New School


By Dash Shaw (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-644-7 (HB)

Dash Shaw is a sublimely talented creator with a singular authorial voice and a huge repertoire of styles to call upon. Born in 1983, he is a leading light of a “new wave” (please note no capital letters there) of multi-tasking cartoonists, animators and web content originators whose interests and sensibilities heralded a recent renaissance in graphic narrative.

Like so many, he began young with independently published comics before graduating to paid work. Previous successes include Love Eats Brains, GoddessHead, Garden Head, Mother’s Mouth and the superbly haunting Bottomless Belly Button and Bellyworld.

In 2009 the Independent Film Channel commissioned him to convert his short series The Unclothed Man In the 35th Century A.D. (from comic arts quarterly Mome) into an imaginative and compelling animated series which then translated into an incredibly impressive graphic novel/art book comprising not only the evocative, nightmarish and tenderly bizarre tales but also the storyboards, designs and scripts Shaw constructed to facilitate the transition from paper to screen.

With New School, Shaw’s bold, broad experimentalism found a forward-looking yet chaotically nostalgia-generating fresh mode of communication for the oldest of information-storing, emotion-generating devices…

Here is another unique, achingly visual exploration of family, relationships and even the art of telling stories, at once dauntingly challenging, emotively ambivalent and metaphorically obfuscatory, even as Shaw impossibly pulls an authorial sleight of hand trick which renders this colossal chronicle surprisingly accessible.

Danny is a smart, content, obedient boy who worships his older brother Luke and he is telling us about his life. As our narrator, he only speaks in declarative and pompously declamatory, almost mock-heroic idiom, although his emotional underpinning is oddly off-kilter, like someone high-functioning on the autistic spectrum.

He speaks solely in the present tense even though his story begins with memories of 1990. Moreover, Danny believes he has prophetic dreams such as that one day there will be a movie called Jurassic Park or that the TV actor who plays Captain Picard will one day be the leader of the X-Men in a film…

Their highly-strung father publishes Parkworld – The Quarterly Journal of Amusement Park Industry News and Analysis and is justifiably proud of his sons’ artistic gifts and family fealty, but their solid, stolid lives begin to change in 1994 when Danny takes the credit for a dinosaur drawing Luke created and the devoted boys have a tremendous fight. As a result of the tussle, Danny is temporarily rendered deaf…

Even though his hearing returns, things have changed between the brothers, and soon rebellious Luke is despatched by Dad to the nation of X where an amusement park genius is setting up an incredible new entertainment experience called “Clockworld”.

Ashar Min AKA “Otis Sharpe” is the greatest designer of rides on Earth and – with the backing of X’s government – is turning the entire Asian island-state into a theme park tourist trap. To that end, Sharpe is hiring Americans to teach the X-ians to speak English and learn Western ways – and Dad wants 17-year old Luke there…

Three years younger, dutiful obedient Danny feels betrayed and abandoned, even as he guiltily noses around in his brother’s now-empty room. Two years pass and Luke has not communicated with the family since his departure.

Danny’s future-dreams are troubled. He is apprehensive when Mother and Father inform him he is to visit his brother on X, with the intention of bring their silent first-born home…

However, on arrival at the bustling, strange shore Danny is shocked by how much Luke has changed. Even his speech and dress are lax, debased and commonplace. The once-shining example of probity drinks, swears and fornicates…

Shock follows shock, however, as the newcomer is shown the burgeoning economy and infrastructure growing in the wake of Clockworld’s imminent completion. Moreover, after visiting the New School where Luke teaches, Danny’s joy in reuniting with his beloved sibling is further shaken, when he realises how much he has changed and has no intention of returning to America.

Worse yet, the influence of X and its people also begin to increasingly infect the appalled boy, forcing him to perpetually disgrace himself as his dreams torment him with incredible, impossible visions.

At least he thinks it’s the island making him mean and spiteful or causing him to shamefully stare at the unconsciously libertine, scandalously disporting women…

This book is drenched in the turbulent, reactive, confusing and conflicted feelings of childhood and physically evokes that sense. At 340 pages – all delineated in thick black marker-like lines with hulking faux mis-registered plates of flat colour seemingly whacked willy-nilly on the 279 x216mm pages, this feels like a mega-version of one of those cheap colouring books bought for kids on a seaside holiday in the 1960s. In fact the sheer size of the tome hammers that point home, no matter how grown up your hands now are. The effect even carries over if you opt for the various digital editions…

Strident yet subtle; simplistic whilst psychologically intellectual; viscerally, compellingly bombastically beautiful in a raw, rough unhewn manner, this a graphic tale every dedicated fan of the medium simply must see, and every reader of challenging fiction must read.

It’s big! It’s pretty! It’s different! Buy it!
© 2013 Dash Shaw. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All Rights Reserved.

Alone volume 2: The Master of Knives


By Gazzotti & Vehlmann, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-206-5 (PB Album)

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972, yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, studying business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, Vehlmann caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on, his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and a stint on major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Bruno Gazzotti is Belgian, born in 1970 and a former student of Institut Saint Luc in Liège. Another artist addicted to comics from his earliest years, he started getting paid to draw them in 1988, after being hired by Spirou editor Patrick Pinchart on the strength of his portfolio alone. Before long he was illustrating Le Petit Spirou with Tome & Janry.

In 1989, he and Tome created New York Cop Soda, which kept Gazzotti busy until 2005, when he resigned to co-create award-winning feature Seuls

Originally released in January 2006, Seuls – La disparition began a superb example of how to craft a thriller suitable for kids: evoking the eerie atmosphere of TV series Lost and the most disturbing elements of Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In a post-virus, Lockdown-besieged world, it also has eerie echoes of how humans deal with enforced isolation…

Debut volume The Vanishing showed us how an ordinary bustling town, with simple folk going about their business overnight became an empty mausoleum, with a small cross-section of kids left behind to survive or die.

The scant remainers comprise Ivan, an imaginative child of wealth who wants for nothing but never saw his dad and Leila, a born engineer, inventor and tinkerer. Her poor but honest dad always found time to play and critique her latest gadget…

Studious Camille was over-focussed on exams and achievement whilst Terry is pretty much still a baby: refusing to obey orders and throwing tantrums if he doesn’t get his way.

Typically, even in an ideal environment, not all children lived comfortable lives. Dodzi was in the protective services system. His early life made him tough and resilient but couldn’t stop the other young inmates handing him a beating on this ominous, odd-feeling night before everything changed…

When it happened, the kids wandered a terrifyingly quiet and forbidding city until finding each other. All the adults were gone, and all their child pals. The internet was down, with only static from TVs and radios. Above, fearsome storm clouds hung low and ominous. As they went wild with freedom and panicked from anxiety, eventually Dodzi brutally enforced calm and lead them away to find a succession of temporary – albeit palatial – refuges to regroup and think… After an uncanny series of encounters with escaped circus animals, the little band settle in the towering Majestic Hotel and Master of Knives (originally released as Seuls: Le Maître des couteaux) opens with Dodzi scouting the empty metropolis and helping Leila consolidate supplies for a long stay in the lap of luxury. His nervousness remains high as there are still close calls with the liberated beasts in the streets, but the younger kids seem to have adapted well. It certainly helps that they are hoarding every toy and treat they can find in abandoned shops and houses…

Ivan has a plan to occupy him too: systematically calling every phone number in the phone book. No luck yet, though…

Things start to go south swiftly after he finds his father’s pistol and tempts Leila into a spot of target practice on the roof. As Dodzi furiously confiscates the lethal toy, he has no idea that he has become the chosen prey of a mysterious stalker. As the cloaked pursuer slowly enacts a chilling campaign of terror, the stressed leader agonisingly discovers he is not the only obsession of the terrifying, nebulous figure clad in cloaks and draped in blades and daggers…

As the other kids obliviously fritter away the day, Dodzi is remorselessly hunted over the rooftops by the manic killer. When he briefly eludes the hunter, the Master simply doubles back to menace the children in the hotel. A shocking confrontation then ensues, which sees the tables turned but only at the cost of Dodzi’s closely withheld secrets being exposed to all…

In the painful aftermath, the days of innocence are discarded and the little orphan family prepare to hit the open road to find out if other cities have been emptied too…

To Be Continued…

This spooky, powerful and often shocking tale of mystery and imagination sees bereft children facing increasingly daunting physical hazards and an escalating series of events which can have no logical or rational explanation, and the tension simply amplifies with every instalment. Alone became one of the biggest critical and commercial comics hits of the decade and if you love eerie enigmas and powerful tale-telling, you’ll buy this and successive releases to see why…
© Dupuis 2007 by Gazzotti & Vehlmann. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Ralph Azham volume 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?


By Lewis Trondheim, coloured by Brigitte Findakly and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-593-8 (HB)

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing animated cartoons of adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), (with Joann Sfar) the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (translated here as the conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years) and his utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence Little Nothings.

In his spare time, and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival, the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

Originally released by Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in 2001, this delicious yarn returns to the genre of anthropomorphic fantasy in a saga of wryly cynical faux-heroism revolving around failed Messiah and all-around disappointment Ralph Azham.

In his mountainous rural village, teenaged slacker Ralph is barely tolerated. He’s lazy, rude to his elders, constantly flouts authority, is always mouthing off and perpetually gets into trouble. Moreover, when he turned blue on the Night of the Double Moon – a certain sign of magical powers and an indicator that one may be the long-awaited Chosen One – he subsequently failed the tests of The Envoy and was ignominiously returned to the village…

Now he’s just an obnoxious waste of space whose only gift is the unnerving ability to tell when someone is pregnant or going to die…

His desolate village is slowly expiring. Situated in a depressing gully and old riverbed, the ramshackle dump comprises barely a dozen families now; the hard subsistence toil gradually forcing the least-dispirited farmers to emigrate to the less hostile but crowded lowlands. Moreover, with the annual visit from the rapacious marauding barbarian horde forever looming, the hamlet has precious little comfort or security to offer its dour citizens.

When the elders send Ralph out on a useless herb-gathering mission so they can have a council meeting without his annoying presence, the pariah is accosted by coquettish, scheming Claire who tries to seduce him and make him take her away from it all. After all, a boy with his gifts could surely make some money in the civilised parts of the world…?

Ralph spurns her and returns to eavesdrop on the village meeting, but when Claire follows and forcefully tries again, her big brother Piatch observes everything and attacks in a vain and pointless effort to defend her long-spent “honour”.

The running fight crashes through the village with many of the indignant elders eagerly joining in. When the well-thrashed Ralph furiously exposes many of their marital secrets, he finds himself confined to the pigsty for two months by the shamed and outraged citizens…

Later that night, his long-suffering father Bastien passes Ralph food and a knife, sadly recalling those distant days when the entire populace thought the boy was their literal ticket to salvation. After all, when the Chosen One was finally found, his mighty powers would totally destroy the terrible threat of predatory conqueror Vom Syrus and save the entire nation.

The whole episode was ill-starred. On their last night together, father and son were trapped in a cave-in and Ralph discovered his unsettling but militarily useless power. Even after they escaped death by suffocation, the airborne pilgrimage to fabled Astolia went tragically wrong – just how bad only Bastien knew for certain – and when the boy was returned to the village the populace’s high expectations soon soured.

They’ve been taking it out on Ralph ever since…

In the pigpen, Claire tries once more to sway the fed-up and furious miracle boy, but he’s already declined one attempt to help him escape. Wastrel Ralph has no intention of ever leaving his doting dad. Later, as Bastien quizzes him on why he’s still there, the alarm is sounded. The Horde is near…

The village is perfectly divided. Exactly half want to fight whilst the others favour abject surrender and throwing themselves on the invaders’ mercies. Unbelievably, now they desperately need Ralph to settle matters as the tie-breaking vote. The outcast is utterly unable to ignore the irony or resist the temptation to make them all squirm, but he is distracted by the ailing Filbert kid. The lad isn’t very well and it is another night of the Double Moon…

When the militant faction proves to be the most determined to win and acquiesces to Ralph’s outrageous and humiliating demands, the vote is cast and the villagers begin building a huge deadfall trap to kill as many Horde raiders as possible, guided by the pariah’s dear old dad, who was once a military engineer.

As the labours progress, further hidden secrets of Ralph’s interesting time in Astolia are revealed, but even as the weary folk return to their homes, the trap is sprung: not by the invaders, but rather one of their own.

Sore loser Mortimer knew that only he was right and thus couldn’t abide by the results of the vote. Surely that’s how Democracy really works?

In the cascade of rocks, little Raoul Filbert is injured and, as the enraged mob hunt for the new village pariah, forgotten Ralph carries the wounded child to the wise woman Auntie Milla. As she tends to the lad, something happens to Ralph too. Soon, he realises that his powers have changed. He can see dead people…

When he meets his father, Ralph realises that the ghost of the Envoy from his long-ago journey is attached to Bastien and soon the awful truth of his boyhood trip to Astolia comes tumbling out…

Milla too was part of the conspiracy, and now, as Ralph realises the horrible, selfish cause for his years of abuse and ostracization, he severs all ties with his father. Suddenly, the alarm sounds and the old soldier rushes back to the village where the Horde has arrived. Dejected Ralph picks up the sleeping Raoul and follows, but in the dark, nobody has noticed that the little lad’s head has turned blue…

In a wild and cataclysmic display of arcane power, Raoul destroys half the village and routs the panicked barbarians, but once they have recovered their wits, Horde outriders give chase. However, when the azure couple are cornered, Ralph’s new gift and the spirits of the pursuers’ previous victims combine to save them all, before a final cataclysm erupts and wipes out the invaders… and most of the village too…

After one final fractious confrontation with the surviving elders, Ralph heads for the plains and summons the latest Astolian Envoy to take him and Raoul to the city where new Chosen Onea are trained. As they prepare to take off on the civil servant’s triple-headed winged reptile, Claire rushes up, demanding to join them. She feels she has the right, since her cat ears and tiger stripes have turned a vibrant shade of blue…

Mesmerising and superbly enjoyable, this still-unfolding epic features a truly intriguing and clay-footed hero in a fantastic world of inescapably shallow and typically callous everyday folk: venal, self-serving and barely worth saving even if a Messiah can be found…

This engagingly sly and witty fantasy adventure tale for grown-ups begins here in a 96-page, full-colour landscape (218x168mm) sturdy hardcover edition (but sadly not in digital editions, if those are your preferred Chosen Ones): another must-not-miss epic masterpiece from one of the world’s greatest comic geniuses.
Contents © DUPUIS 2001 by Trondheim. All rights reserved. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Time Clock (Eye of the Majestic Creature volume 3)


By Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-930-1 (TPB)

With the once-constant supply of review books understandably curtailed and my latest actual paid work recently completed, I find myself retreating into old favourites to pass the time now. Happily, most of them are still great, and a goodly number of them have finally made the transition to digital editions, meaning you can read them too without risking life, lung or limb. All that threatens you is the strong chance of becoming equally besotted and addicted to great comics…

Help Wanted: Girl cartoonist seeks meaning of contemporary existence and like-minded individuals to share bewilderment and revelations with. Interests/Hobbies include: drinking, counting sand, growing stuff, antiquing for pop culture “trash”, drinking, meaningful conversations with musical instruments, playing board games with same, recreational herbal intoxicants, reminiscing about wild-times with gal-pals and old cronies, drinking, visiting difficult relatives.

Employment: unwanted but regrettably necessary. Although not native to the Big City, is extremely adaptable and will do anything – unless it’s hard, boring or she sucks at it…

After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts, Leslie Stein began producing astonishingly addictive cartoon strips in the self-published Yeah, It Is. Upon winning a Xeric Grant for her efforts, she then started an even better comicbook entitled Eye of the Majestic Creature, blending autobiographical self-discovery, surreal free-association, philosophical ruminations, nostalgic reminiscences and devastatingly dry wit to describe modern life as filtered through her seductive meta-fictional interior landscape.

She is a creator who sees things as they really aren’t, but makes them authentic and even desirable to anyone willing to pay attention…

This superbly enticing third volume of the …Majestic Creature sequence resumes her airy, eccentric and engaging pictorial mood-music, with her mythologized autobiography continuing to reveal the history and ambitions (for want of a better term) of Larrybear – a girl deliberately and determinedly on her own, trying to establish her own uniquely singular way of getting by.

Eschewing chronological narrative for an easy, breezy raconteur’s epigrammatic delivery, and illustrated in loose, free-flowing line-work, detailed stippling, hypnotic pattern-building or even honest-to-gosh representational line-drawing, Stein operates under the credo of “whatever works, works” – and clearly, she’s not wrong…

Larrybear makes friends easily: bums, winos, weirdoes, dropouts, misfits, non-English-speaking co-workers and especially inanimate objects. Her bestest buddy of all is her talking guitar/flatmate Marshmallow: one of the many odd fellow travellers who aggregate around her, briefly sharing her outré interests and latest dreams.

However, Larrybear doesn’t want an average life, just more experiences, less hassle and affable companions to share it all with.

The self-service graphic dinner party starts with another Friday at work. After scrupulously completing her wage-slave tasks, Larrybear heads off to show her latest creation at the long-awaited Sand Counters Convention. The guy at the next table next is annoying but okay, and she’s touched when venerable old Sand Counter Henry Peet admires her work but, after seeing über-stylist Tim Heerling swanking and lapping up the adulation of the audience, she is mysteriously moved and promptly decides that now she has a new nemesis…

In the meantime, stay-at-home stringed instrument Marshmallow – feeling unfulfilled – takes up baking to shorten the incessant loneliness…

A second untitled segment then finds Larrybear hanging out with old pal Boris, sharing stories and intoxicants, but still blithely unaware of how he feels about her…

After months of prevaricating, and whilst still enduring dreams about that Heerling guy, our aimless star finally relocates to the countryside where she, Marshmallow and the rest of her animated instrument collection enjoy a life of bucolic fulfilment and idle contemplation until they can’t stand it anymore…

This superbly quirky diversion concludes with ‘Boy’ as Larrybear learns that living miles from the nearest bar and being unable to drive is severely impacting her precious drinking time, whilst having competition-quality sand delivered is a huge mistake…

All too soon, she’s back in her natural urban environment, dealing booze to drunks and sharing their buzz, just as the biggest storm in living memory threatens to close up the city…
All delivered in an oversized (292 x 204 mm if you’re still wedded to dead tree ownership) mesmerising monochrome package, these incisive, absurdist, whimsically charming and visually intoxicating invitations into a singularly creative mind and fabulous alternative reality offer truly memorable walks on the wild side.

For a gloriously rewarding and exceptionally enticing cartoon experience – one no serious fan of fun and narrative art can afford to miss – you simply must spend a few hours with a Time Clock.
© 2016 Leslie Stein. All rights reserved.

Impossible Tales: The Steve Ditko Archives volume 4


By Steve Ditko & various, edited by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-640-9 (HB)

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comic book profession, where the plan was to deliver as much variety as possible to the reader. Sadly, that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Steve Ditko (November 2nd 1927 – c. June 29th 2018) was one of our industry’s greatest talents and probably America’s least lauded. His fervent desire was to just get on with his job telling stories the best way he could. Whilst the noblest of aspirations, that dream was always a minor consideration and frequently a stumbling block for the commercial interests which for so long controlled all comics production and still exert an overwhelming influence upon the mainstream bulk of Funny book output. Let’s see what happens in the months to come now that COVID19 has wrought its horrific effects on the industry…

Before his time at Marvel, the young Ditko mastered his craft creating short stories for a variety of companies and it’s an undeniable joy to be able to look at this work from a such an innocent time. Here 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 fourth fantastic full-colour deluxe hardback – and potently punchy digital treasure trove – reprints another heaping helping of his ever more impressive works: published between July 1957 and March 1959, and all courtesy of the surprisingly liberal (at least in its trust of its employees’ creative instincts) sweat-shop publisher Charlton Comics. Some of the issues here were actually put together under the St. John imprint, but when that company abruptly folded, much of its already prepared in-house material – even entire issues – were purchased and published by clearing-house specialist Charlton with almost no editorial changes.

And, whilst we’re being technically accurate it’s also important to note that the eventual publication dates of the stories in this collection don’t have a lot to do with when Ditko rendered these mini-masterpieces: Charlton paid so little, the cheap, anthologically astute outfit had no problem buying material it could leave on a shelf for months – if not years – until the right moment arrived to print…

All the tales and covers reproduced here were drawn after implementation of the draconian, self-inflicted Comics Code Authority rules which sanitised the industry following Senate Hearings and a public witch-hunt. They are uniformly wonderfully baroque and bizarre fantasies, suspense and science fiction yarns, 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 Ditko, but as at the time the astoundingly prolific Joe Gill was churning out hundreds of stories per year for Charlton, he is always everyone’s first guess when trying to attribute script credit…

Following an historically informative Introduction and passionate advocacy by Blake Bell, the evocative tales of mystery and imagination commence with ‘The Menace of the Maple Leaves’, an eerie haunted woods fable from Strange Suspense Stories #33 (August 1957), closely followed a darkly sinister con-game which goes impossibly awry after a wealthy roué consults a supposed mystic to regain his youth and vitality before being treated in ‘The Forbidden Room’ (Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #4 July 1957)…

From November 1957, Do You Believe in Nightmares? #1 offers a bounty of Ditko delights, beginning with the stunning St. John cover heralding a prophetic ‘Nightmare’; the strange secret of a prognosticating ‘Somnambulist’ and the justice which befalls a seasoned criminal in ‘The Strange Silence’ – all confirming how wry fate intervenes in the lives of mortals.

‘You Can Make Me Fly’ then goes a tad off-topic with a tale of brothers divided by morality and intellect after which the issue ends with a dinosaur-packed romp courtesy of ‘The Man Who Crashed into Another Era’

Next up is a tale from one of Charlton’s earliest star characters. Apparently the title came from a radio show which Charlton licensed, and the lead/host/narrator certainly acted more as voyeur than active participant, speaking “to camera” and 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 and 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 Tales of the Mysterious Traveler were esoteric and utterly mesmerising…

From issue #6 (December 1957), ‘Little Girl Lost’ chills spines and tugs heartstrings with the story of a doll that loved its human companion, followed by a paranoid chase from Strange Suspense Stories #35 (December 1957) as ‘There it is Again’ sees a scientist dogged by his most dangerous invention…

Unusual Tales #10 (January 1958) provides a spooky cover before disclosing the awesome secret of ‘The Repair Man from Nowhere’ and – following wickedly effective Cold War science fiction parable ‘Panic!’ from Strange Suspense Stories #35 – resumes with ‘A Strange Kiss’ that draws a mining engineer into a far better world…

Out of This World #6 (November 1957) provides access to ‘The Secret Room’ which forever changes the lives of an aging, destitute couple. Then cover and original artwork for Out of This World #12 (March 1959) lead to a tale in which a ruthless anthropologist is brought low by ‘A Living Doll’ he’d taken from a native village…

Returning to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #6 results in three more captivating yarns. ‘When Old Doc Died’ is perhaps the best in this book, displaying wry humour in the history of a country sawbones who is only content when helping others, whilst ‘The Old Fool’ everybody mocked proves to be his village’s greatest friend, and ‘Mister Evriman’ explores the metaphysics of mass TV viewing in a thoroughly chilling manner…

The dangers of science without scruple informs the salutary saga of a new invention in ‘The Edge of Fear’ (Unusual Tales #10, January 1958), after which the cover of This Magazine is Haunted #14 (December 1957) ushers us into cases recounted by ghoulish Dr. Haunt; specifically, a scary precursor to cloning in ‘The Second Self’ and a diagnosis of isolation and mutation which afflicts ‘The Green Man’

The cover and original art for giant-sized Out of This World #7 (February 1958) precedes ‘The Most Terrible Fate’ befalling a victim of atomic warfare whilst ‘Cure-All’ details a struggle between a country doctor and a sinister machine which heals any ailment.

We return to This Magazine is Haunted #14 as Dr. Haunt relates a ghastly monster’s progress ‘From Out of the Depths’ before ‘The Man Who Disappeared’ tells his uncanny story to disbelieving Federal agents. Out of This World #7 in turn provides an ethereal ringside seat from which to view a time-traveller’s ‘Journey to Paradise’…

From Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7 (March 1958), ‘And the Fear Grew’ relates how an Australian rancher falls foul of an insidiously malign but cute-looking critter, after which ‘The Heel and the Healer’ reveals how a snake-oil peddler finds a genuine magic cure-all, whilst ‘Never Again’ (Unusual Tales #10 again) takes an eons-long look at mankind’s atomic follies and ‘Through the Walls’ (Out of This World #7) sees a decent man framed and imprisoned, only to be saved by the power of astral projection…

Out of This World #12 (March 1959) declared ‘The World Awaits’ when a scientist uncovers an age-old secret regarding ant mutation and eugenics, Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds #7 (February 1958) exposes ‘The Angry Things’ which haunt a suspiciously inexpensive Italian villa, and the gripping cover to Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #10 (November 1958) segues into the unsuspected sacrifice of a jazz virtuoso who saves the world in ‘Little Boy Blue’

A tragic orphan finds new parents after ‘The Vision Came’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #8, July 1958) before Dr. Haunt proves television to be a cause of great terror in ‘Impossible, But…’ (from This Magazine is Haunted volume 2 #16, May 1958) – an issue which also discloses the world-changing fate of a Soviet scientist who became ‘The Man from Time’…

Another selfless inventor chooses to be a ‘Failure’ rather than doom humanity to eternal servitude in a stunning yarn from Strange Suspense Stories #36 (March 1958), whilst the luckiest man alive at last experiences the downside of being ‘Not Normal’ (Tales of the Mysterious Traveler #7) after which Unusual Tales #11 – from March 1958 – reveals the secret of Presidential statesmanship to a young politician in ‘Charmed, I’m Sure’, and exposes a magical secret race through an author’s vacation ‘Deep in the Mountains’

This mesmerising collection concludes with the suitably bizarre tale of Egyptian lucky charm ‘The Dancing Cat’ (Strange Suspense Stories #37, July 1958) to ensure the spooky afterglow remains long after the final page and leaves you hungry for more mystic merriment and arcane enjoyment…

This sturdily capacious volume has episodes that terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped down plots and simple dialogue that let the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise. The stories display the sharp wit and contained comedic energy which made so many Spider-Man/J. Jonah Jameson confrontations an unforgettable treat a decade later, making this is cracking collection not only superb in its own right but as a telling examination into the genius of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill or die or be lost in time for…
This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. Introduction © 2013 Blake Bell. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 3: Tutankhamun, the Assassinated Pharaoh


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by G. Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-084-7 (Album PB)

British and European comics have always been happier with historical strips than our American cousins (a pugnacious part of me wants to say that’s because we have so much more past to play with – and yes, I know they’re responsible for Prince Valiant, but he’s an exception, not a rule).

Our Franco-Belgian brethren in particular have made an astonishing art form out of days gone by. The happy combination of familiar exoticism, past lives and world-changing events blended with drama, action and especially broad humour has resulted in a genre uniquely suited to enchanting readers of all ages and tastes. Don’t take my word for it – just check out Asterix, Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Towers of Bois-Maury, Iznogoud or Thorgal to name but a few which have made it into English, or our own much missed period classics such as Olac the Gladiator, Dick Turpin, Janus Stark, Heros the Spartan or Wrath of the Gods; all far too long overdue for collection in archival form, I might add…

Papyrus is the magnificent magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. He first saw the light of day in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums thus far, as well as a wealth of merchandise, a television cartoon show and a video game.

De Gieter was born in 1932 and studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. He made the jump into sequential narrative in 1961, first through ‘mini-récits’ (fold-in, half-sized-booklets) inserts for Spirou, starring his jovial little cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis. He then joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les SchtroumpfsAKA The Smurfs – and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy .

In the 1960s, De Gieter launched South Seas mermaid fantasy Tôôôt et Puit whilst Pony was promoted to the full-sized interior pages of Spirou, deep-sixing the Smurfs gig to expand his horizons working for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 De Gieter assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst applying the finishing touches to his dream project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the next forty years…

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieus, blending Boys’ Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology, gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. The journey came through light fantasy romps leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries and starring a fearlessly forthright boy fisherman favoured by the gods to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs…

As a youngster the plucky “fellah” was blessed by the gods and given a magic sword courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek, and the lad’s initial task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos: thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and never-ending duty was to protect Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and safety-averse daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

Now available digitally as well as in traditional paperback album format, Tutankhamun, the Assassinated Pharaoh was the third Cinebook translation – 17th in the series and originally released in 1994 as Toutânkhamon, le Pharaon assassiné. The sand and sandals mystery skilfully blends fact and fantasy into a strange and disturbing tale of grave robbery, unquiet ghosts and madness…

It all begins with a squabble between the Mayor of the City of the Dead and his equivalent civil servant for the City of Thebes. The vast, desolate region of imperial tombs, sepulchres and lesser burials is being systematically ransacked by blasphemous thieves and, whilst the aforementioned Executive of the Interred Paur claims the sacrilegious raids must be the work of roving Bedouins, Thebes’ Mayor Paser posits that the vile defilers’ knowledge of the holy sites indicates they must be Egyptians… perhaps even some of Paur’s workers or tomb guards…

Bored with the interminable bickering, Theti-Cheri drags Papyrus and court jester Puin away, demanding they join her father’s lion hunt in the deep desert. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the jolly dwarf is left behind and forced to frustratingly follow on his astoundingly smart donkey Khamelot.

Naturally, this leads to him being attacked by the self-same decrepit man-eater Pharaoh is trying to eradicate, but as Puin frantically flees the hungry cat he sees chariot-borne scout Papyrus save a fellah from brutal grave guards. The grateful peasant is a plant, however, and secretes a golden tomb treasure on the boy hero before knocking him out…

When Papyrus comes to, he is surrounded by soldiers and accused by Paur’s captain Rhama of tomb-robbing. A crowd of suspiciously overly-incensed citizens even try to stone him to death and Pharaoh has no choice but to have the boy imprisoned for trial. However, before the doughty lad can gather his wits, Paur attempts to assassinate the boy hero with snakes and then kidnaps him from his temple cell, hiding his drugged, unconscious form in a secret access shaft to the grave of tragic boy king Tutankhamun

Falling through into the tomb proper, Papyrus’ spirit is suddenly accosted by the ghost of Ankhsenamun and discovers from Tutankhamun’s beloved child-bride how his own peasant great-grandfather played a major role in their tragic romance and the brief, complex reign of the murdered Boy-King…

As Papyrus learns the incredible, unpalatable truth about the legendary ruler’s fate, in the physical world Puin – and Khamelot – have informed Theti-Cheri of the plot. The impetuous Princess rushes to the site and subsequently traps herself in the tomb whilst gold-crazed Paur’s men close in to murder everybody who knows of the Mayor of the City of the Dead’s perfidy. However, the blasphemous bandits have not reckoned on Pharaoh’s cunning perspicacity or a certain donkey’s loyal ingenuity…

This astounding, amazing adventure will thrill and enthral fans of fabulous fantasy – although some of the finer points of Pharaonic marriage customs might distress fainter-hearted parents and guardians – and De Gieter’s clever merging of archaeological revelation with gothic romance and ghost story make for a particularly impressive treat…

Papyrus is a brilliant addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who marry heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintin, Asterix or Lucky Luke volumes would be wise beyond their years in acquiring all these classic chronicles. Even smarter would be publisher Cinebook finally releasing the rest of the translated canon before much more sand passes through the hourglass…
© Dupuis, 1994 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

God is Dead Volume One


By Jonathan Hickman, Mike Costa, Di Amorim & Rafael Ortiz (Avatar Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59291-229-2 (TPB)

Launched in September 2013, Jonathan Hickman and Mike Costa’s God is Dead spectacularly began extrapolating on the age-old question “What if God(s) were real?” in a wry and deliciously dark summer blockbuster style.

Illustrated by Di Amorim and others, the first six issues were latterly collected into a bombastic bludgeoning bible – available in paperback and digital formats – of senses-shattering Apocalyptic apocrypha that can’t help but cheer up the most downhearted voluntary internee during our own private Armageddons…

It all begins one day in May 2015 when the pantheons of ancient Egypt, Greece, Viking Scandinavia, the Mayans and Hindu India all explosively return: shattering monuments, landscapes and nations and rapturously slaughtering millions of mortals; faithful and disbelievers alike…

Within two months the ineffable gods have fully re-established themselves, pushing rational, scientific mankind to the brink of extinction, reclaiming their old places of worship and terrified congregations of adherents.

On the run from the new faithful, Dr. Sebastian Reed is rescued from certain death by the captivating Gaby and joins The Collective, an underground thinktank of fugitive scientists, even as the Gods savagely revel in their bloody return to power and glory.

In a secret bunker, the suicide of the American President leaves an obsessively aggressive General in charge of the US military. He has no intention of letting any primitive usurper run roughshod over the Greatest Nation on Earth…

As rationalist deep thinkers and innocuous PhDs Thomas Mims, Airic Johnson and Henry Rhodes welcome the fresh recruit, in the heavens above, Odin convenes a grand congress to settle the final disposition of the mortal world and all its potential worshippers…

The fable resumes as the American Army goes nuclear. However, although the atomic strike vaporises an army of mortal converts, it cannot harm sublime Quetzalcoatl and merely provokes a punishing response from the assembled and arrogant Lords of the Air.

Far beneath the earth, the scientists are engaged in heated debate over the nature of their enemies. Eventually they agree that they have insufficient data and resolve to capture one of the returned gods…

In America, resistance ends when the common soldiery convert en masse to the Mayan religion and sacrifice their stubbornly atheist general, but this only leads to greater strife as the Pantheons – with humanity subdued – now inevitably turn on each other. Gods are not creatures willing to share or be long bound by pacts and treaties…

Over the Himalayas, Gaby and her security consultant dad Duke are ferrying the test tube jockeys when their irreplaceable jet is downed by a monstrous dragon. Simultaneously, in newly holy sites around the globe, the war of the gods gorily eliminates one greedy pantheon after another. It’s a blessed circumstance for the surviving scientists who find an immolated Hindu deity and promptly harvest the carcass for investigation and experimentation…

With mythological monsters increasingly repopulating the world, our gaggle of geniuses rapidly reverse-engineer the godly genetic soup and decide to make their own deities: Gods of Science to take back the world for rational men…

The first attempt is an unmitigated catastrophe, savagely eviscerating one of the boffins before Duke can kill it. Terrified but undaunted, Gaby leads the way to the next, inevitable step: human trials using what they have gleaned to transform themselves…

Up above, the god-war is almost over and Odin, Thor and Loki turn their vastly depleted forces towards Mount Olympus and a showdown with Zeus who has – until now – sagaciously kept clear of the devastating internecine conflict. The sole divine survivor of that staggering clash – now omnipotent on Earth – then discerns the experiment of the mortal inventors and flashes to their secret lab…

He is too late. The end results of the religion of rationality have already travelled to Olympus and when the ancient, frustrated. arrogant all-father returns, he is confronted by a triumvirate of new gods born of needles and serums, ready to finally decide who will rule the world…

That astoundingly vicious clash is then followed by a portentous Interlude (by Costa & Rafael Ortiz) following that oriental dragon into previously unmentioned China to meet entrepreneurial Sammi whose future seems ‘Gloriously Bright’

Then, the newly re-emergent gods of that ‘Middle Kingdom’ have their own crucial confrontation with the golden Wyrm of the Heavens

With additional art by Jacen Burroughs and Hickman, God is Dead spectacularly delivers a brutally engaging, uncompromising, brilliantly vicarious dark-edged romp to satisfy any action-loving adult’s need for comics carnage and breathtaking big-concept storytelling. Just the ticket to take the mind off real-world problems, and if this vision calls out to you there are sequels to satiate your hunger for fulfilment…
© 2014 Avatar Press Inc. God is Dead and all related properties ™ & © 2014 Jonathan Hickman and Avatar Press Inc.

Usagi Yojmbo: Yokai


By Stan Sakai (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-362-5 (HB)

One of the very best and most adaptable survivors of the 1980s black-&-white comic book explosion/implosion is a truly bizarre and wonderful synthesis of historical Japanese samurai fiction and anthropomorphic animal adventure, as well as a perfect example of the versatility and strengths of a creator-owned character.

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in multi-talented Stan Sakai’s peripatetic anthropomorphic comedy feature The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which launched in 1984’s furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk anthology Albedo Anthropomorphics #1. The shaggy samurai subsequently appeared there on his own terms, as well as in Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and the Munden’s Bar back-up strips in Grimjack. The Lepine Legend also appeared in Albedo #2-4, The Doomsday Squad #3 and seven issues of Critters (#1, 3, 6-7, 10-11 and 14) before leaping into his own series…

Sakai is almost as widely-travelled and far-ranging as his signature creation. He was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family emigrated to Hawaii in 1955. He attended University of Hawaii, graduating with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design after moving to California.

His first comics work was as a letterer, most famously for the inimitable Groo the Wanderer, before his nimble pens and brushes – coupled with a love of Japanese history and legend and hearty interest in the filmic works of Akira Kurosawa and his peers – combined to turn a proposed story about a historical human hero into one of the most enticing and impressive – and astoundingly authentic – fantasy sagas of all time.

The deliciously rambling and expansive period fantasy series is nominally set in a world of sentient animals and specifically references the Edo Period of Feudal Japan (how did we cloth-eared Westerners ever get “Japan” from Nihon” anyway?) as well as classic cultural icons as varied as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi and even Godzilla, by way of detailing the exploits of Ronin (masterless, wandering freelance Samurai) Miyamoto Usagi, whose fate is to be drawn constantly into a plethora of incredible situations.

And yes, he’s a rabbit – a brave, sentimental, indomitable, gentle, long-suffering, honourable, conscientious and heroic bunny who cannot turn down any request for help…
The Sublime Swordsbun has changed publishers a few times but has been in continuous publication since 1987 – with dozens of graphic novel collections to date – and has guest-starred in numerous other series, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its TV incarnation. There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci fi comics serial and lots of toys, and he even almost made it into his own small-screen show, but there’s still time yet and fashions can revive as quickly as they die out…

Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public and in 2009 Dark Horse Comics commissioned an all-new, fully painted Silver Anniversary tale to celebrate 25 stunning years, which allowed the creator to hone his considerable skills with watercolours…

Yokai is a generic term that translates (as required) as ghosts, phantoms, spirits or even strange, otherworldly apparitions, all of whom hold a peculiarly eclectic place in Japanese folklore, being simultaneously mischievous and helpful, malevolent and miraculously beneficial. Generally, they have animal heads or are amalgams of diverse objects or body parts…

This scintillating scary story occurs over one night – an Oborozuki-Yo (“Night of the Hazy Moon”) – when Yokai are particularly restless, and this is a tale that grippingly explores the Japanese equivalent of our Halloween as the noble, gloom-shrouded Rabbit Ronin wanders lonely roads in search of a bite to eat and a place to sleep.

Seeing a light in the nearby woods, Miyamoto leaves the path, hoping to find a welcoming peasant hearth for the evening but is harassed by a taunting Kitsune (trickster-fox spirit) and becomes lost. Soon, however, he hears sobbing and is drawn to a weeping noblewoman…

The lovely distressed lady is Fujimoto Harumi whose pilgrimage to a temple was disrupted when a Kitsune stole her young daughter Hanako away. Pleading with the wisely reluctant Ronin, the lady convinces the wayfarer to plunge deeper into the wild woods to rescue the lost girl, leading to an epic series of contests against a horde of fantastic hostile creatures. The valiant warrior almost succumbs until he is unexpectedly saved by an old comrade, the mystic demon-queller Sasuke

It seems that this very evening is the dreaded Hyakki Yako, “Night Parade of a Hundred Demons”, when haunts and horrors of the netherworld form a procession into the world of people, seeking to subjugate all mortals. They simply need a living soul to lead them, a final sacrifice to light their way here…

Terrified for the stolen waif, Ronin and devil-slayer engage with an army of horrific, shape-shifting, fire-spitting, tentacle-wielding monstrosities to save an innocent and the entire world, but there are forces in play that the rapidly-tiring Miyamoto is painfully unaware of, and without the luck of the gods and the tragedy of an old friend, all will be inescapably lost…

Fast-paced yet lyrical, funny, thrilling and stuffed with spooky, all-ages action and excitement, Yokai is a magical tribute to and celebration of the long-lived Lepus’ nigh-universal irresistible appeal that will delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories. This petite but power-packed chronicle – available in sturdy hardback and ethereal digital editions – also contains a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the artist created the stunning visuals in ‘The Real Magic Behind Yokai: an interview with Stan Sakai’ that will further beguile any prospective creators and cartooning hopefuls in the audience.

Sheer comicbook poetry, this is book to revisit time and time again…
Text and illustrations © 2009 Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud and the Magic Computer (volume 4)


By Goscinny & Tabary translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3 (PB Album)

How are you coping with voluntary incarceration? If you’re feeling a little frustrated, why not chill out with a good book – instantly available via digital purchasing and still accessible if you go the physical delivery route as a spiffy paperback tome – and see what real frustration looks like and costs…

During his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen.

He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course, Asterix the Gaul. There are so many others, too such as this timeless classic…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swede Jean Tabary (1930-2011) who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips.

Together they produced imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah. However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little weasel’s only successful scheme.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record, with the first instalment appearing in 1962 in the January 15th issue. A minor hit, it latterly jumped ship to Pilote – a magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly hogged all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for younger readers as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a cropper, and as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix. Happily, it’s also translated here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue. Best of all, the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily-laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly applied creative anachronism to keep the plots bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Our insidious anti-hero is Grand Vizier to affable, generous, easy-going Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The revamped series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly becoming a huge European hit, with 29 albums so far (with 14 translated into English to date). The series has been carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas, in his own solo comic, and has spun-off into a game, TV cartoon show and live action movie.

Goscinny died in 1977, having completed a dozen book’s worth of wonderment and Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified their collaborations.

This fourth Cinebook album was the sixth French album (released in 1970 as L’ordinateur magique) and features a clenched and grasping fistful of short, sharp salutary tales beginning – after a handy catch-up profile page – with ‘A Calculated Risk’, wherein the cunning conniver, desperate to forestall a pact between the Caliph and mighty military neighbour Sultan Pullmankar, hires forward-thinking I-Bee’Em and his ponderous problem-solving “computer” to stop the signing of the treaty. The big grey box might be brilliant, but it’s agonisingly slow in reaching its infallible conclusions…

Things then get hilariously surreal after Iznogoud and his long-suffering, bumbling assistant Wa’at Alahf discover a mystic crossroads that can lead unwary travellers onto an unending, pointless journey from which they can neither escape nor return. Dashing back to Baghdad to lure the Caliph onto ‘The Road to Nowhere’, our wicked wayfarers eventually realise that they’ve been stuck on it all along…

Eventually reality resumes and back home and itching to take over, the Vile Vizier then seeks to employ the tragic gifts of lonely hermit Ghoudas Gho’ld: a direct descendent of legendary King Midas in ‘The Golden Handshake’. All Iznogoud has to do to remove the Caliph is get the accursed involuntary metal-maker back to the palace without him touching anything. Easy, no? No…

There’s more tacit skulduggery afoot in ‘The Caliph’s Sceptre’ when Iznogoud hires a master thief to sneak him into the high-security vault where the Staff of Office is cached. If he can prevent the Caliph from presenting it to the people in the annual reaffirmation of worthiness to rule ceremony, the Vizier can legally assume control of the country. Of course, it doesn’t quite play out that way…

This fine kettle of funny fish concludes with ‘The Mysterious Ointment’ as fabled explorer Notsobad the Sailor returns to the port of Basrah. Having forgotten to bring the undetectable Occidental poisons he promised the Vizier, the wily voyager palms him off with a tube of “Schpouk toothpaste’.

Assured the container holds a lethal and undetectable toxin, Iznogoud embarks on an eccentrically convoluted campaign to convince the Caliph and the court that cleaning one’s choppers is the latest and most beneficial of scientific advancements. Care to guess how well that goes?

Snappy, fast-paced hi-jinks and gloriously agonising pun-ishing badinage abound in this mirthfully infectious series which is a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.

When first released here in the 1970s, these tales made little impression, but hopefully have finally found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…
© 1970 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved.

Thorgal volume 5: The Land of Qa/The Eyes of Tanatloc


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-80-9 (Album PB)

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series ever created, Thorgal deftly 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. The far-reaching, expansive generational saga has won a monolithic international following in numerous languages and dozens of countries, generating a flotilla of spin-off series, and thus naturally has found a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical setting of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean legends 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. The creative duo co-completed 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013.

In 2016, Xavier Dorison wrote one and in 2018 Yann (Yannick Le Pennetier) another, after which the latter remained as scripter whilst Rosiński took a break with Fred Vigaux illustrating 2019’s L’Ermite de Skellingar: the 37th tome in the sequence…

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

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

What Has Gone Before: As a baby Thorgal was recovered from a ferocious storm at sea and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived an interstellar 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 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…

The original series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s fifth double-album edition (comprising 10th epic Le pays Qâ and sequel saga #11 Les Yeux de Tanatloc from 1986, and available in both paperback and digital formats) reveals how Thorgal Aegirsson’s dreams of a life of splendid and secure isolation are forever ended by an old enemy…

The Land of Qa opens in the deepest winter as Thorgal and Aaricia’s island home is invaded by a band of mercenaries. The warrior and his wife are hosting new friends Argun Tree Foot and his tempestuous nephew Tjall the Fiery but the idyllic holiday ends in rage and humiliation as vicious pirates abduct the aged armourer and Jolan.

Before the enraged father can head after them, he is intercepted by a former acquaintance: ruthless thief Kriss of Valinor. She has taken a profitable commission and ensured Thorgal’s assistance despite their past animosities and potential objections. Gloatingly enjoying the upper hand, Kriss even acquiesces when Aaricia forcefully insists on coming with them…

The situation escalates into madness when Kriss’ allies/clients arrive, sailing a boat through the winter skies, held aloft by a series of vast balloons. Jolan and Tree Foot are already far out at sea, in a more conventional vessel, but their ultimate destination is anything but familiar…

Aboard the sky-ship, Thorgal and his companions, having been rendered unconscious by alien technology, are given a subliminal history lesson by a high priest of the distant Land of Qa – a region resembling pre-Columbian Central America. Since his own memories of his alien origins have been suppressed, the astounding tale of two warring men of godlike power who elevated savage primitives into warriors able to subjugate a continent means nothing to Thorgal…

He has no conception that he is the son of one of those pale deities and grandson of the other. All he knows is that he must steal the magic mask of one of them for the other, and his despised partner-in-crime Kriss cannot be trusted…

The mission seems doomed from the start. As Jolan and Tree Foot are unceremoniously marooned in a strange, arid land by their captors, far away and high above them the sky-ship is ambushed by enemy vessels. The horrific skirmish leaves Thorgal, Aaricia, Tjall and Kriss stranded in wild jungles miles from their target-destination: the imperial city of Mayaxatl and the almighty Ogatai who is their destined victim…

Compounding the crisis, Jolan and Tree Foot have also discovered a lost city. Xinjin is the capital of Ogatai’s puissant alien enemy, and holds secrets that somehow trigger strangely familial intuitions in Thorgal’s psychically precocious son…

And in the lush jungles, the father too experiences unwelcome premonitions and vague memories of people he has never met…
The saga continues – but does not conclude – in The Eyes of Tanatloc as the distanced and separated family works to reunite, driven by unknown and inexpressible forces. After endlessly battling horrific beasts, enduring and defeating deadly swamps and the perils of their own motivations, Thorgal’s party finally escapes the green hell and begins their assault on Mayaxatl. It has left them all exhausted and changed…

All the while, in Xinjin, dying Tanatloc has been subtly training little Jolan, trying to explain to his wary descendent the nature of the powers they share and their unearthly origins. The tutelage is sadly wasted, as high priest Variay subverts and derails his God’s efforts for his own reasons and with the intention of installing the boy as the new god-king of Xinjin…

To be Concluded…

A rousing generational fantasy epic, Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure: by turns ingenious, expansive, fierce, funny, phenomenally gripping and incredibly complex. this cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive tale offers a keen insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly reluctant, hero and the waves he makes in a fabulous forgotten world. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?
Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1986, Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA). English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.