Barnaby volume 2


By Crockett Johnson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-709-3 (HB)

This is one of those rare books worthy of two reviews. So, if you’re in a hurry…

Buy Barnaby now – it’s one of the five best comic strips of all time and this superb hardcover compilation has lots of fascinating extras. If you harbour any yearnings for the lost joys of childish wonder and the suspicious glee in catching out adults trying to pull a fast one, you would be crazy to miss this book…

However, if you’re still here and need a little more time to decide…

Today’s newspapers have precious few continuity drama or adventure strips. Indeed, if a paper has any strips – as opposed to single panel editorial cartoons – chances are they will be of the episodic variety typified by Jim Davis’ Garfield or Scott Adams’ Dilbert.

You might describe these as single-idea pieces with a set-up, delivery and punch-line, all rendered in a sparse, pared-down-to-basics drawing style. In that they’re nothing new and there’s nothing wrong any of that ilk on their own terms.

Narrative impetus comes from the unchanging characters themselves, and a building of gag-upon-gag in extended themes. The advantage to newspapers is obvious. If you like a strip it encourages you to buy the paper. If you miss a day or two, you can return fresh at any time having, in real terms, missed nothing.

Such was not always the case, especially in America. Once upon a time the daily “funnies” – comedic or otherwise – were crucial circulation builders and preservers, with lush, lavish and magnificently rendered fantasies or romances rubbing shoulders with thrilling, moody masterpieces of crime, war, sci-fi and everyday melodrama. Even the legion of humour strips actively strived to maintain an avid, devoted following.

And eventually there was Barnaby, which in so many ways bridged the gap between then and now.

On April 20th 1942, with America at war for the second time in 25 years, the liberal New York tabloid PM began running a new, sweet little kids’ strip which was also the most whimsically addicting, socially seditious and ferociously smart satire since the creation of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner – another utter innocent left to the mercy of venal and scurrilous worldly influences…

The outlandish 4-panel daily, by Crockett Johnson, was the product of a perfectionist who didn’t particularly care for comics, but who – according to celebrated strip historian Ron Goulart – just wanted steady employment…

David Johnson Leisk (October 20th 1906-July 11th 1975) was an ardent socialist, passionate anti-fascist, gifted artisan and brilliant designer who spent much of his working life as a commercial artist, Editor and Art Director. Born in New York City and raised in the outer wilds of Queens when it was still semi-rural – very near the slag heaps which would eventually house two New York World’s Fairs in Flushing Meadows – “Dave” studied art at Cooper Union (for the Advancement of Science and Art) and New York University before leaving early to support his widowed mother. This entailed embarking upon a hand-to-mouth career drawing and constructing department-store advertising.

He supplemented his income with occasional cartoons to magazines such as Collier’s before becoming an Art Editor at magazine publisher McGraw-Hill. He also began producing a moderately successful, “silent” strip called The Little Man with the Eyes.

Johnson had divorced his first wife in 1939 and moved out of the city to Connecticut, sharing an ocean-side home with student (and eventual bride) Ruth Krauss, always looking to create that steady something when, almost by accident, he devised a masterpiece of comics narrative. However, if his friend Charles Martin hadn’t seen a prototype Barnaby half-page lying around the house, the series might never have existed…

Happily, Martin hijacked the sample and parlayed it into a regular feature in prestigious highbrow leftist tabloid PM simply by showing the scrap to the paper’s Comics Editor Hannah Baker. Among her other finds was a strip by a cartoonist dubbed Dr. Seuss which would run contiguously in the same publication. Despite Johnson’s initial reticence, within a year Barnaby had become the new darling of the intelligentsia…

Soon there were book collections, talk of a Radio show (in 1946 it was adapted as a stage play), a quarterly magazine and rave reviews in Time, Newsweek and Life. The small but rabid fan-base ranged from politicians and the smart set such as President and First Lady Roosevelt, Vice-President Henry Wallace, Rockwell Kent, William Rose Benet and Lois Untermeyer to cool celebrities such as Duke Ellington, Dorothy Parker, W. C. Fields and even legendary New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Of course, the last two might only have been checking the paper because the undisputed, unsavoury star of the strip was a scurrilous if fanciful amalgam of them both…

Not since George Herriman’s Krazy Kat had a piece of popular culture so infiltrated the halls of the mighty, whilst largely passing way over the heads of the masses and without troubling the Funnies sections of big circulation papers. Over its 10-year run (April 1942 to February 1952), Barnaby was only syndicated to 64 papers nationally, with a combined circulation of just over five and a half million, but it kept Crockett (a childhood nickname) and Ruth in relative comfort whilst America’s Great and Good constantly agitated on the kid’s behalf.

What more do you need to know?

One dark night a little boy wishes for a Fairy Godmother and something strange and disreputable falls in through his window…

Barnaby Baxter is a smart, ingenuous, scrupulously honest and rather literal pre-schooler (4 years old to you) and his ardent wish is to be an Air Raid Warden like his dad. Instead, he is “adopted” by a short, portly, pompous, mildly unsavoury and wholly discreditable windbag with pink pixie wings.

Jackeen J. O’Malley, card carrying-member of the Elves, Gnomes, Leprechauns and Little Men’s Chowder and Marching Society – although he hasn’t paid his dues in years – unceremoniously installs himself as the lad’s Fairy Godfather. A lazier, more self-aggrandizing, mooching old glutton and probable soak (he certainly frequents taverns but only ever raids the Baxter’s icebox, pantry and humidor, never their drinks cabinet…) could not be found anywhere.

Due more to intransigence than evidence – there’s always plenty of physical proof, debris and fallout whenever O’Malley has been around – Barnaby’s mum and dad adamantly refuse to believe in the insalubrious sprite, whose continued presence hopelessly complicates the sweet boy’s life.

The poor doting parents’ abiding fear is that Barnaby is afflicted with Too Much Imagination…

At the end of the first volume O’Malley implausibly – and almost overnight – became an unseen and reclusive public Man of the Hour, preposterously translating that cachet into a political career by accidentally becoming a patsy for a vast and corrupt political machine. In even more unlikely circumstances O’Malley is then elected to Congress – which somehow doesn’t seem so fantastic any more…

This strand gave staunchly socialist cynic Johnson ample opportunity to ferociously lampoon the electoral system, the pundits and even the public. As usual Barnaby’s parents had to perpetually put down their boy: assertively assuring him that the O’Malley the grown-ups had elected was not a fat little man with pink wings…

Despite looking like a fraud – he’s almost never seen using his magic and always has one of Dad’s stolen panatela cigars as a substitute wand – J. J. O’Malley is the real deal: he’s just incredibly lazy, greedy, arrogant and inept. He does sort of grant Barnaby’s wishes though… but never in ways that might be wished for…

Once O’Malley has his foot in the door – or rather through the bedroom window – a succession of bizarre characters start sporadically turning up to baffle and bewilder Barnaby and Jane Shultz, the sensible little girl next door.

Even the boy’ new dog Gorgon is a remarkable oddity. The pooch can talk – but never when adults are around, and only then with such overwhelming dullness that everybody listening wishes him as mute as every other mutt…

The mythical oddballs and irregulars include timid ghost Gus, Atlas the Giant (a 2-foot tall, pint-sized colossus who is not that impressive until he gets out his slide-rule to demonstrate that he was, in truth, a mental Giant) and LauncelotMcSnoyd, an invisible Leprechaun and O’Malley’s personal gadfly: always offering harsh, ribald home truths and counterpoints to the Godfather’s self-laudatory pronouncements…

Johnson continually expanded his gently bizarre cast of gremlins, ogres, ghosts, policemen, Bankers, crooks, financiers and stranger personages – all of whom can see O’Malley – but the unyieldingly faithful little lad’s parents are always too busy and too certain the Fairy Godfather and all his ilk are unhealthy, unwanted, juvenile fabrications.

This second stupendous collection – available as a landscape hardback and in digital formats – opens with a hearty appreciation from Jules Feiffer in the Foreword before cartoonist, biographer and historian R. C. Harvey provides a critical appraisal in ‘Barnaby and the Power of Imagination’. The captivating yarn-spinning commences next, taking us from January 1st 1944 to December 31st 1945.

There’s even more elucidatory content at the back after all those magic-filled pictures too, as education scholar and Professor of English Philip Nel provides a fact-filled, scene-setting, picture-packed ‘Afterword: O’Malley Takes Flight’and Max Lerner’s 1943 PM promo feature ‘Barnaby’s Progress’ is reprinted in full.

Nel also supplies strip-by-strip commentary and background in ‘The Elves, Leprechauns, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder & Marching Society: A Handy Pocket Guide’

However, what we all love is comics so let’s jump right in as the obese elf gets caught up in exhibiting his miniscule expertise in ‘The Manly Art of Self-Defense’ (running from 28th December 1943 to 19th January 1944), and follows Mr. Baxter’s purchase of a few items of exercise equipment.

Always with an eye to a fast buck, O’Malley organises a prize fight between poor gentle Gus and the obstreperous Brooklyn Leprechaun, all whilst delaying his long overdue return to the Capitol. The godfather is expert in delay and obfuscation but eventually, in a concatenation of curious circumstances, the Congressman buckles under pressure from both his human and fairy-folk constituents to push through a new hydroelectric project – in actuality two vastly different ones – and wings off to begin the process of funding ‘The O’Malley Dam’ (20th January – 22nd April)…

As the political bandwagon gets rolling, further hindered by Mr. Baxter and Barnaby visiting the Congressman’s never-occupied office in Washington DC, the flighty, easily distracted O’Malley takes it upon himself to inscribe the natural history of his people in ‘Pixie Anthropology’ (24th April-18th May), even as, back home, the Big Fight gets nearer and poor Gus continues to wilt under his punishing training regimen…

‘Mr. O’Malley, Efficiency Expert’ (19th May to 8th June), sees the Fairy Fool step in when overwork and worry laid Mr. Baxter low. The factory manager is pilloried by concerns over production targets, but whilst he is remanded to his sickbed, the flying figment busily “fixes” the crisis for him…

During that riotous sequence another oddball was introduced in the diminutive form of Gridley the Salamander: a “Fire Pixey” who can’t raise a spark, even if copiously supplied with matches and gasoline…

The under-worked winged windbag is a master of manipulation and ‘O’Malley and the Buried Treasure’ (9th June – 7thSeptember) has the airborne oaf inveigling invitations for the Baxters to the beachside cottage owned by Jane’s aunt. Once there, it isn’t long before avaricious imagination and a couple of old coins spawn a rabid goldrush amongst the adults who really should know better. This extended vacation also sees the first appearance of moisture-averse sovereign of the seas Davy Jones

Whilst the Congressman busily avoids work, his seat vanishes during boundary reorganisation, but – ever-undaunted – the pixilated political animal soldiers on, outrageously campaigning in the then-ongoing Presidential Election throughout the cruelly hilarious ‘O’Malley for Dewey’ (8th September – 8th November 1944)…

Newspaper strips always celebrated seasonal events and, after the wry satire of the race for power, whacky whimsy is highlighted with the advent of ‘Cousin Myles O’Malley’ (9th – 24th November). The puny Puritan pixie had come over on the Mayflower and is still trying to catch a turkey for his very first Thanksgiving Dinner. Naturally his take-charge, thoroughly modern relative is a huge (dis)advantage to his ongoing quest…

With Christmas fast approaching, an injudicious expression from Ma Baxter regarding a fur wrap sets Barnaby and his Fairy guardian on the trail of the fabled and fabulous, ferocious ermine beast and debuts ‘The O’Malley Fur Trading Post’(25th November 1944 to 27th January 1945).

Although legendary and mythical gnomish huntsman J. P. Orion fails to deliver, an unlucky band of fur thieves fall into the hunters’ traps and discover their latest haul missing. Before long, poor Mr. Baxter is looking at the chilling prospect of jail time for receiving stolen property…

With the global conflict clearly drawing to a close, Johnson threw himself into the debate of what the post-War world would be like. In a swingeing attack on the financial system and the greedy gullibility of professional money men, Barnaby – and most especially his conniving godfather – almost shatter the American commercial world in a cunning fable entitled ‘J.J. O’Malley, Wizard of Wall Street’ (29th January – 26th May)…

With America still reeling, the ever-unfolding hilarity offers an arcane twist as Mr. Baxter suffers more than the usual degree of personal humiliation and confusion when he takes Barnaby, Gorgon and Jane for a short walk and loses them in the littlest woods in America.

They have of course been led astray by O’Malley who accidentally dumps them on ‘Emmylou Schwartz, Licensed Witchcraft Practitioner’ (28th May – 3rd July). She has been in a very bad mood ever since the Salem Witch Trials…

As a result of this latest unhappy encounter and a shameful incident with a black cat, the dogmatic dog is hexed and becomes ‘Tongue-Tied Gorgon’ (4th – 10th July)… not that most people could ever tell…

When Barnaby’s Aunt Minerva writes a bestseller, O’Malley feels constrained to guide her budding career in ‘Belles Lettres’ (11th July – 17th August). The obnoxious elf is a little less keen when he discovers it’s only a cookbook, but perks up when it leads to Minerva being offered a newspaper column. Being an expert in this field too, O’Malley continues his behind-the-scenes support amidst ‘The Fourth Estate’ (18th August – 8th September), renewing his old acquaintance with impishly literal Printers Devil Shrdlu

Immune to O’Malley’s best efforts, Minerva remains a success and is soon looking for her own place. In ‘Real Estate’(10th September -10th October), Barnaby is helpless to prevent poor Gus being used by the godfather as a ghostly goad to convince a spiritualism-obsessed landlady to let to his aunt rather than a brace of conmen…

A perfect indication of the wry humour that peppered the feature can be seen in ‘Party Invitations’ – which ran from 11thto 20th October – as O’Malley attempts to supersede the usual turkey-and-fixin’s feast with a fashionable venison banquet – even though he can’t catch a deer and won’t be cooking it once it’s been butchered…

Congruent with that is the introduction of erudite aborigine ‘Howard the Sigahstaw Indian’ (22nd October – 23rdNovember) – who was just as inept in the hunting traditions of his forefathers – after which the festive preparations continue with ‘O’Malley’s Christmas List’ (24th November – 15th December) wherein the always-generous godfather discovers the miracle of store credit and goes gift shopping for everybody.

Never one to concentrate for long, he is briefly distracted by a guessing competition in ‘Bean-Counting’ (8th – 15thDecember): the prize of a home movie camera being the ideal gift for young Barnaby before this parade of monochrome cartoon marvels concludes with the dryly hilarious saga of ‘The Hangue Dogfood Telephone Quiz Program’ (17thDecember 1945-1st January 1946) wherein Gorgon’s reluctant answers to an advertising promotion again threaten to hurl the entire American business world into chaos…

Intellectually raucous, riotously, sublimely surreal and adorably absurd, the untrammelled, razor-sharp whimsy of the strip is instantly captivating, and the laconic charm of the writing is well-nigh irresistible, but the lasting legacy of this ground-breaking strip is the clean sparse line-work that reduces images to almost technical drawings, unwavering line-weights and solid swathes of black that define space and depth by practically eliminating it, without ever obscuring the fluid warmth and humanity of the characters. Almost every modern strip cartoon follows the principles laid down here by a man who purportedly disliked the medium…

The major difference between then and now should also be noted, however.

Johnson despised doing shoddy work, or short-changing his audience. On average, each of his daily encounters – always self-contained – built on the previous episode without needing to re-reference it, and contained three to four times as much text as its contemporaries. It’s a sign of the author’s ability that the extra wordage was never unnecessary, and often uniquely readable, blending storybook clarity, the snappy pace of “Screwball” comedy films and the contemporary rhythms and idiom of authors such as Damon Runyan and Dashiel Hammett.

He managed this miracle by typesetting the dialogue and pasting up the strips himself – primarily in Futura Medium Italic but with effective forays into other fonts for dramatic and comedic effect.

No sticky-beaked educational vigilante could claim Barnaby harmed children’s reading abilities by confusing the tykes with non-standard letter-forms (a charge levelled at comics as late as the turn of this century), and his efforts also allowed him to maintain an easy, elegant, effective balance of black and white, making the deliciously diagrammatic art light, airy and implausibly fresh and accessible.

During 1946-1947, Johnson surrendered the strip to friends as he pursued a career illustrating children’s books such as Constance J. Foster’s This Rich World: The Story of Money, but eventually he returned, crafting more magic until he retired Barnaby in 1952 to concentrate on books.

When Ruth graduated, she became a successful children’s writer and they collaborated on four tomes, The Carrot Seed (1945), How to Make an Earthquake, Is This You? and The Happy Egg, but these days Crockett Johnson is best known for his seven “Harold” books which began in 1955 with the captivating Harold and the Purple Crayon.

During a global war with heroes and villains aplenty, where no comic page could top the daily headlines for thrills, drama and heartbreak, this feature was an absolute panacea to the horrors without ever ignoring or escaping them. The entire glorious confection that is Barnaby is all about our relationship with imagination. This is not a strip about childhood fantasy. The theme here, beloved by both parents and children alike, is that grown-ups don’t listen to kids enough, and that they certainly don’t know everything.

For far too long Barnaby was a lost masterpiece. It is influential, ground-breaking and a shining classic of the form. You are all the poorer for not knowing it, and should move mountains to change that situation. I’m not kidding.

Liberally illustrated throughout with sketches, roughs, photos and advertising materials as well as Credits, Thank Yous and a brief biography of Johnson, this big hardback book of joy is a an indispensable addition to all bookshelves and collections – most especially yours…
Barnaby vol. 2 and all Barnaby images © 2014 the Estate of Ruth Krauss. Supplemental material © 2014 its respective creators and owners.

Benny Breakiron volume 3: The Twelve Trials of Benny Breakiron


By Peyo, with Yvan Delporte & Walthéry, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz/NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-59707-492-6 (HB Album)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During the annual fair, his elderly friend Monsieur Dussiflard meets an old chum from their days in a jazz band. In the course of catching up, they learn that another mutual pal has become emir of an Arabian kingdom. Long ago, he gave the members of the band a charter granting them rights to a piece of desert… one that is now worth billions in oil revenues…

Back then, the comrades thought it hilarious to scrupulously divide the precious paper into nine parts, but none of them ever threw way their scrap…

As the adults chat and Benny listens, dark deeds are underway. Dussiflard’s home is burgled, triggering a frantic race around the world, with our heroes one step behind a cunning mastermind who will baulk at nothing to secure the entire document and the riches it promises…

All over the globe, Little Benny performs a succession of incredible feats – each one completely missed by Dussiflard and his beleaguered Jazz men – to stymie the malevolent schemer, before arriving home to deal the villain his just desserts…

Fast-paced, wry and sporting a fine eye for the dafter side of super-heroics, this is another fabulously winning fantasy about childhood validation and agency, providing a wealth of action, thrills and chortles for lovers of incredible adventure and comics excellence.
© Peyo™ 2013 – licensed through Lafig Belgium. English translation © 2013 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Popeye Classics volume 6


By Bud Sagendorf, edited and designed by Craig Yoe (Yoe Books/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1631403255 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-62302-786-5

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 Buster Brown.

The celebrated pioneer 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 (latterly, just Ham Gravy).

Segar had been successfully, steadily producing Thimble Theatre for a decade when he introduced a brusque, vulgar “sailor man” into the daily ongoing saga of hapless halfwits on January 17th 1929. Nobody suspected the giddy heights that stubborn cantankerous walk-on would reach…

Many Happy Returns, you old matelot, you…

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.

Young Bud had been Segar’s assistant and apprentice, and from 1948 onwards was exclusive writer and illustrator of Popeye’s comicbook adventures. These launched in February of that year in a regular monthly title published by America’s unassailable king of periodical licensing, 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 #25-29 of Popeye’s comic book series, produced by the irrepressible Sagendorf and collectively spanning July-September 1953 to July-September 1954.

The stunning, nigh stream-of-consciousness slapstick sagas are preceded by an effusively appreciative ‘Society of Sagendorks’ mission statement by inspired aficionado, historian and publisher Craig Yoe, offering a mirthful mission statement after which the regular collation of ephemera and a merchandise dubbed the ‘Bud Sagendorf Scrapbook’ shares cover art domestic and foreign; themed key-rings, art from Segar Russell (Broom-Hilda) Myers and excerpts from Bud’s Artists Cartoon Course (1960). Also included are ghosted Thimble Theatre strips he did during the Tom Sim/Bela Zaboly era, commissioned cast sketches and assorted trivia such as packaging for the Popeye Funny Face Maker and a TV syndication ad.

We rejoin the ceaseless parade of laughs, surreal imagination and thrills with #25 which opens and closes with a prose yarn adorning both inside front and back covers. ‘Bread Time!’ reveals how a cow named Harriet deals with her unlikely passion for baked goods before the comic capers commence with ‘Shrink Weed!’ as some “wild spinach” reduces the old salt and baby Swee’Pea to the size of insects with potentially dire and outrageous consequences…

Sagendorf was a smart guy in tune with popular trends and fashions as well as understanding how kids’ minds worked. His tales are timeless in approach and delivery. In the era of rapid television expansion, cowboys were King, with westerns dominating both large and small screens as well as plenty of comics. Thus, many sagas featured Popeye as a horse-riding sagebrush wanderer who ran a desert railroad when he wasn’t prospecting…

‘Live Game’ finds infant Swee’Pea contending with a little Indian boy and his pet bear before teaming up to play a prank on the adults after which back-up feature Sherm features another bright spark youngster. Here the kid succumbs to the juvenile blandishments of the girl next door in ‘Ah Love!’

Issue #26 opens and closes with text tale ‘Cat Fish’ as an inner-city moggy imaginatively satisfies a yearning for fresh fodder, whilst ‘Popeye and the Gang’ face an invasion of ‘Spookers!’ intent of avenging themselves on senior reprobate Poopdeck Pappy after which ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea in “Kid Raising!!”’ finds Popeye and Olive using book learning to counter Swee’Pea’s pester power.

Following the trend for sci fi fun, new feature ‘Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco’ introduces a robotic father and son in a wild romp featuring a spare-parts scavenging rogue called the Black Mechanic

Popeye #27 (January-March 1954) starts with a prose parable about a blacksmith’s cat discovering a new toy in ‘Space Ball!’ before the entire cartoon cast visit ‘The Happy Little Island’ and confront subsurface creatures doing their darndest to spoil that jolly atmosphere.

Popeye and Swee’Pea then clash as the little nipper tries boosting his strength with a spinach overdose in ‘Full Power!’, before Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco! sees the clever kid construct a junk yard dog from junk yard junk…

In #28 ‘Fowl! Fowl!’ offers a text yarn about an alley cat promising a slap-up feed for his pals before ‘Popeye and Swee’Pea! in “Moneybag! Or Buddy, Can You Spare a Nugget?”’ sees old moocher Wimpy bamboozle himself when he sees Swee’Pea playing with Popeye’s bullion bags…

An engaging Micawber-like coward, cad and conman, the insatiably ravenous J. Wellington Wimpy debuted in the newspaper strip on May 3rd 1931 as an unnamed and decidedly partisan referee in one of Popeye’s pugilistic bouts. The scurrilous yet scrupulously polite oaf struck a chord and Segar gradually made him a fixture. Always hungry, keen to solicit bribes and a cunning coiner of many immortal catchphrases – such as “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” and “Let’s you and him fight” – Wimpy is the perfect foil for a simple action hero who increasingly stole the entire show… and anything else unless it was extremely well nailed down…

He’s no match for the kid, though…

Calamity strikes courtesy of the sinister Sea Hag next as ‘“Weed Shortage” or “Pass the Spinach!”’ finds the sailor man scuppered by a global spinach blight. Captured by his frightful foe, the weakened water warrior needs the motivation of Wimpy and sweety-pie Olive to save his own bacon…

Axle and Cam on the Planet Meco then clash as the junior robot starts copying human kids and their bizarre games, and dad tries to set him straight…

Closing the comic capers for now, Popeye #29 (July-September 1954) opens with prose poser ‘Nine for Nine’ wherein Garry the Cat plays fast and loose with his stockpile of spare lives. Popeye then excels in another epic confrontation with the Sea Hag, who unleashes magical menace ‘The Boo-Bird!’ in the certainty that the old salt has no defence. Yet again, the villain underestimates Olive and the restorative power of spinach…

When Popeye refuses to give his kid a dime, Swee’Pea consults Wimpy and crafts a brilliant get-rich quick scheme in ‘Pay Dirt!’ after which ‘Axle and Cam!’ sees dad swept off his feet by the boy’s latest fun invention…

Outrageous and side-splitting, these all-ages yarns are evergreen examples of surreal narrative cartooning at its most inspirational. Over the last nine decades Thimble Theatre’s most successful son has unfailingly delighted readers and viewers around the world. This book is simply one of many, but definitely top-tier entertainment for all those who love lunacy, laughter, frantic fantasy and rollicking adventure. If that’s you, add this compendium of wonder to your collection.
Popeye Classics volume 6 © 2015 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Popeye © 2015 King Features Syndicate. ™ Heart Holdings Inc.

Freddy Vs School


By Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-143-7 (PB)

Great characters are hard to pin down in the modern-multi-media world – even if they’re relatively new. Here’s a delightful and extremely entertaining sideways move for a favourite comics character – oddly, from ultra-modern full-colour cartoon pages to the hoary hallowed traditions and trappings of illustrated prose…

Neill Cameron (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) has charmed and enthralled kids of all ages with another serial originating in the picture-perfect pages of wonderful weekly The Phoenix. This one is the Mega-Robo Brothers, set in a charmingly inclusive and diverse futuristic London (at least 3 months from now…) and featuring a pair of marvellous metal-&-plastic paladins who are not like other kids – no matter how much they try…

Now he’s a stalwart of proper literature, let’s dip into this superb romp in the grand manner of Just William or Billy Bunter thanks to the smaller of those rather unique lads…

Welcome to the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours Alex Sharma and his younger brother Freddy are (mostly) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s no big deal for them that they were constructed by mysterious Dr. Roboticus (before he vanished from all human knowledge) and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

That includes Mum and Dad, but though Mr Sharma may be just your average working guy, it’s clear Mum is a bit extraordinary herself. As renowned boffin Dr. Nita Sharma, she harbours some surprising secrets of her own, and occasionally allows her boys to be super-secret agents for R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence).

It’s enough for the digital duo that Mum and Dad love them, even though the boys are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of the Mega Robo Routine combining boring lessons, fun with friends, playing games, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ…

When occasion demands, the lads undertake missions, but mostly it’s just home, games, homework and School. At least that’s how it seems to Freddy: a typical, excitable 10-year-old (well, except for the built-in super-strength, flight rockets and lasers). Alex may be at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest, but Freddy is insufferably exuberant and over-confident. And that’s where the trouble starts today…

Some kids just find themselves at the centre of unfortunate events, even without a suite of onboard tactical weaponry, and it all begins with another fraught parent-teacher conference between Deputy Head Mr. Javid and Freddy’s Mum. As usual it involves an unfortunate use of the metal boy’s unique gifts, subsequent destruction of property and trauma for the staff, but this time the repercussions are severe. Cash-strapped and at the end of his tether, Mr Javid imposes a draconian Code of Conduct forbidding students from using Super-strength, Booster Rockets or Lasers on school property. Obviously, it’s not a sanction that affects every pupil, and Mum is offended but, in the end, really wants her sons to grow up in a social environment and not be excluded or home-schooled…

Sadly, Freddy is wilful and easily led, especially by his best friend Fernando. He also hates boring learning and loves excitement. Dr. Sharma calls him an “instigator”, and hopes the influence of sporty Anisha or quietly studious new boy Riyad will have a calming effect on her son. She has no idea of the trouble lurking, hulking bully Henrik is planning, or the devasting consequences that will result from Freddy’s inability to do what he’s told…

Stuffed with monochrome cartoons and bouncy graphics, this is unmissable entertainment for kids of all ages and vintage: a splendidly traditional school days comedy romp, amped up on sci fi and superhero riffs and carrying a powerful message that no one is beyond saving. Freddy vs School is wonderful adventure for younger readers and one you’ll adore too.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2021. All rights reserved.

Freddy vs School will be published on 7th January 2021 and is available for pre-order now

Hex Vet: The Flying Surgery


By Sam Davies (KaBOOM!)
ISBN: 978-1-68415-478-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-64144-617-4

When your animal companions fall ill, you know they need the help only a qualified veterinarian can offer, right? However, if said furry, feathered, finny or scaly housemate can turn people to stone, teleport or summon devils and imps, a far more specialised service is required. And staff at such vital animal alms houses need a lot of on-the-job training…

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

A superb all-ages feelgood fantasy with some effectively appropriate sharp edges, the saga of the zoological wonderland expands and grows substantially darker in tone when the monthly reorientation into a sky-based surgery – “the flying Creature clinic” with all its attendant extra workload – is hijacked by multiple emergencies. It’s all going fine until the local Wildlife Warlock Patrol leader rushes in with a severely abused Porcus Volitarus. It looks like magical smugglers have been overloading the poor flying pig, and after triaging the pooped porker, Dr. Talon rushes off with the Warlock to see how badly the local eldritch ecology has been damaged…

The students are left to run the dreadfully over-subscribed clinic with a painfully out-of-sorts and abrasive Nurse Chantsworth, but everything goes haywire after a suspicious stranger boards the building, determined to reclaim the cloud-trotter at any costs…

Compounding the pressure, the students are already distracted by overwhelming personal problems: Annette’s brother has apparently returned from prison, but no one has seen him, and Clarion is distraught that her aged granddad has been suffering abuse at the hands of someone she knows very well…

Meanwhile, deep in the woods, Dr. Talon and the Warlock are making disturbing discoveries…

Addressing issues of redemption, rehabilitation, wrong paths taken and elderly alienation, all while telling a potent tale of dedication and crisis resolution, Hex Vets: The Flying Surgery shows how reason and empathy can solve problems just as efficiently as fighting and confrontation, all while weaving a seductive web of fun and charm.

A celebrated web cartoonist, Sam Davies (Stutterhug) reaches even greater heights with her follow-up graphic novel which will delight youngsters and all us elderly-but-unbroken fantasy lovers out here.
© December 2019. Hex Vet, Inc. ™ & © 2018 Sam Davies. All rights reserved.

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal volume 2


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Gerry Conway, Elliot S! Maggin, Denny O’Neil, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dick Giordano, Rich Buckler, Tenny Henson, Alan Weiss, Don Newton, Bob Oksner & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-7795-0117-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Joyous Superhero Fun… 9/10

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity that followed the successful launch of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved swiftly and solidly into the area of light entertainment and even broad comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan and thoroughly good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to battle injustice and subsequently granted the powers of six gods and mythical heroes. By speaking aloud the wizard’s name – itself an acronym for the six patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury – he can transform from scrawny boy to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel.

At the height of his popularity, Captain Marvel hugely outsold Superman and was even published twice a month. However, as the decade progressed and tastes changed, sales slowed, and an infamous court case begun in 1941 by National Comics citing copyright infringement was settled. Like many other superheroes, the “Big Red Cheese” disappeared, becoming a fond memory for older fans. A big syndication success, he was missed all over the world…

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and transformed Captain Marvel into atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the early 1960s.

Then, as America lived through another superhero boom-&-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collectors and fans rather than casual or impulse buyers. National – now DC – Comics needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the court settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and his spin-off Family. Now, and though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), the publishing monolith decided to tap into that discriminating if aging fanbase.

In 1973, riding a wave of national nostalgia on TV and in the movies, DC brought back the entire beloved cast of the Captain Marvel crew in their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they named the new title Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’): the memorable trigger phrase used by myriad Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

Now the latest star of film and TV is back in print in this stylish Hardback and digital compendium, collecting select material from Shazam! #14-17 and all of 19-35; and All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 (spanning July 1975 – May 1978).

The previous volume – ya gotta gettem all! – revealed how the entire Marvel family was trapped in time for a generation before being released to preserve gain justice and decency on their own kindler, gentler, more whimsical Earth and here Shazam! #19 introduces extra-dimensional delinquent Zazzo, the malevolent culprit revealed when Elliot S! Maggin and Kurt Schaffenberger ask ‘Who Stole Billy Batson’s Thunder?’.

Billy’s super sister Mary Marvel is the back-up feature, cannily solving E. Nelson Bridwell and Bob Oksner’s ‘Secret of the Smiling Swordsman!’, before the next issue teams the entire Marvel Family in full-length sci fi thriller ‘The Strange and Terrible Disappearance of Maxwell Zodiac!’, courtesy of Maggin and Schaffenberger.

Shazam! #21, 22, 23 and 24 were all reprint, represented here by covers from Ernie Chua & Bob Oksner, two from Schaffenberger and then another from Chua & Oksner, reflecting a scheduling change that saw the comic released quarterly.

I suspect, but have no proof, that this coincided with the TV show that ran in parallel being off-air, as – when issue #24 appeared in Spring 1976 – new editor Joe Orlando oversaw a massaging of the scenario which would see young Billy and Uncle Dudley (a mainstay of the TV incarnation) set off around America in a minivan as roving reporters, encountering threats and felons in America’s Bicentennial year.

Bridwell and Schaffenberger became the permanent creative team, with occasional inkers such as Vince Colletta, Bob Wiacek and Bob Smith pitching in, if seldom to the enhancement of Schaffenberger’s pencils.

There were even bigger changes in store. Shazam! #25 (September/October 1976) featured a team-up of the Captain with Mighty Isis, a TV character that DC was then licensing for a tie-in comic book. ‘Isis… as in Crisis!’ is by Denny O’Neil & Dick Giordano and sees Cap reduced to a cameo as Isis recalls how archaeologist Andrea Thomas uncovered an Egyptian Amulet and scroll, gaining the powers of an ancient goddess to fight modern crime and injustice…

That issue’s back-up ‘The Bicentennial Villain’ introduces a new roving format as TV reporter Billy briefly clashes with arch-nemesis Dr. Sivana and learns of a far-reaching plot to destroy America in its anniversary year, courtesy of Bridwell & Schaffenberger …

Issue #26 sees the saga properly launched in a highly enjoyable romp. ‘The Case of the Kidnapped Congress’ finds Billy and Uncle Dudley battling Sivana in Washington DC. Vince Colletta inked the self-explanatory ‘Fear in Philadelphia’, but that doesn’t detract from a right royal romp as the Mad Doctor uses a resurrection machine to bring back the greatest rogues in America’s history – a much shorter list to pick from in 1976…

Clearly having tremendous fun, writer Bridwell began his own resurrections: bringing back Fawcett and Quality Comics characters as guest-stars. First up was the ghostly Kid Eternity and Mister Keeper, and with issue #28 he scripted his masterstroke with ‘The Return of Black Adam’: a Golden-Age villain whose fabled single appearance was a landmark long remembered by fans.

That he is still a huge favourite today shows the astuteness of that decision. That was in Boston, with #29 set in Buffalo and Niagara Falls where ‘Ibac meets Aunt Minerva!’: a comedic battle of the sexes that was heavy on the hitting.

Another faux meeting with his greatest rival occurred in #30’s ‘Captain Marvel Fights the Man of Steel’, wherein the Batson bus reaches Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Here, inspired by a comic book Sivana recrates local folk legend Joe Magarac (the Paul Bunyan of Steel workers) and the Three Lieutenant Marvels guest-star.

All girl villain-team ‘The Rainbow Squad’ expose Captain Marvel’s gentlemanly weakness in #31, heralding the return of patriotic hero Minute Man to step in, step up and save the day.

Tenny Henson pencilled #32’s tale from Detroit (with Bob Smith inking) as aliens led by wicked space worm Mr. Mindattempt to eliminate baseball in ‘Mr. Tawny’s Big Game!’ and fans knew that the good old days were coming to an end. A radical change to Shazam!

issue #33 heralded the metamorphosis in ‘The World’s Mightiest Race’ (Bridwell, Henson & Colletta) as Nuclear robotic menace Mister Atom tries to disrupt the Indianapolis 500 motor race. The radical about-face came with #34 (April 1978) as Bridwell, Alan Weiss & Joe Rubinstein ditch the charming light-heartedness to insert a brutal dose of reality. ‘The Fuhrer of Chicago’ reintroduces sadistic super-fascist Captain Nazi, but his plans to annexe the city are brought to sorry end by a vengeful Captain Marvel Junior, eager for some payback on the monster who crippled him…

The realism was reinforced in #34 as Bridwell, Don Newton & Schaffenberger decreed ‘Backward, Turn Backward, O Time in Your Flight!’ with the Marvels battling murderous Beastman King Kull’s attempts to roll back history and re-establish his extinct race and empire. The war carries on into Hell itself and features a return for infernal foe Sabbac

Part of DC’s experimental line of bigger, bolder comics, All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-58 was a tabloid-sized, 72-page extravaganza intended to restore the “wow-factor” to the medium and industry.

Crafted by Gerry Conway, Rich Buckler & Giordano, ‘When Earths Collide!’ features a trans-dimensional team up of Captain Marvel and Superman, engineered by primordial Martian sorcerer Karmang, who seeks to resurrect his people and civilisation by destroying two Earths. Aid, abetting and adding tension are Black Adam and the Quarrmer Sand-Thing Superman, with Supergirl and Mary Marvel also intent on averting Armageddon.

The epic adventure wraps up with a series of essays and vignettes from Shazam! #14-17 and 22, detailing the histories of the Patrons in ‘Legends of Shazam!’ – specifically Solomon, Hercules, Atlas and Zeus in prose by Bridwell with Achilles rendered in strip form by Schaffenberger & George Papp.

Although still controversial amongst older fans like me, the 1970’s incarnation of Captain Marvel/Shazam! has a tremendous amount going for it. Gloriously free of angst and agony (mostly), beautifully, simply illustrated, and charmingly scripted, these are clever, funny wholesome adventures that would appeal to any child and positively promote a love of graphic narrative. There’s a horrible dearth of exuberant superhero adventure these days. Isn’t it great that there is somewhere to go for a little light action?
© 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Elvis Puffs Out – a Breaking Cat News Adventure


By Georgia Dunn (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN:  978-1-52485-819-3 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Silly Seasons Never Looked So Good… 10/10

Cats rule the world. Everybody knows it. Just ask social media and the internet. In fact, just ask your cat… if you dare. Those of us “blessed” with designated feline overlords also learn pretty quickly that they run the house too.

Some years back, illustrator and cartoonist Georgia Dunn found a way to make her hairy housemates (the ones with more than two feet) earn their keep after watching them converge on a domestic accident and inquisitively – and interminably – poke their little snouts into the mess.

Breaking Cat News began as a hilariously beguiling web-based comic strip detailing how – when no-one is looking – her forthright felines form their own on-the-spot news-team with studio anchor Lupin, and field reporters Elvis (investigative) and Puck (commentary) delivering around-the-clock reports on the events that really resonate with cats – because, after all, who else matters?

And now they’re all over books such as this latest paperback/digital delight, as well as a slew of delightful merchandise…

Here then, after far too long an interlude, is the fourth collection of outrageous, alarming, occasionally courageous but always charming – and probably far too autobiographical for comfort – romps, riffs and devastatingly debilitating sad bits starring a growing family of people and the cats and assorted critters they share space with.

If you’re a returning customer or already follow the strip, you’re au fait with the ever-expanding cast and ceaseless surreality, but this stuff is so welcoming even the merest neophyte can jump right in with no confusion other than that which the author intends…

Be warned though, Dunn is a master of emotional manipulation and never afraid to tug heartstrings, and this time around a more formal narrative underpins the episodic joys. Keep hankies close.

It all begins in winter, resulting in an extended sequence about snow which opens with ‘There’s Nothing Outside’ With the news room abuzz, incidents come in such as ‘Tommy is in the Studio!’ featuring the former lost cat who became an outdoors correspondent semi-regular. The blizzard season continues until ‘The Sun is out and Man is forging a path into the Void!’ happily closes with the breaking report ‘The Real World has returned outside!’

Dunn is quite rightly fervent about cat welfare and a new (lost) kitten gets temporarily housed and named, leading to lots of larks and ‘Hunting Lessons are underway in the living room’

The fate of the kitten rolls out throughout the collection (did I say “hankies”?) interspersed with many madcat moments such as ‘This Just In: The plant of many teeth has a new hat’, some rather salty commentary on the status of Corned Beef and a ‘Climbing contest in the laundry room!’

Spring comes and enquiring minds ask ‘Is it getting warmer yet?’, even as examination of and rumination over the nature of snakes and dogs is pushed off the schedule by ‘The Man brought home something called “donuts”’ and Bulletins like ‘The doorbell rang!’

Domestic reports reveal ‘The Baby is turning one!’, ‘There’s a fight in the living room’ and ‘Peep Toads are out!’ as well as an interview with the legendary Baba Mouse (a barn cat of tremendous vintage), but through it all pressure mounts in the newsroom and ‘Elvis is needier than usual’.

There are ‘New cat toys’ and revelations that ‘We may have an ally at the dinner table’ as well as Sophie’s new art installation and that ‘Elvis Fell asleep with his eyes open’. Before the newsflash that ‘Potty training is underway’

There’s even a follow-up outside broadcast at the bookstore and the garden where an owl and a pussycat finally achieve their destiny, prompting a big criminal exclusive, an abduction and a manhunt (sort of…) before in the end Love Conquers All and it turns out fine again, thanks mostly to The Mice

Augmenting the tons of mirth and moving moments are further activity pages courtesy of Breaking Cat News: More to Explore: sharing how to create ‘Wooden Spoon Dolls’ and providing an extensive tutorial on ‘Reporting News Around Your House’.

Warm, witty, imaginative, deliciously whimsical and available instantly in digital formats – as well as profoundly gift-wrappable paperback should you be so inclined – this glorious romp of joyous whimsy will brush away the blues and dangle hope of better times in your face until you swipe at it with a frantic paw (well, probably not, but you know what I mean…).

Breaking Cat News is a fabulously funny, feel-good feature rendered with great artistic élan and a light and breezy touch to bedazzle and bemuse not just us irredeemable cat-addicts but also anyone in need of good laugh. And there’s no better time than now for those, right?
Elvis Puffs Out! © 2020 by Georgia Dunn. All rights reserved.

Bigby Bear volume 3: The Explorer


By Philippe Coudray, translated by Miceal Beausang-O’Griafa (BiG-Humanoids/Simon Icke)
ISBN: 978-1-64337-935-7 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Astounding All-Ages Thoughtful Fun … 9/10

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

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

Often employing puzzles and riddles, and as much children’s storybook of episodic vignettes as a graphic novel, these particular collected strips offer charming, visually challenging riffs on the theme of exploration and discovery, as seen through the eyes of an affably gentle bruin living wild, but mild, all the while honing his artistic skills and cognitive capacities.

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

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

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

In this third translated volume the beguiling reaches of outer space and the compelling depths of the oceans are the new playgrounds and thought labs for the bemused cast, with Bigby and Co wandering other worlds, scanning the skies and voyaging to the bottom of the seas, keenly observing and making notes, scientific, artistic and even musical…

When not scaling heights and plumbing depths, our jolly questors have fun in museums, zoos and aquaria; encounter a far from abominable snowman and find time to pass their knowledge and discoveries on to his cub and a rapt younger generation…

Genteel fun, bemusing whimsy and enchanting illustration cloaking a sublimely inclusive philosophy of curiosity, enquiry and cohabitation, Bigby Bear is an excellent, irrepressible example of how to enjoy life and crucial reading for young and old alike. Get the digital edition immediately before backing it up with the wonderfully tactile, sturdy hardback your kids will want to paw and peer at over and over again…
Bigby Bear, Book 3: The Explorer © 2020 Humanoids. Inc. All rights reserved. First published in France as L’Ours Barnabé © 2012-2019 La Boîte à Bulles and Philippe Coudray. All rights reserved.

Lola’s Super Club: “My Dad is a Super Secret Agent”


By Christine Beigel & Pierre Foiullet, translated by Jeff Whitman (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0563-3 (HB) 978-1-5458-0564-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fantastic Fantasy Fun… 8/10

Once upon a time, stories designed to enthral and entertain young girls were a prolific staple of comics output. However, by the end of the 20th century the sector had all but faded from the English-speaking world, but enjoyed a splendid resurgence – particularly in America – as the graphic novel market expanded to its current prominence.

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers – especially girls – and combine licensed properties such as The Smurfs, Gumby and Nancy Drew with compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project and intriguing European imports like Brina the Cat and Chloe. They’ve recently taken on the challenge of finally introducing Asterix to poor, culture-deprived New Worlders. I must check that out on your behalf of course…

An eagerly anticipated transatlantic transplant soon to be yours, Lola’s Super Club is the brainchild of prolific children’s novelist Christine Beigel & comics veteran Pierre Fouillet (co-creators of Le Chat Pelote: Adoptez Moi!) detailing the manically frenetic exploits of a little lass blessed with a superabundance of imagination.

Lola is able to animate her cat Hot Dog and selected favourite toys – such as the size-changing lizard Super James (in undies) – to accompany her on adventures across all Time and Space as the irrepressible Super-Lola

This initial outing offers two complete adventures in one sleek volume (available in hardback, paperback and in digital editions) as Lola and her crew come to the rescue of her father Robert Darkhair (AKA superspy James Blond – an Agent so Top Secret, even he doesn’t know he’s licensed to thrill…) in eponymous romp ‘My Dad is a Super Secret Agent’.

To save him from arrogant Arch Fiend/shabby supervillain Max Imum, his sinister talking hounds Zero and Zero and his diabolical witch mother Mini Mum, Super Lola engages in a frantic chase from home in Friendly Falls, USA through sordid sewers and dank dungeons, into the stratosphere and through terrifying jungles, encountering and defeating or befriending skeletons, monsters, jungle men and pirates before she can declare her mission accomplished and her dad and missing mother reunited safely at home…

Further helter-skelter Imagineering ensues in second adventure ‘My Mom is Lost in Time’ after Lola and her gang – sorry, “Club” – are sucked into a TV show and end up battling bears at the frozen pole, fleeing dinosaurs in the Jurassic, and clashing with Egyptian crocodile god Sobek, while making history in all the wrong places…

However, with every stopover in significant moments the Super Club is getting closer to home and to Lola’s absent mum…

Fun, fast-paced and furiously inventive, these fanciful feasts combine imagination and discovery with a solidly positive message of family solidarity and free expression every child desperately needs to experience and absorb. Make sure this book is in your young’uns’ stocking this year and that the subtext becomes part of their life story, no matter how far-fetched or extraordinary…
© Christine Beigel + Pierre Fouillet, 2010. © Bang. Ediciones, 2011, 2013 All rights reserved. English translation and all other material © 2020 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Lola’s Super Club: “My Dad is a Super Secret Agent” is scheduled for release on December 8th 2020 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

Scooby-Doo! Team-Up volume 1


By Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1401249465 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: All-Ages Fun and Frolic… 8/10

It’s been bad year for everybody, but from my selfish and blinkered perspective, the graphic arts have been particularly diminished by the loss of many giants. Here’s an offhand tribute to two more…

The links between kids’ animated features and comicbooks are long established and, I suspect, for young consumers, indistinguishable. After all, it’s just adventure entertainment in the end…

Although never actual comics workers, animation titans and series writers Joe Ruby (March 30th 1933-August 26th 2020) and Ken Spears (March 12th 1938-November 6th 2020) co-originated dozens of cartoon shows which ultimately translated into multi-million comic book sales, joy and glee for generations and a subtle reshaping of the World’s cultural landscape. They also popularised the superhero concept on TV, through shows such as Superman, The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show and Thundarr the Barbarian, consequently employing former funnybook creators such as Doug Wildey, Alex Toth, Steve Gerber, Jack Kirby and other comics giants. For all this, they are most renowned for devising mega-franchise Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

Over decades of screen material, Scooby-Doo and his sidekicks Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Freddy became global icons, and amidst the mountain of merchandise and derivatives generated by the franchise was a succession of comic book series from Gold Key (30 issues beginning December 1969 and ending in 1974), through Charlton (11 issues 1975-1976), Marvel (9 issues 1977-1979), Harvey (1993-1994) and Archie (21 issues, 1995-1997). The creative cast included Phil DeLara, Jack Manning, Warren Tufts, Mark Evanier, Dan Spiegle, Bill Williams, and many others.

In 1997, DC Comics acquired all the Hanna Barbera properties for its Cartoon Network imprint, which was for a very long time the last bastion of children’s comics in America. It produced some truly magical homespun material (such asTiny Titans, Batman: Brave and the Bold or Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam!) as well as stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Laboratory, Ben 10 and vintage gems such as The Flintstones and Scooby Doo

In 2013, the mystery-solving pesky kids fully integrated with the DCU via a digital series of team ups that inevitably manifested as comics books and graphic novels. Compiling material from Scooby-Doo! Team-Up #1-6 (January-November 2014) this first fabulous trade paperback – or eBook – features a wild parade of joint ventures from writer Sholly Fisch illustrator Dario Brizuela, colourists Franco Riesco & Heroic Age and letterers Saida Temofonte & Deron Bennett.

It all begins with Mystery Inc. aiding Dynamic Duo Batman and Robin in a hunt for mutated scientist Kirk Langstrombefore being diverted by a gang of fake flyers in ‘Man-Bat and Robbin’!’ after which issue #2 asks ‘Who’s Scared?’ As the Caped Crusader and Ace, the Bat-Hound enjoy seeing the original Scooby gang admitted to the legendary Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, the terror-inducing Scarecrow strikes, and only the canine contingent can resist his latest fear chemicals…

Still visiting Gotham City, the gang discover ‘Two Mites Make It Wrong’ as impulsive imp Bat-Mite starts his reality-altering pranks again and normality is only possible through the intervention of unforeseen antithesis Scooby-Mite

Channelling a contemporary surreal TV hit, ‘Teen Titans – Ghost!’ then brings the Mystery Machine to Jump City for a spot of haunting at Titans Tower, before Daphne and Velma visit Wonder Woman on Themyscira and indulge in a Kanga rodeo whilst the boys mess about in the invisible jet before reuniting to solve a mythological monster mystery causing ‘Trouble in Paradise’

This initial outing concludes with a mass masked hero marathon when a visit to the Super Friends’ Hall of Justice leads to a ghost hunt. Mystery soon solved, the gang, Wonder Twins Zan and Jayna, the Justice League of America and Supergirl then must all battle the notorious Legion of Doom in ‘A (Super) Friend in Need’

Despite being ostensibly aimed at TV kids, this fast-paced, funny and superbly inclusive parcel of thrills skilfully revisits the charm of early DC in stand-alone mini-sagas no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, well-rendered yarns for the broadest range of excitement-seeking readers. This is a terrific tome offering perfect, old fashioned delight. What more do you need to know?
© 2014, 2015 Hanna-Barbera and DC Comics. All Rights Reserved. Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and all related characters and elements are ™ DC Comics. Scooby-Doo and all related characters and elements are ™ and © Hanna-Barbera.