Wildcat Anarchist Comics


By Donald Rooum & guests (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62963-1-271 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because the Good Fight Never Ends… 10/10

I’m afraid I’m going to overshare a bit here.

This summer was a time of great personal upset and travail for me and mine: a succession of unwelcome events that culminated in the death of a beloved pet, one family funeral, an eventually happily-resolved health scare and another literally hours-from-death life-saving heroic intervention by doctors and nurses of the National Health Service.

How any plutocratic, greedy, self-serving scum can denigrate, gaslight or deny these true heroes decent pay and conditions and job security in the name of economy or ideology is beyond my capacity to understand and I will mock and maim any agent of authority seeking to sell them out…

Sorry: it’s all still a bit raw.

However, the actual point is that – in the throes of trying to maintain an even keel and honour my personal and professional commitments over that period – I managed to completely miss the passing of one of my oldest friends and greatest mentor. I only found out that Donald Rooum died a few days ago, and it’s really preying on me now.

Thankfully, I was raised Catholic and have decades of early programming in accepting and forever internalising burdensome guilt, so I’m dealing it with it my own manner. This is part of it…

Donald Rooum (20th April 1928 – August 31st 2019) became an Anarchist in 1944 and fought the good, reasoned, acerbic but never strident fight for his particular non-political ethical standpoint since the 1950s – most notably, in cartoon form, where he used that most devastating of weapons, the pen, to deliver his payloads of well-reasoned integrity and intellectual challenge.

He was also a thinker, educator, lecturer and tireless seeker after knowledge, adding degrees in Life Sciences to his ever-expanding list of qualifications (which also included Designer, Calligrapher and Historian) before, after years of writing learned articles, becoming a Fellow of the Institute of Biology at the age of 76.

From 1952 onwards, he enjoyed a long career as a cartoonist, providing gags and strips for The Syndicalist, She, The Daily Mirror, Private Eye, The Spectator and many more. He authored many books, illustrated countless articles and bought all of us students in his wake over generations many pints when we couldn’t, and even after we could.

One of his last was Wildcat Anarchist Comics (available in both traditional paperback and cutting edge digitality) which combined a long-overdue and far too short autobiography with a selection of his decades of cartoon triumphs. Donald usual worked in black-&-white but in this compilation most of the material was diligently coloured by Jayne Clementson, making it even more accessible to our overseas cousins.

The book opens with a Foreword by Jay Kinney (Founder and Editor of legendary underground publication Anarchy Comics and a man also still fighting The Fight) before ever gracious and humble Donald uses an extended, copiously illustrated Introduction to share the salient points of his remarkable life and career with typically understated deference.

‘How and Why I Became an Anarchist’ provides historical background, revelatory moments and quite a few laughs before ‘More autobiographical stuff (in case anyone might be interested)’ traces his early exploits, allowing him to slip into lecture mode for ‘The anarchist revolution is now’.

If you check his (extremely fair but too short) Wikipedia entry you’ll see that he was responsible for exposing corruption and changing British Case Law. ‘My fifteen minutes of fame: The Challenor case’, ‘Regina v. Rooum. The Queen versus me.’, ‘Too much other news’ and ‘The public inquiry and the James Report’ gives his side of a time in 1963 when a high-ranking police officer tried (not for the first time and too often successfully) to frame CND protesters, anti-monarchists and anyone else he didn’t like with planted evidence.

Donald was instrumental in the downfall of said corrupt policeman and the changing of English Law. Don’t take my word for it, look it up. It’s still – for now – a free country. When you have checked, then you’ll know who to thank…

Donald Rooum was a force in comics, in education, in science and in the Anarchist movement for longer than I’ve been alive. As well as sharing his knowledge and honing the skills of generations of creative people and producing some of the most gently powerful and trenchant political cartooning of the last half century, he was actually a wonderfully interesting person to talk to – he would engage with anyone: you couldn’t stop him – and we’re all the poorer for his passing.

He was also a bloody fine cartoonist whose drawings and unique lettering skills are overwhelmingly entertaining. You can see that from the merest selection of his work culled from many books and strips that fills the rest of this book.

The majority of the section dubbed The Comics is filled with his signature star, eponymous impatient instigator Wildcat. She is a strident, impatient and unstoppable anthropomorphic feline who has spent decades on the pages of Freedom magazine, puncturing pomposity, inviting debate – and also abruptly ending it – whilst attempting to educate the willing in the ways the world works. She hangs around with a strange crowd of meek but dedicated, intellectual souls such as The Free Range Egghead who offers counterpoint and calming tones. Guess who usually has the last word… or action…

The collection opens with a history lesson or two and some views of alternative politics all delivered in a gentle, charming yet tellingly informative and subtly subversive manner. The jokes don’t forget to be funny and more importantly, there are no blind spots. Anarchists are as good a target as any Establishment or Vested Interest if the aim is to skewer pomposity, injustice or stupidity.

The Enemy is exemplified as Governments, Police, Big Business, The Church and smug Know-It-Alls of all nations, but there are always telling shots at Anarchists themselves – who, as you might suspect, are usually their own worst enemies if there are more than three in any location at once.

The truly amazing – and most depressing – thing is not the superb drawing talent displayed nor even the range of subjects that fall under the bellicose scrutiny of his team of lampooning and lambasting characters. It is that the issues Rooum and his occasional collaborators highlight and skewer never go away. The names and faces of political and industrial scoundrels and mountebanks may change, but the mistakes and problems they create just keep going.

The collection An Anarchist Alphabet is reproduced in its entirety: a discourse and primer on the true meaning and terminology of the work and society as viewed from a purely Anarchist perspective.

Just for the record: since the strips have to spend so much time clarifying this point, I will too. Suspend preconceptions you’ve grown used to. Actual Anarchism is the belief and aspiration that “Society should be a system where there is no Government and Social Relationships are all voluntary.” And while I’ve got the Quotation marks key under my thumb, here’s a couple from the book itself…

“Boss: one who directs, controls or dominates others” and “Government: body of persons who direct, control or dominate a state or other organisation”

Under the guise of a slide show lecture in a church hall, we see some funny and thought-provoking alternatives to commercialism and globalism, and the discussion portion after the lesson continues the mirth with worth.

Clever, challenging, and potentially life-changing: Surely this is what all art dreams of being? And when it makes you laugh too? This alone is a must-have item for any child of the 21st century.

We take a trip into history next as ‘Spartapuss’ gives a long view on the struggle for autonomy and self-reliance before dipping into pertinent paradigms from Anarchists Against Bombs where all the power and vitriol of his deceptively gentle gaze and accessible penmanship target the Arms Industry and the dubious political processes that equate freeing the victims of brutal oppression with blowing them up before their oppressor can get around to doing it themselves.

More deftly-drafted diatribes follow as we prowl the corridors of power and revisit ‘The Big Bang’ and even get the graphic lowdown on Challenor’ before moving on to other triumphs in The Strips.

‘Gandaft the Famous Wizard’ offers less polemical laughs yet still managed to gather controversy after ‘Gandaft’s Garden’ was created for 1987 comics collective chronicle Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament. The tale reinterprets the Christian creation myth with typically gentle savagery and wit, and sees a hairy bloke in a big hat standing in for the Big Man in the Sky…

One of Donald’s longest gigs was delineating the wry adventures of ‘Sprite’: a fairy of Shakespearean mien who debuted in The Skeptic in 1987 and just kept on charming and bewildering the readership.

Wrapping up the show is a canny, politically shaded reinterpretation of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy story as ‘The Tale of the Straw Boggart’ reveals the true human costs and rewards of trying to buy love…

This superb book is a smart, incisive primer for a brilliant and dedicated creator’s treasure trove of cartoon gold. It never forgets that you have to be funny as well as sharp if you want to get your message to stick.

We should cluster-bomb Westminster and all Fifty States (I’m assuming of course that it will still be 50 by the time you read this) of the USA with copies of this book and every election campaign should begin with televised selected readings therefrom. Yeah, Right, If Only…

Just remember, Anarchism is about taking responsibility, not taking charge. I’m trusting you to get your own copy of this book, read it often and tell everyone you know about it.
But please, do it politely and honestly. Just like Donald would.
© Donald Rooum. This edition © 2016 PM Press. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-820-8(HB) 978-1-40520-632-7(Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Get ’Em All… 10/10

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a timeless masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi began working for conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, one year later the artist was producing his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which allowed Remi and his growing studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist occupiers and reluctantly added to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

Sadly, Hergé’s personal life was less satisfactory, but although plagued by physical and mental health problems, the travails only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities…

Le Bijoux de la Castafiore was serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from 4th July 1961 to September 4th 1962 with the inevitable book collection released in 1963. For the first time, The English edition was published in the same years as its European original…

The Castafiore Emerald is quite a departure from the eerie bleak thriller that preceded it (Tintin in Tibet) and the general run of globetrotting tales. The resolution of that icy escapade seemed to have purged much of the turmoil and trauma from the artist’s psyche.

His production rate – but not the quality – slowed to a leisurely crawl as he became a world traveller himself, visiting America, Taiwan and many other places he had featured in the exploits of his immortal boy reporter. Fans would wait fifteen years for these last three adventures to be done.

When the blithely unstoppable operatic grand dame Bianca Castafiore imposes herself on Captain Haddock at Marlinspike Hall – complete with fawning entourage and a swarm of reporters in hot pursuit – she turns the place upside down, destroying the irascible mariner’s peace-of-mind.

A flighty force of nature claiming to crave isolation and quiet recuperation, the Diva floods Marlinspike with anxiety, just as Tintin and the Captain are attempting to win fair treatment for a roving band of gipsies (let’s call them Roma now, shall we?).

Much to the chagrin of the irascible mariner, when the pride of Castafiore’s fabulous jewels is stolen, events take a constantly escalating, surreal and particularly embarrassing turn before Tintin finally solves the case through calm, cool deduction.

Unlike the rest of the canon, this tale is restricted – like a drawing room mystery – to one locale: the impressive house and grounds inherited by Haddock as inhabited by a hilarious cast of regulars including acerbic, long-suffering butler Nestor and deranged genius Professor Calculus. It reads very much like an Alfred Hitchcock sparkling thriller from the 1950s: Light, airy, even frothy in places, with the emphasis always on laughs…

There are no real villains but plenty of diabolical happenstance generating slapstick action and wry humour while affording Hergé plenty of opportunities to take pot-shots at the media, Society – High and low – and even the then-pervasive and ever-growing phenomenon of television itself.

The tale was published in 1961. It would be five years until the next one.

At least you don’t have to wait: this comics masterpiece can – and should – be yours as soon as possible.
The Castafiore Emerald: artwork © 1963 by Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1963 Methuen & Co Ltd. All rights reserved.

The Bugle Boy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Killed Kenny? – 45 Cases to Solve


By Pera Comics (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2224-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Crime Cartooning… 8/10

There’s an irreverent, adult-oriented animated TV show about really unpleasant kids that’s quite popular around the world. It’s got a number of catch-phrases that people in the know often quote to each other. This book is nothing to do with that show in any way at all and besides, imitation as the cheapest sincerest form of flattery…

Seriously though, this tiny (130x 160 mm) hardback – or digital – diversion is as much game and quizbook as comics extravaganza, and although tipping its hat to the iconic South Park, is in fact a hugely popular fair play mystery game developed by cartoonist Alessandro Perugini and unleashed periodically on Instagram.

As “Pera Comics”, the artist explains it all in ‘Who is Pera’ and ‘Who is Kenny?’ but unless I’ve already convinced you to dash off and buy, I’ll blather on a bit and describe how the eponymous latter is a perpetual victim cast adrift in time and space and how each easily-accessible cartoon adventure finds him dead. From clues visual and verbal, participants must decide whether his fate is accident, suicide or murder. You get points for correct answers and rise up the rankings from Simple Agent through various Detective grades to, ultimately, a Pera Detective!

The eccentric exploits begin in ancient Rome with lengthy introductory adventure ‘The Ides of Kenny!’, to be followed by a flood of rapid-fire, funny, quirky brain-teasers such as ‘Who Killed Kenny? Devil or God?’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? Beethoven or Mozart’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? A, B, or C?’, ‘Homicide or Suicide?’, and ‘Who Killed Kenny? Zombie or Vampire?’.

The enjoyment and bloodletting never seem to end!
Deliriously daft, morbidly macabre and insanely addictive, this is a splendid treat for the easily bored with idle hands and will make for an ideal stocking-stuffer.
© 2018 Pera Comics/Tunué S.r.l. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Who Killed Kenny? will be published on November 14th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at nbmpub.com

The Bad Bad Place


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

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

Happy Día de Muertos…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Showcase Presents the House of Mystery volume 1


By Joe Orlando, Otto Binder, Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Arnold Drake, John Albano, Marv Wolfman, Howie Post, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Bob Kanigher, Jack Oleck, Joe Gill, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Virgil North, Alan Riefe, Francis X. Bushmaster, Lee Elias, Doug Wildey, Carmine Infantino, Mort Meskin, Sergio Aragonés, Bernard Baily, George Roussos, Jack Sparling, Sid Greene, Bill Draut, Jim Mooney, Win Mortimer, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson, Wally Wood, Wayne Howard, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, John Celardo, Tony DeZuñiga, Leonard Starr, Tom Sutton, Ric Estrada, Jim Aparo, Gray Morrow, Don Heck, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, Nestor Redondo, Lore Shoberg, John Costanza & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0786-1 (TPB)

These days DC – particularly its prestigious Vertigo sub-division – are acknowledged leaders in comic book horror and dark fantasy fiction, with titles and characters like Swamp Thing, Sandman and Hellblazer riding high beside anthological and creator-owned properties all designed to make readers think twice and lose sleep…

As National Periodical Publications, the company was slow to join the first horror boom that began in 1948, but after a few tenuous attempts with supernatural-themed heroic leads in established titles (Johnny Peril in Comic Cavalcade, All Star Comics and Sensation Comics and Dr. Terry Thirteen, The Ghostbreaker in Star-Spangled Comics) bowed to the inevitable.

The result was a rather prim and straitlaced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles. The House of Mystery launched with a December 1951/January 1952 cover date and neatly dodged most of the later flak aimed at horror comics by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (April- June 1954). When the industry adopted a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules, HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, without any appreciable harm. They even became super-hero tinged split-books (with Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero in HoM, and Eclipso sharing space with mystic detective Mark Merlin – latterly Prince Ra-Man – in HoS)…

Nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and when the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed at the end of the 1960s, it led to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles, but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.” Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their tasty line of Red Circle Thrillers

Thus with absolutely no fanfare at all issue #174, cover dated May-June 1968 fronted a bold banner heading demanding “Do You Dare Enter The House of Mystery?” whilst reprinting a bunch of – admittedly excellent – short fantastic thrillers originally seen in House of Secrets from the heady days when it was okay and quite profitable to scare kids…

Incomprehensively, these classic yarns are still unavailable in digital compilations, although there’s a new (and rather expensive) hardback Bronze Age Omnibus edition out if you aren’t afraid of wrist strain. If cost is an issue and you don’t mind monochrome reproduction, this classic trade paperback – collecting the contents of The House of Mystery #174 -196 (May 1968 to September 1971) – is still easy to find and impossible to not enjoy…

Starting off with The House of Mystery #174, the opening shot is ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’, by an unknown writer and compellingly illustrated by the great Lee Elias. It comes from 1963’s HoS #58, as does the tale that follows it. Equally anonymous, ‘The Man Who Hated Good Luck!’ is limned by Doug Wildey and leads to the only new feature of the issue – one which would set the tone for decades to come.

Page 13 was a trenchantly comedic feature page scripted by Editor and EC veteran Joe Orlando, suitable cartooned by manic genius Sergio Aragonés. It states quite clearly that, whilst the intent was to thrill, enthral and even appal, it was all in the spirit of sinister fun, and gallows humour was the true order of the day.

The comic then continued with an Otto Binder/Bernard Baily tale of the unexpected: ‘The Museum of Worthless Inventions’ (from HoS #13) and concluded with Jack Miller, Carmine Infantino & Mort Meskin’s fantasy fable ‘The Court of Creatures’ (a Mark Merlin masterpiece from HoS #43).

The next issue can probably be counted as the true start of this latter-day revenant renaissance, as Orlando revived the EC tradition of slyly sardonic narrators by creating the Machiavellian Cain, “caretaker of the House of Mystery” and wicked raconteur par excellence.

Behind the first of a spectacular series of creepy covers from Neal Adams lurked another reprint, ‘The Gift of Doom’ (from HoM #137, illustrated by George Roussos) followed by ‘All Alone’, an original, uncredited prose chiller.

After another Page 13 side-splitter, Aragonés launched his long-running gag page ‘Cain’s Game Room’ before the issue closed with all-new new comic thriller ‘The House of Gargoyles!’ by veteran scaremongers Bob Haney & Jack Sparling.

With winning format firmly established and commercially successful, the fear-fest was off and running. Stunning Adams covers, painfully punny introductory segments, interspersed with gag pages (originally just Aragonés but eventually supplemented by other cartoonists such as John Albano, Lore Shoberg & John Costanza).

This last feature eventually grew popular enough to be spun off into bizarrely outrageous comicbook called Plop! (but that’s a subject for another day…) and supplied an element of continuity to an increasingly superior range of self-contained supernatural thrillers. Moreover, if ever deadline distress loomed, there was always a wealth of superb old material to fill in with.

HoM #176 led with spectral thriller ‘The House of No Return!’ by writer unknown and the great Sid Greene after which young Marv Wolfman (one of an absolute Who’s Who of budding writers and artists who went on to bigger things) teamed with Sparling on paranoiac mad science shocker ‘The Root of Evil!’

Reprinted masterpiece of form from Mort Meskin, ‘The Son of the Monstross Monster’ – having previously appeared in House of Mystery #130 – leads off #177, and a 1950’s fearsome fact-page is recycled into ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ before Charles King and Orlando’s illustrated prose piece ‘Last Meal’ segues into dream-team Howie (Anthro) Post & Bill Draut produce a ghoulish period parable in ‘The Curse of the Cat.’

Neal Adams debuts as an interior illustrator – and writer – with a mind-boggling virtuoso performance as a little boy survives ‘The Game’, after which Jim Mooney’s spooky credentials are affirmed with ‘The Man Who Haunted a Ghost’ (first seen in HoM #35) and E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer & George Roussos delineate an eternal dream with ‘What’s the Youth?’ before ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Ghostly Miners’ closes the issue.

Bridwell contributes the claustrophobic ‘Sour Note’ as lead in #179, rendered by the uniquely visionary Jerry Grandenetti & Roussos.

A next generation of comics genius begins with Bernie Wrightson’s first creepy contribution. ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Man Who Murdered Himself’ was scripted by Wolfman and is still a stunning example of gothic perfection in Wrightson’s Graham Ingels-inspired lush, fine-line style.

This exceptional artist’s issue also contains moody supernatural romance ‘The Widow’s Walk’ by Post. Adams & Orlando: a subtle shift from schlocky black humour to terrifying suspense and tragedy presumably intended to appeal to the increasingly expanding female readership. The issue ends with another fact feature ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Tell Tales’.

Going from strength to strength, House of Mystery was increasingly drawing on DC’s major artistic resources. ‘Comes a Warrior’, which opened #180, is a chilling faux Sword & Sorcery classic written and drawn by da Vinci of Dynamism Gil Kane, inked by the incomparable Wally Wood, and the same art team also illustrate Mike Friedrich’s fourth-wall demolishing ‘His Name is Cain Kane!’

Cliff Rhodes & Orlando contribute text-terror ‘Oscar Horns In!’ and Wolfman & Wrightson return with prophetic vignette ‘Scared to Life’ before an uncredited forensic history lesson from ‘Cain’s True Case Files’ closes proceedings for that month.

Scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by the quirkily capable Sparling, ‘Sir Greeley’s Revenge!’ is a heart-warmingly genteel spook story, but Wrightson’s first long tale – fantastical reincarnation saga ‘The Circle of Satan’ (scripted by horror veteran Bob Kanigher) – ends #181 on an eerily unsettling note before #182 opens with one of the most impressive tales of the entire run.

Jack Oleck’s take on the old cursed mirror plot is elevated to high art as his script ‘The Devil’s Doorway’ is illustrated by the incredible Alex Toth. Wolfman & Wayne Howard follow with ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Grave Results!’, after which an Orlando-limned house promotion leads to nightmarish revenge tale ‘The Hound of Night!’ by Kanigher & Grandenetti.

In collaboration with Oleck, Grandenetti opens #183 with ‘The Haunting!’ after which, courtesy of Baily ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ returns with ‘Curse of the Blankenship’s’ and ‘Superstitions About Spiders’ before Wolfman & Wrightson contribute ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Can Kill!’ and the canny teaming of Kanigher with Grandenetti and Wally Wood results in the truly bizarre ‘Secret of the Whale’s Vengeance.’

The next issue features the triumphant return of Oleck & Toth for a captivating Egyptian tomb raider epic ‘Turner’s Treasure’ whilst Bridwell, Kane & Wood unite for barbarian blockbuster ‘The Eyes of the Basilisk!’

House of Mystery #185 sees caretaker Cain take a more active role in the all-Grandenetti yarn ‘Boom!’, Wayne Howard illustrates the sinister ‘Voice from the Dead!’ and prolific Charlton scribe Joe Gill debuts with ‘The Beautiful Beast’: a lost world romance perfectly pictured by EC alumnus Al Williamson.

The next issue tops even that as Wrightson limns Kanigher’s spectacular bestiary tale ‘The Secret of the Egyptian Cat’, whilst Adams produces some his best art ever for Oleck’s ‘Nightmare’: a poignant tale of fervid imagination and childhood lost. Nobody who ever adored Mr. Tumnus could read this little gem without choking up… and as for the rest of you, I just despair and discard you…

Kanigher & Toth deliver another brilliantly disquieting drama in ‘Mask of the Red Fox’ to open #187, and Wayne Howard is at his workmanlike best on ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Appointment Beyond the Grave!’, before John Celardo & Mike Peppe render the anonymous script for period peril ‘An Aura of Death!’ (although to my jaded old eyes the penciller looks more like Win Mortimer…)

Another revolutionary moment occurs with #188’s lead story. Gerry Conway gets an early credit scripting ‘Dark City of Doom’: a chilling reincarnation mystery simultaneously set in contemporary times and Mayan South America, as the trailblazer for a magnificent tidal wave of Filipino artists debuted.

The stunning art of Tony DeZuñiga opened the door for many of his talented countrymen to enter and reshape both Marvel and DC’s graphic landscape and this black and white compendium is the perfect vehicle to see their mastery of line and texture…

Wrightson was responsible for time-lost thriller ‘House of Madness!’ which closes the issue whilst Aragonés opens the proceedings for #189, closely followed by Kanigher, Grandenetti & Wood’s ‘Eyes of the Cat’ and ‘The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T’ (from HoM #11: a 1953 reprint drawn by Leonard Starr) before another Charlton mystery superstar premiers as Tom Sutton illustrates Oleck’s ‘The Thing in the Chair’.

Kanigher & Toth team for another impeccable graphic masterwork in ‘Fright!’, Albano fills Cain’s Game Room and Aragonés debuts another long-running gag page with ‘Cain’s Gargoyles’ before this issue ends with Salem-based shocker ‘A Witch Must Die!’ by Jack Miller, Ric Estrada & Frank Giacoia.

HoM #191 saw the debut of Len Wein, who wrote terrifying puppet-show tragedy ‘No Strings Attached!’ for Bill Draut, as DeZuñiga returns to draw Oleck’s cautionary tale ‘The Hanging Tree!’ before Wein closes the show, paired with Wrightson on ‘Night-Prowler!’: a seasonal instant-classic that has been reprinted many times since.

Albano wrote ‘The Garden of Eden!’, a sinister surgical stunner made utterly believably by Jim Aparo’s polished art, Gray Morrow illustrates Kanigher’s modern psycho-drama ‘Image of Darkness’ and superhero veteran Don Heck returns to his suspenseful roots drawing Virgil North’s monstrously whimsical ‘Nobody Loves a Lizard!’

Wrightson contributes the first of many magnificent covers for #193, depicting the graveyard terrors of Alan Riefe & DeZuñiga’s ‘Voodoo Vengeance!’, whilst Draut skilfully delineates the screaming tension of Francis X. Bushmaster’s ‘Dark Knight, Dark Dreams!’

For #194, which saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages (as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience), the magic commences with another bravura Toth contribution in Oleck’s ‘Born Loser’, swiftly followed by Russ Heath-illustrated monster thriller ‘The Human Wave’ (from House of Secrets #31), Jack Kirby monster-work ‘The Negative Man’ (House of Mystery #84) before Oleck and the simply stunning Nestor Redondo close the issue and this volume with metamorphic horror ‘The King is Dead’.

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and comics critics alike when they first appeared, and it’s no exaggeration to posit that they may well have saved the company during the dire downward sales spiral of the 1970. Now their blend of sinister mirth and classical suspense situations can most usually be seen in such series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators. However, if you crave beautifully realised, tastefully, splatter-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly creepy cartooning, The House of Mystery is the place for you…
© 1968-1971, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Halloween Tales


By O.G. Boiscommun & D-P Filippi, translated by Montana Kane (HumanoidsKids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-654-5 (HB)

The trauma-tinged, gluttonously anarchic ceremonies of Halloween are celebrated far and wide these days, and although the basic principles are fairly homogenised now, different regions can throw up a few enticing variations that are well worth noting.

A graphic series that proved a huge European best-seller when released in 2017, the three stories comprising this magnificent hardback compilation are also available digitally in the original 3-album format, albeit translated into English for your delectation and approval.

Snob and eco-supporter that I am, these days, I’m going to say buy or gift the book if you like: I’m reviewing the electronic editions here…

Devised by writer/artist Olivier Boiscommun (Renaissance: Children of the Nile) and full-time screenwriter/scenarist Denis-Pierre Filippi (Gregory and the Gargoyles, Muse, Fondation Z, John Lord), the overlapping adventures focus on a band of kinds in an oddly archaic city of indeterminate vintage. It’s a place of towers and cathedrals, strange moods and winding streets, perfectly captured by Boiscommun’s exaggerated painting style…

The first album – Halloween Tales: Halloween – finds a gaggle of adolescent children gathering to celebrate the night with frolics and mischief: elaborately costumed and frightening each other. However, gauntly-garbed Asphodel remains gloomy and aloof and soon heads off alone. Her thoughts are locked on death, until she is accosted by a strange clownish figure who seems barely real and seeks to alter her mood and mind with a strange philosophy…

Second volume Halloween Tales: The Story of Joe is delivered in eerie monochrome tones and hues and returns us to the mountainous outskirts of that dreaming city where little Bea can’t understand why her playmate Joe is being so mean. As they idle about on the rooftops, the boy and his new pet cat survive a close encounter with a huge bat that leaves Joe scarred and bleeding.

His doting dad is too busy working these days, so it’s Bea who first notices the bizarre changes – physical as well as emotional – that afflict her friend and culminate in him dealing with the bullies who persecute them with terrifying power…

Only when Joe’s awful transformation is nearly complete do Bea, the cat and his father find a way to challenge the tainted child’s descent into nocturnal isolation and monstrosity…

Scripted by D-P Filippi, Halloween Tales: The Book of Jack completes the trilogy with a return to vibrant colour as a pack of children led by overbearing Stan dare little runt Jack to break into a spooky haunted mansion. As the group approaches the dilapidated pile through a statuary-infested overgrown garden – or is it a graveyard? – lanky Sam tries to reason with her little companion. She has plenty of misgivings and a really bad feeling about all this…

Bravado and peer pressure win out though, and Jack enters the derelict building and soon discovers the biggest library in the world in its centre.

Suddenly panicking, he snatches up a tatty tome to prove he succeeded and dashes for the door. Only when they are all safely back outside the gates does Sam realise there’s something odd about the book. Many pages are blank, but gradually filing with spindly writing every moment – each unfolding line magically recording what Jack is doing as he does it.

Mean, jealous Stan sees an opportunity for mischief…

Next morning the book has vanished, and Jack is slowly transforming into a gigantic savagely uncontrollable beast. Sam instantly knows what’s happened and starts searching the city for the miraculous chronicle, determined to get it and literally rewrite her friend’s appalling future…

With All Hallows festive celebrations inexorably installed in so many modern cultures, it’s grand to see an alternative to the almost-suffocating commercialising and movie tropes where heart, sentiment and yes, unease and outright fear can be safely experienced and expunged.

These moody escapades are a true treat, in darkness or in light, and that’s no mean trick …
© 2017 Humanoids, Inc. Los Angeles (USA) All rights reserved.

I Luv Halloween Ultimate Twisted Edition (Cabbage Poot)



By Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman & various (TokyoPop)
ISBN: 978-1-42781-072-4 (HB U Twisted) 978-1-59532-831-1 (PB vol. 1) 978-1-59532-832-8 (PB vol. 2) 978-1-59532-833-5 (PB vol. 3)

Are you sick, depraved, demented or just plain ‘not right’? If so (it’s not necessary – but it won’t hurt either) you might want to pick up this darkly wicked little tome to reaffirm your skewed view of reality.

First unleashed in 2005, it spawned two further paperback volumes, a snazzy hardback Ultimate Edition in full-colour and, latterly, eBook editions (all converted from moody monochrome to gaudy sunset shades and blood-spatter hues thanks to the tender ministrations of Michael Kelleher and Glasshouse Graphics)…

This holiday now is primarily one where kids of varying ages go mooching about, begging for sweets, exercising their inalienable rights to practise extortion and generally threating mayhem. Once upon a time, it used to be about predatory monsters roaming the land, terrorising the citizenry and making mischief. Here, those worlds collide and collude…

In I Luv Halloween volume 1 we learn that every Halloween, Finch, Moochie, Pig Pig, Mr. Kitty, Spike, Bubbles & Squeak, Li’l Bith and the rest of the kids join Devil Lad for their annual sugar-coated loot-fest.

Typically, this year it’s all botched up from the get-go ‘cause the very first old lady they accost just gives them fruit, and everyone knows if you don’t get candy right from the start it’s nothing but rubbish all evening. Drastic steps have to be taken, or else this Halloween is ruined…

You don’t know drastic until you see what this band of masked reprobates get up to. These are not your average trick-or-treaters…

Along the way you’ll also meet that friendly old policeman, the vicious, bullying older kids and the really stacked chick who lives next door (they call her “Nips” for suitably scandalous reasons) as well as her doofus boyfriend. See their ultimate fates and give thanks it’s just a comic!

And as the night unfolds – with each kid given his/her/its own chapter to play in – we’ll see that theirs is a very bleak and nasty kind of fun with a vicious undercurrent to the shenanigans. You might even call it tragic if it wasn’t so inappropriately funny…

 

Volume 2 somehow sees another All Hallows Eve in the township of Turgid Meadows, where Finch’s little sister Moochie is inexplicably addressing the issues of Christianity and bodily functions in a distressingly scatological-slash-surgical manner, thanks to set of extremely sharp knives that have become her constant companions.

There are some new kids – such as Hully Gully, Vera, Vinnie and unfortunate Vivian – prowling the streets, even though there had been some doubt about the event actually taking place, what with the plague of flesh-eating zombies attacking the town…

Still, tradition is sacrosanct, so the kids make do as best they can, even though candy seems in short supply and the adults who are still breathing act real weird. Some even try to keep the kids inside, so they can repopulate after the apocalypse, but Finch has a pretty good idea how to deal with them…It has to be quick, though because the Walking Dead are everywhere and have their own ideas about “Hhhik Uh Heeeett”-ing…

Happily, Finch, Devil Lad and the remaining uneaten have an explosive solution to securing the town and remains of the sweet, sweet loot…

 

Volume 3 opens on yet another October festival and again circumstances are conspiring to spoil the fun for Finch, Devil Lad, Mr. Kitty (don’t call him Spencer!) and the rest. This time the town is being attacked by marauding aliens. Sure, some adults are apparently delighted with all the probing that’s going on, but most are just running and screaming or being turned into mobile roman candles by all the indiscriminate heat ray blasts.

Moochie has moved on a bit: now her incessant inquisitiveness is fixated on the miracles of birth and why she hasn’t had a sister yet. At least there’s plenty of fleshy material she can examine with her enhanced surgical techniques, especially after she commandeers kindly Dr. Kramer’s office and surgery…

Pig Pig is, as usual, not quite in tune; asking why the aliens haven’t been deported back to Mexico, whilst new recruits Kevin Kyle Kramer – a black kid who hates being called Triple K – and pious dog-killer Monica do their best to keep up. They almost lose Mr. Kitty entirely when the invaders drag a naked Nips off to their mothership and strange, uncontrollable feelings compel him to follow…

Most importantly, a rival band of kids are also on the streets. Brutish lunch money extorters Bubbles and Squeak are on the prowl, even though the big boss can’t get his mind off Monica and back on candy-scoring…

All the kids know for sure is that no-one’s got any treats to hand over, so they’re supposed to come up with lots of retaliatory tricks, but now something’s just not feeling right anymore…

Worst of all, the incredible secret beneath Kramer’s office threatens to end their annual sweet deal forever…

This book also contains bonus story and cartoon coda to the previous night ‘Friends till the End’: a solo outing for inspired originator and illustrator, 3D concept artist and genuine sick puppy Benjamin Roman (Cryptics, Auntie Agatha’s Home for Wayward Rabbits); a delight for the dark hearted and strong-stomached, supplemented by pin-ups, a Roll Call of characters; instructions for making a Pig Pig Mask (Pig Pig Papier-Mache Madness!); and fan art by Dan Hurd, Liz Siegel, Jeremy Goad, Kevin Harden, Mauricio Arcila, Neil Phyfer, Tara Billinger and “Rez”

Comics veteran Keith Giffen flexes his comedy – and bad taste – muscles in this addictive confection that would win nodding approval from Charles Addams and the producers of any self-respecting splatter movie. Jovial malice is uniquely captured by Roman’s astonishingly enchanting art: his inexplicably charming grotesques are the stuff of any animation studio’s dreams. If you don’t believe me just check out the stupefying Sketchbook sections and frankly alarming Creator Bio feature…

All the above irresistible atrocity has been latterly packed into a deliriously compelling hardback entitled I Luv Halloween Ultimate Twisted Edition (Cabbage Poot), and there’s a new super-complete warts ‘n’ all edition slated for release in January 2020 (slick timing, no?), but if you have no patience or impulse control issues, there’s never been a better time to revisit perhaps the most definitive statement on the hallowed festival known nowhere at all as “Knock! Knock!BOO!! Night” as so callously perpetrated by two grown men who really should have known better…

If you have no fear of the dark, love a gross joke, have a soft side that can be hit by a brilliantly sad twist or two and especially if you don’t care what your immediate family or the clergy think of you, then you really want to read this stuff. Over and over and over and over again. Amen…
© 2005 Keith Giffen & Benjamin Roman. All Rights Reserved.

Casper the Friendly Ghost Classics


By Sid Jacobson, Warren Kremer, Howie Post, Ernie Colón & various (American Mythology)
ISBN: 978-1-94520-509-5 (TMB)

Once upon a time the American comicbook for younger readers was totally dominated by Dell/Gold Key – with numerous Movie, TV and Disney licenses – and Harvey Comics. The latter had begun in the 1941 when Brookwood Publications sold its comicbook licenses for Green Hornet and Joe Palooka to entrepreneur Alfred Harvey. Hiring his brothers Robert B. and Leon, the new publisher began making impressive inroads into a burgeoning new industry.

For its first nine years the company combined conventional genres with some licensed properties in a bid for the general market, but from 1950 onwards devoted an ever-greater proportion of its resources to a portfolio of wholesome, kid-friendly characters for early readers and all-ages fans of gentle comedy.

Back in the late 1940s, the perspicacious Harvey Brothers had struck a deal with Famous Studios/Paramount Pictures to produce strips starring movie animation stars Little Audrey, Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip and Casper, the Friendly Ghost to supplement their newspaper comics stars such as Blondie and Dagwood, Mutt and Jeff and Sad Sack. Eventually the publishers minted original wholly-owned stars like Little Dot, Little Lotta and Richie Rich to cement their position as the kids’ comicbook company.

Even though Harvey consistently and persistently tried to maintain their strands in mainstream genres such as horror, science fiction, western, war and superheroes (producing some of the very best “forgotten classics” of the era such as Stuntman, Black Cat and Captain 3-D), it was always the junior titles that made the most money.

In 1959 the Harvey’s bought the controlling rights to their own Famous Studios characters just in time for the 1960s boom in children’s television cartoons. The result was a stunning selection of superb young reader comics starring Casper, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, Nightmare, The Ghostly Trio, Stumbo, Wendy, the Good Little Witch and Hot Stuff, the Little Devil: all bolstered and popularised by “free-to-air” weekly Harveytoons TV shows.

It was a new Golden Age for child-appropriate funny books that lasted until declining morals, the inexorable rise of “cost-free” television, growing games saturation and rising print costs finally forced Harvey to bow out in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

That gloriously evergreen archive of material has regularly resurfaced in assorted print revivals since then. This latest attempt to recapture the glory days comes from licensing specialists American Mythology, who also count Underdog, Pink Panther, Three Stooges and many other properties in their ever-expanding catalogue of comics gems.

Available in trade paperback and digitally, Casper the Friendly Ghost Classics gathers a timelessly wonderful wealth of reprint material to delight youngsters but, quite frankly, the reproduction is rushed and a bit shoddy, and there’s precious little creator information to satisfy older readers who might want to share these fragments of their own childhoods with children or grandkids.

Don’t get me wrong, this a wonderful and long-overdue collection of magical stories, but it – and the people who crafted those original gems – deserve to be treated with a little respect and a little due diligence in future volumes would definitely pay dividends. I’ve included my guesses where I’m able, but writers are harder to identify, so the likes of Ralph Newman, Lennie Herman and Sid Couchey only get a mention here, not on the tales they may or may not have penned…

This economical, no-nonsense affair could stand a few editorial extras and a little more care and attention to reproduction values and creator credits, but is nonetheless a delightful package of charming yarns and gloriously timeless 1-page gags displaying the sheer ingenuity and wit of its originators.

One such solo jape opens proceedings with our happy dead boy and his witch friend Wendy foiling the scary intentions of their relentlessly fear-inducing relatives, before the sweet little spirit decides to visit less noisome kinfolk in ‘Booed Relations’, ‘Educated Ghosts’ and ‘The Mysterious Helper’ (illustrated by the legendary Warren Kremer and originally from giant-sized Casper’s Ghostland #15, October 1962).

Of course, the extended expired family are all equally dedicated to scaring the living out of their wits…

Following a 1-page telephonic boo-duel starring Tuff Little Ghost Spooky, Hot Stuff the Little Devil visits and evicts ‘The Monsters of Creepwood Castle’, scoring ‘A Clean Sweep’ of horrors (from Hot Stuff the Little Devil #72 June 1966, with art, I suspect, by the astounding Ernie Colon).

The Ghostly Trio get a page to harass assorted woodland wildlife before Casper returns in fourth-wall bending yarn ‘Real Gone’ (Casper’s Ghostland #31 August 1966, by Stan Kay & Kremer I think). After an invisible menace bullies assorted forest folk Casper investigates and leaves his own reality to sort out unpleasant, out-of-control artist Pete Pencil who’s messing about in ‘Uncomic Book’. Before long ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ and the friendly ghost is heading back where he belongs…

The Good Little Witch gets some limelight of her own in ‘Flattery Works’, teaching her mean aunts the benefits of niceness before Spooky’s next vignette sees him using a garden hose to maximise his scare tactics, after which talking horse Nightmare (the Galloping Ghost) visits a human theatre and wants to become ‘The Actress’ (Casper and Nightmare #20 June 1969, with art by Marty Taras?)

From that same issue, Casper then visits ‘Puzzleland’, enduring a ‘Dog-Gone Dilemma’ and offering illustrator Kremer plenty of opportunity to display his graphic virtuosity whilst the see-through star is engaged in ‘Baffling the Baffler’

Courtesy of Colon, Hot Stuff visits ‘Dreamland’ to cure his recurrent nightmares before Wendy has a brief but good-natured duel with an artist and Casper drops in on a ‘School for Fools’ (The Friendly Ghost Casper #112, December 1967): learning lots that the students somehow cannot…

The Ghostly Trio lose a battle with a mean dark cloud before Spooky solos again in ‘Nobody Hoid a Woid’ – an exercise in restraint utterly wasted – before Casper strives against a bizarre vandal in ‘The Scribbling Menace’, ‘Erasers for Sale’ and ‘Trouble Erased’ (Casper’s Ghostland #80, September 1974).

Hot Stuff’s Grampa Blaze exhibits his hot temper and foul language in a sharp short strip before Spooky gets a present from Australia and suffers the woes of ‘The Wacky Come Back Stick’, after which Casper & Wendy remark ‘Wow! What a Whammy’ (The Friendly Ghost Casper #112, December 1967) when the witch girl’s awful aunts begin playing mystic pranks…

As Hot Stuff tries turning his trident into ‘The Magnetic Fork’ (Hot Stuff Sizzlers #10, November 1962) – with predictably painful results – Spooky is dreaming of a perfect Scare Raid and Wendy helps an unhappy hobo follow his dreams, before joining Casper in search of ‘The Prize!’ (Casper’s Ghostland #31 August 1966) hidden on a demon’s ship.

With the help of a living boy, this ‘Adventure on Ghastly Island’ leads to a suitably strange ‘Journey’s End’

Hot Stuff’s final appearance finds him aiding an archaeologist against tomb-robbers in ‘A Fortune in Fire’ before the spiritual shenanigans close with one last treat as Casper supernaturally scuppers a western bank raid…

For a worrisome while it looked like contemporary children’s comics would become extinct, but far-seeing outfits in the US and UK have thankfully engineered a robust revival in the marketplace that has seen ubiquitous ever-proliferating licensed product joined by brilliant original kids’ titles – just check out The Phoenix, Goldie Vance, Gotham Academy, Lumberjanes and many others, to see what I mean…

Nevertheless, it’s a boon that we have such timeless characters as Casper and Richie Rich to draw upon and draw kids in with, so compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every loving parent and even those still-contented, well-rested couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes. This clutch of classic children’s tales is a fabulous mix of intoxicating nostalgia and exuberant entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love (but there’s still room for improvement, pretty please)…
© 2018 Classic Media LLC. Casper, its logos, names and related indicia are trademarks of and copyright by Classic Media LLC. All rights reserved.

Hex Vet: Witches in Training


By Sam Davies (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-288-8 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-127-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Animal Magic… 9/10

When your animal companions fall ill, you know they need the help only a qualified veterinarian can offer, right?

However, if said furry, feathered, finny or scaly housemate can turn people to stone, teleport or summon devils and imps, a far more specialised service is required. And staff at such vital animal alms houses need a lot of on-the-job training…

At Willows Whisper Veterinary Practice, Dr. Cornelia Talon (Head Veterinary Witch; high Society of Sorcerers. Hons.) and Nurse Ariel Chantsworth (Registered Veterinary Witch; Head of Administration) employ two promising prospects. Trainees Clarion Wellspring and Annette Artifice have all the dedication they need: now they’re just topping up on knowledge, and experience. And co-operation. They really need to learn to work together…

Clarion is fine cleaning out the kennels, dosing beasts with anti-monstrosity tablets or giving hairy horrors a quick tummy rub, but Nan – who comes from a rather infamous family – is quiet and reserved; avoiding contact and preferring to try to learn some new technique or other from a book.

One morning, with Dr. Talon handling an early surgery, Nurse Ariel gives them their assignments – Wellspring to extract and cage a feral bugbear that’s messing up the storeroom and surly Artifice to handle Reception duties – before he and Dr. Talon are called away to an emergency. It’s bad enough being left in charge on their own, but Clarion still hasn’t subdued that bugbear and Nan has unwisely admitted a strange rabbit creature (without an owner or talking companion) which is somehow setting off all her warning instincts…

When it breaks free and stirs up all the other patients (griffins, pythons, witches’ cats and beasties even more exotic!) the stressed students have a real crisis on their hands and must work out how to fix things before their teachers get back or any of their charges are harmed…

A celebrated web cartoonist, Sam Davies (Stutterhug) reaches new heights with her fabulous and charmingly inclusive debut graphic novel which will delight youngsters and all us elderly-but-unbroken fantasy lovers out here. A second volume will be with us early next year, so buy and love this before pre-ordering that…

Also included here is bonus feature ‘How to Make a Comic page (from Scribbles to Finished Artwork)’ giving a step-by-step rundown using book pages as examples of the process from Scribbling while Scripting to Sketch to Inks; Flat Colors to Touch Ups & Smaller Color Details to The Final Page with Letters!, so you and yours can have a go, too.

So much to enjoy!
© December 2018. Hex Vet, Inc. ™ & © 2018 Sam Davies. All rights reserved.