Showcase Presents the House of Mystery volume 1

By Joe Orlando, Otto Binder, Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Arnold Drake, John Albano, Marv Wolfman, Howie Post, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Bob Kanigher, Jack Oleck, Joe Gill, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Virgil North, Alan Riefe, Francis X. Bushmaster, Lee Elias, Doug Wildey, Carmine Infantino, Mort Meskin, Sergio Aragonés, Bernard Baily, George Roussos, Jack Sparling, Sid Greene, Bill Draut, Jim Mooney, Win Mortimer, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson, Wally Wood, Wayne Howard, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, John Celardo, Tony DeZuñiga, Leonard Starr, Tom Sutton, Ric Estrada, Jim Aparo, Gray Morrow, Don Heck, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, Nestor Redondo, Lore Shoberg, John Costanza & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0786-1 (TPB)

These days DC – particularly its prestigious Vertigo sub-division – are acknowledged leaders in comic book horror and dark fantasy fiction, with titles and characters like Swamp Thing, Sandman and Hellblazer riding high beside anthological and creator-owned properties all designed to make readers think twice and lose sleep…

As National Periodical Publications, the company was slow to join the first horror boom that began in 1948, but after a few tenuous attempts with supernatural-themed heroic leads in established titles (Johnny Peril in Comic Cavalcade, All Star Comics and Sensation Comics and Dr. Terry Thirteen, The Ghostbreaker in Star-Spangled Comics) bowed to the inevitable.

The result was a rather prim and straitlaced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles. The House of Mystery launched with a December 1951/January 1952 cover date and neatly dodged most of the later flak aimed at horror comics by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (April- June 1954). When the industry adopted a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules, HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, without any appreciable harm. They even became super-hero tinged split-books (with Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero in HoM, and Eclipso sharing space with mystic detective Mark Merlin – latterly Prince Ra-Man – in HoS)…

Nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and when the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed at the end of the 1960s, it led to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles, but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.” Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their tasty line of Red Circle Thrillers

Thus with absolutely no fanfare at all issue #174, cover dated May-June 1968 fronted a bold banner heading demanding “Do You Dare Enter The House of Mystery?” whilst reprinting a bunch of – admittedly excellent – short fantastic thrillers originally seen in House of Secrets from the heady days when it was okay and quite profitable to scare kids…

Incomprehensively, these classic yarns are still unavailable in digital compilations, although there’s a new (and rather expensive) hardback Bronze Age Omnibus edition out if you aren’t afraid of wrist strain. If cost is an issue and you don’t mind monochrome reproduction, this classic trade paperback – collecting the contents of The House of Mystery #174 -196 (May 1968 to September 1971) – is still easy to find and impossible to not enjoy…

Starting off with The House of Mystery #174, the opening shot is ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’, by an unknown writer and compellingly illustrated by the great Lee Elias. It comes from 1963’s HoS #58, as does the tale that follows it. Equally anonymous, ‘The Man Who Hated Good Luck!’ is limned by Doug Wildey and leads to the only new feature of the issue – one which would set the tone for decades to come.

Page 13 was a trenchantly comedic feature page scripted by Editor and EC veteran Joe Orlando, suitable cartooned by manic genius Sergio Aragonés. It states quite clearly that, whilst the intent was to thrill, enthral and even appal, it was all in the spirit of sinister fun, and gallows humour was the true order of the day.

The comic then continued with an Otto Binder/Bernard Baily tale of the unexpected: ‘The Museum of Worthless Inventions’ (from HoS #13) and concluded with Jack Miller, Carmine Infantino & Mort Meskin’s fantasy fable ‘The Court of Creatures’ (a Mark Merlin masterpiece from HoS #43).

The next issue can probably be counted as the true start of this latter-day revenant renaissance, as Orlando revived the EC tradition of slyly sardonic narrators by creating the Machiavellian Cain, “caretaker of the House of Mystery” and wicked raconteur par excellence.

Behind the first of a spectacular series of creepy covers from Neal Adams lurked another reprint, ‘The Gift of Doom’ (from HoM #137, illustrated by George Roussos) followed by ‘All Alone’, an original, uncredited prose chiller.

After another Page 13 side-splitter, Aragonés launched his long-running gag page ‘Cain’s Game Room’ before the issue closed with all-new new comic thriller ‘The House of Gargoyles!’ by veteran scaremongers Bob Haney & Jack Sparling.

With winning format firmly established and commercially successful, the fear-fest was off and running. Stunning Adams covers, painfully punny introductory segments, interspersed with gag pages (originally just Aragonés but eventually supplemented by other cartoonists such as John Albano, Lore Shoberg & John Costanza).

This last feature eventually grew popular enough to be spun off into bizarrely outrageous comicbook called Plop! (but that’s a subject for another day…) and supplied an element of continuity to an increasingly superior range of self-contained supernatural thrillers. Moreover, if ever deadline distress loomed, there was always a wealth of superb old material to fill in with.

HoM #176 led with spectral thriller ‘The House of No Return!’ by writer unknown and the great Sid Greene after which young Marv Wolfman (one of an absolute Who’s Who of budding writers and artists who went on to bigger things) teamed with Sparling on paranoiac mad science shocker ‘The Root of Evil!’

Reprinted masterpiece of form from Mort Meskin, ‘The Son of the Monstross Monster’ – having previously appeared in House of Mystery #130 – leads off #177, and a 1950’s fearsome fact-page is recycled into ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ before Charles King and Orlando’s illustrated prose piece ‘Last Meal’ segues into dream-team Howie (Anthro) Post & Bill Draut produce a ghoulish period parable in ‘The Curse of the Cat.’

Neal Adams debuts as an interior illustrator – and writer – with a mind-boggling virtuoso performance as a little boy survives ‘The Game’, after which Jim Mooney’s spooky credentials are affirmed with ‘The Man Who Haunted a Ghost’ (first seen in HoM #35) and E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer & George Roussos delineate an eternal dream with ‘What’s the Youth?’ before ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Ghostly Miners’ closes the issue.

Bridwell contributes the claustrophobic ‘Sour Note’ as lead in #179, rendered by the uniquely visionary Jerry Grandenetti & Roussos.

A next generation of comics genius begins with Bernie Wrightson’s first creepy contribution. ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Man Who Murdered Himself’ was scripted by Wolfman and is still a stunning example of gothic perfection in Wrightson’s Graham Ingels-inspired lush, fine-line style.

This exceptional artist’s issue also contains moody supernatural romance ‘The Widow’s Walk’ by Post. Adams & Orlando: a subtle shift from schlocky black humour to terrifying suspense and tragedy presumably intended to appeal to the increasingly expanding female readership. The issue ends with another fact feature ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Tell Tales’.

Going from strength to strength, House of Mystery was increasingly drawing on DC’s major artistic resources. ‘Comes a Warrior’, which opened #180, is a chilling faux Sword & Sorcery classic written and drawn by da Vinci of Dynamism Gil Kane, inked by the incomparable Wally Wood, and the same art team also illustrate Mike Friedrich’s fourth-wall demolishing ‘His Name is Cain Kane!’

Cliff Rhodes & Orlando contribute text-terror ‘Oscar Horns In!’ and Wolfman & Wrightson return with prophetic vignette ‘Scared to Life’ before an uncredited forensic history lesson from ‘Cain’s True Case Files’ closes proceedings for that month.

Scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by the quirkily capable Sparling, ‘Sir Greeley’s Revenge!’ is a heart-warmingly genteel spook story, but Wrightson’s first long tale – fantastical reincarnation saga ‘The Circle of Satan’ (scripted by horror veteran Bob Kanigher) – ends #181 on an eerily unsettling note before #182 opens with one of the most impressive tales of the entire run.

Jack Oleck’s take on the old cursed mirror plot is elevated to high art as his script ‘The Devil’s Doorway’ is illustrated by the incredible Alex Toth. Wolfman & Wayne Howard follow with ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Grave Results!’, after which an Orlando-limned house promotion leads to nightmarish revenge tale ‘The Hound of Night!’ by Kanigher & Grandenetti.

In collaboration with Oleck, Grandenetti opens #183 with ‘The Haunting!’ after which, courtesy of Baily ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ returns with ‘Curse of the Blankenship’s’ and ‘Superstitions About Spiders’ before Wolfman & Wrightson contribute ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Can Kill!’ and the canny teaming of Kanigher with Grandenetti and Wally Wood results in the truly bizarre ‘Secret of the Whale’s Vengeance.’

The next issue features the triumphant return of Oleck & Toth for a captivating Egyptian tomb raider epic ‘Turner’s Treasure’ whilst Bridwell, Kane & Wood unite for barbarian blockbuster ‘The Eyes of the Basilisk!’

House of Mystery #185 sees caretaker Cain take a more active role in the all-Grandenetti yarn ‘Boom!’, Wayne Howard illustrates the sinister ‘Voice from the Dead!’ and prolific Charlton scribe Joe Gill debuts with ‘The Beautiful Beast’: a lost world romance perfectly pictured by EC alumnus Al Williamson.

The next issue tops even that as Wrightson limns Kanigher’s spectacular bestiary tale ‘The Secret of the Egyptian Cat’, whilst Adams produces some his best art ever for Oleck’s ‘Nightmare’: a poignant tale of fervid imagination and childhood lost. Nobody who ever adored Mr. Tumnus could read this little gem without choking up… and as for the rest of you, I just despair and discard you…

Kanigher & Toth deliver another brilliantly disquieting drama in ‘Mask of the Red Fox’ to open #187, and Wayne Howard is at his workmanlike best on ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Appointment Beyond the Grave!’, before John Celardo & Mike Peppe render the anonymous script for period peril ‘An Aura of Death!’ (although to my jaded old eyes the penciller looks more like Win Mortimer…)

Another revolutionary moment occurs with #188’s lead story. Gerry Conway gets an early credit scripting ‘Dark City of Doom’: a chilling reincarnation mystery simultaneously set in contemporary times and Mayan South America, as the trailblazer for a magnificent tidal wave of Filipino artists debuted.

The stunning art of Tony DeZuñiga opened the door for many of his talented countrymen to enter and reshape both Marvel and DC’s graphic landscape and this black and white compendium is the perfect vehicle to see their mastery of line and texture…

Wrightson was responsible for time-lost thriller ‘House of Madness!’ which closes the issue whilst Aragonés opens the proceedings for #189, closely followed by Kanigher, Grandenetti & Wood’s ‘Eyes of the Cat’ and ‘The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T’ (from HoM #11: a 1953 reprint drawn by Leonard Starr) before another Charlton mystery superstar premiers as Tom Sutton illustrates Oleck’s ‘The Thing in the Chair’.

Kanigher & Toth team for another impeccable graphic masterwork in ‘Fright!’, Albano fills Cain’s Game Room and Aragonés debuts another long-running gag page with ‘Cain’s Gargoyles’ before this issue ends with Salem-based shocker ‘A Witch Must Die!’ by Jack Miller, Ric Estrada & Frank Giacoia.

HoM #191 saw the debut of Len Wein, who wrote terrifying puppet-show tragedy ‘No Strings Attached!’ for Bill Draut, as DeZuñiga returns to draw Oleck’s cautionary tale ‘The Hanging Tree!’ before Wein closes the show, paired with Wrightson on ‘Night-Prowler!’: a seasonal instant-classic that has been reprinted many times since.

Albano wrote ‘The Garden of Eden!’, a sinister surgical stunner made utterly believably by Jim Aparo’s polished art, Gray Morrow illustrates Kanigher’s modern psycho-drama ‘Image of Darkness’ and superhero veteran Don Heck returns to his suspenseful roots drawing Virgil North’s monstrously whimsical ‘Nobody Loves a Lizard!’

Wrightson contributes the first of many magnificent covers for #193, depicting the graveyard terrors of Alan Riefe & DeZuñiga’s ‘Voodoo Vengeance!’, whilst Draut skilfully delineates the screaming tension of Francis X. Bushmaster’s ‘Dark Knight, Dark Dreams!’

For #194, which saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages (as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience), the magic commences with another bravura Toth contribution in Oleck’s ‘Born Loser’, swiftly followed by Russ Heath-illustrated monster thriller ‘The Human Wave’ (from House of Secrets #31), Jack Kirby monster-work ‘The Negative Man’ (House of Mystery #84) before Oleck and the simply stunning Nestor Redondo close the issue and this volume with metamorphic horror ‘The King is Dead’.

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and comics critics alike when they first appeared, and it’s no exaggeration to posit that they may well have saved the company during the dire downward sales spiral of the 1970. Now their blend of sinister mirth and classical suspense situations can most usually be seen in such series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators. However, if you crave beautifully realised, tastefully, splatter-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly creepy cartooning, The House of Mystery is the place for you…
© 1968-1971, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Outside Over There

By Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins: many editions such as Puffin or Red Fox are available)
ISBN: 978-0-06025-523-7 (HB) 978-0-09943-292-0 (PB)

If you don’t know the works of Maurice Sendak, you’re denying yourself a profound reading and viewing experience. Born in 1928, and deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust, Maurice Bernard Sendak was a uniquely skewed narrative genius who crafted beguiling, intoxicating wonderments for children of all ages for over half a century.

The son of Polish Jews living in Brooklyn, there are persistent rumours that he toiled briefly in the fresh world of comics before concentrating on children’s book illustration from the 1950s onward, ultimately writing and illustrating the astounding and controversial Where the Wild Things Are in 1963.

An instant critical success, after initial commercial resistance the book has grown into a genuine modern classic.
Between illustrating other authors’ works, he – all too infrequently – continued to produce his own books: 22 in total before his death in 2012. Among his other landmarks are the 1971 In the Night Kitchen, Seven Little Monsters and most especially, the volume under discussion here. Sendak’s concoctions are not what you’d expect of kids’ stories. Perhaps because of his being so-deeply influenced by Mickey Mouse cartoons and the movie Fantasia, they are often powerfully unsettling, even creepy, resonating with a dark psychological disquiet underpinning them.

The art is always beautiful – he was an absolute master of many styles and media – but sometimes it’s not an accessible or readily-comprehensible kind of beauty…

Nine-year old Ida has been told to look after her baby sister but she is recalcitrant and reluctant. When her guard is down, Goblins steal the tot, leaving a baby made of ice in her place. Father is still at sea and her mother in a daydream in the garden: thus, Ida must pursue the Goblins to rescue the baby herself…

Frequently cited as the source for the film Labyrinth (although I’d imagine author A.C.H. Smith takes umbrage at that), there are indeed many superficial similarities, but Sendak’s tale is subtle and truly mesmerising, with no maudlin sentiment to temper events, and with level upon level of meaning in these watercolours that just can’t be equalled in a budget-conscious, collaborative production like movie-making.

This is as close to pure, raw poetry that graphic narrative ever comes and I’m sure many college dissertations could be written on the symbolism on every page, in every well-chosen word and fragment of lush picture. The author is reputed to have systematically reduced over 100 draft scripts to the telling 360 words rendered here by calligrapher Jeanyee Wong, and the minutiae of detail in each illustration is as information-heavy as any Bosch or Bruegel canvas.

Referents have been identified for everything from Mozart’s Magic Flute to the works of the Pre-Raphaelites (both art and poetry) and to Sendak’s own sister who had to babysit him when he was an infant.

This is a small book packed and layered with meaning. Every detail of each sumptuous, magnificent painting has deep meaning for the knowing and the curious. There is sheer artistic loveliness for those yet too young to find symbolism. It’s also a powerfully moving experience and a tale so very well told. An undeniable “must-see” for every devotee of graphic narrative, but sadly only in print form, as I can’t find it offered anywhere in digital formats…
© 1981 Maurice Sendak. All rights reserved.

Hex Vet: Witches in Training

By Sam Davies (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-288-8 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-127-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Animal Magic… 9/10

When your animal companions fall ill, you know they need the help only a qualified veterinarian can offer, right?

However, if said furry, feathered, finny or scaly housemate can turn people to stone, teleport or summon devils and imps, a far more specialised service is required. And staff at such vital animal alms houses need a lot of on-the-job training…

At Willows Whisper Veterinary Practice, Dr. Cornelia Talon (Head Veterinary Witch; high Society of Sorcerers. Hons.) and Nurse Ariel Chantsworth (Registered Veterinary Witch; Head of Administration) employ two promising prospects. Trainees Clarion Wellspring and Annette Artifice have all the dedication they need: now they’re just topping up on knowledge, and experience. And co-operation. They really need to learn to work together…

Clarion is fine cleaning out the kennels, dosing beasts with anti-monstrosity tablets or giving hairy horrors a quick tummy rub, but Nan – who comes from a rather infamous family – is quiet and reserved; avoiding contact and preferring to try to learn some new technique or other from a book.

One morning, with Dr. Talon handling an early surgery, Nurse Ariel gives them their assignments – Wellspring to extract and cage a feral bugbear that’s messing up the storeroom and surly Artifice to handle Reception duties – before he and Dr. Talon are called away to an emergency. It’s bad enough being left in charge on their own, but Clarion still hasn’t subdued that bugbear and Nan has unwisely admitted a strange rabbit creature (without an owner or talking companion) which is somehow setting off all her warning instincts…

When it breaks free and stirs up all the other patients (griffins, pythons, witches’ cats and beasties even more exotic!) the stressed students have a real crisis on their hands and must work out how to fix things before their teachers get back or any of their charges are harmed…

A celebrated web cartoonist, Sam Davies (Stutterhug) reaches new heights with her fabulous and charmingly inclusive debut graphic novel which will delight youngsters and all us elderly-but-unbroken fantasy lovers out here. A second volume will be with us early next year, so buy and love this before pre-ordering that…

Also included here is bonus feature ‘How to Make a Comic page (from Scribbles to Finished Artwork)’ giving a step-by-step rundown using book pages as examples of the process from Scribbling while Scripting to Sketch to Inks; Flat Colors to Touch Ups & Smaller Color Details to The Final Page with Letters!, so you and yours can have a go, too.

So much to enjoy!
© December 2018. Hex Vet, Inc. ™ & © 2018 Sam Davies. All rights reserved.

Ghosts and Ruins

By Ben Catmull (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-678-2 (HB)

If you know the works of Sidney Sime and Edward Gorey, the horror comics of Bernie Wrightson and Michael Kaluta or simply love to peer through your interlocked fingers at the films of Tim Burton or the creepy backgrounds in Charles Addams creations, you’re clearly an aficionado of silly, spooky business and know mordant fantasy plays best when played for laughs.

With that in mind, you might be interested in this macabrely monochrome coffee-table art book (and also digital formats) from cartoonist Ben Catmull (Monster Parade, Paper Theater) which classily celebrates the stuff of nauseating, stomach-churning terror and sinister, creeping suspense in a series of eerie illustrated plates crafted in scratchboard on Masonite… for extra-spooky darkness!

All that audaciously arcane art is wedded to epigrammatic prose snippets to comprise tantalising skeletons of stories best left untold and consequences safely ajudged as unimaginable…

The engrossing landscape hardback (268 x 222mm) combines gloomy gothic imagery with wry and witty updates on uncanny situations in a procession of locations best left well enough alone, and commences with six views of the dank domicile of diabolical ‘Drowned Shelley’ and a single ghastly glimpse of ‘The Buried House’.

A queasy quartet then divulges the doings of the ‘The Disgusting Garden’, after which one peek at ‘The Secluded House’ leads inexorably to a triptych revealing ‘The Woman Outside the Window’

Four frightful frames of ‘Wandering Smoke’ roam towards ‘The Order of the Shadowy Finger’ – five in full – before giving way to three glimpses of ‘The Lighthouse’; a visit to a domicile all ‘Hair and Earwigs’ and thence to numerous views of the monstrous masterpieces hewn by horrific revenant ‘The Sculptor’

On view is the ‘Labyrinth of Junk’ once concocted by a demonic carpenter, but that is as nothing compared to the sheer terror of ‘The Crawling House’ and the ghastly practises of a ‘Lonely Old Spinster’

Mordantly blending bleak, spectral dread and anxious anticipation with timeless scary scenarios, this terrifying tease is a sheer delight no lover of Dark Art could conceivably resist…
© 2013 Ben Catmull. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics. All rights reserved.

Archie’s Weird Mysteries

By Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-74-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Family Friendly Seasonal Fear Fest… 8/10

MLJ were a publisher who promptly jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. They began their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders in November 1939, starting with Blue Ribbon Comics, and followed up by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. From December 1941 the costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were gradually nudged aside by a far less imposing paragon: an “average teen” enjoying ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

In six pages, eponymously entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story, as did the scenic small-town utopia Riverdale.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman being the first).

By 1946 the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit “Sugar, Sugar” (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since.

Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

At the end of the last century, one of those fads was for savvy band of teens to fight Vampires and Demons in a small town…

It led to Archie’s Weird Mysteries: a French/American animated TV co-production with the regular cast encountering all manner of bizarre phenomena, creatures and situations after Archie starts writing a school newspaper column on mysteries and cryptozoology.

That small screen enterprise led to a comic book iteration mostly created by Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski – backed up by letterer Vickie Williams and colourists Rick Taylor Stephanie Vozzo – with parody and contemporary satire leading the thematic charge …although the company also used the broad church the series presented to reintroduce a number of those early MLJ super-doers; sadly, not included in this all-strange phenomena compilation…

In this splendidly entertaining paperback and digital collection, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into terror territory as Archie’s Weird Mysteries #2 (March 2000) reveals how the gang are targeted by a spooky movie monster in ‘Shriek’.

The deft – and suitably daft in appropriate places – spoof of film franchise Scream is followed here by a delightful and arch tribute to the incomparable Scooby-Doo phenomenon as ‘A Familiar Old Haunt’ (#6 July) sees Archie signing up for “Bo and Gus’s Paranormal Investigation Camp” with Jughead, Betty and Veronica joining him in a borrowed panel van. Even Jughead’s faithful mutt Hot Dog tags along. The freak du jour is a bizarre vegetable horror, but it’s no match for a bunch of pesky kids….

Archie’s Weird Mysteries #10 (July) found a fashion for many beards and chest hair at Riverdale High. However, hirsute attractiveness and rampant testosterone can’t explain why girls and boys are all going follicle crazy until Archie uncovers a ‘Bigfoot on Campus’

At the height of competitive sports season school principal Mr. Weatherbee is kidnapped by aliens who need his (sadly non-existent) baseball expertise to beat a band of bullying space jocks in ‘U.F.O. Uh-oh!’ (#7 August) after which ‘The Scarlet Chronicles’ (AWM #10 July) introduces vampire hunter Scarlet Helsing to readers who might have missed her starring role in the TV show. As seen in the brace of cartoon episodes reprised here, the beautiful young warrior was drawn to Riverdale and allied with the town’s reclusive paranormal expert Dr. Beaumont to battle the assembling forces of darkness…

New ground is broken with issue #12 (April 2001) as ‘The Return of Scarlet’ sees the slayer suborned by a cabal of bloodsuckers and set upon Beaumont and Archie. Naturally, Betty is ready to lead the gang in their counterattack…

Complimenting the chronicles is a lighthearted cartoon ‘Guide to Fighting Vampires’ from issue #15 (September 2001) wherein Scarlet lists a number of methods for defeating the Darkness before this fun-filled fear fest concludes with behind-the-scenes text feature ‘Scarlet’s Guide to Archie’s Weird Mysteries’; interviewing Castiglia and Ruiz on their role in the TV iteration and how the comic book spun out of it.

Co-starring all the crucial supporting characters we know and love, these smartly beguiling skits are a prime example of just why Archie has been unassailable for generations: providing decades of family-friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment – complete with goblins, ghosts and ghouls as required…
© 2011 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Tower in The Sea

By B. Mure (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-36-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mesmerising Mystical Magnum Opus in the Making… 9/10

Most forms of fiction, depend on strong – or at least memorable – characters and plenty of action to capture the attention. You need to be really good and quite brave to try anything outside those often-infantile parameters. B. Mure is that good.

They are a Nottingham based artist and storyteller whose other notable work is the remarkable webcomic Boy Comics. You should check that out too.

In 2018, B. Mure pulled together threads and ideas from years of planning, dreaming and doodling, to begin building an epic fantasy saga. It started with Original Graphic Novel Ismyre, introducing a strange ancient city of song and tired wonders, unsettled by magical eco-terrorists and weaponised flora, where a sculptor’s works inspired and moved the strangest of folk. This magical city was entering a period of “interesting times”…

That was closely followed by sequel Terrible Means, which seemingly had very little to do with the protagonists of the first, but instead took readers back to a time when wizardly green rebels Niklas, Henriett and Emlyn were simply researchers whose studies divined a growing imbalance in the natural ecosystem…

Now the third instalment is here and The Tower in the Sea again slips to a different point in time and tale, providing a fresh approach to what is shaping up to be a vast and expansively multi-layered saga. Moreover, understanding and narrative connection depends as much on scene and place as actors involved: with sea, sky and terrain as expressive as the gloriously bizarre animalistic characters that have most of the speaking parts in the drama…

Ismyre is currently more dictatorship than civil metropolis, and for years gifted children have been spirited away from it by a clique of outlaw magicians. The prizes are taken across ferocious seas to a hidden island and schooled in magical arts – especially divination. Our story begins and ends with little Miriam, brought to the citadel of knowledge by adventurous operative Emlyn…

Welcomed by imposing leader August Humble, Miriam slowly settles in for the long haul, often wondering if she’ll ever see her dashing saviour again…

Her dreams of the general future are far more specific and emphatic on other issues of importance. In fact, the coming years are plagued by increasingly terrifying visions of apocalyptic disaster, and neither scholarly tomes, skilled teachers or devoted classmates can ease the traumas or even clarify the too-vague portents in her head.

Miriam’s course becomes clearer only after she learns why divination is outlawed in Ismyre and how the school of the Tower in the Sea was first established. Sadly, now the tortured girl feels that her intuitions are presaging the imminent and actual End of the World…

Determined to be part of the action, Miriam – with the reluctant aid of classmates Efrim and Cassius – secretly breaks the school’s most inviolable rule: attempting to build a boat to take her back to the mainland where she can hopefully do some good. Typically, before that comes to pass, the totally unexpected happens…

The word “tapestry” is one much overused but it really fits the gradual unpeeling of layers comprising the history of Ismyre: beautiful images coming together, small self-contained stories unfolding depending upon where you start from, yet all part of a greater whole, always promising more and clearer revelations further ahead. You must read all these books but (so far) it really doesn’t matter where you start from. So, it might as well be here, right?

Sadly, this glorious celebration is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped and ready to be properly appreciated by all the tactile senses as well as cerebral ones…

An anthropomorphic, luscious and compellingly realised world of wonder to savour and ponder over is waiting for you…
© B. Mure, 2019. All rights reserved.

Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 3

By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-498-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Immaculate Seasonal Yarn-Spinning… 10/10

Once upon a time the anthological title of short stand-alone stories was a top product of the comicbook profession, delivering as much variety as possible to the reader. At the peak of that period, nobody could touch Steve Ditko for variety of touch and tone, not to say sheer volume…

Ditko was one of our industry’s greatest talents and one of America’s least lauded. His fervent desire to just get on with his job and to tell stories the best way he could – whilst the noblest of aspirations – was, at best, a minor consideration and more usually a stumbling block for the commercial interests which controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of comicbook output today.

Before his time at Marvel, young Ditko perfected his craft, creating short, sharp visually attractive vignettes for a variety of companies, and it’s an undeniable joy today to be able to look at this work from such an innocent time when he was just breaking into the industry: tirelessly honing his craft with genre tales for whichever publisher would have him, utterly free from the interference of intrusive editors.

This superb full-colour series of archival hardback collections (also available as digital editions) reprints those early efforts for Charlton Comics published between June 1957 through July 1958 – with material produced after the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt.

Here are wonderfully baroque and bizarre supernatural or science fiction and fantasy stories – presented in the order he completed and delivered them rather than the more logical, but far-less-revealing, chronological release dates. Moreover, they are all helpfully annotated with a purchase number to indicate approximately when they were actually drawn. Sadly, there’s no indication of how many (if any) were actually written by the moody master, so it’s safest to assume co-creator credits go to the utterly professional Joe Gill…

This third tension-packed presentation reprints another heaping helping of Ditko’s ever-more impressive works: most of it courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics.

And whilst we’re being technically accurate, it’s also important to reiterate that the cited publication dates of these stories have very little to do with when Ditko crafted them: as Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem in buying material it could leave on a shelf for months (sometime years) until the right moment arrived to print. The work is assembled and runs here in the order Ditko submitted it, rather than when it reached the grubby sweaty paws of us readers. It also coincides with a brief period when the company began releasing double-sized giant issues…

Following another historically informative Introduction with passionate advocacy by Editor Blake Bell, concentrating on Ditko’s military service experience and admiration and relationship with artist, educator and major influence Jerry Robinson, the evocatively eccentric excursions open with ‘From All Our Darkrooms…’ as first seen in Out of This World #4 (cover-dated June 1957) wherein photographers worldwide begin seeing otherwise-invisible aliens in the prints…

When a brash and ecologically unsound new owner threatens an ancient stand of trees he falls foul of ‘The Menace of the Maple Leaves’ (Strange Suspense Stories #33, August).

Ditko was astoundingly prolific – as was writer Gill – and increasingly Charlton’s various mystery and sci fi mags offered more than one effort per issue. As well as the cover to Unusual Tales #8 (also August), the tireless creator crafted ‘Will Power’, a classical tale of the power of love and statues coming to life and ‘The Decision’ wherein a wise precaution saves humanity from a robotic rampage after which Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 (July) sees a devious long con wrecked by paranormal intervention in ‘The Forbidden Room’

A dictatorial brute earns a grim comeuppance in ‘The Strange Fate of Captain Fenton’ in Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6 (December), before the cover of This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #12 (July) ushers in a titanic tale of mythological woe and the end of ‘The Last One’, whilst, for one misguided soul in Strange Suspense Stories #35 (December), ‘Free’ is just another cruel word.

The belligerent threat of a ‘Stranger in the House’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, October) is tackled through divine intervention, but far more mundane answers are forthcoming for the devilish spy on the run in ‘All Those Eyes’ in Out of This World #6 (November).

A quartet of later-rendered tales from This Magazine is Haunted v2 #12 come next: beginning with alien inimical invaders dubbed ‘The Faceless Ones’ who pick the wrong human to replace, whereas random, kind fate saves humanity from ‘The Thing on the Beach’. A tragic, lonely ventriloquist is unable to escape ‘His Fate’, and the showbiz theme expands to involve a crooked impresario holding shrunken people captive in ‘The Messages’

Behind the cover of This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #13 (October) a lonely scientist and man’s best friend thwart ‘The Menace of the Invisibles’, before Strange Suspense Stories #34 (November, and with cover included) discloses an ironic fate for a manic Nazi hidden in the sands who can’t escape ‘The Desert Spell’

The cover – and its original art – for Out of This World #5 (September) are accompanied by ‘The Night They Learned the Truth’ – a twisted tale of nervous villagers extending a traditional unwelcome to a strange foreigner after which the cover to Unusual Tales #9 (November) segues into a tale of corrupt businessman getting what he deserves in ‘He’s Coming for Me!’

Two more from Out of This World #5 begin with bizarrely multi-layered tale of retribution ‘I Made a Volcano’, and wrap up with maritime monster mash ‘The Thing from Below’, after whichFather Help Me!’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6, December) adds a technological twist to the ancient dilemma of a good parent afflicted with an evil child…

A last contribution to Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #5, ‘Live for Reunion’ confronts a troubled child with a ghostly dilemma, before ‘Clairvoyance’ (Unusual Tales #9, November 1957) tackles the thorny problem of a super-child who only wants to be ordinary…

Guilt drives an unscrupulous businessman to see ‘The Scar’ everywhere in another mood message from Strange Suspense Stories #34, before more Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6 resume with the hunt for a progress-wrecking guru in ‘Where is Kubar?’ and conclude with the unhappy revelations of a hypnotist who sees too much after saying ‘Look Deep into My Eyes’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest leading characters and the eponymous star of this volume. The title was developed from a radio show that Charlton licensed the rights to, with the host/narrator acting more as voyeur than active participant. “The Mysterious Traveler” broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to us, asking readers for opinion and judgement as he shared a selection of funny, sad, scary and wondrous human-interest yarns, all tinged with a hint of the weird or supernatural.

When rendered by Ditko, whose storytelling mastery, page design and full, lavish brushwork were just beginning to come into its mature full range, the works of Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were always exotic, esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #6 – and following a deftly compartmentalised cover dated December 1957 – comes ‘Tomorrow’s Punishment’, as a gang of crooks use a fortune-telling mirror to carry out their capers, after which a close encounter for a beggar makes him ‘The Man Who Saw Again’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler#8 from July 1958).

‘The Man Who Lost His Face’ is a tight alien invasion fable from Strange Suspense Stories #34 that leads seamlessly into a case of medical time travel salvation on a most fortuitous ‘Night Call’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #6) before Cold War counter espionage makes an accidental hero of ‘The Atomic Clerk’ in Strange Suspense Stories #34.

Another cover and its original art (Out of This World #6, November) leads into a potent tale of unnatural nature in ‘The River’s Wrath’, after which Unusual Tales #9 shares a tale of perceived ‘Escape’ for an unrepentant fugitive, whilst ‘The Night of Red Snow’ shows an insular town the power of unfettered art and imagination…

‘Plague’ also comes from Out of This World #6, revealing how a bitter scientist almost destroys the world, before the cover to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #5 (November 1958) precedes a triptych of thrillers beginning with ‘The Sultan’ whose thirst for oil leads to inescapable doom, carries on with the shocking vision an arrogant climber sees ‘Above the Topmost Peak’, and ends with a deadly case of mistaken identity for deep seas divers in ‘The Man Below’

From Strange Suspense Stories #34 (March 1958) comes a painful homily of trust despoiled when an elderly salesman honestly earns a miracle, only to realise he can’t rely upon his nearest and dearest, before this timeless celebration concludes with a selection from This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #13 (October, 1957).

A craven white hunter steals an idol but cannot escape ‘The Drums’, even as a bum becomes ‘The Man Who Changed Bodies’, but can’t avoid the pitfalls of his own nature before a driven victim futilely hunts for a hated transgressor in ‘He Shall Have Vengeance’

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, plots and stripped-down dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly and badly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories also display sharp wit and honest human aspiration and integrity, making ithis another superb collection in its own right as well as a telling tribute to the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is something every serious comics fan would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
Mysterious Traveler: The Steve Ditko Archives Vol. 3. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics. Introduction © 2012 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Melusine volume 1: Hocus Pocus & volume 2: Halloween

By Clarke (Frédéric Seron) & Gilson, coloured by Cerise and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-20-5 (PB Album Hocus Pocus) 978-1-905460-34-2 (PB Album Halloween)

Teen witches have a long and distinguished pedigree in fiction and one of the most engaging of all first appeared in venerable Belgian magazine Le Journal de Spirou in 1992. Mélusine is actually a sprightly 119 years old and spends her days working as an au pair in a vast monster-packed chateau whilst studying to perfect her craft at Witches’ School…

The feature ranges from one-page gag strips on supernatural themes to short tales detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and her large circle of peculiar family and friends.

Collected editions began appearing in 1995, with the 26thEn rose et noir – published in 2018. Five of those have thus far made it into English translations thanks to the fine folk at Cinebook.

The name derives from European folklore: in olden days Melusine or Melusina was term for a flighty female spirit or elemental inhabiting a sacred spring or well…

The strip was devised by writer François Gilson (Rebecca, Cactus Club, Garage Isidore) and top flight cartoon humourist Frédéric Seron – AKA Clarke – whose numerous features for all-ages Spirou and acerbic adult humour publication Fluide Glacial include RebeccaLes Cambrioleurs, Durant les Travaux, l’Exposition Continue… and Le Miracle de la Vie.

Under the pseudonym Valda, Seron also created Les Babysitters and, as Bluttwurst, Les Enquêtes de l’Inspecteur Archibaldo Massicotti, Château Montrachet, Mister President and P.38 et Bas Nylo.

A former fashion illustrator and nephew of comics veteran Pierre Seron, Clarke is one of those insufferable guys who just draws non-stop and is sublimely funny. He also doubles up as a creator of historical and genre pieces such as Cosa Nostra, Les Histoires de France, Luna Almaden and Nocturnes and apparently is free from the curse of having to sleep…

Hocus Pocus was the 7th Mélusine album, originally released in 2000, and offers a fine place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content is 1- or 2-page gags which – like a young, hot Broom Hilda – make play with fairy tale and horror film conventions and themes.

When brittle, moody Melusine isn’t being bullied for her inept cleaning skills by the matriarchal ghost-duchess who runs the castle, or ducking cat-eating monster Winston and frisky vampire The Count, she’s avoiding the attentions of horny peasants, practising her spells or consoling dreadfully unskilled classmate Cancrelune. Her boyfriend is a werewolf, so she only sees him a couple of nights a month…

Her days of toil are occasionally spiced up with and put in perspective by sports days such as blindfolded broom-flying contests and there’s always dowager Aunt Adrezelle who is eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries…

After a splendid succession of quick-fire japes and jests, things take on a touch of continuity here and even tension when scandalous cousin Melisande pops in for an extended visit.

Spurning the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan, Melisande becomes a Fairy Godmother: all sparkles, fairy-cakes, pink bunnies and love. She’s simplicity, sweetness and light itself in every aspect, so what’s not to loathe…?

No sooner does the twinkling twit start to grow on everybody, however, than she falls victim to one of The Count’s periodic bite-fests and slowly metamorphoses into a true witches’ witch: skin-tight black leather, batwings and always ready for wicked transformations and sorcery duels at the drop of a pointed hat…

The situation comes to a head and the cauldron boils over in eponymous extra-long episode ‘Hocus Pocus’ wherein Melusine and Melisande finally face off to decide which witch is worst…

Clever, wry, sly, fast-paced and uproariously funny – whether physically printed on traditional paper or in digital incarnations – this compendium of arcane antics is a great taste of the magic of European comics and a beguiling delight for all lovers of the cartoonist’s art…

The second English-language collection happily offers more of the same. Mélusine is still a sprightly 119-year old, spending the days au pairing in a vast monster-packed, ghost-afflicted chateau whilst diligently studying to perfect her hereditary craft at Witches’ School…

The long-lived feature and attendant books have become an annual event, with a new collection every year: always offering everything from single page gag strips to full-length comedy tales on supernatural themes detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and a large circle of exceedingly peculiar family and friends.

Halloween was the 8th European Mélusine album, originally released in 2001: gathering a wealth of superb seasonally sensitive strips, and another great place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content comprises short gags starring the sassy sorceress.

Daunting dowager Aunt Adrezelle is always eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries but so, unfortunately, is family embarrassment cousin Melisande who still spurns the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan to work in Fairy Godmothering field. She’s all insufferable sparkles, bunnies, love, it’s so hard not to loathe such a delirious confection of simplicity, sweetness and light itself…

This turbulent tome riffs mercilessly on the established motifs and customs of Halloween. Here, kids fill up to lethal levels on sweets and candies, monsters strive to look their worst, teachers try to keep the witches-in-training glued to their books and grimoires. Their over-excitable students rashly experiment on what to do with pumpkins – including how to grow, breed or conjure the biggest ones – all whilst the fearfully pious local priest and his flock endeavour to ruin all the magical fun…

Even ghastly Melisande gets in on the party atmosphere – in her own too nice-to-be-true manner – illuminating the happy shadows with too much sunshine and saccharine before the collection ends with extended, eponymous ‘Halloween’ wherein Melusine and Cancrelune learn the true meaning of the portentous anniversary after they inadvertently join the creaky, clacking cadavers of the Risen Dead as they evacuate their graves on the special night to fight and drive away for another year the Evil Spirits which haunt humanity…

Read before bedtime on paper or screen – and don’t eat any hairy sweets…
Original edition © Dupuis, 2000 by Clarke & Gilson. All rights reserved. English translation 2007 © Cinebook Ltd.

Where’s My Cow?

By Terry Pratchett, illustrated by Melvyn Grant (Doubleday)
ISBN: 978-0-38560-937-1

Here’s a charming little thing. Not strictly a comic strip or a graphic novel, but rather a beautifully illustrated picture book. Originally a plot device from Thud!, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld prose fantasy novels, until some bright spark wisely decided to manufacture the thing for real. They also pulled the same trick for The World of Poo, as seen in Snuff

What’s it all about?: Watch Commander Sam Vimes is the best copper in Anhk Morpork (the most unpleasant city in all fact and fiction), and his day job ranges from colourful to sheer hell. What makes worth living for him is to get home, kick off his boots and breastplate, and read his baby boy their favourite bedtime story – and do all the noises too.

And so can you if you get this wonderful book (sadly only available in hardback, not digital editions) which manages to be both an engaging, clever side-bar to the novels and also a superbly illustrated easy reader for the very young.

If you’re a fan of the Discworld you’ll want this, if you’re not, buy the novels and become one, and if you have small kids get them one of the prettiest picture books on the market. It’s the first sure step to getting them hooked on pictorial wonderment, and a darn fine thing besides.

Text © 2005 Terry Pratchett & Lyn Pratchett. All Rights Reserved.
Illustrations © 2005 Melvyn Grant. All Rights Reserved.W

Thorgal volume 0: The Betrayed Sorceress & Almost Paradise

By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Europe Comics/Cinebook)
No ISBN (Europe Comics digital-only edition)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-443-4 (Cinebook PB Album)

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series of all time, Thorgal accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Le Journal de Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series, and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, dire magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013 when Xavier Dorison wrote one before Yann became chief scribe. In 2019, he and Rosiński released the 37th epic-album L’Emite de Skellingar.

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan, but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) all clustered under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985, US publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover translations, but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original Belgian series meandered back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s translated run began with the 7th and 8th albums combined in a double-length premiere edition. By that time the saga of wandering enigma Thorgal Aegirsson had properly gelled, but there were a few books before then, with the hero still finding his literary and graphic feet…

What you’ll learn from later volumes: Thorgal was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious usurper Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne.

For his entire childhood Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety… or so they thought…

Here, however, in these harder-hitting, initial escapades from 1980, the largely unexplained and formulaic Viking warrior is simply a hero in search of a cause. La Magicienne Trahie becomes eponymous debut book The Betrayed Sorceress, opening with a full-grown Thorgal tortured and left to die of exposure and drowning by arch enemy Gandalf.

He is fortuitously rescued by a red-haired woman who demands he work in her service for a year…

Accompanied by a loyal wild wolf, formidable mystic matron Slive is consumed with a hunger for vengeance and orders her reluctant vassal to undertake an arduous quest and great battles to retrieve a hidden casket and its mystical contents. Only after succeeding, does the warrior discover that the target of her ire is Gandalf…

The complex scheme almost succeeds but the witch’s plans eventually lead to bloodshed, calamity, an unsuspected connection to the hero’s beloved Aaricia and the exposure of long-hidden secrets.

As the final clash climaxes, Gandalf is near death and the lovers witness the sorceress’ last voyage into the coldest regions on Earth in a dragonship made of ice…

Follow-up exploit ‘Almost Paradise’ continues the saga and completes the first volume with Thorgal living again amongst Gandalf’s band, but only on sufferance and in constant daily hardship.

Here, a lone ride through winter snows leads to his being hunted by ravening wolves before plummeting into a fantastic time-lost and timeless enclave at the bottom of an icy crevasse. In that tropical Eden he finds a trio of mysterious maidens. Two vie for his attention and argue the seductive benefits of eternal life in a vast garden free of want and danger, but youngest girl Skadia secretly craves the freedom of the outside world and is willing to lead the homesick warrior into horrendous peril to achieve her ends. Desperate to return to his true love, Thorgal escapes with the third immortal, suffering a nightmare journey back to the real world, but not without paying a painful price…

Second collected album L’lle des Mers gelées is also included here as The Island of the Frozen Seas, and begins in spring as Aaricia readies herself to wed Thorgal and leave Gandalf’s lands forever. Those dreams are suddenly shattered when a brace of giant eagles fly down and snatch her away. Soon the entire band of warriors are pursuing in their Drakkars (dragonships), heading ever northwards…

The chase leads to fractious moments aboard ship and imminent mutiny is only forestalled when the Vikings encounter a fantastic vessel that moves without oars or sails. Despite valiant resistance, the barbarians are soon all captives beside Aaricia. All, that is, save for Thorgal and future brother-in-law Bjorn Gandalfson who escaped capture by taking to a lifeboat…

At the top of the world, they meet strange tribes-folk perfectly adapted to arctic existence and Thorgal continues his hunt for his intended bride, meeting and defeating her abductor, discovering an incredible secret citadel and uncovering an incredible story about his long-occluded origins before he can bring his beloved back home to her people…

Although lacking the humour of later tales these works in progress are fierce, inventive and phenomenally gripping: cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive episodes gradually building towards a fully-realised universe of wonder and imagination whilst offering insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly unwilling hero.

Thorgal is every action fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?

This Europe Comics volume is a digital-only edition from the pan-continental collective imprint which collaborates to bring a wealth of fresh and classic material to English speaking fans. Many of their selections are picked up by established print publishers such as Top Shelf or Cinebook. In fact, this volume will be added to Cinebook’s stable of titles at the end of the year, under special enumeration as Thorgal volume 00: The Betrayed Sorceress, so if you’re already a fan you can wait until then to add the book to your collection. If you can’t wait, though, the past awaits you, only a few keystrokes away…

© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 1980 Rosiński & Van Hamme. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.
Thorgal volume 00: The Betrayed Sorceress is scheduled for a November 2019 release by Cinebook.