The Mirror Classic Cartoon Collection


By Peter O’Donnell, Jim Edgar, Barrie Tomlinson, Steve Dowling, John Allard, Frank Bellamy, Martin Asbury, Reg Smythe, Jim Holdaway, Jack Greenall, Jack Clayton, John Gillatt & various, compiled by Mike Higgs (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-1-89944-175-4

The Daily Mirror has been home to a number of great strips over its long history – beginning with one of the Empire’s greatest successes Tiger Tim, (who debuted there in 1904) and culminating with the likes of the war-winning morale-boosting naive nymph Jane, not to mention The Perishers, Garth, Andy Capp and many others.

Two of the above cited feature in this beautiful compilation from Mike Higgs’ Hawk Books which did so much over the years to keep British cartoon history alive. This particular triumph gathers sample selections from the newspaper’s back catalogue in a spiffy, luxuriously oversized (280 x 180 mm) hardback that is stuffed with fun, thrills and quality nostalgia.

The illustrious Garth is the first star, featured in an adventure from 1957 by series originator and longest serving creator Steve Dowling (1943-1969) – and then succeeded by his assistant John Allard, then Frank Bellamy and finally Martin Asbury.

Garth is a hulking physical specimen, a virtual human superman with the involuntary ability to travel through time and experience past and future lives. This simple concept lent the strip an unfailing potential for exotic storylines and fantastic exploits.

‘The Captive’ – written by Peter O’Donnell and illustrated by Dowling and Allard – is a contemporary tale with our hero abducted from Earth as a prize in a galactic scavenger hunt instigated by bored hedonistic aliens who don’t realise quite what they’ve gotten themselves involved with…

A second adventure, ‘The Man-hunt’, is the last that Frank Bellamy worked on. The astounding Bellamy died in 1976 whilst drawing this story of beautiful alien predators in search of prime genetic stock with which to reinvigorate their tired bloodlines. Written by Jim Edgar, the strip was completed by Asbury who took over with the 17th instalment. This tongue-in-cheek thriller is full of thrills and fantastic action, yet never loses its light humorous touch.

Andy Capp is a drunken, skiving, misogynistic, work-shy, wife-beating scoundrel who has somehow become one of the most popular and well-loved strip characters of all time. Created by jobbing cartoonist Reg Smythe to appeal to northern readers during a circulation drive, he first saw the light of day – with long-suffering, perpetually abused-but-forgiving wife Florrie in tow – on August 5th 1957.

This volume reprints 37 strips from the feature’s 41-year run, which only ended with Smythe’s death in 1998, but the sheer magic of this lovable rogue is as inexplicably intoxicating as it always was, defeating political correctness and common decency alike: A true Guilty Pleasure.

Romeo Brown began in 1954, drawn by Dutch artist Alfred “Maz” Mazure, and starred a private detective with an eye for the ladies and a nose for trouble. The feature was a light, comedic adventure series that added some glamour to the dour mid-1950s, but really kicked into high gear when Maz left in 1957 to be replaced by Peter O’Donnell and the brilliant Jim Holdaway, who would go on to create the fabulous Modesty Blaise together. Romeo shut up shop in 1962 and is represented here by a pair of romps from the penultimate year. ‘The Arabian Knight’ and ‘The Admiral’s Grand-daughter’ combine sly, knowing humour, bungling criminality and dazzlingly visuals in a manner any Carry-On fan would die for.

Useless Eustace was a gag-panel (a single-picture joke) that ran from January 1935 to 1985. Created by Jack Greenall, its star was a bald nondescript everyman who met the travails of life with unflinching enthusiasm but very little sense. Greenall produced the strip until 1974, and other artists continued it until 1985. The selections here are from the war years and the 1960s. Another comedy panel was Calamity Gulch, a particularly British view of the ubiquitous “Western” which invaded our sensibilities with the rise of television ownership in the 1950s. Created by Jack Clayton, it began its spoofing and sharp-shooting on 6th June 1960, and you can see 21 of the best right here, Pardner.

A staple of children’s comics that never really prospered in newspapers was the sports adventure. At least not until 1989 when those grown up tykes opened the Daily Mirror to find a football strip entitled Scorer, written by Barrie Tomlinson and drawn by Barry Mitchell, and eventually John Gillatt. Very much an updated, R-rated Roy of the Rovers, the strip stars Dave ‘Scorer’ Storry and his team Tolcaster F.C. in fast, hot, sexy tales of the Beautiful Game that owed as much to the sports pages it began on as to the grand cartoon tradition.

‘Cup Cracker’, included here is by Tomlinson & Gillatt from 1994, and shows that WAGS (Wives And GirlfriendS, non-sports fans) were never a new phenomenon.

Not many people know this – or indeed, care – but before I review an old book (which I arbitrarily define as something more than three years old) I try to locate copies on the internet. It’s a blessing then to still see this wonderful and utterly British tome is readily available in France, Germany – most of Europe in fact and even in Britain. Surely that’s a testament to the book’s quality and desirability, and if that’s the case maybe The Mirror Group or some print philanthropist should expedite a new edition – or even a few sequels…
© 1998 Mirror Group Newspapers, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale


By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8152-2 (King)                 978-1- 4052-8153-9 (Whale)

I had originally prepared these reviews as part of a forthcoming week of TV-related books and graphic novels but, following the news of the death of the wonderful Peter Firmin on July 1st, I found myself feeling painfully bereft and quite woeful.

So, just because I want to and as a public acknowledgement of the gifts of a brilliant creator who shaped my entire life (as well as so many millions of others), there is a change to today’s scheduled viewing…

Peter Arthur Firmin was born in Harwich on 11 December 1928. After training at Colchester School of Art and National Service in the Royal Navy he went to the Central School of Art and Design in London from 1949 to 1952. A creative man of many talents and disciplines, he then worked as a stained-glass designer, jobbing illustrator and lecturer.

Whilst teaching at Central in 1957 he was targeted by up-and-coming children’s TV writer Oliver Postgate who believed (quite rightly) that clever individuals could produce high-quality kids viewing at reasonable cost.

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became a full-partner in new venture Smallfilms, which would be based in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets.

During those early days Firmin seemed tireless. In addition to the Smallfilms job he also devised, designed and populated other kids shows such as The Musical Box and Smalltime. In 1962 with Ivan Owen he created a fox puppet for The Three Scampies. The puppet soon had his own show and career as Basil Brush

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Seeing Things – An Autobiography as well as working as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 Firmin was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate and Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips and spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. Between 1965 and 1973 Postgate and Firmin crafted a series of books in an early-reader format featuring the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Recently re-issued in superb hardcover editions perfect for tiny hands, the first two are Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin.

On the death of his father, quiet, unassuming Noggin becomes king of the northland Viking tribe known as the Nogs. He rules with understanding and wisdom – generally thanks to his advisors: bluff Thor Nogson, talking green cormorant Graculus and his wife Nooka who hails from the far north (we’d call her an Inuit princess these days).

Despite many fantastic adventures, Noggin prefers a quiet home life with his people and his boisterous son Knut

Noggin the King opens with bucolic pastoral scenes of the Nogs and the good-hearted sovereign helping his people however he can. However, whilst happily repairing the roof of an old farmer, the ruler dislodges a bird’s nest. Bringing the nest and its occupants back to his castle, he cares for the fledglings and mother and wonders if he is also the King of birds in the Land of Nogs. If he is then they are his subjects too and thus he is responsible for their safety and welfare.

Riven with doubt, the King then sets out on a short quest with Nooka beside him to confirm his suspicions and is rewarded by the feathered kingdom with a great but grave new honour…

Noggin and the Whale offers a far more light-hearted aspect of kingship as the mild monarch celebrates his birthday in the usual manner: doling out gifts to all the children of his realm. This year they all get musical instruments, but when they hold an impromptu concert on a boat in the little walled harbour, the merriment is interrupted by a most insistent whale.

Every time the kids get going the cetacean surges up under the boat and eventually even placid Noggin loss his temper and orders the sea-beast to swim away.

Instead it glides over to the open harbour gate and sulkily blocks the way just as the fishing boats are trying to moor up for the night. Nothing the townsfolk can do will shift the surly creature.

Suddenly Prince Knut has an idea. He realises why the whale has been acting so strangely and, after consulting with his father, commissions Royal Inventor Olaf the Lofty to create a unique present for the morose marine mammal…

Charming, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin affected generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets and books like these. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965.

Oh, Wicked Wanda!


By Frederic Mullally & Ron Embleton (Penthouse)
No ISBN

Not all comics are for kids nor ever were they. The men’s magazine trade has often featured graphic narratives, usually sexually explicit in nature, often highly satirical, invariably of a much higher quality than their mainstream contemporaries, and always much better regarded and financially rewarded.

Where Playboy had Little Annie Fanny (created by Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder: it ran intermittently from 1962 until 1988, and revived in 1998, illustrated by Ray Lago & Bill Schorr), publishing rival Bob Guccione wanted the same but better for his own publication Penthouse.

Used to getting his way, he hired journalist, editor (of left-wing magazine Tribune), columnist, novelist and political writer Frederic Mullally to script the ongoing exotic, erotic adventures of Wanda Von Kreesus, the richest woman in the world. The sultry star would be accompanied by Candyfloss, her insatiable jailbait paramour and an outrageous coterie of faithful employees including an all-girl army, a mad scientist and a brutal looking thug with the soul of a poet.

To illustrate he secured the talents of oil painter and comic strip veteran Ron Embleton (who had astounded comic readers with his lush and vibrant strip Wulf the Briton in Express Weekly and his numerous stunning illustrations in weekly fact-based periodical Look and Learn).

Oh, Wicked Wanda! was originally a prose serial illustrated by Bryan Forbes, beginning in 1969 before becoming, in 1973, the unbelievably lavish and torrid strip reprinted here, continuing until 1980 when it was replaced by Sweet Chastity, also painted by Embleton, and scripted by proprietor Guccione himself.

The bored and mischievous hellion on parade here is a sexually adventurous woman from a time when sexual politics and liberation were huge issues (not like now, of course), and therefore prime targets for low comedy and high satire.

Mullally peppered his scripts with topical references (many of which, sadly, would escape today’s casual reader, I’m sure) and the phenomenal Embleton would depict them with hyper-realistic accuracy.

Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Ted Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, Spiro Agnew, Mao Tse-tung, showbiz icons such as John Wayne or Bob Hope, and even comic strip greats like Pogo, Mutt and Jeff or Krazy Kat, all meandered through the glossy pages, a cross between a Greek Chorus and pictorial ad-libs.

Many celebrities were actively parodied participants. Henry Kissandrun, mafia Don Marlon Blondo/Burpo, Jane Fondle and demented California Governor Ronald Reekin’ all found themselves victims of the wilful minx and her team. Also, classical and contemporary erotic allusions abound ranging from a little “nymphette” lounging about reading William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch to visual and verbal references to Shelley’s Leda and the Swan.

This slim album reprints the earliest adventures as Wanda collects the rich and the famous for a Museum of Deviancy, takes on the Mafia, the CIA and the Cubans and does her bit to solve the Oil Crisis.

Later adventures saw her romp through the ages in a time machine but to my knowledge these tales have never been reprinted – although they really, really should be.

Perhaps a little dated, definitely for easy-going adults only, Oh, Wicked Wanda! is nonetheless still a funny read and inarguably one of the most beautiful British strips ever made. It is a tragedy that such work is unavailable to aficionados of comic art.
© 1973, 1974, 1975 Penthouse International Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection volume one


By Robert Deas, Jaimie Smart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, Mike Smith & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-056-0

It’s summer and the kids will soon be on holiday and perpetually underfoot. Bored, whiny and in desperate need of entertainment and relief, their parents will try anything to win a moment’s peace…

I’m sure you’ve already exhausted every modern option so why not try something old school and get ‘em a book. But not just any book…

Reminiscent of and in the tradition of those bumper comics summer specials that enthralled and defused generations of children afflicted with too much downtime, The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection volume one contains a cartoon cornucopia of fun and thrills to bemuse the most demanding over- or under-achiever – and even those we’ll necessarily codify as Achievement-Adjacent…

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of fun and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

Now that similarity to days of yore progresses a step further with a summer (presumably Annual?) edition. Jam-packed within these glossy, full-colour pages are more exploits culled from the periodical pages, starring a pantheon of firm favourites.

Acting as a spine for the entire show and divided into four lengthy serialised chapters, scattered through the book, junior star warrior Troy Trailblazer leads off.

As crafted by Robert Deas (November, Manga Shakespeare: Macbeth, Medikidz) Troy the boy is an impetuous stellar sentinel who debuted in The Phoenix #10: offering riotous sci fi adventure combining light-hearted sidereal shenanigans with just a touch of dark and dreadful doom…

With his crew – advanced tactical droid Blip, animalistic alien associate Barrus and super-cool ultra-capable former bounty hunter Jess Jetrider – he roams the spaceways in a fabulous ship dubbed The Pathfinder.

Here Troy’s intense and absorbing gaming session is agonisingly spoiled at a crucial moment by a long-dormant cosmic super-intellect called the God Brain. After ages imprisoned by the oppressive Galactic Military organisation, the reawakened cyber deity’s first move is to take over the vast Cosmic Archives with his terrifying shapeshifting BioTeks… unless the constantly-squabbling Trailblazers can stop him…

Fast-paced, fun and not afraid to be really scary when it counts, this stunning interstellar thriller – excitingly told in a broadly manga manner – pauses for a faux ad and games break brought to you by Jess Bradley and the makers of yummy Squid Bits before a section dedicated to an ongoing vendetta between woodland warriors commences.

Concocted with feverishly glee by Jamie Smart (Fish Head Steve! and other stuff), Bunny vs. Monkey has been a Phoenix fixture from the first issue: recounting a madcap war of nerves and ideologies between animal arch-enemies set amidst an idyllic arcadia which masquerades as a more-or-less mundane English Wood.

The tail-biting tension and (so far) localised war of wits and wonder-weapons began when an obnoxious simian intruder popped up after a disastrous space shot went awry. Having crash-landed in Crinkle Woods – a scant few miles from his blast-off site – Monkey believes himself the rightful owner of a strange new world, despite the continual efforts of reasonable, sensible, genteel, contemplative Bunny to convince him otherwise.

For all his patience, propriety and poise, the laid-back lepine just cannot contain the incorrigible idiot ape, who is a rude, noise-loving, chaos-creating troublemaker. Things escalated once the simian interloper teamed up with a mad scientist skunk who is the master of many malign sciences and technologies…

In this tranche of turbulent tiny terrors Monkey manifests mayhem and almost causes a ‘Wrestlepocalypse’ in Skunky’s robotic Chomp-O-Tron before turning his own stomach when attempting to weaponize some very nasty stuff he finds on the ground in ‘Gross!’

With snow on the ground Monkey then finds a way to spoil the Great Sled-Off in ‘Tobog-Gone!’ and set back mammal-robot relations by picking on newcomer ‘Metal Steve 2!’, before a seemingly new menace terrorises the woodland folk in the dark guise of ‘Destructo!’

When the weather clears up Monkey’s Double-Barrelled Supercharged Snow-Cannon-Tank is suddenly deprived of ammo until the devilish pest repurposes his toy to fire chutney. Sadly, even this resultant chaos is insufficient to his comprehending ‘The Message!’

A brief and sudden return of ‘Skunky!’ only leads to disappointment, but his crazed influence remains to monsterize the ‘Pretty Flowers!’ whilst the debut of bounty hunter ‘Alan!’ (Armoured Locating Armadillo Network) threatens to destabilise the ongoing conflict until the big bully gets on the wrong side of gentle, peace-loving Pig’s ice cream…

Too much of the good life slows down our friends so they convince Le Fox to help them ‘Get Fit!’ just in time to face Skunky’s robotic Vulturaptors in ‘Terror from the Skies’, but when night falls huge ‘Bobbles!’ from the sky spark fears of alien invasion…

The good guys then try to invade Skunky’s new HQ ‘The Temple!’ just in time for ‘The Audition!’ to join the mastermind’s new gang the League of Doom. Sadly, the only one to make the grade is meek Pig in his new guise of ‘Pigulus!’

As concocted by Chris Riddell & Mike Smith And Now for Something a Little Bit Random provides a portion of palate-cleansing carton whimsy, after which Joe List proffers a raft of daft detective adventures starring improbable sleuth Doug Slugman P.I.: an ambitious, go-getting gastropod mollusc with a million secret origins and a drippy determination to dig out the truth, no matter how surreal, nonsensical or hilarious…

After ten of these single-page icky exploits and crazy cases, the titanic Trailblazer saga resumes – and seemingly concludes – as Troy and team save the Cosmic Archive and the intergalactic cyber network in an epic battle.

However, all is not as it seems…

And Now for Something Else a Little Bit Random offers more abstract titbits before true wickedness is highlighted with the return of an old favourite…

Conceived and created by children’s book illustrator and author Laura Ellen Anderson (Kittens, Snow Babies, My Brother is a Superhero{with David Solomons}), Evil Emperor Penguin lurks in a colossal fortress beneath the Antarctic, where he strives tirelessly towards his stated goal of absolute global domination.

His only assistance – if you can call it that – comes in the form of an army of hench-minions: most notably stylish, erudite administrative lackey Number 8 and cute, diminutive, fuzzy, loyal, utterly inventive abominable snowman clone Eugene. Evil Emperor Penguin had originally whipped up a batch of 250, but none of the others are anything like Eugene…

EEP then appointed the fluffy, bizarrely inventive tyke his Top Minion but somehow never managed to instil within him the proper degree of ruthless evilness. The hairy halfwit is, however, a dab-hand with engineering, building stuff and cooking spaghetti hoops, so it’s not a total loss…

The polar pirate starts this latest campaign of terror by attempting to become ‘World Misleader’ with his fearsome Freeze Ray. First off though he must get himself invited to the notoriously select World Leaders Annual Disco…

‘Diet Another Day’ sees the wicked fiend creating a super-addictive Abominable Snowbar taste-treat. That world-domination scheme would have worked, too, if only he hadn’t tried just one bite…

‘The Good, The Bad & the Paulo’ parts one and two find the villain meeting his match when he is accidentally captured by animal keepers and dumped in Metropolis Zoo. Helpless before the mobbed-up gangster penguin who runs everything, EEP can only thank his lucky stars that Eugene and number 8 quite like being bossed about…

Safely home, the minions plan a ‘Happy Hatch Day Surprise’ for their great leader but keeping him from finding out about it almost ends in disaster…

Another dose of Jess Bradley’s diverting digressions courtesy of sub-par sponsor Squid Bits then logically segues into an adventure of Squid Squad! (by Dan Boultwood, Esq.). Dwelling “way down deep in the ocean” and sworn to “protecting Octopolis from evil commotion”, this trio of junior tentacled marine marvels have their undersea school trip ruined by the predations of insidious collector The Diver and are forced to physically join forces in the coolest way imaginable…

After another aggregate assemblage of ephemera in And Now for Something That’s Still Pretty Random the Trailblazer epic continues as our young hero basks in his well-deserved universal adoration. He even gets to star in his own TV show. Before long, however, Troy’s swelled head and the devious machinations of his unctuous new manager have alienated the entire team…

And that’s when the cunning God Brain strikes, replacing Troy with an evil avatar and wrecking his galactic reputation whilst advancing its own diabolical agenda…

One last heaping helping of Squid Bits precedes the arrival of the last star turn as Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!! adds a sleek sheen of feline frenzy to the mix.

Devised by Jamie Smart (yeah, the chap who did Bunny vs. Monkey, Corporate Skull and bunches of brilliant strips for Beano, Dandy and others) this is a brilliantly bonkers addition to the vast feline pantheon of truly horrifying hairballs infesting cartoondom.

This anarchic kitty is just like yours: cute, innocently malign and able to twist the bounds of credibility and laws of physics whenever the whim takes him…

Quite naturally, the epic begins with an origin of sorts as Mrs Alice Johnson brings home a kitten from the pet shop. Not one of the adorable little beauties at the front of the store, though, but the odd, creepy, lonely little fuzzy hidden at the back of the store…

The Johnsons are not your average family. Firstborn son Edwin watches too many horror films and keeps a book of spells in his room whilst Dad is a brilliant inventor who needs peace and quiet to complete his fart-powered jet-pack or potato-powered tractor. It’s not long before those days are gone for good…

The sweet little daughter isn’t all she seems either: when kitten Looshkin is subjected to an innocent tea party in the garden, her toys all secretly warn the cat of the horrors in store. All too soon teddy bear Bear is subjected to a hideous cake-arson assault.

Surprisingly, Looshkin takes it all in stride and even escalates the carnage and chaos whenever and however he can. It seems he has found his natural home… or is it all in his be-whiskered little head?

The selection continues with a visit from Great (rich) Auntie Frank with her precious ultra-anxious prize-winning poodle Princess Trixibelle. They are extravagantly feted with a bonanza of ‘Cheeeeeeeeeeeese! (Please)’, but once again the cat’s misapprehensions lead to anger, upset and a rather nasty stain…

A door-stepping political candidate falls foul of the cat’s anarchic soul and disguise skills in ‘Old Lady Looshkin (Wears Frilly Knick-knacks!)’ after which all semblance of reality fades in ‘Blarple Blop Blop Frrpp! (Bipple!)’ when the frenzied feline gets an attack of the friskies – and a frying pan – before starting to rush about…

‘Colour in with Looshkin’ details what happens if you let a cat help with home decoration whilst ‘Jeff’s Photocopying Services’ pits cat in almost-mortal combat against street advertisers and a mystic masquerade before ‘The Sparrow (A Funny Story About Things)’ recounts the cat’s response to the advent of new superhero the Bluetit defending with daring and dedication the local streets and avenues…

The moggy madcappery then concludes when an escaped penguin incites a bout of icy thermostat-abuse in ‘Cold for this Time of Year (I Can’t Feel my Legs!)’

Utterly loony and deliciously addictive, this diabolically daft glimpse at the insanity hardwired into certain cats (probably not yours, but still…) is another unruly and astoundingly ingenious romp from a modern master of rebellious whimsy, acting as a perfect counterpoint to the bombastic, all-guns blazing finale of Trailblazers as the team reunite to save public enemy number 1 Troy and crush the menace of the God Brain forever!

Or have they…?

Packed with fun, thrills and the type of bizarre, nonsensical wonderment kids love but can’t explain to anyone over 21, The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection volume one is a superb package of British-style children’s humour and adventure any parent should be proud to own. Deploy as required…
Text and illustrations © 2018Robert Deas, Jamie Smart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, Mike Smith as appropriate. All rights reserved.

Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Volume 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-869-5

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as both artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on shorts and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take a side, Kelly moved back East and began drawing comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics, who had the Disney funnybook license.

Despite his glorious work on such humanistic classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy (see Walt Kelly’s Santa Claus Adventures) and created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum for Animal Comics #1 (December 1942). He sagaciously retained the copyrights in the ongoing tale of two Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal pals stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly became art editor and cartoonist for the hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast began their careers in the funny pages, appearing six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run – reprinted in full at the back of this magnificent tome – the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to be seen…

This first of twelve volumes follows the ascent of the scintillating and vastly influential strip; don’t believe me, just listen to Gary Trudeau, Berke Breathed, Bill Watterson, Jeff McNally, Bill Holbrook, Mark O’Hare, Alan Moore, Jeff Smith and even Goscinny & Uderzo and our own Maurice Dodd & Dennis Collins, whose wonderful strip The Perishers owes more than a little to the sublime antics of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry…

After the Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate and launched on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family…).

At its peak the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections which began in 1951 numbered nearly 50, collectively selling 30 million copies.

This volume includes all the Star strips, the Dailies from inception to December 30th 1950, and the Sundays – in a full colour section – from January 29th – December 31st 1950, plus a wealth of supplementary features including a Foreword from columnist Jimmy Breslin, an introduction by biographer Steve Thompson, a week-by-week highly detailed contents section, a useful guide ‘About the Sundays’ by Mark Evanier, and an invaluable context and historical notes feature ‘Swanp Talk’ by the amazing R.C. Harvey.

Kelly’s genius was the ability to beautifully, vivaciously draw comedic, tragic, pompous, sympathetic characters of any shape or breed and make them inescapably human and he used that 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 depicted here are 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 hodge-podge of all-ages accessible delight.

In later volumes Kelly would set his bestial cast loose on such timid, defenceless victims as Senator Joe McCarthy, J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, but he starts off small here, introducing the gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (not) know-it-all Howland Owl and a host of others in gags and extended epics ranging from assorted fishing trips, building an Adam Bomb, losing and finding other people’s children, electioneering, education, kidnapping, the evil influence of comicbooks, Baseball season, why folks shouldn’t eat each other, Western cow punchers, cows punching back, New Years Resolutions, public holidays and so much more…

The Sundays also began with one-off gags but soon evolved into convoluted and mesmeric continued sagas such as the search for the Fountain of Youth, building a school and keeping it filled, Albert being elected Queen of the Woodland by the elf-like forest fauns – and why that was ultimately a very bad thing indeed…

Timeless and magical, Pogo is a giant of world literature, not simply comics, and this magnificent edition should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf.

POGO Through the Wild Blue Wonder and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2011 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2011 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Dull Margaret


By Jim Broadbent & DIX (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-098-0

Sequential graphic narrative is arguably the most effective and all-encompassing art form we possess, able to depict the most colossal spectacles and conflicts involving entire populations or the most obscure, internalised, micro-expressive emotional minutiae of a single character (human or otherwise) with equal bombast or subtlety.

It’s also a medium capable of the both broadest brushstrokes and forensic incisiveness, whether the creative intention is big belly laughs, moral outrage or heartbreaking empathy. The only thing that comes close to its infinite variety is acting.

Jim Broadbent is an actor. He’s won Oscars and BAFTAs and Emmys and more, and you’ve seen or heard him in stuff as varied as Brazil and Black Adder, Iris and Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, King Lear and Teletubbies. He has a keen understanding of human foibles, motivations and how life shapes actions.

He once had an idea for a film after being inspired by Pieter Bruegel The Elder’s painting Dulle Griet but couldn’t find the necessary finance. Another avenue presented itself when he began reading DIX’s mordant cartoon strip Roll Up! Roll Up! in The Guardian newspaper…

DIX began his artistic career at British comics publisher Fleetway before moving into grown up political and satirical cartooning with the co-creation of legendary magazine Purr. Since then he graduated to the big time with Roll Up! Roll Up! and recently released the graphic novel KLAXON with collaborator Si Spencer.

When actor met illustrator a kindred sentiment was confirmed and they began turning that Bruegel-triggered idea into a moody masterwork of isolation, privation and misery endured. Set long, long ago in the bleak marshes and salt flats of Broadbent’s Norfolk childhood, the result is Dull Margaret: a pocket-baroque in the grand grotesque tradition and a cautionary tale of Faustian consequences.

In the flat, drear wastes where mud flats meet the sea, a worn-down woman of indeterminate vintage lives alone, combing the mires for interesting articles and catching eels to sell in the local town market. She is bluff, determined, utterly alone and almost certainly a bit mad…

Lost in her own head too much, she ekes out a drear existence in a bleak and unrelentingly austere locale. Even her too-infrequent interactions with her customers only lead to humiliation, disappointment and even robbery/assault…

Eventually, it’s all too much and Margaret fulfils the promise of her fetid appearance by trying her hand at a bit of witchcraft. As always, it’s a cack-handed affair and the muddy crone isn’t sure if she’s accomplished anything…

Two favours she asked of the unheeding unknown: untold riches and a friend to love, but she’s prepared to settle for either or lose both…

And then something happens when a barge is stranded on the mud flats…

Hope, aspiration, greed and loneliness are all viewed through a world-weary lens as a series of events unfold with confounding inexorability, but always the grey mire of her days is pulling Margaret back and down…

Enticing and loathly, this sorry soggy fable abounds with rich mordant humour and powerfully seductive sentiment, all compellingly realised by DIX’s muted palette and amorphous, soft-edged designs. Dull Margaret is a dark delight of character and circumstance to beguile readers who have had their fill of shallow flash and dazzle.
Dull Margaret is © 2018 Jim Broadbent & Dix. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Dull Margaret is published on 17th July 2018 and available for pre-order. Copies are available now from selected retailers.

For those in London, Jim Broadbent and DIX will be attending events (and presumably signing copies and prints) at Gosh Comics on Wednesday 27th June and Waterstones Piccadilly on Thursday 28th June.

Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings


By Craig Yoe and many and various (Last Gasp)
ISBN: 978-0-86719-653-5

Despite the somewhat prurient and sensationalistic – not to say salacious – title, this compilation of cartoons and illustrations – culled from the private files and bins of a number of our industry’s greatest stars (and also many from the drawing boards of those infamous scallywags of the animation industry) – is a rather charming insight into the capabilities, accomplishments and professional ethics of a talented crowd of individualists.

To European eyes there is very little amiss here, but one needs to remember just how prudish and censorious (I personally prefer the terms “daft” and “ridiculous”) the American “family values” lobby is and always has been.

Two brilliantly telling examples would be the covering of Flossie the Cow’s udders; first by a skirt (1932) and eventually (1939) by a full dress. She also had to stop walking on all-fours because it was unladylike.

Or perhaps you’d like to consider Mort Walker’s navel collection. Apparently, a syndicate editor had a problem with belly buttons and always returned Beetle Bailey strips that featured one. Walker would scalpel them off the artwork and collect them in a pot on his desk.

Collected and compiled by fan, historian, Renaissance man and cool bloke Craig Yoe (among his many accomplishments he counts being Creative Director of the Muppets – bet you want to Google him now, don’t you?) and with an introduction by a proper “Dirty” cartoonist Robert Crumb, this is a frothy book of rather chaste naked lady pictures (and often not even that) in colour and monochrome, crafted by some of the best artists and cartoonists in modern history – although you might want to check the oddly incongruous contributions of Gustave Doré and Thomas Rowlandson before giving a copy to your 8-year old.

So if you’re unflappable, incorruptible or just not from a red state, you might want to sneak a peek at this stellar cast of incorrigibles which includes Jack Kirby, James Montgomery Flagg, George Herriman, Joe Shuster, Steve Ditko, Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond or Chuck Jones.

Just as potentially corrupting are delightful and delicious contributions by Dr, Seuss, Carl Barks, Bob Kane, Rube Goldberg, Bruce Timm, Alex Toth, Fred Moore, Dan DeCarlo, Dave Berg, Ernie Bushmiller, Sergio Aragonés, Jack Davis, Billy De Beck, Hal Foster, Harry G. Peter, Paul Murray, Neal Adams, Al Jaffee, Wally Wood, Nick Cardy, Hank Ketcham, Johnny Hart, Walt Kelly , Adam Hughes, Alex Schomburg, Al Williamson, Henry Boltinoff, Stan Drake, Dik Browne, Matt Baker, Otto Soglow, Al Capp, John Severin, Jim Steranko, Jack Cole, Bill Everett, Grim Natwick, Will Eisner and many others.

Art is all about establishing a relationship with the beautiful, shocking or thought-provoking. Why not turn your attention to these lesser-known efforts from some of the most familiar names in our business and see what occurs to you?
© 2007 Gussani-Yoe Studio, Inc. All illustrations are © 2007 their respective artist and/or © holders.

Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-803-1 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-615-0 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi began Tintin’s fourth serialised adventure – in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme from December 1932 to February 1934 and gathered in a collected volume by Casterman in 1934 – he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer.

Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of slapstick and seemingly directionless action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, Remi (known the world over as Hergé) was evolving by leaps and bounds, mastering the ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative.

Cigars of the Pharaoh is stylistically much more of a fully-realised and craftily-designed thriller, with a solid plot underpinning all the episodic hi-jinks.

Following directly on from Tintin in America, here the valiant boy reporter is returning from Chicago on an oceangoing liner headed to Egypt. Here he and Snowy meet Sophocles Sarcophagus – the first in a string of absent-minded professors which would ultimately culminate in the outlandishly irascible yet lovable Cuthbert Calculus.

Dithering archaeologist Sarcophagus has divined an ancient mystery that is somehow connected to a ring of ruthless drug smugglers. Tintin memorably encounters bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson at this juncture, when narcotics are planted in his cabin, and a complex drama riotously unfolds as the lad and Sarcophagus discover a lost pyramid is not only the smuggler’s base but the foundation for a much darker game – the overthrow of nations!

Hergé introduced many other recurring and supporting characters in this tale. As well as the shambling policemen, there is the villainous seaman Captain Allan, globe-girdling small-trader Oliveira da Figueira and oily movie mogul Roberto Rastapopoulos, who would all figure strongly in later stories.

The author was gearing up for the long creative haul, and thus began inserting plot-seeds that would only flower in future projects…

When Tintin’s relentless investigations take him to India, where the villains are attempting to topple a Maharajah trying to destroy the Opium poppy industry, the plucky lad befriends the potentate and thwarts the plan of a crazed Fakir. This villain frequently employs a drug called Rajaijah, which permanently drives men mad, and is also somehow connected to the Egyptian gang.

The contemporary version of this tale was revised by Hergé in 1955, and sharp-eyed fans will spot a few apparent anachronisms, but the more open-minded will be able to unashamedly wallow in a timeless comedy-thriller of exotic intrigue and breakneck action.

Although the mystery of the Cigars of the Pharaoh ends satisfactorily with a climactic duel in the rugged and picturesque hill-country, the threat and relevance of Rajaijah would not be resolved until Hergé’s next tale, and his first masterpiece…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series of hardback collections is a very satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Cigars of the Pharaoh: artwork © 1955, 1983 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1971 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes


By Bill Watterson (Time Warner/Sphere/Andrew McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-75151-274-8 (PB)                     : 978-0-8362-1809-4 (HB)

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

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

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

A best-selling strip and critical hit for ten years (running from November 18, 1985 to December 31, 1995), Calvin and Hobbes came and went like a comet and we’re all the poorer for its passing. It redefined depictions of the “Eyes of Wonder” which children all possess, and made us adults laugh, and so often cry too.

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

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

Reprints of the strip are also available online through the Andrews McMeel Uclick platform.

 

Unlike most of his fellows, Watterson shunned the spotlight and the merchandising Babylon that follows a comic strip mega-hit and dedicated all his spirit and energies into producing one of the greatest treatments on childhood and the twin and inevitably converging worlds of fantasy and reality anywhere in fiction.

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

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

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

This sumptuous volume is a compendium of the first two collections, Calvin and Hobbes and Something Under the Bed Is Drooling, displaying the beguiling magic of the strip in tales that will make you laugh and isn’t afraid to make you cry. Truly this is a masterpiece and landmark of American cartooning.
© 1988 Universal Press Syndicate. All Rights Reserved.

Tintin in America


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-802-4 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-614-3 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi, known the world over as Hergé, began the boy-hero’s third adventure Tintin in America (which ran from 1931-1932), he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer. Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of broad comedy and seemingly directionless, action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, his ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative was still developing.

Georges Prosper Remi created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many 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 the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 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.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a dedicated boy-scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the Boy Scouts of Belgium monthly magazine.

By 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécles children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

Following directly on from Tintin in the Congo the valiant juvenile journalist heads for Chicago to sort out the gangster Al Capone, whose diamond smuggling enterprise he had inadvertently scotched whilst in Africa. However, Capone and his hoods are ready and waiting…

Thwarting the plots and schemes of the legendary gangster make for thrilling, uproarious reading, full of chases, fights and hairsbreadth escapes, but events take a darker turn – and broad detour – once Capone’s biggest rival Bobby Smiles enters the picture.

Head of the Gangsters Syndicate of Chicago, Smiles first tries to buy Tintin off and, when he is furiously rebuffed, tries repeatedly to have the nosy, crime-busting reporter killed.

Setting a trap with the police, Tintin smashes the GSC and chases Smiles out west to Redskin City, only to fall foul of a tribe of Indians the mobster has hoodwinked into attacking the indomitable lad.

Hergé had a life-long fascination with the American West, and it featured in many of his works (such as Tim the Squirrel and Popol Out West). It’s also clear that he watched a lot of movies, as many signature Western set-pieces are adapted to strip format as Tintin and Snowy hunt Smiles – a thrilling pursuit involving railroad chases, dynamite sabotage, a prairie wildfire and even tying our heroes to the tracks before the boy and his dog finally capture the desperate thug.

Returning to Chicago, Tintin is once more the target of the remaining criminal gangs, but they prove no match for his resourceful ingenuity, and the brave Belgian leaves America a better, cleaner place…

With this somewhat long and rambling series of exploits – still not quite a cohesive narrative – Hergé begins to pepper the instalments with sly, dry social commentary, beginning the process of sophisticating the stories. He also adds satire to the breakneck slapstick – an acknowledgement that adults, too, were devout fans and followers of the strip.

The comedy of such moments as the rush of speculators when oil is found on the Indian Reservation, or the inept way in which cowboys try to lynch Tintin and Snowy (is that PC these days? – Can’t decide, but it is still awfully funny), is graphically interesting, but surely aimed at a more worldly and cynical consumer.

Like your kids, or you…

Tintin in America: artwork © 1945, 1973, 2016 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1978, Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.