Tiny Titans volume 2: Adventures in Awesomeness


By Art Baltazar & Franco (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2328-1

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

DC’s Cartoon Network imprint was arguably the last bastion of children’s comics in America and consolidated that link between TV and 2D fun and thrills with stunning interpretations of such television landmarks as Scooby Doo, Powerpuff Girls, Ben 10 and others.

The kids’ comics line also produced some truly exceptional material based on TV iterations of their proprietary characters such as Legion of Super Heroes, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Krypto the Super Dog as well as material like Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! which was merely similar in tone and content.

Perhaps the imprint’s finest release was a series ostensibly aimed at beginning readers but which quickly became a firm favourite of older fans and a multi-award winner too.

Superbly mirroring the magical wonderland inside a child’s head where everything is happily mixed up together, Tiny Titans became a sublime antidote to continuity cops and slavish fan-boy quibbling (erm, uh… I think you’ll find that in…) by reducing the vast cast of the Teen Titans Go! animated series, the greater boutique of the mainstream comicbooks and eventually the entire DC Universe to little kids and their parents/guardians in the wholesome kindergarten environment of Sidekick City Elementary School.

It’s a scenario spring-loaded with in-jokes, sight-gags and beloved yet gently mocked paraphernalia of generations of strip readers and screen-watchers….

Collecting issues #7-12 (spanning October 2008 – March 2009) of the magically madcap and infinitely addictive all-ages mini-masterpiece, this fourth volume begins on a romantic note with Deep in Like.

Art Baltazar and co-creator Franco (Aureliani) mastered a witty, bemusingly gentle manner of storytelling that just happily rolls along, with assorted (sort-of familiar) characters getting by, trying to make sense of the great big world.

The method generally involves stringing together smaller incidents and moments into an overall themed portmanteau tale and it works astoundingly well.

After handy and as-standard identifying roll-call page ‘Meet the… Tiny Titans’ the pint-sized tomfoolery opens with ‘Ya Think?’ with transparent-headed Psimon deliberating over his checkers game with similarly glass-fronted The Brain… until Kid Flash and Wonder Girl start heckling…

Meanwhile, at school Starfire gets a text from her dad telling her to come home. Of course, she invites all her friends and two-and-a-half days later the entire class is wandering around alien planet Tameran…

Once they get back Robin convenes a meeting of his new avian themed ‘Bird Scouts’ only to find his alternate identities causing a little contention and confusion…

The issue ends with a Franco Tiny Titans pinup preceded by a return confrontation between Psimon and his hecklers in ‘To Get to the Other Side’. Sadly, once again his tormentors get the last word…

‘Report Card Pickup!’ finds the adult Justice Leaguers confronting Principal Slade (AKA Deathstroke) and substitute teacher Trigon over the grades of the little folk whilst introducing a new intake from Sidekick City Preschool ominously dubbed the Tiny Terror Titans

Starfire gives Blue Beetle an unwanted makeover in ‘Happy Feeling Blue’ whilst Robin, Batgirl and Ace the Bat-hound get invitations to BB’s birthday party in ‘Joke’s on You’.

Elsewhere, the other Wonder Girl (the series plays extremely fast-&-loose with continuity so suck it up if you’re expecting serious logic, ok?) and tiny winged Bumblebee indulge their ‘Book Smarts’ until Beast Boy shows up even as, under the sea, Aqualad opens a meeting of ‘Pet Club, Atlantis’ until Raven and The Ant spoil things by breaking the first rule…

Concluding with a Puzzler page and a bonus Pinup, #8 gives way to a ninth issue and an inescapable predicament as the kids go ape because of ‘Monkey Magic’

When Beppo the Super-Chimp gets hold of a magic wand at Robin’s Comic Book Party the attendees are soon reduced to hirsute ancestral forms. Thankfully Batgirl and Bumblebee are meeting with the size-shifting Atom family (The Atom, Mrs. Atom, Crumb, Dot, baby Smidgen and dog Spot) and initially missing the ensuing chaos.

The bad boys of the Brotherhood of Evil aren’t so lucky when Beppo flies over and suddenly Brain and Psimon are as simian and banana-dependent as their talking-gorilla comrade M’sieu Mallah and before long Starfire and Batgirl also get monkey-zapped…

Resolute, bureaucratic Robin then institutes the first meeting of ‘the Titan Apes’ but that only provokes the pesky Super-Chimp to really see what his wand can do and even after Raven’s magic sorts everything out, Beppo rises to the challenge…

Closing with another Tiny Titans Puzzler Page and pinup of the diminutive ‘Atom’s Family’ the animal antics carry over into the next month as ‘World’s Funnest!’ finds Supergirl entertaining Batgirl at ‘Tea Time’.

Tragically the Girl of Steel has forgotten to feed her pet cat Streaky and her guest has been equally derelict in her duties to Ace, forcing the powers pets to seek redress as the little ladies set out on a global jaunt, meeting annoying monsters Kroc and Bizarro

A Tiny Titans Word Link Puzzler and Bonus Pinup of the eventually-reconciled stars wraps up the issue before the penultimate outing sees romantically declined Beast Boy in the throes of ‘Terra Trouble’.

The green Romeo’s intended inamorata is a feisty lass with refined tastes and in ‘Counting on Love Rocks’ she shows him the depth and density of her disaffection after which Robin greets visiting Russian student Star Fire and gets wrapped up in a tempestuous ‘Name Exchange’ dilemma. Terra meanwhile is not fooled by a viridian ‘Rock Dog’ and Beast Boy ends up with more bruises. Wiser, younger heads (mask, helmets, etc) just go to a carnival and leave them to it, whilst the lovesick loser escalates his campaign with a little ‘Rock Show’ whereas Aqualad and scary blob Plasmus just attend a monster movie ‘Double Feature’

Agonisingly undaunted, Beast Boy decides on a costume makeover and new origin. Dressed like Superman he builds a ‘Rocket Box’ but yet again fails to kindle a spark…

Silent mirth then illuminates ‘Tiny Titans Presents… The Kroc Files: Changing a Lightbulb’ before another TT Puzzler and a ‘Super Bonus Pin-Up! of Alfred and the Penguins’ escort us smartly to the final outing in this smart and sassy trade paperback or eBook extravaganza…

‘Faces of Mischief’ concentrates on the school staff as ‘Morning with the Trigons’ sees the substitute teacher and demonic overlord called in on short notice. It’s ‘Monday Morning’ and as the Principal and Trigon goof off to a baseball game, Slade leaves cafeteria server Darkseid in charge. This is the chance the Apokolyptian Lord of Destruction has been waiting for…

With the adult slackers listening to ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’, the kids are forced to endure exams and their ‘Finals Crisis’ seems eternal. After apparent ages, Robin needs a ‘Hall Pass’ but is soon accosted by not just the official Monitor but also the diabolical Anti-Monitor (trust me, if you’re wedded to DC Lore and minutiae, this is comedy gold: for the rest of you, it’s still hilariously drawn…)

Finally, the dread day ends for the kids, but as Raven heads home with Slade’s kids Rose and Jericho, she hears something that could ruin her life and takes drastic steps to ensure ‘Our Little Secret’, just as their dads concoct a sinister do-over for the following week…

Bringing the graphic glee to a halt is a new silent ‘Kroc Files: Sending an E-Mail’, a TT Baseball Unscramble Puzzler and a pin-up of the entire nefarious ‘Sidekick City Elementary Faculty’.

Despite being ostensibly aimed at super-juniors and TV kids, these wonderful, wacky yarns – which marvellously marry the heart and spirit of such classic strips as Peanuts and The Perishers with something uniquely mired and marinated in unadulterated nerdish comic-bookery – are unforgettable gags and japes no self-respecting fun-fan should miss: accessible, entertaining, and wickedly intoxicating to readers of any age and temperament. What more do you need to know?
© 2008, 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Yakari volume 15: The First Gallop


By Derib & Job, coloured by Dominique, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-369-7

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 who chose the working name “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 Spirou. Together they created the splendid Adventures of the Owl Pythagore before striking pure comics gold a few years later with their next collaboration.

Derib – equally at home 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 such groundbreaking strips 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 is in pre-production for a movie release – recently celebrated its 39th album Le jour de silence: a testament to the strip’s evergreen vitality and the brilliance of its creators.

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 1990, Le premier galop was the 16th 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…

Today’s tale begins as dutiful Yakari struggles to carry water back to his mother as she prepares dinner. Always thinking, the boy believes he’s come up with a more efficient method to transport the clay pitchers, but his dog Drooping Ear refuses to play along…

Discussing the minor debacle with onlooking sage Tranquil Ear, Yakari gets a history lesson on the time before the People discovered horses and decides to use his young colt Little Thunder as his proposed beast of burden.

So enthused is he with his scheme and cleverness, that when the pony objects and runs away from the corral, Yakari feels both betrayed and baffled…

That night the boy writhes in a guilty dream in which Tranquil Ear takes him on a journey to a desert wilderness. Bored and lonely, the lad crafts incredible but unsatisfactory beasts out of clay before stumbling onto a familiar shape which comes fully alive and returns with him to his home where they become the greatest of friends. When he awakes Yakari is lonely again, despite all his (human) friends trying to comfort him.

Eventually, it takes the intervention of Great Eagle to make the crestfallen lad realise that it is his own selfishness and lack of respect that drove Little Thunder to run away and the boy resolves to hunt him down wherever he is and beg him to return. First though, Yakari needs to apologise to Drooping Ear and earn his much-needed assistance…

Exotically enticing, deviously educational and compellingly instructional, this salutary fable allows Derib & Job full rein to display their astounding and compelling narrative virtuosity: a glorious graphic tour de force which captures the appealing humanity 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.) 2002. English translation 2017 © Cinebook Ltd.

Earthling!


By Mark Fearing, with Tim Rummel; coloured by Ken Min (Chronicle Books)
ISBN:  978-0-81187-106-8(HB)   978-1-45210-906-0(PB)

For the longest  time I banged on about the dearth of good comics for kids – as opposed to the vibrant and thriving children’s prose book markets or the slavish and impenetrable dead-end niche-genres and daunting cross-marketing of contemporary comicbooks – but nowadays some interesting developments in strip-book publishing look like setting that imbalance to rights…

Earthling! is the first graphic novel by animator Mark Fearing (with some initial creative input from TV producer Tim Rummel) and tells the tale of solitary, nerdy lad Bud, dragged by his astronomer dad to the literal middle of nowhere to take up residence at the vast Von Lunar Radio Telescope Array in the dry wilds of New Mexico.

The place is weird and a little spooky, but with his Mum gone and his father preoccupied with work Bud’s getting used to coping on his own…

The real trouble starts the next morning when he dashes for the school bus. Late and in the middle of a storm Bud inadvertently stumbles into the wrong vehicle and finds himself stuck on a malfunctioning intergalactic shuttle taking a bunch of alien students to Cosmos Academy where all the kids in the Galactic Alliance are educated.

Being the new kid in school is always bad news, but when you’re the only one of your species…

Luckily geeky pariah Gort GortGort McGortGort takes Bud under his wing and steers him through the worst of the culture shock, but the human’s urgent desire to go home is countered by one overwhelming fact: Earth is the most feared planet in the Galaxy, its inhabitants are despised and reviled by every sentient race in creation and its spatial coordinates are a closely guarded secret…

Thinly disguised as a sporty, athletic Tenarian, Bud tries desperately to fit in and luckily fellow outcast Gort is determined to help him return home, but the Academy is almost as dangerous as an Earth school.

There are jocks and bullies and cliques everywhere, the cool sapients run everything and snarky sarcasm is a deadly threat at all times. Although there are some decent and friendly teachers, the robots, rogue or escaped science experiments and especially the cafeteria make daily life an incredible and potentially lethal prospect.

Moreover, Principal Lepton and his administration are brutal bureaucrats with an excessive punishment regime (this is one deep-space satellite school you do not want to be “expelled” from) who have a pretty cavalier attitude to student safety – or even survival – and a hidden agenda which involves using Academy resources to build super-weapons for use against Bud’s lost or hidden home-world…

Gradually though, the boy adjusts, even finding an unexpected flair for the terrifying null-gravity sport of ZeroBall, which is lucky as Gort has deduced that the immensely prestigious championship Tournament is being held tantalisingly close to the diabolical Planet Earth – close enough that a stolen space-pod could reach it, if by some miracle Bud’s team qualified for the finals…

Funny, thrilling, wildly imaginative and utterly engrossing, Earthling! blends elements of Tom Brown’s Schooldays with Joe Dante’s Explorers and Harry Potter’s best bits with the anarchic wit of animated movies such as Despicable Me, Home and Monsters vs Aliens to produce a delightfully compelling adventure yarn with endearing characters and a big, big payoff.

This is a book (or ebook if you prefer) any sharp, fun-loving kid can – and should – read… and so should the rest of you…
© 2012 by Mark Fearing. All rights reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-804-8 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-616-7 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi – AKA Hergé – created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Remi completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died in the throes of creation, and final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist – a dedicated boy scout – produced his first strip series: The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine.

By 1928 he was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme; unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

And also, perhaps, highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments, running until May 8th 1930.

The clean-cut, no-nonsense boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

The odyssey was a huge success, assuring further – albeit less politically charged and controversial – exploits to follow. At least that was the plan…

The Blue Lotus was serialised weekly from August 1934 to October 1935 before being published in a collected volume by Casterman in 1936: a tale of immense power as well as exuberance, and a marked advance on what has gone before.

This adventure took place in a China that was currently under sustained assault by Imperial Japan: imbued with deep emotion and informed by the honest sentiment of a creator unable to divorce his personal feeling from his work.

Set amidst ongoing incursions into China by the Japanese during the period of colonial adventurism that led to the Pacific component of World War II, readers would see Tintin embroiled in a deep, dark plot that was directly informed by the headlines of the self-same newspapers that carried the adventures of the intrepid boy reporter…

Following the drug-busting exploits seen in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and whilst staying with the Maharajah of Gaipajama, Tintin intercepts a mysterious radio message just before a visit by a secretive oriental from Shanghai. This gentleman is attacked with madness-inducing narcotic Rajaijah, before he can introduce himself or explain his mission, so the lad sets off for China to solve the mystery.

At the conclusion of Cigars, Remi advertised that Tintin would go to China next, and the author was promptly approached by Father Gosset of the University of Leuven, who begged him to avoid the obvious stereotyping when dealing with the East.

The scholar introduced him to a Chinese art-student named Chang Chong-chen (or Chong-jen or possibly Chongren). They became great friends and Chang taught Hergé much of the history and culture of one of the greatest civilisations in history.

This friendship also changed the shape and direction of all Hergé’s later work. The unthinking innate superiority of the Colonial white man was no longer a casual given, and the artist would devote much of his life to correcting those unthinking stereotypes that populated his earlier work.

Chang advised Hergé on Chinese art and infamously lettered the signs and slogans on the walls, shops and backgrounds in the artwork of this story. He also impressed the artist so much that he was written into the tale as the plucky, heroic street urchin Chang, and would eventually return in Tintin in Tibet

As Tintin delves into the enigma he uncovers a web of deception and criminality that includes gangsters, military bullies, Japanese agent provocateurs, and corrupt British policemen. Hergé also took an artistic swing at the posturing, smugly superior Westerners that contributed to the war simply by turning a blind eye, even when they weren’t actively profiting from the conflict…

As Tintin foils plot after plot to destroy him and crush any Chinese resistance to the invaders, he finds himself getting closer to the criminal mastermind in league with the Japanese. The reader regularly views a valiant, indomitable nation fighting oppression in a way that would typify the Resistance Movements of Nazi-occupied Europe a decade later, with individual acts of heroism and sacrifice tellingly mixed with the high-speed action and deft comedy strokes.

The Blue Lotus is an altogether darker and oppressive tale of high stakes: the villains in this epic of drug-running and insidious oppression are truly fearsome and despicable, and the tradition of Chinese wisdom is honestly honoured. After all, it is the kidnapped Professor Fang Hsi-ying who finally finds a cure for Rajaijah – once rescued by Tintin, Snowy and Chang. But despite the overwhelmingly powerful subtext that elevates this story, it must be remembered that this is also a brilliant, frantic rollercoaster of fun.

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series – in both hardcover or paperback – is a hugely satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Blue Lotus: artwork © 1946, 1974 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1983 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.

Daily Mail Nipper Annual, 1940 Facsimile Edition


By Brian White (B&H Publications/White Crescent Press Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0-90080-431-1

Return with me again to the early days of World War II and experience the charm and creativity of the English in the face of Hunnish disaster. Or perhaps I should say try and find this wonderful reproduction of one of the war years’ most popular strips, now all but forgotten.

Brian White first created this roguish charmer of a toddler in 1933 and he outlasted the Nazis by a good margin, and only put down his toys in 1947. However the bonny lad’s pantomimic antics – most strips were slapstick gags without dialogue – were loved by children and adults in equal measure. The feature ran in the Daily Mail and even with wartime restrictions annuals were a foregone conclusion. The public demanded it.

Brian “H.B.” White was born in Dunstable in 1902 and divided his artistic gifts between animation and cartooning for comics and papers. His other strip success included Dare-a-Day Danny and Little Tough Guy in Knockout, Keyhole Kate in Sparky, Plum Duffy in The Topper and Double Trouble for the London Evening Standard.

His film work was as impressive and far-reaching, beginning with cartoon short Jerry the Troublesome Tyke in 1925 and ending with the Halas & Batchelor team that created the landmark animated film Animal Farm in 1954.

HB died in 1984, but his work is timelessly accessible and deserves to be re-discovered.

Bold, vivid and ingenious, The Nipper Annuals were a part of British life for almost two generations but Wartime utility played its part in this splendidly revived edition.

As well as the superb bold line artwork, there are plenty of fascinating advertisements of the period for the grown-ups; dedicated pages for the kids to draw their own strips (ready-ruled with panels and borders – always the worst job, as any cartoonist will tell you!) and a handy calendar for 1940 – remember, Annuals were released around Christmas time and dated for the following year.

And to top it off the entire package also doubles as a colouring book! What Larks!

Kidding aside, this is a wonderful insight into our comic strip past by a legendary master craftsman. That it has such entertainment and socio-historical value is a blessed bonus, but the real treasure is the work itself. All credit to those responsible for re-releasing it, and I fervently wish more companies would make similar efforts to keep our cultural history accessible. I also want to see more, More, MORE!
© 1995 B&H Publications/White Crescent Press Ltd. (I presume.)

First Names: Emmeline Pankhurst and First Names: Elon Musk


By Haydn Kaye & Michael Cotton-Russell (David Fickling Books)
By Tracey Turner & Mike Smith (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-61-6 (Emmeline) 978-1-910989-62-3 (Elon)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated and growing legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

The potent periodical is rapidly approaching its 300th issue and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, parent company David Fickling Books is expanding its output through a range of graphic novels and a new imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

The First Names imprint gets readers on intimate terms with a number of worthy achievers rightly deemed role models and launches in August with the two books under scrutiny today. Further enticing stalwarts promised in future include Harry Houdini, Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart…

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed.

Written by Haydn Kaye, Emmeline Pankhurst traces the life of the great Suffrage campaigner, deftly navigating a rather grim tale of oppression and imparting a great deal of necessary detail in a most delicate but effective manner through such enlightening chapters as ‘Emmeline Falls Out with her Father’, ‘Emmeline Kicks Up a Fuss’ and ‘Emmeline Forgives and Forgets’… Aiding and abetting, illustrator Michael Cotton Russell provides witty contextualising drawings on almost every page, with absorbing sidebars such as ‘Emmeline Explains Politics’ and ‘A Miserable Life for Match Girls’.

Working in tandem and conspicuous light-hearted good taste, the creators here have delivered a topical and timeless introduction to a woman who changed the world and deserves to be on First Name basis with every kid who’s claimed “It’s not Fair!”

Still very much in the news and attempting to change the world, the eccentric life and career of Elon Musk is traced by scribe Tracey Turner and cartoonist Mike Smith from his earliest explosive beginnings through a string of highly bankable innovations to his current elevated status as premier exponent of green technologies and interplanetary colonisation.

Beginning in ‘Pretoria, South Africa 1981’ the astounding progress is charted through ‘Elon’s Easter Eggs and Blasting Stars’ through ‘Elon Makes Millions’ and ‘Elon on Mars’ to ‘What Elon Did Next’.

It’s one heck of a ride and is engagingly limned by Mike Smith who provides contextual illustrations, charts recipes and family trees, illuminates maps and codifies micro-lectures such as ‘Elon Explains Solar Energy and Fossil Fuels’, ‘Elon Explains Silicon Valley’ and ‘Elon Explains Space Rockets’.

You may not like him or believe him, but this guy is at the forefront of today’s Thinkers and Do-ers, so you should at least have some idea of what he’s done and what he wants…

Invoking the heady baby boomer days of factual entertainment comics such as Look and Learn and Tell Me Why, these extremely enticing books promise – and resoundingly deliver – a measured and informative window on a most complex and potentially daunting maze of past-and-present Stuff To Know and do it with great charm and efficiency.

More Please!

First Names: Emmeline Pankhurst Text © Haydn Kaye 2018 and illustrations © Michael Cotton-Russell 2018. All rights reserved.
First Names: Elon Musk Text © Tracey Turner 2018 and illustrations © Mike Smith 2018. All rights reserved.

First Names: Emmeline Pankhurst and First Names: Elon Musk will be published on August 2nd and are available for pre-order now.

Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale


By Oliver Postgate & Peter Firmin (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1- 4052-8152-2 (King)                 978-1- 4052-8153-9 (Whale)

I had originally prepared these reviews as part of a forthcoming week of TV-related books and graphic novels but, following the news of the death of the wonderful Peter Firmin on July 1st, I found myself feeling painfully bereft and quite woeful.

So, just because I want to and as a public acknowledgement of the gifts of a brilliant creator who shaped my entire life (as well as so many millions of others), there is a change to today’s scheduled viewing…

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

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

After producing backgrounds for Postgate’s Alexander the Mouse and The Journey of Master Ho, Firmin became a full-partner in new venture Smallfilms, which would be based in a shed at the artist’s Canterbury home. The kindred spirits initially produced hand-drawn cartoons and eventually stop motion animation episodes for series including Ivor the Engine, The Saga of Noggin the Nog, Pogle’s Wood/The Pogles, Bagpuss and The Clangers. Postgate wrote, voiced and filmed whilst Firmin drew, painted, built sets and made puppets.

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

Throughout his life, Firmin continued his cartooning and illustration career. This included writing and/or illustrating a number of books such as Basil Brush Goes Flying, The Winter Diary of a Country Rat, Nina’s Machines and Seeing Things – An Autobiography as well as working as a printmaker and engraver, designer and educator. In 1994 Firmin was asked to create a British postage stamp and produced a magnificent offering featuring Noggin and the Ice Dragon.

Even at their most productive and overworked, Postgate and Firmin always ensured there was plenty of ancillary product such as Christmas Annuals, comic strips and spin-off books, games and puzzles for their devoted young fans. Between 1965 and 1973 Postgate and Firmin crafted a series of books in an early-reader format featuring the further adventures of the Nicest Norseman of Them All…

Recently re-issued in superb hardcover editions perfect for tiny hands, the first two are Noggin the King and Noggin and the Whale, both originally released in 1965; a brace of charming, gently humorous escapades starring the TV cast and beautifully illustrated in a variety of duo-toned line-&-colour with wit and subtle charm by the irrepressible Firmin.

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

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

Noggin the King opens with bucolic pastoral scenes of the Nogs and the good-hearted sovereign helping his people however he can. However, whilst happily repairing the roof of an old farmer, the ruler dislodges a bird’s nest. Bringing the nest and its occupants back to his castle, he cares for the fledglings and mother and wonders if he is also the King of birds in the Land of Nogs. If he is then they are his subjects too and thus he is responsible for their safety and welfare.

Riven with doubt, the King then sets out on a short quest with Nooka beside him to confirm his suspicions and is rewarded by the feathered kingdom with a great but grave new honour…

Noggin and the Whale offers a far more light-hearted aspect of kingship as the mild monarch celebrates his birthday in the usual manner: doling out gifts to all the children of his realm. This year they all get musical instruments, but when they hold an impromptu concert on a boat in the little walled harbour, the merriment is interrupted by a most insistent whale.

Every time the kids get going the cetacean surges up under the boat and eventually even placid Noggin loss his temper and orders the sea-beast to swim away.

Instead it glides over to the open harbour gate and sulkily blocks the way just as the fishing boats are trying to moor up for the night. Nothing the townsfolk can do will shift the surly creature.

Suddenly Prince Knut has an idea. He realises why the whale has been acting so strangely and, after consulting with his father, commissions Royal Inventor Olaf the Lofty to create a unique present for the morose marine mammal…

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

Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Volume 1

By Walt Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-869-5

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as both artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on shorts and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take a side, Kelly moved back East and began drawing comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics, who had the Disney funnybook license.

Despite his glorious work on such humanistic classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy (see Walt Kelly’s Santa Claus Adventures) and created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum for Animal Comics #1 (December 1942). He sagaciously retained the copyrights in the ongoing tale of two Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal pals stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly became art editor and cartoonist for the hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast began their careers in the funny pages, appearing six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run – reprinted in full at the back of this magnificent tome – the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to be seen…

This first of twelve volumes follows the ascent of the scintillating and vastly influential strip; don’t believe me, just listen to Gary Trudeau, Berke Breathed, Bill Watterson, Jeff McNally, Bill Holbrook, Mark O’Hare, Alan Moore, Jeff Smith and even Goscinny & Uderzo and our own Maurice Dodd & Dennis Collins, whose wonderful strip The Perishers owes more than a little to the sublime antics of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry…

After the Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate and launched on May 16th 1949. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family…).

At its peak the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections which began in 1951 numbered nearly 50, collectively selling 30 million copies.

This volume includes all the Star strips, the Dailies from inception to December 30th 1950, and the Sundays – in a full colour section – from January 29th – December 31st 1950, plus a wealth of supplementary features including a Foreword from columnist Jimmy Breslin, an introduction by biographer Steve Thompson, a week-by-week highly detailed contents section, a useful guide ‘About the Sundays’ by Mark Evanier, and an invaluable context and historical notes feature ‘Swanp Talk’ by the amazing R.C. Harvey.

Kelly’s genius was the ability to beautifully, vivaciously draw comedic, tragic, pompous, sympathetic characters of any shape or breed and make them inescapably human and he used that gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered, slimy folk depicted here are inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodge-podge of all-ages accessible delight.

In later volumes Kelly would set his bestial cast loose on such timid, defenceless victims as Senator Joe McCarthy, J.Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, but he starts off small here, introducing the gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (not) know-it-all Howland Owl and a host of others in gags and extended epics ranging from assorted fishing trips, building an Adam Bomb, losing and finding other people’s children, electioneering, education, kidnapping, the evil influence of comicbooks, Baseball season, why folks shouldn’t eat each other, Western cow punchers, cows punching back, New Years Resolutions, public holidays and so much more…

The Sundays also began with one-off gags but soon evolved into convoluted and mesmeric continued sagas such as the search for the Fountain of Youth, building a school and keeping it filled, Albert being elected Queen of the Woodland by the elf-like forest fauns – and why that was ultimately a very bad thing indeed…

Timeless and magical, Pogo is a giant of world literature, not simply comics, and this magnificent edition should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf.

POGO Through the Wild Blue Wonder and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2011 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2011 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Super Powers by Jack Kirby


By Jack Kirby with Joey Cavalieri, Paul Kupperberg, Adrian Gonzalez, Pablo Marcos, Alan Kupperberg, Greg Theakston & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7140-4

Famed for his larger than life characters and gigantic, cosmic imaginings, Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was an astute, imaginative, spiritual man who lived through poverty and gangsterism, the Great Depression, Post-War optimism, Cold War paranoia, political cynicism and the birth and death of peace-seeking counter-cultures. He was open-minded and utterly wedded to the making of comics stories on every imaginable subject. He also always believed that sequential narrative was worthy of being published as real books right beside mankind’s other literary art forms.

Looks like he was right, and – as usual – just ahead of the times, doesn’t it?

Thanks to his recent centenary there’s a magnificent abundance of Kirby commemorative collections around these days (though still not all of it, so I remain a partially disgruntled dedicated fan). This particular trade paperback and eBook compendium re-presents The King’s last complete conceptual outing for DC and one that has been neglected by fans for far too long.

During the 1980s costumed heroes stopped being an exclusively print cash cow as big toy companies licensed Fights ‘n’ Tights titans and reaped the benefits of ready-made comicbook spin-offs. DC’s most recognizable characters became a best-selling line of action figures and were inevitably hived off into a brisk and breezy, fight-frenzied miniseries.

Super Powers launched in July 1984 as a 5-issue miniseries with Kirby covers and his signature Fourth World characters prominently represented. Jack also plotted the stellar saga with scripter Joey Cavalieri providing dialogue, as Adrian Gonzales & Pablo Marcos illustrated a heady cosmic quest comprising numerous inconclusive battles between agents of Good and Evil.

Eschewing any preamble, we hurtle straight into action with ‘Power Beyond Price!’, as ultimate cosmic nemesis Darkseid despatches four Emissaries of Doom to destroy Earth’s superheroes. Sponsoring and empowering Lex Luthor, The Penguin, Brainiac and The Joker, the Dark God’s emissaries and their stooges jointly target Superman, Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman and Hawkman

The combat escalates in #2’s ‘Clash Against Chaos’ with the Man of Steel and Scarlet Speedster tackling Luthor, whilst Aquaman and Green Lantern scupper the Penguin. Meanwhile Dark Knight and Winged Wonder confront an astoundingly-enhanced Harlequin of Hate…

With Alan Kupperberg inking #3, an inconclusive outcome leads to a regrouping of evil and an attack by Brainiac on Paradise Island, as in ‘Amazons at War’ the Justice League rally until Superman is devolved into a brutal beast who attacks his former allies.

All-out battle ensues in ‘Earth’s Last Stand’ before King Kirby steps up to write and illustrate the fateful finale: a cosmos-shaking conclusion designated ‘Spaceship Earth – We’re All on It!’ (November 1984, with Greg Theakston suppling inks)…

A bombastic Super Powers Promotional Poster then leads into the second Super Powers miniseries, spanning September 1985 to February 1986.

Scripted by Paul Kupperberg, the Kirby/Theakston saga ‘Seeds of Doom!’ recounts how deadly Darkseid despatches techno-organic bombs to destroy Earth, a diabolical deed requiring practically every DC hero to unite to counter the threat.

With teams of Super Powers travelling to England, Rome, New York, Easter Island and Arizona the danger is magnified ‘When Past and Present Meet!’ as the seeds warp time and send Aquaman and Martian Manhunter J’onn J’onzz back to days of King Arthur

Super Powers #3 (November 1985) finds Red Tornado, Hawkman and Green Arrow plunged back 75 million years in ‘Time Upon Time Upon Time!’ even as Doctor Fate, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman are trapped in 1087 AD, battling stony-faced giant aliens on Easter Island.

Superman and Firestorm discover ‘There’s No Place Like Rome!’ as they battle Darkseid’s agent Steppenwolf in the first century whilst Batman, Robin and Flash visit a far-flung future where Earth is the new Apokolips in #5’s ‘Once Upon Tomorrow’.

Eventually Earth’s scattered but indomitable champions converge on Luna to spectacularly squash the schemes-within-schemes of ‘Darkseid of the Moon!’

Jack Kirby was and remains unique and uncompromising: his words and pictures comprise an unparalleled, hearts-and-minds grabbing delight no comics lover can possibly resist. If you’re not a fan or simply not prepared to see for yourself what all the fuss has been about then no words of mine will change your mind.

That doesn’t alter the fact that Kirby’s life’s work from 1937 to his death in 1994 shaped the entire American comics scene – and indeed the entire comics planet – affecting the lives of billions of readers and thousands of creators in all areas of artistic endeavour for generations. Most tellingly, he is still winning new fans and apostles every day, from the young and naive to the most cerebral of intellectuals. His work is instantly accessible, irresistibly visceral, deceptively deep and simultaneously mythic and human.

He is the King and there will never be another.
© 1984, 1985, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Adventures of Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh


By Hergé & various; translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-803-1 (HB)                    : 978-1-40520-615-0 (PB)

By the time Georges Remi began Tintin’s fourth serialised adventure – in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme from December 1932 to February 1934 and gathered in a collected volume by Casterman in 1934 – he was well on the way to mastery of his art but was still growing as a writer.

Although the periodical format meant that a certain degree of slapstick and seemingly directionless action was necessary to keep the attention of the reader, Remi (known the world over as Hergé) was evolving by leaps and bounds, mastering the ability to integrate these set-piece elements into the building of a complete narrative.

Cigars of the Pharaoh is stylistically much more of a fully-realised and craftily-designed thriller, with a solid plot underpinning all the episodic hi-jinks.

Following directly on from Tintin in America, here the valiant boy reporter is returning from Chicago on an oceangoing liner headed to Egypt. Here he and Snowy meet Sophocles Sarcophagus – the first in a string of absent-minded professors which would ultimately culminate in the outlandishly irascible yet lovable Cuthbert Calculus.

Dithering archaeologist Sarcophagus has divined an ancient mystery that is somehow connected to a ring of ruthless drug smugglers. Tintin memorably encounters bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson at this juncture, when narcotics are planted in his cabin, and a complex drama riotously unfolds as the lad and Sarcophagus discover a lost pyramid is not only the smuggler’s base but the foundation for a much darker game – the overthrow of nations!

Hergé introduced many other recurring and supporting characters in this tale. As well as the shambling policemen, there is the villainous seaman Captain Allan, globe-girdling small-trader Oliveira da Figueira and oily movie mogul Roberto Rastapopoulos, who would all figure strongly in later stories.

The author was gearing up for the long creative haul, and thus began inserting plot-seeds that would only flower in future projects…

When Tintin’s relentless investigations take him to India, where the villains are attempting to topple a Maharajah trying to destroy the Opium poppy industry, the plucky lad befriends the potentate and thwarts the plan of a crazed Fakir. This villain frequently employs a drug called Rajaijah, which permanently drives men mad, and is also somehow connected to the Egyptian gang.

The contemporary version of this tale was revised by Hergé in 1955, and sharp-eyed fans will spot a few apparent anachronisms, but the more open-minded will be able to unashamedly wallow in a timeless comedy-thriller of exotic intrigue and breakneck action.

Although the mystery of the Cigars of the Pharaoh ends satisfactorily with a climactic duel in the rugged and picturesque hill-country, the threat and relevance of Rajaijah would not be resolved until Hergé’s next tale, and his first masterpiece…

It’s hard to imagine that comics as marvellous as these still haven’t found their way onto everybody’s bookshelf, but if you are one of this underprivileged underclass, this lush series of hardback collections is a very satisfying way of rectifying that sorry situation. So why haven’t you..?
The Cigars of the Pharaoh: artwork © 1955, 1983 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. Text © 1971 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.