Jim – Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal


By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-752-9 (HB)

There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply defy categorisation or even description. There’s a pantheon of artisans: Kirby, Ditko, Hergé, Eisner, Clowes, Meskin, Millionaire and a few others who bring something utterly personal and universally effective to their work just beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate, encapsulate or convey. They are perfect in their own way and so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

You just have to read the stuff yourself.

Arguably at the top of that distinguished heap of graphic glitterati is Jim Woodring. It’s a position he has maintained for years and clearly appears capable of holding for generations to come.

Woodring’s work has always been challenging, funny, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, beautiful and extremely scary. Moreover, even after reading that sentence you will still be absolutely unprepared for what awaits the first time you encounter any of his books – and even more so if you’ve already seen everything he’s created.

Cartoonist, animator, fine artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance man, Woodring’s eccentric output has delighted far too small and select an audience since his first mini-comics forays in 1980.

The reader may have avidly adored his groundbreaking, oneirically autobiographical Fantagraphics magazine Jim (1986 and cherry-picked for this collection) or its notional spin-off series Frank (of which Weathercraft won The Stranger 2010 Genius Award for Literature whilst 2018’s Poochytown marked Woodring’s last Frank foray to date). Perhaps it was Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things or more mainstream features like his Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse Comics that hit home but, always, there is never anything but surprise waiting when his next story appears…

An accomplished storytelling technician these days, Woodring grows rather than constructs solidly surreal, abstractly authentic, wildly rational, primal cartoon universes, wherein his meticulous, clean-lined, sturdily ethereal, mannered blend of woodblock prints, R. Crumb landscapes, expressionist Dreamscapes, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria all live and play …and often eat each other.

His stories follow a logical, progressional narrative – often a surging, non-stop chase from one insane invention to the next – layered with multiple levels of meaning yet totally devoid of speech or words, boldly assuming the intense involvement of the reader will participate and complete the creative circuit.

Such was not always the case and this superbly sumptuous oversized (292 x 228mm) hardcover compilation (also available digitally) gathers earlier formative and breakthrough efforts in colour and monochrome: offering the very best of his strips, paintings, poems and stories from JIM and other (sadly unnamed) sources between 1980 and 1996.

This compulsive collection also includes a new 24-page strip starring the artist’s hulking, bewhiskered, aggressively paranoid, dream-plagued family man/cartoonist alter ego, cementing his reputation as a master of subconscious exploration, surreal self-expression and slyly ironic comedic excoriation – and it’s still almost impossible to describe.

You really, really, really have to dive in and discover for yourself…

Packed with hallucinatory spot-images and JIM cover illustrations, the furtive fruits of Woodring’s ever-present dream-recording “autojournal” are prefaced by a beguiling and informative ‘Author’s Note’ before the wonderment begins with ‘Jim #1 in its entirety’: the complete contents of his very first self-published fanzine from 1980.

A master of silent expressive cartooning, Woodring’s playfully inventively fascination with and love of words and tale-making shines through in such laboriously hand-lettered, illustrated epigrammatic vignettes as ‘Lozenge’ and ‘Jim Today’, as well as witty iconographic concoctions like ‘Tales of Bears’ and ‘Troutcapper Hats’ before the premier strip saga details a doomed fishing trip in ‘Seafood Platter from Hell’, and a moment of early silent psychedelia reveals how ‘Two Children Inadvertently Kill an Agent of the Devil Through an Excess of Youthful High Spirits’

Another personal true story and painful brush with disability and imperfection is disclosed in ‘Invisible Hinge’ whilst ‘The Hour of the Kitten’ returns to distressed, disturbed prose before the first of many outrageous faux-ads offers indispensable conscience-pets ‘Niffers’, preceding another text-trek in ‘A Walk in the Foothills’.

Cats play a large part in these early strips and ‘Big Red’ is probably the cutest bloody-clawed, conscienceless killer you’ll ever meet whilst ‘Enough is Enough’ offers graphic pause before an ad for the home ‘Dreamcorder’ segues into a disturbing poster of rural excess in ‘A Lousy Show’.

‘Particular Mind’ provides a strip encapsulating relationships, hallucinations and life-drawing, after which the tempting services provided by ‘Jim’s Discipline Camp’ are counterbalanced by a paean to pharmacopoeia in ‘Good Medicine’.

More savage exploits of ‘Big Red’ lead to a commercial presentation in ‘This is the Meat (…That Changed Me, Dad!)’, whilst ‘Horse Sinister’ describes – in prose and pictures – another disturbing dream dilemma and ‘At the Old Estate’introduces a sophisticated loving couple whose wilderness paradise is forever altered by an unwelcome visitor’s incredible revelation. Thereafter, a worried young child describes how life changed after he found his parents’ ‘Dinosaur Cage’

The truly eccentric tale of ‘Li’l Rat’ (from a 1965 story by John Dorman) is followed by a visual feast of images from ‘Jim Book of the Dead’ and a surreal flyer for ‘Rolling Cabine’, after which ‘What the Left Hand Did’ captures in strip form the horrors of mutilation and malformation. The macabre tone-painting ‘Almost Home’ then leads to an epic strip of father and son fun beginning with ‘Let’s Play!’

Jim’s jaunt soon transports him to ‘Powerland’ where dad meets himself, whilst ‘Nidrian Gardner’ revisits a couple of suave swells whilst ‘Looty’ offers consumers a toy they just shouldn’t own…

‘The Hindu Marriage Game’ leads our unhappy bearded fool to a place where his lack of judgement can truly embarrass him, whilst ‘Quarry Story’ explores a debilitating recurring dream about the nature of artistic endeavour and ‘This House’explains how you can live life without ever going outside again – and how’s that for prophetic and timely?

The first inklings of the mature creator emerge in absurdist romp ‘The Birthday Party’ after which prose shaggy-dog story ‘The Reform of the Apple’ leads to a dark, distressing cartoon confrontation with doom on ‘The Stairs’, before largely monochrome meanderings give way to stunning full-colour surreal reveries in ‘Screechy Peachy’.

The radiant hues remain for galvanic image ‘Vher Umst Pknipfer?’ and pantomimic rollercoaster romp ‘Trosper’ after which bold black & white introspection resumes with a naked lady and a garrulous frog in ‘Dive Deep’.

A ghostly Hispanic condition of drunkenness haunts cruelly playful kids in ‘Pulque’ whilst little Max asks dad a leading question in ‘Echo’ and radio rebels Chip and Monk meet some girls and risk the wrath of civic authority with illegal broadcasting in ‘A Hometown Tale’, before an ideal wife has a bad-tempered off-day in ‘Obviously Not’.

As the years passed, many of Woodring’s later spiritual and graphic signature creatures slowly begun to appear in his strips. Old met new in ‘His Father Was a Great Machine’ wherein strident Jim has an encounter with a phantasmagorical thing, after which little Susan and a determined slug shaped up for an inevitable collision in the prose fable ‘When the Lobster Whistles on the Hill’.

Sheer whimsy informs ‘Cheap Work/Our Hero is a Bastard’ and the bizarre offerings of ‘Jimland Novelties’, whilst ‘The Smudge-Pot’ shows what all magazine letters pages should be like. ‘Pulque’ – in full colour strip mode – returns with a message for the dying before ‘Boyfriend of the Weather’ wraps up the surreal voyaging with a homey homily, and reproductions of Jim #1, volume 2 back cover and Jim #2, volume 2 cover bring this festival of freakish fun to the finale with style, aplomb and oodles of frosting…

Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – otherwise why would I need to plug his work so earnestly – and, as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump long after the book has been put away, but the artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself.

He makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more, and these early offerings provide the perfect starter course for a full-bodied feast of fantasy…

Are you feeling peckish yet…?
© 2014 Jim Woodring. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 6: The Amulet of the Great Pyramid


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by B. Swysen: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-240-9 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the astoundingly addictive magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. Launched in 1974 on the pages of legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, it has run to 35 albums and spawned a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and video games.

Born in 1932, the author studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. In 1961 he made the jump to sequential narrative, first via ‘mini-récits’ (half-sized, fold-in booklet inserts) for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs), took over long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’ and launched mermaid fantasy ‘Tôôôt et Puit’ when Pony was promoted to Spirou’s full-sized pages. Deep-sixing the Smurfs, de Gieter expanded his horizons by joining a select band contributing material to both Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he worked with cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo whilst perfecting his dream project: a historical fantasy which would soon occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for decades to come.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated breaking historical theories and discoveries into the beguiling yarns.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who rises against all odds to become an infallible hero and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster, the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword, courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek, before winning similar boons and blessings from many of the Twin Land’s potent pantheon.

The youthful champion’s first accomplishment was freeing supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but it was as nothing compared to current duty: safeguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely thrill-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Amulet of the Great Pyramid was 6th-&-last-to-date Cinebook translation (the 21st album of the series, originally released in 1998 as Le Talisman de la grande pyramide). It’s an enthralling rollercoaster romp through living mythology and a spooky trial for the plucky chosen one which begins when Papyrus is dragged from the palace – and a rare reward from Theti-Cheri for saving her life and soul again – by spookily intelligent donkey Khamelot.

The savvy beast of burden belongs to court jester Puin and whenever it comes running in such a manner, it means the funny little man has found more trouble…

An eventful trip to the Giza plateau with its royal necropolis and great pyramids of Kheops, Khefren and Mykerinusresults in the daring lad finding not only his diminutive friend but also a desiccated yet extremely active mummy unearthed by tomb-robbers.

Puin has been hearing ghastly screams emanating from the tombs and convinces the boy-hero to stay and listen for them too. He never anticipated his bold friend to look for what made them…

The sinister sounds lead deep into the nobles’ grave fields, but as they proceed, the searchers stumble upon another acquaintance. The unconscious man is one of the three Pepi brothers charged with keeping the recently-restored Sphinx free of desert sands. Leaving the comatose victim in Puin’s care, Papyrus presses on. Before very long though, the eerie events prove too much and the panicked Professional Fool bolts. His pell-mell rush carries him down a passage far under the Kheops pyramid where he is confronted with the spirit of Seneb the Dwarf, magician and priest of that august and long-deceased pharaoh…

The garrulous ghost is in need of a favour and urges his terrified “guest” to carry his jewelled heart scarab to Papyrus who will know what to do with it…

Scrabbling out of the ancient passageway, Puin is eventually rescued by his donkey and impetuous Theti-Cheri – who again refused to be left out of any action and secretly followed her bodyguard into peril.

Papyrus, meanwhile, plunges deeper into the necropolis and is attacked by a pack of spectral jackals. Even his magic sword is no help and the malign mobbing only ends when Anubis himself calls a halt to it. The God of the Dead is angered by the sudden increase in grave-robbing and has abducted two of the caretaking Pepi brothers, thinking them desecrators.

Unfortunately, rather than admit a mistake, the jackal-headed judge demands Papyrus retrieve Kheops’ heart amulet in return for their liberty. Anubis needs it to weigh the king’s soul before he can remove all the wandering spirits of the region to a place where the living can no longer disturb them…

And thus ensues an astonishing race against time as the young champion has to scour the Great Pyramid from top to bottom (magnificently detailed and scrupulously explained in some of the best action illustration the author has ever produced); defeating deadly traps, defying spectral sabotage and godly interventions and solving the riddles of the dead to accomplish his mission.

However, even after more than satisfying the demands of Anubis, there’s still the murderously mundane menace of the real grave-robbers holding Theti-Cheri hostage to deal with before the canny champion can rest easy…

Epic, chilling, funny, fast-paced and utterly engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and enthral lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, confirming Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of Euro Stars who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm.

Any avid reader who has worn out those Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add such classic chronicles to their bookshelves, and actively agitate the publishers to get on with releasing the rest of these too-long buried treasures.
© Dupuis, 1998 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd.

The Black Project


By Gareth Brookes (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-908434-20-3 (PB)

As I eagerly await Gareth Brookes’ imminent latest release, let’s look at his first award-winning work: one that set the scene not just for his trademark versatility of style and artistic weapons of choice, but also the uniquely skewed mindset that finds the extraordinary in everyday life and those weird things called people…

Brookes is a capital-A artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who learned his craft(s) at the Royal College of Art and who has subsequently appeared in ArtReview; Kus; The British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition and numerous classrooms and lecture theatres as inspirational teacher.

He began literally crafting comics in 2015 with an astounding, disturbing and hilarious epic entitled The Black Project. In essence it’s a paean to uncomfortable, outsider British youth: the ones shunned and ignored by those who overachieve in class, look like gods on the sports field and have great hair and no trouble talking to girls or the right boys. If you’re old enough, try humming “David Watts” (either The Kinks or The Jam versions) while reading this and you won’t go far wrong…

It’s the 1990’s and schoolboy Richard is at that difficult age. Status, social pressure, shifting relationships are all acting on a bizarrely changing body, but at least he’s not overly worried about proving his burgeoning manhood. According to him, getting a prestige-enhancing girlfriend is simple. All you need is time, peace and quiet and the right components…

Sadly, once Richard has completed his amatory endeavours, there’s the small matter of keeping her secret from his few – rather unpleasant – friends, assorted adults in his family circle, teachers and overly-fussing mother. He may not be able to express why, but the clever lad instinctively knows nobody will understand what he’s done, or why…

Inevitably, disaster strikes and “Laura” is lost to him, but Richard is not daunted. He simply adjusts, regroups and starts the laborious creative process again. And again and…

Darkly hilarious and outrageously clever, powerfully mired in the minutiae of English suburban nostalgia and peppered with twisty subplots and red herrings, The Black Project is rendered with mastery in stark monochrome imagery, generated by deftly-chiselled lino cuts and pieces of painstakingly-sewn embroidery. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and equally unique in terms of narrative.

Supplemented by a revelatory Q&A Afterword delving deep into the methodology and inspiration for the book, this is a graphic triumph no fan of the medium or lover of dark fiction should be without.
© Gareth Brookes 2013. All rights reserved.

Princess Knight volume 1


By Osamu Tezuka, translated by Maya Rosewood (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-935654-25-4 (PB)

Osamu Tezuka revolutionised the Japanese comics industry during the 1950s and 1960s. A devoted fan of the films of Walt Disney, he performed similar sterling service in the country’s fledgling animation industry.

Many of his earliest works were aimed at children, but right from the start his expansive fairy tale stylisations – so perfectly seen in this splendid romp – harboured more mature themes and held hidden treasures for older readers…

Ribon no Kishi or “Knight of the Ribbon” is a series which Tezuka returned to repeatedly during his life and one continued in the 21st century by his disciples. The simple tale has been turned into TV anime seen all over the world (generally known as some variation of “Choppy and the Princess”) and in 2006 became a stage musical.

The serial originated in Kodansha’s Shoujo Korabu (Shōjo Club), running from January 1954 to January 1956, with a generational sequel appearing in Nakayoshi magazine from January 1958 to June 1959. The original tale was updated and revised in 1963-1966, forming the basis of the version in this magnificent tome, translated from the Tezuka Osamu Manga Zenshu Edition 1977.

In 1967-1968, to tie-in with a television adaptation, Tezuka reconfigured the tale with science fiction overtones. Limned by Kitano Hideaki, it ran for a year in Shōjo Friend.

The series is a perennial favourite and classic of the medium and this volume is part of a 2-volume softcover (or digital) English-language edition, containing the first 16 episodes in vibrant monochrome.

‘Once Upon a Time’ opens in Heaven where junior angels are busy with soon-to-be-born souls, installing either blue boy hearts or pink girl hearts to the ante-natal cherubs in their care. Unfortunately, easily distractible Tink (AKA “Choppy” in many foreign iterations) cocks up and one proto-baby gets both…

Tink is dispatched to Earth to retrieve the superfluous metaphysical organ and lands in the feudal kingdom of Silverland, where a most important child is about to be born. The King and Queen desperately desire their imminent first-born be a boy, for no female can rule the country. Should the child be a princess, then vile Duke Duralumin’s idiot and nastily maladjusted boy Plastic will become heir-apparent.

Thus, due to a concatenation of circumstances, a baby girl with a dual nature spends her formative years pretending to be a prince…

Fifteen years pass before ‘Flowers and Parades’ resumes the saga. Tink has been lax in his mission and Prince Sapphirehas become the darling boy of the kingdom. Duralumin and crafty henchman Sir Nylon have spent the intervening years certain the gallant boy is actually a useless girl, but have been unable to prove it. In that time, Sapphire has grown into a dutiful, beautiful – if androgynous – specimen skilled in riding, sports and all arts martial, but passionately yearns to openly wear the dresses and make-up which are her family’s most intimate secret. When Tink finally reveals himself and exposes the heir’s hidden nature, Nylon overhears…

‘The Carnival’ sees gorgeous Prince Franz Charming pay a royal visit from neighbouring Goldland. Sapphire, aided by her mother and nurse, dons a blonde wig and party frock to clandestinely give vent to her true nature, turning all heads and captivating her regal guest. When she returns to her public identity, all Franz can talk about is the mysterious girl with flaxen hair, blind to the fact that she is sitting beside him…

In ‘The Tournament’, the evil Duke turns a fencing exhibition to his advantage, killing the King and framing Franz for the deed, after which the ‘Prisoner Prince’ is helped to escape by his Flaxen maid. Heir Sapphire accedes to the throne in ‘Coronation’, only to have it all snatched away as the Duke’s latest scheme succeeds beyond all his wildest dreams. Sapphire is publicly exposed as a girl, and her recently widowed mother is accused of betraying the nation by concealing the fact…

Reviled and shunned, mother and daughter are imprisoned with ghastly hunchback jailer Gammer in ‘Sapphire in Coffin Tower’, wherein the distraught girl befriends the vermin of the Keep just as Gammer gets his orders to dispose of his charges. Meanwhile, Tink has been searching high and low for Sapphire…

Narrowly escaping being murdered, the princess becomes a masculine masked avenger of wrongs in ‘Phantom Knight’s Debut’, punishing the wicked men who have ruined her nation since Plastic was enthroned by Duralumin.

In the Palace, the villains look for ways to control the increasingly off-kilter Plastic in ‘The Idiot King’s Bride’. Little do they know that Briar Rose, the fetching companion they’ve acquired, is Sapphire, on an infiltration mission…

When she is inevitably caught, Sapphire’s life takes an even more dramatic turn in ‘Devil’s Whisper’ when terrifying witch Madame Hell materialises, offering her untold wealth and power if she will sell her female heart and nature. Luckily Tink’s angelic power drives the horror off, but is unable to prevent the princess being sentenced to a life of penal servitude in ‘Two by the Quarry’.

Here she again meets Franz, who has long believed Sapphire responsible for his frame-up and imprisonment in Silverland’s dungeons. Nevertheless, the Prince helps Sapphire escape, almost dying in the effort. Soon after the girl is transported to ‘The Witch’s Lair’ and meets Hell’s daughter Hecate, who violently opposes her mother’s scheme to marry her off to Franz. That young worthy, however, has meanwhile recovered from his wounds and is still searching for the flaxen-haired girl, oblivious to her true identity and nature…

Hecate does not want Sapphire’s girlish heart and frees the Princess Knight by turning her into a ‘Grieving Swan’ who is captured by Franz and added to the Royal Flock. The Prince too is being pressured to marry and beget an heir, so when Madame Hell arrives with a huge bribe and a now compliant Hecate the boy’s uncle is keen to cement the nuptial alliance until the ensorcelled swan Sapphire exposes their true natures with Tink’s angelic assistance…

Just as Franz begins to finally notice the similarity of his flaxen dream girl to the freshly restored Sapphire in ‘Two Hearts’ she and Tink are fleeing – right into the clutches of Nylon who is keen to wipe out any loose ends. At the worst possible moment, the angel completes his long mission and reclaims the boy-heart, leaving her helpless, but cannot betray his friend and returns it, consequently losing his place in Heaven…

Together again the pair attempt to rescue Sapphire’s mother from Coffin Tower but are too late. The Queen and Gammer have been taken to Sea Snake Island where vengeful Madame Hell’s dark magic has transformed her into a petrified ‘Stone Queen’.

The drama pauses with Sapphire and Tink adrift on the ocean and encountering brilliant, dashing, gloriously charismatic ‘Captain Blood, Pirate’ who instantly penetrates the princess’ manly disguise, seeing a woman he must marry at all costs…

Princess Knight is a spectacular, riotous, rollicking adventuresome fairy tale about desire, destiny and determination which practically invented the Shoujo (“Little Female” or young girl’s manga) genre in Japan and can still deliver a powerful punch and wide-eyed wonder on a variety of intellectual levels. Still one of the best and most challenging kid’s comics tales ever, it’s a work that all fans and – especially parents – should know.

© 2011 by Tezuka Productions. Translation © 2011 by Mari Morimoto and Vertical, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Thousand Coloured Castles


By Gareth Brookes (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-0-993563-30-0 (HB)

The world is filled with amazing women passing largely unnoticed by the loud, shouty males with their hands on the tillers of history and the media, but seldom the kettle or shopping bags. This amazing tale is broadly based on one of them…

It comes to us from an equally intriguing source. Gareth Brookes is a capital-A Artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who began literally crafting comics in 2015 with his astounding and disturbing epic (and forthcoming review) The Black Project.

With A Thousand Coloured Castles, RCA graduate Brookes sealed a growing reputation for challenging and rewarding graphic narratives of the artisanal kind. Brookes is a deep and slyly humorous thinker with his roots in the Littlest of Englands and a skewed eye to storytelling. This captivating hardback tome was created solely from dark wit and wax crayons, resulting in a truly tactile and absurdly otherworldly viewing experience…

Myriam is in her declining years: married to a set-in-his-ways old know-it-all curmudgeon, as seen in most traditionally happy families and captured on paper by Raymond Briggs and TV sitcoms by Richard Wilson.

Fred spends most of his time complaining about everything, which is why it takes a very long time for him to notice that Myriam’s eyesight is fading. It takes even longer for him to grasp that she’s increasingly subject to wild, abstract and utterly convincing hallucinations: vivid visions and shapes that baffle and bewilder even as they light up her drab, interminable existence.

Of more concern to Fred is the wife’s increasing fascination with the overgrown, unkempt back garden next door. He’s happy to moan about it in private but doesn’t want to engage in potential suburban hostilities with the woman living there.

Myriam, however, keeps seeing a strange bedraggled little boy trapped there, even though everybody knows that’s not possible. All except her toddler grandson Jack, who’s always happy to see things her way…

And thus unfolds a multi-layered observation of social norms and aberrant behaviours, supposition and expectation, declining faculties and domestic evil that is truly magical to behold and impossible to predict.

Despite her condition, Myriam proves that she knows what’s what and what’s right as events spiral to an inevitable conclusion and answers are shockingly forthcoming…

Gentle, genteel and utterly beguiling, this is a masterpiece of British fantasy understatement with a potent underpinning of quietly desperate lives truly lived…
© Gareth Brookes 2017. All rights reserved.

Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen


By Rodolphe & Annie Goetzinger, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-029-4 (HB)

As I’m perpetually reiterating, just like so much European art and culture, French language comics (I’m controversially including Belgium and Swiss strips in this half-baked, nigh-racist, appallingly sweeping statement) often appear as a triumph of style over content.

That doesn’t mean they’re bad – far, far from it – but rather that sometimes writing and plot aren’t as important to the creators – or readers – as the way it looks on a page/in a book, and complex characterisation isn’t always afforded the same amount of room that scenery, players, fighting or sex gets.

Such is not the case in this sublimely evocative and eerily placid episode by eminent Bande Dessinée scenarist Rodolphe D. Jacquette (Le Conservateur, Raffini, Cliff Burton) and former fashion artist turned comics creator supreme Annie Goetzinger (Girl in Dior, Casque d’Or, Aurore, L’Agence Hardy) which seamlessly blends the tone and timbre of two iconic eras in French history into a tale of mystery, imagination and rather indolent intrigue…

First seen in 2011 as Marie Antoinette, La Reine Fantome, the translated wonderment follows an enlightening Introduction from Rodolphe, describing the origins and provenance of the story before co-writer and sole illustrator Goetzinger introduces us to artist Maud as she sits in the gardens of the Petit Trianon at Versailles.

It’s October 5th 1934 and her sketching of the scene is a brief yet welcome escape from her own problems. Her beloved but far older husband is recently dead, leaving her a vast fortune which her stepson son covets. Remy constantly pesters her to marry him, but she knows he’s as likely to kill as wed her to get his hands on the inheritance…

Things take a strange turn when her dog breaks loose and scampers away. He is quite the hit with the ladies of the Court when he bounds into a grand building, just as a frantic footman warns Queen Maria Antoinette that they must all retreat to the castle before the peasants besieging Versailles find them. It is still October 5th, but also somehow, so very long ago…

As her stepson’s attentions become more obnoxious and intolerable, Maud’s dreams are hunted by potent, tangible glimpses of the dead queen’s final days, and close friends Suzy and Maggie convince her to try an oh-so-fashionable séance.

Also attending the affair is attractive psychiatrist Dr. Maurice D’Octrobre, a man of great charm and learning, possessed of a remarkably open mind…

Good thing too, since the ceremony allows Marie Antoinette to manifest, imploring Maud to find her remains and re-bury her so that the tragic queen can rest at last…

And so begins an utterly beguiling, entrancingly sophisticated, classically constructed ghost story with clever plot twists, genteel suspense and even a vile villain who sees his stepmother’s unsuspected psychic gifts as a handy stepping stone to having her committed and possessing her fortune…

Maud’s path is unswerving and her triumph never in doubt, but she never expected that in addition to the satisfaction of a job well done and a soul saved there would be such tangible rewards for her good deed…

Eerily comfortable and superbly satisfying; balancing melancholy shades of The Ghost and Mrs Muir with the foreboding poesy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Marie Antoinette: Phantom Queen is a superb step back into a lost world of elegant mystery and imagination: one no fantasy lover or mature comics reader should miss.
© Dargaud 2011. All rights reserved.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Windy Day


By Tony Sandoval, translated, designed & edited by Mike Kennedy (Cub House/Lion Forge – Magnetic Press)
ISBN: 978-1942367987 (HB)

Spring’s here: time for a walk…

Antonio Sandoval hails from Mexico and lives in Barcelona these days. He was born in 1973 and has a sweet tooth for the childishly macabre as can be seen in such works as Nocturno and Johnny Caronte – Zombie Detective. Let’s hope we see those in English soon.

This charming hardback and digital delight was originally published in 2014 as Le Jour de vent; introducing another cool and feisty little girl who won’t let anyone or thing get in the way of her living her life.

Narrated in the first person, The Windy Day details how our proud warrior makes a kite and overcomes her fears of the deep, dark woods to see it fly. Her brother is useless and wants to play with his toy soldiers, while the chickens just want to wander about pecking the dirt…

So off she goes, ignoring the hideous stares of the mean monsters lurking in the shadows and finds the perfect clearing to launch her beautiful construction. Just as it’s all going great, goblins riding pirate clouds attack her and snatch at her kite, Luckily, a giant wolf-dog is sheltering in the trees and is ready to help. She thankfully names him “Courage”…

Wonderfully enthralling and painted in a truly enchanting manner, this is a pure joy for youngsters with a message we can all embrace and share.
Le Jour de vent © 2014 BELG Prod Sàrl www.groupepaquet.net. All rights reserved.

The Magical History Tour volume 1: The Great Pyramid


By Fabrice Erre &Sylvain Savoia translated by Joseph Laredo (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-633-3 (HB)

Here’s the first instalment of a superb European export designed to make history even more compelling for kids. Originally edited by the fabulous Lewis Trondheim and Frédéric Niffle, Le Fil de l’Histoire is a series of handy introductions to pertinent periods starring an all-wise older sister and her little brother who visit key moments and learn lots.

This kiddies’ hand-sized hardback tome was originally Tome 2: La Pyramide de Khéops, and sees Annie turn young Nico’s Lego-building triumph into an immersive teaching moment, whisking them back to see the great Pyramid in all its glory, detailing how and why it was built and conducting a tour of the interior most Egyptologists would give their last scarab cartouche for…

Responsible adults are author/educator/newspaper columnist and Doctor of History Fabrice Erre while illustration honours go to diligent comics pro Sylvain Savoia, who will be further entertaining later this month when I review his magnificent Marzi series. Trust me, you can’t wait…

Today’s treat also offers building techniques, comparisons of other mastabas, mausoleums and tombs and traces the history of the magnificent edifice through the centuries. Herodotus’ misreading of facts, the Caliph of Baghdad’s brutal desecration of the site, tomb robbers, Napoleon’s obsession and others interactions are all covered as well as a peek into possible future of the site.

Adding extra value are biographies of Imhotep, Cheops, Hemiunu, Herodotus, plans of the Giza Plateau, the Six Other Wonders of the World (now lost) and a comprehensive Timeline.

History is fun and comics are great. This book is both. Add it to your shelves and brace yourself for the chronicles to follow.
© 2018- DUPUIS – Erre – Savoia. All other material © 2021 Papercutz.

Yakari volume 17: The Snow Bird


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-460-1 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40th albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain has assumed the writer’s role from 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1992, L’osieau de niege was the 18th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

This time, the little wonder willingly yields focus to human companion Rainbow as the kids idly play at the debilitating heights of the summer. They are confined to one of the capacious rawhide tipis thanks to a sudden deluge when the storm suddenly picks up the entire tent – floor and all – and whisks them away into the sky…

The tipi heads steadily north at high altitude and eventually lands in frozen tundra where old pal and mystic spirit rabbit Nanabozho is waiting. He’s summoned them for fun and adventure…

Rapt in wonder, the little girl soon befriends a lemming and saves him from a hunting snowy owl before she and Yakari are separated. A long search for each other finds them exhausted and baffled as the sun never goes down…

After a long nap on the too-bright plains, Yakari has a long chat with the giant owl and joins an army of lemmings as they cross a stream. Rainbow, meanwhile, is caught in a similar migration, but the reindeer she’s wandered into are far larger and determined. Before long she’s been carried with them and dumped in a raging river. Thankfully, the owl is soaring above and drags her out before she can drown…

Reunited at last, the little wanderers seek out their tipi, and befriend a herd of musk oxen just as a snap snowstorm hits. Not only do the mighty beasts warm them until it passes, but they’re quite protective when a hungry and inquisitive pack of wolves considers them as the next meal…

When Nanabozho pops up again, the general consensus is that it might be time to return, but as the tipi takes off, the kids realise they have a stowaway…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and wildly entertaining, this cheery travelogue of natural wonders allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force capturing the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. English translation 2019 © Cinebook Ltd.

The Silence of the Hippo


By David Böhm (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-1912278060 (HB)

Culture is an aspect of shared experiences and for all of us that begins with stories we hear as children. We all grow up with a lexicon of myths, legends and fairy tales that become an inner landscape, and most of us spend the rest of our lives adding to that store.

But how do those tales resonate with the primary receptor: the young kids that experience them fresh and raw and free of world experience to measure them against?

Someone who knows a bit about that is Terezie Böhmova Imlaufová. In 2008, she worked as volunteer teacher in Bozom, in the Central African Republic. On day she asked her pupils to write down the myths and stories of their ancestors and the results were muddled, charming, strange and utterly compelling.

The melange of everyday contemporary African life, fabulous legends and innocent but developing internal logic was so beguiling that Terezie’s brother – award-winning Czech cartoonist and illustrator David Böhm – adapted them into the stunning strip parables contained in this compelling and colossal (248 x 64 x 3302 mm) hardback tome.

Printed in muted, sandy sepia and black and rendered in splendidly and surprisingly adaptable silhouettes (like those old shadow-play stories that used to sneak out of Eastern Europe and onto our TV screens during the 1960s), this compendium offers a brilliant peek into the minds of children and lasting power of myth.

The blend of Aesop’s Fable, Just-So story and African traditional tale comprises the mundane and the incredible as ‘The Cat and the Rat’, ‘The Magic Pot’, ‘Anie and Danie’, ‘The Woman who Wanted to Get Married’, ‘The Raven and the Fox’, ‘The Spider, his Wife and Children’, ‘The Monkey and the Crocodile’, ‘Two Brothers’, ‘About the Little Girl Mary’, ‘Mister Raven and the Hen’, ‘Glive, the Little Kerosene Merchant’, ‘A Man and his Two Wives’, ‘The Boy that Misbehaved’, ‘About a Fish, Water, Moon and Sun’, ‘The Spider and the Wild Yam’, ‘The Dog King’, ‘The Girl that Misbehaved’, ‘A Glass of Honey’, ‘The Dad and Meat, ‘The Hyena, the Goat and the Dog’, ‘The Siblings and a Flower’and ‘John the Baptist’ reveal in a dark, absurd and unforgettable manner how different and similar we all are…

Supplemented by poetry from Paul Niger, a foreword and biographies of all concerned, this is sheer exotic delight with an exceptional edge and unlimited entertainment value.
© David Böhm 2019 to stejné © Labyrint, 2009 U překladového copyright doplnit rok 2019: copyright @ Andrew Lass 2019. All rights reserved.