‘There’s a Lot of it About’


By Geoffrey Dickinson (Columbus Books)
ISBN: 978-0-86287-253-3 (PB)

The government are keen on co-opting and channelling the “Blitz Spirit” these days to embody the nation’s resistance to adversity, but it wasn’t our dogged determination that pulled us though our darkest hours. It was the national ability to find humour in the most appalling circumstances that kept us going…

Since we’re all absorbed by snot and sniffles and sudden death, I thought I’d cheer myself up for a moment with this handy handbook of ailments and medical mis-practice from one of Britain’s best and most influential cartoonists and a time far less fraught.

Geoffrey Dickinson was a veteran mainstay of Punch, Time, The Financial Times and many other periodical venues. This is probably his best collection of gags but his second opinion on medical matters ‘Probably Just a Virus’ is almost as good but a lot harder to find these days…

British cartooning has been magnificently served over the centuries by masters of form, line, wash and most importantly clever ideas, repeatedly poking our funny bones, pricking our pomposities and feeding our fascinations, and nothing says more about us than our rocky relationship with the beloved yet criminally underfunded National Health Service.

Award-winning scribbler Geoffrey Samuel Dickinson was born on May 5th 1933 in Liverpool and studied at Southport School Art (1950-1953) before graduating to the Royal Academy Schools. Set on a career as a landscape painter, he taught art in Croydon, at Tavistock Boys School and the Selhurst Grammar School until 1967.

To supplement his meagre income – governments have never reckoned much to the value of teachers either – he freelanced as a graphic designer and animator for the BBC and began selling gags to Punch as early as 1963.

In 1966, his famous cover for the April 15th issue of Time Magazine was deemed to have officially launched “the Swinging Sixties” and London as the capital city of cool. A year later he took a staff position with Punch as Deputy Art Editor under the legendary Bill Hewison, but still found time to freelance, working for Reader’s Digest, Which?Esquire, Highlife, Hallmark Cards and many more.

In 1984, Dickinson left the humour standard to take up a position at the Financial Times, drawing cartoons for the daily and producing illustration material for the weekend supplement. He died far too young in 1988.

Within the pages of ‘There’s a Lot of it About’ – and following a pithy introduction from much-missed master of acerbic wit Alan Coren – the fit, the fat, the festering and the foolish will all learn the truth about the health of the nation in such chapters of chilling encounters and dodgy diagnoses as ‘The Waiting-Room’, ‘In the Surgery’ and ‘Sharp Practice’, before meeting stroppy secretaries, seen-it-all sawbones and formidably starched matrons, as well as the puling punks, cadaverous clerks and clerics, cocky kids, goofy old gaffers, loony little old ladies, brusque businessmen and other tedious time-wasters all abusing valuable visiting hours ‘On the Touchline’, ‘At the Barbers’ and ‘At the Dentist’

Moreover, as well as warning of ‘Student Doctors’, ‘Showbiz Doctors’ and the ‘Bogus Doctor’, we follow fully-rounded physicians into their private lives ‘On Holiday’, ‘At the Wheel’, in the garden with ‘Doctor Greenfinger’, at the ‘Doctor’s Wedding’, over ‘The Festive Season’ and on ‘The Morning After’, before examining doctors in love undergoing ‘Affairs of the Heart’

These kinds of cartoon collections were once ubiquitous best-sellers available everywhere, but these days are perennial library and jumble sale fare – in fact, I actually found this brilliant cure-all for the blues at a Hospital charity shop in the days before they became so frantically overburdened – but if you ever see a Dickinson (or indeed, any cartoon collection) in such a place, do yourself a favour, help out a good cause and have a healthy horse-laugh with these all-but-forgotten masters of illustrative mirth.

They’re really good for what ails you…
© 1985 Geoffrey Dickinson.

Asterix Omnibus volume 1: Asterix the Gaul; Asterix and the Golden Sickle; Asterix and the Goths


By René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75289-154-5(HB) 978-1-44400-423-6(TPB)

I’ve just heard the sad news about Albert Uderzo, who has just passed away after 92 amazing, gloriously productive and fun-filled years. In the current climate of horrific global crisis, it’s ultimately just one more death, no more or less important than any other, but I’m compelled to mark his end with sadness, inexpressible gratitude and this rerun of a review for his greatest work.

In a career absolutely packed with joyous invention, Uderzo brought happiness and inspiration to generations of readers across the world through Asterix and his many other creations, so I can only say “thank you” to him and urge you to revisit his works if you’re already au fait. If you have never seen his genius in action – especially in conjunction with his perfect partner René Goscinny – this collection is the ideal place to start, and you won’t be sorry…

Asterix the Gaul is probably France’s greatest literary export. The feisty, wily little warrior who fought the iniquities and viewed the myriad wonders of Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire with brains, bravery and – whenever necessary – a magical potion imbuing the imbiber with incredible strength, speed and vitality, is the go-to reference all us non-Gallic gallants when we think of France.

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters…

René Goscinny is arguably the most prolific and remains one of the most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever known. Born in Paris in 1926, he grew up in Argentina where his father taught mathematics. From an early age René showed artistic promise. He studied fine arts and graduated in 1942. Three years later, while working as junior illustrator at an ad agency, his uncle invited him to stay in America, where he worked as a translator.

After National Service in France, he returned to the States and settled in Brooklyn, pursuing an artistic career and becoming, in 1948, an assistant for a small studio which included Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis and John Severin, as well as European giants-in-waiting Maurice de Bévère (Morris, with whom from 1955-1977 Goscinny produced Lucky Luke) and Joseph Gillain (Jijé).

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of the World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office where he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, Rene also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (Martial) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio.

In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier and Jean Hébrard formed the independent syndicate Édipress/Édifrance, creating magazines for business and general industry (Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory). With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

Under nom-de-plume Agostini he wrote Le Petit Nicholas (drawn by Jean-Jacques Sempé), and in 1956 began an association with revolutionary periodical Le Journal de Tintin, writing for various illustrators including Attanasio(Signor Spagetti), Bob De Moor (Monsieur Tric), Maréchal (Prudence Petitpas), Berck (Strapontin), Globule le Martienand Alphonse for Tibet; as well as Modeste et Pompon for André Franquin, and – with Uderzo – the fabulously funny adventures of inimitable Indian brave Oumpah-Pah. He also wrote for the magazines Paris-Flirt and Vaillant.

In 1959, Édipress/Édifrance launched Pilote, and Goscinny went into overdrive. The first issue featured re-launched versions of Le Petit Nicolas, Jehan Pistolet/Jehan Soupolet, new serials Jacquot le Mousse and Tromblon et Bottaclou(drawn by Godard), plus a little something called Astérix le gaulois: inarguably the greatest achievement of his partnership with Uderzo.

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, but still found time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustrée (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx).

He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips such Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussahfor Record and illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes, on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen when he was seven and dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 he became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching.

When WWII broke out, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon the region was the only choice…

In the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose masterpiece The Beast is Dead is long overdue for the world’s closer attention…).

Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, as a journalist, as an illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir.

In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

Another inveterate traveller, the young artist met Goscinny in 1951. Soon fast friends, they decided to work together at the new Paris office of Belgian Publishing giant World Press. Their first collaboration was in November of that year; a feature piece on savoir vivre (how to live right or gracious living) for women’s weekly Bonnes Soirée, after which an avalanche of splendid strips and serials poured forth.

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was the major creative force for the new magazine, limning Charlier’s Tanguy et Laverdure and a humorous historical strip about Romans…

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois (in 1961), it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every three-to-five).

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

Like all entertainments the premise works on two levels: as an action-packed comedic romp of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a-cropper for younger readers and as a pun-filled, sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads, transformed here by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue).

Originally published in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959-4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0, distributed on June 1st 1959), the story is set on the tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast in the year 50BC.

Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete their conquest of Gaul. Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by the heavily fortified permanent garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus– fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength.

The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

Soon after, wise Druid Getafix is captured by the invaders and the village seems doomed, but wily Asterix is on the case. Breaking into Compendium and determined to teach the Romans a lesson, he drives them crazy for ages by resisting all efforts at bribery and coercion, until abruptly wizard and warrior seemingly capitulate and make the Romans a magic potion – but not the one the rapacious oppressors were hoping for…

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style.

From the second saga on the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

Asterix and the Golden Sickle was originally serialised in Pilote #42-74 and recounts the disastrous consequences of Getafix losing his ceremonial gold sickle just before the grand Annual Conference of Gaulish Druids. Since time is passing and no ordinary replacement will suffice to cut ingredients for magic potion, Asterix offers to go all the way to Lutetia (you can call it Paris if you want) to find another.

As Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he also volunteers for the trip and the punning pair are swiftly off, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar…

There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing. Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner and discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

The early creative experiment was quickly crystallizing into a supremely winning format of ongoing weekly episodes slowly building into complete and readily divisible adventures. The next epic cemented the strip’s status as a popular icon of Gallic excellence.

Asterix and the Goths ran from 1962-1963 and followed the dangling plot-thread of the Druid Conference as Getafix, brand new sickle in hand, sets off for the Forest of the Carnutes to compete. However, on the Gaul’s Eastern border savage Goths – barbarians who remained unconquered by the might of the empire – crossed into pacified Roman territory. The barbarians are intent on capturing the mightiest Druid and turning his magic against the rule of Julius Caesar

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix and Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the competition round of the Conference ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph…

Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix and Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

Well-used to being held prisoner by now, Getafix is making himself a nuisance to his bellicose captors and a genuine threat to the wellbeing of his long-suffering translator. When Asterix and Obelix are captured dressed as Goths, the wily Gauls conceive a cunning plan to end the ever-present threat of Gothic invasion – a scheme that continues successfully for almost two thousand years…

Asterix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages; with a host of animated and live-action movies, assorted games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). More than 380 million copies of 38 Asterix books have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase that statistic by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Adulthood is a Myth – A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection


By Sarah Andersen (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44947-419-5 (PB)

Scary times need radical solutions, but in lieu of that and considering how helpless we all are, all I can suggest is burying yourself in a book (gallows pun not intended). Here’s one that both funny and incisive and is available online either in physical form or digitally. Moreover, as it’s about – and by – a millennial, all us old sods who lived through a few crises can chortle and feel smugly superior in the knowledge that problems such as these in here are transitory and shall also pass. That one was deliberate…

Sarah’s Scribbles started in 2013 as a webcomic (first on Tumblr, and latterly Facebook, Instagram and Line Webtoon) before going legit in 2016 in book from Andrews McMeel. Adulthood is a Myth was followed by Big Mushy Happy Lump in 2017 and Herding Cats in 2018. Each collection won that year’s Goodreads Choice Award. That’s because the strips and lead character are accessible, personable, relatable and fetchingly funny.

Autobiographical to a degree I’m unqualified to assess and distressed to acknowledge, what you get are pithy observational comedy gag strips with a semi-surreal undertone about the thoughts and (mostly) inactions of an arty student who lives with an exceptionally critical but ultimately supportive rabbit. Think of it as pictorial inner monologue from a very nervous and unconfident teen, roaring and giddy with hormones and expectations she can’t possibly hope to meet and indoctrinated with standards she can’t let go of…

As well as casual interactions with her peers, major causes of cartoon comment include projections of her eventual senility and decrepitude (‘Me in the Future’), social anxiety, body issues, relationships, housework, fashion, awkwardness, bingeing and attraction through episodes with such enticing titles as ‘Nightmares for Introverts’, ‘When to Change/Wash’, ‘Things I Know’, ‘Habits of the Common Bookworm’, ‘Getting Drunk (For Beginners)’, ‘Social Media in Real Life’, ‘What I Eat on a Typical Day’, ‘5 Phrases that make My Blood Run Colder than Ice’, ‘Watching Stuff’, ‘Things that make me Feel Safe’ and ‘Benefits of Stealing Boys’ Hoodies’.

On less excoriating days you’ll share her views on ‘Normal People’ versus ‘Me’, ‘How Graduating Feels’, ‘Internet Comment Threads’, ‘Folding Laundry’, ‘The Introvert’s Brain’, ‘How to know Your Partner is Serious about the Future’, and the potential of ‘The Future’, so that’s pretty much a view on everything to deal with…

Brooklyn-based Sarah Andersen was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art before this took over her life so she knows the value of Extra Credits. That’s why this tome includes lots of strips created specifically for the collection so if you’ve been following her on the interwebs, you’ll still miss some good stuff if you don’t get this delirious delight.
© 2016 by Sarah Andersen. All rights reserved.

The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle – a Graphic Investigation


By John Stuart Clark AKA Brick (A BrickWorks Limited Edition Monograph)
No ISBN

Do you love a mystery? How about conspiracy theories? What about science, truth and common sense, all overwhelmed and overturned by venality, self-seeking scholarly self-aggrandizement and national pride? All that and more are on show in the witty, incisive and superbly engaging exposé of not just Fake News but actual Fake History from Nottingham-based investigative, political cartoonist and campaigning educator Brick.

The name might not be familiar but if you’re politically aware, socially active and can remember the real cost of Thatcherism, you will probably have seen John Stuart Clark’s excoriating artwork for decades-worth of trade unions, NGOs and pressure groups. You might also have seen his masterful graphic novel Depresso.

That’s still available online and digitally, whereas the subject of today’s lesson is not. A forensic deconstruction of the unethical nature of special interests (no matter how minor) and the sheer gullibility of humans in groups of more than one, The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle is a hefty paperback tome packed with detail, deliberations and deliciously confirmable data that you can – and should – only get direct from the publisher. Fret not: I’ll tell you how at the end…

Using humour as his scalpel, Brick peels back decades of nonsense generated by assorted factions with something to gain and corrects a bizarre blip in the history of knowledge which can be broken down thusly. Around 1820, minor German noble and inveterate inventor Karl Friedrich Christian Ludwig Freiherr Drais von Sauerbronn created the world’s first recognisable bicycle. In 1974, minor Italian historian Professor Augusto Marinoni discovered drawings by intellectual paragon Leonardo Da Vinci that “proved” the old master had perfected all the necessary mechanical principles – and provided a blueprint for the bicycle – 324 years previously. Cue global frenzy, intrigue in the highest levels of the Catholic Church, nationalist upsurges in Italy and a massively profitable boost in the ever-expanding Leonardo Industry…

Broken down into diligently researched, easily digested portions, the wide-ranging story unfolds after meeting our affable, scene-setting host on tour in the Vinci region for ‘The Introduction’. We observe the politically dangerous von Drais at the start of the 18th century as he unleashes ‘The Invention’ and, in 1974 Italy, ‘The Lecture’ by Marinoni that launched the miasma of misinformation…

Connecting dots far and wide, Brick explores the provenance of ‘The Notebooks’ Da Vinci’s bike was “found” in, as well as the parlous time of political unrest in 1960s Italy which led to ‘The Terror’ and a need for a patriotic distraction, before moving on to recount how ‘The Sceptics’ and ‘The Fakes’ thrown up by a prejudicial scan of history muddied the tracks even further…

Some cartoon time travel introduces us to ‘The Maestro’ in his heyday while ‘The Crazies’ he inspired and ‘The Industry’built around him in the 20th century show us how such preposterous notions can take on an unstoppable life of their own (can you say “Anti-Vaxxer”?) after which ‘The Godforsaken Years’ takes us back to 1815 and shows how geological catastrophe sparked the need for the German genius to devise a manpowered substitute for horses in the first place…

‘The Democrat’ Von Drais then gets his time in the sun before ‘The Reveal’ finally investigates who might actually have created Leonardo’s drawing – and why – before ‘The Epilogue’ engages outrage overload with a fresh revelation. Apparently 500 years before the birth of Christ, mythical Chinese artisan Lu Ban built a wooden velocipede. There are even photos…

Like all proper theses, this magnificent filleting of populist nonsense comes fully loaded with ‘The Appendix’: a weighty tract of annotations and acknowledgements adding even more punch to the arguments.

Sharp, smart and truly compelling, The Strange Case of Leonardo’s Bicycle is a rationalist triumph, comprehensively applying Occam’s Razor to the tyres of runaway fabulism and delivering a shockingly unforgettable joy ride along the way.
© John Stuart Clark (AKA Brick) 2019. All rights reserved.

Accepting cheques, BACS bank transfers or Paypal, the book is available from www.brickbats.co.uk/bookshop. You could also enquire about the Signed and Numbered limited edition, if you have a bike fanatic in your life you need to impress or mollify…

Chloe & Cartoon volume 1: When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon


By Greg Tessier & Amandine, translated by Joe Johnson (/Charmz/Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0430-8 (HB) 978-1-5458-0431-5 (TPB)

Let’s close cat week (not an actual thing… yet) with another superbly inclusive and entertaining European import, debuting under Papercutz’s new Charmz imprint aimed at a Pre and Early Teen female readership (let’s go with 9-13, but I don’t register on any of those metrics and still enjoyed it immensely).

Chloe & Cartoon is actually a prequel, set before Charmz’s splendid, school series Chloe which originally began in 2017 and 2018 as French series Mistinguette & Cartoon. When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon compile first two Euro-tomes Chat Arrive! and Deuxieme Chat Pitre into a bold and charming collation of consecutive vignettes detailing how the ever-so-tense Blin family take possession of a 3-month old kitten. Chloe is still in elementary school and her brother Arthur is just a toddler, it’s nearly Christmas and tetchy Mr. Blin is about to reluctantly capitulate to a sustained campaign by his wife and first-born to get a cat. He is NOT KEEN.

Knowing when to give in, he scopes out three likely candidates and make the rookie mistake of picking the chubby, lazy sleeping one, on the absurd assumption that it will cause the least mess and trouble…

Dad learns his lesson over the following months as the little tyke settles in with the exact opposite of the minimum of fuss and destruction. Nevertheless, Cartoon changes Chloe’s life and the family dynamic forever. Days pass in a flurry of little adventures as the girl learns responsibility, how to let go, and patience while dad becomes more and more of an ogre before admitting his own affection for the fuzzy brute….

These short strips are not only fun and supremely entertaining but also subtly reinforce ideas of proper pet care and are augmented by ‘Tips from Chloe’: illustrated text features ‘Welcoming a Kitten to Your Home’ and behavioural hints in ‘Understanding a Kitten’.

Available in Hardback, Softcover and digital editions, When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon is the brainchild of author Greg Tessier, a relative newcomer who spent much of his career as a cultural and historical development specialist, overseeing public reading projects in France, and veteran illustrator Amandine. She’s been active in the business since 2006, with alternative projects as part of the Nekomix collective; mainstream illustration work for Disney, Hachette Presse, Playbac, Fleurus Presse; children’s series Valentin, and since 2011 Mistinguette.

As well as being a delightful comic for readers of all ages, Chloe & Cartoon is a wonderful argument for the proposition that every kid should grow up a with a pet. If that’s a quandary currently vexing you, consider this as definite tick in the “pro” column…
Mistinguette [CHLOE] & Cartoon volume 1 “Chat Arrive!” © Jungle! 2017 and Mistinguette [CHLOE] & Cartoon volume 1 “Deuxieme Chat Pitre” © Jungle! 2018. All rights reserved. User license. English translation and all other material © 2020 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

A Man & His Cat volume 1


By Umi Sakurai, translated by Taylor Engel (Square Enix Manga & Books)
ISBN: 978-64609-026-6 (PB)

The relationship between human and pet is endlessly fascinating. Animal lovers always want to know what other people’s non bill-paying companions get up to and they’re also always looking for points of similarity. How many times have we all heard “Yeah, my fuzzball also piddles on electrical points” or “no, Jolly Mister Creampants has never dug up a corpse… as far as I’m aware…”?

That shared compulsion has produced a lot of funny and so-so books and comics, but few have matched the astounding success of cartoonist Umi Sakurai (The Vampire Called God) with her strip Ojisama to Neko. It’s even more remarkable because the humour is gentle and almost all on the side of the rather ugly, pitifully self-deprecating moggy in his narrative asides. The rest of reading experience is more heartwarming than funny. This is a series about honest sentiment and the human rewards of animal companionship.

Ojisama to Neko began life as a self-published weekly webcomic on Twitter and Pixiv before being picked up for strip serialisation in print magazines Monthly Shōnen Gangan and Gangan Pixiv. To date the emotive vignettes have filled four tankōbon tomes and had well over 560 million views. It is astoundingly popular, garnering awards and recommendations wherever it appeared. Now its available in English and I’m beginning to see why…

This slim but well-stuffed volume sets the ball rolling in ‘A Man and a Cat’ as a humble, homely, slightly huge and rather old cat ponders his life in the pet shop. He’s been there an awfully long time, gathering dust but no admirers as younger, prettier cats and kittens come and quite rapidly go…

As his price tag is regularly lowered, he understands and accepts his fate, but everything changes the day a distinguished gentleman comes in and without hesitation picks the flabbergasted veteran. The answer comes in ‘All Alone’ when the gentleman is revealed as a recent widower. He had discussed with his wife getting a cat just before…

The short moments of bonding continue when the new family unit decide on ‘The Cat’s Name’ and stock up on “essential supplies” when ‘The Man Goes Shopping’. Rejoicing in the name Fukumaru, the cat plays that old “I’m hungry” tactic in ‘Super-Mewracle Crunchies’ and the freshness of the learning curve for both is proved when ‘I Have a Cat Now’ sees the Man try to bath The Cat…

Both man and beast are visited by unwelcome memories in ‘Good Night, Fukumaru’, but their co-dependent bond is clearly solidifying. When Fukumaru remembers those distant days of kittenhood in ‘Good Night, Mister’, it leads to an explosive triptych about litter boxes, discreetly dubbed ‘The Noble Feline in the Bathroom’ Parts 1, 2 and ‘Afterward’before ‘Kneady-Kneady Fukumaru’ shares his first human bed…

When ‘The Man Wakes Up’ they discover the wonder of taking cat photos, but when the adoring human leaves for work (he’s a silver fox music teacher, utterly oblivious to his affect upon the younger educators at school), his devoted and grateful new companion experiences abandonment issues in ‘Fukumaru Minds the House’ and responds just as you’d expect at day’s end in ‘Welcome Home’

‘Loyal Kitty Fukumaru’ settles in and they learn the joys of selfies, with only the odd moment of discord when a dog-loving pal asks about the “ugly cat” only to learn ‘My Pet is Number One’.

A household Rubicon is crossed in ‘Fukumaru and the Black Thing’ when a locked room is opened and a magnificent piano is revealed, whilst the trauma of carry cases and collars is confronted in ‘Safe, Worry-free Design’ before the household standing of the black thing vis a vis scratchable items is explored in ‘Attack from the Purriphery’.

‘The View Beyond the Invisible Wall’ is Fukumaru’s first taste of modern gardening, followed by a return outing for the dog-lover who has learned his lesson in ‘Your Precious Cat’, after which ‘I Promise You’ sees the Man – AKA Mr. Fuyuki Kanda – further impress the youthful school staff as ‘Hellos and Good-byes’ flashes back to that pet shop, revealing how lonely Miss Sato almost took the lonely straggler on the day Kanda walked in and proved love at first sight…

Peppered throughout one-page gag moments, this initial outing ends on a low-key yet warm note sharing further revelations about sad Kanda and wife before he chose to share his life ‘With Fukumaru’

Forthright, painfully honest and packing hidden tear-jerking episodes the way a fluffy kitten packs sheathed claws and razor-sharp teeth, A Man & His Cat is a compelling buddy story no pet-carer or comics aficionado should miss.
© 2018 Umi Sakurai/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

The Unadulterated Cat


By Terry Pratchett & Gray Jolliffe (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-75285-369-7 (HB) 978-0-57506-104-0 (PB)
For the early part of the history of cartooning dogs ruled. For every Felix or Krazy Kat there were dozens of Dog Stars like Bonzo or Marmaduke, Snoopy, Odie or Fred Bassett. That’s because dogs are man’s best friends. They even share oxytocin responses with us. The poor saps are bound to us by their own treacherous body chemistry and millennia of shared evolution.

Towards the end of the last century, sly, cynical cats like Heathcliff and Garfield prowled onto the scene and rather took over. And that’s because they’re Real, Unadulterated cats.

Dogs have owners, Cats have staff. Or stooges. Cats run the house and rule the world, and no amount of cosmetic behaviour or slick PR can hide the ugly facts.

This hilarious book (uncannily out of print and unavailable in digital formats: how’s that for a feline example of “soft power”?) will strike a chilling chord with every cat owner, as much-missed author Terry Pratchett explains the ethos behind “The Campaign for Real Cats” who seek to reveal the sordid truth behind the fuzzy little darlings.

Cats are greedy, lazy, vicious, voracious, and need all nine lives because they take every slight opportunity to spectacularly end the one they’re living – you’re reading a review by a man who’s been regularly concussed by books dislodged from top shelves and had to saw his own drawing board in half to extricate an extremely ungrateful tabby from the parallel bar wiring. And don’t get me started on window blinds, either.

Brilliantly funny, this slim tome reveals the unvarnished truth about Felis Domesticus – and they’ll drink varnish too if you don’t watch ‘em like hawks… and then try to eat the hawks – written by a unparalleled comedy mastermind and brilliantly illustrated by the cartoonist who first exposed the wickedness of willies lo, so long ago – although I’m reassured that length has never been important…

This is a thoroughly British kind of humour soundly affirming the fears of cat-haters – and cat-lovers – everywhere, whilst making them all laugh loud enough not to care. The internet is your friend. Hunt for a copy of this and don’t be distracted by kitten pics of cat toy boutiques…
Text © 1989, 1996 Terry & Lyn Pratchett. Illustrations © 1989, 1996 Gray Jolliffe. All Rights Reserved.

Brina the Cat volume 1: The Gang of the Feline Sun


By Giorgio Salati & Christian Cornia, with Erika Turbati, translated by Olivia Rose Doni (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0425-4 (HB) 978-1-5458-0426-1 (TPB)

As I believe I’ve already mentioned, there’s an awful lot of cat comics around these days. As owning the internet is clearly not enough for the hairy little blighters, here’s the gen on another one I think might be worth your time and money…

Originally published in 2017 as Brina e la Banda del Sole Felino and another newly-translated all-ages gem from the astute folk at Papercutz, the first volume of Brina the Cat is an engaging tale of ownership versus liberty in the grand Walt Disney manner. That’s not surprising as it’s scripted by Italian Disney Academy veteran and professor Giorgio Salati (Topolino, Disney Hamlet; Il lato obscure della legge) and painted by his college colleague Professor Christian Cornia (Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, When Unicorns Poop) – assisted by co-colourist Erika Turbati.

The story is delicious and bittersweet, and preceded by a delightful comics Foreword from Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci before the main feature begins, revealing how pampered city housecat Brina accompanies the young human couple she lives with on a summer vacation to the mountains. Once there, she has the run of their chalet and the gardens and discovers her inner apex predator, as well as how annoying dogs can be…

All too soon however, she meets the seductively free cats of The Gang of the Feline Sun, and strange stirrings are provoked within her…

Pack leader Vespucci is particularly convincing and before long Brina has broken her ties with her beloved humans and reclaimed her heritage. Running free with the gang, she leaves her heartbroken humans to go through all the motions necessary to retrieve a lost cat…

Although not without qualms, Brina quickly adapts to her life of liberty, but as the summer passes the unity of the gang is slowly eroded and Brina comes to a shocking conclusion about Vespucci and is forced to reassess her decision…

But can she decide before the humans dejectedly return to the city…

Available in hardcover, paperback and digitally and augmented by illustrated poem ‘Brina’s Tale’ this is a superb yarn blending charm and wit with plenty of fun and imagination and like all the best kids’ stories is not afraid to mix a bit of terror and heartbreak into the mix. It can also be readily enjoyed by cat-loving adults… as long as they have tissues handy…
© 2020 TUNUÉ (Tunué s.r.l.) – Giorgio Salati & Christian Cornia. All other material © 2020 Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Cat & Cat volume 1: Girl Meets Cat


By Christophe Cazenove, Hervé Richez & Yrgane Ramon, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-427-8 (HB) 978-1-54580-428-5 (TPB)

There’s an amazing abundance of comics about cats being sent to me these days, so – in anticipation of our furry feline overlords finally taking full possession of the planet – I’m thinking of an imminent solid week of cat-themed coverage. Until then though, let’s make do with this recent addition to the genre, courtesy of those fine folk at Papercutz and pray that it’s enough to hold the cute little brutes at bay (the cats, I mean, not the all-ages readership)…

Debuting in Europe as Cath et son chat in 2012’s in initial volume Virus au bahut (they’re up to 8 books by now), the series details the grudging accommodations made by a single-parent father, his naively optimistic daughter and a rather strong-willed, painfully adventurous cat they name Sushi

Girl Meets Cat sees young Catherine gradually getting to know the newest addition to the household, although dad isn’t really acclimatising that well to the hairy third wheel. In this delightful paperback or digital catalogue (tee hee) of short strips, you’ll see the hapless humans discover Tomcat Sushi’s darling little tricks – such as shredding carpets, wallpaper, drapes and furniture (“broderie de chat” as actor Leslie Phillips once dubbed it), shunning expensive cat-toys, sleeping for eons and utterly failing to understand the principles of cat doors or the off-limits sanctity of Christmas trees and decorations…

Enthralling episodes cover where cats sleep, opening the fridge, food, litter trays, learning to use pet-carriers, professional cat groomers, holiday provision, fishbowls, what cats do to tech – especially computers – the joy of cardboard boxes, hiding, marking territory and presenting prey (generally garden gnomes in this case).

These commonplace activities are often complicated by the fact that Sushi has a rich and imaginative dream life which frequently has painful real-world repercussions. He’s been an astronaut cat, polar explorer, pirate, ghost and Victorian detective Catlock Holmes and is particularly partial to those five-hour long sessions of vigorous violent exercise cats compress into six minutes – generally known as “the Rips”. Most importantly, he is implacable in the never-ending war that ensues over who gets to sit in the best spot in the house…

In this tome you will also learn of Sushi’s nine lives through the length of human history from Jurassic times to WWII, and understand humanity’s true place in the Grand Scheme of Things.

Rendered by Yrgane Ramon in a frantic and frenetic modern animation style, and scripted – probably from painful personal experience – by veteran comedy scripters Christophe Cazenove (Les Pompiers; Les Fondus; Les Petits Mythos) and Hervé Richez (Buzzi; L’Effaceur; Les Poulets du Kentucky), this a wonderfully bright and breezy sitcom cat lovers and cartoon connoisseurs will adore.
© 2012-2020 Bamboo Édition. All other material © 2020 Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Hi Score Girl


By Rensuke Oshikiri translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson (Square Enix Manga & Books)
ISBN: 978-64609-076-7 (Tankōbon PB)

I’ve been dreadfully longwinded of late so here’s a quick review of a book I didn’t expect to like at all, but which happily surprised me.

Let me start by admitting I’m old and slow and physically decrepit. Computer gaming of all stripes and sorts has completely passed me by, and even when I was a fit, demi-god-like Adonis, I was completely immune to the allure of moving screens, ghastly cartoon explosions and things that went blip or bleep. I knew other folk liked them, but I couldn’t care less.

I still don’t, but they’ve been around long enough to have entertained generations and acquire some vintage, and this delightful manga (and the usual anime and movie/TV spinoffs) cannily access that sense of time well spent and happy childhoods to splendid effect for a very human story.

Created by Rensuke Oshikiri, the strip Hai Sukoa Gāru began in October 2010 in Monthly Big Gangan, running until September 2018 and filling ten Tankōbon volumes with the collected adventures. There is talk of a sequel series soon…

It’s actually a slow-burning romcom that begins in 1991, concerning poor schoolboy Haruo “Mighty Fingers” Yaguchi. He hasn’t got much, but he’s the king of his local video game arcade – and any other he can find money to enter. At least, that is, until little perfect miss Akira Oona comes in and starts trashing his scores…

She’s in his sixth-grade class: pretty, rich, aloof. Everybody loves her – even the teachers – even though she never speaks to anyone. What right – or need – has she to invade his sordid dominions?

He hates her.

As she continually and constantly wrecks his rep on a variety of games that will cripple fans and cognoscenti with overpowering nostalgia, his ire grows. However, as shared interests and surprisingly similar domestic problems push them together, his attitudes begin to change. Hers are harder to fathom. Like Tommy in that rock opera, she only seems to come alive in front of a console…

Packed with the kind of technical detail and historical background all geeks – gamers, comics, whatever – and surprise features, this is a truly engaging yarn that ends on a potentially tragic cliffhanger that will have you clamouring for more…
© 2016 Rensuke Oshikiri/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.