U.S.S. Stevens – The Collected Stories


By Sam Glanzman (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80158-2 (HB)

To the shame and detriment of the entire comics industry, for most of his career Sam Glanzman was one of the least-regarded creators in American comicbooks. Despite having one of the longest careers, most unique illustration styles and the respect of his creative peers, he just never got the public acclaim his work deserved. Thankfully that all changed in recent years and he lived long enough to enjoy the belated spotlight and bask in some well-deserved adulation.

Glanzman drew and wrote comics since the Golden Age, most commonly in classic genres ranging from war to mystery to fantasy, where his work was – as always – raw, powerful, subtly engaging and irresistibly compelling.

On titles such as Kona, Monarch of Monster Island, Voyage to the Deep, Combat, Jungle Tales of Tarzan, Hercules,The Haunted Tank, The Green Berets, The Private War of Willie Schultz, and especially his 1980s graphic novels A Sailor’s Story and Wind, Dreams and Dragons – which you should buy in a single volume from Dover – Glanzman produced magnificent action-adventure tales which fired the imagination and stirred the blood. His stuff always sold and at least won him a legion of fans amongst fellow artists, if not from the small, insular and over-vocal fan-press.

In later years, Glanzman worked with Tim Truman’s 4Winds outfit on high-profile projects like The Lone Ranger, Jonah Hex and barbarian fantasy Attu. Moreover, as the sublime work gathered here attests, he was also one of the earliest pioneers of graphic autobiography; translating personal WWII experiences as a sailor in the Pacific into one of the very best things to come out of DC’s 1970s war comics line…

U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 was a peripatetic filler-feature which bobbed about between Our Army at War, Our Fighting Forces, G.I. Combat, Star Spangled War Stories and other anthological battle books; quietly backing-up the cover-hogging, star-attraction glory-boys. It provided wry, witty, shocking, informative and immensely human vignettes of shipboard life, starring the fictionalised crew of the destroyer Glanzman had served on. It was, in most ways, a love story and tribute to the vessel which had been their only home and refuge under fire.

In 4- or 5-page episodes, the auteur recaptured and shared a kind of comradeship we peace-timers can only imagine and, despite the pulse-pounding drama of the lead features, us fans all knew these little snippets were what really happened when the Boys went “over there”…

A maritime epic to rank with Melville or Forester – and with stunning pictures too – every episode of this astounding unsung masterpiece is housed in one stunning hardback compilation (also available digitally for limp-wristed old coots like me) and if you love the medium of comics, or history, or just a damn fine tale well-told, you must have it…

That’s really all you need to know, but if you’re one of the regular crowd needful of more of my bombastic blather, a much fuller description follows…

As I’ve already stated, Glanzman belatedly enjoyed some earned attention, and this tome opens by sharing Presidential Letters from Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush for his service and achievements. Then follows a Foreword from Ivan Brandon and a copious and informative Introduction by Jon B. Cooke detailing ‘A Sailor’s History: The Life and Art of Sam J. Glanzman’.

Next comes a brace of prototypical treats; the initial comic book appearance of U.S.S. Stevens from Dell Comics’ Combat #16 (April-June 1965) and the valiant vessel’s first cover spot from Combat #24, April 1967.

The first official U.S.S. Stevens, DD479 appeared after Glanzman approached Joe Kubert, who had recently become Group Editor for DC’s war titles. He commissioned ‘Frightened Boys… or Fighting Men’ (appearing in Our Army at War #218, April 1970), depicting a moment in 1942 as boredom and tension are replaced by frantic action when a suicide plane targets the ship…

A semi-regular cast was introduced slowly throughout 1970; fictionalised incarnations of old shipmates including skipper Commander T. A. Rakov, who ominously pondered his Task Force’s dispersal, moments before a pot-luck attack known as ‘The Browning Shot’ (Our Fighting Forces #125, May/June) proved his fears justified…

Glanzman’s pocket-sized tales always delivered a mountain of information, mood and impact and ‘The Idiot!’ (OAaW#220, June) is one of his most effective, detailing in 4 mesmerising pages not only the variety of suicidal flying bombs the Allies faced, but also how appalled American sailors reacted to them.

Sudden death was everywhere. ‘1-2-3’ (OFF #126, July/August) details how quick action and intuitive thinking saves the ship from a hidden gun emplacement whilst ‘Black Smoke’ (Our Army at War #222, from the same month) shows how a know-it-all engineer causes the sinking of the Stevens’ sister-ship by not believing an old salt’s frequent, frantic warnings…

All aboard ship were regularly shaken by the variety of Japanese aircraft and skill of the pilots. ‘Dragonfly’ (OFF #127, September/October) shows exactly why, whilst an insightful glimpse of the enemy’s psychological other-ness is graphically, tragically depicted in the tale of ‘The Kunkō Warrior’ (OAaW #223, September).

A weird encounter with a wooden WWI vessel forces a ‘Double Rescue!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #153, October/November) before OFF #128’s (November/December) ‘How Many Fathoms?’ again counts the human cost of bravery with devastating, understated impact. ‘Buckethead’ (OAaW #225, November) then relates one swabbie’s unique reaction to constant bombardment.

‘Missing: 320 Men!’ (G.I. Combat #145, December 1970-January 1971) debuted Glanzman-avatar Jerry Boyle who whiled away helpless moments during a shattering battle by sketching cartoons of his astonished shipmates. ‘Death of a Ship!’ (OAaW #227, January 1971) then deals with classic war fodder as submarine and ship hunt each other in a deadly duel…

A military maritime mystery was solved by Commander Rakov in ‘Cause and Cure!’ (Our Army at War #230, March) whilst the next issue posed a different conundrum as the ship loses all power and sticks ‘In the Frying Pan!’ (April 1971).

The vignettes were always less about warfare than its effect – immediate or cumulative – on ordinary guys. ‘Buck Taylor, You Can’t Fool Me!’ (OAaW #232) catalogues his increasingly aberrant behaviour but posits some less likely reasons, after which old school hero Bos’n Egloff saves the day during the worst typhoon of the war in ‘Cabbages and Kings’(OFF #131, July/August) whilst ‘Kamikaze’ (OAa #235 August) boldly and provocatively tells a poignant life-story from the point of view of the pilot inside a flying bomb…

An informative peek at the crew of a torpedo launch station in ‘Hip Shot’ (G.I. Combat #150 October/November) segues seamlessly into the dangers of shore leave ‘In Tsingtao’ (OFF #134, November/December) whilst ‘XDD479’ (Our Army at War #238 November) reveals a lost landmark of military history.

The real DD479 was one of three destroyers test-trialling ship-mounted spotter planes. This little gem explains why that experiment was dropped…

Buck pops back in ‘Red Ribbon’ (G.I.C #151 December 1971-January 1972), sharing a personal coping mechanism for making shipboard chores less “exhilarating”, whilst ‘Vela Lavella’ (OAaW #240, January 1972) captures the claustrophobic horror of night time naval engagement before ‘Dreams’ (G.I.C #152 February/March) peeps inside various heads to see what the ship’s company would rather be doing. ‘Batmen’ (OAaW #241, February) uses a lecture on radar to recount one of the most astounding exploits of the war…

Every U.S.S. Stevens episode was packed with fascinating fact and detail, culled from the artist’s letters home and service-time sketchbooks, but those invaluable memento belligeri also served double duty as the basis for a secondary feature.

The debut ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ appeared in Our Army at War #242 (March 1972): a compendium of pictorial snapshots sharing quieter moments, such as the first passage through the Panama Canal, sleeping arrangements or K.P. duties peeling spuds, and precedes an hilarious record of the freshmen sailors’ endurance of an ancient naval hazing tradition inflicted upon every “pollywog” crossing the equator for the first time in ‘Imperivm Neptivm Regis’ (OFF #136 (March/April 1972).

A second ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #244, April) reveals the mixed joys of “Liberty in the Philippines” after which a suitably foreboding ‘Prelude’ (Weird War Tales #4 (March/April 1972) captures the passive-panicked tension of daily routine whilst a potentially morale-shattering close shave is shared during an all-too-infrequent ‘Mail Call!’ (G.I. Combat #155, April/May)…

A thoughtful man of keen empathy and insight, Glanzman often offered readers a look at the real victims. ‘What Do They Know About War?’ (OAaW #244, April) sees peasant islanders trying to eke out a living, only to discover far too many similarities between Occupiers and Liberators, whilst the next issue focussed on the sailors’ jangling nerves and stomachs. ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War!’ (#245, May) reveals what happened when DD479 was mistakenly declared destroyed and, thanks to an administrative iron curtain, found it impossible to refuel or take on food stores…

Cartoonist Jerry Boyle resurfaced in a ‘Comic Strip’ in OFF #138 (July/August) after which Glanzman produced one of the most powerful social statements in an era of tumultuous change.

Our Army at War #247 (July 1972) featured a tale based on decorated Pearl Harbor hero Doner Miller who saved lives, killed the enemy and won medals, but was not allowed to progress beyond the rank of shipboard domestic because of his skin. ‘Color Me Brave!’ was an excoriating attack on the U.S. Navy’s segregation policies and is as breathtaking and rousing now as it was then…

‘Ride the Baka’ (OAaW #248 August) revisits those constant near-miss moments sparked by suicide pilots after which Glanzman shares broken sleep in ‘A Nightmare from the Beginning’ (OFF #139, September/October) whilst ‘Another Kunkō Warrior’ (OFF #140, November/December) sees marines taking an island and encountering warfare beyond their comprehension.

1973 began with a death-dipped nursery rhyme detailing ‘This is the Ship that War Built!’ (G.I.C #157 December 1972-January 1973) before ‘Buck Taylor’ (OFF #141 January/February) delivers an impromptu lecture on maritime military history. Glanzman struck an impassioned note for war-brides and lonely ships passing in the night with ‘The Islands Were Meant for Love!’ (Star Spangled War Stories #167 February)…

Terror turns to wonder when sailors encounter the ‘Portuguese Man of War’ (OAaW #256 August), a shore leave mugging is thwarted thanks to ‘Tailor-Mades’ (OFF #143 June/July) and letters home are necessarily self-censored in ‘The Sea is Calm… The Sky is Bright…’ (OAaW #257 June), but shipboard relationships remain complex and bewildering, as proved in ‘Who to Believe!’ (SSWS #171, July).

The strife of constant struggle comes to the fore in ‘The Kiyi’ (OAaW #258 July) and is seen from both sides when souvenir hunters try to take ‘The Thousand-Stitch-Belt’ (SSWS #172 August), but, as always, it’s non-combatants who truly pay the price, just like the native fishermen in ‘Accident…’ (OAaW #259, August).

Even the quietest, happiest moments can turn instantly fatal as the good-natured pilferers swiping fruit at a refuelling station discover in ‘King of the Hill’ (SSWS #174, October).

An unlikely tale of a kamikaze who survives his final flight but not his final fate, ‘Today is Tomorrow’ (OAaW #261, October) precedes a strident, wordless plea for understanding in ‘Where…?’ (OAaW #262 November 1973) before the sombre mood is briefly lifted with a tale of selfishness and sacrifice in ‘Rocco’s Roost’ from OAaW #265, February 1974.

The following issue provide both a gentle ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ covering down-time in “The Islands” and a brutal tale of mentorship and torches passed in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, after which a truly disturbing tale of what we now call gender identity and post-traumatic stress disorder is recounted in the tragedy of ‘Toro’ from the April/May Our Fighting Forces #148…

‘Moonglow’ from OAaW #267 (April 1974) reveals how quickly placid contemplation can turn to blazing conflagration, whilst – after a chilling, evocative ‘Sam Glanzman’s War Diary’ (OAaW #269 June) – ‘Lucky… Save Me!’ (OAaW #275, December 1974) shows how memories of unconditional love can offset the cruellest of injuries…

‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose!’ (OAaW #281, June 1975) explores how both friend and foe alike can be addicted to risk, after which the next issue’s ‘I Am Old Glory…’ sardonically transposes a thoughtful veneration with the actualities of combat before ‘A Glance into Glanzman’ by Allan Asherman (Our Army at War #284, September 1975) takes a look at the author’s creative process.

Then it’s back to those sketchbooks and another peep ‘Between the Pages’ (OAaW #293, June 1976) before ‘Not Granted!’ (OAaW #298, November 1976) discloses every seaman’s most fervent wish…

Stories were coming at greater intervals at this time and it was clear that – editorially at least – the company was moving on to fresher fields. Glanzman, however, had saved his best till last as a stomach-churning visual essay displayed the force of tension sustained over months in ‘…And Fear Crippled Andy Payne’ (Sgt. Rock #304, May 1977) before an elegy to bravery and stupidity asked ‘Why?’ in Sgt. Rock #308 from September 1977.

And that was it for nearly a decade. Glanzman – a consummate professional – moved on to other ventures. He was, however, constantly asked about U.S.S. Stevens and eventually, nearly a decade later, returned to his spiritual stomping grounds in expanded tales of DD479: both in his graphic novel memoirs and comic strips.

The latter appeared in anthological black-&-white Marvel magazine Savage Tales (#6-8, spanning August to December 1986) under the umbrella title ‘Of War and Peace – Tales by Mas’.

First up was ‘The Trinity’ blending present with past to detail a shocking incident of a good man’s breaking point, whilst a lighter tone informed ‘In a Gentlemanly Way’, as Glanzman recalled the different means by which officers and swabbies showed their pride for their ships. ‘Rescued by Luck’ than concentrated on a saga of island survival for sailors whose ship had sunk…

Next comes the hauntingly powerful black-&-white tale of then and now entitled ‘Even Dead Birds Have Wings’ (created for the Dover Edition of A Sailor’s Story from 2015) after which a chronologically adrift yarn (from Sgt. Rock Special #1, October 1992) evokes potently elegiac feelings, describing an uncanny act of gallantry under fire and the ultimate fate of old heroes in ‘Home of the Brave’

A few years ago, by popular – and editorial – demand, Glanzman returned to the U.S.S. Stevens for an old friend’s swan song series; providing new tales for each issue of DC’s anthological 6-issue miniseries Joe Kubert Presents (December 2012- May 2013).

More scattershot reminiscences than structured stories, ‘I REMEMBER: Dreams’ and ‘I REMEMBER: Squish Squash’recapitulate unforgettable moments seen through eyes at the sunset end of life; recalling giant storms and lost friends, imagining how distant families endured war and absence and, as always, balancing funny memories with the tragic, like that time when the stiff-necked new commander…

‘Snapshots’ continues the reverie, blending a veteran’s war stories with cherished times as a kid on the farm whilst ‘The Figurehead’ delves deeper into the character of Buck Taylor and his esoteric quest for seaborne nirvana…

Closing that last hurrah were ‘Back and Forth 1941-1944’ and ‘Back and Forth 1941-1945’: an encapsulating catalogue of war service as experienced by the creator, mixing facts, figures, memories and reactions to form a quiet tribute to all who served and all who never returned…

With the stories mostly told, the ‘Afterword’ by Allan Asherman details those heady days when he worked at DC Editorial, and Glanzman would unfailingly light up the offices by delivering his latest strips, after which this monolithic milestone offers a vast and stunningly detailed appendix of ‘Story Annotations’ by Jon B. Cooke.

This is a magnificent collection of comic stories based on real life and what is more fitting than to end it with ‘U.S.S. Stevens DD479’ (coloured by Frank M. Cuonzo & lettered by Thomas Mauer): one final, lyrical farewell from Glanzman to his comrades and the ship which still holds his heart after all these years…?

This is an extraordinary work. In unobtrusive little snippets, Glanzman challenged myths, prejudices and stereotypes – of morality, manhood, race, sexuality and gender – decades before anybody else in comics even thought to try.

He also brought an aura of authenticity to war stories which has never been equalled: eschewing melodrama, faux heroism, trumped-up angst and eye-catching glory-hounding to instead depict how “brothers in arms” really felt and acted and suffered and died.

Shockingly funny, painfully realistic and visually captivating, U.S.S. Stevens is phenomenal and magnificent: a masterpiece by one of the very best of “The Greatest Generation”. I waited 40 years for this and I couldn’t be happier: a sublimely insightful, affecting and rewarding graphic memoir every home, school and library should have and one every reader will return to over and over.
Artwork and text © 2015 Sam Glanzman. All other material © 2015 its respective creators.

Chicago – A Comix Memoir


By Glenn Head (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-878-6 (HB)

One of the things comics can do better than almost any other medium is autobiography. Words are immensely potent, but when wed to the images a confessor wants you to see and has devised especially for that purpose, the response is always immediate, visceral and permanent.

Cartoonist, illustrator and editor Glenn Head (Hot Wire, Snake Eyes, Weirdo) studied under Art Spiegelman at the School for Visual Art in the early 1980’s but bided his time in commercial illustration for publications like Advertising Age, Screw, Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal, and with comix such as Guttersnipe and Head Shots before releasing his first graphic novel in 2015.

It was worth the wait…

In monochrome hardback Chicago – available in sturdy hardback and trustworthy digital formats – Head turned a harsh, stark spotlight on his own life, literally baring all and detailing how a troubled teenaged virgin from New Jersey turned his back on the American Dream and his own personal hopes and aspirations before touching bottom and courting madness to reach his current (still tenuous) state.

Following an incisive Introduction from Phoebe Gloeckner, the history lesson begins in a graveyard in the Garden State. “Glen” is nineteen and troubled, but not necessarily unhappy: he’s just painfully aware that he doesn’t fit in.

It’s the summer of 1977 and he’s obsessed with the cartoons and paraphernalia of the hippie Counterculture then experiencing its death-throes. Dad works on Wall Street and desperately wants to understand why his son seems at such a loss. The boy doesn’t even seem happy to be going to Art School in Cleveland, even though he claims that’s what he wants…

What Glenn actually wants most is Sarah: his best friend and a girl appallingly emotionally scarred by the treatment she has received from her Holocaust-Survivor parents. She’s already well down the road to dissolution though: pregnant, a runaway and being used to turn tricks by her latest scumbag boyfriend…

The season turns and Glen reluctantly reports to the Cleveland Institute of Art, his intolerant, abrasive attitude winning him few friends amongst staff or students. There’s something indefinably wrong inside his head and before long he drops out and starts panhandling to survive.

A casual conversation with another student attains the status of a sign from God and Glen – who we’re starting to think might suffer from bipolar disorder – abruptly hitchhikes to Chicago, determined to sell cartoons to Playboy magazine…

And thus begins an intense period of privation, hallucination, harassment by hustlers, constant danger and creeping horror, all punctuated by unexpected kindnesses from strangers, rejections, connections and moments of incomprehensible good fortune as chance meetings with Muhammad Ali and Robert Crumb begin turning the street-meat’s life around…

‘Decompression’ sees Glen in January 1978, back in comfortably suburban Madison, N.J. thanks to his amazingly understanding yet still-uncomprehending father. Although the threat of imminent starvation and murder have faded, the boy is still at risk – from his own actions after a telephone conversation with idealised inamorata Sarah’s manic mother and his own father’s poorly hidden handgun…

The final section of this diary occurs in 2010 as Brooklyn-dwelling single-dad Glen gets an email one morning. Sarah, the one that got away, the great missed opportunity, has tracked him down and wants to meet up. Is this his chance to stop being that painful, pathetic, unresolved 19-year-old virgin at last?

Breathtakingly candid, intoxicatingly forthright and irresistibly visually exhilarating, Chicago is a startling examination of the power of obsessions and memories: a potential roadmap to finding your own identity… as long as you have the nerve and stomach to try…
Chicago © 2015, Glenn Head. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Deitch’s Pictorama


By Kim, Simon & Seth Kallen Deitch (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-560979-52-4 (TPB)

There may be something to this DNA stuff. Eugene Merril “Gene” Deitch (August 8th 1924-April 16th 2020) was a revered, Oscar-winning animator, filmmaker and cartoonist who worked on or created timeless classics like Popeye, Tom & Jerry, Munro, Tom Terrific and Nudnik, whilst his first son Kim has been at the forefront of comics’ avant-garde since the days of the Counter Culture and “underground commix” scene. Kim’s brothers Simon and Seth Kallen have both made their mark in the popular creative arts. Then again, maybe it’s simply growing up exposed to open-minded creativity that makes exemplary artists and artisans…

In this classic collaborative venture the Deitch boys crafted a graphic narrative oddity that is both compelling and utterly captivating. Cunningly combining heavily illustrated prose, comics, calligraphy, illustrative lettering, cartooning and plain old strips, the five tales herein contained blend into a tribute to the versatility of illustrated storytelling in all its variations.

It begins more-or-less traditionally with ‘the Sunshine Girl’: a potent and beguiling paean to bottle caps and the all-consuming collecting bug, promptly followed by intriguing prose-ish fantasy, ‘The Golem’. This salutary account in turn leads into the disturbing ‘Unlikely Hours’, and whimsical shaggy (talking) dog story ‘Children of Aruf’.

Wisely leaving the very best until last, the Picto-fictorial fun concludes with the superbly engaging and informative semi-autobiographical ‘The Cop on the Beat, the Man in the Moon and Me’: a particular treat for anyone interested in the history of comics and popular music.

Naturally I’ve been as vague as I can be, because this is a book that revels and rejoices in storytelling, with half the artistry and all the joy coming from reading it for yourself, so – as long you’re an older reader – you should do just that.
© 2008 Gene, Kim, Seth Kallen and Simon Deitch. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Kabul Disco volume 1: How I Managed Not to be Abducted in Afghanistan


By Nicolas Wild, translated by Mark Bence & Fabrice Sapolsky (Life Drawn/Humanoids Inc.)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-868-6 (TPB)

Fiction and reality frequently blur, but stories – True, mostly True, totally True or Officially Confirmed by a Government Official and therefore Utterly Fallacious – told in comics form somehow always acquire an instant edge of veracity and patina of authenticity that is hard to dispute or refute.

Kabul Disco is a superb case-in-point: an example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to inform, charm and challenge in equal amounts. I’m re-recommending this remarkable testament today because once again the people who govern us – apparently anywhere on Earth that people are governed – have a complete inability to read a room, movement, public opinion or security briefing and have once more abandoned guts, principles and common sense in the name of saving money and not making a fuss.

Assorted countries over centuries have made Afghanistan their football, only to get bored and leave it to even worse thugs. Lacking any power at all to make the callous bastards in charge everywhere pay or even feel discomfort, I’m opting to try and remind anyone who will listen that always, ALWAYS, us unimportant people suffer in the end. It’s just not right…

This seductive monochrome travel memoir was the debut episode in a sequence by French writer/artist Nicholas Wild, detailing his globe-trotting quest for employment: a worthy endeavour which took the wide-eyed political innocent to Afghanistan in 2005.

There’s always a war going on somewhere. That’s just the way it is. The enemy are always monsters and Our Side – there’s no option to refuse to take sides anymore – are always justified in what they do. Heaven forfend you slip up and start thinking of rivals or adversaries or opponents or even those who disagree with you as no more than people – with or without grievances or differing opinions…

In January 2005, Wild was in Paris; gripped by ennui and lack of inspiration and only mildly galvanised by lack of money and imminent homelessness. Responding to an online ad, he applied to a Communications Agency looking for a comics artist and was astounded to find himself accepted for a short commission. The job was overseas…

‘Part One: A Winter in Kabul’ follows the culture-shocked scribbler as he arduously transitions to a country in the throes of enforced reconstruction and modernisation, joining the somewhat sketchy and rather dubious NGO Zendagui Media as they work to bring the war-torn region into the arena of modern nations. Wild’s proposed task is to help define the fancy notion of democracy for the still-largely illiterate populace through comicbook versions of Afghanistan’s new Constitution…

The artist’s early difficulties in adjusting to the primitive conditions and superb gift for wry commentary afford the reader a brilliant example of the complex made simple as Wild succinctly unpicks Afghanistan’s convoluted history through the 20th century via a cartoon political primer that brilliantly defines how the place got to be such a corrupt mess. I certainly wish I’d had more comics like this when I studied modern history…

Days pass, and Nicholas settles in, toiling against impossible deadlines, conversely feeling locked in or anxiously exposed whenever he goes exploring; always aware that in this place foreigners go missing every day…

Although the security situation remains tense, trouble seems to only strike elsewhere and eventually Nick assimilates: befriending ordinary Afghanis, shopping, visiting Shiite mosques, eating in restaurants and even sightseeing in the stunning Bamiyan Valley…

All too soon the job is done and Wild is afraid he’s going to be let go…

‘Part Two: No Spring in Kabul’ finds him on April 1st 2005, happy to be retained, albeit on a 3-month contract as a graphic designer for Zendagui’s new project. The brief is to supply materials for a US military-sponsored push to recruit native Afghanis for the new National Army. The thought of crafting military propaganda is not a comforting or comfortable one…

Spiced with further insights about his improbable and unpredictable bosses and new eating experiences, the real kicker is meeting new recruit Laurie White: a political communications expert who worked with the 2000 Bush Election Campaign…

Trips to the University of Herat and enjoyable days amidst the villagers soon cement the visitor’s sense of belonging but that all takes a hard knock as the political situation intensifies and overconfidence leads to Wild getting lost in old Kabul…

When a fresh kidnapping results in a full lockdown for Zendagui staff, Laurie teasingly reveals the true story of Bush’s “victory” in Florida, but once the panic subsides it’s back to work. Even though Al Qaeda and the Taliban are ramping up their activities, Nick is sent to the far end of the Jalalabad Road to observe the filming of a recruitment ad just as Laurie is despatched to consult on the new voting form for a nation of more than two dozen different tribes and sects who don’t speak the same language and can’t read…

And so it goes, with fond reveries and razor-sharp observations peppering Wild’s irresistible account of an ordinary job in extraordinary times and a magical place: with idiocy and contradiction relentlessly piling up but also with progress somehow being made… until it’s time to go home again…

But is it for good?

Primarily rendered in beguiling monochrome, Kabul Disco also offers a stunning, full colour ‘Bonus Section’ comprising candid personal photographs of Wild’s stay, plus extensive examples of Yassin & Kaka Raouf: the 10-volume educational comic book he illustrated to explain the new Constitution for the newly democratised country.

Captivating, warm, funny, scarily informative and unobtrusively polemical, Kabul Disco is a wittily readable, non-discriminating reverie that informs and charms with surprising effect: the perfect response to the idiocy of war and dangers of corporate imperialism as well as a sublime tribute to the potent indomitability of human nature. I can’t comprehend how a celebration of such miraculous change and progress can be lost in the space of 16 years…
© 2018, Humanoids Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved. First published in France as Kabul Disco Tome 1: Comment je ne me suis pas fait kidnapper en Afghanistan, © 2007 La Boîte à Bulles & Nicholas Wild. All rights reserved.

Plastic Man Archives volume 7


By Jack Cole, with Joe Millard, Gwen Hansen, John Spranger, Alex Kotzky & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0413-6 (HB)

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets, he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

Plastic Man debuted at the back of Police Comics #1 (August 1941) as a slight, comedy filler feature amongst the more serious Cops ‘n’ Robbers fare but “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian is a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he is saved by a monk who nurses him back to health and proves to the hardened thug that the world is not filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolves to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with. Creating a costumed alter ego, he starts a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopts the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks is a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who once – accidentally – saved a wizard’s life. He was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature will henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces feel like it…

After utterly failing to halt the unlikely untouchable’s subsequent crime spree, Plas appeals to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repents, is compelled to keep him around in case he ever strays again. The oaf is slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembles, Winks is the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who gets all the best lines, possessing an inexplicable charm and habit of finding trouble. It was always the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

Despite being a fan favourite for decades and regularly reinvented for both comics and television Plas, is woefully underrepresented in the archival reprint realm. These long out-of-print Archive editions are the only seriously curated collections of his outlandish adventures, but hope springs eternal for new editions or – at the very least – a digital collection someday…

Covering May to October 1947, this sublimely sturdy seventh full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #7 and 8 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics #66-71. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Bud Plant offers a historical assessment of Cole and his collaborators in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947) commence with ‘The Evil Doctor Volt’by scripter Joe Millard and Cole, wherein an elite criminal genius’ plans are continually scuppered by common uneducated crooks and the world’s dumbest hero sidekick, after which Woozy’s eagerness to do good deeds lands him on a treasure-hunter’s ship after he’s ratcheted by a sinister seductress pressganging innocent men into a ‘One-Way Voyage of Villainy’ (by Cole with Millard & Alex Kotzky)…

Woozy had his own regular solo feature in Plastic Man, and here the Stalwart Simpleton seek to improve his deductive abilities and crimebusting skills at ‘Professor Rudge’s Mind-Training School’ (Gwen Hansen & Cole), Perhaps, he should have asked where teacher got all his knowledge and experience from…

Prose science fiction tale ‘The Glass Planet’ leads back to comical comics as Millard & Cole reveal ‘The Billboard’s Tale’, closing the issue with a skyscraper ad display detailing a war between marketing companies that endangered the entire city and made the signage feel really special again…

Cole expended most of his creative energies and multitalented attentions on the monthly Police Comics and in #66, depicts Plas trying to get the goods on ruthless construction cheat Naughty Nikko as he skimps on a new West River Tunnel. Everybody would be far better served watching stylish concubine ‘Beauteous Bessie’. Woozy sure is…

For #67, our heroes are put through the wringer by jolly joker ‘The Gag Man’ whose love of kids extends to their worth as police diversions and human shields after which Plastic Man #8 opens with ‘The Hot Rod’ (Hansen & Cole) wherein a contract killer successfully eludes all efforts to catch him until injected by one victim with a serum that turns him into a human firebrand before ‘Concerto for Murder’ (Hansen & Cole) sees Woozy join an orchestra just in time to see the conductor murdered in full view of everyone. Happily, supportive Plas is on hand…

Winks’ solo strip – by Hansen & John Spranger – sees the affable goon befriend a crazy artist who can instantly change the appearance of everything by covering it with ‘The Mystery Paint’, whilst anonymous prose vignette ‘Doomsby’s Doom’explodes a monster myth threatening a plantation crop, after which the comic concludes with the tragedy of deranged criminal Mr. Uglee who offers a huge pay-out to the person who can turn himself into ‘The Homeliest Man in the World’(Millard & Spranger)…

Police Comics #68 (July 1947) follows the FBI star – and Woozy – as he trails an escaped criminal mastermind to California and is sucked into showbiz inPlas Goes to Hollywood’ before returning home to meet his match in #69’s ‘Stretcho, the India Rubber Man’: a murderous performer who frames the hero at the behest of vengeful convicts.

Spies frantically, lethally hunting a hidden secret shade #70’s ‘It’s an Ill Wind that Blows the Hat’, with Woozy sporting a string of chapeaus likely to lose him his head before the manic mayhem pauses once more with a case in cowboy country as ‘East is East and West is West’ finds FBI tenderfeet Plas and Woozy hunting rustlers and stamp-stealers and finding an East Coast bigshot who’s gone native…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious gag-packed covers, this is a true masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating eight decades after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans should take every opportunity to enjoy, so let’s pray someone at DC is paying attention…

© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

 

29th Plas 7 (Comedy/DC Superhero/Humour/Plastic Man)

Plastic Man Archives volume 7

By Jack Cole, with Joe Millard, Gwen Hansen, John Spranger, Alex Kotzky & various (DC Comics)

ISBN: 978-1-4012-0413-6 (HB)

Jack Cole was one of the most uniquely gifted talents of American comics’ Golden Age. Before moving into mature magazine and gag markets, he originated landmark tales in horror, true crime, war, adventure and especially superhero comicbooks, and his incredible humour-hero Plastic Man remains an unsurpassed benchmark of screwball costumed hi-jinks: frequently copied but never equalled. It was a glittering career of distinction which Cole was clearly embarrassed by and unhappy with.

In 1954 Cole quit comics for the lucrative and prestigious field of magazine cartooning, swiftly becoming a household name when his brilliant watercolour gags and stunningly saucy pictures began regularly running in Playboy from the fifth issue.

Cole eventually moved into the lofty realms of newspaper strips and, in May 1958, achieved his life-long ambition by launching a syndicated newspaper strip, the domestic comedy Betsy and Me.

On August 13th 1958, at the peak of his greatest success, he took his own life. The reasons remain unknown.

Without doubt – and despite his other triumphal comicbook innovations such as Silver Streak, Daredevil, The Claw, Death Patrol, Midnight, Quicksilver, The Barker, The Comet and a uniquely twisted and phenomenally popular take on the crime and horror genres – Cole’s greatest creation and contribution was the zany Malleable Marvel who quickly grew from a minor back-up character into one of the most memorable and popular heroes of the era.

Plastic Man debuted at the back of Police Comics #1 (August 1941) as a slight, comedy filler feature amongst the more serious Cops ‘n’ Robbers fare but “Plas” was the wondrously perfect fantastic embodiment of the sheer energy, verve and creativity of an era when anything went and comics-makers were prepared to try out every outlandish idea…

Eel O’Brian is a brilliant career criminal wounded during a factory robbery, soaked by a vat of spilled acid and callously abandoned by his thieving buddies. Left for dead, he is saved by a monk who nurses him back to health and proves to the hardened thug that the world is not filled with brutes and vicious chisellers after a fast buck.

His entire outlook altered and now blessed with incredible elasticity, Eel resolves to put his new powers to good use: cleaning up the scum he used to run with. Creating a costumed alter ego, he starts a stormy association with the New York City cops before being recruited as a most special agent of the FBI…

He soon reluctantly adopts the most unforgettable comedy sidekick in comics history. Woozy Winks is a dopey, indolent slob and utterly amoral pickpocket who once – accidentally – saved a wizard’s life. He was blessed in return with a gift of invulnerability: all the forces of nature will henceforth protect him from injury or death – if said forces feel like it…

After utterly failing to halt the unlikely untouchable’s subsequent crime spree, Plas appeals to the scoundrel’s sentimentality and, once Woozy tearfully repents, is compelled to keep him around in case he ever strays again. The oaf is slavishly loyal but perpetually back-sliding into pernicious old habits…

Equal parts Artful Dodger and Mr Micawber, with the verbal skills and intellect of Lou Costello’s screen persona or the over-filled potato sack he resembles, Winks is the perfect foil for Plastic Man: a lazy, greedy, morally bankrupt reprobate with perennially sticky fingers who gets all the best lines, possessing an inexplicable charm and habit of finding trouble. It was always the ideal marriage of inconvenience…

Despite being a fan favourite for decades and regularly reinvented for both comics and television Plas, is woefully underrepresented in the archival reprint realm. These long out-of-print Archive editions are the only seriously curated collections of his outlandish adventures, but hope springs eternal for new editions or – at the very least – a digital collection someday…

Covering May to October 1947, this sublimely sturdy seventh full-colour hardback exposes more eccentrically exaggerated exploits of the elastic eidolon from Plastic Man #7 and 8 and his regular monthly beat in Police Comics#66-71. Before the hilarious action kicks off, Bud Plant offers a historical assessment of Cole and his collaborators in the Foreword after which the power-packed contents of Plastic Man #7 (Spring 1947) commence with ‘The Evil Doctor Volt’by scripter Joe Millard and Cole, wherein an elite criminal genius’ plans are continually scuppered by common uneducated crooks and the world’s dumbest hero sidekick, after which Woozy’s eagerness to do good deeds lands him on a treasure-hunter’s ship after he’s ratcheted by a sinister seductress pressganging innocent men into a ‘One-Way Voyage of Villainy’ (by Cole with Millard & Alex Kotzky)…

Woozy had his own regular solo feature in Plastic Man, and here the Stalwart Simpleton seek to improve his deductive abilities and crimebusting skills at ‘Professor Rudge’s Mind-Training School’ (Gwen Hansen & Cole), Perhaps, he should have asked where teacher got all his knowledge and experience from…

Prose science fiction tale ‘The Glass Planet’ leads back to comical comics as Millard & Cole reveal ‘The Billboard’s Tale’, closing the issue with a skyscraper ad display detailing a war between marketing companies that endangered the entire city and made the signage feel really special again…

Cole expended most of his creative energies and multitalented attentions on the monthly Police Comics and in #66, depicts Plas trying to get the goods on ruthless construction cheat Naughty Nikko as he skimps on a new West River Tunnel. Everybody would be far better served watching stylish concubine ‘Beauteous Bessie’. Woozy sure is…

For #67, our heroes are put through the wringer by jolly joker ‘The Gag Man’ whose love of kids extends to their worth as police diversions and human shields after which Plastic Man #8 opens with ‘The Hot Rod’ (Hansen & Cole) wherein a contract killer successfully eludes all efforts to catch him until injected by one victim with a serum that turns him into a human firebrand before ‘Concerto for Murder’ (Hansen & Cole) sees Woozy join an orchestra just in time to see the conductor murdered in full view of everyone. Happily, supportive Plas is on hand…

Winks’ solo strip – by Hansen & John Spranger – sees the affable goon befriend a crazy artist who can instantly change the appearance of everything by covering it with ‘The Mystery Paint’, whilst anonymous prose vignette ‘Doomsby’s Doom’explodes a monster myth threatening a plantation crop, after which the comic concludes with the tragedy of deranged criminal Mr. Uglee who offers a huge pay-out to the person who can turn himself into ‘The Homeliest Man in the World’(Millard & Spranger)…

Police Comics #68 (July 1947) follows the FBI star – and Woozy – as he trails an escaped criminal mastermind to California and is sucked into showbiz inPlas Goes to Hollywood’ before returning home to meet his match in #69’s ‘Stretcho, the India Rubber Man’: a murderous performer who frames the hero at the behest of vengeful convicts.

Spies frantically, lethally hunting a hidden secret shade #70’s ‘It’s an Ill Wind that Blows the Hat’, with Woozy sporting a string of chapeaus likely to lose him his head before the manic mayhem pauses once more with a case in cowboy country as ‘East is East and West is West’ finds FBI tenderfeet Plas and Woozy hunting rustlers and stamp-stealers and finding an East Coast bigshot who’s gone native…

Augmented by all the astoundingly ingenious gag-packed covers, this is a true masterclass of funnybook virtuosity: still exciting, breathtakingly original, thrilling, witty, scary, visually outrageous and pictorially intoxicating eight decades after Jack Cole first put pen to paper.

Plastic Man is a unique creation and this is a magical experience comics fans should take every opportunity to enjoy, so let’s pray someone at DC is paying attention…
© 1946, 1947, 2004 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Roles We Play


By Sabba Khan (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-30-6 (Deluxe Paperback) eISBN: 978-1-912408-98-8

Do you know what’s one of the most scarily charged questions in modern life?

“Where are you from?”

It used to be a neutral opening: a simple introductory gambit when meeting new people, but has recently become fraught with purely British angst, dipped in layers of second, third and fourth-guessing for all parties concerned. Are the words a friendly, casual enquiry to establish social parity and share past experience, or is it a setting of the scene for a judgemental inquisition or even targeting for imminent disparaging condescension?

I’m Hertfordshire-born baby-boomer English, via a German mum and Polish dad: the whitest Old White Male you could ever imagine and my accent is just right to be wholly acceptable to doctors, publicans, posh gits, shopkeepers, schoolkids, sports fans of all descriptions, raving Gammons and sneaky leftist liberal socialists alike. In modern terms, that’s winning the British community lottery, but deep within, I’m tainted with foreignness to my core. Anybody feel like treating me differently now you know?

Not ticking all those boxes has made life increasingly difficult for a vast pool of my fellow Brits: a point I can perfectly prove by reference to the debut graphic novel of Architectural designer and visual artist Sabba Khan. She’s British too, but has to constantly remind not just the people around her, but also her own family…

Told over three transformative, illuminating stages The Roles We Play follows a young girl reared in a loving, abusive, restrictive, nurturing home that gave no shrift to individuality or accommodated personal dreams, but instead made everything of a culture, history and tradition forsaken for a new life in an incomprehensibly different world.

Khan grew up in East London when she was outside, but lived in a house that was a static box of ancestral Kashmiri life constructed following her parents move to England. They came as part of an Asian diaspora triggered by the 1947 partition of India and subsequent flooding of the Mirpur valley in Azad Kashmir in 1961. The project created a dam, power source and stable water supply, but forcibly displaced 15 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who had previously farmed the valley in peace for generations.

Apparently, two thirds of British Pakistanis trace their ancestry back to the Mirpur Valley and the 1961 Water Treaty between India and Pakistan which still resonates in the ongoing battle for control of the Kashmir region…

Although womanly skills, and general history and context were abundant and scrupulously shared and passed on in the house, tolerance of British ways was not. Sabba grew up drawn in two directions: cherishing the love of family, support of faith and familiar ways, but constantly chided for her incomprehensible interest in the places, ways and temptations of the different life beyond the house walls.

Always keen to chart her own course, Khan spent years seeking to balance two lives before choosing to pursue art and architecture. She claimed independence: breaking away from controlling family, constant judgement, wheedling scrutiny and soft-power governance to create her own career and multicultural clan with a man of another world and friends of her own choosing.

Her ruminations, observations and bittersweet reminiscences are cannily transformed here into a captivating testament to a life of choice: exploring the truth of growing up Asian in Britain, seeking to assimilate the new whilst embracing the traditional. Seen in macrocosm, her superbly imaginative graphic designs and illustrative scenes trace a life of introspection and longing, deconstructing issues of race, alienation, rejection, cultural identity and sense-of-place-and-worth, whilst confronting on a personal level countless incidents covering a history of intolerance over religion, skin colour, gender, history, class and yes, race again…

Deftly sustaining a captivating balancing act between a British now with the idealised Kashmir she never knew, Khan has manifested a compelling journey laced with humour, warmth, hope and unshakable determination that should call out to not just the many migrant communities that make up modern society – and who have built the notion of Britain since before the Roman Invasion – but also to all of us who used to proudly welcome strangers here…
© Sabba Khan 2021. All rights reserved.

The Roles We Play is published on 15th July 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Knock Out! – The True Story of Emile Griffith


By Reinhard Kleist, translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-91059-386-8 (TPB)

Fairness and Justice are human constructs that afford many opportunities to prove that the universe works on other principles. Ritualized combat – like boxing – seeks to even out the most egregious imbalances between contestants to provide a balanced and equitable battle, but no amount of rule-making and legislation can shield participants from society, the environment they live in or the genetic heritage that shaped them.

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

Here his powerfully moody yet joyous exuberant monochrome stylings recount the amazing life of a born fighter who triumphs in the best storybook traditions, whilst never deviating from the inescapable chains of history or escaping the sordid realms of real life…

Even if they’ve heard of him, most boxing fans don’t talk about Emile Alphonse Griffith. Born in the US Virgin Islands in 1938, Emile was black, poorly educated and endured abuse at home before moving to America. In 1956, while working in a New York hat factory, his foreman – a former boxing coach – noticed his astounding physique and encouraged the affable easy-going kid to try boxing as a way to improve his financial woes.

Although Emile preferred ping-pong, singing and making hats (later, at the height of his fame, Emile designed hats for women and made upbeat pop records), he went along with his white mentor. Turning Pro in 1958, Emile was soon a Golden Gloves winner and World Champion in the Welterweight, Junior Middleweight and Middleweight categories.

At that time in America, the sporting barriers to black boxers were mostly gone, but Emile laboured under another “handicap” – he slept with men and didn’t particularly care who knew about it.

Just like showbiz and popular entertainer Liberace, Emile’s status was an “open secret” in the 1960s Boxing community, which maintained a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality, but that only went so far in the days before the game-changing Stonewall Riots (look it up if you have to – its important). The happy-go-lucky pugilist’s privileged status evaporated after the third of three fights with Cuban Benny Paret, whom Emile defeated to become World Champion, before losing the rematch.

In 1962, they met one final time. After Paret taunted Griffith with homosexual and racial slurs, the match was a savage and unrelenting bout that resulted in the death of Paret…

However, that’s simply the first act of this tale, which follows Griffith – who was allowed to continue boxing until 1977 – as he confounded critics and bigots, breaking down barriers and living a full and extremely varied life… as much as his troubled conscience would allow.

This is a supremely uplifting story of triumph and tragedy which shows just how meaningless such concepts are outside of fiction. It’s a happy-sad example of how life goes on in a personal and macroscopic manner until it just ends: and it successfully argues that all you can do is the best you can…

Available in paperback and digital editions and supported by a Preface from Kleist acknowledging his influences and debt to Griffith biographer Ron Ross; Jonathan W. Gray’s context-enlightening Foreword ‘The Sweet Science and Open Secrets’ and a socio-cultural appraisal of Emile and other gay black boxers by Tatjana Eggeling (European Ethnologist and expert on Homophobia in Sports) plus a superb gallery of sketches and working drawings by Kleist, this is an unqualified hit that resonates far beyond the square ring and the closeted environs of LGBTQIA+ literature. It’s a surefire winner for everyone.
© Text and illustrations 2019 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

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 http://www.nbmpub.com/

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.