Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: The Brittle Mastery of Donald Duck


By Carl Barks (Gladstone Comic Album #7)
ISBN: 978-0-94459-906-8 (Album PB)

Although experts quibble over the details of Donald Duck’s debut (I cleave to the notion we should use the premier of The Wise Little Hen on 3rd May rather than the June 9th US general release date), everybody agrees 1934 was the year and that the magnificent mallard is 90 this year. In honour of that achievement, here’s a lovely old book starring Disney’s top cartoon star that you might be lucky enough to find. Even if you can’t, the stories are scattered throughout Fantagraphics’ magnificent Carl Barks library editions which we will continue sporadically reviewing and which you really should already own…

Donald Duck ranks among a small group of fictional characters to have transcended the bounds of reality and become – like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Popeye and James Bond -meta-real. As such, his origins are complex and convoluted. His official birthday is June 9th 1934: a dancing, nautically-themed bit-player in the Silly Symphony cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.

The animated cartoon was adapted by Ted Osborne & Al Taliaferro for the Silly Symphonies Sunday newspaper strip and thus classified by historians as Donald’s official debut in Disney comics. Controversially, he was also reported to have pre-originated in The Adventures of Mickey Mouse strip which began 1931. Thus the Duck has more “birthdays” than he knows what to do with, which presumably explains why he’s such a bad-tempered cuss.

Visually, Donald Fauntleroy Duck was largely the result of animator Dick Lundy’s efforts, and, with partner-in-fun Mickey Mouse, is one of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. The Duck has his own star on the Hollywood walk of fame and has appeared in more films than any other Disney player. Throughout the 1930s, his screen career grew from background and supporting roles via a team act with Mickey and Goofy to a series of solo cartoons beginning with 1937’s Don Donald. That one also introduced love interest Daisy Duck and the irrepressible nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey

By 1938 The Duck was officially more popular than corporate icon Mickey Mouse, and even more so after his national service as a propaganda warrior in a series of animated morale boosters and information features during WWII. The merely magnificent Der Fuehrer’s Face garnered the 1942 Academy Award for Animated Short Film

Crucially for our purposes, Donald is also planet Earth’s most-published non-superhero comics character, and blessed with some of the greatest writers and illustrators ever to punch a keyboard or pick up a pen or brush. A publishing phenomenon and megastar across Europe – particularly Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland – Donald (& Co) have spawned countless original stories and many immortal characters. Sales are stratospheric across all age groups there and in upwards of 45 other countries they export to. Japan’s manga publishers have their own iteration too…

The aforementioned Silly Symphonies adaptation and Mickey strip guest shots were trumped in 1937 when Italian publisher Mondadori launched an 18-page comic book story crafted by Federico Pedrocchi. It was quickly followed by a regular serial in Britain’s Mickey Mouse Weekly (a comic produced under license by Willbank Publications/Odhams Press that ran from 8th February 1936 to 28th December 1957). Issue #67 (May 15th 1937) premiered Donald and Donna – a prototype Daisy Duck girlfriend – drawn by William A. Ward. Running for 15 weeks, it was followed by Donald and Mac before ultimately settling as Donald Duck – a fixture until the magazine folded. The feature inspired similar Disney-themed publications across Europe, with Donald regularly appearing beside company mascot Mickey…

In the USA, a daily Donald Duck newspaper strip launched on February 2nd 1938, with a colour Sunday strip added in 1939. Writer Ted Karp joined Taliaferro in expanding the duck cast and history: adding a signature automobile, pet dog Bolivar, goofy cousin Gus Goose, and grandmother Elvira Coot whilst expanding the roles of both Donna and Daisy. In 1942, his comic book life began with October cover-dated Dell Four Color Comics Series II #9: AKA Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold. It was conceived by Homer Brightman & Harry Reeves, scripted by Karp and illustrated by Disney Studios employees Carl Barks & Jack Hannah. That was the moment everything changed…

Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon in 1901, and raised in rural areas of the West during some of the leanest times in American history. He tried his hand at many jobs before settling into the profession that chose him. His early life is well-documented elsewhere if you need detail, but briefly, Barks was a cartoonist, then an animator before quitting the Studio in 1942 to work in the new-fangled field of comic books. From then until his retirement in the mid-1960s (he officially downed tools in 1966 but was cajoled into scripting stories well into 1968), Barks worked in self-imposed seclusion: writing, drawing and devising a vast array of adventure comedies, gags, yarns and covers that gelled into a Duck Universe of memorable and highly bankable characters like Gladstone Gander (1948), Gyro Gearloose (1952), Magica De Spell (1961) and the nefarious Beagle Boys (1951) to supplement the Studio’s stable of cartoon actors.

His greatest creation was crusty, energetic, paternalistic, money-mad giga-gazillionaire Scrooge McDuck: the World’s wealthiest winged nonagenarian and frequent spur/gadfly and reluctant sugar daddy to the adventuresome youngsters…

Whilst producing all that landmark material Barks was also just a working guy, generating cover art, drawing other people’s scripts as asked, and always adding stories to a burgeoning international canon of Duck Lore. Only after Gladstone Publishing began re-packaging Barks material in books like this during the 1980s, did he discover the well-earned appreciation he never imagined existed. Media Historian Leonard Maltin called Barks “the most popular and widely read artist/writer in the world”…

So potent were Barks’ creations that they fed back into Disney’s overarching animation output, despite all his brilliant comic work being for Dell/Gold Key and not the studio. The greatest tribute was undoubtedly animated series Duck Tales, based on his classic Uncle Scrooge adventures. Barks was a fan of wholesome action, unsolved mysteries and epics of exploration, and this led to him perfecting the art and technique of the blockbuster tale: blending wit, history, plucky bravado and sheer wide-eyed wonder into rollicking rollercoaster romps that utterly captivated readers of every age and vintage. Without the Barks expeditions there would never have been an Indiana Jones

During his working life Barks was utterly unaware that his work – uncredited due to company policy, as was all Disney’s comics output – had been recognised by a rabid and discerning public as “the Good Duck Artist”. When some of his most dedicated fans finally tracked him down, belated celebrity began.

In 2013, Fantagraphics Books began chronologically collecting Barks’ Duck stuff in curated archival volumes, tracing his output year-by-year in hardback tomes and digital editions that finally did justice to the quiet creator. These will eventually comprise the Complete Carl Barks Disney Library. Physical copies are sturdy and luxurious albums – 193 x 260mm – to grace any bookshelf.

Gladstone Publishing began re-releasing Barks material and sundry other Disney strips in the late-1980s and this album is one of their best. Printed in the European oversized format (278mm x 223mm) this joyous compendium collects an occasional series of similarly-themed yarns: some of the best and funniest Duck tales ever crafted.

The “Brittle Master” series is the name given by devotees to a group of stories wherein the perennial failing, fiery-tempered and eternally put-upon everyman Donald displays an excellence in some unique skill or service, winning the approval and veneration of all and sundry – only to have his own smug hubris bring about his ultimate humiliation and downfall.

The first untitled tale, from Walt Disney Comics and Stories #156 (1953) sees Donald as an airplane-piloting, cloud-sculpting Master Rainmaker catering to increasingly outrageous requests from his adoring public. This leads him inevitably to disaster – in this case the creation of a full-blown, devastating Ice-storm…

Next, from WDC&S #222 (1959) comes the tale of the Master Mover, as Donald displays an uncanny ability to transport anything anywhere, only to come a crushing cropper when he guarantees to shift an entire zoo to a mountaintop in one afternoon!

From Donald Duck #68 (also from 1959) ‘The Master Glasser’ (we’d call him a glazier) is a wickedly satirical glimpse at small-town America as the arrogant artificer at the height of his fame attempts to repair the aged fascia of Duckburg’s giant clock. Perhaps he shouldn’t have tried to do it live on TV?

The fourth tale is one where I suspect Donald actually found his true calling. The ‘Master Wrecker’ (WDC&S #26, 1962) is the go-to-duck if you need something demolished with no muss or fuss, and even in this hilarious yarn Donald doesn’t actually fail. The target is utterly razed: it’s just not the one he was supposed to demolish…

This delightful collection ends with the satisfyingly sharp ‘Spare That Hair’ (WDC&S #272, 1963) as Donald the Master Barber finally wins one for a change, even though he mistakenly shaves a gorilla and inspires the ire of a rowdy circus ringmaster…

Barks was as adept with quick-fire gag stories as epic adventures; blending humour with drama and charm with action, and even if you can’t find this particular volume, most of his unforgettable work is readily accessible through a number of publications and outlets and in many languages. So if you seek to become a Master Reader, you know what you need to do…
© 1988, 1963, 1962, 1959, 1953 The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

Little David


By David Cantero (Northwest Press)
eISBN: 978-1-9438900-0-2 (digital only)

Families are important: by every conceivable metric the foundation of human society. If we swallow our arrogant exceptionalism for a moment, it’s also the binding concept of all mammalian life and a fair bit of the rest of Earth’s breathing occupants. You just need to try and be flexible, tolerant, willing to re-examine old ideas in the light of changing information and where necessary loosen any old hidebound definitions you might have acquired while growing up… and be amenable to change. It always comes whether or not you want it too.

Traditional interpretation of the family concept is one we’re finally shedding: escaping centuries of oppressive preconditioning and the diktat of whatever autocratic – or, more usually, theocratic – hegemony presumes to run your life at any one time. You can consider the current foofaraw about the imaginary cosmic threat of letting people self-define their gender just the latest bunch of reactionary twaddle of a none-too-rapidly dying breed…

I’ll restate that just in case I wasn’t clear: human beings are all about families and what constitutes a family is open to personal interpretation…

David Cantero Berenguer (The Little Swallow Light, Cunitoons, People) was born in Cartagena, Spain and – after graduating in 1996 from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Liège – embarked on a stellar career as an author, cartoonist, illustrator, concept artist, designer and games maker. He is a prolific creator of books and graphic novels for kids and adults. Many of his works involve gay themes, ranging from inclusive all-ages chronicles (like the one under review here) to beguiling adult erotica.

Little David was first released in 2015 and deftly references Winsor McCay’s classic fantasy Little Nemo in Slumberland. It is a delightful and charming selection of short gags wherein an ever-inquisitive titular star cavorts, chats and interacts with nine other kids, each and all cumulatively representing the wealth of options qualifying as family units today.

David himself has two dads, and pal Ulysses has a widowed mother, a stepdad and two half-brothers. Earnest and forthright Marie just has her mum. Abrasive Big Harry is full-nuclear in a biological clan of mum, dad and one sister, whereas Lena is a result of artificial insemination undertaken by her already-divorced mother. Anastasia has a mum and dad who conceived her in vitro, and PJ was adopted. Completing the roster, Ian has a mum and a trans dad whilst twins Yoko and Keiko have two mums and are the result of natural insemination.

That’s a heady mix and subject to exactly the kind of innocently incisive, hilarious conversations you’d imagine a bunch of smart, curious kids will indulge in when the adults are absent and they’re trying to get to know each other.

The result is a wittily compelling string of spit-take moments, especially as David (and his beloved stuffed unicorn Little Poo Poo) not only learn about many other ways of living but also explore various ways of dressing and expressing his own developing personality, interests and choices…

As innocently enchanting as Peanuts, as astute as Bloom County and as outrageously revelatory as Calvin and Hobbes, this peewee playground of family fun offers as sincerely inclusive and heartwarming kindergarten of comics messaging as you’d ever want your kids to see, and is also a superb example of top rate cartooning to gladden the eyes.

Little David is a book every home and elementary school should have and use. Tell your government I said so…
© 2015 David Cantero. All rights reserved.

Toby and the Pixies: Worst King Ever!


By James Turner & Andreas Schuster with Kate Brown & Austin Boechle (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-296-0 (TPB)

Way back in January 2012, Oxford-based David Fickling Books made a rather radical move by launching a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at under-12s. It revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

To this day each issue features humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. The Phoenix has successfully established itself as a potent source of children’s entertainment because, like The Beano and The Dandy, it is equally at home to boys and girls, and mastered the magical trick of mixing amazingly action-packed adventure series with hilarious humour strip serials such as this one. Most of the strips have also become graphic collections just like this one…

Crafted by the astoundingly clever James Turner (Star Cat, Super Animal Adventure Squad, Mameshiba, The Unfeasible Adventures of Beaver and Steve) and Canadian cartoonist/designer/animator Andreas Schuster, Toby and the Pixies began in January 2020 (as I Hate Pixies) and those first forays are remastered right here, right now, beginning with Chapter 1: Meet Toby’ as at Suburbiton high school – nerdly 12-year old overachiever (what in my cruel school days was deemed a “swot”) is trying to fit in. It’s already hard enough enduring overbearing popular classmates like smarmy trendy “online influencer” Joe and snarky bully Steph but at least fellow style exile Mo is in the same boat, as evidenced by their idea to become acceptable by playing football turns out…

Reality reasserts itself when Toby is ordered by his electric toaster-obsessed Dad to tidy the garden before vanishing forever when the grumbling kid accidentally kills gleefully sadistic pixie tyrant King Thornpickle in ‘Chapter 2: Long Live the King’.

Unknown to any human, a fabulous fey realm has thrived in the green shambles of the Cauldwell backyard for the longest time, and now – due to an inept and inadvertent act of emancipation sparked by Toby kicking an unfortunately placed plaster garden gnome – the reluctant boy finds himself new ruler of a hidden kingdom of magical morons…

Thanks to pixie law – as interpreted by the former King’s advisors Mouldwarp (Royal Druid), wise(ish) Gatherwool (Lore Keeper/Potion Master) and Toadflax (she eats stuff) – killing Thornpickle makes Toby the new absolute monarch. Pixie law also states the ruler can do anything they want… a prospect so laden with responsibility it makes Toby weep with terror…

Just coming to terms with the thought of magic actually existing and that freaky, anarchic little imps can do it whilst still being absolute idiots and morons is bad enough, but young Cauldwell quickly learns just how awful it can be ‘Living the Dream’ as the advisors pester and bedevil him to give in and take on the job…

With dad increasingly obsessed with making the perfect, ultimate piece of toast and bonkers goblins infesting his home Toby heads for the relative sanctuary of school only to find the pixies waiting for him still insistent he take charge. Granting them liberty and autonomy proves disastrous in ‘Free Period’ and turns unto chaos when ravenous magic mushrooms maraud through classrooms until he capitulates and in chapter 5 dispenses ‘The Wisdom of Toby’…

Thanks to the mystic mooncalves’ utter literal-mindedness, the task is like herding floodwater, and the reluctant despot retreats for a bit of quiet time playing videogame ‘Camel Calamity’ with Mo. With the demanding pixies around, though, peace cannot be guaranteed and after the “bathtub badger crisis” and Mo’s being magicked into a bird, Toby takes his only friend into his confidence, spilling all. The response is not what the unhappy king expects…

Another shock follows the morning Toby is forced into dire state duty and compelled to become the groom at a ‘Royal Wedding’. The bride isn’t even human-shaped and his potential father in law even worse, but just this once fate seems to be on the boy’s side…

Going to school is also inescapable – and Toby’s only real joy – but royal duties increasingly encroach. Mystic meddling with his beloved ‘Homework’ results in embarrassment and ultimately a rampaging water sprite wrecking the adored institute of learning, after which Mo is kidnapped by the vengeful daughter of dead King Thornpickle.

Princess Sugarsnap is as mean as her dad and wants her inheritance – which Toby is happy to give to her – but of course it isn’t that easy to abdicate and instead the new King has to undertake a Royal Quest and face her “Army of Slimes”. Luckily, his faithful dachshund Digby goes along on the ‘Rescue Mission’…

The exploit leads to ‘Mo’s First Trip to Pixieland’, but being mistaken for the King’s jester – and worse – is just a prelude. Trouble really kicks off when jealous Toadflax challenges him for the position and Sugarsnap ambushes everybody before the pixies discover what Mo’s terrifying cell phone camera can really do…

As King’s Champion, his best pal also offers a real service by stepping in as ‘King Mo’ to give Toby a break. Sadly, he’s suckered into a day of questing that has lasting and laughable repercussions, prior to human life reasserting itself when Mo and Toby at last and unhappily become school sports stars thanks to being dragooned into ‘The Big Match’. Fair play is not on the cards though, as the pixie advisors secretly augment Toby’s kit with magic slugs…

The resultant humiliation leads to one final calamity as Chapter 13 ‘Falling Out’ sees Mo ostracised and banished after apparently cheating during a boardgame: a situation the three advisors are quick to capitalise on…

The premise of pixie promise is instantly and eternally engaging, and will further confound and beguile in a forthcoming volume…

Wrapping up the fey foolishness is an activity section detailing ‘How to Draw Toby’ with supplemental instruction on his ‘Expressions’, ‘Toby’s Body’ and thereafter ‘How to Draw Mo’, plus his ‘Expressions’ and ‘Body’ as well as graphic gen for rendering ‘Gatherwool’ ‘Mouldwarp’ and ‘Toadflax’ before closing with the now-standard Special Preview feature focusing on what other wonders await in the periodical Phoenix

Toby and the Pixies is a gloriously daft and hilarious comic treasure: surreal, ingenious and fabulously fun. No laugh-loving LARPER, junior gamer, comedy connoisseur or devotee of madcap magical mayhem should miss this pixilated picture postcard from beyond.
Text and illustrations © The Phoenix Comic 2024. All rights reserved.

Toby and the Pixies: Worst King Ever! is published on June 6th 2024 and available for pre-order now.

Ken Reid’s Creepy Creations


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

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

Reid was born in Manchester in 1919 and drew from the moment he could hold an implement. Aged nine, he was confined to bed for six months with a tubercular hip, and occupied himself by constantly scribbling and sketching. He left school before his fourteenth birthday and won a scholarship to Salford Art School, but never graduated. He was, by all accounts, expelled for cutting classes to hang about in cafes. Undaunted, he set up as a commercial artist, but floundered until his dad began acting as his agent.

Ken’s big break was a blagger’s triumph. Accompanied by his unbelievably supportive and astute father, Ken talked his way into an interview with the Art Editor of the Manchester Evening News and came away with a commission for a strip for its new Children’s Section. The Adventures of Fudge the Elf launched in 1938 and ran until 1963 with only a single, albeit lengthy, hiatus from 1941 to 1946 when Reid served in the armed forces.

From the late 1940s onwards, Reid dallied with the resurgent comics periodicals: with work (Super Sam, Billy Boffin, Foxy) published in Comic Cuts and submissions to The Eagle, before a fortuitous family connection (Dandy illustrator Bill Holroyd was Reid’s brother-in-law) brought DC Thomson managing editor R.D. Low to his door with a cast-iron offer of work. On April 18th 1953, Roger the Dodger debuted in The Beano. Reid drew the feature until 1959 whilst creating many more, including the fabulously mordant doomed mariner Jonah, Ali Ha-Ha and the 40 Thieves, Grandpa and Jinx amongst many more.

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

In 1971 Reid devised Face Ache – arguably his career masterpiece – for new title Jet. The hilariously horrific strip was popular enough to survive the comic’s demise – after a paltry 22 weeks – and was carried over in a merger with stalwart periodical Buster where it thrived until 1987. During that time, Reid continued innovating and creating through a horde of new strips such as Harry Hammertoe the Soccer Spook, Wanted Posters, Martha’s Monster Makeup, Tom’s Horror World and a dozen others. One of those – and the worthy subject of this splendid collection – is Creepy Creations. Gathered here are all 79 full colour portraits from Shiver & Shake: episodes spanning March 10th 1973 to October 5th 1974 as well as related works from contemporaneous Christmas annuals.

After the initial suggestion and 8 original designs by Reid, Creepy Creations featured carefully crafted comedic horrors and mirthful monsters inspired by submissions from readers, who got their names in print plus the-then princely sum of One Pound (£1!) Sterling for their successful efforts. The mechanics and details of the process are all covered in a wealth of preliminary articles beginning with ‘Creepy Creation Spotter’s Guide’ listing the geographical locations so crucial to the feature’s popularity and is backed up by a fond – if somewhat frightful – family reminiscence from Anthony J. Reid (Ken’s son) in ‘The Erupting Pressure Cooker of Preston Brook’.

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

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

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

Supplementing and completing the eldritch, emetic experience are a selection of Creepy Creations Extras, comprising images and frontispieces from Christmas Annuals, the entire ‘Creepy Creations Calendar for 1975’, 4-pages of ‘Mini Monsters’ and the entire zany zodiac of ‘Your HORRORscope’

Piling up even more comedy gold, this tome also includes tantalising excepts from the Leo Baxendale Sweeny Toddler compilation and Reid’s magnificent World-Wide Wonders collections.

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

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

Mega Robo Bros: Nemesis


By Neill Cameron & various (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-315-8 (TPB)

Mighty in metal and potent in plastic, here’s the latest upgrade in this sterling, solid gold all-ages sci fi saga from Neill (Tamsin of the Deep, Pirates of Pangea, How to Make Awesome Comics, Freddy) Cameron. Perfect purpose-built paladins, the mecha-miraculous Mega Robo Bros find that even they can’t punch out intolerance or growing pains in these electronic exploits balancing frantic fun with portents of darker, far more violent days to come…

It’s still The Future! – but maybe not for much longer…

In a London far cooler but just as embattled as ours, Alex and his younger brother Freddy Sharma are notionally typical kids: boisterous, fractious, perpetually argumentative yet still devoted to each other. They’re also not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s really no big deal for them that they were meticulously and covertly constructed by the mysterious Dr. Roboticus before he vanished, and are considered by those “in the know” as the most powerful – and only fully SENTIENT – robots on Earth. Of course, ultimately events conspire to challenge that comforting notion…

Dad is just your average old guy who makes lunch and does a bit of writing (he’s actually an award-winning journalist), but when not being a housewife, Mum is pretty extraordinary herself. Surprisingly famous and renowned robotics boffin Dr. Nita Sharma harbours some shocking secrets of her own…

Life in the Sharma household aims to be normal. Freddy is insufferably exuberant and over-confident, whilst Alex is at the age when self-doubt and anxiety hit hard and often. Moreover, the household’s other robot rescues can also be problematic. Programmed to be dog-ish, baby triceratops Trikey is ok, but eccentric French-speaking ape Monsieur Gorilla can be tres confusing, and gloomily annoying, existentialist aquatic waterfowl Stupid Philosophy Penguin hangs around ambushing everyone with quotes from dead philosophers…

The boys have part-time jobs as super-secret agents, although because they aren’t very good at the clandestine part, almost the world now knows them. However, it’s enough for the digital duo that their parents love them, even though they are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They all live as normal a life as possible: going to human school, playing with human friends and hating homework. It’s all part of their “Mega Robo Routine”, combining dull human activities, actual but rare fun, games-playing, watching TV and constant training in the combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ. Usually, when a situation demands, the boys carry out missions for bossy Baroness Farooq: head of government agency Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence. They still believe it’s because they are infinitely smarter and more powerful than the Destroyer Mechs and other man-made minions she usually utilises.

Originally published in UK weekly comic The Phoenix, the saga reopens with the lads’ reputations as global heroes increasing coming under fire and into question. After defeating dangerous villains like Robot 23 and thwarting a robot rebellion sparked by artificial life activist The Caretaker, the Bros battled monstrous, deadly damaged droid Wolfram in the arctic and learned he might be their older brother. Even so, they had to destroy him; leaving Alex deeply traumatised by the act…

Over the course of that case they learned that fifteen years previously their brilliant young roboticist Mum worked under incomparable but weird genius Dr. Leon Robertus. His astounding discoveries earned him the unwelcome nickname Dr. Roboticus and perhaps that’s what started pushing him away from humanity. Robertus allowed Nita to repurpose individually superpowered prototypes into a rapid-response team for global emergencies. Their Mum had been a superhero, leading manmade The Super Robo Six and while saving lives with them she first met crusading journalist/future husband Michael Mokeme. He proudly took her name when they eventually wed…

Robertus was utterly devoid of human empathy but – intrigued by the team’s acclaim and global acceptance – created a new kind of autonomous robot. Wolfram was more powerful than any other construct, and equipped with foundational directives allowing him to make choices and develop his own systems. He could think, just like Alex and Freddy can. Only, as it transpired, not quite…

When Robertus demoted Nita and made Wolfram leader of a new Super Robo Seven, the result was an even more effective unit, until the day Wolfram’s Three Directives clashed during a time-critical mission. Millions of humans paid the price for his confusion and hesitation…

In the aftermath, R.A.I.D. was formed. They tried to shut down Robertus and decommission Wolfram, but the superbot rejected their judgement, leading to a brutal battle, the robot’s apparent destruction and Roboticus vanishing…

As the boys absorbed their “Secret Origins” Wolfram returned, attacking polar restoration project Jötunn Base. It covered many miles and was carefully rebalancing the world’s climate, when Wolfram took it over: reversing the chilling process to burn the Earth and drown humanity. Ordered by Baroness Farooq to stay put and not help, Alex and Freddy rebelled, but by the time the Bros reached Jötunn, Wolfram had crushed a R.A.I.D. force led by their friend Agent Susie Nichols. After also failing to stop the attacker, kind contemplative Alex found a way to defeat – and perhaps, destroy – his wayward older brother and save humanity…

Their exploit made the Bros global superstars and whilst immature Freddy revels in all the attention Alex is having trouble adjusting: not just to the notoriety and acclaim, but also the horrifying new power levels he achieved to succeed and also the apparent onset of robot puberty. It’s afflicted him with PTSD…

A drawing together of many long-running plot threads, Nemesis opens with a potential disaster in the city as human intolerance breaks out everywhere. As this penultimate epic begins, friction between the brothers is constantly building: petty nagging spats that seem pointless but are driving a wedge between them. It’s not helping that a growing faction of people -calling themselves “Humanity First” are actively agitating to get rid of all robots, and their spokesman is targeting the Bros specifically as a threat to mankind on the R-Truth show, and is particularly hateful about Alex’s well-publicised friendship with the next king of Britain, Crown Prince Eustace.

Peril increases after both the fleshy and metallo-plastic members of the Sharma clan start a well-deserved holiday in Brighton. As Alex nearly succumbs to a beach romance with ardent fan Erin and mischievous hijinks with her wayward sibling Finn, a trip to the robotic Steel Circus leads to an accidental but catastrophic encounter with old foes the Bros had completely forgotten even existed…

The consequent riot is readily contained, but the clowns the kids capture at the end clearly don’t have the ability to do what has just been done and the return home is fraught and pensive…

As school starts again, The Baroness calls a conference to discuss the rise in anti-automaton hate crimes, before – in a bid to promote inclusivity – ordering Alex and Freddy to appear on TV show Mega Robo Warriors. Sadly, it’s all another trap and as Freddy delightedly trashes a host of war bots, his self-control starts to slip and Alex realises his hostile attitudes and violent reactions have been building for some time…

Soon after, a protest by Humanity First at Tilbury Port is deliberately escalated into a full-on meat vs metal riot, and Freddy goes apparently berserk, attacking humans trashing helpless mech droids. What might have happened next is thankfully forestalled when all the robots – including R.A.I.D.’s police drones – are corrupted by the perniciously hostile Revolution 23 virus. Total chaos is only avoided when Wolfram appears to offer all liberated machines sanctuary in his robot republic Steelhaven: a cloaked robot utopia of liberated mechanoids that has declared independence from humanity.…

Clashes between the brothers are almost constant when Alex decides to forget his troubles for a day and go out with his friends Taia and Mira…and – under duress – Freddy. The trip to Camden Lock is spiced up by a holographically incommunicado Prince Eustace, and provides a vast bonus when Mira finds a junked bot and works out the secret of the Revolution 23 Malware. It’s just in time to see common people begin to turn on Humanity First’s fanatics…

Thanks to Mira, the battling Bros finally have a lead on the mastermind behind all their current woes, but Freddy’s emotional problems have reached a point where he just won’t be talked down. Fired by righteous fury, the younger bot blasts off, hot-headedly streaking into another trap by their most cunning and patient foe. Descending into rage and madness, he begins razing London, and Alex realises that to stop his to little brother he may have to destroy him…

How that all works out sets up the saga for a spectacular finale, so let’s stop here with the now-mandatory “To Be Concluded…”

Crafted by Cameron and colouring assistant Austin Baechle (with a cohort of robots designed by readers of The Phoenix), this rip-roaring riot isn’t quite over yet. Adding informational illumination are activity pages on ‘How To Draw Robot 23’ and ‘How To Draw Mr. Donut’, and a bonus Preview selection of what the periodical Pheonix has to offer

Bravely and exceedingly effectively interweaving real world concerns by addressing issues of gender and identity with great subtlety and in a way kids can readily grasp, this epic yarn blends action and humour with superb effect. Excitement and hearty hilarity is balanced here with poignant moments of insecurity and introspection, affording thrills, chills, warmth, wit and incredible verve. Alex and Freddy are utterly authentic kids, irrespective of their origins, and their antics and anxieties strike exactly the right balance of future shock, family fun and superhero action to capture readers’ hearts and minds. What movies these tales would make!
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2024. All rights reserved.

Mega Robo Bros Nemesis will be released on May 2nd 2024 and is available for pre-order now.

The Batman Adventures volume 2


By Kelley Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5463-6 (TPB/Digital edition)

As conceived and delivered by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm & latterly Paul Dini, Batman: The Animated Series began airing in the US on September 5th 1992, running to September 15th 1995 before being rebooted for a second bite at the cherry. The shows – ostensibly for kids – revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and happily fed back into a print iteration, introducing characters like Harley Quinn to the comics canon and leading to some of the absolute best comic book tales in the hero’s decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, re-honed the grim avenger, his team, allies and enemies into gleefully accessible, thematically memorable forms that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding dark shades of exuberance and panache only most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to.

The comic book iteration was prime material for collection in an emergent trade paperback market, but only the first year was released, plus miniseries such as Batman: Gotham Adventures and Batman Adventures: the Lost Years.

This second compendium gathers issues #11-20 of The Batman Adventures (originally published from August 1993 to May 1994) in a scintillating, no-nonsense frenzy of family-friendly Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy from Kelly Puckett, Mike Parobeck & Rick Burchett.

Puckett is a writer who truly grasps the visual nature of the medium and his stories are always fast-paced, action-packed and stripped down to the barest of essential dialogue. That gift has never been better exploited than by Parobeck who was at that time a rising star, especially when graced by Burchett’s slick, clean inking.

Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989-1996 when he died, aged 31, from complications of Type 1 Diabetes) Mike Parobeck’s gracefully fluid, exuberantly kinetic, fun-fuelled animation-inspired drawing style revolutionised superhero depiction and sparked a renaissance in kid-friendly comics – and merchandise – at DC and everywhere else.

Like the show, each story is treated as a 3-act play, and kicking off events here is moodily magnificent thriller ‘The Beast Within!’ as obsessed scientist Kirk Langstrom agonises. He believes he is somehow uncontrollably transforming into the monstrous Man-Bat whenever ‘The Sleeper Awakens!’ The truth is far more sinister, but incarcerated in ‘G.C.P.D.H.Q!’ neither the troubled chemist nor his beloved wife Francine can discern ‘The Awful Truth!’ Happily, ever-watchful Batman plays by his own rules…

Following in with a stunning shift of focus, young Barbara Gordon makes a superhero costume for a party on ‘Batgirl: Day One!’ and subsequently stumbles into a larcenous ‘Ladies Night’ when the High Society bash is crashed by rejected Joker groupie Harley Quinn and plant-based plunderer Poison Ivy. With no professional help on hand, Babs must act as ‘If the Suit Fits!’ and tackle the bad girls herself… and then Catwoman shows up for frantic ferocious finale ‘Out of the Frying Pan!’

The troubled relationship of Batman and Talia, Daughter of The Demon was tackled with surprising sophistication in ‘Last Tango in Paris’ with the sometime-lovers teaming up to recover a statue stolen from her diabolical eco-terrorist dad Ra’s Al Ghul.

‘Act 1: Old Flame’ sees them stumble into a trap set by one of The Demon’s rivals, but turn the tables in ‘Act 2: Paris is Burning’ before each of the trysting couple’s true motivations are exposed in heartbreaking ‘Act 3: Where there’s Smoke’

Despite being a series to be read one glorious tale at a time, the creators had laid groundwork for an epic sequence to come, but whilst Bruce is occupied in Europe, the spotlight shifts to Dick Grayson as the Teen Wonder worries about how to break to his mentor news of a game-changing decision, even as ‘Public Enemy’ sees the latest incomprehensible rampage of  deranged bandit by The Ventriloquist

‘Act 1: Greakout!’ finds the cunningly carved crook and his silently screaming stooge escaping clink to orchestrate a massive heist in ‘Act 2: The Grinks Jog’, only to ultimately have the limelight stolen by Robin in ‘Act 3: The Gig Glock!’

Police Commissioner Jim Gordon teams with Batman in ‘Badge of Honor’, united to save a undercover cop held hostage by Boss Rupert Thorne in ‘Act 1: Officer Down!’ before ‘Act 2: Cop Killer!’ tracks the seemingly unstoppable duo hunting down the fallen hero only to face their greatest obstacle in ‘Act 3: Code Dead!’ That’s when slick operator Thorne finally himself gets his hands dirty…

In ‘The Killing Book’ the Harlequin of Hate takes offence at his “unflattering” portrayal in comics with ‘Act 1: Seduction of the Innocent!’ seeing The Joker kidnap the publisher’s latest overnight sensation in order to show in ‘Act 2: How to Draw Comics the Joker Way!’ Naturally ‘Act 3: Comics and Sequential Death!’ only prove Batman is not a guy to tolerate funnybooks or artistic upstarts.

The seeds planted in Paris flourish and bloom in ‘The Tangled Web’ as The Demon’s latest act of genocide begins with ‘Act 1: Into the Shadows!’ However ‘Act 2: New World Order’ proves yet again Ra’s has critically underestimated his enemy, as a different masked stranger saves Earth from catastrophe in ‘Act 3: What Doth it Profit a Man?’

Following that epic victory Robin meets the baffling and mysterious Batgirl for the first time on ‘Decision Day’ when conflicted Barbara Gordon again succumbs to the addictive lure of costumed crimefighting. Thwarting a bomb plot in ‘Act 1: Eyewitness!’ the feisty but untutored firebrand opts to catch the culprit herself in ‘Act 2: Smoking Gun’, even if she does grudgingly accept a little assistance from the Teen Wonder in ‘Act 3: No Justice, No Peace!’

Gotham’s Master of Terror turns up inside Batman’s head sparking ‘Troubled Dreams’ as the Dark Knight becomes just one of many sufferers of ‘Act 1: Nightmare over Gotham!’ Just for once, however, there’s another instigator of panic in the mix, enquiring in ‘Act 2: Who Scares The Scarecrow?’ until the Caped Crusader catches the real dream-invader in ‘Act 3: Beneath the Mask’…

The fabulous foray into classic four-colour fun concludes with another spectacular yet hilarious outing for a Terrible Trio of criminals who bear a remarkable resemblance to DC editors Dennis O’Neil, Mike Carlin and Archie Goodwin. ‘Smells Like Black Sunday’ opens with ‘Act 1: And a Perfesser Shall Lead Them!’ as the Triumvirate of Terror bust out of the big house, hotly pursued by the Gotham Gangbuster in ‘Act 2: Flying Blind with Mastermind’.

Sadly their scheme to become a 3-man nuclear power falters as ‘Act 3: Legend of the Dark Nice’ finds the evil geniuses underestimating the sheer cuteness of guard dogs and their cataclysmic comrade’s innately gentle disposition…

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are impeccable Bat-magic and this is a compendium every fan of any age and vintage will adore.
© 1993, 1994, 2015 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Billy & Buddy volume 9: Symphony in Buddy Major


By Christophe Cazenove & Jean Bastide, in the style of Roba, coloured by Luc Perdriset & Bastide: translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-80044-129-3 (Album PB/Digital)

Known as Boule et Bill in Europe (at least the French speaking bits – the Dutch and Flemish call them Bollie en Billie or perhaps Bas et Boef if readers first glimpsed them in legendary weekly Sjors), this evergreen, immensely popular cartoon saga of a dog and his boy first debuted at Christmas in 1959. Bon anniversaire 65th, mes braves!

The perennial family favourite resulted from Belgian writer-artist Jean Roba (Spirou et Fantasio, La Ribambelle) putting his head together with Maurice Rosy: the magazine’s Artistic Director/Ideas Man, who had also ghosted art and/or scripts on Jerry Spring, Tif et Tondu, Bobo and Attila during an astoundingly productive decades-long career at the periodical. Intended as an Old World answer to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Boule et Bill quickly went its own way, developing a unique style and personality to become Roba’s main occupation for the next 45 years. He had launched the feature as a mini-récit (32-page, half-sized freebie inserts) in the December 24th edition of Le Journal de Spirou.

Like Dennis the Menace in The Beano, the strip was a monster hit from the start, and for 25 years held the coveted and prestigious back-cover spot. It was even syndicated to competitor publishers and a popular feature in Le Journal de Mickey, rubbing shoulders with Walt Disney’s top stars. Older Brits might recognise the art as early episodes – retitled It’s a Dog’s Life – ran in Fleetway’s Valiant weekly from 1961 to 1965…

A cornerstone of European life, B&B has generated a live-action movie, four animated TV series, computer games, permanent art exhibitions, sculptures and even postage stamps. As with a select few immortalized Belgian comics creations, Bollie en Billie were awarded a commemorative plaque and have a street named after them in Brussels…

Large format album compilations began immediately, totalling 21 volumes throughout the 1960s & 1970s from publisher Dupuis. These were completely redesigned and re-released in 1985 when Roba moved to Dargaud and became his own editor. The standard albums (44 to date) are supplemented by a range of early-reader books for toddlers. Assorted collections are available in 15 languages, selling well in excess of 25 million copies.

Roba crafted over a thousand pages of gag-strips in his beguiling, idealised domestic comedy setting, all about a little lad and the exceedingly smart Cocker Spaniel he shared his endless days with. Long before his death in 2006, the auteur wisely appointed successors for the strip, which has thus continued to this day. He began by surrendering the art chores to his long-term assistant Laurent Verron in 2003, and the successor subsequently took on the scripting upon Roba’s passing. Verron was soon joined by gag-writers Veys, Corbeyran, Chric & Cucuel whilst this relatively recent tome (2017’s volume 38, Symphonie en Bill majeur) comes courtesy of Christophe Cazenove & Jean Bastide. In this collection Verron is again present as illustrator of the “cabochons”: illustrated icons at the top of each strip. They’re what old folks like us employed before emoticons…

Redesignated Billy and Buddy, the strip returned to British eyes in 2009: stars of enticing Cinebook compilations introducing 21st century readers to an endearingly bucolic sitcom-styled nuclear family set-up consisting of one bemused, long-suffering dad, a warmly compassionate but constantly wearied and distracted mum, a smart, mischievous son and a genius dog with a penchant for finding bones, puddles and trouble.

Primarily a selection of musically themed single gags, Symphony in Buddy Major opens preceded by a handy character catch-up chart offering briefings on Billy, Buddy, their close human associate Pat and sultry mysterious tortoise Caroline. Thereafter the old magic resumes in the approved manner, further exploring the evergreen relationship of a dog and his boy (and tortoise) via the usual mix of events comprising school, home, pals, play, parties and chores, each packed with visual puns, quips, slapstick and jolly jests and japes. These affirm the gradual socialisation and behaviour of little Billy measured in carefree romps with four-footed friends in an even split between parental judgements and getting away with murder…

Buddy is the perfect pet for our imaginative boy, although the manipulative mutt is overly fond of purloined or “found” food, buried bones (ownership frequently disputed), and – as seen often in this volume – sleeping where he really shouldn’t in a war that can only end one way. When not being the problem, Buddy’s ferociously protective of his boy, tortoise and ball but simply cannot understand why everyone wants to constantly plunge him into foul-tasting soapy water, but it’s just a sacrifice he’s prepared to make to be with Billy…

Buddy’s propensity for burying and digging up stuff remains paramount, as does his relationship with canine cohort Scamp, Brice and Chips. The mutt’s fondly platonic relationship with Caroline is refined and extended here but when Billy learns how dogs express affection that goes badly wrong…

Principally these episodes focus on Billy getting his first musical instrument (called a “flute” here but I’m not fooled – I know a thrice-bedamned recorder when I see one!) and early lessons in how to make pleasant sounds. Of course, Dad prides himself on his own musical youth and when he’s not frantically whittling instruments he’s regaling Billy with tales of his expertise on the provincial bagpipes of horror called a “bodèga”.

Nobody appreciates Buddy’s attempts to join the family chorus – even though he’s proficient (at least on his own terms) on drums, cymbals, maracas. the flute and vocals…

Happily, the pooch is adept at clearing off whenever Dad has one of his explosive emotional meltdowns, generally to coach Billy and Pat on how to talk to human girls like Celia and Hazel, but he draws the line at intervening whenever hostile neighbour Madame Stick and her evil cat Corporal are on the warpath. Buddy’s a pretty good life coach, and his grooming tips quickly make his human the most popular boy in school, but strangely, not on St Valentine’s day…

The revels end for the meanwhile with an extended vacation yarn that sees the family on a hiking tour where the biggest bone of contention is exactly what the definition of Hiking entails…

Roba was a master of this cartoon art form and under his successors the feature remains genially paced, packed with wry wit and potent sentiment: enchantingly funny episodes running the gamut from heart-warming to hilarious, silly to surreal and thrilling to just plain daft.

This collection is exactly what fans would expect and deserve: another charming tribute to and lasting argument for a child for every pet and vice versa. This is a supremely engaging family-oriented compendium of cool and clever comics no one keen on introducing youngsters to the medium should be without.

Original edition © Dargaud, 2017 by Cazenove & Bastide in the style of Roba. © Studio Boule & Bill 2017. English translation © 2023 Cinebook Ltd.

The Perishers Spectacolour


By Maurice Dodd & Dennis Collins (Mirror Books)
ISBN: 0-85939-169-8 (album PB)

I plug these little chaps – and the wonderful feature they starred in – every few years because the work is wonderful and quintessentially British. I so wish they were still around to take aim at today’s governments, autocrats, too-common people and general discommodiousness as well as helping us accommodate the impending end of the world with a smile…

Although written almost entirely by Maurice Dodd throughout its 48-year history, the buried National Treasure that is The Perishers almost began life in 1957 when artist Dennis Collins and writer Bill Witham (who went on to huge success with uniquely innocent everyman Useless Eustace) batted around an idea with cartoon editor Bill Herbert. Some daily exploits tribulations, ruminations and misadventures of a bunch of typical kids (circa the latter half of the 20th century at least) were first published in the Manchester edition of The Daily Mirror in February 1958. However, after only a few frankly mediocre months the wacky adventures of Maisie & Marlon were withdrawn and retooled.

Jack-of-all-trades, budding artist and advertising whiz-kid Maurice Dodd was then taken aside by his service comrade and drinking buddy Herbert (they had been paratroopers together) and offered a go at revising the strip. The freelance designer jumped at the chance to reinvent the characters for what would become a meandering but beautifully illustrated, all-ages feature simply stuffed with untapped potential.

Drawing on his own life (he would describe it as “shamelessly pilfering”), Dodd improvised a plethora of new characters – animal and human (although with this strip distinctions are loose and hard to defend). He also rescued and rehabilitated an early 1958 casualty of the original set-up in the unkempt and ill-maintained person of laconic orphan/philosophical dilettante Wellington. This bewildered and bemused overly-anxious symbol of the post-war era was a street urchin living on his wits but still attending school and enduring all the daily trials and indignities of British youth…

Relaunched in October 1959 (Happy 65th, lads, lasses, loons and assorted mildlife!) in London and national editions, revamped strip The Perishers quickly caught on, becoming a morning mainstay for generations of Brits (and assorted colonies), by blending slapstick and surreal comedy with naive charm. At its best it was a miniaturised modern romance melodrama liberally laced with sardonic cultural commentary – apparently and retroactively – set in the South London Borough of Croynge (an amalgam of Croydon and Penge) but still looking like any post-industrial northern city familiar to generations of kids…

Here Maisie loves Marlon, Marlon loves fashion and “inventing”, Wellington loves sausages and Boot, Boot loves sausages and more sausages but is caught in an autocratic duty of care for the little kid who cooks and cleans for him.

Particularly rewarding was a continuing and wonderfully twisted faux misperception of contemporary politics and the burgeoning influence of advertising and commercial media. From the start The Perishers was superbly illustrated, conjuring in a few judicious lines and cannily applied grey tones a communal urban wonderland we all knew as kids: a familiar if not ubiquitous post-war melange of shops and streets, building sites and overpasses, alleys and parks and fields where we could get on with our adventures and no adults could interfere or spoil the fun. The unsavoury old git in me still hungers in absentia on behalf of the youth of today who will never experience such freedom without being labelled “neglected”, “at risk” or possibly just “feral”…

The primary protagonists are Wellington and his old English Sheepdog Boot (actually the mutt is only “sort of a dog…” since the wily, chancer/shaggy raconteur considers himself a Manorial Milord “sufferin’ under the curse of a Gypsy Wench”). They are ably unsupported by the formidable Maisie, a thoroughly modern miss torn between the fashionable self-delusion that the boy of her dreams feels likewise… and sweets. This frail flower has an unsurpassed capacity for greed and inspirational violence, but it vies with a tremendous unslaked passion for the aforementioned Marlon, whom she thinks is what she wants. And sweets. But really the Romance. With sweets.

Cool, suave and debonair are just three of the many, many words Marlon doesn’t know the meaning of, but lots of girls at school fancy him anyway. If he grows up, he wants to be a brain surgeon or a bloke wot goes down sewers in great big gumboots…

Being on his own and fiercely independent, Wellington capitalises on every opportunity to support himself with sordid scavenging and shoddy schemes – usually involving selling poorly constructed carts and buggies to Marlon who has far more money than sense. To be honest, Marlon has more noses than sense…

Maisie is a shy beautiful maiden waiting for her true beloved to sweep her off her feet – and if he doesn’t, she gives him a thorough bashing up and nicks his sweets. Other unreasonable regulars include Baby Grumplin’ – Maisie’s toddler brother and a diabolical force of nature; Plain Jane – a girl who asks too many questions; and dapper Fiscal Yere: smugly complacent go-getting son of a millionaire and another occasional sucker for Wellington’s automotive in-expertise. Kids like him are what made today’s world what it is…

On the equally esoteric anthropomorphic animal front, extremely erudite Boot often contends with stroppy ducks, militant squirrels, socialist revolutionaries Fred the Beetle and his long-suffering wife Ethel, South Asian bloodhound/journalist B.H. Calcutta (Failed) and over-the-hill canine lady of leisure Tatty Oldbit (The Sailor’s Friend), militant teutonic tortoise Adolf Kilroy and a nicotine-addicted caterpillar who stunted his growth through old dog-ends and became Fred’s inseparable comrade/doctrinal competitor in the struggle against capitalistic and canine oppression. This little Trot is also an implacable rival for any food or other societal detritus the Bolshevistic bug might find…

Utterly English, fabulously fantastical and resoundingly working-class, the strip generated 30 collections between 1963-1990, 4 Big Little Books, 5 novels and 2 annuals as well as an audio record and – in 1979 – an immensely successful animated TV series. That last was the spark for this carefully curated album released in the same year to tie-in with the toned-down-for-TV frolics reprinting colourized strip and extended running gag sequences bunched into chapters for your delectation.

We start off gently with ‘Boot Rules – OK’ as Wellington struggles to keep them whilst the dog contributes nothing other than sardonic criticism, acts as straight man to the other bestial extroverts at large in the streets and plans his eventual takeover of the planet… once he overcomes that cursed lack of thumbs…

‘Car Sales’ delivers 16 strips on the eternal war between Wellington and Maise as the former seeks to foist off a succession of shoddy homemade soapbox vehicles on a lad whose real purpose in life is buying sweets for his ladylove. If only Marlon could be made to remember that…

The well-heeled simpleton has needs and desires of his own, primarily becoming a ‘Brain Surgeon’ – even though this section proves why that will never be so – and is followed by a sampling of bargain basement Antichrist Baby Grumplin’ turning the streets and houses upside down hunting for his latest appalling pet ‘The Tigerworm’ and encompassing asides with his young sibling “the New Baby” because ‘It’s Spring Again’, before back in the Wild Kingdoms ‘Tatty Makes Trouble’ for Boot and B.H. Calcutta (Failed).

Wellington’s best pal then faces ‘The Nazi Invasion’ as Adolf Kilroy acts like his totalitarian preincarnation and annexes Boot’s bowl and despatches an Axis of insects to occupy all the best food sources…

Total war is averted by the advent of protracted human manoeuvres intended to accomplish ‘Boot’s Bath’ and rapidly escalating to riots in the streets exacerbated by Maisie’s latest campaign to become ‘May Queen’: again deploying hulking harridan Beryl Bogey (the class “black belt, cross country netball champion”) to canvass votes with extreme menace…

For sheer carnage and chaos only one thing beats Baby Grumplin’ on his ‘Space Hopper’ and that’s what happens here when attempts by the infernal infant’s elders to confiscate said bouncing balloon lead to Boot being trapped on it and boinging about like a blockbuster blobby bomb. Largely unharmed, he soon retreats to a place of canine recuperation only to find his doggy brethren all seeking to pinch his objet d’amour in ‘A Bone to Pick’

Because it was the past and we just didn’t value juvenile life as much as now, nobody thought anything amiss at a dog and four kids under ten going on an annual camping trip to the seaside: free for a fortnight from all adult supervision (oh, such innocent times!). Here ‘On Holiday’ sees the queasy quartet and Boot romping in the surf at their regular beach resort: playing tricks, scoring points indulging in mockery and even trying a ‘Swimming Lesson’ (for Boot), as well as indulging in the yearly habit of terrorising the denizens of a rockpool.

Every summer, the kids would encounter and endure sun, surf and the crabs who worship the uncannily canine ‘The Eyeballs in the Sky’ which perennially manifested in their isolated “Pooliverse”, auguring mayhem, madness and an unceasing procession of prophets, pundits and pestilential conmen crabs, before the real world would intrude again.

After reluctantly and hilariously ‘Striking Camp’, more time is happily wasted mucking about with an ‘I Speak Your Weight’ machine before finally staggering back to ‘Home, Sweet Home’, only to find the current campaign to remember a day of national importance has kicked off in ‘Happy Birthday, Wellington’ with the usual lukewarm loot results accounted for until ‘But on Monday…’ proves both boy and dog should be careful what they wish for, if what they wish for is a skateboard. Apparently there’s no brakes or steering wheel and they are magnetic if you’re riding a spacehopper coming the other way…

The manic buffoonery then concludes with short bursts of lunacy and largesse in strips all embracing a spirit of ‘Merry Christmas’

Dennis Collins magnificently and hilariously illustrated the strip until his retirement in 1983, after which Dodd himself took up the pens and brushes. Eventually artist Bill Melvin took over the art chores whilst Dodd scripted until his death in 2006. Once the backlog of material was exhausted The Perishers finished on June 10th of that year. Soon after, The Mirror began reprinting classic sequences to the general approval of everyone, so perhaps it’s not too much to hope that eventually all those classic collections will be available to all…

Quite frankly, it’s what we need and what I deserve…
© 1973 Daily Mirror Newspapers Limited/Film Fair. © Mirror Books Ltd 1979.

The Batman Adventures volume 1


By Kelly Puckett, Marty Pasko, Ty Templeton, Rick Burchett, Brad Rader, Mike Parobeck, Rick Taylor, Tim Harkins & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-5229-8 (TPB/Digital)

Batman: The Animated Series aired in America from September 5th1992 until September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the TV cartoon show was devised and designed by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski (with writer Paul Dini). Its success utterly revolutionised the image of the Dark Knight, resulting in some of the absolute best comic book tales in his decades-long publishing history as the series spawned a print spinoff and eventually a niche genre.

Employing a timelessly elemental and primal visual tone (dubbed “Dark Deco”) TV episodes mixed iconic elements from all comic iterations of the character and, without diluting the power and mood of the premise, perfectly honed the grim avenger and his team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form even the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and noir style that only most devoutly obsessive Batmaniac could possibly find fault with.

The comics version became a cast-iron certainty for collection in the newly-emergent trade paperback market which stormed into and out of shops in the mid-1990s. Here the first ten titanic all-ages exploits (October 1992 to July 1993) from The Batman Adventures comic book are rediscovered and gathered with tales in a smashing, straightforward sampler of Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy.

With colourist Rick Taylor, and letterer Tim Harkins on duty throughout, the moodily magnificent action opens with ‘Penguin’s Big Score’ by writer Kelly Puckett, and artists Ty Templeton & Rick Burchett. Each story was divided into three chapters and ‘Charm School Dropout!’ sees the Bird of Ill Omen taking tips on how to rehabilitate his nefarious reputation from The Joker, whilst in ‘Top of the World, Ma!’ the Foul Fowl’s new standing as a philanthropist has all Gotham agog. The sinister scheme is finally exposed by Batman in climactic third act ‘Power of the Press’, but the hero has no idea the real winner is the Clown Prince of Crime…

For #2, Puckett, Templeton & Burchett deliver ‘Catwoman’s Killer Caper’, kicking off with a gem heist before – at Joker’s insistent urging – sultry Selina Kyle visits England’s Tower of London to swipe ‘The Family Jewels!’ In hot pursuit, the Gotham Gangbuster pops across The Pond to quell ‘Panic over Londontown’ and solve an apparently impossible theft in ‘Midnight Madness’ …but not before the Harlequin of Hate snatches the real prize…

The crafty conniving culminates in ‘Joker’s Late-Night Lunacy!’ (#3 by Puckett, Templeton & Burchett), with Gotham’s airwaves hijacked and Commissioner Gordon kidnapped by the larcenous loon and made himself literally unmissable viewing in ‘A Star is Born!’

‘I Want My JTV!’ depicts District Attorney Harvey Dent make it onto the Joker’s inhospitable guest list, but Batman is still one step ahead of the game and lowers the boom in explosive finale ‘Flash in the Pan!’

Writer Marty Pasko and penciller Brad Rader joined inker Burchett for a gripping 2-issue terror tale guest starring Robin as ‘Riot Act’ describes ‘Panic in the Streets’ after a strange plague caused citizens to lose the ability to read. Even with complete chaos gripping Gotham the Teen Wonder’s ‘Help on the Wing’ results in a huge step forward but when ‘Robin Takes a Fall’, the hidden culprit reveals himself before the drama intensifies in #4 with ‘Riot Act: Johnny Can’t Read!’ as The Scarecrow steps up his campaign to teach slackers of the modern world a harsh lesson. In fact, the Dynamic Duo are well aware of the ‘Hi-Fi Hijinx’ at the root of the problem and, with the help of a repentant henchman, crush the crisis in ‘Those Who Can’t Do!’

A crafty change of pace finds Bruce Wayne is arrested for murder in ‘The Third Door!’ as crafted by Puckett, Rader & Burchett. The cunning locked-room mystery opens with ‘The Party’s Over’ as the prime suspect details the facts of the case to young Dick Grayson, before being locked up with a mob of dangerous thugs in ‘Crime and Punishment’, leaving the wonder kid to ferret out the real killer in tense conclusion ‘War and Peace’

After a mere half-dozen superb stories the comic book adventures took a step towards total perfection when then-rising star Mike Parobeck assumed the pencilling duties. Although his professional comics career was tragically short (1989 to 1996, when he died, aged 31, of complications from Type 1 Diabetes) his gracefully fluid, exuberant, kinetically fun-fuelled animation-inspired style was a revelation. Parobeck revolutionised superhero action drawing and sparked a resurgence of kid-friendly comics and merchandise at DC and everywhere else in the comics publishing business.

Here his tenure began with ‘Raging Lizard!’, which sees shady pro wrestler Killer Croc confront a long dark night of the soul. In ‘Requiem for a Mutant!’ Croc’s scheduled to fight Masked Marauder – a grappler who humiliated and broke him in their last bout. Batman meanwhile is searching for Mandrake: a Chicago mobster planning on taking over Gotham City by ousting reigning crime czar Rupert Thorne in ‘Eye of the Reptile!’

Naturally all those trajectories converge in the third act for a major throw-down ‘Under the Waterfront!’

TBA #8’s ‘Larceny, My Sweet’ begins with the hunt for an unstoppable thief who can ‘Break the Bank!’ with his bare hands, whilst TV reporter Summer Gleeson divides her time between chasing scoops and being romanced by a dashing stranger in ‘Love’s Lost Labours’. Sadly, when the Gotham Gangbuster crushes the crime-wave he also exposes monstrous old muck menace Clayface and accidentally ends the affair of ‘Beauty and the Beast!’

Next issue ‘The Little Red Book’ everyone’s chasing holds all Thorne’s dirty secrets and Commissioner Gordon is presiding over a ‘Gangster Boogie!’ With the cops and entire underworld looking to win out over ‘The Big Boss’, it takes all Batman’s energy and wits to bring the diary to DA Dent for the beginning of ‘Rupert’s Reckoning!’

Ending the all-ages action is ‘The Last R?ddler Story’ which details ‘Nygma’s Nadir!’ as the perpetually frustrated Prince of Puzzlers considers retirement. Dispirited and despondent because the Caped Crusader always solves his felonious games, the villain grudgingly accedes to a faithful hench-person’s pleas to give it one more try in ‘Days of Wine and Riddles!’

How upset would Eddie Nygma be if he knew Batman isn’t even aware of him, absorbed as he is in apprehending infamous trio Mastermind, Mr. Nice and The Perfesser in ‘Triumph or Tragedy…?’

Breathtakingly written and iconically illustrated, these stripped-down rollercoaster-romps are quintessential Bat-magic: treasures every fan of any age and vintage will adore.

Pure, unadulterated delight!
© 1992, 1993, 2014 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Popeye volume 3: The Sea Hag & Alice the Goon (The E.C. Segar Popeye Sundays)


By Elzie Crisler Segar with Bong Redila & various (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-884-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

Popeye first embarked in the Thimble Theatre comic feature on January 17th 1929. The unassuming newspaper strip had launched on 19th December 1919: one of many cartoon funnies to parody and burlesque the era’s silent movie serials. Its more successful forebears included C.W. Kahles’ Hairbreadth Harry and Ed Wheelan’s Midget Movies/Minute Movies – which Thimble Theatre replaced in William Randolph Hearsts’ papers.

All these strips employed a repertory company of characters playing out generic adventures based on those expressive cinema antics. Thimble Theatre’s cast included Nana and Cole Oyl, their gawky, excessively excitable daughter Olive, diminutive-but-pushy son Castor and Olive’s sappy, would-be beau Horace Hamgravy. The series ticked along nicely for a decade: competent, unassuming and always entertaining, with Castor and Ham Gravy (as he became) tumbling through get-rich-quick schemes, frenzied, fear-free adventures and gag situations until September 10th 1928, when explorer uncle Lubry Kent Oyl gave Castor a spoil from his latest exploration of Africa. It was the most fabulous of all birds – a hand-reared Whiffle Hen – and was the start of something truly groundbreaking…

Whiffle Hens are troublesome, incredibly rare and possessed of fantastic powers, but after months of inspired hokum and slapstick shenanigans, Castor was inclined to keep Bernice – for that was the hen’s name – as a series of increasingly peculiar circumstances brought him into contention with ruthless Mr. Fadewell, world’s greatest gambler and king of the gaming resort dubbed ‘Dice Island’. Bernice clearly affected and inspired writer/artist E.C. Segar, because his strip increasingly became a playground of frantic, compelling action and comedy during this period…

When Castor and Ham discovered everybody wanted the Whiffle Hen because she could bestow infallible good luck, they sailed for Dice Island to win every penny from its lavish casinos. Big sister Olive wanted to come along, but the boys planned to leave her behind once their vessel was ready to sail. It was 16th January 1929…

The next day, in the 108th episode of that extended saga, a bluff, brusquely irascible, ignorant, itinerant and exceeding ugly one-eyed old sailor was hired by the pathetic pair to man the boat they had rented, and the world was introduced to one of the most iconic and memorable characters ever conceived. By sheer surly willpower, Popeye won readers’ hearts and minds: his no-nonsense, rough grumbling simplicity and dubious appeal enchanting the public until, by tale’s end, the walk-on had taken up residency. He would soon make Thimble Theatre his own…

The Sailor Man affably steamed onto the full-colour Sunday Pages forming the meat of this curated collection. This paperback prize is the third of four designed for swanky slipcases, and will present Segar’s entire Sunday canon. Spiffy as that sounds, the wondrous stories are also available in digital editions if you want to think of ecology or mitigate the age and frailty of your spinach-deprived “muskles”…

Son of a handyman, Elzie Crisler Segar was born in Chester, Illinois on 8th December 1894. His early life was filled with solid, earnest blue-collar jobs that typified his generation of cartoonists. Young Segar worked as a decorator/house-painter, played drums to accompany vaudeville acts at the local theatre and when the town got a movie house played for the silent films. This allowed him to absorb staging, timing and narrative tricks from close observation of the screen, and these became his greatest assets as a cartoonist. It was whilst working as a film projectionist, he decided to draw for his living, and tell his own stories. He was 18…

Like so many from that “can-do” era, Segar studied art via mail: in this case W.L. Evans’ cartooning correspondence course out of Cleveland, Ohio – from where Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster would launch Superman upon the world. Segar gravitated to Chicago and was “discovered” by Richard F. Outcault (The Yellow Kid, Buster Brown), arguably the inventor of newspaper comics. Outcault introduced Segar around at the prestigious Chicago Herald and soon – although still wet behind the ears – Segar’s first strip Charley Chaplin’s Comedy Capers debuted on 12th March 1916. Two years later, Elzie married Myrtle Johnson and moved to Hearst’s Chicago Evening American to create Looping the Loop. Managing Editor William Curley saw a big future for Segar and promptly packed the newlyweds off to the Manhattan headquarters of the mighty King Features Syndicate.

Within a year Segar was producing Thimble Theatre for The New York Journal. In 1924, Segar created a second daily strip. The 5:15 was a surreal domestic comedy featuring weedy commuter/would-be inventor John Sappo and his formidable, indomitable wife Myrtle (!).

A born storyteller, Segar had from the start an advantage even his beloved cinema couldn’t match. His brilliant ear for dialogue and accent shone out from the admittedly average melodrama adventure plots, adding lustre to stories and gags he always felt he hadn’t drawn well enough. After a decade or so – and just as cinema caught up with the introduction of “talkies” – he finally discovered a character whose unique sound and individual vocalisations blended with a fantastic, enthralling nature to create a literal superstar.

Incoherent, plug-ugly and stingingly sarcastic, Popeye shambled on stage midway through ‘Dice Island’ and once his very minor part played out, simply refused to leave. Within a year he was a regular. As circulation skyrocketed, he became the star. In the less than 10 years Segar worked with his iconic sailor-man (from January 1929 until the artist’s untimely death on 13th October 1938), the auteur constructed an incredible metaworld of fabulous lands and lost locales, where unique characters undertook fantastic voyages, spawned or overcame astounding scenarios and experienced big, unforgettable thrills as well as the small human dramas we’re all subject to. They also threw punches at the drop of a hat…

This was a saga both extraordinary and mundane, which could be hilarious or terrifying – frequently at the same time. For every trip to the rip-roaring Wild West or lost kingdom, there was a brawl between squabbling neighbours, spats between friends or disagreements between sweethearts – any and all usually settled with mightily-swung fists and a sarcastic aside.

Popeye was the first Superman of comics and ultimate working-class hero but he was not a comfortable one to idolise. A brute who thought with his fists, lacking respect for authority, he was uneducated, short-tempered and – whenever hot tomatoes batted their eyelashes (or thereabouts) at him – fickle: a worrisome gambling troublemaker who wasn’t welcome in polite society… and wouldn’t want to be. However, the mighty marine marvel may be raw and rough-hewn,  but he is fair and practical, with an innate and unshakable sense of what’s right and what’s not: a joker who wants kids to be themselves – but not necessarily “good” – and someone who takes no guff from anybody. Always ready to defend the weak and with absolutely no pretensions or aspirations to rise above his fellows, he was and will always be “the best of us”…

Preceding the vintage views, this tome offers another sublime and compellingly whimsical cartoon deconstruction, demystification and appreciation in Allegro in C Hag Minor’ – An Introduction by Bong Redila’ wherein the multi award winning Filipino American cartoonist (Meläg, Borderline) explores the sparking relationship of the witch and her hairy pal…

There is more than one Popeye. If your first thought when you hear the name is the cheerful, indomitable sailor in full Naval whites always biffing a hulking great beardy-bloke and mainlining tinned spinach, that’s okay. The Fleischer Studios and Famous Films animated features have a vivid brilliance and spontaneous energy of their own (even the later, watered-down anodyne TV versions have some merit) and they are indeed all based on the grizzled, crusty, foul-mouthed, bulletproof, golden-hearted old swab who shambled his way into the fully cast and firmly established newspaper strip Thimble Theatre on January 17th and simple wouldn’t leave. But they are really only the tip of an incredible iceberg of satire, slapstick, virtue, vice and mind-boggling adventure.

This third collection of Segar’s Sunday Colour comics masterpiece spans December 3rd 1933 to February 16th 1936, opening with his magnum opus ‘Plunder Island’ in full, unexpurgated totality, with the epitome of stirring sea-sagas taking up the first six months of that time (ending with the July 15th 1934 instalment). It all kicks off when Popeye’s old shipmate Salty Bill Barnacle invites him to go adventuring in search of fabled Plunder Island, land of stolen treasure, little suspecting that the ghastly villainous Sea Hag who rules it has reared her homely head once more and is very close…

With her new gang of deadly henchmen – including brutal Mister Skom and the monstrous Goon – she kidnaps nerve-wracked Professor Cringly: an aged scholar who knows the lost island’s location. Is Popeye’s latest voyage over before it has begun…?

Gathering a bunch of decidedly dubious amateur Argonauts – including but not exclusively comprising – J. Wellington Wimpy, diner owner Rough-House, “Gobbler” George W. Geezil and private cop G.B. Gritmore, Olive Oyl, Salty Bill and Popeye give chase. It seems hopeless until the Witch of the Seas makes her big mistake and sends her monstrous mute Goon to take hostages. The uncanny creature returns with the indomitable sea salt and inexplicably irresistible Wimpy. The latter’s heretofore unsuspected amatory attractions promptly turn the gruesome heads of both the Hag and her mute minion – who is apparently a rather decent if unprepossessing mother answering to Alice

In this sinister saga Segar’s second greatest character creation – morally maladjusted master moocher Wimpy – gradually takes over, threating Popeye’s star status with shameful antics and scurrilous schemes. Among so many timeless supporting characters, craven mega moocher Wimpy stands out as the utter antithesis of feisty big-hearted Popeye, but unlike any other nemesis I can name, this black mirror is not an “emeny” of the hero, but his best – maybe only – friend…

The Mr. Micawber-like coward, moocher and conman debuted on 3rd May 1931 as an unnamed referee officiating a bombastic month-long bout against pugilist Tinearo. He struck a chord with Segar who made him a (usually unwelcome) fixture. Eternally ravenous and always soliciting (probably on principle) bribes of any magnitude, we only learned the crook’s name in May 24th’s instalment. The erudite rogue uttered the first of many immortal catchphrases a month later. That was June 21st – but “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” – like most phrases Everybody Knows, actually started as “Cook me up a hamburger, I’ll pay you Thursday”. It was closely followed by my personal mantra “let’s you and him fight”…

Sunday Pages followed a decidedly domestic but rowdily riotous path, increasing given over to – or more correctly, appropriated – by the insidiously oleaginous grifter: ever hungry, intellectually stimulating, casually charming and usually triumphant in all his mendicant missions. Whilst continuing Popeye’s pugilistic shenanigans, the strips moved away from him hitting quite so much to alternately being outwitted by the unctuous beggar or saving him from the vengeance of furious eatery-owner Rough-House and fellow daily diner Geezil. The soup-slurping cove began as an ethnic Jewish stereotype, but like all Segar’s characters soon developed beyond his (now so very offensive) comedic archetype into a whole person with his own story and equally unique voice. Geezil was the most vocal advocate for murdering the insatiable sponger…

Fair warning: this was an era of casual racial stereotyping completely acceptable and indeed a key component of cartooning and all mass entertainment. Segar sinned far less than most: his style was more character-specific, and his personal delight was playing with accents and how folk interacted. Geezil wasn’t just a Jewish stock figure of fun, but as fully rounded as any of nearly 50 supporting cast members could be within page/panel count constrictions.

Wimpy was incorrigible and unstoppable – he was even a rival suitor for Olive’s unappealing affections whenever food or money (for food) was in play. He grew from Segar’s love and admiration of comedian W.C. Fields. A mercurial force of nature, the unflappable mendicant is the perfect foil for Popeye. Where the sailor is heart and spirit, unquestioning morality and self-sacrifice, indomitable defiance, brute force and no smarts at all, Wimpy is intellect and self-serving greed, freed from ethical restraint and devoid of impulse-control.

Wimpy literally took candy from babies and food from the mouths of starving children, yet somehow Segar made us love him. He is Popeye’s other half: weld them together and you have an heroic ideal… (and yes, those stories are all true: Britain’s Wimpy burger bar chain was built from the remnants of a 1950s international merchandising scheme seeking to put a J Wellington Wimpy-themed restaurant in every town and city).

Rollercoaster adventure, thrills, chills and raucous riotous comedy have never been better blended than in Plunder Island, but when the victorious crew return home, the fun doesn’t stop as we see the bitter aftermath and how our various treasure-seekers dispose of or lose the fabulous wealth they’ve won. Wimpy simply and rapidly eats his way through most of his, whilst Popeye once again gives his cash away, prompting a return to prize fighting against a succession of increasingly scary and barely human opponents. One such man-mountain is Kid Nitro with Wimpy again playing extremely partial referee. When the unscrupulous umpire bets all he has left against Popeye, the Sailor Man pauperises the cheat just by being his valiant self…

For a while, unrelated gag sequences (fights and romantic tiffs) keep the ball rolling every sabbath before mighty “infink” Swee’pea makes his Sunday debut on 28th October 1934 (after being initially introduced in the daily strip: see E.C. Segar’s Popeye volume 3: “Let’s You and Him Fight” ). Adopted by Popeye, he became the focus of many outrageous episodes allowing audiences to comfortably decompress before the next Big Story. These gag exploits see Popeye dally with “High Sassiety” and inadvertently turn effete, spoiled rich child William Bankley into wholesome fun-loving little tough guy Bill whilst honing in on Wimpy’s appetite, ruthless scavenging of pets and livestock and duck hunting antics.

They culminate in appalling excess consumption and his mooching never ends: permanently predating on Rough-House and the distressed cobbler and leading to a shocking sequence of strips where – driven mad by Wimpey’s relentless mooching – the shoemaker kills his despised nemesis with burgers garnished with rat poison…

That aforementioned approaching epic then mines western themes as the cast (plus prodigal brother Castor Oyl) head west to Slither Creek (April 14th to August 25th 1935) as gold prospectors, with Wimpy lost in the desert, undergoing incredible – and well-deserved – hardships as Swee’Pea perpetually proves the benefits of a spinach-&-milk diet. Somehow, the sunny sojourn leaves Wimpy rolling in gold when they return home. As Popeye goes back to battling bulky boxers and sparring with Olive, the temporarily wealthy, eternally empty Wimpy buys his own diner in the ultimate expression of blind optimism and sheer folly. Eventually, the master beggar triumphs over all and gets to eat his fill… and must deal with the consequences of his locust-like consumption…

These tales are as vibrant and compelling now as they’ve ever been, comprising a classic of graphic literature only a handful of creators have ever matched. Segar famously considered himself an inferior draughtsman – most of the world disagreed and still does – but his ability to weave a yarn was unquestioned, and grew to astounding and epic proportions in these strips. Week by week he was creating the syllabary and lexicon of a brand-new artform: inventing narrative tricks and beats that generations of artists and writers would use in their own creations. Despite some astounding successors, no one ever bettered Segar.

Popeye is five years shy of his centenary and deserves his place as a global icon. How many comics characters are still enjoying new adventures 95 years after their first? These volumes are a perfect way to celebrate the genius and mastery of E.C. Segar and his brilliantly flawed superman. These are tales you’ll treasure all of your life and superb books you must not miss.

Popeye volume 3: The Sea Hag & Alice the Goon is copyright © 2023 King Features Syndicate, Inc./™Hearst Holdings, Inc. This edition © 2023 Fantagraphics Books Inc. Segar comic strips provided by Bill Blackbeard and his San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. “Allegro in C Hag Minor” © 2023 Bong Redila. All rights reserved.