E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 6: “Me Li’l Swee’ Pea”


By Elzie Crisler Segar, with Doc Winner (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-483-2 (HB)

Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His father was a general handyman, and the boy’s early life was filled with the kinds of solid, dependable blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. The lad worked as a decorator and house-painter and also played drums; accompanying vaudeville acts at the local theatre.

When the town got a movie-house, he played for the silent films, absorbing all the staging, timing and narrative tricks from keen observation of the screen. Those lessons would become his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was while working as the film projectionist, at age 18, that he decided to become a cartoonist and tell his own stories.

Like so many others in those hard times, he studied art via mail, in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio, before gravitating to Chicago where he was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault – regarded by most in the know today as the inventor of modern newspaper comic strips with The Yellow Kid and, later, Buster Brown.

The celebrated cartoonist introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald. Still wet behind the ears, the kid’s first strip, Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers, debuted on 12th March 1916.

In 1918 he married Myrtle Johnson and moved to William Randolph Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop, but Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and packed the newlyweds off to New York, HQ of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a pastiche of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences.

The core cartoon cast included parental pillars Nana and Cole Oyl; their lanky, highly-strung daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s plain and simple occasional boyfriend Horace Hamgravy (later known as just Ham Gravy).

In 1924, Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle (surely, no relation?) which endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s entire career and even surviving his untimely death, to eventually become the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great stylist Bud Sagendorf.

A born storyteller, Segar had, from the start, an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match: a brilliant ear for dialogue and accent which boomed out from his admittedly average adventure plots, adding lustre and sheer sparkle to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so – and just as cinema caught up with the invention of “talkies” – he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Popeye the sailor, brusque, incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, lurched on stage midway through the protracted continuity ‘Dice Island’, (on January 17th 1929: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 1: “I Yam What I Yam!” and many happy returns sailor!). Once his part was played out, he simply refused to leave…

Within a year he was a regular and, as the strip’s circulation skyrocketed, gradually took his place as the star. The strip title was changed to reflect the fact and most of the tired old gang – except Olive – were consigned to oblivion …

The Old Salt clearly inspired his creator. The near-decade of thrilling mystery-comedies he crafted and the madcap and/or macabre new characters with which he furiously littered the strips revolutionised the industry, laid the groundwork for the entire superhero genre (sadly, usually without the leavening underpinnings of his wryly self-aware humour) and utterly captivated the whole wide world.

These superb oversized (375 x 268 mm) hardback collections are the ideal way of discovering or rediscovering Segar’s magical tales, and this sixth and final mammoth compendium augments the fun with another insightful introductory essay from Richard Marschall exploring ‘The Continuity Style of E. C. Segar: Between “Meanwhile” & “To Be Continued” and closes with an absorbing end-piece essay describing the globalisation of the character in ‘Licensing and Merchandising Move to Center Stage of the Thimble Theatre: Popeye Fisks his way into American Culture plus a 1930 magazine feature graphically revealing the Sailor Man’s natal origins and boyhood in ‘Blow Me Down! Popeye Born at Age of 2, But Orphink from Start’ scripted by unknown King Features writers but gloriously and copiously illustrated by Segar himself.

As always, the black-&-white Daily continuities are presented separately to the full-colour Sundays, and the monochrome mirth and mayhem – covering December 14th 1936 to August 29th 1938 12th – begins with all-new adventure ‘Mystery Melody’, wherein Popeye’s shamefully disreputable dad Poopdeck Pappy is haunted and hunted by the sinister Sea Hag. Her ghastly Magic Flute is employed to irresistibly lure the old goat back into the clutches of the woman he loved and abandoned years ago…

The tension and drama mounts in second chapter ‘Tea and Hamburgers’, when the Hag approaches another old flame – J. Wellington Wimpy – and uses the reprobate’s insatiable lust (for food) to help capture Poopdeck. The plan works, but not quite as the sinister sorceress intended…

In ‘Bolo vs Everyone!’ events escalate completely beyond control as the Hag’s primordial man-monster attacks the crew and our grizzled mariner ends the fight in his own inimitable manner, whilst mystic marvel Eugene the Jeep (a fantastic 4th dimensional beast with incredible powers) uses his uncanny gifts to – temporarily at least – settle the Sea Hag’s hash…

A decided change of pace began with the next storyline. ‘A Sock for Susan’s Sake’ showcases Popeye’s big heart and sentimental nature as he takes a destitute and starving waif under his wing: buying her clothes, breaking her out of jail and going on the run with her. However, his kind-hearted deeds arouse deep suspicions about his motives from friends and strangers alike…

It’s a tribute to Segar’s skills that the storyline perfectly balances social commentary and pathos with plenty of action (that sock in question is not footwear) and non-stop slapstick comedy. Their peregrinations again land Susan and the Old Salt in jail for vagrancy, but the wonderfully sympathetic and easily amused Judge Penny really makes the prosecution work hilariously hard for a conviction in ‘Order in the Court!’

Naturally, jealous Olive gets completely the wrong idea and uses the Jeep to track down her straying beau in ‘Who is That Girl?’, leading to the discovery of the ingénue’s origins and the restoration of her stolen fortune – a case calling for the return of ace detective and former strip star Castor Oyl…

The grateful child and her father burden Popeye with a huge reward, but as he has his own adequate savings at home he gives it all – with some unexpected difficulty – away to “Widdies and Orphinks”…

In the next sequence, the Sailor Man has reason to regret that generosity as, on returning to his house, he finds his hard-earned “Ten Thousing dollars” savings have been stolen…

Most annoyingly, he knows Poopdeck has taken it but the old goat won’t admit it, even though he has a new diamond engagement ring which he uses to bribe various loose young (and not so young) women into going out gallivanting with him and sowing ‘Wild Oats’

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rough, rude, crude and shocking anti-hero. The first Superman of comics was not a comfortable paragon to idolise but a barely human brute who thought with his fists and didn’t respect authority. Uneducated, opinionated, short-tempered, fickle (whenever hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes – or other movable bits thereabouts – at him), a gambler and troublemaker, he wasn’t welcome in polite society…and he wouldn’t want to be.

He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not, a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and somebody who took no guff from anyone.

As his popularity grew, he mellowed somewhat. He was still always ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows. He was and will always be “the best of us”… but the shocking sense of unpredictability, danger and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed. So, in 1936 Segar brought it all back again in the form of Popeye’s 99-year old unrepentantly reprobate dad…

The elder mariner was a rough, hard-bitten, grumpy brute quite prepared and even happy to cheat, steal or smack a woman around if she stepped out of line, and once the old billy goat (whose shady past possibly concealed an occasional bit of piracy) was firmly established, Segar set Popeye and Olive the Herculean and unfailingly funny task of civilising the geriatric sod…

They return to their odious chore here as Pappy’s wild carousing, fighting and womanising grow ever more embarrassing and lead to the cops trying – and repeatedly failing – to jail the senior seaman.

Poopdeck finally goes too far and pushes one of his fancy woman fiancées into the river. At last brought to trial, he pleads ‘Extenuvatin’ Circumsnances’

The final full Segar saga began on 15th November 1937 as ‘The Valley of the Goons (An Adventure)’ sees Popeye and Wimpy drugged and shanghaied. Even though he could fight his way back home, Popeye agrees to stay on for the voyage since he needs money to pay lawyers appealing Pappy’s prison sentence. He quickly changes tack, however, when he discovers the valuable cargo they’re hunting is Goon skins!

The Cap’n and his scurvy crew are planning to slaughter the hapless hulking exotic primitives for a few measly dollars…

After brutally driving off the murderous thugs, Popeye – and the shirking Wimpy – are marooned on the Goons’ isolated island…

The barbaric land holds a few surprises: most notably the fact that the natives are ruled over by Popeye’s dour old pal King Blozo (formerly of Nazilia) who, with his imbecilic retainer Oscar, is calling all the shots. It’s a happy coincidence, as Wimpy’s eternal hunger and relentless mooching have won him a death sentence and he’s in imminent danger of being hanged…

All this time Olive, guided by the mystical tracking gifts of the Jeep, has been sailing the seven seas in search of her man and she beaches her boat just as Popeye begins to get the situation under control. In doing so he unfairly earns the chagrin of the island’s unseen but highly voluble sea monster George

Shock follows shock as the eerie-voiced unseen creature is revealed as the horrendous Sea Hag who re-exerts her uncanny hold (some illusions but mostly the promise of unlimited hamburgers) upon Wimpy and tries to make him the ‘Bride of George’

In the middle of this tale Segar fell seriously ill with Leukaemia and his assistant Doc Winner assumed responsibility for completing the story: probably from Segar’s notes if not at his actual direction.

Although Winner’s illustrations carry ‘Valley of the Goons’ to conclusion, this tome excludes the all-Winner adventure ‘Hamburger Sharks and Sea Spinach’ before resuming with the May 23rd instalment by the apparently recovered Segar.

‘King Swee’Pea’ saw the feisty baby – who had been left with Popeye – become the focus of political drama and family tension when he was revealed to be heir to the Kingdom of Demonia

After a protracted tussle with that nation’s secret service and bombastic kingmaker F.G. Frogfuzz Esquire, the Sailor Man has himself appointed regent and chief advisor before taking most of the cast with him and relocating to the harsh land where only Ka-babages grow.

Popeye soon finds that his mischievous little charge has started to speak: increasingly crossing and contradicting his gruff guardian and others, much to the annoyance of blustering bully King Cabooso of neighbouring (rival) nation Cuspidonia

Before long, another unique crisis manifests in ‘Rise of the De-Mings’ as smugly sassy subterranean critters begin devastating the Ka-babage crop even as Swee’Pea and Caboosa escalate their war of insults…

Sadly, although coming back strongly, within three months Segar had relapsed. The adventures end here with his last strip and a précis of Winner’s eventual conclusion…

Segar passed away six weeks after his final Daily strip was published.

The full-colour Sunday pages in this volume run from 20th September 1936 to October 2nd 1938, a combination of star turn and intriguing footers.

After an interlude with a new wry and charming feature – Pete and Patsy: For Kids Only – the artist settled once again upon an old favourite to back up Popeye.

The bizarrely entertaining Sappo (accompanied by scene-and show-stealing Professor O.G. Wotasnozzle) supplemental strip returned in a blaze of imaginative wonder, as Segar also benched the cartooning tricks section which allowed him to play graphic games with his readership and again pushed the boundaries of Weird Science as the Odd Couple – and long-suffering spouse Myrtle – spent months exploring other worlds.

The assorted Saps also dabbled with robot dogs, brain-switching machines and fell embarrassingly foul of such inventions as long-distance spy-rays, anti-gravity devices, limb extending “Stretcholene”, “Speak-no-Evil” pills, Atom-Counters and the deeply disturbing trouble magnet dubbed “Dream Solidifier”, whilst Sappo’s less scientific but far more profitable gimmicks kept the cash rolling in and the arrogant Professor steaming with outrage…

Above these arcane antics Sunday’s star attraction remained fixedly exploring the comedy gold of Popeye’s interactions with Wimpy, Olive Oyl and the rest of Segar’s cast of thousands (of idiots).

The humorous antics – in sequences of one-off gag strips alternating with the occasional extended saga – saw the Sailor-Man fighting for every iota of attention whilst his mournful mooching co-star became increasingly more ingenious – not to say surreal – in his quest for free meals…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiable J. Wellington Wimpy debuted on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s frequent boxing matches. The scurrilous but polite oaf obviously struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to take bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and ‘Let’s you and him fight’ – he was the perfect foil for a simple action hero and increasingly stole the entire show, just like anything else unless it was firmly nailed down…

There was also a long-suffering returning rival for Olive’s dubious and flighty affections: local charmer Curly

When not beating the stuffing out of his opponents or kissing pretty girls, Popeye pursued his flighty, vacillating and irresolute Olive with exceptional verve, if little success, but his life was always made more complicated whenever the unflappable, so-corruptible and adorably contemptible Wimpy made an appearance.

Infinitely varying riffs on Olive’s peculiar romantic notions or Wimpy’s attempts to cadge food or money (for food) were irresistible to the adoring readership, but Segar wisely peppered the Sundays with longer episodic tales, such as the saga of ‘The Terrible Kid Mustard’ (which ran from December 27th 1936 to February 28th 1937) and pitted the prize-fighting Sea Salt against another boxer who was as ferociously fuelled by the incredible nourishing power of Spinach…

Another extended endeavour starred the smallest addition to the cast (and eponymous star of this volume). The rambunctious tyke Swee’ Pea was never an angel and when he began stealing jam and framing Eugene the Jeep (March 7th through 28th) the search for a culprit proved he was also precociously smart too.

The impossible task of civilising Poopdeck Pappy also covered many months – with no appreciable or lasting effect – and incorporated an outrageous sequence wherein the dastardly dotard become scandalously, catastrophically entangled in Popeye’s mechanical diaper-changing machine…

On June 27th Wimpy found the closest thing to true love when he met Olive’s friend Waneeta: a meek, retiring soul whose father owned 50,000 cows. His devoted and ardent pursuit filled many pages over the following months, as did the latest scheme of his arch-nemesis George W. Geezil, who bought a café/diner with the sole intention of poisoning the constantly cadging conman…

Although starring the same characters, the Sunday and Daily strips ran separate storylines, offering Segar opportunities to utilise the same good idea in different ways.

On September 19th 1937 he began a sequence wherein Swee’ Pea’s mother returned, seeking to regain custody of the boy she had given away. The resultant tug-of-love tale ran until December 5th and displayed genuine warmth and angst amidst the wealth of hilarious antics by both parties to convince the feisty “infink” to pick his preferred parent…

On January 16th 1938 Popeye was approached by scientists who had stumbled upon an incipient Martian invasion. The invaders planned to pit their monster against a typical Earthman before committing to the assault so the Boffins believed the grizzly old pug was the planet’s best bet…

Readers had no idea that the feature’s glory days were ending. Segar’s advancing illness was affecting his output – there are no pages reproduced here between February 6th and June 26th – and although when he resumed drawing the gags were funnier than ever (especially a short sequence where Pappy shaves his beard and dyes his hair so he could impersonate Popeye and woo Olive), the long lead-in time necessary to create Sundays only left him time to finish 15 more pages.

The last Segar signed strip was published on October 2nd 1938. He died eleven days later.

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought on hearing the name is an unintelligible, indomitable white-clad sailor always fighting a great big beardy-bloke and mainlining spinach, that’s okay: the animated features have a brilliance and energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into Thimble Theatre and wouldn’t go away But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure…

Popeye and the bizarre, surreally quotidian cast that welcomed and grew up around him are true icons of international popular culture who have grown far beyond their newspaper strip origins. Nevertheless, in one very true sense, with this marvellous yet painfully tragic final volume, the most creative period in the saga of the true and only Sailor Man closes.

His last strips were often augmented or even fully ghosted by Doc Winner, but the intent is generally untrammelled, leaving an unparalleled testament to Segar’s incontestable timeless, manic brilliance for us all to enjoy over and over again.

There is more than one Popeye. Most of them are pretty good and some are truly excellent. There was only ever one by Elzie Segar – and don’t you think it’s time you sampled the original and very best?
© 2012 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2011 King Features Inc. All rights reserved.

O Josephine!


By Jason (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-210-6 (HB)
Jason is secretly John Arne Saeterrøy: born in Molde, Norway in 1965 and an overnight international cartoon superstar since 1995 when his first graphic novel Lomma full ay (Pocket Full of Rain) won that year’s Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize).

He won another Sproing in 2001 for his Mjau Mjau strip and the following year turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. Now an established global star, he has garnered numerous major awards from such disparate locales as France, Slovakia and the USA.

Jason’s breadth of interest is capacious and deep: comics, movies, music, high literature, low life, real life and pulp fiction all feature equally with absolutely no inherent sense of hierarchy, and his puckish mixing and matching of such evergreen founts of inspiration always result in a picture-treatise well worth a reader’s time.

A master of short-form illustrated tales, many Jason yarns are released as snappy little albums which are perfect for later inclusion in longer anthology collections such as this one which gathers a quartet of the most recent and very best.

As always, the visual/verbal bon mots unfold in Jason’s beguiling, sparse-dialogued, pantomimic progressions with enchantingly formal page layouts rendered in the familiar, minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Ligne Claire style; solid blacks, thick lines and settings of seductive simplicity. That delight is augmented here by a beguiling palette ranging from stark monochrome to primary yellow duotones…

Available thus far only as a sturdily comforting hardback, the stream of subtle wonderment opens with a suitably understated autobiographical jaunt to the land of Erin and an uneventful but truly mind-blowing progression along ‘The Wicklow Way’. The vacation hikes might be scenic and uneventful, but you’re never alone as long as you’re stuck inside your own head…

With the addition of a jaundiced inky outlook (and employing “yellow journalism” of the most literal kind) ‘L. Cohen: A Life’ then outlines the life and times of the poet, musician and philosopher, with a strong emphasis on whimsical inaccuracy and factual one-upmanship…

Filmic classicism underpins ‘The Diamonds’ as a pair of barely-boiled detectives lose all objectivity as their scrupulous surveillance of a simple family affects their own hidden lives before the low key dramatics slip back into monochrome and into the twilight zone after weary world traveller Napoleon Bonaparte returns to Paris and falls head over shiny heels for infamous exotic dancer Josephine Baker. As with all doomed romances, the path to happiness is rocky, dangerous, and potentially insurmountable, but… c’est l’amour!

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death, boredom and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery. His buffoonery is always slick and deftly designed for maximum effect…

Jason remains a taste instantly acquired: a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2019 Jason. This edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marble Cake


By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (PB)

I might have mentioned once or twice that I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art and industry – I endeavour to share with you.

Some publishers make a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, NBM, Fantagraphics and others) and my favourite of those at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I simply haven’t yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them yet. When this review copy plunked onto the mat, I realised that I still haven’t …

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and has quickly forged a solid reputation with his self-published comics and stories – like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with his mainstream-adjacent contemporaries in tomes such as 69 Love Songs Illustrated.

Scott is skilled in depicting people and mundane life and possesses a sharp sense of humour, honed by spending a lot of time listening to how ordinary folk talk. He knows what we all have in common and is extremely deft at using that as a means of building characters and constructing scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to his particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebeia” to the suitably underplayed terrors of the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake is his first novel-length tale and relates the intersecting moments of a bunch of strangers and casual near-acquaintances who all interact with till girl Tracy at the local Smartmart store. Her job leaves plenty of time to fantasize about what her customers do when she’s not around, but she really has no idea of what’s really going on. In fact, nobody does…

Life and death, joblessness and social standing, malice and sexual desire, ennui and intolerance, and especially hopelessness and general distrust tinge every real or imagined home-life Tracy ponders – even her own, but when genuine threat and mystery – such as a string of baffling disappearances – begin to grip the community, no one has any idea how to respond…

This compelling, pocket-sized (168 x 212 mm) paperback challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wry and acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns and surreal storytelling who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

Krazy & Ignatz 1943-1944: “He Nods in Quiescent Siesta”


By George Herriman, edited by Bill Blackbeard (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-932-6 (TPB)

In a field positively brimming with magnificent and eternally evergreen achievements, Krazy Kat is – for most cartoon cognoscenti – the pinnacle of pictorial narrative innovation: a singular and hugely influential body of work which shaped the early days of the comics industry and elevated itself to the level of a treasure of world literature.

Krazy & Ignatz, as it is dubbed in these gloriously addictive archival Fantagraphics tomes, is a creation which must always be appreciated on its own terms. Over the decades the strip developed a unique language – simultaneously visual and verbal – whilst delineating the immeasurable variety of human experience, foibles and peccadilloes with unfaltering warmth and understanding… and without ever offending anybody. Baffled millions, perhaps, but offended… no.

It certainly went over the heads and around the hearts of far more than a few, but Krazy Kat was never a strip for dull, slow or unimaginative people: those who simply won’t or can’t appreciate the complex, multi-layered verbal and cartoon whimsy, absurdist philosophy or seamless blending of sardonic slapstick with arcane joshing. It is still the closest thing to pure poesy narrative art has ever produced.

George Joseph Herriman (August 22, 1880-April 25, 1944) was already a successful cartoonist and journalist in 1913 when a cat and mouse who’d been noodling about at the edges of his domestic comedy strip The Dingbat Family/The Family Upstairs graduated to their own feature. Mildly intoxicating and gently scene-stealing, Krazy Kat subsequently debuted in William Randolph Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on Oct 28th 1913 and – by sheer dint of the overbearing publishing magnate’s enrapt adoration and direct influence and interference – gradually and inexorably spread throughout his vast stable of papers.

Although Hearst and a host of the period’s artistic and literary intelligentsia (such as Frank Capra, e.e. Cummings, Willem de Kooning, H.L. Mencken and more) adored the strip, many local and regional editors did not; taking every potentially career-ending opportunity to drop it from those circulation-crucial comics sections designed to entice joe public and the general populace.

Eventually the feature found its true home and sanctuary in the Arts and Drama section of Hearst’s papers. Protected there by the publisher’s unshakable patronage and enhanced with the cachet of enticing colour, Kat & Ko. flourished unhampered by editorial interference or fleeting fashion, running generally unmolested until Herriman’s death on April 25th 1944.

This final collection covers the final days of the feature as Herriman succumbed slowly and painfully to cirrhosis caused by Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eschewing the standard policy of finding a substitute to carry on the strip, Hearst decreed that Krazy Kat would die with its creator and sole ambassador.

It was no real sacrifice to profit, but the culmination to years of grand tribute to unique mastery. The strip had declined in syndication for years. By the 1930s it was featured in only 35 papers, but despite that the publisher – acting more as renaissance-era artistic patron than hard-bitten businessman – refused Herriman’s every earnest request that his salary be reduced to fit his dwindling circulation. In 1935 Hearst responded to the requests by promoting the feature to the full-page, full-colour glory it enjoyed until the end.

The epic’s basic premise is simple: Krazy is an effeminate, dreamy, sensitive and romantic feline, hopelessly in love with Ignatz Mouse; a venal everyman, rude, crude, brutal, mendacious and thoroughly scurrilous.

Ignatz is a truly, proudly unreconstructed male and early forerunner of the men’s rights movement: drinking, stealing, fighting, conniving, constantly neglecting his wife and innumerable children and always responding to Krazy’s genteel advances by clobbering the Kat with a well-aimed brick. These he obtains singly or in bulk from noted local brick-maker Kolin Kelly. The smitten kitten apparently always misidentifies these gritty gifts as tokens of equally recondite affection showered upon him in the manner of Cupid’s fabled arrows…

By the time of these tales it’s not even a response, except perhaps a conditioned one: the mouse still spends most of his time, energy and ingenuity in launching missiles at the mild moggy’s bonce. He can’t help himself, and Krazy’s day is bleak and unfulfilled if the hoped-for assault doesn’t happen. However, in these concluding episodes even that fiery warped passion has somewhat cooled: often attempted in perfunctory manner and frequently resulting in failure: just like any loving couple in their twilight years together…

The final critical element completing an anthropomorphic eternal triangle is lawman Offissa Bull Pupp: utterly besotted with Krazy, professionally aware of the Mouse’s true nature, yet hamstrung by his own amorous timidity and sense of honour from permanently removing his devilish rival for the foolish feline’s affections. Krazy is, of course, blithely oblivious to the perennially “Friend-Zoned” Pupp’s dolorous dilemma…

Secondarily populating an ever-mutable stage are a big supporting cast of inspired bit players such as terrifying deliverer of unplanned babies Joe Stork; unsavoury huckster Don Kiyoti, hobo Bum Bill Bee, portal-packing Door Mouse, self-aggrandizing Walter Cephus Austridge, inscrutable, barely intelligible Chinese mallard Mock Duck, dozy Joe Turtil and snoopy sagacious fowl Mrs. Kwakk Wakk, plus a host of other audacious animal crackers all equally capable of stealing the limelight and even supporting their own features.

The exotic, quixotic episodes occur in and around the Painted Desert environs of Coconino (patterned on the artist’s vacation retreat in Coconino County, Arizona) where surreal playfulness and the fluid ambiguity of the flora and landscape are perhaps the most important member of the cast.

The strips themselves are a masterful mélange of unique experimental art, cunningly designed, wildly expressionistic and strongly referencing Navajo art forms whilst graphically utilising sheer unbridled imagination and delightfully evocative lettering and language. This last is particularly effective in these later tales: alliterative, phonetically, onomatopoeically joyous with a compelling musical force and delicious whimsy (“goldin moom bims” or “there is a heppy lend, furfur away…”).

Yet for all our high-fallutin’ intellectualism, these comic adventures are poetic, satirical, timely, timeless, bittersweet, self-referential, fourth-wall bending, eerily idiosyncratic, outrageously hilarious escapades encompassing every aspect of humour from painfully punning shaggy dog stories to riotous, violent slapstick. Kids of any age will delight in them as much as any pompous old git like me and you…

There’s been a wealth of Krazy Kat collections since the late 1970s when the strip was first rediscovered by a better-educated, open-minded and far more accepting generation. This bittersweet final chapter covers all the strips from 1943 to the middle of 1944 in a comfortably hefty (231 x 305 mm) softcover edition – and is also available as a suitably serene digital edition.

With far fewer strips to catalogue, this edition is bulked up with a veritable treasure trove of unique artefacts: plenty of candid photos, personal correspondence, vast stores of original strip art and many astounding examples of Herriman’s personalised gifts and commissions (gorgeous hand-coloured artworks featuring the cast and settings), as well as a section on the rare merchandising tie-ins and unofficial bootleg items.

Tribute, commentary and analysis is provided by Bill Blackbeard’s final Introduction ‘The Tragedy of a Man with an Absent Mind’ and Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand’s heavily-illustrated essay ‘Herriman’s Last Days (or, All Kats are Gray in the Dark)’ offering superb analysis of the unique talent celebrated herein. This inevitably leads to those superb cartoons, resuming with January 3rd 1943 and a tumultuous exchanging of gifts between cast regulars…

Due to the author’s declining health and perhaps the several personal tragedies that afflicted him in later life, the story atmosphere is mostly ruminatory and philosophical. It is also tinged with topical anxieties as World War II touches even the distant hills and mesas of Coconino. The trials of torrid triangular romance still play out as painfully and hilariously ever, but are balanced by more considered gags. Oblique references to the real world abound: a tortoise named Tank shambles about, Krazy is castigated for growing pretty flowers in the Victory Garden, and Ignatz is perforce compelled to handle bricks on a rationed, time-shared basis…

The usual parade of hucksters and conmen still abound, but pell-mell action, devious schemes and frantic chase gradually give way to comfortable chats and the occasional debate before inevitably concluding at the jail house…

Ignatz endures regular incarcerations and numerous forms of exile and social confinement, but with Krazy aiding and abetting, these sanctions seldom result in a reduction of cerebral contusions, whereas the plague of travelling conjurors, unemployed magicians and shady clairvoyants still make life hard for the hard-pressed constabulary and the gullible fools they target. Perhaps because of Herriman’s own vintage, many regular characters share a greater appreciation of infirmity and loss of drive, often reflected in the reduction of Krazy to a bit player in many strips.

Pupp suffers with his age, repeatedly trying labour-saving new policing appliances such as electrically booby-trapped or glue-drenched bricks and termites trained to chew on fired clay, and as a steady stream of displaced royals from conquered lands set up in the desert paradise and the phenomenon of zoot-suiters manifests, the forces of law and order seem harder-pressed every day.

Aged busybody Mrs Kwakk Wakk further expands her role of wise old crone and sarcastic Greek Chorus; confirming her status as a leading player. She has a mean and spiteful beak on her too, and whilst laconic vagabonds such as Bum Bill Bee continue their scams and schemes, the primary cast-members seem inclined to sit back and let them all get on with it……

Welcomingly as ever, there is still a solid dependence on the strange landscapes and eccentric flora for humorous or inspiration or simple aesthetic gratification, while all manner of weather and terrain play a large part in inducing anxiety, bewilderment and hilarity. As arthritis, increasing migraines and age took some of the artist’s physical dexterity, it seemed to liberate his eyes and compositional sensibilities. The later strips are astounding sleek graphic exemplars of cunning design and hue on which the regulars play out their final lines…

The wonderment concludes with ore unearthed artistic treasures and one last instructional ‘Ignatz Mouse Debaffler Page’, providing pertinent facts, snippets of contextual history and necessary notes for the young and potentially perplexed.

Herriman’s epochal classic is a stupendous and joyous monument to gleeful whimsy: in all the arenas of Art and Literature there has never been anything like these strips which have inspired comics creators and auteurs in fields as disparate as prose fiction, film, dance, animation and music, whilst fulfilling its basic function: engendering delight and delectation in generations of wonder-starved fans.

If, however, you are one of Them and not Us, or if you actually haven’t experienced the gleeful graphic assault on the sensorium, mental equilibrium and emotional lexicon carefully thrown together by George Herriman from the dawn of the 20th century until the dog days of World War II, this astounding compendium is a most accessible way to do so.

© 2008, 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Calculus Affair


By Hergé, Bob De Moors and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-817-8 (HB) 978-1-40520-629-7 (TPB)

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

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

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

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

After a troubled period during the war years, the Boy Reporter and his companions became a staple of the European childhood experience through weekly trans-national magazine Le Journal de Tintin and regular album collections. The anthology comic regularly achieved a circulation in the hundreds of thousands, allowing the artist and his team to remaster past tales and create bold new romps reflecting the tone of the times.

Although Hergé’s later life was troubled by personal problems and health issues, this only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities. The later adventures are all sleek, polished thrillers, rife with intrigue and camaraderie; perfectly garnished with comedy set-pieces of timeless brilliance. Even after decades of working, the artist/auteur continued fresh and challenging, always seeking new arenas of drama to explore.
Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. That meant a return to observations of contemporary themes and situations, as in this effective treatise on the burgeoning Cold War…

L’Affaire Tournesol began in the Christmas issue of the Belgian edition of Le Journal de Tintin (dated December 22nd 1954) and ran uninterrupted until February 22nd 1956. The French editions ran it from February 1955, and the completed saga was collected as an album in 1956 and is notable for the introduction of three characters who would become semi-regular cast members: Jolyon Wagg, Cutts the Butcher, and recurring villain Colonel Spoons.

The Calculus Affair once again sees the zany Professor abducted from the palatial home of Captain Haddock, resulting in a dire and desperate chase through espionage-infested Europe. Our heroes are hampered in their efforts to save their friend by the introduction of the infinitely annoying and crushingly dull insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg and, more ominously, rival bands of relentless, ruthless spies.

As they doggedly pursue Calculus to Geneva, Tintin and Haddock encounter not only the insidious agents of Borduria but find that their erstwhile allies of Syldavia are also trying to make the Professor “disappear”. After frantic chases, pitched battles and assassination attempts, diplomatic duplicity defeats them, and Calculus becomes an unwilling guest of the totalitarian Bordurians, who are pleased to accept as a “gift” his new invention, which they intend to use as a weapon of mass destruction.

Temporarily stymied, Tintin and Haddock finagle their way into the country, and with the aid of Opera Diva and human tornado Bianca Castafiore, bamboozle the secret police to rescue the Professor and save the day.

Although all the elements in play are tried and trusted ingredients of the Tintin formula, the level of artistic achievement here is superb and the interplay of tense drama, slapstick comedy and breakneck action make this brooding thriller the most accomplished of Hergé’s tales. The simple fact that the contemporary Cold War fever is absent for modern readers makes no difference at all to the enjoyment of this magnificent graphic masterpiece.

The Calculus Affair: artwork © 1956, 1984 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1960 Methuen & Co Ltd/2012 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Broons and Oor Wullie: The Roaring Forties


By R.D. Low & Dudley D. Watkins (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-804-3 (HB)

The Broons is one of the longest running newspaper strips in British history, having run almost continuously in Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post since its delirious debut in the March 8th 1936 edition: the same issue which launched mischievous and equally unchanging wee laddie Oor Wullie.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging working-class family were co-created by journalist, writer and editor Robert Duncan Low in conjunction with DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins. Moreover, once the strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals, those books became as much a Yule tradition as plum pudding or shortbread.

Low (1895-1980) began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his landmark notion was the “Fun Section”: an 8-page pull-out comic strip supplement for national newspaper The Sunday Post. This illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were the headliners…

Low’s shrewdest notion was to devise both strips as comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular where, supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips. These pioneering comics then laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

After some devious devising in December 1937 Low launched the first DC Thomson weekly comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic in 1939.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed the burgeoning strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture paper releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not included in the magazine’s regular roster. In that same year Low & the magnificent Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest advantage in the early days was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style – more than any other – shaped the look and form of DC Thompson’s comics output, until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as an artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. Before too long he was advised to get a job at expanding, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating prose boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the Sunday Post’s new Fun Section. Without missing a beat, Watkins quickly added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, and The Beano’s placidly outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable triumph for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969.

For every week of all those astonishingly productive years, he had unflaggingly crafted a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons, and his loss was a colossal blow to the company.

DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was agreed upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual due to wartime paper rationing) had appeared in 1939, alternating with Oor Wullie – although, due to those same resource restrictions, no annuals were published between 1943 and 1946 – and for millions of readers a year cannot truly end without them.

So What’s the Set Up?: the multigenerational Broon family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (sometimes Auchenshoogle); based in large part on the working class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle. As such, it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing.

As is always the case, the adamant, unswerving cornerstone of any family feature is long-suffering, understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw, and a battalion of stay-at-home kids comprising hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, pretty Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddler referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence but always hanging around is gruffly patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own quaint cottage, constantly seeking to impart decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen…?

Offering regular breaks from the inner city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the nearby Highlands): there to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl and farm-grown…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also debuted on 8th March 1936 with his collected Christmas Annuals appearing in the even years.

The basic set-up is sublimely simply and eternally evergreen, featuring an imaginative, good-hearted scruff with a talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal young rascal with time on his hands and can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular cast includes Ma and Pa, long-suffering local bobby P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Bob, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others…

The Roaring Forties was released in 2002 as part of a concerted drive to keep earlier material available to fans: a lavish hardback compilation (sadly not yet available digitally) which proffers a tantalising selection of strips from 1940-1949, covering every aspect of contemporary existence except a rather obvious one.

Although for half the book World War II was a brutal fact of life, it barely encroached upon the characters’ lives except perhaps in the unexplained occasional shortages of toys, sweets and other scrummy comestibles…

The parade of celtic mirth begins with – and is regularly broken up by – a number of atmospheric photo-features such as a celebration of film stars of the period in ‘A Nicht at the Picters’ (in three glamour-studded showings) and ‘Cartoon Capers’, which reproduces a wealth of one-off gag panels from The Sunday Post by such luminaries as Carmichael, Eric Cook, Campbell and Housley, whilst ‘Whit’s in The Sunday Post Today?’ gathers a selection of the era’s daftest news items.

The endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the usual subject-matter: gleeful goofs, family frolics and gloriously slapstick shenanigans. Whether it’s a visit with family or just trying to keep pace with the wee terror, highlights include plumbing disasters, fireplace fiascos, food foolishness, dating dilemmas, appliance atrocities, fashion freak-outs, exercise exploits and childish pranks by young and old alike…

Punctuated by editorial extras, such as ‘Correction Corner’ – offering an intriguing look into the strips’ creative process – and ‘Dinnae Mention the War’ which reprints a selection of morale-boosting ads and items, are rib-tickling scenes of sledding and skating, stolen candies, torn clothes, recycled comics, visiting circuses, practical jokes, and social gaffes: stories intended to take the nation’s collective mind off troubles abroad, and for every thwarted romance of poor Daphne and Maggie or embarrassing fiasco focussed on Paw’s cussedness, there’s an uproarious chase, riotous squabble and no-tears scrap for the little ‘uns.

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to avoid at all costs, the timeless gentle humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive fun and frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining serving of superbly nostalgic an unmissable treat.

So why not return to a time of local blacksmiths and coalmen, best china and full employment, neighbours you knew by first names and trousers that always fell apart or were chewed by goats? There are even occasional crossovers to marvel at here, with Wullie and Granpaw Broon striving to outdo each other in the adorable reprobate stakes…

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious slapstick hilarity and comfortably domestic warmth, these unchanging examples of happy certainty and convivial celebration of a mythic lost life and time are a sure cure for post-modern glums…
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2002.

Willie and Joe: The WWII Years


By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-439-9 (PB)

During World War II a talented, ambitious young man named William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (29/10/1921 – 22/01/2003) fought “Over There” with the 45th Division of the United States Infantry as well as many other fine units of the army. He learned to hate war and love his brother soldiers – and the American fighting man loved him back. During his time in the service he produced civilian cartoons for the Oklahoma City Times and The Oklahoman, and devastatingly, intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News. He also produced work for Yank and Stars and Stripes; the US Armed Forces newspapers. Soon after, his cartoons were being reproduced in newspapers across Europe and America.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he popularised – offering their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the sharpest of Sharp Ends…

Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually exposing in all ways and manners the stuff upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret. Not war secrets, but how the men at arms lived, felt and died.

Willie and Joe even became the subject of two films (Up Front -1951 and Back at the Front – 1952) whilst Willie made the cover of Time magazine in 1945, when 23-year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1945, a collection of his drawings, accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay, was published by Henry Holt and Co. Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge-of-War views became increasingly unpopular during the Cold War and, despite being a certified War Hero, Mauldin’s increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour (those efforts are the subject companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home). Mauldin left the increasing hostile and oversight-ridden business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing, amongst other movies, in Red Badge of Courage with veteran war hero Audie Murphy); a war correspondent during the Korean War and – after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1956 – finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958.

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and award-studded career. He only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall; and to eulogize Milton Caniff). His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it.

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts from 1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink root beers and tell war stories with an old pal. When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense, mostly monochrome (with some very rare colour and sepia items) softcover compendium comes in at 704 pages, (229 x 178mm for the physical copy or any size you want if you get the digital edition): assembling all his known wartime cartoons – as originally released in two hardback editions in 2008. It features not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

Mauldin produced most of his work for Regimental and Company newspapers whilst under fire: perfectly capturing the life and context of fellow soldiers – also under battlefield conditions – and shared a glimpse of that unique and bizarre existence to their families and civilians at large, despite constant military censorship and even face-to-face confrontations with Generals. George Patton was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world, but fortunately Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, if not a fan, knew the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with those indomitable everymen Willie and Joe

This far removed in time, many of the pieces here might need historical context for modern readers and such is comprehensively provided by the notes section to the rear of the volume. Also included are unpublished pieces and pages, early cartoon works, and rare notes, drafts and sketches.

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however, are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness. They highlight equally the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Most importantly, Mauldin never patronised civilians or demonised the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat as “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

Alternating crushing cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, absurdist observation, shared miseries, staggering sentimentality and the total shock and awe of still being alive every morning, this cartoon catalogue of the Last Just War is a truly breathtaking collection that no fan, art-lover, historian or humanitarian can afford to miss.

…And it will make you cry and laugh out loud too.

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distant brass-hats and politicians send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home, we should finally be able to restore the man and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, it looks like his message is never going to be outdated… or learned from by the idiots in charge who most need to hear it…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

The Misadventures of Jane


By Norman Pett & J.H.G. (“Don”) Freeman (Titian Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84856-167-0 (HB)

Once upon a time, Jane was one of the most important and well-regarded comic strips in British, if not World, history. It debuted on December 5th 1932 as Jane’s Journal: or The Diary of a Bright Young Thing: a frothy, frivolous gag-a-day strip in the Daily Mirror, created by (then) freelance cartoonist Norman Pett.

Originally a nonsensical comedic vehicle, it consisted of a series of panels with cursive script embedded within to simulate a diary page. It switched to more formal strip frames and balloons in late 1938, when scripter Don Freeman came on board and Mirror Group supremo Harry Guy Bartholomew was looking to renovate the serial for a more adventure- and escape-hungry audience. It was also felt that a continuity feature such as Freeman’s other strip Pip, Squeak and Wilfred would keep readers coming back; as if Jane’s inevitable – if usually unplanned – bouts of near nudity wouldn’t…

Jane’s secret was skin. Even before war broke out there were torn skirts and lost blouses aplenty, but once the shooting started and Jane became an operative for British Intelligence, her clothes came off with terrifying regularity and machine gun rapidity. She even went topless when the Blitz was at its worst.

Pett drew the strip with verve and style, imparting a uniquely English family feel: a joyous lewdness-free innocence and total lack of tawdriness. The artist worked from models and life, famously using first his wife, his secretary Betty Burton, and editorial assistant Doris Keay but most famously actress and model Chrystabel Leighton-Porter – until May 1948 when Pett left for another newspaper and another clothing-challenged comic star…

His art assistant Michael Hubbard assumed full control of the feature (prior to that he had drawn backgrounds and mere male characters), and carried the series – increasingly a safe, flesh-free soap-opera and less a racy glamour strip – to its conclusion on October 10th 1959.

This Titan Books collection added the saucy secret weapon to their growing arsenal of classic British comics and strips, and paid Jane the respect she deserved with a snappy black and white hardcover collection, complete with colour inserts.

Following a fascinating and informative article taken from Canadian paper The Maple Leaf (which disseminated her adventures to returning ANZAC servicemen), Jane’s last two war stories (running from May 1944 to June 1945) are reprinted in their entirety, beginning with ‘N.A.A.F.I, Say Die!’, wherein the hapless but ever-so-effective intelligence agent is posted to a British Army base where somebody’s wagging tongue is letting pre “D-Day” secrets out. Naturally (very au naturally), only Jane and her new sidekick and best friend Dinah Tate can stop the rot…

This is promptly followed by ‘Behind the Front’ wherein Jane and Dinah invade the continent, tracking down spies, collaborators and boyfriends in Paris before joining a ENSA concert party, and accidentally invading Germany just as the Russians arrive…

As you’d expect, the comedy is based on classic Music Hall fundamentals with plenty of drama and action right out of the patriotic and comedy cinema of the day – but if you’ve ever seen Will Hay, Alistair Sim or Arthur Askey at their peak you’ll know that’s no bad thing – and this bombastic book also contains loads of rare goodies to drool over.

Jane was so popular that there were three glamour/style books called Jane’s Journal for which Pett produced many full-colour pin-ups, paintings and general cheese-cake illustration. From these lost gems, this tome includes ‘The Perfect Model’, a strip “revealing” how the artist met his muse Chrystabel Leighton-Porter; ‘Caravanseraglio!’, an 8-page strip starring Jane and erring, recurring boyfriend Georgie Porgie plus 15 pages of the very best partially and un-draped Jane pin-ups.

Jane’s war record is frankly astounding. As a morale booster she was reckoned worth more than divisions of infantry and her exploits were cited in Parliament and discussed with actual seriousness by Eisenhower and Churchill. Legend has it that The Daily Mirror’s Editor was among the few who knew the date of D-Day so as to co-ordinate her exploits with the Normandy landings.

In 1944, on the day she went full frontal, the American Service newspaper Roundup (provided to US soldiers) went with the headline “JANE GIVES ALL” and the sub-heading “YOU CAN ALL GO HOME NOW”. Chrystabel Leighton-Porter toured as Jane in a services revue – she stripped for the boys – during the war and in 1949 starred in the film The Adventures of Jane.

Although the product of simpler, less enlightened, and indubitably more hazardous, times, the charming, thrilling, innocently saucy adventures of Jane, patient but dedicated beau Georgie Porgie and especially her intrepid Dachshund Count Fritz Von Pumpernickel are incontestable landmarks of the art-form, not simply for their impact but also for the plain and simple reason that they are superbly drawn and huge fun to read.

After years of neglect, don’t let’s waste the opportunity to keep such a historical icon in our lives. You should find this book, buy your friends this book, and most importantly, agitate to have her entire splendid run reprinted in more books like this one. Do your duty, lads and lassies…
Jane © 2009 MGN Ltd/Mirrorpix. All Rights Reserved.

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold


By Adam Stower (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-052-2 (PB)

The old demarcations – whether in format or content – between comics and “proper books” are all but gone these days and the results are, quite frankly, long overdue and simply intoxicating…

Since the pre-print era of illustrated manuscripts, books have always possessed the capacity (budgets permitting) to include images in the text. As the book trade progressed, pictures were generally phased out of cheaper, mass-market editions because they required costly and time-consuming extra effort by skilled technicians. Most artists and illustrators wanted payment for their efforts too, so books 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.

These days print processes are speedy and efficient, 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.

A perfect example of this is artist Adam Stower’s (Bottom’s Up!, Spymice, The Dragons of Wayward Green, The Secret Country) second adventure of Ben Pole and his fabulous companion King Coo.

When Ben was being pitilessly persecuted by bullies at school, one desperate attempt to escape took him to a vast and fantastic forest that lay somehow hidden at the bottom of a hole in a tatty alleyway between skyscrapers in the city. Here he met capable wild-child King Coo: a spear-carrying, crown-wearing girl who builds incredible, impossible inventions and lives in a tree house with her wombat chum Herbert. Most of the time, Coo is covered from her nostrils to her sturdy bare feet in a luxuriant, all-encompassing beard.

She soon helped him sort out his bullying problem once and for all…

Now, as summer holidays end, Ben is heading back to school, just as his mum starts her new job as a security guard at the City Museum. As if having a massive new exhibition featuring the priceless golden treasures of mummified medicine-man Mighty Ozozo of the Blue-Foots Tribe isn’t enough to worry about, many other museums and galleries have recently been plundered by the sinister and mysterious Midnight Mob

Sadly for Ben, his homebody dad’s culinary escapades haven’t gotten any better either…

Ben’s desire to continue having life-&-limb threatening adventures with Coo and her bizarre gizmos is slightly lessened after his class is introduced to substitute teacher Professor Pickering and his attendant transfer students: the oddly fascinating pupils of the Lilly Lavender Private Academy for Exceptional Girls

And thus unfolds a thrill-stuffed, action-packed romp involving vile villains, daring robberies, a hostage situation, dastardly deception and the terrifying prospect of supernatural revenge from beyond the grave. Happily, King Coo has a plan… but then again, she always has a plan, and blueprints and prototypes and…

Fast-paced, astoundingly inventive and laugh-out-loud hilarious, this brilliant kids’ caper merges compact effective prose with beguiling monochrome pictures, comic strips, breathtaking double-page spreads, explanatory diagrams, informative info-pages, mini-posters and all the visual gimmicks that give comics their overpowering immediacy.

This is a book kids of all ages will adore, so why not grant yourself and your entourage a personal audience with King Coo at your earliest convenience?
Text and illustrations © Adam Stower 2019. All rights reserved.

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold will be released on 6th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. volume 1 This is What They Want and volume 2 I Kick Your Face


By Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen & Wade Von Grawbadger (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2278-4 (Vol. 1 HB); 978-0-7851-1910-4 (Vol. 2 TPB)

Even for the most dedicated fans, superhero comics can become a little samey and pedestrian, so when gifted big- name creators such as Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen decide to have a little fun with the fringes of such a ponderous continuity as Marvel’s, expectations are always understandably high.

In 2006 Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) launched for a breathtaking and controversial 12 issue run and happily proved to be everything a jaded old fan could hope for…

The series has been compiled into one complete volume, these two collections (re-presenting #1-6 and #7-12 respectively) as well as in digital formats. That’s the illusion of choice right there, that is…

Wry, cynically Post-Modern and malevolently mischievous, the saga borrowed shamelessly from kid’s bubblegum pop culture – especially trans-pacific animation. There was even a theme-song you could hear online and a variant-issue that readers could colour in to win prizes – as well as the forgotten contents of the daftest corners of Marvel’s decades of accumulated continuity to captivatingly satirise the genre, the medium and itself.

Best of all, it was hilariously anti-globalisation, counter-capitalist, rude, sexy and excessively ultra-violent…

H.A.T.E. is another of those numerous acronymic quasi-governmental, covert high-tech agencies dedicated to keeping us all safe in our overpriced, indolent beds – at least that was what their eccentric team of operatives initially believed.

When they discovered that their employers were in fact a fully owned subsidiary of the Beyond Corporation© and the latest iteration of diabolical terrorist cabal S.I.L.E.N.T., former Avengers Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel II/Photon/Spectrum, etc…) and artificial individual Aaron (Machine Man) Stack rightly rebelled.

With ex-X-Man Tabitha Smith (Meltdown/Boom Boom); stroppy immortal monster-hunter Elsa Bloodstone and hyper-powered, unimaginative enigma The Captain in tow, they went AWOL, intending to stop their former paymasters at all costs.

Incidentally, the last-cited was formerly Captain $#!£ until ostracized by all the other military-monickered mystery-men, after which Captain America punched his foul-mouthed head in and washed his mouth out with soap.

Further investigation disclosed that the terrorist conglomerate was actually planning to product-test potentially lucrative BWMDs (Bizarre Weapons of Mass Destruction) on American soil and ordinary folks, so the disgruntled quintet promptly stole a super-ship and all the plans, determined to stop the callous campaign and take down the despicable Beyond©-ers forever…

With their increasingly deranged, suicidal and sexually outré former commander Dirk Anger in hot pursuit, the team begins its fightback in Abcess, North Dakota where the legendary giant dragon-in-underpants Fin Fang Foom has been awakened and… stimulated… into going on a rampage of destructive frustration…

On the streets of Abcess, hordes of Beyond©’s mass-produced vegetable warriors are attacking the citizenry and exacerbating the chaos until Elsa and The Captain intervene with their signature lack of restraint and disregard for human life or private property.

As municipal damage and general unrest spiral upwards, Monica devises an unsavoury plan and orders Aaron – a fantastic, military-created robot who despises human “fleshy ones” and has reprogrammed himself to crave vast amounts of beer – to get himself swallowed and deal with the dragon from the inside…

With no rest for the Wicked-crushers, the renegade revengers then head to Sink City, Illinois where brutally corrupt cop Mac Mangel has been infected with a mechanistically mutating program, transforming him into a colossal flesh-and-steel beast hungry to eat metal and/or children…

With mounting carnage everywhere, the Captain still gets distracted into an origin flashback, leaving Tabitha to deal with the Transformer-ed Mangel in her stylishly simple yet permanent manner…

In Wyoming, the Nextwave discover a Beyond© War Garden and set about destroying the next crop of broccoli berserkers and cabbage crusaders, just as Dirk Anger and his other – still-loyal – agents of H.A.T.E. arrive in their flying citadel to unleash all the insane instruments of doom in their arsenal. However even the Drop Bears of Cuddly Koala Death, a flock of Assault PterosaursSamurai Robots and Homicide Crabs cannot contain the righteous indignation of the forgotten heroes, and when Aaron counterattacks by stealing Dirk’s chic-est most secret possession the deviant Director has no choice but to retreat…

To Be Continued…

 

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. volume 2: I Kick Your Face

The action barely pauses for a primer recap before Beyond©orp’s follow-up BWMD event sees the terrorist entrepreneurs summon an extremely minor and rather juvenile Elder God, Rorkannu, Lord of the Dank Dimension. The malefactors trade that for access to a deadly invading army of mystic behemoths that Dr. Strange fans will recognise as merciless “Mindless Ones” to decimate the town of Shotcreek, Colorado.

Ready to back-up the embattled townspeople are Monica and her crew, but things take a decidedly surreal turn as the monolithic marauders prove to be not all that mindless after all…

In the blistering last-stand battle, Elsa becomes lost in fond reminiscences of her truly unique and bloody childhood, before, against all odds, the Captain stumbles onto Rorkannu and -contrary to everyone’s expectations – finally does something right…

When Steve Rogers became Captain America in 1941, nobody realised that a second Nazi spy stole his urine sample. Now, through a most torturous and arcane path, that last remnant of the original Super-Soldier serum has allowed the ruling elite of the Beyond© group to create whole battalions of customised metahuman champions…

When Nextwave finally track the terrorists to their inverted floating fortress, they are confronted by an army of esoteric adversaries derived and developed from the misappropriated hero-pee and aligned in specifically themed teams such as The Surgery, The Vestry and The Homosexuality, but even such lethally dedicated foes as Dr. Headless, Father Pain, Dr. Nosexy, Sun King, Red Rosary and Slightly Creepy Policewoman pale into feeble insignificance beside the reality-altering threat of Forbush-Man and his eerily familiar comrades the New Paramounts

Once again plunged into horrifically violent combat, the Nextwave are slowly making bloody headway until the diminutive demon plunges the team into depressing and dreary alternate lives from the worst recesses of their inner visions. Tragically for Forbush-Man, nobody had ever found any evidence of intellect or imagination in Tabitha, just an overwhelming vacuity, urge to steal and need to blow stuff up…

With the end in sight, the triumphant heroes invade the Beyond Corporation©’s hidden HQ State 51 just as Dirk Anger, transformed and degraded beyond imagination, arrives, culminating in an even more spectacular clash before finally confronting the utterly macabre mastermind behind the monstrous marketing campaign of destruction. The elation is non-existent as the team discover an even more bizarre kingmaker behind it all and finally bring the hammer down once and for all…

As action comics in their purest form, the tales are laced with light-hearted lethality and superbly smutty innuendo, with hints of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman, Ben Edlund’s The Tick, Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill’s Marshall Law and Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug, with all the verve, panache and invention of the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory, all wrapped up in pithy corporate sloganeering a la Better Off Ted, Corporate and Joseph Goebbels…

Jam-packed with in-joke extras, this is a glorious comic series – in every sense of the word – and an experience no, fun-loving fan could possibly find fault with.

“Healing America by Beating People Up” and making us laugh by taking the piss…

© 2006, 2007, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.