Comanche volume 1: Red Dust


By Hermann & Greg, translated by Montana Kane (Europe Comics)
No ISBN. ASIN: B000O15YBK

Welcome to another Wild West Wednesday with an self-indulgent peek at a favourite book I first read way back in the 1980s, crafted by two Belgian masters of graphic narrative.

Best known as Greg, Michel Régnier was born in 1931 in Ixelles. The cartoonist, writer editor and publisher, sold his first series – Les Aventures de Nestor et Boniface – at age 16 to Belgian magazine Vers l’Avenir and followed up over many decades with legendary strips such as Luc Orient, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince and Achille Talon in Héroic Albums, Le Journal de Spirou (where he scripted the title feature amongst many others), Paddy and Le Journal de Tintin (which he eventually edited from 1966-1974). One of his new finds on Spirou during this period was an artist named Hermann Huppen…

Greg is estimated to have worked as writer or artist on more than 250 strip albums during his career. He died in 1999.

Hermann Huppen entered the world on July 17th 1938 in what’s now the Malmedy region of Liège Province. He studied to become an interior architect and furniture maker but was thankfully swayed and diverted by comics. His narrative career began in 1963 but really took off three years later when he joined with writer Greg to create cop series Bernard Prince for Le Journal de Tintin. The artist then added to his weekly chores with Roman adventure serial Jugurtha(scripted by Jean-Luc Vernal).

In 1969 Hermann expanded his portfolio further, adding the Greg-penned western Comanche to his seamlessly stunning output. At his time Charlier & Jean Giraud’s epic Blueberry was reaching its peak of excellence…

Bernard Prince and Comanche made Hermann a superstar of the industry – a status built upon with further classics such as The Towers of Bois-Maury, Sarajevo-Tango, Station 16 and many more (I estimate 24 separate series and a total north of 94 albums thus far).

In 1978 Hermann bravely dropped guaranteed money-spinner Bernard Prince to create as (writer and illustrator) Jeremiah but he stayed with Comanche until 1982 (10 albums in total) because of his abiding love for western-themed yarns.

Thanks to digital-only publishing commune Europe Comics, it’s easy to see why in this first translated volume of the sprawling cowboy epic which here introduces a wandering gunslinger who finds a home – if not peace and quiet – after joining a most unlikely band of comrades on a cattle-spread in Wyoming.

Comprised of linked weekly episodes, originally published in 1978, ‘Red Dust’ finds the eponymous, lethally capable shootist wandering into a desolate cowtown just as trouble seems to be brewing.

In fact, even before he gets into Greenstone Falls, the enigmatic Mr Dust has to kill manic mercenary Wally Hondo who refuses to share “his” stagecoach with a shabby drifter…

Moreover, when the stage finally pulls into what passes for civilisation, Red is approached by unctuous fixer Mr Cathrellwho erroneously assumes him to be the latest addition to his growing army of pitiless hired guns…

The mistake is soon cleared up after the newcomer unexpectedly reacquaints himself with Cathrell’s top stooge. Red Dust and the Kentucky Kid have unsettled scores and old grievances in common…

Before long Red learns that the killer elite have all been commissioned to deal with a stubborn rancher refusing to sell out to their mysterious and always unseen boss. Mind made up, the taciturn nomad heads for the 666 Ranch and inveigles a job with crotchety ancient pioneer Ten Gallons and the new ranch owner he dotes upon: a young, lovely and immensely stubborn woman called Comanche

She is determined to make her inheritance a successful going concern, but has been having lots of bad luck. Red Dust soon determines it’s not her luck that’s at issue after a new herd of cattle she has bought apparently come down with a mystery sickness. As well as exposing a cruel trick, Red also recruits new hands Toby and Tenderfoot following the exposure of a nefarious scam.

That, in addition to decimating Cathrell’s gunslingers when they ambush the ranchers on a shopping trip to town, soon forces the mystery mastermind into the open and reveals just why the 666 is such a valuable property… but only after a few of those old scores are finally settled…

A splendid confection of tradition western themes combined with sleek yet gritty European style, Red Dust is the kind of timeless treat comics fans and movie lover will adore. Don’t miss out on a chance to enjoy one of the most celebrated comics classics of all time…
© 2017 – LE LOMBARD – HERMANN & GREG. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad


By Carol Isaacs/The Surreal McCoy (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-55-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-912408-71-9

Contemporary history is a priceless resource in creating modern narratives. It has the benefits of immediacy and relevance – even if only on a generational level – whilst combining notional familiarity (could you tell the difference between a stone axe and a rock?) with a sense of distance and exoticism. In comics, we’re currently blessed with a wealth of superb material exploring the recent past and none better than this enchanting trawl through a tragic time most of us never knew of…

Carol Isaacs is a successful musician (just ask the Indigo Girls, Sinead O’Connor or the London Klezmer Quartet) and – as The Surreal McCoy – a cartoonist whose graphic gifts are regularly on show in The New Yorker, Spectator, Private Eye, Sunday Times and The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain. She found her latest inspiration in a two-thousand-year old secret history that’s she been party to for most of her life…

British-born of Iraqi-Jewish parents, Isaacs grew up hearing tales of her ancestors’ lives in Baghdad: part of a thriving multicultural society which had welcomed – or at least tolerated – Jews in Persia since 597 BCE.

How 150,000 Hebraic Baghdadians (a third of the city’s population in 1940) was reduced by 2016 to just 5 is revealed and eulogised in this potently evocative memoir, told in lyrical pictures and the curated words of her own family and their émigré friends, as related to her over her growing years in their comfortably suburban London home.

Those quotes and portraits spark an elegiac dream-state excursion to the wrecked, abandoned sites and places of a socially integrated and vibrantly cohesive metropolis she knows intimately and pines for ferociously, even though she has never set a single foot there…

As well as this enthralling pictorial experience, the art and narrative have been incorporated into a melancholy motion comic (slideshow with original musical accompaniment) that also demands your rapt attention.

The moving experience is supplemented by an Afterword comprising illustrate text piece ‘Deep Home’ (first seen in ‘Origin Stories’ from the anthology Strumpet) which details those childhood sessions listening to the remembrances of adult guests and family elders and is followed by ‘The Making of The Wolf of Baghdad’ which explains not only the book and show’s origins, but also clarifies the thematic premise of ‘The Wolf Myth’ which permeates the city’s intermingled cultures.

‘Other Iraqis’ then reveals some interactions with interested parties culled from Isaacs’ blog whilst crafting this book, whilst the comprehensive ‘Timeline of the Jews in Iraq’ outlines the little-known history of Persian Jews and how and why it all changed, before ‘A Carpet’s Story’ details 1950’s Operations Ezra and Nehemiah which saw 120,000 Jews airlifted to Israel.

Wrapping up the show is a page of Acknowledgements and Suggested Reading.

Simultaneously timeless and topical, The Wolf of Baghdad is less a history lesson than a lament for a lost homeland and way of life: a wistful deliberation on why bad things happen and on how words pictures and music can turn back the years and make the longed for momentarily real and true.
© Carol Isaacs (The Surreal McCoy) 2020. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad will be published on January 30th 2020 and is available for pre-order now. Isaacs will be touring the motion-comic throughout 2020 at various venues and festivals around England. For more information please check her blog.

Tamba, Child Soldier


By Marion Achard & Yann Dégruel & various; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-236-6 (HB album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 9/10

It may be a wonderful world but modern Earth is far too often a terrible place, especially if you’re weak and powerless.

The global scandal and shame of children forcibly co-opted into paramilitary and terrorist groups is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history boys and girls have fought in adult wars. Comic books are full of them, but there’s two big differences: they all “volunteer” without being groomed by cruel power-obsessed scum and THEY’RE NOT REAL.

So prevalent and pernicious was the practise of African and Asian militias, religious groups and other factions (even governments), that in 2000 the civilised world agreed to an Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict. The OPAC accord restricts armed forces recruitment to adults of 18 years or over and has become known as the Straight 18 standard.

It’s a good start but hasn’t stopped ambitious war-criminals and monsters raiding villages for kids, who they drug, beat and starve; enslaving and brutalising them to use as cannon fodder and shock troops in hope of securing their own evil ends.

Rather than concentrate on any specific case or example (there are so damned many) this stunning oversized (216 x 279 mm) full-colour hardback and/or digital book gathers and synthesises many true incidents into the dramatised testimony of Tamba Cisso: taken aged eight from his African village – along with all of his young friends – and forcibly inducted into a scavenging band of killers.

The specifics of the tragically documented events he participated in – and the unhappier fates of his fellow abductees – are revealed through the venue of his later testimony to an initially hostile crowd at a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. Tamba’s account of everyday life as a reluctant warrior for a jumped-up rebel warlord is no less harrowing for being one step removed from our own world’s actual atrocities…

Acutely examining the greater effect of kidnappings on generations of citizens, Young Adults author Marion Achard (Je veux un chat et des parents normaux, Pourquoi je suis devenu une fille) brings bitterness, barely harnessed anger, righteous indignation and potent empathy to an appalling subject. Tamba, l’enfant soldat is her first graphic novel – hopefully not her last – rendered with vivid virtuosity and great subtlety by artist and animator Yann Dégruel (Genz Gys Khan, Sans Famille).

Augmenting their visual narrative is Achard’s text essay Child Soldiers: describing what happens to these shunned victims of violence and sharing some extremely disturbing facts and figures, and is augmented by features on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Professor Laure Borgomano’s (Department of Defense, NATO) breakdown of the purpose and functions of The UN High Commissioner for Refugees: UNHCR…

Compellingly engaging and boldly, beautifully illustrated, this is a chilling, sobering yet ultimately encouraging reading experience everyone with a stake in a less toxic future must seek out and share.
© 2018 Edition Delcourt. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great and challenging reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The Bugle Boy


By Alexandre Clérisse, translated by Edward Gauvin (Europe Comics)
No ISBN – digital only edition

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: What All Those War Stories Really Mean… 9/10

The dead don’t care what we do, but how we treat and remember them defines who we are as a culture and species. Inspired by a true story, Trompe la mort was first published in 2009, offering a humorous, whimsical tone to what must have been a pretty depressing situation…

Translated by digital-only Europe Comics, The Bugle Boy is a story of debts paid and brothers-in-arms honoured, which begins as an ageing veteran decides to settle some long outstanding affairs…

Marcel is a surviving participant of WWII, and as a surly bugger of 85-years vintage, is inexplicably moved by an impending notion to sort out unfinished business before he joins the rest of his generation in the boneyard.

Back in the war, he was a dashing young company bugler and is now increasingly unsettled at the events which forced him to bury his beloved instrument on a battlefield. As memories of those fraught, often humiliating days keep coming to him, the gritty old sod, with his feisty and unwillingly dutiful granddaughter Andrea, embark on an unpleasant, cross-country bus trek to the distant rural region where – in 1940 – he and his comrades fought their first and last battle.
Before being captured, the idealistic lad he was buried that bugle before it could be employed as it should, and now all he can think of is getting it back.

Sadly, once all the tedious and painful travails of the journey are completed, Marcel has a still-more difficult problem to solve. The instrument has been already found and turned by the Mayor into a tourist-trap badge of French patriotism. It’s grandly installed in the local town museum – which is now dedicated to bugles of all sorts – as the heart and soul of the town’s rebirth. With elections coming, the wily demagogue is planning on exploiting it and the glorious – if comfortably mis-defined – past, as the clarion symbols of his re-election campaign. He has no intention of returning it to its rightful owner.

But not if Marcel and Andrea have anything to say about it…

Writer/artist Alexandre Clérisse was born in 1980 and began seriously making comics in 1999 through a series of experimental fanzines. In 2002 he graduated from EESI school of Visual Arts in Angoulême – where he still resides – and began releasing such superbly readable Bande Dessinee as Jazz Club, Souvenir de l’empire de l’atome (seen in English as IDW’s Atomic Empire) and all-ages Seek-&-Find book Now Playing

Heartwarming and irreverent, poignant and deeply funny, The Bugle Boy has all the force and gently subversive wit of classic Dad’s Army episodes and cannot fail to hit home with any reader possessing grandparents who remember and kids who wonder what war is really like…
© 2019 – Dargaud – Clérisse. All rights reserved.

Mata Hari


By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because History is Never Straightforward or Straitlaced… 9/10

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Moreover, we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity that simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (née Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch Netherlands, to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children and raised in wealth until her father lost it. Her life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French Firing Squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted the stage name Mata Hari (it means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) and her gifts led to her becoming a courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an espionage operative…

After a chequered life during a period when European society welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and convicted.

Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari has become the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

In the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture, none better than an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she desperately struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and the great love for a Russian soldier that leads to her ultimate downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. This contemplative tale (packed with documentary photos and available in paperback and digital formats) carefully acknowledges that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice – in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering many more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’ relating the oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body and an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived historical moment that any fan of history and lover of comics will adore…
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.

The Complete Aces High issues 1-5 (EC Archives)


By Irv Werstein, Carl Wessler, Jack Oleck, George Evans, Jack Davis, Bernie Krigstein & various (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-50670-308-4 (HB) eISBN 978-1-50670-727-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Combat Comics Classics… 9/10

No smug commentary today, just appropriate business.
Legendary imprint EC Comics began in 1944 when comicbook pioneer Max Gaines sold the superhero properties of his All-American Comics company to half-sister National/DC.

Gaines only retained Picture Stories from the Bible. His plan was to produce a line of Educational Comics with schools and church groups his major target market. He latterly augmented his core title with Picture Stories from American History, Picture Stories from Science and Picture Stories from World History.

Sadly, the worthy project was already struggling badly when he died in a boating accident in 1947.

His son William was dragged out of college and into the family business and – with much support and encouragement from unsung hero Sol Cohen (who held the company together until the initially unwilling Bill Gaines abandoned his dreams of a career in chemistry) – transformed the ailing enterprise into Entertaining Comics

After some tentative false starts and abortive experiments, Gaines and his multi-talented associate Al Feldstein settled into a bold and impressive publishing strategy, utilising the most gifted illustrators in the field to tell a “New Trend” of stories aimed at an older and more discerning readership.

From 1950-1954 EC was the most innovative and influential publisher in America, dominating the anthologised genres of crime, horror, war and science fiction. Moreover, under the auspices of writer, artist and editor Harvey Kurtzman, the company introduced an entirely new beast: the satirical comicbook…

Kurtzman was hired to supplement the workforce on the horror titles but wasn’t keen on the genre and instead suggested a new action-adventure title. The result was Two-Fisted Tales which began with issue #18 as an anthology of rip-snorting, he-man dramas. However, with America embroiled in a military “police action” in Korea, the title soon became primarily a war comic and was rapidly augmented by a second, Frontline Combat.

Also written and edited by Kurtzman, who assiduously laid-out and meticulously designed every story, it made for great entertainment and a unifying authorial voice but was frequently a cause of friction with his many artists.

In keeping with the spirit of the New Trend, these war stories were not bombastic, jingoistic fantasies for glory-hungry little boys, but rather subtly subversive examinations of the cost of conflict which highlighted the madness, futility and senseless, pointless waste of it all…

When the McCarthy-era anti-comics crusade of the 1950s crushed the industry and gutted EC output by effectively banning horror, crime, gore, political commentary and social justice, Gaines and Feldstein retrenched: releasing experimental titles under the umbrella of a “New Direction”.

Kurtzman’s Mad – which had defined a whole new genre, bequeathing unto America Popular Satire – converted into a monochrome magazine, safely distancing the outrageously brilliant comedic publication from the fall-out caused by the socio-political witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles…

Denied a soapbox to address social ills, Gaines’ new books concentrated on intrigue, adventure and drama informed by new modern fascinations: either intellectual or mass entertainment fads.

Impact, Extra!, Piracy and Valor all clearly reflected themes of contemporary film and TV, whilst Psychoanalysis and M.D. targeted mature audiences through the growing genre of medical dramas. Incredible Science Fiction bridged the transition from old range to new line up whilst also tapping into movie trends. Final offering Aces High carried on a tradition of breathtaking war comics, but omitted ethical commentary to concentrate on aviation sagas dedicated to the myth of honourable combat conducted between knights of the skies…

Although still graced with stunningly beautiful artwork and thoughtful writing, the New Direction titles couldn’t find an audience and died within a year.

This volume of Dark Horse’s EC Archives gathers the entire run of Aces High (#1-5, spanning March to December 1955) gathering some of the most gorgeous art of the era – or ever – but with scripts curtailed by the newly instituted Comics Code Authority and Gaines’ own sense of financial survival, that compelling edge of social crusading was lost…

The fraught history of the company is outlined here in an informative Introduction by Grant Geissman after which Howard Chaykin’s Foreword provides keen insights into the times and the gifted creators involved before the stories begin. Sadly, as is often the case, despite diligent efforts by researchers and historians, many of these tales have no writing credit, but c’est la vie, non?

Aces High was very much a star vehicle slanted towards the interests and expertise of aviation aficionado George Evans who leads off the first issue – after editorial ‘Prop Wash’ – with ‘The Way it Was’, scripted by Irv Werstein. With an WWI veteran taking his grandson to an air show, Evans traces the history and development of his war in the air, emphasising the true cost in lives…

Uncredited prose feature ‘The Stork with Talons’ details the career of legendary aviator Charles Nungesser after which masterful Wally Wood delineates the history of Lieutenant Tom Pomeroy: a newly qualified combat pilot who can’t understand why his fellow airmen consider him ‘The Outsider’

Bernie Krigstein was one of the most innovative illustrators in comics – as well as commercial and gallery art – and in ‘The Mascot’ captures the air of hopeful fervour as an American squadron in France realise that the stray mutt they’ve adopted can predict who will not return from missions…

The premiere outing concludes with Carl Wessler & Jack Davis introducing ‘The New C.O.’ whose ideas of conduct are revolting but unarguably effective…

The second sortie opens with ‘Chivalry!’ by Wessler, Evans: crossing No-Man’s Land for a peek at the German view as a Jagdstaffel of decent, patriotic fliers must find a way to deal with new posting Lt. Horst Viegel, whose only consideration is adding to his kill-tally…

RAF legend Albert Ball is eulogised in text page ‘The Ace of Aces’ after which Krigstein limns a tale of ‘Revenge’ wherein a USAC captain hunts down the German flier who strafed Red Cross nurses and cost him his one true love…

Wessler & Wood detail the vagaries of luck afflicting a string of pilots assigned ‘Locker 9’ before prose page ‘Laughing Warrior’ précis’ the life of France’s greatest air ace Georges Guynemer before Jack Davis renders the devious saga of doctrinaire military martinet Major Trout whose quibbling antics in ‘Footnote’ have salutary, lifesaving underpinnings…

Aces High #3 takes wing with Oleck & Evans’ ‘The Rules’ as novice replacement Lt. Edward Dale disdains hour and fair play to become famous and pays the inevitable price, after which ‘Prop Wash’ reprints the letters of the many fans the comic book won whilst Krigstein’s ‘The Spy’ offers a touch of the old EC magic as American pilots cast suspicious eyes on a fellow squadron member who has a German name…

A tragic pilot-training washout reduced to the role of spanner-wielding ‘Greasemonkey’ redeems himself in a superb Wood rendered yarn before prose fiction ‘The Acid Test’ (with a grizzled raddled veteran having to deal with his baby brother joining the squadron) segues into a gleeful, yet dogged battle of wills between an established ace and a cocky replacement pilot over ‘The Case of Champagne’ by Wessler & Davis.

Jack Oleck & Evans lead off #4 as ‘The Green Kids’ sees a daily argument over sending raw recruits into combat changes complexion after angry, embittered Flight Leader Joseph Caswell is promoted to Squadron Commander and must now decide who flies and who doesn’t..

More postal praise in ‘Prop Wash’ leads to a wry examination of superstition in Wessler & Krigstein’s ’The Good Luck Piece’ after which the writer teams with Wood for ‘The Novice and the Ace’ wherein a cunning psychological trick unnerves an entire US squadron… until a callow newcomer takes a chance…

Prose fiction ‘The Last Laugh’ details the last mistake of an escaping German pilot, before Wessler & Davis reveal the tribulations of an American mechanic hungry to fly against the Boche in ‘Home Again’

The short-lived series came to a close with #5, leading with Oleck & Evans’ ’C’est La Guerre!’ as American pilots play dice to decide who goes on a suicide mission after which prose page ‘Airman Unknown’ details how a veteran of the Lafayette Escadrille sought to identify and repatriate the bodies of lost American fliers.

Breaking with tradition, this issue includes episodes from WWII, beginning with the Davis-illumined ‘Iron Man!’ and P-47 pilot Fred Allison who believes he can’t be shot down, after which Wessler & Krigstein take us back to the Great War for ‘Spads Were Trump’.

Here valiant American Lt. Walt Muller conceals a deeply personal reason for avoiding combat against German Ace the Red Eagle…

An incongruous prose review and guide of film and record releases, ‘The Entertainment Box’ leads into a Wood tour de force to end the issue and series. ‘Ordeal’ relates the astounding record of P-40 pilot Lt. Stoner against the Japanese in the Pacific Theatre of War, before exposing the one thing he cannot face…

The covers – by Evans – have all been restored from the masterful colour guides of original colourist Marie Severin, resulting – with modern reproduction techniques – in a sequence of graphic poems of unsurpassed beauty, whilst original house ads and commercial pages from the period tantalise in a way no other ads ever could, completing a nostalgic experience like no other.

The New Direction was a last hurrah for the kind of literate, mature comics Gaines wanted to publish. When they failed, he concentrated on Mad magazine and satire’s gain was comics’ loss. Now you have the chance to vicariously relive those times and trends, I strongly suggest that whether you are an aged EC Fan-Addict or nervous newbie, this is a book no comics aficionado can afford to miss…
© 1955, 2017 William M. Gaines Agent, Inc. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2017 Grant Geissman.

The Bad Bad Place


By David Hine & Mark Stafford (Soaring Penguin Press)
ISBN: 978-1-908030-276 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Dread Delight for Darkest Nights… 9/10

Happy Día de Muertos…

I’d planned to make this new release part of our annual Occultoberfest, but fortunately, my review copy didn’t arrive in time so now it gets an extra chance to impress as it now stands out even further from the pack.

In luxurious and sturdy hardback (and digital) compilation The Bad Bad Place, material originally created as a serial for Soaring Penguin Press’ excellent comics anthology Meanwhile… has been modified, tweaked and at last completed for the delectation of fans of bizarre black comedy, gross Lovecraftian horror and uniquely British macabre tomfoolery…

Before we get started, I must acknowledge that I’ve known all involved in the project for many years – although I trust they’ve either forgotten or at least forgiven me for all that’s occurred (they know what I mean and you’ll never know…), so any thoughts of nepotism, favouritism and dishonourable conduct should be redirected to modern political and commercial life, where they properly belong…

This wry but effective pastiche of Chthonic horrors is the morbid brainchild of Dave Hine (Strange Embrace, Spider-Man: Noir, Batman, X-Men, The Bullet Proof Coffin) and Mark Stafford (Cherubs!) who have wrought previous similar graphic marvels together in The Man Who Laughs and Lip Hook.

The unease begins in ‘Warning Signs’ as a gaunt and ragged town crier accosts a young woman in the strangely deserted new town of Faraway Hills. Jenny is forthright and determined and refuses to obey old Ned Trench‘s admonitions that she should flee for her life…

Over a nice cup of tea, the rank, decrepit dotard – and former town crier – details how the rapidly-built modern conurbation was situated over the ruins of a Victorian village that had died in mysterious circumstances, and how, one night a plot of vacant land was suddenly filled with long-vanished Castavette House and the much-neglected grounds which had once dominated the ancient hamlet of Crouch Heath…

With rumours flying about and the town council dithering, events took a while to kick off, but when they despatched a flurry of official forms to the mansion in ‘Going Postal’ the postman was never seen again.

Those that knew him privately thought it was no less than he deserved. Later investigations proved they weren’t wrong…

In ‘The Lottery Winner, the Minstrel and the Narcissist Who Would Not Stop…’ a trio of friends trapped in a love triangle are declared to have also suffered dreadful fates after passing the gates of the House, seduced by mystic music and the promise of tawdry pleasures within…

Ned and Jenny’s discourse takes a dramatic turn in ‘Close Up and Personal’ when the aged doomsayer describes the fate of a young photojournalist and she reveals her own intimate connection to the missing snapper…

The incredible truth of Trench’s origins comes out in The Truth, the Whole Truth and Anything But…’ as Jenny learns how and why Crouch Heath disappeared from the map so long ago, thanks in large part to the manorial family’s devotion to vile elder gods and the innate casual cruelty of their all-too human neighbours…

A bereaved and vengeful mother literally wedded to ancient monsters takes her revenge in ‘Let Not Man Put Asunder…’ before more ghastly secrets are shared in ‘The Birthing’, so by the time Jenny gets ‘A Short History of the Twentieth Century’ from Trench’s weirdly skewed perspective, the anxious listener fully appreciates the lack of ‘Logic and Proportion’ exercised by the mistress of Castavette House when the entire population of Faraway Hills invaded the grounds of the returned estate, seeking unearned rewards and illicit gratifications…

The arcane malign saga concludes with the unwise expression of Jenny’s own ‘Heart’s Desire’, but just as all hope seems lost in the bowels of the House, there comes an intervention from a most unexpected quarter…

Afterword ‘The Good Good Place’ then offers context and background on the creation of this macabre treat courtesy of author Hine, whilst creator biographies plus a moody graphic gallery turns up the tension tone to round out this exemplary example of pictorial gothic terror.

Mordant and moody, occasionally deliberately daft and always deeply disturbing, The Bad Bad Place is a treat no terror-seeker can afford to miss.
This edition © 2019 Soaring Penguin Press. Created by and © David Hine & Mark Stafford.

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter


By Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad, coloured by Thierry Mébarki and translated by Adriana Hunter (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-51010-713-7 (HB) 978-1-51010-714-4 (PB Album) eISBN: 978-1-5101-0720-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Celebrate the Season in Classical Style… 9/10

Asterix le Gaulois debuted in 1959 and has since become part of the fabric of French life. His exploits have touched billions of people all around the world for five and a half decades and for almost all of that time his astounding adventures were the sole preserve of originators Rene Goscinny and/or Albert Uderzo.

After nearly 15 years dissemination as weekly serials (subsequently collected into book-length compilations), in 1974 the 21st saga – Asterix and Caesar’s Gift – was the first to be released as a complete, original album prior to serialisation. Thereafter each new tome became an eagerly anticipated, impatiently awaited treat for legions of devotees.

The eager anxiety hasn’t diminished any even now that Uderzo’s handpicked replacements -scripter Jean-Yves Ferri (Fables Autonomes, La Retour à la terre) and illustrator Didier Conrad (Les Innomables, Le Piège Malais, Tatum) have properly settled into the creative role since his retirement in 2009.

Whether as an action-packed comedic romp with sneaky, bullying baddies getting their just deserts or as a sly and wicked satire for older-if-no-wiser heads, these new yarns are just as engrossing as the established canon.

As you already know, half of the intoxicating epics take place in various exotic locales throughout the Ancient World, whilst the alternating rest are set in and around Uderzo’s adored Brittany where, circa 50 BC, a little hamlet of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Although the land is divided by the conquerors into provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Armorica, the very tip of the last-named region stubbornly refuses to be properly pacified. The otherwise supreme overlords, utterly unable to overrun this last little bastion of Gallic insouciance, are reduced to a pointless policy of absolute containment – even though the irksome Gauls come and go as they please…

Thus, a tiny seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by heavily fortified garrisons Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium, filled with veteran fighters who would rather be anywhere else on earth than there…

Those contained couldn’t care less; daily defying and frustrating the world’s greatest military machine by going about their everyday affairs, bolstered by magic potion brewed by resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits and strategic aplomb of diminutive dynamo Asterix and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Ferri & Didier’s fourth album (and 38th canonical chronicle of Asterix) La Fille de Vercingétorix was released on October 17th 2018, with an English edition hitting shelves – and the digital emporia – as Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter on the 24th.

It similarly debuted that day in 19 other languages with an initial global print run of more than 5,000,000 copies.

As proof that time marches and on that youth will ultimately have its day, the narrative focus here is on a new generation of characters, but as always, action, suspense and comedy are very much in evidence. There’s a healthy helping of satirical lampooning of the generation gap, fads and trends as well as the traditional regional and nationalistic leitmotifs…

It all begins one evening when elderly Averni warriors Monolithix and Sidekix arrive at the village in search of Chief Vitalstatistix. They are aged survivors of the climactic battle of Alesia which culminated in the Romans taking control of Gaul. That occurred after great Vercingetorix ignominiously capitulated to Julius Caesar: a shame so great that most Gauls can no longer speak his name aloud…

In his grand hut, Vitalstatistix hears out his old comrades and agrees to take in a young girl. Surly teenager Adrenalin is the daughter of the defeated commander in chief and wears the great gold torc that symbolised his rule. Resolved that she will one day lead a liberating revolt, Monolithix and Sidekix have reared the girl in secret, but recently learned that a Gaulish traitor – Binjwatchflix – has informed Caesar of her existence.

Now the emperor wants the torc and the girl – whom he plans to indoctrinate into Roman ways and use as a puppet proxy – so the wrinkly resistance fighters need time to arrange a smuggled flight to Britain for their juvenile charge.

The skulking traitor is not the only problem: truculent Adrenalin is currently rebelling against her destiny and tends to run away at every opportunity. Suitably warned and worried, the Chief assigns his two top men – and their canine companion Dogmatix – to watch over her…

As the girl is assimilated into the village, nefarious Binjwatchflix steals into the garrison of Totorum and drafts the unwilling commander into a nasty scheme to capture the unwary, unruly child…

Back in the village, Adrenalin is causing a bit of a stir amongst the younger crowd. She’s rude, insolent and dresses in men’s clothes: the local lads just can’t stop following her about…

She’s especially interesting to the sons of Unhygienix the fishmonger and his great rival Fulliautomatix the blacksmith. Little Crabstix thinks she’s cool, but his elder sibling Blinix and the armourers’ boy Selfipix both know she’s far more than that…

Soon there’s a new gang in town, rejecting all the old ways and sassing their elders – and their music is just appalling and incomprehensible. Raucous bard Cacofonix is the only adult they can tolerate…

Already overmatched, Asterix and Obelix try to stay close, but although the massive menhir man is extremely childlike, he’s no teenager and is soon well out of his depth. Doughty Asterix just doesn’t understand what’s happening these days…

Adrenalin has already planned her escape: she’s going to ditch all the expectations of her elders, the plans to fight and liberate the land and run away to fabled Thule…

Oblivious to the rapidly-coalescing plot of vile Binjwatchflix, she convinces the village lads to help, just as the far-from-eager soldiers from Totorum infiltrate the forest surrounding the town and the long-suffering, lethally-optimistic and unlucky sea pirates make a disastrous foray upriver and unwittingly provide her with the one thing her plans lacks thus far: a ship…

As Monolithix and Sidekix covertly sail back from Britain with gorgeous mariner Captain Peacenix to retrieve their regal charge, all the enemy forces arraigned against Adrenalin close in.

Realising almost too late that she’s gone, odd-men-out Asterix and Obelix follow in their own boat, but happily, they’re not the only magic-potioned players in action as the Roman navy intercepts: further complicating a rapidly escalating catastrophe in the making…

Cue, glorious, uproarious action and a host of twisty, turny surprises…

Despite Asterix, Obelix and old our favourites very much playing second fiddle in this riotous tale of kids in revolt, the result is refreshingly off-kilter yet still suitably engaging. Teen-oriented, heavy on sardonic caricatures and daft wordplay – especially pop tunes given the old Crackerjack! (“Crackerjack! ..ack! …ack! …ack!!”*) – punny-rewrite treatments – and cannily sentimental, this yarn is awash with sneaky diversions, dirty tricks and vile villainy; providing non-stop thrills and spills to as we battle our way to the most effective of happy endings.

Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter is a sure win and another triumphant addition to the mythic canon for laugh-seekers in general and all devotees of comics.
© 2019 Les Éditions Albert René. English translation: © 2019 Les Éditions Albert René. All rights reserved.
*You must be British, at least 40 years old or aware of what’s coming in 2020 to understand this reference…

Lafcadio Hearn’s The Faceless Ghost and Other Macabre Tales from Japan: A Graphic Novel


By Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa (Shambhala Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-61180-197-2 (TPB)

If you read prose and love old stories you should really track down the works of Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, an Irish-Greek raconteur laterally renamed Koizumi Yakumo. They are wonderful and truly compelling. He was a pretty impressive character too, so you’d be best served to learn of his remarkable life too…

I’m not certain how the socially pioneering teacher, journalist, historian, translator and archivist would react to seeing some of his most engaging works translated into graphic narratives but as a renowned breaker of borders and flouter of taboos, I suspect he’d approve, even if this gleefully wry collation hadn’t been produced by such stellar luminaries as Scottish author Seán Michael Wilson (Breaking the Ten and Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking) and his frequent collaborator Michiru Morikawa.

Wilson’s life has some parallels with Hearn’s. The Japan-based writer, educator and dedicated Humanist has written political and philosophical tracts such as Goodbye God – An Illustrated Examination of Science Vs. Religion in graphic form and has adapted Western and Eastern literary classics such as Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, Sweeney Todd, and Chinese classics Tao Te Ching and The Garden, as well as original genre pieces such as urban interacial romance The Story of Lee.

Illustrator and manga artist Michiru Morikawa won the 2005 International Manga and Anime Award before going on to illustrate Wilson’s books Buskers, Yakuza Moon, The Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts and Musashi, amongst numerous comics series.

Hearn visited Japan as a correspondent in 1890, and fell in love with the land and the culture. He ended his days there in 1904, after marrying, becoming a Japanese citizen, teaching in numerous schools and universities and introducing the western world to the exotic enigmatic East through his writings and translations of its myths and legends.

Absurdly accessible, the tales here are gathered from the nation’s feudal period and open with a samurai yarn dubbed ‘Diplomacy’, wherein a highborn executioner performs his onerous task and plays a subtle and crafty trick upon the imminently departed to ensure that there will be no repercussions from beyond the grave…

That mordantly amusing distraction then gives way to a classic ghost story in ‘The Snow Woman’, wherein a young woodcutter survives an icy encounter with a mystical spirit at the cost of a simple promise. Tragically, in all such stories, a keeping one’s word is always impossible and leads to appalling inescapable circumstances…

Vanity and dissatisfaction fuel the saga ‘Of a Mirror and a Bell’, after the priests of Mugenyama ask the local women to donate their bronze mirrors so they can be cast into a great bell. After complying, one farmer’s wife began to bitterly regret her actions and so intense were her feelings that the mirror could not be melted down.

Wracked with guilt for her shameful intentions and the spoiling of the bell, she took her life, triggering a concatenation of unfortunate events…

After the history-making final clash between Heike (Taira) and Genji (Minamoto) clans, the rulership of Japan was decided for centuries to come. However, the sea battle created thousands of ghosts and ‘Hoichi the Earless’ relates how a blind musician and bard was tricked and beguiled by these restless spirits until a Buddhist priest intervened.

The end result was not an unqualified success…

Straight, inescapable horror drives the brief yet potent tale of a luckless merchant who encounters ‘The Faceless Ghost’, whilst love and friendship inspire the story of a young man in need of bride who prospers after he graciously saves a shark spirit and is uniquely rewarded by ‘The Gratitude of the Samebito’

As recounted in the ‘Author’s Note’ – detailing the origins and source material of the adaptions – the stories are mostly taken from Hearn’s books Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903) and Shadowings (1900), and come packed with sleek, informative and delightfully rambling diversions which add fabulously engaging context to the stories.

Eerie, exotic and wonderfully compelling, these “yokai” stories are gems of unease, disquiet and wonder that no lover of the strange can fail to adore.
© 2015 by Sean Michael Wilson. Illustrations © 2015 by Michiru Morikawa. All rights reserved.

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.