Big Scoop of Ice Cream


By Conxita Herrero Delfa: translated by Jeff Whitman (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-294-6 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-295-3

Comics are a nigh-universal, extremely powerful medium that lends itself to a host of topics and genres, but the area where it has always shined brightest is in its chimeric capacity for embracing autobiographical self-expression. Whether through fictionalised narratives or scrupulously candid revelation, imaginative forays into self-realisation and self-expression frequently inevitably forge the most impressive and moving connections between reader and author.

Conxita Herrero Delfa’s vibrant collection Gran bola de helado was originally released in 2016, containing lifestyle short stories crafted before COVID changed the world. She is Barcelona born – in 1993 – and studied Fine Arts, but found another outlet for her artistic and raconteurial tendencies by publishing fanzines exploring aspects of free discourse, tireless observation and personal introspection. If you’re open-minded and well-travelled, you may have seen her follow-up work in various magazines and collective books. She’s also a singer, so look out for the album Abducida por forma una pareja by Tronco, if you’re so inclined…

Big Scoop of Ice Cream sees Conxita explore in compelling detail her metamorphic life via comic strips, with what appears to be relentless honesty and inspired veracity. Gathered here is a broad menu of experiences true, slightly true, made up, tedious, meta-real and maybe even a bit untrue, made in response to an ineffectual youth becoming – in fits and starts – a grown up. Everyday tasks, major achievements, personal breakthrough and moments without merit jostle beside strange days and minor miracles in ‘Resolutions’, after which we survive spectral invasion ‘Ghosts’ and learn what “adulting” means in ‘The Bathroom’.

The significance of playing alone shapes ‘Talking’, and perhaps a hint of potential romance looms in ‘The Couch Cushion’, before ‘The Arrival of Spring’ induces travel and causes a mini crisis. Sex happens in dusky pink monotones while ‘Relating’ before solitude returns, sparking thoughts of ‘The South of California’ and triggering ominous internet hook ups in ‘Enter’

Acquiring an item of furniture attains the status of ‘The Metaphor’ for her and her friends whilst a beach break with Ricardo in ‘Alghero’ turns into a partial break with reality before ‘The Castles’ sees perspective restored – and endangered – by an over-sharing drinking buddy and other travelling companions…

A temporary liaison doesn’t pan out, but that’s okay because of what Conxita carries in ‘The Pocket’, and there are always marvels in abundance when ‘Looking Up’ or finding someone who will play ‘The Game’

Visually experimental, the eponymous ‘Big Scoop of Ice Cream’ contrasts flavours and relationships without reaching any useful conclusions but segues neatly into a strange encounter in a bar with ‘The Reject’ before the ruminations conclude with confirmation that ‘People are Only Human’

Boasting quotes from Marcel Proust, José Sainz, and Conxita herself, this whimsical confection is uplifting but never self-deluding, wryly inviting and features a breakout performance by pet cat Julia and a recurring box of toffee apples.

These 17 slices of Latin soul are delivered with verve and gusto in a minimalist cartooning style afforded surprising depth by swathes of flat colour: stylishly masking earnest inquiry and heavy introspection with charm, wit and carefully ingenuous nonsense. Big Scoop of Ice Cream is a book to delight and enthral and get in your head, and should be there with you wherever or however you holiday and forever after when you get back to mundane reality.
© 2016 Conxita Herrero Delfa and apa apa comics. © 2022 NBM for the English translation. All rights reserved.

Big Scoop of Ice Cream is scheduled for UK release July 14th 2022 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/. Most NBM books are also available in digital formats.

The Con Artists


By Luke Healy (Faber)
ISBN: 978-1-91274-008-6 (HB)

In modern times, Stand-up Comedians don’t tell jokes. These days, they are perspicacious social observers, wry cultural commentators and introspective self-examiners, exposing themselves on painfully primal and crushingly candid levels to make points of modern philosophy, or about politics, the world and the human condition. Well, at least the ones I watch do…

As such, their own lives constitute the raw fuel of their craft and product of their efforts. In that respect they mirror that brand of cartoonists such as Jeffrey Brown (Clumsy, Unlikely, Every Girl is the End of the World for Me), Tillie Walden (I Love this Part, Spinning, A City Inside), Leslie Stein (Eye of the Majestic Creature), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) or Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) and R. Crumb (My Troubles with Women). Here, that level of studied, curated introspection and revelation have resulted in a very modern exploration of ambition and trust…

Luke Healy studied journalism, graduated from Dublin University and earned an MFA in Cartooning from the Center for Cartoon Studies (Vermont, USA). His previous published work – such as Americana, Permanent Press and How to Survive in the North – have been awarded prizes and acclaim, and he’s also done gallery shows. His comics for VICE, The Nib, A24, Medium, Nobrow and Avery Hill are really good and he likes exposing himself to ridicule on stage. He has combined all that trauma, weltschmerz and experience into this tale exploring basic big stuff like life, friends, friends who aren’t honest and how to keep your head above emotional water.

Frank is a Stand-Up guy. He’s ambitious, London-based Irish, gay, formerly Catholic (as much as any of us can ever escape the early programming), clinically anxious and helplessly honest. With best mate Ro, he plans to storm it at the Edinburgh Festival before going on to conquer the world of Comedy. He’s getting treatment for self-diagnosed, presumed personal problems but always building for the big day. Suddenly, everything changes after a childhood mate – his best one – calls in a panic. There’s been an accident…

Giorgio was out and proud back at school in Ireland when Frank was still an anguished ball of denial, dragged down by Catholic guilt and repression. His example gave Frank strength and they’ve been buds ever since – although, it must be said, not particularly close or constant ones, even though they both now live in London…

Now there’s been an event and Giorgio is unable to cope on his own. He needs someone to move in and take care of him. You know; simple stuff like feeding and changing him and keeping him stocked in the booze and cigarettes he’s been forbidden to consume with his medication…

Initially willing, Frank obliges, but as days turn into weeks, he sees his own life stall and his plans evaporate into Giorgio’s subtly unforceful, blandly adamant demands and begins to suspect something really isn’t right. Tension exacerbates his own clinical anxiety issues, but while he seeks help, Giorgio brushes off every overture suggesting a change in his self-destructive course.

It all really goes south after Frank finds out how his old pal is making money these days…

However, as he tries to navigate his car crash relationships, Frank knows he’s been made – on every level – an accomplice in Giorgio’s schemes and must now reassess himself for his own safety and sanity… and realises that a life of dishonesty is contagious…

Frank hints that he too tells us what he wants us to know, even while “sharing” the minutiae of his intimately platonic relationship with childhood amigo Giorgio: reluctantly carrying his “best friend” through a moment of extended crisis, aiding him in what turns out to be shockingly unwelcome acts and coming away feeling he’s just been the charmer’s first and longest-serving victim and patsy..

Throughout, capital “H” Honesty is key here. Who is lying to Frank and crucially, How, Where, When and Why is Frank lying to himself? Is he doing things we know we shouldn’t or is it just his conditioned response to Giorgio? Is Giorgio being cunningly manipulative rather than simply secretive?

Deftly playing with the fourth wall and directly engaging his audience at most inopportune moments, the narrator’s linear scenario is intercut with moments from painful past and present stage performances, whilst direct interventions with the reader as cartoon actor “Frank” serve to examine the chains of childhood friendships and contemporary relationships. The laughs are good but it’s clear how life is lived for cartoon actor Frank, and for people like him Love and Trust don’t always go together…

Enticingly introspective and painfully familiar to anyone who ever had a mate who was more Trouble than Worth, The Con Artists is no joke, but is unmissable reading.

© Luke Healy, 2022. All rights reserved.
The Con Artists will be published on June 2nd  2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Cyberman – An On-Screen Documentary


By Veronika Muchitsch AKA L.B. Jeffries (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-8383860-2-3 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-8383860-3-0

In modern society somebody is always watching. Are we unconscious – often unwilling – objects of voyeurism or participants in an increasingly intrusive overwatch?

Although daubing marks on a surface is possibly our oldest art form, the potential to ask questions, make stories and simply communicate via that primal process remains infinitely adaptable to modern technologies and as powerful as it ever was in exploring the unchanging basics of the human condition.

Narrative plus image – and the interactions such conjunctions can adapt to and embrace – underpin all of our communal existence and form the primary source for how we view our distant forbears. When employed by an incisive, sensitive, uncompromising agent and interlocutor such as Veronika Muchitsch, the road from “seen” to “created” can also shed light on the furthest fringes of human behaviour.

Veronika Muchitsch is an Austrian artist who distinguished herself at Falmouth University before settling here. In recent years she began participating in a uniquely modern phenomenon. Entire countries away, fifty-something Finnish man Ari Kivikangas was live-streaming his entire existence, 24 hours a day without pause or let up. Drawn in, Veronika began regularly watching him inhabit his simple flat, sleeping, eating, playing his music and occasionally interacting with the observers tuned in to Cyberman.tv.

Entranced, Muchitsch – while becoming increasingly concerned about her own unchecked voyeurism – began painting the images on her screen, fascinated by the bland yet ominous existence unfolding with staggering constancy and endured with brutally frank, ferocious honesty every moment of every day. Ari was poor, ill, isolated and solitary and hungered for fame and validation: a shut-in managing life by his own rules. He accepted potential intrusion, condemnation and actual abuse from the inevitable inescapable trolls infesting social media with staunch bluntness and just carried on streaming.

The compulsive viewing led to Muchitsch reassessing her own views and first impressions. Over the course of a year, she surrendered anonymity and neutrality: becoming one of the people interacting with Ari – even getting his exultant approval to make him famous in one more modern medium…

She initially adopted the username L.B. Jeffries to interact with Ari, as compulsive observation evolved into a project based on parallels she recognised between her own actions and responses and the role played by Jimmy Stewart in classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window.

The result is a stunning pictorial re-evaluation of modern life, interactions and relationships at the overlap of physical life and virtual existence – which can apparently be far more mundane than our “real” thing…

The story unfolds as a parade of singular images lovingly painted: captured moments that fall almost unbidden into a narrative. How much of that is calculated, curated direction and how much of the story comes from the reader looking at the pictures of the live stream of a stranger’s life? Only you can decide…
© Veronika Muchitsch 2021.

Cyberman – An On-Screen Documentary is scheduled for UK release May 26th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Welcome Home 


By Clarrie & Blanche Pope (Minor Compositions) 
ISBN: 978-1-57027-394-0 (PB)  

Comics are cheap and primal: easy to create, disseminate and understand. That’s why (after music) they are the most subversive and effective form of revolutionary art. To see what I mean just check out straightforward polemical texts such as The Adventures of Tintin: Breaking Free, Fight the Power, Speechless, Wildcat Anarchist Comics, Willie & Joe: Back Home, or subtler cartoon sagas that couch their message in terms of an ostensible entertainment narrative like Brought to Light, Puma Blues, The Stringer, or Pogo. Welcome Home fits comfortably into the latter category, as creators Clarrie & Blanche Pope concoct a contemporary soap opera cast to carry their observations about the way society is heading and the disturbing questions that path leaves unaddressed and unanswered. Like most of that noteworthy list cited above, the sisters drew from and referenced personal experience whilst cunningly employing humour and pathos to hone their scalpel-like investigations: trusting to the familiarity of shared context to make their point.  

Haven’t you wondered what and who occupied your space before you did? Don’t you dread the fading of your memories and the loss of the places that punctuated your time on earth? And who hasn’t had a mate or relative who was more Trouble than Worth? 

Having both been young, squatters and care home workers, the creators weave a rowdily rousing, frighteningly authentic yet engagingly upbeat yarn of activism riding piggyback on modern need and ingrained privation that begins when a disparate band of acquaintances and old friends break into an empty flat.  

The place is in a tower block that has been condemned, where tenant families wait powerlessly for rehoming and the building’s demolition. The squatters range from die-hard believers in a cause to friends and lovers who can’t afford rent, united in a mission to rouse the entire block and organize resistance to the destruction of homes and a community that only needs a little financial care and attention.  

Sadly, before the final page comes, romance, passion (so NOT the same thing), ambition, confusion and the distractions of everyday life are going to play hob with their good intentions and grand dreams… 

The story is told primarily through the actions of Rain, a professional care worker who can’t make ends meet despite being worked to death with compulsory extra shifts at the Fairview home that was built as part of the original housing estate. Its post-privatisation owners Who Care and on-site manager Julie are positively Dickensian in their blindly self-indulgent hypocrisy, but at least by talking to residents like dementia-afflicted Dottie/Doris – whose vacant flat they now illicitly occupy – Rain gradually builds up a potent picture of the generational community the imminent demolition will finally end.  

Ultimately, the young/old bond will also allow the fraught and confused protagonist to sort out her own feelings and stop looking for love in all the wrong places… 

Shortlisted for the Myriad First Graphic Novel Prize, this bleak yet beguiling monochrome study of urban dissolution societal safety nets, relationship triangles, generational cultural continuity, dementia and the disempowerment of the old, young, different, nonconformist and poor is peppered with ferociously barbed faux ads drenched in the contemporary Thought Speak used by Local Councils, Cabinet Ministers, social engineers and gentrifying property companies who constantly find nonsensically bland and comforting ways to restate “you’re the wrong colour, too poor, and love the wrong sort to live here anymore”. 

Welcome Home is an enticingly introspective and painfully universal saga that should appeal to anyone who ever had a moment of monetary despair and emotional outrage at what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. It will not appeal at all to many of the societal predators listed at the end of the last paragraph, but they should be made to read to too. Or maybe hit with it: It’s a free country, after all, if you’re prepared to accept the consequences of your actions… 

© Clarrie & Blanche Pope, 2022. 

A Love for the Ages


By Florence Cestac & Daniel Pennac translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics )
No ISBN: 978-1-910395-63-9 (digital edition)

A writer and an artist go into a restaurant. They make comics for a living, but tonight the talk is of love. Before long, the entire place is involved in the conversation. No, not conversation, Story. Any relationship that has, is or may develop is irrelevant here. The writer is talking about years ago when an impressionable waif encountered and observed the most incredible romance and was forever after beguiled…

Now it’s time to immortalise the affair through words and pictures, and like that keenly observed life of domestic paradise, it must be perfect…

Memories flow, snippets are recalled and a story within a story unfolds and gels. Years back, before the Riviera reinvented itself as a haunt of international snobs and wastrels, inland from Nice in rural La-colle-sur-loup, old folks congregated in picturesque village enclaves and  grandparents got stuck with the youngsters in summer.

Bored and watchful, our kid and his local pals’ best chance of amusement was watching Jean and Germaine Bozignac: she, a delightfully feisty and affably bubbly sharing soul, and he, a hideously ugly yet startlingly charismatic and charming rogue. By all lights, Jean should have been a blight on the community: a cheating cardsharp who never worked after being cut off and disowned from his aristocratic wine-growing family. Yet somehow, the disgraced Marquis was adored by most and accepted by all.

Jean and Germaine were inseparable and lived by, with and through books, and on the day the little the writer-to-be learned that the cashiered lord’s reduced circumstances stemmed solely from his refusing to give up house servant Germaine, the passionate child’s future was set. This was what Love Should and Must be…

Expansive yet grounded, witty, compelling and outrageously funny in all the right ways, A Love for the Ages is the kind of tale our continental cousins excel at: light, fluffy, hilarious yet packed with heartbreaking moments and lined with hidden steel to hit hard when you least expect it.

Only available in English digitally at present, this is what it means to be in love all your life – and trust me I know whereof I speak: my good lady wife has put up with me for nearly 33 years and all I’ve ever had are flesh wounds, contusions and minor bouts of food poisoning. If that’s not proof of a love divine, then what is?
© 2015 DARGAUD – Cestac & Pennac. All rights reserved

Clumsy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-0-97135-976-5 (TPB/Digital edition)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. You’ll probably adore his latest treats – the Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series…

Before that, Jeffrey Brown was the sparkling wit who had crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales and Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

The original is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, A Matter of Life, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body,Undeleted Scenes and the 4-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” – Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World For Me and opening shot Clumsy, …

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching revelation who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan but relocated to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute. He studied painting but before graduating switched to drawing comics. Clumsy was released in 2002, quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of non-chronological pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing in no particular order how a meek, frumpy, horny, inoffensively charming art-school boy meets a girl and tries to carry out a long-distance relationship.

Every kid who’s gone to college, got a job or joined the services has been through this, and for every romance that makes it, there a million that don’t.

Drawn in a deceptively Primitivist style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase plus a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and forever-after regretted, this is a skilful succession of stolen moments which establish one awful truth.

We’ve all been there, done that and then hoarded those damned photos we can’t even look at any more…

With titles like ‘My Last Night with Kristyn’, ‘Don’t Touch Me’, ‘I Draw her Naked’, ‘I Farted’, ‘But I Want to Make Love’ and ‘You Can Ask Me’, a mosaic of universal joy and despair forms as we watch Jeff and Theresa meet, blossom, exult, dream, plan and part…

Packed with hearty joyous wonder and brimming with hilarious examples of that continual and seemingly tireless teen-lust us oldsters can barely remember now, let alone understand, Clumsy is a magical delight for anybody safely out of their Romeo & Juliet years and a lovely examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2002 Jeffrey Brown.

Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?


By Liz Prince (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-89183-072-3 (PB/Digital edition)

There’s an irrepressible rumour going about that Love makes the World Go Round. My grasp of physics isn’t strong enough to confirm or deny the hypothesis but I have read enough comics in my time to spot a magical and unmissable celebration of the all-consuming emotion when I see one.

Liz Prince originally hailed from Sante Fe, New Mexico before upping sticks and heading across county in an Eastward direction to attend the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (Massachusetts, not Lincolnshire).

She is a cartoonist – one of many – who thankfully opted to create a visual journal of her life and saw that one subject kept monopolising her attention. She is also an inspired raconteur who knows how to spin a graphic yarn in adroitly truncated form. Thus, this slim collection which gathers a whole bunch of sublimely intimate, hilariously real moments spent with and apart from her equally fascinating man Kevin and the awesome force which is their cat Science.

Contained in this marvellous monochrome paperback posy are vignettes exploring the giddy silliness of fresh physicality, quirkily adorable breaking of bathroom taboos, the agony and relief of momentary solitude, incidents of intimate accommodation and lots of lovely eternal challenges that test every couple… especially the often bloody traumas of explaining to the incumbent household pet that they are not necessarily “Number One” any more…

Fronted by a suitably droll but downbeat pictorial Introduction ‘On Liz Prince’ by legendary lovelorn doodler Jeffrey Brown, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? is thankfully still available – and instantly so if you opt for a downloadable versions (Kindle, Comixology etc.), or preferably direct from Top Shelf Productions – so if you want to share some romantic fellow feeling or just need to see that there’s still hope for all the lonely hearts, this a graphic gem you should promptly treat yourself to.
© & ™ Liz Prince 2005. All rights reserved.

Willie & Joe: Back Home


By Bill Mauldin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-351-4 (HB)

Throughout World War II William Henry “Bill” Mauldin fought “Over There” with the United States Infantry whilst producing cartoons about the fighting men and for the fighting men. He told as much of the real nature of the war as his censors and common sense would allow and became an unwilling international celebrity as much because of his unshakable honesty as his incredible artistic talents.

He was incontrovertibly “one of the guys” and American soldiers and civilians loved him for it. During his time in the service he produced cartoons for the folks back home and intimately effective, authentic and quirkily morale-boosting material for military publications 45th Division News, Yank and Stars and Stripes.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he made his own and introduced to the world at large – giving a trenchant and acerbically enduring view of the war from the point of view of the poor sods ducking bullets in muddy foxholes and surviving shelling in the ruins of Europe.

Willie and Joe, to the dismay of much of the Army Establishment, gave an honest overview of America’s ground war. 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.

Willie even made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23 year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize. Like so many other returning soldiers, however, Mauldin’s hard-won Better Tomorrow didn’t live up to its promise…

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge, anti-bigot views never changed, but found simply new targets at home. However, during the earliest days of the Cold War and despite being a bone fide War Hero, Mauldin’s politically strident cartoons fell ever more out of step with the New America: a place where political expediency allowed racists to resume repressing ethnic sections of the nation now that their blood and sweat were no longer needed to defeat the Axis.

This new America expected women to surrender their war-time freedoms and become again servants and consumers and baby machines: happy to cook suppers in return for the new labour-saving consumer goods America now needed to sell, sell, sell. This nation was far too eager to forget the actual war and genuine soldiers in favour of massaged messages and conformist, inspirational paper or celluloid heroes.

The New America certainly didn’t want anybody rocking their shiny new boat…

When Sergeant Bill Mauldin mustered out in 1945, he was notionally on top of the world: a celebrity hero, youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history, with a lucrative 3-year syndicated newspaper contract and Hollywood clamouring for him.

Unfortunately for him, Mauldin was as dedicated to his ideals as to his art. As soon as he became aware of the iniquities of the post-war world, he went after them. Using his newspaper tenancy as a soapbox, Mauldin attacked in bitterly brilliant barrages the maltreatment and side-lining of actual combat veterans. During the country’s entire involvement in WWII, less than 10% of military men actually fought, or even left their home country, whilst rear-echelon brass seemed to increasingly reap the benefits and unearned glory of the peace.

Ordinary enlisted men and veterans were culture-shocked, traumatised, out of place and resented by the public, who blamed them disproportionately for the shortages and “suffering” they had endured. Black and Japanese Americans were reduced to second class citizens (again, for most of them) and America’s erstwhile allies were pilloried, exploited and demonised, whilst everywhere politicians and demagogues were rewriting recent history for their own advantage…

Mauldin’s fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripesvetoed it, and the demobbed survivors moved into a world that had changed incomprehensibly in their absence…

Always ready for a fight, Mauldin’s peacetime Willie and Joe became a noose around the syndicate’s neck as the cartoonist’s acerbic, polemical and decidedly non-anodyne observations perpetually highlighted iniquities and stupidities inflicted on returning servicemen and attacked self-aggrandising politicians. He advocated such socialist horrors as free speech, civil rights and unionisation, affordable public housing and universal medical care for everybody – no matter what their colour, gender or religion. The crazy cartoonist even declared war on the Ku Klux Klan, American Legion and red-baiting House UnAmerican Activities Commission: nobody was too big. When the Soviet Union and United Nations betrayed their own ideological principles, Mauldin went after them too…

An honest broker, he had tried to quit early, but the syndicate held him to his contract so, trapped in a situation that increasingly stifled his creative urges and muzzled his liberal/libertarian sensibilities, he refused to toe the line and his cartoons were incessantly altered and reworked.

During six years of War service his cartoon had been censored three times; now the white paint and scissors were employed by rewrite boys almost daily…

The movie Up Front – which Mauldin wanted to reflect the true experience of the war – languished unmade for six years until a sappy, flimsy comedy bearing the name was released in 1951. The intended screenplay – by Mauldin, John Lardner and Ring Lardner Jr. – vanished: deemed utterly unsuitable and unfilmable …until much of its tone reappeared in Lardner Jr.’s 1970 screenplay M*A*S*H…

As the syndicate bled clients – mostly in segregationist states – and contemplated terminating his contract, Mauldin began simultaneously working for the New York Herald-Tribune. With a new liberal outlet. His tactics changed in the Willie and Joe feature: becoming more subtle and less bombastic. He still picked up the best of enemies, however, adding J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to the roster of declaimers and decriers…

When his contract finally ended in 1948, neither side wanted to renew. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist, freelance writer and illustrator. He was a film actor for a time (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean Conflict and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1956.

He only finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958 in a far different world: working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before moving to the Chicago Sun-Times, winning another Pulitzer and a Reuben Award for his political cartoons

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and properly-appreciated 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).

Also available digitally, this magnificent hardback companion volume to Willie and Joe: the WWII Years covers the period of work from July 31st 1945 to 31st December 1948, supplemented by a brilliant biographical introduction from Todd DePastino: a superb black-&-white compendium collecting the bittersweet return of the forgotten heroes as they faced confusion, exclusion, contention and disillusion, but always with the edgy, stoic humour under fire that was Mauldin’s stock in trade.

Moreover, it features some of the most powerful assaults on the appalling edifice of post-war America ever seen. The artist’s castigating observations on how a society treats returning soldiers are more pertinent now than they ever were; the pressures on families and children even more so; whilst his exposure of armchair strategists, politicians and businessmen seeking to exploit wars for gain and how quickly allies can become enemies are tragically more relevant than any rational person could wish.

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, sanguine observation and uncomprehending betrayal, this cartoon chronicle is an astounding personal testament that shows the powers of cartoons to convey emotion if not sway opinion.

In Willie & Joe: Back Home we have here a magnificent example of passion and creativity used as a weapon of social change and a work of art every citizen should be exposed to, because these are aspects of humanity that we seem unable to outgrow…
This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Cartoons © 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

The Art of Sushi


By Franckie Alarcon, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-285-4 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-86-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sensational Sagacity for All Seasonings… 9/10

Usually this bit is about sex or swearing, but I’m issuing my first ever culinary advisory here.

If you are vegan, squeamish or simply care about fish and other animals and are likely to be upset by graphic depictions of the preparation of really cool creatures like octopi or eels, do not buy this book. It’s really not your thing.

Once more confirming that there’s nothing you can’t craft compelling comics about if you’re talented and inspired, here’s a gripping graphic testament to the art, philosophy and mindset of Japan’s most misunderstood culinary export.

First seen as L’Art du Sushi in 2019, and courtesy of ever-inquisitive, fantastically convivial cartoonist-foodie Franckie Alarcon, The Art of Sushi follows the artist and close associates on a fact-finding tour of Japan. Their mission is in response to the recent phenomenon of France falling madly in love with the oriental art of food, and subsequent seeking to mimic and master its traditions and pure quality; whilst making it just a little bit theirs, too…

After a cheery introduction, scene-setting, history and visual précis to the discipline’s antecedents and nine basic forms, “Bibi” Alarcon, girlfriend Marilyne, Editor David and photographer Chloe join translator/guide Rica in Tokyo to track down a revered Master, one who is also a three-starred Michelin chef…

As well as fascinating insights into the philosophy, personal beliefs and techniques of 50-year veteran craftsman Hachiro Mizutani, the researchers taste marvels and come to understand the importance of sourcing the components. ‘Mizutani: Traditional Sushi’ catalogues dishes and how they’re constructed before following him to legendary Tsukiji Market to test the daily catch in still-living splendour before detailing how they are prepared… and why. The lesson includes eye-watering comparisons with the practices of Brittany fishermen….

Sidebars include the parlous state of the oceans and fish stocks, how to make rice and a beguiling history of knife-making.

As seen in ‘Maguro bocho and Oroshi bocho’, the nation’s metallurgical artisans used to make swords, but now craft far more dangerous implements…

After reinforcing our presentiments with tastes of old Japan, the tourists explore the rush of the contemporary city with a brilliant young chef making all the right waves in ‘Okada: Modern Sushi’. Prior to that, they headed into the country to visit with Rica’s family and spent time on fishing boats.

The pride of their catch comes with them to Okada’s city restaurant for a display of his innovative virtuosity and is supplemented by lessons in consuming the beverages that are an integral part of Sushi appreciation; the history of rice; aesthetics of presentation, more blade techniques for preparing various sea creatures and useful information in spotting and dealing with the assorted parasites that infest uncooked food…

One of the most compelling asides concerns the best shape and materials of bowls, plates, cups and other tableware, which diverts into a visit to a ceramicist providing such containers to the trade…

Every visit results in a fresh eating experience and freebies to take home, but after leaving Okada’s place the team go to Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture to learn all about rice wines and ‘The Stages of making Sake’: for many the most important component in ceremonial Sushi consumption…

Once done examining old and new at the high end, our intrepid voyagers tackle the working world of ‘Everyday Sushi’ in modern Japan. Beginning with a day aboard an eel fishing boat, learning cunning tricks to keep the catch alive until ready to eat, the Europeans later enjoy a home-prepared feast courtesy of Mrs. Tanemura – who runs an eatery out of her house – and discover the hard truths about Nori (seaweed wraps/mats) from her other guests…

The trip concludes with a mind-blowing visit to a soy sauce brewery before the city offers Sushi in fast food and convenience store mode before the exhausted well-stuffed visitors go home to reassess the state of ‘Sushi in France’ with now-learnèd eyes and taste buds.

Apparently, the biggest challenge is adapting to a far smaller range of truly fresh and seasonal ingredients in a largely land-locked country, but as star chefs Takuya Watanabe – in between revealing how to grow authentic wasabi in European soil – and Yannick Alléno point out, Gastronomy and Sushi are about technique. It works with vegan or even mammal-meat ingredients. There are even chocolate desserts available for the bold and truly discerning…

Closing out a truly revelatory reading experience comes a selection of ‘Recipes’ comprising ‘Rica’s Chirashi’ with either tuna, eel or avocado as main ingredient; ‘Okada’s Green Tea Octopus’, ‘Mrs. Okada’s Temari’ (a selection including meat- and fish-free options) and ‘Sasa Sushi’ (mackerel), plus an accompanying cocktail: ‘The Sake Mojito’

Also adding value is an ‘Address Book’ of recommended restaurants in Japan and France, and physical stores and online sources for ingredients, utensils and travel advice.

The art of food and pleasures of eating have never been better appreciated or shared than in books like these, blending the exoticism of travel with the tantalising yet satisfying anticipation of gustatory consumption. The Art of Sushi is simply delightful: an inviting comics divertissement that must surely whet the appetite for more…
© Editions Delcourt 2019. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Art of Sushi will be released on December 14th 2021 and is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Sour Pickles


By Clio Isadora (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-63-9 (TPB)
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Peep at How the Other Half Works… 8/10

There are countless reasons to draw and even more to tell stories. For an increasing number of talented folk the primary motivations are curiosity and therapy. When combined with ruthless honesty, creative boldness and a sense of whimsy the results can be instructional for the author, and hugely entertaining for those of us privileged to be coming along for the ride.

Clio Isadora has drawn remorselessly but with sublime care and attention on her rather extraordinary life for her risograph minicomics such as Damp Candy, Soiled Fantasies, Is It Vague in Other Dimensions? and others, and in her first full graphic novel, takes those shared observations to a new level of humour and poignancy by revisiting her final year as a student at prestigious Central St Martins art school.

Like most slice-of-life sagas – no matter how well or judiciously curated – the true joy is in experiencing it unfold, so the précis portion of this review is deliberately meagre…

Pickles Yin doesn’t have the financial resources of her rich, posh, fancy art school classmates. She’s got by so far on talent, drive, hard work, bursaries, frazzled nerves, frantic overreactions and few true friends. Now the final year and big show are looming and beyond that the gaping unknowns of adult life and a career.

Unlike almost everyone else she knows, though, Pickles can’t rely on the buffers and comfort zone of parents, money and connections if she fails. Or even decide on what kind of job she wants if she gets through the year. She’s drowning and floundering and in a panic, when her pal Radish suggests what would help her get by and even the odds is some pharmaceutical enhancement…

Witty, fraught, heartwarming and quite frankly a bit scary – my days in art school in the heyday of Punk were filled with fun, excess, budding pop stars and a complete dearth of career pressure – Sour Pickles is a fabulously wry and subtle examination of mental health, the unexpected legacies of parental prejudices and the crushing pressure of modern living.

Recommended for anybody wondering about the “road not taken”…
© Clio Isadora, 2021