Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strips volume 3


By Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly)
ISBN: 978-1-89729-955-5 (HB)

Tove Jansson was one of the greatest literary innovators and narrative pioneers of the 20th century: equally adept at shaping words and images to create worlds of wonder. She was especially expressive with basic components such as pen and ink, manipulating slim economical lines and patterns to realise sublime realms of fascination, whilst her dexterity made simple forms into incredibly expressive and potent symbols.

Tove Marika Jansson was born into an artistic, intellectual and surprisingly bohemian Swedish family in Helsinki, Finland on August 9th 1914. Her father Viktor was a sculptor, her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson a successful illustrator, graphic designer and commercial artist. Tove’s brothers Lars and Per Olov became a cartoonist/writer and photographer respectively. The family and its close intellectual, eccentric circle of friends seems to have been cast rather than born, with a witty play or challenging sitcom as the piece they were all destined to act in.

After intensive study from 1930-1938 (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, Stockholm, the Graphic School of The Finnish Academy of Fine Arts and L’Ecole d’Adrien Holy and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris) she became a successful exhibiting artist through the troubled period of the Second World War. Intensely creative in many fields, she published the first fantastic Moomins adventure in 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood or latterly and more euphoniously The Moomins and the Great Flood), a whimsical epic of gentle, inclusive, accepting, understanding, bohemian, misfit trolls and their strange friends…

A youthful over-achiever, from 1930-1953 Tove worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Swedish satirical magazine Garm, and achieved some measure of notoriety with an infamous political sketch of Hitler in nappies that lampooned the Appeasement policies of Chamberlain and other European leaders in the build-up to World War II. She was also an in-demand illustrator for many magazines and children’s books, and had started selling comic strips as early as 1929.

Moomintroll was her signature character. Quite Literally.

The lumpy, gently adventurous, wide-eyed romantic goof began life as a spindly sigil next to her name in Jansson’s political works. She called him “Snork” and claimed she had designed him in a childish fit of pique – the ugliest thing a precocious little girl could imagine – as a response to losing an argument about Immanuel Kant with her brother.

The term “Moomin” came from her maternal uncle Einar Hammarsten who attempted to stop her pilfering food when she visited by warning her that a Moomintroll guarded the kitchen, creeping up on trespassers and breathing cold air down their necks. Snork/Moomin filled out, became timidly nicer – if a little clingy and insecure – acting as a placid therapy-tool to counteract the grimness of the post-war world.

The Moomins and the Great Flood didn’t make much of an initial impact but she persisted, probably as much for her own edification as any other reason, and in 1946 the second book Kometjakten (Comet in Moominland) was published. Many commentators have reckoned the terrifying tale a skilfully compelling allegory of Nuclear Armageddon.

When it and her third illustrated novel Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll or occasionally The Happy Moomins) were translated into English in 1952 to great acclaim, it prompted British publishing giant Associated Press to commission a newspaper strip about her seductively sweet and sensibly surreal creations.

Jansson had no misgivings or prejudices about strip cartoons and had already adapted Comet in Moominland for Swedish/Finnish paper Ny Tid. Mumintrollet och jordens undergängMoomintrolls and the End of the World – was a popular feature so Jansson readily accepted the chance to extend her eclectic family across the world.

After brief negotiations with AP boss Charles Sutton, in 1953 The London Evening News began the first of 21 Moomin strip sagas which rapidly captivated readers of all ages. Jansson’s involvement in the cartoon feature ended in 1959, a casualty of its own success and a punishing publication schedule. So great was the strain that towards the end she had recruited brother Lars to help. He took over, continuing the feature until its end in 1975. The five strips in this volume are all Tove and span July 18th 1956 to 30th April 1957.

Free of the strip, Tove returned to painting, writing and her other creative pursuits, generating plays, murals, public art, stage designs, costumes for dramas and ballets, a Moomin opera and another nine Moomin-related picture-books and novels, as well as thirteen books and short-story collections strictly for grown-ups.

Tove Jansson died on June 27th 2001 and her awards are too numerous to mention, but consider this: how many modern artists – let alone comics creators – get their faces on the national currency?

The Moomin comic strips have long been available in Scandinavian volumes but it took the discerning folk at Drawn & Quarterly to sagely and belatedly translated them all into English for your – and especially my – sheer delight and delectation, so a hearty “thanks” to them!

Moomintrolls are easy-going free spirits, bohemians untroubled by hidebound domestic mores and societal pressures. Moominmama is warm and capable but overly concerned with propriety and appearances whilst Moominpappa spends most of his time trying to rekindle his adventurous youth or dreaming of fantastic journeys. Their unimaginatively named son Moomin is a meek and dreamy boy utterly besotted with their permanent house guest Snorkmaiden… although that particularly impressionable gamin prefers to play things slowly whilst waiting for somebody potentially better…

As already stated, this third oversized (312 x 222mm) monochrome hardback compilation gathers strip sagas from 1956 and 1957, with Tove in fine satirical form and eerily ecologically prescient as ‘Moomin Falls in Love’ sees scarily unseasonal rainfall result in devasting floods that inundate the sedate valley.

With everything under water, a wave of refugees soon wash up: not only displaced and drenched neighbours but also wildly exotic strangers such as the circus horse, multitalented performer Emeraldo and glamourous leading lady La Goona.

Soon, this lascivious latter has naïve Moomin agonisingly under her uncaring thumb and Snorkmaiden is fuming, but romantic advice from quirky, overly romantic and lonely Mymble and spiteful Little My isn’t helping at all…

Just as the crisis is calmed, the weather again goes wild as a super heatwave blisters the land. When a large crate of tropical seeds washes ashore it isn’t long before ‘Moominvalley Turns Jungle’: a situation made even worse when sneaky rogue Stinky frees all the animals from the local zoo. With beasts and bewildered boffins roaming the verdant countryside and young Moomintroll channelling his inner Tarzan, chaos abounds and goes into overdrive when the zookeepers invade in force determined to recapture all their animals. Sadly, these seasoned professionals are utterly unable to tell the difference between Moomins and Hippos…

And then the weather turns again…

Succumbing to the tone of the times, an abundance of flying Saucer sightings leads to ‘Moomin and the Martians’ as a crashed UFO allows dangerously miraculous machinery to fall into untrustworthy paws. Its bad enough that Moomintroll and Moominpappa’s meddling provokes a plague of invisibility and antigravity, but when Moominmamma takes charge decent sensible folk start indulging in odd transformations…

Meanwhile the anxious authorities send their top Inspector to solve the situation, but instead of locating the missing invader from the Red Planet he becomes a menace too. And then more Martians arrive…

Presaging and informing her 1965 novel Moominpappa at Sea, ‘Moomin and the Sea’ finds Jansson’s eclectic family reluctantly relocated to a desolate rock to man a lighthouse whilst allowing the man of the house the time and experiences needed to write the Great Finnish Maritime Novel.

Of course, the foolish pipedream soon goes terribly awry. The island is desolate, forbidding, so utterly lacking in the vegetation that Moominmamma needs to thrive that the new inhabitants become anxious, fractious and even hostile. Somehow, the barren rock still has room for a ghost – albeit a peculiarly ineffective one that only scares young Moomintroll…

The only relief from the abject misery is a strangely dedicated old fisherman and a canny, capable beachcomber called Too-Tikki (the eminently practical sailor woman was based on Jansson’s life partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, and first appeared in print in the 1957 novel Moominland Midwinter) but even they can’t help much when a big storm breaks without warning…

Once back in their beloved homeland, the family is then aggrieved by cultural catastrophe and legal tribulation in the final yarn of this collection as ‘Club Life in Moominvalley’ sees Pappa and Mamma beguiled by a mad upswell of lodges, societies and exclusive social networks amongst the adults.

These make a spoiled, arrogant and juvenile chauvinist of him and a nervous, browbeaten and unwilling criminal accomplice of her, as mean old Stinky starts his own Gangsters and Robbers Club and blackmails Moominmamma into using the cellar as their loot cache…

Thankfully Moomintroll and the Snorkmaiden are still young enough not to bow to such intolerable peer pressure and The Inspector is on the case…

This amazing, enchanting collection concludes with short essay ‘Tove Jansson: To Live in Peace, Plant Potatoes, and Dream’: a comprehensive biography and commentary by Alisia Grace Chase (PhD) which celebrates the incredible achievements of this genteel giant of literature.

These are truly enchanting magical tales for the young laced with the devastating observation and razor-sharp mature wit which enhances and elevates only the greatest kid’s stories into classics of literature. These volumes are an international treasure and no fan of the medium – or indeed carbon-based lifeform with even a hint of heart and soul – can afford to be without them.
© 2008, 2015 Solo/Bulls. All other material © its creators. All rights reserved.

Animal Land volume 1


By Makoto Raiku, translated and adapted by Stephen Paul (Kondansha Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-68233-202-3 (PB)

Born in Gifu on August 1974, Makoto Raiku started his manga career as an assistant to Kazuhiro Fujita before creating his own award-winning strips such as Bird Man, Newtown Heroes, Genmai Blade, and the enormously popular Konjiki no Gash!! (which hit American TV screens as Zatch Bell!!). All these were for Shogakukan’s Shōnen Sunday Super and Weekly Shōnen Sunday.

Following a legal dispute in 2008, the artist moved to rival publisher Kodansha and devised Dōbutsu no Kuni (Animal Country) which began in the October 2009 issues of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. The series ran until February 2014, garnering the Best Children’s Manga Award and filling 14 tankōbon volumes from March 2010 onwards.

The all-ages fable follows the incredible life of a seemingly-human baby abandoned and cast adrift on a river only to wash up in the land of animals: a dog-eat-dog, literally bestial world of raw savagery where the weak always die and only the strong are able to survive.

‘Word 1: Hello, Baby’ opens proceedings with little Monoko, an orphan Tanuki (a tiny raccoon dog indigenous to Japan). Since her parents were eaten by wildcats, she’s been unable to pull her weight in the hard-pressed Tanuki community. The others spend all their time and energy rushing to store enough food for the rapidly approaching winter. It doesn’t look like Monoko’s going to make it…

Her world and existence change forever when she adopts the strange hairless monkey cub which washes up on the river bank one cold day. This is a very strange baby and Monoko insanely decides to become its new mother against all the advice of the village.

In Animal Land all creatures are at odds and cannot understand other species’ cries, but Monoko decides to risk everything – including being eaten by cats such as the fearsome Kurokagi – to steal some milk for the foundling to drink.

Despite the horrifying but successful mission the baby is cold and dying: it has no will to live and the Tanuki elders brusquely tell her to stop wasting everybody’s time and resources. Instead, desperate Monoko cuddles it with her body, sharing her warmth in a futile, lonely struggle to keep it alive one more night. When she awakes, the Tanuki discovers something miraculous and staggeringly game-changing…

The initial episode end with another huge shock: the alien infant can speak her language…

The mystery increases in second instalment ‘Word 2: Baby’s Power’ when the waif reveals that he can converse and understand the speech of all animals – even ultimate predator Kurokagi.

That useful trait leads to the discovery of the dire marauder’s tragic secret and further reshapes the nature and destiny of the savage domain, whilst third and final (for now) chapter ‘Word 3: Baby Cries Over His Name’ sees Monoko’s first maternal crisis as she finds a keepsake from the baby’s biological mother and fears her joyous new world is crumbling around her… until once more the wonder baby comes to her emotional and physical rescue…

Despite what the publishers would have you believe this isn’t just another cute kiddie-book. For starters it’s filled with scatological asides and the audience advisory is 13 and older. Moreover, despite being filled with action, adventure and slapstick/social gaffe humour in the grand manga manner, this tale is filled with scary moments, brutal situations and situations of heartbreaking poignancy. It also has a lot to say about family, community, integration, unity and understanding through plain-talking and communication.

Included in this initial monochrome volume are translator’s notes, a guide to Japanese honorifics, Omake pages (“extra” or “bonus”) of short cartoon strips and a longer piece wherein Makuto Raiku lets us in on the background of and inspiration for the strip: sharing the bittersweet story of his and wife’s best friend Riku – an abandoned, wounded puppy…

More Animal Farm than The Gruffalo or the Tiger Who Came to Tea, this is an enthralling and impressive slice of social fantasy for kids, and would make a great gift for older children getting too big for traditional kids’ stuff.

This monochrome paperback and digital volume is printed in the traditional front-to-back, right-to-left reading manner.
© 2010 Makoto Raiku. English translation © 2011 Makoto Raiku. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 11: Asterix and the Actress, Asterix and the Class Act, Asterix and the Falling Sky


By Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Childrens’ Books)
ISBNs: 978-0-75289-156-9 (HB Album) 978-1-44400-426-7 (PB Album)

A son of Italian immigrants, Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born on April 25th 1927 in Fismes, on the Marn. Showing great artistic flair as a child reading Mickey Mouse in Le Pétit Parisien, the lad dreamed of becoming an aircraft mechanic one day.

After becoming a French citizen at age seven, Uderzo found employment at 13, apprenticed to the Paris Publishing Society where he learned design, typography, calligraphy and photo retouching. When WWII broke out, Albert spent time with farming relatives in Brittany and joined his father’s furniture-making business.

Brittany beguiled and fascinated Uderzo: when a location for Asterix’s idyllic village was being mooted, the region was the only choice.

During the post-war rebuilding of France, Uderzo returned to Paris and became a successful artist in the country’s revitalised and burgeoning comics industry. His first published work – a pastiche of Aesop’s Fables – appeared in Junior, and in 1945 he was introduced to industry giant Edmond-François Calvo (whose own comics masterpiece The Beast is Dead is still long overdue for a new edition and, if you follow current events, sorely needed as a timely warning shot in these frighteningly familiar-feeling times…).

Indefatigable Uderzo’s subsequent creations included indomitable eccentric Clopinard, Belloy, l’Invulnérable, Prince Rollin and Arys Buck. He illustrated Em-Ré-Vil’s novel Flamberge, worked in animation, and as a journalist and illustrator for France Dimanche. He created vertical comic strip Le Crime ne Paie pas for France-Soir and in 1950, even illustrated a few episodes of the franchised European version of Fawcett’s Captain Marvel Jr. for Bravo!

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

Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior were created for La Libre Junior before they devised a wry western with a native hero who eventually evolved into the delightfully infamous Oumpah-Pah. In 1955, with the formation of Édifrance/Édipresse, Uderzo drew Bill Blanchart for La Libre Junior, replaced Christian Godard on Benjamin et Benjamine and, in 1957, added Charlier’s Clairette to his bulging portfolio.

The following year he made his debut in Le Journal de Tintin, as Oumpah-Pah finally found a permanent home and rapturous audience. In his quieter moments, Uderzo also drew Poussin et Poussif, La Famille Moutonet and La Famille Cokalane.

When Pilote launched in 1959, Uderzo was a major creative force for the new magazine, collaborating with Charlier onTanguy et Laverdure whilst producing with Goscinny a little something called Astérix le gaulois

Despite Asterix being a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on Les Aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure, but once the first Roman romp was compiled and collected as hit album Astérix le gaulois in 1961, it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the incredible Goscinny seemed to never require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 the strip occupied all Uderzo’s time and attention, so in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their inimitable creation. When Goscinny passed away three years later, Uderzo had to be convinced to continue the adventures as writer and artist, producing a further ten volumes until 2010 when he retired.

After nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into albums, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original book before being serialised. Thereafter, each new release was a long-anticipated, eagerly-awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Uderzo is the 10th most-often translated French-language author in the world and the third most-translated French language comics author – right after his old mate René Goscinny and grand master Hergé.

Global sales will soon top 380 million copies of the 38 canonical Asterix books, making his joint creators – and their successors Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – France’s best-selling international authors.

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut, with a wealth of animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, naturellement)…

Like all the best stories the premise works on more than one level: read it as an action-packed comedic saga of sneaky and bullying baddies coming a cropper if you want or as a punfully sly and witty satire for older, wiser heads. We Brits are further blessed by the brilliantly light touch of master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who played no small part in making the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to English tongues.

More than half of the canon is set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where – circa 50 B.C. – a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resist every effort of the mighty Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land has been divided by the conquerors into compliant provinces Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last cited just refuses to be pacified…

The remaining epics occur in various locales throughout the Ancient World, with the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visiting every fantastic land and corner of the myriad civilisations that proliferated in that fabled era…

When the heroes are playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resort to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Laudanum, Compendium, Totorum and Aquarium.

The Gauls couldn’t care less: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend Obelix

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

By the time of the first tale in this omnibus edition was released Goscinny had been gone for almost a quarter of a century and Uderzo had found his own authorial voice, whilst keeping the immortal characters rock steady in their natures…

Uderzo’s seventh session as sole auteur was Astèrix et Latraviata: released in 2001 as the 30th volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language version was released that same year as Asterix and the Actress.

The revelatory epic opens with romance in the air as Obelix and his lifelong pal return to the village, laden down with boars and more battered keepsakes of the ongoing contretemps with the woefully-outmatched Romans.

They amiably amble into a huge surprise party. The heroes coincidentally share the same birthday and their garrulous Gaulish friends have arranged the event to commemorate the occasion. Even their respective mothers have come down for a visit from fashionable regional capital Condatum

Soon a feast is in full swing but after handing over their spectacular gifts (culled from the parents’ fashionable souvenir shop) – a fabulous jewelled sword for Asterix and an equally splendid Roman helmet for Obelix to add to his huge collection – the mothers begin a battle of their own with their sons.

Fed up with waiting for their hardworking husbands to arrive from the Big City, the impatient matrons start in on the birthday boys with lectures about settling down and providing some grandchildren…

Overruling Asterix and Obelix’s complaints, the insistent Sarsaparilla and Vanilla conduct acutely embarrassing interviews with the village’s contingent of eligible females and their potential mothers-in-law. They even organise a formal dance to show off their sons’ matrimonial potential, but the matchmaking is a succession of fiascos since the oafish louts just don’t want to play ball…

Fathers Astronomix and Obeliscoidix are now long overdue. Unknown to all, they have been arrested by Prefect Bogus Genius. The wily official has a problem which needs some clever and extremely delicate handling…

Already in custody is dipsomaniac former legionary Tremensdelirious (from Asterix and Caesar’s Gift), who sold the aforementioned sword and helmet to the Gaulish souvenir traders. Sadly, the items’ true owner is Caesar’s greatest enemy Pompey and incontrovertible proof positive that the usurping former tribune is back in Europe. The items must be quietly recovered before Rome realises…

Well aware of the ferocious reputation of the sons of his Gaulish captives, the Prefect enacts a devious scheme suggested by his spies. Mighty Obelix turns to jelly whenever he sees the beautiful Panacea (another village émigré now living in Condatum with her husband Tragicomix – as first seen in Asterix the Legionary) so the devilish plotter has hired the Empire’s greatest actress Latraviata to impersonate her and steal back the incriminating evidence…

As the despondent dads tire of waiting for rescue by their doughty boys and strike a deal with their cellmate Tremensdelirious, Decurion Fastandfurius is pretending to be a merchant escorting “Panacea” back to her home village. Apparently, the poor thing has a very selective case of amnesia…

In that certain Gaulish village on the coast of Armorica the actress is readily accepted with only Getafix in the least suspicious. Soon, her fawning attention to besotted Obelix wins her the helmet but Asterix is not so easily wooed. That changes when a spat with his now-jealous bosom buddy results in a mighty blow to the head which deprives him of his usually superior wits…

If not for overprotective mother Vanilla the plot would have succeeded then and there, but she stops the ingénue making off with the sword and calls in Getafix to cure her addled son. Unfortunately, the magic potion has a bizarre effect on the little zombie and Asterix goes wild, acting like an animal and scrapping with Obelix before hurtling out to sea like a torpedo…

He regains his senses on a rock in the middle of nowhere just as a massive storm erupts about him and only survives due to the intervention of old frenemies The Pirates and a particularly accommodating dolphin…

In the meantime, Latraviata and Fastandfurius have secretly secured the sword and started back for Condatum. Still unaware of their true nature, freshly reconciled Asterix and Obelix – who are heading in the same direction to find out what has delayed their dads – cadge a lift on the infiltrators’ cart.

Elsewhere, other agents are coming into play. A certain spy has already informed Caesar of trouble brewing and the real Panacea, having seen Astronomix and Obeliscoidix’s wrecked shop, has rushed off with Tragicomix to warn the village…

As our heroes head for the city, they are baffled to see Romans so busy fighting each other that they don’t even notice their usual nemeses, and everything comes to a startling head when Panacea apparently meets herself on the road…

After explanations, apologies and a surprising change of heart on behalf of one of the conspirators, Asterix and Obelix dash on to Condatum to rescue their fathers, only to stride straight into a major melee as Caesar and Pompey’s forces furiously clash…

Of course, it all works out in the end and cartoon dog-lovers everywhere will rejoice in the last moment arrival of the missing wonder mutt Dogmatix…and the introduction of his new “wife” and family. Apparently, some heroes cansuccessfully combine romance and duty…

Packed with outrageous action, good-natured joshing, cleverly applied raucous family humour, bombastic spectacle and a torrent of punishing puns to astound and bemuse youngsters of all ages, this rollicking affirmation of life’s eternal verities further confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller whilst his stunning illustrative ability affords glimpses of sheer magic to lovers of cartoon art.

Diminutive, doughty daredevil Asterix is one of the Ninth Art’s greatest achievements, and by the mid-1960s had become a global brand and premium French export. He continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. As such prominent and ever-ascending stars, their presence was often requested in other places, as varied as fashion magazine Elle, global icon National Geographic and even a part of Paris’ 1992 Olympic Bid…

In 2013 new yarn Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much-anticipated continuation of the franchise. Before that, however, Uderzo was convinced to gather and – in many instances – artistically re-master some of the historical oddments and pictorial asides which had incrementally accrued over the glory-filled decades: features by the perfect partners which just didn’t fit into major album arcs, tales done for Specials, guest publications and commercial projects starring the indomitable Gaul. To cap off the new-old package Albert crafted an all-original vignette from that halcyon world of immortal heroes…

This intriguing compilation first appeared in France as Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993 – and a decade later in English – gathering those long-forgotten side-pieces and spin-off material starring the Gallant Gauls and frequently their minor-celebrity creators too.

Following an expansive and explanatory ‘French Publisher’s Note’ – and the traditional background maps and cast list – a press conference from Chief Vitalstatistix leads directly into the eponymous ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ (originally seen in Pilote #363 October 6th, 1966) wherein the first day of school finds the little legend and his big buddy sadly miscast as truant inspectors and kid catchers for headmaster Getafix…

Each little gem is preceded by an introductory explanatory piece, and following the hard facts comes ‘The Birth of Asterix’. Taken from October 1994’s Le Journal exceptionnel d’Astérix, the tale is set ‘In the Year 35 BC (Before Caesar)’ and finds a certain village in high dudgeon as two young women go into labour. Their distraught husbands soon find a way to distract themselves – and everybody else – with a mass punch-up that quickly becomes the hamlet’s preferred means of airing issues and passing the time…

‘In 50 BC’ comes from May 1977 and re-presents newspaper-style strips produced at the request of an American publisher hoping to break the European stalwarts in the USA. The endeavour inevitably stalled but the panels – introducing and reprising the unique world of the Gallic goliaths – wound up being published in National Geographic.

Apparently Uderzo loves chickens and, especially for the original August 2003 release, he concocted the tale of ‘Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel’, detailing the struggle between the village’s ruling rooster and a marauding Roman Eagle. It sounds pretty one-sided, but faithful mutt Dogmatix knows where the magic portion is kept…

Pilote #424 (7th December 1967) was full of Seasonal festive fun so ‘For Gaul Lang Syne’ saw Obelix attempting to use druidic mistletoe to snaffle a kiss from beautiful Panacea. He soon comes to regret the notion…

‘Mini, Midi, Maxi’ was produced for fashion magazine Elle (#1337 2nd August 1971) but the discussion of ancient Gaulish couture soon devolves into the kind of scraps you’d expect, after which ‘Asterix As You Have Never Seen Him Before…’ (Pilote #527, 11th December 1969) displays Uderzo’s practised visual versatility as our heroes are realised in various popular art styles from gritty superhero to Flash Gordon, a Charles Schulz pastiche and even as an underground psychedelic trip…

Approached to contribute a strip to Paris’ bid, the partners produced ‘The Lutetia Olympics’ which was later published in Jours de France #1660 (25th October 1986) and depicts how Caesar’s attempts to scotch a similar attempt to hold the great games in Gaul fails because of a certain doughty duo, whilst ‘Springtime in Gaul’ (from Pilote #334, 17th March 1966) is an early all-Albert affair wherein our heroes help the mystic herald of changing seasons give pernicious winter the boot…

‘The Mascot’ originated in first digest-sized Super Pocket Pilote (#1, 13th June 1968), revealing how the constantly-thrashed Romans decide to acquire a lucky animal totem, but chose the wrong-est dog in the world to confiscate, after which ‘Latinomania’ (crafted in March 1973 and re-mastered for the first Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993) takes a sly poke at the fragile mutability of language.

‘The Authors Take the Stage’ describes how usually-invisible creators became characters in their own work and ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ collects a continuing panel strip which began in Pilote #172 (7th February 1963) and ran until #186, wherein Mssrs. Goscinny & Uderzo encounter a modern day Gaulish giant and track his ancestors back through history.

Everything ends with ‘How Do They Think It All Up?’ (Pilote #157, 25th October 1962) as two cartoonists in a café experience ‘The Birth of an Idea’

Adding extra lustre to an already stellar canon, these quirky sidebars and secret views thankfully collect just a few more precious gags and wry capers to augment if not complete the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterpieces. Not to be missed…

Uderzo’s controversial eighth solo outing (originally entitled Le Ciel lui tombe sur la tête) was released in 2005 as the 31st volume of the ever-unfolding saga. The English language edition was released that same year as Asterix and the Falling Sky. Apart from unlikely thematic content and quicker pacing, the critics’ main problem seemed to stem from a sleeker, slicker, less busy style of illustration – almost a classical animation look – but that’s actually the point of the tale. The entire book is a self-admitted tribute to the Walt Disney cartoons of the artist’s formative years, as well as a sneakily good-natured critique of modern comics as then typified by American superheroes and Japanese manga…

The contentious iconoclasm opens with the doughty little Gaul and affable pal Obelix in the midst of a relaxing boar hunt when they notice that their quarry has frozen into petrified solidity.

Perplexed, they head back through the eerily silent forest to the village, only to discover that all their friends have been similarly stupefied and rendered rigidly inert…

Somehow faithful canine companion Dogmatix and aged Getafix have some life in them, but only when Obelix admits to giving the pooch the occasional tipple of Magic Potion does Asterix deduce that it’s because they all have the potent brew currently flowing though their systems…

With one mystery solved they debate how to cure everybody else and all the woodland creatures – especially the wild boars – but are soon distracted by the arrival of an immense golden sphere floating above and eclipsing the village…

Out of if drifts a strange but friendly creature who introduces himself as “Toon” from the distant star Tadsilweny (it’s an anagram, but don’t expect any help from me), accompanied by a mightily powered being in a tight-fitting blue-and-red costume with a cape. Toon calls him Superclone

The mighty minion casually insults Obelix and promptly learns that he’s not completely invulnerable, but otherwise the visitors are generally benevolent. The paralysis plague is an accidental effect of Toon’s vessel, but a quick adjustment by the strange visitor soon brings the surroundings back to frenetic life.

That’s when the trouble really starts as the villagers – and especially Chief Vitalstatistix – see the giant globe floating overhead as a portent that at long last the sky is falling…

After another good-spirited, strenuously physical debate, things calm down and Toon explains he’s come from the Galactic Council to confiscate an earthly super-weapon and prevent it falling into the hands of belligerent alien conquerors the Nagmas (that’s another anagram) and there’s nothing the baffled Earthlings can do about it…

At the Roman camp of Compendium Centurion Polyanthus is especially baffled and quite angry. His men have already had a painful encounter with Superclone but the commander refuses to believe their wild stories about floating balls and strangers even weirder than the Gauls, but he’s soon forced to change his mind when a gigantic metal totem pole lands in a blaze of flame right in his courtyard.

Out of it flies an incredible, bizarre, insectoid, oriental-seeming warrior demanding the whereabouts of a powerful wonder-weapon. Extremely cowed and slightly charred, Polyanthus tells him about the Magic Potion the Gauls always use to make his life miserable…

The Nagma immediately hurries off and encounters Obelix, but the rotund terrestrial is immune to all the invader’s armaments and martial arts attacks. He responds by demonstrating with devastating efficacy how Gauls fight…

After zapping Dogmatix, the Nagma retreats. When Obelix dashes back to the village it follows. No sooner has Toon cured the wonder mutt than the colossal Nagma robot-ship arrives, forcing the friendly alien to fly off and intercept it in his golden globe…

The Nagma tries to trade high-tech ordnance for the Gauls’ “secret weapon” but Asterix is having none of it, instead treating the invader to a dose of potion-infused punishment.

Stalemated, the Nagma then unleashes an army of automatons dubbed Cyberats and Toon responds by deploying a legion of Superclones. The battle is short and pointless and a truce finds both visitors deciding to share the weapon…

Vitalstatistix is outraged but Getafix is surprisingly sanguine, opting to let both Toon and Nagma sample the heady brew for themselves. The effects are not what the visitors could have hoped for and the enraged alien oriental unleashes more Cyberats in a sneak attack.

Responding quickly, Asterix and Obelix have two Superclones fly them up to the marauding robots, dealing with them in time-honoured Gaulish fashion.

The distraction has unfortunately allowed the Nagma to kidnap Getafix and Toon returns to his globe-ship to engage his robotic foe in a deadly game of brinksmanship whilst a Superclone liberates the incensed Druid. None too soon, furious, frustrated Nagma decides enough is enough and blasts off, determined never to come back to this crazy planet…

Down below Polyanthus has taken advantage of the chaos and confusion to rally his legions for a surprise attack, arriving just as the Gauls are enjoying a victory feast with their new alien ally. The assault goes extremely badly for the Romans, particularly after a delayed effect of the potion transforms affable Toon into something monstrous and uncanny…

Eventually all ends well and, thanks to technological wizardry, all the earthly participants are returned to their safely uncomplicated lives, once again oblivious to the dangers and wonders of a greater universe…

Fast, funny, stuffed with action and hilarious, tongue-in-cheek hi-jinks, this is a joyous rocket-paced rollercoaster for lovers of laughs and all open-minded devotees of comics. This still-controversial award-winning (Eagle 2006 winner for Best European Comic) yarn only confirmed Uderzo’s reputation as a storyteller willing to take risks and change things up, whilst his stunning ability to pace a tale was never better demonstrated. Asterix and the Falling Sky proves that the potion-powered paragons of Gallic Pride will never lose their potent punch.

If you still haven’t experienced the sublime example of graphic élan that is Asterix, it’s never too late…
© 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2001, 2003, 2005 Les Éditions Albert René, Goscinny/Uderzo. All rights reserved.

The Rupert Treasury


By Mary Tourtel & various (Purnell Books)
ISBN: 9 78-0-36106-343-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Truly British Brilliance with Universal Appeal… 9/10

As we’ve all voted to head back to the fabled sunlit uplands of our own fictitious past, I’ve opted to review an actual icon of our Island Nation, and one I think we can all agree we’d be happy to find overseeing our next five years…

There’s not a lot around these days in the comics which caters specifically for little kids, as well as their nostalgic parents and guardians whilst simultaneously introducing them to the ineluctably tactile wonders and sensorium of a high-quality comics experience. Once upon a time, there was a whole subdivision of the publishing business dedicated to enthralling and enchanting our youngest and, hopefully, brightest, but now all I can think of are The Beano and The Phoenix

At least we still have books – old and new – to fill the gap.

Moreover, comics fans and the British in general equally adore a well-seasoned tradition and in terms of pictorial narrative and sheer beguilement there’s nothing more perfect than the hirsute national treasure Rupert.

Long before television took him, the Little Bear was part of our society’s very fabric and never more so than at Christmas when gloriously painted, comfortingly sturdy rainbow-hued Annuals found their way into innumerable stockings and the sticky hands of astounded, mesmerised children.

The ursine über-star was created by English artist and illustrator Mary Tourtel (1874-1948) and debuted in the Daily Express on November 8th 1920; the beguiling vanguard and secret weapon of a pitched circulation battle with rival papers the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail. Both papers had cartoon characters for kiddies – Teddy Tail in the Mail and the soon-to-be legendary Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Mirror.

Tourtel’s daily serial of the Little Lost Bear initially ran for 36 instalments and triggered a phenomenon which remains in full force to this day, albeit largely due to the diligent efforts of her successor Alfred Edmeades Bestall, MBE, who wrote and illustrated Rupert Bear from 1935 to 1965 and was responsible for the Annuals which began with the 1936 edition.

The artist originally chosen to spearhead the Express’ cartoon counterattack was already an established major player on the illustration scene – and fortuitously married to the paper’s News Editor Herbert Tourtel, who had been ordered by the owners to come up with a rival feature…

The unnamed little bear was illustrated by Mary and initially captioned by Herbert, appearing as two cartoon panels per day with a passage of text underneath. He was originally cast as a brown bear until the Express sought to cut costs and inking expenses, resulting in the iconic white pallor we all know and love today.

Soon though, early developmental “bedding-in” was accomplished and the engaging scenario was fully entrenched in the hearts and minds of readers. Young Rupert lives with extremely understanding parents in idyllically rural Nutwoodvillage: an enticing microcosm and exemplar of everything wonderful and utopian about British life. The place is populated by anthropomorphic animals and humans living together but also overlaps a lot of very strange and unworldly places full of mythical creatures and legendary folk…

A huge hit, Mary’s Rupert quickly expanded into a range of short illustrated novels; 46 by my count from the early 1920s to 1936, with a further run of 18 licensed and perpetually published by Woolworth’s after that. It’s from the former that the five tales in this splendid hardback commemoration are taken…

Tourtel’s bear was very much a product of his times and social class: smart, inquisitive, adventurous, helpful yet intrinsically privileged and therefore always labouring under a veiled threat of having his cosy world and possessions taken away by the wicked and undeserving.

Heretical as it might sound, like the unexpurgated fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm, the pre-Bestall Rupert yarns all have a darker edge and worrisome undercurrent with mysterious forces casually, even capriciously targeting our innocent star. Naturally, pluck, good friends and a benevolent adult or two are always on hand to help our hero win through…

This glorious tome – still readily available through many internet vendors and originated in 1984 – gathers a quintet of typical Tourtel tales from the book editions, packing a wealth of full colour painted, duo-hued and monochrome ink-line illustrations into his enchanting pages.

Here we open with the all-colour adventure of ‘Rupert and the Robber Wolf’ from 1932, with the text, as always, delivered in a succession of rhyming couplets.

When Rupert is deprived of his new pocket watch by a burly vulpine bandit – and despite seeking the assistance of best pal Bill Badger, friendly mystic The Wise Old Goat, pixies, fauns and rural troubleshooter The Pedlar – he ends up a prisoner of the wolf.

Happily, the Old Goat and a posse of police are on hand to collar the crook and his wayward son before something really nasty occurs…

Rendered in bucolic shades of green, ‘Rupert and the Old Miser’ (first released circa 1925) finds our bear playing with a new ball which flies over a forbidding wall into a large garden. When Rupert sneaks in to retrieve his toy, he encounters a range of odd and terrified creatures all suborned to the eccentric whims of the rapacious Master Raven

Upon the bear’s capture, the ebon enchanter declares the trespasser to be his property too and sets the poor mite to work as his latest chattel. Rupert is despondent, but help is at hand. The Little Bear’s friends have concocted a cunning plan to rescue him and when their scheme succeeds the miser meets a grisly fate chasing his fleeing new slave…

Equally verdant in its art aspects is the saga of ‘Rupert and the Enchanted Princess’ (1928) which opens with the bear snatched up by a great bird and delivered to a distant kingdom whose feudal monarch pleads with him to find his missing daughter.

Despite the scorn of the assembled knights, Rupert sets out and – with the aid of woodland creatures and a talking horse – overcomes ogres, dragons and other terrors before reversing the magic curse of three witches and returning the Princess to her doting dad…

Rendered in beautiful, clear, clean monochrome line art, ‘Rupert and the Mysterious Flight’ (1930) begins when The Prince and Princess of the Wood of Mystery send the Little Bear a fully functional aeroplane. Soon, Rupert is enjoying his maiden voyage but gets lost and alights in the Land of Kinkajous, where King Toucan – after an initial fright – sets the little daredevil a series of never-ending mystic challenges. After a number of Herculean labours are accomplished, Rupert at last regains his flying machine and makes a break for freedom and home…

The fantastic voyages conclude with the full-colour ‘Rupert and the Magic Toyman’ (1933) wherein a thrilling day enjoying a Fair and Sports Day leads to the unlucky bear being spirited away by a genial craftsman whose enticing wares mask his true nature.

The toy maker is, in fact, a wicked sorcerer and his constructions are transformed animals. One of them was even a Princess…

Undaunted, Rupert organises an escape back to Princess Belinda’s kingdom, but the Toyman has already ensorcelled the whole place into a land of marionettes. Happily, a glimmer of hope remains and the tables can be turned if only Rupert can find and recruit the valiantly heroic Moorland Will whose hunting horn can undo the magic spell…

Beautifully realised, superbly engaging fantasies such as these are never out of style and this fabulous tome should be yours, if only as means of introducing the next generation to a truly perfect world of wonder and imagination.
© 1984 Beaverbrook Newspapers Limited. Artwork & text © 1984 Purnell Publishers Limited from original Mary Tourtel material.

Walt Kelly’s Fables and Funnies: Dell Comics Stories 1942-1949


By Walt Kelly, compiled by David W. Tosh (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-905-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-595-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Unmatched Imagination and Timeless Treasures… 10/10

Justifiably revered for his brilliant newspaper strip Pogo, and his wonderful Our Gang tales, the incredible Walt Kelly also has a pretty strong claim to owning the traditional childhood Christmas. From 1942 until he abandoned comic-books for newsprint in 1949, he crafted stories celebrating the season of Good Will (and other yearly milestones such as Easter) for West Coast printing giant Western Printing & Lithographing who subcontracted their comic books to publisher Dell.

Santa Claus Funnies and Christmas with Mother Goose were Holiday institutions in both their Four Color and Dell Giant incarnations, with the sheer beauty and charm of Kelly’s work defining what Christmas should be for two generations. His prodigious talents served to preserve and further the classic traditions of fairy tale and fable illustration in those years.

Kelly transferred his affinity for the best of all fantasy worlds to the immortal Pogo but still was especially associated with the Festive season. Many publications sought out his special touch. Even the Christmas 1955 edition of Newsweekstarred Kelly and his cartoon cast on the cover.

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous aforementioned animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney rights license amongst many other popular properties – at that time.

Despite his glorious work on major mass-market, people-based classics such as the Our Gang spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4thth 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

In this superb hardback and digital collection – offering vintage delights from Animal Comics #1, 21, 22, 28 and 30 (1942-1947), Fairy Tale Parade #7 (1943), Four Color #59, 87, 103 (Easter With Mother Goose) and 253 (Christmas With Mother Goose) which span 1944-1949 plus material from Our Gang with Tom and Jerry #45 (1948), Raggedy Ann and Andy #3, 5, 8, 9, 14, 16, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28 and 30 (1946-1948) and Santa Claus Funnies (1942) by Dell Publishing Co., as well as March of Comics #3 from 1947 – we can revel in his boundless charm and visual mastery again.

Augmented by sublime original artwork pages, this superb funfest opens with an appreciative preface by compiler David W. Tosh and Introduction ‘Walt Kelly’s Western Adventures’ by John E. Petty which outlines Kelly’s career and clarifies the odd relationship of Western and Dell.

None too soon we’re frolicking amidst the wondrous realms of fairies, elves, giants and talking beast as First Chapter Flights of Fancy opens with a 1946 yarn from Animal Comics #21. ‘Prehysteria with Koko’ is a smart and sassy romp as a caveboy toddler, his dog and a missing link go hunting, after which a band of otherworldly cherubs befriend an insignificant and affable wyrm and help out against a bullying giant in ‘Tiny Folk and the Dragon (Four Color #87, 1945).

Puckish pixies ‘The Brownies’ (Raggedy Ann and Andy #30, 1948) then pay for their scandalous attempts to pilfer a fresh-baked pie before a smart little girl shows up all the cowardly town adults and captures a sneaky band of bandits in ‘The Dragon of Dilly Dun Dee’ (Fairy Tale Parade #7, 1943): a wild and funny romp that really should have been an animated feature…

The focus switches to Animal Pals next as fauna foul and friendly entertain and educate, beginning with ‘Muzzy and Ginger’ (Animal Comics #1, 1942) as a chimp and a kitten strike up a unique and disaster-prone friendship when they are delivered to a city pet shop, whilst equally odd couple ‘Nibble and Nubble’ (Animal Comics #28, 1947) add a new spin to the legendary dynamic of cat vs mouse…

Worldly-wise mouse ‘Nibble’ (Animal Comics #30, 1947) then goes solo and outwits smug fellow housemates Dog and Parrot before ‘Elephunnies’ (Animal Comics #22, 1946) takes us to the jungle for an explosive slapstick riot of soundless comedy pranks.

Wrapping up the chapter, ‘Chippie’ (Raggedy Ann and Andy #30, 1948) reveals how an old owl helps a bullied, harried chipmunk save his cached winter reserves from a thieving blue jay…

Mother Goose gets her own chapter for a celebration of a lost art next, with Kelly combining hilarious visuals with rhyming couplets and other informative doggerel in a remarkably popular and long-lived feature aimed at pre-schoolers and based on classic stories and nursery rhymes. The fairy tale procession begins with ‘Old Woman Tossed Up in a Basket’ and ‘The Owl and the Pussy-Cat’ (both from1944’s Four Color #59), followed by a non-stop parade of ‘Animal Mother Goose’ extracts from Raggedy Ann and Andy #3, 8, 9, 14, 16, 19, 20, 25, 26 and 28 (1946-1948) including ‘Winter’, ‘The Carrion Crow’, ‘The Pig in the Wig’, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and much, much more.

The Kids Know Best dips into Kelly’s glorious canon of Our Gang tales, with extended adventure plus a rowdy vignette.

Our Gang (later to be known as the Li’l Rascals) movie shorts were one of the most popular series in American Film history. Beginning in 1922, they featured the fun and folksy humour of a bunch of “typical kids” (atypically, though, there was full racial equality and mingling – but the little girls were still always smarter than the boys) having idealised adventures in a time safer, simpler yet more sinister.

The rotating cast of characters and slapstick shenanigans were the brainchild of film genius Hal Roach (he directed and worked with Harold Lloyd, Charley Chase and Laurel and Hardy amongst many others) and these brief cinematic paeans to a mythic childhood entered the “household name” category of popular Americana in amazingly swift order.

As times and tastes changed Roach was forced to sell up to the celluloid butcher’s shop of MGM in 1938, and the features suffered the same interference and loss of control that marred the later careers of the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton.

In 1942 Dell released an Our Gang comic book written and drawn by Kelly who – consummate craftsman that he was – restored the wit, verve and charm of the cinematic glory days with a progression of tales that elevated lower-class American childhood to the mythic peaks of Dorothy in Oz or Huckleberry Finn.

Over the course of the first 8 issues the master raconteur moved beyond the films – good and otherwise – to build an idyllic story-scape of games and dares, excursions, adventures, get-rich-quick-schemes, battles with rival gangs and especially plucky victories over adults: mean, condescending, criminal or psychotic.

That certainly applies in lead story ‘Our Gang and the Old House Mystery’ (March of Comics #3, 1947) as some of the gang are abducted by criminals who have replaced good old Doctor Baxter after which an untitled short from Our Gang with Tom and Jerry #45, 1948) sees toddler tykes Anastasia and Toby innocently cause a storm of domestic mayhem when they secretly raid the refrigerator…

Almost as big a deal as Christmas back then, Searching for the Easter Bunny then curates a selection of lively yarns taken from Four Color #103 as Easter With Mother Goose opens eponymously with a pictorial treat describing the kids of Nursery Rhyme land preparing their egg gifts even as ‘Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater’ offers sage storage advice and a search for the Easter Bunny ‘Through the Town’ proves fruitless.

‘Humpty Dumpty and the Giant’ reverts to strip form as the hapless ovoid innocent narrowly avoids being consumed by Reynard Fox only to be whisked away up a beanstalk to the clouds…

A trainee Easter Bunny’s first delivery goes awry but is fixed thanks to kindly assistance from chickens and ducks in ‘Buddy Bunny’s Problem’ whilst ‘The Three Blind Mice and Their Easter Gift’ cheer up ailing Tommy Tucker before a return to rhyme reveals the poetic attrition rate of ‘Ten Little Easter Eggs’

With best left ‘til last, Finally, It’s Christmas celebrates the Season, beginning with a brace of tales from Four Color #253 (Christmas With Mother Goose 1949), opening with ‘Jeminy’s Christmas’ wherein eager lad Wee Willie Winkiecauses unintended chaos by waking up a hibernating groundhog three months early. At least befuddled Jiminy gets to enjoy his first Xmas and even meet jolly old St. Nick, whereas in ‘The Three Blind Mice Play Santa’, when the trio’s antics interfere with post to the North Pole the guilt-ridden pests move mountains to make good on the catastrophe and ensure all the kids get what they deserve…

Wrapping up the merriment ‘The Fir Tree’ is a potent yet jolly adaptation of one of Hans Christian Andersen’s lesser known and rather creepy fables. Here a tree in the forest yearns for the day when it’s cut down and he becomes something useful…

It absolutely baffles me that Kelly’s masterful Christmas tales (and Batman’s too for that matter) are not re-released every November for the Yule spending spree. Christmas is all about nostalgia and good old days and there is no bigger sentimental sap on the planet than your average comics punter. And once these books are out there, their supreme readability will quickly make converts of the rest of the world.

I’ve been right before and one day I will be again… just you wait and see…
Walt Kelly’s Fables and Funnies: Dell Comics Stories 1942-1949 Preface © 2016 David W. Tosh. Introduction © 2016 David John E. Petty. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 4: King Blozo’s Problem and more!


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-61377-936-1(HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-563-2

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Gift for All Sea Sons… 10/10

How many cartoon classics can you think of still going after a century? Here’s one…

There are a few fictional personages to enter communal world consciousness – and fewer still from comics – but a grizzled, bluff, uneducated, visually impaired old sailor with a speech impediment is possibly the most well-known of that select bunch.

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

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

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

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

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

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre, which launched December 19th 1919 in the New York Journal. It was a smart pastiche of cinema and knock-off of movie-inspired features like Hairbreadth Harry and Midget Movies, with a repertory of stock players to act out comedies, melodramas, comedies, crime-stories, chases and especially comedies for vast daily audiences. It didn’t stay that way for long…

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

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the everyday ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 29th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

In 1924 Segar created a second daily strip The 5:15: a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter and would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable wife Myrtle. This one endured – in one form or another – as a topper/footer-feature accompanying the main Sunday page throughout the author’s career. The feature even survived his untimely death, eventually becoming the trainee-playground of Popeye’s second great humour stylist: Bud Sagendorf.

After Segar’s far-too-premature death in 1938, Doc Winner, Tom Sims, Ralph Stein and Bela Zambouly all worked on the strip, even as the Fleischer Studio’s animated features brought Popeye to the entire world, albeit a slightly different vision of the old salt of the funny pages. Sadly, none of them had the eccentric flair and raw inventiveness that had put Thimble Theatre at the forefront of cartoon entertainments. But then, finally, Bud arrived…

Born in 1915, Forrest “Bud” Sagendorf was barely 17 when his sister – who worked in the Santa Monica art store where Segar bought his drawing supplies – introduced the kid to the master cartoonist who became his teacher and employer as well as a father-figure. In 1958, after years on the periphery, Sagendorf finally took over the strip and all the merchandise design, becoming Popeye’s prime originator…

When Sagendorf became the main man, his loose, rangy style and breezy scripts brought the strip itself back to the forefront of popularity and made reading it cool and fun all over again. Bud wrote and drew Popeye in every graphic arena for 24 years and when he died in 1994, he was succeeded by controversial “Underground” cartoonist Bobby London.

Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and – from 1948 onwards – exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures in a regular monthly title published by America’s king of licensed periodicals, Dell Comics.

When Popeye first appeared, he was a rude, crude brawler: a gambling, cheating, uncivilised ne’er-do-well. He was soon exposed as the ultimate working-class hero: raw and rough-hewn, practical, but with an innate, unshakable sense of what’s fair and what’s not; a joker who wanted kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who took no guff from anyone…

Naturally, as his popularity grew, Popeye mellowed somewhat. He was still ready to defend the weak and had absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, but the shocking sense of dangerous unpredictability and comedic anarchy he initially provided was sorely missed… but not in Sagendorf’s comicbook yarns…

Collected in their entirety in this beguiling full-colour hardback (also available in digital editions) are issues #15-19 of Popeye’s comicbook series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning January/March 1951 to January/March 1952.

The stunning, almost stream-of-consciousness slapstick stories are preceded as ever by an effusively appreciative Foreword‘Society of Sagendorks’ – by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement and fabulous collation of candid photos and assorted gems of merchandise.  Included here are newspaper strips from 1944 when Bud was ghosting the feature for Tom Sims & Bela Zaboly, and assorted Play-Storeactivity segments which Sagendorf contributed to Segar’s Sunday funny pages as his assistant in 1938 all contributing tothe wonder of the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’.

Popeye’s fantastic first issue launched in February 1948, and we rejoin the parade of laughs and thrills three year later with #15 and a single-page two-tone ‘Popeye’s Work Shop!’ detailing how to build a working wooden motorboat and clothespin Olive Oyl doll.

Sagendorf was a smart guy who kept abreast of trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked and these tales are timeless in approach and delivery. ‘Animal Talk’ rockets along from gag to gag as the Sailor Man is captured by a mad scientist who accidentally imparts the ability to communicate with all “aminals”, after which Popeye becomes a constant mouthpiece for the beasts as they seek better conditions, culminating in the old sea dog harbouring an escaped circus ape and setting up a counselling service for fauna…

In a previous episode Popeye set up his own railway and in ‘Train Time!’ faces the wrath of delayed commuters when the service suddenly stops. After his engineer explains why the locomotive must not move, the mallow-hearted mariner finds another way to get those carriages rolling again…

Sagendorf had carte blanche to use any of Segar’s characters and revived one of the oldest and daftest as he pandered to the nation’s TV-fuelled obsession with westerns. ‘Thimble Theatre Presents Ham Gravy in The Boon Brothers Last Boom!!’ sees the dumb lummox wandering the plains as legendary gunslinger Three Gun Gravy and here by the most ridiculous methods ending the criminal careers of a wicked passel of owlhoots…

All comics of the era hosted prose stories to obtain favourable postage rates (it’s far too long and irrelevant a story to deal with here) but Dell opted for a run of early-reader stand-alone yarns that here begin with ‘Bugtown Capers’ wherein a Carnival comes to the little insect township and Larry and Lena Ladybug save a baby minibeast from a riding accident, after which Segar’s other brilliant creation J. Wellington Wimpy carves out his own over-sized portion of cartoon immortality in ‘The Elder Egg!’. Here the infernal optimist’s attempt to eat a gigantic ovoid he’s found prove to be no yolk…

Supplemented by art features ‘How to Draw Wimpy’ and ‘How to Draw a Cow’s Head’, this initial offering ends with an untitled red & black gag page wherein Popeye at sea sends home a houseful of animal mates for Olive and Wimpy to babysit and a full colour back-page jape with the surly sailor teaching an obnoxious diner chef not to call him a wimp…

Popeye #16 (April/June) opens with another superb cover and an activity page of puzzles, incorporating how to make assorted cork toys before ‘New Zoo’ revisits the hero’s bestial communication skills as a convocation of children implore the soft-hearted sailor man to stock a zoo for them. Convinced to ship out for Africa and seek out willing volunteers for exhibits, Popeye is unaware that a greedy hunter and pet trader G. R. Growl has infiltrated his crew with surly saboteurs determined to scupper his endeavours…

Another western-themed railroad yarn follows as ‘Gold Shipment!’ sees Popeye and Olive shipping bullion despite the most nefarious efforts of deadly desperado Jack Terror, after which Wimpy tries to exploit and monopolise the free food at a new burger stand’s ‘Grand Opening!’ before prose vignette ‘Sammy Bug in Deep Water!’ sees the accident-prone arthropod adrift on a leaf in the river…

Innocently skirting the borders of modern bad taste with its “traditional” depiction of a cartoon Red Indian foil, ‘Ham Gravy’ sees the sagebrush sap lose a tribal war over a duck dinner to end the issue – which also includes another activity page of puzzles and ‘How to Draw a Fish’.

Behind another superb Sagendorf gag cover, #17 (July/September) opens – and closes – with a prose ‘Bug Tales’ yarn wherein Larry Ladybug uses archery to battle a hungry Tiger Beetle. The comics content commences with ‘King Blozo’s Problem’ as the ever-anxious monarch of Spinachovia summons Popeye with a dangerously experimental communications device, after which ‘Ham Gravy and his Indian Friend’ play ever-escalating practical jokes on each other over a non-existent gold mountain…

Following the conclusion of the Bug Tales text, an untitled full colour back page gag sees the sailor man fail to lead by example when teaching his friends to forgive and forget…

Ending 1951, Popeye #18 (October/December) offers inner covers text tale ‘Sammy Bug’s Big Leap!’, detailing how not to jump over the moon before ‘Popeye and the Box!’ finds our hero attracting the curiosity of his friends and the unwanted attentions of spies and thugs after agreeing to look after a parcel entrusted to him by his shady dad Poopdeck Pappy

In ‘Kitty! Kitty!’ the sappy swab adopts a rather unique house pet, whilst his efforts to dig ‘The Tunnel’ through a mountain for his railroad leads to war with a hostile hermit and unexpected consequence for all.

Wimpy’s attempts to secure a free ‘Duck Dinner!’ then inspire shock and awe in deranged roboticist R. O. Spring, before the issue ends with another untitled back-page laugh riot as Popeye goes fishing…

The final issue in this collection (#19, January/March 1952) introduces a new prose star as ‘Otto Octo in a Snappy Cargo!’ sees a playful young cephalopod’s reach exceed his grasp(s) before Popeye enjoys ‘A Thousand Bucks Worth of Fun’ by letting little baby Swee’ Pea wander through the roughest part of town with an extremely high denomination greenback in his tiny fist…

‘Popeye and the Happy Spring’ then sees the cast at sea and encounter magic water that alters their ages, before fresh face Sherm! takes a fantastic ride in a flying wonder car in ‘Hitch Hikers’.

A half-page colour Popeye join-the-dots puzzle and the conclusion of ‘Otto Octo in a Snappy Cargo!’ brings us to one last back page gag with Swee’ Pea using “infink” ingenuity to clean his room without throwing anything away…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last century Thimble Theatre and its most successful son have delighted readers – and viewers – around the world. This book is simply one of many but definitely top tier entertainment for those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this terrific treasure trove of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 4 © 2014 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2014 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

 

 

Dandy and Beano: The Comics at Christmas


By many and various (D.D. Thomson & Co, Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-636-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Evergreen Seasonal Traditions Celebrated and Ideal Last-Minute Gifts… 10/10

DC Thompson’s publications have always played a big part in Britain’s Christmas festivities, so let’s revel in the Good Old Days of comics and look at what their publications have offered to celebrate the season via a lovingly curated accumulation of Scotland’s greatest cartoon stars and artisans…

Released in 1997 as part of the DC Thomson’s Sixtieth Anniversary celebrations for their children’s periodicals division – which has more than any other shaped the psyche of generations of kids – this splendidly oversized (297 x 206mm) and exceedingly jolly 144 page hardback compilation justifiably glories in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through the flimsy colourful pages of The Beano and The Dandy during the days and weeks of December from 1937 to the end of the century.

Admittedly the book needed some careful editing and paste-up additions whilst editorially explaining for younger or more socially evolved readers the subtle changes in attitude that have occurred over more than half a century, to tone down or expurgate a few of the more egregious terms that wouldn’t sit well with 21st century sensibilities, but otherwise this is a superb cartoon commemoration of a time and state of mind that means so much to us all.

It’s also an exquisitely evergreen tribute to cartoon storytelling at its best…

The shape and structure of British kids’ cartoon reading owes a huge debt to writer/editor Robert Duncan Low (1895-1980) who was probably DC Thomson’s greatest creative find. Low began at the publishing monolith as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publications where he conceived and launched (between 1921 and 1933) the company’s “Big Five” story-papers for boys. Those rip-roaring illustrated prose periodicals comprised Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his next brilliant idea was The Fun Section: an 8-page pull-out supplement for Scottish national newspaper The Sunday Post consisting of comic strips. The illustrated accessory premiered on 8th March and from the very outset The Broons and Oor Wullie – both rendered by the incomparable Dudley Watkinswere its unchallenged stars…

In December 1937, Low launched the DC Thomson’s first weekly pictorial comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic a year after that.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed this strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture-papers. To supplement Beano and Dandy, the ball started rolling again with The Topper, closely followed by a host of new titles such as Beezer and Sparky to augment the expanding post-war line.

Every kid who grew up reading comics has their own personal nostalgia-filled nirvana, and DC Thomson have always sagely left that choice to us whilst striving to keep all eras alive with the carefully-tooled collectors’ albums like this one.

These have all the appeal and panache of coffee-table art books; gathering material from nearly eight decades of publishing – including oodles of original art reproductions – but rather than just tantalising and frustrating incomplete extracts, here the reader gets complete stories starring immortal characters from comics and Christmas Annuals past…

Until it folded and was reborn as a digital publication on 4th December 2012, The Dandy was the third-longest running comic in the world (behind Italy’s Il Giornalino – launched in 1924 – and America’s Detective Comics in March 1937). Premiering on December 4th 1937, it broke the mould of traditional British predecessors by using word balloons and captions rather than narrative blocks of text under the sequential picture frames.

A monster success, it was followed eight months later by The Beano – which launched on July 30th 1938 – and together they completely revolutionised the way children’s publications looked and, most importantly, how they were read.

Over the decades the “terrible twins” spawned a bevy of unforgettable and beloved household names who delighted generations of avid and devoted readers, and end of year celebrations were blessed with extraordinary efforts in the weeklies as well as bumper bonanzas of the comics’ stars breathtakingly glamorous hardback annuals.

As WWII progressed rationing of paper and ink forced the “children’s papers” into an alternating fortnightly schedule: on September 6th 1941, only The Dandy was published. A week later just The Beano appeared. They only returned to normal weekly editions on 30th July 1949, and during the conflict the Annuals alternated years too.

This superb celebration of Celtic creativity is packed literally cover-to-cover with brilliant strips. The fun starts on the inside front with a riotous party scene featuring all the assorted favourites, illustrated by indisputable key man Dudley D. Watkins, followed by Korky the Cat frontispiece (by James Crichton?), and bombastic title page with western superman Desperate Dan standing in for Santa.

An introductory spread follows, re-presenting a manic Davey Law Dennis the Menace Christmas episode from the 1960s, as well as a quartet of Beano Christmas cards from the same decade, presaging a host of seasonally-themed comic strip offerings beginning with Dandy’s Dirty Dick (by Eric Roberts) and guest star stuffed ‘Xmas Shopping with Biffo the Bear’ (probably David Sutherland) and Minnie the Minx (Jim Petrie) impatiently ransacking the house for her prezzies from the 1960s.

This book offers a selection of Christmas week front pages, beginning with The Beano #169, (cover-dated December 20th1941) featuring Reg Carter’s obstreperous ostrich Big Eggo getting well-deserved revenge via Xmas lights during a blackout, after which Colonel Crackpot’s Circus by Malcolm Judge and Sutherland’s Bash Street Kids frolic as a prelude to robot schoolboy Brassneck (by Bill Holroyd) demonstrating the meaning of the season in a savvy spin on A Christmas Carol

Robert Nixon – or maybe Ron Spencer – detail how Indian scamp Little Plum gets a tree for the tribe whilst Ken Reid’s wild west rogue Bing-Bang Benny scores a free dinner from his worst enemies, before the triumphs of Roger the Dodgerare encapsulated in a multifarious montage of strips by Ken Reid, Barrie Appleby, Gordon Bell and others.

Dudley D. Watkins illuminates Desperate Dan’s attempts to enjoy a white Christmas and Davey Law details similar catastrophic capers for Dennis the Menace before Watkins reveals how the upper class live in a party favour from Beanostarring Lord Snooty and his Pals, after which ‘Jimmy and his Grockle’ – a kind of Doberman dragon – reap the reward for wrecking other folks’ presents. Illustrated by James Clark, the feature stems from Dandy in 1938, recycled from prose “Boys Paper” The Rover (where it was “Jimmy Johnson’s Grockle” in 1932).

Holroyd’s The Tricks of Screwy Driver (a junior handyman inventor of variable efficacy – especially in the holiday season) gives way to a Biffo front cover strip (from Beano #649; December 25th 1954) before the Bash Street Kids destroy the school concert and 1940s feudal adventurer Danny Longlegs (Watkins) delays his voyage East to share the Yule festival with an embattled knight.

A montage of Beano B-stars including Sammy Shrinko, Have-a-go-Joe, Little Nell and Peter Pell, The Magic Lollipops, Maxi’s Taxis and Rip Van Wink compliments a triptych of ‘40’s Dandy strips Freddy the Fearless Fly (Allan Morley), Hair Oil Hal (by John Brown) and Sam Fair’s Meddlesome Matty to ease us into a section concentrating on gluttony and the big blowout as seen in Eric Robert’s hospital ward feast Ginger’s Super Jeep, Basil Blackaller’s Hairy Dan’s saga of a stolen plum pudding and The McTickles (Vic Neill) salutary tale of an escaped Haggis.

A classic Korky the Cat Christmas yarn segues neatly into a Ken Reid fantasy romp starring Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, after which The Smasher (Hugh Morren?) fights for his right to party as prelude to a look at a wartime classic.

Sam Fair was in always excoriating top form with the superbly manic Addie and Hermy – slapstick assaults on Adolf Hitler and Hermann Wilhelm Göring/Goering – and the selection here helped counter Home Front austerity by punfully positing how bad the German High Command were having it…

Football mad Ball Boy (Judge) and a vintage Desperate Dan strip lead to more Watkins wonderment in a double-length revel in Lord Snooty castle (and no, the topper-wearing posh boy was never the pattern for a certain over-privileged Tory lounging lizard!!! It’s just an uncannily creepy coincidence cum laude and example of life imitating art), before Colonel Crackpot’s Circus stages an encore and Billy Whizz (Malcolm Judge) finds time to attend many nosh-ups in one short day…

Odd couple Big Head and Thick Head (Reid again) work far too hard for their places at the youth club bash whereas the ever-ravenous Three Bears (Bob McGrath) literally fall into a festive feast but eternal loser Calamity James (Tom Paterson) loses out yet again, unlike Law’s Corporal Clott who manages to become a hero to his comrades by getting rid of Grinch-like Colonel Grumbly

A 1940’s Biffo extravaganza starring the entire Beano cast takes us neatly into a rousing comedy romp starring wonderful Eric Roberts’ immortal rascal-conman Winker Watson, who saves his chums from being stuck at school over the holidays in a full-length fable…

What’s Christmas without loot? A host of comics stars weigh in on presents in a section that begins with the cover of The Dandy #358 (December 20th 1947) as Korky’s greed is aptly rewarded, before John Sherwood’s dreamer Les Pretend(He’s Round the Bend!) wakes up frustrated, Dennis the Menace turns unwanted gifts into offensive weapons and – from December 1950 – Hugh McNeil’s Pansy Potter, the Strongman’s Daughter gives Santa Claus an uncomfortable helping hand…

From 1987, Appleby’s unlovable infants Cuddles and Dimples wreck another Christmas before Desperate Dawg (by George Martin from 1973) uses canine ingenuity to pimp that legendary sleigh whilst Roger the Dodger outsmarts himself but still comes up trumps in the gift department.

Lassie-like wonder dog Black Bob was popular enough to support his own book series in the 1950s (illustrated by Jack Prout) and here traditionally rendered Black Bob the Dandy Wonder Christmas dog sees the hairy paragon raise the flagging spirits of a ward full of ailing bairns before Charles Grigg’s Prince Whoopee (Your Pal from the Palace and a strip that could be revived instantly for today’s more cynical, satire-saturated market) learns the downside of childish pranks, after which a tantalising photo feature on assorted Beano and Dandy figurines leads to a montage of ancient robot romps starring with Tin-Can Tommy, the Clockwork Boy (by the Dinelli Brothers and Sam Fair), featuring the mechanical misfit as well as his brother Babe and tin cat Clanky.

An extended Xmas excursion for Minnie the Minx and vintage larks with Keyhole Kate (Allan Morley), Gordon Bell’s Pup’s Parade starring the Bash Street Dogs and George Martin’s Sunny Boy – in Santa’s Grotto – bring us to another brilliant cover spread: this one for The Dandy #204, from December 27th 1941, with Korky losing out after trying to outsmart Santa…

A rare prose yuletide yarn starring sagacious moggy Sooty Solomon shares space with a Christmas comic caper concerning Raggy Muffin the Dandy Dog, after which Pleasant Presents presents a gaggle of want’s lists from the comics characters before the animal antics resume with doses of doggerel clipped from annual feature Korky’s Christmas Greeting and a lengthy yarn starring Gnasher and his pal Dennis the Menace.

Stocking stuffing and tree trimming occupy Roger the Dodger and Tom, Dick and Sally (Dave Jenner?) but Roy Nixon’s Ivy the Terrible is all about the packages before focus shifts to excerpts from other times of year beginning with Prince Whoopee’s bath day, Billy Whizz on ‘Shoesday’ and the April Fool’s Day cover for The Dandy #70, from 1939.

Following on ‘Sports Day’ is celebrated on the cover of Beano #465 (June 16th 1951) and Desperate Dan turns April 1stinto April dooms day before similarly wrecking Easter, Pancake Day and Bonfire Night in a mini marathon of smashing strips.

Equally tough and disastrously well-meaning, Pansy Potter in Wonderland makes herself persona non grata with fairy tale folk after which Lord Snooty and his Pals’ good deed results in a catastrophic ‘Biff-day’ and Dennis the Menace discover the joy of graffiti on ‘“Mark-it” day’.

The section concludes with a Big Eggo Beano cover (#321; November 1st 1947) on a windy day, allowing pint-sized dreamer Wonder Boy to aspire to Santa’s job whilst Billy Whizz gets a job in the old boy’s grotto and Bully Beef and Chips (Jimmy Hughes) inevitably clash at a party before Watkins delights in depicting Jimmy and his Magic Patch as the lad with a ticket to anywhere stumbles into a north pole plot to burgle Saint Nick.

Desperate Dan’s plans to play Santa are sabotaged by his niece and nephew before Sandy Calder’s acrobatic schoolboy avenger Billy the Cat stalks and brings to justice a thief who steals all the silver from Burnham Academy… and still gets back in time for the school Xmas party.

George Martin’s school master Jammy Mr. Sammy uses his phenomenal luck to deal with pranksters and thugs before Winker Watson fosters a festive feud between his teachers and a local police training college; Nixon’s Grandpa gets Gnomework at a local grotto and Ron Spencer’s bonny bouncing bandit Babyface Finlayson gets locked up to get stuffed, even as The Jocks and the Geordies go to war over sharing an Xmas party, courtesy of the unique Jimmy Hughes.

Hurtling towards the Eighth Day of Christmas, the last strips here focus on a Ha-Ha-Happy New Year! with a classic Korky confrontation, a harsh Hogmanay hash-up starring Corporal Clott and a frankly disturbing exploit of animal excess and conspicuous consumption from 1940s Bamboo Town as limned by Charlie Gordon.

Disaster-prone Dirty Dick shows Eric Roberts at his inspired best in a cautionary tale about resolutions first seen in 1963, allowing the Bash Street Kids and Grandpa to have the cacophonous last words in a brace of action-packed slapstick strips redolent of years more fun to come…

Sadly, none of the writers are named and precious few of the artists in this collection, but, as always, I’ve offered a best guess as to whom we should thank, and of course I would be so very happy if anybody could confirm or deny my suppositions. A marvel of nostalgia and timeless comics wonder, the true magic of this collection is the brilliant art and stories by a host of talents that have literally made Britons who they are today, and bravo to DC Thomson for letting them out to run amok once again.

This sturdy celebration of the company’s children’s periodicals division rightly revels in the incredible wealth of ebullient creativity that paraded through their back catalogue: jam-packed with some of the best written and most impressively drawn strips ever conceived: superbly timeless examples of cartoon storytelling at its best…
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 1997. All rights reserved.

Tintin and the Picaros


By Hergé and Studios Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-823-9 (HB) 978-1-405206-35-8 (Album PB)

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

Georges Prosper Remi, AKA Hergé, created an eternal 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, Roger Leloup 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 since grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art and international cultural icons.

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 the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine. By 1928 Remi was also in charge of producing the contents of the Le Vingtiéme Siécle 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 huge weekly circulation, allowing Remi and his studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist invaders to ideologically shade the wartime adventures. The post-war modernising exercises also improved and updated the great tales, just in time for Tintin to become a global phenomenon, both in books and as an early star of animated TV adventure.

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, if not his personal demons and declining health…

The greatest sign of this was not substantially in the comics tales – although Hergé continued to tinker with the form of his efforts – but rather in how long the gaps were between new exploits. The previous romp had finished serialisation in 1967 and was collected as an album in 1968. It was eight years before Tintin et les Picaros was simultaneously serialised in Belgium and France in Tintin-l’Hebdoptmiste magazine (from 16th September 1975 to April 13th 1976) but at least the inevitable book collection came out almost immediately upon completion in 1976.

Tintin and the Picaros is in all ways the concluding adventure, as many old characters and locales from previous tales make one final appearance. A partial sequel to The Broken Ear it finds Bianca Castafiore implausibly arrested for spying in Central American republic San Theodoros with Tintin, Haddock and Calculus eventually lured to her rescue.

Insidious Colonel Sponsz – last seen in The Calculus Affair – is the Bordurian Military Advisor to the Government of usurper General Tapioca, and has used his position to exact revenge on the intrepid band who humiliated him in his own land. When the Tintin and company escape into the jungles during a murder attempt they soon link up with their old comrade Alcazar, who now leads a band of Picaro guerrillas dedicated to restoring him to power.

South American revolutions were all the rage in the 1970s – even Woody Allen made one the subject of a movie – and Hergé’s cast had been involved with this one on and off since 1935. With the welcome return of anthropologist Doctor Ridgewell and the hysterical Arumbayas, and even an improbable action role (of sorts) for obnoxious insurance salesman and comedy foil Jolyon Wagg, the doughty band bring about the final downfall of Tapioca in a thrilling and bloodless coup during Carnival time, thanks to a hilarious comedy maguffin (initially targeting dipsomaniac Haddock) that turns out to be a brilliant piece of narrative misdirection by the author.

Sly, subtle, thrilling and warmly comforting, this tale was generally slated when first released but with the perspective of intervening decades can be seen as a most fitting place to end the Adventures of Tintin… but only until you pick up another volume and read them again – as you indubitably will.
Tintin and the Picaros: artwork © 1976 by Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1976 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 to Sydney


By Hergé, Bob De Moor, Roger Leloup and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Methuen/Little Brown Books)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-821-5 (HB) 978-0-31635-837-8 (Album PB)

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

Georges Prosper Remi, AKA Hergé, created an eternal 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, Roger Leloup 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 since grown beyond their pop culture roots to attain the status of High Art and international cultural icons.

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 huge weekly circulation, allowing Remi and his studio team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by the Fascist invaders 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, both in books and as an early star of animated TV adventure.

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, if not his personal demons and declining health…

The greatest sign of this was not substantially in the comics tales – although Hergé continued to tinker with the form of his efforts – but rather in how long the gaps were between new exploits. The last romp had finished serialisation in September 1962 and been collected as an album in 1963. Vol 714 pour Sydney began its weekly run in Le Journal de Tintin #936 – 27th September 1966 – and concluded in #997, cover-dated November 28th 1967. The inevitable book collection came in May 1968.

Flight 714 To Sydney appears to be a return to classic adventure, but conceals some ironic modernist twists, opening with our heroes hurriedly en route to Australia. During an intrigue-redolent stopover at Djakarta, Tintin, Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus are inveigled (almost duped) into joining unconventional and somewhat unpleasant aviation tycoon Laszlo Carreidas on his personal supersonic prototype. The petty-minded multi-millionaire obviously has some ulterior design but cannot be dissuaded.

However, due to the type of coincidence that plagues our heroes, that plane has been targeted by the villainous outlaw Rastapopoulos whose gang hijack the aircraft and land it on a desolate Pacific island. The former criminal mastermind has a crazy scheme to siphon off Carreidas’ fortune but has lost a lot of his old sinister efficiency…

After many ploys and countermoves between the opposing forces, and with danger a constant companion, the prisoners escape the villain’s clutches only to discover that the Island is volcanic and conceals a fantastic ancient secret that dwarfs the threat of mere death and penury before escalating to a spectacular climax no reader will ever forget…

Although full of Hergé’s trademark slapstick humour, there is also a sly undercurrent of self-examination that highlights the intrinsic futility of the criminals’ acts. As time has passed, the murderous human monsters have all been exposed as foolish, posturing and largely ineffectual.

Nevertheless, the yarn is primarily an extremely effective, suspenseful action thriller with science fiction roots as the author plays with the multifarious strands of international research then in vogue which led to Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods and other lesser known tracts of cod science.

Once more the supernormal plays a large part in proceedings – but not as a malign force – and this time science and rationality, not the supernatural, are the basis of the wonderment. Flight 714 To Sydney is slick, compelling and astoundingly engaging: a true epic escapade no fan of fun could fail to adore.
Flight 714 To Sydney: artwork © 1968 Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1968 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.

Noggin the Nog



By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
Nogbad Comes Back ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8155-3
Noggin and the Dragon ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8154-6
Nogbad and the Elephants ISBN 978-1- 4052-8142-3
Noggin and the Moon Mouse ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8141-6
Noggin and the Storks ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8144-7
Noggin and the Money ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8143-0

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Wonderful Stories By and For Human People… 10/10

Baby Boomers like me consider our childhoods – no matter how personally privileged or deprived – to have been a golden age in terms of liberty, agency and especially entertainment. That’s probably due in large part to being exposed to the gentle, life-affirming fantasy worlds of these guys.

Richard Oliver Postgate was a writer puppeteer, animator and unrepentant storyteller who was born to an extremely prestigious, overachieving and drama-drenched family. He was born April 12th 1925 in Hendon Middlesex and educated at Woodstock School, Woodhouse Secondary, Dartington Hall College and Kingston College of Art.

He joined the Home Guard in 1942 but when at last called up, declared himself a Conscious Objector – just as his father did during the Great War. Court martialled and sentenced to Feltham Prison, he eventually became a land-worker growing crops. After the war Postgate worked for the Red Cross in Occupied Germany. He returned to Britain in 1948, went to Drama School and drifted from job to job.

In 1957, whilst working as a stage manager for ITV company Associated Rediffusion, he observed the appalling quality of children’s programming up close and knew he could do better for the same paltry money offered. He wrote Alexander the Mouse and convinced a Central School of Art tutor named Peter Firmin to draw the backgrounds for him.

After moving on to short-lived deaf-viewer project The Journey of Master Ho, in 1959 the creators formalised their partnership as independent studio Smallfilms. The rest is history…

When not shaping the minds of 30-years-worth of kids, Postgate continued trying to save and refine mankind. He was active in the CND movement and wrote their pamphlet The Writing on the Sky and 1981 book Thinking it Through: The Plain Man’s Guide to the Bomb.

In 1986, he created a 15-meter artwork for his latterday romantic partner Naomi Linnell’s book Illumination of the Life and Death of Thomas Beckett, repeating the exercise for the Triumphant Failure (about Christopher Columbus) and triptych A Canterbury Chronicle. You can see them if you visit the city’s Royal Museum Art Gallery and Eliot College Campus…

Working when he pleased, Postgate narrated – in that calm quiet compelling voice hardwired into the brains of millions – radio comedy and documentary shows, wrote more books such as autobiography Seeing Things, and accompanied his greatest creation Bagpuss (voted in 1999 the Most Popular Children’s Television Programme of All Time) as the stuffed cat accrued awards such as an honorary degree from the University of Kent at Canterbury.

He died – hopefully properly and rightly well-contented – in Broadstairs Kent, on December 8th 2008.

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

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

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became equal partner in new venture Smallfilms, which grew in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, Pingwings, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers.

Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets. Their spouses and friends were often dragooned if they showed useful talents such as sewing or knitting…

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

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Postgate’s Seeing Things – An Autobiography.

Firmin also worked as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 he was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate & Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips, spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. One of the most charming and enduring was a series of “Starting-to-Read” books released by Kaye & Ward between 1965 and 1973. Postgate & Firmin crafted all 8 books in a kid-friendly format gently sharing the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Available again in superb hardcover editions – perfect for tiny hands – the first two (Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965) were reviewed here; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin. Now with the gift-giving season in full swing let’s tempt you with the splendid rest…

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

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

Originally released in 1966, Noggin and the Dragon sees little Prince Knut and his chums pestering the royal couple to let them go on a dragon hunt. Noggin and Nooka are reluctant at first – Dragon Valley is no place for little boys and besides, the best thing to do with dragons is give them sweets and make friends – but eventually the proud parents capitulate to pester power.

To ensure things go smoothly they insist old warrior Thor Nogson goes with them, but as the unruly boys trek out into a gathering storm, no one has any idea regarding the shocking surprise in store for them all…

From the same year, Nogbad Comes Back highlights the return from exile of Noggin’s wicked usurping uncle, just in time to try and spoil the King’s annual animal and vegetable show. Living up to his name, Nogbad the Bad tries to win the glittering jewel-encrusted cup for best flora and fauna by devious cheating and, when that fails, through simple shameful theft.

Luckily, Nooka is not as forgiving and kind as her husband and has been keeping a close eye on her outlaw in-law…

The next year saw two more books: one of which was a distant precursor to one of Smallfilms’ most successful franchise creations…

Noggin and the Moon Mouse begins with Knut enacting an official ceremony at a water trough. The proceedings are utterly disrupted when a strange silver ball crashes down and a child-sized rodent-like creature emerges. Caught up in the excitement, the prince and his unruly pals give chase until Queen Nooka takes charge. After admonishing the boys, she and Noggin befriend the strange visitor (who actually comes from another world) and help him gather the odd household items he requires to return to the stars…

And yes, a few years later a peculiar band of woolly beasties began communicating with us all in their universally comprehensible penny-whistle pipings in a little show called The Clangers

Nogbad and the Elephants proves that there are many perks to being royal. One is wonderful presents such as the gigantic gem-encrusted, long-nosed big-eared beast presented to Prince Knut by the King of Southland. Sadly, the wonderful creature is constantly unhappy and falls under the sway of crafty Nogbad who lures it away to steal its jewelled coat. Realising it’s been hoodwinked, the piteous pachyderm takes restorative action in its own unique manner, compelling Knut to make his first grown-up decision…

The last brace of tales comes from 1973, and begins with the hilarious Noggin and the Money wherein Court Inventor Olaf the Lofty suffers a setback in his dream to modernise the nation. The Nogs have been happily soldiering on using barter and trade as long as anyone can remember, so when the big thinker creates coins as currency, he thinks he’s made life easier for everybody. Thor Nogson soon learns to disagree after he’s despatched to acquire eggs for the royal breakfast and meets rather a lot of resistance to the new-fangled nonsense…

Wrapping up the fun is Noggin and the Storks which finds the King sagely dealing with a minor ecological crisis. Sooty Storks have nested on the chimneys of the town for decades, using the heat of cooking fires to warm their eggs. This year, as the birds are particularly numerous, the populace are continually being smoked out of their own homes.
Angrily, they petition Noggin to let them chase the pests away, but as king of birds as well as people, the smooth sovereign seeks another, more equitable solution. Cue Olaf the Lofty, who has an idea involving an old chalk quarry, a stand of hollow trees, masses of convoluted piping, steel sheets and tons of firewood….

Serenely bewitching, engaging and endlessly rewarding (both these books and their much-missed, multi-talented originators) the works of Postgate and Firmin shaped generations of children and parents. If you aren’t among them, do yourself a great favour and track down those DVD box sets, haunt the streaming services and buy these books. You won’t regret it for an instant…
Text © The Estate of Oliver Postgate 1965-1973. Illustrations © Peter Firmin/The Estate of Peter Firmin 1965-1973.