Iznogoud and the Day of Misrule (volume 3)


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

In his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Death has barely slowed him down and he still is.

Among his most popular series are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul. In 1962, scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when he teamed with the superb Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was prototypical villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little scrote’s only successful scheme…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record with the first instalment appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, the feature 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 the limelight.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to 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 started in Pilote in 1968, rapidly becoming a huge success, with 30 albums so far, a TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than compilations of short punchy stories which typified their collaborations.

This third translated album – also available in digital formats) was actually the eighth French volume (released in 1972 as Le jour des fous) and offers the best of both worlds. The eponymous lead feature is a whacking great 20-page epic, disclosing the vile Vizier’s best chance to usurp the throne when a city festival dictates that for one day masters and servants swap roles.

All Iznogoud has to do is ensure that the Caliph isn’t around to reclaim his position at the end of the day: What could be simpler?

This is followed by a delightful 8-page slice of whimsy entitled ‘The Challenge’ wherein the Vizier attempts to embroil his sublime simpleton superior in a duel… with the usual insane outcome.

Thereafter, ‘The Labyrinth’ demonstrates the creators’ solid grasp of classic slapstick as an undefeatable maze proves no match for the Caliph’s incredible luck, before the book concludes with a sharp political spoof that also takes a good-natured poke at unions.

In ‘Elections in the Caliphate’ we discover that only the Caliph can vote; but when Iznogoud gets the notion that he can get a fakir or magician to make Haroun Al Plassid vote for absolutely anybody and not just himself as usual, it opens a truly chaotic can of worms – which is quite handy, since on polling day most of Baghdad traditionally goes fishing…

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on multiple levels. Much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and similarly translated on these pages by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue – for younger readers Iznogoud is a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a well-deserved cropper, but hides its credentials as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads,

Here the translators’ famed skills recall the best – and least salacious – bits of the legendary Carry On films as well as some peculiarly Tommy Cooper-ish surreal, absurdity…

Snappy, fast-paced hijinks and gloriously agonising pun-ishing (see what I did there?) patter abound in this mirthfully infectious series: a household name in France where “Iznogoud” became common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.
© 1972 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.

Neil Gaiman’s Murder Mysteries


By Neil Gaiman, P. Craig Russell & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-330-2 (HB)

A short story first written for the 1992 prose horror anthology Midnight Graffiti, Murder Mysteries was adapted into a radio play – or more accurately an audio drama – in 2000. You can also find it in Gaiman’s 2005 anthology collection Smoke and Mirrors. A reputedly excellent film script of the timeless tale remains – as of this writing – ready and waiting for a benefactor to make it happen…

In 2002 esteemed comics virtuoso P. Craig Russell in collaboration with the author adapted the story into a sublime graphic narrative and the result was an intriguing, introspective parable within a fable.

This classy hardback (or digital equivalent, should your preferences incline that way) is a luxurious second edition which also offers a fulsome deconstruction and critique of the finished comics work by Durwin S. Talon: the extended afterword ‘Mysteries Demystified’. Initially seen in The Art of P. Craig Russell, its analysis and copious visual extras – such as sketches, script excerpts and layouts – are augmented by an annotated Sketchbook section contributed by Russell, offering even more intimate glimpses into the creative process, and include original pencilled pages, ink and colour stages plus alternate and rejected images, as well as previous collection covers.

The meat of the book is a tale within a tale within yet another and begins after a nefarious interlude in Heaven with a British traveller stuck in Los Angeles over Christmas.

He’s reeling from culture shock, and momentarily succumbs to the allure of an old lover before extricating himself from a difficult situation. Aimlessly roaming the streets, he meets a bum who tells him a story in exchange for a shared cigarette.

As the oddly-compelling derelict speaks, the displace stranded listener is mesmerised by the eerie echoes of his own existence. The bum is actually an ex-angel and recounts a tale of the Silver City…

After God created the Angels, but before he made us or the world, the sexless winged paragons – each with their own divinely appointed role – were finishing up the details of Creation. The narrator was once Raguel: The Vengeance of the Lord, and it spent this period waiting.

Eventually Lucifer came to it. A novel thing had happened, something unique, something… wrong. An Angel’s existence had been ended. Deliberately…

Raguel was expected to find and punish the perpetrator, but the “who” and “how” of the mission soon gave way to a search for an undefinable “why”. Mired in an obfuscatory maze of resistance from other Angels, Raguel reached a conclusion: the abominable act was somehow connected to a new emotion the deceased had been constructing. It was called “Love”…

This engrossing murder-mystery, detective tale and supernatural fantasy has a languid lyrical quality devoid of tension or drama, but is nonetheless an engrossing diversion, technically perfect, gently compelling. The clean, lovely art – augmented by colours from Lovern Kindzierski and typography by Galen Showman – is some of the best Russell has ever created.

If you can appreciate beauty for its own sake and suspend your need for pulse-quickening drama and angst, this is a triumphant and fascinating example of the power of style over content.
Text © 2002, 2014 Neil Gaiman. Adaptation and illustrations © 2002, 2014 P. Craig Russell All Rights Reserved.

Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition volume 1


By Clamp, translated & adapted by Mika Onishi, Anita Sengupta & Karen McGillicuddy: lettered by Aaron Alexovich (Kodansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-751-8 (HB)
After beginning as an 11-strong manga dojinshi (self-publishing or amateur) group in the late-1980s, Kuranpu – better known as CLAMP – eventually stabilised as primarily writer Ōkawa Nanase and artists Igarashi Satsuki, Nekoi Tsubaki & Mokona (Apapa). From 1989 their seamless collaborations on such series as RG Veda, Clamp Detective School, Magic Knight Rayearth, Legal Drug, xxxHolic, Chobits and so many more revolutionised Japanese comics throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century.

Beginning their profession endeavours in the shōjo (teen female) marketplace, the collective quickly began challenging established forms and eventually produced material for far more mature and demanding readerships. They even crafted a shared universe between their many divergent series, and sales in collected tankōbon volumes of their 28 different titles to date far exceeds 100 million copies.

This monolithic hardback celebration launches a line of stunning archival tomes re-presenting one of their most memorable mystic yarns: the series which made CLAMP a global creative force and created a multi-media and merchandising phenomenon which includes films, TV, music, games, apparel, themed cafes and anything else marketers could conceive of.

Kādokyaputā Sakura originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi (Good Friends Magazine) from May 1996 to July 2000, and was eventually compiled as 12 volumes of magical fantasy.

Cardcaptor Sakura features 10-year old Sakura Kinomoto, roaming the comfortably familiar environs of Tomoeda City while attempting to retrieve semi-sentient magical cards embodying different elemental, natural and physical forces before their unleashed power spells disaster for the world…

In her quest to restore these “Clow Cards” (created by sorcerer Clow Reed and imprisoned in a mighty book until their escape), dauntless Sakura is aided and advised by shapeshifting familiar Cerberus – whom she calls Kero-Chan. As “the Creature of the Seal” he was ensorcelled to keep the cards inside the titanic tome… before somebody’s inquisitiveness let all the totems out…

It helps that little Sakura has manifested natural, if untutored, mystic abilities since the escape, which the guardian beast is teaching her to properly utilise…

Significant others in her complex life include her single parent dad Professor Fujitaka Kinomoto, mean big brother Tōya and older boy-crush Yukito Tsukishiro and that all have secrets of their own that will be made known in the near future. Her greatest ally is friend and classmate (and quite possibly and potentially much more) Tomoya Daidouji: a super-wealthy confidante who diligently films all the recapture missions and provides Sakura with suitable costumes for each astounding adventure…

Elements of tragedy are fostered by the fact that Sakura’s mother is long dead, and that brief happy marriage latterly provoked an acrimonious division in the Kinomoto and Daidouji families that still triggers repercussions to this day…

The episodic escapades gathered here find the neophyte overcoming understandable doubts and fears while surviving on-the-job training by dominating and defeating the Windy, Fly, Watery and Flower cards after increasingly difficult efforts, but blithely unaware that a secret rival for control of the Clow Cards is surreptitiously stalking her…

To Be Continued…

In 2016 a sequel serial – Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – dealing with Sakura’s junior high school years stared running in Nakayoshi. The saga continues…

Following earlier translated editions from Tokyopop, Madman Entertainment and Dark Horse Manga, Kodansha have established their own English-language imprint for this luxurious reissue (complete with free gift) which also offers comprehensive contextualising ‘Translation Notes’. The second volume in this series is set for a mid-September release and would combine with this book as an ideal Christmas present for the next generation of comics – or card – collectors…
© CLAMP® Shigatsu Tsuitachi Co., Ltd/Kodansha Ltd. English translation © CLAMP® Shigatsu Tsuitachi Co., Ltd/Kodansha Ltd. All rights reserved.
This book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ format. Cardcaptor Sakura Collector’s Edition volume 1 will be released on 27th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Marble Cake


By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (PB)

I might have mentioned once or twice that I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art and industry – I endeavour to share with you.

Some publishers make a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, NBM, Fantagraphics and others) and my favourite of those at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I simply haven’t yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them yet. When this review copy plunked onto the mat, I realised that I still haven’t …

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and has quickly forged a solid reputation with his self-published comics and stories – like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with his mainstream-adjacent contemporaries in tomes such as 69 Love Songs Illustrated.

Scott is skilled in depicting people and mundane life and possesses a sharp sense of humour, honed by spending a lot of time listening to how ordinary folk talk. He knows what we all have in common and is extremely deft at using that as a means of building characters and constructing scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to his particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebeia” to the suitably underplayed terrors of the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake is his first novel-length tale and relates the intersecting moments of a bunch of strangers and casual near-acquaintances who all interact with till girl Tracy at the local Smartmart store. Her job leaves plenty of time to fantasize about what her customers do when she’s not around, but she really has no idea of what’s really going on. In fact, nobody does…

Life and death, joblessness and social standing, malice and sexual desire, ennui and intolerance, and especially hopelessness and general distrust tinge every real or imagined home-life Tracy ponders – even her own, but when genuine threat and mystery – such as a string of baffling disappearances – begin to grip the community, no one has any idea how to respond…

This compelling, pocket-sized (168 x 212 mm) paperback challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wry and acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns and surreal storytelling who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944: “He Nods in Quiescent Siesta”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-932-6 (TPB)

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

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

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

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880-April 25, 1944) was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who’d been noodling about at the edges of his domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – by sheer dint of the overbearing publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and more) adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from those circulation-crucial comics sections designed to entice joe public and the general populace.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s unshakable patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unhampered by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death on April 25th 1944.

This final collection covers the final days of the feature as Herriman succumbed slowly and painfully to cirrhosis caused by Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eschewing the standard policy of finding a substitute to carry on the strip, Hearst decreed that Krazy Kat would die with its creator and sole ambassador.

It was no real sacrifice to profit, but the culmination to years of grand tribute to unique mastery. The strip had declined in syndication for years. By the 1930s it was featured in only 35 papers, but despite that the publisher – acting more as renaissance-era artistic patron than hard-bitten businessman – refused Herriman’s every earnest request that his salary be reduced to fit his dwindling circulation. In 1935 Hearst responded to the requests by promoting the feature to the full-page, full-colour glory it enjoyed until the end.

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

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. The smitten kitten apparently always misidentifies these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

By the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse still spends most of his time, energy and ingenuity in launching missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen. However, in these concluding episodes even that fiery warped passion has somewhat cooled: often attempted in perfunctory manner and frequently resulting in failure: just like any loving couple in their twilight years together…

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

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

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

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically, onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“goldin moom bims” or “there is a heppy lend, furfur away…”).

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

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This bittersweet final chapter covers all the strips from 1943 to the middle of 1944 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a suitably serene digital edition.

With far fewer strips to catalogue, this edition is bulked up with a veritable treasure trove of unique artefacts: plenty of candid photos, personal correspondence, vast stores of original strip art and many astounding examples of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (gorgeous hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), as well as a section on the rare merchandising tie-ins and unofficial bootleg items.

Tribute, commentary and analysis is provided by Bill Blackbeard’s final Introduction ‘The Tragedy of a Man with an Absent Mind’ and Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand’s heavily-illustrated essay ‘Herriman’s Last Days (or, All Kats are Gray in the Dark)’ offering superb analysis of the unique talent celebrated herein. This inevitably leads to those superb cartoons, resuming with January 3rd 1943 and a tumultuous exchanging of gifts between cast regulars…

Due to the author’s declining health and perhaps the several personal tragedies that afflicted him in later life, the story atmosphere is mostly ruminatory and philosophical. It is also tinged with topical anxieties as World War II touches even the distant hills and mesas of Coconino. The trials of torrid triangular romance still play out as painfully and hilariously ever, but are balanced by more considered gags. Oblique references to the real world abound: a tortoise named Tank shambles about, Krazy is castigated for growing pretty flowers in the Victory Garden, and Ignatz is perforce compelled to handle bricks on a rationed, time-shared basis…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen still abound, but pell-mell action, devious schemes and frantic chase gradually give way to comfortable chats and the occasional debate before inevitably concluding at the jail house…

Ignatz endures regular incarcerations and numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions, whereas the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many regular characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of drive, often reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many strips.

Pupp suffers with his age, repeatedly trying labour-saving new policing appliances such as electrically booby-trapped or glue-drenched bricks and termites trained to chew on fired clay, and as a steady stream of displaced royals from conquered lands set up in the desert paradise and the phenomenon of zoot-suiters manifests, the forces of law and order seem harder-pressed every day.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk further expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; confirming her status as a leading player. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, and whilst laconic vagabonds such as Bum Bill Bee continue their scams and schemes, the primary cast-members seem inclined to sit back and let them all get on with it……

Welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous or inspiration or simple aesthetic gratification, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity. As arthritis, increasing migraines and age took some of the artist’s physical dexterity, it seemed to liberate his eyes and compositional sensibilities. The later strips are astounding sleek graphic exemplars of cunning design and hue on which the regulars play out their final lines…

The wonderment concludes with ore unearthed artistic treasures and one last instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

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

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

© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

The Troll King


By Kolbeinn Karlsson (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-061-2 (TPB)

The power of fairy tales and magical sagas has shaped human thought and psychology fully as much as science and philosophy, and as such is infinitely evergreen – especially when seen through the lens of a truly gifted artist.

Swedish artisan and imaginer Kolbeinn Karlsson was born in Uppsala in 1982, and studied at Malmö’s Kvarnby School of Comic Arts. From 2006 he began publishing mini-comics which quickly won him a far-ranging and appreciative global audience. His stylish renderings have been published throughout Europe in magazines such as Strapazin, Glömp and C’est Bon.

The Troll King (available in both paperback and digital formats) is his first book, released in 2009 and since then adapted into an animated film. It’s a superb marriage of bizarre situations and legendary fictions, illustrated in a compelling, evocative and unique style, all tied together with a superb sense of guided absurdity that no fan of narrative art of fantastic fiction could possibly resist.

It also gives the initial appearance of relating unrelated tales but that is not truly the case…

Two hairy overly-masculine hermits live together in the wilds: shunning civilisation, exercising, and secretly wishing they had a child. When they perform a rite to bind themselves together, a strange forest creature blesses their union and their greatest desire is made real…

Elsewhere, ‘Sleeping and Dreaming of Food’ a starving, hallucinating dwarf falls into the Black River and endures visions and strange transformations, even as in another elsewhere an ambulatory carrot invades an ornate indoor pool and begins to sprout uncontrollably…

And so unravels a fevered stream of peculiar pictorial encounters that demand the reader’s full attention and participation, with always that ponderous forest presence intersecting the story strands…

Blending humour with horror and salutary moral warnings with random acts of fate, The Troll King offers a truly unsettling but incredibly rewarding walk on the weird wild side thatwill haunt your dreams until you can no longer separate the surreal from the ridiculous…
© 2009 Kolbeinn Karlsson. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Tales of the Unexpected volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents Sea Devils volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bitter and enraged, Mortimer swears to make Olrik pay…

To Be Concluded…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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