Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-885-4 (TPB)

Richard Sala was a lauded and brilliantly gifted exponent and comics creator who deftly blended beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

A child who endured sustained paternal abuse, Sala grew up in Chicago and Arizona. Retreating into childish bastions of entertainment, he eventually escaped family traumas and as an adult earned a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. He became an illustrator after rediscovering a youthful love of comic books and schlock films that had brightened his youth.

His metafictional, self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw, Blab! and Prime Cuts, with animated adaptations produced for Liquid Television.

He died in 2020 aged 65, but his work remains welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with a host of women as his stars of choice: girl sleuth Judy Drood, the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia and this particular femme so very fatale…

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even Jack Kerouac: illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

This compelling mystery melange from 2015 combines a quartet of short comics treats commencing with the eponymous ‘Violenzia’: a vividly coloured and constructed pastiche of Hammer Horror films of a mystery maid and her gleaming guns, rousing villagers and pitilessly dealing with a sinister murder cult in the manner they deserve all while getting ever-closer to a very familiar monk-like mastermind…

That smartly witty twisty tale segues to an eerie sepia sampled soliloquy, poetically and despondently following a foredoomed soul retracing his steps until horrifying recalling what he’d ‘Forgotten’

Macabre musings in the mode of a child’s alphabet primer, ‘Malevolent Reveries – An Alphabetical Exhibition’ mixes rhyme with crafty pictures of the artist’s cartoon canon of characters from ‘An Afternoon of Appalling Apparitions’ to ‘Zero Hour on Zombie Island’ cannily calm the nerves before climactic chills are unleashed when ‘Violenzia Returns’. This time her gunsights are set on the Council of Augers and her dogged pursuit throws up some sudden surprises and a whiff of doomed romance; or possibly just doom…

Clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging, this fabulous farrago of fantastic fiends and ferocious fights (also available in digital formats) is a perfect introduction to Sala’s worlds: a sublimely nostalgic escape hatch back to days when unruly children scared themselves silly under the bedcovers at night, and an ideal gift for idle moments for the big kid in your life – whether he/she/they are just you, imaginary or even relatively real…

Violenzia and Other Deadly Amusements © 2015 Richard Sala. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books All rights reserved.

Die Laughing


By Andre Franquin, translated by Jenna Allen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-091-1 (HB)

Like so much in Franco-Belgian comics, it all starts with Le Journal de Spirou. The magazine was first seen on April 2nd1938, with its engaging and eponymous lead strip created by Rob-Vel (François Robert Velter). In 1943 publishing giant Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant assumed the creative reins, gradually side-lining the previously-established short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. He introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars: adding to the mix phenomenally popular rare beast and animal marvel Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right).

He continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. Throughout that period the creator was deeply involved in the production of the weekly Spirou comic and increasingly beset by depression and other mental health issues.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative bullpen known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The new kid ran with it for the next two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons of the feature until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou & Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies. However, throughout all that time Fantasio was still a full-fledged reporter for Le Journal de Spirou and had to pop into the office all the time.

While there he conceived another landmark icon, a comedic foil and meta-real alter ego who was an accident-prone, big-headed junior in charge of minor jobs and dogs-bodying. His name was Gaston Lagaffe and through him Franquin expressed his unruly dissident opinions and tendencies…

Gaston – who debuted in #985, (February 28th 1957) – grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic. In terms of entertainment schtick and delivery, older readers will certainly recognise beats of Jacques Tati and timeless elements of well-meaning self-delusion British readers will recognise from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em or Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, pomposity lampooned and no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy); Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Comanche, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Zig et Puce, Achille Talon), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio. In 1955, a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin briefly enlist with rivals Casterman on Le Journal deTintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the fashion/lifestyle domestic comedy gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Franquin almost immediately  patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe (known in Britain these days as Gomer Goof) in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Casterman commitments too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit. He quit, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and this arcane convergence of bleak gallows humour, adult conceptual nihilism and impassioned social and ideological frustration lensed through comedy. If you’re aware of the later work of Spike Milligan, you’ll know instinctively what I mean. The strip and original series title Idées Noires has entered into common usage in French-speaking countries, as a term for gloomy or negative thoughts: dark ideas daily obsessing people in crisis expunged and expressed through strident manic humour…

It began as he recuperated from a heart attack in 1975. Idées Noires was part of an insert comic – Le Trombone illustré – he and Yvan Delporte produced for weekly Le Journal de Spirou beginning with the March 17th 1977 issue. After 30 mini-issues, and with the global situation looking increasingly fraught, a revitalised Franquin took the strip to mature reader magazine Fluide Glacial where it ran until 1983.

Plagued throughout his life by depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

In 2018, Fantagraphics gathered and translated the strips, releasing them as Die Laughing.

As seen in Cynthia Rose’s erudite and informative Introduction – ‘Liberty, Audacity, Hilarity: André Franquin’ – the peripatetic feature gave Franquin room to address his allegiances with issues of environmentalism, animal cruelty, political duplicity and plain old human insanity and strike back with the best weapons in his arsenal: sarcasm, mockery and despairing outrage.

To further demarcate the series from past works, the images are delivered in scratchy, shocking lines and solid blacks, with elements reversed out: it’s a world of silhouettes, deep shadows and brooding forward spaces and middle-grounds, with no extraneous detail: all delivered in eerie evocative, expressionist monochrome, rather than the shining and substantial Disney-inspired colour of Spirou and the Marsupilami…

This hardback and digital compilation consists of half and full page shorts plus a few longer cartoon strips lampooning and spearing, smug pomposity, business greed, military-industrial chicanery and ruthlessness, planetary abuse such as inflicted by oil companies and the global arms race. There are many mordant observations on sport, war for profit, the death penalty (still the guillotine, for Pete’s sake!), alien abduction, the rat race, sheer random surreal absurdism, all skewered by a sense of cosmic justice acknowledged, if not satisfied…

A constant theme returned to with merciless regularity is bloodsports and the kind of arsehole who finds fun and feels magnified by pointless slaughter. Especially singled out are those French “traditionalists” who simply must slaughter songbirds in their thousands every year as they migrate to and from Europe…

Franquin was a master of comedy in all its aspects from whimsically light to trenchantly black-edged. Come see how and why…
Die Laughing © 2018 by Fantagraphics Books, Inc. Comics © Editions Audie/Franquin Estate. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2018 by Cynthis Rose. Afterword © 2018 Gotlib Estate. All other images and text © 2018 their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”


By Elzie Crisler Segar (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-779-7 (HB)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPEYE!

The incredible Sailor-Man first shumbled onto the world stage in comic strip Thimble Theatre on January 17th 1929. Even though last year Fantagraphics began rereleasing this material in smaller less copious volumes – which I’ll also be reviewing – this initial colossal collection is probably my favourite vintage book ever and I mourn much that it’s out of print and unavailable digitally. I live in hope though…

Thimble Theatre was an unassuming comic strip which began on 19th December 1919; one of many newspaper features that parodied/burlesqued/mimicked the era’s (silent) movies. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies (later renamed Minute Movies).

These all used a repertory company of characters to play out generic adventures firmly based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor, and Horace Hamgravy, Olive’s sappy would-be beau.

The series ticked along for a decade, competent and unassuming, with Castor and Ham Gravy, as he became, tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, gentle adventures and simple gag situations until September 10th 1928 (the first strip reprinted in this astonishingly lavish and beautiful collection), when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a present from his latest exploration of Africa: a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – most fabulous of all birds. It was the start of something groundbreaking.

As eny fule kno Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapsick shenanigans, Castor was resigned to Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – when a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with the ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort of ‘Dice Island’.

Bernice clearly affected writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered that everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Sister Olive wanted to come along but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th instalment of the saga, a bluff, irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer, surly willpower, Popeye won the hearts and minds of readers: his no-nonsense, grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until by the end of the tale, the walk-on had taken up full residency. He would eventually make the strip his own…

The journey to Dice Island was a terrible one: Olive had stowed away, and Popeye – already doing the work of twelve men – did not like her. After many travails the power of Bernice succeeded and Castor bankrupted Dice Island, but as they sailed for home with their millions Fadewell and his murderous associate Snork hunted them across the oceans. Before long, Popeye settled their hash too, almost at the cost of his life…

Once home, their newfound wealth quickly led Castor, Ham and Olive into more trouble, with carpetbaggers, conmen and ne’er-do-wells constantly circling, and before long they lost all their money (a common occurrence for them), but one they thing they couldn’t lose was their sea-dog tag-along. The public – and Segar himself – were besotted with the unlovable, belligerent old goat. After an absence of 32 episodes Popeye shambled back on stage, and he stayed for good.

Although not yet the paramour of Olive, Popeye increasingly took Ham’s place as a foil for sharp-talking, pompous Castor Oyl, and before long they were all having adventures together. After escaping jail at the start of ‘The Black Barnacle’ (December 11th 1929) they found themselves aboard an empty ship and at the start of a golden age of comic strip magic…

Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and it grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips.

Day by day he was creating the syllabary and graphic lexicon of a brand-new art-form, inventing narrative tricks and beats that a generation of artists and writers would use in their own works, and he did it while being scary, thrilling and funny all at once.

‘The Black Barnacle’ introduced the dire menace of the hideous Sea-Hag – one of the greatest villains in fiction – and the scenes of her advancing in misty darkness upon our sleeping heroes are still the most effective I’ve seen in all my years…

This incredible tale leads seamlessly into diamond-stealing, kidnappings, spurned loves, an African excursion and the introduction of wealthy Mr. Kilph, whose do-gooding propensities lead Castor and Popeye into plenty of trouble, beginning with the eerie science fiction thriller ‘The Mystery of Brownstone Hill’ and the return of the nefarious Snork, who almost murders the salty old seadog a second time…

The black and white dailies section ends with ‘The Wilson Mystery’ as Castor and Popeye set up their own detective agency – something that would become a common strip convention and the perfect maguffin to keep adventurers tumbling along. Even Mickey Mouse donned metaphoric deerstalker and magnifying glass for much of his own strip service…

These superb and colossal hardcover albums (200 pages and 368 mm by 268 mm) are augmented with fascinating articles and essays; including testimonial remembrances from famous cartoonists – Jules Feiffer in this first volume – and accompanied by the relevant full colour Sunday pages from the same period.

Here then are the more gag-oriented complete tales from 2nd March 1930 through February 22nd 1931, including the “topper” Sappo.

A topper was a small mini-strip that was run above the main feature on a Sunday page. Some were connected to the main strip, but many were just extraneous filler. They were used so that individual editors could remove them if their particular periodical had non-standard page requirements. Originally entitled The 5:15, Sappo was a surreal domestic comedy gag strip created by Segar in 1924 which became peculiarly entwined with the Sunday Thimble Theatre as the 1930s unfolded – and it’s a strip long overdue for consideration on its own unique merits….

Since many papers only carried dailies or Sundays, not necessarily both, a system of differentiated storylines developed early in American publishing, and when Popeye finally made his belated appearance, he was already a fairly well-developed character. Thus, Segar concentrated on more family-friendly gags – and eventually continued mini-sagas – and it was here that the Popeye/Olive Oyl modern romance began: a series of encounters full of bile, intransigence, repressed hostility, jealousy and passion which usually ended in raised voices and scintillating cartoon violence – and they are still as riotously funny now as then.

We saw softer sides of the sailor-man and, when Castor and Mr. Kilph realised how good Popeye was at boxing, an extended, trenchant and scathingly witty sequence about the sport of prize-fighting began. Again, cartoon violence was at a premium – family values were different then – but Segar’s worldly, probing satire and Popeye’s beguiling (but relative) innocence and lack of experience kept the entire affair in hilarious perspective whilst making him an unlikely and lovable waif.

Popeye is fast approaching his centenary and still deserves his place as a world icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 93 years after their first? These magnificent volumes are the perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of EC Segar and his brilliantly imperfect superman. These are books that every home and library should have.

© 2006 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2006 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud the Infamous


ISBN: 978-1-84918-074-0 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of – if not the – most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course, Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to those hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th1962 issue. A minor hit, it jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for youngsters it’s a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper, whilst older, wiser heads can revel in pun-filled, witty satires and marvellously accessible episodic comic capers. Just like our Parliament today.

This same magic formula made its more famous cousin Asterix a monolithic global success and, just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, the irresistibly addictive Arabian Nit was originally adapted into English by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to British tastes. As always the deliciously malicious whimsy is heavily dosed with manic absurdity, cleverly contemporary cultural critiques and brilliantly delivered creative anachronisms which serve to keep the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and hilariously inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Caliph of Ancient Baghdad Haroun Al Plassid, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or – as he is always declaiming – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly growing into a massive European hit, with 31 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Tabary started scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from the 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

Originally released in 1969, Iznogoud l’infâme was the fourth Dargaud collection, the second volume published by Methuen in 1977, and the seventh splendid Cinebook album; offering a wry and raucous quintet of short tales with the Vile Vizier on top form as he schemes to seize power from his oddly oblivious Lord and Master.

The eternal drama begins with ‘The Sinister Liquidator’, which finds Iznogoud and his bumbling, long-suffering henchman and strong-arm crony Wa’at Alahf making their way through a malodorous swamp in search of a Djinn with the power to reduce all he touches to unliving liquid. Enduring the evil Ifreet’s ghastly manners and painful punning, the devilish diplomat strikes a bargain which spells doom for the Caliph… but first he has to get the demon back to the palace.

Since the Djinn cannot completely leave his fetid fluid environment and glorious bustling Baghdad is beyond the Great Desert, Iznogoud and Wa’at Alahf must Djinngerly transport their secret weapon home. Moreover, as under no circumstances can they afford to be moistened by the monster themselves, a succession of buckets, bowls, bottles and vials inexorably diminish the watery wonder and the Vile Vizier’s chances of success until – as you’d expect – the inevitable occurs…

The pun-punctuated comedy of errors is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘The Invisible Menace’wherein the dictator-in-waiting learns a magic spell which will banish his imperial impediment from the sight of man. Of course, he still has to find and keep his target still long enough for the magic to work…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the next craftily convoluted saga. When Iznogoud deliberately accepts a cursed gem which brings catastrophic misfortune in the expectation that he can palm it off on his unsuspecting boss, he greatly underestimates the power of ‘The Unlucky Diamond’.

As soon the ghastly gem latches on to a truly deserving victim and unleashes a succession of punitive calamities, it determines to never let go…

A state visit by an African potentate allows the Vizier plenty of time to confer with his opposite number in ‘The Magic Doll’. Sadly, the bemused Witch Doctor has no idea that his numerous demonstrations of voodoo magic with a clay figurine are Iznogoud’s dry runs for a stab at the throne.

Of course, for the sorcery to work, the Vizier has to somehow obtain a lock of Haroun Al Plassid’s closely guarded and held-as-holy hair…

The manic mirth concludes by descending into sheer surreal absurdity (granting Tabary license to ascend to M.C. Escher-like heights of graphic invention) as an itinerant magician known as ‘The Mysterious Billposter’ crafts a magic advert which can transport people to an idealised paradisiacal holiday destination.

Iznogoud is far more interested in the fact that, once in, no-one can get out again…

Just for a change the plan succeeds perfectly and the blithely unaware Caliph is trapped in an inescapable, idealised extra-dimensional state. Then again – due to his extreme eagerness – so is his not-so-faithful Vizier…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently a little lacking in height.

When first released in Britain during the late 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comicbook) these tales made little impression, but certainly now these snappy, wonderfully beguiling strips have found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…

And Hansard…
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris, 1969 by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.

Beano and Dandy Gift Book 2022- Arty Farty!


By Dudley D. Watkins, Allan Morley, Reg Carter, Davy Law, Bill Holroyd, Leo Baxendale, Ken Reid, Eric Roberts, James Crichton, Paddy Brennan, and many & various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 978-1-84535-856-3 (HB)

This splendidly oversized (225 x 300mm) 144 page hardback compilation rightly glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy, colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during a particularly bleak and fraught period in British history… aren’t they all? Tragically, neither it nor its companion volumes are available digitally yet, but hope springs ever eternal…

Until it folded and was briefly reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937).

Premiering on December 4th 1937, The Dandy broke the mould of its traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under sequential picture frames. A huge success, it was followed eight months – on July 30th 1938 – later by The Beano and together they utterly revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted countless avid and devoted readers, and the unmissable end of year celebrations were graced with bumper bonanzas of the comics’ weekly stars in extended stories in magnificent hardback annuals.

This particularly tome is a collation of strips examining “Art” and a superb tribute to Celtic creativity, packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips, with the mirth starting on the inside front with a rather psychedelic and fourth-wall rending confrontation between The Bash Street Kids and the ever-interventionist “Beano/Dandy artist” actually illustrated by David Sutherland, I suspect.

Sadly, as usual none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists, but I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions…

When not in monochrome or full colour, DC Thomson titles were always extremely inventive in using their two-colour printing plate format. Way back when, most annuals and many comics were jazzed up by a wonderful “half-colour” process British publishers used to keep costs down. This was done by printing sections (“Signatures”) of the books with only two plates, such as Cyan (Blue) and Magenta (Red) or Yellow and Black. The sheer versatility and colour range provided was simply astounding…

This book shows that pagination skill over and over again in strips that exploit the print process and deftly subordinate it to the narratives. What splendid fellows their printers must have been to go to all that extra effort…

Here and now though, the picture-in-picture gag cover of Dandy Annual 1971 – a Korky the Cat visual pun by James Crichton or possibly Richard Nixon – segues into a monochrome Big Eggo strip from Reg Carter before indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins shines in black, white and red with magical lad Peter Piper (from short-lived junior title The Magic Comic) animating pictures at an exhibition before Good King Coke (He’s Stoney Broke) seeks fame in a frame thanks to early art and orange tints from Eric Roberts.

Also from The Magic Comic comes Dolly Dimple – Not So Simple: a monochrome romp by Allan Morley that leads to an Orange section starting with Julius Sneezer the Sneezing Caesar (Morley); Lord Snooty, by the incredibly prolific Watkins, detailing an art heist from an early annual, after which Morley renders more magic with Sammy’s Super Rubberand posh poseur Swanky Lanky Liz – by Charles Holt – makes more enemies with a school painting competition…

Morley’s Old Ma Murphy the Strong-Arm School-Ma’rm gets away with what we’d deem child abuse in her art class before three Dennis the Menace strips from David Law prove that chaos is an art. They’re followed by a drawing lesson with Minnie the Minx (by Jim Petrie?) and a Law full colour Beryl the Peril strip he did for a Topper Annual with the girly menace trying her hand at photography before we enjoy some black, white and red poetry-appreciation piece from a Beano Book The Bash Street Kids extended episode by Sutherland. It precedes a classic Desperate Dan diversion where he paints the town – guess what hue? – and Korky’s Catty Dictionary by Robert Nixon.

A red-toned double bill of Roger the Dodger japes by Ken Reid neatly diverts to fantastic crime as an extended (orange-flavoured) Captain Woosh caper sees the wily jetpack bandit again outwitted by good-hearted errand boy Terry Ball in a stunning Dandy Annual exploit from Charles Grigg, after which Sutherland triumphs in a pan-toned (black, red, yellow and white) classic starring The Bash Steet Kids and Teacher

Following colourful puzzle pages ‘Blank Looks’ and ‘You Can Draw Me!’, Law’s Dennis the Menace plays ‘Pranks with Paint!’ and shares ‘Drawings by Dennis’ before we all go green with Watkins’ Desperate Dan and enjoy ‘Arty-Crafty!’and ‘Crafty Arty!’ hijinks with perilous Beryl…

Winker Watson gets a fresh look – courtesy of Terry Bave, I believe – as the wily waif interrupts a school painting chore before Ken H. Harrison’s blue period sees Harry and his Hippo get the snapping bug before the Bash Street Dogs of Pup Parade (Nigel Parkinson?) get their portraits done and Bill Holroyd’s robot rascal Brassneck saves the school play – from surly teacher Mr. Snodgrass

Minnie the Minx endures a multi-coloured assault from a mischievous Beano artist (Tom Paterson?) before Dennis regrets ‘Making his Mark’ as a prelude to more full colour fun from Bill Ritchie’s Baby Crockett and Gordon Bell’s Colonel Blink, before Pup Parade with the Bash Street Dogs resorts to orange tints for a kennel painting prank…

Advancing print technology finally catches up and the remainder of the collection is all full-colour, beginning with Neighbourhood Witch as a little sorceress gets too interested in the family tree, after which Ritchie’s love-starved Smittengoes to extraordinary lengths to find a girlfriend…

Harrison’s Lord Snooty makes no friends when he voluntarily takes up the trumpet, whilst Paterson’s Little Larry truly turns heads (away) with his candid snaps before Bully Beef and Chips (Wayne Thompson?) clash over painted portraits whilst Dennis decrees ‘It’s a Draw’ and The Bash Street Kids romp in extended mayhem looking for cash rewards in ‘A Load of Junk’

Robot toy manipulator General Jumbo then gets some highly specialised new units to win a painting competition, before activity page ‘Be a Dandy Artist’ segues into a Korky curated museum visit before ‘Quick on the Draw with Ivy the Terrible’ (by Lew Stringer?) ends the tour with a far more accessible lesson learned.

As you leave the volume please be sure to enjoy Sutherland’s classic Beano Book 1971 cover and denouement of the frontispiece saga that opened this extravaganza, and don’t forget to tip your reviewer…

A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.
© DCT Consumer Products (UK) 2021 Ltd.

Willie & Joe: Back Home


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

Throughout World War II William Henry “Bill” Mauldin fought “Over There” with the United States Infantry whilst producing cartoons about the fighting men and for the fighting men. He told as much of the real nature of the war as his censors and common sense would allow and became an unwilling international celebrity as much because of his unshakable honesty as his incredible artistic talents.

He was incontrovertibly “one of the guys” and American soldiers and civilians loved him for it. During his time in the service he produced cartoons for the folks back home and intimately effective, authentic and quirkily morale-boosting material for military publications 45th Division News, Yank and Stars and Stripes.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he made his own and introduced to the world at large – giving a trenchant and acerbically enduring view of the war from the point of view of the poor sods ducking bullets in muddy foxholes and surviving shelling in the ruins of Europe.

Willie and Joe, to the dismay of much of the Army Establishment, gave an honest overview of America’s ground war. In 1945, a collection of his drawings – accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay – was published by Henry Holt and Co.

Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Willie even made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23 year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize. Like so many other returning soldiers, however, Mauldin’s hard-won Better Tomorrow didn’t live up to its promise…

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge, anti-bigot views never changed, but found simply new targets at home. However, during the earliest days of the Cold War and despite being a bone fide War Hero, Mauldin’s politically strident cartoons fell ever more out of step with the New America: a place where political expediency allowed racists to resume repressing ethnic sections of the nation now that their blood and sweat were no longer needed to defeat the Axis.

This new America expected women to surrender their war-time freedoms and become again servants and consumers and baby machines: happy to cook suppers in return for the new labour-saving consumer goods America now needed to sell, sell, sell. This nation was far too eager to forget the actual war and genuine soldiers in favour of massaged messages and conformist, inspirational paper or celluloid heroes.

The New America certainly didn’t want anybody rocking their shiny new boat…

When Sergeant Bill Mauldin mustered out in 1945, he was notionally on top of the world: a celebrity hero, youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history, with a lucrative 3-year syndicated newspaper contract and Hollywood clamouring for him.

Unfortunately for him, Mauldin was as dedicated to his ideals as to his art. As soon as he became aware of the iniquities of the post-war world, he went after them. Using his newspaper tenancy as a soapbox, Mauldin attacked in bitterly brilliant barrages the maltreatment and side-lining of actual combat veterans. During the country’s entire involvement in WWII, less than 10% of military men actually fought, or even left their home country, whilst rear-echelon brass seemed to increasingly reap the benefits and unearned glory of the peace.

Ordinary enlisted men and veterans were culture-shocked, traumatised, out of place and resented by the public, who blamed them disproportionately for the shortages and “suffering” they had endured. Black and Japanese Americans were reduced to second class citizens (again, for most of them) and America’s erstwhile allies were pilloried, exploited and demonised, whilst everywhere politicians and demagogues were rewriting recent history for their own advantage…

Mauldin’s fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripesvetoed it, and the demobbed survivors moved into a world that had changed incomprehensibly in their absence…

Always ready for a fight, Mauldin’s peacetime Willie and Joe became a noose around the syndicate’s neck as the cartoonist’s acerbic, polemical and decidedly non-anodyne observations perpetually highlighted iniquities and stupidities inflicted on returning servicemen and attacked self-aggrandising politicians. He advocated such socialist horrors as free speech, civil rights and unionisation, affordable public housing and universal medical care for everybody – no matter what their colour, gender or religion. The crazy cartoonist even declared war on the Ku Klux Klan, American Legion and red-baiting House UnAmerican Activities Commission: nobody was too big. When the Soviet Union and United Nations betrayed their own ideological principles, Mauldin went after them too…

An honest broker, he had tried to quit early, but the syndicate held him to his contract so, trapped in a situation that increasingly stifled his creative urges and muzzled his liberal/libertarian sensibilities, he refused to toe the line and his cartoons were incessantly altered and reworked.

During six years of War service his cartoon had been censored three times; now the white paint and scissors were employed by rewrite boys almost daily…

The movie Up Front – which Mauldin wanted to reflect the true experience of the war – languished unmade for six years until a sappy, flimsy comedy bearing the name was released in 1951. The intended screenplay – by Mauldin, John Lardner and Ring Lardner Jr. – vanished: deemed utterly unsuitable and unfilmable …until much of its tone reappeared in Lardner Jr.’s 1970 screenplay M*A*S*H

As the syndicate bled clients – mostly in segregationist states – and contemplated terminating his contract, Mauldin began simultaneously working for the New York Herald-Tribune. With a new liberal outlet. His tactics changed in the Willie and Joe feature: becoming more subtle and less bombastic. He still picked up the best of enemies, however, adding J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to the roster of declaimers and decriers…

When his contract finally ended in 1948, neither side wanted to renew. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist, freelance writer and illustrator. He was a film actor for a time (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean Conflict and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1956.

He only finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958 in a far different world: working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before moving to the Chicago Sun-Times, winning another Pulitzer and a Reuben Award for his political cartoons

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and properly-appreciated career. He only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall and to eulogize Milton Caniff).

Also available digitally, this magnificent hardback companion volume to Willie and Joe: the WWII Years covers the period of work from July 31st 1945 to 31st December 1948, supplemented by a brilliant biographical introduction from Todd DePastino: a superb black-&-white compendium collecting the bittersweet return of the forgotten heroes as they faced confusion, exclusion, contention and disillusion, but always with the edgy, stoic humour under fire that was Mauldin’s stock in trade.

Moreover, it features some of the most powerful assaults on the appalling edifice of post-war America ever seen. The artist’s castigating observations on how a society treats returning soldiers are more pertinent now than they ever were; the pressures on families and children even more so; whilst his exposure of armchair strategists, politicians and businessmen seeking to exploit wars for gain and how quickly allies can become enemies are tragically more relevant than any rational person could wish.

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, sanguine observation and uncomprehending betrayal, this cartoon chronicle is an astounding personal testament that shows the powers of cartoons to convey emotion if not sway opinion.

In Willie & Joe: Back Home we have here a magnificent example of passion and creativity used as a weapon of social change and a work of art every citizen should be exposed to, because these are aspects of humanity that we seem unable to outgrow…
This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Cartoons © 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Usagi Yojimbo Origins volume 1: Samurai


By Stan Sakai, with colours by Ronda Pattison (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-68405-740-5 eISBN: 978-1-68406-955-2

One of the very best and most adaptable survivors of the 1980s black-&-white comics explosion/implosion is a truly bizarre and wonderful synthesis of historical Japanese samurai fiction and anthropomorphic animal adventure: a perfect example of the versatility and strengths of a creator-owned character.

Usagi Yojimbo (which translates as “rabbit bodyguard”) first appeared as a background character in multi-talented creator Stan Sakai’s peripatetic comedy feature The Adventures of Nilson Groundthumper and Hermy, which launched in furry ‘n’ fuzzy folk anthology Albedo Anthropomorphics #1 (1984). He subsequently appeared there on his own terms as well as in Critters Amazing Heroes, Furrlough and a Munden’s Bar back-up in Grimjack.

Sakai was born in 1953 in Kyoto, Japan before the family emigrated to Hawaii in 1955. He attended the University of Hawaii, graduating with a BA in Fine Arts, and pursued further studies at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design after moving to California.

His first comics work was as a letterer, most famously for the Groo the Wanderer, before his nimble pens and brushes, coupled with a love of Japanese history, legend and the films of Akira Kurosawa and his peers, combined to turn a proposed story about a historical human hero into one of the most enticing and impressive – and astonishingly authentic – fantasy sagas of all time.

The deliciously rambling and expansive period fantasy series is nominally set in a world of sentient animals (with a few unobtrusive human characters scattered about) and specifically references the Edo Period of Feudal Japan around the beginning of the 17th century. It simultaneously samples contemporary cultural icons from sources as varied as Lone Wolf and Cub, Zatoichi and even Godzilla. The saga details the life of Miyamoto Usagi, a ronin or masterless samurai, making an honourable living as a Yojimbo or bodyguard for hire. As such, his fate is to be drawn constantly into a plethora of incredible situations.

And yes, he’s a rabbit; a brave, sentimental, gentle, artistic, long-suffering, conscientious and heroic bunny who just can’t turn down any request for help or ignore the slightest evidence of injustice…

The Lepine Legend later appeared in Albedo #2-4, The Doomsday Squad #3 and seven issues of Critters (1, 3, 6-7, 10-11 & 14) before leaping into his own long-running series. It was the first of many, relating his adventures and mirrored Sakai’s real-world peregrinations from publisher to publisher.

The Sublime Swordsbun has shifted homes frequently, but has been in continuous publication since 1987 – with more than 40 graphic novel collections and books to date. He’s also guest-starred in numerous other series, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and its TV incarnation) and even almost made it into his own small-screen show but there’s still time yet and fashions can revive as quickly as they die out…

There are high-end collectibles, art prints, computer games and RPGs, a spin-off sci-fi comics serial and lots of toys.

Sakai and his creation have won numerous awards both within the Comics community and amongst the greater reading public, and now, as a venerable mainstay of the American comics landscape, the monochrome wanderer’s early exploits got a modern makeover in 2020. Not strictly chronologically ordered, Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics #1-7 are gathered here to hopefully bring him to a new generation…

Following a brief ‘Introduction’ recapping major characters and scenario, ‘Samurai!’ sees the rabbit ronin again meet money-mad bounty-hunter Gennosuké after a deadly duel of honour leaves a warrior named Gunichi a bloody corpse at the Yojimbo’s feet. Pressed by the newly-arrived and curious Rhino, the moodily moved and uncharacteristically loquacious rabbit shares some of the events of his boyhood…

Once, Miyamoto Usagi was simply the son of a small-town magistrate, dispatched with his friend Kenichi to train at the prestigious Dogora Fencing School in Sendai. As the boys make their journey they encounter a lone, aged warrior beset by a pack of bullies from that self-same school, determined to prove their institution’s martial superiority.

Despite all efforts to placate the hotheads, old Katsuichi is – most reluctantly – compelled to slay the toughs. The stunned witnesses start bickering and – whilst Kenichi wants to follow orders and go on to the (clearly honourless) Dogora School, little Usagi seeks out the old man to be his Sensei…

The elder was finished with teaching but eventually sees something in the defiant, determined little rabbit and grudgingly accepts his exceptional young charge…

Usagi spends years learning the Way of Bushido from his stern, leonine master: not just superior technique and tactics, but also a philosophy of justice and restraint to serve him all his days…

The revelations of Usagi’s boyhood training continue in short, revelatory vignettes – nine in all – as the elder Yojimbo and his surly companion continue towards shelter, highlighting the peculiar relationship of Sensei and Student. At the disciple’s first tournament, the scurrilous, vengeful Dogora adherents scheme to “accidentally” cripple the boy and thus humiliate his teacher, but don’t anticipate his innate ability.

After besting the entire Fencing School contingent in duels with Bokken (wooden swords) the boy at last faces his old friend Kenichi and triumphs. His prize is a Wakizashi “Young Willow” and Katana “Willow Branch”. The short and long swords are the soul of a samurai, marking his graduation to martial maturity, but Usagi is blithely unaware of what his victory has cost his childhood companion…

Mere months later, the graduate warrior is challenged by a masterful, mysterious swordsman who was bodyguard to the Great Lord Mifunė. Their duel is interrupted when a band of Dogora assassins attack, determined to avenge their school’s humiliation by a single stick-wielding student. The cowards are no match for the steel of Usagi and the mighty Gunichi, and the victors part as friends, with the bodyguard promising to recommend the rabbit for future service to his Lord.

Still assessing his options, the young Samurai encounters Kenichi once more. The disgraced youth has left the Dogora School and is trying to drink himself to death, but when he and Usagi hear their home village is threatened by bandits, the former friends reconcile to save their loved ones…

By holding Usagi’s childhood love Mariko hostage, the brigands successfully neutralise his magistrate father and are stripping the hamlet of its provisions and meagre treasures when Usagi and Kenichi challenge them. None of the villains survive the vengeance of the outraged villagers…

In the aftermath, although Mariko clearly wants Usagi to stay, she says nothing and the Samurai leaves to join Lord Mifunė’s service. Kenichi stays…

The young warrior advances quickly as Mifunė’s vassal and is soon a trusted bodyguard, serving beside indomitable Gunichi. It is a time of great unrest and war is brewing, and in Usagi’s third year of service, the Lord’s castle is attacked by Neko Ninja assassins. Although the doughty warriors save their master, his wife Kazumi and heir Tsuruichi are murdered. Realising ambitious rival Lord Hikiji is responsible, Mifunė declares war…

The struggle ends on the great Adachigahara plain when Mifunė’s general Toda switches sides. The Great Lord falls and at the crucial moment Gunichi also breaks, fleeing to save his own skin and leaving outnumbered Usagi to preserve the fallen Lord’s head – and Honour – from shameful desecration…

The story comes full circle now, when after two years as a purposeless, masterless Ronin, the wandering Yojimbo meets Gunichi again…

After the epic origin, short, pithy vignettes cleanse the dramatic palate, beginning with a delicious traditional horror story. In ‘Kappa’ the wanderer encounters a deadly marsh troll at dusk and barely escapes with his life by offering the foul beast some wild cucumbers he has picked. Exhausted, the Ronin finds shelter with an old woman for the night, but when she hears of his adventure she becomes hysterical.

The cucumbers were planted so that her own son – returning that night – would have something to buy off the voracious Kappa. Horrified by his inadvertent error, Usagi dashes back to the marsh to save the son, but after overcoming the monster, shockingly experiences one final sting in the tale…

Moments of peace and contemplation are few in the Yojimbo’s life but, even when a drunken horde interrupt ‘A Quiet Meal’, the rabbit’s patience takes plenty of rousing. Some rude fellows, however, really don’t know when to stop boozing and leave well enough alone…

‘Blind Swords-Pig’ is a sublime comedic parody that sets up future conflicts as the landless lepus meets a formidable companion on the road; one whose incredible olfactory sense more than compensates for his useless eyes. How tragic then that the affable Ino is also a ruthless, blood-spilling outlaw who won’t let comradeship affect his hunger for freedom or carnage…

Closing this collection, ‘Lone Rabbit and Child!’ also sets up major plot threads as the Ronin is hired by beautiful swordswoman Tomoe Ame to protect her Lord Noriyuki. The callow royal child has been travelling to the capital to ratify his role as leader of the prestigious Geishu Clan following the death of his father, but the party has been repeatedly attacked by ninjas working for infamous Hikiji – now risen high in the Emperor’s hierarchy.

The insidious schemer is determined to foil the investiture and appropriate Geishu properties for himself, but has not reckoned on fate and the prowess of the lethally adept Usagi…

Burnished with cover gallery, character sketches and a biography of Stan Sakai, this is a fast-paced yet lyrical compilation; funny, thrilling and simply bursting with veracity and verve. Usagi Yojimbo’s life story is a magical saga of irresistible appeal to delight devotees and make converts of the most hardened hater of “funny animal” stories. If that’s you, why not try some sheer comicbook poetry by a True Master?
Usagi Yojimbo™ © 2020 Stan Sakai. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Supersonic Aye-Aye


By Jaimie Smart, with Sammy Borras (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-243-4 (TPB)

Bunny vs. Monkey has been a fixture of British comics phenomenon The Phoenix since the very first issue in 2012: recounting a madcap vendetta gripping animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia masquerading as more-or-less mundane English woodlands.

Concocted with gleefully gentle mania by cartoonist, comics artist and novelist Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve!; Looshkin; Flember), his trend-setting, mind-bending yarns have been wisely retooled as graphic albums available in remastered, double-length digest editions such as this one. In this case, however, here we’ve caught up and the fabulous recycled fun of The Floating Cow Catastrophe is plumped up with new stuff…

All the tail-biting tension and animal argy-bargy began yonks ago after an obnoxious little beast popped up in the wake of a disastrous British space shot. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – scant miles from his launch site – lab animal Monkey believed himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite all efforts from reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative forest resident Bunny to dissuade him. For all his patience, propriety and good breeding, the laid-back lepine just could not contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who was – and is – a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating loutish troublemaker…

Problems are exacerbated by the other unconventional Crinkle creatures, particularly a skunk called Skunky who has a mad scientist’s attitude to life and a propensity to build very dangerous robots and super-weapons…

Here – with artistic assistance from Sammy Borras – the war of nerves and mega-ordnances resumes and intensifies. The unruly assortment of odd critters littering and loitering around the bucolic paradise have finally picked a side (sort of): shifting and twisting into bipartisan factionalism. They all seem to have forgotten that rapidly encroaching Hyoomanz are now well underway in building something called a “motorway” right through the sylvan glades and (apparently) unprotected parks… but they are quite interested in new resident Ai – the supersonic Ai-Ai – and where her allegiances fall…

It all resumes with ‘Insomnia!’ as new girl Ai proves to (a) nocturnal, (b) excitable and (c) a bit of a party animal just as Bunny seeks an early night, after which Monkey makes the mistake of stamping on her new house in his modular ‘Mega Mecha!’ and doesn’t get away with all his mechanical body parts intact and ‘Take to the Skies!’ finds Weenie squirrel and Pig optimistically building an aircraft, despite a blessed lack of knowledge and requisite skills. That doesn’t explain why Monkey insists on being the first to test pilot it…

A rare moment of tranquillity in ‘Time to Get Along!’ finds all the woodland weirdoes sharing a natural hot spring, until acrimony returns when somebody makes a whirlpool and someone else activates a robot shark…

‘Spring’ comes round again, finding the forest full of greenery-gobbling ‘Worms!’ until Monkey accidentally saves the day, before ‘A Great Big Snotty Cold!’ afflicts everyone. The cure is too weaponize the germs into a giant bogie-beast… but it doesn’t end there…

Skunky’s latest “greatest invention” generates ‘Bubble Trouble!’ before he builds his snarky simian sidekick’s dream device – an enormous ‘Metal Monkey!’ – that bears no relationship to the enigmatic and apparently unattended ‘Giant Egg!’ Ai and Bunny stumble across. Was that the reason for her throwing a dinner party for all her new friends and urgently urge them to ‘Eat Up!’ while revealing some culinary secrets nobody wanted to know?

‘Spaaaace!’ finds Skunky trying – but failing – to send Monkey back where he came from, after which ‘Storytime!’ shows Bunny’s literary leanings whilst Weenie and Pig enjoy ‘Mud, Glorious Mud!’ and aliens are erroneously blamed for all the fuss on ‘The Night They Floated Our Cows Away!’

Everyone’s recovered by time soapbox cart fever intoxicates the little critters, resulting in a shock ending for the ‘Screwball 4000!’, after which a different – Ai-sponsored – comic reality results in baffling grudge-match ‘Weenie vs Monkey’ before she races off, oblivious to the attentions of brain-battered, bewildered and besotted former stuntmanAction Beaver in ‘♥’

Skunky’s ploy of creating robot duplicates of his opponents goes just like you’d expect in ‘Double Trouble!’, leaving a certain robot in a tizzy safeguarding rare floral gem ‘The Purple Popplewhatsit!’, just as we ease effortlessly into the middle of the year, with ‘Summer’ heralding the first sighting of Skunky’s latest giant sensation ‘The Walrus!’

Undaunted, the black-&-white bounder almost incinerates the woods with a homemade star making ‘Sun Kinda Trouble!’before building colossal fantasy constructs in ‘The Midnight Dragon’ and spoiling a party whilst the stroppy simian is trapped in a timeloop in ‘Monkeyfloop!’

Catastrophic rivalry erupts as alternate evil genius Maniacal Badger competes with Skunky for a science prize and the title of ‘The Most Brilliant Animal in the Woods!’ whilst a blow to the bonce creates ‘Evil Bunny!’ and Weenie consults the Skunk to achieve the dream of being ‘The Bravest Squirrel in the Woods!’

Monkey triggers road rage by building a motorway around Bunny’s cottage in ‘Beep! Beep!’, yet still find time to completely miss the united animals war against a human invader in ‘Persuasion!’ whilst Weenie’s awesome weaponization of sugary treats in ‘Doughnuts!’ brings us stickily to the ‘Autumn’ segment where ‘A Moment of Solace!’for Skunky still ends in chaos and carnage.

Laziness exacerbates the shameful antics and utter rout of the ‘Monkey Army!’, which leads the valiantly victorious Bunny team to pursue supernatural phenomena in ‘Will-o-de-Wisp!’ Strangely, the glowing phantasm that scarily greets them bears a disturbing resemblance to long-gone local legend Fantastic Le Fox

‘What a Brave Little Squirrel (Part One)!’ begins a strange excursion to a subterranean realm with terror and abandonment on the cards for Weenie, but hope and escape materialise in ‘What a Brave Little Squirrel (Part Two)!’before being driven away again by the secret power source of Skunky’s new hover board in ‘The Flipping Point!’

That so-familiar spectre returns prophesying ‘Grave Danger!’ and in the resultant ‘Panic!’ Bunny becomes a maddened doomsday-prepper, but Weenie is more concerned with culinary success and new kitchen gadget the Multi-Kitchen Buddy in ‘The Other Side!’

At last the doom arrives, but declaring ‘Battle Stations!’ and gathering everybody together and marshalling extraordinary defences amount to nothing and soon distracted Randolph the Raccoon and Ai are pointlessly competing in ‘Runnnn!’ …with Action Beaver and the timestream itself regretting their actions…

‘The Worst Idea You’ve Ever Had!’ finds Monkey yet again ruining Skunky’s plans as the boffin attempts to imprison a ghost before the madness pauses – for now – with ‘The Woodland Devil!’ as the dreaded, doom-laden grave danger arrives and all the animals are caught napping!

The animal anarchy is augmented here with detailed instructions on How to Draw Ai’ and ‘How to Draw Weenie’ so, as well as beguiling your young ’uns with stories, you can use this book to teach them a trade…

The absolute acme of absurdist adventure, Bunny vs Monkey is weird wit, brilliant invention, potent sentiment and superb cartooning all in one eccentrically excellent package: providing jubilant joy for grown-ups of every vintage, even those who claim they only get it for their kids. This is the kind of comic parents beg kids to read to them. Is that you yet?
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2022. All rights reserved.

Bunny vs Monkey and the Supersonic Aye-Aye is published on January 6th 2022 and is available for pre-order now.

Yakari volume 19: The Devil in the Woods


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-037-1 (Album PB)

Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who 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, working on The Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators.

Many of Derib’s stunning works feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes, with Yakari considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom. Debuting in 1969, it details 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 content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of required familiarity or foreknowledge. The series – which has generated two separate animated TV series and a movie release last year – has achieved 40 albums thus far: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the 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 they are resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave and can – thanks to a boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – chat with all animals. This time, however, the conclusion is far from cheery or cosy and presages dark times ahead for some…

It begins in the depths of winter, with deep snow covering the plains and provender scarce for all. As the youngsters Rainbow, Buffalo Seed and Yakari amuse themselves with his pony Little Thunder, the talkative boy’s father Bold Gazeand hunter Taut Bow urgently seek food. Luck turns their way when a large hehaka (wapiti) rushes right into their arrows. By nightfall the entire tribe has eaten well and the leftovers are preserved and dressed to provide more food in the days to come.

The adults cannot shake the impression that their welcome repast was fleeing from something worse than their arrows, and that apprehension is confirmed in the morning when the tribe discover all the remaining food has gone. The fresh snow carries no trace of the thief…

Ever-inquisitive Yakari wants an explanation and sets out to ask his animal pals, eventually finding strange tracks that might belong to some sort of bear. Incautiously following, he sees the footprints peter out just as beaver chieftain Double-Tooth pops up.

The jolly rodent is disturbed by the news and helps in searching, but as Yakari and Double-Tooth follow tracks that constantly seem to vanish into thin air, Bold Gaze and Taut Bow are trailing the thief with the camp dogs. It’s  a horrific mistake as something unseen kills and eats the valiant hounds!

Dread haunts the humans huddled in their tents that night, but in the morning Yakari and Little Thunder check out and eliminate all the local bears – even the notoriously grumpy and insomniac Grizzly who’s having difficulty hibernating – from the suspect list, unaware that something sinister and malign is tracking them…

Baffled and scared that one of their ursine pals has gone mad, Yakari and the beaver clan build a wonderful trap to catch the mysterious thief, but again the stalker outwits them all: even diverting their suspicions to the most unlikely culprit whilst retaliating by destroying the beavers’ precious dam and home…

With all creatures equally endangered by the “devil”, Yakari and his allies convince the mighty and increasingly irate Grizzly to help them hunt, and before long the arrogant quarry rises to the challenge. It confronts its pursuers but the resultant battle is swift, terrible and sadly inconclusive as their brutal clash triggers an avalanche…

In the eerie aftermath, the Great Eagle arrives and shares some disturbing thoughts that may have terrible implications in days to come…

Originally released in 1994, Le diable des bois was the 20th European album, and although its suspenseful, ominous tone feels like a dark departure from the cheery norm, there’s still plenty of humour and slapstick hijinks to balance the grim proceedings, and – in deference to the younger readers – everything is carried out with sensitivity and wit.

As ever, Derib & Job display astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity in this glorious graphic tour de force highlighting the appealing courage of our diminutive heroes, in a visually stunning, seductively smart saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips ever conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.

Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. All rights reserved. English translation 2021 © Cinebook Ltd.

Hurricane Annual 1968


By Many & various (Fleetway)
No ISBN:

From the late 1950s and increasingly through the 1960s, Scotland’s DC Thomson steadily overtook their London-based competition – primarily monolithic comics publishing giant Amalgamated Press. Founded by Alfred Harmsworth at the beginning of the twentieth century, AP sought to regain lost ground, and the sheer variety of material the southerners unleashed as countermeasures offered incredible vistas in adventure and – thanks to the defection of Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid to the enemy – eventually found a wealth of anarchic comedy material to challenge the likes of the Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and their unruly kin.

During the latter end of that period the Batman TV show sent the entire world superhero-crazy. Amalgamated had almost finished absorbing all its local rivals – such as The Eagle’s Hulton Press – to form Fleetway/Odhams/IPC and were about to incorporate American-styled superheroes into their heady brew of weekly thrills.

Once the biggest player in children’s comics, Amalgamated had stayed at the forefront of sales by latching onto every fad: keeping their material contemporary, if not strictly fresh. The all-consuming company began reprinting early Marvel Comics successes for a few years: feeding on the growing fashion for US style adventure which had largely supplanted the rather tired True-Blue Brit style of Dan Dare or DC Thompson’s Wolf of Kabul.

Even though sales of all British comics were generally – and in some cases, drastically -declining, the 1960s were a period of intense and impressive innovation with publishers embracing new sensibilities; constantly trying new types of character and tales. At this time Valiant and its stable-mate Lion were the Boys’ Adventure big guns (although nothing could touch DC Thomson’s Beano and Dandy in the comedy arena).

Hurricane was an impressive-looking upgrade that began during that period of expansion and counterattack, apparently conceived in response to DCT’s action weekly Hornet. It launched the week of February 29th 1964 and ran for 63 issues, but was revamped three times during that period before ultimately being merged into companion paper Tiger.

It carried a superbly varied roster of features in that time, including two (and a half) stars who survived its extinction. Racing driver Skid Solo and comedy superman Typhoon Tracy as well as Sgt Rock – Paratrooper… but not for so long for him…

There was heavy dependence on European and South American artists initially, among them Mario Capaldi, Nevio Zeccara, Georgio Trevisan, Renato Polese and Lino Landolfi, some of whom lasted into the Annuals. As with so many titles, although the comics might quickly fade, Christmas Annuals maintained a presence for years after and Hurricane seasonal specials were produced for every year from 1965 to 1974…

Following a tried-&-true formula, this book – published in 1967 – offers comics adventures, prose stories, fact-features, funnies and puzzles and kicks off with stunning full-colour fact feature strip ‘Lawmen and Badmen of the Wild West’.

Looking  like they’re painted by Reg Bunn or Tony Weare, these comics outline the lives and times of Wyatt Earp, Tom Smith, Black Bart, Sam Bass, Billy the Kid and Bat Masterson, before fully fictional western star Drago teaches a headstrong young cavalry officer the meaning of command in monochrome thriller ‘He Rides Alone’ – possibly illustrated by Polese.

Regular prose feature ‘The Worst Boy in the School’ (illustrated by Geoffrey Whittam?) follows a page of medical gags entitled ‘Take a dose of Chuckles!’ The long-running boarding school saga was enlivened by its star Duffy coming from Circus stock. Here the comedy, chaos and espionage excitement stems from a New Boy who’s convinced enemies of his father – a South American president – are trying to kidnap him. He’s not wrong…

Returning to monochrome strips, ‘Sgt. Rock – Special Air Service’ ferrets out Nazi infiltrators masquerading as American GIs before we switch back to fact for a photo-feature offering capacious coverage of modern British military might in ‘The Army Marches on its Wheels!’ whilst the comedy capers of ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ literally bring the house down when he gets the Hi Fi bug.

‘Casey and the Champ’ stars a veteran railroad man and his steam engine who here reveal in strip form the unlikely salvation of a played-out mining town as prelude to photo feature ‘Why Not Go by Balloon?’ before heading to 1804 where Regency prize-fighter Jim Trim stumbles upon a Napoleonic plot to conquer England in ‘Two Fists Against the World!’ (perhaps illustrated by Carlos Roume)…

Prose yarn ‘Carlos of the Wild Horses’ details the story of conquistadores imperilled by rebellious Aztecs and saved by the bond between the governor’s young son and a herd of mustangs and is followed by text fact-features ‘War Dogs’ – commemorating canines in combat – and ‘Atlantic Greyhounds’ explaining why the glory days of cruise liners had passed and why they could be built no bigger. Ah, the joys of schadenfreude and hindsight in action…

Next is a prose-&-photo precis current of movie release ‘The Train’(starring Burt Lancaster, but I’d never heard of it): a tale of Nazi collaboration and pursuit of transport of stolen art, followed by photo feature ‘When Nature Turns Nasty!’ before the incontestable star of Hurricane thunders in on a wave of colour illustration. ‘The Juggernaut from Planet Z’ is again despatched to aid his Earth chum Dr. Dan Morgan only to be overridden – and temporarily enslaved – by crazed would-be dictator General Zeb.

Sport next as ‘Hurry of the Hammers’ finds the football star in black-&-white and almost deprived of club and grounds by an unscrupulous new owner more interested in profit than the beautiful game. Historical factual strip ‘They Climbed… the Matterhorn’ then leads to a prose outing for the worst ship in the WWII navy. One again confounding the British Admiralty and escaping being broken up for parts in ‘HMS Outcast – Pride of the Fleet’ sees Geoff Campion’s unruly mob save the Pacific flotilla from destruction by the Japanese using ping pong balls and tomato sauce…

‘Typhoon Tracy’s Lucky Strike!’ finds the mighty moron in Alaska, battling bears, triggering a gold rush and helping an old friend stave off poverty, after which Giovanni Ticci employs duo-colour to limn a superbly light-hearted ‘Sword for Hire’ romp starring Cavalier soldier-of-fortune Hugo Dinwiddie who saves a fugitive king’s agent from capture even while acting as an unwilling substitute for a duellist.

Reverting to prose, ‘The Terrible Revenge of Dr. Parvo’ stars atomic accident survivors Ace Sutton and Flash Casey who use their journalistic skills and ability to walk through walls to stop a madman weaponizing weather, after which strip ‘Danger at Manakee Deep’ details a futuristic undersea habitat and resource factory endangered by greed and treachery.

‘Rodeo!’ traces the history of the sport with photos front the Calgary Stampede whilst monochrome strip ‘The Ragged Racer’ offers early environmental activism from its Wildman hero as he thwarts a circus’ scheme to destroy his mountainous animal preserve and gag page ‘It’s a Dog’s Laugh!’ brings us the text cover feature ‘R.A.F. to the Rescue’ outlining the history and activities of the coastal guardians.

The prose perseveres with adventure yarn ‘The Fiery Furnaces’ as two roving sportsmen accidentally dethrone a South American tyrant with delusions of grandeur (with illustrations by either Nevio Zaccara or Alfredo Giolitti) before ‘Rod the Odd Mod and ‘is old pal Percy Vere’ endure a calamitous bath night…

Sport was a major fascination of publishers at this time and ‘Soccer Special by The Ref’ opens an extended section of pictorial mini-features comprising ‘Famous Captains before they were Famous’, ‘Soccer Trophies Worth Winning’ and ‘Strange Things Happen in Soccer’ before we all ride off into the sunset, ending with comic strip masked cowboy ‘The Black Avenger’ who chases and then saves a “white magician” stirring up Indian tribes.

Eclectic, wide-ranging and always of majestically high quality, this blend of fact, fiction, fun and thrills is a splendid evocation of lost days of joy and wonder. We may not be making books like this anymore but at least they’re still relatively easy to track down. Of course, what’s really needed is for some sagacious publisher to start re-issuing them…
© Fleetway Publications Ltd., 1967