Showcase Presents Tales of the Unexpected volume 1


By Otto Binder, France E. Herron, Jack Miller, Dave Wood, Bernard Baily, Bob Brown, Nick Cardy, Bill Ely, Bill Draut, Jack Kirby, Mort Meskin, Sheldon Moldoff, Jim Mooney, Ruben Moreira, George Papp, John Prentice, George Roussos, Leonard Starr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3520-8

American comicbooks started rather slowly until the invention of superheroes unleashed a torrent of creative imitation and established a new entertainment genre. Implacably vested in World War Two, the Overman swept all before him (occasionally her or it) until the troops came home and the more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced and eventually supplanted the Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit but increasingly sought older themes in the reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership, and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another of those cyclical revivals of spiritualism and a public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly addictive horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (the Spectre, Mr. Justice, Frankenstein, The Heap, Zatara, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Almost every publisher jumped on an increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948. Technically speaking, however, Adventures Into the Unknown was pipped at the post by Avon who had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947; later reviving the title by launching a regular series in 1951. All the meanwhile, parents’ favourite Classics Illustrated had long been milking the literary end of the genre with adaptations of the Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

As long as we’re keeping score, this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap and invented Romance comics (Young Romance #1, September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

The wholesome family company that would become DC Comics bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straight-laced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery. Its success led to a raft of such creature-filled fantasy compendiums in the years that followed such as Sensation Mystery, My Greatest Adventure, House of Secrets and, in 1956 – during a boom in B-Movie science fiction thrillers – Tales of the Unexpected

A hysterical censorship scandal which led to witch-hunting hearings (check out Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, April-June 1954 on your search engine of choice) was derailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of draconian self-regulatory rules. Horror titles produced under the aegis and emblem of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised and anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, even though the market’s appetite for suspense and the uncanny was still high. Stories were dialled back into marvellously illustrated, rationalistic, fantasy-adventure vehicles which dominated until the 1960s when super-heroes (which had begun to creep back after Julius Schwartz reintroduced the Flash in Showcase #4, 1956) finally overtook them.

This mammoth monochrome compilation (still tragically unavailable in colour or in digital editions) offers a stunning voyage to the fantastic outer limits of 1950s imagination, collecting the first 20 issues of the charmingly enthralling anthology – produced under the watchful eyes of the Comics Code Authority – which spans cover dates February/March 1956 to December 1957 and starts with a quartet of intriguing, beautifully rendered pocket thrillers.

Sadly for me and you, records are spotty and many of the authors remain unsung (although possible candidates include Dave Wood, Bill Finger, Ed Herron, Joe Samachson, George Kashdan, Jack Miller and Otto Binder and I’ll just guess whenever I’m more than half-certain) but the pictorial pioneers at least can be deservedly celebrated…

Behind a captivating cover by Bill Ely, Tales of the Unexpected #1 opens our uncanny excursions with ‘The Out-of-The-World Club’, drawn by the astoundingly precise John Prentice, detailing the unearthly secret of a night-spot offering truly original groovy sounds, whilst ‘The Dream Lamp’, limned by Leonard Starr, takes a bucolic glance at a device which seems able to perform impossible feats.

Jack Miller, Howard Purcell & Charles Paris then ironically reveal ‘The Secret of Cell Sixteen’ which fools yet one more prisoner in the Bastille, after which the debut issue ends with a bleak alien invasion fable in ‘The Cartoon that Came to Life’ by Otto Binder & Bill Ely.

Issue #2 offered the uncredited conundrum of ‘The Magic Hats of M’sieu La Farge’ (art by Ruben Moreira) involving ordinary folk impelled to perform extraordinary feats when wearing the titfers of famous dead folk, whilst ‘The Fastest Man Alive’ (drawn by Bill Draut & Mort Meskin) discloses how an obsessive rivalry brings destruction upon a man forever relegated to second best behind his exceptional greatest friend…

‘The Record of Doom’ (Ely art) apparently drives listeners to suicide until a canny cop uncovers the truth, but ‘The Gorilla who Saved the World’ (Starr) is as incredible and alien as you’d expect in a tale of sharp sci-fi suspense…

Issue #3 opened with Purcell’s ‘The Highway to Tomorrow’ wherein a motorway through Native American sacred lands almost results in a new uprising, after which Meskin’s ‘The Man Nobody Could See’ revisits the old plot of an invisible criminal. ‘I Lost My Past’ (art by Mort Drucker) recounts an implausibly complex scheme to cure an amnesiac before ‘The Man with 100 Wigs’ (Miller & Prentice), provides a genuinely compelling mystery about a petty thief who steals a sorcerer’s chest filled with hairpieces that impart bizarre powers to the wearer…

The mix of cop stories, aliens and the arcane acts clearly struck a popular chord as, with Tales of the Unexpected #4, the comic was promoted to monthly. ‘Seven Steps to the Unknown’ (Ely) continued the eclectic winning formula through a perilous puzzle regarding a group of complete strangers inexplicably linked and targeted for murder, whilst ‘The Day I Broke All Records’ – illustrated by Sheldon Moldoff – follows a top athlete who gains something “extra” after finding an elixir once favoured by unbeatable Roman gladiator Apulius

Then a murderer is brought to justice after becoming obsessed with ‘The Flowers of Sorcery’ (Starr) whilst ‘The House Where Dreams Come True’ (Prentice) offers a far kinder tale of human generosity to melt the heart of the most jaded reader.

In #5 ‘The Man Who Laughed at Locks’ (Moreira) discloses the inevitable fate of a cheat when rival inventors clash; ‘I Was Bewitched for a Day’ (Ely) reveals how easily domestic reality can be overturned, and Moldoff portrays the bewilderment of an Art Investigator faced with ‘The Living Paintings’ before Miller & Prentice again triumph with the tale of an actor literally possessed by his role in ‘The Second Life of Geoffrey Hawkes’

TotU #6 opens with ‘The Telecast from the Future’ (drawn by George Papp) wherein a technician foolishly convinces himself that his gear hasn’t really opened a peephole into tomorrow, whilst Ely’s ‘Dial M for Magic’ focusses on a prestidigitator’s club that auditions an amazing applicant who doesn’t just do “tricks”…

‘The Forbidden Flowers’ (Moldoff) then exposes a killer who thinks himself safe, after which Moreira’s ‘The Girl in the Bottle’ leads an unsuspecting oceanographer into fantastic peril… and another incredible criminal scam.

Golden Age great Bernard Baily joins the rotating art crew with #7 as ‘The Pen that Never Lied’ visits a number of people, dispensing justice through unvarnished truth, after which ‘Beware, I Can Read your Mind!’ (Moldoff) depicts a telepath discovering the overwhelming cost of his gift.

When a miner finds a talking talisman, it promises anything except ‘The Forbidden Wish’ (George Roussos). Tragically it was the only thing the weak-minded man wanted…

The issue closes with the art debut of the astounding Nick Cardy who lovingly detailed the fate of a murderous thug who refused to listen to the sage advice of ‘The Face in the Clock!’

Tales of the Unexpected #8 opens with fantastic fantasy as ‘The Man Who Stole a Genie’ (Meskin) slowly succumbs to greed and mania, whilst ‘The Secret of the Elephant’s Tusk’ (Ely art) follows the trail of death resulting after a poacher kills a sacred pachyderm. Roussos’ ‘The Four Seeds of Destiny’ chillingly reveals the doom that comes to a TV reporter who stole relics from a Pharaoh’s tomb before ‘The Camera that Could Rob’ (Starr) proves that, even for a thief with an unbeatable gimmick, mistreating a cat never ends well…

In issue #9 ‘The Amazing Cube’ (possibly scripted by George Kashdan and definitely limned by Baily) sees an unscrupulous gambler falling foul of his own handmade dice, whilst a killer conman gets his comeuppance courtesy of ‘The Carbon Copy Man’ (Papp). ‘The Day Nobody Died’ by Roussos is a classic of moody mystery wherein a doctor pursues a dark stranger and regrets catching him, after which a little lad saves the world from alien invasion and know-it-all adults in Starr’s ‘The Man Who Ate Fire’.

The tone of the time was gradually turning and oppressive occultism was slowly succumbing to the Space Age lure of weird science as TotU #10 proved with ‘The Strangest Show on Earth’ (art by Jim Mooney) wherein a bankrupt showman stumbles over a Martian circus. Sadly, the bizarre performers had their own agenda to adhere to…

‘The Phantom Mariner’ (Moldoff) follows an obsessed sea captain to his inescapable fate, before a scientist faces a deadly dilemma after creating ‘The Duplicate Man’ (Ely) and Meskin reveals how an antique collector’s compulsion endangers his life in ‘I Was Slave to the Wizard’s Lamp’

A criminal inventor pays the ultimate price for his venality in the Baily-limned ‘Who Am I?’ which opened Tales of the Unexpected #11, whilst ‘I Was a Man from the Future’ (Cardy) sees an American mountaineer stumble through a time-warp into adventure and romance in 15th century France and ‘The Ghost of Hollywood’ (Ely) confounds a special effects designer determined to debunk it.

Starr then closed out the issue with ‘The Man Who Hated Green’, as an artist embarks on an extraordinary campaign of terror…

Issue #12 began with Cardy’s tale of a quartet of escaped convicts terrorising three little old ladies and subsequently cursed by ‘The Four Threads of Doom’, after which ‘The Witch’s Statues’ (Meskin) proves to be more scurrilous scam than sinister sorcery.

Following a downturn in the industry, Jack Kirby briefly returned to National/DC at this time: producing a mini-bonanza of mystery tales and drawing Green Arrow, all whilst preparing his newspaper strip Sky Masters of the Space Force.

He also re-packaged for Showcase an original team concept kicking around in his head since he and Joe Simon had closed the innovative but unfortunate Mainline Comics. Blending explosive adventure with the precepts of mystery comics, Challengers of the Unknown became the template for the entire Silver Age superhero resurgence…

After years of working for others, Simon & Kirby had established their own publishing company, producing comics for a more sophisticated audience, only to find themselves in a sales downturn and awash in public hysteria generated by the aforementioned anti-comic pogrom of US Senator Estes Kefauver and psychologist Dr. Fredric Wertham.

Simon quit the business for advertising, but Kirby soldiered on, taking his skills and ideas to a number of safer, if less experimental, companies. Here his run of short fantastic suspense tales commences with ‘The All-Seeing Eye’ (possibly scripted by Dave Wood?) wherein a journalist responsible for many impossible scoops realises that the ancient artefact he employs is more dangerous than beneficial…

The issue ends with Ely’s rousing thriller ‘The Indestructible Man’ wherein a stuntman with innate invulnerability decides to get rich quick, no matter who gets hurt…

In #13, an amnesiac retraces his lost past by seeking out ‘Weapons of Destiny’ (perhaps Binder with Ely art), whilst Meskin’s ‘The Thing from the Skies’ initially proves a boon but ultimately the downfall for a murdering conman. A ghostly ‘Second Warning’ (Papp) saves a tourist when he visits battlefields of WWII, after which France E. Herron & Cardy’s ‘I Was a Prisoner of the Supernatural’ reveals how an actor escapes a deal with the devil before Herron & Kirby steal the show with a grippingly devious crime-caper in ‘The Face Behind the Mask’

Tales of the Unexpected #14 starts with Meskin’s ‘The Forbidden Game’ as an embezzler plays fast and loose with a wagering wizard, and is followed by ‘Cry, Clown, Cry’ (Baily) which sees a baffled son ignore his father’s injunction not to follow the family tradition to be a gag-man…

Papp pictures the fate of a swindler who wants folk to believe he is ‘The Man Who Owned King Arthur’s Sword’ and Moldoff finishes up proceedings as a crook is haunted by ‘The Green Gorilla’ manifested by his misdeeds.

Kirby led off in #15, his ‘Three Wishes to Doom’ proving that even with a genie’s lamp crime does not pay, after which ‘The Sinister Cannon’ (Baily) employed by an insidious alien infiltrator proves far more than it appears. ‘The Rainbow Man’ (Roussos) is a scientific bandit who overestimates the efficacy of his camouflage discovery and ‘The City of Three Dooms’ – by Meskin – wraps up things with a mesmerising time-travel romp featuring Nazi submariners on a voyage to infinity…

There’s an inexplicable frisson in Kirby’s ‘The Magic Hammer’ which opens #16 as the King of Comics here relates how a prospector finds a mallet capable of creating storms and goes into the rainmaking business… until the original owner turns up…

That superb vignette is augmented by ‘I Was a Spy for Them’ (Meskin) as a canny physicist turns the tables on the star men who captured him, a crooked archaeologist gains unbeatable power from an ancient ring but becomes ‘The Exile from Earth’ (Dave Wood & Moldoff), and Moreira illustrates ‘The Interplanetary Line-Up’, wherein an actual Man from Mars gatecrashes a science fiction writer’s fancy dress party…

In #17 ‘Who is Mr. Ashtar?’ (Kirby) chillingly follows a hotel detective who just knows there’s something off about the new guest in Room 605, whilst ‘Beware the Thinking Cap’ (Ely) describes the rise and fall of a crook who finds the device which inspired all the geniuses of history. Baily illustrates how a lifer in jail uses a unique method of escape in ‘The Bullet Man’, and the issue ends on ‘The Impossible Voyage’ (Mooney) as a couple of alien pranksters take earth suckers for a ride on what only looks like a fairground attraction…

Mooney takes lead spot in #18 as ‘The Man Without a World’ rejects Earth only to learn that a life in space is no life at all, after which Meskin’s ‘The Riddle of the Glass Bubble’ threatens to end all life until a little kid finds an unlikely solution. Cardy opens ‘The Amazing Swap Shop’, where humans trade “junk” for impossibly useful gadgets before Kirby shows how a clever human saves us all by outwitting ‘The Man Who Collected Planets’.

By now thoroughly gripped in UFO fever, Tales of the Unexpected #19 began with ‘The Man from Two Worlds’ (Cardy) wherein nasty Neptunians attempt to abduct an Earth scientist by guile, whereas ‘D-Day on Planet Vulcan’ (Mooney) envisages embattled ETs begging our help to end a world-crushing crisis, after which a meteor turns a hapless technician into ‘The Human Lie Detector’ (Ely) and a dotty old eccentric surprises everybody by ending ‘The Menace of the Fireball’ (with art by Bob Brown).

This terrific tome concludes with issue #20 where ‘The Earth Gladiator’ (Cardy) struggles to save his life and prove Earth worthy of continued existence, an engineer scuppers ‘The Remarkable Mr. Multiplier’ (Ely) before his invention wrecks civilisation and Baily illustrates that not every alien incursion is malign or dangerous in ‘I Was Marooned on Planet Earth’

Moreira then brings the cosmic catalogue to a close with ‘You Stole Our Planet’ wherein gigantic space creatures arrive with a strong claim of prior ownership…

Although certainly dated and definitely formulaic, these complex yet uncomplicated suspenseful adventures are drenched in charm, gilded in ingenuity and still sparkle with innocent wit and wonder. Perhaps not to everyone’s taste nowadays, these fantastic exploits are nevertheless an all-ages buffet of fun, thrills and action no fan should miss.
© 1956, 1957, 1958, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1941-1942: “A Ragout of Raspberries”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books
ISBN: 978-1-56097-887-9

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the strip Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly.

Moreover, by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in heaving missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen, but at least in this volume, the brick is supplemented by other projectiles for the sake of variety…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and the increasingly ubiquitous sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“…stomms an’ momsooms, gales an’ tie fooms…” or “octo pusses an’ pinkwins”).

Yet for all that high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos, original art and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid pictorial carnival is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of the unique voice of the strip as cited above. This comes in his erudite Introduction ‘Kat Got Your Tongue: Where George Herriman’s Language Came From’ after which the jocularity resumes with January 15th 1941 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with emphasis shifting more to the varied minor cast members. The usual parade of hucksters and conmen return, but the eternally triangular clashes and confusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes and the Second World War begins to slowly shade the strip and affect the characters…

As well as his semi-permanent incarcerations, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions and the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based acquisition and delivery gags but has widened his scope to encompass munition of materials other than clay and shapes more aerodynamic and enticing than bulky rectangles. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of focus, reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many of the strips.

Pupp suffers from double vision on occasion and repeatedly tests labour-saving new policing appliances – such as stilts and periscopes – while Colin Kelly moves away from artisanal brick-baking to conveyor-belt mass production. Ignatz tries to bolster his fading energies through unlikely herbal additives – such as spinach – and the entire township (including buildings) suffer protracted bouts of polka-dottedness after the arrival of a dalmatian “koach kanine”. Joe Stork starts using robot planes to deliver his dread bundles of natal joy and responsibility, Ignatz’s much abused wife Magnesia starts her long-delayed resistance and emancipation, and everybody in town can’t seem to get enough sleep…

The ever-changing skies remain a source of wonder and bewilderment with oddly-shaped stellar phenomena abounding, and the Prof from Coconino’s Museum of Palaeontology, Archaeology and Such unearths primeval precursors to our cartoon cast, while modern times are acknowledged through myriad permutations and adaptations to Ignatz’s home-from-home the county jail.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, whilst laconic vagabond Bum Bill Bee shares his regal origins (a whole bunch of them, in fact) with the hoi polloi in town…

The town barber stokes the flames of passion and reshapes the grizzled heads of many ardent swains seeking to curry the favours of vivacious, exotic new schoolteacher Miss Mimi who is, as everybody is painfully aware, French…

A different form of double vision taxes the Kat’s composure in doses of mirror madness and episodes of powdered katnip overindulgence offer a nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, but doesn’t too much curtail Krazy’s efforts in horticulture, nourishing korn and other useful vegetable crops…

The tone of the strips subtly changes from October 1941 with the introduction of Pupp’s mechanised Listening Post. Spying was always a major interest for all citizens, as was stargazing and gossip. Now however, with war clouds forming in the real world, an edge of gloomy but absurdist satire could be detected in many strips, such as when Kelly cuts off the mouse’s brick supply due to clay – like paper, rubber and gasoline – being officially afforded new status as a Military Priority Material…

There’s a marked increasing in winking around town, although those in the know codify the practice as “nictating” and some citizens – such as the pelicans and Mr. Kenga Roo – are subjected to increased stop-&-search indignities too: what with them being born to conceal bricks and brick-tossers…

At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics too…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora (including a mass ingress of elephants, snakes and worms) for humorous inspiration, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

This penultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Sea Devils volume 1


By Robert Kanigher, Bob Haney, France E. Herron, Hank P. Chapman, Russ Heath, Irv Novick, Joe Kubert, Gene Colan, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Jack Abel, Bruno Premiani, Sheldon Moldoff, Howard Purcell & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3522-2

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy and outrageous imagination in his signature war comics, as well as for the wealth of horror stories, romance yarns, “straight” adventure, westerns and superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Flash, Batman (plus other genres far too numerous to cover here) at which he also excelled.

He sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features “shop” at the beginning of the comicbook phenomenon where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for established features like Blue Beetle and the original Captain Marvel (who we all call “Shazam!” these days).

In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He wrote the Golden Age Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary and many sexily memorable villainesses such as Harlequin and (Rose and) the Thorn. This last temptress he redesigned during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting super-heroine who haunted the back of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane – which Kanigher also scripted at the time.

When mystery-men faded at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved easily into other genres such as spy-thrillers, westerns and war stories. In 1952 he became chief writer and editor of the company’s small combat line: All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Army at War.

He created Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his packed portfolio when Quality Comics sold their dwindling line of titles to National/DC in 1956.

In 1955 Kanigher devised historical adventure anthology The Brave and the Bold and its stalwart early stars Silent Knight, Golden Gladiator and Viking Prince whilst still scripting Wonder Woman, Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog and a host of others.

In 1956, for Julius Schwartz he scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as the new Flash to the hero-hungry kids of the world.

Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and frequently used his uncanny if formulaic action arenas as a testing ground for future series concepts. Among the many epochal war features he created were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The War that Time Forgot, The Haunted Tank and The Losers, but he always kept an eye on contemporary trends too.

When supernatural comics took over the industry in the late 1960s, he was a mainstay at House of Mystery, House of Secrets and Phantom Stranger and in 1975 created gritty human interest/crime feature Lady Cop. Fifteen years earlier he had caught a similar wave (Oh, ha ha, hee hee…) by cashing in on the popularity of TV show Sea Hunt.

His entry into the sudden sub-genre deluge of scuba-diver comics featured the magical contemporary adventure formula of a heroic quartet (Smart Guy, Tough Guy, Young Guy and A Girl) who would indulge in all manner of (undersea) escapades from logical to implausible, topical to fantastical. He dubbed his team The Sea Devils

These classy yarns still haven’t made it into modern full-colour editions but they are magnificent examples of comics storytelling and if you have to read these lost treasures in mere monochrome, at least that’s better than nothing…

Re-presenting the turbulent, terrific try-out stories from Showcase #27-29 (July/August to November/December 1960) and Sea Devils #1-16 – cover-dated September/October 1961-March/April 1964 – this mammoth black-&-white paperback tome blends bizarre fantasy, sinister spy stories, shocking science fiction and two-fisted aquatic action with larger-than-life yet strictly human heroes who carved their own unique niche in comics history…

In almost every conceivable way, “try-out title” Showcase created the Silver Age of American comicbooks and is responsible for the multi-million-dollar industry and nascent art form we all enjoy today. The comicbook was a printed periodical Petri dish designed to launch new series and concepts with minimal commitment of publishing resources. If a new character sold well initially a regular series would follow. The process had been proved with Frogmen, Lois Lane, Challengers of the Unknown and many, many more.

The principle was a sound one which paid huge dividends. The Editors at National were apparently bombarded with readers’ suggestions for new titles and concepts and the only possible way to feasibly prove which would be popular was to offer test runs and assess fan – and most crucially sales – reactions.

Showcase #27 followed a particularly historic and fruitful run of successful non-superhero debuts which included Space Ranger, Adam Strange, and Rip Hunter…Time Master. At a time when costumed characters seemed to be ascendant but memories of genre implosions remained fresh, it seemed that the premier publication could do no wrong. Moreover, it wasn’t Kanigher and artist Russ Heath’s first dip in this particular pool.

Showcase #3 had launched war feature The Frogmen in an extended single tale following candidates for a US Underwater Demolitions Team in WWII as they perilously graduated from students to fully-fledged underwater warriors.

The feature, if not the actual characters, became a semi-regular strip in All-American Men of War #44 (April #1957) and other Kanigher-edited war comics: making Frogmen the first but certainly not the last graduate of the try-out system. Now, with tales of underwater action appearing in comics, books film and TV, the time was right for a civilian iteration to make some waves…

The drama here begins in ‘The Golden Monster’ (by Kanigher & Heath) as lonely skin-diver Dane Dorrance reminisces about his WWII frogman father – and the senior’s trusty buddies – before being saved from a sneaky shark by a mysterious golden-haired scuba-girl.

Judy Walton is an aspiring actress who, seeking to raise her Hollywood profile, has entered the same underwater treasure hunt Dane is engaged in, but as they join forces, they have no idea of the dangers awaiting them…

Locating the sunken galleon they’ve been hunting, both are trapped when seismic shifts and a gigantic octopus bury them inside the derelict. Happily, hulking third contestant Biff Bailey is on hand and his tremendous strength tips the scales and allows the trio to escape.

Now things take a typical Kanigher twist as the action switches from tense realistic drama to riotous fantasy with the explosive awakening of a colossal reptilian sea-monster who chases the divers until Judy’s little brother Nicky races in to distract the beast…

Temporarily safe, the relative strangers unite to destroy the thing – with the help of a handy floating mine left over from the war – before deciding to form a professional freelance diving team. They take their name from the proposed movie Judy wanted to audition for, becoming forever “The Sea Devils”…

In Showcase #28 Dane’s dad again offers his boy ‘The Prize Flippers’ he won for his war exploits, but Dane feels his entire team should be allowed to compete for them. Of course, each diver successively outdoes the rest, but in the end a spectacular stunt with a rampaging whale leaves the trophy in the hands of a most unlikely competitor…

A second story then sees the new team set up shop as “underwater trouble-shooters”, only to stumble into a mystery as pretty Mona Moray begs them to find her missing father. Professor Moray was lost when his rocket crashed into the ocean, but as the scuba stalwarts diligently search the crash site, they are ambushed by underwater aborigines and join the scientist in an uncanny ‘Undersea Prison’

Only when their captors reveal themselves as invading aliens do the team finally pull together, escape the trap and bring the house down on the insidious aquatic horrors…

Showcase #29 also offered two briny tales, casting off with ‘The Last Dive of the Sea Devils’, wherein a recently-imprisoned dictator from Venus escapes to Earth and battles the astounded team to a standstill from his giant war-seahorse.

The blockbusting battle costs them their beloved vessel The Sea Witch before the crew make use of a handy leftover torpedo to end the interplanetary tyrant. Sea-born giants also abound in ‘Undersea Scavenger Hunt’, wherein the cash-strapped trouble-shooters compete in a flashy contest to win a new boat.

Incredible creatures and fantastic treasure traps are no real problem, but the actions of rival divers The Black Mantas almost cost our heroes their lives…

Everything worked out though, and nine months later Sea Devils #1 hit the stands with Kanigher & Heath leading the way. In ‘The Sea Devils vs. the Octopus Man’, our watery quartet are now stars of a monster movie, but when the lead beastie comes to lethal life and attacks them, all thoughts of fame and wealth sink without trace…

The second tale was scripted by the superbly inventive Bob Haney who riffed on Moby Dick’s plot in a tale of how Vikings hunted a mythical orca with a magic harpoon before latter-day fanatical whaler Captain Shark mercilessly seeks out the ‘Secret of the Emerald Whale’ with the desperate Sea Devils dragged along for the ride…

Haney wrote both yarns in the next issue, beginning with ‘A Bottleful of Sea Devils’ as mad scientist Mr. Neptune uses a shrinking device to steal a US Navy weapon prototype. With the aquatic investigators hard on his flippered heels, the felon is soon caught whilst ‘Star of the Sea’ introduces brilliant performing seal Pappy who repeatedly saves the team before finding freedom and true love in the wild waters of the Atlantic…

Kanigher returned for #3’s ‘Underwater Crime Wave’ as the Devils clashed with a cunning modern Roman Emperor who derives incredible wealth from smuggling and traps the team in his undersea arena.

Judy then finds herself the only one immune to the allure of ‘The Ghost of the Deep’ as subsea siren Circe makes the boys her latest playthings and her human rival is compelled to pull out all the stops to save her friends…

Sea Devils # 4 led with ‘The Sea of Sorcery’ as the team investigate – but fail to debunk – incredible myths of a supposedly haunted region of ocean, after which Haney detailed how the squad travelled into the heart of South America to liberate a tribe of lost pre-Columbian Condor Indians from a tyrannical witch doctor whilst solving ‘The Secret of Volcano Lake!’

‘The Creature Who Stole the 7 Seas’ (Kanigher) opened issue #5, as a particularly dry period for the trouble-shooters ends after a crashing UFO disgorges a sea giant intent on transferring Earth’s oceans to his own arid world. Oddly for the times, here mutual cooperation and a smart counter-plan save the day for two panicked planets.

Veteran writer Hank P. Chapman joined the ever-expanding team with a smart yarn of submerged Mayan treasure and deadly traps to imperil the team as they solve the ‘Secret of the Plumed Serpent’, before Kanigher returned with a book-length thriller in #6 which sees the Devils seemingly ensorcelled by ancient parchments which depict them battling incredible menaces in centuries past.

Biff battles undersea knights for Queen Cleopatra, Judy saves Ulysses from the Sirens, Nicky rescues a teenaged mermaid from a monstrous fish-man and Dane clashes with ‘The Flame-Headed Watchman!’, but is wise enough to realise that the true threat comes from the mysterious stranger who has brought them such dire documents…

The switch to longer epics was a wise and productive move, followed up in #7 with ‘The Human Tidal Wave!’ as the heroes spectacularly battle an alien made of roaring water to stop a proposed invasion, whilst in #8 they strive to help a fish transformed into a grieving merman from the ‘Curse of Neptune’s Giant!’ This malignant horror’s mutative touch temporarily makes monsters of them all too, but in the end Sea Devil daring trumps eldritch cruelty…

More monster madness followed in #9’s ‘The Secret of the Coral Creature!’ as the team become paragliding US Naval medics to rescue an astronaut. That’s mere prelude to an oceanic atomic bomb test which blasts them to a sea beneath the sea which had imprisoned an ancient alien for eons of crushing solitude, and who had no intention of ever letting the air-breathers go…

A concatenation of crazy circumstances creates the manic madness of #10’s ‘4 Mysteries of the Sea!’ as godly King Neptune decrees that on this day every wild story of the sea will come true, just as the Sea Devils are competing in a “Deep Six Tall Tales” contest.

Soon the incredulous squad are battling pirates in an underwater ghost town, rescued from captivity by a giant octopus thanks to a friendly seal (Good old Pappy!), facing off against aliens of the Martian Canals Liars Club and saving Neptune himself from a depth-charge attack…

The hugely underrated Irv Novick took over as primary illustrator with #11, as the Sea Devils agree to test human underwater endurance limits in an ocean-floor habitat. Soon however, Dane is near breaking point, seeing a succession of monsters from the ‘Sea of Nightmares!’

Kanigher then relinquished the writing to fellow golden age alumnus France E. Herron who kicked off in rip-roaring form with a classy sci fi romp. Here Nicky’s growing feelings of inadequacy are quashed after he saves his comrades – and the world – from the ‘Threat of the Magnetic Menace!’

Always experimental and rightfully disrespectful of the fourth wall, editors Kanigher and George Kashdan turned issue #13 over to the fans for ‘The Secrets of 3 Sunken Ships’, as successive chapters of Herron’s script were illustrated by Joe Kubert, Gene Colan and Ross Andru & Mike Esposito for the audience to judge who was the best.

The artists all appear in the tale conducting interviews and “researching” our heroes as they tackle a reincarnated sea captain, travel to an ancient sea battle between Greece and Persia and meet the alien who kidnapped the crew of the Marie Celeste…

The gag continued in Sea Devils #14 as illustrator Novick came along for the ride as the amazing aquanauts try to end the catastrophic ‘War of the Underwater Giants’ This finds aging deities Neptune and Hercules battle for supremacy in Earth’s oceans.

Jack Abel was the artistic guest star in second story ‘Challenge of the Fish Champions!’, wherein our heroes enter a cash prize competition to buy scuba equipment for a junior diving club.

Unfortunately, crazy devious scientist Karpas also wants the loot and fields a team of his own technologically augmented minions. Before long, the human skin-divers are facing off against a sea lion, a manta ray, a squid and a merman. Nobody specified that contestants had to be human…

Novick got into the act again illustrating #15 as author Herron revealed Judy and Nicky’s relationship to the ‘Secret of the Sunken Sub!’ When inventor Professor Walton vanishes whilst testing his latest submersible, it’s only a matter of time before his children drag the rest of the Sea Devils to the bottom of every ocean to find him and his lost crew.

The uncanny trail takes them through shoals of monsters, astounding flora and into the lair of an incredible sea spider before the mission is successfully accomplished…

Things regained some semblance of narrative normality with the final issue in this compilation as Chapman contributed a brace of high adventure yarns beginning with ‘The Strange Reign of Queen Judy and King Biff’, superbly rendered by the wonderful Bruno Premiani & Sheldon Moldoff.

When a massive wave capsizes the Sea Witch, only Dane and Nicky seemingly survive, but the determined explorers persevere and eventually find their friends held as bewitched captives on the island of an immortal wizard. All they have to do is kidnap their ferociously resisting comrades, escape an army of angry guards and penetrate the island’s mystic defences a second time to restore everything to normal. No problem…

This eccentric and exciting voyage of discovery concludes with ‘Sentinel of the Golden Head’ – illustrated by the always impressive Howard Purcell & Moldoff – as the restored aquatic quartet stumble onto the lost island of Blisspotamia in time to witness a beautiful maiden trying to sacrifice herself to the sea gods.

By interfering, they incur the wrath of a legion of mythological horrors and have no choice but to defy the gods to free the terrified islanders from ignorance and tyranny…

These capacious black-&-white compendia are superb value and provide a vital service by bringing older, less flashy (but still astonishingly expensive in their original issues) tales to a readership which might otherwise be denied them. However, this is probably the only series which I can honestly say suffers in the slightest from the lack of colour.

Whilst the line-art story illustrations are actually improved by the loss of hue, the original covers – by Heath and Novick as supervised and inked by production ace Jack Adler – used all the clever technical print effects and smart ingenuity of the period to add a superb extra layer of depth to the underwater scenes which tragically cannot be appreciated in simple line and tone reproduction. Just go to any online cover browser site and you’ll see what I mean…

Nevertheless, the amazing art and astounding stories are as good as they ever were and Showcase Presents Sea Devils is stuffed with incredible ideas, strange situations and non-stop action. These underwater wonders are a superb slice of the engaging fantasy thrillers which were once the backbone of American comicbooks. Perhaps a little whacky in places, they are remarkably similar to many tongue-in-cheek, anarchic Saturday morning kids’ animation shows and will certainly provide jaded fiction fans with hours of unmatchable entertainment.…
© 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Adventures of Blake & Mortimer: The Mystery of the Great Pyramid parts 1 & 2 – The Papyrus of Manethon & The Chamber of Horus


By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland & Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-37-3 (Manethon TPB) 978-1-905460-38-0 (Horus TPB)

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new weekly was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Brussels-born Edgar P. Jacobs was a prodigy who drew from an early age and was besotted by music and the performing arts – especially opera. Upon graduation from commercial school in 1919, he promptly rejected safe, steady office work and instead avidly pursued his artistic passions…

His dream of operatic glory was crushed by the Great Depression, and when arts funding dried up following the global stock-market crash he was forced to pick up whatever dramatic work was going, although this did include more singing and performing. He moved into illustration in 1940, with regular work for Bravo magazine and some jobs for short stories and novels and, when the occupying Nazi authorities in Belgium banned Alex Raymond’s quintessentially All-American Hero Flash Gordon, Jacobs famously took over the syndicated strip to complete the saga.

His Stormer Gordon lasted less than a month before being similarly embargoed by the Occupation dictators, after which the man of many talents simply created his own epic science-fantasy feature in the legendary Le Rayon U, a milestone in both Belgian comics and science fiction adventure.

At this time, Jacobs and Tintin creator Hergé got together, and whilst creating the weekly U Ray strip the younger man began assisting on Tintin, colouring original monochrome strips from The Shooting Star (originally run in newspaper Le Soir) for an upcoming album collection.

By 1944 Jacobs was performing similar duties on Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in America, King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Blue Lotus. He was contributing to the drawing too, working on extended epic The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun.

Following the Liberation, publisher Raymond Leblanc convinced Hergé, Jacobs and a few other comics masters to work for his bold new venture: publishing house Le Lombard, and Le Journal de Tintin. Beside Hergé, Jacobs and writer Jacques van Melkebeke, the weekly featured Paul Cuvelier’s Corentin and Jacques Laudy’s The Legend of the Four Aymon Brothers.

Laudy had been a friend of Jacobs’ since their time together on Bravo, and ‘Le secret de l’Espadon’ starred English Military Intelligence officer Blake, closely modelled on him. The debonair spy was to be partnered with a bluff, gruff, excitable British boffin…

The serial ran from issue #1 for three years, cementing Jacobs’ status as a star in his own right. In 1950, with the first 18 pages slightly redrawn, The Secret of the Swordfish became Le Lombard’s first album release with the concluding part published in 1953. The volumes were reprinted nine more times between 1955 and 1982, supplemented in 1964 by a single omnibus edition.

Chronologically, the next epic was this eerily exotic thriller which originally ran in Le Journal de Tintin as Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide from March 23rd 1950 to February 21st 1951.

The ongoing adventures resume in the months following the defeat of Tibetan warlord Basam-Damdu and liberation of the planet from his monomaniacal tyranny…

Available in paperback album form and in digital editions and subtitled ‘The Papyrus of Manethon’The Mystery of the Great Pyramid Part 1 opens with the author’s fascinating and pertinent illustrated Foreword on everything Anciently Egyptian – complete with extremely handy maps and plans – before the story proper begins with fretful Professor Mortimer taking some time off to pursue his occasional hobby.

A keen amateur archaeologist, the war-weary big brain has flown to Cairo with devoted assistant Ahmed Nasir for a holiday …and to help Egyptologist Ahmed Rassim Bey translate an astounding new find.

However, as they debark at the airport, the vigilant Indian thinks he spots an old enemy…

When no sign can be found the travellers move on, and the following morning Mortimer is examining some fragile scraps of papyrus attributed to legendary contemporary archivist Manethon. The ancient priest’s writings indicate that a secret treasure is hidden beneath a certain pyramid in a “Chamber of Horus”…

Cautious of the effect of such a sensationalistic discovery, the historians decide to proceed carefully, blithely unaware that trusted assistant Abdul Ben Zaim is in the employ of a cruel and dangerous enemy…

Even after an evening of socialising, the learned men are keen to get to work. Returning late to the laboratory of the Egyptian Museum, they discover Abdul furtively loitering and Mortimer’s suspicions are aroused. When nobody is watching, the physicist craftily secures a portion of the papyrus and talks Ahmed into conducting a clandestine test…

Abdul is indeed playing a double game and his mysterious master is a man both subtle and exceedingly dangerous. That night the hidden leader tries to steal the documents, but is surprised by Mortimer who has anticipated such a move. The canny scientist is just as surprised when the villain is exposed as treacherous Colonel Olrik.

The wily war criminal has been missing since the fall of Basam-Damdu, but has lost none of his lethal skills. Overpowering Mortimer, the rogue escapes, taking with him the last shred of papyrus the Professor had been holding…

Safe in his lair, Olrik presses Abdul, who hastily translates the assembled fragments and declares the Chamber of Horus must be in the Great Sphinx on the Giza Plateau…

Under constant surveillance by Olrik’s gang, Mortimer and Nasir warily go about their business, hoping to lure the mastermind out of hiding. Meanwhile Abdul, believing himself undiscovered, returns to work at the museum, where flashy German Egyptologist Herr Doktor Grossgrabenstein is loudly informing all and sundry of his latest search for the tomb of Tanitkara.

The bombastic treasure-hunter invites Mortimer to visit him and view his unique collection but the boffin is too absorbed with shadowing Abdul – a task made far harder by the inept assistance of the local police.

When a lucky clue leads the resolute researcher to an antique store, Olrik’s scurrilous henchman Basendjas ambushes and imprisons Mortimer in the basement, but after a tremendous, extended battle the doughty doctor breaks free and calls in the cops.

Sadly, even on the defensive, Olrik is formidable and fights free of the encroaching authorities before vanishing into the warrens of the city. After Abdul is killed in a hit-and-run incident, effusive Grossgrabenstein is present when Mortimer admits defeat and calls in a seasoned professional…

In London, Captain Francis Blake receives a cablegram and takes a leave from desk duty at I.S. Scotland Yard’s international security division is already investigating a surge of criminal activity in Northeast Africa and is happy to have their top man take a personal interest.

Blake heads out to Egypt by devious and complex means but, despite his circuitous route and customary caution, does not make it. Mortimer becomes increasingly impatient as he awaits the espionage expert’s arrival and to kill time finally accedes to his German colleague’s repeated requests to visit his dig at Giza.

When he arrives, Mortimer finds bullying foreman Sharkey whipping native workers and is just in time to thrash the brute as he tries to attack an old Holy Man who has objected…

The enraged thug pulls a gun, but is admonished by Grossgrabenstein, who then reluctantly allows the Professor to inspect the recently-cleared chambers below the pyramid.

As Mortimer climbs back to the surface, a hasty, anonymous cry alerts him and he narrowly dodges a huge rock which crashes into the space where he stood. The area it fell from is empty and nobody recognises the voice which called out…

Making his way back to his hotel, the weary scientist is then metaphorically crushed to receive news that his best friend has been shot to death in a phone booth at Athens airport…

Bitter and enraged, Mortimer swears to make Olrik pay…

To Be Concluded…

The Chamber of Horus’ concludes Le Mystère de la Grande Pyramide after a brief summary of past events.

With his great friend murdered, Mortimer is resolved to finish the case himself and begins by visiting decidedly odd and off-kilter Doktor Grossgrabenstein in his mansion. He hasn’t made up his mind about the German, but the archaeologist’s staff – especially thuggish foreman Sharkey – are definitely playing some deeper game…

The visit almost ends in disaster, but once again a mysterious warning – in Egyptian – tips Mortimer off and he leaves before the gang can grab him. Later that night, he meets again the aged holy man Sheik Abdel Razek which results in the enigmatic cleric giving him a strange talisman and a warning of the arcane forces he faces. Rationalist sceptic though he is, the physicist keeps the artefact near and that night, when another vicious attempt is made on his life, the charm proves its worth…

Instructing Nasir to make discreet inquiries, Mortimer returns to the Giza excavation, unaware that he has picked up a silent shadow. A commotion then brings him to Razek’s dwelling where Sharkey is threatening the old man. Before the Professor can intervene, the bully is sent scurrying by a shocking display of spooky pyrotechnics…

The house is incredibly ancient, built from reclaimed materials, and as he chats with the sheik, Mortimer sees glyphs and symbols etched into the walls which can only have come from the original pyramids. Razek is charmingly evasive however, and Mortimer eventually leaves, but on his way back sees figures lurking around Grossgrabenstein’s work site.

Although he loses them, the subsequent chase gives him an opportunity to inspect the tunnels under the tomb. Further investigation is cut short when he clashes with native worker Abbas whom he suspects has been following him…

Things take a dangerous turn the next night when he returns to the German’s grand home. A sudden slip by Grossgrabenstein tips off Mortimer that the boisterous historian has at some stage been replaced by gifted mimic Olrik. After a mighty struggle, the Professor is captured and before long Nasir too is bundled into the opulent cell the Prof has been dumped in…

Their bacon is saved by the unexpected arrival of the police, who storm the mansion with guns blazing. In the confusion a beloved old comrade resurfaces as Francis Blake sheds his own disguise to rescue his beleaguered friends.

When the gunfire subsides, the triumphant police attempt to arrest the real Grossgrabenstein. As they blunder around, slippery Olrik again escapes…

With all nefarious opposition seemingly routed, Blake and Mortimer are free to concentrate on solving the mystery of the Chamber of Horus and why ultra-modern super-criminal Olrik was so obsessed by it. Soon they are carefully exploring the claustrophobic tunnels beneath the Great Pyramid and eventually discover not only the incredible treasures of the pharaohs but their old arch-foe plundering the sacrosanct horde.

Olrik is as hard-headed and no-nonsense as his British adversaries and puts no faith in curses, talismans or magic, but the sudden arrival of Razek teaches all of the western sceptics and heretics a lesson they will never forget… before carefully erasing their memories to protect the secrets his line has spent millennia protecting…

Suspenseful and fantastic in the grandest tradition of epic intrigue, Blake & Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination and graphic personifications of the Bulldog Spirit: worthy successors to Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion …and decent chaps proudly participating in the grand international alliance against insular ignorance and wickedness.

This saga delivers splendid Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with breathtaking visual punch. Every kid of any age able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief can’t help but revel in the adventure of their lives… and so will you.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud – Lombard s.a.). © 1986, 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007, 2008 Cinebook

Papyrus volume 2: Imhotep’s Transformation


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Colette De Geiter: translated by Luke Spear (Cinebooks)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-50-2

Once you get a certain taste in your mind you just can’t stop – well I can’t – so here’s another all-ages Euro-classic saga just not available through American funnybooks these days – although you can now get it digitally…

British and European comics have always been happier with historical strips than our cousins across the pond (a pugnacious part of me wants to say that’s because we have so much more past to play with – and yes, I know they’re responsible for Prince Valiant, but it’s an exception, not a rule) and our Franco-Belgian brethren in particular have made an astonishing art form out of days gone by.

The happy combination of past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and especially broad humour has resulted in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes. Don’t take my word for it – just check out Asterix, Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Towers of Bois-Maury, Iznogoud or Thorgal to name the merest few which have made it into English, or even our own much missed classics such as Olac the Gladiator, Dick Turpin, Heros the Spartan or Wrath of the Gods …all long overdue for collection in mass market album form and on the interweb-tubes….

Papyrus is the spectacular magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It began in 1974 in the legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums, plus a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

The plucky “fellah” (look it up) was blessed by the gods and gifted with a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. His original brief was to free supreme Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and thereby restore peace to the Two Kingdoms. More immediately however the lad was also charged with protecting Pharaoh’s wilful and high-handed daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unmatchable talent for finding trouble…

De Gieter was born in 1932 and, studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels, before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the logical jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ inserts (fold-in, half-sized-booklets) for Spirou, of his jovial little cowboy Pony, and later by writing for established regulars as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He then joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs – AKA The Smurfs – and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

In the mid-1960s he created South Seas mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit even as Pony was promoted to the full-sized pages of Spirou, so De Gieter deep-sixed his Smurfs gig to expand his horizons producing work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst putting the finishing touches to his new project. This creation would occupy his full attention – and delight millions of fervent fans – for the next 40 years.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieus: blending boys-own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology, gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Throughout, these light fantasy romps depict a fearlessly forthright boy fisherman favoured by the gods as a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

Imhotep’s Transformation was the second Cinebook translation (and 8th yarn, originally released in 1985 as La Métamorphose d’Imhotep): opening with our hero and his one-legged friend Imhotep (no relation) paddling a canoe through the marshes of the Nile.

The peaceful idyll is wrecked when Theti-Cheri and her handmaidens hurtle by in their flashy boat, but the boys don’t mind as they have a message for the princess.

The new holy statue of her father has arrived from the Priests of Memphis and the daughter of Heaven is required at the ceremony to install it at the pyramid of Saqqara before the annual “Heb Sed” King’s Jubilee.

As the girls and boys race back, an old peasant is attacked by a crocodile. Diving after him, Papyrus wrestles the reptile away and is about to kill it when Sobek appears, beseeching him to spare it.

On the surface Theti-Cheri and her attendants are ministering to the aged victim and the princess can’t help noticing how he bears an uncanny resemblance to her dad…

By the time they all reach the pyramid, the monumental task of hauling the statue into place is well under way, but suddenly blood begins pouring out of the monolith’s eyes. Terrified workers panic and the colossal effigy slips, crashing to destruction. The populace are aghast and murmurs of curses and ill omens abound…

Rather than running away, Imhotep heads for the rubble and discovers the statue’s head is hollow. Moreover, inside there is a dead dwarf and a smashed flask which had held blood…

Papyrus is in the royal compound where the recent events have blighted the anticipation of the court. During Heb Sed, the Pharaoh has to run around the sacred pyramid three times and fire his bow at the four corners of the kingdoms to prove his fitness to rule, but now it appears the gods have turned against their chosen emissary on Earth…

Papyrus is not so sure and when he tries to speak to a royal server the man bolts. Giving chase, the lad is in time to prevent the attendant’s murder, but not his escape.

And then a cry goes up: Pharaoh has been poisoned…

Knowing there is no love lost between the Memphis Priests of Ptah and the loyal Theban clerics doctoring the fallen king, Papyrus warns of a possible plot, but has no proof. What is worse, Chepseska, leader of the Memphis faction, is of royal blood too and will inherit if Pharaoh is unable to complete the Heb Sed ritual…

As loyal physicians and priests struggle to save their overlord’s life, Theti-Cheri remembers the old man in the swamp. If only the crocodile bite has not left him too weak to run…

The doughty dotard is willing to try and also knows of a wise woman whose knowledge of herbs can cure Pharaoh, but ruthless Chepseska is on to the kids’ ploy and dispatches a band of killers to stop Papyrus and Imhotep.

The gods, however, are behind the brave lads and after the assassins fall to the ghastly judgement of Sobek, the boys rush an antidote back to Saqqara, only to fall into the lost tomb of Great Imhotep, first Pharaoh, builder-god and divine lord of the Ibis.

With time running out for his distant descendent, the resurrected ruler rouses himself to administer justice for Egypt and inflict the punishment of the gods upon the usurpers…

This is an amazing exploit to thrill and astound fans of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure. Papyrus is a brilliant addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who marry heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin or Asterix volumes would be wise beyond their years in acquiring these classic chronicles tales.

…And Cinebook would be smart to keep on translating these magical yarns, too…
© Dupuis, 1985 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

The Great Walls of Samaris


By Benoit Peeters &Francois Schuiten (NBM)
ISBN:978-0-918348-36-4

The European manner of graphic storytelling places great emphasis on mood and style, with a much larger range of interests and themes than the English language mainstream. It is also, perforce, staggeringly accomplished in its artistic visions.

This brief (48 page) album, the first in an occasional series entitled Cities of the Fantastic, tells the bleak, fantastic tale of Franz, a young civic official of the city state Xhystos, who accepts a diplomatic mission to assess the condition of sister city Samaris.

Located far, far away, there has been no communication with the walled metropolis for a decade and all agents dispatched there have vanished with trace. The grim, arduous journey, however, is as nothing compared to the beguiling mystery Franz uncovers when he finally reaches the incredible and seductive city…

Eerie and paranoid, with architecture and design the most important characters in the tale, The Great Walls of Samaris presents a wholly believable world of familiarity and alienation, underscored with an almost Kafkaesque perversity. The aura of menace is palpable, but with only the merest hint of danger. Minds and souls are at risk here, not mere flesh and blood.

The astonishing artwork of Schuiten is entrancing, perfectly capturing – if not actually inventing – the creative anachronism of Steampunk, but with the glistening veneer of fin de siècle pomp and the foredoomed glitter of the Belle Époque concealing the bitter content with a sheen of fragile beauty.

This is an incredibly stylish, unforgettable visual experience and a damned fine classical horror story, too. Long overdue for revival and the proper respect it deserves, this is a book you’ll love if comics mean anything at all to you.
© 1984 Casterman, Paris-Tournai. All Rights Reserved. English translation ©1987 NBM.

Run Wild


By K. I. Zachopoulos & Vincenzo Balzamo (Archaia)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-024-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Spooky Family for a Cold Winter World… 9/10

Writer Kostas Zachopoulos’ heartfelt love affair with classic themes and genres continues in his latest collaboration with Vincenzo Balzamo (Immortal, Revenge: The Secret Origin of Emily Thorne).

Zachopoulos’ previous comics releases – Mon Alix, The Fang, Mr. Universe, Misery City – and his previous tale with Balzamo The Cloud have cumulatively and memorably tweaked and refreshed horror, crime and fantasy standards and this fresh offering should bring them the well-deserved glittering prizes found in the reading mainstream…

Run Wild is a bleak, dark, challenging and frequently frightening modern fairy tale with echoes of Alan Garner, Maurice Sendak and Ralph Steadman which subverts while combining a key core plot – the search for home and safety – with a chilling examination of what exactly constitutes humanity. A reminder to be careful what you wish for…

It’s night in the woods and scary. Flynn and Ava have just woken up and can’t find their mother. In fact, they can’t find anybody…

Sensible older sister Ava insists they leave the shack they’ve found themselves in, and search outside. She knows something is wrong with the world. Something has changed…

Flynn is close to panic. He needs to know why Mother has abandoned them. He needs to know what’s happened. He needs to know there’s no danger. But there is…

As they wander the sparkling, cold environs, they meet a giant talking fox named Beatrice who acts as their guide and guardian. She is taking them to Papa, who has all the answers – and is in fact the cause of all their woes – but the journey will be long and hard and pose many questions.

Moreover, they are all being hunted by a pack of relentless, savage beasts. Not ordinary animals: there are no more of those. These relentless pursuers used to be human. Now only Ava and Flynn remain of the old world, able to understand the reasons for how mankind changed and how to proceed from this new start.

Flynn realises his mother is out there somewhere, and hungers for reunion, but as they make their perilous way to the enigmatic Papa, Ava is increasingly despondent. She’s started to change into a beast too…

A tale of intellectual and spiritual hubris, man’s incessant meddling, overconfidence in technology and the perils of warring with our environment, Run Wild is gripping and beguiling mystery play examining our role in the world and offering stern rebukes and a hint of warning. Piling on devious sub-plots and shocking twists, Zachopoulos steers us into a maze of wonder and duplicity and never lets the tension slacken.

Available as an enticing hardback tome and in comfortably accessible digital editions, this byzantine, Cimmerian-toned, chimeric yarn is rendered in a gloriously evocative and expressionistic progression of painted pages by ever-more adept and imaginative Vincenzo Balzamo, providing a wealth of material for your next excess-fuelled nightmare…

This is unmissable stuff: so don’t.
™ and © 2018 Kostas Zachopoulos & Vincenzo Balzamo. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1939-1940: “A Brick Stuffed with Moom-bims”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-789-6

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: En Ebsoloot Epitome of Graphic Wundah… 10/10

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, the cartoon strip Krazy Kat is – for most cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation; a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy and Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive commemorative tomes from Fantagraphics, is a creation which must be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst exploring the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, but offended… no.

It did go over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy that narrative art has ever produced.

Herriman was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who had been noodling about at the edges of his outrageous domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – largely by dint of the publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and overpowering direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, John Alden Carpenter, Gilbert Seldes, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and Jack Kerouac) all adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from the populace-beguiling comics section.

Eventually the feature found a true home and safe haven in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s doctrinaire patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, the Kat & Ko. flourished unharmed by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death in April 1944.

The saga’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. And by the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse spends all his time, energy and ingenuity in bouncing a brickbat off the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen…

The smitten kitten always misidentifies (or does he?) these missiles as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

The final crucial element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: completely besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections.

Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating the ever-mutable stage are a stunning supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; hobo Bum Bill Bee, unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, social climbing busybody Pauline Parrot, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language: alliterative, phonetically and even onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force (“you sim to be cuttin’ a mellin”, “or “it would be much mo’ betta if it was a pot of momma lade or eppil butta”).

Yet for all that, the adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, astonishingly hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick.

Sometimes Herriman even eschewed his mystical mumblings and arcane argots for the simply sublime grace of a supremely entertaining silent gag in the manner of his beloved Keystone Cops

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This delirious tome covers all the strips from 1937-1938 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a madly mystical digital edition.

Preceded by candid photos and examples of some of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), the splendid madness is bolstered by Jeet Heer’s superb analysis of production techniques in ‘Kat of a Different Color’ before the jocularity resumes with January 1st 1939 – with the hues provided by professional separators rather than Herriman.

Within this jubilant journal of passions thwarted, the torrid triangular drama plays out as winningly as ever, but with a subtle shifting of emphasis as an old face gains far greater presence and impact whilst the one significant new face seems to be a scene-stealing rival for our fuzzy feline ingenue…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen continue to feature, but the eternally triangular confusions and contusions – although still a constant – are not the satisfying punchlines they used to be, but rather provide a comforting continuity as the world subtly changes around the cast…

As well as frequent incarceration, Ignatz endures numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions… a minor plague of travelling conjurors and unemployed magician also make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary… which is expanding in personnel, if not wisdom…

Never long daunted, Bull Pupp indulges in a raft of home-away-from home improvements, and introduces mechanised, radiophonic and robotic policing, and sundry innovations in incarceration architecture…

As always, the mouse’s continual search for his ammunition of choice leads to many brick-based gags but now the mouse is often the receiver of painful retribution. His brief preoccupation with hornet’s nests ultimately proves to be a painful dead end though…

Of course, the mouse is a man who enjoys revenge served hot, cold or late…

A flurry of telescope buying adds an of nosy edge of conspiracy to proceedings, with spying as big a hobby for all citizens as stargazing and gossip used to be. At least, the traditional fishing, water sports, driving and the parlous and participatory state of the burgeoning local theatre scene remain hot topics in town…

And, welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous inspiration and all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity.

A big shift in status comes to old busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk as she assumes a role akin to wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; upping her status from bit-player to full-on supporting cast. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too…

The big change comes on July 7th 1940. Pupp is startled to see Ignatz going back to school and thinks it’s so he can ambush the Kat. That’s until he too meets the new teacher. Miss Mimi is French…

Soon class attendance is at record levels and the males are all making komplete fools of themselves…

This antepenultimate collection is again supplied with an erudite and instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and gleeful monument to whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.
© 2007, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Sailor Twain or, The Mermaid in the Hudson


By Mark Siegel (First Second)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-636-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sublime and delightful… 10/10

Even after decades in the business every so often something comes along that makes me feel like a drooling delirious fanboy again. It still does.  This superb hardback compilation of a fabulous weird tales webcomic is a certifiable classic that it’s never too late to enjoy.

Mark Siegel was born in Michigan and raised in France; one of those story-obsessed prodigies who began drawing wonders as a kid and never grew out of it… only better at shaping them.

After a childhood concocting yarns, comics, cartoons, posters and animated films he returned to the USA to study Creative writing and Fine Arts at Brown University. Upon graduation he stayed stateside, tentatively beginning life as a jobbing designer/illustrator.

He got his big break with the award-winning strip-book Seadogs, written by Lisa Wheeler. This was followed by Long Night Moon, To Dance, Boogie Knights and more.

Increasingly intrigued and fascinated by the history and geography of the Hudson River Valley where he lives with wife and creative collaborator Sienna Cherson Siegel, the artist began to craft a lyrically beguiling mystery tale from the glittering, sophisticated and callous brutal days of the Riverboats which once plied their glamorous trade along that famed and fabled watercourse. This he published online at sailortwain.com.

Rendered in mercurial melancholic charcoal tones, Sailor Twain tells the tale of a poet who has lost his muse and becomes a riverboat captain to pay for his invalid wife’s medical treatment.

It’s also the tale of French wastrel Dieudonné who inherited his entrepreneurial older brother’s exclusive, high society river boat business when the inspirational Jacques Henri de Lafayette had a breakdown and vanished…

…And finally, it is the sad and sobering tale of a lady who could not accept her place or fate in a savagely proscribed and repressionistic masculine culture…

Set in the transitional era of 1880s New York where and when science and rationality began at last to supersede wonder, mystery and romance, and specifically during the months May to December 1887, the story opens with an enigmatic meeting in ‘Overture’ before ‘Part I: Twain’s Secret’ begins with ‘The Frenchman’s Steamboat’ as the diligent captain of the luxurious Lorelei recalls how the dissolute young European assumed control of a hugely profitable touring business after the elder Lafayette vanished. Also introduced are below-decks crew Horatio and Aloysius, Negro engineers who know more of the route’s peculiar history than they’re willing to share in ‘An Unlikely Survivor’

The new owner seems a bad sort. In ‘A Prayer Down Below’, he demonstrates an indecent and almost unhealthy interest in bedding women, but after Twain rescues ‘The Mermaid in the Hudson’ and secretes her battered and wounded body in his cabin the trusty salt’s judgemental world is forever changed.

‘Beaverton’s New Book’ introduces another intriguing strand as a publicity-shy yet popular author’s latest sensational publication offers to reveal the “Secrets and Mysteries of the River Hudson” – everything from love-sick ghosts to the cure for a mermaid’s siren song – to both Twain and his increasingly odd employer.

The Captain, obsessed with ministering to the silent, wounded creature hidden in his cabin, is amazed when he is asked to post ‘Lafayette’s Letter’ to the enigmatic author, whilst in ‘South’s Promise’ Lafayette’s debauched dalliances multiply manically as Twain remembers his far-off wife and how her beautiful voice was stilled by disease. Nevertheless ‘Pearl’s Song’ is slowly being forgotten as the seaman becomes increasingly closer to the mythical beauty recovering in his bunk…

The lascivious Frenchman is rapidly losing touch with reality, constantly throwing messages in bottles to the murky roiling river waters as ‘Three Prisoners’ sees the now voluble sea-woman eagerly communicating with Twain just as Lafayette takes him into his confidences over his amorous actions…

Inspired again to write, Twain’s fevered imagination is sent reeling when he realises his employer is seeking ‘The Cure for Mermaids’ and, thanks to the Beaverton book, discovers his uncanny charge’s origins in ‘South of the North River’

Entranced in a way no other man has been, the worthy Captain is utterly unaware of how the situation is spiralling madly in ‘The Missing Muse’ after which ‘Part II: Camomille’ takes a closer look at the louche Lafayette when ‘The Beaverton Revelation’ exposes the author’s shocking identity and New York Society gathers itself to take its chilly revenge in ‘Ink Stains’

Lafayette’s carnal campaign hits a strange snag in ‘“The Dame’s Audacious”’, leading to most peculiar dinner conversation in ‘Eclipse’ and the culmination of long-laid plans in ‘Sevening’, all whilst Twain finds to his horror that his submersible companion has vanished in ‘Enticement’.

Before the tragedy moves towards the impossible endgame, she suddenly returns to assuage ‘The Strains of Absence’ prompting fantastic delirium when ‘Twain Dreams’

‘Part III: World’s End’ moves fully towards otherworldly experiences ‘In the Other Realm’ of ghosts, drowned men and stranger things where the desperately querulous Twain finds ‘The Lost Brother’, learns of ‘A Lady Beguiled’ and discovers the power of ‘The Chained Heart’ as his tumultuous affair ploughs on to an astonishing denouement…

It all comes crashing down in stormy disaster as ‘Part IV: The Twain Shall Meet’ delivers another dreadful blow to the Captain’s divided heart as he and Lafayette mutually incur and endure ‘The Siren’s Wrath’

…And with the world reshaped and set to (some sort of) rights, an evocative ‘Coda’ lends fruitful finality to the fearsomely fantastic proceedings…

Intoxicatingly complex, expansive and enchanting, seditiously, scarily seductive, the supernatural odyssey of the Lorelei and its doom-gripped crew is a gloriously baroque and simultaneously gothic epic of unnatural desire and supernal suspense that absolutely unwrites the twee, safely sexy modern mythology of marine maidens and restores to them the dolorous drama of sinister, implacable, irresistible sirens.

A perfect fantasy fable for adults, Sailor Twain is a truly graphic novel that every devoted dark dreamer must read.

© 2012 Mark Siegel.  All rights reserved.

Prince Valiant volumes 1-3 Gift Box Set


By Hal Foster (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1 68396-072-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Ideal for anybody who ever dreamed or wondered… 10/10

Rightly reckoned one of the greatest comic strips of all time, the majestic and nigh-mythical saga of a king-in-exile who became one of the greatest warriors in an age of unparalleled heroes is at once fantastically realistic and beautifully, perfectly abstracted – an indisputable paradigm of adventure fiction where anything is possible and justice will always prevail. It is the epic we all want to live in…

On one thing let us be perfectly clear: Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is not historical. It is far better and more real than that.

Possibly the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived, Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur launched on Sunday 13th February 1937, a glorious weekly, full-colour window not onto the past but rather onto a world that should have been. It followed the tempestuous life of a refugee boy driven by invaders from his ancestral homeland of faraway Thule who persevered and, through tenacity, imagination and sheer grit, rose to become one of the mightiest heroes of the age of Camelot.

As depicted by the incredibly gifted Foster, this noble scion would, over the years, grow to mighty manhood helming a heady sea of wonderment; roaming the globe and siring a dynasty of equally puissant heroes whilst captivating and influencing generations of readers and thousands of creative types in all the arts.

There have been films, cartoon series and all manner of toys, games and collections based on the feature – one of the few newspaper strips to have lasted from the thunderous 1930s to the present day (well over 4000 episodes and counting) and, even in these declining days of newspaper cartooning, it still claims over 300 American papers as its home.

Foster produced the strip, one spectacular page a week until 1971, when, after auditioning such notables as Wally Wood and Gray Morrow, Big Ben Bolt artist John Cullen Murphy was selected to draw the feature. Foster carried on as writer and designer until 1980, after which he fully retired and Murphy’s son took over scripting duties.

In 2004 Cullen Murphy also retired (he died a month later on July 2nd) but the strip soldiered on under the extremely talented auspices of artist Gary Gianni and writer Mark Schultz and latterly Thomas Yeates, conquering one more exotic land by making it onto the world wide web.

The first three exquisite oversized hardback volumes (362 x 268mm) are available as a monumental gift set nobody could resist. They reprint in glorious colour – spectacularly restored from Foster’s original printer’s proofs – the princely pristine Sunday pages cumulatively spanning February 1937 to 20th December 1942: six years of formative forays of an instantly impressive tale which promised much and delivered far more than anybody might have suspected during those dim and distant days…

 

Volume 1 opens with editor Brian M. Kane’s informative picture and photo-packed potted history of ‘Harold Rudolf Foster: 1892-1982’ after which Fred Schreiber conducts ‘An Interview with Hal Foster’ – as first seen in Nemo: The Classic Comics Magazine (1984).

Moreover, after the superb Arthurian epic exploits of the quintessential swashbuckling hero which follows, this initial collection is rounded off by Kim Thompson’s discourse on the many iterations of reprints over the years and around the world in ‘A History of Valiants’

The actual action-packed drama then commences in distant Scandinavia as the King of Thule, his family and a few faithful retainers dash for a flimsy fishing boat, intent only on escaping the murderous intentions of a usurper’s army.

Their voyage carries them to the barbarous coast of Britain to battle bands of wild men before securing a safe retreat in the gloomy fens of East Anglia. After many hard fights they reach an uneasy détente with the locals and settle into a harsh life as regal exiles…

The young Prince Valiant is but five years old when they arrive and his growing years in a hostile environment toughen the boy, sharpen his wits and give him an insatiable taste for mischief and adventure.

He befriends a local shepherd boy and together their escapades include challenging the marauding ancient dinosaurs which infest the swamp, battling a hulking man-brute and bedevilling a local witch. In retaliation the hag Horrit predicts that Val’s life will be long and packed with incredible feats… but always tainted by great sorrow.

All that, plus the constant regimen of knightly training and scholarly tuition befitting an exile learning how to reclaim his stolen kingdom, make the lad a veritable hellion, but everything changes when his mother passes away. After a further year of intense schooling in the arts of battle, Valiant leaves the Fens and make his way in the dangerous lands beyond…

Whilst sparring with his boyhood companion, Val unsuspectingly insults Sir Launcelot who is fortuitously passing by. Although the noble warrior is sanguine about the cheeky lad’s big mouth, his affronted squire attempts to administer a stern punishment and is rewarded with a thorough drubbing. Indeed, Launcelot has to stop the Scion of Thule from slitting the battered and defeated man’s throat.

Although he has no arms, armour, steed or money, Valiant swears that he too will be a Knight…

Luck is with the Pauper Prince. After spectacularly catching and taming a wild stallion, his journey is interrupted by gregarious paladin Sir Gawain, who shares a meal and regales the boy with tales of chivalry and heroism. When their alfresco repast is spoiled by robber knight Sir Negarth who unfairly strikes the champion of Camelot, Val charges in. Gawain regains consciousness to find the threat ended, Negarth hogtied and his accomplice skewered…

Taking Val under his wing, wounded Gawain escorts the boy and his prisoner to Camelot, but their journey is delayed by a gigantic dragon. Val kills it too – with the assistance of Negarth – and spends the rest of the trip arguing that the rogue should be freed for his gallantry…

Val is still stoutly defending the scoundrel at the miscreant’s trial before King Arthur, and is rewarded by being appointed Gawain’s squire. Unfortunately, the lad responds badly to being teased by the other knights-in-training and quickly finds himself locked in a dungeon whilst his tormentors heal and the remaining Knights of the Round Table ride out to deal with an invasion of Northmen…

Whilst the flowers of chivalry are away, a plot is hatched by scheming Sir Osmond and Baron Baldon. To recoup gambling debts, they capture and ransom Gawain, but have not reckoned on the dauntless devotion and ruthless ingenuity of his semi-feral squire.

Easily infiltrating the bleak fortress imprisoning the hero, Val liberates his mentor through astounding feats of daring and brings the grievously wounded knight to Winchester Heath and Arthur…

As Gawain recuperates, he is approached by a young maiden. Ilene is in need of a champion and – over his squire’s protests – the still gravely unfit knight dutifully complies. Val’s protests might have been better expressed had he not been so tongue-tied by the most beautiful girl he has ever seen…

The quest to rescue Ilene’s parents is delayed when an unscrupulous warrior in scarlet challenges them, intent on possessing the lovely maiden. Correctly assessing Gawain to be no threat, the Red Knight does not live long enough to revise his opinion of the wild-eyed boy who then attacks him…

Leaving Ilene and the re-injured Gawain with a hermit, Valiant continues on alone to Branwyn Castle, recently captured by an “Ogre” who is terrorising the countryside. Through guile, force of arms and devilish tactics the boy ends that threat forever.

This is an astonishing tour de force of graphic bravura that no fan could ever forget. Aspiring cartoonist Jack Kirby certainly didn’t: he recycled Val’s outlandish outfit used to terrorise the Ogre’s soldiers as the visual basis for his 1970s horror-hero Etrigan the Demon

Having successfully routed the invaders and freed Ilene’s family, Val begins earnestly courting the grateful girl. His prophecy of lifelong misery seems assured however, when her father regretfully informs him that she is promised to Arn, son and heir of the King of Ord

Even before that shock can sink in, Valiant is called away again. Ailing Gawain has been abducted by sorceress Morgan le Fey, who is enamoured of the knight’s manly charms…

When Val confronts her, she drugs him with a potion and he endures uncounted ages in her dungeon before escaping. Weak and desperate, he makes his way to Camelot and enlists Merlin in a last-ditch ploy to defeat the witch and save his adored mentor…

In the meantime, events have progressed and Val’s bold plans to win Ilene are upset when invitations to her wedding arrive at Camelot. Initially crushed, the resilient youth determines to travel to Ord and challenge Prince Arn for her hand.

Their meeting is nothing like Val imagined but, after much annoying interference, he and the rather admirable Arn finally engage in their oft-delayed death-duel, only to be again distracted when news comes that Ilene has been stolen by Viking raiders…

What follows is another unparalleled moment of comics magnificence as Valiant sacrifices everything for honour, gloriously falls to superior forces, wins possession of Flamberge (the legendary Singing Sword which is brother to Excalibur), is captured and then reunited with Ilene… only to lose her again to the cruellest of fates…

After escaping from the Vikings and covering himself with glory at the Lists in Camelot – although he doesn’t realise it – the heartsick, weary Prince returns to his father in the melancholy Anglian fens, again encountering ghastly Horrit and nearly succumbing to fever.

When he recovers months later, he has a new purpose: he and his faithful countrymen will travel to Thule and rescue the nation from the cruel grip of usurper Sligon. Unfortunately, during the preparations Valiant discovers his region of Britain has been invaded by Saxons and is compelled by his honour to race to Camelot and warn Arthur…

To Be Continued…

(Volume 1: All comics material © 2009 King Features Syndicate except Tarzan page, © 2009 ERB Inc. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 2 reprints in the perfectly-restored Sunday pages from January 1st 1939 to 29th December 1940, following Sir Gawain’s extremely capable squire as he rushes to warn Camelot of invasion by rapacious Saxons via the vast Anglian Fens. Here the Royal Family of Thule have hidden since being ousted from their Nordic Island Kingdom by the villainous usurper Sligon.

After a breathtaking battle which sees the Saxons repulsed and the battle-loving boy-warrior knighted upon the field of victory, Valiant begins a period of globe-trotting through the fabled lands of Europe just as the last remnants of the Roman Empire is dying in deceit and intrigue.

Firstly, Val returns to Thule and restores his father to the throne, narrowly escaping the alluring wiles of a conniving beauty with an eye to marrying the Heir Apparent. Soon bored with peace and plenty, the roving royal wildcat then encounters a time-twisting pair of mystical perils who show him the eventual fate of all mortals. Sobered but not daunted, he makes his way towards Rome, where he will become unwittingly embroiled in the manic machinations of the Last Emperor, Valentinian.

Before that however, he is distracted by an epic adventure that would have struck stunning resonances for the readership at the time. With episode #118 (14th May 1939) Val joins the doomed knights of mountain fortress Andelkrag, who alone and unaided hold back the assembled might of the terrifying hordes of Attila the Hun currently decimating the civilisations of Europe and now gathered to wipe out its last vestige.

With Hitler and Mussolini hogging the headlines and Modern European war seemingly inevitable, Val shares the Battle of Decency and Right against untrammelled Barbarism. His epic struggle and sole survival comprise one of the greatest episodes of glorious, doom-fated chivalry in literature…

After the fall of the towers of Andelkrag, Valiant made his way onward to diminished Rome, picking up a wily sidekick in the form of cutpurse vagabond Slith. Once more he is distracted and delayed by dastardly Huns. The indomitable lad resolves to pay them back in kind, gathering dispossessed victims of Hunnish depredations and forging them into a resistance army of guerrilla-fighters – the Hun-Hunters…

Thereafter he liberates the vassal city Pandaris, driving back the invaders and their collaborator allies in one spectacular coup after another.

Valiant eventually reunites with equally action-starved Round Table companions Sir Tristram and Sir Gawain to make fools of the Hun, who have lost heart after the death of their charismatic leader Attila (nothing to do with Val, just a historical fact). When Slith falls for a beauteous warrior princess, the English Knights leave him to a life of joyous domesticity and move ever on.

An unexpected encounter with a giant and his unconventional army of freaks leads to the heroes inadvertently helping a band of marshland refugees (from Hunnish atrocity) before establishing the nation-state of Venice until at long last – after a after a side-trip to the fabulous city of Ravenna – the trio cross the fabled Rubicon and plunge into a hotbed of political tumult.

Unjustly implicated in a web of murder and double-dealing, the knights barely escape with their lives and split up to avoid pursuit. Tristan goes back to England and a star-crossed rendezvous with the comely Isolde, Gawain takes ship for fun in Massilia and Valiant, after an excursion to the rim of fiery Vesuvius, boards a pirate scow for Sicily and further adventure.

To Be Continued…

(Volume 2: Prince Valiant © 2009 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2009 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved.)

 

Volume 3 of the most successful and evergreen fantasy creation ever conceived offers the Sunday pages from January 5th 1941 to 20th December 1942, but only after erudite foreword ‘Modestly, Foster’ by Dan Nadel.

The action opens in the shadow of fiery Vesuvius as Val’s vessel is attacked by self-proclaimed Sea-King Angor Wrack. Even our fierce warrior-prince’s martial might is insufficient against insurmountable odds and the young Lord is captured and enslaved, his fabled Singing Sword confiscated by the victorious pirate.

Thus begins an astonishingly impressive chapter in the hero’s history. Val becomes a galley slave, escapes and washes up, starving and semi-comatose on the lost shores of the Misty Isles. Delirious, he glimpses his future wife Queen Aleta when she re-provisions his boat before casting him back to the sea’s mercies.

The Misty Isles are secure only because of their secret location and the noble girl has broken a great taboo by sparing the shipwrecked lad. Replenished but lost, Val drifts helplessly away but resolves that one day he will discover again the Misty Isles and the enigmatic Aleta…

Eventually he is picked up by more pirates, but overwhelms the captain and takes charge. Finding himself in the island paradise of Tambelaine courting the daughters of the aged King Lamorack, Val encounters Angor Wrack once again, but fails to recover the Singing Sword, precipitating an extended saga of maritime warfare and spectacular voyaging across the Holy Land from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The vendetta results in both Angor and Val being taken by Arab slavers, but the boy nobly allows Wrack to escape whilst he battles the Bedouin hordes…

Enslaved in Syria, Val’s indomitable will and terrifying prowess are insufficient to his need so he seduces his owner’s daughter to effect an escape, only to stumble into a marital spat between the region’s greatest necromancer and his tempestuous bride.

Reaching Jerusalem, Val finally regains his beloved sword and settles all scores with Angor Wrack before determining to return to the hidden Misty Isles, but once again falls afoul of the pirates infesting the region. After incredible hardships, he is reunited with Aleta but fate drags them apart once more and he departs alone and despondent.

Not for long though, as on reaching Athens he meets the far-larger-than-life Viking Boltar: a Falstaff-like rogue and “honest pirate”. Together they rove across the oceans to the heart of the African jungles…

Securing a huge fortune, their Dragonship reaches Gaul and Val is finally reunited with Gawain. After settling a succession of generational feuds between knights and defeating a seductive maniac, the paladins at last return to Britain courtesy of Boltar, just in time to be dispatched by Arthur to the far North to scout Hadrian’s Wall and see if it can still keep the belligerent Picts out.

Unfortunately, libidinous Gawain abandons Val and the lad is captured by Caledonian wild-men and their new allies – a far nastier breed of Vikings intent on conquering England. Tortured almost unto death, the Prince is saved by the ministrations of Julian – a Roman warrior who has seemingly safeguarded the wall for centuries…

When he is recovered, Prince Valiant begins to inflict a terrible and studied revenge upon his tormentors…

To Be Continued…

Rendered in an incomprehensibly lovely panorama of glowing art, Prince Valiant is a lyrical juggernaut of stirring action, exotic adventure and grand romance; blending realistic fantasy with sardonic wit, and broad humour with unbelievably dark violence (the closing text feature ‘Too Violent for American Dog Lovers’, reveals a number of censored panels and changes editors around the world inflicted upon the saga during this period).

Beautiful, captivating and utterly awe-inspiring, Foster’s magnum opus is a World Classic of storytelling, and this magnificent collection is something no adventuresome fan can afford to be without.

(Prince Valiant volume 3 © 2011 King Features Syndicate. All other content and properties © 2011 their respective creators or holders. All rights reserved).
Gift Set © 2017 King Features Syndicate. Published by Fantagraphics Books.