The Golden Years of Adventure Stories


By various (DC Thomson & Co., Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0851165271

Here’s a wonderful compilation commemorating the truly unique DC Thomson comic experience, concentrating on their many action and adventure serials. The Dundee based company has long been a mainstay of British popular reading and the strong editorial stance has informed a huge number of household names over the decades.

The main tenet of the Thomson adventure philosophy is a traditional, humanistic sense of decency. Runner Alf Tupper‘The Tough of the Track’ – might be a poor, rough, working class lad, competing in a world of privileged “Toffee-Nosed Swells”, but he excels for the sheer joy of sportsmanship, not for gain or glory.

There are no anti-heroes in the Thomson heroic stable, almost in direct opposition to the iconic, anarchic, mischief-makers of their humour comics.

British spy Bill Sampson may be the dreaded ‘Wolf of Kabul’ to the Afghan tribesmen he encounters with devoted assistant Chung (who will live forever as the wielder of the deadly “Clicky Ba” – that’s a cricket bat to you and me), but he’s still just an ordinary chap at heart, as are all the other characters spotlighted here. They’re just the sort of people ordinary kids should want to grow up into.

Heroes like Samson actually predate the company’s conversion of prose adventure fiction into comic strips – generally accepted as 1961, when the proliferation of TV sets among the perceived audience dictated the switch from words to pictures.

For many years previously, what children bought were boys’ or girls’ “papers”, packed with well-written text stories and the odd illustration and features page. Thomson held these over in titles such as Adventure until the end of the 1950s, but eventually succumbed to the inevitable, converting their pulp-stars into pictorial idols.

Wolf of Kabul, for instance, began in 1922, but was easily and successfully translated into a comic strip in the 1960s.

In this compendium are both prose stories and strips featuring some of Britain’s best loved and longest running heroes subdivided into categories that mirror the average schoolboy’s interests.

So thrill again, or catch the bug with such Schooldays sagas as The Red Circle School (1940s) and Kingsley Comp (1980s); the sporting triumphs of The Tough of the Track (1949-onwards), Wilson the mysterious Man in Black (The Truth About Wilson: 1943-onwards), or Gorgeous Gus (a millionaire – even before he became a footballer – who didn’t like to run but had an infallible shot).

You might prefer to peruse Cast, Hook and Strike, the story of Joe Dodd: an exceptional angler from the 1970s (yes, a fishing strip, and don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it).

Or perhaps your fancy will be caught by the War stories I Flew with Braddock, Code-name Warlord, and V for Vengeance, or the outrageous heroics of Morgyn the Mighty (Strongest Man in Africa), The Laughing Pirate, or The Hairy Sheriff (a cowboy ape).

And, as ever, Wolf of Kabul will capture your fancy and fulfil that desire to sample simpler times.

These tales, taken from the classic periodical publications Adventure, The Skipper, The Wizard and Rover, latterly supplemented by material from Hornet, Hotspur, Victor and Warlord, are accompanied and augmented by numerous glorious cover reproductions and feature pages, loaded with fun and shiny with nostalgia.

I only wish I could name all the creators responsible, but Thomson’s long-standing policy of creative anonymity means I’d be guessing too many times. I can only hope that future collected celebrations will include some belated acknowledgement of all the talented individuals who between them shaped the popular consciousness of generations, and made childhoods joyful, wondrous and thrilling.
© 1991 DC Thomson & Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Dull Margaret


By Jim Broadbent & DIX (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-098-0

Sequential graphic narrative is arguably the most effective and all-encompassing art form we possess, able to depict the most colossal spectacles and conflicts involving entire populations or the most obscure, internalised, micro-expressive emotional minutiae of a single character (human or otherwise) with equal bombast or subtlety.

It’s also a medium capable of the both broadest brushstrokes and forensic incisiveness, whether the creative intention is big belly laughs, moral outrage or heartbreaking empathy. The only thing that comes close to its infinite variety is acting.

Jim Broadbent is an actor. He’s won Oscars and BAFTAs and Emmys and more, and you’ve seen or heard him in stuff as varied as Brazil and Black Adder, Iris and Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, King Lear and Teletubbies. He has a keen understanding of human foibles, motivations and how life shapes actions.

He once had an idea for a film after being inspired by Pieter Bruegel The Elder’s painting Dulle Griet but couldn’t find the necessary finance. Another avenue presented itself when he began reading DIX’s mordant cartoon strip Roll Up! Roll Up! in The Guardian newspaper…

DIX began his artistic career at British comics publisher Fleetway before moving into grown up political and satirical cartooning with the co-creation of legendary magazine Purr. Since then he graduated to the big time with Roll Up! Roll Up! and recently released the graphic novel KLAXON with collaborator Si Spencer.

When actor met illustrator a kindred sentiment was confirmed and they began turning that Bruegel-triggered idea into a moody masterwork of isolation, privation and misery endured. Set long, long ago in the bleak marshes and salt flats of Broadbent’s Norfolk childhood, the result is Dull Margaret: a pocket-baroque in the grand grotesque tradition and a cautionary tale of Faustian consequences.

In the flat, drear wastes where mud flats meet the sea, a worn-down woman of indeterminate vintage lives alone, combing the mires for interesting articles and catching eels to sell in the local town market. She is bluff, determined, utterly alone and almost certainly a bit mad…

Lost in her own head too much, she ekes out a drear existence in a bleak and unrelentingly austere locale. Even her too-infrequent interactions with her customers only lead to humiliation, disappointment and even robbery/assault…

Eventually, it’s all too much and Margaret fulfils the promise of her fetid appearance by trying her hand at a bit of witchcraft. As always, it’s a cack-handed affair and the muddy crone isn’t sure if she’s accomplished anything…

Two favours she asked of the unheeding unknown: untold riches and a friend to love, but she’s prepared to settle for either or lose both…

And then something happens when a barge is stranded on the mud flats…

Hope, aspiration, greed and loneliness are all viewed through a world-weary lens as a series of events unfold with confounding inexorability, but always the grey mire of her days is pulling Margaret back and down…

Enticing and loathly, this sorry soggy fable abounds with rich mordant humour and powerfully seductive sentiment, all compellingly realised by DIX’s muted palette and amorphous, soft-edged designs. Dull Margaret is a dark delight of character and circumstance to beguile readers who have had their fill of shallow flash and dazzle.
Dull Margaret is © 2018 Jim Broadbent & Dix. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Dull Margaret is published on 17th July 2018 and available for pre-order. Copies are available now from selected retailers.

For those in London, Jim Broadbent and DIX will be attending events (and presumably signing copies and prints) at Gosh Comics on Wednesday 27th June and Waterstones Piccadilly on Thursday 28th June.

Showcase Presents the Losers Volume 1

By Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, John Severin, Ken Barr & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3437-9-8

Team-ups are a valuable standby of comics, and war stories have always thrived by mixing strange bedfellows together. None more so than this splendid composite: another woefully neglected series in today’s modern print/digital graphic novels marketplace.

The Losers were an elite unit of American soldiers formed by amalgamating three old war series together. Gunner and Sarge (later supplemented by the Fighting Devil Dog Pooch) were Pacific-based Marines; debuting in All-American Men of War #67, (March1959) and running for fifty issues in Our Fighting Forces (#45-94, May 1959-August 1965), whilst Captain Johnny Cloud was a native American fighter pilot who shot down his first bogie in All-American Men of War #82.

The “Navaho Ace” flew solo until issue #115, (1966) and entered a brief limbo until the final component of the Land/Air/Sea team was filled by Captain Storm, a disabled PT Boat skipper who fought on despite his wooden left leg in his own eponymous 18-issue series from 1964 to 1967. All three series were created by comicbook warlord Robert Kanigher.

The characters had all pretty much passed their individual use-by dates when they were teamed-up as guest-stars in a Haunted Tank tale in 1969 (G.I. Combat #138 October), but these “Losers” found a new resonance together in the relevant, disillusioned, cynical Vietnam years and their somewhat nihilistic, doom-laden group anti-hero adventures took the lead spot in Our Fighting Forces #123 for a run of blistering yarns written by Kanigher and illustrated by such giants as Ken Barr, Russ Heath, Sam Glanzman, John Severin and Joe Kubert.

With the tag-line “even when they win, they lose” the team saw action all over the globe, winning critical acclaim and a far-too-small but passionate following. This magnificent monochrome tome collects that introductory tale from the October 1969 G.I. Combat and the complete formative run of suicidal missions from Our Fighting Forces #123-150 (January /February 1970-August/September 1974), after which comicbook messiah Jack Kirby took over the series for a couple of years and made it, as always, uniquely his own. For that seminal set you must see Jack Kirby’s The Losers Omnibus (no really, you must. That’s an order, Soljer…)

Kanigher often used his stories as a testing ground for new series ideas, and G.I. Combat #138 (October 1969) introduced one of his most successful. ‘The Losers!’, illustrated by the magnificent hyper-realist Russ Heath, saw the Armoured Cavalry heroes of the Haunted Tank encounter a sailor, two marines and grounded pilot Johnny Cloud, each individually and utterly demoralised after negligently losing all the men under their respective commands.

Guilt-ridden and broken, the battered relics were inspired by tank commander Jeb Stuart who fanned their sense of duty and desire for vengeance until the crushed survivors regained a measure of respect and fighting spirit by uniting in a combined suicide-mission to destroy a Nazi Radar tower…

By the end of 1969 Dirty Dozen knock-off Hunter’s Hellcats had long outlived their shelf-life in Our Fighting Forces and with #123 (January/February 1970) evacuated in the epilogue ‘Exit Laughing’ which segued directly into ‘No Medals No Graves’, illustrated by Scottish artist Ken Barr (whose stunning work in paint and line has graced everything from Commando Picture Library covers, through Marvel, DC and Warren, to film, book and TV work) and picked up the tale as Storm, Cloud, Gunner and Sarge sat in enforced, forgotten idleness until the aforementioned Lieutenant Hunter recommended them for a dirty, dangerous job no sane military men would touch…

It appears Storm was a dead ringer for a British agent – even down to the wooden leg – and the Brass needed the washed-up sailor to impersonate their vital human resource. The only problem is that they wanted him to be captured, withstand Nazi torture for 48 hours and then break, delivering damaging disinformation about a vast commando raid that wouldn’t be happening…

The agent would do it himself but he was actually dead…

And there was even work for his despondent companions as a disposable diversionary tactic added to corroborate the secrets Storm should hopefully betray after two agonising days…

Overcoming all expectation the “Born Losers” triumphed and even got away intact, after which Ross Andru & Mike Esposito became the regular art team in #124 when ‘Losers Take All’ showed how even good luck was bad, after a mission to liberate the hostage king of a Nazi-subjugated nation saw them doing all the spectacular hard work before losing their prize to Johnny-come-lately regular soldiers…

‘Daughters of Death’ in #125 found the suicide squad initially fail to rescue a scientist’s children only to blisteringly return and rectify their mistakes, Of course, by then the nervous tension had cracked the Professor’s mind, rendering him useless to the Allied cause…

‘A Lost Town’ opened with The Losers undergoing a Court Martial for desertion. Reviled for allowing the obliteration of a French village, they faced execution until an old blind man and his two grandkids revealed what really happened in the hellish conflagration of Perdu, whilst in ‘Angels Over Hell’s Corner’ a brief encounter with a pretty WREN (Women’s Royal Navy Service) in Blitz-beleaguered Britain drew the unit into a star-crossed love affair that even death itself could not thwart…

In a portmanteau tale which disclosed more details of the events which created The Losers, Our Fighting Forces #128 described the ‘7 11 War’ wherein a hot streak during a casual game of craps presaged disastrous calamity for any unlucky bystander near to the Hard Luck Heroes, after which ‘Ride the Nightmare’ saw Cloud endure horrifying visions and crack up on a mission to liberate a captive rocket scientist, before the team again became a living diversion in #130’s ‘Nameless Target’. However, by getting lost and hitting the wrong target, The Losers gifted the Allies with their greatest victory to date…

John Severin inked Andru in OFF #131, in preparation to taking over the full art chores on the series, and ‘Half a Man’ hinted at darker, grittier tales to come when Captain Storm’s disability and guilty demons began to overwhelm him. Considering himself a jinx, the sea dog attempted to sacrifice himself on a mission to Norway but had not counted on his own brutal will to survive…

Back in London, Gunner & Sarge were temporarily reunited with ‘Pooch: the Winner’ (#132 by Kanigher & Severin), prompting a fond if perilous recollection of an exploit against the Japanese in the distant Pacific. However, fearing their luck was contagious, the soldiers sadly decided the beloved “Fighting Devil Dog” was better off without them…

Dispatched to India in #133’s ‘Heads or Tails’, The Losers were ordered to assassinate the “the Unholy Three” – Japanese Generals responsible for untold slaughter amongst the British and native populations. In sweltering lethal jungles, they only succeeded thanks to the determined persistence and sacrifice of a Sikh child hiding a terrible secret.

Our Fighting Forces #134 saw them brutally fighting from shelled house to hedgerow in Europe until Gunner cracked. When even his partners couldn’t get him to pick up a gun again it took the heroic example of indomitable wounded soldiers to show him who ‘The Real Losers’ were…

Issue #135 began a superb extended epic which radically shook up the team after ‘Death Picks a Loser’. Following an ill-considered fortune telling incident in London, the squad shipped out to Norway to organise a resistance cell, despite efforts to again sideline the one-legged Storm. They rendezvoused with Pastor Tornsen and his daughter Ona and began by mining the entire village of Helgren, determined to deny the Nazis a stable base of operations.

Even after the Pastor sacrificed himself to allow the villagers and Americans time to escape, the plan stumbled when the explosives failed to detonate and Storm, convinced he was a liability, detonated the bombs by hand…

Finding only his wooden leg in the flattened rubble, The Losers were further stunned when the vengeful orphan Ona volunteered to take the tragic sailor’s place in the squad of Doomed Men…

The ice-bound retreat from Helgren stalled in #136 when she offered herself as a ‘Decoy for Death’ leading German tanks into a lethal ambush, after which Cloud soloed in a mission to the Pacific where he found himself inspiring natives to resist the Japanese as a resurrected ‘God of the Losers’

Reunited in OFF #138, the Bad Luck Brigade became ‘The Targets’ when sent to uncover the secret of a new Nazi naval weapon sinking Allied shipping. Once more using Ona as bait they succeed in stunning fashion, but also pick up enigmatic intel regarding a crazy one-eyed, peg-legged marauder attacking both Enemy and Allied vessels off Norway…

Our Fighting Forces #139 introduced ‘The Pirate’, when a band of deadly reivers attacked a convoy ship carrying The Losers and supplies to the Norwegian resistance. Barely escaping with their lives the Squad was then sent to steal a sample of a top secret jet fuel but discovered the Sea Devil had beaten them to it.

Forced to bargain with the merciless mercenary for the prototype, they found themselves in financial and combat competition with an equally determined band of German troops who simply wouldn’t take no for an answer…

‘Lost… One Loser’ revealed that Ona had been with Storm at the end and was now plagued by a survivor’s guilty nightmares. Almost convincing her comrades that he still lived, she led the team on another mission into Norway, the beautiful traumatised girl again used herself as a honey trap to get close to a German bigwig and found incontrovertible proof that Storm was dead when she picked up his battered, burned dog-tag…

Still troubled, she commandeered a plane and flew back to her home to assassinate her Quisling uncle in #141’s ‘The Bad Penny’, only to be betrayed to the town’s German garrison and saved by the pirate who picked that moment to raid the occupied village for loot.

Even with the other Losers in attendance the Pirate’s rapacious rogues were ultimately triumphant but when the crippled corsair snatched Ona’s most treasured possession, the dingy dog-tag unlocked many suppressed memories and Storm (this is comics: who else could it be?) remembered everything…

Answers to his impossible survival came briskly in OFF #142 and ‘½ a Man’ concentrated on the Captain’s struggle to be reinstated. Shipping out to the Far East on a commercial vessel, he was followed by his concerned comrades and stumbled into an Arabian insurrection with three war-weary guardian angels discreetly dogging his heel.

Back with The Losers again in #143, Storm was soon involved in another continued saga as ‘Diamonds are for Never!’ found the Fatalistic Five sent to Africa to stop an SS unit from hijacking industrial diamonds for their failing war effort. However, even after liberating a captured mine from the enemy, the gems eluded the team as a pack of monkeys made off with the glittering prizes…

Hot on their trail in ‘The Lost Mission’ the pursuers stumble onto a Nazi ambush of British soldiers and determine to take on their task – demolishing an impregnable riverside fortress…

Despite being successful the Squad are driven inland and become lost in the desert where they stumble into a French Foreign Legion outpost and join its last survivor in defending ‘A Flag for Losers’ from a merciless German horde and French traitor

Still lost in the trackless wastes they survived ‘The Forever Walk!’ in #146, battling equally-parched Nazis for the last precious drops of water and losing one of their own to a terrifying sandstorm…

In ‘The Glory Road!’ the sun-baked survivors encountered the last survivor of a German ambush, but British Major Cavendish seemed unable to differentiate between his early days as a star of patriotic films and grim reality and when a German patrol captures them all the mockery proves too much for the troubled martinet…

Again lost and without water, in #148 ‘The Last Charge’ saw The Losers save a desert princess and give her warrior father a chance to fulfil a prophecy and die in glorious battle against the Nazi invaders, whilst #149 briefly reunited the squad with their long-missing member before tragically separating again in ‘A Bullet for a Traitor!’

This volume concludes with ‘Mark our Graves’ in #150 as The Losers linked up with members of The Jewish Brigade (a special British Army unit) who all paid a steep price to uncover a secret Nazi supply dump…

Although a superbly action-packed and moving tale, it was an inauspicious end to the run and one which held no hint of the creative culture-shock which would explode in the pages of the next instant issue when the God of American Comicbooks blasted in to create a unique string of “Kirby Klassics”…

With covers by Joe Kubert, Frank Thorne and Neal Adams, this grimly efficient, superbly understated and beautifully rendered collection is a brilliant example of how war comics changed forever in the 1970s and proves that these stories still pack a TNT punch few other forms of entertainment can hope to match.
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Showcase Presents Jonah Hex volume 1


By John Albano, Arnold Drake, Michael Fleisher, Robert Kanigher, Denny O’Neil, Tony DeZuñiga, Noly Panaligan, Doug Wildey, George Moliterni, José Luis García-López, Gil Kane, Jim Aparo & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0760-1

These days comics fans are not well-served in regard to genre fare. Although Marvel has gone a long way towards recovering (at least in digital formats) its back catalogue of war, crime horror and western yarns, DC – which arguably excels in all those categories as well as teen humour and funny animal publications – seems content to let such riches lie fallow.

So if you want classic material you need to look at older offerings such as their wonderful Showcase Presents archive line…

The Western is an odd story-form which can almost be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, best typified by Zane Grey stories and heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry… and the other stuff.

That sort of cowboy tale – grimy, gritty, excessively dark – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer, which made their way into US culture through the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone.

Jonah Hex was always the latter sort.

DC – or National Periodicals as it then was – had run a notable stable (sorry!) of clean-cut gunslingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and immensely readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed limitless in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end and comic tastes are notoriously fickle, and by the early sixties the sagebrush brigade had dwindled to a few venerable properties as an onslaught of costumed super-characters assaulted the newsstands and senses.

They too would temporarily pass…

As the 1960s closed, the thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second superhero retreat in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre that readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old and revered title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

All-Star Western #1 was released with an August/September 1970 cover date, packed with Pow-Wow Smith reprints, and became an all-new anthology title with its second bi-monthly issue.

The magazine was allocated a large number of creative all-stars, including Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Angelo Torres, and Dick Giordano, working on such strips as Outlaw!, Billy the Kid and the cult sleeper hit El Diablo, which combined shoot-’em-up shenanigans with supernatural chills, in deference to the true hit genre that saved comics in those dark days.

But it wasn’t until issue #10 and the introduction of a disfigured and irascible bounty hunter created by writer John Albano & Tony DeZuñiga that the company found its greatest and most enduring Western warrior.

This superb collection of the early appearances of Hex has been around for a few years, so consider this a heartfelt attempt to generate a few sales and lots of interest…

But before we even get to the meat of the review let’s look at the back of this wonderfully economical black-&-white gunfest where some of those abortive experimental series have been included at no added expense.

Outlaw was created by Kanigher and DeZuñiga, a generation gap drama wherein Texas Ranger Sam Wilson is compelled by duty to hunt down his troubled and wayward son Rick. Over four stylish chapters – ‘Death Draw’, ‘Death Deals the Cards!’ (#3, illustrated by Gil Kane), ‘No Coffin for a Killer’ and the trenchant finale ‘Hangman Never Loses’ (#5, drawn by Jim Aparo), the eternal struggles of Good and Evil, Old and New effectively played out, all strongly influenced by Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns.

The series was replaced by one of the best and definitely the most radical interpretation of Billy the Kid ever seen in comics; a sardonic, tragic vengeance-saga that begins with the hunt for the killer of Billy’s father and develops into a poignant eulogy for the passing of an era.

Billy’s quest (‘Billy the Kid… Killer’, Bullet for a Gambler’ and ‘The Scavenger’: all by Albano & DeZuñiga) ran in issues #6-8. The book closes with a classic spooky Western tale from issue #7: ‘The Night of the Snake’ was written by Gil Kane & Denny O’Neil, and strikingly illustrated by Kane & DeZuñiga, clearly showing each creator’s love for the genre…

As good as those lost gems are, the real star of this tome is the very model of the modern anti-hero, Jonah Hex, who first appeared in All-Star Comics #10: a vulgarly coarse and callous bounty hunter clad in a battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat.

With half his face lost to some hideous past injury he was a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted and certainly a man to avoid. ‘Welcome to Paradise’ by Albano & DeZuñiga introduced the character and his world in a powerful action thriller, with a subtle sting of sentimentality that anyone who has seen the classic Western Shane cannot fail to appreciate.

From the first set-up Albano was constantly hinting at the tortured depths hidden behind Hex’s hellishly scarred visage and deadly proficiency. In ‘The Hundred Dollar Deal’ (#11) the human killing machine encounters a wholesome young couple who aren’t at all what they seem and the scripts took on an even darker tone from #12. The comic had been re-titled Weird Western Tales (aligning it with the company’s highly successful horror/mystery books) and ‘Promise to a Princess’ combine charm and tragedy in the tale of a little Pawnee girl and the White Man’s insatiable greed and devilish ingenuity.

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old-style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue and Little Big Man or Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, when America as a whole lost its social and political innocence…

Issue #13 ‘The Killer’s Last Wish!’ again tugged the heartstrings in the tale of a lovable old man and his greedy, impatient son, with Hex the unlikely arbiter of final justice. ‘Killers Die Alone!’ is an vicious tear jerker as Hex’s only friend dies to save him from the vengeance of killers who blame the bounty man for their brother’s death, whilst ‘Grasshopper Courage’ (#16 – Hex didn’t appear in #15) displays a shrewd grasp of human nature as Hex and an inept young sheriff track a gang of stagecoach robbers.

‘The Hangin’ Woman’ in #17 is a classy thriller wherein Hex runs afoul of a sadistic harridan who rules her hometown with hemp and hot lead, after which ‘The Hoax’ finds him embroiled in a gold-rush scam that – as usual – ends bloody.

With this tale the length of the stories, always growing, finally reached the stage where they pushed everything else out of the comic for the first time. Before too long the situation would become permanent. ‘Demon on my Trail’ in #19 dealt with kidnapping and racism, whilst ‘Blood Brothers’ (written by Arnold Drake) again addressed Indian injustice as Hex is hired by the US Cavalry to track down a woman stolen by a charismatic “redskin”.

Albano returned for ‘The Gunfighter’, as an injured Hex at last hinted about his veiled past while tracking a gang of killers, but it was new writer Michael Fleisher (assisted at first by Russell Carley) who would reveal Hex’s secrets beginning with Weird Western Tales #22’s ‘Showdown at Hard Times’.

A chance meeting in a stagecoach sets a cabal of ex-Confederate soldiers on the trail of their former comrade for some unrevealed betrayal that inevitably ends in a six-gun bloodbath and introduces a returning nemesis for the grizzled gunslinger.

More is revealed in ‘The Point Pyrrhus Massacre!’ as another gang of Southern malcontents attempt to assassinate President Ulysses Grant, with Hex crossing their gun-sights for good measure.

Issue #24 was illustrated by Noly Panaligan, and ‘The Point Pyrrhus Aftermath!’ finds the grievously wounded Hex a sitting duck for every gunman hot to make his reputation, and depending for his life on the actions of a down-and-out actor…

‘Showdown with the Dangling Man’ looked at shady land deals and greedy businessmen with a typically jaundiced eye – and grisly imagination – whilst train-robbers were the bad-guys in the superb ‘Face-Off with the Gallagher Boys!’, illustrated by the inimitable Doug Wildey. Issue #27, by Fleisher & Panaligan featured ‘The Meadow Springs Crusade’ as the bounty hunter is hired to protect suffragettes agitating for women’s rights in oh-so-liberal Kansas, before ‘Stagecoach to Oblivion’ (drawn by George Moliterni) sees him performing the same service for a gold-shipping company.

Hex’s awful past is finally revealed in #29’s ‘Breakout at Fort Charlotte’, a 2-part extravaganza that gorily concludes with ‘The Trial’ (illustrated by Moliterni), as a battalion of Confederate veterans pass judgement on the man they believe to be the worst traitor in the history of the South.

‘Gunfight at Wolverine’ is a powerful variation on the legend of Doc Holliday after which the Hex portion of the book concludes with a 2-part adventure from Weird Western Tales #32 and 33, drawn by the great José Luis García-López.

‘Bigfoot’s War’ and ‘Day of the Tomahawk’ is a compelling tale of intrigue, honour and double-cross as Hex is again hired to rescue a white girl from those incorrigible “injuns” – and, as usual, hasn’t been told the full story…

Jonah Hex is the most unique and original character in cowboy comics, darkly comedic, rousing, chilling and cathartically satisfying. It’s a Western for those who despise the form whilst being the perfect modern interpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is a collection you don’t want to miss.
© 1970-1976, 2008 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 9: El Padre


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-286-7

Les Tuniques Bleues began in 1968; an occasional comedy western strip created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The feature was created to replace Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic lone gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Le Journal de Spirou to comic rival Pilote.

His rapidly-rendered replacements swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée stars on the Continent…

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972, his replacement – Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte – gradually moved towards an edgier, more realistic (although still broadly comedic) illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and, after studying Fine Art in college, joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and studied Lithography before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: amassing more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone have sold more than 15 million copies worldwide.

The sorry protagonists of the show are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch, a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy: hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags centred about an Indian-plagued cavalry fort, but with second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War.

That origin was discarded and rewritten a decade later, finally and canonically describing how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war as seen in previous volume Auld Lang Blue. All subsequent adventures – despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history – are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Les Tuniques Bleues: El Padre was first seen on the continent in 1980, serialised in Spirou #2192-2202. Originally the 17th Euro-compilation, it comprises Cinebook’s 9th compellingly charming Bluecoats translated album of 60 thus far released in French…

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, feigning death and even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other, easier, option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; an apparently ideal career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like an old married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

It opens on the Rio Grande as our heroes are pursued by a determined party of Confederate troops. The pair have stumbled upon critical military information and the Greycoats are resolved they will not get back to their own lines…

With no other options, Chesterfield and Blutch cross into Mexico, painfully aware what might happen if they are captured by the nation’s own army, or – worse yet – its rampaging bandits…

With the Rebs posted all along the US riverbank, the lads have no choice but to head inland and eventually – with Blutch whining all the way – are forced to make camp. It’s actually a ploy to distract the vigilant Southern soldiery, but instead draws the attention of a roaming band of Indian renegades, forcing the Bluecoats even further south and into the clothing of a murdered monk and peon they discover near an abandoned mule cart.

Dreading the prospect of Mexican prison, the lads seek another river crossing but are quickly captured by Apache outlaw Jacomino before being saved by an even more deadly murdering cutthroat…

Sadistic but (sort of) devout bandito El Señor Diaz urgently needs a priest. He has subjugated a local village for his own nefarious purposes, but the Peones are refusing his demands for food and tribute until their new overlord replaces their recently murdered holy father…

The obviously-Americano Padre will have to do and with the help of the villagers – who aren’t fooled for a moment by the feisty, two-fisted cleric in a badly-fitting, blood-stained robe – Chesterfield goes about his secular and temporal duties.

Father Chesterfield’s plan is to keep the peons safe until he can get back to the war, despite the constant harassment of Jacomino’s monk-hating band, but events cascade out of control once he learns that Diaz has a hidden treasure that will earn him vast wealth and a constant supply of weapons and ammunition from the Bluecoat Army…

A little dutiful prying by Blutch exposes the horrific secret: the prize is Emily Appleton, daughter of his commanding colonel and the blithely unaware object of the bluff sergeant’s unrequited affection…

With no other option, the enraged soldier resolves that he and Blutch will steal her back and make a break for the border. As usual the plan almost works but before too long both Diaz and Jacomino are in hot in pursuit even as the confederates await at the river’s edge for the fugitives.

If there was ever a moment for a last-minute cavalry rescue this would be it…

Historically authentic, always in good taste despite an uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting. Nevertheless, the scope for light-hearted, hot-blooded adventure is always high and this wild ride is also is heavy on comedy too: a fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable yarn to appeal to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1981 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2015 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Papyrus volume 1: The Rameses’ Revenge


By Lucien De Gieter, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1- 905460-35-9

British and European Comics have always been keener on historical strips than our American cousins, and the Franco-Belgian contingent in particular have made an art form out of combining the fascinations of past lives with drama, action and especially broad humour in a genre uniquely suited to beguiling readers of all ages and tastes.

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

De Gieter was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on September 4th 1932 and, after attending Saint-Luc Art Institute in Brussels, worked as an industrial designer and interior decorator before moving into comics in 1961.

Initially he worked on inserts (fold-in half-sized-booklets known as ‘mini-récits’) for Spirou, such as the little cowboy Pony, and produced scripts for established Spirou creators such as Kiko (Roger Camille), Jem (Jean Mortier), Eddy Ryssack and Francis (Bertrand). He then joined Peyo’s (Pierre Culliford) studio as inker on Les Schtroumpfs – which you’ll know as The Smurfs – and soloed as latest creator on long-running newspaper comic cat strip Poussy.

After originating mermaid strip Tôôôt et Puit in 1966 and seeing Pony graduate to the full-sized pages of Spirou in 1968, De Gieter relinquished his Smurfs gig, but kept himself busy producing work for Le Journal de Tintin and Le Journal de Mickey. From 1972-1974 he assisted Flemish cartooning legend Arthur Berckmans (AKA Berck) on comedy science-fiction series Mischa for the German Rolf Kauka Studios anthology magazine Primo, whilst preparing the serial which would occupy his full attention – as well as that of millions of avid fans – for the next four decades.

The annals of Papyrus encompass a huge range of themes and milieu; mixing Boy’s Own adventure with historical fiction, fantastic action and interventionist mythology. The enthralling Egyptian epics gradually evolved from standard “Bigfoot” cartoon style and content to a more realistic, dramatic and authentic iteration. Each tale also deftly incorporated the latest 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 champion and friend to Pharaohs. As a youngster the plucky Fellah (peasant or agricultural labourer, fact fans) 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 liberating 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 his current duties: safeguarding Pharaoh’s wilful, high-handed and insanely danger-seeking daughter Theti-Cheri – a dynamic princess with an astounding knack for finding trouble …

The Rameses’ Revenge is actually the seventh collected album, originally released on the Continent in 1984 as La Vengeance des Ramsès and finds Papyrus en route to the newly finished temple at Abu-Simbel on a royal barge; part of a vast flotilla destined to commemorate the magnificent Tomb of Rameses II.

Although his sedate Nile journey is plagued with frightful dreams, great friend and companion Imhotep tells him not to worry. Nevertheless, the boy hero dutifully consults a priest and is deeply worried when the sage declares the dreams are a warning…

That tension only grows when headstrong, impatient Theti-Cheri informs him that she has permission to go on ahead of the Pharaoh’s retinue in a small, poorly-armed skiff. Unable to dissuade her, Papyrus is furious when she imperiously orders him to remain behind. As they set off, the Princess and Imhotep are blissfully unaware that a member of her small guard has been replaced by a sinister impostor…

The vessel is well underway before they discover Papyrus has stowed away, but before the furious girl can have him thrown overboard, the boat is hit by an implausibly sudden storm and attacked by a pair of monsters.

Although boy hero Papyrus valiantly drives them away with his sword, Theti-Cheri sees nothing, having been knocked out in the storm. Still seething, she refuses to believe him or Imhotep and orders the expedition onward to Abu-Simbel. The next morning Papyrus and the guards are missing…

Pressing on anyway, the Princess and her remaining attendants reach the incredible edifice only to be seized by the band of brigands who have captured it. They want the enormous treasure hidden within the sprawling complex and already hold Papyrus prisoner.

If Theti-Cheri or the hostage Temple Priests won’t hand over the booty, the boy will die horribly…

The repentant Princess cannot convince the clerics to betray their holy vows, however, and in desperation declares that she will surrender herself instead. Appalled and moved by her noble intention, High Priest Hapu determines that only extreme measures can avenge the bandits’ sacrilegious insult and calls on mighty Ra to inflict the vengeance of the gods upon them…

The astounding, spectacular, terrifying result perfectly concludes this initial escapade and will thrill and delight lovers of fantastic fantasy and bombastic adventure.

Papyrus is another superb addition to the all-ages pantheon of continental champions who combine action and mirth with wit and charm, and even though UK publisher Cinebook haven’t released a new adventure since The Amulet of the Great Pyramid in 2015, anybody who has worn out their cherished Tintin, Spirou and Fantasio, Lucky Luke and Asterix collections would be well rewarded by checking out the six epic volumes still available (in paperback or eBook editions) and even harassing the publishers to start translating the rest of the fantastic canon…
© Dupuis, 1984 by De Gieter. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.

Buz Sawyer: The War in the Pacific


By Roy Crane (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-362-0 (HB)

Modern comics evolved from newspaper comic strips, and these pictorial features were until relatively recently utterly ubiquitous and hugely popular with the public – and highly valued by publishers who used them as an irresistible sales weapon to guarantee and increase circulation and profits.

It’s virtually impossible for us to today to understand the overwhelming power of the comic strip in America (and the wider world) from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. With no television, broadcast radio far from universal and movie shows at best a weekly treat for most folk, household entertainment was mostly derived from the comic sections of daily and especially Sunday Newspapers. “The Funnies” were the most common recreation for millions who were well served by a fantastic variety and incredible quality.

From the very start humour was paramount; hence the terms “Funnies” and “Comics”, and from these gag and stunt beginnings – a blend of silent movie slapstick, outrageous fantasy and the vaudeville shows – came a thoroughly entertaining mutant hybrid: Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs.

Debuting on April 21st 1924 Washington Tubbs II was a comedic gag-a-day strip that evolved into a globe-girdling adventure serial. Crane crafted pages of stunning, addictive quality yarn-spinning whilst his introduction of moody swashbuckler Captain Easy in the landmark episode for 6th May, 1929 led to a Sunday colour page that was possibly the most compelling and visually impressive of the entire Golden Age of Newspaper strips (as seen in Roy Crane’s Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips volume 1).

Almost improving minute by minute Crane’s imagination and his fabulous visual masterpieces achieved a timeless immediacy that made each page a unified piece of sequential art. The influence of those pages can be seen in the works of near-contemporaries such as Hergé, giants-in-waiting like Charles Schulz and comics creators like Alex Toth and John Severin ever since.

The work was obviously as much fun to create as to read. In fact, the cited reason for Crane surrendering the Sunday strip to his assistant Les turner in 1937 was the NEA/United Features Syndicate’s abrupt and arbitrary demand that all its strips must henceforward be produced in a rigid panel-structure to facilitate their being cut up and re-pasted as local editors dictated – although the compelling text features in this book dedicated to his second masterpiece reveal a few more commercial and professional reasons for the jump from the small and provincial syndicate to the monolithic King Features outfit.

At the height of his powers Crane just walked away from the astounding Captain Easy page, concentrating on the daily feature, and when his contract expired in 1943 he left United Features to create the World War II aviation strip Buz Sawyer; lured away by the grandee of strip poachers William Randolph Hearst.

The result is 75 years old this year and still one of the freshest and most engaging comics strips of all time…

Where Wash Tubbs was a brave but comedic Lothario and Easy a surly tight-lipped he-man, John Singer “Buz” Sawyer was a happy amalgam of the two: a plain and simple, good-looking popular country-boy who went to war because his country needed him.

After the gripping and informative text feature ‘Crane’s Great Gamble’ by Jeet Heer, the strip explodes into action on Christmas Eve 1942, as new Essex Class Aircraft Carrier USS Tippecanoe steams for the Pacific Theatre of Operation carrying 100 fighter-bombers and an extremely keen pair of cartoon paladins.

Buz Sawyer is a fun-loving, skirt-chasing, musically-inclined pilot and his devoted gunner Rosco Sweeney a bluff, simple ordinary guy – as well as one of the best comedy foils ever created.

The strip is a marvel of authenticity: picturing not just the action and drama of the locale and situation but more importantly capturing the quiet, dull hours of training, routine and desperate larks between the serious business of killing whilst staying alive.

Like contemporaries Bill Mauldin and Milton Caniff, Crane was acutely aware that all his readers had someone involved in the action and therefore felt he had a duty to inform and enlighten as well as entertain. Spectacular as the adventure was, the truly magical moments focus on the off-duty camaraderie and candid personal interactions that pepper the daily drama.

This beautiful archival hardback covers the entire war years of the strip from November 1st 1943 to October 5th 1945, wherein the great artist perfected his masterly skill with Craftint (a mechanical monochrome patterning effect used to add greys and halftones which Crane employed to add miraculous depths and moods to his superb drawing) and opens with the lovable lads shot down whilst tackling a Japanese carrier.

Marooned, their life raft washes up on a desolate desert island where they’re hunted by enemy troops and discover a marooned German farmer and his beautiful daughter. At first hostile, lovely fräulein April soon succumbs to Buz’s boyish charm. Helping Buz and Roscoe escape, the trio only make it as far as the next islet where fellow pilot and friendly rival Chili Harrison has also been stranded since his plane went down.

Eventually rescued, the Navy fliers return to “the Tip” for training on new planes (Curtiss SB2C Helldivers; in case you were wondering) in preparation for the push to Japan. Amidst spectacular action sequences shipboard life goes on, but during a raid on an occupied island Buz and Sweeney are once more shot down. In the middle of a fire-fight they effect repairs and head back to the Tippecanoe, but not without cost. Rosco has been hit…

Sawyer’s exemplary exploits haven’t gone unnoticed and, whilst Sweeney is recovering from wounds, the hero is selected for a secret mission deep into enemy territory; ferrying an intelligence agent to a meeting with enigmatic underground leader the Cobra.

It all goes tragically wrong and the American agent is captured. With the enemy hunting high and low for the pilot, Buz then falls back on his most infuriating ability: falling into the willing laps of beautiful women…

‘Sultry’ is a gorgeous collaborator high in the favour of the occupying Japanese, but she too finds the corn-fed aviator irresistible. Of course, it might simply be that she’s also Cobra…

This extended epic is a brilliant, breathtaking romp blending action, suspense, love and tragedy into a compelling thriller that carries Buz all the way to December 1944.

As a result of his trials, the hero is sent back to America on a 30-day leave – enabling Crane to reveal some enticing background and invoke all the passions, joys and heartbreaks of the Home Front.

Buz doesn’t want to go but orders are orders, so to make things a little more bearable he takes the still-recuperating Sweeney with him. It isn’t that the young flier despises his origins – indeed, his civilian life is a purely idyllic American Dream – it’s simply that he wants to get the job done against the enemy. Nevertheless, with a warrior’s grace under pressure, he resigns himself to peace and enjoyment whilst his comrades soldier on. If he knew the foe he would face in his little hometown, Buz would probably have gone AWOL…

Crane’s inspirational use of the War at Home was a masterstroke: it’s not a world of spies and insidious Bundists, but just an appetising little burg filled with home-comforts and proud people: the kind of place soldiers were fighting to preserve and a powerful tool in the morale-builder’s arsenal. It’s also a place of completely different dangers…

Buz is the son of the town’s doctor; plain, simple and good-hearted. In that egalitarian environment the kid was the sweetheart of the richest girl in town, and when Tot Winter’s upstart nouveau riche parents hear of the decorated hero’s return they hijacked the homecoming and turn it into a self-serving publicity carnival.

Moreover, ghastly, snobbish Mrs. Winter conspires with her daughter to trap the lad into a quick and newsworthy marriage. Class, prejudice, financial greed and social climbing are enemies Buz and Sweeney are ill-equipped to fight, but luckily that annoying tomboy-brat Christy Jameson has blossomed into a sensible, down-to-earth, practical and clever young woman. She’s scrubs up real pretty too…

After a staggeringly smart and compelling soap opera sequence that would do Eastenders or Coronation Street proud, Buz ends up (accidentally) engaged to Tot after all. Mercifully the leave ends and he and Sweeney must return to the war… but even then they are disappointed to discover that they won’t immediately be fighting again.

Posted to Monterey, California, they are to be retrained for new planes and a new squadron, reuniting with rowdy rival Chili Harrison: but Mrs Winter is determined to have a war hero in the clan and pursues them with Tot in tow, determined to get Buz married before he returns to the Pacific.

Insights into another aspect of the military experience (Crane had almost unfettered access, consultation privileges and the grateful willing cooperation of the US Navy) are revealed to readers as the whiz-kid is suddenly back in school again – and usually in the dog-house because of his hot-dogging.

Dramatic tension divides evenly between Buz’s apparent inability to be a team-player and the increasingly insistent and insidious ploys of Mrs. Winter.

Moreover, the squadron’s training commander has an uncanny ability to predict which pilots will die in training or combat and Buz’s name is high on that list…

At last the training concludes and – miraculously alive and unmarried – Buz and Sweeney ship out back to the Pacific and the relatively easy task of ending the war. Part of a massive fleet mopping up the island fortresses en route to Tokyo, they are soon flying combat missions and before long, shot down once more. This time they are taken prisoner aboard an enemy submarine…

After another incredible escape and rousing triumph, the war ends, but Crane actually ratcheted up the tension by covering the period of American consolidation and occupation as Buz and Sweeney await demobilisation. Whilst posted to a medical facility in Melatonga, the boys and Chili encounter a woman from Buz’s chequered past they had all believed long dead…

When their discharge papers finally arrive (in the episode for September 9th 1945) an era of desperate struggle ends. However, with such a popular and pivotal strip as Buz Sawyer that only means that the era of Globe-Girdling adventure is about to begin…

This superb monochrome hardback also contains a selection of Sunday strips in full colour. The eternal dichotomy and difficulty of producing Sunday Pages (many client papers would only buy either dailies or Sunday strips, not both) meant that many strip creators would produce different story-lines for each feature – Milt Caniff’s Steve Canyon being one of the few notable exceptions.

Crane handled the problem with typical aplomb: using the Sundays to tell completely unrelated stories. For Wash Tubbs he created a prequel series starring Captain Easy in adventures set before the mismatched pair had met; with Buz Sawyer he turned over the Sabbath slot to Rosco Sweeney for lavish gag-a-day exploits, big on laughs and situation comedy.

Set among the common “swabbies” aboard ship it was a far more family-oriented feature and probably far more welcome among the weekend crowd of parents and children than the often chilling or disturbing realistically and sophisticated saga that unfolded Mondays to Saturdays.

Also included here – and spanning November 28th 1943 to 25th February 1945 in delicious full-page fold outs – are fifteen of the best (many with appearances by Buz): a cheerily tantalising bonus which will hopefully one day materialise as an archival collection of their own. Whilst not as innovative or groundbreaking as Captain Easy, they’re still proficient works by one of the grand masters of our art-form.

This initial collection is the perfect means of discovering or rediscovering Crane’s second magnum opus – spectacular, enthralling, exotically immediate adventures that influenced generations of modern cartoonists, illustrators, comics creators and storytellers.

Buz Sawyer: War in the Pacific ranks as one the greatest strip sequences ever created: thrilling, rousing, funny and moving yarn-spinning that is unforgettable, unmissable and utterly irresistible.
Strips © 2010 King Features Syndicate, Inc. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books, all other material © the respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

The True Death of Billy the Kid


By Rick Geary (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-134-5

Rick Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry not simply because of his style of drawing but especially because of his method of telling tales.

For decades he toiled as an Underground cartoonist and freelance illustrator of strange tales and wry oddments, published in locales as varied as Heavy Metal, Epic Illustrated, Twisted Tales, Bop, National Lampoon, Vanguard, Bizarre Sex, Fear and Laughter, Gates of Eden, RAW and High Times.

For these illustrious venues he honed a unique ability to create sublimely understated stories by stringing together seemingly unconnected streams of narrative to compose tales moving, often melancholy and always beguiling.

Discovering his natural oeuvre with works including biographies of J. Edgar Hoover or Trotsky and his multi-volumed Treasury of Victorian Murder series, Geary has grown into a grand master and towering presence in both comics and True Crime literature.

His graphic reconstructions of some of the most infamous murders ever committed since policing began combine a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation. These are filtered through a fascination with and understanding of the lethal propensities of humanity as his forensic eye scours police blotters, newspaper archives and history books to compile irresistibly enthralling documentaries.

In 2008 he turned to the last century for an ongoing Treasury of XXth Century Murder series, focusing on scandals which seared the headlines during the “Gilded Age” of suburban middleclass America. He has not, however, forsaken his delight in fiction nor his gift for graphic biography.

Delivered in stark monochrome in either luxurious collectors’ hardback or accessible eBook editions, his latest fact-finding expedition (originally released in 2014 as an extremely limited run private publication) diligently sifts fact from mythology to detail the demise of perhaps the most legend-laden outlaw in modern history.

The author is a unique talent not simply because of his manner of drawing but because of the subject matter and methodology in the telling of his tales. Geary always presents facts, theories and even contemporary minutiae with absorbing pictorial precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, re-examining each case with a force and power Oliver Stone would envy.

“Being an Authentic Narrative of the Final Days in his Brief And Turbulent Life”, The True Death of Billy the Kid brings the last days of the killer alternatively known as Henry McCarty, Henry Antrim, William H. “Billy” Bonney or “The Kid” vividly into focus, beginning with ‘Chapter One: The Prisoner’ wherein the subject of our scrutiny languishes in cells of the Lincoln County Courthouse of the New Mexico Territory in April 1881.

Destined for the noose on May 13th, the prisoner provides reveries to encapsulate his sorry, short and blood-soaked life to date. Billy’s actions always seemed justified to him – and many others, both friends, comrades-in-arms and supporters – but nonetheless, his doom is assured.

With that thought ever foremost, The Kid determine not to die easy…

Much of the outlaw’s fame stems from the ‘His Greatest Escape’; broken down with mesmerising meticulousness in the Second Chapter and still a remarkable and spectacular feat of sheer bravado to this day, after which ‘Chapter Three: On the Dodge’ depicts his flight across vast tracts of wilderness before arriving in the rural enclave of Fort Sumner: a settlement well-known to Billy and one where he has many admirers…

In the meantime, veteran career lawman Pat Garrett reads reports and ponders before setting out to the one place he suspects his quarry will eventually hole up…

Events move inexorably in ‘Chapter Four: Death at Fort Sumner’ as Garrett and his handpicked deputies traverse the Pecos, arriving clandestinely in the peaceful hamlet on July 14th to begin surveillance before the last confrontation…

As ever supported by clear, informative maps, portraits of all major players and a copious index of sources consulted, this is a beguiling display of seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing which makes for an unforgettable read.

Geary’s superb storytelling is a perfect exemplar of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simple fantasy entertainment. His murder masterclasses should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector, and part of every school syllabus.
© 2014 Rick Geary.

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

Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Scientists


By Adam & Lisa Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-60-9

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make the material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be better taught with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive… or at least – as here – outrageously, informatively undead…

The conceit in Corpse Talk is that your scribbling, cartooning host Adam Murphy (ably abetted off-camera by Lisa Murphy) tracks down – or rather digs up – famous personages from the past: all serially exhumed for a chatty, cheeky This Was Your Life talk-show interview that – in Reithian terms – simultaneously “elucidates, educates and entertains”. It also often grosses one out, which is no bad thing for either a kids’ comic or a learning experience…

Another splendid album release culled from the annals of The Phoenix (courtesy of those fine saviours of weekly comics at David Fickling Books) this timely themed collection is dedicated to quizzing a selection of famous, infamous and “why-aren’t-they-household names?” women from history in what would probably be their own – post-mortem – words…

Be warned, as we celebrate 100 years of female suffrage and you absorb these hysterical histories, you may say to yourself again and again “but… that’s not FAIR…”

Catching up in order of date of demise, our fact-loving host begins these candid cartoon conferences by digging the dirt with ‘Hatshepsut: Pharaoh 1507-1458 BCE’, tracing her reign and achievements and why her name and face were literally erased from history for millennia.

As ever, each balmy biography is accompanied by a side feature examining a crucial aspect of their lives such as here where ‘Temple Complex’ diligently details the controversial pharaoh’s astounding and colossal “Holy of Holies”: the Djeser-Djeseru Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut.

‘Hypatia of Alexandria: Mathematician & Philosopher 360s-415’ sketches out the incredible accomplishments, appalling treatment and tragic fate of the brilliant teacher and number-cruncher, and is supplemented here by a smart lesson in the almost-mystical concept of ‘The Golden Ratio’.

Throughout all civilisations, (mostly male) historians have painted powerful women with extremely unsavoury reputations and nasty natures. Just this once, however, the facts seem to confirm that ‘Irene of Athens: Empress of Byzantium 752-803’ was every bit as bad as her detractors described her. Her atrocious acts against friends, foes and her own son Constantine are offset in the attendant fact-feature ‘Spin Class’ revealing how Irene employed religious industrial espionage to break China’s millennial monopoly on silk production, complete with detailed breakdown of how the Byzantine silk trade worked…

Every comic reader or fantasy fan is familiar with the idea of women warriors but the real-life prototype for them all was the great-granddaughter of Genghis Khan. ‘Khutulun: Wrestling Princess 1260-1300s’ refused to be married off unless a suitor could defeat her in the Mongolian grappling martial art Bökh. So effective a fighter, archer and strategist was she, that the Khan appointed her his Chief Military Advisor and even nominated her his successor on his deathbed – an honour and can of worms she wisely sidestepped to become a power behind the throne.

Her incredible account is backed-up by an in-depth peek into the ferocious wrestling style she dominated in ‘Mongolian Moves’ after which ‘Joan of Arc: Saint 1412-1431’ explains how it all went wrong for her in asks-&-answers ‘How Do You Become a Saint?’

On more familiar ground, ‘Elizabeth I: Queen of England 1533-1603’ recounts her glorious reign and explains the how and why of her power dressing signature appearance in ‘A Killer Look!’ whilst transplanted near-contemporary ‘Pocahontas: Powhattan Princess 1596-1617’ shares the true story of her life before ‘Sad Ending, Continued…’ discloses the ultimate fate of her tribe at the hands of English Settlers.

Another astonishing character you’ve probably never heard of, ‘Julie D’Aubigny: Swashbuckler 1670-1707’ was a hell-raising social misfit who scandalised and terrorised the hidebound French Aristocracy. The daughter of a fencing teacher, she fought duels, broke laws, travelled wherever she wanted to, enjoyed many lovers – male and female – and even sang with the Paris Opera (now that’s a movie biopic I want to see!). What else could she offer as a sidebar but a lesson on duelling for beginners in ‘Question of Honour’?

‘Granny Nanny: Resistance Fighter 1686-1755’ started life as an Ashanti Princess, but after being taken to Jamaica s a slave, organised the ragtag runaways known as Maroons into an army of liberation. The workings of her rainforest citadel Nanny Town (now Moore Town) is explored in ‘Fortresses of Freedom’ after which a more sedate battle against oppression is undertaken with the interrogation of ‘Jane Austen: Novelist 1775-1817’, complete with cartoon precis of her subversive masterpiece ‘Pride & Prejudice (The Corpse Talk Version)’

‘Ching Shih: Pirate Queen 1775-1844’ tells of another woman who beat all the odds and has since faded from male memory: a young girl kidnapped by China Seas pirates who rose to become their leader. Ravaging the Imperial coast, she created an unshakable pirate code that benefitted the poor, outsmarted the Emperor and ultimately negotiated a pardon for herself and all her men and lived happily ever after! That salty sea saga is accompanied by the lowdown and technical specs on ‘Punks in Junks’ and followed by another bad girl with a good reputation.

‘Princess Caraboo: Con-Artist 1791-1864’ was never the Malayan royal refugee British High Society was captivated by, but rather a Devonshire serving maid who made the most of outrageous fortune and quick wits. Her story is backed up by a delightful opportunity to forge your own faux identity with ‘Caraboo’s Character Creation Course!’

Far more potent and worthy exemplars, ‘Harriet Tubman: Abolitionist 1822-1913’ ferried more than 300 of her fellow slaves from Southern oppression to freedom in America and what we now call Canada, supplemented here by a detailed breakdown of ‘The Underground Railway’ before emancipation martyr ‘Emily Wilding Davison: Suffragette 1872-1913’ shares her brief troubled life and struggle to win women the right to vote and participatory roles in society, backed up by an absolutely unmissable graphic synopsis of the long struggle in ‘A Brief History of Women’s Rights’

Someone who made every use of those hard-won concessions was ‘Nellie Bly: Journalist 1864-1922’, whose sensational journalistic feats and headline-grabbing stunts made her as newsworthy as her many scoops. One of the most impressive was beating Jules Verne’s fictional miracle of modernity by voyaging for ‘72 Days Around the World’ – as seen in the gripping sidebar spread – whereas the career of ‘Amy Johnston: Aviator 1903-1941’ was cut tragically short by bad luck and male intractability. Her flying triumphs are celebrated through a fascinating tutorial on her preferred sky-chariot the ‘De Havilland Gypsy Moth’.

The short and tragic life of ‘Anne Frank: Journalist 1864-1922’ follows, complimented by a detailed breakdown of the secret hideout and necessary tactics employed to conceal Anne, her family and friends in ‘The Secret Annex’.

Thankfully closing on an emotional high note, the rags to riches, riches to rags to riches life of dancer, comedian, freedom fighter and social activist ‘Josephine Baker: Entertainer 1906-1975’ details the double rollercoaster life of a true star and closes this book with her teaching the secrets of how to ‘Dance the Charleston’.

Clever, moving, irreverently funny and formidably factual throughout, Corpse Talk cleverly but unflinchingly deals with history’s more tendentious moments whilst personalising the great, the grim and the good for coming generations.

It is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist. Don’t take my word for it though, just ask any reader, spiritualist or dearly departed go-getter…

Text and illustrations © Adam & Lisa Murphy 2018. All rights reserved.
Corpse Talk: Ground-Breaking Women will be released on 1st March 2018 and is available for pre-order now.

Jonah Hex volume 9: Counting Corpses


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paul Gulacy, Darwyn Cooke, Dick Giordano, Jordi Bernet, Billy Tucci, Dave Stewart, Rob Schwager & Rob Leigh (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2899-6

When Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti revived DC’s western wild-man Jonah Hex, they cunningly incorporated an even more mordant, blackly ironic streak of wit than that pioneered by the lone gunman’s originators John Albano & Tony DeZuñiga to amplify the already sanguine view of morality and justice that permeates the feature. The gritty – often outright chilling – narratives thus result in some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction ever.

The writers also had the services of extremely talented people like colourists Dave Stewart, Paul Mounts and Rob Schwager and letterer Rob Leigh plus a virtual Who’s Who of top artists to lend veracity, authenticity and sheer style to the always uncompromising tales such as those populating this ninth trade paperback (or eBook) compilation from 2010.

The contents comprise issues #43 and 50-54 of this much-missed iteration of the greatest gunman of all time: a perambulation passel of potent one-shot yarns to entice and bedazzle one and all…

The suspense-drenched action opens with ‘The Hyde House Massacre’ with art by Paul Gulacy & Schwager from issue #43 (July 2009). Hired to rescue a kidnapped hotelier and his daughter from an army of bandits, the bounty killer is only half successful, and makes the painful and foolish error of trying to negotiate with the clients about how much of his fee he actually deserves…

‘The Great Silence’ crafted by Darwyn Cooke & Stewart for anniversary issue #50 (February 2010) is a milestone of action and tragedy as Hex contracts to hunt down fifty outlaws even as old hunting ally and sometime dalliance Tallulah Black moves into a quiet little town to secretly bring her baby to term.

Of course, villains and mad killers can be found everywhere and when Hex’s surviving quarry lay a trap, grim fate intervenes to destroy his last hope for happiness before he even knows it exists…

Dick Giordano & Schwager then offer up a lush and sultry tale of grifters and men of faith when Hex is hired to track down bandits who murdered a prominent citizen of a frontier town. More importantly, those road agents also stole the ‘Divining Rod’ the victim used to ferret out gold, silver and water for the newly established boom town-to-be, and his decent god-fearing widow, the creepy preacher and the shocked citizens all seem more concerned with the theft than the killing.

Hex soon smells a rat but he’s underestimated quite how many…

A double bill for illustrator Jordi Bernet & Schwager opens with ‘Too Mean to Die’ (#52, April) as a gravely-wounded Jonah stumbles upon a cabin in the swamp and a mother nursing her infant. When she offers assistance and he accepts neither realise the family bonds of blood and vengeance they’re breaking… until the shooting (and stabbing and punching and drowning and…) starts…

Never one to make big plans, Hex plays against type and concocts a cunning trap to drawn in a gang of train robbers, before learning again that you can’t trust anybody – especially gorgeous, crafty saloon girls and actresses – before the dust settles in ‘“You’ll Never Dance Again”’, as limned by Billy Tucci & Mounts.

Bernet then shuts down the show in ‘Shooting Stars’ (#54, June) as Hex links up again with the one outlaw he won’t hunt to confront a lawman and his deputies who are far worse than any bandit, owlhoot or renegade…

With covers and variants by Gulacy, Cooke, Giordano, Bernet and Tucci, these smart, fast-paced, deliciously convoluted and compellingly gritty stand-alone sagas provide maximum bang for your buck and a front row seat as the darkest knight of the Wild West proves over and again why he’s the greatest antihero in comics.
© 2009, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.