The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective

By Rand Holmes; written and compiled by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-170-1 (TPB)

Randolph Holton Holmes was a unique individual: a self-taught artist who grew up troubled, found peace and sufficiency if not fame and fortune, and died far too young on March 15th 2002. Available in wrist-wrenching paperback and soothing digital editions, this superbly curated compilation and biography re-presents scads of sketches; reproductions of drawings; cartoons and paintings he created in later life, preserved alongside a copious collection of his wickedly wonderful underground and alternative comic strips for fans and the soon to be devoted…

As usual, I’ll deliver here my warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or beautifully illustrated scenes of explicit sex, unbelievable comedic violence and controversial observations, don’t buy this book. In fact, stop reading this graphic novel review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then if you want. Be warned again though: I think you are being silly and may just cover something just as unseemly. That’s just the way I am…

Rand Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on February 22nd 1942 and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. After a rather remarkable early life (no clues from me – the whole point is to get you to buy this book) which included honing a prodigious artistic talent through diligently absorbing the work and drawing styles of Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman (who bought Rand’s first profession efforts for Help! magazine) – and most especially Wally Wood – Holmes became a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator at The Georgia Straight in 1969: one of many youth-oriented, counter-culture /“underground” newspapers that blossomed during the period.

Whilst there he created signature character Harold Hedd. It ran as a regular strip, and was assembled in 1972 into an outrageously hilarious, adults-only comic-book The Collected Adventures of Harold Hedd. A second volume followed a year later. Married young and always restless, Holmes generated an astounding amount of cartoon and comic work, which appeared in White Lunch Comix, All Canadian Beaver Comics, Slow Death, Fog City Comics, Gay Comics, Dope Comics and Snarf, amongst many others.

Holmes was by inclination a completely liberated sexual and political satirist. Sadly, his meticulously lush and shockingly explicit strips often obscured powerful social commentaries by being just too damn well-drawn. He produced strips for Rolling Stone and Cheri magazine and, in the 1980s, worked briefly in the mainstream comics market. When the Direct Sales revolution first flourished, he crafted EC-flavoured yarns for genre anthologies Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds,reuniting with long-time publishing collaborator Denis Kitchen for horror anthology Death Rattle as well as the fabulous mini-series Hitler’s Cocaine: the hip, trippy, return of Harold Hedd (included in its entirety in this volume).

Holmes married a second time in 1982 and moved his family to the idyllic, isolated artistic community of Lasqueti Island where he increasingly concentrated on a self-sufficient life-style, with oil painting replacing cartooning as an outlet for his relentless artistic drives. Here, with other creative hermits, he built an art centre which has become his lasting monument.

He passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002 and this book was the result of the first retrospective show compiled by his family from the treasury of superb material he left behind.

As well as a photo-stuffed and highly engaging history, this volume contains a wealth of artwork from early doodles to teen cartoons; illustrations and covers from his commercial art days; sketches; paintings; fascinating excerpts from the journals he kept for most of his life and a wonderful selection of his comics.

These last include many ‘Out to Lunch’ hotrod strips; early Harold Hedd pages from the Georgia Straight; sexy horror yarn ‘Raw Meat’; assorted ultra-nasty Basement Man tales; ‘Nip an’ Tuk – Those Cute Little Fuzzy Mices’; even more Hedd in ‘Wings Over Tijuana’ plus an unfinished story, as well as the aforementioned ‘Hitler’s Cocaine’ saga. Also on view are ‘And Here He Is… the Artist Himself’; ‘Killer Planet’; ‘Junkyard Dog’ (written by Mike Baron) and ‘Mean Old Man’ (written by Rob Maisch) – a powerful yarn that smacks of autobiography – before the artist portion concludes with a gallery of the stunning paintings that occupied his later days.

Rand Holmes was a true artist in every sense of the word: mostly producing work intended to change society, not fill his pockets. This terrific tome is a splendid and fitting tribute: one any grown-up art lover will marvel at and cherish.
© 2010 Patrick Rosenkranz, with the exception of the Rand Holmes diary entries which are © 2010 Martha Holmes. All artwork © 2010 Martha Holmes. Individual comic stories © their respective writers. All rights reserved.

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier

By , translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-278-6 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-279-3

It seems there’s nothing you can’t craft compelling comics about if you’re talented and inspired, as this spellbinding catalogue of the chocolatiers’ art proves. Originally released au Continent as Les Secrets du Chocolat in 2014, it’s a combination history, travelogue, docudrama and recipe book wherein Bande Dessinée star Franckie Alarcon is invited to spend a year shadowing a celebrated chocolatier at the Jacques Genin Chocolate Workshop. In a scintillating and oddly moreish manner he imparts his sheer joy at discovering how new sweetmeats are created; subsequently learning the history of the wonder stuff and even travelling to South America with a maker to source a new supply of the magic beans…

It all kicks off in December 2013 as the artist s recaps his recent past, detailing moments in his lifelong love affair with chocolate and revealing how he landed his ultimate passion project. Offered exclusive all-access to a literal chocolate factory, Alarcon began at Genin’s glamorous store/outlet, meeting dedicated apprentices and journeymen and absorbing the basic skills of production while being subtly retrained in how to eat and appreciate the subject of his dreams…

With positively lascivious renderings of classical chocs, and the secret recipes for making Candies, Truffles, Pralines,Chocolate Tart, Ganache, Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Mendiants, Alarcon learns under a true inventive master in ‘Chocolates’ with each new taste sensation triggering a positively Proustian Madeleine moment in the gobsmacked artist…

The next phase of the journey of discovery follows in ‘Stephane Bonnat, From Bean to Bar’ as Alarcon explores the history and processes of chocolate production from France’s most prestigious manufacturer before celebrating with elan an industry holy day in ‘Valentine’s Day: Love in the Form of Chocolate’

Another big deal demanding the mastery of new skills is covered – or is that “enrobed”? – in ‘Easter: Art on Chocolate’after which May 20th 2014 sees the artist become fully-fledged as an ‘Intern: A Difficult Learning Experience’ mastering ‘Taste: The Source of Pleasure’ under Genin’s patient tutelage…

Making good on an earlier offer, Alarcon then joins Bonnat on a resource-hunting trip to the Amazon rainforest in search of a new kind of bean in ‘Cocoa: The Origins of Chocolate’ before the voyage of gustatory discovery concludes in September 2014 with some laudatory thoughts and even more tantalising visuals in ‘Parting Words: An All-Consuming Passion’

Beguiling, seductive and simply delightful, this is an inviting comics divertissement that will surely be to practically everyone’s taste…
© Editions Delcourt 2014. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier will be released digitally on June 15th2020 and published in hardback on June 17th. It is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see

They Called Us Enemy

By George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steve Scott & Harmony Becker (Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-603094-50-4 (TPB) 978-1-603094-70-2 (Expanded HB)
eISBN 978-1-684067-51-0

Graphic biographies are a relatively new form for English-language comics, but the wealth and variety of material already available is truly breathtaking and laudable. This exemplary example is a subtly understated but deeply moving chronicle exploring the events and repercussions of a truly shameful moment in American history, recalled and relived by a global icon of popular culture who also happens to be one of the USA’s most ardent advocates of democracy, justice and equality and top-level activist in the arenas of LGBTQ and Asian-American rights.

Although George Takei has celebrated and commemorated his life in prose autobiography To the Stars, here – in collaboration with writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and illustrator Harmony Becker – the Hollywood star slyly shifts focus to explore in painful and revelatory detail the early years of his life: a formative period spent as a non-person behind barbed wire in his own country.

Recounted as non-linear, non-chronological episodes, the history and self-serving actions of American leaders (like Lt. General John L. DeWitt or Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron) who systematically stripped people of Japanese ethnicity of their rights, livelihoods, possessions and autonomy are seen through the eyes of a small child: observations which inevitably shaped the actor into a crusading defender of democratic principles of later life.

I’d love to say that’s simply a thing of the past, but kids are still being locked in cages and families split up…

On February 19th 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, dividing the country into military zones and effectively declaring all American citizens of Japanese origins enemy aliens. This led to their internment for the duration of the war in 10 isolated camps between the West Coast and Mississippi river.

In surprisingly fond recollections of camp life, we share the notions of baffled children (George, brother Henry, sister Nancy Reiko and many new pals) and the lasting, post-war consequences of divisively authoritarian stunts such as legally-binding loyalty pledges, de-fanged and counterpointed by modern day discussions and triumphant moments of past injustices finally addressed.

As well as exposing the human costs of a shameful period of state-sanctioned, opportunistic profiteering and proud racism, this tale is a testament to human endurance, perseverance and innate dignity, with moments of delightful warmth and genuine humour, bolstered by actions of unsung humanitarian heroes like Takei’s own parents and pioneering civil rights lawyer Wayne M. Collins. Their tireless fortitude and resistance to oppression, along with the efforts of countless others, offers inspiration and hope for all suffering similar restraint and abuse while sadly proving that some battles may never end.

They Called Us Enemy is a compelling, charming and informative account of injustice and unchecked ignorance endured with plenty of points as pertinent now as they ever were.

In 2020 and expanded edition was released with 16 pages of extra material and is also available as both a physical hardback and in digital formats.
They Called Us Enemy © 2019 George Takei. All Rights Reserved.

American Born Chinese

By Gene Luen Yang & Lark Pien (First Second – an imprint of Roaring Book Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59643-152-2 (TPB) 978-0-60614-484-1 (Turtleback Books PB)

A wondrous breakthrough and colossal gamechanger on its debut, here’s a quick tip of the hat to a modern masterpiece to celebrate the rather unwieldy but long overdue Asian Pacific American Heritage month.

An allegorical exploration of growing up visibly foreign in an often ignorant and unforgiving culture, Yang’s opus (coloured by Lark Pien and available in paperback and digital editions) braids three apparently separate tales of American Asian’s adolescent experience into a tapestry of wonder and revelation.

It begins as a witty reimagining of stories about Sun Wukong, the Monkey King of classical Eastern fiction and mythology. His bold exploits are flawlessly blended with two parallel storylines about Chinese Americans attempting to fit into the culture of what used to be called “The New World” and apparently is still regarded as such by many other parts of the globe. The result of such attempts is, of course, always something new and different, but why does getting there always have to be such a titanic struggle?

Jin Jang spent his formative years in the securely cosmopolitan enclave of San Francisco’s Chinatown before his family moved to the woefully provincial, inescapably European-descended suburbs. When his previously all-white High School offers an unofficial extracurricular course in sustained bullying and abuse, his miserable life changes with the late arrival of another kid like him – Taiwanese Wei-Chen Sun: but not in a way you’d hope or expect…

Jin’s experiences growing in this environment form a counterpoint to bright, vibrant reinterpretations of Monkey’s greatest exploits while a third strand features the struggles of all-American White boy Danny who is perpetually embarrassed by the grotesque living racial stereotype that is his obnoxious cousin ChinKee (sound it out… get it?)…

How these three elements seamlessly blend into a modern fantasy with a spectacular climax is a marvel you must not miss.

Pitilessly probing the experience of growing up foreign in your own country makes for a singular reading experience, but one that can surprisingly be enjoyed by all ages, although you should be aware that racial issues are dealt with head-on, and some images might appear offensive unless you’re actually paying attention.

Fifteen years on, American Born Chinese is a lauded, multi award-winning classic and remains a totally captivating breakthrough tale of adversity, diversity, acceptance and assimilation. It’s also a thrilling, deeply moving, funny and engaging read you will be infinitely enriched by.
© 2006 Gene Yang. All rights reserved.

Couch Tag

By Jesse Reklaw (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-676-8

In modern trend for graphic novels combining autobiography with a touch of therapy as they recount the lives of their authors is well established now, but once such “tragicomics” were a scarce but inviting commodity. Immensely appealing and frequently painfully unforgettable, they prove our medium fully capable of tackling the most contentious issues. One of the most moving and impressive came from veteran Indie cartoonist and mini comics self-publisher Jessie (Dreamtoons; Ten Thousand Things to Do; Lovf: An Illustrated Vision Quest of a Man Losing His Mind) Reklaw: who’s generated unmissable thought-provoking strips and stories since 1995 when he was working towards his doctorate in Artificial Intelligence.

Born in Berkley, California in 1971, he grew up in Sacramento before attending UC Santa Cruz and Yale, and his earliest publications – just like most of his modern output – delved into the phenomena and imagery of dreams. The experimental Concave Up led to syndicated weekly strip dream-diary Slow Wave, which uses readers’ contributions as the basis of the episodes. It ran from 1995 to 2012 in both printed periodicals and as a webcomic and is sorely missed.

His graphic autobiography is just as beguiling: a life reduced to brief vignettes serially grouped into 5 innocuous-seeming chapters which, through cleverly layered and carefully tailored reminiscences, describe Recklaw’s strangely unconventional (if not actually dysfunctional) family and personal struggle for stability.

Primarily crafted in monochrome wash, the history sessions begin with ‘Thirteen Cats of My Childhood’ – which older readers will recognises from Houghton Mifflin’s Best American Comics 2006, where it was also published – wherein succinct and ferociously functional recollections of a succession of ill-starred family pets serves as a splendid and powerfully effective narrative conceit to introduce the far from ordinary Walker clan.

By following the brief lives of ‘Black Star’, ‘Frosty’, ‘The Triplets’, ‘Mischief’, ‘Figgy Pudding’, ‘Gene’, ‘Survivor’,‘Tiger’, ‘Boots’ and ‘Harry’, we see a family of decidedly alternative outlook whilst also relating the rules of the furniture-based children’s game which gives this book its title.

‘A Note About Names Part One’ follows, revealing more about the sensibilities of the author’s parents, after which ‘Toys I Loved’ continues the amazingly instructive anecdotes about formative influences, as games and playthings act as keys to memory in increasingly unsettling, discordant and disturbing tales beginning in infancy with cuddly toy ‘Ruff-Ruff’ and skipping through a childhood dotted with sibling rivalries and sporadic best-friendships.

Jess, Sis, Mom and “Daddy Bill” are all defined courtesy of ‘The Mask’, ‘Me’s’, ‘Blankie’, ‘Sprinkler’, ‘Play-Doh’, ‘Stretch Armstrong’, ‘Six-Million-Dollar Man’, ‘The Hulk’, ‘Firecrackers’, ‘Green Cup’, ‘Diecast Robots’, ‘Drawers’, ‘Comic Books’, ‘Action Figures’, ‘Dirt Pile’, ‘Doll House’ and ‘Barbies’, before the life-changing advent of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

‘The Fred Robinson Story’ details the potentially obsessive nature of teenage pranks with Jess and like-minded buddy Brendan – over a number of years – bombarding a complete stranger with a barrage of creative celebration; turning a random name in a phone book into the recipient of odd gifts and star of music and handmade comic books in ‘The Box’.

The lads develop their musical tendencies in ‘Los Angeles’ and penchant for creative vandalism in ‘Batsigns’, before returning to their lengthy cartooning crusade in ‘Fred Robinson X-ing’: relating how the prank publishing campaign mushroomed and Brendan’s girlfriend Kristin changes the status quo, after which Jess gets a ‘Letter from Norway’ and‘Better Fred’ reveals how things eventually ended…

‘The Stacked Deck’ recounts educational episodes and memorable moments resulting from the entire extended family’s passion for card games and tendency towards compulsive behaviour, as seen in ‘War’, ‘Go Fish’, ‘Spades’, ‘Pinochle’,‘Crazy Eights’, ‘Speed’, ‘Poker’, ‘31’, ‘Rummy’, ‘Solitaire’, ‘Spite & Malice’ and ‘Ascension’

Final chapter ‘Lessoned’ is delivered in a succession of distressed colour-segments: raw and disturbing pages of evocative collage and experimental narrative dealing out a unique tarot set of A-to-Z insights and disclosures, beginning with ‘Adults’, ‘Birth’ and ‘the Crash’.

Ranging between early days and contemporary times, the alphabetical summary and keen self-diagnosis continues with ‘Disease’, ‘Earache’, ‘Family’, ‘Gifted’, ‘Humor’ and ‘Invulnerability’, turning a corner towards understanding with ‘Joint’, ‘Kiersey Test’, ‘Legal Guardian’, ‘Melancholic’, ‘Number’ and ‘Obsession’.

After cleverly addressing the revelations of the author’s bipolar mood disorder and explosive determination to take control of his life by rejecting sickness and weakness, ‘Phlegmatic’, ‘Question’, ‘Role-Playing’, ‘Sanguine’, ‘Tests’ and ‘Unconscious’ carry the account to a new normal with ‘the Vandal’, ‘Walker’, ‘X-Mas’, ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Zero’.

Bleak yet uplifting, nostalgic and distressing, harsh and blackly funny, Couch Tag is a devastatingly moving account of coping with adverse heredity, sexual deviancy, social nonconformity and familial discord which I suspect could only be told in comics.

This is not a book everyone can like, but it’s definitely a story to resonate with anyone who has felt alone, odd or different.

And surely that’s all of us at some time…
© 2013 Jesse Reklaw. This edition © 2013 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.


By Zara Slattery (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-66-5 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-912408-78-8

Since the pandemic struck, everyone’s notion of what terror looks and feels like has fundamentally changed. That has never been more apparent than in recent medical dramas and attains even more horrific poignancy when the story being told is true.

That’s certainly the case in this astounding autobiographical inner excursion from cartoonist, illustrator and educator Zara Slattery, who barely survived an inexplicable and escalating medical crisis in 2013 that forever changed her life and those of her husband and children.

As she battled for her life in the Intensive Care Unit of Brighton hospital – spending 15 days in a coma and months after in recovery – her overwhelmed man Dan and their kids began recording events in diaries. This was at the suggestion of the nurse in charge, whose own medical notes append the saga: written in ICU to update the critical patient of what was occurring for when – or if – she woke up…

All those disparate records were used by Slattery to craft an interlocking narrative of how life went on around her and act as a grounding touchstone for the other portions of this book. These sections are wildly delirious and hallucinogenic trials experienced by the comatose artist who recalls ceaseless, terrifying, guilt-&-shame flavoured trials and phantasms, possibly triggered by exterior events unconsciously absorbed as she lay dying…

Broken into day chapters spanning ‘Wednesday 22nd May’ to ‘Saturday 8th June’, the intimate excursion details how as Zara slowly succumbs to agonising infection; how Dan adapts to being a sole parent to children too smart to fool for long, and how a host of friends and relatives desperately rally round to wait out the crisis, retreating into comforting routine, platitudes and endless hope…

It’s easy – and painfully correct – to declare that a graphic narrative this intensely personal attains universal poignancy in these days of plague, but even if the last two years never happened, Coma would still be an incredible blend of prosaic everyday coping, paean to nurturing support and horrific hell-bound rollercoaster ride.

Its interweaving of matter-of-fact necessities with the blistering shock of comatose fever dreams powerfully unpicks cruel modern myths – such as any ailment can be defeated if the “victim” fights hard enough, or notions of “unfair” or “undeserved” illness – and focuses attention on where it belongs: on patients, suffering friends and despondent family helplessly watching from the side-lines and indomitable medical professionals prove themselves the world’s real heroes.

Mesmerising, compelling and potently understated, this pictorial memoir is unlike any graphic novel you’ve ever seen, but you know the cure for that, right?
© Zara Slattery 2021. All rights reserved.

Coma is schedule for release on May 13th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Jim – Jim Woodring’s Notorious Autojournal

By Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-752-9 (HB)

There are a few uniquely gifted and driven comics creators who simply defy categorisation or even description. There’s a pantheon of artisans: Kirby, Ditko, Hergé, Eisner, Clowes, Meskin, Millionaire and a few others who bring something utterly personal and universally effective to their work just beyond the reviewer’s skills (mine certainly) to elucidate, encapsulate or convey. They are perfect in their own way and so emphatically wonderful that no collection of praise and analysis can do them justice.

You just have to read the stuff yourself.

Arguably at the top of that distinguished heap of graphic glitterati is Jim Woodring. It’s a position he has maintained for years and clearly appears capable of holding for generations to come.

Woodring’s work has always been challenging, funny, spiritual, grotesque, philosophical, heartbreaking, beautiful and extremely scary. Moreover, even after reading that sentence you will still be absolutely unprepared for what awaits the first time you encounter any of his books – and even more so if you’ve already seen everything he’s created.

Cartoonist, animator, fine artist, toy-maker and artistic Renaissance man, Woodring’s eccentric output has delighted far too small and select an audience since his first mini-comics forays in 1980.

The reader may have avidly adored his groundbreaking, oneirically autobiographical Fantagraphics magazine Jim (1986 and cherry-picked for this collection) or its notional spin-off series Frank (of which Weathercraft won The Stranger 2010 Genius Award for Literature whilst 2018’s Poochytown marked Woodring’s last Frank foray to date). Perhaps it was Tantalizing Stories, Seeing Things or more mainstream features like his Star Wars and Aliens tales for Dark Horse Comics that hit home but, always, there is never anything but surprise waiting when his next story appears…

An accomplished storytelling technician these days, Woodring grows rather than constructs solidly surreal, abstractly authentic, wildly rational, primal cartoon universes, wherein his meticulous, clean-lined, sturdily ethereal, mannered blend of woodblock prints, R. Crumb landscapes, expressionist Dreamscapes, religious art and monstrous phantasmagoria all live and play …and often eat each other.

His stories follow a logical, progressional narrative – often a surging, non-stop chase from one insane invention to the next – layered with multiple levels of meaning yet totally devoid of speech or words, boldly assuming the intense involvement of the reader will participate and complete the creative circuit.

Such was not always the case and this superbly sumptuous oversized (292 x 228mm) hardcover compilation (also available digitally) gathers earlier formative and breakthrough efforts in colour and monochrome: offering the very best of his strips, paintings, poems and stories from JIM and other (sadly unnamed) sources between 1980 and 1996.

This compulsive collection also includes a new 24-page strip starring the artist’s hulking, bewhiskered, aggressively paranoid, dream-plagued family man/cartoonist alter ego, cementing his reputation as a master of subconscious exploration, surreal self-expression and slyly ironic comedic excoriation – and it’s still almost impossible to describe.

You really, really, really have to dive in and discover for yourself…

Packed with hallucinatory spot-images and JIM cover illustrations, the furtive fruits of Woodring’s ever-present dream-recording “autojournal” are prefaced by a beguiling and informative ‘Author’s Note’ before the wonderment begins with ‘Jim #1 in its entirety’: the complete contents of his very first self-published fanzine from 1980.

A master of silent expressive cartooning, Woodring’s playfully inventively fascination with and love of words and tale-making shines through in such laboriously hand-lettered, illustrated epigrammatic vignettes as ‘Lozenge’ and ‘Jim Today’, as well as witty iconographic concoctions like ‘Tales of Bears’ and ‘Troutcapper Hats’ before the premier strip saga details a doomed fishing trip in ‘Seafood Platter from Hell’, and a moment of early silent psychedelia reveals how ‘Two Children Inadvertently Kill an Agent of the Devil Through an Excess of Youthful High Spirits’

Another personal true story and painful brush with disability and imperfection is disclosed in ‘Invisible Hinge’ whilst ‘The Hour of the Kitten’ returns to distressed, disturbed prose before the first of many outrageous faux-ads offers indispensable conscience-pets ‘Niffers’, preceding another text-trek in ‘A Walk in the Foothills’.

Cats play a large part in these early strips and ‘Big Red’ is probably the cutest bloody-clawed, conscienceless killer you’ll ever meet whilst ‘Enough is Enough’ offers graphic pause before an ad for the home ‘Dreamcorder’ segues into a disturbing poster of rural excess in ‘A Lousy Show’.

‘Particular Mind’ provides a strip encapsulating relationships, hallucinations and life-drawing, after which the tempting services provided by ‘Jim’s Discipline Camp’ are counterbalanced by a paean to pharmacopoeia in ‘Good Medicine’.

More savage exploits of ‘Big Red’ lead to a commercial presentation in ‘This is the Meat (…That Changed Me, Dad!)’, whilst ‘Horse Sinister’ describes – in prose and pictures – another disturbing dream dilemma and ‘At the Old Estate’introduces a sophisticated loving couple whose wilderness paradise is forever altered by an unwelcome visitor’s incredible revelation. Thereafter, a worried young child describes how life changed after he found his parents’ ‘Dinosaur Cage’

The truly eccentric tale of ‘Li’l Rat’ (from a 1965 story by John Dorman) is followed by a visual feast of images from ‘Jim Book of the Dead’ and a surreal flyer for ‘Rolling Cabine’, after which ‘What the Left Hand Did’ captures in strip form the horrors of mutilation and malformation. The macabre tone-painting ‘Almost Home’ then leads to an epic strip of father and son fun beginning with ‘Let’s Play!’

Jim’s jaunt soon transports him to ‘Powerland’ where dad meets himself, whilst ‘Nidrian Gardner’ revisits a couple of suave swells whilst ‘Looty’ offers consumers a toy they just shouldn’t own…

‘The Hindu Marriage Game’ leads our unhappy bearded fool to a place where his lack of judgement can truly embarrass him, whilst ‘Quarry Story’ explores a debilitating recurring dream about the nature of artistic endeavour and ‘This House’explains how you can live life without ever going outside again – and how’s that for prophetic and timely?

The first inklings of the mature creator emerge in absurdist romp ‘The Birthday Party’ after which prose shaggy-dog story ‘The Reform of the Apple’ leads to a dark, distressing cartoon confrontation with doom on ‘The Stairs’, before largely monochrome meanderings give way to stunning full-colour surreal reveries in ‘Screechy Peachy’.

The radiant hues remain for galvanic image ‘Vher Umst Pknipfer?’ and pantomimic rollercoaster romp ‘Trosper’ after which bold black & white introspection resumes with a naked lady and a garrulous frog in ‘Dive Deep’.

A ghostly Hispanic condition of drunkenness haunts cruelly playful kids in ‘Pulque’ whilst little Max asks dad a leading question in ‘Echo’ and radio rebels Chip and Monk meet some girls and risk the wrath of civic authority with illegal broadcasting in ‘A Hometown Tale’, before an ideal wife has a bad-tempered off-day in ‘Obviously Not’.

As the years passed, many of Woodring’s later spiritual and graphic signature creatures slowly begun to appear in his strips. Old met new in ‘His Father Was a Great Machine’ wherein strident Jim has an encounter with a phantasmagorical thing, after which little Susan and a determined slug shaped up for an inevitable collision in the prose fable ‘When the Lobster Whistles on the Hill’.

Sheer whimsy informs ‘Cheap Work/Our Hero is a Bastard’ and the bizarre offerings of ‘Jimland Novelties’, whilst ‘The Smudge-Pot’ shows what all magazine letters pages should be like. ‘Pulque’ – in full colour strip mode – returns with a message for the dying before ‘Boyfriend of the Weather’ wraps up the surreal voyaging with a homey homily, and reproductions of Jim #1, volume 2 back cover and Jim #2, volume 2 cover bring this festival of freakish fun to the finale with style, aplomb and oodles of frosting…

Woodring’s work is not to everyone’s taste or sensibilities – otherwise why would I need to plug his work so earnestly – and, as ever, these astounding drawings have the perilous propensity of repeating like cucumber and making one jump long after the book has been put away, but the artist is an undisputed master of graphic narrative and an affirmed innovator always making new art to challenge us and himself.

He makes us love it and leaves us hungry for more, and these early offerings provide the perfect starter course for a full-bodied feast of fantasy…

Are you feeling peckish yet…?
© 2014 Jim Woodring. All rights reserved.

Wage Slaves

By Daria Bogdańska, translated by Aleksander Linskog (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-1-912278-06-0 (TPB)

It’s rare to see an international indie comic that combines personal revelation and intimate expression with hard-hitting reportage, so massive kudos to relative newcomer Daria Bogdańska who documented her eventful life thus far with uncompromising veracity while becoming a successful social activist battling corruption, authoritarian ennui and exploitation of immigrants in real life as well as this powerful and joyous paperback tome.

Having left her abusive home in Poland at 15, Daria travels across Europe, supporting herself with a succession of “under-the-table” and “off-the-books” jobs of varying legality and daily uncertainty, until she applies for and wins a place on a college course in Sweden.

After arriving in Malmö and hooking up with old friends, she finds accommodation of a tenuous nature, but, like so many others, has to work to pay for her studies. Being a temporary resident, she has no social security number and finds herself in the crushing trap of being unable to secure steady or even legal employment…

While constantly navigating the minefield of Sweden (Hell, any nation’s) Catch 22-based social security system, she finds casual work as a waitress and dogsbody for a chain of bars and curry houses run by an immigrant turned local bigwig…

As the year progresses, she notices things are pretty hinky even by the standards of the illicit economies she’s been exposed to in the past. At one point, the hard-working, occasionally partying student realises she’s supported herself for six years all over the world and never once had legitimate employment…

A little research reveals the nature and level of exploitation her non-white co-workers are enduring in pursuit of the Swedish equivalent of a Green Card, and something snaps. Daria decides something has to be done and boldly risks everything by joining a union…

Brutally frank, charmingly earnest and carrying a potent punch of virtue triumphant, Wage Slaves is a subtly engaging peek at the life too many youngsters have to endure, and one you should refresh your own comfortably numb social conscience with.
© Daria Bogdańska & Centrala. All rights reserved.

March Book One

By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-383-5 (HB) 978-1-60309-300-2 (PB)

It’s a lazy cop-out but honestly, some books just need to be read. March is one of them. It’s the story in his own words of legendary civil rights pioneer and properly-evolved human being John Lewis: the first of three describing his path from oppressed and sidelined southern child to non-violent activist to the halls of America’s Congress. Adapted by his assistant Andrew Aydin and multi award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell (Two Dead, Come Again, About Face, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole, The Silence of Our Friends) it charts with astonishing intimacy and warmth a story of the good guys winning in the end…

The artist’s sensitive monochrome washes and tones painstakingly capture the dignity, determination, humour and pervasive quiet tension of the South during those fraught times and the growing groundswell of peaceful resistance that culminated in a very public confrontation on a bridge, a long walk to Washington and the start of a process still sadly underway every day…

It proudly celebrates everything the 45th PotUS seemed determined to roll back, and failed to accomplish, too so that’s a big Yar, Boo Sucks! to him too while we’re on the subject…

March Book One was first released in 2013 as a paperback, again as a lavish oversized (210 by 305mm) hardback three years later. It’s also available in digital formats: one of the most lauded and awarded biographies of recent times and immensely enjoyable and uplifting. You need to see it and the concluding volumes, too.
March Book One © 2013, 2016 John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. This edition © 2017 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story

By Alfred Hassler, Benton Resnik & Sy Barry (Fellowship of Reconciliation/Top Shelf Productions)

When you actually read the book cited in the previous review, you’ll hopefully notice an inspirational comic book enjoyed by many at the time. A potted history and primer on non-violent resistance, Martin Luther King and The Montgomery Story was published in 1957 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and widely disseminated and shared by Civil Rights organisations, churches, schools – and young John Lewis. When Top Shelf released The March they also revived this historical treasure, and it too can be yours.

All proceeds still go to fund the Fellowship’s ongoing work…

“21”: The Story of Roberto Clemente

By Wilfred Santiago (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-892-3 (HB) 978-1-60699-775-8 (PB)

I’m not a big fan of American Sports, favouring the ease and simplicity of our own gentle pastimes such as Rugby and, of course, the ultimate immersive experience that is Test Cricket, but I am a complete sucker for history – particularly graphic biographies. That’s especially true when they are as innovative and imaginative as this superbly passionate and evocative account of the life of a groundbreaking star, quietly philanthropic humanitarian and culture-changing champion of ethnic equality.

Roberto Clemente Walker was born in Puerto Rico on August 18th 1934, one of seven kids in a devoutly Catholic family. Baseball and, latterly, his wife Vera and three kids were his entire life. He played for a Puerto Rican team until the Brooklyn Dodgers head-hunted him.

At that time racial restrictions were dominant in the American game, so he actually only played against white people in the Canadian League for the Montreal Royals.

In 1954 Clemente finally got into the American game after signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates – a working relationship that lasted until his tragic death in a plane crash in December 1972.

During those tempestuous 18 years Clemente broke down many social barriers and became a sporting legend: the first Hispanic player to win a World Series as a starter, the first Latino to win the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award and winner of a dozen Gold Glove Awards. An all-round player, he scored 3000 hits and achieved many other notable career highlights.

He worked passionately for humanitarian causes in Latin America, believing every child should have free and open access to sports. He died delivering earthquake relief to Nicaragua after the devastating tremor of December 23rd 1972. His body was never recovered.

Clemente was posthumously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973: the first Hispanic to receive the honour – and the only contemporary player ever to have the 5-year waiting period waived. He is a national icon in Puerto Rico and one of the leading figures in the movement to desegregate American sports.

Rather than a dry accounting of his life, author Wilfred Santiago’s tale skips forward and back, illustrated in a studied and fiercely expressionistic melange of styles which sketch in tone and mood, superbly synthesising the life of a true frontrunner and a very human hero.

With its message of success and glory in the face of poverty and discrimination “21” (available in hardback, softcover and digital formats) is potently reminiscent of James Sturm’s The Golem’s Mighty Swing, but its entrancing, vibrant visual style is uniquely flavoured with the heat of the tropics and the pride of the people Clemente loved.

Lusciously realised in sumptuous earth-tones and powerfully redolent of the spirit of Unjust Times A-Changin’, this is a fabulous book for every fan of the medium and not simply lads and sports-fans…
Art and text © 2011Wilfred Santiago. All rights reserved.