Lala Albert: Seasonal Shift – Comics 2013-2019


By Lala Albert (Breakdown Press/The Library of Contemporary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-911081-09-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Not All Beautiful Things are Pretty… 9/10

All right-thinking people know that graphic narrative is the most expressive and expansive medium to work in, right? The range of themes explored, stories told and varieties of delivery are pretty near infinite if created by an inspired artisan.

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

That emotional and creative volatility has never been better realised than in the modern crop of storymakers, many of whom are being rightly-celebrated in collections of minicomics and collections such as this compilation of works by Brooklyn-based Lala Albert as part of the Library of Contemporary Comics, which is collecting shorter works by the best cartoonists currently working in the medium right now.

Opening with a forthright ‘Interview’ conducted by Michael DeForge, this sequence of tales, vignettes and self-publications addresses body issues, human relationships, and most especially interactions with society and the ever more imperilled environment through terse short stories, generally framed in science fictional, fantasy and horror terms of reference.

Gathered from Albert’s last six years, the raw, primitivist, questing revelations begin with ‘Morning Dew’: a self-published moment of luxurious hedonism in natural circumstances from 2019 that lapses into a glimpse at the inevitable, if improbable, consequence of plastic saturation, first seen in Future Shock #7 (2014), before ‘Starlight Local’ – part of Alien Invasion volume 3, 2013 – details the disturbing outcome of a casual hook-up during an interstellar commute…

Consumerism and self-determination get a handy heads-up when a girl orders a ‘nu device’ (Trapper Keeper volume 4, 2016) after which a new kind of surveillance society dystopia is explored and overturned in ‘R.A.T.’ (crafted for Latvia’s Kuš Comics in 2015).

These tales are delivered in a range of styles and palettes, but for me, pure stark monochrome is always a blessing, so the ferocious attitude of ‘Brainbuzz’ (Weird Magazine volume 5, 2014) only intensifies the disturbing exploration of bodily invasion undertaken here…

Masks and the mutability of personas are thoroughly, forensically questioned in kJanus’’:a voyage of intense personal discovery first released by Breakdown Press UK in 2014, before a distressing fascination of what lurks under our skins is displayed in ‘Flower Pot’! courtesy of Marécage, Revue Lagon, France, 2019.

An epic of ecological combat and fairy survival is revealed in multi-chapter saga of survival ‘Wet Earth’ (Sonatina, 2017), pitting ethereal pixies against the lower ends of an uncaring food chain, before a modicum of sanity – but never safety or true security – returns via comforting self-assessment in ‘Pinhole’ (Over the Line, Sidekick Books UK, 2015). After everything, it’s always good to check back in with your own skin…

Dark but never hopeless, and always avoiding slick, glib professional sheen, these tales bore right in to the heart, asking questions we all have. Whether you find any answers truly depends on you…
All work © Lala Albert 2019. This edition © Breakdown Press 2019. All rights reserved.

Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful


By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-822-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Timely Heads-Up for the Upcoming Spendfest Season… 9/10

There are books to read, books you should read – and some, perhaps, that you shouldn’t – and there are important books. The relatively new field of graphic novels has many of the first but still boasts precious few important books yet. Thankfully, British documentarian, journalist and cartoonist Darryl Cunningham seems to specialise in the latter…

It’s hard enough to get noticed within the industry (simply excelling at your craft is not enough) but when comics does generate something wonderful, valid, powerful, true to our medium yet simultaneously breaking beyond into the wide world and making a mark, the reviews from that appreciative greater market come thick and fast – so I’m not going to spend acres of text praising this forthright, potentially controversial and damning examination of Earth’s Newest (but hopefully not Last) Gods – the Super Rich.

Multi-disciplined artist Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all?) and graduated from Leeds College of Art. A regular on the Small Press scene of the 1990s, his early strips appeared in legendary paper-based venues such as Fast Fiction, Dead Trees, Inkling, Turn and many others.

In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit and it remains one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly sidelining comics as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period that informed 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales, a revelatory inquiry into mental illness delivered as cartoon reportage.

When not crafting web comics for Forbidden Planet or on his creations Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been consolidating a pole position in the field of graphic investigative reporting; specifically science history, economics and socio-political journalism through books such as Science Tales, Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy, Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery and The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis.

His latest offering details the rise and pernicious all-pervasive influence of three icons of the plutocratic ideal while debunking such self-deluding and damaging public myths as “self-made”, “coming from nothing” or “fair and honest”.

It opens with a pictorial Introduction outlining how late 19th and early 20th century robber barons of the Gilded Age set the scene for the rise of today’s financial overlords – and how governments responded to them…

Delivered in clear, simple, easily accessible imagery, Cunningham then deconstructs the carefully crafted legends and official biographies of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, energy barons Charles & David Koch and internet retail supremo Jeff Beez with an even-handed fairness I’m not sure any other investigative author could match – or would want to.

Via an avalanche of always-attributable, deftly delineated facts and reported events, the artist delivers the very opposite of hard-hitting polemic, instead massaging and lathering readers with an ocean of appetising data that allows us make up our own minds about proudly ruthless apex business predators who have controlled governments, steered populations and reshaped the planet in their quest for financial dominance.

Best of all, Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs in his Afterword, and – should anybody’s lawyers or tax accountants be called upon – backs up all his cartoon classwork with a vast and daunting list of References for everything cited in the book.

Comics has long been the most effective method of imparting information and eliciting reaction (that’s why assorted governments and militaries have used them for hard and soft propaganda over the last century and a half), and with Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful we finally see that force being used against today’s greatest threat to continued existence…
© Darryl Cunningham 2019. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartwarming and Thought Provoking… 9/10

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…

Thirty-something artist Lizzy Stewart lives in London and Shanks’ Pony is not only how she manages city life but is also a 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 meandering meditation on right here, right now, utilising a stunning sequence of painted views of what she sees on her various perambulations – a stunning travelogue of London literally at ground level – wedded to tracts of text graciously sharing her innermost, scattershot thoughts and deliberations on notions that trouble women (and perhaps the odd man or two) today.

All the bugbears trot along: getting by, success and failure, body issues, direction and achievement, growing up and growing old, family pressures, 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 concerns about personal safety and a 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 the overall progress is always hopeful, tending towards examination rather than hasty judgement or solutions and 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.

Walking Distance will be published on October 24th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Freeway


By Mark Kalesniko (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-356-9 (PB)

It’s a strange occupation writing about a largely pictorial art-form and sometimes the only thing you want to say is “you have got to read this!” However, as I love to babble on, I’ll slightly elaborate about this forgotten gem: a superb quasi-autobiographical fable from animator and cartoonist Mark Kalesniko which features another moving and thought-provoking reverie starring his dog-faced alter ego Alex .

After working for Disney on such modern classics as The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Mulan and Atlantis, in 1991, British Columbia-born Kalesniko began crafting powerful and imaginative comics, beginning with the audacious ‘Adolf Hears a Who.’

In 1994 he spawned Alex; the tale of an alcoholic ex-animator returning to his old hometown, following up in 1997 with Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself? – an account of young Alex’s formative years. In 2001, the auteur diverged from Alex’s exploits to examine another aspect of the inherent isolationism of creative types in Mail Order Bride.

Freeway marked Kalesniko’s return to his signature character to describe in powerfully oppressive form the heartrending misery of successfully attaining your greatest dream…

Young Alex has left Canada for Hollywood to fulfil his lifelong ambition of being an animator for the monolithic Babbitt Jones Productions (a transparently veiled Walt Disney Studios analogue) but the achievement of his passionate wish is not working out how he had hoped.

The neophyte seems to spend most of his day trying to drive to or from the studio (no longer part of the colossal Babbitt Jones main complex but now hidden away in a seedy warehouse in a decidedly dodgy business district).

After the initial disappointment of discovering the animators and ideas that built the company have become sidelined and despised by corporate drones who now run the business, Alex settles in and begins the intolerable grind of making art by committee diktat. As he sees his fellow creatives slowly crumple under the unremitting pressures of office politics, daily compromise, poor leadership and lack of vision in a place where being good is less important than being compliant, his elation fades.

Succumbing to nostalgia and seduced by his own joyous yearning for those good old days he never experienced, Alex falls in love with a co-worker. Typically, her family considers him an outsider…

Every day he sees the talent, imagination, aspirations and sensitivity of his fellow artists mauled by malicious ambition and jealousy, and every day he wastes angry and frustrated hours embedded in the vast aggressive steam kettle of the Los Angeles rush hour…

Little wonder then that his fertile, repressed imagination begins to wander: but when daydreams of violent death and merciful release are more satisfying than your life, how long can a creative soul last before it withers or snaps?

This mesmeric saga is deliciously multi-layered: blending compelling narrative with tantalising titbits and secret snippets from the golden age of animation, with rosy reveries of the meta-fictional post-war LA and the sheer tension of a paranoid thriller. Kalesniko opens Alex’s mind and soul to us but there’s no easy ride. Like Christopher Nolan’s Memento, there’s a brilliant tale unfolding here but you’re expected to pay attention and work for it.

Available in paperback and in digital formats and illustrated with stunning virtuosity in captivating black line, Alex’s frustration, anger, despair, reminiscences and imaginings from idle ponderings to over-the-top, compulsive near-hallucinations are chillingly captured and shared in this wonderful book – which can be happily read in isolation of all the other tomes previously cited. And happily, they’re still available and recommended and can only enhance this glorious and bold truly graphic novel.
Contents © 2011 Mark Kalesniko. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.T

Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2 – the Story of a Return


By Marjane Satrapi translated by Anjali Singh (Jonathan Cape/Vintage)
ISBN: 978-0-22406-440-8 (volume 1 HB); 978-0-22407-440-7 (volume 2 HB); 978-0-0-9952-399-4 (TPB)

No comics celebration of non-fictional women could be complete without acknowledging Marjane Satrapi’s astounding breakout memoirs, so let’s revisit her Persepolis books (also available in a complete paperback edition released to coincide with an animated movie of the tale)…

The imagery of a child, their unrefined stylings and shaded remembrances all possess captivating power to enthral adults. Marjane Satrapi grew up during the Fundamentalist revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran and replaced him with an Islamic theocracy.

For cartoon reminiscence Persepolis – The Story of a Childhood, she opted to relate key incidents from her life with the stark direct drawings and sharp, unleavened voice and perceptions of the young girl she was. This simple, direct reportage owes as much to Anne Frank as Art Spiegleman whilst she relates the incidents that shaped her life and her identity as a free-thinking female in a society that increasing frowned on that sort of thing…

Persepolis is the kind of graphic novel that casual and intellectual readers love, focusing on the content of the message and decrying or at best ignoring the technical skill and craft of the medium that conveys it. Yet graphic narrative is as much an art form of craft and thought as it is the dustbin of sophomoric genre stereotypes that many critics relegate it to. Satrapi created a work that is powerful and engaging, but in a sorry twist of reality, it is one that comics fans, and not the general public, still have to be convinced to read.

In the sequel Persepolis – The Story of a Return, the primitivist reminiscences of a girl whose childhood spanned the fall of the Shah and the rise of Iran’s Fundamentalist theocracy, Satrapi continues sharing her personal history, but now concentrates more fully on the little girl growing into a woman.

This idiosyncratic maturation unfortunately acts to somewhat diminish the power of simple, unvarnished observation that was such a devastating lens into the political iniquities that shaped her life, but does transform the author into a fully concrete person, as many of her experiences more closely mirror those of an audience which hasn’t grown up under a cloud of physical, political, spiritual and sexual oppression.

The story recommences in 1984 where 15-year old Marjane is sent to Vienna to (ostensibly) pursue an education. In distressingly short order, the all-but-asylum-seeker is rapidly bounced from home to home: billeted with Nuns; distanced acquaintances of her family; a bed-sit in the house of an apparent madwoman and eventually is reduced to living on the streets, in a catastrophic spiral of decline before returning to Iran in four years later. It is now 1988.

Her observations on the admittedly outré counter-culture European students, and her own actions as she grows to full womanhood seem to indicate that even the most excessive and extreme past experience can still offer a dangerously seductive nostalgia when faced with the bizarre concept of too much freedom too soon.

When she returns to her homeland, her adult life under the regime of the Ayatollah is still a surprisingly less-than-total condemnation than we westerners and our agenda-slanted news media would probably expect. The book concludes with her decision to move permanently to Europe in 1994…

The burgeoning field of autobiographical graphic novels is a valuable outreach resource for an industry desperately seeking to entice new audiences to convert to our product. As long as subject matter doesn’t overpower content and style, and we can offer examples such as Persepolis to the seekers, we should be making real headway.
© Marjane Satrapi 2004. Translation © 2004 Anjali Singh.

Cancer Vixen


By Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Knopf Publishing/Pantheon)
ISBN: 978-0-30726-357-5 (US HB) 978-0-37571-474-0 (UK PB)

The comics medium is incredibly powerful and versatile: easily able to convey different levels of information and shades of meaning in a variety of highly individualistic and personal manners and styles and on any subject imaginable.

Although primarily used as a medium of entertainment, the sequential image is also a devastating tool for instruction and revelation as in this superb encapsulation of one woman’s knock-down drag-out tussle with the “Big C”…

Born in1962, Marisa Acocella studied painting at the Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts in New York City before becoming an Art Director for a major Madison Avenue ad agency. After a meteoric career in the field, in 1993 she turned to cartooning.

Acocella concocted the quasi-autobiographical fashion cartoon She which debuted in Mirabella Magazine before transferring to Elle in 1996. The feature was collected as Just Who the Hell Is She, Anyway? The Autobiography of She and the character was optioned for a show by HBO television.

The frenetic scribbler was subsequently head-hunted by Robert Mankoff – Cartoon Editor for iconic periodical The New Yorker – and soon after, with her work regularly appearing in Glamour (where she crafted the series Glamour Girls), Advertising Age, Talk, Modern Bride and ESPN magazine, she created ‘The Strip’ for the New York Times Sunday Styles section. It was that prestigious paper’s first ever continuing comics feature.

In 2004, at the top of her game and three weeks before her marriage to a dashing and highly successful restaurateur, seemingly with the world at her stylishly shod feet (there’s a great deal of attention paid to women’s shoes here, but at least it’s an apparently hereditary fetish: Marisa’s simply overwhelming mother Violetta Acocella was a designer for the Delman Shoe Company), the artist noticed a lump in her breast…

How the sometimes flighty, occasionally self-absorbed but ultimately tough and determinedly resolute Style-Zombie Fashionista cartoonist took control of her life and her situation to beat cancer makes for an utterly engrossing and ferociously vital read…

Told in overlapping flashbacks Cancer Vixen – because the artist loathed the term “Cancer Victim” – documents her emotional pilgrimage through denial, oppressive terror, turbulent anticipations, financial heebie-jeebies, desperate metaphysical bargaining, exploration of outrageous alternative therapies, grudging acceptance and onerous fight-back through her interactions with friends and family – especially that formidably overbearing ‘(S)Mother’ and man-in-a-billion husband-to-be Silvano Marchetto

As Marisa reveals the day-by-day, moment-to-moment journey from suspicion to diagnosis, through surgery and the horrifying post-op chemo-therapy with profound passion, daunting honesty and beguiling self-deprecating humour, what strikes the reader most is the cruelly unnecessary extra anguish caused by a silly mistake which might have cost the artist her life…

Even though thoroughly in-touch, on the go and in command of her life, this modern Ms. had accidentally let her Health Insurance lapse…

Coming from a country where – despite the best efforts of our current government to gut and sell off the National Health Service and neuter the social support and benefits net – nobody has to die from insufficient funds or endure ill-health because of their bank balance, the most gob-smacking strand of this graphic reportage is the cost-counting exercise which periodically tots up the dollars spent at crucial stages of treatment and the realisation that many of her potential care-givers are actually bidding against each other rather than working together to treat their patients customers…

Thankfully Glamour magazine nobly commissioned Marisa to turn her regular strip into a cartoon account of her illness and recovery (with the strip Cancer Vixen launching as a 6-page strip in the April 2005 issue), whilst bravely marrying Silvano – in defiance of her very real dread that he might be a widower before their first anniversary – at least got Marisa belatedly onto his insurance policy…

As a result of her experiences, Marisa Acocella-Marchetto apportioned a percentage of the book’s profits to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation and to underprivileged women at the St. Vincent’s Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center in Manhattan, where she also established The Cancer Vixen Fund, dedicated to help uninsured women get the best breast care available.

Delivered in a chatty, snazzy blend of styles and bright, bold colours, this relentlessly factual book – and thus truly scary because of it – combines a gripping true report of terror and resilience with a glorious love story and inspiring celebration of family and friendship under the worst of all circumstances.

Whilst not the escapist fantasy fiction which is our medium’s speciality, this human drama and faithfully impassioned but funny memoir – with a happy ending to boot – is the kind of comic to enthral and elate real-world fans and devotees of the medium; and indeed, everyone who reads it.
© 2006 Marisa Acocella Marchetto. All rights reserved.

Death Threat


By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair, even this page is white, The Boy & the Bindi, I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly it inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best, as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they happily cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression debasing so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing.

Unlike those who cower behind the supposed anonymity of their keyboards and phones, Shraya and Lee have proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, which details how the bile of ignorant bullies (you won’t believe just how dumb some bigots are until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore bullies or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

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.