Rosa Goes for a Walk


By Nic Lawson (Nic Lawson Comics/Canberra)
ISBN: 978-0-646-90434-4 (PB)

The current comics/graphic novel market is a true wonderland these days. For every planetary megastar and proprietorial blockbuster romp or spectacular action thriller, staggering horror yarn or historical journey there are incisive, revelatory biographies, archival collections of veteran properties, self-exploratory observations and deeply personal reminiscences as well as cartoon stars of every era revived for modern delectation.

…And the wealth of internationally generated, globally-sourced book for kids is mouth-watering in its vast variety…

In that nigh-infinite cauldron of choice, there’s even room for small, personal works that defy ready categorisation and shine through sheer novelty, innovation, whimsy, talent and charm. Just like Rosa Goes for a Walk, the very best adventure comic you’ve not read yet…

Nicole Lawson (If a Tree Falls, Pretty in Pink, Nic and Craig Go to Japan) is an Australian painter, illustrator and storyteller who creates wonderful comics. Her work has been mostly self-published but she has also appeared in Canberra Zine Machine and Supanova. This particular tale was shortlisted for a Ledger Award…

Seditiously eccentric, the story begins as we ‘Meet Rosa’, a faded flower of an old lady who resides in a distressed hotel (“the Discovery”) in a deserted outback ghost town. There’s a road, but nobody ever stops for food or fuel or conversation…

Rosa’s days are pretty much identical, but she maintains her standards and keeps the old place ready for guests who never come, which leaves her lots of time to remember the good old days. Hers were especially good. Rosa Philips used to be a globe-girdling adventurer, explorer and treasure-hunter. She’s even got the scrapbooks and press-cuttings to prove it… if anybody was around to see…

And so her days pass, until one morning ‘The Adventure Begins’ after she spots an inexplicable alteration to the stunning but so-familiar landscape. Plagued with curiosity, Rosa tools up one last time and heads for the distant horizon. Making her rickety way through the bush, she eventually encounters something utterly astonishing which changes her knowledge of how the entire world works before ‘The Conclusion’ reveals even more shocking secrets both personal and profound…

Largely free of dialogue and narration, rendered in a simplified but compelling watercolour manner and wistfully tinged with the emotive impact of the best of Raymond Briggs, Rosa Goes for a Walk is a superb exploration of isolation, abandonment and life passed by, elevated by a brilliant twist of imagination. This a lovely, moving story of old age and past glories as it affects a person and a planet. Moreover, while we’re all pining away in necessary solitude, it’s a tale full of the perspective and uplift we can all do with. Do yourself a favour and track it down – preferably in digital format and beamed to you behind your own sealed doors – and feel a part of something bigger and better, supremely well-crafted and with some inkling of where we’re all going…
© 2013 Nicole Lawson All rights reserved.

A Portrait in Poems: The Storied Life of Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas


By Evie Robillard & Rachel Katstaller (Kids Can Press)
ISBN: 978-1-5253-0056-1 (HB)

We don’t cover nearly enough kids’ books here, nor those with an Arts or educational underpinning, and that’s because I lazily prefer to read stuff that’s entertaining, worthwhile and well-produced. And yes, I know they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive but somehow, so often…

Happily, this gloriously inclusive biographical primer into one of the world’s most interesting and accomplished women and her life partner is all of that and more.

Delivered as a delicious and enthralling picture book for 6 to 9-year-olds, A Portrait in Poems précis’ and shares some notable Parisian moments in the life of author Gertrude Stein and her muse Alice B. Toklas. This unconventional couple led the upcoming arts glitterati of Europe and collected one of the most astounding art collections in history prior to one World War and before another. The book is drafted in episodic free verse by librarian, teacher and writer Evie Robillard and painted with idyllic verve by El Salvadoran illustrator Rachel Katstaller in a superbly subtle manner guaranteed to get youngsters addicted to learning more.

In short order you’ll visit the protagonists’ first home at ‘27 Rue de Fleurus’, observe as ‘Picasso Paints a Portrait’, share ‘Saturday Evenings’ and enjoy ‘The Room with All the Paintings’ before meeting ‘Gertrude Stein, the Genius’

The couple shared their exalted existence with ‘A Dog Named Basket’ (two actually) and we see more of them all in ‘Gertrude & Alice & Basket in a Book’ before wrapping up the history with what happened ‘After’

Adding learning and lustre a ‘Time Line’ supplies dates and hard facts, while glimpses of character shine in a trio of epigrammatic ‘Snapshots’, whilst ‘Sources’ offers some of Gertrude’s best works to check out and a bibliography reveals more books about her, before a final ‘Author’s Note’ deals with the contentious period when the couple abided under Nazi occupation in Vichy France.

It’s never too early to give children a hunger to know stuff, and this bright, inclusive foray into the mind and life of one of our most remarkable thinkers is a welcome addition to any junior library or kids’ book stash because it simply cries out for readers to go absorb more…
Text © 2020 Evie Robillard. © 2020 Rachel Katstaller. All rights reserved.

Chloe & Cartoon volume 1: When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon


By Greg Tessier & Amandine, translated by Joe Johnson (/Charmz/Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0430-8 (HB) 978-1-5458-0431-5 (TPB)

Let’s close cat week (not an actual thing… yet) with another superbly inclusive and entertaining European import, debuting under Papercutz’s new Charmz imprint aimed at a Pre and Early Teen female readership (let’s go with 9-13, but I don’t register on any of those metrics and still enjoyed it immensely).

Chloe & Cartoon is actually a prequel, set before Charmz’s splendid, school series Chloe which originally began in 2017 and 2018 as French series Mistinguette & Cartoon. When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon compile first two Euro-tomes Chat Arrive! and Deuxieme Chat Pitre into a bold and charming collation of consecutive vignettes detailing how the ever-so-tense Blin family take possession of a 3-month old kitten. Chloe is still in elementary school and her brother Arthur is just a toddler, it’s nearly Christmas and tetchy Mr. Blin is about to reluctantly capitulate to a sustained campaign by his wife and first-born to get a cat. He is NOT KEEN.

Knowing when to give in, he scopes out three likely candidates and make the rookie mistake of picking the chubby, lazy sleeping one, on the absurd assumption that it will cause the least mess and trouble…

Dad learns his lesson over the following months as the little tyke settles in with the exact opposite of the minimum of fuss and destruction. Nevertheless, Cartoon changes Chloe’s life and the family dynamic forever. Days pass in a flurry of little adventures as the girl learns responsibility, how to let go, and patience while dad becomes more and more of an ogre before admitting his own affection for the fuzzy brute….

These short strips are not only fun and supremely entertaining but also subtly reinforce ideas of proper pet care and are augmented by ‘Tips from Chloe’: illustrated text features ‘Welcoming a Kitten to Your Home’ and behavioural hints in ‘Understanding a Kitten’.

Available in Hardback, Softcover and digital editions, When Chloe First Met Her Cat, Cartoon is the brainchild of author Greg Tessier, a relative newcomer who spent much of his career as a cultural and historical development specialist, overseeing public reading projects in France, and veteran illustrator Amandine. She’s been active in the business since 2006, with alternative projects as part of the Nekomix collective; mainstream illustration work for Disney, Hachette Presse, Playbac, Fleurus Presse; children’s series Valentin, and since 2011 Mistinguette.

As well as being a delightful comic for readers of all ages, Chloe & Cartoon is a wonderful argument for the proposition that every kid should grow up a with a pet. If that’s a quandary currently vexing you, consider this as definite tick in the “pro” column…
Mistinguette [CHLOE] & Cartoon volume 1 “Chat Arrive!” © Jungle! 2017 and Mistinguette [CHLOE] & Cartoon volume 1 “Deuxieme Chat Pitre” © Jungle! 2018. All rights reserved. User license. English translation and all other material © 2020 by Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Brina the Cat volume 1: The Gang of the Feline Sun


By Giorgio Salati & Christian Cornia, with Erika Turbati, translated by Olivia Rose Doni (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0425-4 (HB) 978-1-5458-0426-1 (TPB)

As I believe I’ve already mentioned, there’s an awful lot of cat comics around these days. As owning the internet is clearly not enough for the hairy little blighters, here’s the gen on another one I think might be worth your time and money…

Originally published in 2017 as Brina e la Banda del Sole Felino and another newly-translated all-ages gem from the astute folk at Papercutz, the first volume of Brina the Cat is an engaging tale of ownership versus liberty in the grand Walt Disney manner. That’s not surprising as it’s scripted by Italian Disney Academy veteran and professor Giorgio Salati (Topolino, Disney Hamlet; Il lato obscure della legge) and painted by his college colleague Professor Christian Cornia (Yogi Bear, Scooby Doo, When Unicorns Poop) – assisted by co-colourist Erika Turbati.

The story is delicious and bittersweet, and preceded by a delightful comics Foreword from Frédéric Brrémaud & Federico Bertolucci before the main feature begins, revealing how pampered city housecat Brina accompanies the young human couple she lives with on a summer vacation to the mountains. Once there, she has the run of their chalet and the gardens and discovers her inner apex predator, as well as how annoying dogs can be…

All too soon however, she meets the seductively free cats of The Gang of the Feline Sun, and strange stirrings are provoked within her…

Pack leader Vespucci is particularly convincing and before long Brina has broken her ties with her beloved humans and reclaimed her heritage. Running free with the gang, she leaves her heartbroken humans to go through all the motions necessary to retrieve a lost cat…

Although not without qualms, Brina quickly adapts to her life of liberty, but as the summer passes the unity of the gang is slowly eroded and Brina comes to a shocking conclusion about Vespucci and is forced to reassess her decision…

But can she decide before the humans dejectedly return to the city…

Available in hardcover, paperback and digitally and augmented by illustrated poem ‘Brina’s Tale’ this is a superb yarn blending charm and wit with plenty of fun and imagination and like all the best kids’ stories is not afraid to mix a bit of terror and heartbreak into the mix. It can also be readily enjoyed by cat-loving adults… as long as they have tissues handy…
© 2020 TUNUÉ (Tunué s.r.l.) – Giorgio Salati & Christian Cornia. All other material © 2020 Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Cat & Cat volume 1: Girl Meets Cat


By Christophe Cazenove, Hervé Richez & Yrgane Ramon, translated by Joe Johnson (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-427-8 (HB) 978-1-54580-428-5 (TPB)

There’s an amazing abundance of comics about cats being sent to me these days, so – in anticipation of our furry feline overlords finally taking full possession of the planet – I’m thinking of an imminent solid week of cat-themed coverage. Until then though, let’s make do with this recent addition to the genre, courtesy of those fine folk at Papercutz and pray that it’s enough to hold the cute little brutes at bay (the cats, I mean, not the all-ages readership)…

Debuting in Europe as Cath et son chat in 2012’s in initial volume Virus au bahut (they’re up to 8 books by now), the series details the grudging accommodations made by a single-parent father, his naively optimistic daughter and a rather strong-willed, painfully adventurous cat they name Sushi

Girl Meets Cat sees young Catherine gradually getting to know the newest addition to the household, although dad isn’t really acclimatising that well to the hairy third wheel. In this delightful paperback or digital catalogue (tee hee) of short strips, you’ll see the hapless humans discover Tomcat Sushi’s darling little tricks – such as shredding carpets, wallpaper, drapes and furniture (“broderie de chat” as actor Leslie Phillips once dubbed it), shunning expensive cat-toys, sleeping for eons and utterly failing to understand the principles of cat doors or the off-limits sanctity of Christmas trees and decorations…

Enthralling episodes cover where cats sleep, opening the fridge, food, litter trays, learning to use pet-carriers, professional cat groomers, holiday provision, fishbowls, what cats do to tech – especially computers – the joy of cardboard boxes, hiding, marking territory and presenting prey (generally garden gnomes in this case).

These commonplace activities are often complicated by the fact that Sushi has a rich and imaginative dream life which frequently has painful real-world repercussions. He’s been an astronaut cat, polar explorer, pirate, ghost and Victorian detective Catlock Holmes and is particularly partial to those five-hour long sessions of vigorous violent exercise cats compress into six minutes – generally known as “the Rips”. Most importantly, he is implacable in the never-ending war that ensues over who gets to sit in the best spot in the house…

In this tome you will also learn of Sushi’s nine lives through the length of human history from Jurassic times to WWII, and understand humanity’s true place in the Grand Scheme of Things.

Rendered by Yrgane Ramon in a frantic and frenetic modern animation style, and scripted – probably from painful personal experience – by veteran comedy scripters Christophe Cazenove (Les Pompiers; Les Fondus; Les Petits Mythos) and Hervé Richez (Buzzi; L’Effaceur; Les Poulets du Kentucky), this a wonderfully bright and breezy sitcom cat lovers and cartoon connoisseurs will adore.
© 2012-2020 Bamboo Édition. All other material © 2020 Papercutz. All rights reserved.

Sundiata, the Lion of Mali – a Legend of Africa


Retold by Will Eisner (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-332-6(HB)  978-1-56163-340-1(TPB)

It’s pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the pivotal creators who shaped the American comicbook industry, with most – but not sadly, all – of his works more or less permanently in print – as they should be.

Active and compellingly creative until his death in 2005, Eisner was the consummate storysmith and although his true legacy is making comics acceptable fare for adult Americans, his mastery and appeal spanned the range of human age and he was always as adept at beguiling the young as he was enchanting their elders…

William Erwin Eisner was born on March 6th 1906 in Brooklyn and grew up in the ghettos. They never left him. After time served inventing much of the visual semantics, semiotics and syllabary of the medium he dubbed “Sequential Art” in strips, comicbooks, newspaper premiums and instructional comics, he then invented the mainstream graphic novel, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics.

From 1936 to 1938 he worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production hothouse known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips for both domestic US and foreign markets. Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie, he created and drew opening instalments for a huge variety of characters ranging from funny animal to historical sagas,

Westerns, Detectives, aviation action thrillers… and superheroes – lots of superheroes …

In 1940 Everett “Busy” Arnold, head honcho of the superbly impressive Quality Comics outfit, invited Eisner to take on a new challenge. The Register-Tribune newspaper syndicate wanted a 16-page weekly comicbook insert for the Sunday editions and Eisner jumped at the opportunity, creating three series which would initially be handled by him before two of them were delegated to supremely talented assistants. Bob Powell inherited Mr. Mystic and distaff detective Lady Luckfell into the capable hands of Nick Cardy (then still Nicholas Viscardi) and later the inimitable Klaus Nordling.

Eisner kept the lead feature for his own, and over the next twelve years The Spirit became the most impressive, innovative, imitated and talked-about strip in the business. However, by 1952 Eisner had more or less abandoned it for more challenging and certainly more profitable commercial, instructional and educational strips. He worked extensively for the US military in manuals and magazines like Army Motors and P*S, the Preventative Maintenance Monthly, generally leaving comicbooks behind.

After too long away from his natural story-telling arena, Eisner creatively returned to the ghettos of Brooklyn where he was born and capped a glittering career by inventing the mainstream graphic novel for America, bringing maturity, acceptability and public recognition to English language comics. After that he just kept on going…

In 1978 a collection of four original short stories in strip form were released as a single book: A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories. All four centred around 55 Dropsie Avenue, a 1930’s Bronx tenement, housing poor Jewish and immigrant families. It changed the American perception of cartoon strips forever. Eisner wrote and drew a further 20 comics masterworks, opening the door for all other comics creators to escape the funnybook and anodyne strip ghettos of superheroes, funny animals, juvenilia and “family-friendly” entertainment. At one stroke comics grew up.

Eisner was constantly pushing the boundaries of his craft, honing his skills not just on the Spirit but with years of educational and promotional material. In A Contract With God he moved into unexplored territory with truly sophisticated, mature themes worthy of Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald, using pictorial fiction as documentary exploration of social experience.

If Jack Kirby was the American comicbook’s most influential artist, Will Eisner remains undoubtedly its most venerated and exceptional storyteller. Contemporaries originating from strikingly similar Jewish backgrounds, each used comic arts to escape from their own tenements, achieving varying degrees of acclaim and success, and eventually settling upon a theme to colour all their later works. For Kirby it was the Cosmos, what Man would find there, and how humanity would transcend its origins in The Ultimate Outward Escape. Will Eisner went Home, went Inward and went Back, concentrating on Man as he was and still is…

Naturally that would make him a brilliant choice to illustrate primal folktales and creation myths from our collective past. This stunning, slim yet over-sized tome (288 x 224mm) again proves his uncanny skill in exhibiting the basic drives and passions of humanity as he lyrically recounts a key myth of West Africa. Although I can’t find it in any digital editions, at least it’s still widely available in print formats…

The historical Sundiata Keita brought the Mandinka People out of bondage and founded the Mali Empire in the 13thcentury AD. He is still celebrated as a staple of the oral tradition handed down by the tribal historians, bards and praise-singers known as “Griots”.

Rendered in a moody, brooding wash of sullen reds, misty greys and dried out earth-tones, the tale begins; narrated by the Great Gray Rock, foundation stone of the world.

Once only the beasts were masters of Africa, but when people came, they sought to rule the land. The newcomers consulted the ghosts of Good and soon became the masters of the beasts and the land.

However, Evil ghosts also lurked. Once ambitious, greedy Sumanguru, King of Sasso had conquered all he could see, he still seethed with dissatisfaction, and the Gray Rock of Evil accosted him…

Sasso was a poor, arid country and when the wicked stone offered the king dark magical powers to conquer all the surrounding lands, Sumanguru eagerly accepted. Soon all the neighbouring nations were smouldering ruins as Sasso warriors and their mad lord’s control of the elements demolished all resistance.

Still Sumanguru was not content and, when a trader brought news of a rich, fertile land settled by peaceful gentle people, the king wanted to rule them too. The unctuous merchant also related how Nare Famakan, wise king of Mali, had recently passed away, leaving eight youthful healthy sons and a ninth who was weak and lame…

Ignoring the rock of Evil’s advice to beware the “frog prince”, Sumanguru led his mighty armies against Mali, unaware the double-dealing trader – denied a reward due to the mad king’s parsimony – had warned the nine princes that warriors of Sasso were coming.

Lame little Sundiata also wished to defend his land, but his brothers laughed and told him to stay home, trusting to their superior tactics to repel the invasion. Indeed, their plans were effective, and the battle seemed to go their way… until Sumanguru summoned an eldritch wind to destroy the army of Mali and added the defeated land to his possessions.

Gloating, he mocked Sundiata but, ignoring the advice of the Gray Rock of Evil, foolishly allowed the frog prince to live…

As unstoppable, insatiable Sumanguru ravaged every tribe and nation, an aged shaman showed Sundiata how to overcome his physical shortcomings. Years passed and the boy learned the ways of the forests, growing tall and mighty. Now a man, he prepared for vengeance and when Sumanguru heard and tried to have him killed, he fled and rallied an army of liberation.

On the eve of battle an uncle revealed Sumanguru’s one mystic weakness to Sundiata and the stage was set for a spectacular and climactic final confrontation before, as will always happen, Evil inevitably betrayed itself…

Although there might be something a little disquieting about an old Jewish white guy appropriating and retelling African myths and legends, this is an epic and intensely moving, all-ages fable re-crafted by a master storyteller: one well-versed in exploring the classic themes of literature and human endeavour, whilst always adding a sparkle and sheen of his own to the most ancient and familiar of tales.

A joy not just for Eisner aficionados but all lovers of mythic heroism.
© 2002 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.

Yakari and the Lake Monster


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique and translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-423-6 (Album PB)

Children’s magazine Le Crapaud à lunettes was founded in 1964 by Swiss journalist André Jobin who then wrote for it under the pseudonym Job. Three years later he hired fellow French-Swiss artist Claude de Ribaupierre AKA “Derib”. The illustrator had launched his own career as an assistant at Studio Peyo (home of Les Schtroumpfs), working on Smurfs strips for venerable weekly Le Journal de Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagorebefore striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally au fait with enticing, comically dynamic “Marcinelle” cartoon style yarns and devastatingly compelling meta-realistic action illustrated action epics – went on to become one of the Continent’s most prolific and revered creators. It’s a crime that groundbreaking strips such as Celui-qui-est-né-deux-fois, Jo (the first comic ever published dealing with AIDS), Pour toi, Sandra and La Grande Saga Indienne) haven’t been translated into English yet, but we still patiently wait in hope and anticipation…

Many of Derib’s stunning works over the decades feature his cherished Western themes; magnificent geographical backdrops and epic landscapes. Yakari is considered by fans and critics to be the strip which first led him to deserved mega-stardom.

Debuting in 1969, Yakari follows the life of a young Oglala Lakota boy on the Great Plains; set sometime after the introduction of horses by the Conquistadores but before the coming of the modern White Man.

The series – which has generated two separate TV cartoon series and a movie release – recently celebrated its 40th album Le jour de silence: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators, even though originator Job has moved on and Frenchman Joris Chamblain has assumed the writers’ role from 2016.

Overflowing with gentle whimsy and heady compassion, young Yakari enjoys a largely bucolic existence: at one with nature and generally free from privation or strife. For the sake of our delectation, however, the ever-changing seasons are punctuated with the odd crisis, generally resolved without fuss, fame or fanfare by a little lad who is smart, brave… and can – thanks to the boon of his totem guide the Great Eagle – converse with all animals …

Originally released in 1991, Le monstre du lac was the 17th European album, but – as always with the best books – the content and set-up are both stunningly simple and effectively timeless, affording new readers total enjoyment with a minimum of familiarity or foreknowledge required…

It all begins on a blustery Autumn day after heavy rains as Yakari rides his young colt Little Thunder. Reaching the swollen river, they see his old friends the Beavers busily toiling to get their home ready for winter. At least, most of them are, under the ferocious supervision of strident martinet Thousand Mouths

As diligent elder Rough Bark soon discloses – but without ceasing his efforts – his rambunctious son Linden Tree is out of sorts and not contributing to the group effort. And he’s not the only one: a large number of the usual workers are mysteriously missing…

After talking to Linden Tree’s mother Wild Rose, the little warrior enters the vast dam structure to see for himself that the hyperactive little beaver has become a listless and despondent malingerer: depressed and with no zest for life.

After consulting with wise elder Wooden Dam, Yakari thinks he has a solution to the youngster’s debilitating melancholy and calls upon a shared mutual acquaintance…

Before long – but only after much pleading and cajoling – Linden Tree is enduring and soon after actually enjoying his second ever flight in the bill of a giant bird. The plan succeeds and the little nipper is again filled with joie de vivre, but that’s almost immediately replaced by terror as his aerial jaunt leads to his spotting a colossal monster sleeping in the middle of the river…

When the rest of the clan are informed, Thousand Mouths is convinced that’s where his missing workers have ended up but Yakari refuses to be frightened or despondent and leads them all in a mission to find and save the workers and solve the mystery of the great beast…

The answer is truly shocking…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational (thanks to an in-story history lesson from the all-knowing Great Eagle) and compellingly entertaining, this cheery romp allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the appealing courage of our diminutive hero, and a visually stunning, seductively smart and happily heart-warming saga to delight young and old alike.

Yakari is one of the most unfailingly absorbing all-ages strips every conceived and should be in every home, right beside Tintin, Uncle Scrooge, Asterix and The Moomins.
Original edition © Derib + Job – Editions du Lombard (Dargaud- Lombard s. a.) 2000. English translation 2018 © Cinebook Ltd.

Poppy! and the Lost Lagoon


By Matt Kindt & Brian Hurtt (Dark Horse Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61655-943-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-63008-465-3

Remember when adventure was an exclusively male preserve and icky girls weren’t allowed? No? Good, because then you can’t be persuaded to avoid books like this one and miss out on a superb, joyous treat!

Crafted by Matt Kindt (Pistolwhip, Revolver, Suicide Squad, Mind MGMT) & Brian Hurtt (The Damned, Shadow Roads, The Sixth Gun – and why haven’t I reviewed that yet?) this all-ages fantasy shares one of the incredible exploits and proves the prodigious pedigree of young Poppy Pepperton, latest globe-girdling explorer of a valiant dynasty to challenge the unknown and push back the frontiers of knowledge in search of Lost Things…

It all begins as Poppy and her aged sidekick Colt Winchester (inherited from her long-missing grandfather, the incredible explorer Pappy Pepperton and now acting as her legal guardian, if not particularly responsible adult) arrive back in New York City for yet another fractious confrontation with their extremely odd sponsor and employer.

Ramses (AKA Tut) is a millennia-old Egyptian wizard in the body of an 8-year old boy, but his capacity for fun and mischief is curtailed since he is inescapably trapped in his own apartment. The young sage provides resources and even new missions in return for vicariously sharing the adventurers’ wild life – sometimes through the eyes of his cat Krums, if he can convince his employees to include it in the entourage. He also gets to keep most of the loot they bring back…

Tonight, he grants them the latest prophecy of the Sacred Shrunken Mummy Head in his possession, catapulting our dynamic duo into a fresh and terrifying case that might just explain many of the still-unsolved mysteries of Poppy’s eccentric forebear…

Taking ship for Europe, the courageous couple begin their search for the long-lost Love Fish (as cited in Pepperton’s Incomplete Compendium of Lost Things volume 16), stirring up uncomfortable memories for Colt of the last time he visited the twin cities of Old and New Macadamia… and how he was responsible for the tragic separation of the perpetually paired passionate piscids…

Poppy only learns the appalling truth after her elderly guardian is confronted by an old flame at the Aquafica Exotica in Old Macadamia. Apparently way back then, he and Pappy Pepperton’s blundering search for a fabled Gigantipus and treatment of one of the Love Fish caused untold ecological upheaval: forcing a country-sized cephalopod to flee the lagoon and relocate elsewhere. The detrimental effects of that blunder still blighted geologically shattered Macadamia…

In a maritime excursion that took in giant turtles, subsea kingdoms, floating islands and even stranger locales, the gallants strove for ages before eventually admitting defeat. Now Poppy – armed only with her courage, “typographic memory” (unable to forget anything she’s ever read), puzzle-solving abilities and a futuristic super-ship manned by a dedicated crew – swears to set things right…

The only thing that might impact upon her success is an incomprehensibly huge monster and the aquatic civilisation currently living in the city on its head and the sinister robotic figure surreptitiously dogging her every step…

Packed with brilliant innovation and inspired settings, Poppy! blends wild whimsy with sly wit, rollicking action with subversive satire and emotional warmth with potent suspense, combining traditionally familiar quest drama with cunningly incorporated games and tests (the answers kindly included at the end) to produce a decidedly memorable addition to the ranks of Indiana Jones, Von Doogan and Lara Croft.
Poppy! ™ & © 2016 Matt Kindt & Brian Hurtt. All rights reserved.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strips volume 3


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

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

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

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

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

Moomintroll was her signature character. Quite Literally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the weather turns again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animal Land volume 1


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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