Good-Bye


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Yuji Oniki (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-078-2

Since the 1950s, compulsive storyteller and inventor of the mature and socially relevant Gekiga comics-form Yoshihiro Tatsumi worked at the fringes of the Japanese manga industry as it grew from a despised sub-art form to an unstoppable global colossus of the entertainment media.

Freelancing for whoever would take a chance on him, whilst producing bargain-basement Manga lending shop Kashihon (story-books purpose-made for comics lending libraries), and even self-publishing – as Dōjinshi or “Vanity projects” – his uniquely personal graphic explorations of the world as he saw it, Tatsumi slowly gained prominence amongst other artists and a small dedicated cognoscente.

Eventually his dedication to tales of deeply personal, agonisingly intimate and slyly accusatory cartoon reportage filtered into and became the mainstream and in recent years Tatsumi has received the accolades and acclaim he long deserved as, at last, society caught up with him…

After decades at the periphery of comics consciousness, Tatsumi was “discovered” by the West at the dawn of the new millennium (despite a bootlegged English-language edition in 1987 and occasional European reprints) and in 2005 Drawn & Quarterly began releasing collections of his vast output in hardback editions which re-presented a taste of material culled from specific years.

Now the fruits of that on-going annual project are at last available in deluxe monochrome softcover editions, their appeal greatly benefited by the fact that in 2009 Tatsumi’s monolithic cartoon autobiography A Drifting Life turned him into a domestic and world superstar, garnering a brace of Eisner Awards, Japan’s Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize as well as the regards sur le monde Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival.

Following an introduction from author, historian, translator and pundit Frederik L. Schodt, this third volume presents works from the period 1971-1972 when Tatsumi settled into an unqualified burst of inspired creativity and produced some of his most memorable pieces: dissections, queries and tributes to the Human Condition as experienced by the lowest of the low in a beaten but re-emergent nation-culture which was ferociously and ruthlessly re-inventing itself all around him

The panoply of disturbing, beguiling, sordid, intimate, heartbreaking, trenchantly wry and utterly uncompromising strips dealing with uncomfortable realities, inescapable situations, punishing alienations, excoriating self-loathing and the bleakest, emptiest corners and crannies of human experience begins in ‘Hell’ – a tale which recalls the bombing of Hiroshima and the headiest days of the passionately anti-H-Bomb movement in 1967. A former Japanese Army photographer recalls a shot he took in the aftermath: a silhouette burned into a wall of a loving son massaging his weary mother’s shoulders. In 1951 he had sold the photo to a news agency and the shot became a potent symbol of the “No More Hisoshimas” movement, rocketing the photographer to world-wide prominence.

Now in the shadow of a newly dedicated monument a stunning revelation threatens to undo all the good that photo has done…

At the end of his working life Saburo Hanayama was sidelined by all the younger workers: all except kind Ms. Okawa whose kindly solicitousness rekindled crude urgings in the former soldier and elderly executive. With his wife and daughter already planning how to spend his retirement pension, Saburo rebels and blows it all on wine, women and song, but even when he achieves the impossible hidden dream with the ineffable Ms. Okawa, he is plagued by impotence and guilt and is still ‘Just a Man’

In ‘Sky Burial’ disaffected slacker Nogawa isn’t even shaken up when the mummified body of his neighbour is discovered, a victim of neglect, undiscovered for months until the smell became too overpowering.

After all, his life is a mess too and he keeps seeing vultures in the sky above the bustling streets… As his surviving neighbours all move out following the death, Nogawa stays, abandoning himself to the birds and vermin eager to colonise the vacant building…

When he retired, a nondescript businessman deeded all his possessions to his family and went to live in the woods, obsessed with a bizarre ‘Rash’ that afflicted his body. However, when a young girl attempts suicide he saves her and gains new interest in the world. How tragic that his notions and hers are so different…

Businessman Kazuya returns to the old neighbourhood and recalls a bizarre friendship with a ‘Woman in the Mirror’. Once he and Ikeuchi were great friends, but when he accidentally discovered his pal’s need to dress as a girl, a great fire changed both their lives forever…

When ‘Night Falls Again’ a desperately lonely man haunts the strip joints and bars of Osaka, despising himself, missing his rural home and bombarded by images of sex for sale. Driven to the edge he at long last buys a ticket…

Two bar girls clean up after the night’s toil, but Akemi is preoccupied. It’s time to visit her husband in prison, even if he is a changed, brutalised man and doesn’t believe she has kept herself for him all these years. When he threatens to become her pimp once released, she takes extreme action in ‘Life is so Sad’

Tatsumi experimented with wash tones rather than the usual line, brush and mechanical tone screens for his tale of a foot fetishist driven to outlandish steps just so he could keep hearing heels go ‘Click Click Click’, and this compelling collection concludes with the eponymous minor masterpiece which was until recently the artist’s most (in)famous tale.

The semi-autobiographical ‘Good-Bye’ describes the declining relationship between prostitute Mariko or “Mary” – who courts social ignominy by going with the American GI Joe’s – and her dissolute father; once a proud soldier of Japan’s beaten army, reduced to cadging cash and favours from her.

Her dreams of escape to America are shattered one day and in her turmoil she pushes her father too far and he commits an act there’s no coming back from…

Tatsumi uses art as a symbolic weapon, using an instantly recognisable repertory company of characters pressed into service over and again as archetypes and human abstracts of certain unchanging societal aspects and responses. Moreover he has an astounding ability to present situations with no clean and clear-cut resolution: the tension and sublime efficacy revolves around carrying the reader to the moment of ultimate emotional crisis and leaving you suspended there…

Tatsumi, like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, largely set his own agenda, producing work which first and foremost interested himself, toiling for decades in relative isolation producing compelling, explicit, groundbreaking stories which were the foundation of today’s “literary” or alternative field of graphic narrative: a form which whilst mostly sidelined and marginalised for most of their working lives has at last emerged as the most important and widely accepted avenue of the comics medium.

These are stories no true lover of comics can afford to miss and this series of collections is a must-have for every adult reader’s bookshelf.

Art and stories © 19771, 1972, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Introduction © 2008, 2012 Frederik L. Schodt. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Abandon the Old in Tokyo


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Yuji Oniki (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-077-5

Yoshihiro Tatsumi was born in Osaka in 1935 and grew up in the Tennōji Ku district. By the time World War II began Osaka was the undisputed industrial, commercial and almost-evangelically capitalist trading-centre of the nation: a place of great wealth, fervent modernisation and nigh-universal literacy as well as vast slums, massive unemployment and crushing poverty. Osaka was the first Japanese city to introduce a welfare program for relief for the poor, modelled after the British system that began in the early 20th century…

One of 24 political wards, Tennōji Ku was named for the ancient Buddhist shrine Shitennō-ji (Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings) and growing up there, Tatsumi must have been constantly exposed to the glorious past, tantalising future and ever-present frustrated desperation of the poor suffering the daily iniquities of the class system.

Growing up during the nightly American bombing raids Tatsumi was obsessed by books and cartooning and devoted his life to the budding comics industry in all its forms.

His earliest successes were all-new, large graphic novels for the uniquely Japanese Kashihon or Manga lending shops (story-books purpose-made to be borrowed and returned for a pittance, rather than bought outright: cost and remuneration were necessarily low and turnover quite high) before moving into the fringes of manga magazine sales.

By 1969 Tatsumi ran a small publishing house for these tomes but the lending shops were dying out…

Since the mid fifties the author had been struggling with a new kind of manga, one that was more than simply childish entertainment, and in 1957 coined the term Gekiga or “Dramatic Pictures” to describe the adult, mature-themed, downbeat and decidedly bleak material he was crafting.

His restless pictorial questioning of affairs of the state and the state of affairs in the furiously reconstructing modern nation, as well as humanity’s breakdown in a disillusioned new Japan subjected to incessant and unceasingly building internal pressures didn’t find much popular success, but fellow manga artists slowing began to create their own serious narratives as the drive towards post-war modernism began to founder and more and more citizens began to question not just the methods but the goal itself…

After decades of virtual obscurity both at home and abroad Tatsumi was “discovered” by the West and in 2005 Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly began compiling collections of his vast output in hardback editions which re-presented a selection of material on a year-by-year basis.

Now the on-going annual project is at last available in deluxe monochrome softcover editions, their appeal greatly enhanced by the fact that Tatsumi’s monolithic cartoon autobiography A Drifting Life turned him into a domestic and global comics superstar, winning a brace of Eisner Awards, Japan’s Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize as well as the regards sur le monde Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival between 2009-2012.

After an introduction from modern manga superstar Koji Suzuki (creator of The Ring, Dark Water, Birthday and other shocking blockbusters) this second collection gathers longer works from the year 1970 and begins with the deeply disturbing ‘Occupied’ as a lonely and unsuccessful creator of children’s comics experiences digestive troubles. Forced to use public toilets he discovers a different sort of drawing and is inexorably drawn into a world where the cubicles offer an utterly different kind of relief…

‘Abandon the Old in Tokyo’ finds diligent Kenichi slowly crumbling under the pressure of his ailing intolerant mother’s constant carping demands. It’s no help that his girlfriend wants to see “his” place and eventually the weary prevaricator does something about the situation…

‘The Washer’ spends his life cleaning windows and watching powerful businessmen force themselves on young office secretaries. Things turn decidedly difficult however when the girl behind the gleaming glass is his own daughter, whilst a down-trodden factory worker’s grim, grey life only comes alive when he returns home to his hovel and his ‘Beloved Monkey’. Tragically it’s all spoiled when he lets a girl into his heart…

When old Mr. Yamanuki’s company goes under, he cannot accept his life’s work is done and some debts have to remain ‘Unpaid’. Why and how then, does he derive such comfort and solace from that thing he does with the Collie at the Dog Appreciation Club?

‘The Hole’ sees a hiker taken prisoner by a woman hideously deformed during botched cosmetic surgery, but when the man’s divorced wife comes to his rescue, his smug arrogance seals his own fate, after which ‘Forked Road’ examines two childhood friends and the different paths their first experiences of sex made for them…

The eerily intimate episodes end with ‘Eel’ as a young sewer-cleaner sees too many parallels between the fish caught in the rake and bucket and his own existence. Some days having a disgusting, dead-end job and a callous bar-girl wife who’s delighted when she miscarries your baby doesn’t seem that different to swimming the wrong way in rubbish and excrement until you die…

Stories of sexual frustration, human obsolescence, dislocation, impotence, loneliness, poverty or the futile and vainglorious acts of rekindled pride are again depicted through rat-run mazes populated by a succession of hookers, powerless men, disaffected women, ineffectual lovers and grasping dependents and via recurring motifs of illness, retirement, injury and inadequacy in ramshackle dwellings, grimy streets, tawdry bars and sewers obstructed by things of no further value: pots, pans, people…

Concluding with another extensive ‘Q & A with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’ this second breathtaking compendium further illustrates why no serious devotee of graphic narratives can afford to miss the masterful literary skill of one of the world’s great masters of the comic arts.

Art and stories © 1970, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Introduction © 2009, 2012 Koji Suzuki. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

The Push Man and Other Stories


By Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated by Yuji Oniki (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-074-4

Since the 1950s, compulsive manga storyteller Yoshihiro Tatsumi has worked at the edges of the colossal Japanese comics industry, toiling for whoever would hire him, whilst producing an absolutely vast canon of deeply personal, agonisingly honest and blisteringly incisive cartoon critiques, dissections, queries and homages to the Human Condition as endured by the lowest of the low in a beaten nation and culture which utterly and ferociously and ruthlessly re-invented itself during his lifetime.

Tatsumi was born in 1935 and after surviving the war and reconstruction of Japan devoted most of his life to mastering – most would say inventing – a new form of comics storytelling, now known universally as Gekiga or “Dramatic Pictures” – as opposed to the flashy and fanciful escapist entertainment of Manga – which translates as “Irresponsible or Foolish Pictures” and was targeted specifically at children in the years immediately following the cessation of hostilities.

If he couldn’t find a sympathetic Editor, Tatsumi often self-published his darkly beguiling wares in Dōjinshi or “Vanity projects” where his often open-ended, morally ambiguous, subtly subversive underground comics literature gradually grew to prominence as those funnybook-consuming kids grew up in a socially-repressed, culturally-occupied country and began to rebel. Topmost amongst their key concerns were Cold War politics, the Vietnam war, ubiquitous inequality and iniquitous distribution of wealth and opportunity, so the teen upstarts sought out material that addressed their maturing sensibilities and found it in the works of Tatsumi and a growing band of serious cartoonists…

Since reading comics beyond childhood was seen as an act of rebellion – like digging Rock ‘n’ Roll a decade earlier in the USA and Britain – these kids became known as the “Manga Generation” and their growing influence allowed comics creators to grow beyond the commercial limits of their industry and tackle adult stories and themes in what rapidly became a bone fide art form. Even the “God of Comics” Osamu Tezuka eventually found his mature author’s voice in Gekiga…

Tatsumi uses his art as a symbolic tool, with an instantly recognisable repertory company of characters pressed into service over and again as archetypes and human abstracts of certain unchanging societal aspects and responses. Moreover he has a mesmerising ability to portray situations with no clean and clear-cut resolution: the tension and sublime efficacy revolves around carrying the reader to the moment of ultimate emotional crisis and leaving you suspended there…

Narrative themes of sexual frustration, falls from grace and security, loss of heritage and pride, human obsolescence, claustrophobia and dislocation, obsession, provincialism, impotence, loneliness, poverty and desperate acts of protest are perpetually explored by a succession of anonymous bar girls, powerless men, ineffectual loners and grasping spouses, wheedling, ungrateful family dependents and ethically intransigent protagonists through recurring motifs such as illness, forced retirement, crippled labourers, sexual inadequacy in ramshackle dwellings, endless dirty alleyways, tawdry bars and sewers too often obstructed by discarded foetuses and even dead babies…

After decades of virtual obscurity both at home and abroad, Tatsumi was “discovered” by the West (despite a bootlegged English-language edition in 1987 and occasional reprints in France and Spain) and in 2005 Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly began compiling collections of his vast output in hardback editions which re-presented a selection of material on a year-by-year basis.

Now the on-going annual project is at last available in deluxe monochrome softcover editions, their appeal greatly enhanced by the fact that Tatsumi’s monolithic cartoon autobiography A Drifting Life turned him into a domestic and global comics superstar, winning a brace of Eisner Awards, Japan’s Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize as well as the regards sur le monde Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival between 2009-2012.

This initial outing gathers seminal pieces created in the turbulent year 1969 and also includes an introduction by series editor/designer Tomine and a concluding ‘Q & A with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’.

The trawl through the hearts of darkness begins with ‘Piranha’ as an apathetic factory worker, sick and tired of his wife’s brazen philandering, deliberately maims himself at work for the workman’s compensation pay-out. Even relatively well-off and with his wife now attentive and loving he is not content, so he starts collecting Piranha fish. When she returns to her old habits, he looks at his fish and has an idea…

‘Projectionist’ tells of a another disillusioned labourer whose job is to travel the country screening blue films for executives keen to get secretaries “in the mood” and provide cinematic bonuses for company clients, whilst ‘Black Smoke’ details the existence of an incinerator operator who can’t satisfy his wife, or father children. Meanwhile his days are filled with chucking dead newborns from the local Women’s hospital into those fierce cleansing flames…

‘The Burden’ relates the inevitable fate of a placard carrier advertising a massage parlour. Why can he get on with prostitutes of the street but not his wife, constantly carping about her unwanted pregnancy? Why is murder the only rational option?

In ‘Test Tube’ an over-worked sperm donor allows his latest “inspiration” to get too close with catastrophic results, whilst the ‘Pimp’ who permits his wife to continue her profession so that they can buy a bar together finds the situation increasingly intolerable and ‘The Push Man’ who crams commuters onto the city’s hyper-crowded trains finally experiences a little too much enforced and unwelcome closeness of his own…

Whilst daily unclogging the city’s mains, a harassed young man no longer reacts to the horror of what the people above discard: baskets, boxes, babies… even when the deceased detritus in the ‘Sewer’ is his own, but the ‘Telescope’, which brings a crippled man too close to an aging exhibitionist who needs to be seen conquering young women, leads only to recrimination and self-destruction…

In a place where every one is trying to survive and make a little progress, one couple have reached a necessary accommodation that allows the wife to prosper just so long as her trouble husband remains ‘The Killer’, whilst for the strait-laced mechanic who discovers his TV ideal has loose knickers and a whorish heart after a ‘Traffic Accident’, life is no longer worth living.

‘Make-Up’ is the only solace of a poor salary-man living with a cheap cocktail waitress. In her clothes and with her face he can truly be himself, even if the lonely and lovelorn telephone sanitizer of ‘Disinfection’ cannot bring himself to connect with the many women of easy affection he meets in his job, and well-meaning nondescript auto-parts worker Matsuda who struggles long and hard, seeking the best way to get rid of his wife and help the young girl resisting their nasty boss’s urgings to abort the embarrassing baby he’s fathered in ‘Who Are You?’

When Mr. Fukuda is badly injured in ‘Bedridden’ he entrusts young Tanno with his greatest secret: locked in his house is a sex slave, trained and shaped from birth to please men. He will pay the apprentice anything and everything to keep her fit and fed until he can get out of hospital. Big mistake…

This initial outing ends with a superbly outré examination of life wherein Shoji returns to his rat-infested apartment and frumpy, horny woman. As she cleans herself up the pensive post-coital drifter ponders all those wasted sperm – each one a potential Napoleon or ‘My Hitler’, until a scream alerts him to the fact that one determined rodent has taken up residence.

Despite all his efforts the rat, pregnant and determined stay put, avoids every attempt to remove or kill it. With his strident companion moved out and back in the bar where she works, the contemplative Shoji discovers a new appreciation of the valiant mother and her progeny…

Like Adrian Tomine, Editor of the English-language series, I first discovered Mr. Tatsumi’s astounding works in the aforementioned album sized – and it transpires, wholly unauthorised – Catalan Communications edition at the end of the 1980s, and was blown away by the seductive and wholly entrancing simplicity of his storytelling and bleak, humanist subject matter.

Now that I know just when these stark, wry, bittersweet vignettes, episodes and stories of cultural and social realism were first drawn, it seems as if a lone voice in Japanese comics had independently and synchronistically joined the revolution of Cinéma vérité and the Kitchen Sink Dramas of playwrights and directors like John Osborne, Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson – not to mention Ken Loach and Joe Orton – which gripped the West in the 1960s and which have shaped the critical and creative faculties of so many artists and creators ever since.

Tatsumi, like Robert Crumb and Harvey Pekar, worked for decades in relative isolation producing compelling, bold, beguiling, sordid, intimate, wryly humorous, heartbreaking and utterly uncompromising strips dealing with uncomfortable realities, social alienation, excoriating self-examination and the nastiest and most honest arenas of human experience. They can in fact be seen as brother auteurs and indeed inventors of the “literary” or alternative field of graphic narrative which, whilst largely sidelined for most of their working lives, has finally emerged as the most important and widely accepted avenue of the comics medium.

These are stories no serious exponent or fan of comics can afford to miss and this series of collections is the best way yet to enjoy a hidden master’s dedication and brilliance.

Art and stories © 1969, 2012 Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Introduction © 2005, 2012 Adrian Tomine. This edition © 2012 Drawn & Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Seven Miles a Second


By David Wojnarowicz & James Romberger with Marguerite van Cook (Vertigo/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-56389-247-9

Every so often an outsider dabbles in the comics medium and brings something new to the tried-and-trusted mix which forces insiders to re-evaluate the way and the why of their preferred medium. Such a case was the collaboration between iconoclastic multi-media artist David Wojnarowicz and painter, cartoonist and occasional comics pro James Romberger.

During the 1980s and until his death in 1992 Wojnarowicz was a prolific author, poet, musician, painter, filmmaker, photographer, performance artist, advocate for Artist’s Rights, anti-censorship champion and political activist, driven or inspired to constantly create by his appalling life as a teen runaway, street prostitute and AIDS sufferer.

This slim 64-page painted album consists of three interlinked episodes from the author’s life, threaded and embellished with reminiscences, observations dreams and poetry to form a living monologue with the world which made Wojnarowicz the compulsive, questing, wonderingly politicized rebel that he was.

Beginning with ‘Thirst’, we follow as the world-wise, street-smart kid dodges Vice Cops and cruises for “Johns” on the 1970’s corners of 42nd Street, encounting just one more sad guy in search of negotiable warmth and affection…

‘Stray Dogs’ takes place a few years later as David and his latest dangerous boyfriend Willy struggle to feed themselves and trawl the soup kitchens, halfway houses and shelters in search of food and a safe place to sleep. Their nightmare journey through the dregs and gutters of the city would enrage a saint and make the Devil weep…

The disturbingly forensic inner narrative ends with a contemplative and breathtakingly introspective marshalling of ideas and experiences in ‘Seven Miles a Second’, begun as David was dying and left uncompleted until Romberger, a renowned artist himself – particularly scenes of urban and inner city life – returned to the author’s incomplete notes and his own memories of Wojnarowicz to pull everything together.

The final painfully intense and intimate project was initiated in 1989 and only completed after Wojnarowicz died from AIDS-related complications. The book was released in 1996 as a Vertigo prestige format publication.

Terrifying, hallucinogenic, appallingly revealing of a society that eats its weak and different, the graphic self-dissection is followed by the Afterword ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Maniac’, a history and appreciation of David Wojnarowicz by Carlo McCormick (Senior Editor of Paper magazine) which includes reproductions of many of his own paintings.

Hard to take, frighteningly beautiful and staggeringly honest, this is a book that will – and should – upset all the right people, but is one that no mature, clear thinking devotee of graphic narrative should avoid or miss.
© 1996 the Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Illustrations © 1996 James Romberger. Introduction © 1996 Thomas W. Rauffenbart.  Afterword © 1996 Carlo McCormick. All individual Rights Reserved throughout.

Maus volumes 1 & 2: My Father Bleeds History & And Here My Troubles Began


By Art Spiegelman (Pantheon/Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-14017-315-4 & 978-0-14013-206-9

Also available as: Complete Maus: A Survivors Tale
ISBN: 978-0141014081

During the 1980s, English-language comics finally began to be accepted by the wider world and that’s in no small part due to the groundbreaking success of an independent funny-animal comic for adults which quite rightly took the world by storm.

Most of you will probably have read this incredible tale already – and if you have feel free to skip the following tirade – but on the rare chance that you haven’t but are still open to persuasion I offer these thoughts…

Art Spiegelman first began his exploration into his family’s history in 1972 when he created a short strip for the Underground anthology Short Order Comix, in which he first examined his own reactions and response to his mother’s suicide in 1968. That tale led to a desire to understand his extremely difficult father Vladek and a determination to turn his recollections and experiences as a Holocaust survivor into a series of strips.

The individual chapters of what would become Maus began appearing at the end of the decade as monochrome mini-comic inserts in Spiegelman’s experimental and increasingly prestigious art-house anthology Raw! with the first collected edition of the scratchy, primally evocative chapters released in 1986 and a concluding volume published in 1991.

This is a graphic masterwork everybody should read and I’m hesitant to give too much away in a review, but in the hope of enticing any new readers or late hold-outs here are the bare bones…

My Father Bleeds History introduces the young Spiegelman and his father Vladek in 1958, in the sparse and primitive anthropomorphic style that did so much to rightly shade this tale as “History” and “Autobiography” rather than “Fiction” on library and bookshop shelves.

‘The Sheik’ re-introduces them both decades later.

Vladek is a crusty old kvetch even his son finds hard to deal with. The old man’s second wife Mala suffers greatly with her husband’s odd, penny-pinching, bigoted and fiercely independent ways and manners. Over an uncomfortable dinner Art convinces his dad to speak about his life during wartime…

It all began with good times in Czestochowa, a Polish city close to the German border and relates how the youthful, stylish, even rakish entrepreneur found true love whilst pursuing and winning the wealthy Anja Zylberberg, whilst ‘The Honeymoon’ detailed the frail woman’s clandestine connection to the pre-war Communists, the birth of their first child Richieu – paralleled with some poignant modern day interjections regarding Art’s own birth – and presented the first inklings of what was to come when the happy couple visited Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1938, culminating in Vladek’s being drafted into the Polish Army in August 1939…

With his contemporary home-life deteriorating and ill health overtaking him Vladek relates how he became a ‘Prisoner of War’ almost immediately after induction into the military and separated from the Christian Poles in the German POW camp. Suffering extreme hardship and particular abuse, the Jewish prisoners were offered the chance to volunteer for labour assignments in exchange for better conditions.

The job was literally moving mountains…

Whilst working for the invaders Vladek had a vision which carried him through all the horrors of the conflict, and in the short-term led to his repatriation when the German work project finished. Even with the Jewish workers dispatched back to Poland, Vladek knew the Nazis had not finished with the Jews…

By guile and sheer enterprise he made his way back to Anja and Richieu in Sosnowiec and began a brief career on the wrong side of the law as new rules and old prejudices made life increasingly difficult for Jewish citizens…

In 1941 ‘The Noose Tightens’ with his friends and acquaintances enduring increasing hardship but still refusing to see the way the winds were blowing. Vladek carried on ducking and diving to keep his family alive, but the occupiers were becoming ever bolder and entire enclaves of Jews were being transported on the flimsiest pretexts. The Spiegelman’s were compelled to give Richieu away to keep him safe. Now Vladek was a full-time trader of illegal and contraband goods, constantly risking his life. Even with the transportations gathering pace most Jews believed they were merely being deported or exiled, but Vladek began preparing a hiding place for the family: a bunker to live out the war. In August 1942 a mass “passport inspection” in Sosnowiec practically emptied the town of Jews – an event for which Spiegelman’s step-mother Mala offered her own participant survivor’s perspective…

‘Mouse Holes’ opens with Art having to referee Vladek and Mala’s latest confrontation and incorporates the 1972 prologue strip ‘Prisoner on the Hell Planet’ which depicted the events following Anja’s suicide in 1968. When Vladek reads the strip it prompts him to a new level of revelation…

In 1943 the final round-up of Polish Jews began and with daily atrocities mounting, the family fostering Richieu chose death rather than the camps. Vladek and Anja took to their bunker with their remaining friends but after torturous weeks they too were captured leaving the couple alone, desperate and hunted…

The first volume concludes with ‘Mouse Trap’ as in the present day Vladek and Mala’s relationship deteriorates even further with Art caught impossibly in the middle – leading the embittered and belligerent old man to finally disclose how he and Anja were caught masquerading as non-Jews and sold to the Nazis by gangsters…

In March 1944 they were sent to Auschwitz and separated…

The second volume And Here My Troubles Began (From Mauschwitz to the Catskills and Beyond) concentrates equally between Vladek’s memories and his catastrophic present-day (1979) relationship with second wife Mala, beginning with ‘Mauschwitz’ as Art was dragged to the Catskills after Vladek faked a heart attack. In truth the crisis was that Mala has left him and emptied one of his bank accounts…

After much acrimony and acting out Vladek buys his son’s attention and goodwill by revealing how life in Auschwitz worked and how even in the worst of all possible situations, a smart operator could soften the pain and even perhaps profit whilst surviving…

‘Auschwitz (Time Flies)’ creatively jumps to recount Vladek’s death in 1982 and the reaction to the public sensation which followed the release of the first volume, before returning to the death-camp where Vladek discovered that an adjoining camp – Auschwitz II/Birkenau – held women prisoners and that Anja was still alive…

Exerting all his wiles and scams Vladek manages to get himself assigned there as a repairman and is reunited – albeit through barbed wire – with his wife. Meanwhile all around them, the Nazis were frantically exercising their horrific “Final Solution”…

With Vladek quickly driving Art and his wife Françoise crazy ‘…And Here My Troubles Began…’ simultaneously explores the ongoing father-son relationship as the old man gradually describes the last days of the death-camp, with daily privation constantly punctuated by the rapidly approaching sound of Allied artillery getting ever closer.

The terrified guards moved the prisoners in ghastly forced marches into Germany and a new camp where the worst atrocities occurred after the survivors were forced onto packed cattle-trains as the Jew were moved towards their final fate in Dachau…

Enduring, brutality, betrayal and disease the prisoners waited for the inevitable end but inexplicably found themselves again herded onto trains and shuttled towards Switzerland…

‘Saved’ sees the bewildering old man at his anti-social worst whilst describing how they were released near the border, in an exchange for German POWs, only to suffer one final betrayal before being found by American soldiers…

Free and safe, Vladek shares with his son intimate details of the friends and family forever lost before the final chapter ‘The Second Honeymoon’ begins months later with a frantic call from Mala. She and Vladek had reconciled in Florida but now he was sick again and had discharged himself from hospital, determined to be treated in New York. Art reluctantly travels South to accompany his father and learns of the immediate post-war years when the last survivors travelled to Sweden and settled there, once again depending on his guile and ability to make deals to thrive.

Eventually Vladek and Anja obtained visas for America and emigrated…

From his sickbed the tired survivor at last reveals the magical events of the immediate post-war days. Of life in a Displaced Persons camp, relapsing into typhus, contracting diabetes and being assigned to work details rebuilding Germany, ending with his journey back to Sosnowiec where Anja, having consulted a Gypsy fortune teller, was waiting…

Maus is a fabulous, horrible, poignant and captivating examination of not just the most appalling moments of modern history and worst examples of human depravity but also how tribulation shapes and recasts survivors: not merely a brilliant comic story but a magnificent example of narrative as history. It a tale no one should be unfamiliar with.
© 1973, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 Art Spiegelman. All rights reserved.

Add Toner – a Cometbus Collection


By Aaron Cometbus (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-753-2

Before the advent of computers and the internet gave everybody with a keyboard and an ounce of determination the ability to become writers and publishers, only those truly dedicated, driven or Full-On Compulsive individualists self-published.

…Or those with something to say.

Aaron Cometbus (not his real name: use your search engine if you absolutely must find out about the man, but the best route would be to read his wonderful work) has been a drummer, roadie, author, designer, traveller, raconteur, social historian, bookseller and cultural anthropologist of the American Punk movement from long before he began his hugely acclaimed and long-running ‘Zine Cometbus in 1981.

In the decades over which his hand-crafted publication has been released (as photocopy pamphlet, offset magazine and even audio-mag) his writing and art have covered every aspect of the life of the contemporary outsider from self-exploratory introspection, reportage, criticism, oral history, music journalism, philosophical discourse and even unalloyed fiction – from epigram to novella, news bulletin to chatty remembrance – usually in a distinctive hand-lettered style all his own, augmented by cartoons, photo-collage, comics and a dozen other monochrome techniques beloved of today’s art-house cognoscenti.

Cometbus tells stories and has been doing so since the first death of the Punk Rock movement at the end of the 1970s, but the material is and always has been about real, involved people, not trendy, commercialised bastardisations.

In 2002 Last Gasp released Despite Everything, a 600+ page Omnibus distillation of the best bits from the first 43 issues (and still available) and now, with the publication of Cometbus #54,a second compilation has been released.

Add Toner, which samples issues #44-46, 46½, and 47-48 is a far more comprehensive collection with stories, reminiscences, interviews, artworks and added features such as the novella ‘Lanky’ and a selection of previously withheld and self-censored pieces which simply captivate and enthral.

Particularly informative and moving for me are the collected illustrated interviews with the “staff” and patrons of punk watering hole and communal meeting space Dead End Café from #46 (gloriously redolent and evocative of my own art-school punk band hang-out The Horn of Plenty in St. Albans) and a fabulous three-chapter oral history examination of the post-hippie “Back to nature” movement divided into interviews with ‘The Kids’, ‘The Adults’ and an appreciation of ‘Back to the Land’: a fascinating period in American history neglected by just about everybody, probably since most of those flower-power Arcadians and disenchanted just-plain-folks grew more pot than potatoes…

With graphic contributions and supplementary interviews from Phil Lollar, Nate Powell, Katie Glicksberg, Idon, Lawrence Livermore & Michael Silverberg, this is a gloriously honest and seditiously entertaining view of life from the trenches: happy, sad, funny and shocking…

Eccentric, eclectic and essentially, magically picayune, Add Toner is a fabulous cultural doctorate from the Kerouac of m-m-my generation…

© Aaron Cometbus. All rights reserved.

Hearts of Africa


By Cindy Goff & Rafael Nieves & Seitu Hayden (Slave Labor Graphics)
ISBN/ASIN: B0006S0NKI

After the rapid spread of specialised comics retailers during the early 1980s, many start-up publishing companies began competing for the attention and cash of punters who had grown accustomed – or resigned – to getting their on-going picture-periodicals from DC, Marvel, Archie and/or Harvey Comics.

At the same time European, Japanese and domestic non-mainstream material had been creeping in from such young upstarts as WaRP Graphics, Pacific, Eclipse, Capital, Now, Comico, Dark Horse, First and many others, producing a creative globalisation in what had once been a purely anodised and painfully insular Middle-American milieu. New talent, established stars and fresh ideas all found a thriving forum, open to new ideas and different takes on what had come before. Thus when a realistic, biographical, non-fantasy small-scale drama set in the exotic wonderland of Africa began to appear, certain sections of the comics cognoscenti were ready and willing to give the new thing a shot.

It certainly didn’t hurt that it was so compellingly good…

As I’ve constantly stated, the period was an incredibly fertile time for American comics-creators. It was as if an entire new industry had been born with the proliferation of the Direct Sales market and dedicated specialist shops; new companies were experimenting with format and content and potential fans even had a bit of extra cash to play with after they’d bought their regular four-colour fixes.

Moreover much of the “kid’s stuff” stigma had abated and the English-speaking countries were finally catching up to the rest of the world in acknowledging that sequential narrative might just be a for-real actual art-form. There were even signs that whole new comics-genres might be being born…

One of the most critically acclaimed, profoundly moving and just plain fun features came from an industry innocent named Cindy Goff who, with long-time comics aficionado Rafael Nieves and extremely talented artistic newcomer Seitu Hayden, produced a mildly fictionalised account of her two years as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Africa which took the comic world by storm.

Actually it should have but didn’t: however those in the know like Archie Goodwin and Neil Gaiman spotted the potential and sheer quality of the feature and championed it for years.

Eventually Epic Comics published a pair of all-new full-colour graphic novels – Tales from the Heart of Africa: The Temporary Natives in 1990 and A Tale From the Heart of Africa: Bloodlines (1992 and nominated for two Eisner Awards: Best Single Issue, Self-Contained Story and Best Graphic Album-New).

The original little epic began with two self-published issues as Entropy Enterprises in 1987 before Tales From the Heart moved over to Slave Labor Graphics, who were rapidly establishing themselves as one of the most innovative and outré players amongst the burgeoning morass of independent publishers. They produced a further 9 issues between 1988-1994 before finally calling it a day; no doubt as bewildered and disappointed as the rest of us at the stubborn intransigence of a comics clientele which refused to see beyond busty sword-swinging bad-girls and cybernetic, gun-toting mutant maniacs…

In 1994 Slave Labor published one last hurrah in the form of this stunning oversized (278 x 218mm) monochrome paperback, reprinting the first three instalments of the saga complete with an informative afterword by Goff and an impassioned introduction by Gaiman.

From 1983-1985 Cindy Goff and a select group of young Americans were trained and then let loose to work in the strangest place they had ever been. Those personal experiences were synthesised for comics readers beginning with ‘Prologue: Every Now & Then…’ as sheltered Minneapolis girl Cathy Grant wakes up and realises that she is really now a resident of the Central African Republic…

Her mind wanders back to the unique training and conditioning which began in ‘D.C. to Disease’, meeting fellow volunteers Karen, Constance, Julie and others ranging from qualified nurses to demure debutantes. The trials of learning French and the native tongue Shango are balanced by the nauseating terror of discovering all about the various disgusting bugs and maladies that can kill or debilitate, before finally they all embark for Africa in ‘Silverbox!’

Indoctrination, acclimatisation and assimilation follow before ‘Later in the Daze’ further hilariously and empathically examines the effects of culture shock on the pampered waifs fresh from the New World…

Learning daily and rapidly realising they are as much students as teachers to the “primitive” Africans, the volunteers slowly become comfortable until after only a few months the girls are split up for their final postings and Cathy learns to stand on her two feet in ‘Fits & Starts’

Although a perfect place to end the initial collection there were no others and the further tales remain uncollected to this day.

Later episodes examined the ultimate inefficacy of the Peace Corps Program and the horrific reign of Jean-Bédel Bokassa (a despotic dictator believed insane by the rest of the world and a cannibal by his own people), but these opening sallies dwell gloriously and charmingly on the eye-opening wonder of well-meaning innocents abroad in an utterly alien environment: an advertisement for American intervention the country should be proud to commemorate.

This delightful true tale is joyously filled with good-hearted people trying their best to understand each other and get on with life in harmony. Try and find any other non-kiddie American comicbook of the period that can say that…

Emphatically human, effectively documentarian and addictively readable, Tales From the Heart is long-overdue for a complete collected edition and the need for such illuminating stories and attitudes has never been greater. At least this time the genre of graphic autobiography is recognised and valued and we know that there is a ready audience for something more than implausible men in tights constantly refighting the same battle…
™ & © 1994 Cindy Goff & Rafael Nieves. Cover © 1994 Jill Thompson.

Willie and Joe: Back Home


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

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 talent.

He was in controvertibly 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; a nation where women were expected to surrender their war-time freedoms and independences and become again servants and baby machines, happy to cook suppers in return for the new labour-saving consumer goods America now needed to sell, sell, sell: a nation 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: celebrity hero, youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history, with a lucrative 3-year syndicated newspaper contract and Hollywood clamouring for him.

Unfortunately, the artist 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 cartoon as a soapbox, Mauldin attacked in bitterly brilliant barrages the maltreatment and sidelining of actual soldiers (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.

The 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 and America’s erstwhile allies demonised, whilst everywhere politicians and demagogues were rewriting recent history for their own advantage… His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it, 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 the iniquities and stupidities inflicted on returning servicemen, attacked self-aggrandising politicians, 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. He 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. 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., disappeared, 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 and with a new liberal outlet changed his tactics 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 awhile (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 and worked 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).

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 and 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 as pertinent now as 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.

With Willie & Joe: the WWII Years, 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.

Willie and Joe: the WWII Years


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

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

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he popularised – giving a trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the sharpest of Sharp Ends. Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually revealed in all ways and manners the upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret.

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

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

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

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

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

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts from1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink Root Beers and tell war stories with an old pal. When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense mostly monochrome (with some some very rare colour and sepia items) softcover compendium – 704 pages, 229 x 178mm – collects all his known wartime cartoons originally released in two hardback editions in 2008, featuring not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

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

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

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness whilst highlighting the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of the ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around… Moreover Mauldin never patronises the civilians or demonises the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat are “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

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

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

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distant brass-hats and politicians send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home, we should finally be able to restore the man and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, his message is never going to be out of date…

© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Eye of the Majestic Creature


By Leslie Stein (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-413-9

Help Wanted: Girl cartoonist seeks meaning of contemporary existence and like minded individuals to share bewilderment and revelations with.

Interests/Hobbies include: drinking, counting sand, growing stuff, antiquing for pop culture “trash”, drinking, meaningful conversations with musical instruments, playing board games with same, recreational herbal intoxicants, reminiscing about wild-times with gal-pals and old cronies, drinking, visiting difficult relatives…

After graduating from the New York School of Visual Arts Leslie Stein began producing unbelievably addictive cartoon strips in the self-published Yeah, It Is. Winning a Xeric Grant for her efforts, she started the even better comicbook Eye of the Majestic Creature, blending autobiographical self-discovery, surreal free-association, philosophical ruminations, nostalgic reminiscences and devastatingly dry wit to describe life filtered through a seductive meta-fictional interior landscape. This lady laconically tans under vastly different suns and the results are enchanting and entrancing.

This volume collects the first four issues in a dreamy, beautifully realised manner of visual mood-music – loose, flowing line-work, detailed stippling, hypnotic pattern-building and honest-to-gosh, representational line-drawing, each at the most appropriate juncture – eschewing chronological narrative for a easy, breezy epigrammatic mode of delivery.

As seen in the opening vignettes ‘The Country is Calling!’, ‘Seashell Arrives’ and ‘Someone is Yelling At Me over the Phone: You Are Disgusting!’ Larrybear is a girl deliberately and determinedly on her own, trying to establish her uniquely singular way of getting by. She has friends (most especially her talking guitar Marshmallow) interests and ambitions of a sort, but just isn’t looking for an average life, just more companions to share with …

In ‘Fun Time with “I Eat Peanut Butter Between Naps”’ the cast expands as Larrybear goes walkabout, beginning with house-sitting for some very individualistic friends…

Encountering ‘Insanity at Every Turn’ she travels across America to visit her difficult family in Chicago and very-welcome old school friends, taking in San Francisco too before settling for New York in ‘Back For More’

Delivered in mesmerising, oversized (7½ x 11″/192 x 280mm) black & white, these incisive, absurdist, whimsically charming and pictorially intoxicating invitations into a singularly creative mind and fabulous alternative reality are a glorious rewarding cartoon experience and one no serious fan of fun can afford to miss.

© 2011 Leslie Stein. All Rights Reserved.