Willie and Joe: The WWII Years

By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-439-9 (PB)

During World War II a talented, ambitious young man named William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (29/10/1921 – 22/01/2003) fought “Over There” with the 45th Division of the United States Infantry as well as many other fine units of the army. He learned to hate war and love his brother soldiers – and the American fighting man loved him back. During his time in the service he produced civilian cartoons for the Oklahoma City Times and The Oklahoman, and devastatingly, intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News. He also produced work for Yank and Stars and Stripes; the US Armed Forces newspapers. Soon after, his cartoons were being reproduced in newspapers across Europe and America.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he popularised – offering their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the sharpest of Sharp Ends…

Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually exposing in all ways and manners the stuff upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret. Not war secrets, but how the men at arms lived, felt and died.

Willie and Joe even became the subject of two films (Up Front -1951 and Back at the Front – 1952) whilst Willie made the cover of Time magazine in 1945, when 23-year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1945, a collection of his drawings, accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay, was published by Henry Holt and Co. Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge-of-War views became increasingly unpopular during the Cold War and, despite being a certified War Hero, Mauldin’s increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour (those efforts are the subject companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home). Mauldin left the increasing hostile and oversight-ridden business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing, amongst other movies, in Red Badge of Courage with veteran war hero Audie Murphy); a war correspondent during the Korean War and – after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1956 – finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958.

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and award-studded career. He only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall; and to eulogize Milton Caniff). His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it.

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts from 1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink root beers and tell war stories with an old pal. When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense, mostly monochrome (with some very rare colour and sepia items) softcover compendium comes in at 704 pages, (229 x 178mm for the physical copy or any size you want if you get the digital edition): assembling all his known wartime cartoons – as originally released in two hardback editions in 2008. It features not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

Mauldin produced most of his work for Regimental and Company newspapers whilst under fire: perfectly capturing the life and context of fellow soldiers – also under battlefield conditions – and shared a glimpse of that unique and bizarre existence to their families and civilians at large, despite constant military censorship and even face-to-face confrontations with Generals. George Patton was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world, but fortunately Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, if not a fan, knew the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with those indomitable everymen Willie and Joe

This far removed in time, many of the pieces here might need historical context for modern readers and such is comprehensively provided by the notes section to the rear of the volume. Also included are unpublished pieces and pages, early cartoon works, and rare notes, drafts and sketches.

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however, are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness. They highlight equally the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Most importantly, Mauldin never patronised civilians or demonised the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat as “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

Alternating crushing cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, absurdist observation, shared miseries, staggering sentimentality and the total shock and awe of still being alive every morning, this cartoon catalogue of the Last Just War is a truly breathtaking collection that no fan, art-lover, historian or humanitarian can afford to miss.

…And it will make you cry and laugh out loud too.

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distant brass-hats and politicians send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home, we should finally be able to restore the man and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, it looks like his message is never going to be outdated… or learned from by the idiots in charge who most need to hear it…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Desolation Wilderness

By Claire Scully (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-45-5 (PB)

The most magical thing about comics is the sheer versality of potential results. In terms of narrative, exposition, mood-setting and information dissemination, nothing can come close, and the range of visualisation spans near-abstract construction to hyper-realism. If the end-consumer is particularly receptive, the author can even dial back on the narrative and let a succession of carefully-applied images make a story unique to each reader. It’s like jazz for your eyes…

In a way, we’re all still monkeys clinging to rocks: we cannot help but respond viscerally to our environments: cowed or elated by stony heights, drawn to and pacified by pools and gardens, inexplicably moved to fear or joy by forests. It’s in our blood and bones: Nobody stands on a mountaintop or looks down into the Grand Canyon and says “meh”…

We may have left the caves and trees but we now mimic those ancient sanctuary havens in our dwellings. We climb high and burrow deep and our architecture has visceral, compulsive, instinctive power over us – just walk by a Victorian school, across a Roman viaduct or study the oppressive triumphalism of Nazi-built buildings or battle emplacements – we’re all still part of the wild and nature is in our bones too.

When someone really talented and truly invested channels those primal responses, the fires of creativity can push right into the hindbrain to our inner primitive. Desolation Wilderness does that.

Described as “a sequence of events occurring over a period of time in the search for a location in space” this tiny paperback handbook is a purely visual experience enhanced by the rough tactile textures of the card it’s printed on: part of an on-going project examining the relationship of Landscape and Memory.

Creator Claire Scully has inscribed and sequenced compelling scenes of rocks and trees and waters through different seasons and times of day in such a fashion that you must look and pause and ponder. It is a graphic missile targeting recollection and imagination; one that hits with serenely devastating impact.

If you are still human it will make you think: you won’t be able to help yourself…

© 2019 Claire Scully. All rights reserved.
Desolation Wilderness is scheduled for publication on June 3rd 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns

By Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson (Limerance/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-499-6 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-500-9

Comic strips have long been acknowledged as an incredibly powerful tool to educate, rendering tricky or complex issues easily accessible. They also have an overwhelming ability to affect and change behaviour and have been used for centuries by politicians, religions, the military and commercial concerns to modify how we live our lives.

Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

Despite what the old adage might say, words are not only harmful, but also shape how people react to or regard… well, everything.

Semantic shading is prevalent in all aspects of human communication, and predisposes us to respond in certain manners; frequently in contradiction to all other data. I still have a scar on my finger from when I was nine and picked up a cute, cuddly, playfully welcoming kitten, clearly in a manner it found inappropriate and uncomfortable.

In the social contract we all live under, every person (and almost all of the animals and some complex machinery) should expect to be treated with courtesy and in terms they find comfortable and acceptable. I have used nine different pen-names in a long and undistinguished creative career and respond to them equally, as readily as my own name (no matter how badly mangled it might be by people I don’t expect to possess any facility or familiarity with the Eastern European pronunciation or syntax it stems from).

I don’t even care if people call me “madam” or late for dinner.

I’m somewhat less sanguine about rude or aggressive people using “oi, mate”, “baldy” or “hey you”. I have no patience at all for those who smugly tell me I’m saying my own name wrong…

At least I’m fortunate enough to fall into a broad category of cisgendered folk who unthinkingly share appropriately-gendered pronouns. That’s not a situation everybody enjoys, but is one that can and should be rectified. Misgendering (intentional or otherwise) is arrogant, lazy, impolite and selfish: It’s 2019 and we should all be accepted on our own terms by now.

All it takes is willingness and a little effort… and – if these concepts are new to you – this extremely engaging little paperback guide, crafted by two lifelong friends addressing the issue from the most different of positions.

Archie Bongiovanni is non-binary: identifying as a genderqueer artist who feels “Him” and “Her” are not pronouns that apply or are relevant. As part of a widely diverse and continually diversifying society, they (that was me doing the gender pronoun thing, there) feel those terms can – and should – be supplemented by other, neutral words: in this specific case “They” or “Them”.

Tristan Jimerson is a cisgendered man who works as a copywriter and runs a restaurant. As part of an inherited social majority he had no choice in originally defining, he is keen to adjust the way he refers to people so as be inclusive, polite and non-discriminatory.

The book they created together is inexpensive, informative, great fun and available in physical and digital editions (so you should get loads of copies and start giving them to everybody you know).

It also means the only terms you’re getting for free here are the aforementioned Non-Binary – meaning someone who does not identify as either male or female – and Cisgender – which translates as a person who agrees and accepts the gender they were assigned at birth. If you need clarification on terms like “gender” or “pronoun” that’s what books and search engines are for; and check back to what I just said about being lazy…

As well as simple, affable explanations, tips and hints, you’ll find here cartoon reference charts and lists clarifying what to say, to whom and when, with examples and suggestions for why you should rethink your viewpoint if you’re feeling reluctant, or recalcitrant. Readers will be gently introduced to concepts such as ‘YOLO’, ‘Why Pronouns Matter’ and ‘How to use They/Them pronouns in Everyday life: A Practical Guide!’ as well as profiting from sections ‘For Folks Identifying with Alternative Pronouns’ and much more…

A handy guide to simple courtesy and common human decency, this is a marvellous attempt to help us all get along a little more easily. Maybe we should find an equivalent publication dealing with climate change, commercial expediency and political short-termism…?
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns ™ & © 2018 Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson. All rights reserved.

I Am Going to Be Small

By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-891830-86-0 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels such as Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He added contributions to the expanded Star Wars franchise’s dramatic comics canon and has directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues. His current big thing is the Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series of books.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the 4-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug. That’s what this landscape landmark (available in paperback and eBook editions) is about – “a collection of gag and humour cartoons 1997-2006”…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly became a surprise hit with fans and critics alike. A little later – and in the same vein – he produced Unlikely (or How I Lost My Virginity) a True Love Story: “250+ pages of young love, sex, drugs, heartbreak & comedy” involving the long and agonisingly extended process of “becoming a Man”….

Here, those evergreen themes are constantly revisited and expanded upon: a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled joy, but rubbing pimply shoulders with straight-up whimsy, surreal and gross-out gags, observational comedy and anything the swiftly-developing cartoonist deemed worthy of his brief attention. The result is painfully funny…

Here you will find uplifting homilies gone awry, college days captured in all their bleakness, sports – and sportsmen – dissected, movies reviewed and trashed, faux ads and products, the magic of boxes, religion, excess and guilt, god and Jesus, animal crackers, food, dining, unicorns, atrocious puns, the wonder of toys, war and the military, ex-girlfriends, babies, torture and mutilation and lots of observations on the dating arena.

There, at the rear end of the book, is a selection of anthropomorphic yet sophisticated mishaps featuring of a bunch of animals – Bunny, Bear, Bird and Cat – enduring the torment of interspecies attraction (and repulsion), all gathered together under the umbrella title ‘Cuticle’

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: brimming with shameful glee and subversive wit, this a fabulous voyage of graphic and comedic self-indulgence for everybody who has passed the raging hormones stage of existence and is happy to enjoy the plight of others still suffering…

It is to laugh…
© 2006 Jeffrey Brown.

The Initiates – A Comic Artist And a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs

By Étienne Davodeau, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM/Comics Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-703-4 (HB)

Throughout 2010 Bande Dessinée author/artist Étienne Davodeau (Friends of Saltiel, Lulu femme Nue, Un monde si tranquille, The Poor People: A History of Activists), noted for both brilliant fiction and moving factual comicbook novels, participated in a fascinating life (or perhaps vocation) swap experiment.

The artist, writer and designer was born in 1965 and, whilst studying art at the University of Rennes, founded Psurde Studios with fellow comics creators Jean-Luc Simon and Marc Le Grand, AKA “Joub”. His first album The Man Who Did Not Like Trees was released in 1992.  He is a leader and integral part of the modern graphic auteur movement in French and Belgian comics.

Released as Les Ignorants in October 2011, this lyrical and beguiling cartoon documentary reveals the year when the artist and independent specialist wine-maker Richard Leroy shared the secrets and mundane realities of each other’s insular, introspective and fearsomely philosophical solitary professions.

Davodeau knew absolutely nothing of the ferocious demands of the elite, experimental grape-growing game nor the oenophilic secrets and mysteries of tasting wine, but similarly the bluff, irascible son of the soil had barely read a comic in his entire life. The journal of discovery opens with ‘To Pruning, Then (Plus One Belgian Printing)’ as the artist is put to work in icy winds on the terroir of Montbenault, cutting and shaping the lianas which hold such glorious potential. Then Leroy is taken on an eye-opening tour of a Belgian print-works where Davodeau is summoned to sign off his latest album…

In ‘Wood’ a trip to a cooperage dissects the role of barrels in the slow fermentation process, as the new friends discuss the imponderables of judgement. It’s hard to define, but in their own fields each knows right and wrong, good and bad and most especially “not perfect yet”…

Leroy’s extra-curricular work includes reading lots of comics and graphic novels, as well as being introduced to the peripheral joys such as signings, collectors fads and so forth, but when he is introduced to major creator Gibrat a fascinating discourse on the aesthetics of the medium ensues in ‘Jean-Pierre (and Jimi, and Wolfgang Amadeus and a Few Others)’, liberally lubricated by the vintner’s ever-present samples of his own form of creative expression…

A charming interview and guest appearance with Lewis Trondheim graces ‘The Art of the Portrait and its Vicissitudes, or “The Theory of the Beak”’ even as the spring brings terror, confusion and greater back-breaking toil as the artist has his first brush with tractors and even more obscure specialist technologies, ‘What Goes Without Saying’ offers personal history and raking in the hot sun, after which ‘In Praise of Manure’ focuses on subjectivity as he learns the pros and cons of the controversial vintners’ heresy of “Biodynamics”…

Ploughing and accidental self-immolation features in ‘A Question of Proximity’, whilst the arrival of the world’s most influential wine critic opens a whole new area of discourse in ‘New York/Montbenault/New York’, and the tables are satisfactorily turned in ‘Saying Something Stupid: (Sometimes) a Good Idea’ as Richard attends an editors’ meeting in Paris in July before a little break at a Bistro reveals the true depth of the naïve comic-consuming artisan’s liquid gifts…

Wine-making is a 24/7 occupation and as storm season hits the terroir ‘The Blunder’ offers moments of genuine tension and apprehension for this year’s crop before a successful “disbudding” of the vines leaves time for a taste-training session for the novice drinker and reluctant reader alike.

In ‘Blacks and Whites’ the never-shy Leroy meets a creator whose work deeply affected him, and the pleasant hours spent with author/artist Marc-Antoine Mathieu lead to deep thoughts all round before ‘Wherein, When Certain Vintners Suffer Sulphur’ covers the raging debate in the wine industry on the use of elemental additives to “manage” fermentation, which leads inevitably to the frantic camaraderie of the grape-picking and constant cry for another ‘Bucket!’

October, and with the year’s harvest pressed and in barrels there’re a few quiet moments to disparage foolish ‘Label Drinkers’ at Wine Exhibitions, happily contrasting the snobs with Leroy’s first experience of a Comics Festival, before November brings the first tentative tastings of the new vintage and a long-awaited epiphany moment for reluctant reader Leroy in ‘Montbenault/Paris/Kabul’

The Photographer (“Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders”, by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre and Frédéric Lemercier) was the book the vintner responded to on a purely, frighteningly visceral level, so Davodeau takes the bemused convert to meet the lead creator and consequently discovers a tenuous connection between his life-swap partner and the documentary graphic novel’s subjects…

In ‘A Teetering Statue’ the quiet winter weeks allow breathing space to learn the travails of shipping and export, as well as encompassing a visit to the Paris Cartier Foundation’s Moebius Exhibition and some deliciously piquant home truths for comics cognoscenti before returning again to pruning vines, whilst ‘Savagnins, Poulsards, and Company’ takes us almost full circle as Leroy takes the artist to the vintner’s own personal promised land and a fellow elite wine maverick, whilst a trip to Corsica takes in the Bastia Comics Convention and the unique vineyard of the “Patrimonio Arena” in ‘Nielluccio, Vermentinu, Bianco Gentile and Oubapo’…

The magnificently elegiac and languorously evocative account wraps up in genteelly seductive manner with one final excursion as The Initiates head for the Dordogne to follow up on Emmanuel Guibert’s introduction to the survivors of The Photographer. One last gracious day of cross-fertilised booze and books conversation in ‘Final Revelations under a Cherry Tree’ then leads inevitably back to where and how it all began for both participants…

Of course all I care about is comics, but even on my terms this rapturous, studious yet impossibly addictive account of two open-minded, deeply dedicated artists’ tentative exploration of each other worlds – at once tediously familiar and utterly unknown – is a masterpiece of subtle education, if not benevolent propaganda and, like good wine or a great book, takes its own sweet time to hook you.

Also included in this surprisingly compelling hardback chronicle is ‘Drunk/Read’ – a list of wines and graphic novels introduced to each novitiate; an intriguing bucket list for readers to aspire to and complete our second hand education into the greatest arts on Earth…

This dazzling display of harsh fact and the theosophical fervour of the grape-growers art, seamlessly blended with an outsider’s overview of our whacky, cosy world of cartoons and funnybooks, is enchanting beyond measure and should figure high on any fan’s list of books to seduce comics non-believers with. It might also be the perfect gift for all those people you thought you couldn’t buy a graphic novel present for…

Europeans excel at making superb comics – Lord, how I’m going to miss them all come April when we’ve built our own Exclusion Wall and domed ourselves in our Den of National Insularity – which simultaneously entertain and educate (check out the sublime On the Odd Hours or The Sky over the Louvre to see what I mean) and the seductive, evocative, eclectically human monochrome illustration and dialogue perfectly capture the sensorial effect of wine and work and weather, and the backbreaking, self-inflicted artisan toil and ineffable rewards of making comics or creating wine…

This elegiac documentary of a bizarrely fitting experiment is a book you must savour.
© Futuropolis 2011. © 2013 NBM for English translation.

When I Was a Kid – Childhood Stories by Boey

By Cheeming Boey (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-785-3

Unless your life’s even more unpredictable than mine, all the preparations and frantic panics should be sorted by now and it’s too late to pick up any meaningful gifts that aren’t actually immaterial and/or downloadable.

So, with that in mind, why not calmly ponder the meaning of it all and lay plans for next time?

As this little lost gem proves, the whole histrionic drama of the season is about making memories for those around you… good and bad. Why not strive to make them ones you and yours can share with friends instead of the police or EMTs?

The ability to go back into our childhoods and relive those bizarre, baffling and brilliantly fierce thoughts and every brand-new-day discoveries is a wondrous mixed blessing, but being able to share those recaptured experiences with jaded world-weary adults is a truly miraculous gift and thus utterly evergreen.

One of the most effective and memorable collections generated by an august crowd of halcyon salad-days wranglers comes from Malaysian animator, illustrator, educator, video game developer and cartoonist Cheeming Boey – who also produces gallery art on Styrofoam coffee cups and created an autobiographical webcomic about his life in America, entitled I Am Boey.

You should really check it out…

As a kind of prequel to his blog – if indeed growing up can be considered an introduction to a main event – Boey collected a huge number of visual memoirs and epigrams about his im-maturing years in Asia, bundling them up in a beguiling tome (and a rapidly released sequel) emphasising both the exoticism of life in Malaysia and the universal similarities and solidarities of being a kid.

Warm, sensitive, intimate, uproarious, disarmingly honest as well as on occasion brutal, shocking and sad, these 103 visual monologues (with heart-warming family photos scattered throughout) are invitations into a world of wonder, rivalry, confusion, punishment, resentment, humiliation, anticipation, frustration, greed, glee and always the security of family.

They all begin with “When I was a kid…” and prove that, apart from the odd surface detail, every happy, loving childhood is identical…

The stand-out incidents include such salutary universal reminiscences as ‘My First Pet’, ‘Baby Powder’, ‘Bedtime Stories’, ‘Bad for your Eyes’, ‘Grandma’s Leg’, ‘Nasal Noodles’, ‘R-Rated’, ‘Stealing Money’, ‘Sunday Cartoons’, ‘Not a Genius’ and of course ‘Failing Math’ but with such a wide catalogue to choose from, every little cartoon episode will resonate with somebody. Especially you. Particularly now…

And just in case I’ve made a convert – this one is available as an eBook if you need it right away…
© 2011, 2013 Cheeming Boey. All rights reserved.

Follow Me In

By Katriona Chapman (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-38-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: The Perfect Holiday Getaway… 10/10

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are so-so and the rest I endeavour to share with you. Of that remaining fraction most can be summarised, plot-pointed and précised to give you a clue about what you might be buying if I’ve done my job right.

Sometimes, however, all that fuss is not only irrelevant but will actually impede your eventual enjoyment. This is one of those times…

Katriona Chapman is a story-maker based in London, from where she’s been crafting superb tales in Small Press titles like Tiny Pencil (which she-cofounded), Comic Book Slumber Party, Ink & Paper, Save Our Souls, Deep Space Canine and her own award-winning Katzine. She draws beautifully and knows how to quietly sneak up, grab your undivided attention and never let go… and she hasn’t spent all her life in the Smoke either…

Follow Me In is her first novel-length tale and combines recollections of a particularly troubling time in her life with clearly the most life-affirming and inspirational events one could hope to experience.

At the station, a young woman meets up with an old boyfriend. He’s a writer and she draws. It’s been years and they’re still awkward and uncomfortable in each other’s presence. They talk about the time in 2003 when they decided to trek the entire country of Mexico, north to south east to west. Back then they were looking for themselves. As her mind goes back, she realizes she’s a lot closer to answers than he is…

This magnificently hefty, pocket-sized (165 x 216 mm) hardcover then follows that voyage with exquisite detail, relating history, culture, the sights, and most especially the actual, non-screaming headlines, bad-movie images of a young nation with thousands of years of history, architecture and archaeology: a nation that proudly boasts dozens of indigenous cultures living in relative harmony, speaking at least 68 legally recognised languages and constantly being reshaped by political turmoil. Moreover, no traveller should miss this tome, if only for the advice on bugs, minibeasts and illnesses…

Follow Me In is slyly lyrical and enchantingly enticing; a moving and intoxicating graphic assessment of a crucial time in the illustrator’s life, filled with facts, warmth and conflict, offering fascinating data on such varied topic as ‘A Selection of Mexican Foods’, ‘Learning Spanish’, ‘Travel Sketching’, ‘What’s in our Bags?’ and ‘The Conquests’, all equally compelling and useful to know. And through it all, you’ll want to know what happened to our travellers as they transition from kids to grown-ups as much as what they’ll see next in this magnetic story within a story.

Refreshing, redemptive and rewarding, this is a book to chase away all winter blues and existential glums and a reading experience you must not deprive yourself – or your family – of.
© Katriona Chapman 2018. All rights reserved.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea – a Graphic Memoir of Modern Slavery

By Vannak Anan Prum, as told to Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and translated by Lim Sophorn (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-6098-0602-6

This book made me furiously angry, but that’s good because it was supposed to.

Despite years of shocking scoops and in-depth news reports, far too many first world citizens seem blissfully unaware that human slavery still thrives.

In fact, the practise of enforced, unpaid labour props up a vast number of businesses and industries; from migrants and homeless people used as beasts of burden by British gangs masquerading as builders (like the Rooney family recently sentenced to decades in prison) to young hopefuls trafficked into a global sex market or entire populations captured or conned and compelled to till fields or man fishing boats for companies and “entrepreneurs” little better than racketeers and petty tyrants.

At the root of all this appalling exploitation and upheaval is one unchanging factor: a desperate need to escape overwhelming poverty.

This breathtakingly low key and matter-of-fact tale is the testimony in cartoon form of Cambodian Vannak Anan Prum who went looking for work to pay for his pregnant wife’s medical care and was gone for years…

Bracketed by a fact-filled and frankly nightmare-inducing Foreword from activist and cartoon journalist Anne Elizabeth Moore (Unmarketable, Truthout), an equally sobering Introduction by Minky Worden – Director of Global Initiatives for Human Rights Watch – and a laudatory appreciation and call to arms by Kevin Bales (Professor of Contemporary Slavery and Research Director at the Rights Lab: University of Nottingham) in his Afterword, a compelling human-scaled odyssey unfolds here.

Rendered with the gently seductive warmth and deceptively comfortable lushness of a Ladybird early reader book, the saga of endurance and survival against the cruellest of fates begins with a ‘Prologue’ as a stranger enters a Cambodian village…

Vannak Anan Prum started life ‘Drawing in the Dirt’. He was born the year the Khmer Rouge were beaten by the Vietnamese, but his early life was still one of hardship, privation and family abuse. Barely more than a boy, he fled his home seeking ‘Adventure’, becoming first a soldier, then a monk and finally an artisan sculptor toiling in a workshop making tourist trinkets and statues.

His constant hunt for work led him to farming and he met the girl who became ‘My Wife’. When she fell pregnant, he had to make more money to pay for her hospital care. With village friend Rus Vannak followed a lead to Thailand and contacted ‘Moto & the Middleman’. After helping them in ‘Crossing the Border’ they soon changed from chummy helpers to sinister guards…

Apparently, the great secret to successful slave-taking is convincing the victims that the police, army and authorities are ruthless and will punish undocumented illegals and economic migrants: constantly dangling hope of good pay and promises of eventual freedom to keep their captives quiescent.

For Vannak and Rus ‘The Writing on the Wall’ is a clear but anticlimactic moment and after relatively painless incarceration they are shipped onto facilities ship ‘The Took Tho’. This vessel services a vast fleet of illegal fishing boats, pirating catches in other nations’ waters and manned by hundreds of men who only wanted to better themselves. Most never see land again once they are taken…

One such is ‘The Old Man’, whose fate led to Vannak being transferred to primitive fishing factory ship ‘The Took Oh’. Eventually, crushing routine takes hold, only barely broken by what happens to ‘Rus’

‘Life on the Boat’ ruled Vannak’s world and any number of candidates for ‘The Deadliest Job’ were gratefully handled before the new man’s status was slightly elevated. After he started tattooing himself with makeshift tools, his ‘Writing on the Skin’ led to others wanting such decoration… and paying for it.

His artistic gifts were useless when the ship was chased by the Indonesian navy resulting in ‘Fire at Sea’ and Vannak’s trading to ‘The New Boat’

Fresh horrors awaited here: murder, beatings and the shocking fate of the ‘Two Guys’ from Thailand, but there were also more serene moments with ‘My Friend K’Nack’.

Adding to the alternating dire tedium and frantic hardship, ‘Storms at Sea’ and consequent becalmed periods made ‘Days Stretch Out’

At last, after the craft surprisingly neared land, a chance came for ‘Escape’. With Thai compatriot Chaya, Vannak chanced everything on ‘The Swim’ to an unknown jungle beach and kept going…

Once again hope quickly gave way to despair. In ‘The Monkeys and the Man Waiting for Us’ an idyllic pause and the aid of some helpful citizens took the escapees to ‘Police and the Chinese Man’, who promptly sold them both to a plantation owner known as ‘Crazy Boss’

More months of slavery in what eventually turned out to be Malaysia followed, but again Vannak’s artistic skills proved invaluable and he made enough to obtain ‘The Phone’.

Contact established with the outside world, he prepared to be rescued, but when a drunken party dissolved into ‘The Fight’ Vannak and “co-worker” Theara were wounded by machetes and dumped into the custody of the local police who grudgingly took them to ‘Hospital’

And here’s where the real injustices start piling up as the victims suffer ‘Yo-Yo Justice’. Although Theara is soon claimed by his family, illegal worker Vannak is arrested. However, in ‘Prison’ he is interviewed by German NGO worker Manfred Hornung who begins the convoluted process of freeing the abducted and enslaved Cambodian.

Sadly, that process takes months, and is perpetually hampered by police interference and the revelation of just who – and how influential – Crazy Boss is…

It’s still a long and torturous ordeal before the LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) can ferry the relieved and apprehensive Vannak ‘Home’

This crushingly sedate, oppressively action-deprived story is an astounding testament to the will to survive, but that doesn’t mean it lacks power, merit or moment. Life simply isn’t a three-act summer blockbuster with exploding helicopters, sexy vamps and Mikado-esque just deserts doled out to the endless chain of truly evil, corrupt bastards entrenched at every stage of the modern slavery system, with hands out and blind eyes turned to the plight of those they’re supposed to protect and serve.

In actual fact, the only thing they really fear is exposure and that began when Vannak – still desperately seeking to earn a living – started drawing his five awful years of experiences as strips. These were seen by film makers Ben & Jocelyn Pederick and one of the results and repercussions is this book…

As seen in ‘Epilogue’, there will be more to come…

A truly remarkable story of a quietly indomitable man who turned survival into a waiting game and patience into his weapon, The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a book everyone should read and every exploiter should dread.
Text and images © 2018 Vannak Anan Prum. Foreword © 2018 Anne Elizabeth Moore. Introduction © 2018 Minky Worden. Afterword © 2018 Kevin Bales. All rights reserved.

Young, Talented… Exploited!

By Yatuu, translated by FNIC (Sloth Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-908830-02-9

Much as we’d like to think otherwise, the world of work is no longer possessed of purely national characteristics. These days we all slave under a universal system that sidesteps borders in the name of global corporate philosophy. Thus, this stunning glimpse of one French woman’s frustrated struggle against modern employment practise is one that’s being repeated all over the planet every day.

In this case however, Capitalism picked on the wrong person because Yatuu has enough spark, gumption and talent to fight back…

When Cyndi Barbero graduated from college and began looking for a job, all she was offered were unpaid internships. Eventually, she took one, still believing the mantra everyone with a job repeated: “if you work hard enough they may offer a permanent position”.

The work-placement role ran its legally-mandated course and she was promptly replaced by another sucker. After the third time it happened she began to blog (www.yatuu.fr/en) about and sharing her experiences, venting her opinions on such a manifestly unfair system and derive a soupçon of justifiable payback…

Just in case you’re unaware: An Intern takes a position in a company to learn the ropes, develop good working habits and establish contacts in order to make them more employable. The system used to work even though most kids ended up doing scut-work and never really learned anything useful.

Such positions are unpaid and eventually most employers realised that they could get free low-grade temporary labourers and thereby cut their own running costs. Using, abusing and discarding the seemingly endless supply of optimistic hopefuls has become an accepted expense-control measure at most large businesses. Even those employers who originally played fair had to change at some stage, because the exploitative tactics gave business rivals an unfair financial advantage…

I used to know of only one large company where interns were paid – and that’s only because the CEO put his foot down and insisted. When he retired and the company was sold the intern program quickly shifted to the new normal…

This subtly understated, over-the-top manga-styled, savagely comedic exposé tracks one exhilarated graduate’s progress from college to the world of no work through ‘At the End of the First Internship’ via ‘At the End of the Second Internship’ to ‘At the End of the Third Internship’ when even she began to smell a rat.

That didn’t daunt her (much) and, after much soul-searching, she took her dream job at a major Ad Agency. At least it would have been, were she not the latest addition to a small army of interns expending their creative energies for insane hours, zero thanks or acknowledgement and at their own financial expense…

From ‘Some Words Get Instant Reactions at Interviews’ through her ‘First Day’ – via vivid and memorable digressions on expected behaviour and hilariously familiar vignettes of types (I spent 30 years as an advertising freelancer and I think I’ve actually gone drinking with many of these guys’ British cousins…) – to the accepted seven-days-a-week grind of ‘This Place is Great Because You Learn to Laugh on Cue’ and ‘Nothing Out of the Ordinary’, Yatuu grew accustomed to her voluntary slavery… although her barely-suppressed sense of rebellion was unquenchable.

Amongst so many short pithy lessons compiled here we see and sympathise with ‘Intensive Training’, observe ‘The Pleasure of Feeling Useful’ and realise there’s ‘Nothing to Lose’, before an intriguing game of office ‘Dilemma’ explores whether to have lunch with the Employees or Interns and what to do if asked to do ‘Overtime’

As much diary as educational warning, this beguiling collection reveals how the hapless ever-hopeful victim developed survival strategies – such as finding a long-suffering workmate prepared to lend a floor, couch or bed for those frequent nights when the last train leaves before you do…

Mostly however, this addictive collection deals with the author’s personal responses to an untenable but inescapable situation for far too many young people: revealing insane episodes of exhaustion, despondency and work (but, tellingly not Job)-related stress, such as too many scary midnight cab rides home, constant nightmares and grinding daily insecurity.

What’s amazing is that it’s done with style, bravery and an astonishing degree of good-natured humour – especially when dealing with ‘The Idea Thief’, planning ‘Retaliation’ or perfecting ‘The Ultimate Revenge Technique!!!’

Originally collected as Moi, 20 Ans, Diplômée, Motivée… Exploitée, Yatuu’s trenchant cartoon retaliations were published in English a few years ago (so are long overdue for a new edition) and make for fascinating reading.

Although it really should be, you probably won’t find Young, Talented… Exploited! discussed in any school Careers lessons or part of any college Job seminar and it’s almost certainly banned from every employers’ Orientation and Training package, but that’s just a sign of how good it is.

Best get your own copy and be ready for the worst scams, indignities and excesses that the Exploiters and Bosses will try to spring on you…

At least once you’ve paid for it you can be assured that it will deliver on its promise…
© 2013 Yatuu & 12bis. English translation and layout © 2013 Sloth Publishing, Ltd.

Bread & Wine – an Erotic Tale of New York

By Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-632-4

The demands of drama dictate that true love never runs smooth but that’s not the case in real life. The trade-off is that those actual romances which stand the test of time and tedium are painfully devoid of the remarkable circumstance and miraculous “gosh-wow” moments of fiction.

But this remarkable account proves That Ain’t Necessarily So…

In 1999 independent publisher Juno released a small graphic novel memoir, written by Samuel R. Delaney and illustrated by Mia Wolff (Catcher), which recounts how a celebrated gay black literary giant, college professor and social theoretician with a mantelpiece crowded of awards, and a teenaged daughter in tow, met and romanced one of society’s most outcast and forgotten souls.

At the time of publication, they had been a couple for some years and they are together still, more than 25 years later. Julia Roberts and Richard Gere won’t be in this movie and not a single dragon or muscle car had to die…

Following an Introduction from Alan Moore, this welcome and long-overdue new edition reveals how “Chip” Delaney took a walk on New York’s Upper West Side, bought a book from homeless Dennis and struck up a conversation with the kind of person most people refuse to acknowledge the very existence of…

In seamlessly seductive understated style the words and pictures detail how gradually, gently, unsurprisingly they became first friends and then lovers.

In the manner of all lasting true romances, this is the history of two full equals who accidentally find each other, not some flimsy rags-to-riches Cinderella tale of predestination and magical remedies. The brilliance and position of one is perfectly complemented by the warmth, intelligence and quiet integrity of the other, and although far from smooth – or rose scented – their path to contentment was both tension-fraught and heart-warming.

Oh, and there’s sex: lots of rapturously visualised sex, so if you’re the kind of person liable to be upset by pictures of joyous, loving fornication between two people separated by age, wealth, social position and race who happily possess and constantly employ the same type of naughty bits on each other, then go away and read something else.

In fact, as I keep on saying, just please go away.

And that’s all the help you get from me. This lyrical, beguiling tale is embellished throughout with interwoven extracts from the poem Bread and Wine by German lyric poet Friedrich Hölderlin and illustrated in a mesmerising organic monochrome variety of styles by artist and Delaney family friend Mia Wolff, and you really need to have it unfold for you without my second-hand blether or kibitzing…

This is one of the sweetest, most uplifting comics love stories ever written: rich with sentiment, steeped in literary punch and beautiful to behold. Moreover, this lavish, stout and steadfast hardback (also available in digital formats) also includes a celebratory commentary by Chip, Dennis and Mia and other protagonists in the Afterword, plus a sketch-packed, earnest and informative interview with the creative participants.

Strong, assertive, uncompromising and proudly unapologetic, this is love we should all aspire to, and Bread & Wine is another graphic novel every adult should know.
Introduction © 2013 Alan Moore. Contents © 2013 Samuel R. Delaney & Mia Wolff. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.