Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-820-8(HB) 978-1-40520-632-7(Album PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Great British Tradition of Belgian Origin. Get ’Em All… 10/10

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

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the Hergé Studio, he created 23 timeless yarns (initially serialised in instalments for a variety of newspaper periodicals) which have grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art.

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

While he was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette written by the staff sports reporter – Wallez required his compliant creative cash-cow to concoct a new and contemporary adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his supremely popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even of being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist through words and deeds.

Leblanc provided cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which he published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands, which allowed Remi and his growing studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist occupiers and reluctantly added to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. These modernising post-war exercises also generally improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon.

With the war over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure.

Sadly, Hergé’s personal life was less satisfactory, but although plagued by physical and mental health problems, the travails only seemed to enhance his storytelling abilities…

Le Bijoux de la Castafiore was serialised in Le Journal de Tintin from 4th July 1961 to September 4th 1962 with the inevitable book collection released in 1963. For the first time, The English edition was published in the same years as its European original…

The Castafiore Emerald is quite a departure from the eerie bleak thriller that preceded it (Tintin in Tibet) and the general run of globetrotting tales. The resolution of that icy escapade seemed to have purged much of the turmoil and trauma from the artist’s psyche.

His production rate – but not the quality – slowed to a leisurely crawl as he became a world traveller himself, visiting America, Taiwan and many other places he had featured in the exploits of his immortal boy reporter. Fans would wait fifteen years for these last three adventures to be done.

When the blithely unstoppable operatic grand dame Bianca Castafiore imposes herself on Captain Haddock at Marlinspike Hall – complete with fawning entourage and a swarm of reporters in hot pursuit – she turns the place upside down, destroying the irascible mariner’s peace-of-mind.

A flighty force of nature claiming to crave isolation and quiet recuperation, the Diva floods Marlinspike with anxiety, just as Tintin and the Captain are attempting to win fair treatment for a roving band of gipsies (let’s call them Roma now, shall we?).

Much to the chagrin of the irascible mariner, when the pride of Castafiore’s fabulous jewels is stolen, events take a constantly escalating, surreal and particularly embarrassing turn before Tintin finally solves the case through calm, cool deduction.

Unlike the rest of the canon, this tale is restricted – like a drawing room mystery – to one locale: the impressive house and grounds inherited by Haddock as inhabited by a hilarious cast of regulars including acerbic, long-suffering butler Nestor and deranged genius Professor Calculus. It reads very much like an Alfred Hitchcock sparkling thriller from the 1950s: Light, airy, even frothy in places, with the emphasis always on laughs…

There are no real villains but plenty of diabolical happenstance generating slapstick action and wry humour while affording Hergé plenty of opportunities to take pot-shots at the media, Society – High and low – and even the then-pervasive and ever-growing phenomenon of television itself.

The tale was published in 1961. It would be five years until the next one.

At least you don’t have to wait: this comics masterpiece can – and should – be yours as soon as possible.
The Castafiore Emerald: artwork © 1963 by Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1963 Methuen & Co Ltd. All rights reserved.

Leo Baxendale’s Sweeny Toddler


By Leo Baxendale & others (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-726-8 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Bonkers, Inspired Lunacy… 10/10

If you know British Comics, you know Leo Baxendale.
He was the epitome of rebellious, youth-oriented artistic prodigies who, largely unsung, went about seditiously transforming British Comics: entertaining millions and inspiring uncounted numbers of those readers to become cartoonists too.

Joseph Leo Baxendale (27th October 1930 – 23rd April 2017) was educated at Preston Catholic College, served in the RAF and was born on 27th October 1930, in Whittle-le-Woods, Lancashire – but not necessarily in that order.

His first paid artistic efforts were drawing ads and cartoons for The Lancashire Evening Post but his life – and the entire British comics scene – changed in 1952 when he began freelancing for DC Thomson’s top weekly The Beano.

Leo assumed creative control of moribund Lord Snooty and his Pals and originated anarchically surreal strips Little Plum, Minnie the Minx, The Three Bears and When the Bell Rings. This last strip soon metamorphosed into the legendary, lurgy-packed Bash Street Kids, thereby altering the daily realities and lifetime sensibilities of millions of readers and generations of kids.

Baxendale also contributed heavily to the creation of comics tabloid The Beezer in 1956, but, following editorial and financial disputes with his editors, migrated in 1962 to London-based, Harmsworth-owned conglomerate Odhams/Fleetway/IPC.

South of the border, his initial humorous creations included Grimly Feendish, General Nitt and his Barmy Army, Bad Penny and a horrid horde of similarly revoltingly, uncannily engaging oiks, yobs and weirdoes who cumulatively made the company’s “Power Comics” era such a joy to behold.

During the 1970s he devised more remarkable cartoon star turns which, whilst not perhaps as groundbreaking as Plum, Minnie, or The Bash Street Kids nor as subversively enticing as Wham, Smash and Pow creations such as Eagle Eye, Junior Spy, The Swots and the Blots or The Tiddlers (or indeed, as garishly outlandish as George’s Germs or Sam’s Spook), remained part of the nation’s junior landscape for decades ever after.

The main body of his later creations appeared in Buster: features such as The Cave Kids, Big Chief Pow Wow, Clever Dick and Snooper. Baxendale latterly foisted Willy the Kid on the world before creating his own publishing imprint – Reaper Books.

He also sued DCT for rights to his innovative inky inventions: a 7-year struggle that was eventually settled out of court. Other notable graphic landmarks include pantomimic vision THRRP!, his biography A Very Funny Business: 40 Years of Comics and the strip I Love You, Baby Basil which ran in The Guardian during the early 1990s.

Signature stinker Sweeny Toddler debuted in Shiver and Shake in 1973, unsurprisingly surviving repeated mergers – with Whoopee! and Whizzer and Chips – before settling in at the seemingly unsinkable Buster.

This stunning hardback (and eBook) celebration – hopefully the first of many gathering the entire run – is another crucial addition to Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics. It gathers the episodes from Shiver and Shake (spanning March 10th 1973 to 5th October 1974), plus the first tranche from Whoopee!, beginning with 23rd November 1974 until 7th June 1975).

The potent package is suitably garnished with an appreciative and informative Introduction by his son Martin (who also drew the Bad Boy’s adventures after Baxendale senior moved into publishing) and is a magnificent exercise in manic misrule starring the absolute worst baby in the world…

In a simple terrace house with the legend “Tremble wiv fear, Sweeny livs here” scrawled all over it, lives a spotty (occasionally be-stubbled) mono-fanged tyke who is disturbingly fast and strong with a physiognomy that can sour milk.

He is able to read – after a fashion – and that, coupled with a lethally low tolerance for boredom and obedience, means the nasty nipper always finds new and distressing ways to amuse himself at someone else’s expense…

With or without faithful dog and eager abettor Hairy Henry, Sweeny turns every pram ride into a pulse-pounding rollercoaster adventure for his poor benighted mum and grandad, every visit to park, shop or museum into a heart-stopping chase and every cuddlesome interlude with ill-advised adults into an exhausting episode in psychological and physical torture…

At least six strips re-presented here are not by Baxendale, but record-keeping is sadly incomplete. Chances are they’re drawn by Tom Paterson, who eventually took over the feature (or possibly Roy Nixon?) but they are all deliciously weird and wonderful: a blend of unbeatable whacky wordplay, explosive slapstick and bizarre situations, garnished by Baxendale’s unique and evocative sound effects: once read, never forgotten…

Briefly retitled Help! It’s Sweeny Toddler in experimental pages that feature second stories starring monstrous beasts living the borders and margins of the panel dividers, the latter pages never lost the eccentric impetus of the first, with the baby from hell, as ever, mugging old ladies, postmen, schoolboys and other unwary visitors; creating his own zoo, attempting to sneak into X films (remember those, kids?) and totally tormenting anyone who treats him like a child…

As well as straight strips, this first collection also offers ‘Sweeny Toddler’s Beat the Bully Guide’ and graphic game ‘Sweeny Toddler’s Fifty Frightful Faces!’, proving the vile versatility of the little villain…

Leo Baxendale was one-of-a-kind: a hugely influential, much-imitated master of pictorial comedy and noxious gross-out escapades whose work deeply affected (some would say warped) generations of British and Commonwealth kids.

We’ll not see his like again, but these astoundingly engrossing comedy classics are a perfect example of his resolutely British humorous sensibilities – absurdist, whimsically anarchic, outrageously aggressive, crazily confrontational and gleefully grotesque – starring an unremittingly rebellious force of nature with no impulse control.

Sweeny Toddler says and does whatever he wants as soon as he thinks of it, albeit usually to his own detriment and great regret: a rare gift, usually only employed by madmen and foreign Presidents…

These cartoon capers are amongst the most memorable and re-readable exploits in all comics history: smart, eternally, existentially funny and immaculately rendered. This a treasure-trove of laughs that spans generations and must be in every family bookcase.
© 1973, 1974, 1975 & 2019 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. Sweeny Toddler is ™ Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Outside Over There


By Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins: many editions such as Puffin or Red Fox are available)
ISBN: 978-0-06025-523-7 (HB) 978-0-09943-292-0 (PB)

If you don’t know the works of Maurice Sendak, you’re denying yourself a profound reading and viewing experience. Born in 1928, and deeply affected by the events of the Holocaust, Maurice Bernard Sendak was a uniquely skewed narrative genius who crafted beguiling, intoxicating wonderments for children of all ages for over half a century.

The son of Polish Jews living in Brooklyn, there are persistent rumours that he toiled briefly in the fresh world of comics before concentrating on children’s book illustration from the 1950s onward, ultimately writing and illustrating the astounding and controversial Where the Wild Things Are in 1963.

An instant critical success, after initial commercial resistance the book has grown into a genuine modern classic.
Between illustrating other authors’ works, he – all too infrequently – continued to produce his own books: 22 in total before his death in 2012. Among his other landmarks are the 1971 In the Night Kitchen, Seven Little Monsters and most especially, the volume under discussion here. Sendak’s concoctions are not what you’d expect of kids’ stories. Perhaps because of his being so-deeply influenced by Mickey Mouse cartoons and the movie Fantasia, they are often powerfully unsettling, even creepy, resonating with a dark psychological disquiet underpinning them.

The art is always beautiful – he was an absolute master of many styles and media – but sometimes it’s not an accessible or readily-comprehensible kind of beauty…

Nine-year old Ida has been told to look after her baby sister but she is recalcitrant and reluctant. When her guard is down, Goblins steal the tot, leaving a baby made of ice in her place. Father is still at sea and her mother in a daydream in the garden: thus, Ida must pursue the Goblins to rescue the baby herself…

Frequently cited as the source for the film Labyrinth (although I’d imagine author A.C.H. Smith takes umbrage at that), there are indeed many superficial similarities, but Sendak’s tale is subtle and truly mesmerising, with no maudlin sentiment to temper events, and with level upon level of meaning in these watercolours that just can’t be equalled in a budget-conscious, collaborative production like movie-making.

This is as close to pure, raw poetry that graphic narrative ever comes and I’m sure many college dissertations could be written on the symbolism on every page, in every well-chosen word and fragment of lush picture. The author is reputed to have systematically reduced over 100 draft scripts to the telling 360 words rendered here by calligrapher Jeanyee Wong, and the minutiae of detail in each illustration is as information-heavy as any Bosch or Bruegel canvas.

Referents have been identified for everything from Mozart’s Magic Flute to the works of the Pre-Raphaelites (both art and poetry) and to Sendak’s own sister who had to babysit him when he was an infant.

This is a small book packed and layered with meaning. Every detail of each sumptuous, magnificent painting has deep meaning for the knowing and the curious. There is sheer artistic loveliness for those yet too young to find symbolism. It’s also a powerfully moving experience and a tale so very well told. An undeniable “must-see” for every devotee of graphic narrative, but sadly only in print form, as I can’t find it offered anywhere in digital formats…
© 1981 Maurice Sendak. All rights reserved.

Casper the Friendly Ghost Classics


By Sid Jacobson, Warren Kremer, Howie Post, Ernie Colón & various (American Mythology)
ISBN: 978-1-94520-509-5 (TMB)

Once upon a time the American comicbook for younger readers was totally dominated by Dell/Gold Key – with numerous Movie, TV and Disney licenses – and Harvey Comics. The latter had begun in the 1941 when Brookwood Publications sold its comicbook licenses for Green Hornet and Joe Palooka to entrepreneur Alfred Harvey. Hiring his brothers Robert B. and Leon, the new publisher began making impressive inroads into a burgeoning new industry.

For its first nine years the company combined conventional genres with some licensed properties in a bid for the general market, but from 1950 onwards devoted an ever-greater proportion of its resources to a portfolio of wholesome, kid-friendly characters for early readers and all-ages fans of gentle comedy.

Back in the late 1940s, the perspicacious Harvey Brothers had struck a deal with Famous Studios/Paramount Pictures to produce strips starring movie animation stars Little Audrey, Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip and Casper, the Friendly Ghost to supplement their newspaper comics stars such as Blondie and Dagwood, Mutt and Jeff and Sad Sack. Eventually the publishers minted original wholly-owned stars like Little Dot, Little Lotta and Richie Rich to cement their position as the kids’ comicbook company.

Even though Harvey consistently and persistently tried to maintain their strands in mainstream genres such as horror, science fiction, western, war and superheroes (producing some of the very best “forgotten classics” of the era such as Stuntman, Black Cat and Captain 3-D), it was always the junior titles that made the most money.

In 1959 the Harvey’s bought the controlling rights to their own Famous Studios characters just in time for the 1960s boom in children’s television cartoons. The result was a stunning selection of superb young reader comics starring Casper, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost, Nightmare, The Ghostly Trio, Stumbo, Wendy, the Good Little Witch and Hot Stuff, the Little Devil: all bolstered and popularised by “free-to-air” weekly Harveytoons TV shows.

It was a new Golden Age for child-appropriate funny books that lasted until declining morals, the inexorable rise of “cost-free” television, growing games saturation and rising print costs finally forced Harvey to bow out in 1982 when company founder Alfred Harvey retired.

That gloriously evergreen archive of material has regularly resurfaced in assorted print revivals since then. This latest attempt to recapture the glory days comes from licensing specialists American Mythology, who also count Underdog, Pink Panther, Three Stooges and many other properties in their ever-expanding catalogue of comics gems.

Available in trade paperback and digitally, Casper the Friendly Ghost Classics gathers a timelessly wonderful wealth of reprint material to delight youngsters but, quite frankly, the reproduction is rushed and a bit shoddy, and there’s precious little creator information to satisfy older readers who might want to share these fragments of their own childhoods with children or grandkids.

Don’t get me wrong, this a wonderful and long-overdue collection of magical stories, but it – and the people who crafted those original gems – deserve to be treated with a little respect and a little due diligence in future volumes would definitely pay dividends. I’ve included my guesses where I’m able, but writers are harder to identify, so the likes of Ralph Newman, Lennie Herman and Sid Couchey only get a mention here, not on the tales they may or may not have penned…

This economical, no-nonsense affair could stand a few editorial extras and a little more care and attention to reproduction values and creator credits, but is nonetheless a delightful package of charming yarns and gloriously timeless 1-page gags displaying the sheer ingenuity and wit of its originators.

One such solo jape opens proceedings with our happy dead boy and his witch friend Wendy foiling the scary intentions of their relentlessly fear-inducing relatives, before the sweet little spirit decides to visit less noisome kinfolk in ‘Booed Relations’, ‘Educated Ghosts’ and ‘The Mysterious Helper’ (illustrated by the legendary Warren Kremer and originally from giant-sized Casper’s Ghostland #15, October 1962).

Of course, the extended expired family are all equally dedicated to scaring the living out of their wits…

Following a 1-page telephonic boo-duel starring Tuff Little Ghost Spooky, Hot Stuff the Little Devil visits and evicts ‘The Monsters of Creepwood Castle’, scoring ‘A Clean Sweep’ of horrors (from Hot Stuff the Little Devil #72 June 1966, with art, I suspect, by the astounding Ernie Colon).

The Ghostly Trio get a page to harass assorted woodland wildlife before Casper returns in fourth-wall bending yarn ‘Real Gone’ (Casper’s Ghostland #31 August 1966, by Stan Kay & Kremer I think). After an invisible menace bullies assorted forest folk Casper investigates and leaves his own reality to sort out unpleasant, out-of-control artist Pete Pencil who’s messing about in ‘Uncomic Book’. Before long ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ and the friendly ghost is heading back where he belongs…

The Good Little Witch gets some limelight of her own in ‘Flattery Works’, teaching her mean aunts the benefits of niceness before Spooky’s next vignette sees him using a garden hose to maximise his scare tactics, after which talking horse Nightmare (the Galloping Ghost) visits a human theatre and wants to become ‘The Actress’ (Casper and Nightmare #20 June 1969, with art by Marty Taras?)

From that same issue, Casper then visits ‘Puzzleland’, enduring a ‘Dog-Gone Dilemma’ and offering illustrator Kremer plenty of opportunity to display his graphic virtuosity whilst the see-through star is engaged in ‘Baffling the Baffler’

Courtesy of Colon, Hot Stuff visits ‘Dreamland’ to cure his recurrent nightmares before Wendy has a brief but good-natured duel with an artist and Casper drops in on a ‘School for Fools’ (The Friendly Ghost Casper #112, December 1967): learning lots that the students somehow cannot…

The Ghostly Trio lose a battle with a mean dark cloud before Spooky solos again in ‘Nobody Hoid a Woid’ – an exercise in restraint utterly wasted – before Casper strives against a bizarre vandal in ‘The Scribbling Menace’, ‘Erasers for Sale’ and ‘Trouble Erased’ (Casper’s Ghostland #80, September 1974).

Hot Stuff’s Grampa Blaze exhibits his hot temper and foul language in a sharp short strip before Spooky gets a present from Australia and suffers the woes of ‘The Wacky Come Back Stick’, after which Casper & Wendy remark ‘Wow! What a Whammy’ (The Friendly Ghost Casper #112, December 1967) when the witch girl’s awful aunts begin playing mystic pranks…

As Hot Stuff tries turning his trident into ‘The Magnetic Fork’ (Hot Stuff Sizzlers #10, November 1962) – with predictably painful results – Spooky is dreaming of a perfect Scare Raid and Wendy helps an unhappy hobo follow his dreams, before joining Casper in search of ‘The Prize!’ (Casper’s Ghostland #31 August 1966) hidden on a demon’s ship.

With the help of a living boy, this ‘Adventure on Ghastly Island’ leads to a suitably strange ‘Journey’s End’

Hot Stuff’s final appearance finds him aiding an archaeologist against tomb-robbers in ‘A Fortune in Fire’ before the spiritual shenanigans close with one last treat as Casper supernaturally scuppers a western bank raid…

For a worrisome while it looked like contemporary children’s comics would become extinct, but far-seeing outfits in the US and UK have thankfully engineered a robust revival in the marketplace that has seen ubiquitous ever-proliferating licensed product joined by brilliant original kids’ titles – just check out The Phoenix, Goldie Vance, Gotham Academy, Lumberjanes and many others, to see what I mean…

Nevertheless, it’s a boon that we have such timeless characters as Casper and Richie Rich to draw upon and draw kids in with, so compilations like this one belong on the shelves of every loving parent and even those still-contented, well-rested couples with only a confirmed twinkle in their eyes. This clutch of classic children’s tales is a fabulous mix of intoxicating nostalgia and exuberant entertainment readers of all ages cannot fail to love (but there’s still room for improvement, pretty please)…
© 2018 Classic Media LLC. Casper, its logos, names and related indicia are trademarks of and copyright by Classic Media LLC. All rights reserved.

Hex Vet: Witches in Training


By Sam Davies (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-288-8 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-127-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Animal Magic… 9/10

When your animal companions fall ill, you know they need the help only a qualified veterinarian can offer, right?

However, if said furry, feathered, finny or scaly housemate can turn people to stone, teleport or summon devils and imps, a far more specialised service is required. And staff at such vital animal alms houses need a lot of on-the-job training…

At Willows Whisper Veterinary Practice, Dr. Cornelia Talon (Head Veterinary Witch; high Society of Sorcerers. Hons.) and Nurse Ariel Chantsworth (Registered Veterinary Witch; Head of Administration) employ two promising prospects. Trainees Clarion Wellspring and Annette Artifice have all the dedication they need: now they’re just topping up on knowledge, and experience. And co-operation. They really need to learn to work together…

Clarion is fine cleaning out the kennels, dosing beasts with anti-monstrosity tablets or giving hairy horrors a quick tummy rub, but Nan – who comes from a rather infamous family – is quiet and reserved; avoiding contact and preferring to try to learn some new technique or other from a book.

One morning, with Dr. Talon handling an early surgery, Nurse Ariel gives them their assignments – Wellspring to extract and cage a feral bugbear that’s messing up the storeroom and surly Artifice to handle Reception duties – before he and Dr. Talon are called away to an emergency. It’s bad enough being left in charge on their own, but Clarion still hasn’t subdued that bugbear and Nan has unwisely admitted a strange rabbit creature (without an owner or talking companion) which is somehow setting off all her warning instincts…

When it breaks free and stirs up all the other patients (griffins, pythons, witches’ cats and beasties even more exotic!) the stressed students have a real crisis on their hands and must work out how to fix things before their teachers get back or any of their charges are harmed…

A celebrated web cartoonist, Sam Davies (Stutterhug) reaches new heights with her fabulous and charmingly inclusive debut graphic novel which will delight youngsters and all us elderly-but-unbroken fantasy lovers out here. A second volume will be with us early next year, so buy and love this before pre-ordering that…

Also included here is bonus feature ‘How to Make a Comic page (from Scribbles to Finished Artwork)’ giving a step-by-step rundown using book pages as examples of the process from Scribbling while Scripting to Sketch to Inks; Flat Colors to Touch Ups & Smaller Color Details to The Final Page with Letters!, so you and yours can have a go, too.

So much to enjoy!
© December 2018. Hex Vet, Inc. ™ & © 2018 Sam Davies. All rights reserved.

Scared to Death volume 2: Malevolence and Mandrake


By Mauricet & Vanholme, with Lee Oaks: colours by Laurent Carpentier and translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978- 1-905460-77-9 (PB Album)

There’s a grand old tradition of scaring, empowering and entertaining kids through carefully crafted horror stories starring junior protagonists, and this occasional series is one of the better modern examples.

Conceived and executed by journalist Virginie Vanholme and youthful yet seasoned illustrator Alain Mauricet, the Mort de Trouille albums launched through Casterman in the year 2000. There have been seven sinister sorties thus far…

Whilst I’ve not been able to find out much about the author, the artist is rather well travelled, having worked for CrossGen, Image and DC in America as well as on a wide variety of features in Europe.

He’s also seen in David Lloyd’s magnificently wonderful digital delight Aces Weekly

Born in 1967, Mauricet originally inherited the comic bug from his parents and, after studying at the Academy of Fine Arts under legendary creator Eddy Paape, began his own career aged 20 at Le Journal de Spirou.

From spot cartoons he graduated to strips, creating superhero parody Cosmic Patrouille with Jean-Louis Janssens and Les Rastafioles with Sergio Salma. Following the aforementioned stateside sojourn, he resumed his Franco-Belgian efforts with the strip under review here, as well as basketball comedy Basket Dunk (with Christophe Cazanove) and Boulard (with Erroc) and others.

He now lives in Brussels, and also designs for computer games whilst working on a more personal graphic enterprise entitled Une Bien Belle Nuance de Rouge

Back in early 2000, though, he was detailing a sequence of spooky yarns starring studious Robin Lavigne, son of an esteemed forensic scientist and boisterous, overly-imaginative, horror-story obsessed Max Mornet: a couple of lads with an infallible instinct for ferreting out the weird and uncanny and increasing dependent – though they’d never admit it – upon the wit and bravery of Robin’s brilliant little sister Sophie

Cinebook’s second translated selection was third French chilling chronicle Mort de Trouille: Maléfice et mandragora: suitably set around All Hallows Eve and posing uniquely terrifying problems for the youthful, trouble-magnets…

It all begins a little before the much-anticipated night with the Elizabeth Simon Secondary School abuzz with worries over missing student Thomas and seemingly simultaneous arrival of oddly-attractive, exotic new student Emma Corpescu. She comes from Romania and Max is strangely antipathic to her at first, but that soon changes…

Robin also feels a bit off as the newcomer blatantly insinuates herself into their lives, paying particular attention to Max. Soon, so-savvy Sophie is paying close attention. Far more so than the idiot boys…

She’s very wise to do so: Emma soon revealed as an ancient shapeshifting sorceress named Malevolence, who steals the youth of boys to restore her own life force and to one day resurrect her dead sister Mandrake

After doing research online, Sophie arms herself with anti-witch tricks and gadgets and, after discovering the incredible fate of Thomas, ultimately convinces her incredulous brother to stalk the wicked enchanter to her lair in Deadwater Swamp to rescue the now missing Max. The poor lad has succumbed to Emma’s wiles and now resides in her lair transformed into the same uncanny form as Thomas…

Arriving just in time, his rescuers are set for an incredible clash of wills and powers – especially Sophie, who’s borrowed a few supernatural forces for the ordeal…

Of course, good triumphs in the end, but can such seductive evil truly die?

Deliciously delivered in the manner of Goosebumps and Scooby-Doo, this is a superb slice of all-ages spooky fun in the classic mould, seamlessly mixing fear with hilarity to enthral and enchant all generations equally.
Original edition © Casterman, 2003 by Mauricet & Vanholme. English translation © 2008 by Cinebook Ltd.

Archie’s Weird Mysteries


By Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie)
ISBN: 978-1-879794-74-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Family Friendly Seasonal Fear Fest… 8/10

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 costumed heroes and two-fisted adventure strips were gradually 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 and artist Bob Montana with the job of making it work.

In six pages, eponymously entitled ‘Archie’ introduced goofy Archie Andrews and pretty girl-next-door Betty Cooper. Archie’s unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that first story, as did the scenic small-town utopia Riverdale.

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. With the introduction of rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the comicbook industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon (Superman 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.

At the end of the last century, one of those fads was for savvy band of teens to fight Vampires and Demons in a small town…

It led to Archie’s Weird Mysteries: a French/American animated TV co-production with the regular cast encountering all manner of bizarre phenomena, creatures and situations after Archie starts writing a school newspaper column on mysteries and cryptozoology.

That small screen enterprise led to a comic book iteration mostly created by Paul Castiglia, Fernando Ruiz & Rich Koslowski – backed up by letterer Vickie Williams and colourists Rick Taylor Stephanie Vozzo – with parody and contemporary satire leading the thematic charge …although the company also used the broad church the series presented to reintroduce a number of those early MLJ super-doers; sadly, not included in this all-strange phenomena compilation…

In this splendidly entertaining paperback and digital collection, the warring gal-pals and extended cast of the small-town American Follies are plunged deep into terror territory as Archie’s Weird Mysteries #2 (March 2000) reveals how the gang are targeted by a spooky movie monster in ‘Shriek’.

The deft – and suitably daft in appropriate places – spoof of film franchise Scream is followed here by a delightful and arch tribute to the incomparable Scooby-Doo phenomenon as ‘A Familiar Old Haunt’ (#6 July) sees Archie signing up for “Bo and Gus’s Paranormal Investigation Camp” with Jughead, Betty and Veronica joining him in a borrowed panel van. Even Jughead’s faithful mutt Hot Dog tags along. The freak du jour is a bizarre vegetable horror, but it’s no match for a bunch of pesky kids….

Archie’s Weird Mysteries #10 (July) found a fashion for many beards and chest hair at Riverdale High. However, hirsute attractiveness and rampant testosterone can’t explain why girls and boys are all going follicle crazy until Archie uncovers a ‘Bigfoot on Campus’

At the height of competitive sports season school principal Mr. Weatherbee is kidnapped by aliens who need his (sadly non-existent) baseball expertise to beat a band of bullying space jocks in ‘U.F.O. Uh-oh!’ (#7 August) after which ‘The Scarlet Chronicles’ (AWM #10 July) introduces vampire hunter Scarlet Helsing to readers who might have missed her starring role in the TV show. As seen in the brace of cartoon episodes reprised here, the beautiful young warrior was drawn to Riverdale and allied with the town’s reclusive paranormal expert Dr. Beaumont to battle the assembling forces of darkness…

New ground is broken with issue #12 (April 2001) as ‘The Return of Scarlet’ sees the slayer suborned by a cabal of bloodsuckers and set upon Beaumont and Archie. Naturally, Betty is ready to lead the gang in their counterattack…

Complimenting the chronicles is a lighthearted cartoon ‘Guide to Fighting Vampires’ from issue #15 (September 2001) wherein Scarlet lists a number of methods for defeating the Darkness before this fun-filled fear fest concludes with behind-the-scenes text feature ‘Scarlet’s Guide to Archie’s Weird Mysteries’; interviewing Castiglia and Ruiz on their role in the TV iteration and how the comic book spun out of it.

Co-starring all the crucial supporting characters we know and love, these smartly beguiling skits are a prime example of just why Archie has been unassailable for generations: providing decades of family-friendly fun and wholesome teen entertainment – complete with goblins, ghosts and ghouls as required…
© 2011 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations


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

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Hopelessly Hilarious Horrendousness… 10/10

If you know British Comics, you’ll know Ken Reid.

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

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated.

He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes and hanging about in cafes. Undaunted he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section.

The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963, with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (The Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work.

On April 18th 1953 Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 and created numerous others including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

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

In 1971 Reid devised Faceache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time, he continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid luxury hardback (and eBook) is Creepy Creations.

Part of Rebellion’s ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics collected here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake episodes (spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974), plus related works from contemporary Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) sterling for their successful efforts.

The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles that begin with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

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

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

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

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

Adding even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collection…

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

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

Benny Breakiron volume 2: Madame Adolphine


By Peyo, with backgrounds by Will, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-436-0 (HB Album)

Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium in 1928 to a family of British origin living in the Schaerbeek district of Brussels. An admirer of the works of Hergé and American comics licensed to Le Journal de Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!, he developed his own artistic skills but the war and family bereavement forced him to forgo further education and find work.

After some time toiling as a cinema projectionist, in 1945 Culliford joined C.B.A. animation studios, where he met André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio closed, he briefly studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts before moving full-time into graphic advertising. In his spare time, he began submitting comic strips to the burgeoning post-war comics publishers.

His first sale was in April 1946: Pied-Tendre, a tale of American Indians in Riquet, the comics supplement to the daily L’Occident newspaper. Further sales to other venues followed and in 1952 his knight Johan found a permanent spot in Le Journal de Spirou. Retitled Johan et Pirlout, the strip prospered and in 1958 introduced a strange bunch of blue woodland gnomes called Les Schtroumpfs.

Culliford – who now used the nom de plume Peyo – would gradually turn those adorable little mites (known to us and most of the world as The Smurfs) into an all-encompassing global empire, but before being sucked onto that relentless treadmill, he still found time to create a few other noteworthy strips such as the titanic tyke on view here today.

In 1960 Benoît Brisefer – AKA Benedict Ironbreaker and/or (in Dutch) Steven Sterk – debuted in Le Journal de Spirou #1183 (December 1960). With a few slyly added tips of the hat to Siegel & Shuster’s Superman, the wryly bucolic adventures celebrated a small boy with superhuman strength living in a generally quiet and unassuming little Belgian town.

Quiet, well-mannered, gentle and a bit lonely, Benny just happens to be the mightiest boy on Earth; able to crush steel or stone in his tiny hands, leap huge distances and run faster than a racing car. He is also generally immune to all physical harm, but his fatal and rather ubiquitous weakness is that all his strength deserts him whenever he catches a cold…

Benny never tries to conceal his abilities but somehow no adults ever catch on. They generally think he’s telling fibs or boasting and whenever he tries to prove he can bend steel in his hands, the unlucky lad gets another dose of the galloping sniffles…

Most kids avoid him. It’s hard to make friends or play games when a minor kick can pop a football like a balloon and a shrug can topple trees…

Well-past-it Brits of my age and vintage might remember the character from weekly comics in the 1960’s. As Tammy Tuff – The Strongest Boy on Earth – and later as Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong – our beret-wearing champion appeared in Giggle and other periodicals from 1967 onwards.

With Peyo’s little blue cash-cows taking up ever larger amounts of his concentration and time, other members of his studio assumed greater responsibilities for Benoît as the years passed. Willy Maltaite (“Will”), Gos, Yvan Delporte, François Walthéry and Albert Blesteau all pitched in and Jean Roba created many eye-catching Spirou covers, but by 1978 the demands of the Smurfs were all-consuming and all the studio’s other strips were retired.

You can’t keep a good super-junior down, though, and after Peyo’s death in 1992, his son Thierry Culliford and cartoonist Pascal Garray revived the strip, adding six more volumes to the eight generated by Peyo and his team between 1960 and 1978.

Thanks to the efforts of US publisher Papercutz, the first four of those gloriously genteel and outrageously engaging power fantasies are available to English-language readers again – both as robust full-colour hardbacks and as all-purpose eBooks – and this second translated exploit begins in the sedate city of Vivejoie-la-Grande, where the kid goes about his rather solitary life, doing good deeds in secret and being as good a boy as he can….

After another day of being shunned by everyone around, disconsolate Benny heads for the park and is befriended by a sweet old lady named Adolphine. No respecter of old graceful retirement, the old dear romps boisterously and disgracefully with the lad – to the disgust of the other park patrons. Eventually, Benny escorts her to his home where she has a strange fit and collapses.

When even a doctor refuses to help, Benny finds a phone number in her bag and a rather strange gentleman comes to collect her. He’s none too gentle in his behaviour and even throws the old lady in the boot of his car…

Even more distressingly, when Benny sees her in the street next day, Madame Adolphine claims to have never met him before…
Baffled but unwilling to let the matter go, Benny tracks her down to a toyshop run by inventor Serge Vladlavodka and finds her standing over the tinkerer’s unconscious body with a massive mallet in her hand. Moreover, her manner is brusque and almost callous…

The belligerent biddy bustles off whilst Benny is trying to revive her prone victim, but when Serge recovers, he also rushes off, fearing the harm she might cause. Accompanying him, Benny learns a starling secret…

There are two Adolphines and one is indeed a sweet old lady. Unfortunately, the other is an increasingly unstable, aggressive and just plain mean robot doppelganger who soon begins robbing banks and terrorising the public, so guess which one the police subsequently arrest?

As indignant Benny single-handedly breaks the organic pensioner out of prison, the automaton Adolphine forms a gang of professional thugs and goes on a crime spree the cops are helpless to stop.

Good thing Benny is made of sterner stuff…

This superbly surreal spoof has delicious echoes of classic Ealing Comedies such as The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob as it follows the little wonder boy’s resolute, dynamic and spectacular campaign to save his friend: blending deft wit with bombastic and hilarious slapstick. Madame Adolphine is another fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, offering a distinctly Old-World spin to the concept of superheroes and providing a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Captain Pugwash: Best Pirate Jokes


By Ian D. Rylett & Ian Hillyard (Red Fox/Random House)
ISBN: 978-1-862-30793-3

The problem with pirates is that they don’t know when enough’s enough, so here’s another review to reconnoitre: tangentially celebrating the greatest buccaneer of all…

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

Born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, Ryan was the son of a diplomat, served during WWII in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the company’s glossy distaff alternative Girl, but most especially in the pages of the legendary “boys’ paper” The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950, Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain Pugwash – The story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him. Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran (or more accurately capered and fell about) until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship for Ryan who had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent as a full-page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from Eagle #16. (I really must reinvestigate the solidly stolid sleuth too sometime soon…)

Tweed ran as a page for three years until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I mean old Horatio Pugwash but it could so easily be Ryan) made the jump to children’s picture books. He was an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, and somehow also found time to be head cartoonist for The Catholic Herald for forty years.

A Pirate Story was first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin for further editions and more adventures. It was the first of a vast (sorry, got away with myself again there!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects.

Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, plus Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comics world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

The primary Pugwash is very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations to illuminate a particular moment. But by the publication of Pugwash the Smuggler (1982) entire sequences were lavishly painted comic strips, with as many as eight panels per page, and including word balloons. A fitting circularity to his interlocking careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

After A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968: later reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high quality animations to a tight deadline.

He began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – and all dim), instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Captain Pugwash strip in The Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and the aforementioned Sir Prancelot. There were also adaptations of some of his many other children’s books and in 1997 Pugwash was rebooted in an all-new CGI animated TV series.

The first book – A Pirate Story – sets the scene with a delightful clown’s romp as the so-very-motley crew of the Black Pig sail in search of buried treasure, only to fall into a cunning trap set by the truly nasty corsair Cut-Throat Jake. Luckily, Tom is as smart as his shipmates and Captain are not…

A 2008 edition of A Pirate Story from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list of the good (ish) Captain’s exploits that you should make it your remaining life’s work to unearth…:

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991). They are all pearls beyond price and a true treasure of graphic excellence…

Although currently out of print, the assembled Pugwash canon (the only sort this band of rapscallions can be trusted with) are still widely available through online vendors and should be a prize you set your hearts on acquiring.

As you might expect, such success breeds ancillary projects, and cleaving close to the wind and running in the master’s wake is this minor mirthquake that no sassy brat could possibly resist. Compiled by Ian D. Rylett and copiously illustrated by Ian Hillyard in stark monochrome, it’s a fairly standard cartoon joke book as beloved by generations of youngsters and loathed beyond endurance by parents, guardians, older siblings and every other adult whose patience is proven quite exhaustible…

Divided into themed chapters ‘The Captain’s Crackers’, ‘Jakes’ Jests’, ‘Blundering Bucaneersk, KHysterics in the Harbour’, ‘Fishy Funnies’ and ‘All Aboard’, the level of wit is almost lethal in its predictability and vintage (Q: why did the irate sailor go for a pee? A: he wanted to be a pirate.) but the relentless pace and remorseless progression is actually irresistible in delivery.

With the world crashing down around us and the water levels inexorably rising, we don’t have that much to laugh at, so why don’t you go and find something to take your minds off the chaos to come? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary soul, you will too…
Pugwash books © 1957-2009 John Ryan and (presumably) the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.
Best Pirate Jokes © Britt-Allcroft (Development Ltd) Limited 2000. All rights worldwide Britt-Allcroft (Development Ltd) Limited.