Stigmata


By Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-409-2 (HB)

It’s rather hard not to think that it’s the end of days at the moment, and naturally that’s affecting what I’m reading. You too, I expect.

In that spirit, here’s a book you simply must read before you die, and if you already have, it truly stands another go.

In his latest magnificent endeavour, Lorenzo Mattotti is a giant of European graphic narrative with a back catalogue of truly stunning confections. In 1999 he teamed with novelist and screenwriter Claudio Piersanti for the first of two potent yarns (the other being the still untranslated Anonymes): to produce one of the most powerful and memorable examinations of religious experience with Stigmata.

This impressive hardback (still no digital edition yet) describes the Job-like trials and tragedies of a brutal, alcoholic shipwreck of a man pushed beyond the brink of tolerance and sanity. The pariah finds a kind of peace and resolution, but unlike his Old Testament antecedent, what begins in misery with nothing, only proceeds to forfeit even his last remaining graces. By the end of his travails, the sinner has found precious little knowledge or understanding, but some sort of peace…

Drunken, brutal, dissolute, middle-aged and heading nowhere, the last thing he needed was holes in his hands that bled but wouldn’t heal. Already despised and feared, the lonely bum works at a bar, but the wounds and the blood upset even those gin-soaked sots. Moreover, people follow him, thinking he possesses some divine secret or power to heal…

Eventually he snaps, wrecking the bar and confronting the vicious gangster who runs it… Some folks call him “the Saint”. He doesn’t think it’s funny…

As the city becomes even more savage and ugly, he takes off; tracking down an uncle who worked in a carnival. When he finds the travelling show his uncle is gone – arrested for stealing – but the Carnies accept him and he strikes up a romance with the vivacious Lorena. Even working as a handyman, his bleeding hands interfere, but the canny show-people turn it to their advantage, setting him up in a booth dispensing piety and miracle from his shabby, tawdry “House of Blessings.”

Travelling from town to town, he finds a kind of contentment, but eventually the Carnies’ secret sideline of burglary brings police attention. When his old gangster boss tracks him down and delivers a hideous punishment, he destroys the Stigmatic’s last shred of hope and Lorena’s life forever.

And then the storm hits… a tempest of Biblical proportions that changes everything…

Brooding, compelling and rendered in a cacophony of swirling miasmic lines, this fearsome modern parable is a fierce interrogation of faith and destiny asking uncompromising and uncomfortable questions about the price of Grace and the value of belief. Are these trials, so like Job’s cruel yet purposeful tests, the tough love of a benevolent father, the whims of a despicable devil or the random vagaries of an uncaring fate?

Stigmata is a grotesque and beautiful metaphysical rollercoaster with existential angst and blind faith gripping each other’s philosophical throats and squeezing really, really hard. No rational reader or mature comics fan can afford to miss this dark shining delight.
© 2010 Lorenzo Mattotti & Claudio Piersanti. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 5: The Anger of the Great Sphinx


By Lucien De Geiter: colours by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-115-0 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the rapturously beguiling masterwork of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 albums and consequently spawned 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 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) and took over the long-running newspaper strip Poussy.

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

From 1972-1974 he assisted cartooning legend Berck on Mischa for Germany’s Primo, whilst he perfected his newest project: a historical confection which would occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for the following four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic fantasy and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditional “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Moreover, each tale readily blends light fantasy escapades with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who quickly rises to become a hero of Egypt 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.

The youthful champion’s first task was to free supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is to protect Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble…

Avaliable in paperback and digital editions, The Anger of the Great Sphinx is the fifth Cinebook translation (20th album of the series and originally released in 1997 as La Colère du grand Sphinx); a spooky testing of faith through vile supernatural villainy, all eventually thwarted by unflinching daring and honest devotion…

The eerie escapade opens when restless Papyrus discovers the princess sleepwalking in the corridors of Pharaoh’s great Palace in Memphis. Cautiously following, he trips over court jester Puin. By the time he recovers his feet, Theti-Cheri has seized a waiting chariot and hurtled into the dark desert beyond the gates. Extremely alarmed, the lad leaps astride Puin’s phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot and rushes after her…

In the bleak wastes, Papyrus is attacked by a living sandstorm threatening to end the line of Pharaohs, but successfully drives it off with his magic sword, just as terrified Puin catches up. As the sun rises, they see they’re near the venerable complex of pyramids and Re Harmakhis, Guardian of the Horizon. The mighty monuments and the Great Sphinx are all but buried under the eternally shifting sands…

Nervous Puin wants to return to the city, leaving such great concerns to Pharaoh and the gods, but Papyrus refuses to abandon the mesmerised princess who can be seen between the paws of the great statue. As he approaches, the stone beast roars that Theti-Cheri now belongs to him because her father has broken an ancient pact to keep the sands from covering him and his temples.

As assign of his dissatisfaction, the princess will die at sunset…

Desperate for a solution, our hero agrees to give the insidious sandstorm his magic sword if it will save the princess and the swirling devil advises the lad to find Anty, the Divine Ferryman and seek passage to the Island of the Gods where he can petition the Divinities for merciful intervention…

Dashing to the Nile with Puin and Khamelot in hot pursuit, Papyrus matches wits with the duplicitous Ferryman – a conniving talking crocodile boat with a grudge against the boy from previous encounters.

Once again, the rogue vessel tries to cheat and bamboozle the boy. Whilst ostensibly taking the trio to the gods’ home, Anty plies the humans with a hallucinogenic drink – resulting in a stunning and baroque display of the author’s spectacular imagination and artistic virtuosity – before leaving them unconscious in a bed of reeds.

Here they are discovered by trio of sibling dotards – dubbed Pepi I, Pepi II and Pepi III – who minister to them. They are in turn saved by Papyrus when bullying brigands try to rob their hovel. The elders are fishermen now, but once they were paid by Pharaoh to keep the Sphinx and pyramids clear of sand. In recent years though they appear to have been forgotten…

With horror the boy realises they have been left back near the Sphinx and the day is fast fading. With ho hope left of gaining the gods’ aid, he rushes off to find Anty and teach the conniving Ferryman the error of his wicked ways before returning to hand his wonderful sword over to the smugly triumphant sandstorm…

At his most despondent moment, through the roaring sand Papyrus sees the Pepis. The elderly janitors have organised the entire village: young and old alike are toiling amid the storm to clear the Sphinx for the sake of their beloved princess.

When Khamelot inadvertently reminds the frantically labouring peasants of a tried-and-true – albeit noxious – way to dampen down the swirling grains and make them more manageable, the furiously screaming storm devil is at last beaten and blows away…

In the quiet still morning, the Sphinx is again free from obstruction and obscurity, but Papyrus is heartbroken to see that it is all too late.

Carrying the corpse of Theti-Cheri into the desert he denies his faith, screaming at the gods who have been so unfair… and they answer, revealing the foolish mistake the passionate, impatient lad has made…

With the princess joyously restored and Re Harmakhis gleaming in all his golden glory, Pharaoh at last arrives in a blare of trumpets to reaffirm his dynasty’s obligations and devotion to the gods, elevating the three Pepis to the exalted station of Eternal Guardians of the Sphinx. The newly appointed opponents of the shifting sands have recently taken possession of a certain magic sword and gratefully return it to the boy who restored their family fortunes…

Epic, chilling, funny, enthralling and masterfully engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm, and anybody who has worn out those Tintinand Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add these classic chronicles to their dusty, well-beloved bookshelves. Let’s hope Cinebook will soon resume translating the rest for our eager eyes…
© Dupuis, 1997 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd.

The Kurdles


By Robert Goodin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-832-8 (HB)

The power of strip and picture books is that they can jump right through your eyes, bombarding but bypassing your brain and lodging straight into your heart. If you don’t believe me, just read Sock Monkey: Into the Deep Woods, A Wish for Wings That Work, Usagi Yojimbo, The Moomins and the Great Flood, Bone, Copper, The Squickerwonkers, Pogo or The Velveteen Rabbit.

In fact, read them anyway. You can never read enough.

You should also add to that list this splendidly eerie, all-ages cartoon tale from illustrator and animator Rob Goodin (Duckman, The Wild Thornberries, American Dad!) which blends – in the best tradition of the genre – crippling loneliness, astounding wonder and the finding of a new family; all delivered in a gloriously illustrated, magnificently oversized (305 x 222 mm) full-colour hardback tome that will take your breath away. It just as much a menace to respiration if you consume digitally, so you might do that too…

When little Ellie starts acting up again, poor Sally Bear gets flung out the car window on a cold, rainy night and left in the wilds to rot.

The trenchant little toy is made of far sterner stuff, however and, picking herself up, gamely wanders the terrifying great outdoors, narrowly avoiding doom and destruction from assorted beasts and natural hazards.

Battered and bedraggled, Sally eventually finds her way deep into a swamp where a bizarre conurbation exists. More accurately, one of the denizens of Kurdleton finds her, dragging the bedraggled bear back to a band of little weirdoes who extend jolly hands of friendship the damaged bear is too proud and standoffish to accept with any grace at all…

Claiming all she needs are directions back to the road, Sally is nevertheless soon embroiled in the jovial strangers’ ongoing crisis: their magnificent dwelling has contracted a strange malady and is growing hair and eyes…

Soon a case of Casa Pilosa – an infamous “Disease of the American Home” – is diagnosed. This house is coming alive…

That’s all the plot you get, and you’ll thank me for that when you see for yourselves this fabulously moving, suspensefully thrilling and wryly funny fractured fable of outcasts banding together into a potently different modern family.

Bold, beguiling and beautiful, The Kurdles is the kind of book you will remember forever.
The Kurdles © 2015 Robert Goodin. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Vowels


By Skye Ogden (Gestalt Publishing)
ISBN: 978-0-9775628-1-7 (PB)

I’ve long admitted my love for comics in black & white and frequently expressed my admiration for creators who can tell a tale in utter silence, without benefit of text, and this lavish and splendid digest sized (212 x 144mm) paperback is one of my favourite examples of the form.

Created by Australian cartoonist, designer and illustrator Skye Ogden, Vowels is a phenomenally engaging sequence of five linked fables which mesmerically examine aspects of the human condition, all played out in an oddly welcoming, if harsh, desert landscape that houses hulking cavemen and their suitably formidable women, adorable lizards, wide eyed aliens and, latterly, extremely unpleasant invading soldiery…

This is one of those books you’ll thank me for staying non-specific about, so I’ll only go so far as to say that ‘a’ is a broadly comedic chase vignette starring those aforementioned dawn people and the unlucky reptile, whilst ‘e’ introduces a diminutive alien wanderer to the happy, hirsute couple before following the unhappy voyager into a most peculiar afterlife and rebirth…

In ‘i’ the little guy’s distant relatives take the stage in a bustling marketplace for a dose of Romeo and Juliet frustration and tragedy before overwhelming, abiding loss is expressively characterised in ‘o’, after which the fascinating, universally accessible discussion on the nature of existence concludes with the brutal horrors of war, occupation and vengeance…

Depicted in a beguiling, timelessly engaging cartoon style, deliciously reminiscent of the legendary Vaughn Bode and employing all the devastatingly expressive, pantomimic artifices of Charlie Chaplin, Vowels is a masterpiece of the cartoonist’s craft where life, death, love, hate, jealousy, obsession, protectiveness, greed, raw naked aggression and cruelty are pared down to the bone and graphically, forensically explored in a manner which only makes us hungry for more.

Deeply enticing, appealingly slick and intoxicatingly addictive, Vowels is an irresistible torrent of purely visual drama and which will delight all aficionados of the medium who value comics for their own sake, and don’t need a route map or score card to enjoy themselves. And it’s long overdue to be revived and rediscovered. In my alphabet, that rates a great big oooooo….
© 2007 Skye Ogden. All rights reserved.

School Spirits


By Anya Davidson (Picturebox)
ISBN: 978-1-939799-02-9 (HB)

Sometimes art – and especially comics – defy dull ration analysis and, just like the music your parents didn’t like, grabs you way below any conscious level. Such is the case here as prodigious printmaker, mini comics auteur and cult musician Anya Davidson (Barbarian Bitch/Kramer’s Ergot, Child of the Sun, Coughs & Cacaw, Band for Life) who emerged into the major leagues with this cool, cruel monochrome hardback which lifts the lid on those terrible teenager people through a wry and macabre quartet of tales defining modern School Spirits.

Through freewheeling progressions, flashbacks, daydreams and conceptual digressions, David carries her girl of the moment Oola and BFF Garf through vicious, monstrous, demonic, occasionally surreal stream-of-consciousness hallucinatory everyday escapades which eerily recapitulate and invoke the best of underground commix and modern independent cartoonists from S. Clay Wilson to Johnny Ryan…

It all begins with a quick pictorial introduction in ‘School Spirits Picturebox Brooklyn’ before ‘Ticket Thicket’ introduce our cast when radio DJ Weird Wally Walczac galvanises a generation by offering a pair of phone prize tickets to the hottest gig in town: Hrothgar’s Halloween concert…

At ‘Vinyl Command’ we get a quick glimpse at the imagined, nigh-mythological life of the rock god Renaissance Man who wrote Blasphemous Corporeal Stench and Rotting Abortion before Oola wakes up and faints, after which the largely silent ‘Battle for the Atoll’ reveals the powers and mysteries of Primal Woman and leads us to a seat of learning…

‘No Class’ opens with a frantic chase before retreating to school where Oola’s hunger for knowledge and passionate drooling over class stud-muffin Grover is ruined by mouthy dick Jason, who spoils Art and Ceramics only to die hideously in our heroine’s fevered thoughts…

Further bouts of noxious reality – such as the affair between teachers Miss DeLeon and Mister Kirbowski – fall prey to imagination and horny supposition, all similarly despatched and destroyed in dreamscape, until break when the girls can continue planning the big magic spell they’re concocting to really shake up the town…

And thus the time passes progress until the day of the gig when Oola is caught shoplifting and stabs a guard before fleeing into another miasmic multi-reality chase which culminates at the life-changing Hrothgar show ‘In the Great Riff Valley’

Like some fervent Archie Comics of the Damned, School Spirits readily blends the profane with the arcane, and the regimented tedium of waiting to be in charge of your life with the terrors and anticipation of the moment it all becomes Your Own Fault, in a rollercoaster ride of eclectic images Davidson describes as ‘“Beavis and Butthead” meets James Joyce’s “Ulysses”’. What I know is this: the pace, style and sheer ingenuity of this book is brutally addictive and, despite constantly playing with the vertical and horizontal holds of Reality, never slips up and never loses narrative focus.

Strong, stirring stuff, full of sex and violence, and outrageously amusing all round. So, if you’re one of the millions of parents agonising over whether your kids are safe back at school, just remember they never have been…
© 2013 Anya Davidson. All rights reserved.

The Michael Moorcock Library: Elric volume 1 – Elric of Melniboné


Adapted by Roy Thomas, Michael T. Gilbert, P. Craig Russell & Tom Orzechowski (Titan Comics)
ISBN: 978 -1-78276-288-1 (HB)

Some stories just never grow stale or feel out-of-step. Here a particular favourite both in prose and comics form that you can find and adore in both physical and digital formats at last.

As the first volume in a proposed Michael Moorcock Library of comics adaptations, this is, according to internal narrative chronology, the first tale of the doomed king, despite being one of the last adventures penned by Moorcock in the initial cycle of stories (he returned to the character years later, as all great authors do to all great characters).

As a sequential narrative, the soaring saga was originally released in 1983-1984 from Pacific Comics before being collected into a graphic novel by First Comics. It was then given an archival polish and is re-presented here in a superb hardcover tome complete with Introduction from Mr. Moorcock, plus a full cover gallery and additional art.

Adaptors Roy Thomas & P. Craig Russell had previously worked on other tales of the last Emperor of Melniboné: specifically debut tale The Dreaming City (taken from the first novella as published in 1961) which began life as a Marvel Graphic Novel in 1982 and was supplemented by 1984’s ‘While the Gods Laugh’, which featured in Marvel’s fantasy anthology magazine Epic Illustrated #14. Here they are joined by fellow enthusiast and esteemed arch-stylist Michael T. Gilbert to complete a masterpiece of decadently baroque, sinisterly effete yarnspinning based in large part on the dark visions of Aubrey Beardsley and Arthur Rackham.

Elric is an absolute icon of the Sword & Sorcery genre: ruler of the pre-human civilisation of the Melnibonéans, a race of cruel, arrogant and congenitally sadistic sorcerers: dissolute creatures in a slow, decadent decline after millennia of dominance over the Earth.

Born an albino, he is physically weak and of a brooding, philosophical temperament. He cares for nothing save his beautiful cousin Cymoril, even though her brother Prince Yyrkoon openly lusts for his throne. As seen in opening chapter ‘Out of the Dreaming City’, he doesn’t even really want to rule, but it is his duty, and he is the only one of his kind to see the newly evolved race of Man as a threat to the Empire.

When intruders from the Young Kingdoms are captured within the island’s maze defences, they are interrogated in ‘Welcome to the Domain of Dr. Jest’ and inevitably reveal an imminent attack on the Dreaming City of Imrryr, capital of Empire for ten thousand years.

Provoked by Yyrkoon, physically frail Elric personally leads the response, and the Fleet, bolstered by dragons and magic, easily dispatches the upstart humans. In the midst of the melee, the wily pretender seizes his chance and throws the enfeebled Emperor overboard to drown at the moment of victory.

The deeply conflicted hero believes himself happy to die, yet some part of his mind calls to the sea-elementals and their mighty king Straasha – bonded allies and ancient friends of the Empire – to save him. When he returns to confront the usurper, Yrrkoon unleashes a demonic doomsday weapon and flees with Cymoril as his hostage.

Hidden at the ends of the Earth using the demonic ‘Mirror of Memory’ to conceal himself from all searches, the usurper plans a counterattack and all Elric’s magic cannot find him. In obsessive desperation the pale Emperor swallows his pride and suspicion, pledging allegiance to Arioch, a Lord of Chaos in eternal opposition to the supernal Lords of Order.

The eternal see-saw war of these puissant forces is the fundamental principle of this universe and the overarching Multiverse. For providing the etiolated Elric with the means to find and defeat his cousin, Arioch will demand his devil’s due, but the Albino does not care…

Other allies such as Straasha are more forthcoming and less duplicitous: providing Elric with ‘The Ship Which Sails over Land and Sea’ and enabling the frantic pursuer to voyage to a ferocious, doom-drenched confrontation with his conniving cousin.

The journey is fast but perilous but the final clash is further delayed as Elric finds Cymoril ensorcelled to eternal sleep and Yyrkoon gone to another realm in quest of ultimate power…

Once again calling upon Arioch’s mercurial favours, Elric follows ‘Through the Shade Gate’ to a dreary, dying otherwhere and meets affable exile Rackhir the Red Archer who joins him in the final stages of his pursuit, resulting in a terrifying duel with Yyrkoon who now holds the mighty Mournblade whilst Elric is compelled to accept his dark and foredoomed future by taking up the black blade he was born to carry in ‘At Last… Stormbringer’.

Every task undergone, every trial undertaken and all torments endured, have been cruelly orchestrated to get Elric to bring the Rune-sword, the malevolent Stealer of Souls, back to Earth and so very soon, he does… but not in the manner double-dealing Arioch intended…

The novel is an iconic and groundbreaking landmark of fantasy fiction and a must-read-item for any fan. This spectacular, resplendently flamboyant adaptation is a deliciously elegant, savagely beautiful masterpiece of the genre effortlessly blending blistering action and gleaming adventure with the deep, darkly melancholic tone of the cynical, nihilistic, Cold-War mentality and era that spawned the original stories.

You must read the book and you should own this graphic novel …and all the successive tomes to come…

Adapted from the works of Michael Moorcock related to the character of Elric of Melniboné © 2014, Michael & Linda Moorcock. All characters, the distinctive likenesses thereof, and all related indicia are ™ & © Michael Moorcock and Multiverse Inc.

Jaimie Smart’s Bunny vs Monkey volume 1


By Jaimie Smart, with Laura Bentley & Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-177-2 (PB)

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British periodical sensation The Phoenix from the very first issue: a madcap duel of animal arch rivals set amidst the idyllic arcadia of a more-or-less ordinary English Wood. Those trend-setting, mind-bending antics were rapidly retooled as graphic albums and are now being re-released in remastered, double-length digest editions. In case you’re wondering, the fabulous fun found here originally inhabited volumes 1 & 2, entitled Let the Mayhem Begin and Journey to the Centre of the Eurg-th

With precious little unnecessary build-up, the manic happy returns commence with a ‘Prologue!’ introducing placid, wise, helpful Bunny and not-so-smart pals Pig and Weenie Squirrel. The foolish innocents and lifelong residents of idyllic Crinkle Woods have found a hibernating bear which Bunny really wants them to stop trying to wake up…

Meanwhile, over the hill and not so far away, a bunch of boffins are attempting to launch a really annoying monkey into space…

This prompts a barrage of seasonal silliness in ‘Bunny vs. Monkey’, as the proposed launch goes hideously awry and the loud, stroppy, obnoxious simian lands in the snow-covered glade and instantly declares himself king of this strange alien world…

Monkey loves noise, strife, chaos and trouble and incessantly needs to raise a rumpus – everything genteel, contemplative Bunny abhors – so when our apish astronaut introduces techno music in ‘Keep it Down!’, the lines of battle are irrevocably drawn…

Thing escalate in ‘When Monkey Met Skunky’. This latter is a brilliant inventor with a bombastic line in animal-inspired terror weapons such as the Cluck Cluck Zeppelin used to bomb the woods with 10-year-old rotten eggs or the giant metal robot hands which give the destructive Monkey ‘Fists of Fury’

Winter draws on with ‘Soggy ‘n’ Froggy’ wherein a monstrous Frog-O-Saurus becomes the wicked duo’s latest Weapon of Meadow Destruction, after which poor Pig is transformed into cyborg sensation Pig-O-Tron 5000 in ‘Robo-Chop’ as a simple change of pace sees Weenie and Pig put on a circus show to counter all the nasty animosity before getting painfully caught ‘Clowning Around’

Up until now Monkey has been risking his own pelt road-testing all Skunky’s inventions, but when a bewildered former stuntman turns up, the sneaky simian is happy to leave all the dangerous stuff to ‘Action Beaver’

March leads to a profusion of beautiful buds and blossoms which delight the soul of nature-loving Bunny.

Tragically they utterly disgust Monkey, who tries to eradicate all that flora in ‘Down with Spring!’ until he comes a-cropper thanks to a sack of spiky “Hodgehegs”, whilst in ‘Bonjour, Le Fox’, the spacy invader finally goes too far, forcing Bunny to align with a rather radical environmentalist possessed of a big, bushy tail and an outrrrrrageous French accent…

Some of Bunny’s friends are their own worst enemies. ‘Race to the Moon!’ sees Weenie and Pig build their own spaceship – out of natural materials like moss and mushrooms – only to have Monkey disastrously commandeer it, after which Skunky builds a terrifying cyber crocodile dubbed ‘Metal Steve!’ which ignores its perfidious programming to spend the day swimming. Such shameful failures thus compel Monkey to steal a steamroller to personally get rid of all that hateful, ugly cherry blossom infesting the trees in ‘Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin’!’

The war against nature intensifies as ‘Eat Your Greens!’ sees Skunky’s Caterpillar-Zilla devouring forest foliage until an authentic creepy-crawly steps in, whilst ‘The Whuppabaloo!’ shows the niffy tinkerer’s softer side as he drags Monkey on a wilderness trek to track down the most amazing thing in nature…

‘Hide and Squark!’ depicts the rabbit’s fightback, thanks to the double-dealing help of a certain giant parrot, after which a momentary détente for a spot of angling inevitably turns into another heated duel in ‘Fish Off!’ after which a brief falling out of the axis of evil in May ends as ‘Invisi-Monkey’ sees the strident simian squabbling with Skunky to possess a sneaky stealth suit. The status quo sees the villains reuniting to spoil a joyous game of Cake-Ball with their monolithic, monstrous ‘Mole-a-Rolla!’

‘Black Gold’ finds Monkey attempting to turn the Wood into an oil field, before spoiling Bunny’s dream of a ‘Quiet Day!’with a giant Robot Cockroach

Blazing June opens with ‘Bring Him Back!’ as Action Beaver attempts to retrieve watery wanderer Metal Steve whilst simple souls Weenie and Pig accidentally kick off an invention Armageddon which only intensifies after that long-slumbering ursine finally wakes up in ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bear?’

‘The Bat!’ apparently introduces a nasty new faction to the ongoing conflict (but all is not as it seems!), and there’s no confusing the stakes when Bunny agrees to a winner-take-all fight in ‘Wrestlepocalypse!’ and Monkey learns that cheats never prosper…

Just when things seem likely to settle down, fresh chaos ensues when a violent piratical rabbit – with an eye-patch – storms in to cause stir up trouble in ‘Bunny B!’

With battle reports spanning July to December, hostilities reach new heights and depths as Monkey and Skunky fail to make proper use of ‘The Wish Cannon!’ This reality-warping gun could change the world, but also makes really good cakes…

A far better terror-tool is colossally ravening robot ‘Octo-blivion!’, which ruins Bunny’s boating afternoon, but sadly the tentacled doom-toy becomes an irresistible object of amorous intent for irrepressible cyber crocodile Metal Steve before it can complete its nefarious machinations…

A hot day inspires Monkey to demand his bonkers boffin whip up some volcanoes, but their ‘Journey to the Centre of the Eurg-th!’ only unearths chilly regions and crazily cool creatures before the scene shifts to those not-so-smart but astonishingly innocent bystanders Pig and Weenie.

An afternoon playing with crayons results in a lovely drawing of a crown, and soon everyone is bowing down and obeying ‘King Pig’, after which surly radical environmentalist ‘Fantastique Le Fox!’ finds time to share his incredible origin stories with the dumbfounded woodland denizens. Yes, that’s right: stories, plural…

Hyperkinetic carnage is the order of the day when a cute little dickens turns up inside spiffy running-toy ‘Hamsterball 3000!’, providing Skunky with the perfect power source for his latest devastating mechanical marauder: the horrendous Hamster Mobile

Puns, peril and a stinging hidden moral then inform proceedings when all the animals celebrate ‘Bee-Day!’ whilst a certain happily brain-battered, bewildered former stuntman turns into a tormented super-genius when he accidentally falls under the influence of Skunky’s Smarty Helmet in ‘Action Beever2.

Happily for everyone, before it wears off the increased cognition – in conjunction with a handy lemon puff – demolishes an unleashed Doomsday Device which might just have ended everything…

From September onwards the stories drop to four pages a pop as ‘Gone with the Wind!’ finds Pig and Weenie making trouble with their windsurfing cart after which ‘I, Robot Crocodile!’ sees Metal Steve on a destructive rampage until Bunny and Monkey team up to show the steel berserker the simple joys of dance…

‘There’s a Moose Loose!’ depicts Skunky back on bad form and trying to fool his enemies with a vast Trojan Elk before Monkey spoils everyone’s September by going big after being introduced to a sweet childhood game in ‘Conkers Bonkers!’ after which – with the Beaver temporarily bedridden – the perfidious pair of animal evildoers employ the rather dim ‘Action Pig!’ to test pilot their devilish Dragonfly 5000. Such a bad idea…

Tidy-minded Bunny has no hope of sweeping up all autumn’s golden detritus in ‘Leaf it Alone!’ once friends and enemies start helping out, and an extended sub-plot opens in ‘Duck Race!’ as impetuous Monkey pries into Skunky’s most deadly and diabolical secrets all stashed behind a locked door. In a frantic attempt to deflect attention, the smelly scientist then unleashes the colossal Lord Quack-Quack!

The saga sequels in a surprisingly downbeat follow-up as Bunny, Pig and Weenie dare the fiend’s lair to check out ‘Door B’ before scheduled insanity resumes as ‘Hypno-Monkey!’ finds the hirsute horror misusing a memory ray and briefly assuming godlike power…

Who doesn’t like igniting marshmallows and telling scary stories around a campfire? Not Bunny, Pig and Weenie after hearing the tale of ‘Monster Pants!’ leading to the local idiots deciding to join Monkey’s gang in ‘Bad Influence!’

The monkey is no one idea of a role model – except perhaps for painful ineptitude – as seen in ‘Lost in the Snow!’, but the winter fun expands to encompass everyone when Skunky’s ‘Chemical X!’ unleashes a chilled tidal wave of blancmange leading to seasonal silliness as ‘The Small Matter of the End of the World!’ exposes time-travelling madness as the true story of the demise of the Doomsday Device is finally exposed in an extra-length yarn…

Everything changes when ‘Merry Christmas Mr. Monkey!’ sees peace and goodwill grip the woods – or perhaps it’s just that the simian seditionist has gone missing? When the innocent inhabitants go looking for Monkey, they find him far beyond the forest associating with strange two-legged beings, singing carols and swiping mince pies, but nobody realises just how dangerous ‘Hyooomanz!’ can be as the year ends with plans found proclaiming the demolition of Crinkle Wood and the coming of a new motorway…

To Be Continued…

Adding lustre and fun, this superb treat includes detailed instructions on ‘How to Draw Bunny’ and ‘How to Draw Monkey’, so, as well as beguiling your littl’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

Endlessly inventive, sublimely funny and outrageously addictive, Bunny vs. Monkey is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Why isn’t that you, yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2020. All rights reserved.

The Sanctuary


By Nate Neal (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-388-0 (TPB)

Nowadays there’s a wonderful abundance of impressive and talented cartoonists crafting superbly thought-provoking comics all over the world. Moreover, they are all blessed with perfect timing, in that they’re more or less able to support themselves by their efforts, thanks to modern technology and markets. Formerly in America, the imaginative likes of Kirby, Ditko and even R. Crumb had to filter themselves through a system of editors, publishers and distributors to get their work to readers, surrendering control and rights in the process. Other countries also monetised talent and imagination in similar ways, always to the detriment of the creative force at the centre.

In our freshly liberated modern crucible, ideas can take you anywhere and religious ideologues, self-righteous pressure groups, blinkered editors and fear of lost sales have only negligible effect: indeed, assorted squeals of outrage or timid support for unconventional thoughts and images can actually help potentially contentious or uncommercial graphic material reach the audiences it was actually intended for.

Which is a very roundabout and longwinded way to introduce today’s golden oldie. Not that Nate Neal’s first graphic novel was ever particularly contentious or outrageous. Even though there is nudity, fornication, wanton violence and gleeful irreverence, what mostly comes through in The Sanctuary is the arduous effort and intelligent philosophical questioning in this primordial tale of a band of cave-dwellers living and dying at the nativity of our greatest inventions… language and art.

Neal (Spongebob Comics) is Michigan born and Brooklyn dwelling: one of the creative crew that launched splendid indie comics anthology Hoax with Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw & Hans Rickheit. He has crafted a string of impressive colour and monochrome pieces such as ‘Delia’s Love’, ‘Mindforkin’’ and ‘Fruition’ in Fantagraphics’ stunning and much-missed arts periodical Mome. His high-profile commercial gigs include Truckhead for Nickelodeon Magazine and Mad’s perennial favourite Spy Vs. Spy (originally created by Antonio Prohias and since covered by such diverse lights as Dave Manak and Peter Kuper).

Like kitsch movie masterpieces When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and 1,000,000 Years B.C. , this primeval parable is produced with a unique and supremely limited intrinsic language (which, if you pay attention, you will readily decipher) serving to focus the reader on the meat of the tale: how art and graphic narrative became a fundamental aspect of human cognition.

Please don’t be put off by my jokey references to classic bubblegum cinema; The Sanctuary has far more in common with the antediluvian aspects of Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire than with any “big lizard meets busty cave-babe” flick (although if you’re a fan of Quest for Fire, that film’s gritty, grey and darkly sardonic ethos does eerily resonate here…)

Largely silent and broadly pantomimic, the snapshot episodes in this bleak black-&-white generational saga describe a small clan – or more properly “pack” – of brutal hominids eking out a squalid and desperate existence about thirty-two thousand years ago. The tribal equilibrium is forever altered when a young female is traded to them, affording the lowest-ranked male in the group a crumb of physical comfort. Prior to this, he was practically outcast, having to steal food from the alpha males – and females – who have been and continue to struggle for control of the group.

This omega-male has a gift and a passion. He obsessively commemorates the tribe’s hunts through art, but after the girl arrives, he discovers a new use and purpose for his propensities. However, life is hard and hunger and danger go hand in hand. The cold war between young and old, fit and maimed, male and female is inevitably boiling over…

This is a powerful tale about creativity, morality, verity and above all, responsibility which demands that the reader work for his reward. As an exploration of imagination, it is subtly enticing, but as an examination of Mankind’s unchanging primal nature The Sanctuary is pitilessly honest. Abstract, symbolic, metaphorical yet gloriously approachable, this devastatingly clever saga is a “must-see” for any serious fan of comics and every student of the human condition.
© 2010 Nate Neal. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 4: The Evil Mummies


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by Georges Vloeberghs & translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-027-6 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the masterfully evocative magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. It premiered in 1974 in legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, running to 35 collected albums, and consequently spawning a wealth of merchandise, including an animated television 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) inserted into LJdS, starring his jovial little cowboy Pony, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis. After that he joined Peyo’s studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs (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 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 latest 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 milieux, blending Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction and interventionist mythology: the epic yarns gradually evolving from traditionally appealing “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content towards a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration, through means of light fantasy romps always leavened and flavoured with the latest historical theories and discoveries.

The named star is a fearlessly forthright peasant lad (specifically, a fisherman by trade) favoured by the gods who rises to become a hero of Egypt and friend to Pharaohs.

As a youngster the plucky Fellah was blessed by the divine powers and given a magic sword, courtesy of a daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek. The lad’s first task was to free supreme god Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos, thereby restoring peace to the Double Kingdom. However, his most difficult and seemingly never-ending duty is protecting Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a princess with an unparalleled gift for seeking out trouble…

The Evil Mummies is the fourth Cinebook tome (of, inexplicably, only six thus far). Available in paperback and in eBook formats, it translates the 19th European album in the run, which was originally released in 1996 as Les Momies maléfiques: a riotous rollercoaster of all-out action and fearsome fantasy which begins in the rocky fastnesses of the deep sands. Here Pharaoh’s headstrong daughter impatiently leads an expedition to retrieve the revered mummies of the fabled Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa from the lost Hammamat mines, who legendarily fell defending the nation from the invading Hyksos.

The bodies are to be returned in honour and interred in Thebes, but first they have to find them…

Cheekily joining Theti-Cheri, her protector Papyrus and all the assorted, hurrying specialists is sometime court jester Puin, charged with caring for the precious pack animals – although it would be more accurate to say that his phenomenally intelligent donkey Khamelot is actually guiding all those reins…

In their haste to finish the mission, the party are shamefully negligent and forget to make proper obeisance to divine Seth, Master of the Desert Wastes, and soon a furious cloud image warns of the dark overlord’s wrath. Nervously shrugging it off, the expedition prepares for sleep but is suddenly devastated by a terrifying flash-flood manifesting from nowhere and brutally scattering the impious intruders.

Papyrus awakes battered and bruised above a lofty precipice. He has been saved from crushing doom by a great silver falcon, favoured beast of mighty Horus

In trying to retrieve his magic sword the boy-hero triggers a flaming omen which points him a certain direction. Setting off into the scorching desert, he slowly follows a treacherous trail and with the falcon’s timely aid uncovers a deep crevice and shaft into a deep, long-forgotten mine. In a chamber far within the abandoned workings is a golden statue of Seth and ten roughly hewn coffins in a makeshift temple…

Curiosity overcoming caution, Papyrus uncovers a ghastly, poorly-preserved mummy in one but the second – already opened – casque holds Theti-Cheri herself: alive, but bound and gagged. When he cuts the princess loose, she descends into utter panic, frantically warning that she had been captured by walking corpses: the angry archers of Sekenenre Taa…

The boy warrior is saved from a lethal arrow by the ever-present falcon, but in his panicked flight is separated from his rattled companion, before plunging into open air and landing in the mine’s ancient water-filled well.

Recovering his wits, he trails Theti and finds her and the bird on a rooftop. She claims to have been saved by Horus himself.

Sadly, the aroused mummies are determined and unstoppable. With his magic sword useless against the already dead, Papyrus is about to be crushed by the restless revenants and is only rescued when the princess plunges one of the monsters’ own arrows into a dusty body…

Before long though, the buried temple is crawling with revived and raging mummy murderers and the terrified youths are again racing in panic. Spotting a trickle of water on a stony rock face, Papyrus smites the wall with his sword and a watery tumult catapults them to relative safety in the well.

With the water flooding away, however, the pair can see two huge golden statues of Horus at the bottom and realise that they must restore them to the temple to quiet the still-marauding mummies…

Seth unleashes more magical mischief to deter the already overwhelmed children, but Papyrus’ defiance and the fortuitous appearance of Khamelot quickly turn the tables after the unthinking dead things mistake the donkey for their own ghastly long-eared, long-nosed dark lord and rapidly retreat…

With aid from the faithfully following pack animals, the Horus statues are quickly restored to their rightful stations but Theti insists that the now-dormant archer mummies must be respectfully gathered up and transported to their proper resting place in Thebes as per her father’s plans…

As the bizarre entourage makes its laborious way back across the burning sands, more strange encounters plunge both princess and protector into another hidden tomb. This one holds the real, righteous, sacredly-interred Ten Archers of Sekenenre Taa. But if that’s the case, who or what have they been shipping back at such tremendous, exhausting effort?

Solving that enigma, the pair still have to defeat an army of bandits and pillagers even as the battle leads them to the impossible plain where the lost members of the original expedition have been enduring the slow punishment of Seth…

Epic, funny, enthralling and frenetically paced, this amazing adventure will thrill and beguile lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, again proving Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of continental champions wedding heroism and humour with wit and charm. Anybody who has worn out those Tintin and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to unearth and acquire all these classic chronicles.
© Dupuis, 1996 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2010 Cinebook Ltd.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina volume 1


By Jougi Shirashi illustrated by Itsuki Nanoa: character design by Azure: translated by Taylor Engel (SQUARE ENIX)
ISBN: 978-1-64609-035-8 (TPB)

Written by Jougi Shiraishi, Majo no Tabitabi began in 2014 as an original eBook on Amazon’s Kindle service. Initially the book struggled, but diligent politicking on message and bulletin boards built a solid fanbase and the series was picked up in 2016 by SB Creative for their ranobe (Light Novel) division. With illustrations and designs by Azure the stories of the Wandering Witch took off – with ten volumes thus far – and ultimately led to an online manga adaptation by Itsuki Nanao. That launched in November 2018 as a smartphone app and on Square Enix’s Manga UP! website. April 2019 saw the release of a paperback tankōbon collection in Japan which now comes to the English-speaking world in anticipation of a TV series slated to launch in October 2020.

Firmly entrenched in the whimsical, joyous and exceedingly popular arena of benevolent magic-users operating in comfy medieval other-verses, these are engaging episodes starring a capable young woman just getting to grips with her mystic gifts. Moreover, Elaina is a lass who loves to travel, meaning she can help folk of many interesting places…

Her peregrinations begin when she arrives in ‘The Land of Magicians’: a walled city filled with mages and sorcerers…

Elaina fondly recalls how her love of books – especially the saga of travelling witch Nique – set her own childhood ambitions firmly on following her idol’s path. Now a freshly-graduated full sorceress dubbed the Ashen Witch, her progress is stalled after an apparently accidental crash involving neophyte student Saya. Somehow, in that fateful collision, Elaina loses her potent Brooch of Office and cannot move on without recovering it. As she seeks, however, the Ashen Witch discovers that all is not as it seems…

A tone of menace and thwarted romance permeates ‘The Land of Flowers’ as Elaina encounters an eerie field of blossoms and unwisely agrees to deliver a bunch of blooms for the young maiden reclining there. Strangely, it doesn’t matter who accepts the bouquet, only that someone from the nearby city does. Even more peculiar is that no one will and that flowers have been ruled illegal in the conurbation. Ever-inquisitive, Elaina soon learns of a fantastic situation and is embroiled in a fantastic tragedy before moving on…

Smart and self-sufficient, the Ashen Witch arrives in a nondescript kingdom and faces an unprecedented crisis as ‘Raising Funds’ find her trapped in a land where runaway inflation ripples the populace and drains her of her own living capital. Struggling to meet basic expenses, she soon uncovers an incredible plot against the new king and must take dramatic action to help him and escape with her travelling cash intact…

The dramas conclude with an origin tale as she recalls her time as ‘Apprentice Witch Elaina’: a talented but naive acolyte striving to please her ferociously eccentric mentor Fran the Stardust Witch. It was quite some time before the student divined the method behind her tutor’s apparent madness…

Rounding out this jolly grimoire are brief prose vignette ‘What Would You Take to a Desert Island?’, taken from Elaina’s student days with Fran, plus a selection of short strips concerning ‘The Tale of the Muscle Man Who’s Looking for his Little Sister On the Road’, ending the fun on a suitably bizarre note…

Engaging and wry, this superbly illustrated slice of fanciful fluff will delight lovers of the genre and offers plenty of potential for developing into a true all-ages fan phenomenon. Why not check it out, if you’re looking for something light and frothy to balance life’s darker realities…
Wandering Witch volume 1 © Jougi Shiraishi/SB Creative Corp. Character Design by Azure. © 2019 Itsuki Nanao/ SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All rights reserved.