Lonesome volume 1: The Preacher’s Trail


By Yves Swolfs, coloured by Julie Swolfs; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-000-5 (Album PB/Digital edition)

In comics, Western skies are at their most moody and iconic when seen through European eyes.

On the Continent, the populace has a mature relationship with comics. They collectively recognise what too many here still dismiss as “kids’ stuff” as having academic and scholarly standing, as well as meritorious nostalgic value and the validation of acceptance as a true art form.

Myths and legends of the American Old West have fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of stagecoaches and gunfighters. Hergé and Moebius were passionate devotees of cowboy culture and stand at the forefront of the wealth of stand-out Continental comics series. These range from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry, Comanche and Lucky Luke, and tangentially even children’s classics like Yakari or colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World and Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s superbly evocative Indian Summer.

Lonesome: La piste du prêcheur debuted in 2018, the first volume of a gritty, historically-grounded drama with supernatural overtones, similar in tone and mood to Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter.

It is crafted by veteran Belgian taleteller Yves Swolfs, who was born in April 1955 and – like most kids of that generation and geographical location – probably grew up surrounded by imported and home-generated cowboy culture.

He studied Literature and Journalism at Brussels’ Saint-Luc Institute before joining Claude Renard’s Atelier R comics studio, in 1978. His first stories were published in the studio’s own Le Neuvième Rêve magazine before stepping out into the field of commercial design and illustration. His first success was a western: Durango was published by Éditions des Archers in 1980 and ran for four decades, under various publishers. The feature was inspired by cinematic spaghetti westerns of the 1970s and served as  a staple source of income as Swolfs experimented with other genres: French Revolution-set historical drama Dampierre (1987); horror fantasy Le Prince de la Nuit (1991); dystopian sci fi thriller Vlad (2000) and contemporary thriller James Healer (2002).

Always busy, in 1999 Swolfs scripted western Black Hills 1890 for illustrator Marc-Renier and in 2003 wrote and drew medieval fantasy saga Légendes, amongst a host of other comics projects. He relaxes by playing in a rock band.

The Preacher’s Trail opens in 1861, with a solitary rider trekking through snow-enveloped wastes in the savage period of mounting tensions leading to the American Civil War. Newly-created territories Nebraska and Kansas have been a proxy battleground for the North and South since 1854, with slave-owners’ agents and radical Abolitionists clashing and stirring up the citizens for religious, political and commercial reasons. Blood has been spilled by anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” and Missouri’s “Border Ruffians” indiscriminately and the entire region is a powder keg waiting to explode.

Into this disaster-in-waiting rides the determined searcher. He’s hunting a proselytizing preacher, and easily overcomes the murderous bushwhackers Abolitionist Reverend Markham stationed in an isolated saloon to deter his enemies. However, before the last gunman dies, the stranger touches him and is granted a vision of where his target is heading…

In nearby township Holton City, the Reverend – surrounded by an army of gunslingers – stridently entreats the people to join his crusade against the abomination of slavery. Many are not roused or fooled, but all are keenly aware that the holy man care nothing for their lives…

The town banker/Mayor Harper may be throwing his support behind the rabblerouser, but local newspaper publisher Marcus has been doing some research and has reached a dangerous conclusion…

As the rider beds down for the night, his thoughts go back to the Indian medicine man who raised him after his family were murdered and he ponders his eerie gift. At that moment elsewhere, farming family the Colsons are being butchered by the Preacher’s acolytes. Markham has judged them to be immoral sinners, but the atrocities he personally inflicts upon the woman prove it’s no God driving his campaign of terror…

Next morning the rider stumbles across the massacre. By now, he’s fully conversant with the Preacher’s methods and ignores the faked “evidence” of South-supporting Border Ruffians, but is astounded and delighted to discover a survivor…

Taking the child to Holton, the stranger is unsurprised to see his accounts of the crime and description of the perpetrators ignored. He knows Markham always finds influential supporters like bankers and local politicians. The townsfolk are shaken though. First the newspaper office burns down and Marcus vanishes, and now a massacre…

After ignoring an unsubtle warning to mind his own business from Harper’s hired gun Clayton, the rider’s breakfast is interrupted by Sheriff Abel. He’s more inclined to believe stories about the Preacher, but knows who runs things, if not why…

When the rider leaves town in the morning, it’s with new knowledge gained through his strange gift and furtive conversations with bargirl Lucy, an ally of Marcus. Well versed in the brutal whims of men like Harper and Markham. Unfortunately, her allegiance is uncovered and she pays a heavy price after the stranger leaves…

On the trail, the stalker meets fugitive Marcus and hears what the idealistic journalist has uncovered of an international plutocratic plot to instigate war, but his sole concern is catching the Preacher. Debate distracts them and almost costs their lives when Clayton’s gang ambushes them after they stop at a friend’s cabin. The shootout leaves the stranger with Marcus’ notebook and the psychometrically derived knowledge of what Harper and Clayton did to Lucy, as well as a fierce determination to fix things in Holton before resuming his pursuit of Markham… and this time, the rider will be the one dictating how and where the final clash takes place…

Dark, uncompromisingly gritty, diabolically clever and lavishly limned in a style reminiscent of Jean Giraud’s Blueberry, this is as much conspiracy drama as revenge western with an enigmatic figure slowly discovering himself whilst derailing a plot to change the world. Here the inescapable war that’s looming is not due to a crusade of opposing beliefs but a devious scheme by commercial interests to foment war for profit and their own gain.

Before publication by Cinebook, Lonesome was initially released in digital-only English translation by Europe Comics, so if you don’t want to wait for later Cinebook editions, you can satisfy your impatience that way. Regardless, this is a superb example of a genre standard done right and if you like your west wild and wicked you won’t be sorry…
© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 2018 by Yves Swolfs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2020 Cinebook Ltd.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists


By Robert Tressell; adapted by Scarlett & Sophie Rickard (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-92-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

Born in Dublin to unfavourable circumstances, Robert Croker – AKA Robert Noonan – (17 April 1870 – 3 February 1911) was a man of many parts. His short, globetrotting, eventful life ended with him a housepainter and signwriter (a skilled trade) dying of tuberculosis in The Liverpool Royal Infirmary in 1911.

In all likelihood nobody today would remember him if he hadn’t spent his off hours in the declining years of 1906 to 1910 writing a book. He failed to have it published in his lifetime, but his daughter Kathleen Noonan persevered and a first (heavily edited, highly abridged and politically redacted) version was released on April 23 1914 – four months before the Great War began. That clash resulted in a changed planet and the first socialist (sic) state…

The full manuscript didn’t reach the public until 1955. Even bowdlerized editions were potent enough to make it one of the most important books of the century. Released under the nom de plume Robert Tressell, the cultural satire and barely-disguised socialist polemic was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

After reading the million plus-selling, never out-of-print pioneering prose opus of working class literature, you should research the times it was set in and read up on the author, if you want to see how a fascinating man responded to the injustice of his world. There’s a splendid Afterword by the creators in this hefty graphic novel to get you started…

A more jaded person might assume current businesses and governments have also studied the text, with a view to rolling back all the hard-won advances made since then, returning us to the days where workers toiled in a brutal gig economy without safety nets of social housing, medicine or pensions. Work or die was the way of world and it’s well on its way back…

The tale – masquerading, like a Thomas Hardy Wessex novel, as a peek at the lives of poor working folk – was a major influence on thinkers in the aftermath of WWI, and many of the civil rights and common benefits of civilisation that we’re gradually allowing to be taken from us were predicted in its more utopian moments…

Politics aside however, it’s also a sublime realisation and examination of the working classes in all their warty, noble, scurrilous, generous, mean-spirited, self-sacrificing, self-serving, gullible, aspirational, tractable, intractable, skiving, hard-working, honest and human glory: a state perfectly realized in this warm-hearted and supremely inviting comics adaptation by Sophie Rickard, illustrated with charm, simplicity and abiding empathy by Scarlett Rickard. You will also want to see Mann’s Best Friend and A Blow Borne Quietly and their eagerly-anticipated adaptation of suffragist Constance Maud’s inspirational No Surrender…

The semi-autobiographical story detailed here closely follows a group of workers and their families over a year in the town of Mugsborough: proudly go-getting municipal powerhouse (closely based on Hastings, where Croker had worked) with the usual band of rich, mercantile bastards in charge and on the Council, feathering their own lavish nests with the approval and assistance of the local churches and clergy…

The 23 chapters span a year as seen through the eyes of skilled labourers at a time when jobs were scarce and cut-throat competition had the men who hire them fiercely undercutting each other to secure commissions. The artisans are currently refurbishing an ornate house on the cheap for a grasping boss, under the penny pinching eye of foreman Mr. ’Unter.

In breaks and off moments the disparate crew – dispassionately at first – discuss the job, the way of the world and ever-present threat of work drying up again. Artisan painter/signwriter Frank Owen argues the greed and dishonesty of capitalism and enlightening sense of socialism to his highly resistant and openly hostile mates. Over many days, they all hotly debate ‘The Causes of Poverty’ and the Church’s complicity in maintaining an unfair status quo in ‘The Lord Our Shepherd’. Further discussion in ‘The Economists’ focuses on the impossibility of making do on ever-diminishing wages and ‘The Ever-Present Danger’ of being thrown away once a worker is no longer usable.

This is no pedant’s dry and dusty tirade. “Tressell’s” arguments are bolstered by the declining state of the wives, elders and children of the workers – most of whom still argue ferociously against improvement of their own conditions. As those above them reduce wages and increase hours, uncaring of the horrific repercussions of their parsimony, Frank and enigmatic associate George Barrington gradually convert many, but a resolute group cannot countenance any change to the old system.

That begins changing in ‘The Truth’, and revelation is heightened after the Church is exposed to ‘The Shining Light’, especially once Owen makes a breakthrough by explaining ‘The Money Trick’ underpinning Capitalism.

The damaging power of booze on the hopeless is witnessed after a night at ‘The Cricketers’, presaging work briefly pausing for ‘The Christmas Party’. A New Year exposes corporate skulduggery and public malfeasance by ‘The Council’ of Mugsborough…

Every opinion expounded by the painters can be seen here and now: echoed on modern TV vox-pop segments with today’s exploited, bread & circus sated citizens repeating that we should let the rich (our “betters”) do the hard job of making the big decisions for us, happily abrogating all responsibility for their own evermore parlous state…

Deepening personal crises auger greater tragedies as ‘The Beginning of The End’ finds a beloved friend condemned to the Workhouse as a cynically tongue-in-cheek glimpse at what the Establishment considers ‘The Solutions’ to poverty lead to a long look at ‘The Meetings’ inside the Municipal Council and how a glimmer of reform is crushed by the prestigious clique…

After a period of scarcity, fresh work at a lower wage comes in ‘The Summer’ before a turning point comes when Barrington challenges the Bosses on a rare day’s holiday jaunt in ‘The Beano’ (slang for “BNO” – Boys Night Out).

Again arguing – but with a much smaller and more vocal group of workmates – Owen and Barrington begin ‘The Great Oration’, overruling and disproving ‘The Objections’ of bellicose working class holdouts – the apologists and willing henchmen who happily betray their own sort for elevated status, extra pennies and the cheery disdain of the capitalists. However, grief has not ended and as talk of elections and the growth of a socialist Labour Party blooms, death comes again. Even here the rich and their lackeys find a way to make a profit in ‘The Rope’ and a sordid exhibition at ‘The Funeral’. After the worker’s death comes what we today call “the cover-up”…

Feelings of hope manifest in final chapters ‘The Will of the People’, ‘The Sundered’ and ‘The New Position’ as utopian ideals and practical solutions are leavened with home truths, and a concentration on making change happen…

Uplifting ending notwithstanding, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a major milestone in the west’s path to becoming truly civilised, and this beautifully accessible iteration – deliciously illustrated in the manner of an inviting children’s picture book – could not be more timely, both as a reminder and warning from history. It’s also a wonderfully human drama gauging the limitations and frailties of the most exploited and vulnerable in society and “a book that everyone should read”.

I didn’t write that, George Orwell did, in 1946. Who could argue with that? Class is class no matter what you think…
© 2020 SelfMadeHero. Text © 2020 Sophie Rickard. Artwork © 2020 Scarlett Rickard. All rights reserved.

Mickey All-Stars (The Disney Masters Collection)


By Giorgio Cavazzano & Joris Chamberlain and many & various: translated by David Gerstein & Jonathan H. Gray (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-369-1 (HB) eISBN 978-1-68396-422-3

Created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Mickey Mouse was first seen – if not heard – in the silent cartoon Plane Crazy. The animated short fared poorly in a May 1928 test screening and was promptly shelved.

It’s why most people who care cite Steamboat Willie – the fourth completed Mickey feature – as the official debut of the mascot mouse and his co-star and occasional paramour Minnie Mouse since it was the first to be nationally distributed, as well as the first animated feature with synchronised sound. The film’s astounding success led to the subsequent rapid release of its fully completed predecessors Plane Crazy, The Gallopin’ Gaucho and The Barn Dance, once they too had been given new-fangled soundtracks.

From those rather timid and tenuous beginnings grew an immense fantasy empire, but film was not the only way Disney conquered hearts and minds. With Mickey a certified, solid gold screen sensation, the mighty mouse was considered a hot property ripe for full media exploitation and he quickly invaded America’s most powerful and pervasive entertainment medium: comic strips…

In close to a century of existence, Walt Disney’s anthropomorphic everyman Mickey Mouse has tackled his fair share of weirdos and super freaks in tales crafted by gifted creators from every corner of the world. A true global phenomenon, the little wonder staunchly overcame all odds and pushed every boundary, and he’s always done so as the prototypical nice guy beloved by all.

He might have been born in the USA, but the Mouse belongs to all humanity now. Mickey has always been and is still a really big deal in Europe and thus, when his 90th anniversary loomed, a comics movement grew to celebrate the event in a uniquely comic strip way.

Invitations went out to creators with a connection to Disney endeavours from countries like Denmark, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium, France and more. The rules were simple: each auteur or team would have a single page to do as they liked to, for and with Mickey and all his Disney pals, with the only proviso that each exploit must begin and end with the Mouse passing through a door. The whole affair would be framed by an opening and closing page from illustrator Giorgio Cavazzano and scenarist Joris Chamberlain…

The result is a stunning joyous and often wholesomely spooky rollercoaster ride through the minds of top flight artists all channelling their own memories, feelings and childhood responses to the potent narrative legacy of Mickey & Friends: a tumbling, capacious, infinitely varied journey of rediscovery and graphic virtuosity that is thrilling, beautiful and supremely satisfying.

This translation comes with an explanatory Foreword laying out the rules far better than I just did and ends with ‘The All-Star Lineup’ offering full and informative mini biographies of all concerned responsible for each page.

They are – in order of appearance – Flix, Dav, Keramidas, Fabrice Parme, Alfred, Brüno, Batem & Nicholas Pothier, Federico Bertolucci & Frédéric Brrémaud, Silvio Camboni & Denis-Pierre Filippi, Thierry Martin, Guillaume Bouzard, José Luis Munuera, Alexis Nesme, Fabrizio Petrossi, Jean-Philippe Peyraud, Pirus, Massimo Fecchi, Boris Mirroir, Godi, Florence Cestac, Éric Hérenguel, Marc Lechuga, Cèsar Ferioli, Tebo, Clarke, Dab’s, Pieter De Pootere, Antonio Lapone, Ulf K, Pascal Regmauld, Johan Pilet & Pothier, Mathilde Domecq, Nicolas Juncker, Jean-Christophe & Pothier, Mike Peraza, Arnaud Poitevin & Chamberlain, Olivier Supiot, Éric Cartier, Zanzim, Marco Rota, Paco Rodriguez, Sascha Wüsterfeld, and the aforementioned Giorgio Cavazzano & Joris Chamberlain.

Frantic, frenzied fun for one and all. Everything you could dream of and so much more…

© 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Bootblack 


By Mikaël, translated by Matt Maden (NBM) 
ISBN: 978-1-68112-296-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-297-7 

Certain eras and locales perennially resonate with both entertainment consumers and story creators. The Wild West, Victorian London, the trenches of the Somme, and so many more quasi-mythological locales instantly evoke images of drama, tension and tales begging to be told. In these modern times of doom and privation, one of the most evocative is Depression-era America… specifically the Big City… 

Perhaps because it feels so tantalizingly within reach of living memory, or thanks to its cachet as the purported land of promises and untapped opportunity, America has always fascinated storytellers – especially comics-creators – from the “Old World” of Europe. This inclination has delivered many potent and rewarding stories, none more so than this continentally-published yarn by multi-disciplinary, multi award-winning French-born, Québécois auteur and autodidact Mikaël (Giant; Junior l’Aventurier; Rapa Nui, Promise)  

Published in Europe by Dargaud in 2018, Bootblack originated as twin albums before being released as a brace of English-language digital tomes courtesy of Europe Comics. It now manifests as an oversized (229 x 305mm), resoundingly resilient hardback edition that gets the entire story done-in-one. 

We open in Germany in 1945 where a weary G.I. pauses on a corpse-covered, crow-ridden battlefield to reflect on how he got there. Once upon a time, his given name was Alternberg: after the German village his family fled to America from. One day in 1929 – even before his tenth birthday – the boy rejected that name and his family; running away from his New York City ghetto hours before tragedy erased it, making him forever an orphan of the streets. 

As “Al”, he grifted and grafted with other homeless kids, mostly making money by shining shoes. His best pal was James “Shiny” Rasmussen and he adored from afar shopkeeper’s daughter Maggie. That ambitious, self-educated go-getter had no time for him, but her mute little brother William – whom everyone else called Buster – was readily accepted by the street kids who eked out a precarious living. 

Their scavenging for every cent was punctuated by clashes with rival kid gangs whose members had grown up as peewee versions of their nostalgically nationalistic, backward-looking elders. Al’s guys considered themselves True Americans, with no ties to some former “old country” that had no time or place for them…  

Al’s life changed again in 1935 when charismatic boy-pickpocket Joseph “Finger Joe” Bazilsky moved into the district. Soon after, Al became Al Chrysler and shoeshine shenanigans grew into errands – and worse – for local hood/entrepreneur Frankie… 

Throughout those years, Al pursued Maggie, gradually wearing her down and building a rapport with his constant promises of a dream trip to Coney Island. However, just when he got close enough to learn what made her tick, another clash with the “German” bootblack kids caused the death of someone they all loved.  

Al and Maggie never really had a chance, not with her home life and Joe always somehow in the way at the most inopportune moments… 

Ultimately, the increasingly hostile situation escalated into crisis, inevitably drawing every player into a tragic confrontation prompting more bad decisions and wrong choices, leading to betrayal and a destiny-drenched denouement in a field that could never have been Al’s homeland… 

Told in a clever sequence of overlapping flashbacks – like Christopher Nolan’s Memento – everything about this stylish Depression-era drama is big, powerfully mythic and tragically foredoomed in a truly Shakespearean manner. Packed with period detail and skilfully tapping into the abundance of powerful, socially-aware novels, plays and movies which immortalised pre-WWII America, this collection also includes a gallery of stunning art tableaus at the back of the book.  

Bootblack is moving, memorable and momentous, another triumph of graphic narrative you must not miss. 
© 2019, 2020 Dargaud-Benelux (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – Mikaël.    

Boot Black is scheduled for UK release May 19th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. 
Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com.

Rosa Parks


By Mariapoala Pesce & Matteo Mancini, translated by Nanette McGuiness (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-291-5 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-292-2

It must be quite hard to say something new – or even get under the accumulated skin – of a legend, and doubly so when the single act the entire world knows them for is not the beginning or end, but rather a middle moment in a long life of impassioned exceptionalism…

On December 1st 1955, “negro” seamstress Rosa Parks rode the bus home. She had taken said public transport vehicle many times before and until that moment had always followed the rules. This was in Montgomery, Alabama, where “Jim Crow” laws had been steadily snatching back every vestige of freedom and liberty won with shot and shell during the War Between the States, almost from the moment the shooting stopped…

Thus, on those commuter routes – as everywhere else – white people had priority, and if a black person was seated, they had to get up and literally move to the back of the bus to let “their betters” sit down.

On that evening, weary Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, even when told to by the white bus driver. She knew there would be consequences, anticipated them and was ready for them. Perhaps she wasn’t so sure where that act of passive defiance would take her and the entire country…

That moment is as much part of mythology as history, but here – via some intriguing extrapolation from writer Mariapoala Pesce (Angela Davis; Alice in Austenland; La Fattoria Degli Animali) and illustrator/designer Matteo Mancini (Una divisa per nino) – we take a look at what made the moment: who Rosa Parks was before and what she became after that act of wanton lawbreaking…

Preceded by thoughtful author’s preface ‘Does it still make sense to talk about Rosa Parks?’ the story is then told through a distant lens, beginning in a taxicab on December 1st 2014, where a hot young rapper frets and slowly gets acquainted with the elderly blue collar driver. They’re different generations of black man, but as the ride progresses, conversation shows how much has changed and how much they’re still alike…

The star is wearing an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt and that cause celebre sparks talk of another more distant time…

And thus is told an intimate tale of the thoughtful family woman who weathered instant infamy and dangerous notoriety to become an eternal activist, iconic institution and tireless campaigner for employment equality, civil rights education, literacy and an end to sexual abuse and exploitation of black women and girls.

The captivating tale within a tale is augmented by ‘Martin Luther King’s Letter to Citizens of Montgomery, AL’; an essay by Stephanie Brooks detailing ‘Rosa Parks After’; a bibliography of Further Reading and a beautiful, capacious and extensive sketch and design section.

Intriguing and entertaining, Rosa Parks offers a powerful and enriching approach to a much-lauded but little known example of humanity at its very best.
© Mariapoala Pesce 2020 for the text. © Matteo Mancini 2020 for the illustrations. © for the original Italian EditionBeccoGiallo S.r.l. 2020. All rights reserved.

Rosa Parks will be published on February 17th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Fall of Homunculus


By Pentti Otsamo (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1896597157 (PB)

Joel and Anna are a young couple just getting by. They both have great artistic aspirations, but when Anna falls pregnant their previously harmonious partnership begins to unravel. Does Joel’s confusion and reluctance mean that they are not as compatible as he’d believed? Does Anna’s willingness to put her career on hold show her lack of dedication to her art?

Unless they truly communicate, how can they learn what each truly wants and needs?

This pensive Graphic Novella is a brief yet telling examination of the creative urge and process that makes some telling points about competing human drives, and the nature of creativity.

Such a gentle tragedy makes no great leaps forward or claims to innovation, but this tale is honest and engaging, and the inviting and expressive black and white artwork is subversively addictive.

Regrettably out of print and currently unavailable in digital editions, this a beguiling and rewarding yarn long overdue for a comeback and creative reassessment. Get it if you can.
© 1998 Pentti Otsamo. All Rights Reserved.

Django, Hand on Fire: The Great Django Reinhardt


By Salva Rubio & Efa, translated by Matt Madden (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-287-8 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-288-5

Publisher NBM’s line of European-originated biographies never fails to delight, and this new oversized luxury hardcover (also available in digital formats) is one of the most engaging yet: skilfully deconstructing – when not actually aiding and adding to – the myths and legends surrounding a top contender for the title of greatest guitar player of all time…

Django, Hand on Fire happily reunites award-winning screenwriter, historian and novelist Salva Rubio (Max; The Photographer of Mauthausen) with animator and illustrator Ricard Fenandez AKA “Efa” (Les Icariades; Rodriguez; L’Âme du Vin; Le Soldat) – whose other collaborations are also beautiful biographies – Monet: Itinerant of Light and the as yet untranslated Degas: La danse del la solitude.

Originally released in France, the translated Django, main de feu is preceded here by an introductory prose appraisal from Thomas Dutronc. This stunning confection of painterly images traces the life of the troubled and unfortunate Roma musician from his fraught birth in a frozen field in Belgium to his second birth and reunion with the true love he threw away and found again…

That natal moment was in 1910 as his father and the other itinerant performers of their tribe were eking out a wage entertaining outworlders.

By 1922, the troupe were resident in Paris’ “Zone”: an enclave for his sort where social outcasts could reside until posh folks found a use for them. The lad was cocky and troublesome, an arrogant illiterate born for mischief but blessed with astounding musical skill…

His life turned around when his mama acquired a six-string banjo for him and all his energies refocussed on mastering music. Soon he was making money – and losing it gambling – even before he was considered a man…

Still an emotional child, he became the star of a professional (adult) band but his actions and attitude lost him many friends and family and ultimately the girl who adored him: Irma AKA Naguine. She faithfully trailed in his wake as producers and record publishers tracked the young man and watched in resignation as he succumbed to the shining blonde glory of artificial flower maker Florine/Bella. Naguine left the Zone entirely when Django and the flower girl wed, but swore to return…

The musician’s meteoric rise stalled only as he awaited his first child’s birth. As they slept in their wagon, it caught fire and although Bella got out, Django was badly burned on his legs and left hand…

How – driven by his mother – he battled back to overcome his life-changing injuries and, by changing his style, mastered another instrument, found undying fame and finally realized where his true love lay is a fabulous – if not strictly accurate – tale to warm the heart and gladden the eyes…

The pictorial paean to persistence and testament to passion is supported by a Bibliography and Creator Biographies plus ‘Django Reinhardt, from mystery to legend… In the light of History’: a fulsome, copiously-illustrated essay detailing the author’s factual choices and path to this particular truth, categorised and examined in ‘A mythical birth’, ‘The Zone’, ‘An interloper in the world of bal-musette’, ‘J’ai deux amours: Naguine and “le jass”’, ‘The Cross of Blood…’, ‘…and the fiery flowers’, ‘Hospital for the Poor’ and ‘Hand on fire’…

Sparkling and inspirational, this is destined for the reading list of every music historian and intrigued dilettante: a beguiling magic window into another world and one you should seek out tout de suite…
© DUPUIS 2020 by Rubio, Efa. All rights reserved.

Django, Hand on Fire: The Great Django Reinhardt will be published on January 18th 2022 and is available for pre-order. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Pow! Annual 1971


By unknown writers & artists and Miguel Quesada Cerdán, Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, José Ortiz Moya, Matías Alonso, Enric Badia Romero, Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar, Leopoldo Ortiz & various (Odhams Books)
SBN: 60039607X

This quirky item is one of my fondest childhood memories and quite inspirational in directing my career path, and as well as being still a surprisingly splendid read I can now see it as a bizarre and desperately belated sales experiment…

By the end of the 1960s, DC Thomson had overtaken the monolithic comics publishing giant that had been created by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century. The company – variously named Fleetway, Odhams and IPC – had absorbed rivals such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press, and stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad they had kept their material contemporary, if not fresh, but the writing was on the wall, but now

the comedy strip was on the rise and action anthologies were finding it hard to keep readers attention.

By 1970 – when this annual was released – the trend generated by the success of the Batman TV show was thoroughly dead, so why release a book of all-new superhero strips in a title very much associated with comedy features and cheap Marvel Comics reprints?

A last ditch attempt to revive the genre? Perhaps a cheap means of using up inventory?

I don’t know and I don’t care. What they produced that year was a wonderful capsule of fanboy delight, stuffed with thrills, colourful characters and a distinctly cool, underplayed stylishness, devoid of the brash histrionics of American comic books.

Conceived by tragically uncredited writers – but purportedly all created by Alan Hebden – this is a visual delight illustrated in alternating full colour (painted) and half-colour (black and magenta) sections by IPC’s European stable of artists: some of the greatest artists of the era, and delivered in a thoroughly different and grittily dark take on extraordinary champions, costumed crimebusters and the uncanny unknown…

The wonderment kicked off with ‘Magno, Man of Magnetism’ drawn by Miguel Quesada Cerdán: a valiant crimecrusher who seemed a cross between Simon Templar and James Bond, who donned his mask and used his superpowers only if things got really rough…

Eerily off-kilter sea scourge ‘Aquavenger’ was an oceanic crimefighter illustrated by The Victor veteran Vicente Ibáñez Sanchis, while ‘Mr. Tomorrow: Criminal of the Future’ – illustrated by jack of all genres Matías (Air Ace, Battle Action, Commando, The Victor, Twinkle) Alonso was an outright rebel from an oppressive state in days to come.

I don’t know who wrote or drew edgy, self-contained thriller ‘The Hunter and the Hunted’, but ‘Electro’ (no relation to the Marvel villain – other than the high-voltage shtick) is gloriously rendered by the legendary José Ortiz Moya (Caroline Baker, Barrister at Law; Smokeman; UFO Agent; The Phantom Viking; Commando Picture Library; BattlePicture Library; Vampirella; The Thirteenth Floor; Rogue Trooper; Tex Willer, Judge Dredd and many more).

In the most  traditional tale of the book, Eddie Edwards defends Surf City, USA as a voltaic vigilante and as part of the hero-heavy Super Security Bureau defeating terrors such as the crystalline marauders on view here…

Limned by future Modesty Blaise and Axa illustrator Enric Badia Romero, the fascinating psionic super-squad ‘Esper Commandos’ infiltrate and eliminate the competition before urban hunter ‘Marksman’ deals with a deadly saboteur and faux vengeful spectre ‘The Phantom’ (again no relation to any US star and illustrated by watercolours specialist Eustaquio Segrelles del Pilar) hands out summary justice decked out in a spooky uniform loaded with cunning gadgets…

We dip into the mind of a monster when aquatic horror ‘Norstad of the Deep’ – illustrated by Leopoldo Ortiz – invades the upper world but revert to heroic adventure for closing yarn ‘Time Rider’. Rendered by Ibáñez, it details how a bored genius millionaire builds a time-travelling robot horse and goes in search of adventure…

These are all great little adventures, satisfactorily self-contained, beautiful and singularly British in tone, even though most of the characters are American – or aliens (and no, that’s not necessarily the same thing). This tome easily withstands a critical rereading today, but the most important thing is the inspiring joy of these one-off wannabes. They certainly prompted me to fill sketchbook after sketchbook and determined that I would neither be a “brain surgeon nor a bloke wot goes down sewers in gumboots”. This great little tome gave me that critical push towards the fame and fortune I now enjoy, and could probably do it again!
© 1970 The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited.

The Detection Club parts 1 & 2


By Jean Harambat, coloured by Jean-Jacques Rouger translated by Allison M. Charette (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: BA Perfect Portion of Post-Prandial Perplexity… 9/10

What’s the Holiday Season without a devilish mystery to chew on? Not nearly as much fun, I’m sure, and with that in mind here’s a brace of superb cartoon conundrums from the continent, based on an unlikely but actual historical convocation.

As seen on Wikipedia Рplease use often and make a large a supporting financial donation, if you can РThe Detection Club was a literary society of British crime writers, founded in 1930, with the likes of G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie as early Presidents. In 1936, American ̩migr̩ John Dickson Carr became the first non-Brit elected to the august body.

They did stuff, wrote stories, held events and upheld (Ronald) Knox’s Commandments which detailed the rules of mystery writing. The group is the basis of later media McGuffin’s such as Batman’s Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.

I’m pretty sure the story here collected in two volumes by award-winning cartoonist, screenwriter, graphic novelist, historian, philosopher and journalist Jean Harambat (Les Invisibles, Ulysses, the Songs of Return, Operation Copperhead) is apocryphal, but you never know…

Originally released in 2019, our story opens in a prologue with the reciting of those commandments and the confirmation of Mr. Dixon Carr at a slap-up feed at London hostelry Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – a pub that doesn’t seem to mind the odd celebratory gunshot…

Present are President Chesterton, Dixon Carr, Christie, Sayers, Baroness Emma Orczy, Major A.E.W. Mason and Monsignor Ronald Knox himself, and – as the repast winds down – proceedings are somewhat disturbed by the arrival of a flying, talking robotic bird bearing a strange invitation…

Eccentric man of means Mr. Roderick Ghyll wishes the company of the sagacious society at his extraordinary domicile on April 1st. Briarcliff House is situated on a private island where Ghyll wishes to celebrate the future through his latest contrivance, promising “challenges”, “enchantments” and “the renaissance of crime fiction”…

Chapter I opens with the scribes and scribblers approaching ‘An Island in Cornwall’ and still heatedly debating the motives of the mystery man. Ghyll greets them effusively before whizzing off in a bizarre electric unicycle leaving them to make their way to his palatial manse which is a gleaming tribute to sleek, tripped down modernism – if not actual futurism…

Apart from the domestic staff chef Alphonse, maid Madeline, implacable Asian manservant Fu, and stepdaughter Millicent, the only other human present is technical assistant Dr. Zumtod and Ghyll’s haughty beautiful wife Honoria. A future generation would call her a “trophy”…

The old plutocrat is a deeply unpleasant and overbearing host who boasts of one more personage that the sharp-minded, brain-testing authors must meet. With smugness and great ceremony he introduces Eric: a mechanical man with more than human insight who can outwit any mortal and easily determine the culprit in any tale they might concoct…

Although challenged with the details of a string of classic novels – which Eric easily and correctly concludes with the name of the perpetrators – the writers remain insulted and unconvinced. Dixon Carr even oversteps the bounds of polite decency by probing the automaton in search of a pre-prepped dwarf or amputee and the display is halted for dinner where Ghyll continues to advocate a world filled with his “metal friends”…

The evening wears on with the usual social distractions balanced by heated argument on many topics sparked by Eric’s existence and the magnate’s pronunciations that art and literature must make way for a machine-run world. At last, the affair breaks up with the guests retiring to their assigned rooms in a state of high dudgeon…

That all ends in esteemed literary tradition, with screams and the writers breaking into Ghyll’s savagely disarrayed bedroom to discover Eric inert in a chair and clear evidence of ‘The Billionaire Out the Window’. Far below, a dressing gown sinks beneath choppy waves and frantic searches can find no sign of their host…

Well-versed if not actually experienced in investigation, the writers set about interviewing the staff and then the residents. Soon Zumtod suggests the painfully obvious: turning Eric loose on the problem. The response is as rapid as the answer is shocking…

While waiting for the outer world to re-establish contact with the isolated isle, Agatha bonds with the presumed widow and probes the step-daughter, whilst Chesterton continues to scour the entire vicinity. He’s suspicious of everything – including whether there has been any crime at all – and soon unearths many unsuspected secrets even as each writer cleaves to their particular speciality and makes their own assessment and forms a hypothesis…

And then a body washes ashore…

The Detection Club’s second volume begins with third chapter ‘Seven Amateur Detectives’ and an armada of late-arriving constabulary led by Inspector Widgeon to interview the drawing room sleuths. Mounting tensions, contrary theories and wounded pride quickly drive all concerned to fractious conflict even as Millicent’s banished and outcast twin Watkyn re-emerges. Has he only returned because of his despised step-father’s demise or was he actually back just before it happened?

Events seemingly come to a head when Christie expounds her latest theory and provokes a minor hostage crisis until the villain is apprehended through unlikely team work. As the police step in with the handcuffs however, new evidence emerges that sets the cogitators back on the murder-trail until straightforward ratiocination leads one author to the only possible solution…

Wry, witty, and decidedly well-plotted, with devastatingly sharp, catty dialogue (kudos to translator Allison M. Charette) and smart characterisations, this lovely lark is also charmingly limned: a superb tribute to days gone by and superb stylists who tested our wits and expanded our entertainment horizons. This is tale no  whimsically-inclined crime fan can afford to miss

© 2020 – DARGUAD – HARAMBAT. All rights reserved.

Box (Book One)


By Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschötter (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-449-8 (IDW TPB) eISBN: 978-1- 68406-747-3 (Top Shelf Productions)

It’s been a while since we covered a simple done-in-one yarn anybody can and everybody should read. Let’s fix that…

Box was originally released in Germany in 2014 as Kiste, winning a bunch of prestigious awards across the globe. It’s the brainchild of veteran author and illustrator Patrick Wirbeleit, who has notched up more than 50 books since he migrated from freelance artist to comics creator in 2001. His collaborator on this slice of inspirational whimsy is illustrator, character designer and animation director Uwe Heidschötter, whose past work includes The Little Boy and the Beast; The Gruffalo’s Child and Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.

Available in English-language paperback and digital editions since 2019, the tale is a charming, heartwarming and enticing fable which begins when young Matthew Wheeler returns home to find a large cardboard box by the bin outside his house. He’s an imaginative, inventive kid who loves making stuff, but also well-brought up too, so he asks permission before co-opting the container for the space station he’s currently building.

That doesn’t stop him slightly freaking out when the package starts offering advice and some expert technical aid…

It transpires the battered cardboard used to be a sorcerer’s toolbox, holding an infinitude of gear in a seemingly empty interior, but intensely frustrated because his owner never made anything physical, but only messed about with spells.

Rapidly adapting, Matthew starts a new project at Box’s suggestion but ‘The See-Saw’ is a bit of a bodge and proves the container might have the tools, but is sorely lacking in knowhow…

The talking toolkit’s next idea is ‘The What-Happens-Then Machine’, affording opportunity to share its origins whilst also warning that most humans who see its true nature freeze and forget quite quickly. When Mum and Dad end up utterly spellbound, it transpires that only the sorcerer can unlock their paralysis, so boy and Box immediately head for ‘The House in the Forest’ and a rendezvous with the terrible unknown…

After enduring nature at its worst and braving the polite-but-firm outer deterrents of the solitary mage, they eventually enter his lonely house, only to discover ‘Torquist Binklestunk’ is missing and a giant snake is now in residence.

Thus begins a desperate race to restore the magician and find a cure for Mum and Dad, with Matthew’s budding skills crucial in crafting a solution. When he succeeds and goes home to magically effect ‘The Awakening’, he successfully hides just how long his parents have been switched off…

It’s a bittersweet resolution because Box isn’t with him, but – armed with the promising possibility of further projects with the sorcerer and his toolkit – Matthew looks forward to more inventing and constructing…

Short, sweet, and amazingly appetising, this delightful comic series is certain to make many fans and inspire kids to build their own worlds of wonder.
© 2019 Patrick Wirbeleit & Uwe Heidschötter English translation © Pete Devlin. All rights arranged through Nicolas Grivel Agency.