Wonder Woman – The Once and Future Story

Version 1.0.0

By Trina Robbins, Colleen Doran, Jackson Guice & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-373-5 (TPB)

Pioneering cartoonist, feminist, editor, author, activist, historian, seamstress/fashion designer and comics chronicler Trina Robbins died yesterday.

Born in Brooklyn on August 17th 1938, Trina Perlson was a daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her father was a tailor, her mother a school teacher and their child was obsessed from the get-go with comics and strips. Little Trina first found favour with Brenda Starr, Patsy Walker, Millie the Model and especially Katy Keene: early influences which winningly resurfaced in later life to become a major part of her cartoon output in many titles and even as “fashion cut-out” comics series such as California Girls.

When her mother eventually urged Trina to move on from kids’ stuff, the creative dynamo transferred all that passion and energy to science fiction fandom, becoming an early mover & shaker in fanzines like Habakkuk. In 1962, Trina wed magazine editor Paul Jay Robbins but the marriage ended after four years, in which time she enlisted and quickly quit Queens College. In 1969, whilst running her own boutique, Trina created the original costume for comics star-in-waiting Vampirella for New York publisher Jim Warren, sci fi writer/pundit Forest J. Ackerman & artist Frank Frazetta – although her later comments on what the credited male creators did with it thereafter are not very comfortable or complimentary…

A year later she was living in California when the Counter-Culture emerged and fostered an era of self-published “Underground Commix” and she began her own comics revival: generating cartoons, ads and strips in The East Village Other and Gothic Blimp Works. Moving to San Francisco, Trina worked for periodical Good Times, hung out with Joni Mitchell, The Byrds and The Doors, and dressed Mama Cass, David Crosby, Donovan and other rock stars. She also co-founded the first comic book made exclusively by women – It Ain’t Me Babe Comix. She followed up with mature-reader erotic comic Wet Satin and 20 years helming landmark anthology Wimmen’s Commix whose debut issue heralded her strip ‘Sandy Comes Out’ – the first story in US comics starring an “Out and Proud” lesbian.

Always busy, Trina was seen in a host of titles and was an early crafter of what would become graphic novels like Mama! Dramas. She adapted classic prose tales such as Sax Rohmer’s Dope and Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover, before in 1984 becoming the first woman to officially draw DC’s Amazing Amazon in The Legend of Wonder Woman (albeit it written by mere male Kurt Busiek).

Passionately devoted to the concept of creative collaboration, over many decades Robbins contributed to countless anthology comics and projects like Strip AIDS U.S.A. (editor/ contributor), All Girl Thrills, Marvel’s Comix Book, Good Girls, Gay Comix, War News, Choices: A Pro-Choice Benefit Comic Anthology for the National Organization for Women, and more, eventually forming her own publishing imprint Angry Isis.

 In 1994 she co-founded Friends of Lulu, an advocacy group for female creators and readers dedicated to promoting comics consumption by and for women and girls. Throughout this creative bonanza Trina also sought – via a wealth of compelling non-fiction books – to liberate the lost legion of women who had worked in comics but had subsequently been “disappeared” by history.

These revelatory tomes included Women and the Comics (with Cat Yronwode), A Century of Women Cartoonists, The Great Women Superheroes, Great Women Cartoonists, From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Women’s Comics from Teens to Zines (with Anne Timmons), Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896 – 2013, Babes in Arms: Women in Comics During the Second World War, Flapper Queens: Women Cartoonists of the Jazz Age and many more chronicling a more generalised obscuring of women such as Wild Irish Roses: Tales of Brigits, Kathleens, and Warrior Queens, Eternally Bad: Goddesses with Attitude or Tender Murderers: Women Who Kill.

To learn more, I highly recommend Gavin Edwards’ obituary for her in The New York Times (April 11th 2024), her own memoir Last Girl Standing (2017): that glorious wealth of books about comics & strips by women creators, and of course, her remarkable canon of cartoon material, both independently created – like GoGirl! – and for mainstream corporate properties such as Wonder Woman, Marvel’s Barbie, Misty & Girl Comics, Honey West and The Phantom

Until then though, there’s this wonderful epic that remains inexplicably out of print and digitally unavailable…

Every so often the earnest intention to do some good generates an above-average comics product, such as this stunning one-shot created to raise awareness of domestic violence. A hugely important but constantly ignored topic- and one far too many unfortunate children are cruelly aware of from an early age – it is also one of the oldest “social issues” of comic book history. Superman memorably dealt out rough justice to a “wife-beater” in his very first adventure (Action Comics #1, June 1938) – the actual origin and genesis of our genre. It’s a true shame that we’re still trying to address let alone fix this vile situation…

Less visceral – and far more even-handed regarding such a complex debate than I would have thought possible – The Once and Future Story is a beautiful and subtle tale-within-a-tale from Trina Robbins, as illustrated by Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil, Legion of Super-Heroes, Power Pack, Neil Gaiman’s Chivalry, Sandman, Mangaman, Gone to Amerikay) & Jackson “Butch” Guice (Superman/Action Comics, Supergirl, Micronauts, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Birds of Prey, Resurrection Man, The Flash, Ruse).

It opens as Wonder Woman is summoned to an archaeological dig in Ireland by a husband-&-wife research team who hope their guest can verify the findings hidden within a 3000-year-old tomb. It seemingly contains the body and burial trappings of a princess from the fabled island of Themyscira…

As Diana translates the scrolls – detailing the story of Princess Artemis of Ephesus, daughter of Queen Alcippe and learning how the maternal monarch was taken as a slave by legendary Greek hero Theseus – she soon realizes the animosity of Dig-boss James Kennealy is perhaps more than professional jealousy, and his wife’s Moira’s defensive attitude and constant apologies may be masking a dark secret.

Artemis’s brutal, painful quest to rescue her mother mirrors Moira’s journey to awareness as both women – separated by millennia – ultimately take control of their so different, tragically similar lives.

Challenging, powerful but still wonderfully entertaining, this is a tale both worthy and worthwhile, and one far too long overlooked. Now what does that remind me of?
© 1998 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Black Hole


By Charles Burns (Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-37542-380-2 (HB) 978-0-22407-778-1 (TPB)

On this day in 2019, those happy Big Science people at the Event Horizon Telescope Project released the first picture of a black hole as located at the centre of galaxy M87. No one’s done a graphic novel of that yet but there’s this superb tome that seems to have slipped from common consciousness…

One of the most impressive and justifiably lauded graphic novels ever, Black Hole is a powerfully evocative allegorical horror story about sex, youth and transformation, but don’t let that deter you from reading it. It’s also a clever, moving, chilling and somehow uplifting tale displaying the bravura mastery of one of the greatest exponents of sequential narrative the English language has ever produced – even if he has found his spiritual and commercial home producing comics in Europe.

Originally released as a 12-issue limited series under the aegis of Kitchen Sink Press, the tale was rescued and completed through Fantagraphics when the pioneering Underground publisher folded in 1999. On completion, Black Hole was promptly released in book form by Pantheon Press in 2005, although many fans and critics despaired at the abridged version which left out many of Burns’ most potent full-page character studies of the deeply troubled cast “an error of economy” corrected in subsequent editions. It won eleven of the comic world’s most prestigious awards and I’m revisiting my battered Jonathan Cape UK edition because it’s still not available digitally

It’s the 1970s in Seattle, and there’s something very peculiar happening amongst local teens out in the safe secure suburbs. In ‘Biology 101’, Keith Pearson can’t concentrate on properly dissecting his frog because his lab partner is Chris Rhodes, the veritable and literal girl of his dreams.

Trying to keep cool only makes things worse and when he suddenly slips into a fantastic psychedelic daydream, the swirling images resolve into a horrific miasma of sex, torn flesh and a sucking void. Suddenly he’s regaining consciousness on the floor with the entire class standing over him. They’re all laughing at him… all except Chris.

‘Planet Xeno’ is a quiet patch of woodland adults don’t know about, where kids can kick back, drink, smoke, get stoned and just talk. The big topic among the guys is “the bug”: a sexually transmitted disease that causes bizarre, unpredictable mutations like uncontrolled growths, extra digits, pigmentation changes, and new orifices that don’t bleed…

As Keith and best buds Dee and Todd shoot the breeze and goof off, they discover an odd encampment, strewn with old toys and bottles and junk. Some of the sufferers of the “Teen Plague” have relocated here to the forest, founding a makeshift camp away from prying eyes and wagging tongues. When Keith finds a girl’s shed skin hanging from a bush, he fears creepy mutants are closing in and suffers a crazy disorienting premonition…

In ‘SSSSSSSSSS’ Chris is dreaming: a ghastly phantasmagoria involving naked swimming in pollution, a bunch of strange guys, monsters and that fainting kid Keith turning into a serpent. It all ends with her examining the new holes in her body before ripping off her old skin and leaving it hanging on a bush…

She’s drinking illicit beer by the lake in ‘Racing Towards Something’, remembering that wild party a week ago and what she did with the cool guy Rob Facincanni. As she came on to him he kept trying to tell her something but she was in no mood to listen. She just didn’t want to be the good girl anymore…

She recalls the moment of explosive climax and horror when she discovered a hideous second mouth in his neck… and the noises. It seemed to be speaking…

In the sordid guilty aftermath she felt awful but had no idea what that furtive, disappointing assignation had done to her.

Rob is still sleeping with Lisa. She’s accepted the cost of the curse and the ghastly changes in her body, but what she won’t take is him screwing around. She has heard Rob’s second mouth talking as they lay together and needs to know ‘Who’s Chris?’

Keith and his bros are getting stoned again when he hears some guys have just watched the so-virginal Chris skinny-dipping and seen her sex-caused mutation. The virgin queen isn’t any more…

In ‘Cut’ their teasing proves too much and he storms off into the scrub, accidentally spotting the object of his desire as she gets dressed again. Guiltily voyeuristic, he’s prompted to action when she steps on broken glass and cries out. Dashing to her rescue he bandages her foot, too ashamed to admit just how much of her he’s really seen. All Keith knows is that someday he will be with her. Fate was obviously on his side…

‘Bag Action’ finds him and Dee trying to buy weed from some skeevy college guys, but our frustrated romantic is utterly unable to get lascivious, furtive, distracting naked images of Chris out of his mind.

However, after sampling some of the dope in the Frat boys’ dilapidated house, he meets their housemate Eliza: an eccentric artist extremely high, nearly naked and very hungry. Just as baked, achingly horny and fascinated by her cute tail (not a euphemism), Keith almost has sex with her but is interrupted by his idiot pal at just the wrong moment…

Many of those infected by The Bug are camped out in the woods now and ‘Cook Out’ finds them having a desperate party around a roaring fire. Rob is there, bemoaning the fact Lisa has kicked him out, but he’s also acutely aware that the sex-warped kids are getting oddly wild, manic, even dangerous…

‘Seeing Double’ finds downcast, devastated Chris talking things over with Rob at the outcast encampment. The naive fool has just discovered what’s she got and what it means. Lost and disgusted, convinced she’s a dirty monster with a biological Scarlet Letter as part of her flesh, Chris drinks and talks and, eventually, finds comfort in her bad boy’s arms…

In ‘Windowpane’ Pearson, Dee and Todd drop their first tabs of acid and head for a party at Jill’s house. Increasingly morose and troubled Keith is feeling ever-more isolated and alienated and the LSD coursing through his system isn’t helping, When Dee and Jill start to make out, he leaves and finds her big sister crying outside. After she shouts at him he turns and, still tripping off his nut, heads into the woods.

Lost and confused, he sees horrific and bizarre things in the trees and bushes before stumbling into some of the infected kids around their fire. In a wave of expiation he begins to talk and keeps on going, slowly coming down amongst temporary friends. Keith has no suspicion that some of the things he saw were not imaginary at all…

‘Under Open Skies’ sees Chris and Rob playing hooky. Fully committed to each other now, they head to the coast and a perfect solitary day of love at the beach. They think it’s all going to be okay but the voice from Rob’s other mouth says otherwise…

Back home again, Chris’ recent good times are ruined by her parents’ reaction. Grounded, the former good girl makes up her mind and, gathering a few possessions, elopes with her lover to a new life in ‘The Woods’ where grotesquely bestial but kindly Dave Barnes takes them under his wing.

Although they have bonded, Rob cannot stay with Chris and returns to his home and High School. Although he spends as much time as possible at the encampment, Chris is too often alone and on one of her excursions into the wilds finds a bizarre and frightening shrine. Little does she know it’s one of the things the tripping Keith thought he’d hallucinated…

Summer grinds on and Pearson plucks up nerve to go back to the college guys’ house. ‘Lizard Queen’ Eliza is on the porch, drawing but obviously upset by something. Confused, scared and without knowing what they’re doing. they end up in bed consummating that long-postponed act of drug-fuelled passion…

Chris’ days of innocent passion end suddenly when Rob is brutally attacked by a lurking intruder in ‘I’m Sorry’. She descends into a stupor for days until spotting nice safe Keith at one of the camp’s evening bonfire parties. Soon, he’s arranged for her to move into an empty property he’s housesitting over ‘Summer Vacation’ but even though he’s attentive, kind, solicitous and so clearly wants to be with her, he’s just not Rob.

Chris has been going slowly crazy since her beloved boy vanished: reliving memories good and bad, feeling scared and abandoned, playing dangerously with the gun he left her “for protection”. Keith is still plagued by nightmares and X-rated thoughts of Eliza in ‘A Dream Girl’, but hopeful he now has a chance with Chris. That swiftly changes when he checks on her and discovers the house he’s supposed to be guarding has been trashed. There’s garbage everywhere, a bunch of her fellow outcasts have moved in and she’s clearly avoiding him, locked in a room, constantly “sleeping”…

Despondent, confused Pearson doesn’t know what to do. Chris is having some kind of breakdown and the house – his responsibility – is a wreck. The lovesick fool is trapped and crumbling when Eliza breezes back into his life. If only his own bug mutation wasn’t so hideous…

Heading back to the home once more he finds Chris has gone and the pigsty has become a charnel house. All summer there has been a frightening, oppressive presence in the woods and with the Fall coming the mood is beginning to darken. When Dave is barracked and abused whilst trying to buy takeout food, he snaps and pulls out Chris’ gun. Calmly taking his fried chicken from the crime-scene he walks back to the woods and the troubled soul known as ‘Rick the Dick’. It’s going to be their last meal…

Keith meanwhile has found his own happy ending, ‘Driving South’ with gloriously free spirited, undemanding Eliza, but is still gripped by what he found at the house. At least he and Eliza helped survivors get away, but now – happily content with his idyllic artist girl and after all the horrible secrets they’ve shared – he can’t help wondering what happened to Chris.

That mystery and how Dave got the gun are only revealed in the compulsively low key and wildly visual climax ‘The End’

Complex, convoluted, utterly compelling, expressive, evocative and deeply, disturbingly phantasmagorical, Black Hole is a comics masterpiece of graphic genius and astoundingly utilised allegory and metaphor merged with the eternal dissatisfaction and alienation of youth. It explores and reexamines evolution and cultural ostracization as well as the verities of love, aspiration, jealousy and death to concoct a tale no other medium could (although perhaps Luis Buñuel, David Lynch or David Cronenberg might have made a good go of it in film).

If you are over 16 and haven’t read it, do – and soon.
© 2005 Charles Burns. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Teen Titans volume 2


By Mike Friedrich, Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Marv Wolfman, Robert Kanigher, Steve Skeates, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Nick Cardy, Sal Amendola, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino, Dick Dillin, Joe Giella, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-84576-677-1 (TPB)

Hey, Super Kids! Happy 60th Anniversary!

It’s perhaps hard to grasp these days that once kid heroes were a rarity and at the beginning of the Silver Age, often considered a liability. Now the massive Teen Titans brand – with numerous comic book iterations, assorted TV shows, movies and even an award-winning early reading version (Aw, Yeaah! Tiny Titans!) their continuance as assured as anything in our biz. Nevertheless, during the tumultuous 1960s the series – never a top seller – courted controversy and actual teenage readers by confronting controversial issues head on.

I must have been just lucky, because these stories of lost youth searching for great truths and meaning were released just as I turned Teen. They resonated especially because they were talking directly to me. It didn’t hurt that they were brilliantly written, fantastically illustrated and staggeringly fresh and contemporary. I’m delighted to declare that age hasn’t diminished their quality or impact either, merely cemented their worth and importance.

The concept of underage hero-teams was not a new one when the Batman TV show fuelled DC’s move to entrust big heroes’ assorted sidekicks with their own regular comic as a hip and groovy ensemble as dedicated to helping kids as they were to stamping out insidious evil.

The biggest difference between wartime groups like The Young Allies, Boy Commandos or Newsboy Legion and such 1950s holdovers as The Little Wise Guys or Boys Ranch and the DC’s new team was quite simply the burgeoning phenomena of “The Teenager” as a discrete social and commercial power bloc. These were kids who could be allowed to do things themselves (within reason) without constant adult aid or supervision. As early as spring 1964, Brave and the Bold #54 had tested the waters in a gripping tale by Bob Haney & Bruno Premiani in which Kid Flash, Aqualad and Robin foiled a modern-day Pied Piper.

What had been a straight team-up was formalised a year later when the heroes reunited and included Wonder Girl in a proper super-group with a team-name: Teen Titans. With the stories in this second merely monochrome print-only relic of a collected volume of those early exploits the series had hit a creative peak, with spectacular, groundbreaking artwork and fresh, different stories that increasingly showed youngsters had opinions and attitudes of their own – and often that they could be at odds with those of their mystery-men mentors…

Spanning cover-dated January 1969 to December 1971 and collecting Teen Titans #19-36, and team-up appearances from Brave and the Bold #83 & 94 and World’s Finest Comics #205, these tales cover the most significant period of social and political unrest in American history and do it from the perspective of the underdogs, the seekers, the rebels…

The wonderment begins with a beautifully realised comedy-thriller as boy bowman Speedy enlists. ‘Teen Titans: Stepping Stones for a Giant Killer!’ (#19, January/February 1969), by Mike Friedrich, Gil Kane & Wally Wood, pitted the team against youthful evil mastermind Punch who planned to kill the Justice League of America and thought a trial run against the junior division a smart idea…

Brave and the Bold # 83 (April/May 1969) took a radical turn as the Titans (sans Aqualad, who was dropped from the squad to appear in Aquaman and because there just ain’t that much sub-sea skulduggery) tried to save Bruce Wayne’s latest foster-son from his own inner demons in a tense thriller about trust and betrayal in the Haney & Neal Adams epic ‘Punish Not my Evil Son!’. TT #20 took a long running plot-thread about extra-dimensional invaders and gave it a counterculture twist in ‘Titans Fit the Battle of Jericho’, a rollicking romp written by Neal Adams, pencilled by him & Sal Amendola and inked by brush-maestro Nick Cardy – one of the all-out prettiest illustration jobs of that decade.

Exemplars of the era/symbolic super-teens Hawk and Dove join proceedings for #21’s ‘Citadel of Fear’ (Adams & Cardy): chasing smugglers, finding aliens and ramping up the surly teen rebellion quotient whilst moving the invaders story-arc towards its stunning conclusion. ‘Halfway to Holocaust’ is only half of #22, the abduction of Kid Flash & Robin leading to a cross-planar climax as Wonder Girl, Speedy and a radical new ally quash the invasion threat forever, but still leaving enough room for a long overdue makeover in ‘The Origin of Wonder Girl’ by Marv Wolfman, Kane & Cardy. For years the series – and DC editors in general – had fudged the fact the younger Amazon Princess was not actually human, a sidekick, or even a person, but rather an incarnation of Wonder Woman as a child. As continuity backwriting strengthened its stranglehold on the industry, it was finally felt that the team’s distaff member needed a fuller background of her own.

This moving tale revealed she was in fact a human foundling rescued by Princess Diana and raised on Paradise Island where super-science gave her all the powers of a true Amazon. They even found her a name – Donna Troy – and an apartment, complete with hot roommate. All Donna had to do was sew herself a glitzy new figure-hugging costume…

Now thoroughly grounded, the team jetted south in #23’s fast-paced yarn ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Rogue’ (by Haney, Kane & Cardy), trying to rescue musical rebel Sammy Soul from his grasping family and – by extension – his lost dad from Amazonian headhunters. ‘Skis of Death!’ (#24, November/December) by the same creative crew has the quartet holidaying in the mountains and uncovering a scam to defraud Native Americans of their lands. It was a terrific old-style tale, but with the next issue the most radical change in DC’s cautious publishing history made Teen Titans a comic which had thrown out the rulebook…

For a series which spoke so directly to young people, it’s remarkable to think that ‘The Titans Kill a Saint?’ and its radical departure from traditional superhero stories was crafted by Bob Kanigher & Nick Cardy – two of the most senior creators in the business. The emotion-charged thriller set the scene for a different type of human-scaled adventures that were truly gripping and bravely innovative. For the relatively short time the experiment continued, readers had no idea what might happen next…

While on a night out in their civilian identities, Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, Wonder Girl, Hawk and Dove meet telepathic go-go dancer Lilith who warns them of impending trouble. Cassandra-like, they ignore her warnings and a direct result a globally revered Nobel Laureate is gunned down. Coming so soon after the deaths of John F. and Robert Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, this was stunning stuff and in traumatised response all but Robin abandon their costumed personas and – with the help of mysterious millionaire philanthropist and mentor Mr. Jupiter – dedicate their unique abilities to exploring humanity’s flaws and graces: seeking fundamentally human ways to atone and make a difference in the world…

With Lilith beside them, they undertake different sorts of missions, beginning with ‘A Penny For a Black Star’ in which they attempt to live in a poverty-wracked inner city ghetto, where they find Mal Duncan, a street kid who becomes the first African-American in space…although it’s a one-way trip.

TT #27 reintroduced eerie elements of fantasy as ‘Nightmare in Space’ (Kanigher, George Tuska, Carmine Infantino & Cardy) sees the Titans en route to the Moon to rescue Mal, before encountering something far beyond the ken of mortal imagining. Meanwhile on Earth, Donna’s roommate Sharon stumbles upon an alien incursion. ‘Blindspot’ by Steve Skeates & Cardy was tangentially linked to another innovative saga then playing out in Aquaman’s comic book. You’ll need to see Aquaman: The Search For Mera and Aquaman: Deadly Waters for that extended delight. Both were edited by fresh-faced Dick Giordano, who was at this time responsible for the majority of innovative new material coming out of DC, even whilst proving himself one of the best inkers in the field.

Suffice to say that the Sea King’s foe Ocean Master had allied himself with aliens and Sharon became involved just as Aqualad returned looking for help. Unable to understand the Titan’s reluctance to get involved, Garth tries to go it alone but hits a snag only the original team can fix, which they do in Skeates & Cardy’s concluding chapter ‘Captives!’ However, once the alien threat is thwarted our heroes once more lay down their powers and costumes, but they have much to ponder after seeing what benefits their unique gifts can bring…

Teen Titans #30 featured three short tales, written by Skeates. Illustrated by Cardy, ‘Greed… Kills!’ is a cunning mystery exploring street and white-collar crime, whereas ‘Whirlwind’ is a Kid Flash prose novelette with art by Amendola before ‘Some Call it Noise’ (Infantino & Cardy) delivers an Aqualad solo tale in which his girlfriend Tula – AKA Aquagirl – takes a near-fatal wrong turn at a surface world rock concert.

Student politics took centre-stage in #31’s lead feature ‘To Order is to Destroy’ (Skeates, Tuska & Cardy) as the young heroes investigate a totally trouble-free campus where unhappy or difficult scholars are given a small brain operation to help them “concentrate”, whilst Hawk & Dove solo strip ‘From One to Twenty’ pits quarrelsome Don and Hank Hall against a band of murderous counterfeiters in a deft crime-caper from Skeates, Tuska & Cardy.

The creators then open up the fantasy element again with a time-travelling, parallel universe epic beginning in #32 with ‘A Mystical Realm, A World Gone Mad’ as Mal and Kid Flash accidentally change the past, turning Earth into a magical mad-scape. However, undoing their error results in a Neanderthal teenager being trapped in our time, presenting the group with their greatest challenge: educating a savage primitive and making him into a civilised modern man. Illustrated by Tuska & Cardy, ‘Less Than Human’ signalled the return of Bob Haney as main writer and triggered a gradual return of powers and costumes as the author picked up the pace of Jupiter’s grand experiment, restating it in terms that looked less harshly on comics’ bread & butter fights ‘n’ tights scenarios.

Brave and the Bold #94 (February-March 1971, by Haney & Cardy) offered potent counter-culture thrills as the team infiltrate an inner city commune to negate a nuclear bomb-plot in ‘Rebels in the Streets’, before the exigencies of publishing moved the series into the world of the supernatural as costumed heroes temporarily faded away in favour of tales of mystery and imagination. Haney, Tuska & Cardy’s ‘The Demon of Dog Island’ sees the team – including Robin who had quietly rejoined during the civilisation of cave-boy Gnarrk – desperately battling to prevent Wonder Girl’s possession by a gypsy ghost.

Skeates, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella crated ‘The Computer That Captured a Town’ in World’s Finest Comics #205 (September 1971), slyly examining racism and sexism as Superman finds the Titans trapped in a small town that had mysteriously re-adopted the values of the 1890s – a lot like middle America today but with culprits a lot easier to punch in the face…

Teen Titans #35 reiterated supernatural themes as the team travels to Verona in ‘Intruders of the Forbidden Crypt’ (Haney, Tuska & Cardy) wherein Lilith and the son of Mr. Jupiter’s business rival are drawn into a mesmerising web of tragedy: compelled to relive the doomed love of Romeo and Juliet despite all the rationalisations of modern science and the best efforts of the young heroes…

By the same creators, ‘A Titan is Born’ is a rite of passage for Mal as the everyman “token black guy” faces and defeats the murderous Gargoyle alone and unaided, before the reincarnation tragedy concludes with fate foiled in ‘The Tomb Be their Destiny’: the cover feature of #36. Filling out that issue and this book are two brief vignettes: Aqualad 3-page teaser ‘The Girl of the Shadows’ by Skeates & Jim Aparo and Haney & Cardy’s beguiling opening episode in the origin of Lilith ‘The Teen-Ager From Nowhere’. This showed a 10-year-old orphan’s first prescient exploit and the distrust it engendered, promising much more to come: a perfect place to end this second monochrome masterpiece of graphic literature.

Although perhaps dated in delivery now, these tales were a liberating experience for kids when first released. They truly betokened new empathy with independent youth and tried to address problems that were more relevant to and generated by that specific audience. That they are so captivating in execution is a wonderful bonus. This is absolute escapism and absolutely delightful and demand a fresh edition as soon as possible.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia


By Mary M Talbot & Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-0-22410-234-6 (HB Cape) eISBN: 978-1-63008-697-8 (DH)

The power of comics to resurrect historical figures and tap into their lives whilst potently and convincingly extrapolating their deeds and even characters has been a recent revelation that has completely revitalised graphic narratives. One of the most telling and compelling of these narratives was crafted by British National Treasure Bryan Talbot and his even more impressive wife.

Academic, educator, linguist, social theoretician, author and specialist in Critical Discourse Analysis, in 2012 Dr. Mary M. Talbot added graphic novelist to her achievements: collaborating with her husband on the first of many terrific comics tales. Award-winning memoir/biography of Lucia Joyce Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes was followed by Sally Heathcote: Suffragette (drawn by Kate Charlesworth), today’s recommendation, Rain and Armed With Madness: supplementing an educational career and academic publications such as Language and Gender: an Introduction and Fictions at Work: language and social practise in fiction. Dr. Talbot is particularly drawn to true stories of gender bias and social injustice…

Bryan has been a fixture of the British comics scene since the late 1960s, moving from Tolkien-fandom to college strips, self-published underground classics like Brainstorm Comix (starring Chester P. Hackenbushthe Psychedelic Alchemist!), prototypical Luther Arkwright and Frank Fazakerly, Space Ace of the Future to paid pro status with Nemesis The Warlock, Judge Dredd, Sláine, Ro-Busters and more in 2000 AD. Inevitably headhunted by America, he worked on key mature-reading titles for DC Comics (Hellblazer, Shade the Changing Man, The Nazz, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, Fables, The Dead Boy Detectives and The Sandman) and was a key creative cog in short-lived shared-world project Tekno Comix, before settling into global acclaim via steady relationships with Dark Horse Comics and Jonathan Cape. These unions generated breakthrough masterpieces like The Tale of One Bad Rat and a remastered Adventures of Luther Arkwright.

Since then he’s been an independent Force To Be Reckoned With, doing just what he wants, promoting the art form in general and crafting a variety of fascinating and compelling works, from Alice in Sunderland o Cherubs! (with Mark Stafford), to Metronome (as Véronique Tanaka) and his fabulously wry, beguiling and gallic-ly anthropomorphic Grandville sequence, as well as his mostly biographical/historical collaborations with Dr. Mary…

In the interest of propriety, I must disclose that I’ve known him since the 1980s, but other than that shameful lack of taste and judgement on his part, have no vested interest in confidently stating that he’s probably Britain’s greatest living graphic novelist…

Here their vast talents combine to capture and expose the life of a woman who arguably reshaped the history of the whole world, but one largely lost to history…

On May 29th 1830, Louise Michel was born out of wedlock to a serving maid at the Château de Vroncourt in Northeastern France. Her father was the son of the house and his ashamed parents gave their unwelcome granddaughter a liberal education and set her up as teacher. In 1865 she opened her own progressive school in Paris, whilst corresponding with social and political thinkers such as Victor Hugo and Théophile Ferré. Embracing radical ideas, Michel co-founded the Société pour la Revendication des Droits Civils de la Femme (Society for the Demand of Civil Rights for Women) and forged links to Société Coopérative des Ouvriers et Ouvrières (Cooperative Society of Men and Women Workers) and when revolution came again to France was amongst the first to man the barricades of the Paris Commune. She fought for The National Guard and was known as “the Red Virgin of Montmartre”…

Michel loved the notion of science and fairness building a better world, and spent much time discussing utopias with scientists and engineers. She was an author, poet, orator, anarchist, educator, rabble rouser and revolutionary whose activities as a Communard saw her exiled to New Caledonia in 1873. Once there, she befriended the subjugated Kanak people, acting as a teacher and healer, and participated in their abortive fight for liberation. Surviving the French colonisers’ reprisals she was returned to France after seven years as part of a general amnesty for Communards. She had become a political celebrity, and began touring the world and lecturing – especially to groups seeking change such as the Pankhurst family’s suffrage followers and adherents. Apparently tireless, the Red Virgin began campaigning for an amnesty for Algerian rebels…

Leading a poverty demonstration of French unemployed, she coined the slogan “Bread, work or lead” and adopted the black flag which remains to this day the symbol of the anarchist movement. The act earned her six years in solitary confinement, imprisoned with political visionaries like Peter Kropotkin, but when she was released she went right back to work…

Over her lifetime she wrote dozens of books and tracts, with another five published posthumously: all entreating people to be better and rulers to be fair and just. At least she died – in January 1905 – before her beloved ideology and trust in technological advancement were seen to be corrupted by the old ruling forces that manufactured the Great War…

Under the Talbots’ curated guidance what is seen in The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia is not dry polemic or radical hagiography, but a wryly witty examination – via flashbacks and clever character interplay – of an indomitable force for change with a marvellously human face. Depicted in monochrome and judicious splashes of reds. pinks and scarlets, the tale unfolds from a time of Michel’s latter triumphs, as seen through the eyes and conversations of admirers and converts. These are mainly other women seeking to change society working against a backdrop of scientific breakthroughs that the would-be emancipator was convinced would elevate everyone together…

Also included here are a copious list of ‘Sources’, and extensive personal commentary, photos, maps and historical context in ‘Annotations’.

Gripping, infuriating and utterly compelling, this is a tale of achievement and frustration that is still unfolding but which confirms that all change starts with someone extraordinary saying “I have a vision”…
© 2016 by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot. All rights reserved.

The Trials of Agrippina & Agrippina and the Ancestor


By Claire Bretécher, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBNs: digital only

Social satirist and cartoon cultural commentator Claire Bretécher (April 17th 1940 – February 10th 2020), was born in Nantes to a middle class Catholic family. Her heavy-handed father was a jurist whilst mother stayed home to run the house – even as she always encouraged her daughter to be free, autonomous, strong and independent. As a child, Claire read the usual children’s magazines girls were supposed to, but also (boys) comics such as Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Spirou, and drew her own pages until abandoning the “inferior” discipline for abstract art when she began studies at Nantes’ Academy of Fine Arts. On graduation in 1959 she moved to Montmartre, Paris, supplementing with babysitting her main job as a high school drawing teacher, while seeking a proper career in journalism. When her drawings were published in Le Pèlerin, she began contributing to magazines and by the mid-1960s was regularly in publications from Bayard Presse, Larousse and Hatchette. She also worked in advertising as her early comics influences – Will, Hergé and Franquin – expanded to include American “scratchy-line” strip stars Brant Parker (Wizard of Id), Johnny Hart (B.C.), Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts) as well as satirists like James Thurber (The New Yorker, Walter Mitty) and Jules Feiffer (Sick, Sick, Sick, Explainers, Kill My Mother).

Her big bande dessinée break came in 1963 when René Goscinny asked her to illustrate his Le facteur Rhésus for humour magazine L’Os à moelle. Although short-lived, the prestigious partnership brought more work: cartoons, gags, illustration and Claire et Pétronille in Record, pantomimic exploits of adolescent troublemaker Hector in Le Journal de Tintin, Peanuts-derived comedy Les Gnangnan and Les Naufragés (with fellow star-in-waiting Raoul Caunin) at Spirou, and the first of her many medieval satire strips Baratine et Molgaga.

In 1969 at Pilote Bretécher debuted her first great strip character Cellulite (a barbed feminist, “un-beautiful” feudal princess, regarded as the first female antihero in Franco-Belgian comics). After an editorial change, the increasing socially aware-and-active auteur joined fellow creators Nikita Mandryka and Gotlib (Marcel Gottlieb) in quitting to publish their own short-lived but iconic magazine: L’Echo de Savanes which debuted in May 1972. When it folded, Bretécher escaped the comics ghetto and began working in left-leaning mainstream publications with features such as Les Amours Écologiques du Bolot Occidental in ecological monthly Le Sauvage (May 1973) and her second popular masterpiece Les Frustrés which launched in weekly Le Nouvel Observateur as anecdotal cartoon cultural commentary La Page des Frustrés from October 15th of that year. It ran in assorted forms and venues until 1981 by which time she was firmly established as a multi-award-winning author and self-publisher of dozens of books and hundreds of magazine features.

From 1987, she began primarily concentrating on the life of a Gen X French teenager in self-inflicted crisis mode during those difficult years spanning self-declared independence and becoming more or less mature. Simultaneously pompous, angry, spoiled, privileged, resentful, uncertain, intransigent, self-important, trend-seeking, bolshy and determined not to consider the future, Agrippine – or as here Agrippina – roared through dozens of strips that filled 8 albums between 1988 and 2009.

Think of it as a female teen version of Dennis the Menace (UK version) with swearing, scatology, unlovely and messy sex, constant arguments, staggering hilarious rudeness and hysteria and every shocking domestic non-crisis you can imagine… or worse yet remember…

She hates her life and her closest friends, loathes her younger brother and wishes her parents had divorced years ago when she could have got some mileage out of it…

The series always provides sharp and telling observations on generation gaps of every stripe and thus quite naturally made the leap to television for a 26-episode series in 2001.

Most of that unmissable comics cleverness is denied to English-only speakers and readers, but Europe Comics has culled some of the best bits into two albums which any parent would benefit from.

The Trials of Agrippina was first released in 2008 but hasn’t dated at all, serving as a primer with mostly 1-page strips detailing just how bad life can be ‘In the Spotlight’ for ‘Teens’ like ‘Me’, detailing the temptations of ‘Polaroid’ and ‘The Crisis’ of a self-adjudged ‘Success Story’

Wry and pithy, episodes like ‘Complaints’, ‘Seeing Things’, ‘Blooper’, ‘We Are the Champions’, ‘Candid’ and ‘Myths and Legends’ generally leave our girl ‘Clueless’ and requiring emotional ‘Cleanup’, certain someone has ‘Eyes on You’. The ‘Outpouring’ of misery and bile about the latest ‘Fiasco’ to anyone who will care about being ‘Madly in Love’ is certainly a ‘Challenge’, leaving her ‘Taken for a ride’ at ‘The Beach’, waiting for ‘Miracles’

Perennial questions confound her generation as they have all others. Quandaries of life like ‘Liver Failure’, ‘Love Letters’, and the eternal ‘Riddle’ of ‘Lurid Nights’, ‘Stars’, ‘The Oath’, being ‘Born Again’, feeling ‘The scream’, ‘The scoop’, or allure or ‘Deadly Arts’ and romantic ‘Strategy’ all show that although she’s always right, Agrippina can never really win…

Even when she finally finds a suitably cool boyfriend – in ghastly pretentious intellectual Morose Mince – it all turns out to be another monumental disappointment and drag from initial ‘Bonding’, through ‘Sweet Nothin’s’, ‘Othello’, with teen ‘High Treason’ hitting ‘The Last Nerve’ as ‘The Specialist’ provokes growing dissatisfaction and musical tastes no longer in ‘Harmony’, and a preference of condoms in ‘Gimmick’ leads to ‘Domestic Strife’, a paucity of ‘Prospects’ and the ‘End of the Line’

At least mum and dad can now safely offer advice in ‘Aurores’

Sharp and so very funny – unless you’re a teen reading it – The Trials of Agrippina is a masterpiece of observational comedy no parent can be without.

The absolute best seller in the series was fifth album Agrippine et l’Ancêtre first published in 1998 and which we can enjoy as Agrippina and the Ancestor. Here the tale is told in one long epic as our long-suffering lass is dragged into unsuspected maternal dramas when her grandmother – who hasn’t yet coughed up any birthday dough for Agrippina – has an emotional meltdown (and emergency face-lift) after learning her own estranged and despised mother has finally gone into a care home. Now grammy is feeling the weight of years and is after much pressure from daughter and grandchildren – even Agrippina’s vile little brother Byron who also scents guilt money in the air – is convinced to visit Great Grandma Zsa Zsa and reconcile…

Thus opens a manic domestic farce as Commie-hating fireball of prejudice Zsa Zsa runs roughshod over her reunited clan and everyone else in range in an escalating procession of bizarre escapades. These include feeding time at the home, the many downsides of the care professions and the old termagant’s introduction and rapid conquest of computers, virtual reality and robot dogs with her generations of offspring dragged along in her wake. At least studiously sanguine Agrippina gets to meet a kind-of dream lover in the process…

And of course, the teen’s many attempts at explaining the chaos and finding support amongst her own friends are no help at all…

Weird, wild and wonderfully fun, these adventures are pure joy and a lasting tribute to one of the most important women in comics history. Check them out and see for yourself.
© 2015, 2016 – DARGAUD-BENELUX (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) – Bretécher. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance


By Lizzy Stewart (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN:978-1-910395-50-9 (HB)

Assuming you do still think, where do you go and what do you do to get in touch with yourself? I only ask because, in these days of a million and one ways to chemically, digitally functionally and emotionally sedate the mind, one the most effective ways to process information is still a good long walk…

Lizzy Stewart lives in London and Shanks’ Pony is not only how she manages city life but is also a restorative physical act which seemingly obsesses her. She even keeps a list of favourite movie walks by a host of female stars that fit all her personal criteria for moments of perfection…

Walking Distance is a coping mechanism: a meandering meditation on Right Here, Right Now, utilising a stunning sequence of painted views of what she sees on her various perambulations – a beguiling travelogue of London literally at ground level and a healthy pace – wedded to small tracts of text graciously sharing her innermost, scattershot thoughts and deliberations on notions that trouble women (and perhaps the odd man or two) these days.

All the bugbears trot along with her (and, by extension, us): getting by, success and failure, body issues, direction and achievement, growing up and growing old, family pressures, exactly what comprises norms of behaviour, unfair expectations, balances of power in gender relationships and what the future holds in store…

Naturally – and shamefully for us men – a large proportion of that menu includes deep and ever-growing concerns over personal safety and the right to privacy and agency in public. There’s isn’t a woman anywhere who hasn’t had a walk marred at some moment after apprehensively anticipating what a complete stranger in the vicinity might abruptly say or do.

Happily, the grim is balanced by the delightful: ponderings on art and work, a sense of home space and just the sheer joy of observing the fresh and new as well as the comfortingly familiar. There’s even room for intimate views of personal history and opinion, yet overall the progression is always hopeful, tending towards examination rather than hasty judgements or solutions and always in the direction the walker chooses…

This beguiling stroll offers a blend of philosophy, anxiety and anticipation, all brainstormed as she – and you, if you can keep up – strides ever onward. Clearly, walks do anything but clear your head, but can result in beautiful visual ruminations like this one: no glib sound-bite responses, no roles modelled and no solutions, but you can consider this a privileged personal chat while she walks and you don’t.
© Lizzy Stewart, 2019. All rights reserved.

Marzi volume 2: From Heaven to Earth


By Marzena Sowa & Sylvain Savoia, translated by Anjali Singh/Mediatoon Licensing (Europe Comics)
ISBN: 979-1-03280-391-2 (digital edition only) ASIN: ?B0C1JLQFMV

As you’re surely aware by now, our Continental cousins are exceeding adept at exploring humanity’s softer, more introspective sides through comics. Here is another autobiographical tome, detailing the life of a little Polish girl growing up in an era of massive social change: a masterclass in emotive, evocative, vibrantly funny and ruthlessly sensitive storytelling to delight our senses by quietly affirming people everywhere are basically the same…

Originally released in France in 2006 as Marzi, tome 2: Sur la terre comme au ciel, this charming episodic collation continued a sequence of seven cartoon memoires by writer Marzena Sowa and her work/life partner Sylvain Savoia. They first met when she came to Paris from Poland as an exchange student, and he – a successful cartoonist and graphic novelist – quickly realised the potential of her family anecdotes as she spoke of growing up in a subjugated Soviet satellite nation at the tumultuous tail end of the Cold War…

Their published collaborations were a hit in Europe, and first translated into English for DC/Vertigo in 2011 (still available if you prefer physical books). At that time, media hype concentrated on the political aspects, but if you can, when reading this version, try to ignore that just as the creators did. It’s a shaping element and plot point – albeit a omnipresent and potent one – like boarding at Hogwarts or growing up in the Teen Titans, but the setting is almost never what the stories are about. These are tales of childhood and finding comfort. Inspiration and happiness wherever you can, not a fabricated kid’s adventure like Emil and the Detectives or a historical testament like The Diary of Anne Frank

Marzna Sowa was born in Stalowa Wola, Podkarpackia, Poland on April 8th 1979. She grew up mostly ordinary like all her friends and family, but after achieving maturity during some of the most eventful years of the last century, changed her life path in 2001 when she left Jagiellonian University, Krakow for Bordeaux’s Michel de Montaigne University to complete studies in Literature. The how and why will become great comics in later volumes, You’ll just have to be patient or buy all the books now.

On meeting Savoia, mutual attraction became a working partnership with the first Marzi tome Petite Carp published in 2005. The last to date was released in 2017. Her other award-winning tales include N’embrassez pas qui voulez (Don’t Kiss Who You Want – 2013, art by Sandrine Revel) and Tej nocy dzika paprotka, (with Berenika Kolomycka). After further schooling to become a videographer, Sowa moved into Cinema, writing screenplays and directing documentaries while still scripting comics like La Grande Métamorphose de Théo (2022 with Geoffrey Delinte) and La Petite Évasion (2022 with Dorothée de Monfreid).

Savoia was born in 1969 in Reims and initially studied at the Saint Luc Institute in Brussels. In 1993 he co-founded art workshop 510TTC, crafting his first comics – Reflets Perdus – from a Jean-David Morvan script before beginning their extended series Nomad. Later hits included Al’Togoat (2003), Les Esclaves oubliés de Tromelin and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Allemagne 1945, supplemented by poster making, advertising art and training manual design and illustration.

Since 2018 he has helmed educational series Le Fil de l’Histoire raconté par Ariane & Nino (On the History Trail), enjoying further success with Sowa in Les esclaves oubliés de Tromelin and Petit Pays. In 2020 Savoia was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters.

Previous book Little Carp introduced 7-year-old Marzi, growing up in a Soviet-built apartment block. There are always shortages and long queues at the housing estate store, but somehow the market always has most of what people need. Dad works with Zdzich in the Huta Stalowa Wola, the city’s only factory, which has its own perks and perils…

Smart and observant but perhaps thinking too much, Marzi’s also – to her excitably loud and frequently angry mum’s consternation – a very picky eater, only barely aware of the effort dad must make to support them. Of course daughter is grateful, but also deeply concerned about so many things she can’t change…

State-controlled housing is short on amenities and variety (there are only two kinds of apartment available – small or bigger) with no play facilities, so kids cluster around the elevator on her floor (the fifth) to play their games vertically. Favourite is messing with lift buttons so the carriage stops at every floor. They also like ringing doorbells and running away. Marzi is great at the latter but hampered in the former as she’s afraid to ride the grim grey box and will always use the stairs if she can…

She has a strong bond with Andrzej, Magda, both Anias and especially feisty Monika, who always leads at everything, like that time Ania (1) and Andrzej’s mother pierced all their ears (except Andrzej and baby Magda!) and Monika’s mum gave them all their first earrings…

Here, we resume her ruminations on December 13th 1981, with ‘The state of fear’ as – aged 2½ – she recalls how appointed head of state General Wojciech Jaruzelski was on their intermittently-working television declaring “Poland is in a State of War!” There were tanks in the streets and everybody whispered and avoided telephones. It would be years before she understood, but her parents did right away and were really, really scared…

Marzi is a little older as ‘Reality TV’ details a world of shortages where everyone hides what cash money they have. When the little lass sees colour TV for the first time and begins agitating to get one, she sees more of a world where everything is rationed and controlled by the Kupon (coupon system) dictating the dissemination of goods and foodstuffs…

Although dictatorial by diktat and “Communist” by command, Poland remained devoutly Catholic throughout Russian rule and we jump to the most important event in a child’s life in ‘God loves me’. Mama is manically devout and goes into nuclear mode as her only daughter simply cannot get with the program and do what priests and teachers demand as her class prepare for their first Holy Communion. She just can’t understand all the fuss and her First Confession is a disaster, but this day and life-change is just inescapable

Marzi is luckier than most of her friends as Dad has an official garden (in Britain we’d call it an allotment) and her Aunt Niusia lives on an actual farm. The family always have access to extra – fresh – food and can even make extra, under-the-table cash selling produce on the openly-ignored food black market. However, the day-dreaming child’s visits to either are always fraught with unacknowledged but pragmatic brutality. Marzi has met cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, cats, dogs and other creatures and fully understands why mum says you shouldn’t give animals names, but it can’t stop her trying to form bonds or leave food on her plates…

A weekend at Niusia’s and a new white dress for Mass on Sunday inevitably draws calamity and catastrophe when Marzi gets on the wrong side of cart horse Baska, but her “punishment” in ‘What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh’ is a real gift from God, after which ‘Bad grass’ sees the family stocking up on fruit & veg from the urban spread for a quick money bonanza. Sadly, after being forbidden a go on the scythe, Marzi gets caught up in observing ants at work and lets down her folks yet again…

When (relatively) rich girl Justyna joins the class, all her American bought clothes and cosmetics prove that ‘Money does smell (good)’ whereas Marzi’s new – incontinent – guinea pig ‘Perelka’ just does not, and comes to an inevitable end in the family flat. Marzi really wanted a dog anyway…

Hinting at exotic things to come, an impromptu but welcome trip to the farm in Skowierzyn results from a distant aunt (born and raised in France!) wanting to reconnect with her roots. However, the glamour promised by ‘Oh la la Elen!’ isn’t what the little dreamer was expecting, although that disappointment was then eradicated by a 15-day stay in fabulous metropolis Krakow with grandmother Jdzia, Aunt Dzidzia and Uncle Metek…

Her first extended taste of freedom supercharges Marzi’s imagination as modernity, history, fantasy and romance collide, especially after hearing the legend and seeing the statue of the dragon ‘Smok Wawelski’. Our tiny tourist is far less enamoured of patent herbal medicines like Amol, ruthlessly dispensed when she’s deemed to have overdone things…

Despite all her gripes and doubts about everything – even God is on her “unproven” list – the life of Marzi and her pals is pretty good and generally happy, but that suddenly changes in chilling final episode ‘Breathing can be hazardous to your health’. Here, Marzi is on the farm and revelling in the mucky joys of the countryside when suddenly the adults all start acting crazy. Now, no kid can go outside, eat vegetables (no loss there!) or drink milk. The trip ends suddenly and Dad drives them back to the flat in hurry. Soon every kid is having to take nasty medicine from the hospital and all outside activities are stopped. It’s spring 1986 and slowly reports are emerging that there has been an accident in a place called Chernobyl…

A skilfully shaped, enticingly enthralling paean to growing up in interesting times (and aren’t they all?), From Heaven to Earth is a celebration of independent thought: blending pranks and misunderstanding, new fun with familial strangers and with doing tedious stuff adults tell you to. Making fun where you can as your awareness deepens and a mature world is built by ever-expanding experience, and how we all grow up to be our parent in unbalanced doses of imitation and utter rejection…

Marzi is definitely about independence and freedom, but it’s personal not national and inherently hopeful: the tale of a fish out of water learning to swim her own way. If you want polemical condemnation and confirmation of your own prejudices, look elsewhere. Better yet, stick around to see how a delightful and unique individual lived her own best life…
© 2017 – DUPUIS – SOWA & SAVOIA. All rights reserved.

Mongrel


By Sayra Begum (Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-269-2 (TPB)

Comics offer an immediate and potent method of communication that is both universally accessible and subtly intimate. You want countless characters and exotic locales? Just draw them. Need to navigate the most torturous tracks of the psyche and expose the most taciturn soul? Just fill captions and balloons with the words and tone that cut to the heart of the matter…

Somebody who got that from get-go was Sayra Begum, who first presented her life story in pictorial form in 2017. Happily, she shared it with the perceptive folks at Knockabout Comics who recognised a great work when they saw it. In her own incisive words and deft pencil work, Begum – identifying here as “Shuna” – shares what growing up meant for the child of a strict, devout and loving Bangladeshi Muslim mum only living in England until the family has enough money to retire to a mansion in her beloved homeland. It’s not an easy existence since her dad is a white man (a convert to Islam) who still remembers the freedoms of his old life. Moreover, the community treats them with polite disregard…

As seen in ‘Meet the Mongrel’, ‘Memories of Waterland’, and ‘The Forgotten Self’, Shuna and her siblings are pulled in so many directions growing up. She wants to be an artist, but her Amma is more concerned that she be ‘A Good Muslim’, believing ‘Life is a Test’ and her old ways such as ‘An Arranged Marriage’ are the only proper life to live…

For her parents, England ends at the front door and the household is pure Bangla within the walls. The lure of the outer world has already proved too much for one brother as seen in ‘My Poor Family’, ‘Suffocated’ and ‘The Disownment’ and soon Shuna too is living a secret life with an English lover mother could never approve of…

Continual contrasts with her perfect cousin in Bangladesh constantly wrack her conscience but Shuna has long capitulated to the wiles of Shaitan in her head. Life has a habit of upsetting all plans and exposing secrets and ‘Our Parallel Family’, ‘The Meeting’, ‘Judgement Day’ and ‘The Mongrel Children’ all reveal how even the harshest opinions may shift, leading to a truly romantic happy ending in ‘Goodbye Anger’ prior to a ruminatory ‘Epilogue’

Begum weds brisk, informative line drawing with the dazzling traditional patterns of Islamic art and excesses of surrealism to weave a compelling and visually enticing tale of real people coping with ancient intolerances and the rapidly evolving family stresses of a fluid and fluctuating multicultural society. It’s all the more affecting to realise she’s bravely sharing the minutiae and intimacies of her own life to highlight a situation as old as humanity itself.

A magical story and a stunning debut, Mongrel is book you must read and one that has never been more timely or pertinent.
Mongrel © by 2020 Sayra Begum All rights reserved.

Diary of a FEMEN


By Michel Dufranne & Severine Lefebvre, translated by Allison M. Charette (Europe Comics)
No ISBN digital-only edition ASIN B0C1JG2L7L

Women everywhere have been deprived of functional equality in all areas of their own lives for millennia: eternally reduced to prized-but-dehumanised sectional aspects by males even when they profess to be onside and supportive. Female human beings are conditioned to be commodities with a mild, non-argumentative disposition, perhaps a degree of money-making potential or just being good at housekeeping. For most of that time, whether males have instituted liberal or repressive socio-cultural diktats regarding nudity, the ruling gender have always enjoyed looking at their tits and bums.

Countries like Great Britain have long mastered the art of exploiting both wickedly wrong and socially nice naked bodies in our mass entertainments…

In 2008 a group of Ukrainian activists weaponised and utilised that male proclivity for glimpsing a bit of skin by forming the FEMEN movement. The initial thrust was to irresistibly capture male media attention and focus it on the nation’s reputation for sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

These “radical feminists” declared war on the Patriarchy and “dictatorship of religion”, especially targeting the sex industry, Pro-Life groups, Marriage Agencies (selling “mail order brides” abroad), FGM, Sharia Law and all opposition to gay marriage. Their official website mission statement read “FEMEN – is sextremism serving to protect women’s rights, democracy watchdogs attacking patriarchy, in all its forms: the dictatorship, the church, the sex industry”.

They really started making waves and getting airtime across all media (and arrested) after instituting the policy of protesting topless…

Ukraine back then was one of those repressive states that reacted hard to public female nudity and repeated rounds of protests and arrests led to FEMEN co-founder Inna Shevchenko being deported. With the movement very visibly swelling and taking hold internationally, she sought asylum elsewhere, eventually setting up shop in France where the movement’s exploits and activities enthralled many.

Among the avid followers were open-minded bande dessinée creators Michel Dufranne (Dracula L’Immortel, O.D.E.S.S.A.) & Severine Lefebvre (Les Aventures de Huckelberry Finn, L’Ami colocataire) who were moved to craft a fictionalised account of one young woman who joined that ever-growing movement. The result of that collaboration was first published in 2014 as Journal d’une Femen and, as Belgian-born writer Dufranne explains in his Foreword, is designed to explore what the term FEMEN and the international movement it defines really means to individual women navigating a world where the enemy has all the power – hard, soft, political, financial and emotional…

Following the 2016 Wikipedia definition of what FEMEN is, our tale begins with Appoline enduring the daily gauntlet of unwanted male attention as she rushes to work. Late again, and alternately ignored, gaslit and sidelined (by colleagues and superiors) all day, the nadir comes when the boss orders her to show a little cleavage for a client and afterwards rebukes her for not buttoning up fast enough once he’s left…

Her return home is just as filled with scary, entitled intruders encroaching on her peace of mind and when she meets the family for an event, her mother is right on her for letting her looks go, not having a boyfriend, better job or kids like her perfect “Stepford Wives” sister. Fully fed up Appoline retaliates with a lie: telling the grandchild-hungry maternally bullying bigot that she’s birthed a lesbian…

Fuming and isolated, Appoline retreats to watch some late night TV, catching a late report about bare-chested women arrested outside an embassy. She’d heard of them before but thought they were fools. Now she starts to really listen and thinks again. After more days just like or worse than the first, Apolline goes online and downloads a membership application…

What follows is a fascinating tale of awakening, renewal and acceptance of personal power. She joins the French group, undergoing the rigorous training necessary to stand in front of screaming dangerous men and equally vituperative women whilst non-violently making your voice heard and/or your point seen…

Illustrated in a stylish, fashion-conscious line with a restricted colour palette and vivid verve, this clever rite of passage tale gouges deep into societal hypocrisies to expose how giving men what they think they want can work to actually get some attention and make real changes, whilst also showing that the dangers of Fighting the Power never go away and can have lasting effects, consequences… and repercussions.
© 2016 – LE LOMBARD – by Dufranne & Lefebvre. All rights reserved.

The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff


By Emma, translated by Una Dimitrijevic (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-956-0 (TPB) eISBN: 978-160980-957-7

It has never been a fair world, although it’s a concept we all apparently aspire to create – at least in public. In recent years, many people have sought to address imbalances between the roles and burdens of men and women in a civil cohesive society, but the first problem they all hit was simply how to state the problems in terms all sides could understand and would accept. We have a lot more names and concepts to utilise now in discourse, but none of the difficulties seem to have diminished…

In 2018, software engineer, cartoonist and columnist Emma crafted a book of strips reflecting upon social issues particularly affecting women and dissecting The Mental Load – all the unacknowledged, unavoidable unpaid invisible crap that makes up and comes with almost all modern relationships and revealing how most of that overwhelming, burdensome life-tonnage inescapably settles on one side of the bed in most households…

The book – and the strips from it published in The Guardian – caused quite a commotion and as much whiny, pseudo-scientific, apologist and – let’s be frank and use a pejorative term – bitchy trollish kickback as you’d expect from all the old familiar places, so she came back with further explanations and revelations in searingly brilliant follow-up The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff.

Because a large proportion of privileged humans who won the genital lottery don’t really give a damn about other people’s woes – especially if the food keeps coming and the appropriate drawers magically refill with clean clothes and groceries – I fear there’s a segment of truly needful folk who won’t benefit from Emma’s treatises, anecdotes, statistics and life-changing stories, but since many guys are honestly clueless and baffled but say they’re willing to adapt, maybe enough of us will give pause and thought a chance.

Best of all, most women reading this will realise it’s not just them feeling the way they do and might risk starting a conversation with their significant others, or at the very least, talk to other women and organise together…

Working in the manner of the very best observational stand-up comedy, Emma forensically identifies an issue prior to dissecting it: offering advice, suggestions and a wearily humorous perspective. Here that’s subdivided into chapters opening with personally autobiographical essay ‘It’s Not Right, But…’, wittily exploring the concept of consent for women and revealing how, at age 8, Emma first learned it was regarded as perfectly normal for men to bother girls…

That debate over sexual independence and autonomy in established relationships is then expanded in ‘A Role to Play’ before seemingly diverging off topic (but don’t be fooled) with ‘The Story of a Guardian of the Peace’. This cartoon saga traces the life of honest cop Eric and how he fared over years of trying to treat suspects and villains as fellow human beings in a system expressly created to suppress all forms of dissent and disagreement.

The oppressive demarcation of family duties and necessary efforts are then dissected into Productive and Reproductive Labor roles via the salutary example of Wife & Mother ‘Michelle’

‘The Power of Love’ deftly explores how women are implicitly expected to police the emotional wellbeing of all those around them, and the crushing affect that unasked-for burden has on mental wellbeing before the irrelevant and shabbily sanctimonious “not all men” defence resurfaces – and is potently sent packing – in ‘Consequences’, with a frankly chilling reckoning of the so-different mental preparations needed for men and women to go about their daily, ordinary lives…

As previously stated The Mental Load caused many ructions when it first gained popular attention and ‘It’s All in Your Head’ deftly summarises reactions, repercussions, defanging, belittlement, dismissal and ultimate sidelining of those revelations – particularly in relation to sexual choice and autonomy – with a barrage of damning quotes from France’s political and industrial elites. ‘Sunday Evenings’ then traces the history of work by oppressed underclasses – like women – and the gaslighting head games employed to keep all toilers off-balance, miserable and guilt-crushed and comfortably, beneficially oppressed.

These hopefully life-altering cartoon lectures conclude with an exposé of the most insidious form of social oppression as ‘Just Being Nice’ outlines tactics and effects of sneakily debilitating Benevolent Sexism; and yes, old gits from my generation – including me – thought it was okay to do it if we called it “chivalry” or “gallantry”…

Reinforced and backed up by a copious ‘Bibliography’ for further research (and probably fuelling some more carping niggles from unrepentant buttheads) and packed with telling examples from sociological and anthropological studies as well as buckets of irrefutable statistics, The Emotional Load is a smart, subversively clever examination of the roles women have been grudgingly awarded or allowed by a still overtly male-centric society, but amidst the many moments that will have any decent human weeping in empathy or raging in impotent fury, there are decisive points where a little knowledge and a smattering of honest willingness to listen and change could work bloody miracles…

Buy this book, pay attention and learn some stuff. Be better, and to all the women and girls, please accept my earnest apologies on behalf of myself, my generation, its offspring and probably my entire gender.
© 2018, 2020 by Emma. English translation © 2020 by Una Dimitrijevic. All rights reserved.