Archie Comics Presents… The Complete Cosmo, the Merry Martian


By Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics, with Tom DeFalco, Dan Parent, Fernando Ruiz, Ian Flynn, Jeff Schultz, Tracy Yardley & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68255-895-9(TPB)

MLJ were a publisher who promptly jumped on the “mystery-man” bandwagon following the debut of Superman. They began their own small but inspirational pantheon of gaudily clad crusaders in November 1939, starting with Blue Ribbon Comics, and followed up by Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the standard blend of costumed heroes, two-fisted adventure strips, prose pieces and gag panels.

After a few years, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in their blossoming market. From December 1941 the masked champions and rugged he-men were gradually but insistently nudged aside by a far less imposing paragon: an “average teen” enjoying ordinary adventures like the readers, but with the laughs, good times, romance and slapstick emphasised.

Pep Comics #22 introduced a gap-toothed, freckle-faced red-headed goof showing off to the pretty blonde next door. Taking his lead from the popular Andy Hardy matinee movies starring Mickey Rooney, Goldwater developed the concept of a young everyman protagonist, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

The feature was an instant hit and by the winter of 1942 had won its own title. Archie Comics #1 was the company’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began the gradual transformation of the entire company. The slapstick teen travails of Archie Andrews, girl-next-door Betty Cooper, Archie’s unconventional best friend/confidante Jughead Jones and filthy rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge in scenic small-town utopia Riverdale were the components of the comic book industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman and superheroes being the first).

By 1946, the kids had taken over, so the company renamed itself Archie Comics, retiring its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age and becoming, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family comedies.

Its success, like the Man of Steel’s, changed the content of every other publisher’s titles, and led to a multi-media industry including TV, movies and a chain of restaurants. In the swinging sixties pop hit Sugar, Sugar (a tune from their first animated television show) became a global smash. Wholesome garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since. Adapting seamlessly to every trend and fad of youth culture since before there even was such a thing, the host of writers and artists who’ve crafted the stories over the decades have made the “everyteen” characters of utopian Riverdale a benchmark for childhood development and a visual barometer of growing up.

Throughout that meteoric rise, however, the company never left all its eggs in one basket. Its superhero line periodically resurfaces and reboots and their forays into all-ages supernatural thrillers and straightforward adult-themed horror comics are always worth reading. Archie Comics also periodically sought to repeat the success of its original humour breakthrough with titles such as Katy Keene, Wilbur, Super Duck, Pat the Brat, That Wilkin Boy and many others. Each attempt took inspiration from the tone of the times…

In 1958, the world was abuzz with science, science fiction and the accelerating space race, and the time seemed right for an amusing series about a bold but affable explorer from the Red Planet. The result was Cosmo the Merry Martian by Sy Reit, Bob White & Terry Szenics.

Seymour Victory Reit (1918-2001) was an accomplished humourist, children’s author, historian, cartoonist and animator. His many clients and employers included Mad Magazine and his greatest claim to fame now is co-creating – with Joe Oriolo – Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Comics veteran Robert “Bob” White (1928-2005) was an Archie mainstay until the mid-1960s when he was apparently summarily fired for daring to moonlight (on Tower Comics’ Tippy Teen). He had a keen eye for sight gags, a deft line in monster-design and a slick accessible style as seen in this years-ahead-of-its-time gently satirical comedy sci fi series… Often, that term is mere hyperbole, but it’s true here, as Cosmo the Merry Martian was revived in 2014, and has been with us ever since…

Running between September 1958 and October 1959, the series began with ‘Destination Earth!’ as all Mars watches spacer Cosmo and his extremely reluctant co-pilot Orbi blast off on the first flight to another planet. Ship designer Professor Thimk is anxious, and Cosmo’s girlfriend Astra is still trying to finagle her way onto the ship with the astronauts…

Eventually however the ship blasts off, exploiting the close proximity of the worlds to cut travel time. They are only 2000 miles from their destination when a meteor punctures the fuel tanks and forces them to crash land on Luna…

‘Moon Merriment’ then manifests as the explorers are rescued by bizarre, fractious, pun-obsessed but scientifically advanced moon people called Oogs. After much fuss and kerfuffle they ferry Cosmo and Orbi to their intended destination just in time to take in and disastrously disrupt a baseball game. As confusion reigns, the ‘Planet Playmates!’ hastily return to Luna…

When the Martians decide to explore the Dark Side of the Moon in #2 (November 1958), they are drawn into ‘The Great Gillywump Hunt!’: encountering a dread beast with an undeserved reputation and very bad cold. Seeking to placate centuries of misunderstanding in ‘Sneezy Does It!’ our heroes again cadge a lift ‘Down to Earth!’ to secure a cure for that pestilential cold, but the attempt again triggers chaos on the third rock from the Sun…

Meanwhile on Mars, Thimk and Astra board a spare rocket to save Cosmo and Orbi…

The issue then finds time and space for a brace of quick complete tales: one featuring egghead alien jimmy jupiter and his hand-made robot girlfriend whilst the second sees cuboid ET Squarehead pick up a rather unique method of travel…

Cosmo the Merry Martian #3 didn’t launch until April 1959 and found the moon-marooned astronauts ‘Venus Bound!’ after Thimk’s rescue rocket arrives on Luna and delivers orders to explore the second planet. Setting out, the ship carries the quartet of Red Planeteers, a contingent of Oogs, Orbi’s dog Jojo and a subtle stowaway… the bellicose Gillywump…

Arrival on the mysterious misty planet denotes ‘Trouble for Orbi!’ in the form of a sleeping giant, until his comrades rush ‘To the Rescue!’ Eventually, cooperation and communication with the residents offset a ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’ and the adventure ends with the voyagers rushing to meet the boss…

The interplanetary antics then conclude with mathlete jimmy jupiter finding the upside of a hit-&-run in ‘Lovely Day!’

June 1959 saw the release of issue #4 and an audience with ‘The Queen of Venus’. The gorgeous monarch sets Astra’s hackles rising and causes ‘Trouble for Cosmo!’ by declaring her intention to marry him…

His fellow explorers soon devise a way to ‘Rescue in Peace!’ culminating in another example of ‘A Slap-Happy Ending!’, but the frantic flight from Venus damages their ship and the appalled escapees find themselves shooting straight for deep space with no way to turn, stop or even decelerate…

The tense cliffhanger is slightly offset by another jimmy jupiter/Squarehead double bill featuring calculus chuckles and cubic cartoon whimsy…

‘Stand by for Saturn!’ opens #5 (August 1959), with the out-of-control Mars ship hurtling towards the planet’s rings. Happily, the collision is not fatal and the voyagers make relatively harmless planetfall before meeting the friendly vegetable inhabitants. All too soon though, the explorers fall foul of ‘The Magic Gumdrops!’ Cosmo’s reluctant co-pilot undergoes shocking transformations in ‘Pardon My Size!’, culminating in ‘A Ride for Orbi!’ to those rings and then astoundingly ‘On to Mars!’, leaving his companions to hitch a lift home with the Saturnians, whilst Squarehead closes the issue with ‘The Mirror the Merrier!’

The series was abruptly curtailed with the October 1959 release, as ‘Make Mine Mars!’ saw the Red Planet hosting a convocation of visitors from Luna and Saturn only to be imperilled by a potential world-conquering villain as ‘Meet Dr. Beatnik!’ introduces a Martian mad scientist intent on conquering Earth.

His horrified compatriots are determined to thwart his plans, resulting in ‘The Great Space Chase!’ and an outer space confrontation in ‘Fire Away!’ before a multi-world coalition finally accomplishes ‘The End of Dr. Beatnik!’ and opts to land on Earth for a friendly visit…

Fun and thrilling, packed with easily-relatable facts and astronomical data, the saga was a splendid example of family-friendly entertainment, but had failed to find sufficient readership over a year of continuous frolicsome adventure. Although it ended there, the series was fondly remembered and was revived in the space-friendly 21st century.

In Archie #655 (June 2014) Tom DeFalco, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski reintroduced a more take-charge iteration of the jolly voyager in short story ‘The Good Guys of the Galaxy!’ Here, Archie and Jughead teamed up with past characters such as Captain Sprocket, Cat-Girl, Captain Pumpernik and Super Duck in a multiversal action romp to save creation from the reality-warping threat of the Miracle Mitten…

The Martian then popped up in ‘From Mars with Love’ (Jughead & Archie Double Digest #15, October 2015, by Ruiz & Bob Smith) with a disastrous gift suggestion for Veronica’s birthday and again as a computer game in ‘Cosmo Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #275 February 2017, by Dan Parent & Jim Amash).

The game version reappeared in ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ (Archie Comics Double Digest #285 February 2018 by Parent, Jeff Schultz & Amash), before the Martian finally reclaimed his own comic book series in January 2018. Cosmo #1 was crafted by Sonic the Hedgehog team Ian Flynn, Tracy Yardley & Matt Helms who reinvented the Red Rover as a space cop and leader of a team of cosmic heroes in ‘Space Aces!’

If you’re only interested in the vintage tales, you might want to pick up the cheaper Pep Digital #42 which gathers the Reit & White ‘50’s series and also includes a snippet from 2011’s Archie & Friends: Night at the Comic Shop by Alfonso Ruiz, Bill Galvan & Amash.

In the chapter ‘Comic Cosmosis’ the original Cosmo, Orbi and Jojo explosively arrive in Riverdale’s PEP Comics store at the vanguard of a wave of comics characters from alternate realms – and MLJ/Archie’s back catalogue. It’s a great teaser for the introduction of Archie’s own multiverse…

Packed with charm, elucidation and restrained action, the exploits of Cosmo offer a happy view of the Martian way that will delight fun-lovers and wonder-addicts everywhere.
© 1958-2018 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus volume 1


By Joss Whedon, Christopher Golden, Daniel Brereton, Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Paul Lee, Eric Powell, Joe Bennett, Cliff Richards, & various (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59307-784-6 (TPB)

I’m thoroughly enjoying a complete rescreening of Buffy at the moment and thus took a look at this premier compilation of her earliest comics outings. They’re still great too. You should track them down. They’re all available as eBooks these days…

Blood-drenched supernatural doomed love is a venerable, if not always creditable, sub-genre these days, so let’s take a look at one of the relatively ancient antecedents responsible for this state of affairs in the shape of Dark Horse Comics’ translation of cult TV show franchise Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Collected here in a big bad Omnibus edition is material from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #3 (December 2000), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the Origin (January-March 1999) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59 (November 2002 to July 2003); nearly three hundred pages of full-colour, tongue-in-cheek mystical martial arts mayhem and merriment.

As explained in comicbook Editor Scott Allie’s Introduction, although the printed sagas and spin-offs were created in a meandering manner up and down the timeline, this series of Omnibus books re-presents them in strict chronological continuity order, beginning with a perilous period piece entitled ‘All’s Fair’ – by Christopher Golden with art from Eric Powell, Drew Geraci & Keith Barnett – originally seen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru #the 3 (from December 2000).

Although Buffy was a hot and hip teen cheerleader-turned-monster-killer, as the TV series developed it became clear that the bad-guys were increasingly the true fan-favourites. Cool vampire villain and über-predator Spike eventually became a love-interest and even a suitably tarnished white knight, but at the time of this collection he was still a jaded, blood-hungry, immortal, immoral psychopath… every girl’s dream date.

His eternal paramour was Drusilla: a demented precognitive vampire who killed him and made him an immortal bloodsucker. She thrived on a stream of fresh decadent thrills and revelled in baroque and outré bloodletting.

There has been an unbroken mystical progression of young women tasked with killing the undead through the centuries, and here we see the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of 1900, where Spike and Dru are making the most of the carnage after killing that era’s Slayer. The story then shifts to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 where the undying mad lovers are still on the murderous prowl. However, the scientific wonders of the modern world displayed in various exhibits are all eclipsed by one scientist who has tapped into the realm of Elder Gods as a cheap source of energy. To further complicate matters, Spike and Dru are being stalked by a clan of Chinese warriors trained from birth to destroy the predatory pair and avenge that Slayer killed back in Beijing…

Gods, Demons, Mad Scientists, Kung Fu killers, Tongs and terror all combine in a gory romp that will delight TV devotees and ordinary horrorists alike…

Next up is a smart reworking of the cult B-movie which launched the global mega-hit TV.

Starring Kristy Swanson, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry and Rutger Hauer, the film was released in 1992 with a modicum of success and to the lasting dissatisfaction of writer/creator Joss Whedon. Five years later he got the chance to do it right and in the manner he’d originally intended. The ensemble action-horror-comedy series became a genuine phenomenon, inspiring a new generation of Goth gore-lovers as well as many, many “homages” in assorted media – including comics.

Dark Horse won the licensing rights in the USA, subsequently producing an enthralling regular comicbook series goosed up with a welter of impressive miniseries and specials. In 1999 the company – knowing how powerfully the inclusivity/continuity/completism gene dominates comics fan psychology – finally revisited that troublesome cinematic debut with miniseries Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Origin running from January to March.

Scrupulously returning to the author’s script and core-concept, restoring excised material, shifting the tone back towards what Whedon originally intended whilst reconfiguring events until they better jibed with the established and beloved TV mythology, adaptors Christopher Golden & Daniel Brereton (with artists Joe Bennett, Rick Ketcham, Randy Emberlin & J. Jadsen) produced a fresh 3-issue miniseries which canonically established just exactly what the formerly vapid Valley Girl did in her old hometown that got her transferred to scenic Sunnydale and a life on the Hellmouth…

It all kicks off in ‘Destiny Free’ as shallow yet popular teen queen/cheerleader Buffy Summers shrugs off recurring nightmares of young women battling and being killed by vampires throughout history to continue her perfect life of smug contentment. Even a chance meeting with grungy stoner bad-boys Pike and Benny can’t dent her aura of self-assured privilege and studied indolence…

The nightmares keep mounting in intensity, however, and all over town teenagers keep disappearing…

Things come to a head the week her parents leave town for a trip. In a dark park, a maniac attacks Pike and Benny and is only driven off by the intervention of a mysterious, formidable old man. Even so, the assailant manages to take the screaming Benny with him…

Next day the same old geezer is at school, annoying Buffy. She is blithely mocking until he tells her about her nightmares and explains that she has an inescapable destiny… as a slayer of monsters…

Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of the Earth a monster is marshalling his forces and making terrifying converts out of the spoiled, worthless – but tasty – children of California…

Buffy’s strange stalker is exceedingly persistent and that night, despite her disbelieving misgivings, she and Merrick – an agent of an ancient, monster-hunting secret society – lurk in a graveyard waiting for a recently murdered man to rise from his fresh grave…

When he does – along with unsuspected others – Buffy’s unsuspected powers and battle reflexes kick in and, against all odds, she spectacularly overcomes…

‘Defenseless Mechanisms’ finds the aggressively altered Buffy grudgingly dropping her fatuous after-school activities and friends to train with the increasingly strident and impatient Watcher Merrick. Even though her attitude is appalling and her attention easily diverted, the girl is serious about the job, and even has a few new ideas to add to The Slayer’s traditional arsenal…

Even as she starts her career by pretending to be a helpless lost girl to draw out vile vamps, across town Pike is in big trouble. He also knows what is happening: after all, every night Benny comes to his window, begging to be let in and offering to share his new life with his best bud…

At school, the change in Buffy is noticeable and all her old BFFs are pointedly snubbing her, even as every sundown Lothos’ legion gets bolder and bigger. A fatal mistake occurs on the night when Slayer and Watcher save the finally-outmanoeuvred Pike from Benny and the Vampire Lord. Only two of the embattled humans survive and escape…

The tale escalates to a shocking climax when an undead army invades the long-awaited Hemery High School dance, looking for Buffy and fresh meat/recruits. With his bloodsuckers surrounding the petrified revellers and demanding a final reckoning, Lothos believes his victory assured, but in all his centuries of unlife he’s never encountered a Slayer quite like Buffy Summers…

As Allie’s Introduction already revealed, there are major hassles involved in producing a licensed comicbook whilst the primary property is still unfolding. Thus, as the print series was winding up the editors opted for in-filling some glaring gaps in the Slayer’s early career. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #51-59, spanning November 2002 through July 2003, addresses the period between the film’s end and her first days in Sunnydale, leading off with ‘Viva Las Buffy’ (Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Cliff Richards & Will Conrad) detailing what the Slayer did next: abandoning her disintegrating family as they prepared to leave LA and the reputation their daughter has garnered.

Buffy hooks up with sole survivor and wannabe monster-hunter Pike and they eventually fetch up in Nevada to investigate the apparently vampire-run Golden Touch Casino. The young warriors have no idea that a dark solitary stranger with a heavenly name is stalking them or that somewhere in England a Council of arrogant scholar-magicians are preparing a rather controversial candidate to join her as the new Watcher…

Sadly, Rupert Giles has a rival for the post who is prepared to do literally anything to secure the position…

Pike and the Slayer infiltrate the gambling palace as menial workers, whilst moodily formidable solo avenger Angelus goes straight to the top: hiring on as an enforcer for the management. When both independently operating factions are exposed, the Vamp with a Soul is tossed into a time-trap and despatched back to the 1930s as Buffy and Pike battle an army of horrors before confronting the ghastly family of monstrosities running the show across two eras.

The living and undead heroes endure heartbreak and sacrifice before this evil empire is ended forever…

Paul Lee then reveals the bizarre story of ‘Dawn & Hoopy the Bear’ wherein Buffy’s little sister accidentally intercepts a Faustian gift intended for the absent Slayer and finds herself befriended by a demonic Djinn who seems sweet but is pre-programmed for murder…

Through the narrative vehicle of Dawn reading her big sister’s diary, the last piece of the puzzle is revealed in ‘Slayer, Interrupted’ (Lobdell, Nicieza, Richards, Conrad, Lee & Horton) as Buffy’s own written words disclose her apparent delusional state. With no other choice, her parents have their clearly-troubled teen committed to a psychiatric institution.

Meanwhile in Ireland, Giles – having overcome his own opposition – completes his training preparations by undergoing a potentially lethal ritual and confronting his worst nightmare before heading to the USA, where Angelus and demonic attendant Whistler are still clandestinely watching over the Slayer.

That’s all to the good, as the asylum has been infiltrated by a sorcerous cult intent on gathering “brides” for infernal night-lord Rakagore

As Buffy undergoes talk therapy with the peculiar Dr. Primrose, she comes to realise the nature of her own mission, her role as a “Creature of Destiny” in the universe and, most importantly, that the elderly therapist is not all she seems either…

With her head clear at last, all Buffy has to do is prove she’s sane, smash an invasion of devils, reconcile with her family and prepare for the new school year at Sunnydale High…

To Be Continued…

Supplementing a hoard of supernatural treasures is a copious photo, Title Page and Cover Gallery with contributions from Ryan Sook, Guy Major, Bennett, Gomez, Jadsen, René Micheletti, Paul Lee & Brian Horton.

Visually impressive, winningly scripted and illustrated and – most importantly – proceeding at a breakneck rollercoaster pace, this supernatural action-fest is utterly engaging even if you’re not familiar with the vast backstory: a creepy chronicle as easily enjoyed by the most callow neophyte as by the dedicated devotee. Moreover, with the shows readily available, if you aren’t a follower yet you soon could – and should – be…
Buffy the Vampire Slayer ™ & © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Bigby Bear: For All Seasons


By Philippe Coudray, translated by Miceal Beausang-O’Griafa (BiG/Humanoids)
ISBN: 978-1-64337-990-6(HB)

Born in Bordeaux in March 1960, writer, photographer and illustrator Philippe Coudray specialises in cartoons and books for children. Working with brother Jean-Luc, they co-crafted the Drôles sequence of books and comics series Théocrite. However, Philippe conceived and executed his signature creation L’Ours Barnabé – the philosophically absurdist ruminations of an artistically-inclined bear and his woodland companions – all on his own…

When not crafting kids’ comics or surreal otherworldly gags (such as Loin de Tout) Philippe writes articles and such like for magazines such as Capsule Cosmique, Psikopat, Perlin and Fripounet as well as books such as Guide to Hidden Animals: Treatise on Cryptozoology. His works have been used by the French government to combat illiteracy and translated into many languages; none more so than L’Ours Barnabé which has appeared in Japan, China, Germany Sweden, and a couple of times in America. The first time was as Benjamin Bear (twice nominated for Eisner Awards and winning China’s 2012-2013 Panda Prize) and latterly here as the beguiling and frequently beguiled Bigby

Often employing puzzles and riddles and as much children’s storybook of episodic vignettes as graphic novel, these particular collected strips offer charming, visually challenging riffs on the impact of the year’s divisions, as seen through the eyes of an affably gentle bruin living wild and honing his artistic skills.

Bigby and his animal entourage reside in a bucolic forest, coastal and mountain idyll, where they observe tentatively interact with the wider world, pondering big questions in a surreal and often absurdist daze.

Visual tricks and double-takes abound as Bigby and his rabbit chum play with universal constants, carve, sculpt, paint, compose, garden and wander for the sheer joy of creativity. Almost in passing the gags subtly pose questions to make youngsters think – about art, science, psychology, mathematics, ecology and much more – but Coudray never misses an opportunity to share a solid laugh with his readers and reinforce his message that life is great if we all just mellow out and cooperate with each other.

He’s also more than happy to pepper the strips with the occasional telling moment of social commentary if the chance arises…

In this second translated volume exploring the wonders of the annual cycle, ‘Fall’ opens the fun with a wealth of cartoon ruminations on harvest, climate, travel and occupying spare time before ‘Winter’ centres on snow, chills and Christmas with the big guy eschewing hibernation for the joys of playing with his cub and chums.

A time of renewal and abundance is enjoyed in ‘Spring’ as the bear hunts early fruit and honey – as well as cold, hard cash – and languishes in paradisiacal field and stream before ambling into ‘Summer’ where fishing, swimming, visiting, hobbies and games fill every endless day

Genteel fun, bemusing whimsy and enchanting illustration cloaking a supremely inclusive philosophy of curiosity, enquiry and cohabitation, Bigby Bear is an excellent, irrepressible example of how to enjoy life and crucial reading for young and old alike. Get the digital edition immediately before backing it up with the wonderfully tactile, sturdy hardback your kids will want to paw and peer at over and over again…
Bigby Bear: For All Seasons © 2012-2018 La Boîte à Bulles and Philippe Coudray. All rights reserved.

Attack of the Stuff – “The Life and Times of Bill Waddler”


By Jim Benton (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-498-8(HB) 978-1-54580-499-5(PB)

Jim Benton began his illustration work making up crazy characters in a T-Shirt shop and designing greetings cards. Born in 1960, he’d grown up in Birmingham, Michigan before studying Fine Arts at Western Michigan University.

Tirelessly earning a living exercising his creativity, he started self-promoting those weird funny things he’d dreamed up and soon was raking in the dosh from properties such as Dear Dumb Diary, Dog of Glee, Franny K. Stein, Just Jimmy, Just Plain Mean, Sweetypuss, The Misters, Meany Doodles, Vampy Doodles, Kissy Doodles, jOkObo and It’s Happy Bunny via a variety of magazines and other venues…

His gags, jests and japes can most accessibly be enjoyed on Reddit and are delivered in a huge variety of styles and manners: each perfectly in accord with whatever sick, sweet, clever, sentimental, whimsical or just plain strange content each idea demanded, and his SpyDogs effortlessly made the jump to kids animated TV success.

He seamlessly segued into best-selling cartoon books (those are the best kind) such as Man, I Hate Cursive, Clyde, Catwad and Dog Butts and Love. And Stuff Like That. And Cats) and now joins the glorious pantheon of authors and artists championed by Papercutz with his latest creation…

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers, combining licensed properties such as The Smurfs and Nancy Drew with intriguing and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and this supremely surreal and outrageous outing…

In a primary-coloured anthropomorphic world, Bill Waddler is a distressed duck with a lot on his mind. His nights are plagued with nightmares about farting snakes inundating him whilst his days make him feel out of touch with hectic modern ways. Is it so hard to just sell his hay the way he always has?

Since Bill has a rather unique talent, his waking life is a bit of a misery too. Whether he wants to or not – and he doesn’t – Bill can communicate with stuff. Appliances, electronics and household objects of every sort all talk to him. Or more accurately they all whine and carp and moan at him. No one wants the toilet expressing her dreams and aspirations during those sacrosanct private moments, or to be mocked by the cruet set or told to stop snoring by the alarm clock…

Moreover, nothing he owns or people he knows care about Bill’s lifelong frustrations at never becoming a musician…

Stuck in this depressing rut, Bill’s life changes the day a curmudgeonly bear has a rant and sets the duck thinking about abandoning civilisation to become a hermit in the wilds of nature…

However, as he vanishes into the wilds to commune with snakes, a global crisis kicks off. The Internet gets into a tizzy and completely shuts down. As the entire planet descends into a chaos of non-communication and everything stops working, someone suggests the baffled experts track down that weird guy who could talk to stuff and see if he can help…

Bizarre, tetchy and hilariously off-kilter, Benton’s daft duck deliverer fends off a very modern apocalypse with astoundingly infectious grumpiness in this fabulously inventive fable that combines gently-barbed social commentary (such as when a cop stands on Bill’s neck and is shamed by his own taser!) and delicious swipes at sexism and gender stereotyping with wild laughs and devious subversion in an ultimately upbeat tale about doing the right thing…

Attack of the Stuff is sheer irresistible fun and on-target educational messaging no one should miss.
© 2020 Jim Benton. All rights reserved.

Cedric volume 1: High Risk Class


By Laudec & Cauvin with colours by Leonardo and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-68-7 (Album pb)

Raoul Cauvin is one of Europe’s most successful comics scripters. Born in Antoing, Belgium in 1938, he joined Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 after studying the dying and much-missed print production technique of Lithography.

Happily he quickly discovered his true calling – comedy writing – and began a glittering and prolific career at Le Journal de Spirou where he devised (with Salvérius) the astoundingly successful Bluecoats as well as dozens of other long-running, award winning series such as Sammy, Les Femmes en Blanc, Boulouloum et Guiliguili, Cupidon, Pauvre Lampil and Agent 212: cumulatively shifting more than 240 separate albums. Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies so far.

His collaborator on kid-friendly family strip Cedric is Italian born, Belgium raised Tony de Luca who studied electro-mechanics and toiled as an industrial draughtsman until he could make the break into comics.

After a few fanzine efforts in the late 1970s, in 1979 as Laudec he landed soap-style series Les Contes de Curé-la-Fl’ûte at Spirou and built it into a brace of extended war-time serials (L’an 40 in 1983 and Marché Noir et Bottes à Clous in 1985) whilst working his way around many of the title’s other strips.

In 1987 he united with Cauvin on the first Cédric shorts and the rest is history… and science and geography and PE and…

We have Dennis the Menace and the Americans have one too – but he’s not the same – whilst the French-speaking world has Cédric: a charming little rapscallion with a heart of gold and an irresistible streak of mischief dogging his heels. Collected albums of the short, sharp strips – ranging from a ½ page to half a dozen – began appearing in 1989 (with 31 released so far) and are always amongst the most popular and best-selling on the continent, as is the animated TV show spun off from the strip.

Available in paperback album and digital formats, this first Cinebook translation – from 2008 and originally continentally released as Classe tous risques in 1990 – was the third compilation and hauls straight in to the action as the little lout is surprised by the introduction of ‘The New Girl’ to the class.

Previously, overly-imaginative Cedric had been utterly enamoured of his teacher Miss Nelly but when Chen is introduced his mind and heart go into fantasy overdrive. She’s different, her skin isn’t the same colour as everybody else’s and she talks really funny.

Of course a proper gentleman would have a better and less dangerous way of saying that to a newcomer’s face. Happily, however, Cedric’s gaffe is an opportunity for demure but feisty Chen to properly break the ice…

When the restless lad and his best friend Christian get hold of some stink bombs an awful lot of surprised adults are forced to cry ‘What Stinks?’ but the peewee pranksters eventually go too far and are trapped in their own efforts, whereas when Cedric attempts to cheat in a geography competition involving ‘Balloons’ the repercussions are all on him alone…

His deviltry actually succeeds with no comeback when he sabotages the ‘Olympic Disciplines’ of excessively keen Games Master Mr Oliver but when Cedric tries to obscure his latest bad report card by getting injured and crying for ‘Nurse Mum’ his tactics are sorely mistaken…

There’s more social angst – and unleashed aggression – in store when Christian confuses Chinese Chen with Vietnamese ‘Boat People’ and shares his “expertise” with our gullible star but the boys are soon pals again and summarily run amok with a radio-controlled car in ‘Driving Under the Influence of Laughter’ after which Grandpa lands in the doghouse when Cedric steals his champagne and gets disastrously hammered on his ‘First Sip’

Disclosing he is over Miss Nelly, the love-struck lad goes completely over the top with ‘The Gift’ he has chosen to win Chen, which leads to near disaster when he manfully decides he must let his deserted older woman down gently in ‘One Love Follows Another…’

Typically, Cedric picks the very moment after his teacher has received some extremely upsetting news…

Focus satirically switches to conservative, reactionary Grandpa who takes the news that Cedric is seeing a Chinese girl with an appalling lack of understanding, taste or decorum in ‘The Oil Can’ but it’s the boy who’s soon back in everyone’s bad books when he swaps suntan oil for toothpaste in ‘Bathing Beauties’.

At least his classmates still respect him, especially Freddy who needs all the escape tips he can get after delivering ‘The Report’ of his latest scholastic disgraces to his own furious father whilst Cedric’s family are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment when neighbours ‘Crazy for Television’ invite themselves over…

The introductory antics hilariously conclude as Cedric decides to use a school ‘Picnic’ to tell Chen of his feelings, despite the sustained mockery of his mates. Of course his courage is no substitute for discretion or tact and when he goes too far again, at least the boys are there to console and medicate him…

Rapid-paced, warm and witty, the adventures of this painfully keen, young romantic scallywag are a charming example of how all 8-year-old boys are just the same and infinitely unique. This is a solid family-oriented comics book no one trying to introduce youngsters to the medium should be without.
© Dupuis 1990 by Cauvin & Laudec. All rights reserved. English translation © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

Ralph Azham volume 1: Why Would You Lie to Someone You Love?


By Lewis Trondheim, coloured by Brigitte Findakly and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-593-8 (HB)

With over 100 books bearing his pen-name (his secret identity is actually Laurent Chabosy), writer/artist/editor and educator Lewis Trondheim is one of Europe’s most prolific comics creators: illustrating his own work, overseeing animated cartoons of adaptations of previous successes such as La Mouche (The Fly) and Kaput and Zösky or editing the younger-readers book series Shampooing for Dargaud.

His most famous tales are such global hits as ‘Les Formidables Aventures de Lapinot’ (translated as The Spiffy Adventures of McConey), (with Joann Sfar) the Donjon series of nested fantasy epics (translated here as the conjoined sagas Dungeon: Parade, Dungeon: Monstres and Dungeon: the Early Years) and his utterly beguiling cartoon diaries sequence Little Nothings.

In his spare time, and when not girdling the globe from convention to symposium to festival, the dourly shy and neurotically introspective savant has written for satirical magazine Psikopat and provided scripts for many of the continent’s most popular artists such as Fabrice Parme (Le Roi Catastrophe, Vénézia), Manu Larcenet (Les Cosmonautes du futur), José Parrondo (Allez Raconte and Papa Raconte) and Thierry Robin (Petit Père Noël).

Trondheim is a cartoonist of uncanny wit, outrageous imagination, piercing perspicacity, comforting affability and self-deprecating empathy who prefers to scrupulously control what is known and said about him…

Originally released by Belgian publisher Éditions Dupuis in 2001, this delicious yarn returns to the genre of anthropomorphic fantasy in a saga of wryly cynical faux-heroism revolving around failed Messiah and all-around disappointment Ralph Azham.

In his mountainous rural village, teenaged slacker Ralph is barely tolerated. He’s lazy, rude to his elders, constantly flouts authority, is always mouthing off and perpetually gets into trouble. Moreover, when he turned blue on the Night of the Double Moon – a certain sign of magical powers and an indicator that one may be the long-awaited Chosen One – he subsequently failed the tests of The Envoy and was ignominiously returned to the village…

Now he’s just an obnoxious waste of space whose only gift is the unnerving ability to tell when someone is pregnant or going to die…

His desolate village is slowly expiring. Situated in a depressing gully and old riverbed, the ramshackle dump comprises barely a dozen families now; the hard subsistence toil gradually forcing the least-dispirited farmers to emigrate to the less hostile but crowded lowlands. Moreover, with the annual visit from the rapacious marauding barbarian horde forever looming, the hamlet has precious little comfort or security to offer its dour citizens.

When the elders send Ralph out on a useless herb-gathering mission so they can have a council meeting without his annoying presence, the pariah is accosted by coquettish, scheming Claire who tries to seduce him and make him take her away from it all. After all, a boy with his gifts could surely make some money in the civilised parts of the world…?

Ralph spurns her and returns to eavesdrop on the village meeting, but when Claire follows and forcefully tries again, her big brother Piatch observes everything and attacks in a vain and pointless effort to defend her long-spent “honour”.

The running fight crashes through the village with many of the indignant elders eagerly joining in. When the well-thrashed Ralph furiously exposes many of their marital secrets, he finds himself confined to the pigsty for two months by the shamed and outraged citizens…

Later that night, his long-suffering father Bastien passes Ralph food and a knife, sadly recalling those distant days when the entire populace thought the boy was their literal ticket to salvation. After all, when the Chosen One was finally found, his mighty powers would totally destroy the terrible threat of predatory conqueror Vom Syrus and save the entire nation.

The whole episode was ill-starred. On their last night together, father and son were trapped in a cave-in and Ralph discovered his unsettling but militarily useless power. Even after they escaped death by suffocation, the airborne pilgrimage to fabled Astolia went tragically wrong – just how bad only Bastien knew for certain – and when the boy was returned to the village the populace’s high expectations soon soured.

They’ve been taking it out on Ralph ever since…

In the pigpen, Claire tries once more to sway the fed-up and furious miracle boy, but he’s already declined one attempt to help him escape. Wastrel Ralph has no intention of ever leaving his doting dad. Later, as Bastien quizzes him on why he’s still there, the alarm is sounded. The Horde is near…

The village is perfectly divided. Exactly half want to fight whilst the others favour abject surrender and throwing themselves on the invaders’ mercies. Unbelievably, now they desperately need Ralph to settle matters as the tie-breaking vote. The outcast is utterly unable to ignore the irony or resist the temptation to make them all squirm, but he is distracted by the ailing Filbert kid. The lad isn’t very well and it is another night of the Double Moon…

When the militant faction proves to be the most determined to win and acquiesces to Ralph’s outrageous and humiliating demands, the vote is cast and the villagers begin building a huge deadfall trap to kill as many Horde raiders as possible, guided by the pariah’s dear old dad, who was once a military engineer.

As the labours progress, further hidden secrets of Ralph’s interesting time in Astolia are revealed, but even as the weary folk return to their homes, the trap is sprung: not by the invaders, but rather one of their own.

Sore loser Mortimer knew that only he was right and thus couldn’t abide by the results of the vote. Surely that’s how Democracy really works?

In the cascade of rocks, little Raoul Filbert is injured and, as the enraged mob hunt for the new village pariah, forgotten Ralph carries the wounded child to the wise woman Auntie Milla. As she tends to the lad, something happens to Ralph too. Soon, he realises that his powers have changed. He can see dead people…

When he meets his father, Ralph realises that the ghost of the Envoy from his long-ago journey is attached to Bastien and soon the awful truth of his boyhood trip to Astolia comes tumbling out…

Milla too was part of the conspiracy, and now, as Ralph realises the horrible, selfish cause for his years of abuse and ostracization, he severs all ties with his father. Suddenly, the alarm sounds and the old soldier rushes back to the village where the Horde has arrived. Dejected Ralph picks up the sleeping Raoul and follows, but in the dark, nobody has noticed that the little lad’s head has turned blue…

In a wild and cataclysmic display of arcane power, Raoul destroys half the village and routs the panicked barbarians, but once they have recovered their wits, Horde outriders give chase. However, when the azure couple are cornered, Ralph’s new gift and the spirits of the pursuers’ previous victims combine to save them all, before a final cataclysm erupts and wipes out the invaders… and most of the village too…

After one final fractious confrontation with the surviving elders, Ralph heads for the plains and summons the latest Astolian Envoy to take him and Raoul to the city where new Chosen Onea are trained. As they prepare to take off on the civil servant’s triple-headed winged reptile, Claire rushes up, demanding to join them. She feels she has the right, since her cat ears and tiger stripes have turned a vibrant shade of blue…

Mesmerising and superbly enjoyable, this still-unfolding epic features a truly intriguing and clay-footed hero in a fantastic world of inescapably shallow and typically callous everyday folk: venal, self-serving and barely worth saving even if a Messiah can be found…

This engagingly sly and witty fantasy adventure tale for grown-ups begins here in a 96-page, full-colour landscape (218x168mm) sturdy hardcover edition (but sadly not in digital editions, if those are your preferred Chosen Ones): another must-not-miss epic masterpiece from one of the world’s greatest comic geniuses.
Contents © DUPUIS 2001 by Trondheim. All rights reserved. This edition © 2012 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Ray & Joe: The Story of a Man and His Dead Friend and Other Classic Comics


By Charles Rodrigues, Bob Fingerman & Gary Groth (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-668-3(HB)

Charles Rodrigues (1926-2004) is arguably one of the most influential – and certainly most darkly hilarious – American cartoonists of the last century.

His surreal, absurd, insane, anarchic, socially disruptive and utterly unforgettable bad-taste doodles were delivered with electric vitality and galvanising energetic ferocity in a number of magazines. He was most effective in Playboy, The National Lampoon (from its debut issue) and Stereo Review: the pinnacle of a cartooning career which began after WWII and spanned almost the entire latter half of the 20th century.

After leaving the Navy and relinquishing the idea of writing for a living, Rodrigues used his slice of the G.I. Bill provision to attend New York’s Cartoonists and Illustrator’s School (now the School of Visual Arts). In 1950, he began schlepping gags around the low-rent but healthily ubiquitous “Men’s Magazine” circuit and found a natural home. He gradually graduated from those glorified girly-mags to more salubrious publications and in 1954 began a lengthy association with Hugh Hefner in a revolutionary new venture even while still contributing to what seemed like every publication in the nation buying panel gags, from Esquire to TV Guide, Genesis to The Critic.

Rodrigues even found time to create three strips for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate: Eggs Benedict, Casey the Cop and Charlie.

Despite such legitimacies though, the quiet, genteel devout Catholic’s lasting monument is the wealth of truly gob-smacking, sick, subversive, offensive and mordantly, trenchantly wonderful strip-series he crafted for The National Lampoon. Editor Henry Beard sought him out in the earliest pre-launch days of 1969, and offered Rodrigues carte blanche, complete creative freedom and a regular full-page spot. He stayed with the prestigious mag from the 1970 debut until 1993, a mainstay of its legendary comics section…

In this superbly appalling hardback or digital tome – bracketed by informative text pieces ‘Introduction: An Appreciation of a Goddamn Great Cartoonist’ and ‘Biography: Charles Rodrigues’ by passionate devotee Bob Fingerman – the parade of diabolical disgust and fetid fun begins with the eponymous ‘Ray and Joe – the Story of a Man and his Dead Friend’ which follows the frankly disturbing buddy-movie path of Joe – whose death doesn’t upset his wife as much as you’d expect. In fact, when the cadaver’s former pal meekly inquires, she’s more than happy to let Ray keep the body. After all, it’s cheaper than a funeral…

There’s no agenda here: Ray just wants to keep his friend around, even going so far as to have him embalmed and put on roller skates. Of course, most people simply don’t understand…

Rodrigues regularly broke all the rules in these strips: taste, decency, even the contract between reader and creator. Often, he would drop a storyline and return to his notional continuities at a later date. Sometimes he would even stop mid-episode and insert a new strip or gag if it offered bigger chortles or shocks…

Next up is ‘Deirdre Callahan – a biography’: the gut-wrenching travails of a little girl so ugly she could cause people’s eyeballs to explode and make almost everyone she met kill themselves in disgust. Of course such a pitiful case – the little lass with a face “too hideous for publication” – did elicit the concern of many upstanding citizens: ambitious plastic surgeons, shyster lawyers, radical terrorists, enemy agents, bored, sadistic billionaires in need of a good laugh, the mother who threw her in a garbage can before fully examining the merchandising opportunities…

The artist’s most long-lived and inspired creation was ‘The Aesop Brothers – Siamese Twins’, which ran intermittently from the early 1970s to 1986 in an unceasing parade of grotesque situations where conjoined George and Alex endured the vicissitudes of a life forever together: the perennial problems of bathroom breaks, getting laid, enjoying a little “me time”…

In the course of their cartoon careers the boys ran away to the circus to be with a set of hot conjoined sisters, but that quickly went bits-up, after which sinister carnival owner Captain Menshevik had them exhibited as a brother/sister act with poor Alex kitted out in drag.

There’s a frantic escapade with a nymphomaniac octogenarian movie goddess, assorted asshole doctors, Howard Hughes’ darkest secret, a publicity-shy rogue cop, marriage (but only for one of them), their horrendous early lives uncovered, the allure of communism, multiple choice strips, experimental, existential and faux-foreign episodes, and even their outrageous times as Edwardian consulting detectives.

This is not your regular comedy fare and there’s certainly something here to make you blanch, no matter how jaded, strong-stomached or dissolute you think you are…

As always with Rodrigues, even though the world at large hilariously exploits and punishes his protagonists, it’s not all one-sided. Said stars are usually dim and venal and their own worst enemies too…

Hard on their four heels comes the saga of ‘Sam DeGroot – the Free World’s Only Private Detective in an Iron Lung Machine’: a plucky unfortunate determined to make an honest contribution, hampered more by society’s prejudices than his own condition and ineptitude…

After brushes with the mob and conniving billionaires’ wives, no wonder he took to demon drink. Happily, Sam was saved by kindly Good Samaritan Everett, but the gentle giant then force-fed him custard and other treats because he was a patient urban cannibal. Thankfully, that’s when Jesus enters the picture…

During the course of these instalments, the strip was frequently usurped by short guerrilla gag feature ‘True Tales of the Urinary Tract’ and only reached its noxious peak after Sam fell into a coma…

The artist was blessed – or, perhaps, cursed – with a perpetually percolating imagination which drove him to craft scandalously inaccurate Biographies. Included here are choice and outrageous insights into ‘Marilyn Monroe’, ‘Abbie Hoffman’, ‘Chester Bouvier’, ‘Eugene O’Neill’ and ‘Jerry Brown’ as well as ‘An American Story – a Saga of Ordinary People Just Like You’, ‘The Man Without a County’ and ‘Joe Marshall Recalls his Past’

The horrific and hilarious assault on common decency concludes with a selection of shorter series collected as The Son of a Bitch et al, beginning with an exposé of that self-same American institution.

The Son of a Bitch’ leads into the incontinent lives of those winos outside ‘22 Houston Street’, the ongoing calamity of ‘Doctor Colon’s Monster’, the domestic trauma of ‘Mama’s Boy’ and the sad fate of ‘The “Cuckold”’

‘The Adventures of the United States Weather Bureau starring Walter T. Eccleston’ is followed by ‘Mafia Tales’ and ‘VD Clinic Vignettes’, after which ‘A Glass of Beer with Stanley Cyganiewicz of Scranton, PA’ goes down smoothly, thanks to the then-contentious Gay question addressed in ‘Lillehammer Follies’, before everything settles down after the recipe for ‘Everett’s Custard’

Fantagraphics Books yet again struck gold by reviving and celebrating a lost hero of graphic narrative arts in this superb commemoration of a mighty talent. This is an astoundingly funny collection, brilliantly rendered by a master craftsman and one no connoisseur of black comedy can afford to miss; especially in times when we all feel helpless and can only laugh in the face of incompetence, venality, stupidity and death…
All strips and comics by Rodrigues © Lorraine Rodrigues. Introduction & Biography © Bob Fingerman. All rights reserved. This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books.

Showcase Presents Superman Family volume 1


By Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira, Al Plastino, Don Cameron, Ed Dobrotka & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0787-8 (TPB)

Stress-alleviating Fun is in pretty short supply everywhere these days, but if you’re a comics fan susceptible to charming nostalgia, this item – readily available in paperback, but tragically still not compiled in any digital format yet – might be a remedy for those old Lockdown Blues…

When the blockbusting Man of Tomorrow debuted in Action Comics #1 (June 1938) he was instantly the centre of attention. However, even then the need for a solid supporting cast was apparent and quickly catered to. Glamorous daredevil girl reporter Lois Lane premiered with Clark Kent and was a constant companion and foil from the outset…

Although unnamed, a plucky red-headed, be-freckled kid worked alongside Clark and Lois from Action Comics #6 (November 1938) and was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. The lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940: somebody the same age as the target audience in place for the hero to explain stuff to (all for the listener’s benefit) and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952, it became a monolithic hit. National Periodicals thus began tentatively expanding their increasingly valuable franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of that rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet. The solo-career of the first spin-off star from the Caped Kryptonian’s ever-expanding entourage began with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

As the decade progressed, the oh-so-cautious Editors at National/DC tentatively extended the franchise in 1957, just as the Silver Age of Comics was getting underway and it seemed there might be a fresh and sustainable appetite for costumed heroes and their unique brand of spectacular shenanigans. Try-out title Showcase – which had already launched The Flash (#4 & 8) and Challengers of the Unknown (#6-7) – followed up with a brace of issues entitled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in #9 and 10. Soon after, she won a series of her own – in actuality her second, since for a brief while in the mid-1940s she had her own solo-spot in Superman.

This scintillatingly addictive monochrome tome chronologically re-presents those experimental franchise expansions, encompassing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1-22, (September/October 1954 to August 1957) and Showcase #9 (July/August 1957), plus the very first Lois Lane solo strip (from Superman #28 – May/June 1944) as a welcome bonus.

The vintage all-ages entertainment (courtesy of dedicated creative team Otto Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley) begins with ‘The Boy of 1000 Faces’ in which the ebullient junior journalist displays his phenomenal facility for make-up and disguise to trap a jewel thief before heading to timber country and solving the ‘Case of the Lumberjack Jinx’ and latterly masquerading as ‘The Man of Steel’s Substitute’ to tackle public requests too trivial for his Kryptonian chum.

‘The Flying Jimmy Olsen’ opened the second issue with a daring tale of sheer idiocy as the lad swallows an alien power-potion with staggering disregard for the potential repercussions (a recurring theme of those simpler times) after which ‘The Hide and Seek Mystery’ displays his crime-solving pluck as Jim hunts down more jewel thieves. Then, the boy becomes ‘Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Ex-Pal’ to expose a cunning conman.

The red-headed rascal became ‘The Boy Millionaire’ in #3 when a wealthy dowager repaid a kind deed with a vast cash reward. Sadly, all that money brought Jimmy was scammers, conmen and murderous trouble. After that he heads to Tumbleweed, USA to cover a rodeo and somehow is (mis)taken for ‘The Fastest Gun in the West’ before meeting the highly suspect eccentric who is ‘The Man Who Collected Excitement’.

‘The Disappearance of Superman’ perplexes Metropolis in #4 until his valiant pal solves the mystery and saves the Caped Kryptonian’s life, whilst – as ‘The Hunted Messenger’ – Jimmy cheats certain death to outwit gangsters before replacing a regal look-alike and playing ‘King for a Day’ in a far off land threatened by a ruthless usurper.

In issue #5, ‘The Boy Olympics’ shares Jimmy’s sentimental side as he risks his job to help young news vendors from a rival paper and is almost replaced by a computer in ‘The Brain of Steel’, before beguiling and capturing a wanted felon with ‘The Story of Superman’s Souvenirs’…

The cutthroat world of stage conjuring finds him competing to become ‘The King of Magic’ in JO #6’s first tale, after which the diminutive lad endures a punishing diet regime – hilariously enforced by Superman – to cover the sports story of the year in ‘Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash’. The last tale sees Jimmy bravely recovering ‘100 Pieces of Kryptonite’ that fell on Metropolis, rendering Superman helpless and dying…

Jimmy Olsen #7 finds the boy teaching three rich wastrels a life-changing lesson in ‘The Amazing Mirages’, after which a magic carpet whisks him away to write ‘The Scoop of 1869’ before the lad’s boyhood skills enable him to become ‘The King of Marbles’, catching a crook and even more headlines…

In #8, pride in his investigative abilities and a slick conman compel him to uncover his pal’s secret identity in ‘The Betrayal of Superman’, after which he becomes ‘Superboy for a Day’ sort of) and wows the chicks when a sore throat transforms him into ‘Jimmy Olsen, Crooner’. Issue #9 opens with him disastrously switching jobs to become ‘Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor’: a TV quiz mastermind in kThe Million-Dollar Question’ and pilot of a prototype Superman robot in ‘The Missile of Steel’.

In #10, the canny lad turns the tables on a greedy hoaxer in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Martian Pal’ and suffers amnesia in ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Forgotten Adventure’, before going back to nature as ‘Jungle Jimmy Olsen’, whilst the next issue sees him acting – after a stellar accident – as ‘Superman’s Seeing-Eye Dog’; dumping the neglectful and busy Man of Steel for a more appreciative comrade in kJimmy Olsen, Clark Kent’s Pal’ and – accidentally – exposing a corrupt boxing scam as ‘T.N.T. Olsen, the Champ’.

He helps out a circus chum by becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Prince of Clowns’ in #12, thereafter uncovering ‘The Secret of Dinosaur Island’ and falling victim to a goofy – or just plain mad – scientist’s bizarre experiment to reluctantly become ‘The Invisible Jimmy Olsen’. In #13 he tracks a swindler via a half dozen namesakes in ‘The Six Jimmy Olsens’ before criminals then targeted the cub reporter’s secret weapon in ‘The Stolen Superman Signal’ and the lad is himself subjected to a cruel but necessary deception when the Metropolis Marvel perpetrates ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super Illusions’…

Issue #14 opened with a time-travel western tale as the lad instigates ‘The Feats of Chief Super-Duper’, after which a scientific accident seemingly imbues the bold boy with Clark Kent’s personality and creates ‘The Meek Jimmy Olsen’, before the cub is lost in the American wilderness and outrageously mistaken for ‘The Boy Superman’…

JO #15 finds him demoted and at a dog-show where his infallible nose for news quickly uncovers ‘The Mystery of the Canine Champ’, after which an injudiciously swallowed serum gives him super-speed and he reinvents himself as ‘Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon’. Thereafter, a strange ailment forces him to dispose of his most treasured possessions in kUnwanted Superman Souvenirs’…

A scurrilous scammer in #16 offers to regress the kid’s consciousness and help him re-live ‘The Three Lives of Jimmy Olsen’, before a series of crazy coincidences compel identity-obsessed Clark to convince Lois Lane that Jimmy is ‘The Boy of Steel!’ Yet another chemical concoction then turns the lad into a compulsive fibber… ‘The Super Liar of Metropolis’.

The next thrill-packed issue featured ‘Jimmy Olsen in the 50th Century’ wherein the lad is transported to an era where history has conflated his and Superman’s lives, whilst in ‘The Case of the Cartoon Scoops’, he rediscovers a gift for drawing – and the curse of clairvoyance – before an horrific accident turns him into ‘The Radioactive Boy’…

In #18, humour is king as ‘The Super Safari’ finds young Jim using a “magic” flute to capture animals for a circus, whilst ‘The Riddle Reporter’ sees him lose scoops to a masked mystery journalist before having to nursemaid his best friend when a criminal’s time weapon turns the Man of Steel into ‘Superbaby, Jimmy Olsen’s Pal’…

In #19 ‘The Two Jimmy Olsens’ introduce a robot replica of the cub reporter whilst in ‘The Human Geiger Counter’ the kid becomes allergic to the Action Ace, after which a brain injury convinces him he is ‘Superman’s Kid Brother’. The next issue opened with ‘Jimmy Olsen’s Super-Pet’ as a prized souvenir hatches into a living, breathing dinosaur. Misguided efforts to save a small-town newspaper then culminate in kThe Trial of Jimmy Olsen’, after which Superman secretly makes his pal ‘The Merman of Metropolis’ in a convoluted scheme to preserve his own alter ego.

Issue #21 reveals an unsuspected family skeleton and a curse which seemingly transforms reporter into pirate in ‘The Legend of Greenbeard Olsen’. Ingenuity – and a few gimmicks – then briefly turn him into junior hero ‘Wonder Lad’ whereas plain old arrogance and snooping are responsible for the humiliation resulting from ‘The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen’ to Lois Lane…

A month later, the lady at last starred in her own comicbook when – galvanised by a growing interest in superhero stories – the company’s premiere try-out title pitched a brace of issues focused on the burgeoning Superman family of features.

Showcase #9 (cover-dated July/August 1957) featured Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane in a trio of tales by Jerry Coleman, Ruben Moreira & Al Plastino: opening with the seminal yarn ‘The Girl in Superman’s Past’ wherein Lois first meets red-headed hussy Lana Lang, childhood sweetheart of Superboy and a pushy, conniving go-getter out to win Lois’ intended at all costs.

Naturally, Miss Lane invites Miss Lang to stay at her apartment and the grand rivalry was off and running…

‘The New Lois Lane’ sees Lois aggravatingly turn over a new leaf and stop attempting to uncover his secret identity just when Superman actually needs her to do so, before the premier concludes with the concussion-induced day-dream ‘Mrs. Superman’ with Lois imagining a life of domestic wedded super-bliss…

When Lois Lane finally received her own shot at solo stardom, it was sadly very much on the terms of the times. I shamefacedly admit to a deep, nostalgic affection for her bright and breezy, fantastically fun adventures, but as a free-thinking, liberal (notional) adult of the 21st century I’m simultaneously shocked nowadays at the patronising, nigh-misogynistic attitudes underpinning many of the stories.

I’m fully aware these stories were intended for young readers at a time when “dizzy dames” like Lucille Ball or Doris Day played to the popular American gestalt stereotype of Woman as jealous minx, silly goose, diffident wife and brood-hungry nester, but to ask kids to seriously accept that intelligent, courageous, ambitious, ethical and highly capable females would drop everything they’d worked hard for to lie, cheat, inveigle, manipulate and entrap a man just so that they could cook pot-roast and change super-diapers is indisputably crazy, downright insulting and tantamount to child abuse…

Oddly enough, the 1940s interpretation of the plucky news-hen was far less derogatory: Lois might have been ambitious and life-threateningly precipitate, but at least it was to advance her own career and put bad guys away… as seen in the superb 4-page vignette which closes this volume.

Back-up series ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter’ debuted in Superman #28 (May/June 1944): a breathless fast-paced screwball comedy-thriller by Don Cameron & Ed Dobrotka wherein the canny lass fails to talk a crazed jumper down from a ledge but saves him in another far more flamboyant manner, reaping the reward of a front page headline.

Before that Golden Age threat, however, there’s one last issue of the junior member of the Superman Family. Jimmy Olsen #22 begins with ‘The Mystery of the Millionaire Hoboes’, as the lad tracks down the reason wealthy men are masquerading as down-and-outs, before exposing the evil secrets behind ‘The Super-Hallucinations’ afflicting the Man of Tomorrow and ending with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ wherein resident affable crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolves the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. That cold, but surely benevolent being has a hidden agenda in play and is able to bend Superman to his hyper-intelligent will…

These spin-off supporting series were highly popular top-sellers for decades: blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gently addictive manner scripter Otto Binder had first perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel and his own myriad mini-universe of associated titles.

As well as containing some of the most delightful episodes of the pre angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these fun, thrilling and yes, occasionally deeply moving all-ages stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safely anodyne 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…
© 1944, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Bigby Bear Book One


By Philippe Coudray, translated by Miceal Ogriefa (BiG/Humanoids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-806-8(HB)

Bordeaux-born in March 1960, writer, photographer and illustrator Philippe Coudray specialises in cartoons and books for children. Working with his brother Jean-Luc, he co-crafted the Drôles sequence of books and comics series Théocrite.

Howevwr, Philippe conceived and executed his signature creation L’Ours Barnabé – the philosophically absurdist ruminations of an artistic bear and his woodland companions all on his own…

When not crafting kids’ comics or surreal otherworldly gags (such as Loin de Tout) Philippe writes articles and such like for magazines such as Capsule Cosmique, Psikopat, Perlin and Fripounet as well as books such as Guide to Hidden Animals: Treatise on Cryptozoology. His works have been used by the government to combat illiteracy in France and translated into many languages; none more so than L’Ours Barnabé which has appeared in Japan, China, Germany Sweden, and twice in America. The first time was as Benjamin Bear (twice nominated for Eisner Awards and winning China’s 2012-2013 Panda Prize) and latterly here as the beguiling and frequently beguiled Bigby

As much children’s storybook – although having no narrative structure and relying on episodic vignettes to deliver charming and visually challenging puzzles and riddles – as graphic novel, these collected strips feature an affably gentle bruin living wild and honing his artistic skills in a bucolic forest and mountain idyll, observing the world and pondering big questions in a surreal and often absurdist daze.

Visual tricks and double-takes abound as he and his rabbit chum encounter other animals and aliens, ignore the laws of the universe, carve, sculpt, paint, compose, garden and wander for the sheer joy of creativity. Subtly posing questions to make youngsters think – about art, science, psychology, mathematics, ecology and much more – Coudray never misses an opportunity to share a solid laugh with his readers and reinforce his message that life would be great if we all just mellowed out and got along with each other.

He’s also more than happy to pepper the strips with the occasional telling moment of social commentary if the chance arises…

Genteel fun, bemusing whimsy and enchanting illustration cloaking a supremely inclusive philosophy of curiosity, enquiry and cohabitation, Bigby Bear is a delightful example of how to enjoy life and crucial reading for young and old alike. Get the digital edition immediately before backing it up with the wonderfully tactile, sturdy hardback your kids will want to paw and peer at over and over again…
© 2012-2018 La Boîte à Bulles and Philippe Coudray. All rights reserved.

Violette around the world volume 1: My Head in the Clouds

By Teresa Radice & Stefano Turconi, translated by Terrence Chamberlain (EuroComics/IDW) ISBN: 978-1-68405-188-5 (HB Album) eISBN: 978-1-68406-411-3

Globetrotting Viola volume 1: Treasure Everywhere!
By Teresa Radice & Stefano Turconi, translated by Terrence Chamberlain (Europe Comics – Digital Only) No ISBN

There’s never been a more fruitful time for comics and graphic novels than today but the digital revolution has thrown up a few confusing moments for dithery old guard reviewers like me. Here’s a perfect case in point.

Europe comics is a collective syndicate of continental publishers from numerous countries collaboratively releasing the best of European material in translated digital formats. They also act as agents, so many of their digital releases eventually end up as physical books for English-language publishers like NBM, IDW and Cinebook.

Quite rightly, these publishers also have their own digital editions, and naturally these feature small variations and deviations in the final product. All in all, however, it’s no big deal. There is no “correct” edition and the art and story reman fundamentally the same. You pays yer money and takes yer choice…

In this instance I bought and reviewed both, so could you, if you so pleased…

Scripted by Teresa Radice and painted by Stefano Turconi – a prolific Italian husband-&- wife team who have co-created many books for varying ages of kids, such as Mickey and the Great Sea of Sand, The Forbidden Harbour and the Orlando Curioso series – this award-winning historical romp from 2013 follows the life of a young circus girl in very memorable times…

Alternatively dubbed Violette or Viola Vermeer, our young star – daughter of a cannonball woman and an insect trainer – is a fourth-generation performer of the Cirque de la Lune, currently chafing under the strictures of having to attend a draconian school for ladies in fin de siècle Paris.

She would far rather be travelling the land with her friends and family, and her scholastic inattention – and love of animals – keeps landing her in hot water with the stuffy schoolmarms of the posh institution she’s trapped in…

Her life takes an interesting and life-changing turn after meeting an itinerant painter named Henri. She ends up trailing him all over the metropolis, trying to return a lost sketchbook to the absent-minded dauber. The quest takes her all over the City of Lights and into places I am not going far more educational than her usual classroom: even to the resplendently scandalous Moulin Rouge, resulting in her downtrodden attitude being replaced by a new zest for living and a brand-new sense of adventure and purpose…

A breezy, light-hearted coming of age tale about diversity and acceptance set in a glamourous historical wonderland, this superb yarn also includes loads of captivating extra art by Turconi and a potted biography of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to aide amusement and elucidation…
Globetrotting Viola: Treasure Everywhere! © 2016 TUNUÉ (Tunué s.r.l.) – Teresa Radice & Stefano Turconi
Violette around the world: My Head in the Clouds text and illustrations © 2013 Teresa Radice & Stefano Turconi – Tunué. All rights reserved.