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.

Bluebeard – A Feminist Fairy Tale


By Metaphrog (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0412-4 (HB)

The power of fairy tales lies in their ability to reach every generation and impart timeless truths, usually at an age when we’re just starting to grasp how big and wide and scary the world is…

Franco-Scots couple Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers began crafting amazing and beguiling comics in 1995 with their superb series Strange Weather Lately. Garnering much praise and many awards, the Glasgow-based duo continued elevating the status and quality of the medium through their graphic novel series starring Louis and via creative collaborations both within and outside the industry as well as through lectures around the world.

In 2015 they began updating classic fairy tales. Papercutz published The Red Shoes and Other Tales and followed up in 2017 with The Little Mermaid. Now their latest effort takes a jaundiced modern look at one of fiction’s earliest misogynist serial killers in Bluebeard – A Feminist Fairy Tale

Written by Chalmers and painted by Marrs in eerily enchanting, luxuriously vivid hues, the story is told from the point of view of young Eve, in the summer she turns eighteen. A child of a large but poor family, she lives in a bucolic hamlet dominated by a large castle on a high peak. This is the home of wealthy mystery man Bluebeard – a gentleman of frightful repute who engenders many unpleasant stories among the village gossips…

Eve has loved Tom for as long as she’s known him. They played in the dangerous woods and even saved and reared a fallen dove chick together. When her grandmother died, only Tom and older sister Anne could comfort her, even though her parents and brothers did their best…

The village was never really enough to support the population and hunger was common, but nothing like the time when constant rains destroyed both crops and wild foods. That’s when a liveried servant arrived with an invitation. The entire family was to enjoy the benefits of Bluebeard’s castle for a week.

It was glorious, but over far too soon, and while they were enjoying the lavish hospitality father endured a discrete and unwelcome conference with the lord and was given a stark choice. In return for supplies to sustain them all, the Count required the hand in marriage of one of his daughters. Either Eve or Anne, it mattered not to him…

A quirk of chance and the denial of choice ends Eve’s dreams of life with Tom, but she fulfils her familial duty. However, her new husband is everything his reputation portends and her fate seems grim and certain, until she defies his commands and begins to chart her own course…

Charming and chilling by turns, this modern interpretation – available in hardback and digital editions – celebrates the classic tale whilst offering a more assertive competent role for the leading ladies and will delight reads of all ages who need to know that change is possible and control is worth the effort.
© 2020 Metaphrog.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume II


By Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill & various (Americas Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0118-0 (TPB)

The Victorian era saw the birth of both popular and populist publishing, particularly the genres of fantasy and adventure fiction. Writers of varying skill but possessing unbounded imaginations expounded personal concepts of honour and heroism, wedded unflinchingly to the innate belief in English Superiority. In all worlds and even beyond them the British gentleman took on all comers for Right and Decency, viewing danger as a game and showing “Johnny Foreigner” just how that game should be played.

For all the problems this raises with our modern sensibilities, many of the stories remain uncontested classics of literature and form the roadmap for all modern fictional heroes. Open as they are to charges of Racism, Sexism (even misogyny), Class Bias and Cultural Imperialism the best of them remain the greatest of all yarns.

An august selection of just such heroic prototypes were seconded – and slyly re-examined under modern scrutiny – by Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill for a miniseries in 1999 that managed to say as much about our world as that long gone one, and incidentally tell a captivating tale as compelling as any of its antecedents.

In short succession there was an inevitable sequel, once more pressing into service vampire-tainted Wilhelmina Murray, aged Great White Hunter Allan Quatermain, Invisible Man Hawley Griffin, the charismatic genius Captain Nemo and both cultured Dr. Henry Jekyll and his bombastic alter-ego Mister Hyde. The tale also added cameos from the almost English Edwin Lester Arnolds’ Gullivar Jones, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars and even many creatures from C.S. Lewis’ allegorical sequence Out of the Silent Planet.

The idea of combining shared cultural brands is evergreen: Philip Jose Farmer in particular spun many a yarn teaming such worthies as Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Tarzan and their like; Warren Ellis succumbed to similar temptation in Planetary and Jasper Fforde worked literary miracles with the device in his Thursday Next novels, but the sheer impetus of Moore & O’Neill’s para-steampunk revisionism, rush of ideas (and the stunning, startling visuals that carry them) make this book (and all the previous ones) form an irresistible experience and absolute necessity for every fiction fan, let alone comic collector…

In ‘Phases of Deimos’, as London rebuilds after the cataclysmic denouement of the previous volume, a savage planetary conflict on the fourth planet ends with the firing of gigantic projectiles at our fragile, unsuspecting world …

The barrage hits home in ‘People of Other Lands’ and the cohort of reluctant agents is on hand when hideous otherworldly invaders begin incinerating the best that Britain can offer. One of the operatives considers treachery as more cylinders arrive in ‘And Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder’ and acts upon the temptation as the incursion renders Earth’s most advanced defenders helpless…

With the Empire being dismantled by Tripods and other supra-scientific engines of destruction, ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ finds half of the chastened and dispirited agents seeking other allies and ideas, even as ‘Red in Tooth and Claw’ sees the traitor exposed and dealt with despite the inexorable advance of the Martian horde before the tide unexpectedly and shockingly turns in ‘You Should See Me Dance the Polka…’

This startlingly impressive and beguilingly effective interleaving of HG Wells’ landmark fantasy classic with the skewed but so-very plausible conceit that all the great adventurers of literature hung out together captures perfectly the feeling of a world and era ending. As one would expect, internal conflicts pull apart the champions – at no time do they ever even slightly resemble a team – and Moore’s irrepressible imagination and vast cultural reservoir dredges up a further elite selection of literary touchstones to enhance the proceedings.

Dark and genuinely terrifying, the tale unfolds largely unchanged from the original War of the Worlds plot, but a string of parallel side-stories are utterly gripping and unpredictable, whilst the inclusion of such famed and/or lost characters as Bill Samson, Doctor Moreau, Tiger Tim and even Rupert Bear (among others) sweetens the pot for those in the know.

Those who aren’t you can always consult A Blazing World: the official companion to the drama…

This book is an incredible work of scholarship and artistry recast into a fabulous pastiche of an entire literary movement. It’s also a stunning piece of comics wizardry of a sort no other art form can touch, and as with the other Moore & O’Neill collaborations there are wry visual supplements (including, activity pages, puzzles and mazes, faux ads and a board game) plus a substantial text feature – The New Traveller’s Almanac – at the back, in-filling the alternative literary history of the League.

It is quite wordy, but Read It Anyway: it’s there for a reason and is more than worth the effort as it outlines the antecedents of the assorted champions in a fabulously stylish and absorbing manner. It might also induce you to read a few other very interesting and rewarding books…
© 1999, 2000 Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill. All Rights Reserved.

John Carter – The End


By Brian Wood, Alex Cox, Hayden Sherman, Chris O’Halloran & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-438-2 (TPB)

Edgar Rice Burroughs is arguably the most influential fantasy author of the 20th century: a creator not just of dozens of vivid and thrilling characters and concepts but also generator of at least two distinct heroic archetypes – Tarzan and John Carter of Mars. You should read the books. Despite the inherent sexism and now-deeply uncomfortable overtones of imperialist white exceptionalism (which, to be frank, still underpin the vast majority of global heroic literature and cinema) they are rip-roaring reads packed with invention and potent power.

John Carter was the star of ERB’s first novel. Written in 1911, whilst Burroughs was almost impoverished and selling pencil sharpeners wholesale, Under the Moons of Mars appeared as a serial in adventure pulp The All-Story between February and July 1912. It was promptly ignored and forgotten. In that year’s October issue however, Tarzan of the Apes began serialisation. His meteoric success prompted the revival of Carter.

In 1917, Moons of Mars was released as a complete novel, retitled A Princess of Mars. There would be ten more books, intermittently released between 1918 and 1964 when John Carter of Mars was posthumously published.

In the first book Carter is established as a former Confederate Officer and aristocratic Gentleman of Virginia who, by arcane and inexplicable means, is astrally projected to Mars. On Barsoom, as it is called by its many indigenous races, his fighting spirit and earth-gravity conditioned body allow him to rise to the forefront of its mightiest and most noble humanoid race.

He finds eternal immortal love with incomparable warrior princess Dejah Thoris, founds a dynasty and generally crushes evil and iniquity whilst extending the dying world’s dwindling lifespan…

Although undoubtedly inspired by Edwin Lester Arnold’s 1905 novel Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, it was Carter and his bombastic exploits which became the template for a breed of itinerant warrior wandering fantastic kingdoms with sword and/or gun in hand, battling debased science or sinister sorcery both in literature and comics.

Brawny barbarians and sleek duellists from Jirel of Joiry to Kothar, Thongor to Fafhrd & Gray Mouser to Conan, dozens of Michael Moorcock’s heroes such as Elric and Dorian Hawkmoon – not to mention ERB’s own numerous variations on the theme such as Carson Napier of Venus, David Innes of Pellucidar and so many others – all follow the same pattern: one that humanises the original mythic feats of Gilgamesh, Hercules and Beowulf…

The Warlord of Mars has become a touchstone, resource and meme-well for science fiction writers from Frank Herbert to Robert Heinlein to Moorcock. You can probably blame Burroughs and Carter for the whole Dungeons and Dragons, fantasy role playing phenomenon, too…

Comics books and strips borrowed shamelessly from John Carter. As well as appearing under his own brand, aspects of the Virginian’s look and milieu inspired and influenced Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Adam Strange, Warp!, Richard Corben’s Den and countless others.

When Carter and Co made the jump to comics in his own name (in 1953 and 1964 from Dell/Gold Key as well as later iterations from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Dynamite), the result was – and continues – to be some of the most potent and memorable action adventures ever seen. And that’s not simply because his female co-stars are usually depicted all but naked – and yes, I know that’s what the novels describe. I say it’s not practical to wave sharp swords about whilst clad in nipple clips and hankies, and simply suggest that the stories don’t need to assume adolescent boys of all ages are the exclusive target demographic…

Proof of that comes in this superb addition to the modern world’s “last adventure of…” sub-genre. Written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Northlanders, Star Wars) and Alex Cox (Adventure Time) and illustrated by Hayden Sherman (The Few, Kingpin, Civil War II) and colourist Chris O’Halloran, John Carter – The End takes us far into the future when even the once-reckoned immortal Barsoomians are aged and weary.

Carter and Dejah Thoris have removed themselves from Mars and are passing their advanced years rather acrimoniously on Titan, when a ship calls them home. ‘Twilight of the Red Queen’ brings word to them that the planet is dying… and it is all Carter’s fault…

The messengers are Tharks – the four-armed Green Men of Mars – and they have come to warn of genocidal conflict on the Red Planet, sparked and fanned to full fury by the Royal Couple’s grandson. The shock is more than Dejah can bear. The cause of the ill-feeling between her and her husband is that long ago the Warlord had to put down their twisted, descendent Den Thorkar like a murderous mad dog that he was. Now the Princess of Mars realises her man didn’t have the guts to do his duty then, and leaves him to finish the job herself…

Carter follows her in ‘Apocalypse Barsoom’ and finds his beloved adopted world drenched in blood and consumed in conflict. Although both estranged lovers individually hunt the architect of Barsoom’s woes, their paths are radically different. Dejah heads straight to the capital citadel New Helium to confront the deranged ruler face to face, whilst Carter joins the Tharks’ resistance movement The Swords of Old Barsoom and meets again old ally Tars Tarkas. The noble old warrior is undergoing an incredible metamorphosis…

Planet-shaking secrets begin to unravel in third chapter ‘I’m of Your Blood, Yours and the Warlord’s…’ Dejah uncovers a web of corruption at the heart of government and the horrific truth of her pitiless great, great grandson. The chaos, carnage and catastrophe escalate in ‘The Old Man on the Ocean Floor’ as Carter learns of an ancient plot conceived by one of his vilest enemies and gains the most unexpected of allies in his proposed revolution…

The climax comes in spectacular fashion as ‘Onward to New Helium’ sets the scene for slaughter, retribution and even a measure of reconciliation…

An epic action-packed romp, John Carter – The End is far closer to the spirit of the ERB novels than almost anything I’ve seen in the last twenty years and should delight old time fans, most modern sci fi aficionados and all seekers of blockbuster dramas.

This paperback/digital collection of the 2017 miniseries also offers bonus material including design artwork and character sketches and composites by Hayden Sherman plus a covers and variants gallery by Garry Brown, Gabriel Hardman, Juan Doe, Philip Tan, Mel Rubi and Roberto Castro.
Barsoom™, John Carter™ and Edgar Rice Burroughs® owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc and used by Permission. All rights reserved.

Killraven Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Don McGregor & P. Craig Russell, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Marv Wolfman, Bill Mantlo, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, Gene Colan, Keith Giffen & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1135-5 (HB)

When the first flush of the 1960s superhero revival began to fade at the end of the decade, Marvel – who had built their own resurgent renaissance on the phenomenon – began desperately casting around for new concepts to sustain their hard-won impetus. The task was especially difficult as the co-architect of their success (and the greatest and most experienced ideas-man in comics) had jumped ship to arch-rival National/DC, where Jack’s Kirby’s battalion of Fourth World series, The Demon, Kamandi, Last Boy on Earth, OMAC and other innovations were opening up new worlds of adventure to the ever-changing readership.

Although a global fascination with the supernatural had gripped the public – resulting in a huge outpouring of mystery and horror comics – other tried-&-true genre favourites were also revived and rebooted for modern sensibilities: westerns, war, humour, romance, sword & sorcery and science fiction…

At this time Stan Lee’s key assistant and star writer was (former-English teacher and lover of literature) Roy Thomas. As he gained editorial power Thomas increasingly dictated the direction of Marvel: creating new concepts and securing properties that could be given the “Marvel Treatment”. In a decade absolutely packed with innovative trial-&-error concepts, the policy had already paid huge dividends with the creation of Tomb of Dracula, Monster of Frankenstein and Werewolf by Night, whilst the brilliantly compelling Conan the Barbarian had quickly resulted in a whole new comicbook genus…

This hardback/digital compilation collects the bold and mercurial science-fiction thriller from Amazing Adventures #18-39, as well as the saga’s notional conclusion in Marvel Graphic Novel #7: an eclectic and admittedly inconsistent hero-history that has at times been Marvel’s absolute best and strong contender for worst character, in a sporadic career spanning May 1973 to 1983.

The feature struggled for a long time to carve out a solid identity for itself, but finally found a brilliantly effective and fantastically poetic voice when scripter Don McGregor arrived – and stayed – slowly recreating the potential epic into a perfectly crafted examination of contemporary American society in crisis; proving the old adage that all science fiction is about the Present and not the Future….

He was ideally complimented in his task by fellow artisan P. Craig Russell whose beautifully raw yet idealised art matured page by page over the long, hard months he illustrated the author’s increasingly powerful and evocative scripts.

The tone of those times is scrupulously recalled in McGregor’s Introduction before Marvels most successful Future Past opens…

The dystopian tomorrow first dawned in Amazing Adventures #18, conceived by Thomas & Neal Adams – before being ultimately scripted by Gerry Conway – wherein a ‘Prologue: 2018 A.D.’ introduces a New York City devastated by invasion and overrun by mutants, monsters and cyborgs all scavenging for survival.

The creative process was a very troubled one. Adams left the project in the middle of illustrating the debut episode, leaving Howard Chaykin & Frank Chiaramonte to flesh out the tale of how, at the turn of the 20th century, a refugee mother sacrifices her life defending her two young sons from terrifying alien Tripods and the vile human turncoats who had early switched allegiance to their revolting, human-eating new masters…

Nearly two decades later, escaped gladiator Killraven overcomes all odds to kill a monstrous genetic manipulator dubbed the Keeper and save his brother Joshua, only to discover his sibling long gone and his despised tormentor grateful for death.

The elderly scientist had been compelled to perform countless mutagenic experiments for his alien masters but had secretly enacted a Machiavellian double-cross, creating hidden powers in Jonathan Raven which might eventually overthrow the conquerors. All the boy had to do was survive their horrific arena games until he was old enough to rebel against the Martians who have occupied Earth since 2001…

With his dying breath, Keeper provides his uneducated murderer with the history of ‘The War of the Worlds!’: of Free Mankind’s furious futile, atomic last stand and how the alien conquerors had possessed the shattered remnants of Earth…

Keeper reveals how gladiatorial training and scientific abuses shaped Killraven into the perfect tool of liberation and retribution, even to the warrior’s recent escape and first attempts at raising a resistance movement. However, just as the story ends, the designated-liberator realises he has tarried too long and mutant monsters close in…

The adventure resumed in #19 as Killraven narrowly escapes the psionic snares of ‘The Sirens of 7th Avenue’ (by Conway, Chaykin & Frank McLaughlin) and the other myriad terrors of the devastated metropolis to link up with second-in-command M’Shulla and strike a heavy blow against the alien butchers by destroying two hulking mechanical Tripods.

Newly elevated by the conquerors to the status of genuine threat, the rebel and his followers plan a raid on a New Jersey base but are instead captured by the mesmerising Skarlet, Queen of the Sirens, who hands them over to the Martian governing the city…

Forced to fight a mutated monstrosity in the alien’s private arena, Killraven unexpectedly turns the tables and drives off the gelatinous horror before boldly declaring he is the guardian of Mankind’s heritage and will make Earth free again…

Amazing Adventures #20 was written by Marv Wolfman, with Herb Trimpe & Frank Giacoia illustrating ‘The Warlord Strikes!’, wherein the Freemen raid a museum and acquire weapons and armaments, and create a brand-new look for Killraven…

Easily defeating the traitorous lackeys of the Martian Masters, the rebels are blithely unaware that the carnivorous extraterrestrial devils have deployed their latest tool: a cruelly augmented old enemy who hunts them down and easily overcomes their primitive guns, swords and crossbows with his own onboard cyborg arsenal…

The ambitious new series was already floundering and dearly needed a firm direction and steady creative hands, so it’s lucky that the concluding chapter in #21 (November 1973) saw the debut of Don F. McGregor: a young ambitious and lyrically experimental writer who slowly brought depth of character and plot cohesiveness to a strip which had reached uncanny levels of cliché in only three issues.

With Trimpe & “Yolande Pijcke” illustrating, ‘The Mutant Slayers!’ began the necessary task of re-establishing the oppressive, hopeless, all-pervasive horror and loss of Well’s original novel. Determined to translate the concept into modern terms for the new generation of intellectual, comics-reading social insurgent, McGregor also took the opportunity to introduce the first of a string of complex, controversial – and above all, powerful – female characters into the mix…

Carmilla Frost is a feisty, sharp-tongued geneticist and molecular biologist ostensibly faithful to her Martian masters, but she takes the earliest opportunity to betray their local human lieutenant to help Killraven and the Freemen escape the Warlord’s brutal clutches. For her own closely-guarded reasons, she and her bizarrely devoted monster anthropoid Grok the Clonal Man join the roving revolutionaries in their quest across the shattered continent…

In issue #22 (art by Trimpe & Chiaramonte), the motley crew arrive in America’s former capital and encounter a ‘Washington Nightmare!’ After defeating a band of slavers led by charismatic bravo Sabre, Killraven forms an uneasy alliance with local rebel leader Mint Julep and her exclusively female band of freedom-fighters.

The green-skinned warrior woman has also battled Sabre and cautiously welcomes Killraven’s offer of assistance in rescuing her captured comrades from the literal meat-market of the Lincoln Memorial, where flesh-peddling mutant horror Abraxas auctions tasty human morsels to extraterrestrial patrons.

The raid goes badly and Killraven ends up on the conquerors’ menu in ‘The Legend Assassins!’, before the liberated resistance fighters unite in a last-ditch attempt to save their tempestuous leader from The High Overlord. The captured leader, meanwhile, finds himself main course in a public propaganda-feeding/execution, about to be devoured by a debased vermin-controlling freak named Rattack

The hero’s faithful followers – including gentle, simple-minded strongman Old Skull and embittered Native American Hawk – arrive just in time to join the furious fray in #24’s spectacular ‘For He’s a Jolly Dead Rebel’ (inked by Jack Abel) but their escape is only temporary before they are quickly recaptured. Their valiant example impresses more than one disaffected collaborator, however. When former foes led by Sabre unite in battle against the Martian Overlord, the result is a shattering defeat for the once-unbeatable oppressors…

A returning nemesis for the charismatic rebel and his freedom fighters debuted in Amazing Adventures #25. ‘The Devil’s Marauder’ (art by Rich Buckler & Klaus Janson), sees Killraven inconclusively clash with cyclopian Martian flunky Skar. During the battle, the hard-pressed human is unexpectedly gripped by a manifestation of hidden psychic power – granting him visions he cannot comprehend…

Travelling across country, the rebels stumble onto another forgotten glory of Mankind’s past in the state once called Indiana. The race circuit of the Indianapolis 500 is now a testing-ground for new terror-tripods and thus a perfect target for sabotage. However, when the fury-filled Killraven tackles human-collaborators and Skar resurfaces, the incensed insurgent steps too far over ‘The Vengeance Threshold!’

Gene Colan & Dan Adkins illustrated #26’s ‘Something Worth Dying For!’ as the Freemen reach Battle Creek, Michigan and the Rebel Rouser encounters a feral snake/horse hybrid he simply must possess. Soon after the band is ambushed by human outlaws guarding a fabulous ancient treasure at the behest of petty tyrant Pstun-Rage the Vigilant

Since the place was once the site of America’s breakfast cereal empire and this wry yarn is filled with oblique in-jokes – many of the villains’ names are anagrams of Kellogg’s cereals – you can imagine the irony-drenched secret of the hoard the defenders give their lives to protect and pragmatic Killraven’s reaction to it all…

The drama kicks into spectacular high gear with AA #27 and the arrival of P. Craig Russell (inked by Jack Abel) for the start of a dark epic entitled ‘The Death Breeders’.

Whilst crossing frozen Lake Michigan in March 2019, the band is attacked by monstrous lampreys and Grok suffers a wound which will eventually prove fatal…

McGregor loathed the notion of simplistic, problem-solving, consequence-free violence which most entertainment media slavishly thrived on. He frequently tried to focus on some of the real-world repercussions such acts should and would result in…

The heroes headed to what was once Chicago; now a vast industrialised breeding-pen to farm human babies for Martian consumption. En route, they met pyrokinetic mutant Volcana Ash, who has her own tragic reason for scouting the ghastly palaces of Death-Birth

While the new allies undertake an explosively expensive sortie against the Death Breeders, in the far-distant halls of the Martian Kings of Earth the Warlord is tasking the repaired Skar with a new mission: hunt down Killraven and destroy not only the man, but most importantly the legend of hope and liberation that has grown around him…

In #28 (pencilled, inked and even coloured by Russell in the original) Ash reveals her horrific origins and the purpose of her quest as the Freemen battle monsters thriving in the chemically compromised lake. Elsewhere, chief butcher The Sacrificer watches his depraved boss Atalon live up to his decadent reputation as ‘The Death Merchant!’: emotionally tenderising the frantic “Adams and Eves” whose imminent newborns will be the main course for visiting Martian dignitaries…

Everything changes during Killraven’s fateful raid to liberate the human cattle. When the disgusted hero skewers one of the extraterrestrial horrors, he experiences severe psychic feedback and realises at last his debilitating, disorienting visions are an unsuspected ability to tap into Martian minds…

And in the wastelands, Skar murderously retraces the Freemen’s route, getting closer and closer to a final showdown…

With Amazing Adventures #29 the series was rebranded Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds and ‘The Hell Destroyers’ reveals the rebel leader’s greatest victory, inspiring thousands of freshly-liberated earthlings by utterly destroying the temple of atrocity before gloriously escaping into the wilderness and a newborn mythology…

The pace of even a bi-monthly series was crippling to perfectionist Russell, and ‘The Rebels of January and Beyond!’ in #30 was a frantic 6-page melange from him, Adkins, Trimpe, Chiaramonte & Abel, all graphically treading water as The Warlord “reviewed” (admittedly beautiful) fact-file pages on Killraven, M’Shulla and Mint Julep.

The saga continued in #31 on ‘The Day the Monuments Shattered’ wherein McGregor & Russell close the Death Breeders storyline in stunning style. Pursued by Atalon and The Sacrificer into the icy wilds from Gary, Indiana to St. Louis where broken Earth outcasts hide as the Twilight People, the fugitives take refuge in a cavern. This is to allow an accompanying Eve to give birth in safety, but only leads to an attack by a monolithic mutant monster just as their pursuers find them. The battle changes the landscape and ends three ghastly travesties forever…

In #32, ‘Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect!’ (art by Russell & Dan Green) sees the reduced team in devastated Nashville, where Killraven, M’Shulla, Carmilla, Old Skull and Hawk wander into leftover holographic fantasy programs conjuring both joy and regret, even as Skar’s tripod brings him ever-closer to a longed-for rematch.

Things turn nasty when Hawk’s painful memories of his father’s addictions to fantasy detective Hodiah Twist then manifest as cruelly realised threats and the malfunctioning program materialises a brutally solid savage dragon…

Issue #33 was another deadline-busting fill-in. Written by Bill Mantlo and illustrated by Trimpe & D. Bruce Berry, ‘Sing Out Loudly… Death!’ finds the Freemen sheltering from the elements in a vast cave and discovering a hostile tribe of refugee African Americans who had returned to tribal roots in the aftermath of invasion. The hidden wild men observed only one rule – kill all honkies – but that changed once Killraven saved them from a marauding giant octo-beastie…

The long-delayed clash with Skar at last occurred in #34 as the cyborg ambushes the wanderers when they reach Chattanooga, Tennessee resulting in ‘A Death in the Family’ (McGregor & Russell) – two deaths, actually – before the heartbroken, enraged Warrior of the Worlds literally tears his gloating nemesis to pieces…

Amazing Adventures #35 followed the epic tragedy as the last battered survivors stumble into Atlanta, Georgia and meet ‘The 24-Hour Man’ (McGregor & Russell, with finishes by Keith Giffin & Abel), encountering an addled new mother and instant widow, even as Carmilla is abducted by a bizarre mutant with an irresistible and inescapably urgent biological imperative…

‘Red Dust Legacy’ (illustrated by Russell & Sonny Trinidad) focuses on Killraven’s ever-developing psychic powers with the charismatic champion gaining unwelcome insights into the Martian psyche, even as The Warlord travels to Yellowstone and taunts the rebel leader with news that his long-lost brother Joshua still lives. The hero has no idea it is as an indoctrinated pawn codenamed Death Raven

The self-appointed defender of humanity then invades a replica Martian environment in Georgia, shockingly destroying the Martians’ entire next generation by contaminating their incubators…

Inked by Abel, #37 reveals the origins of affable Old Skull in ‘Arena Kill!’ when the wanderers discover a clandestine enclave of humans in the Okefenokee Wildlife Preserve before one final fill-in – by Mantlo, Giffin & Al Milgrom – appeared in #38. ‘Death’s Dark Dreamer!’ sees Killraven separated and stumbling into a wrecked but still functional dream-dome to battle the materialised fantasies of its ancient occupant. His pre-invasion, memories-fuelled attacks reconstitute strangely familiar defenders patterned after Iron Man, Man-Thing, Dr. Strange and almost every other hero you could think of…

The beautiful, troubled and doomed saga stopped – but did not end – with Amazing Adventures #39 (November 1976) as McGregor & Russell introduced the decimated Band of Brothers to an incredible new life-form in ‘Mourning Prey’. This beguiling meeting of vastly different beings pauses the voyages on a satisfyingly upbeat note, with understanding and forgiveness wining out over suspicion and ingrained violence for once…

And that’s where the gloriously unique, elegiac, Art Nouveau fantasy vanished with no comfortable resolution until 1983 when Marvel Graphic Novel #7 featured an all-new collaboration by McGregor and Russell starring Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds.

That painted full-colour extravaganza is reproduced here and commences after a catch-up Prologue and six pages of character profiles to bring readers old and new up to speed…

‘Last Dreams Broken’ opens in February 2020 at Cape Canaveral where Killraven connects again to a distant consciousness and sets off for Yellowstone in search of answers to inexpressible questions…

Along the way the rebels meet 59-year old Jenette Miller – probably the last surviving astronaut on Earth – as ‘Cocoa Beach Blues’ finds her teaching the warrior wanderers some history and human perspective in between the constant daily battles, whilst in ‘Blood and Passion’ The Warlord prepares his deadliest trap for his despised antagonist as Killraven is finally reunited with Joshua. The drama runs its inevitable course in ‘Let it Die Like Fourth of July’ as all the hero’s hopes and fears are cataclysmically realised…

McGregor’s long-anticipated conclusion did not disappoint and even set up a new beginning…

Also included here is the text introduction page from Amazing Adventures #18 for a fascinating insight into Roy Thomas’ expectations of what became a landmark of visual narrative poetry that was far beyond its time and mass audience’s taste. These are augmented by working materials – notes, photos, plots and more – from McGregor’s copious files, plus house ads. Also on view are a Russell pin-up from Marvel Fanfare #45, and the Killraven-starring wraparound cover to The Official Marvel Index to Marvel Team-Up #3 by Sandy Plunkett & Russell and an expansive Biographies section on the many creators who contributed to this unique series…

Confused, convoluted, challenging, controversial (this series contained the first ever non-comedic interracial kiss in American comics – in 1975 if you can believe it!), evocative, inspirational and always entertaining, this is graphic narrative no serious fan or fantasy addict should miss. Do it now: the future is not your friend and Mars needs readers…
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1983, 2001, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

New School


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alone volume 2: The Master of Knives


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Continued…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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