The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book


By Bill Watterson (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-83621-852-7 (TPB)

Almost any event big or small is best experienced through the eyes of a child – and better yet if he’s a fictional waif controlled by the whimsical sensibilities of a comic strip genius like Bill Watterson.

Calvin is the child in us all; Hobbes is the sardonic unleashed beast of our Aspirations; no, wait… Calvin is this little boy, an only child with a big imagination and a stuffed Tiger that is his common sense and moral sounding board…

No; Calvin is just a lonely little boy and Hobbes talks only to him. That’s all you need or want.

A best-selling strip and critical hit for ten years (running from November 18th 1985 through December 31st 1995), Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a comet and we’re all now the poorer for its passing. The strip redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children all possess, and made us adults laugh, and so often cry too: its influence shaping a generation of up-and-coming cartoonists and comicbook creators.

We all wanted a childhood like that kid’s; bullies, weird teachers, obnoxious little girls and all. At least we could – and still do – visit…

The Daily and Sundays appeared in more than 2,400 newspapers all over the planet and from 2010 reruns have featured in over 50 countries. There have been 18 unmissable collections (selling over 45,000,000 copies thus far), including a fabulous complete boxed set edition in both soft and hard cover formats. I gloat over my hardback set almost every day.

Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that follows a comic strip mega-hit and dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest treatments on childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction. All purists need to know is that the creator cites unique sole-auteur strips Pogo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts as his major influences and all mysteries are solved…

Calvin is a hyper-active little boy growing up in a suburban middle-American Everytown. There’s a city nearby, with museums and such, and a little bit of wooded wilderness at the bottom of the garden. The kid’s smart, academically uninspired and happy in his own world. He’s you and me. His best friend and companion is stuffed tiger Hobbes, who – as I might have already mentioned – may or may not be alive. He’s certainly far smarter and more ethically evolved than his owner…

And that’s all the help you’re getting. If you know the strip you already love it, and if you don’t you won’t appreciate my destroying the joys of discovery for you. This is beautiful, charming, clever, intoxicating and addictive tale-telling, blending wonder and laughter, socially responsible and wildly funny.

After a miraculous decade, at the top of his game Watterson retired the strip and himself, and though I bitterly resent it, and miss it still, I suppose it’s best to go out on a peak rather than fade away by degrees. I certainly respect and admire his dedication and principles.

This slim tome collects some of the earliest full-colour Sunday pages from the strip, and includes a new 10-page adventure painted in staggeringly lovely watercolours. Imaginative, dazzling, unforgettably captivating, these are some of the best of Watterson’s work. You should have them in your house.

The entire Calvin and Hobbes canon is still fully available in solo volumes and the aforementioned wrist-cracking box set but not, sadly, in a digital edition yet. You can however, enjoy digital dollops of this graphic milestone if so inclined by going to gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes. They are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform, so there’s no reason for you not to make this brilliant example of our art form a permanent part of your life. And you’ll thank me for it, too…
© 1989 Universal Press Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

Cedric volume 6: Skating on Thin Ice


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo; translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-408-3 (PB Album)

Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, by 1960 he was working in the animation department of publishing giant Dupuis after studying the print production technique of Lithography.

Happily, he quickly discovered his true calling was writing funny stories and began a glittering, prolific career at Le Journal de Spirou.

While there he concocted (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Comedy-Western Bluecoats plus dozens of other long-running, award-winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums.

His collaborator on superbly sharp and witty kid-friendly family strip Cédric is Italian born, Belgium-raised Tony de Luca, who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make his own break into bandes dessinée.

Following a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, as “Laudec” he landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou in 1979. He built that into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the comic’s other regular strips. In 1987, he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and from then on all was child’s play…

We have Dennis the Menace (the Americans have their own too, but he’s not the same) whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: an adorable, lovesick rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible penchant for mischief. He’s also afflicted with raging amour…

Collected albums (31 so far) of variable-length strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989, and remain amongst the most popular and best-selling in Europe, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

…A little Word to the Wise: this is not a strip afraid to suspend the yoks in favour of a little suspense or near-heartbreak. Our bonny boy is almost-fatally smitten with Chen: a Chinese girl newly arrived in his class yet so very far out of his league, leading to frequent and painful confrontations and miscommunications.

Whilst the advice given by his lonely, widowed grandpa is seldom of any practical use, it can pick open scabs from the elder’s long, happy but now concluded marriage which can reduce normal humans to tears…

This sixth Cinebook translation (available in paperback album and digital formats) was continentally released in 1994 as Cédric – Comme sur des roulettes and opens with a typically chaotic school Christmas play which is anything but a ‘Holy Night, Silent Night’, after which select parents and kids attend a downtown school carnival. Contrary to the notion that ‘Everyone’s a Winner…’, there’s a lot of pain and resentment come close of play…

Cedric’s belief that his grandad walked with dinosaurs is painfully refuted in ‘Showing His Age’, after which a ‘Recycling Report’ and river clean-up exhumes some report cards thought lost forever, before the diminished energy of the young and old leave mum and dad with some unexpected ‘Snuggling Time’… but not for long…

A bone of domestic contention is the elder’s bitterly-expressed belief that his son-in-law’s career in lowly retail is not real work. However, ‘Carpet Diem’ reveals how a young rug seller made his mark and met his true love – albeit at risk of life, limb and sanity – before Cedric and co-conspirator Freddy devise a new way to hide bad news from the teacher in ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’…

Our boy’s constant quest to impress Chen plumb new depths when the ‘Budding Artist’ attempts to make a clay bust of his inamorata and, unabashed by that debacle, then idiotically agrees to teach her how to skateboard in ‘Balancing Act…

When Grandpa gets sick, Cedric offers to babysit for the most selfish of motives in ‘The Labourer is Worthy of his Hire’ and is similarly selfish in sabotaging Chen’s attempts to get fit in ‘Miss Muscle’ but is totally outmatched when Mum gets out a crystal ball to detail his latest crimes in ‘Misfortune Teller’…

As Chen’s birthday rolls around again, Cedric determines to win the humiliating war of gifts and ‘Put a Ring on it’, after which Grandpa feel invisible thanks to a familial loss of ‘Listening Skills’, even as an acrobatic new kid’s showing off turns all the female classmates’ heads. His attempts to steal back the limelight end in the usual aggrieved fashion in ‘Hanging in There…’ before this slice of school life closes with the lad’s latest psychological ploy to lighten his egregious learning load collapsing in failure when he discovers ‘It’s All in the Delivery’…

Sharp, rapid-paced, warmly witty yet unafraid to explore the harsher moments of life, the exploits of this painfully keen, beguilingly besotted rapscallion are a charming example of how all little boys are just the same and infinitely unique. Cedric is a superb family strip perfect for youngsters of every vintage…
© Dupuis 1994 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2018 Cinebook Ltd.

Cow Boy – a Boy and His Horse


By Nate Cosby & Chris Eliopoulos, with Roger Langridge, Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Mitch Gerads, Colleen Coover, Mike Maihack & various (Archaia/Boom Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1 936393-67-1 (HB Archaia) 978-1-60886-419-5 (PB Boom Entertainment)

The Wild West is a place of myth, mayhem, pure ideals, shining imagery and utter paradox. This superb all-ages yarn proves all that and still hides a surprise or two, so get it for your young ‘uns and read it too. It comes in hard and soft cover and even over the wireless telegraph of that there digital book stuff…

Boyd Linney is an honest bounty hunter with a unique specialty. He’s ten years old and only tracks his own kin: owlhoots, sharpers and scoundrels, every one of ‘em…

Delivered with delicious irony and captivating cartoon visuals, this fistful of rootin’ tootin’ yarns comes courtesy of writer Nate Cosby (Pigs, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller) and illustrator/colourist/letterer Chris Eliopoulos (Franklin Richards, Misery Loves Sherman), kicking every trope and meme of the ancient west sharply in the ankles (Boyd’s smart, tough and ornery, but really, really short) as the kid on a mission busts his dad out of jail just to bring him to justice.

On the ride to the marshal’s office the hard-bitten kid learns his early life was even harder and more debased than he ever reckoned. It does not ease his temperament as he goes after double dealing, saloon owner Zeke Linney, but he never liked his oldest brother, anyway…

The hardest part was tracking down his Granpappy

Augmenting the dry, witty whimsy and gritty daftness are a succession of short vignettes by invited artisans of similar mien, beginning with multi-talented Roger Langridge (The Muppet Show, Fred the Clown, Thor: the Mighty Avenger, Popeye) who briefly details the downfall of ‘The Man with No Underpants’, after which Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener & Mitch Gerards (Atomic Robo), silently detail destructive progress in ‘The Wireless West’.

Colleen Coover (Small Favors, Banana Sunday, X-Men First Class, Jim Henson’s The Storyteller) outlines a portentous proposal in ‘Yellow Rose & Black Billy’ before Mike Maihack (Cleopatra in Space) reveals another day in the explosive life of one of the oddest pairings in gunfighting annals, concluding that ‘A Penguin Never Misses’ before the sagebrush homage halts with a terse prose epigram by Cosby – ‘Boyd’s Wagon: A Cow Boy Short Story’

Hugely enjoyable and profoundly disrespectful, this western delight is a supreme treat for aficionados of the timeless genre and anybody deeply in need of a hearty horse laugh…
Cow Boy is ™ and © 2012 Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos. All rights reserved.

Flember – the Secret Book (Advance galley proof copy)


By Jaimie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-46-3 (PB Illustrated novel)

There are precious few perks in the high stakes, cut & thrust world of writing about graphic novels and books, but one is getting to see great stories before you all do and then acting all smugly know-it-all and blasé about how good they are, as if I’m in with the In Crowd.

This review of Flember is based on a proof copy and I’ll probably review the proper book too when it comes out in Early October. It’s that good…

Unlike writer/artist Jamie Smart’s previous outings (Fish Head Steve!, Space Raoul, Bunny vs. Monkey, Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!!, Corporate Skull and bunches of brilliant strips for The Beano, Dandy and others), this is an illustrated novel, not comics strips, but that only means he’s really good at the wordy stuff too, and even so his dynamic cartoons, diagrams and maps are lavished all over the text and act as an integral part of the storytelling.

Here’s a little digression that might assuage any confusions I’ve inadvertently caused…

The old demarcations – whether in format or content – between comics and books are all but gone these days but once the items of printing were reckoned as different as chalk and chuck wagons.

From the pre-print era of illustrated manuscripts, books always possessed a capacity (time, manpower and budgets permitting) to include images in the text. As the book trade evolved, pictures were generally phased out of cheaper, mass-market editions because they required costly, time-consuming extra effort by skilled technicians. Most artists and illustrators wanted payment for their efforts too, so volumes with pictures were regarded as extra special, most often crafted for children, students or aficionados of textbooks…

Comics strips grew out of cartoon images, beginning as static illustrations accompanied by blocks of printed text before gradually developing into pictorial sequences with narration, dialogue and sound effects incorporated into the actual design. Print procedures and physical strictures of manual typesetting often dictated that pictures (printed on the pages or added as separate plates) frequently appeared nowhere near the snippets of text they illumined).

These days digital print processes are speedy, efficient and flexible, and many creative bright sparks have realised that they can combine all these tangential disciplines into a potent synthesis.

Gosh, wasn’t that lecture dull?

What I’m saying is that these days, the immediacy of comics, the enchantment of illustrated images, the power of well-designed infographics and the mesmeric tone and mood of well-written prose can all be employed simultaneously to create tales of overwhelming entertainment. Flember – The Secret Book does it with aplomb, imagination, dexterity and sundry other fruit and veg you’ve never heard of. That’s an inside joke until you read the book…

But what’s it about, Win?

I’m giving little away but suffice to say that somewhere far away the island of Flember houses a rather rural and backwards facing community who live in a little walled village called Eden. The citizens are an odd bunch, set in the old traditional ways and they don’t particularly like inventors anymore.

Young Dev Everdew doesn’t really fit in. His brother is a snarky would-be leader of the local Guild and Mum doesn’t like to cause a fuss. Dad used to be Mayor but he’s gone now…

Life on the island depends on a seemingly-mystical force called Flember: an energising life force that animates the trees, living creatures and crops and even people. Did I mention that Dev’s addicted to inventing? He is, and all his contraptions always go wrong and cause the fuss previously mentioned.

The boy can’t stop himself, though, and just knows his devices can make life better for everybody. Despite the pleadings, help and advice of his young pals, Dev keeps making things and accidentally hurting people, but the situation gets completely out of hand after he builds a giant bear that absorbs all the Flember and comes shockingly alive. Sadly, that puts the little genius on the trail of a colossal secret underpinning everything and teaches him the consequences of rash actions…

Fast-paced, astoundingly inventive, raucously hilarious, deeply moving even while sagely exploring how carefree childishness grows into empathy and responsibility, this is a marvellous romp and an ideal example of words and pictures acting in harmony… almost like a well-oiled machine.

Just to be clear here though; never oil books or any digital reading device, ok? Just use them to acquaint yourself with tales as good as this one…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Flember – The Secret Book is scheduled for release on October 3rd 2019 and is available for pre-order now. It’s a perfect item if you’re already stuck for options about Great Big Gift-Giving Season…

Outrageous Tales from the Old Testament


By Arthur Ranson, Donald Rooum, Dave Gibbons, Alan Moore, Hunt Emerson, Neil Gaiman, Mike Matthews, Julie Hollings, Peter Rigg, Graham Higgins, Steve Gibson, Dave McKean, Kim Deitch, Carol Bennett, Brian Bolland & various (Knockabout)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-054-4

Although I couldn’t be happier with the state of the graphic novel market these days, I do miss the early days when production costs were high and canny pioneer publishers resorted to producing anthologies of short tales.

Knockabout Comics has been providing cutting edge and controversial cartoon triumphs since 1975 and although this cracking all-star oddment is actually out of print – like far too many of the graphic novels and collections I recommend – it remains one of their most potent and engaging releases.

However, if you’re a devout Christian you be best advised to just jump to the next review.

Originally released in 1987, it features a varied band of British creators adapting – with tongues firmly in cheeks – a selection of Biblical episodes, and the results are mordantly earnest, deeply bitter and darkly funny.

‘Creation’ is the preserve of supreme stylistic realist Arthur Ranson, whilst affable anarchist legend Donald Rooum explores Eden in ‘Gandalf’s Garden’ and Dave Gibbons puts some decidedly modernistic top-spin to the saga of ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’.

Alan Moore & Hunt Emerson examine ‘Leviticus’ (that would be the one with all those pesky Commandments) after which Neil Gaiman tackles ‘The Book of Judges’ accompanied by Mike Matthews (both the introduction and ‘The Tribe of Benjamin’); with Julie Hollings (for ‘Jael and Sisera’); Peter Rigg (‘Jephthah and His Daughter’); Graham Higgins (‘Samson’) and Steve Gibson (‘Journey to Bethlehem’). He even finds time to produce ‘The Prophet Who Came to Dinner’ (From the Book of Kings) with seminal long-time collaborator Dave McKean.

Closing the slim oversized (290 x204 mm) monochrome tome are underground cartooning icon Kim Deitch with ‘The Story of Job’, ‘Daddy Dear’ (from Ecclesiastes) adapted by Carol Bennett & Julie Hollings and the intensely uncompromising ‘A Miracle of Elisha’ (also from the Book of Kings) by the magnificent Brian Bolland.

Powerful and memorable, these interpretations won’t win any praise from Christian Fundamentalists, but they are fierce, subtle and scholarly examinations of the Old Testament realised by passionate creators with something to say and an unholy desire to instruct. As free-thinking adults you owe it to yourself to read these stories, but only in the spirit in which they were created.
© 1987 Knockabout Publications and the Artists and Writers. All Rights Reserved.

Addams and Evil


By Charles Addams Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-413-55370-1

Charles Samuel Addams (1912 – 1988) was a cartoonist and distant descendant of two American Presidents (John Adams and John Quincy Adams) who made his real life as extraordinary as his dark, mordantly funny drawings.

Born into a successful family in Westfield, New Jersey, the precocious, prankish, constantly drawing child was educated at the town High School, Colgate University, the University of Pennsylvania, and New York City’s Grand Central School of Art, producing cartoons and illustrations for a raft of institutional publications.

In 1932 he became a designer for True Detective magazine – retouching photos of corpses – and soon after began selling drawings to The New Yorker. In 1937 he began creating the macabre ghoulish family portraits that become his signature creation. During WWII he served with Signal Corps Photographic Center, devising animated training films for the military.

Whether he artfully manufactured his biography to enhance his value to feature writers or was genuinely a warped and wickedly wacky individual is irrelevant (although it makes for great reading:- especially the stuff about his second wife – and, as always, the internet awaits the siren call of your search engine…).

What is important is that in all the years he drew and painted those creepily sardonic, gruesome gags and illustrations for The New Yorker, Colliers, TV Guide and others, he managed to enthral his audience with a devilish mind and a soft, gentle approach that made him a household name long before television turned his characters into a hit and generated a juvenile craze for monsters and grotesques that lasts to this day. That eminence was only magnified once the big screen iterations debuted…

This stunningly enticing volume is a reissue of his second collection of cartoons, first published in 1947, and semi-occasionally since then. It’s still readily available if you’ve a big bank book, but the time is ripe for a definitive collected edition, or better yet a reissue of his entire canon (eleven volumes of drawings and a biography) either in print or digitally.

Should you not be as familiar with his actual cartoons as with their big and small screen descendants you really owe it to yourself to see the uncensored brilliance of one of America’s greatest humourists. It’s dead funny…
© 1940-1947 the New Yorker Magazine, Inc. In Canada © 1947 Charles Addams.

The Complete Peanuts volume 4: 1957-1958


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-076-2 (Canongate) 978-1-56097-670-7 (Fantagraphics)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. He published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000 and died from the complications of cancer the day before his last strip was published…

At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, and one the syndicate forced upon him – changed the way comics strips were received and perceived by showing that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punchlines.

Following an incisive and analytical Foreword by Jonathan Franzen, exploring which characters most reflected the true “Sparky” Schulz and exploring the importance of the material in this hugely enticing tome, the endless days of play, peril and adroit psychoanalysis resume in unprepossessing monochrome…

Our focus (we just can’t call him “star” or “hero”) is everyman loser Charlie Brown who with increasingly high-maintenance, fanciful mutt Snoopy is increasingly at odds with a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast who are hanging out doing kid things and becoming unique comedic archetypes of their own.

The daily gags, as always, centre on playing, playing pranks, playing sports (such as archery, tennis, football, golf, baseball, swimming and croquet), playing musical instruments, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The ferocious unpredictability and wilfulness of seasonal weather begins taking on a malicious life of its own in these years…

Mean girl Violet, infant prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy, her strange baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” all add signature twists to the mirth: each sufficiently fleshed out and personified to generate jokes and sequences around their own foibles.

Charlie Brown has settled into his existential angst and is resigned to his role as eternal loser: singled out by fate and the relentless diabolical wilfulness of Lucy who now sharpens her spiteful verve on everyone around her. Her preferred target is always the round-headed kid though: mocking his attempts to fly a kite, kicking away his football and perpetually reminding him face-to-face how rubbish he is…

The Sunday page debuted on January 6th 1952; a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and these weekend wonders gave Sparky room to be at his most visually imaginative, whimsical and weird…

By this time, rapid-fire raucous slapstick gags were riding side-by-side with surreal, edgy, psychologically barbed introspection, crushing judgements and deep ruminations in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors. The relationships are becoming increasingly deep, complex and absorbing…

Sheer exuberance and a spontaneous tendency to dance at any provocation also became a solid standby with the strips re-presented here. Particular moments to relish this time include Linus and Snoopy’s extended Cold War duel for possession of the cherished comfort blanket; the terrible burden of winter clothing; the overwhelming influence of television; Schroeder’s eternal love affair with Beethoven and cold disdain of Lucy’s far-from-apparent blandishments. A general trend sees all the kids evermore often beguiled by stargazing and waxing philosophical at the heavens’ splendour…

Surely coincidentally is some of the series’ signature expletives and epithets also premiering in these pages… you Blockhead!…

To wrap it all up, Gary Groth celebrates and deconstructs the man and his work in ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000’ whilst a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again….

Readily available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, this volume offers a rare example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue metamorphosing into an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery that remains part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to make new fans and devotees long after its maker’s passing.
The Complete Peanuts: 1957-1958 (volume 4) © 2005 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. The Foreword is © 2005 Jonathan Franzen. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2005 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Benson’s Cuckoos


By Anouk Ricard, translated by Helge Dascher (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-77046-138-3 (PB)

Here’s another superb example of sophisticated yet simple Euro-cartooning designed to charm and challenge in equal amounts.

Couched in terms of British television, this beautifully bonkers anthropomorphic fable of modern life is akin to watching David Brent guest star in Little Britain whilst apparently coming down off a mixed selection of unsanctioned recreational pharmaceuticals. However, for those with better things to do than stay glued to the goggle box, here’s a more informative, longer-winded appreciation…

Anouk Ricard is an extremely gifted storyteller, author, artist and animator who hails from Istres in the South of France. Her creative output is vast, ranging from puzzles to films, book and magazine illustration to science tracts and much, much more.

Her comic albums – both for children and adult audiences – have garnered many awards and nominations, with the all-ages Anna aet Froga series (Capsule Comique, 2004) and Galaxy Darling (2009, with Hugo Piette in Le Journal de Spirou) being particularly popular amongst critics and the public.

She was born in 1970 and graduated from the Arts décoratifs de Strasbourg in 1995 before beginning her multi-directional career. Now based in Lyon, 2012 saw Ricard win a raft of awards and honours for Coucous Bouzon, a wryly surreal anthropomorphic satirical parody of modern day office practice and politics. In 2014, GQ France magazine named her one of the 25 most humorous women in France.

The disturbing and hilarious lampoon delivered here is a calculatedly naïve, faux juvenile soap operatic melodrama. It’s one of her few translated works thus far, but one of the best……

Benson’s Cuckoos produces and distributes those bird-themed clocks loved and loathed in equal amounts by holidaymakers everywhere, and our cautionary tale begins when highly strung Richard (he’s the blue duck on the cover) attends an interview for an office position which has suddenly and mysteriously become vacant.

The encounter is a nightmare. Mr. Benson is erratic, unfocused and quite emotionally detached – and quite possibly completely mad. Told to turn up on Monday, Richard leaves the interview unsure whether he has got the job or not…

His first day is even stranger. For starters, he has to provide his own computer and the first colleague he meets threatens him sexually…

Dragged into a staff meeting within minutes of setting up, Richard meets receptionist Sophie who tells him how George – the person he’s replacing – simply vanished one day. She seems nice, but won’t let him sit in George’s chair…

The day goes downhill from there and the job appears less and less appealing as the endless hours pass. Almost everybody is terse and self-absorbed when not outright hostile, and Benson roams around wearing strange hats; alternately threatening to fire everybody and over-sharing uncomfortable personal observations.

Tuesday, pressured for a progress report, Richard opens a fresh can of worms when he innocently asks to see George’s old files. Amidst an aura of sullen intractability, Sophie takes pity on him and passes on an old one, but it mysteriously vanishes from his desk before he can read it…

Feeling disturbed, the new guy stops in for a session with his analyst but the self-absorbed charlatan just fobs him off with a fresh prescription for antidepressants. Desperate for a little respite when he arrives home, Richard collapses on the couch and turns on the TV.

There’s a Crimewatch style show on. Lost and Found is highlighting the case of a wife whose husband never came home from work. His name was George McCall and he was the Accounts Manager at Benson’s Cuckoos…

A film crew turns up at work the next day and all too soon Richard and Sophie are exposed to the harsh and unjust scrutiny of trial-by-media…

From there the strange tale inescapably escalates into a bizarre and paranoiac crime-caper punctuated by a succession of further odd events and mysterious disappearances which inexorably reduce our reluctant hero to the status of an alienated, disoriented and powerless player in a grand conspiracy.

Moreover, for Richard and Sophie the course of true love runs anything but smooth before the hyper-surreal and increasingly absurdist drama is concluded…

Moody, calculatedly deranged and feeling like Kafka seen through rainbow-tinted spectacles, Benson’s Cuckoos is a sublime psychological fantasy, an enticingly funny comic treatise on the hidden perils of being a grown up and a grand old-fashioned mystery thriller that will delight any reader smart enough to realise that ducks don’t use computers but can always find some way to get into trouble…
© 2014 Anouk Ricard. Translation © 2014 Helge Dascher. All rights reserved.

Pogo – The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 3: Evidence to the Contrary


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-694-2 (HB)

Books of this stature and calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you could just hit the shops or online emporia and grab this terrific tome right now.

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m honoured to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney rights license – amongst many other popular properties – at that time.

Despite his glorious work on major mass-market, people-based classics such as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4thth 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

When the paper folded Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, debuting on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets across the nation. A colour Sunday page launched January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 and thereafter by his talented wife and family until the feature was at last laid to rest on July 20th 1975.

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series even began…

In this third volume (available as a hardback and in eBook editions) of a proposed full dozen reprinting the entire Kelly canon of the Okefenokee Swamp critter citizenry, undoubtedly the main aspect of interest is the full-on comedic assault against possibly the greatest danger and vilest political demagogue America ever endured (at least in the 20th century…) but the counterattack against witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy is merely one of the many delights in this stunning mix of free expression and wild and woolly whimsy…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (boasting three-hundred-and-fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome ‘Daily Strips’ from January 1st 1953 to December 31st 1954, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 4th to December 26th of the same years.

Supplemental features this time comprise a Foreword from award-winning cartoonist Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm); a wealth of deliriously winning unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly and utterly invaluable context and historical notes in R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ . This last also compellingly, almost forensically, details the rise and fall of rabblerousing “red-baiter” Joe McCarthy and how Kelly courageously opened America’s fight back against the unscrupulous, bullying chancer (and the movement for which he was merely a publicity-hungry figurehead) with an unbeatable combination broadside of ridicule and cool disdain…

The closing biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier is supplemented by a comprehensive ‘Index of the Strips’ and a gloriously inspired selection of ‘Noteworthy Quotes’ to fill out the academic needs of the readers, but of course the greatest boon here is the strips and characters themselves.

Kelly was a masterful inventor of engaging and endearing personalities, all of whom carried as many flaws as virtues. The regular roll call (some commentators reckon to be as many as 1000!) included gentle, perpetually put-upon and bemused possum Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous, sensitive Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompously ignorant know-it-all Howland Owl, sveltely seductive skunk Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, long suffering matron Miz Beaver, maternal Miz Groun’chuck and her incomprehensible, bitey baby Grundoon plus all the other bugs, beasts and young’uns of the swamp, but the author’s greatest strength lay in his uniquely Vaudevillian rogues, scoundrels and outright villains.

The likes of Tammanany Tiger, officious Deacon Mushrat, sinister, sycophantic beatnik communist Catbirds Compeer and Confrere, sepulchral Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred were perfect confections to illustrate all manner of pestilential pettifogging, mean manners and venal self-serving atrocities as they intermingled and interfered with the decent folk volubly enduring the vicissitudes of such day-to-day travails as love, marriage, comicbooks, weather, rival strips, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, cadging food, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other…

In this volume the topics of exotically extravagant conversation include the longevity and worth of New Year’s Resolutions, the scandalous behaviour of Porkeypine’s kissing-thief Uncle Baldwin, a get-rich scheme involving dirt and opening shots at the burgeoning phenomenon of commercial television. However, the gradual conversion of the Deacon’s Boy Bird Watchers society into a self-policing vigilante committee looking out for strangers and making sure all the citizens are right-thinking and proper-looking would quickly insinuate itself into every corner of the feature…

The anti-foreigner sentiments peak following the arrival of Deacon Mushrat’s old pal The Hon. Mole MacCarony; a blind, self-aggrandizing politico determined to root out all (undisclosed) threats, enforce conformity and stamp out the diseases obviously carried by strangers.

The xenophobic dirt-digger was based on Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran who briefly shaped paranoid public opinion on a platform of severely restricting immigration and implementing the speedy deportation of all communists and non-Americans. Clearly and sadly, his poisonous legacy and methodology remains a valuable asset to many politicos and opinion-shapers today…

Things got much darker – and therefore more effectively ludicrous – with the arrival of Mole’s malicious and ambitious associate Simple J. Malarkey – whose bullying tactics soon began to terrify his fellow bigots as much as the increasingly outraged, off-balance citizens…

Eventually the villains fall out and trigger their own downfall, with the mortified Deacon sheepishly denying his part in the fiasco. Peace and (in)sanity return and with sunny days ahead weather-prognosticating frog Picayune debuts, only to suffer a great loss when Albert accidentally ingests the amphibian’s pal Halpha – an amoeba who actually did all the meteorological messing about…

Voracious Albert generally swallowed a lot of things, but his biggest gaffe probably occurs after meeting Roogey Batoon, a pelican impresario who – briefly – managed Flim, Flam and Flo: a singing fish act billed as the Lou’siana Perches

Many intriguing individuals shambled into view at this time: Ol’ Mouse and his tutorial pal Snavely (who taught worms how to be cobras and rattlers), cricket-crazed British bugs Reggie and Alf and family icons Bug Daddy and Chile, but the biggest mover and shaker to be introduced was undoubtedly a sporty Rhode Island Red chicken named Miss Sis Boombah.

The formidable biddy is a physically imposing and prodigiously capable sports enthusiast (and Albert’s old football coach), who wanders in as survey taker for “Dr. Whimsy’s report on the Sectional Habits of U.S. Mail Men” (a brilliant spoof of the societally sensational Kinsey Report on sexual behaviour in America) but her arrival also generates a succession of romantic interludes and debacles which eventually lead to a bewildered Mushrat proposing marriage before leaving her in the lurch and disappearing into the deepest parts of the swamp…

Mole reared his unseeing head again, causing merely minor mischief, but when the marriage-averse Deacon encounters the terrifying Malarkey lurking in hiding with sinister acolyte Indian Charlie (who bears a remarkable resemblance to then-current US Vice-President Richard Milhouse Nixon) the scene is set for another savage and often genuinely scary confrontation…

That’s also exactly what Miss Boombah has in mind as she sets out – accompanied by Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred – to hunt down the scoundrel who left her in the lurch at the church…

Other story strands and insane interludes include such epic mini sagas as the search for an abducted puppy – lampooning TV cop series Dragnet – and a long session on the keeping and proper sharing of secrets, much ado about gossip and the art of being a busybody.

Most memorable of all though, are Churchy’s sudden predilection for dressing up as a pretty little blonde girl, perpetually visiting Martians and poor Pogo’s oddly domestic recipe for A-Bombs…

In his time, satirical supremo Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast upon many other innocent, innocuous celebrity sweethearts such as J. Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as lesser leading lights likes Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt), but nothing ever compared to his delicious and devilish deconstruction of “Tailgunner Joe” in the two extended sequences reprinted here…

Kelly’s unmatched genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, if not vivaciously, portray through anthropomorphic affectation and apparently frivolous nonsense language comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human.

He used that gift to readily blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre. However, he usually toned down the satirical scalpels for the magnificently imaginative ‘Sunday Funnies’: concentrating instead on fantastic and unfailingly hilarious serial fables and comedy romps.

Some of the best he ever conceived conclude this volume, beginning with the epic saga of little faun Melonbone whose search for the Fountain of Youth inadvertently causes Sam Duck to revert to an egg. The distraught drake’s wife is not best pleased at having to hatch her own husband out at her age (after all, she’s no spring chicken)…

Churchy and Albert endure the ire of sharp toothed tot Grundoon as the kid’s inability to converse leads the alligator to accidentally swallow his turtle pal, after which the animal crackpots all get very lost for a long time in their own swampy backyard…

Howlan Owl’s latest get-rich-quick scheme – digging to China – results in his and Albert’s reluctant consultation of an Atlas and the shocking conclusion that the Russians have taken over Georgia…

The panicked reaction of the chumps precipitates their accidentally awakening an oversleeping bear who opts to celebrate Christmas in the middle of August. Eventually, everybody catches up to him just in time for the true Yule event…

After the usual New Year’s shenanigans, 1954 truly takes hold as everyone’s favourite alligator tries to recount the amazing exploit of ‘King Albert and the 1001 Arabian Knights of the Round Table’ – despite each listener’s evident and express disinterest – before Howlan and Churchy became compulsively embroiled in a furious feud over pugilism.

Soon thereafter Albert is mistaken for a monster after getting his head stuck in a cauldron. Sadly, once he’s finally extricated from the calamitous cookpot, other unhappy folk become the infernal alembic’s unwilling method of locomotion…

No sooner does that culinary catastrophe conclude than the whole sorry fiasco promptly kicks off again with a lovesick octopus now playing transient chapeau to a succession of unfortunate and duly startled swamp critters …

The hairy, scaly, feathered, slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight – and we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and ineffably magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent third tome should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the others.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the all politically astute critters – “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

Pogo Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2014 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2014 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Zombillenium volume 4: Royal Witchcraft


By Arthur de Pins, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112219-9- (HB)

Arthur de Pins is a British-born French filmmaker, commercial artist and Bande Dessinées creator whose strips – such as adult comedy Peccadilloes (AKA Cute Sins) and On the Crab – have appeared in Fluide Glacial and Max.

In recent years his superbly arch and beautifully illustrated supernatural horror-comedy Zombillénium has become his greatest success and lead to the overlong hiatus between the last translated volume and the cracking read under review today. The in-demand maestro was supervising and co-directing with Alexis Ducord a magnificent animated movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out your streaming service of choice…

The Bande dessinée it was based on is a truly addictive comics cult classic which began in 2009 (serialised in Le Journal de Spirou from #3698 on) and has now filled four albums released in English thanks to Canadian publisher NBM.

Rendered with beguiling style and sleek, easy confidence, the unfolding saga details the odd goings-on in a horror-themed amusement park staffed by actual monsters and operated and owned by a cabal of capitalistically-inclined infernal powers. They have big expansion plans that are only curtailed by the perpetually lethal jockeying for pole position on the diabolical Board of Directors…

Zombillenium is a truly magical entertainment experience celebrating every aspect of the spooky and supernatural, where (human) families can enjoy a happy day out rubbing shoulders with werewolves, witches and all breeds of bogeyman. Of course, those enthralled customers might not laugh so hard if they knew all the monsters were real, usually hungry and didn’t much like humans … except in a culinary fashion…

The inaugural volume introduced hard-working, exceedingly humane Park Director (and vampire) Francis Von Bloodt, newly-reborn Aurelian Zahner (a pathetically inept thief until he expired at the park and returned transformed into a demonic indentured employee of the business) and quirkily stroppy British Witch Gretchen: a young newcomer interning at the park whilst secretly advancing her own agenda.

As they individually toiled away at the vast entertainment enterprise its true nature was slowly revealed: for unwary, unlucky mortals the site is a conduit to the domain of the damned and its devilish overlord Behemoth: an intolerant horror ever-hungry for fresh souls…

The humans of the nearest town know the monsters are real (as work-shy absconders keep hiding from their bosses there) and undertake many schemes to evict or exorcise the inhabitants of the site. For the uncanny undead workers from the Park – who would rather be anywhere else – conditions of employment worsen every day: it is regarded as one of the least profitable holiday destinations on Earth and The Board are always threatening to make sweeping changes…

For most of its existence – despite the incredible bargaining power of the many monster Trade Unions – the only way out of a Zombillenium contract was the True Death and a final transition to Hell, but then a cascade of changes upset many apple-carts. Through it all, newcomer Aurelian was somehow always shouldering the blame for every new crisis.

Stuck between a rock and a hot place, Zahner gradually adapts to his new (un)life of constant sorrow whilst growing closer to Gretchen after she shared with him her own awful life-story; revealing what he has become whilst disclosing what her real mission is at the Park. The big boob has no idea how much she left out…

The saga moved into apocalyptic high gear in previous episode Control Freaks as Gretchen’s private plot gathered pace after she made contact with a loved one currently confined in Hell. The bold sorceress promised a seemingly impossible liberation before sneaking out, whilst in the mortal world a long-dreaded day dawns and all the arcane artisans and supernatural staff quailed at Big News…

Officially a consultant despatched to “observe” how the park was run, elite vampire Bohémond Jaggar de Rochambeau wanted to take the business by the throat and shake things up. He forces Von Bloodt, the revolting Shop-Stewards and all objectors to achieve his new business model at any cost…

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the fearsome funfair is that any human dying on Zombillenium property is instantly reborn a monster, owned by Behemoth and compelled to work eternally in the theme park until the master takes them below. Under Francis’ governance that had been wisely offset by a set of stringent rules, the first of which stated that no employee is ever allowed to attack a human. Jagger has other ideas: he impetuously killed a little girl, delivering in no uncertain terms the new working time directives to Francis and the astounded staff.

The Park was a pump designed to generate money for the shareholders and a steady supply of souls to Behemoth. Now Von Bloodt’s hands-off-humans policy was superseded by more robust policies demanding bigger returns on both sides of the investment…

The news was met with mixed feelings by the workforce: most were scared, appalled and resistant, but a significant proportion saw it as the opportunity they’ve long argued for and a chance to feed and feast and hunt all those obnoxious yet tasty human morsels…

The result of the mounting tensions was a cataclysmic battle of supernatural forces and revolt of the monsters, which triggered an evacuation of Zombillenium. Casualties were kept to a minimum but eventually, when the dust settled, Francis was out and Jaggar was in charge; actively encouraging the killing of unattached or unaccompanied humans, who now come in droves to the most exciting entertainment experience in the world…

This latest infernal escapade – released in Europe as La Fille de l’air and available in English in both oversized Hardback Album and eBook formats – opens some time later as the Board’s machinations result in the entire Park enterprise being offered as the prize in a demonic contest.

At the Park site, winter grips the land and Aurelian and Gretchen are running a dangerous side-game: smuggling monsters to freedom outside the infernal boundaries. That enterprise ends when the young witch is ambushed and defeated in a spectacular aerial duel with an even more powerful sorceress – Charlotte Hawkins – Monster Hunter!

The victor is Director Jagger’s latest attraction, but also hides a tragic and deadly secret that will shatter lives and post lives in Zombillenium. In the meantime, however, the rebels undertake a desperate scheme to oust Jaggar and replace him with Aurelian before the discorporate raider slaughters every breather in the vicinity. Sadly, it involves recruiting Lieutenant Leonie Tran: a human police officer still seething from the transformation spell Gretchen ruined her life with…

As always, nothing goes right and before long all-out magical war breaks out, with demons deviously vying for control of the site, humans screaming and running about in panic and Gretchen forced into a fatal rematch with Charlotte that leads to a most unlikely and unexpected denouement…

To Be Continued…

One of the most engaging candidates in a burgeoning category of seditiously mature and subversively ironic horror-comedies, this deliciously arch tale combines pop-cultural archetypes with smart and sassy contemporary insouciance and a solid reliance on the verities of Nature – Human or otherwise…

Sly, smart, sexy and scarily hilarious, Zombillenium masters that remarkable trick of marrying slapstick with satire in a manner reminiscent of Asterix or Cerebus the Aardvark, whilst deftly treading its own unforgettable and enticing path. You’ll curse yourself for missing out and if you don’t, there are things out there which will do it for and to you…
© Dupuis 2018 by De Pins. All rights reserved. © NBM 2019 for the English edition.