The Marquis of Anaon volume 1: The Isle of Brac

By Vehlmann & Bonhomme: coloured by Delf and translated by Mark Bence (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-255-3 (PB Album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Daring Dip into the Dark Underside of History… 9/10

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Scion of an artistic family, Matthieu Bonhomme received his degree in Applied Arts in 1992, before learning the comics trade working in the atelier of western and historical strip specialist Christian Rossi. Le Marquis d’Anaon was Bonhomme’s first regular series, running from 2002-2008, after which he began writing as well as illustrating a variety of tales from L’Âge de Raison, Le Voyage d’Esteban, The Man Who Shot Lucky Luke and others.

So, what’s it about? Imagine the X-Files set circa 1720s in France during the Age of Enlightenment, and played as a solo piece by a young hero growing reluctantly into the role of crusading troubleshooter…

Nomadic, middle class Jean-Baptiste Poulain is the son of a merchant, a disciple of Cartesian logic and former medical student. Educated but impoverished, he accepts a post to tutor the son of the mysterious Baron of Brac.

As he approaches the windswept, isolated island off the Brittany Coast, he cannot understand the fear and outrage he sees in the downtrodden villagers who secretly call their master “the Ogre”, and believe him to be a visiting nobleman. He is utterly astounded by how violently overprotective they are regarding their children…

The story gradually unfolds under ever-mounting tension, as the young man endures suspicion and hostility from the lowest classes, whilst slowly fostering a deep appreciation for the forward-thinking rationalist Baron. Soon, however, his student Nolwen is found murdered and, amid the heightened tensions, Poulain learns that this is not the first body to be found…

From then on, it’s hard to determine who is friend or foe and although a trained rationalist, Poulain begins to suspect unworldly forces are in play…

Conversations with the mariner known as the Storyteller lead to the tutor being attacked by villagers – or perhaps just thieves? – and, after barely escaping, the scholar sees murdered Nolwen before passing out…

He wakes under the Baron’s care and resolves to leave at the first opportunity. When housemaid Ninon begs him to take her with him, an incredible saga of unremitting horror is exposed, leading to Brac hunting his fleeing employees and trapping them in his hidden laboratory.

Here Poulain discovers the appalling experiments the Baron has indulged in, and the astounding answer to the “ghosts” who walk the island. When the Baron and his terrifying flunkey come for him, fortune favours the tutor and apparently divine justice is rendered unto all…

In the aftermath, Poulain escapes the island alone, as much to avoid the grateful fearful villagers as to resume his life. He cannot, sadly, outrun the title they have bestowed upon him: Le Marquis d’Anaon – the Marquis of Lost Souls…

With potent overtones of Jane Eyre and similar traditional gothic romances, L’Île de Brac was the first of five albums (all available in paperback and digital formats) tracing the development of a true hero against darkness and human venality. Moody, compelling and utterly enthralling, this is a spooky series well-deserving of a greater audience.
Original edition © Dargaud Paris 2002 by Vehlmann & Bonhomme. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 by Cinebook Ltd.

1066: William the Conqueror

By Patrick Weber & Emanuele Tenderini, translated by Pierre Bison and Rebekah Paulovch-Boucly (Europe Comics)

Although I’ve never for a moment considered history dry or dull, I can readily appreciate the constant urge to personalise characters or humanise events and movements, especially when the job is undertaken with care, respect, diligence and a healthy amount of bravado.

Excellent case in point is this superb, digital-only retelling from 2011, postulating on individual motives and actions whilst relating the events leading up to the most significant moment in English – if not full-on British – history (apart from all the other ones). Other individual and national opinions may apply…

In case you were one of those who were asleep, surreptitiously ogling a classmate who didn’t even acknowledge your existence, or carving your name into a desk or a body part: on October 14th 1066, a force of French invaders led by William, Duke of Normandy clashed with the forces of Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson in East Sussex near Hastings (most historians agree that the actual bloodletting happened in a place later dubbed “Battle” and commemorated thereafter by the edifice of Battle Abbey).

Translated into a compelling and lovely digital edition thanks to the benevolence of the collective imprint Europe Comics, 1066: William the Conqueror opens with historian and author Patrick Weber’s foreword ‘Before Setting Sail’, revealing how the magnificent Bayeux Tapestry closely inspired the fictionalised account he crafted with veteran comics illustrator Emanuele Tenderini (Dylan Dog, Wondercity, World of Lumina).

The story is gripping and savvy, putting flesh and bones on a wide range of complex characters all trapped in a web of royal intrigue and savage power politics, long before Halley’s comet appeared in the skies over northern Europe more than a millennium ago. The war of nerves between the kings and kingmakers of proto-England, machinations of the ferocious Godwinson clan and untrammelled ambitions of the Norman Duke play out against the pitiful backdrop of a rich and powerful country suffering for lack of coherent – or even barely capable – leadership. The parallels to today are painful to behold and we all know how it turned out.

Here though is a possible explanation of why…

Most marvellous of all, this is also a brilliantly compelling adventure yarn with readers not sure who to root for before the big action finish…

Adding lustre to the tale is bonus section ‘Deep Within the Inner Stitchings’: an accessible exploration of the Tapestry accompanied by character sketches and designs.

Potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising, this a retelling any fan of history and lover of comics will adore,
© 2015 – Le Lombard – Tenderini & Weber. All rights reserved.

Hellboy: Weird Tales

By Mike Mignola, Fabian Nicieza, John Cassaday, Eric Powell, Tom Sniegoski, Tommy Lee Edwards, Randy Stradley, Joe Casey, Sara Ryan, Ron Marz, J. H. Williams III, Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender, Will Pfeifer, John Arcudi, Jill Thompson, Matt Hollingsworth, Alex Maleev, Jason Pearson, Scott Morse, Akira Yoshida & Kia Asamiya, Bob Fingerman, Doug Petrie, Evan Dorkin, Andi Watson, Mark Ricketts, Kev Walker, Craig Thompson, Guy Davis, Stefano Raffaele, Ovi Nedelcu, Seung Kim, Steve Parkhouse, Steve Lieber, Jim Starlin, P. Craig Russell, Simeon Wilkins, Roger Langridge, Gene Colan, Eric Wright, Dave Stewart, Clem Robins (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1616555108 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-121-8

After the establishment of the comicbook direct market system, there was a huge outburst of independent publishers in America and, as with all booms, a lot of them went bust. Some few, however, were more than flash-in-the-pans and grew to become major players in the new world order.

Arguably, the most successful was Dark Horse Comics who fully embraced the shocking new concept of creator ownership (amongst other radical ideas). This concept – and their professional outlook and attitude – drew a number of big-name creators to the new company and in 1994 Frank Miller & John Byrne formally instituted the sub-imprint Legend for those projects major creators wanted to produce their own way and at their own pace.

Over the next four years the brand counted Mike Mignola, Art Adams, Mike Allred, Paul Chadwick, Dave Gibbons and Geof Darrow amongst its ranks; generating a wealth of superbly entertaining and groundbreaking series and concepts. Unquestionably the most impressive, popular and long-lived was Mignola’s supernatural thriller Hellboy.

The hulking monster-hunter debuted in San Diego Comic-Con Comics #2 (August 1993) before formally launching in 4-issue miniseries Seed of Destruction (with Byrne scripting over Mignola’s plot and art). Colourist Mark Chiarello added layers of mood with his understated hues. Once the fans saw what was on offer there was no going back…

What You Need to Know: on December 23rd 1944 American Patriotic Superhero Torch of Liberty and a squad of US Rangers intercepted and almost foiled a satanic ceremony predicted by Allied parapsychologist Professors Trevor Bruttenholm and Malcolm Frost.

They were working in conjunction with influential medium Lady Cynthia Eden-Jones. Those stalwarts were waiting at a ruined church in East Bromwich, England when a demon baby with a huge stone right hand appeared in a fireball. The startled soldiers took the infernal yet seemingly innocent waif into custody.

Far, far further north, off the Scottish Coast on Tarmagant Island, a cabal of Nazi Sorcerers roundly berated ancient wizard Grigori Rasputin whose Project Ragna Rok ritual seemed to have failed. The Russian was unfazed. Events were unfolding as he wished…

Five decades later, the baby had grown into a mighty warrior engaging in a never-ending secret war: the world’s most successful paranormal investigator. Bruttenholm spent years lovingly raising the weird foundling whilst forming an organisation to destroy unnatural threats and supernatural monsters – The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. “Hellboy” quickly became its lead agent.

Moreover, as the decades of his career unfolded, Hellboy gleaned tantalising snatches of his origins, hints that he was an infernal creature of dark portent: born a demonic messiah, somehow destined to destroy the world and bring back ancient powers of evil. It is a fate he despises and utterly rejects, even though the universe keeps inexorably and relentlessly moving him towards it…

Hellboy was swiftly attributed the status of ‘legend’ in the comics world, starting as the particular vision of a single creator and, by judicious selection of assistants and deputies, cementing a solid take on the character in the hearts of the public. That’s just how it worked for Superman, Batman and Spider-Man and a big part of the same phenomenon was the eagerness of fellow creators to play in the same universe. Just how that and this collection came about is detailed in Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction preceding a blazing welter of strange and bizarre entertainment…

Originally an 8-part comics series wherein a star-studded cast of creators tell their own stories in their own varied styles under the watchful supervision of the big cheese himself in his unique infernal playground, Hellboy’s Weird Tales was gathered into a 2-volume set in 2004. This luxurious hardback and digital reissue originated in 2014, supplementing the original miniseries with back-up stories from Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2-4.

Dramas that add to the canon nestle alongside bizarre and humorous vignettes that simply live for the moment and begin with ‘How Koschei Became Deathless’ crafted by Mignola, Guy Davis, Dave Stewart & Clem Robins. The filler from Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #2 & 3 details the valiant trials of a noble warrior and the bad bargain he made, after which a crafty man turns the tables on the world’s wickedest witch in ‘Baba Yaga’s Feast’ (H:TWH #4).

The mother of monsters returns in Fabian Nicieza & Stefano Raffaele’s ‘The Children of the Black Mound’ wherein a future soviet dictator has his own youthful and life-altering encounter with the queen of magic.

John Cassaday spoofs classic newspaper strips with rollicking pulp science hero in ‘Lobster Johnson: Action Detective Adventure’, after which Nazi-bashing nonsense, Eric Powell explores Hellboy’s childhood and early monster-mashing in ‘Midnight Cowboy’ whilst Tom Sniegoski & Ovi Nedelcu raise our spirits with an older ghostbuster failing to tackle a playful posse of spooks in ‘Haunted’

A classical doomed East/West war romance ghost tragedy is settled by Tommy Lee Edwards & Don Cameron in ‘A Love Story’, setting the scene for more Japanese myth busting in ‘Hot’ by Randy Stradley & Seung Kim wherein the B.P.R.D. star clashes with an unhappy Tengu water spirit inhabiting a mountain hot spring…

Joe Casey & Steve Parkhouse then celebrate the glory days of test pilots and the right stuff in ‘Flight Risk’, when Hellboy gets involved in a competition to see who’s got the best jetpack, after which ‘Family Story’ (Sara Ryan & Steve Lieber) sees him acting as counsellor to the mum and dad of a rather diabolical kid, before we slip into all-out arcane action to retrieve a time bending artefact from a Guatemalan temple in ‘Shattered’ by Ron Marz & Jim Starlin.

A stakeout with an over-amorous fellow agent leads to unanticipated consequences in ‘Love is Scarier than Death’ by J. H. Williams III, whilst Will Pfeifer & P. Craig Russell’s dalliance with an undying theatre troupe traps our hellish hero in a ‘Command Performance’.

The entertainment motif continues in John Cassaday’s ‘Big-Top-Hell-Boy’ as the B.P.R.D. try to exorcise a mass-murderous circus in Germany before Hellboy and Abe Sapien battle zombies in the ‘Theatre of the Dead’ by Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender, illustrated by Simeon Wilkins.

The aquatic avenger sort of stars in comedic daydream ‘Abe Sapien: Star of the B.P.R.D.’ by John Arcudi & Roger Langridge, after which Jill Thompson takes ‘Fifteen Minutes’ to offer us the other side’s view of the eternal struggle whilst Matt Hollingsworth &Alex Maleev show us that the struggle against evil starts before we’re even legally alive in ‘Still Born’

Indomitable psychic firestarter Liz Sherman acknowledges personal loss and the dreadful cost of the job in Jason Pearson’s ‘The Dread Within’ before Scott Morse conjures up a calmer moment for Hellboy in ‘Cool Your Head’ before Akira Yoshida & Kia Asamiya return us to ghost-riddled Japan for an unconventional duel with childish spirits in ‘Toy Soldier’

Bob Fingerman’s ‘Downtime’ pits the cream of the B.P.R.D. against the vexatious thing inhabiting the office vending machine, after which Doug Petrie & Gene Colan follow Liz and Abe on typical ‘Friday’, even as artificial hero Roger the Homunculus foolishly seeks ‘Professional Help’ during a devious demonic assault (as recorded by Evan Dorkin).

Andi Watson tackles Hellboy’s infernal heritage and possible future during a social function where he is – as always – the ‘Party Pooper’, after which team leader/psychologist Kate Corrigan endures an acrimonious reunion with her dead-but-still-dreadful mother in ‘Curse of the Haunted Dolly’ by Mark Ricketts & Eric Wright, whilst Kev Walker pits bodiless spirit Johann Krauss against a thing from outer space in ‘Long Distance Caller’.

The narrative portion of this stellar fear & fun fest rightly focuses on Hellboy himself as Craig Thompson takes the warrior on an extended tour of the underworld in ‘My Vacation in Hell’ but there’s still a wealth of wonder to enjoy as Mike Mignola’s Hellboy Weird Tales Gallery offers a selection of potent images by Cameron Stewart, Maleev, Dave Stevens with Dave Stewart, Steve Purcell, William Stout, Leinil Francis Yu, Phil Noto, Gary Fields with Michelle Madsen, J. H. Williams III, Rick Cortes with Anjin, Galen Showman with Michelle Madsen, Ben Templesmith, Frank Cho with Dave Stewart, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Lee Bermejo with Dave Stewart and Scott Morse.

Baroque, grandiose, scary, hilarious and even deeply moving, these vignettes alternate suspenseful slow-boiling tension with explosive catharsis, and trenchant absurdity, proving Hellboy to be a fully rounded character who can mix apocalyptic revelation with astounding adventure to enthral horror addicts and action junkies alike or enthral jaded fun-lovers in search of a momentary chuckle. This is a classic compendium of dark delights you simply must have.
™ & © 2003, 2009, 2014 Mike Mignola. Weird Tales is ® Weird Tales, Ltd.

Frank: The Incredible Story of a Forgotten Dictatorship

By Ximo Abadía, translated by Esther Villardón Grande (Europe Comics)
No ISBN (digital-only edition)

In these days of unrelenting crisis, a relentless harrowing of democratic principles and the seeming triumph of imbecilic venality, it’s perhaps of some comfort to realise that, in many ways, it’s always been like this…

On view today is another Europe Comics digital-only edition from the pan-continental collective imprint which collaborates to bring a wealth of fresh and classic material to English-speaking fans. Moreover, if you like your books solid and substantial, it’s a happy note to discover some adventures are being picked by companies like Cinebook, Top Shelf and IDW.
Not this one, though. Not yet…

Illustrator Ximo Abadía was born in Alicante in 1983, and reared in both that rural countryside idyll and the seasonally-cosmopolitan resort metropolis of Benidorm. Upon reaching 18 years of age he moved to Madrid for his further education. His first graphic novel – Cartulinas de colores – came out in 2009, and in 2011 follow-up CLONk saw him nominated for the Best New Author Prize at the Barcelona Comics Festival. That was topped a year later by La Bipolaridad del chocolate.

In 2018, he turned his masterful eye for stunning visuals and compelling symbolic design onto a period in his country’s recent history that seems to have been carefully, wilfully and voluntarily whitewashed from history. That book earned Abadía the Best Illustrated Album award at the 2018 Heroes Comic Con.

Feeling like a seditiously subtle children’s primer, Frank: La increíble historia de una dictadura olvidada examines with garish glee and irresistible simplicity, the rise and demise of Generalíssimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde and his Nazi/Italian National Fascist Party backed totalitarian reign as Caudillo of Spain from 1939-1945. In strident imagery the author also asks why nobody in the country today is willing or comfortable to talk about those years when the country seemingly vanished from the wider world…

Stunningly evocative, the parade of iconic images deftly presents events and synthesises opinion: making no judgements but nevertheless delivering a shattering testimony and appraisal of the depths some men can descend to, and how entire populations and nations can be complicit in cover-ups in the name of an easy life…

This not a history book. It’s a giant, irritant question mark no one is comfortable acknowledging. And as we all know: things left to fester don’t get better, they erupt in poison and soon spread…
© 2019 DIBBUKS EDICIONE – Abadía. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Captain Pugwash: Best Pirate Jokes

By Ian D. Rylett & Ian Hillyard (Red Fox/Random House)
ISBN: 978-1-862-30793-3

The problem with pirates is that they don’t know when enough’s enough, so here’s another review to reconnoitre: tangentially celebrating the greatest buccaneer of all…

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

Born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, Ryan was the son of a diplomat, served during WWII in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the company’s glossy distaff alternative Girl, but most especially in the pages of the legendary “boys’ paper” The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950, Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain Pugwash – The story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him. Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran (or more accurately capered and fell about) until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship for Ryan who had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent as a full-page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from Eagle #16. (I really must reinvestigate the solidly stolid sleuth too sometime soon…)

Tweed ran as a page for three years until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I mean old Horatio Pugwash but it could so easily be Ryan) made the jump to children’s picture books. He was an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, and somehow also found time to be head cartoonist for The Catholic Herald for forty years.

A Pirate Story was first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin for further editions and more adventures. It was the first of a vast (sorry, got away with myself again there!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects.

Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, plus Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comics world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

The primary Pugwash is very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations to illuminate a particular moment. But by the publication of Pugwash the Smuggler (1982) entire sequences were lavishly painted comic strips, with as many as eight panels per page, and including word balloons. A fitting circularity to his interlocking careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

After A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968: later reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high quality animations to a tight deadline.

He began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – and all dim), instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Captain Pugwash strip in The Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and the aforementioned Sir Prancelot. There were also adaptations of some of his many other children’s books and in 1997 Pugwash was rebooted in an all-new CGI animated TV series.

The first book – A Pirate Story – sets the scene with a delightful clown’s romp as the so-very-motley crew of the Black Pig sail in search of buried treasure, only to fall into a cunning trap set by the truly nasty corsair Cut-Throat Jake. Luckily, Tom is as smart as his shipmates and Captain are not…

A 2008 edition of A Pirate Story from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list of the good (ish) Captain’s exploits that you should make it your remaining life’s work to unearth…:

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991). They are all pearls beyond price and a true treasure of graphic excellence…

Although currently out of print, the assembled Pugwash canon (the only sort this band of rapscallions can be trusted with) are still widely available through online vendors and should be a prize you set your hearts on acquiring.

As you might expect, such success breeds ancillary projects, and cleaving close to the wind and running in the master’s wake is this minor mirthquake that no sassy brat could possibly resist. Compiled by Ian D. Rylett and copiously illustrated by Ian Hillyard in stark monochrome, it’s a fairly standard cartoon joke book as beloved by generations of youngsters and loathed beyond endurance by parents, guardians, older siblings and every other adult whose patience is proven quite exhaustible…

Divided into themed chapters ‘The Captain’s Crackers’, ‘Jakes’ Jests’, ‘Blundering Bucaneersk, KHysterics in the Harbour’, ‘Fishy Funnies’ and ‘All Aboard’, the level of wit is almost lethal in its predictability and vintage (Q: why did the irate sailor go for a pee? A: he wanted to be a pirate.) but the relentless pace and remorseless progression is actually irresistible in delivery.

With the world crashing down around us and the water levels inexorably rising, we don’t have that much to laugh at, so why don’t you go and find something to take your minds off the chaos to come? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary soul, you will too…
Pugwash books © 1957-2009 John Ryan and (presumably) the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.
Best Pirate Jokes © Britt-Allcroft (Development Ltd) Limited 2000. All rights worldwide Britt-Allcroft (Development Ltd) Limited.

A. Einstein: The Poetry of Real

By Manuel García Iglesias & Marwan Kahil, translated by Peter Russella (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2202-1 (HB)

Some people are too just too big for one biography. They affect the world in so many ways, and are so multi-faceted, that you simply can’t grasp the enormity of their existence in one go. Such a person was Albert Einstein who was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14th 1879 and who died on April 18th 1955 at Princeton University in the USA.

Between those dates he revolutionised the world, changed the accepted belief on universal reality, and grew into a saddened man whose great message went misunderstood and largely unheeded…

This absorbing luxurious monochrome hardcover (also available in digital formats) – whilst acknowledging the key intellectual breakthroughs – concentrates on the lesser known thoughts and attitudes of the most important being in human history. Over the troubled years of his childhood and formal education, his self-exile to Switzerland, clerical toil and part-time re-evaluation of the world’s workings, we see his development whilst meeting men like Max Talmud, Michele Besso and Marcel Grossman: friends and mentors whose relationships shaped Albert, his processes of cogitation and deduction and especially how he viewed the morality of the beings who inhabited his reconfigured universe…

Darting up and down his chronological timeline during the most globally-dangerous age of scientific enquiry, writer Marwan Kahil and artist Manuel García Iglesias – quoting heavily from Einstein’s many interviews, speeches and correspondence via a parade of social meetings, lectures and conversations – reveal how a most uncommon intellect deconstructed the secrets of creation. They also depict the physicist’s eternal and contiguous struggle against the worst aspect of human behaviour: war and unthinking aggression and how his discoveries were twisted to serve them…

Gradual and understated in tone, this investigation is compelling in its examination of the world’s first celebrity scientist’s devotion to and advocacy of pacifism; leaving a disturbing echo of the disappointment he must have felt that his world-changing discoveries were being entrusted to agencies and attitudes who only wanted to use them for wicked purposes…

Some of that bleak tone is thankfully mitigated by the closing Epilogue, set at the CERN project in 2015, where knowledge, wisdom and the traditional continuity of scientific progress are seen to triumph over those darker drives, even in these modern days of imminent catastrophe and pointless self-destruction…

Augmented by incisive timeline Key Dates in the Life of Albert Einstein, a fulsome list of further reading in Biography and Sources and a copious illustrated collection of quotes ‘To Reflect On…’, this is a visual delight celebrating a unique mind and personality, and one you should see as soon as you can.
© 2017 Blue Lotus Prod. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing

Thorgal volume 0: The Betrayed Sorceress & Almost Paradise

By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Europe Comics/Cinebook)
No ISBN (Europe Comics digital-only edition)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-443-4 (Cinebook PB Album)

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series of all time, Thorgal accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Le Journal de Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. A far-reaching and expansive generational saga, it has won a monolithic international following in fourteen languages and dozens of countries, generating numerous spin-off series, and thus naturally offers a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical milieu of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, dire magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean mystique and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades with the creative duo completing 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Thereafter the scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013 when Xavier Dorison wrote one before Yann became chief scribe. In 2019, he and Rosiński released the 37th epic-album L’Emite de Skellingar.

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his son Jolan, but also other indomitable family members through a number of spin-off series (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal) all clustered under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with all eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985, US publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover translations, but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

The original Belgian series meandered back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s translated run began with the 7th and 8th albums combined in a double-length premiere edition. By that time the saga of wandering enigma Thorgal Aegirsson had properly gelled, but there were a few books before then, with the hero still finding his literary and graphic feet…

What you’ll learn from later volumes: Thorgal was recovered as a baby from a ferocious storm and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived a stellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious usurper Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne.

For his entire childhood Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety… or so they thought…

Here, however, in these harder-hitting, initial escapades from 1980, the largely unexplained and formulaic Viking warrior is simply a hero in search of a cause. La Magicienne Trahie becomes eponymous debut book The Betrayed Sorceress, opening with a full-grown Thorgal tortured and left to die of exposure and drowning by arch enemy Gandalf.

He is fortuitously rescued by a red-haired woman who demands he work in her service for a year…

Accompanied by a loyal wild wolf, formidable mystic matron Slive is consumed with a hunger for vengeance and orders her reluctant vassal to undertake an arduous quest and great battles to retrieve a hidden casket and its mystical contents. Only after succeeding, does the warrior discover that the target of her ire is Gandalf…

The complex scheme almost succeeds but the witch’s plans eventually lead to bloodshed, calamity, an unsuspected connection to the hero’s beloved Aaricia and the exposure of long-hidden secrets.

As the final clash climaxes, Gandalf is near death and the lovers witness the sorceress’ last voyage into the coldest regions on Earth in a dragonship made of ice…

Follow-up exploit ‘Almost Paradise’ continues the saga and completes the first volume with Thorgal living again amongst Gandalf’s band, but only on sufferance and in constant daily hardship.

Here, a lone ride through winter snows leads to his being hunted by ravening wolves before plummeting into a fantastic time-lost and timeless enclave at the bottom of an icy crevasse. In that tropical Eden he finds a trio of mysterious maidens. Two vie for his attention and argue the seductive benefits of eternal life in a vast garden free of want and danger, but youngest girl Skadia secretly craves the freedom of the outside world and is willing to lead the homesick warrior into horrendous peril to achieve her ends. Desperate to return to his true love, Thorgal escapes with the third immortal, suffering a nightmare journey back to the real world, but not without paying a painful price…

Second collected album L’lle des Mers gelées is also included here as The Island of the Frozen Seas, and begins in spring as Aaricia readies herself to wed Thorgal and leave Gandalf’s lands forever. Those dreams are suddenly shattered when a brace of giant eagles fly down and snatch her away. Soon the entire band of warriors are pursuing in their Drakkars (dragonships), heading ever northwards…

The chase leads to fractious moments aboard ship and imminent mutiny is only forestalled when the Vikings encounter a fantastic vessel that moves without oars or sails. Despite valiant resistance, the barbarians are soon all captives beside Aaricia. All, that is, save for Thorgal and future brother-in-law Bjorn Gandalfson who escaped capture by taking to a lifeboat…

At the top of the world, they meet strange tribes-folk perfectly adapted to arctic existence and Thorgal continues his hunt for his intended bride, meeting and defeating her abductor, discovering an incredible secret citadel and uncovering an incredible story about his long-occluded origins before he can bring his beloved back home to her people…

Although lacking the humour of later tales these works in progress are fierce, inventive and phenomenally gripping: cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive episodes gradually building towards a fully-realised universe of wonder and imagination whilst offering insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly unwilling hero.

Thorgal is every action fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?

This Europe Comics volume is a digital-only edition from the pan-continental collective imprint which collaborates to bring a wealth of fresh and classic material to English speaking fans. Many of their selections are picked up by established print publishers such as Top Shelf or Cinebook. In fact, this volume will be added to Cinebook’s stable of titles at the end of the year, under special enumeration as Thorgal volume 00: The Betrayed Sorceress, so if you’re already a fan you can wait until then to add the book to your collection. If you can’t wait, though, the past awaits you, only a few keystrokes away…

© Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 1980 Rosiński & Van Hamme. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.
Thorgal volume 00: The Betrayed Sorceress is scheduled for a November 2019 release by Cinebook.

Orient Gateway

By Vittorio Giardino (Catalan Communications/NBM)
ISBN: 978-0-87416-041-3 (Catalan PB Album) 978-1-56163-184-1 (NBM PB Album)
Born on Christmas Eve 1946, Vittorio Giardino was an electrician who switched careers at age 30. He initially worked for a number of comics magazines before his first collection – Pax Romana – was released in 1978. Giardino has toiled, slowly but consistently, on both feature characters such as the detective Sam Pezzo, saucy Winsor McKay homage Little Ego and cold-war drama Jonas Fin, as well as general fiction tales, producing over 43 albums to date.

Way back in 1982 as the Cold War tottered to an end, he began the tale of a quiet, bearded fellow recalled by the Deuxieme Bureau (the French Secret Service) to investigate the slaughter of almost every agent in the cosmopolitan paradise of Budapest. The series ran in four parts in the magazine Orient Express before being collected as Rhapsodie Hongroise. It was Giardino’s 13th book and in no way unlucky for him. In it, reluctant yet competent spy Max Fridman (transliterated into Max Friedman for the English-speaking world), was dragged back into the “Great Game” in the years of uneasy peace just before the outbreak of World War II…

Within three years he returned to the subtly addictive pre-war drama with follow-up La Porta d’Oriente – Orient Gateway to you and me.

Summer 1938: All the espionage agencies in the world know war is coming and nothing can stop it. Frantically jockeying for the most favourable position, they’re all seeking every advantage for when the balloon goes up. Soviet engineer Mr. Stern has become just such a preferred asset of too many rival organisations, so he runs, losing himself in the teeming, mysterious city of Istanbul.

Once again diffident, canny operative Max is drawn into the murky miasma of spycraft, but now, beside exotic, bewitching Magda Witnitz, is he the only one to ask why so many dangerous people want to acquire Stern?

And why are they so willing to kill for him?

Subtle, entrancing and magnificently illustrated, this is an entrancing, slow-boil thriller with all the beguiling nostalgic panache of Casablanca and labyrinthine twists and turns of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which no fan of the genre, let alone comics aficionado, can afford to miss.

Over the course of a decade, the masterful Italian graphic novelist crafted two further individual tales and in 1999 added a stunning triptych of albums. No Pasarán! detailed a key moment during the conflict in Republican Spain and dying days of the Civil War, revealing many clues into the life of the unassuming antihero. Two more volumes were added to the canon in 2002 and 2008, and I’m declaring they are all now long past due to be revived and revisited…

Giardino is a smart and confident writer who makes tone and nuance carry a tale and his art – a more representational derivation of Hergé’s ligne claire (clean line) – makes the lovingly rendered locations as much a character as any of the stylish operatives in a dark, doomed world on the brink of holocaust.

Although still largely an agent unknown in the English-speaking world, Max Friedman is one of espionage literature’s greatest characters, and Giardino’s work is like honey for the eyes and mind. This is another graphic novel every fan of comics or the Intelligence Game should know.
© 1986 Vittorio Giardino. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Billie Holiday

By José Muñoz & Carlos Sampayo, translated by Katy MacRae, Robert Boyd & Kim Thompson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-093-5 (HB)

Argentinian José Antonio Muñoz was born on July 10th 1942 in Buenos Aires and studied at the prestigious Escuela Panamericana de Arte de Buenos Aires, under comics geniuses Hugo Pratt and Alberto Breccia. He then joined the prolific and prestigious Francisco Solano Lopez studio at the age of 18. Soon his work was appearing in Hora Cero and Frontera Extra whilst he ghosted episodes of the legendary serial Ernie Pike for his old tutor Pratt.

Through the Argentine-based Solano Lopez outfit, he began working on material for British publishing giant Amalgamated Press/IPC, but had no real feeling for the material he was producing. Moreover, like so many others, he was increasingly uncomfortable living in his homeland. Eventually, he was compelled to leave Argentina (in December 1972) as the military junta tightened its totalitarian grip on the country and clamped down on free expression and the arts, as well as all forms of overt or covert dissent.

Moving to England, Spain and later Italy, Muñoz met again fellow émigré and creative soul-mate Carlos Sampayo in Barcelona in 1974 and convinced the poet, music critic, copywriter and author to try his hand at comics. The result was the stunning expressionistic noir Private Detective masterpiece of loss and regret Alack Sinner

Born in 1943, the poet Sampayo grew up with all the same formative experiences as his artistic comrade and, after a similar dispiriting start (he’d tried writing and being a literary editor before resigning himself to work in advertising), moved to Spain in 1972.

The pair were first introduced in 1971 when mutual friend Oscar Zarate left Argentina in the forefront of the creative exodus sparked by the rise of “the Colonels”…

Urgently urged by mentor Hugo Pratt to “do something of your own”, the pair started producing the grimly gritty adventures of an ex-New York cop-turned-shamus haunting the shadows of the world’s greatest, darkest city, and encountering the bleak underbelly of the metropolis and all the outcasts, exiles and scum thrown together at its margins.

Alack Sinner debuted in experimental Italian anthology Alter Linus, was picked up by Belgian giant Casterman (for A Suivre) and compiled in a number of albums across the continent. The feature was set solidly in history, confronting issues of prejudice, bigotry and corruption head-on through shocking words and imagery. In one of their stories Sinner played merely a bit part as the pages examined the life and times and fate of one of the most ill-starred women in the history of Jazz and modern America.

And that’s where this powerfully moving biography finds us…

Originally translated and published by Fantagraphics in the early 1990s, NBM’s Billie Holiday takes us into the heart and soul of the doomed and self-destructive nightingale whose incredible voice was all-but-lost to the world for decades before kinder, more evolved ears of all colours rescued her works from oblivion…

This epic hardcover – and digital – volume examines her life and influence through the eyes of distant observers and opens with essay ‘Billie Holiday: Don’t Explain’ by Francis Marmande, which provides a fact and photo-packed biographical appreciation of the singer in her heyday.

Eleanora Holiday – also known as Billie and “Lady Day” – was born April 7th 1915, and died July 17th 1959. In between those dates she won many fans and earned tons of money, but it never bought her acceptance in a world where black skin provoked revulsion, cruelty and smug superiority. It didn’t even buy her protection from New York cops who considered her a prostitute made good, an uppity subhuman who never knew her place…

Billie lost money as quickly as she earned it: to unscrupulous friends and management, or corrupt officials, although most of it was frittered away by the succession of cheating, brutal men she was perpetually drawn to and whom she could never resist…

A short, stark story of graphic flair offering many powerful full-page images, the tale begins in 1989 as a journalist is assigned to write a feature piece commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of a Jazz singer. He’s never heard of Billie Holiday but is good at his job and starts digging.

He reads about a poor black girl raped as a child and forced into child prostitution who almost escaped that trap by singing. She became successful, but never dodged the traps and pitfalls of her life: booze, drugs, sleazy men, manipulative bosses and a seeming hunger for conflict. Even so, the way she sang was uniquely hers and changed lives forever. She called herself Billie and always performed with a flower in her hair…

For a while the great and good came to watch and hear her and other jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, whose gifts gave them limited entry to the privileged life, but never acceptance.

This intensely personal interpretation is less a biography and more a heartfelt paean of appreciation, channelling and exploring the hard, harsh tone of those troubled times where talented, dogged souls fought for recognition and survival in a world determined to exploit and consume them. In that respect, no one was more exploited than Lady Day…

Also included here, ‘Jazz Sessions’ offers a stunning gallery of 12 stark, chiaroscuric and powerfully evocative images based on scenes from Holiday’s short, stark life and dedication to the freedom of the musical form of Blues and Jazz that she graced and transformed through her vocalisations.

Moving, angry and sad, this tale holds the singer up to the light and must be read. Just remember, there’s no Happy Ever After here…
© 1991 Casterman All rights reserved. © 2017 NBM for the English version