Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection volume 1


By Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, Steve Lavigne & various (IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-007-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-298-3

FORTY(!!!) years ago this month an indie comic by a pair of cannily adroit wannabe creators began making waves and soon sparked a revolution. The guys were Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird and their work did remarkably well, interesting companies outside our traditionally cautious insular industry and garnering a few merchandising deals. Thanks to TTE (the Telescoping Time Effect that renders the passage of many years between adulthood and the grave to the blink of an eye), my comics generation still regard these upstart critters as parvenu newcomers.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared in May 1984, bombastically occupying an oversized, self-published black-&-white parody mag. Eastman & Laird were huge fans of Ditko and Kirby, and so set up Mirage Studios so they could control their efforts, having great fun telling pastiche adventures notionally derived and inspired by contemporary superhero fare.

They especially honed in on the US marketplace’s obsession with Frank Miller’s reinterpretations of manga stars Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima: particularly Lone Wolf & Cub. There were also smart pokes at and conceptual themes poached from other top trends as inspired by The X-Men, New Teen Titans and outsider icon Howard the Duck. This was at a time when the US industry was experiencing an explosive boom in do-it-yourself comics: one that changed forever the very nature of the industry and destroyed the virtual monopoly od DC and Marvel.

Eastman & Laird’s quirky concept became the paradigm of Getting Rich Quick: a template for many others and – in their case at least – an ideal example of beneficial exploitation. Their creation expanded to encompass toys, movies, games, food, apparel, general merchandising and especially television cartoons. In 1987 it became – and remains – a globally potent franchise. There’s probably another movie on the go even as I type this…

None of that matters here as I want to look at the actual comics that started everything and there’s no better way than with this carefully curated edition chronologically covering the primal tales and offering commentaries and reminiscences from the guys who were there…

Just as Los Bros Hernadez had done with Love and Rockets in 1981, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted as a self-published (print run of 3000 copies), self-financed one-shot that was swiftly picked up by a legion of independent comics shops run by fans for fans. Word of mouth and frantic demand generated a wave of reprintings and much speculative imitation. The rest is history…

This book – re-presenting issues #1-7 and one-shot Raphael Micro-Series – was the first of a sequence of collections published a dozen years ago by licensing specialists IDW. By that time the original creators had long sold the rights and moved well on, to the extent of even occasionally revisiting their baby through nostalgia, but here their fevered passion in their creation and the sheer joy of having fun by learning was at its intoxicating height.

Drafted with verve, gusto and no respect for “the rules”, the saga of ‘Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens with four outlandish humanoids fighting for their lives in a dingy alley. The enemy are thugs and street scum and – once they’re emphatically taken care of – with victory assured, the bizarre heroes retreat into the sewers…

Here they greet a giant rat dressed as a sensei and discuss their origins and goals. You all already know the tale – or just don’t care – but briefly: the pet rat of martial artist Yoshi absorbed kung fu skills and concepts of honour and duty by observation. He also witnessed romantic rivals become arch foes. The losing suitor’s brother subsequently destroys the lovers (even after they fled to New York) and is now leader of ninja clan The Foot.

The youngster – Oroku Saki but known as The Shredder – pursued his warped obsession in the New World and murdered the lovers, even as nearby a boy saved an old one from being hit by a truck carry toxic material. The kid was blinded when the cannister hit his eyes, but as he was carted off to his own comics destiny, the canister that hit him broke, leaking mutagens into sewers where an uncaring owner had dumped somebaby turtles and where Yoshi’s escaped pet was hiding…

Over years exposure changed them all. The rat called Splinter became a sagacious humanoid rodent who diligently trained four brilliant, rapidly growing reptiles in the skills he had observed with his master. Splinter named them Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael and at last deemed them sufficiently advanced to obtain vengeance for his murdered master.

Called to battle, the villain employs all his minions but nevertheless falls to turtle justice…

Fast-paced and action-packed, the tale delivers a sure no-frills punch and – as revealed in the commentary ‘Annotations’ section that follows – left the creators with a rare dilemma: overnight success, demands for reprints and readers demanding more of the same…

Each issue’s bonus section also provides background, insights and developmental drawings but the meat is contained in the stories as the debutantes quickly gained confidence and ran wild. The second issue introduced insufferable mad scientist Baxter Stockman who unleashes robot rat-hunters (“Mousers”) in a scheme to get rich by cleaning up the sewers. In fact, he is also using them to rob from below and when his assistant April O’Neil finds out he frames and tries to kill her. Thankfully the turtles step in to save her and New York…

The third episode reveals heroism comes at a cost: when they return to their underground lair, the Turtles discover it devastated, with Mouser fragments and rat blood everywhere… but no Master Splinter…

When April offers them shelter, relocation turns into a major headache as the strange, heavily shrouded quartet are mistaken for burglars, triggering a massive police car chase through the streets. The spectacular road riot is appended by an ‘Epilogue’ revealing exactly what happened to Splinter, leading to major plot developments in #4, as mystery company TCRI are revealed as the creators of the mutagen and far more than they seem.

Before that though, the Raphael Micro-Series offers all-action romp ‘Me, Myself and I’ as the moody, anger-management-challenged young warrior loses control whilst sparring and flees the team in shame. Sadly, Raphael seeks to calm down by prowling the streets and encounters well-meaning street vigilante Casey Jones thrashing a gang of molesters. Of course, a violent misunderstanding ensues…

In TMNT #4, the search for Splinter is interrupted by an army of Foot ninjas, but the ambush drops our heroes right into TCRI HQ. With the corporate logo from that fateful cannister blazoned across a skyscraper, priorities shift and the turtles retrench. When they infiltrate the building, the shock of finding Splinter is instantly erased by finding out just what they’re facing, but it is as nothing to the trauma of being teleported to another universe…

The fifth issue came out in November 1985, the first to sport a full colour cover and used to expand a phenomenon into a merchandisable continuity universe by guest-starring another, subsequent Eastman & Laird creation – Fugitoid. The little droid was a (non-Terran) human teleportation scientist whose discoveries made him a target of the local military dictatorships on a world packed with hundreds of different sentient species. When Honeycutt was killed, his mind was trapped in a small mechanoid and his plight intersected that of the shanghaied shellbacks. They join forces to thwart evil tyrant General Blanque and an army of secretly invading “Triceratons”, all whilst Honeycutt finds a way to send them home…

Sadly, that route leads directly to an orbiting Triceraton war base in #6 and magnifies the manic mayhem and martial arts magic as the Turtles battle every creature imaginable and still end up as interstellar gladiators before another transmat glitch sends them, Fugitoid and some Triceratons back to Earth and the heart of TCRI.

Of course, in the interim, the building has been surrounded by America’s military and the robotic-augmented Kraangs who run the place are in full battle mode. Cue much more ray gun shenanigans and sword-filled fists of fury as TMNT #7 offers conflict, contusions, confusions, conclusion, explanations and a long-awaited reunion…

To Be Continued…

Fast, furious, fun-filled and funny, but with all sharp edges prominently featured (so nervous parents might want to pre-assess the material before giving this book to true youngsters) this debut saga of the shell-backed sentinels of the sewers offers a superb slice of excitement and enjoyment that will keep kids and adults alike bouncing off the walls with eager appreciation.
© 2011 Viacom International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Deadpool Epic Comics volume 1: The Circle Chase 1991-1994


By Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Glenn Herdling, Gregory Wright, Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Mark Waid, Dan Slott, Pat Olliffe, Mark Pacella, Greg Capullo, Mike Gustovich, Joe Madureira, Isaac Cordova, Jerry DeCaire, Bill Wylie, Ian Churchill, Sandu Florea, Terry Shoemaker, Al Milgrom, Scot Eaton, Ariane Lenshoek, Tony DeZuñiga, Lee Weeks, Don Hudson, Ken Lashley & various (MARVEL)
ISBN: 978-1-302-3205-3 (TPB/Digital edition)

With a long, LONG awaited cinematic combo clash finally headed our way this summer and in the year of a certain Canadian Canucklehead’s 50th Anniversary, expect a few cashing-in style commendations and reviews in our immediate future. Here’s a handy starter package to set the ball rolling…

Bloodthirsty killers and stylish mercenaries have long made for popular protagonists and this guy is probably one of the most popular. Deadpool is Wade Wilson: a survivor of sundry experiments that left him a scarred, grotesque bundle of scabs and physical unpleasantries – albeit functionally immortal, invulnerable and capable of regenerating from literally any wound.

Moreover, after his initial outings on the fringes of the X-Universe, his modern incarnation makes him either one of the few beings able to perceive the true nature of reality… or a total gibbering loon.

Chronologically collecting and curating cameos, guest shots and his early outrages from New Mutants #98, X-Force #2, 11 & 15, Deadpool: The Circle Chase #1-4, and Secret Defenders #15-17, as well as pertinent excerpted material from X-Force #4, 5 10, 14, 19-24; X-Force Annual #1, Nomad #4; Avengers #366 & Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 & 30, (spanning February 1991 to November 1994), this tome is merely the first in a series cataloguing his ever more outlandish escapades.

After Gail Simone’s joyous Foreword ‘He was always Deadpool’ justifies and confirms his fame, escalating antics and off-kilter appeal, his actual debut in New Mutants #98’s ‘The Beginning of the End, part one’ opens proceedings. The “merc with a mouth” was created as a villain du jour by Rob Liefeld & Fabian Nicieza, as that title wound down in advance of a major reboot/rebrand. He seemed a one-trick throwaway in a convoluted saga of mutant mayhem with little else to recommend it. An employee of enigmatic evildoer Mr. Tolliver, Deadpool was despatched to kill to kill future-warrior Cable and his teen acolytes… but spectacularly failed. The kids were soon after rebranded and relaunched as X-Force though, so he had a few encores and more tries…

With appropriate covers and text to precis events between excerpt moments, we learn Deadpool first popped back in September 1991’s X-Force #2’s ‘The Blood Hunters’ where he clashed with another product of Canada’s clandestine super-agent project (which had turned a mutant spy into feral, adamantium-augmented warrior Wolverine as well as unleashing so many other second-string cyborg super-doers). Gritty do-gooder Garrison Kane was dubbed Weapon X (first of many!) and the tale also included aging spymaster GW Bridge

Still just a derivative costumed killer for hire popping up in bit part roles, the merc continued pushing Tolliver’s agenda and met Spider-Man until as seen here via snippets from X-Force Annual #1 (1991) before stumbling through Nicieza-scripted crossover Dead Man’s Hand. Illustrated by Pat Olliffe & Mark McKenna, ‘Neon Knights’ (Nomad #4, August 1992) finds Deadpool just one of a bunch of super-killers-for-hire convened by a group of lesser crime bosses seeking to fill a void created by the fall of The Kingpin. His mission is to remove troublemaking fellow hitman Bushwacker, but former super sidekick Jack “Bucky” Monroe has some objections…

Excerpts from X-Force #10 (May 1992) presage #11’s extended fight between Deadpool, the teen team, Cable and mutant luck-shaper Domino in ‘Friendly Reminders’ (Nicieza, Liefeld, Mark Pacella & Dan Panosian) before a clip from X-Force #14 (September 1992 limned by Terry Shoemaker & Al Milgrom) reveals a shocking truth about Domino and Deadpool’s relationship with her, prior to X-Force #15’s ‘To the Pain’ (October 1992 with art by Greg Capullo) wrapping up a long-running war between Cable’s kids, Tolliver and The Externals

Excerpts from X-Force #19-23 – as first seen in 1993 – find the manic merc hunting Domino and/or Vanessa and sparking a mutant mega clash before Wade Wilson guests in Avengers #366 (September 1993 by Glenn Herdling, Mike Gustovich & Ariane Lenshoek). A tie-in to Deadpool’s first solo miniseries, ‘Swordplay³’ sees the merc and a group of meta-scavengers embroiled in battle with each other and new hero Blood Wraith with The Black Knight helpless to control the chaos…

That first taste of solo stardom came with 4-issue miniseries The Circle Chase: cover-dated August-November 1993 by Nicieza, Joe Madureira & Mark Farmer. A fast-paced but cluttered thriller, it sees Wilson doggedly pursuing an ultimate weapon: one of a large crowd of mutants and variously-enhanced ne’er-do-wells seeking the fabled legacy of arms dealer/fugitive from the future Mr. Tolliver. Among other (un)worthies bound for the boodle in ‘Ducks in a Row’, ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’, ‘…And Quacks Like a Duck…’ and ‘Duck Soup’ are mutant misfits Black Tom and The Juggernaut; the then-latest iteration of Weapon X; shape-shifter Copycat and a host of fashionably disposable cyborg loons with quirky media-buzzy names like Commcast and Slayback. If you can swallow any understandable nausea associated with the dreadful trappings of this low point in Marvel’s tempestuous history, there is a sharp and entertaining little thriller underneath…

A follow-up tale in Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #23 (April 1994, Gregory Wright, Isaac Cordova & Hon Hudson) pits Wilson against Daredevil and notional heroes-for-hire Paladin and Silver Sable before uniting to thwart fascist usurpers The Genesis Coalition, prior to a relatively heroic stance in Doctor Strange team-up title Secret Defenders.

Beginning in #15’s ‘Strange Changes Part the First: Strangers and Other Lovers’ (May 1994 by Tom Brevoort, Mike Kanterovich, Jerry Decaire & Tony DeZuñiga) the Sorcerer Supreme sends Doctor Druid, Shadowoman, Luke Cage and Deadpool to stop ancient life-sucking sorceress Malachi – a task fraught with peril that takes #16’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Second: Resurrection Tango’ (pencilled by Bill Wylie and debuting zombie hero Cadaver), and #17’s ‘Strange Changes Part the Third: On Borrowed Time’

A moment from Silver Sable & the Wild Pack #30 (November 1994, by Wright, Scot Eaton & Jim Amash) depicting Wade’s reaction to his rival’s fall from grace segues into the second 4-part Deadpool miniseries (August – November 1994) which revolves around auld acquaintances Black Tom and Juggernaut. Collaboratively contrived by writer Mark Waid, pencillers Ian Churchill, Lee Weeks and Ken Lashley with inkers Jason Minor, Bob McLeod, Bub LaRosa, Tom Wegryzn, Philip Moy & W.C. Carani, ‘If Looks Could Kill!’, ‘Luck of the Irish’, ‘Deadpool, Sandwich’ and ‘Mano a Mano’ delivers a hyperkinetic race against time heavy on explosive action.

The previous miniseries revealed Irish archvillain Black Tom Cassidy was slowly turning into a tree (as you do). Desperate to save his meat-based life, the bad guy and best bud Cain “The Juggernaut” Marko manipulate Wade Wilson: exploiting the merc’s unconventional relationship with Siryn (a sonic mutant, Tom’s niece and X-Force member). Believing Deadpool’s regenerating factor holds a cure, the villains stir up a bucket-load of carnage at a time when Wade is at his lowest ebb. Packed with mutant guest stars, this is a shallow but immensely readable piece of eye-candy that reset Deadpool’s path and paved the way for a tonal change that would make the Merc with a Mouth a global superstar…

All Epic Collections offer bonus material bonanzas and here that comprises images from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Master Edition, many cover reproductions (Deadpool Classic volume 1 by Liefeld & John Kalisz, Deadpool Classic Companion by Michael Bair & Matt Milla, Deadpool: Sins of the Past and The Circle Chase TPBs by Madureira, Farmer & Harry Canelario), pin-ups by Rob Haynes & John Lowe from X-Force Annual #2 and Annual #3 by Lashley & Matt “Batt” Banning, plus Sam Kieth’s Marvel Year-in-Review ’93 cover. That magazine’s parody ad by Dan Slott, Manny Galen, Scott Koblish & Wright, follows with Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti & Mark McNabb’s foldout cover to Wizard #22 and Liefeld’s “Marvel ‘92” variant cover for Deadpool #3 (2015).

Featuring a far darker villain evolving into an antihero in a frenetic blend of light-hearted, surreal, full-on fighting frolics these stories only hint at what is to come but remain truly compulsive reading for dyed-in-the-wool superhero fans who might be feeling just a little jaded with four-colour overload…
© 2021 MARVEL.

Pogo – Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB/Digital edition)

By golly, we finally got us an election, and in these moments of elation and trepidatious uncertainty, it’s only natural to turn to the steadfast things in our lives such as the total conviction that this guy knew all about liars, chancers, opportunists and self-serving, utterly unqualified dissimulators suddenly paying really close attention to what the public has been telling them for years…

It doesn’t hurt that his creator was one of the greatest cartoonists and humourists of all time and that his comics are timelessly wonderful. Read this book and all the others – it may well be your last chance to do so…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, after relocating to California he joined the Disney Studio, working on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio. When the infamous animator’s strike began in 1941 Kelly refused to take sides, and moved back East and into comic books – primarily for Dell Comics who at that time held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others.

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

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 this other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sensibly retaining copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star. On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, on the far more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until it folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1 link please) the first glimmers of an increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge. When The Star closed, Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, and launched in selected outlets on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family). At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries with book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbering nearly 50 and collectively selling over 30 million copies – and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second volume the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This became a ritual inevitably and coincidentally reoccurring every four years, whenever America’s merely human inhabitants got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering. It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of the 2-year period contained herein, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The sordid likes of Solid MacHogany, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, bull moose Uncle Antler and three brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and growing impact over following decades

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (356 pages) offers monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: each faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents. Supplemental features include a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working/developmental drawings by Kelly, extra invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, The John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as less loathsome louts like of Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) Governor of Michigan and dad of a guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery naturally carries the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagger Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the bestial rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sports, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, and this tome offers magical, magnificent treatment of all problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics, dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, briefings (for & against), impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the top job…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Riyadh and Davos. Gosh, how I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in a seemingly effortless ability to lyrically and vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

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

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one. Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Gomer Goof volume 8: A Giant Among Goofs


By Franquin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-021-0 (PB Album/Digital edition)

Like so much else in Franco-Belgian comics, it all started with Le Journal de Spirou, which debuted on April 2nd 1938, with its iconic lead strip created by François Robert Velter AKA Rob-Vel. In 1943, publisher Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, and comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (Jijé) took the helm for the redheaded kid’s further exploits as the magazine gradually became a cornerstone of European culture.

In 1946, Jijé’s assistant André Franquin was handed creative control and slowly abandoned short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. Franquin introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars and created the phenomenally popular Marsupilami. Debuting in 1952 (Spirou et les héritiers) the beast became a spin-off star of screen, plush toy stores, console games and albums in his own right. Franquin continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. He was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When WWII forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels and met Maurice de Bévére (Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient). In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu.

During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at LJdS. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative team known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They ultimately revolutionised and reshaped Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” graphic style.

Over two decades he had enlarged Spirou & Fantasio’s scope and horizons, until it became purely his own. Constantly, fans met startling new characters as the strip evolved into the saga of globetrotting journalists who visited exotic places, exposed crimes, explored the incredible and clashed with bizarre and exotic arch-enemies. Throughout it all, Fantasio remained a full-fledged – albeit entirely fictional – reporter for Le Journal de Spirou: regularly popping back to the office between cases. Sadly, lurking there was an arrogant, accident-prone, junior tasked with minor jobs and general dogs-bodying. He was Gaston Lagaffe – Franquin’s other immortal invention…

There’s a hallowed tradition of comics personalising fictitiously mysterious creatives and the arcane processes they indulge in, whether it’s Marvel’s Bullpen or DC Thomson’s lugubrious Editor and underlings at The Beano and Dandy – it’s a truly international practise. At first cameos in Spirou yarns and occasional asides on text pages featured well-meaning foul-up and ostensible office gofer “Gaston” who debuted in issue #985, cover-dated February 28th 1957. The affable conniving dimwit grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic, whether as guest in Spirou’s adventurous comics cases or his own comedy strips and faux reports on the editorial pages he was supposed to paste up.

In terms of actual schtick and delivery, older readers will recognise favourite beats and timeless elements of well-intentioned self-delusion as seen in Benny Hill and Jacques Tati and recognise recurring riffs from Some Mothers Do Have ’Em and Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, infernal ingenuity and inspired invention, all to mug smugness, puncture pomposity, lampoon the status quoi? (there’s some of that punning there see?) and ensure no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

As previously stated, Gaston/Gomer obtains a regular salary (let’s not dignify what he does as “earning” a living) from Spirou’s editorial offices: reporting to top journalist Fantasio, or complicating the lives of office manager Léon Prunelle and the other, more diligent, staffers, whilst effectively ignoring those minor jobs he’s paid to handle. These include page paste-up, posting (initially fragile) packages and editing readers’ letters… and that’s the official reason fans’ requests and suggestions are never acknowledged or answered…

Gomer is lazy, over-opinionated, ever-ravenous, impetuous, underfed, forgetful and eternally hungry, a passionate sports fan and animal lover, with his most manic moments all stemming from cutting work corners and stashing or consuming contraband nosh in the office. This leads to constant clashes with colleagues and draws in seemingly notionally unaffiliated bystanders like traffic cop Longsnoot and fireman Captain Morwater, as well as many simple passers-by who should know by now to keep away from this street.

Through it all our office oaf remains eternally affable, easy-going and incorrigible. Only three questions really matter here: why everyone keeps giving him one last chance, what can gentle, lovelorn Miss Jeanne possible see in the self-opinionated idiot, and will ever-outraged capitalist financier De Mesmaeker ever get his perennial, pestiferous contracts signed?

In 1972 Gaston – Le géant de la gaffe became the 10th European album and in 2021 was Cinebook’s 8th translated compilation: again focussing on non-stop, all-Franquin comics gags in single-page bursts. Our well-meaning, overconfident, overly-helpful know-it-all office hindrance invents more stuff making life unnecessarily dangerous and continues his pioneering and perilous attempts to befriend and boost fauna and flora alike and improve the modern mechanised world…

Despite resolute green credentials and leanings, Gomer is colour-blind to the problems his antiquated automobile causes, even after numerous attempts to soup up, cleanse, and modify and mollify the motorised atrocity he calls his car. The decrepit, dilapidated Fiat 509 is more in need of merciful execution than his many well-meant engineering interventions as seen here in a range of cold weather exploits proving the indomitable optimism of office editor Léon Prunelle who really should know by now the cost of accepting lifts from his incorrigible subordinate… especially in light of Gomer’s pioneering seat belt invention and obsession with solving road pollution.

…And when not actually the cause of automotive disasters, Gomer’s car attracts the Ahab-like attentions of increasingly obsessed traffic cop Longsnoot

At the office, work avoidance is masked as “improving” perfectly functional equipment, speeding up these newfangled copiers, printers and the like, but his monorail messaging system – adjusted to average head height – proves to be the next best thing in concussion causation…

One evergreen strand of anarchic potential is a subgenre of strips involving “guest-shots” by other LJdS stars. Previously falling foul of the fool were creators such as Lambil (Bluecoats) and Roba (Billy & Buddy), and here the gofer’s disturbing tendency to don mascot costumes and paying heavily for it continues as Gomer garbs himself as (cartoonist Charles DeGotte’s) big yellow bird The Flagada and rapidly regrets it…

Just as much fun if not actually safer are the feral creatures Gomer’s big heart compels him to adopt. These include a sassily savage alley cat and nastily nefarious black-headed gull to accompany illicit studio companions Cheese the mouse and goldfish Bubelle.

Here the combined critter chaos factor repeatedly lands the oaf in hot water… and swamp mud and potholes and wild woodland paths and rooftops and… Gomer almost adds a skunk to the menagerie before animal instinct and nature convince him otherwise…

However, their hyperactive gluttonous presences are as nothing compared to the spiky depredations of a rapidly mutating cactus Gomer rescued from his Aunt Hortense’s home and which is increasingly dominating the Spirou offices. It doesn’t fit there either, but at least has plenty of fresh victims to puncture and terrify. When he also introduces Hortense’s creeper, it soon becomes a case for applying the un-soothing, discomforting tones of his manic musical WMD the Brontosaurophone…

Heavily featured are episodes of (imagined) sporting glory, dalliances with fishing and clay pigeon shooting plus an extended run of strips with Gomer and opposite number Jules-from-Smith’s-across-the-street seeking to smuggle a radio into work to follow the football. Old habits die hard however and there are still moments of culinary catastrophe and inventive debacle – like when he beefs up the office chainsaw or creates tomato soup gas…

The holidays and Year’s End festivities offer their own hazards, generating much mayhem but still prevent benighted business bod De Mesmaeker getting an even break whenever he brings contracts for poor Prunelle to sign.

Far better enjoyed than described, these strips let Franquin flex his sardonically whimsical creative muscles and subversively propound his views on environmentalism, pacifism and animal rights. These gags are sublime examples of all-ages comedy: wholesome, barbed, daft and incrementally funnier with each re-reading.

So… fancy a bit of Goofing off yet?
© Dupuis, Dargaud-Lombard s.a. 2009 by Franquin. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 Cinebook Ltd.

Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations


By Ken Reid, with Reg Parlett, Robert Nixon & various (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-660-5 (HB/Digital edition)

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid. He was one of a select and singular pantheon of rebellious, youthful artistic prodigies who – largely unsung – went about transforming British Comics, entertaining millions and inspiring hundreds of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes to hang about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963 with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with the resurgent comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work. On April 18th 1953, Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 whilst creating many more, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

In 1964, Reid and equally under-appreciated co-superstar Leo Baxendale jumped ship to work for DCT’s arch-rival Odhams Press. This gave Ken greater license to explore his ghoulish side: concentrating on comic horror yarns and grotesque situations in strips like Frankie Stein, and The Nervs for Wham! And Smash! as well as more visually wholesome but still strikingly surreal fare as Queen of the Seas and Dare-a-Day Davy.

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time, Reid continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid collection – is Creepy Creations. Gathered here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake: episodes spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974 as well as related works from contemporaneous Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) Sterling for their successful efforts. The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles beginning with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

The convoluted history of Ken’s feature (which came and went by way of 1960s cult icon Power Comics, Mad magazine, Topps Trading Cards and even stranger stops), originally intended to save him having to draw the same old characters every day, is detailed in an engrossing historical overview by Irmantas Povilaika dubbed ‘Plus a “Funny Monsters” Competition with These Fantastic Prizes’ before the true wonderment ensues.

Astounding popular from beginning to end, Creepy Creations offered a ghastly, giggle-infused grotesque every week: a string of macabre graphic snapshots (some, apparently, too horrific to be published at the time!) beloved by kids who adore being grossed out.

Seen here are ratified Reid-beasts like ‘The One-Eyed Wonk of Wigan,’, ‘The Chip Chomping Tater Terror of Tring’ and the ‘The Boggle-Eyed Butty-Biter of Sandwich’, his stunning kid collaborations on arcane animals like ‘The Gruesome Ghoul from Goole’ or ‘Nelly, the Kneecap-Nipping Telly from Newcastle’, and – due to the staggering demands of weekly deadlines – also offers cartoon contributions from UK comics star Reg Parlett & Robert Nixon.

Supplementing and completing the eldritch, emetic experience are a selection of Creepy Creations Extras, comprising images and frontispieces from Christmas Annuals, the entire ‘Creepy Creations Calendar for 1975’, 4-pages of ‘Mini Monsters’ and the entire zany zodiac of ‘Your HORRORscope’

Piling up even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collections.

Ken Reid died in 1987 from complications of a stroke he’d suffered on February 2nd. He was at his drawing board, putting the finishing touches to a Face Ache strip. On his passing, the strip was taken over by Frank Diarmid who drew until its cancellation in October 1988.

This astoundingly absorbing comedy classic is another perfect example of resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, anarchic and gleefully grotesque – and these cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all of British comics history: painfully funny, beautifully rendered and ridiculously unforgettable. This a treasure-trove of laughs to span generations which demands to be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, & 2018 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Batman: Black and White volume 1


By Ted McKeever, Bruce Timm, Klaus Janson, Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni, Katsuhiro Otomo, Joe Kubert, Howard Chaykin, Walter Simonson, José Muñoz, Jan Strnad & Richard Corben, Kent Williams, Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino, Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley, Andrew Helfer & Liberatore, Bill Sienkiewicz, Matt Wagner, Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, Brian Bolland, Kevin Nowlan, Brian Stelfreeze, Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross, Neal Adams & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1589-7 (TPB/Digital edition)

Batman is a creature of the night. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, escapologist and master of disguise. Batman fights criminals, mad men and bad women, aliens and monsters. Batman is all this and more. In a world of fabulous eerily distorted hues and constantly shifting blinding colour (mostly red) he sees in black and white… and now so will you…

As recapped in a sagacious Introduction, in the early 1990s Batman: Black and White was originally envisioned as an experimental limited series, with editors Marl Chiarello & Scott Peterson inviting the world’s greatest comics creators – whether new to the character or long-time veterans – to tell “their” story of the Gotham Gangbuster. They would be free of all continuity constraints but operating under the sole proviso that the result should be designed to work in stark monochrome.

Results were astounding, challenging and inevitably, multi-award winning. If you are any sort of Bat-fan or aficionado of the art form there will be something in this wonderful tome to blow your socks off. Just don’t read it in front of your Nan – she spent hours knitting them.

Here is a spectacular showing from some of our world’s greatest talents, producing short complete tales without benefit or hindrance of colour. Moreover, the experiment was such a success that despite some company resistance to its very concept, the miniseries won much acclaim and many awards. Its success led to a regular black-&-white “out-continuity” slot in monthly anthology comic Gotham Knights. Those stories were collected in two subsequent B:BAW volumes. The experiment even evolved a subgenre of monochrome books starring many four-colour superstars from different companies: most of them exploiting the cultural label of “Noir”…

The groundbreaking enigmatic variations open with Ted McKeever’s ‘Perpetual Mourning’ wherein a quiet visit to the morgue opens a small dark window into the hero’s mind after which a panoply of assorted treats unfold, ranging from Archie Goodwin & Gary Gianni’s period piece ‘Heroes’ to poignant Good Evening, Midnight’ written & illustrated by Klaus Janson with the hero scrutinised by the one who knows him best.

Steeped in the animated show’s trappings, Bruce Timm’s tragic ‘Two of a Kind’ interrogates Harvey Dent and Two Face’s life whereas just plain wild and weird declamatory epics The Third Mask’ (by Katsuhiro Otomo) and Joe Kubert’s deeply symbolic ‘The Hunt’ are highly personal takes from major league creators showing why The Batman continues to grip public consciousness in almost any permutation or milieu.

As much thematic metaphor as artistic exercise, stories were not restricted to current DC continuity, but encouraged exploration of the character via impressionistic, personal forays such as ‘Petty Crimes’ by Howard Chaykin, with Archie Goodwin returning to script eerily memorable Jazz thriller ‘The Devil’s Trumpet’ for the astounding stylist José Muñoz.

Walter Simonson crafts future science myth ‘Legend’ whilst Jan Strnad & Richard Corben collaborate on bleak urban fable ‘Monster Maker’, even as Kent Williams revisits the night the Waynes died in ‘Dead Boys Eyes’, whilst Chuck Dixon & Jorge Zaffino’s ‘The Devil’s Children’ examines GCPD’s unique attitude to the Gotham Guardian…

Neil Gaiman & Simon Bisley’s ‘A Black and White World’ is arguably the weakest entry in the book, relying on “Fourth Wall cleverness” rather than actual plot, whereas Andrew Helfer & Liberatore’s insightful kidnap tale ‘In Dreams’ delivers a powerful punch, as does Matt Wagner’s fabulously stylish action romp ‘Heist’, before ‘Bent Twig’ delivers intense whimsy and deep, challenging philosophical questioning from Bill Sienkiewicz – and all shrouded under an ostensibly seasonal theme.

The same setting plays ‘A Slaying Song Tonight’ by Dennis O’Neil & Teddy Kristiansen, whilst Brian Bolland produces the beautifully disturbing ‘An Innocent Guy’. Strnad encores by scripting ‘Monsters in the Closet’ for forensically brilliant Kevin Nowlan, as does O’Neil for Brian Stelfreeze in chilling y introspective ‘Leavetaking’.

Chiarello’s Introduction explains how the project began and acknowledges its conceptual debt to Archie Goodwin’s tenure as writer/editor of Eerie and Warren Publication’s other groundbreaking monochrome magazines, but the collection is also superbly supplemented with background and developmental material, pin-ups and sketch pages from the likes of Michael Allred, Moebius, Michael Kaluta, Tony Salmons, P. Craig Russell, Marc Silvestri, Alex Ross and Neal Adams.

These are uncompromising visions of The Dark Knight that reshaped the medium, returning noir style and themes by offering mayhem in moody monochrome. They are Batman at his most primal and should be on every fan’s radar…
© 2000 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Neroy Sphinx: Playing to Lose


By Daniel Whiston, Dave Thomson & various (Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1-916968-30-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

If you grew up British in the last 50 years reading home-produced action/adventure comics, you were primarily consuming either war or science fiction tales – preferably both. 2000AD launched in February 1977 and rapidly reshaped the minds of generations of readers. It has done so ever since, affecting and inspiring hundreds of creators.

Very much in the mould of that anarchic, subversive and wickedly cynical weekly came a small press fanzine phenomenon which spawned its own home-grown stars. This titanic tome happily revisits one of the most appallingly appealing and inexplicably endearing of those players: a devious, irredeemably self-serving chancer (like so many traditional British comics rogues ranging from Charlie Peace and Grimly Feendish to The Spider) who finds the fate of humanity unhappily and inappropriately piled on his shifty, unwilling and mostly uncaring shoulders…

Neroy Sphinx first began intermittently appearing in Indie comics icon FutureQuake – specifically and sporadically between #4-20 from 2005 to 2012. In his previous compilation (Neroy Sphinx: Back in the Game and still readily available through back issue venues and internet retailers large and small) the criminal trickster was dragooned into becoming the saviour of Humanity and unlikely nemesis of encroaching dark cosmic gods: a fate even he could not weasel out of.

Sphinx is a born rogue failed politician and inveterate manipulator, whom readers of a certain age might liken to Minder’s Arthur Daley in space. However, the imaginatively inventive rapscallion is graced with a steely inner core allowing him to scheme ruthlessly and casually expend strangers, bystanders, friends and acquaintances like confetti. Many cosmic buses have had Sphinx’s associates cheerily thrown under them, but at least now he’s doing his nefarious thing for a good cause….

Written throughout by Daniel Whiston, and illustrated by Dave Thomson, the culmination of his quixotic escapades are gathered in this bombastic monochrome tome, set long after the collapse of EarthFed and reopening of an Arterial Wormhole that once connected Human space systems to a wider intergalactic civilisation. Sadly it also allowed access to predatory alien gods from Space Hell…

Recruited by ultra-psionic former ally Clarence Griffin as the lynchpin of a decades-long survival plan, Sphinx (his memories selectively edited) resumes his unwanted burden after ‘Down Among the Damned Men’, where Griffin sacrifices another innocent to the great vision he’s seen. As monstrous horrors ravage creation and creep closer to total domination, Griffin and artificial lifeform/hired muscle Fenris track down the AWOL schemer for ‘The Train Job’ and the “recovery” of a certain cosmic artefact Neroy stashed away years previously. He says all he needs now is their help in securing the billions in bullion on board to buy a spaceship…

A clash with surviving members of old enemies the Dubblz clan heaps even higher the pile of collateral casualties when the would-be saviours go ‘Junkyard Shopping’ but at least finally get them off-world, but as their eventual destination is recently invaded Cassiopia System and the much-diminished Dubblz are still on their tails, the ‘Misguided Pursuits’ they indulge in only succeeds in obtaining the artefact by lumbering them with another useless hanger-on. Ensign Eudora Carver is the sole survivor of a human ship caught by the invaders, and has a potent connection to the arcane star sceptre they were hunting…

Now ‘Keep it Clean’ finds her and her extremely disturbing rescuers landing on the “ancient sublime citadel of the Gr’tk” and attacked by a legion of greedy alien hangers-on occupying a celestial shanty town and keen to keep these new rivals away from the cast-off gifts of the primal beings…

As the voyagers explore the cosmic citadel and unpick the sordid truths of eons of cosmic history and legend, their mission to repel invasion and damnation goes from bad to worse in succeeding chapters ‘Cat and Mouse and Cheddar Too’ and ‘The Fiddle Game’. Here they try ‘Pushing the Limits’ of inter-species relations while seeking a way to end Hell-being encroachment, but progress stalls after they raid a vault in ‘Good Thing, Small Package’.

Another friend is sacrificed in ‘Temptation Game’ before their last chance to ‘Bring it All Down’ delivers victory of a kind and a new start in epilogue ‘Ice Baby’

With an Introduction by comics writer/novelist Michael Carroll, and a handy potted chronology of human development and our rogue’s rap sheet courtesy of ‘The Story So Far…’ (spanning 2344 when Griffin dragooned the con man into public service up until 2360 when the saga at last commences to conclude) this much-anticipated sequel is another ambitious, gloriously engaging and exceedingly well-executed space-opera romp with a broad scope and a deft touch to delight lovers of edgily light-hearted fantastic fiction.
™ & © 2024 Daniel Whiston, Dave Thomson & Markosia Enterprises, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Marble Cake


By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – great, good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art form and industry – I share with you.

Some publishers have a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, NBM, Oni Press, Fantagraphics and others) – even though there’s seldom any real money in it. My favourite of these bold pioneers at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I truly have not yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them.

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and quickly forged a solid reputation with self-published comics and stories like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with 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. Knowing what we all have in common allows for an extremely deft use of dialogue to build character and construct scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to this particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebia” to a suitably underplayed terror-scape mirroring the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake was a debut novel-length tale, relating 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, no one does…

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

This compelling, tale challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wryly acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns as well as surreal storytelling, and who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

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


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

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

The diminutive, doughty darling was created at the close of the 1950s by two of our artform’s greatest masters, with his first official appearance being October 29th in Pilote #1, even though he had actually debuted in a pre-release teaser – or “pilot” – some weeks earlier. Bon Anniversaire mon petit brave!

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

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

Goscinny also met Georges Troisfontaines, head of World Press Agency, the company that provided comics for the French magazine Le Journal de Spirou. After contributing scripts to Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul and Jerry Spring, Goscinny was promoted to head of World Press’ Paris office. Here he met his ultimate creative collaborator Albert Uderzo. In his spare time, René also created Sylvie and Alain et Christine with Martial Durand (“Martial”) and Fanfan et Polo, drawn by Dino Attanasio. In 1955, Goscinny, Uderzo, Charlier & Jean Hébrad formed independent syndicate Édifrance/Édipresse, creating magazines for business and general industry like Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for a chocolate factory. With Uderzo, René spawned Bill Blanchart, Pistolet and Benjamin et Benjamine, whilst illustrated his own scripts for Le Capitaine Bibobu.

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

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

When Georges Dargaud bought Pilote in 1960, Goscinny became Editor-in-Chief, still making time to add new series Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout (with Martial), La Potachologie Illustré (Cabu), Les Dingodossiers (Gotlib) and La Forêt de Chênebeau (Mic Delinx). He also wrote frequently for television, but never stopped creating strips like Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah for Record – illustrated by Swedish artist Jean Tabary. A minor success, it was re-tooled as Iznogoud when it transferred to Pilote. Goscinny died far too young, in November 1977.

Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927, in Fismes on the Marne, a child of Italian immigrants. As a boy reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, he showed artistic flair from an early age. Alberto became a French citizen at age seven and dreamed of being an aircraft mechanic, but at 13 became an apprentice of the Paris Publishing Society, learning design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII came, he spent time with farming relatives in Brittany, joining his father’s furniture-making business. Brittany beguiled Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being decided upon, the region was the only choice…

In France’s post-war rebuilding, Uderzo returned to Paris to become a successful illustrator in the country’s burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior and, in 1945, he was introduced to industry giant Edmond- Françoise Calvo (The Beast is Dead). Young Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated novels, worked in animation, as a journalist, as illustrator for France Dimanche and created vertical comic strip ‘Le Crime ne Paie pas’ for France-Soir. In 1950, he drew a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were devised for La Libre Junior and they produced a comedy Western starring a very Red (but not so American) Indian who evolved into Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replacing Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine before, in 1957 adding Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio. The following year, he made his Tintin debut, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a home and rapturous audience. Uderzo also illuminated Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

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

Although Asterix was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working with Charlier on Michel Tanguy, (subsequently Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure), but soon after the first historical serial was collected in a single volume as Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it was clear the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas (after the writer’s death, the publication rate of Asterix tales dropped from two per year to one volume every 3-to-5).

By 1967, Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention. In 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation, and when Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist. Happily, he gave in and produced a further ten volumes before retiring in 2009. According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and 3rd most-translated French language comics author – right behind his old mate René and the grand master Hergé.

So what’s it all about?

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

Originally serialised in Pilote #1-38 (29th October 1959 – 4th July 1960, with the first page appearing a week earlier in a promotional issue #0 distributed from June 1st 1959), the story is set in the year 50 BC (not BCE!) on the outermost tip of Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast. Here a small village of redoubtable warriors and their families frustrate every effort of the immense but not so irresistible Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul.

Unable to defeat these Horatian hold-outs, the Empire resorts to a policy of containment, leaving the little seaside hamlet hemmed in by heavily fortified permanent garrisons – Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium. The Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine by just going about their everyday affairs, protected by a magic potion provided by the resident druid and the shrewd wits of a rather diminutive dynamo and his simplistic best friend…

In Asterix the Gaul, this immaculate comedy-drama scenario is hilariously demonstrated when Centurion Crismus Bonus – fed up with his soldiers being casually beaten up by the fiercely free pre-Frenchmen – sends reluctant spy Caligula Minus to ferret out the secret of their incredible strength. The affable insurgents take the infiltrator in and, soon dosed up with potion, the perfidious Roman escapes with the answer – if not the formula itself…

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

Although comparatively raw and unpolished, the good-natured, adventurous humour and sheer energy of the yarn barrels along, delivering barrages of puns, oodles of insane situations and loads of low-trauma slapstick action, all marvellously rendered in Uderzo’s seductively stylish bigfoot art-style. From the second saga on, the unique and expanding cast would encroach on events, especially the unique and expanded, show-stealing sidekick Obelix – who had fallen into a vat of potion as a baby – and became a genial, permanently superhuman, eternally hungry foil to our little wise guy…

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

Since Obelix has a cousin there – Metallurgix the Smith – he volunteers for the trip too and the punning pair are swiftly away, barely stopping to teach assorted bandits the errors of their pilfering ways, but still finding a little time to visit many roadside inns and taverns serving traditional roast boar. There is concurrently a crisis in Lutetia: a mysterious gang is stealing all the Golden Sickles and forcing prices up. The Druid community is deeply distressed and, more worrying still, master sickle-maker Metallurgix has gone missing too.

When Asterix and Obelix investigate the dastardly doings in their own bombastic manner they discover a nefarious plot that seems to go all the way to the office of the local Roman Prefect…

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

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

Although non-Druids aren’t allowed into the forest, Asterix & Obelix had accompanied Getafix to its edge, and as the Conference competition round ends in victory for him and his power-potion, the Goths strike, abducting him in his moment of triumph. Alerted by fellow Druid Prefix, our heroic duo track the kidnappers, but are mistaken for Visigoths by Roman patrols, allowing the Goths to cross the border into Germania. Although Romans are no threat, they can be a time-wasting hindrance, so Asterix & Obelix disguise themselves as Romans to invade the Barbarian lands…

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

Astérix is one of the most popular comics in the world, translated into 111 languages, with a host of animated and live-action movies, games and even his own theme park (Parc Astérix, near Paris). Approaching 400 million copies of 40 Asterix books and a handful of spin-off volumes have been sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors. This is sublime comics storytelling and you’d be as Crazy as the Romans not to increase those statistics by finally getting around to acquiring your own copies of this fabulous, frolicsome French Folly.
© 1961-1963 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents The War That Time Forgot


By Robert Kanigher, Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, Russ Heath, Gene Colan, Joe Kubert & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1253-7 (TPB)

Unbelievably, STILL not a Major Motion Picture, The War That Time Forgot debuted in Star Spangled War Stories #90 and ran wild there until #137 (May 1968). It skipped only three issues: #91, 93 & 126, the last of which starred the United States Marine Corps simian Sergeant Gorilla. Look it up: I’m neither kidding nor being metaphorical…

At present this stunningly bizarre black-&-white compendium is the only comprehensive collection: gathering together most but not all of the monstrously madcap material from SSWS #90, 92, 94-125 and 127-128, cumulatively spanning April/May 1960 to August 1966. Simply too good a concept to leave alone, this seamless, shameless blend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Caprona stories (known alternatively as the Caspak Trilogy or The Land That Time Forgot) provided everything baby-boomer boys – and surely many girls too, if truth be told – could dream of with giant lizards, humongous insects, fantastic adventures and two-fisted heroes employing lots of guns and gear and explodey stuff…

Robert Kanigher (1915-2002) was one of the most distinctive authorial voices in American comics, blending rugged realism with fantastic fantasy in his signature War comics, Horror stories, Romance, superhero titles such as Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Hawkman, Metal Men, Iron Man, Lois Lane, Steel Sterling, Batman and other genres and stars too numerous to cover here. He scripted ‘Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt’ – the first story of the Silver Age which introduced Barry Allen as The Flash to the superhero-hungry kids of the World in 1956.

Kanigher sold his first stories and poetry in 1932, wrote for the theatre, film and radio, and joined the Fox Features shop where he created The Bouncer, Steel Sterling and The Web, whilst providing scripts for Blue Beetle and the original (Shazam!-fuelled) Captain Marvel. In 1945 he settled at All-American Comics as both writer and editor, staying on when the company amalgamated with National Comics to become the forerunner of today’s DC. He scripted Golden Age iterations of Flash and Hawkman, created Black Canary, Dr. Pat and Lady Cop, plus memorable female foes Harlequin and Rose and Thorn. This last he reconstructed during the relevancy era of the early 1970s into a schizophrenic crime-busting superhero.

When mystery-men faded out at the end of the 1940s, Kanigher moved into westerns and war stories, and in 1952 became writer/editor of the company’s combat titles All-American War Stories, Star Spangled War Stories and Our Amy at War. He launched Our Fighting Forces in 1954 and added G.I. Combat to his burgeoning portfolio when Quality Comics sold their line of titles to DC in 1956, all the while working on Wonder Woman, cowboy Johnny Thunder, Rex the Wonder Dog, Silent Knight, Sea Devils, The Viking Prince and a host of others.

Among his many epochal war series were Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace, The Haunted Tank and The Losers as well as the visually addictive, irresistibly astonishing “Dogfaces vs Dinosaurs” dramas depicted here. Kanigher was a restlessly creative writer and I suspect he used this uncanny but formulaic adventure arena as a personal try-out venue for his many series concepts. The Flying Boots, G.I. Robot, Suicide Squad and many other teams and characters initially appeared in this lush Pacific hellhole with wall-to-wall danger. Indisputably, the big beasts were the stars, but occasionally ordinary G.I. Joes made enough of an impression to secure return engagements, too…

The wonderment commenced in Star Spangled War Stories #90 as paratroopers and tanks of the “Question Mark Patrol” are dropped on Mystery Island – from whence no American soldiers have ever returned. The crack warriors discover why when the operation is assaulted by pterosaurs, tyrannosaurs and worse on the ‘Island of Armoured Giants!’ Each yarn is superbly rendered by veteran art team Ross Andru & Mike Esposito.

Larry and Charlie, sole survivors of that first foray, returned to the lost world in #92’s ‘Last Battle of the Dinosaur Age!’ when aquatic beasts attack their rescue submarine forcing them back to the lethal landmass. ‘The Frogman and the Dinosaur!’ takes up most of SSWS #94 as a squad of second-rate Underwater Demolitions Team divers are trapped on the island, encountering the usual bevy of blockbuster brutes and a colossal crab as well.

What starts out as paratroopers versus pterodactyls in #95 turns into a deadly turf-war in ‘Guinea Pig Patrol!’ before ‘Mission X!’ introduces the Task Force X/Suicide Squad in a terse infiltration story with the increasing eager US military striving to set up a base on the strategically crucial monster island. The Navy took the lead in #97’s ‘The Sub-Crusher!’ with equally dire results as a giant gorilla joins the regular roster of horrors, after which a frustrated palaeontologist is blown off course and into his wildest nightmare in ‘The Island of Thunder’. The rest of his airborne platoon aren’t nearly as excited at the discovery…

The Flying Franks were a trapeze family before the war, but as “The Flying Boots” Henny, Tommy & Steve won fame as paratroopers. For #99’s ‘The Circus of Monsters!’ they face the greatest challenge of their lives after washing up on Mystery Island and narrowly escaping death by dinosaur. They aren’t too happy on being sent back next issue to track down a Japanese secret weapon in ‘The Volcano of Monsters!’

In #101 ‘The Robot and the Dinosaur!’ ramp up the fantasy quotient as reluctant Ranger Mac is dispatched to the primordial preserve to field-test the Army’s latest weapon: a fully automatic, artificial G.I. Joe, who promptly saves the day and returned to fight a ‘Punchboard War!’ in the next issue: tackling immense killer fish, assorted saurians and a giant Japanese war-robot that dwarfs the dinosaurs. The mecha-epic carried over and concluded in #103’s ‘Doom at Dinosaur Island!’, after which the Flying Boots encored in Star Spangled #104’s ‘The Tree of Terror!’ when a far-ranging pterodactyl drags the brothers back to the isle of no return for another explosive engagement. ‘The War on Dinosaur Island!’ sees the circus boys leading a small-scale invasion, but even tanks and the latest ordnance prove little use against pernicious, eternally hungry reptiles, after which ‘The Nightmare War!’ sees a dino-phobic museum janitor trapped in his worst nightmare. At least he has his best buddies and a goodly supply of bullets and bombs with him…

The action shifts to the oceans surrounding the island for sub-sea shocker ‘Battle of the Dinosaur Aquarium!’ with plesiosaurs, titanic turtles, colossal crabs and crocodilians on the menu, before hitting the beaches in #108 for ‘Dinosaur D-Day!’ when the monsters take up residence in the Navy’s landing craft. ‘The Last Soldiers’ then pits determined tank-men against a string of scaly perils on land, sea and air, after which a new Suicide Squad debuts in #110 to investigate a ‘Tunnel of Terror’ into the lost land of giant monsters. This time, though, there’s a giant gorilla on their side…

That huge hairy beast is the star of ‘Return of the Dinosaur Killer!’ as the harried unit leader and a wily boffin (visually based on Kanigher’s office associate Julie Schwartz) struggle to survive on the tropically reptilian atoll, whilst ‘Dinosaur Sub-Catcher!’ shifts locale to ice floes as a pack of lost sea dinosaurs attack a polar submarine and US weather station.

Star Spangled War Stories #113 returned to the blue Pacific for ‘Dinosaur Bait!’ and a pilot tasked with hunting down the cause for so many lost subs after which ‘Doom Came at Noon!’ revisits snowy climes as dinosaurs inexplicably rampage through alpine territory, making temporary allies of old enemies dispatched to destroy hidden Nazi submarine pens.

Issue #115’s ‘Battle Dinner for Dinosaurs!’ sees a helicopter pilot marooned on Mystery Island drawn into a spectacular aerial dogfight, before a duo of dedicated soldiers faced ice-bound beasts in ‘The Suicide Squad!’ The big difference being that here Morgan and Mace are more determined to kill each other than accomplish their mission…

‘Medal for a Dinosaur!’ bowed to the inevitable and introduced a (relatively) friendly baby pterodactyl to balance out Mace & Morgan’s barely-suppressed animosity, and ‘The Plane-Eater!’ finds the army odd couple adrift in the Pacific and in deep danger until our leather-winged little guy turns up once more…

The Suicide Squad were getting equal billing by the time of #119’s ‘Gun Duel on Dinosaur Hill!’, as yet another group of men-without-hope battle saurian horrors and each other to the death, after which the apparently un-killable Morgan & Mace pop back with Dino, the flying baby dinosaur. They also make a new ally and companion in handy hominid Caveboy, before the whole unlikely ensemble struggle to survive increasingly outlandish creatures in ‘The Tank Eater!’ Star Spangled War Stories #121 then presented another diving drama as a UDT frogman gains a Suicide Squad berth, proving to be a formidable fighter and ultimately ‘The Killer of Dinosaur Alley!’ Increasingly, G.I. hardware and ordnance began to gain the upper hand over bulk, fang and claw and much-missed representational maestro Russ Heath added an edge of hyper-realism to #122’s ‘The Divers of Death’ wherein two Frogman siblings battle incredible underwater insects but still can’t win the respect of their landlubber older brothers, and Gene Colan illustrated aquatic adventure ‘The Dinosaur who Ate Torpedoes!’, before Andru & Esposito reenlisted to depict ‘Terror in a Bottle!’. This was the second short saurian saga to grace issue #123 and another outing for that giant ape who loved to pummel pterosaurs and larrup lizards.

Undisputed master of gritty fantasy art Joe Kubert added his pencil-and-brush magic to tense and manic thriller ‘My Buddy the Dinosaur!’ in #124, and stuck around to illumine the return of G.I. Robot in stunning battle bonanza ‘Titbit For a Tyrannosaurus!’ (#125), after which Andru & Esposito limned Suicide Squad sea saga ‘The Monster Who Sank a Navy!’ in #127. The last tale here (#128) sees Colan resurface to illuminate a masterfully moving human drama actually improved by the inclusion of ravening reptiles in ‘The Million Dollar Medal!’.

Throughout this eclectic collection of dark dilemmas, light-hearted romps and spectacular battle blockbusters the emphasis is always on human fallibility; with soldiers unable to put aside long-held grudges, swallow pride or forgive trespasses even amidst the strangest and most terrifying moments of their lives, and this edgy humanity informs and elevates even the daftest of these wonderfully imaginative adventure yarns.

Classy, intense, insanely addictive and Just Plain Big Fun, The War that Time Forgot is a deliciously guilty pleasure and I for one hope the remaining stories from Star Spangled War Stories, Weird War Tales, G. I. Combat and especially the magnificent Tim Truman Guns of the Dragon miniseries all end up in sequel compilations before many more eons pass.

Now Read This book and you will too…
© 1960-1966, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.