Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strips volume 3

By Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-89729-955-5 (HB)

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive with basic components such as pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and surprisingly bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) she became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the Second World War. Intensely creative in many fields, she published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood), a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books, and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Quite Literally.

The lumpy, gently adventurous, wide-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in Jansson’s political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a childish fit of pique – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood didn’t make much of an initial impact but she persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 the second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear Armageddon.

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

After brief negotiations with AP boss Charles Sutton, in 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which rapidly captivated readers of all ages. Jansson’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975. The five strips in this volume are all Tove and span July 18th 1956 to 30th April 1957.

Free of the strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera and another nine Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as thirteen books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001 and her awards are too numerous to mention, but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

The Moomin comic strips have long been available in Scandinavian volumes but it took the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly to sagely and belatedly translated them all into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation, so a hearty “thanks” to them!

Moomintrolls are easy-going free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and societal pressures. Moominmama is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances whilst Moominpappa spends most of his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth or dreaming of fantastic journeys. Their unimaginatively named son Moomin is a meek and dreamy boy utterly besotted with their permanent house guest Snorkmaiden… although that particularly impressionable gamin prefers to play things slowly whilst waiting for somebody potentially better…

As already stated, this third oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation gathers strip sagas from 1956 and 1957, with Tove in fine satirical form and eerily ecologically prescient as ‘Moomin Falls in Love’ sees scarily unseasonal rainfall result in devasting floods that inundate the sedate valley.

With everything under water, a wave of refugees soon wash up: not only displaced and drenched neighbours but also wildly exotic strangers such as the circus horse, multitalented performer Emeraldo and glamourous leading lady La Goona.

Soon, this lascivious latter has naïve Moomin agonisingly under her uncaring thumb and Snorkmaiden is fuming, but romantic advice from quirky, overly romantic and lonely Mymble and spiteful Little My isn’t helping at all…

Just as the crisis is calmed, the weather again goes wild as a super heatwave blisters the land. When a large crate of tropical seeds washes ashore it isn’t long before ‘Moominvalley Turns Jungle’: a situation made even worse when sneaky rogue Stinky frees all the animals from the local zoo. With beasts and bewildered boffins roaming the verdant countryside and young Moomintroll channelling his inner Tarzan, chaos abounds and goes into overdrive when the zookeepers invade in force determined to recapture all their animals. Sadly, these seasoned professionals are utterly unable to tell the difference between Moomins and Hippos…

And then the weather turns again…

Succumbing to the tone of the times, an abundance of flying Saucer sightings leads to ‘Moomin and the Martians’ as a crashed UFO allows dangerously miraculous machinery to fall into untrustworthy paws. Its bad enough that Moomintroll and Moominpappa’s meddling provokes a plague of invisibility and antigravity, but when Moominmamma takes charge decent sensible folk start indulging in odd transformations…

Meanwhile the anxious authorities send their top Inspector to solve the situation, but instead of locating the missing invader from the Red Planet he becomes a menace too. And then more Martians arrive…

Presaging and informing her 1965 novel Moominpappa at Sea, ‘Moomin and the Sea’ finds Jansson’s eclectic family reluctantly relocated to a desolate rock to man a lighthouse whilst allowing the man of the house the time and experiences needed to write the Great Finnish Maritime Novel.

Of course, the foolish pipedream soon goes terribly awry. The island is desolate, forbidding, so utterly lacking in the vegetation that Moominmamma needs to thrive that the new inhabitants become anxious, fractious and even hostile. Somehow, the barren rock still has room for a ghost – albeit a peculiarly ineffective one that only scares young Moomintroll…

The only relief from the abject misery is a strangely dedicated old fisherman and a canny, capable beachcomber called Too-Tikki (the eminently practical sailor woman was based on Jansson’s life partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, and first appeared in print in the 1957 novel Moominland Midwinter) but even they can’t help much when a big storm breaks without warning…

Once back in their beloved homeland, the family is then aggrieved by cultural catastrophe and legal tribulation in the final yarn of this collection as ‘Club Life in Moominvalley’ sees Pappa and Mamma beguiled by a mad upswell of lodges, societies and exclusive social networks amongst the adults.

These make a spoiled, arrogant and juvenile chauvinist of him and a nervous, browbeaten and unwilling criminal accomplice of her, as mean old Stinky starts his own Gangsters and Robbers Club and blackmails Moominmamma into using the cellar as their loot cache…

Thankfully Moomintroll and the Snorkmaiden are still young enough not to bow to such intolerable peer pressure and The Inspector is on the case…

This amazing, enchanting collection concludes with short essay ‘Tove Jansson: To Live in Peace, Plant Potatoes, and Dream’: a comprehensive biography and commentary by Alisia Grace Chase (PhD) which celebrates the incredible achievements of this genteel giant of literature.

These are truly enchanting magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and razor-sharp mature wit which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or indeed carbon-based lifeform with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be without them.
© 2008, 2015 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Chicken Fat: Drawings, Sketches, Cartoons and Doodles

By Will Elder (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-704-9 (PB)

Wolf William Eisenberg was born in The Bronx on September 22nd 1921, and you probably have never heard of him. He became a cartoonist, illustrator and commercial artist after changing his name to Will Elder.

Tragically, for many of you, that name won’t ring any bells either, even though he was one of the funniest and most influential cartoonists of the 20th century. Another of those slum kids who changed comics, “Wolfie” studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art – as did future comrades in comedy Al Jaffee, Al Feldstein, John Severin & Harvey Kurtzman.

An artist of astounding versatility, he served in WWII as part of the 668th Engineer Company (Topographical) of the US First Army, instrumental in assuring the success of the Normandy landings. After returning to America, he changed his name and set up the Charles William Harvey Studio with Charles Stern and Kurtzman, operating as a comics shop providing strips and other material for Prize Comics and other publishers.

Elder inked old pal John Severin at EC, and in 1952 when Kurtzman created satire comic Mad, he became a regular contributor of pencils and inks. The spoofs and parodies he crafted for the landmark comic book and sister publication Panic were jam-packed with a host of eye-popping background gags and off-camera shtick, all contributing to the manic energy of the work. He called those extras “chicken fat” and to learn why you should pick up this slim yet satisfying companion collection to comprehensive bio-tome Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art. On offer here is a delightful peek at his working process (and outrageous, never-suppressed sense of humour) through roughs, sketches, architectural studies, test runs and abortive strip projects (such as The Inspector, Luke Warm and Adverse Anthony) for numerous clients over the decades, rendered in every medium from loose pencils to charcoal portraits to fully painted finished works, all supplemented by a fulsome Foreword from his son-in-law Gary Vandenbergh and even art from his grandson and successor Jesse Vandenbergh.

A certified touchstone for budding artists, here you’ll see technical illustrations and colour studies, landscapes and murals, as well as candid photos. There are EC model sheets, pop studies confirming Elder’s status as a cultural sponge and perfect mimic of other artist’s styles – a gift Jaffe claimed could have made the cartoonist the “world’s greatest forger”…

Straight magazine illustration lies with a host of sketch research on hundreds of subjects but what most comes out is a never-ending parade of gags and jests, many of which turned up in general interest magazines such as Pageant or Playboy. Elder loved to laugh and he had a very broad and earthy sense of humour so be careful to always swallow what you’re drinking before turning pages here…

As a jobbing cartoonist, Elder was always looking for the next gig and included here are a wonderful assortment of mock – and racy – sci fi pulp covers, star caricatures, political portraits, Time and Newsweek cover roughs and a section devoted to his and Kurtzman’s Goodman Beaver and scathing satirical masterpiece Little Annie Fanny – which Elder limned for 24 years, as well  as wealth of spoofs starring the great and good of comics and the media from Dick Tracy to Popeye to Prince Charles and Lady Diana

A visual tour de force, this is a perfect illustration of how and why cartoonists are and why we’re so lucky to have them.

All material, unless otherwise noted, is © 2006 Will Elder. Little Annie Fanny © 2006 Playboy Enterprises, Inc. Text © 2006 Gary Vandenbergh. All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke volume 18: The Escort

By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-98-4 (PB Album)

Doughty, Dashing and Dependable cowboy champion Lucky Luke is a rangy, implacably even-tempered do-gooder able to “draw faster than his own shadow”. He amiably roams the fabulously mythic Old West, enjoying light-hearted adventures on his rather sarcastic wonder-horse Jolly Jumper. The taciturn nomad regularly interacts with a host of historical and legendary figures as well as even odder folk in tales drawn from key themes of classic cowboy films – as well as some uniquely European ideas…

His unceasing exploits over 7 decades have made him one of the top-ranking comic characters in Europe – if not the world – generating upwards of 85 individual albums and sales totalling in excess of 300 million in 30 languages… thus far. That renown has led to a mountain of spin-off albums and toys, computer games, animated cartoons, a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies and even commemorative exhibitions. No theme park yet but who knows when…?

The brainchild of Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen in Le Journal de Spirou’s seasonal Annual L’Almanach Spirou 1947, Luke sprang to laconic life in 1946, before inevitably ambling into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny. When he became regular wordsmith, Luke attained dizzying, legendary, heights starting with Des rails sur la Prairie (Rails on the Prairie) which began serialisation in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, joining Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with La Diligence (The Stagecoach).

Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators. The artist died in 2001, having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus numerous sidebar sagebrush sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking their own shot at the venerable vigilante…

Lucky Luke has history in Britain too, having first pseudonymously amused and enthralled young readers during the late 1950s, syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun. He later rode back into comics-town in 1967 for comedy paper Giggle, using the nom de plume Buck Bingo.

In each of these venues – as well as many attempts to follow the English-language album successes of Tintin and Asterix– Luke laconically puffed on a trademark roll-up cigarette which hung insouciantly and almost permanently from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – amidst pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, thereby garnering for himself an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

Strictly for the sake of historical veracity, that tatty dog-end has been assiduously restored for this particular tale and indeed all of Cinebook’s fare – at least on interior pages. The Canterbury-based publisher is the most successful in bringing Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves, and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re beyond 75 translated books and still going strong. That’s not even considering the hefty compilations of early adventures and the inclusion of spin-offs such as Kid Lucky

L’escorte was Morris & Goscinny’s 19th collaboration, originally serialised in 1966 before becoming the 28th album release in the same year: a wittily hilarious outing incorporating a little in-story continuity as the dutiful volunteer lawman is called upon to deal with a troublesome old acquaintance…

In the very first Cinebook translation, Lucky ended the shameful depredations of juvenile delinquent and legend in the making Billy the Kid. The young offender was sentenced to 1247 years at hard labour and our hero thought the matter ended.

Now, two years later, as Lucky and Jolly Jumper show their mettle in a rodeo competition, word comes of a judicial crisis which compels the gentle gunman to take the Kid from penal servitude in Texas to stand trial for further crimes in in New Mexico…

The usually cheery champion’s patience is tested to the limits as he rides with the smug thug who takes every opportunity to terrify the populace, rile his guard and, of course, escape…

While locked up overnight in the Gun Gulch jail, Billy even gulls petty thief Bert Malloy into following them and attempt to free him on numerous occasions…

The ongoing instances of ineptitude and accidental hilarity all ultimately fail – even when Malloy recruits real outlaws to help – and eventually Billy is handed over to the authorities in Bronco Pueblo, NM and that when the real surprises begin…

Trigger-fast pacing and amply packed with set-piece slapstick and pun routines, The Escort is a potent blend of daft wit and rapid action heavy on satire and absurdity, with a brilliant sub-plot and plenty of canny twists to keeps readers guessing… and giggling.

This is another wildly entertaining all-ages confection by unparalleled comics masters, affording an enticing glimpse into a unique genre for today’s readers who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

AEIOU or Any Easy intimacy

By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1891830716 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He followed that up by contributing to the franchise’s dramatic comics canon with Star Wars Jedi Academy; Star Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan and Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Phantom Bully (2013-2015).

He has also directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Sulk, Kids Are Weird, Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenesand the four-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” (of which this is the third), comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

In both paperback and digital formats AEIOU describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled ill-considered anticipation as Brown cherry-picks graphic mementos from another doomed relationship. Still it’s times like that which make us all who we are today…

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, directionless, horny, inoffensively average film-fan graduate art-student cautiously navigates his first grown-up intimate relationship after finally losing his virginity: that state of confused and constant longing for the “one and only” we all go through and never successfully navigate…

As is always the case, his prospective partner comes with baggage that is at first beguiling and acceptable but which soon becomes an increasingly major sticking point. Of course, what Jeffrey learns about himself in the process is also exceedingly illuminating…

Everyone who’s had itches to scratch and gone for broke with head and heart befuddled by longing and loneliness has been through this, and for every torrid romance that makes it, there are a million that don’t. Those would be you, me and him…

Drawn in his deceptively effective Primitivist monochrome style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase and a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and regretted forever-after, this is another potent procession of crystallised moments which establish one awful truth. There might not ever be a “The One”…

Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like We Think You’d Have A Lot of Fun Together’, But Does She LIKE ME Like Me’, ‘The Long Pause Before a First Kiss’,Prettiness’,Grass is Greener’,Between Lovers’, ‘The Difference Between Us’, Anybody Can Draw’, Did You’, Broken’, and Nothing Says I Love You Like’ or ‘Lingering’ we follow an eventful half year and a few portentous aftershocks and the life story moments come with a revelatory suggested Soundtrack Side ‘A’ and Soundtrack Side ‘B’

Brimming with remarkable discovery, hopeful confirmation and the shattering angst us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Any Easy Intimacy is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones, intimate physical contact and impatient wistfulness with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2005 Jeffrey Brown. All rights reserved.

Peanuts Dell Archive

By Charles M. Schulz, Jim Sasseville, Dale Hale, Tony Pocrnick & various (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-255-1 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-117-9

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. Cartoonist Charles Monroe “Sparky” (forever dubbed thus by an uncle who saw young Charlie reading Billy DeBeck’s strip Barney Google: that hero’s horse was called “Spark Plug”). Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century, producing 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000. He 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, and have ever since his departure. Attendant book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

In case you came in late – and from Mars – 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 at odds with a bombastic and mercurial supporting cast hanging out doing kid things with disturbingly mature psychological overtones…

The gags and tales centre on play, pranks, sports, playing musical instruments, teasing each other, making baffled observations about the incomprehensible world and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups. The ferocious unpredictability and wilfulness of seasonal weather often impacts on these peewee performers, too…

You won’t find many adults in the mix – which includes Mean Girl (let’s call her “forthright”) Violet, prodigy Schroeder, “world’s greatest fussbudget” Lucy, her strange baby brother Linus and dirt-magnet “Pig-Pen” all adding signature twists to the mirth – because this is essentially a kids’ world.

Charlie Brown has settled into existential angst and is resigned to his role as eternal loser: singled out by fate and the relentless diabolical wilfulness of Lucy who 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 that 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 were increasingly deep, complex and absorbing…

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. It also became a multimedia merchandising bonanza for Schulz and the United Features Syndicate, generating toys, games, books, TV shows, apparel and even comic books. These days there’s even an educational institution, The Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, from which a goodly portion of the archival contributions in this wonderful hardback/digital compilation originate…

Just how and why the comic book versions differ from the strip is explored with incisive and analytical vigour in Derrick Bang’s (of CMS M&RC) Introduction ‘Peanuts in Comic Books’ revealing how, in the early 1950s, reprints in St. John and, later, Dell Comics titles such as Tip Top Comics and United Comics gradually gave way to original back-up material in Fritzi Ritz, Nancy and others.

Very little of it was by Schulz – although he did contribute lots of covers – but rather were ghosted by hand-picked associates like Jim Sasseville, who ably aped “Sparky” Schulz and kept the little cast in character and on message in strips in Fritzi Ritz, Nancy, Tip Top, Nancy and Sluggo,

Sasseville wrote and drew all of the Peanuts try-out issue (Four Color #878, February 1958). Schulz contributed heavily to the second FC Peanuts (#969; February 1959) with Dale Hale and Tony Pocrnick handling subsequent back-up tales and third Four Color tester #1015 (August/October 1959).

The fourth became Peanuts #4: a title that ran for 13 issues, ending in July 1962. By then Dell staff artists and writers were generating the stories and the overall quality was nothing to brag about… although Schulz was drawing the covers, at least.

In terms of calibre and standards, the 75 comic tales here – beginning with the very first by Schulz from Nancy #146, September 1957 to the anonymous last – are all quite enjoyable and some are truly exceptional: such as ‘The Mani-Cure’(Tip Top #211, November 1957/January 1958 by Sasseville) or Dale Hale’s untitled treatise on keeping secrets from Tip Top #217 (May/July 1959).

Admittedly, true fans might have trouble with later yarns as the kids face an amok robot or dare the terrors of an old haunted house, but in the main this collection is a splendid peek at a little known cranny of the franchise and there is the joy of all those lost gems from Sparky to carry the day…

And where else are you going to see the kids in stories you haven’t read yet… you Blockhead!?
Peanuts Dell Archive all contents unless otherwise specified © 2005 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. All rights reserved.

Black Ghost Apple Factory

By Jeremy Tinder (DC Comics)

It a multimedia world – and decade without rules or restraint – so creative folk can liberate themselves from pigeonholes and escape categorisation with ease nowadays.

A perfect case-in-point is sculptor, designer, painter, toy designer, illustrator and educator Jeremy Tinder who also writes and draws some of the most intriguing comics you’ll ever see. Even if you don’t read his wonderful graphic novel Cry Yourself to Sleep or the collected minicomics re-presented in this captivating digital anthology, you can attend some of his classes at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, Marwen Foundation, The Evanston Art Center or the Hyde Park Art Center. He’s based in Chicago but also finds time to contribute to comics collective Trubble Club and the installation/performance group Paintallica.

As previously mentioned, Black Ghost Apple Factory is an anthological collection of small strips; created between 2004 and 2006, drafted in stark monochrome and examining a number of topics with surreal wit, deft empathy and captivating honesty. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp and scratch your head…

It all kicks off with 2006’s eponymous ‘Black Ghost Apple Factory’ as a lovestruck spirit ponders the wonders of love and infatuation before settling down to hard days work making fruit, after which we learn that automata are just as bad as guys in ‘Robots Don’t Say “I Love You”’ from 2004.

Making creepy stalking and introspection adorable, funny and vulnerable ‘It’s Spring, and Jeremy Tinder is Secretly in Love with You…’ – meanders into wild territory as ‘Grizzly – or How I Spent my Spring Break’ (both from 2006) details an unusual ursine encounter in Wisconsin that changed his life…

A post-modern bunny fed up with pointless hedonism then admits ‘I’m So Tired’ (2006) and a kitty filled with Joie de vivre is shattered by a visit to the vet and confrontation with his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend in ‘Today is the First Day of the Rest of My Life, and I’m So Happy’

Like the closing vignette, that one was from 2005, and ‘1, 2, 3, 4’ examines another doomed interspecies affair and tragic farewell in a typically understated and abstract manner…

Smart, intriguingly intense and emotionally mischievous, these tales explore relationships, relaxation and working life in wickedly different ways that will delight anyone in search of a different take on their comics entertainments.
Black Ghost Apple Factory © 2006 Jeremy Tinder. All rights reserved.

Batman: Knight and Squire

By Paul Cornell & Jimmy Broxton with Staz Johnson (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3071-5 (TPB)

British Dynamic Duo Knight and Squire first appeared in the cheerfully anodyne, all-ages 1950s – specifically in a throwaway story from Batman #62 (December 1950/January 1951) – as ‘The Batman of England!’

Earl Percy Sheldrake and his son Cyril returned a few years later as part of seminal assemblage ‘The Batmen of All Nations!’ (Detective Comics #215 January 1955): a tale retrieved from the ranks of funnybook limbo in recent times and included in Batman: Black Casebook, with sequel ‘The Club of Heroes’ appearing in World’s Finest Comics #89, July-August 1957. That one’s most recently reprinted in Batman & Superman in World’s Finest Comics: The Silver Age volume 1.

The bold Brits had languished in virtual obscurity for decades before fully entering modern continuity as part of Grant Morrison’s build-up to the Death of Batman and Batman Incorporated retro-fittings of the ever-ongoing legend of the Dark Knight dynasty…

They floated around the brave New World for a while with guest shots in places like Morrison’s JLA reboot and Battle For the Cowl before finally getting their own 6-issue miniseries (December 2010 – May 2011), courtesy of scripter Paul Cornell and artist Jimmy Broxton (with some layout assistance from Staz Johnson).

In all honesty, they rather bit the hand that fed them by producing a far-from-serious but captivating quirky and quintessentially English frolicsome fantasy masterpiece.

It all begins, as most things boldly British do, down the pub. However, The Time in a Bottle is no ordinary boozer, but in fact the favourite hostelry for the United Kingdom’s entire superhuman community: the worthy and the wicked…

Hero and villain alike can kick back here, taking a load off and enjoying a mellow moment’s peace thanks to a pre-agreed truce on utterly neutral ground, all mystically enforced by magics and wards dating back to the time of Merlin…

As the half-dozen chapters of ‘For Six’ open, it’s the regular first Thursday of the month – and that’s an in-joke for Britain’s comics creator community – and the inn is abuzz with costumed crusaders and crazies, all manically determined to have a good time.

Cyril Sheldrake, current Earl of Wordenshire and second hero to wear the helm and mantle of The Knight, sends his trusty sidekick Beryl Hutchinson – AKA The Squire – to head off a potential problem as established exotics Salt of the Earth, The Milkman, Coalface, The Professional Scotsman and the Black and White Minstrels all tease nervous newcomer The Shrike.

The aristocratic avenger would do it himself but he’s all tied up chatting with Jarvis Poker, the British Joker

The place is packed tonight in honour of visiting yank celebrity Wildcat, and a host of strange, outrageous and even deadly patrons all bustle about as Beryl natters with the formerly cocky kid who’s also getting a bit of grief because he hasn’t quite decided if he’s a hero or villain yet…

She’s giving him a potted history of the place when the customary bar fight breaks out, and things take an unconventionally dark turn as an actual attempted murder occurs. It would appear that two of these new gritty modern heroes have conspired to circumvent Merlin’s pacifying protections…

Each original issue was supplemented with a hilarious text page which here act as chapter breaks, so after ‘What You Missed If You’re A Non-Brit’ (a glossary of national terms, traits, terminology and concepts adorned with delightful faux small ads), the tale continues as Beryl and Cyril spend a little down-time in rural Wordenshire where the local civilians tackle the insidious threat of The Organ Grinder and his Monkey so as not to bother the off-duty Defenders.

However, the pair do rouse themselves to scotch the far more sinister schemes of inter-dimensional invader Major Morris and the deadly Morris Men

That’s supplemented by the far-from-serious text feature ‘What Morris Men are Like’

The saga then kicks into top gear with the third instalment as Britain’s Council for Organised Research announces its latest breakthrough. C.O.R.’s obsessively romantic Yorkist Professor Merryweather had no idea that her DNA-reclamation project would lead to a constitutional crisis after she reconstituted Richard III, but it seems history and Shakespeare hadn’t slandered the Plantagenet at all. The wicked monarch is soon fomenting rebellion, using his benefactor’s technology to resurrect equally troublesome tyrants Edward I, Charles I, William II and the ever-appalling King John… even giving them very modern superpowers…

Of course, Knight, Squire and her now besotted not-boyfriend Shrike are at the vanguard of the British (heroic) Legion mustered to fight for Queen and Country and repel the concerted criminal uprising…

Following a history lesson on ‘Cabbages and Kings’, Beryl invites the Shrike back to the Castle for tea, teasing and some secret origins, but things go typically wrong when Cyril’s high-tech armour rebels, going rogue and attacking them all.

The text piece deals with ‘Butlers and Batmen’ before it all goes very dark after lovable celebrity rogue Jarvis Poker gets some very bad news from his doctor and a terrifying follow-up visit from the real Joker.

The Camp Criminal is desperately concerned about his national legacy but Gotham City’s Harlequin of Hate is just keen on increasing his ghastly – and frankly already astronomical – body-count. First on the list is that annoying Shrike kid, but the American psycho-killer has big, bold, bizarre plans to make the UK a completely good-guy-free zone…

Broken up with a two-part ‘The Knight and Squire Character List’, it all culminates and climaxes with a spectacular and breathtaking showdown after the malevolent Mountebank of Mirth goes on a horrendously imaginative hero-killing spree that decimates the Costumed Champions of Albion: a campaign so shocking that even Britain’s bad-guys end up helping to catch the crazed culprit…

Rewarding us all for putting up with decades of “Gor, blimey guv’nor” nonsense in American comics whilst simultaneously paying the Yanks back for all those badly researched foggy, cobbled-rooftops-of-London five minutes from Stonehenge stories which littered every aspect of our image in the USA, this witty, self-deprecating, action-packed and deucedly dashing outing perfectly encapsulates all the truly daft things we noble Scions of Empire Commonwealth love and cherish about ourselves.

Stuffed with surreal, outrageous humour, double entendres, quirky characters, catchphrases and the comedy accents beloved by us Brits – Oh, I say, Innit Blud? – and rife with astonishingly cheeky pokes at our frankly indefensible cultural quirks and foibles, this is the perfect book for anyone who loves grand adventure in the inimitable manner of Benny Hill, Monty Python, Carry On Films and the Beano.

Also included are covers and variants from Yanick Paquette & Michel Lacombe and Billy Tucci & HiFi, plus a wealth of working art, character designs and sketches by Jimmy Broxton and an unpublished spoof cover in tribute to the immortal Jarvis Poker…

Whether you opt for the paperback or digital edition, Buy This Book. It’s really rather good. Oh, go on, do: you know you want to…
© 2011, DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Terror of St Trinian’s and Other Drawings

By Ronald Searle with Geoffrey Willans, Timothy Shy & others (Penguin Modern Classics)
ISBN: 978-0-141-91285-1 (PB)

Britain has a fantastic and enviable history and tradition of excellence in the arts of graphic narrative and cartooning. Whether telling a complete story or simply making a point; much of the modern world’s most innovative, inspirational and trenchantly acerbic drawing has come from British pens powered by British hearts and minds.

If you’re quietly humming Rule Britannia or Jerusalem right now, and or heavy breathing and fingering a flag, pack it in. This is not the tone we want. I’m just stating a few facts.

3 March 1920 Ronald William Fordham Searle was one of a very gifted few (in modern times I’d number Ken Reid, Leo Baxendale, Murray Ball and Hunt Emerson among them) who can actually draw funny lines. No matter how little or how much they need to say, they can imbue the merest blot or scratch of ink with character, intent and wicked, wicked will.

Born in Cambridge on March 3rd 1920, Searle studied at Cambridge School of Art before enlisting in the Royal Engineers when WWII broke out. When he was captured by the Japanese in 1942 he ended up in the infamous Changi Prison. The second St Trinian’s cartoon was drawn in that hell-hole in 1944 and it survived – along with his incredible war sketches – to see print once peace broke out. Searle was a worker on the Siam-Burma Railroad (a story for another time and place) and risked his life daily both by making pictures and by keeping them.

He became a jobbing freelance cartoonist when he got home, acerbically detailing British life. Perhaps that why he moved to France in 1961 and became a globe-girdling citizen of the wider world.

By the 1980s he was established – everywhere but here – as not only a cartoonist and satirist but as a film-maker, sculptor, designer, travel-writer and creator of fascinating reportage. This man was a capital “A” Artist in the manner of Picasso or Hockney, and Scarfe and Steadman notwithstanding, he was the last great British commentator to use cartooning and caricature as weapons of social change in the caustic manner of his heroes Hogarth, Gillray, Rowlandson, Cruikshank and the rest.

This volume includes selections from assorted previous collections and includes political illustration, social commentary, arcane mordant whimsy and some of the most surreal, sardonic and grotesque funny pictures of the 20th century.

I won’t spend too much time on his other achievements as his work should be seen and his thoughts and opinions should be understood in his chosen language: Art. At least, he still has enough fans to fill the internet with all the information you could need, so go search-engining after you read this if you wish.

Why his creations are so under-appreciated I do not know. Why this book is out of print: Ditto. That he will remain a relative unknown despite the clutch of movies about his St Trinian’s girls… Not if I can help it.

Anyone who considers themselves a devotee of the arts of graphic narrative should know of Searle’s work, even if not necessarily love – although how could you not? Just be aware of the tremendous debt we all owe to his vision, dedication and gifts.

This compilation traces the rise of his star following his POW years. Post-war, his mordantly funny cartoons appeared in venues such as Punch, Lilliput and The Sunday Express, and in hugely successful collections like Hurrah for St. Trinian’s!, The Female Approach, Back to the Slaughterhouse, The St. Trinian’s Story, Which Way Did He Go?,Pardong m’sieur, In Perspective and The Non Sexist Dictionary.

Searle’s work has influenced an uncountable number of other cartoonists too. His unique visualisation and darkly comic satirical cynicism in the St. Trinian’s drawings as well as his utterly captivating vision of boarding school life as embodied in the classically grotesque Nigel Molesworth quartet: influencing generations of children and adults, and even playing its part in shaping our modern national character and language.

And have I mentioned yet that his drawings are really, really funny?

This superb collection of monochrome cartoons samples choice cuts from a number of his book collections, all delivered with stunning absurdist candour and the peculiarly tragic passive panic and understated warmth that only Searle could instil with his seemingly wild yet clearly-considered linework.

Fronted by an impassioned Introduction from fan and proper grown up journalist/columnist Nicholas Lezard, this paperback and digital collection offers a sweet taste of dark design in haunting and hilarious images culled from a number of sources, opening (un)naturally with macabre treats from St Trinian’s: blending the comforting traditional bonhomie of a girl’s boarding school with the accoutrements of a sex dungeon, the atavists of a charnel house and the fragrant atmosphere of The Somme two days after all the shooting stopped…

Having proved that for some crime Does pay, focus shifts to Merry England, etc., where class, toil, occupations, hobbies, and the ardours of life are ferociously scrutinised before diverting into mirthful metaphysics with a damning disembodied judge dubbed The Hand of Authority

Mare satirical body-blows from Souls in Torment lead delightfully to a montage of misspelled madcap moments of terror-tinged nostalgia as Molesworth extracts snippets of sheer genius from the books he co-created with Geoffrey Willans for Punch and which were subsequently released to enormous success as Down With Skool!, How to be Topp!, Whizz For Atomms! and Back in the Jug Agane.

As I said, Searle was a devotee of satirist William Hogarth and in 1956 adapted the old master’s series of condemnatory cartoons (painted in 1732-34 and released as staggeringly popular engraved prints in 1735) to modern usage and characterisation. Included here in its entirety to conclude our fun, The Rake’s Progress follows the rise and fall of a number of contemporary figures – The Athlete, The Girlfriend, The Soldier, The Poet, The Trade Union Leader, The Actor, The Painter (he based this one on himself), The Don (an English academic, not an American gangster but such confusion is easy to understand), The Dramatic Critic, The Doctor, The MP, The Clergyman, The Novelist, The Humourist, The Master of Foxhounds and The Great Lover – with all the excoriating venom and wit you’d expect from a master of people watching…

Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant stuff! See for yourself, whatever side of the battle lines you cower behind…
© 1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959 by Ronald Searle.

This selection © Ronald Searle 2000, 2006. Introduction © Nicholas Lezard, 2000. All rights reserved.

Countdown Annual 1972

By Many & various, edited by Dennis Hooper (Polystyle Publications)
SBN: 85096-018-5

As the 1960s ended, comics editors realised their readership was becoming increasingly sophisticated and sought to keep their attention with upscale rebrandings and style changes. Venerable old TV Comic and even TV21 were no longer dynamic enough and one answer to the situation – from licensing specialist Polystyle – was Countdown.

Running for a mere 58 weeks (beginning 20th February 1971) as a glossy, high end periodical, before its first dramatic makeover – which saw it relaunched on April 1st 1972 as TV Action + Countdown and ultimately TV Action – it subsisted until August 1973 when it was rolled up into TV Comic.

The magazine boasted a rich creative throughput, but the majority of the television-fuelled drama strips were written by editor Dennis Hooper, with additional material from Robin Hillborn, Allan Fennell and possible Angus Allen. However, as the company had access to TV 21’s archive and used reprint material, I could just be misremembering…

This is the only official Annual. The following year it became Countdown Annual… for TV Action, but don’t let that put you off: whether you’re a telly addict or comics fanboy, this book is stuffed with superb entertainment.

The action opens with a full-colour UFO thriller ‘The Circus’ illustrated by Jon Davis. The saga of a predatory alien body-snatcher used as a cash-cow by a failing Irish carnival show is interrupted (like an advert break?) by photo/fact feature ‘The Defenders’, wherein the secrets of Gerry Anderson’s covert anti-extraterrestrial force SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defences Organisation) are outlined, but the story finale remains explosive and satisfying.

Rendered in black-&-red on white paper, 2-page gag strip ‘Dastardly and Muttley’ (by Peter Ford?) sees the cartoon clowns still hunting that infernal pigeon, after which a ‘Countdown Quiz’ tests your knowledge of the Space Race.

Staying in the Wild Black Yonder, Don Harley limns tense Thunderbirds thriller ‘Terror at Torreba’ with a crashed meteor bringing madness and destruction to Africa…

Arnold Kingston was the chief writer of extremely contemporary science fact features for the Countdown comic so it’s safe to assume he’s responsible for the ‘Think Tank! News from the Frontiers of Science’ photo noticeboard here, and another ‘Countdown Quiz’ as well as later features in the book.

Dastardly and Muttley then return, afflicted with dreams of cinematic stardom, after which Martin Asbury paints a full-colour ‘Captain Scarlet’ tale as the Mysterons suborn a giant killer robot and let it run amok…

Board game ‘Countdown Rescue Mission’ dovetails into dystopian prose sci fi short story ‘Countdown: Dangerous Friend’ – magnificently illustrated by John M. Burns – whilst ‘Rockets’ provides a potted photo-history of the real march into space.

Abortive Gerry Anderson Property ‘The Secret Service’ (Peter Ford again) finds priest and part-time secret agent Father Unwin leading the charge back into restricted colour as he and his partner Matthew use their Minimiser shrinking ray to steal back microdots from a hostile embassy

Photo feature ‘A Day with Dr. Who’ visits the locations used whilst filming The Daemons, before ‘U.F.O.s in history’offers a more evidential lesson on extraterrestrial encounters, whilst a colour ‘Jon Pertwee pinup’ brings us to a cracking Time Lord tale as Dr. Who battles floral doom in ‘The Plant Master’, brilliantly illustrated by Jim Baikie.

Slim but potent, this box of delight then ends with prose yarn ‘Joe 90 Resigns’ as the 9-year-old breaks the rules to rescue his father from an alpine emergency.

Closing with the ‘Answers’ to all those quiz questions and a stunning UFO photo section, this is a powerful and evocative treat you’d be crazy to miss…
© Polystyle Publications 1971.

Larry Harmon’s Laurel & Hardy Annual #1

By various anonymous (Brown & Watson)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comprise the funniest comedy duo of all time. Your opinion may differ, but mine’s correct.

Known all over the world, they became famous for their appearance and filmic characters, which made it pretty easy to establish an intellectual properties license for them after their passing.

Larry Harmon was the stage name of Laurence Weiss (1925-2008), one of a select group of American actors to be legendary icon Bozo the Clown. He was – also albeit unwillingly and to prove a point – a Presidential candidate in 1984. Make of that what you will.

In 1956, Harmon purchased the rights to Bozo, instituting a ferocious marketing strategy for advertising, merchandise and the growing television field. By the 1960s he had made Bozo a star in every US home (using local franchise performers) and generated an animated avatar on those live-action shows.

Harmon’s animation studio then took over the screen rights to Popeye in 1960, releasing a new series of TV cartoons, and in 1961 bought the merchandising rights to Laurel and Hardy. In the subsequent series that resulted, hands-on Harmon voiced Stan, just as he had voiced Bozo in those animated segments of the live action shows. There were 156 episodes which first aired in the US from September 10th 1966 to March 25th 1967.

Although not to my taste, those Laurel and Hardy cartoons were hugely popular, spawning a Gold Key comic book and a 1972 DC Digest Special in the US, and a new comics series in the UK (and presumably, the Commonwealth that British distributor Thorpe & Porter and its affiliated imprints such as Williams exported to) as well as being syndicated to European countries such as Germany where they were Dick und Dorf

From 1969 to 1974 T&P generated their own licensed comic book iteration: at least 136 full-colour issues, 8 double-sized softcover albums (including at least one Christmas Special) and 2 proper hardback annuals – of which this is the first – via licensed properties specialists Brown Watson, who eventually evolved into Grandreams.

Stan and Ollie were certainly no strangers to British comics readers. The Odd Couple were a front-page staple of Film Fun from the 1930s to 1957 (rendered by the astounding George William Wakefield and inherited by his artist son Terry). The starred in Film Picture Stories (1934) and through the 1960s were a big draw in TV Comic.

After their solo comic folded, the puckish pair continued as a supporting feature and occasional headliner well into the 1980s.

In this first official Annual from 1972, an anonymous band of artisans begin the procession of slapstick tomfoolery with prose vignette ‘Mugs of the Legion’ wherein the dopey duo return to the theme of their movie The Flying Deuces, sticking out like sore thumbs in the desert until they accidentally capture the villainous scourge Abdul el Ratta

A brace of pages full of one-off cartoons, ‘Stan & Olly’s Gag-Bag!’ leads to a second prose story wherein ‘Laurel & Hardy Go Camping’ with typically calamitous results, before the strips begin – in full colour – with ‘Rocketship Rumpus’. Here, the best window washers in the Space Program are accidentally sent to another world only to upset aliens and save space dragons…

Once back on Earth, Olly’s biggest mistake is letting Stan have ‘The Puppy’, and when the full-grown beast is stolen by a burglar, he’s not the only happy chappie, after which short strip ‘The Aerial’ proves why some household jobs should never be “do-it-yourself”…

Extended epic ‘The Treasure House’ sees the hapless loyal oafs as destitute beggars, but everything changes when Olly inherits ramshackle estate Fool Hardy Manor and learns there’s a valuable hoard hidden somewhere in its dilapidated walls…

Leaving Stan ‘Washing the Car’ proves a recipe for disaster and their time as ‘Private Detectives’ even more so, but nothing is as crazy as assuming Stan’s lesson’s in ‘Self-Defence’ can ever be successful, before the duo-chrome prose material takes an encore.

‘The Specialists’ see Stan and Olly revive the window washing gig, only to end up on the wrong side (that is INside) of a top-secret super jet, after which two more pages of ‘Stan & Olly’s Gag-Bag!’ and three of assorted puzzles, activities and games take us to the big finish as the eternal idiots agree to clean scary domicile ‘The House of Secrets’ and stumble into terror and criminality in equal measure…

Gentle, unassuming and – admittedly – a touch dated, these old-fashioned efforts are still effective and engaging examples of comedy cartooning and all-ages humorous storytelling that will appeal to the kid in all and most little kids of your acquaintance. Why not seek them out and give them a go again?
© 1972, Larry Harmon Pictures Corporation.