 that concept was given a devilishly adroit makeover for post-millennial generations. The result was a superbly outrageous cartoon assessment of the State of the Nation – Prez: Corndog-in-Chief. Once you’re done here, you should read that too and then ferociously lobby DC to release the concluding chapters in that saga…

Back here, however, and still in 1972, Simon (Captain America, Fighting American, The Fly, Black Magic, Young Romance) was passionately doing what he always did: devising ways for ever-broader audiences to enjoy comics. This carefully curated compilation gathers every incidence of the best leader they never had, from original run Prez #1-4 (September 1973 – March 1974), through unpublished tales from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, guest cameos and revivals in Supergirl #10, The Sandman #54, Vertigo Visions: Prez #1, The Dark Knight Strikes Again and The Multiversity Guidebook #1.

It all begins in the little town of Steadfast where average teen Prez Rickard makes a minor splash by fixing all the clocks and making them run on time. Throughout the rest of the USA, dissent, moral decay and civil breakdown terrify the populace in an election year. Corrupt businessman and political influencer Boss Smiley wants to capitalise on a new amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote. He picks Rickard as a perfect patsy, but his chicanery comes awry when newly-elected Prez turns out to have a mind, backbone and agenda of his own…

With early – if heavy-handed – salutes to ecological and native rights movements, ‘Oh Say Does That Star Spangled Banner Yet Wave?’ by Simon, veteran illustrator Jerry Grandenetti set the scene for a wild ride unlike any seen in kids’ comics. Equal parts hallucinogenic political satire, topical commentary and sci-fi romp, the mandate mayhem expanded in ‘Invasion of the Chessmen’, as a global goodwill tour threatens to bring worldwide peace and reconciliation… until America’s grandmaster provokes an international incident with the chess-loving Soviet Union. Cue killer robots in assorted chess shapes and a sexy Russian Queen and watch the fireworks…

‘Invasion of America’ tackles political assassination and social repercussions after Prez decides to outlaw guns. I think no more need be said…

The original run ended with the fourth episode, spoofing international diplomacy as Transylvania dispatches its new Ambassador to Washington DC: an actual werewolf paving the way to devious conquest which led briefly to a ‘Vampire in the White House’ (inked by Creig Flessel).

Although the series was cancelled if not impeached, a fifth tale was in production when the axe fell. It eventually appeared with other prematurely curtailed stories in 1978’s Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2 and appears here in monochrome as ‘The Devil’s Exterminator!’ with a bug infestation in DC tackled by a mythical madman. When Congress refuses to pay his sky-high bill ($5 million or three lunches in today’s money!), Clyde Piper abducts all the children, and PotUS is forced into outrageous executive action…

There was one final 1970s appearance. Supergirl #10 (October 1974 by Cary Bates, Art Saaf & Vince Colletta) featured ‘Death of a Prez!’ wherein the Commander in Chief was targeted for assassination by killer witch Hepzibah, using an ensorcelled Girl of Steel to do her dirty work – with predictable results…

Prez Rickard vanished in a welter of superhero angst and science fiction spectacle after that, but made a quiet cameo in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story arc World’s End. Illustrated by Michael Allred, Bryan Talbot & Mark Buckingham, ‘The Golden Boy’ (The Sandman #54 October 1993) offers a typically askance view of the boy leader’s origins, his enemies, the temptations of power and the ends of his story. It generated enough interest to spark follow-up one-shot Vertigo Visions: Prez #1 (September 1995) as Ed Brubaker & Eric Shanower crafted ‘Smells Like Teen President’. After being missing for years, America’ youngest President is being trailed by a young hitchhiker who might well be his son…

The moving search for family, identity, belonging and purpose is followed by a typically iconoclastic vignette by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley taken from The Dark Knight Strikes Again (December 2001) with the Leader of the Free(ish) World exposed as a computer simulation after which the history lesson concludes with Grant Morrison, Scott Hepburn & Nathan Fairbairn’s page on Hippie-dippy ‘Earth 47’ and its comic book landmarks (Prez, Brother Power, The Geek, Sunshine Superman and others) as first seen in The Multiversity Guidebook #1 (January 2015).

I used to think comics were the sharpest reflection of popular culture from any given era. That’s certainly the case here, and maybe there are lessons to be learned from re-examining them with eyes of experience. What is irrefutable, and in no way fake news, is that they’re still fun and enjoyable if read in a historical context. So read this, vote if you can and get ready. I can guarantee not even funnybook creators can predict what’s coming next.
© 1973, 1974, 1978, 1993, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Last Queen


By Jean-Marc Rochette, translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-19-5 (HB)

In conjunction with scripters such as Jacques Lob, Matz, Oliver Bocquet, Bejamin Legrand and others, painter/illustrator Jean-Marc Rochette (Altitude, Bestiaire des alpes, Les loup, Les Aventures Psychotiques de Napoléon et Bonaparte, Le Transperceneige/Snowpiercer sequence) rapidly became one of the key bande dessinée artists to watch.

In 2022 he confirmed that status and surmounted it with the release of La Dernière Reine: a self-contained naturalist epic which quickly garnered many major awards. It was named “Book of the Year” by Lire Magazine Littéraire and Elle Magazine, was radio station RTL’s Grand Prix for Comics winner and was an Official Selection of the lauded Angoulême Festival 2023.

As can be seen in this new translation from SelfMadeHero, even in English, it’s a bloody good read.

Rendered in moody colour washes and stark line, The Last Queen took Rochette three years to complete and explores all the passions of its creator: love of wilderness, scaling mountains, contemplative solitude and the balance between humanity and nature.

Those fascinations are expressed here in the millennial history and last gasp of a clan of red-headed outsiders living on the Vercors Massif of the French Prealps since neolithic times. Often regarded as witches, the ancestors of doomed outcast Édouard Roux have lived with and in the wilds throughout history. His kind enjoyed a particular affinity for the great bears that were indisputable masters of the range for all of time, until as a child he witnesses the end of the last mighty monarch of the peaks.

As the 19th century closed, a she-bear dubbed “the Last Queen” is killed by a shepherd and her carcass gloatingly desecrated by villagers. The other kids cruelly call little Édouard “son of the bear” and say vile things about his mother, but he’s used to it.

When war comes in 1914, Roux marches off and is a hero of the Somme trenches. All it costs is the lower part of his face…

In 1920, the despondent pensioned-off warrior is on his uppers: a despised, pitiable gueule cassée – “broken face” – shrouding his disfigurement and shame beneath a sack-like hood. He is but one of thousands…

When Roux hears of a woman artist who helps injured soldiers, he travels to Paris and meets Jeanne Sauvage who builds a new lower face for Roux based on the visage of a Greek god. Based on actual sculptor and proto-feminist Marie Marcelle Jane Poupelet, Sauvage has been making supple, lifelike masks for France’s defaced heroes and – refusing payment he cannot afford – does the same for Édouard.

Soon they are lovers and she introduces him to her circle of artist friends in Montmartre …more dangerously disruptive outsiders in a world increasingly governed by inconspicuous wealth, covert prestige and urbane uniformity: one that simultaneously tolerates, despises and exploits them all.

When the city life grinds them down and spits them out, Roux takes Jeanne to the mountains and shows her the secrets of the massif and a long-held family secret: stone age cave paintings and a neolithic carved bear lost from human knowledge for hundreds of years. The bounty of wonders inspire her great artistic breakthrough but Jeanne’s creative triumph is swindled from her by the elegant, cultured elite of modern civilisation. She and Édouard retreat from the emerging world for a timeless natural idyll that is paradise on Earth, but their days of true happiness are already numbered…

Uncompromising, deeply poignant and painfully sad, this is a saga of love and extinction: a testament to the passing of the past, with raw nobility lost to greed, crushing conformity and rise of mass mediocrity. It’s a struggle with no room for mercy or grace allowed for the unconventional or out-of-step. A paean to the fading call of the wild, uncomfortable or troublesome heritage, these lovers’ loss encapsulates and symbolises so many small wonders destroyed by progress, with revenants and outsiders pushed beyond even the few oases of fringe and margins not taken from them yet…

In a world that has no place for so much any longer, The Last Queen is a powerful call to cherish and preserve what can so easily die and never be regained…
La Dernière reine © Casterman, 2022. All rights reserved.

Ruins (Paperback Edition)


By Peter Kuper (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-18-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi award-winning artist, storyteller, illustrator, educator and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was six. Growing up there he (briefly) met iconic Underground Commix pioneer R. Crumb and at school befriended fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman (Disaster and Resistance: Comics and Landscapes for the 21st Century, War in the Neighborhood, You Don’t Have to Fuck People Over to Survive).

As they progressed through the school system together, Kuper & Tobocman caught the bug for self-publishing. They then attended Kent State University together. Upon graduation in 1979, both moved to New York and whilst studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and The Art Students League created – with painter Christof Kohlhofer – landmark political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated. Separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and via art events, Kuper & Tobocman continued championing social causes, highlighting judicial and cultural inequities and spearheading the use of narrative art as a tool of activism.

Although a noted and true son of the Big Apple now and despite brushing with the comics mainstream as Howard Chaykin’s assistant at Upstart Associates, most of Kuper’s singularly impressive works are considered “Alternative” in nature, deriving from his regular far-flung travels and political leanings. Moreover, although being about how people are, much of his oeuvre employs cityscapes and the natural environment as bit players or star attractions.

When not binding his own “Life Lived in Interesting Times” into experimental narratives – such as with 2007’s fictively-cloaked Stop Forgetting To Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz – or bold yarns like Sticks and Stones (2005), Kuper created The New York Times’ first continuing strip (1993’s Eye of the Beholder) and regularly adapts to strip form literary classics like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1991), Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (2019), Kafka’s short stories  Give It Up! (1995) and Kafkaesque (2018) as well as longer works like The Metamorphosis (2003), all while creating his own unique canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the so many strings to his bow – and certainly the most high-profile – was a brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip, which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997, and he also chases whimsy in children’s books like 2006’s Theo and the Blue Note or experimental exercise The Last Cat Book (1984: illustrating an essay by Robert E Howard). Whenever he travelled – which was often – he made visual books such as 1992’s Peter Kuper’s Comics Trips – A Journal of Travels through Africa and Southeast Asia. Three years later he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Vertigo Verité imprint: crafting mute, fantastically expressive thriller/swingeing social commentary The System.

Kuper’s later comics – all equally ambitious and groundbreaking – had to make room for his other interests as he became a successful commercial illustrator (Newsweek, Time, The Nation, Businessweek, The Progressive, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly and more), lecturer in Graphic Novels at Harvard, a teacher at Parsons School of Design and The School of Visual Arts and – since 1988 – co-Art Director of political action group INX International Ink Company. Translated into many languages, he has built a thriving occupation as a gallery artist exhibiting globally and scored a whole bunch of prestigious Fellowships and Educational residencies as a result.

He still finds time to pursue his key interests – such as contributing to benefit anthology Comics for Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds and cultivates a lifelong passion for entomology. This hobby infused 2015’s fictionalized autobiographical episode Ruins: an Eisner Award winning tome now available again in an enthralling trade paperback edition.

A passionate multilayered tale of crisis, confrontation and renewal infused by his ecological concerns, political leanings, rage against authoritarianism and love of Mexico, it draws from the same deep well as 2009’s Diario De Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico. Between 2006 and 2008, Kuper, his wife and young daughter lived in Oaxaca, absorbing astounding historical and cultural riches, beguiling natural wonders, hearty warmth and nonjudgemental friendliness. They also witnessed how a teacher’s strike was brutally and bloodily suppressed by local governor/dictator Ulises Ruiz Ortiz – AKA “URO” – in a series of events with a still heavily disputed death toll scarring the region and citizens to this day.

Part travelogue, part natural history call to arms and paean to the culture of Oaxaca, Kuper’s tale details a marriage in crisis played out against a disintegrating crisis of governance. Recently unemployed, socially withdrawn and emotionally stunted museum illustrator/bug lover George finally capitulates and voyages to the Mexican dreamland his wife Samantha has been pining for since before they met. Under the aegis of a sabbatical year taken to write a book on pre-conquest Mexico, she has dragged him out of ennui and churlish career doldrums to a place where he can indulge his abiding love of insects, if not her…

For Samantha, it’s a return to a paradisical place and magical time, albeit one where she loved and lost her first husband. That’s not the sole cause of growing friction between the increasingly at odds couple. The lengthy trip’s overt intention of reuniting them falters as she is drawn deeply into stories of how the Conquistadors destroyed Mesoamerican cultures they found and highlights parallels to her own plight. There are other earthier distractions she just can’t shake off too…

Slowly, George’s intransigence melts as he meets people willing to tolerate his ways, see beyond his shell, and share the history, geology, geography and serenely easy-going culture that eventually penetrates his crusty exterior. All manner of distracting temptations – like the infinite variety of cool bugs! – are endless and constant as he makes friends and finds healthier ways to express himself. He even tries to renew his constrained relationship with Samantha, but there will always be one impossible, impassable barrier to their future happiness…

… And then they’re caught up in the Teachers’ strike and extra-judicial methods Governor URO employs to end it even as George achieves the milestone life goal he never thought possible and visits the Michoacan forest where Monarchs come to breed and die.

… And finds it expiring from human intrusion…

Acting as thematic spine and tonal indicator for the unfolding story, each chapter follows – with snapshot scenes of changing, degrading landscapes – the epic flight of a lone Monarch butterfly, from its start in Canada, across America to the forest’s lepidopteran devotee George ostensibly left his comfort zone home to see.

With overtones of Peter Weir’s film The Year of Living Dangerously (and Christopher Koch’s novel too), Ruins layers metaphor upon allegory, distilling political, ecological and personal confrontation into a powerfully evocative account of people at a crossroads. Inspirationally visualised in a wealth of styles by a true master of pictorial narrative and classic drama, this new paperback edition also includes an ‘Afterwords’ where the author adds context to the still ongoing saga of the civil war crime underpinning his story.

Clever, charming, chilling and compulsively engrossing, this delicious exercise in interconnectivity is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can and should be.
© Peter Kuper 2015. All rights reserved.