They Called Us Enemy


By George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steve Scott & Harmony Becker (Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-603094-50-4 (TPB) 978-1-603094-70-2 (Expanded HB)
eISBN 978-1-684067-51-0

Graphic biographies are a relatively new form for English-language comics, but the wealth and variety of material already available is truly breathtaking and laudable. This exemplary example is a subtly understated but deeply moving chronicle exploring the events and repercussions of a truly shameful moment in American history, recalled and relived by a global icon of popular culture who also happens to be one of the USA’s most ardent advocates of democracy, justice and equality and top-level activist in the arenas of LGBTQ and Asian-American rights.

Although George Takei has celebrated and commemorated his life in prose autobiography To the Stars, here – in collaboration with writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and illustrator Harmony Becker – the Hollywood star slyly shifts focus to explore in painful and revelatory detail the early years of his life: a formative period spent as a non-person behind barbed wire in his own country.

Recounted as non-linear, non-chronological episodes, the history and self-serving actions of American leaders (like Lt. General John L. DeWitt or Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron) who systematically stripped people of Japanese ethnicity of their rights, livelihoods, possessions and autonomy are seen through the eyes of a small child: observations which inevitably shaped the actor into a crusading defender of democratic principles of later life.

I’d love to say that’s simply a thing of the past, but kids are still being locked in cages and families split up…

On February 19th 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, dividing the country into military zones and effectively declaring all American citizens of Japanese origins enemy aliens. This led to their internment for the duration of the war in 10 isolated camps between the West Coast and Mississippi river.

In surprisingly fond recollections of camp life, we share the notions of baffled children (George, brother Henry, sister Nancy Reiko and many new pals) and the lasting, post-war consequences of divisively authoritarian stunts such as legally-binding loyalty pledges, de-fanged and counterpointed by modern day discussions and triumphant moments of past injustices finally addressed.

As well as exposing the human costs of a shameful period of state-sanctioned, opportunistic profiteering and proud racism, this tale is a testament to human endurance, perseverance and innate dignity, with moments of delightful warmth and genuine humour, bolstered by actions of unsung humanitarian heroes like Takei’s own parents and pioneering civil rights lawyer Wayne M. Collins. Their tireless fortitude and resistance to oppression, along with the efforts of countless others, offers inspiration and hope for all suffering similar restraint and abuse while sadly proving that some battles may never end.

They Called Us Enemy is a compelling, charming and informative account of injustice and unchecked ignorance endured with plenty of points as pertinent now as they ever were.

In 2020 and expanded edition was released with 16 pages of extra material and is also available as both a physical hardback and in digital formats.
They Called Us Enemy © 2019 George Takei. All Rights Reserved.

Orwell


By Pierre Christin & Sébastien Verdier, with André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch, Isabelle Merlet, Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal & more: translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-87-5 (TPB)

We all have our heroes. One whom I apparently share with another of my most admired and revered favourites is Eric Arthur Blair, who you’ll know as George Orwell.

One of the most significant literary, societal, cultural and political figures of the 20th century, Orwell is also a particular fascination of comics icon Pierre Christin, co-creator of epically barbed, venerable sci fi masterpiece Valerian and Laureline. A seditiously canny political commentator in his own right – as seen in such thought-provoking graphic subversions as The Town That Didn’t Exist, The Black Order and The Hunting Party – Christin began this particular piece of literary reportage after completing a personal project investigating the world’s various functioning – if not necessarily functional – Communist regimes…

A writer to his core, Eric Blair was a true and ardent democratic socialist: an author, critic, essayist and unflinching observer of humanity saddled with a loathing of privilege and an inescapably, embarrassingly obvious upper-class education.

Blair was a solitary individual who loved people, and an angry humanist vehemently opposed to greed, stupidity, totalitarianism, extremism and oppression (equally from the Left, Right and religious alike). He fought for his ideals during the Spanish Civil War and loathed Stalin, Hitler and probably his own and all other national leaders with equanimous passion.

The complex man’s fascinating private life is brilliantly and addictively detailed in Orwell: Old Etonian, copper, prole, dandy, militiaman, journalist, rebel, novelist, eccentric, socialist, patriot, gardener, hermit, visionary: Christin’s compelling graphic biography and appreciation primarily illustrated by Sébastien Verdier (Ultimate Agency; Le marathon de Safia; Zodiaque) with additional visual contributions from André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch, Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal, colourist Isabelle Merlet and more.

Divided into ‘Orwell Before Orwell’, ‘Blair Invents Orwell’ and ‘Orwellian Orwell’, with an assessment of the world ‘After Orwell’, the narrative message and potent documentary depictions are bolstered with adapted snatches from Orwell’s groundbreaking stories and non-fiction, plus plenty of quotes taken from the cultural witness/prophet’s diaries.

Moving, revelatory, potent and supplemented by a methodological Afterword from Christin, this is a captivating graphic triumph no fan of graphic biography or devotee of the only man to provably predict the future should be without.
Orwell © DARGAUD 2019, by Christin, Verdier. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero.

Nanjing: The Burning City


By Ethan Young (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-752-2 (HB) 978-1-50671-085-3 (TPB)

Ethan Young comes from New York City, the youngest of three boys born to Chinese immigrant parents. Following studies at the School of Visual Arts, he began work as a commercial illustrator, supplementing that with debut graphic novel Tails: Life in Progress which won Best Graphic Novel award at the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

It thrived as a webcomic, as did his other ongoing all-ages project A Piggy’s Tale: The Adventures of a 3-Legged Super-Pup (created and written by Tod Emko). Later works include Firefly: Watch How I Soar; The Dragon Path; The Battles of Bridget Lee and more but they are all a far cry from this masterpiece. Nanjing: The Burning City is a stunning and excoriating anti-war parable, detailing one incomprehensibly dark night of horror in a war most of the world has conveniently forgotten about.

Whilst many Japanese – like Keiji Nakazawa (author of the astounding Barefoot Gen and a tireless anti-war campaigner for most of his life) – are fully prepared, able to acknowledge and “own” Japan’s horrific excesses throughout World War II (and the colonial expansion into China – noncommittally dubbed The Second Sino-Japanese War – which preceded it), far too many survivors of the original conflicts and – disturbingly – modern apologists and revisionists find it easier and more comfortable to excuse, obfuscate or even deny Japan’s role.

Sadly, I suspect today’s China is just as keen to systematically refute the excesses of the Maoist years and beyond…

Every nation that’s fought a war has committed atrocities, but no country or government has the right to dodge shame or excise blame by conveniently rewriting history for expediency or political gain: not Britain, not the USA, not Russia and never, ever those barbaric “Axis Powers” who tormented mankind between 1933 and 1945.

Delivered in stark, stunning yet understated black-&-white in hardback, paperback and digital editions, Young’s tale exposes callous brutality – without resorting to “us-and-them”, “good guys vs. bad guys” polemic – by simply focusing on one night and three very different military men caught up in the ghastly events.

The Second Sino-Japanese War began on July 7th 1937 when an aggressively expansionist Empire of Japan invaded complacent Shanghai. The well-equipped force moved swiftly inland towards Nanking, capital of Kuomintang Generalissimo Chang Kai-Shek’s newly established Republic of China.

The thoroughly modern Imperial army reached the city on December 12th, whereupon Nanking’s military and civil leaders fled in panic, leaving hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and citizens to bear the brunt of a savage, bestial assault described by author Iris Chang as The Rape of Nanking.

Chinese Republican officers didn’t even issue orders for the soldiers they abandoned to retreat…

Over the next six weeks more than 300,000 died in a campaign of organised torture and massacre. Uncountable numbers of women and children were raped and brutalised. Before the Japanese military chiefs surrendered in 1945, they had all records of the taking of Nanking destroyed. The never-to-be-properly-accounted dead are rightly known as the Forgotten Ones…

An event almost completely overlooked for decades by western – and Japanese – historians, the torment began with a night of appalling, unparalleled atrocity with Young concentrating his tale on the efforts of a nameless Captain and a sole surviving subordinate making their way through the shredded remnants of the metropolis. The betrayed, beaten warriors harbour a fanciful hope of sanctuary in the enclave occupied by European diplomats, businessmen, missionaries and their servants: the sacrosanct “Safety Zone” where white people go about their business largely untouched by strictly Asian “local politics”…

It’s only a few kilometres to salvation, and the Zone indeed houses many sympathetic foreign souls who will risk their lives for humanitarian reasons, but to get to them the soldiers must avoid the hordes of prowling, drunken, blood-crazed conquerors and deny their own burning desire to strike back at the invaders – even if it costs their lives…

As they slowly scramble through hellish ruins, they are doggedly pursued by a Japanese colonel who apparently has no stomach for the gleeful bloody debaucheries of his soldiers but rather carries out his duties with a specialised zeal and for a different kind of reward…

Whilst the weary Kuomintang survivors make their way to the Safety Zone, however, a far more deadly hazard constantly arises: crushed, beaten, desperate fellow Chinese begging them to stop and help…

This is a gripping story with no happy ending, supplemented by Young’s large Sketchbook and Commentary sections, offering character studies, developmental insights and rejected cover roughs, as well as a formidable Bibliography for further reading…

Nanjing: The Burning City is a beautiful, haunting book designed to make you angry and curious and in that it succeeds with staggering effect. It’s not intended as a history lesson but rather a signpost for the unaware, offering directions to further research and greater knowledge, if not understanding; a provocative lesson from history we should, now more than ever, all see and learn from.
© 2015 Ethan Young. All rights reserved.

Championess


By Tarun Shanker, Kelly Zekas, Amanda Perez Puentes, & various (Legendary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68116-076-4 (TPB)

Legendary Comics (a print adjunct of Legendary Pictures – responsible for the Batman/Dark Knight movies as well as The Hangover, Man of Steel and 300) specialises in graphic narratives tailored for big screen film franchises, and this latest trade paperback may be a sleeper hit and potential contemporary blockbuster…

Women’s boxing is a rapidly growing sport and Britain is apparently a global leader. You might be surprised to know that – apart from an aberration of those deeply disturbed, morally hypocritical, history-rewriting Victorians – ‘twas ever so…

Championess is a hugely enjoyable melodramatic romp based on Georgian Elizabeth Wilkinson (nee Stokes) of Clerkenwell: a woman bareknuckle prize-fighter active between 1722-1728, and acclaimed star of a sport deliberately excised from history by those aforementioned, socially-censorious commentators and scribes.

Here, thanks to writers Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – who have themselves taken a few literary liberties to deliver a knockout blow for racial diversity and female empowerment – Wilkinson is resurrected as a shunned but determined young woman of mixed race (British and Lascar/Indian) who wants to be a champion pugilist at a time when women fighters are commonplace, but considered simply as clowns and novelties.

Elizabeth fights for money to save her poor but saintly sister – who can “pass” for English – from debtors’ prison; she does it for revenge on an old friend who betrayed her; she does it to prove men don’t run the world; she eventually does it for and beside a man she

learns to trust and love, but mostly Elizabeth fights because she wants to and she’s really good at it. All she has to do is prove it to the scurrilous, bout-fixing fight arranger who runs the game in London, the public and in the end, herself…

Illustrated in monochrome grey washes by Amanda Perez Puentes, this is a bright, breezy, modernistic costume drama that would win plenty of notice on big and small screens. There’s not much in the way of narrative nuance or novelty, but it enthusiastically follows the arc of all good sports comics like Roy of the Rovers or the Tough of the Track, and Sport’s all about the action and the moment, right?

Backed up by sketch and design pages, cover gallery and variants and a feature on the process of script to finished art page, this tale is an unsophisticated but enthralling feelgood tale which I can certainly see fulfilling Legendary Comics’ remit and being adapted – assuming I and others can stifle that old-world, chauvinistic response to seeing women (or anybody, in fact) hitting each other for money and other peoples’ gratification…
© 2021, Legendary Comics, LLC. All rights reserved. Continue reading “Championess”

The Dancing Plague


By Gareth Brookes (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-98-1 (PB)

Plagues, disasters and mysteries are, quite understandably, on everyone’s minds at the moment. What’s become clear over the last year is that we all react in different ways to something genuinely too big for mortals to cope with – especially those Idiots-In-Charge, universally elected almost everywhere by us idiots who aren’t…

For auteur extraordinaire Gareth Brookes, that annus horribilis of enforced confinement involved a deep delve back into history; to a strikingly different contagion that shook contemporary civilisation and tried the patience, initiative and abilities of the authorities.

It also gave him the perfect arena to examine other societal ills we haven’t cured or properly addressed – such as the role and treatment of women, the overwhelming disruptive and corrosive power of dogma and the perpetual inescapable corruption of those at the top by the very power they wield on our behalf.

Brookes is a capital-A artist, printmaker, textile creator and educator who learned his craft(s) at the Royal College of Art and who has subsequently appeared in ArtReview; Kus; The British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition and numerous classrooms and lecture theatres as inspirational teacher.

He began literally crafting comics in 2015 with an astounding, disturbing and hilarious epic entitled The Black Project and followed up two years later with an equally incisive take on perceptual disability – A Thousand Coloured Castles. His latest off-kilter gem harks back to a time far removed, but so-clearly beset with similar problems, demonstrating how humanity has barely changed in spite of the passing centuries, a massive shift in dominant worldview and what we’ll graciously call major advances in understanding of the universe and our place in it…

From the 11th century onward, Central European historians detail outbreaks of spontaneous, uncontrolled dancing – “choreomania” – which initially gripped and compelled women to prance and cavort without stopping. Causing great injury and always spreading to children, men and apparently, in some cases, livestock, these outbreaks were far beyond the ability of civic leaders, clergy or physicians to cure or even properly contain.

With instances cited all over the Holy Roman Empire from Saxony to Italy, the fictionalised tale here concentrates on the well-documented outbreak afflicting citizens of Strasbourg, Alsace (now France) in June 1518, which followed in the wake of a far more well-known pestilence – the Black Death.

Mary is an extraordinary girl gripped by revelations and visions: either a disruptive pawn of devils or the chosen mouthpiece of an outraged Lord and Saviour Jesus. Whatever the cause, she glimpses hidden truths and is compelled to expose the hypocrisy and corruption of high-ranking churchmen who betray their vows and faith. From near-death at her outraged and terrified father’s hands, to a truly unwise vocation as a nun who can’t stay silent, to abused wife and mother, Mary speaks out, steps out and is reviled and punished for it. Happily, something supernatural is keeping an eye on her…

Despite proof of miracles, rampant death, hunger and uncanny phenomena, Mary and her children abide and endure in acceptable normality until one day her drunken husband reports how he saw their neighbour Frau Troffea capering and hopping about in the street. What Mary sees is a woman pulled and bent by the gleefully malign ministrations of demons…

And so, another period of panic, intolerance and governmental ineptitude commences, with as usual tragic consequences for those at the bottom of the social hierarchy who get the chance to be scapegoated and gaslit yet again…

Episodically ducking and diving between 4th June 1500 and an Epilogue in March 1527, the grand dance unfolds and who knows where or how it will end?

Deeply unsettling, earthily, gloriously vulgar in the manner of the Boccaccio’s Decameron or unexpurgated Chaucer, outrageously witty and slyly admonitory, The Dancing Plague is rendered with (I’m assuming, positively therapeutic) mastery in invitingly multicoloured, multi-layered linework reminiscent of woodblock prints, generated by “pyrographics” (inscribed by heated drawing tools) and painstakingly-sewn embroidery. As I’ve said in previous reviews, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen and serves to form an equally unique narrative.

Preceded by a context-establishing Foreword by Anthony Bale – Professor of Medieval Studies, Birkbeck, University of London – providing all the factual background necessary to understand and enjoy this terpsichorean treat and details on two remarkable female historical figures whose lives inspired this yarn (sorry, I’m weak and couldn’t resist), this is another graphic triumph no fan of the medium or social redeemer should miss.
Text and images © 2021 Gareth Brookes. All rights reserved.

Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles


By Fermín Solís, translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-84-4 (PB)

The places and moments where great art intersects with mundane reality have always made for great storytelling, and that’s never been more deftly demonstrated than in this highly personal interpretation of a crucial moment in the history of 20th century cinema.

Luis Buñuel Portholés (February 22nd, 1900 – July 29th 1983) was a Spanish filmmaker who renounced his citizenship in favour of Mexico, and his catholic faith in favour of truth: an iconoclastic, moralistic thinker and revolutionary who embraced surrealist doctrine and reshaped the arts of filmmaking.

If you have the stomach and suitable respect for the medium, please view Un Chien Andalou, L’Age d’Or and That Obscure Object of Desire – if not all of his heady output – but probably best leave it until after reading this engaging visual introspection from award-winning cartoonist Fermín Solís Campos.

The self-taught cartoonist, animator and illustrator of such treats as Otra Vida and El Hombre del Perrito shares many similarities with his subject and a solid yet whimsical earthy touch that is perfect for this examination of a key moment in the celluloid auteur’s rocky progression from wunderkind to industry lynchpin.

‘Do Not Disturb! Artist Dreaming’ opens with Buñuel wracked by his usual night terrors of barnyard fowl, Christian iconography and talking wildlife before an old friend calls to inform him of a cash windfall. It’s the end of 1932 and old comrade Ramón Acin trails him through the seedy warrens of the city, carousing and pontificating on past glories before deducing ‘Paris no Longer Loves Us’. Are there no challenges left? Is surrealism no longer enough to challenge the world and outrage society?

‘Ten Hours from Paris’ and months later, they and a small crew are assessing one of the most poverty-stricken regions of Europe. A Spanish region wedded to faith but so poor that the residents have no conception of even basic foodstuffs like bread. As the bizarre villagers and their weird tortoise-like huts bore into Buñuel’s fevered subconsciousness, his creative dry spell vanishes. Inspired again, he carefully concocts Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (Land Without Bread) contravening all established rules and mores to create a new genre beyond simple documentary. Alternatively called ethnofiction, pseudo-documentary or cinema verité, its cost to veracity, human compassion and even simple morality might be too much to bear…

Challenging, compelling and utterly absorbing, Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is a superb graphic assessment of the creative process that will surprise and delight in equal measure
© 2008, 2019 Fermín Solís. © 2019 Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial, S.A.U. All rights reserved.

The Stringer


By Ted Rall & Pablo Callejo (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-272-4 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-273-1

How many times have you heard it? “Print is dead”, “there’s no money in news” and other crass judgements solving a thorny problem by simply dismissing and diminishing it.

Thankfully folk like Ted Rall don’t always accept what they’re told in the way they’re meant to and have the ability to counterpunch with counterpoints…

Frederick Theodore Rall III was born in 1963, so he’s grown up with the gradual defanging and commercial contamination of journalism in an era of increased distrust of democracy and unchecked political malfeasance. A figure of constant controversy, he works widely as an editorial cartoonist, columnist and author of such books as Waking Up in America, The Year of Loving Dangerously, Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America, To Afghanistan and Back and many more.

Equally adept with outrageous but well-reasoned fantasy as compelling non-fiction, Rall has reunited with Pablo Callejo (Bluesman, The Castaways, The Year of Loving Dangerously) for a frighteningly convincing extrapolation of the way things are, that is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in the last decade.

Mark Scribner is a highly experienced, world-weary investigative journalist who has also grown old in the above-cited decades. A veteran observer of conflicts, police actions, interventions and wars, with contacts from every stratum of all those zones and scenes and bars. He literally knows everyone in the global conflict game while viewing the advance of citizen reportage and click-bait editorialising with increasing despair.

However, when a crisis of conscience finally comes in a crisis barely making headlines anywhere, Scribner – always somehow in the right place at the right time – makes a bold new decision and picks a path far less, if indeed ever, travelled…

However, although his new lifepath carries incredible rewards as well as danger, Scribner is still tied to his old self and the values that elevate or destroy all humans alike, and his successes carry seeds of awful destruction…

Gripping, smart and scarily plausible, this potent dose of realpolitik is a supremely engaging yarn no news junkie or comics addict can afford to miss. Maybe you can’t handle the truth, but you should definitely handle this…
© 2021 Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Stringer is scheduled for physical release in the UK on May 25th 2021, with digital editions available now. For more information and other great reads please see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Michael Jackson in Comics


By Céka, illustrated by Patrick Lacan, Filippo Neri & Piero Ruggeri, JGSB, Laurent Houssin, Lu-K, Guillaume Griffon, Sarah Williamson, BiG ToF, Nikopek & Lou, Vox, Domas, Clément Baloup, Martin Trystram, Bast, Guillaume Tavernier, Aurélie Neyret, Anthony Audibert, Yigaël, Julien Akita, Lapuss, Kyung-Eun Park, Jean-Christophe Pol & Vallale; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-228-1 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-230-4

Graphic biographies – especially those produced in Europe dissecting the lives of iconic celebrities and artists – are incredibly popular these days. This one was originally released in 2018: an inevitable but accessible addition and one featuring probably the most popular and controversial musical star of all time.

If you’ve never heard of Michael Jackson, there’s very little point in you carrying on any further.

Still with us? Okay then…

Offering cannily repackaged popular culture factoids and snippets of celebrity history, this tome – written by journalist Céka, with a legion of illustrators providing vivid and vibrant mini-strips – hones in on key moments in the controversial star’s career: detailing them through brief text essays.

It all began at ‘2300 Jackson Street’ where an extended family of juvenile performers were harshly schooled by their ruthless dad, after which the inner life of an abused kid is depicted in ‘I Wish I Could Have Been… A Child’, as portrayed in strip-form by Patrick Lacan.

The euphoria of winning talent contests and getting picked up by a major label is described in text article ‘From the Apollo Theater to Motown’ before Filippo Neri & Piero Ruggeri detail the draconian rehearsal regimen forced on the Jackson 5 by ambitious father Joe.

As their fame grew, little Michael constantly sought surrogate maternal relationships from a string of female celebrities. This is detailed in ‘One Father and Five Mothers’, with vividly lurid cartoon extrapolation ‘Diana Ross: THE Lady in his Life’ exploring the situation courtesy of JGSB.

‘From the Jackson 5 to Michael’ details the fractious move to solo stardom and hard-won autonomy ‘Made in Motown’(art by Laurent Houssin), whilst ‘5% Talent, 95% Hard Work’ explore the boy star’s ultimate idol in Lu-K’s ‘James Brown, the Mentor’.

The start of autonomy comes with ‘The Quincy Jones Trilogy’, depicting the global-shocks attending the making of‘Thriller: No Mere Mortal Can Resist!’ by Guillaume Griffon. Status is confirmed by ‘Birth of an Icon’ and attendant Moonwalk step-chart ‘An Extraterrestrial on Earth’ (Sarah Williamson art) before I Have a Dream’ starts tracing the cracks, and ‘The MTV Blackout’ – by Big ToF – discloses the colour bar keeping certain performers’ videos off pioneering music channels…

‘Jackson’s Jackpot’ and Nikopek & Lou’s linked visualisation of ‘A 47-and-a-Half Million-Dollar Blunder’ explore the tensions between the young star and Paul McCartney as well as music ownership rights, whilst – courtesy of Vox – carton strip ‘The Man with the White Socks’ illustrates the consequences of Prince of Pop’s style decisions as textually defined and described in ‘Fashionista’. ‘Dancing Machine’ examines signature moves, with Domas limning the steps in cartoon guide ‘The Man Who Slides on Clouds’. Before, social conscience engaged, ‘We are the World’ recalls the era of charity mega-records, with Clément Baloup depicting how the song was written in ‘Check Your Egos at the Door’.

The crown starts to wobble as ‘Neverland’ reveals how the fabulous ranch of dreams began, with Martin Trystram illustrating ‘Now Go Go Go Where you Want’, after which the media rumour mill runs wild in ‘Animal Spirit’, with Bast fancifully sketching out the story of exotic pets like ‘Bubbles, Muscles, and Co.’

Once unleashed, the press is relentless and ludicrous, as exposed in ‘Tabloid of Fact?’, with Guillaume Tavernier offering a strip further covering ‘The Rumor Mill’, whilst Aurélie Neyret’s cartoon tale of ‘Ryan White: Gone Too Soon’ adds balance to the uncomfortable reports of child-centred indiscretions recounted in ‘The Lost Children’

Excesses real or otherwise dominate in ‘Tabloid Junkie’, with Anthony Audibert vignetting ‘The Elephant Man Case’before the years of defensive self-isolation are detailed in ‘Blood on the Dance Floor’ and Yigaël draws the benefits – and not – of ‘Privacy’.

‘Scandal at Neverland’ leads to Julien Akita’s sensitive exploration of ‘Jordan Chandler vs Peter Pan’, a review of ‘Family Life’ with attendant strip ‘Once Upon a Time’ from Lapuss, after which ‘The Man With 240 Awards’ reveals ‘The Whims of a Star’ thanks to cartoonist Kyung-Eun Park.

The final days approach, as seen in essay ‘Fans, I Love You More!’ with Jean-Christophe Pol & Vallale visually enquiring ‘What Kind of Fan Are You?’ of the music man’s broad church of devotees.

The star-studded, star-crossed story concludes with ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ as Clément Baloup draws things to a close with ‘Michael Forever’

Although intellectually slight and far from incisive or comprehensive in addressing the many controversies surrounding the star in question, Michael Jackson in Comics is far from a concealing hagiography either and presents a remarkably readable and beautifully rendered confection for comics and music fans alike.
© 2018 Editions Petit a Petit. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

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

Yakari and the White Buffalo (volume 2)


By Derib & Job, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-90546-004-5 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of modern Europeans.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – has achieved 40 albums: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain assumed the writer’s role in 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Yakari et le bison blanc was the second collected European album, published in 1976 as the strip continued rapidly rising to huge prominence and critical acclaim.

Transformed to English, Yakari and the White Buffalo begins one cold day on the plains with winter snows still heavy on the ground. With spring delayed, animals and humans are going hungry and when the boy and his pinto mount Little Thunder return to camp, they find his father Bold Gaze has decreed they will move south in search of better prospects.

As they progress across the prairie the buffalo that should form the major part of their diet are nowhere to be found…

Then one day scout Grey Wolf furiously rides in. He has seen the herd. Soon they will all be enjoying the nourishment of Great Spirit Wakonda’s gift. That night the braves dance in honour of the moving mountains they will soon hunt. Not permitted to join the men, Yakari wanders off with his pony and meets totem spirit Great Eagle in a lush clearing. The noble bird warns him the hunt will not go the way it should and the glum boy heads home with Little Thunder buckling under the weight of firewood the worried yet diligent lad has gathered…

Far away, the braves are baffled and still without meat. The night sky is riven with terrifying lightning and a furious storm. Back at camp, Yakari is scared and worried but soon soothed by elderly Quiet Rock. Eventually, the boy sleeps and is again visited by prophetic dreams. After tracking the buffalo over boiling sandy wastes and through a strange horn-like rock formation, the vision ends with him leading the herd and a great white bull back to the people…

As his mother wakes him in the morning, elsewhere the braves have reached a great desert and, with no sign of the great herd, are forced to split into small scouting parties. With little to do, Yakari and Little Thunder race with boisterous older boy Buffalo Seed and gentle Rainbow. The chase takes them to the top of a hill where he sees the rocky prominence of his dream…

His friends cannot deter Yakari from riding right out into the vast, empty plain and before long both boy and pony suffer the harsh trials of scorching heat and burning thirst. Determined to go on, both are near death when Great Eagle arrives and teaches them the secret of getting water out of the tall cacti around them.

Fortified and reinvigorated, they push on into sandy wastes and the next day are confronted by a towering wall of rock. Unable to climb the forbidding massif, Yakari discusses the problem with his pony and the wise steed suggests that every fence has an opening somewhere…

At last, their patient search reveals a deliciously refreshing waterfall and a tunnel into a lush hidden oasis where the missing buffalo herd is grazing in total secrecy…

As they innocently approach the massive ruminants a young bull furiously attacks, but his charge is intercepted by an immense white buffalo who takes the intruders aside for a quiet chat.

The wise beast explains the nature of the hidden pasture and listens with great care to the tale of woe that has left the Sioux starving. The beast understands the role of all creatures in the grand scheme of life and was already preparing to lead the migration back to the plains when Yakari arrived…

By the time horse and rider have led the herd to the spring plains, the hunters have returned home, but the snowy bovine mountain sagely advises Yakari and Little Thunder to ride away before the braves can arrive to fulfil their role in the eternal cycle of life and death of the plains…

The saga of the valiant little brave who can speak with animals and enjoys a unique place in an exotic world is a decades-long celebration of joyously gentle, moving and inexpressibly entertaining adventures honouring and eulogising an iconic culture with grace, wit, wonder and especially humour. These tales are a masterpiece of kids’ comics literature and Yakari is a series no fan of graphic literature should be without.
Original edition © 1977 Le Lombard/Dargaud by Derib + Job. English translation 2005 © Cinebook Ltd.

Papyrus volume 6: The Amulet of the Great Pyramid


By Lucien De Geiter, coloured by B. Swysen: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-240-9 (Album PB)

Papyrus is the astoundingly addictive magnum opus of Belgian cartoonist Lucien de Gieter. Launched in 1974 on the pages of legendary weekly Le Journal de Spirou, it has run to 35 albums and spawned a wealth of merchandise, a TV cartoon series and video games.

Born in 1932, the author studied at Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels before going into industrial design and interior decorating. In 1961 he made the jump to sequential narrative, first via ‘mini-récits’ (half-sized, fold-in booklet inserts) for Spirou, starring his jovial cowboy ‘Pony’, and later by writing for art-star regulars such as Kiko, Jem, Eddy Ryssack and Francis.

He later joined Peyo’s studio as inker on ‘Les Schtroumpfs’ (The Smurfs), took over long-running newspaper strip ‘Poussy’ and launched mermaid fantasy ‘Tôôôt et Puit’ when Pony was promoted to Spirou’s full-sized pages. Deep-sixing the Smurfs, de Gieter expanded his horizons by joining a select band contributing material to both Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey.

From 1972-1974 he worked with cartooning legend Berck on ‘Mischa’ for Germany’s Primo whilst perfecting his dream project: a historical fantasy which would soon occupy his full attention and delight millions of fervent fans for decades to come.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieux, mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated breaking historical theories and discoveries into the beguiling yarns.

Papyrus is a fearlessly forthright young fisherman favoured by the gods who rises against all odds to become an infallible hero and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster, the plucky Fellah was singled out and given a magic sword, courtesy of the daughter of crocodile-headed Sobek, before winning similar boons and blessings from many of the Twin Land’s potent pantheon.

The youthful champion’s first accomplishment was freeing supreme deity Horus from imprisonment in the Black Pyramid of Ombos and restoring peace to the Double Kingdom, but it was as nothing compared to current duty: safeguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely thrill-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Amulet of the Great Pyramid was 6th-&-last-to-date Cinebook translation (the 21st album of the series, originally released in 1998 as Le Talisman de la grande pyramide). It’s an enthralling rollercoaster romp through living mythology and a spooky trial for the plucky chosen one which begins when Papyrus is dragged from the palace – and a rare reward from Theti-Cheri for saving her life and soul again – by spookily intelligent donkey Khamelot.

The savvy beast of burden belongs to court jester Puin and whenever it comes running in such a manner, it means the funny little man has found more trouble…

An eventful trip to the Giza plateau with its royal necropolis and great pyramids of Kheops, Khefren and Mykerinusresults in the daring lad finding not only his diminutive friend but also a desiccated yet extremely active mummy unearthed by tomb-robbers.

Puin has been hearing ghastly screams emanating from the tombs and convinces the boy-hero to stay and listen for them too. He never anticipated his bold friend to look for what made them…

The sinister sounds lead deep into the nobles’ grave fields, but as they proceed, the searchers stumble upon another acquaintance. The unconscious man is one of the three Pepi brothers charged with keeping the recently-restored Sphinx free of desert sands. Leaving the comatose victim in Puin’s care, Papyrus presses on. Before very long though, the eerie events prove too much and the panicked Professional Fool bolts. His pell-mell rush carries him down a passage far under the Kheops pyramid where he is confronted with the spirit of Seneb the Dwarf, magician and priest of that august and long-deceased pharaoh…

The garrulous ghost is in need of a favour and urges his terrified “guest” to carry his jewelled heart scarab to Papyrus who will know what to do with it…

Scrabbling out of the ancient passageway, Puin is eventually rescued by his donkey and impetuous Theti-Cheri – who again refused to be left out of any action and secretly followed her bodyguard into peril.

Papyrus, meanwhile, plunges deeper into the necropolis and is attacked by a pack of spectral jackals. Even his magic sword is no help and the malign mobbing only ends when Anubis himself calls a halt to it. The God of the Dead is angered by the sudden increase in grave-robbing and has abducted two of the caretaking Pepi brothers, thinking them desecrators.

Unfortunately, rather than admit a mistake, the jackal-headed judge demands Papyrus retrieve Kheops’ heart amulet in return for their liberty. Anubis needs it to weigh the king’s soul before he can remove all the wandering spirits of the region to a place where the living can no longer disturb them…

And thus ensues an astonishing race against time as the young champion has to scour the Great Pyramid from top to bottom (magnificently detailed and scrupulously explained in some of the best action illustration the author has ever produced); defeating deadly traps, defying spectral sabotage and godly interventions and solving the riddles of the dead to accomplish his mission.

However, even after more than satisfying the demands of Anubis, there’s still the murderously mundane menace of the real grave-robbers holding Theti-Cheri hostage to deal with before the canny champion can rest easy…

Epic, chilling, funny, fast-paced and utterly engaging, this is another amazing adventure to thrill and enthral lovers of wonder from nine to ninety-nine, confirming Papyrus to be a sublime addition to the family-friendly pantheon of Euro Stars who wed heroism and humour with wit and charm.

Any avid reader who has worn out those Tintin, Lucky Luke and Asterix albums would be wise beyond their years to add such classic chronicles to their bookshelves, and actively agitate the publishers to get on with releasing the rest of these too-long buried treasures.
© Dupuis, 1998 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd.