Pass Me By: Gone Fishing and Pass Me By: Electric Vice



By Kyle Simmers & Ryan Danny Owen, with Derek Simmers (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-359-0 eISBN 978-1-98890-371-2 (Gone Fishing)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-385-9 eISBN 978-1-98890-385-8 (Electric Vice)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Enchanting and Chilling Exploration of Life at the End… 9/10

Once upon a time, comics were all thud & blunder action or spoofing slapstick shenanigans. I will always have a soft spot for those Good Old Days, but the world has moved on and is now a far more complex place with more sophisticated and variegated demands.

Oddly, that’s one of the underlying themes in a gently beguiling, award-winning graphic narrative sequence that began in 2019 with the release of Pass Me By: Gone Fishing – a bittersweet human-scaled reverie constructed by visual artist, author and Queer historian Ryan Danny Owen & artist/illustrator Kyle Simmers.

Both are Canadian and their collaboration is very much in the manner of the perceived national character: the kind of funny, weird, no-holds-barred, heartbreaking yet civil, decent human drama Canadian creators are so adept at pulling off (check out movies and shows like Men With Brooms, Slings and Arrows or Bon Cop, Bad Cop if you need further clarification of the easy je ne se quoi, we’re talking about…).

In a rural Northern Canadian town, old Ed is getting used to some distressing news. After the life he’s led and the things he’s done, it’s hard to adapt to his recent dementia diagnosis. As his innermost history, mental faculties and simple patience daily slip away, the few folk he’s allowed to get close try to watch over him, but that’s never been Ed’s way.

Increasingly, with the demands of his existence pressing in on him, Ed’s mind turns to the past he’s resolutely avoided and tried to forget; the travelling; the men he’s loved and the music he played… but some things can’t be erased by time, distance or desire…

Second volume Pass Me By: Electric Vice picks up the story in 1973 via a deferred coming-of-age/out event as a young, frustrated and confused country musician playing local bars and dives is lured away by an androgenous minor god of the glam rock circuit.

Ed has never met anyone like Lou or the bizarre assemblage of ambivalent personalities comprising Electric Vice. Despite being wracked with doubt, Ed jumps when Lou offers him a spot in the band, and they tour north America, making what then seemed like unforgettable memories…

Now, he can’t tell if it was opportunity or love that made him go and made him stay. Decades later, poor brain-addled old Ed is drowning in memories and still confused when life hits him hard yet again as Lou turns up like a tarnished bad penny…

Compelling, wry and cheerily laconic , this is a slyly seductive paean to being human and the obsession with our “Glory Days”, but conceals an emotional knockout punch ready to slip past your so-sophisticated, drama-hardened heart. Pass Me By allows its characters room to act and lets the pictures tell a simple but captivating story. Kyle Simmers’ illustration is straightforward with a winning charm, always promising more and even better to come.

I just can’t wait…

© 2019, 2021 Kyle Simmers and Ryan Danny Owen. All rights reserved.

Catalyst


By Asia Alfasi, Charlotte Bailey, Jason Chuang, Dominique Duong, Catherine Anyango Grünewald, Shuning Ji, Pris Lemons, Sonia Leong, Calico N.M., Tyrell Osborne & Woodrow Phoenix, edited by Ayoola Solarin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-91142-402-7 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartfelt, Fantastic, Full-on and Unmissable… 8/10

At its best, the comics biz is companionable, collegiate, welcoming and wonderfully supportive. We all like to help each other along, especially if the end result is more and better stories for all. That even extends to the publishing and managerial arena, as seen here with this anthology of tales resulting from SelfMadeHero’s 2021 Graphic Anthology Programme, which was set up to tutor and mentor emergent talent from diverse backgrounds. The first intake were all people of colour and the broadest range of backgrounds and life experience.

As explained in the introductory Editor and Publisher’s Letter by Ayoola Solarin & Emma Hayley preceding 11 extremely enthralling pictorial yarns, this tome results from a 12-week training course, for which seven participants and their assigned mentors produced many 8-page graphic short stories based on a specific theme: “Catalyst”.

The phenomenally far-ranging works are subdivided into ‘Dissolution’, ‘Reaction’ and ‘Repercussion’, with the entire catalogue of imaginative wonders bookended by extensive biographies of the creators, mentors and Editorial Team.

Dissolution opens with a chilling view of the potential pitfalls of video conferencing in Catherine Anyango Grünewald’s ‘The Host’, after which Shuning Ji reveals horrors hidden in ‘The Camera’ and Jason Chuang offers a disturbing view of public transport interactions in truly disturbing vignette ‘The Guessing Game’.

Tyrell Osborne then wraps up the openers with a quiet stroll through a very off-kilter London and some introspective dilemmas satisfactorily solved in ‘Same Tall Tale’

Under the aegis of Reaction, Pris Lemons indulges some internal investigation in party tale ‘Orbital Decay’ whilst Sonia Leong shares her love of manga and search for creative camaraderie and approval in ‘Just Like Me’. Calico N.M. then whimsically explores natal wonders and fantastic beasts in ‘Because I’ve Got All Of You’ before we move on to final revelations in Repercussion.

Dominique Duong sets the ball rolling as ‘One Small Thing’ chillingly exposes the monster within, before Asia Alfasi beguiles with an Arabian tale of traditional versus hereditary storytelling gifts in ‘Happily Never After’ after which Charlotte Bailey amazes and amuses with a mesmerising love affair and marriage of ultimate opposites in ‘Cetea & Clay’.

Concluding on a true high, the small sagas cease with ‘Convolute’ by the inimitable Woodrow Phoenix, revealing how the true saviours and secret stars of the 1960s space race was a team of seamstresses led by forgotten black hero Hazel Fellows

Offering a hand up or a way in is something we can all do, and the rewards are enormous and never-ending. When it also results in superb storytelling and the first full flexing of creative mettle its practically a civil duty to encourage more.

Do that. Buy this.
All stories and artwork © their respective creators. All rights reserved.

Knock Out! – The True Story of Emile Griffith


By Reinhard Kleist, translated by Michael Waaler (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-91059-386-8 (TPB)

Fairness and Justice are human constructs that afford many opportunities to prove that the universe works on other principles. Ritualized combat – like boxing – seeks to even out the most egregious imbalances between contestants to provide a balanced and equitable battle, but no amount of rule-making and legislation can shield participants from society, the environment they live in or the genetic heritage that shaped them.

Multi-award-winning German illustrator, designer, author, cartoonist and comics maker Reinhard Kleist (Berlinoir; Steeplechase; Das Grauen im Gemäuer) has been working in the industry since 1994: setting up a cooperative studio/atelier and beginning his professional career with graphic biography Lovecraft, and supernal dramas Minna, Das Festmahl, and Abenteuer eines Weichenstellers while still a student in Münster.

He has constantly explored and gratified his fascination with notable individuals who have overcome stacked odds and inner darkness in stellar works such as Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness; Elvis – An Illustrated Biography; Castro; An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusaf Omar and Nick Cave: Mercy on Me.

Here his powerfully moody yet joyous exuberant monochrome stylings recount the amazing life of a born fighter who triumphs in the best storybook traditions, whilst never deviating from the inescapable chains of history or escaping the sordid realms of real life…

Even if they’ve heard of him, most boxing fans don’t talk about Emile Alphonse Griffith. Born in the US Virgin Islands in 1938, Emile was black, poorly educated and endured abuse at home before moving to America. In 1956, while working in a New York hat factory, his foreman – a former boxing coach – noticed his astounding physique and encouraged the affable easy-going kid to try boxing as a way to improve his financial woes.

Although Emile preferred ping-pong, singing and making hats (later, at the height of his fame, Emile designed hats for women and made upbeat pop records), he went along with his white mentor. Turning Pro in 1958, Emile was soon a Golden Gloves winner and World Champion in the Welterweight, Junior Middleweight and Middleweight categories.

At that time in America, the sporting barriers to black boxers were mostly gone, but Emile laboured under another “handicap” – he slept with men and didn’t particularly care who knew about it.

Just like showbiz and popular entertainer Liberace, Emile’s status was an “open secret” in the 1960s Boxing community, which maintained a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality, but that only went so far in the days before the game-changing Stonewall Riots (look it up if you have to – its important). The happy-go-lucky pugilist’s privileged status evaporated after the third of three fights with Cuban Benny Paret, whom Emile defeated to become World Champion, before losing the rematch.

In 1962, they met one final time. After Paret taunted Griffith with homosexual and racial slurs, the match was a savage and unrelenting bout that resulted in the death of Paret…

However, that’s simply the first act of this tale, which follows Griffith – who was allowed to continue boxing until 1977 – as he confounded critics and bigots, breaking down barriers and living a full and extremely varied life… as much as his troubled conscience would allow.

This is a supremely uplifting story of triumph and tragedy which shows just how meaningless such concepts are outside of fiction. It’s a happy-sad example of how life goes on in a personal and macroscopic manner until it just ends: and it successfully argues that all you can do is the best you can…

Available in paperback and digital editions and supported by a Preface from Kleist acknowledging his influences and debt to Griffith biographer Ron Ross; Jonathan W. Gray’s context-enlightening Foreword ‘The Sweet Science and Open Secrets’ and a socio-cultural appraisal of Emile and other gay black boxers by Tatjana Eggeling (European Ethnologist and expert on Homophobia in Sports) plus a superb gallery of sketches and working drawings by Kleist, this is an unqualified hit that resonates far beyond the square ring and the closeted environs of LGBTQIA+ literature. It’s a surefire winner for everyone.
© Text and illustrations 2019 CARLSEN Verlag GmbH, Hamburg, Germany. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero. All rights reserved.

Love Me Please – The Story of Janis Joplin (1943-1970)


By Nicolas Finet, Christopher & Degreff: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-681122-76-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-681122-77-9

The list of people who lived hard, died young and changed the world is small but still, somehow, painfully overcrowded. Possibly the most tragic, influential, yet largely unknown is a born rule-breaking rebel who defied all conventions and became almost inevitably THE icon of doomed youth-with-big-dreams everywhere…

Author, filmmaker, journalist, publisher, educator and music documentarian Nicolas Finet has worked in comics for more than three decades and also generated a bucketload of reference works – such as Mississippi Ramblin’ and Forever Woodstock. His collaborator on that last one was veteran author, journalist and illustrator Christopher (The Long and Winding Road; many other music-centred tomes and adaptor of Bob Dylan).

Their compelling treatise on misunderstood and self-destructive Janis – just like her music, poetry and art – is something to experience, not read about, but I’ll do my best to convince you anyway…

After a quick dip into early life and influences, the story proper opens in Texas in 1947 as ‘Forget Port Arthur’ zeroes in on key childhood traumas and revelations around the homelife and schooling of little Janis Lyn Joplin at the start of the most culturally chaotic and transformative period in American history…

Brilliant, multi-talented, sexually ambiguous, starved for love whilst desperately directionless, her metamorphosis through Blues music mirrors that of many contemporaries (a fair few of whom comprise the infamous “27 Club” of stars who died young). However, as this book shows, although something indefinable was always just out of Joplin’s reach, her response was never to passively accept or ever surrender…

After wildly rebellious teen years, an uncomfortable educational life, a brief brush with conventional conformity and a near-lethal counter-culture encounter in San Francisco – as detailed in ‘The Temptation of Disaster’ – her meteoric rise in the era of flower power, liberal love and drug experimentation and record company exploitation lead to her return to California and triumphant breakthrough in 1966, all carried along by ‘Spells and Charms’

Stardom with hot band Big Brother and the Holding Company, a host of legendary encounters and even greater personal dissipation makes wild child into living myth at Monterey and other landmarks of the Summer of Love, before success and acceptance prove to be her darkest nightmare in ‘Lost and Distraught’

Global stardom and media glorification are balanced by heartbreak, betrayal and too-many brushes with death. As Woodstock confirms her status and talent to the world, the landscape inside her head turns against Janis. Endless exhausting tours and brief amorous encounters further destabilise the girl within and the end – when it comes – is no surprise to anyone…

With a moving Preface from comics legend and childhood friend Gilbert Shelton, a huge and star-studded Character Gallery and suggested Further Reading and Viewing, this forthright, no-nonsense yet extremely imaginative interpretation of the too-short flowering of “the Rose” offers insight but no judgement into a quintessentially complex, contradictory and uncompromised life…

NBM’s library of graphic biographies are swiftly becoming the crucial guide to the key figures of modern history and popular culture. If you haven’t found the answers you’re seeking yet, then you’re clearly not looking in the right place…
© Hatchette Livre (Marabout) 2020. © 2021 NBM for the English translation. All rights reserved.

Love Me Please – The Story of Janis Joplin 1943-1970 is scheduled for release on July 15th 2021 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Domesticity Isn’t Pretty – a Leonard & Larry Collection


By Tim Barela (Palliard Press)
ISBN: 978-1-88456-800-8 (Album PB)

In an era where Pride events are just another way to hold up traffic and where acceptance of LGBTQIA+ citizens is a given – at least in all the civilised countries where organised religions and “hard men” totalitarian dictators (I’m laughing at a private dirty joke right now) are kept in their place by their desperation to stay tax-exempt, rich and powerful – Gay themes and scenes in entertainment are ubiquitous and simply No Big Deal anymore.

That’s a good thing but was not always the case. In fact, it has only changed within the span of (my) living memory. For English-language comics, the change from simple illicit pornography to homosexual inclusion in all drama, comedy, adventure and other genres started as late as the 1970s and matured in the 1980s, thanks to the efforts of editors like Robert Triptow and Andy Mangels and cartoonists like Tim Barela.

A native of Los Angeles, Barela was born in 1954, and became a fundamentalist Christian in High School. He had dreams of becoming a cartoonist and loved motorbikes. He was also a gay kid struggling to come to terms with what was still judged illegal, wilful deviancy and appalling sin…

Following an appreciative Foreword from John Preston, author, critic, journalist, producer, media-maven and former Gay Comix editor Andy Mangels’ Introduction tracks the history and evolution of the characters who eventually gelled into Barela’s extended Leonard & Larry clan.

In 1976, Barela began an untitled comic strip about working in a bike shop for Cycle News. Some characters then reappeared in later efforts Just Puttin (Biker, 1977-1978); Short Strokes (Cycle World, 1977-1979); Hard Tale(Choppers, 1978-1979) plus The Adventures of Rickie Racer, The Adventures of Rickie Racer and cooking strip (!) The Puttin Gourmet… America’s Favorite Low-Life Epicurean in Biker Lifestyle and FTW News.

In 1980, the cartoonist unsuccessfully pitched a domestic strip called Ozone to LGBT news periodical The Advocate. Among the quotidian cast were literal and metaphorical straight man Rodger and openly gay Leonard Goldman who had a “roommate” named Larry Evans

Gay Comix was an irregularly published anthology, edited at that time by Underground star Robert Triptow (Strip AIDs U.S.A.; Class Photo). He advised Barela to ditch the restrictive newspaper strip format in favour of longer complete episodes, and printed the first of these in Gay Comix #5 in 1984. The new feature was a huge success, included in many successive issues and became the solo star of Gay Comix Special #1 in 1992.

L&L also showed up in prestigious benefit comic Strip AIDs U.S.A. before triumphantly moving into The Advocate in 1988, and from 1990, its rival Frontiers. The lads even moved into live drama in 1994: adapted by Theatre Rhinoceros of San Francisco as part of stage show Out of the Inkwell.

Following all the warmly informative background and wonderful examples of those earlier strip ventures, this wonderfully oversized (220 x 280 mm) monochrome tome then divides the main feature into specific periods, beginning with ‘Early Stories from Gay Comix, and opening with the Strip AIDs U.S.A. tale ‘Hi there, We’re the Gay Neighbors’.

Actual introductory yarn ‘Revenge of the Yenta’ comes from Gay Comix #5, setting the scene with established couple Leonard & Larry navigating another meal with Leonard’s formidable unaccepting mother who is still ambushing him with blind dates and nice Jewish girls…

‘Lovers and Other Uninvited Guests’ focuses on a dinner party disaster which includes Leonard’s outrageous former lover Dennis and his new man Leon meeting Larry’s ex-wife Sharon and her Christian Moral Majority champion/fiancé Gordon

‘…Till Tricks Do Us Part.’ features Gordon’s shock return as a fully out-&-proud leatherboy cruiser, stalking Larry from his exotic good store on Melrose Avenue to his favourite gay clubs in search of all the experiences and passion he’s been denying himself…

A parental milestone is reached and botched during a visitation weekend for Larry’s teenaged sons Richard and David. ‘Chocolate Chip Cookies and Sympathy’ is required when Larry finds (hetero) porn in oldest son’s room and braces himself to have “the Talk”. Thankfully, Leonard is there to offer back-up…

An untitled tale provides an origin as L&L celebrate Leonard’s birthday and eight years as a couple, after which ‘Little Victories’ leavens the comedy with contemporary reality as the guys discuss the loss of a friend to a lethal new disease…

As well as featuring a multi-generational cast, Leonard & Larry is a strip that progresses in real time, with characters all aging and developing accordingly. ‘From the pages of The Advocate spans 1988-1990 with episodes covering the couple’s home and work lives, constant parties, physical deterioration, social gaffes, rows, family revelations, holidays and even events like earthquakes and fanciful prognostications such as ‘West Hollywood 1999’; with the now-decrepit pair whining about the old days…

Rounding off this initial compilation, ‘Recent Stories from Frontiers Magazine’ particularly highlights how the world goes on without regard for personal feelings as one of Larry’s kids comes out and the other makes them grandparents. The couple’s friends and clients win larger roles and offer other perspectives on LA life and the ever-evolving gay scene. Larry stumbles into commercial conflict with an expansionist storekeeper who wants his store at any cost, and time plays its cruellest tricks on many key players who must re-evaluate their activities and fashion choices, erotic and otherwise….

We meet Larry’s no-nonsense-but-painfully-sheltered mom and dad Earl and Wilma; enjoy another take on inclusion and – during a long-dreaded High School reunion – learn some deliciously entertaining facts about Leonard in the days before he accepted his attraction to men. That leads to a delightful seasonal yarn that finally reunites his large, long-warring painfully-buttoned-down Jewish family. Moreover, as Larry’s 40th birthday looms, the couple’s already rich dream life goes into overdrive as religious icons and beloved dead composers come calling with rest-rending dilemmas.

…And through it all, the real world always intrudes, as when flamboyant engineer Frank Freeman loses his aerospace job because his “lifestyle” is considered a security risk by the Federal government or when publicity hungry religious zealots picket Larry’s shop…

The strips are not and never have been about sex – except in that the subject is a constant generator of hilarious jokes and outrageously embarrassing situations. Leonard & Larry is a traditionally domestic marital sitcom soap opera with Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz – or more aptly, Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore – replaced by a hulking bearded “bear” with biker, cowboy and leather fetishes and a stylishly moustachioed, no-nonsense fashion photographer. Taken in total, it’s a love story about growing old together, but not gracefully or with any dignity…

Populated by adorable, fully fleshed out characters and in a generational saga about being yourself, Leonard & Larry is an irresistible slice of gentle whimsy to nourish the spirit and beguile the jaded. Four volumes of the strip were compiled by Palliard Press between 1993 and 2003 – all long overdue for rerelease and in properly curated digital editions – but until then you can at least take your Walk on the Mild Side through internet vendors. And you should…
Domesticity Isn’t Pretty © 1993 Palliard Press. All artwork and strips © 1993 Tim Barela. Foreword © 1993 John Preston. Introduction © 1993 Andy Mangels. All rights reserved.

You Brought Me the Ocean


By Alex Sanchez, Julie Maroh & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9081-8 (TPB)

In recent years DC has opened up its shared superhero universe to generate Original Graphic Novels featuring its stars in stand-alone(ish) adventures for the demographic clumsily dubbed Young Adult. To date, results have been rather hit or miss, but when they’re good they are very good indeed…

An ideal example is You Brought Me the Ocean, which reinterprets the origin of modern day Aqualad, concentrating on the comic book character’s Gay credentials rather than his costumed career.

Crafted by Alex Sanchez (Rainbow Boys; So Hard to Say; The God Box; The Greatest Superpower) and Julie Maroh (Blue is the Warmest Color; Body Music) and available in paperback and eBook editions, this dreamily-rendered, salty sea tale details the graduating year of High School student Jake Hyde who lives in the driest part of New Mexico but dreams of deep-sea kingdoms and fantastic marine adventure.

His mother is a constant worrier: always telling him to eat properly, dress appropriately and stay hydrated. Ironically though, ever since his all-but-forgotten dad drowned years ago, she has never let him near large bodies of water… or even allowed him to swim…

Always a loner, Jake’s absolute best friend in the one-horse town of Truth or Consequences (formerly Hot Springs, NM) is Maria Mendez. She has already mapped out their future together and has no idea he yearns for the nautical life and has already applied to University of Miami to study Oceanography…

The Mendez’s are neighbours and a second family, and far more amenable to Jake’s aspirations of leaving New Mexico, whilst his own mother shuts down every attempt to discuss the issue. She’s far more concerned with why Jake and Maria haven’t started dating yet. Sadly, Jake has never – ever – thought of her that way and has resigned himself to going it alone if he wants to realise his ambitions…

One day, things change dramatically as Jake suddenly notices class rebel Kenny Liu. He’s known the strange, outspoken outsider since Middle School, but has stayed well away – painfully aware of the target the outsider’s actions made him. Now though, the bully-defying, openly-Gay swim team star-athlete seems irresistibly fascinating…

And apparently, the interest is mutual…

Life changes forever when Jake agrees to accompany Kenny on a hike into the desert. The far more mature misfit has plenty of solid advice – on Maria, leaving town and life choices – but all that is forgotten when a sudden flash-flood interrupts their first kiss and activates tattoo-like birthmarks all over Jake’s body. Suddenly, he starts to glow and project water-manipulating energies…

With Jake’s world suddenly shaken to flotsam and jetsam, shock follows shock and calamity arrives in its wake. Jake’s attempts to explore his sexuality bring heartbreak and chaos, but even that’s dwarfed when he comes out to his mom and learns the truth about his father and how he is connected to both superhero Aquaman and one of the most dangerous villains on Earth…

Moreover, in the throes of these astounding revelations and an irresistible attraction, it’s too easy to forget that not only metahuman maniacs respond with bigotry and mindless violence to what they deem “unnatural”…

A truly magical treatment exploring the processes of coming out and finding yourself, deftly cloaked in the shiny trappings of costumed heroics, the search for belonging and teen feelings of alienation, You Brought Me the Ocean is an intriguing tale to warm the heart and comes with a contact page detailing Resources available to those affected by the issues herein; personal messages from Sanchez and Maroh and an extensive section of designs and drawings from the illustrator’s Sketchbook.
© 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

O Human Star volume One


By Blue Delliquanti (Blue Delliquanti)
ISBN: 978-0-9909956-0-9 (TPB)

Sexuality and identity appear to be inextricably conjoined. We’re not quite there yet in the disappointingly real world, but fiction and fantasy have extensively explored the potential ramifications and repercussions of the topic, and none more so or as stylishly as self-identified non-binary creator Blue Delliquanti (Meal; Smut Peddler; The Sleep of Reason & Beyond) in compelling voyage of personal discovery O Human Star.

The epic tale launched as a weekly webcomic on January 25th 2012 and ran until 27th August 2020, with the first collection (compiling chapters 1-3 in paperback and digital formats) released in book and digital formats in 2015.

The plot premise is potently simple and delivered through a complex network of enticingly engaging characters, beginning as mystery with ‘His Own Image’ wherein inventor Alastair Sterling dies alone and wakes up 16 years later. In the future, robotic lifeforms are simply part of the world, “Synthetic Beings” who comprise everything from simple manufacturing tools to fully autonomous independent individuals.

Apparently, Sterling’s discoveries changed everything and now his personality has been installed in a fully-artificial replica of his failed body. The creatures who greet him on awakening seem benevolent, and inform that his return has been commissioned by the estate of his former protégé, assistant beneficiary and lover Brendan Pinsky.

Bizarrely, after a fraught reunion with the angry, confused middle-aged guardian and administrator of his legacy, Alastair realises he’s been lied to. Of course, Brendan has tried to revive Sterling in the past, but without success. The who, how and why of the unasked-for true return is a complete – and very suspicious – mystery…

Part of the reason for Brendan’s reticence becomes apparent when a precocious young female synthetic flies into the compound and, with a storm of inexpressible emotions, Alastair realises Sulla is a teenaged girl version of himself…

She didn’t start out that way, though. Originally, the body was a gradually, methodically constructed boy child, but three years previously she chose to become female…

With no place to go, Alastair settles in and attempts to come to terms with an incredible new world, new lives and disappointment and confusion beyond belief…

Chapter Two ‘In the Morning of the Magicians’ finds the aggrieved resurrected man still bewildered as Sulla – desperately seeking his approval – appoints herself his guide and protector. This causes ructions with notional father Brendan who has spent his years trying to restore Alastair, while turning their company – Sterling Inc. – into one of the most powerful organisations on Earth. He also cannot navigate the situation as a flashback draws him back to the day when a shy young MIT graduate first met maverick inventor Alastair Sterling and sparks first flew…

Ostensibly trapped in the big house with his memories and constant unbelievable new experiences, Sterling relives his relationship with Brendan and seeks shards of himself in Sulla until eventually everyone agrees it’s time for him to explore the world his ideas built in concluding chapter ‘Mansions of the Soul’

When corporate duties call Brendan away, Alastair is left with Sulla who treats his growing future shock with rowdy enthusiasm as they tour the city. Dumbfounded, Sterling thinks back to the moment of his greatest breakthroughs, but still cannot decide if that was opening his protective emotional shell and accepting young Brendan as a lover or finding ways to liberate robotic consciousness.

A possible clue then presents itself when he uncharacteristically convinces Sulla to go and join a group of similarly aged human kids and talk to one who has particularly caught her attention…

After an eventful day all around, human and synthetics head home to the safety of the mansion compound, each profoundly changed by their recent interactions and all terrified that further revelations cannot help but spark further transformations…

Powerfully but subtly gripping, and rendered in a mesmerising, manga-influenced style, O Human Star is fundamentally a love story that explores notions of identity, perception, inclusion, gender and the drive to belong via the comfortably familiar cultural neutral zones of science fiction standards and landscapes. It also powerfully pulverises the concept of what “normal” means: using emotional conflict and the apparent quest for factual knowledge to unearth the spiritual data that makes humanity universal.

The series concluded last year and has been collected in three volumes which – just like this one – also offer story extras; behind-the-scenes notes; commentary and design sketches.

Absolutely one of the best graphic novels you’ll ever read, so don’t let this star pass you by.
© 2015 Blue Delliquanti. All rights reserved.

The System


By Peter Kuper (DC-Vertigo/PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-811-1 (PMP HB) 978-1-56389-322-3 (Vertigo TPB)

Artist, storyteller and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland when he was six. There the youngster met fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman and they progressed through the school system together, catching the bug for self-publishing early.

They then attended Kent State University together. On graduation in 1979, they moved to New York and – whilst both studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute – created groundbreaking political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated.

Both separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and through art events, Kuper & Tobocman have championed social causes, highlighted judicial and cultural inequities and spearheaded the use of narrative art as an effective means of political activism.

Many of Kuper’s most impressive works have stemmed from his far-flung travels but at heart he is truly a son of New York, with a huge amount of his work using the city as bit player or star attraction.

In 1993, he created Eye of the BeholderThe New York Times’ first continuing strip – and adapted such modern literary classics as Franz Kafka’s Give It Up! (1995) and The Metamorphosis (2003) to strip form, whilst always creating his own canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the many strings to his bow – and certainly the most high-profile – has been his brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997.

In 1995 he undertook a bold creative challenge for Vertigo (DC’s Mature Reader imprint) by crafting a mute yet fantastically expressive 3-part thriller and swingeing social commentary released under the Vertigo Verité imprint. The System was repackaged and released as a softcover graphic album in 1997 and evolved into a magnificent and lavish hardback edition from PM Press. It now also accessible as an eBook.

Following a moving Preface from the author describing the genesis of the project, Senior News Editor at Publisher’s Weekly, Carl Reid offers an effusive appreciation in ‘Bright Lights, Scary City’ before the truly urban drama begins…

As if relating a beguiling, interlinked portmanteau tale of many lives interweaving and intersecting – and often nastily ending – in the Big City without benefit of word-balloons, captions or sound effects was not challenge enough, Kuper pushed his own storytelling abilities to the limit by constructing his pages and panels from cut stencils, creating the narrative in a form akin to street art.

It is astoundingly immediate, evocative and effective…

A stripper is murdered by a maniac. An old, weary detective ruminates on his failures. A boy and girl from different neighbourhoods find love. A derelict and his dog eke out a precarious daily existence and a beat cop does his rounds, collecting payoffs from the crooked dealers and helpless shopkeepers he’s supposed to protect. Religious zealots harass gay men and an Asian cabbie gets grief from white fares who despise him whilst depending on his services.

The streets rattle with subway trains below and elevated trains above.

Strippers keep dying, children go missing, love keeps going and the airport brings a cruel-faced man with radioactive death in his carry-on luggage…

There are so many million stories in The City and they are all connected through the unceasing urban pulse and incessant, unending forward motion of The System

Clever, compulsive and breathtakingly engrossing, this delicious exercise in dramatic interconnectivity and carefully constructed symbolism is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can be.
© 2014 Peter Kuper. All rights reserved.

Harley Quinn and the Gotham Girls


By Paul D. Storrie, Jennifer Graves & J. Bone with Brad Rader, Rick Burchett & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-9971-2 (TPB)

Harley Quinn wasn’t supposed to be a star… or even an actual comics character. As soon became apparent, however, the manic minx always has her own astoundingly askew and off-kilter ideas on the matter… and any other topic you could name: ethics, friendship, ordnance, coffee…

Created by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm, Batman: The Animated Series aired in the US from September 5th 1992 to September 15th 1995. Ostensibly for kids, the breakthrough television cartoon revolutionised everybody’s image of the Dark Knight and immediately began feeding back into the print iteration, leading to some of the absolute best comicbook tales in the hero’s many decades of existence.

Employing a timeless visual style dubbed “Dark Deco”, the show mixed elements from all iterations of the character and, without diluting the power, tone or mood of the premise, reshaped the grim avenger and his extended team into a wholly accessible, thematically memorable form that the youngest of readers could enjoy, whilst adding shades of exuberance and panache that only the most devout and obsessive Batmaniac could possibly object to…

Harley was initially the Clown Prince of Crime’s slavishly adoring, extreme abuse-enduring assistant, as seen in Joker’s Favor (airing on September 11th 1992). She instantly captured the hearts and minds of millions of viewers and began popping up in the incredibly successful licensed comic book. Always stealing the show, she soon graduated into mainstream DC continuity. Along the circuitous way, Harley – AKA Dr. Harleen Quinzel – developed a support network of sorts in living bioweapon Poison Ivy and a bizarre love/hate relationship with some of Gotham’s other female felons…

After a brief period bopping around the DCU, she was re-imagined as part of the company’s vast post-Flashpoint major makeover: subsequently appearing all over comics as cornerstone of a new iteration of the Suicide Squad, in movies and her own adult-oriented animation series. At heart, however, she’s always been a cartoon glamour-puss, with big, bold, primal emotions and only the merest acknowledgement of how reality works…

Amongst the plethora of comic books generated by the original cartoon show was a smartly sassy romp featuring those aforementioned crime cuties as well as brace of mismatched and openly antithetical law enforcers. Crafted by Paul D. Storrie, Jennifer Graves & J. Bone, 5-issue miniseries Gotham Girls was released between October 2002 and February 2003: opening with ‘Cat’s Paw’ as super-thief Selena Kyle undertakes a commission to steal something nasty from agricultural conglomerate Zehn Chemicals.

She’s still determined to open a lion sanctuary with her fee and doesn’t appreciate when the supposedly simple caper is interrupted by juvenile do-gooder Batgirl. However, as they trade kicks, punches and quips, overworked, under-appreciated and overlooked GCPD detective Renee Montoya is taking a closer look at the supposed victims and sees something dirty…

Then, as Bat and Cat ferociously but inconclusively throw down all over town, the masterminds behind the theft make their move, and it becomes clear that there’s a lot going on that needs to be properly unearthed…

‘Ivy League’ exposes murderous eco-terrorist Pamela Lillian Isley as bankroller of the heist, claiming benevolent motives to reclaim her own property from unscrupulous, world-endangering corporate creeps. However, because her bestest pal Harley is as erratic and excitable as ever, a potential Bat/Cat/Plant-girl/Dingbat alliance is thwarted by mutual mistrust and excessive, utterly unnecessary violence.

Montoya, meanwhile, is diligently following clues, interviewing greedy biologists and uncovering something at rival agri-company Kayle Corporation…

The fast-moving melee ends in leafy Robinson Park, with Batgirl holding the stolen chemicals, until ‘Harlequinade’ sees manic, attention-starved Quinn pull a martial masterstroke, delivering the bio-booty to her disturbingly abusive gal-pal and a heavy defeat to Catwoman and Batgirl. Naturally, that’s just when solid police practice explosively brings Montoya to their secret lair for ‘I Carry a Badge!’

Brilliant deduction and a standard-issue firearm aren’t much use against super-villains and giant carnivorous vines though, so it’s a good thing Batgirl and Catwoman have both independently tracked Harley and Ivy. With action amped to maximum, good girls and bad girls clash yet again, and sides are finally drawn for the climactic conclusion, with frustrated cop and masked vigilante hero united at last and resolved to end the chaos in ‘Bat Attitude’.

Of course, that means not just Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are going to jail…

A superbly riotous rollercoaster ride for kids of all ages, each chapter also deftly explores the interior life, history and motivations of successive stars – offering canny character building and definition most mature-reading tales would be proud to deliver.

Coloured by Patricia Mulvihill, lettered by Phil Felix and with additional layouts by Rick Burchett and Brad Rader, this classy, classically cops ‘n’ robbers riot plays very much like a 1940s movie chapter-play – albeit with outrageous gags, biting dialogue and a blend of black humour and bombastic action. A frantic, frenetic hoot, this is an absolute delight, well worth the price of admission and an irresistible treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.
© 2002, 2020 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Dash: The Case of the Mysterious Zita Makara


By Dave Ebersole, Delia Gable, Vinnie Rico, Sean Von Gorman, Tana Ford, Josh Lester & various (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-1-94-389055-2 (TPB) eISBN 978-1-94-389056-9

The 1930s were a golden age of fantasy fiction, particularly in the genres of pulp adventure, crime stories and supernatural horror. As such it’s a time period accessible to some degree by most modern consumers of escapist entertainment. It was also a time of great hypocrisy, social conservatism – except in the arts and politics – and enforced conformity.

All that gets a great big “So What?” in this deliriously rambunctious melange of mixed media forms wherein writer Dave Ebersole and illustrator Delia Gable finally complete their long-delayed epic tale of boozy, proudly unrepentant queer private eye Dashell Malone, who cautiously negotiates the hostile environment of pre-WWII Los Angeles and outraged former colleagues from the LAPD in search of the mystic horror that destroyed the man he loved…

It all begins in 1940 when exotic and sultry Zita Makara hires him to act as go-between in a shady deal. She is exceptionally unforthcoming with useful details and not a little annoyed at his easy resistance to her charms and attentions… much to the amusement of Dash’s sassy but efficient secretary Cindy Crenshaw

The PI’s attention is further derailed by the return of his lover, shady ne’er-do-well Johnny Plinketts, so when his diligent investigations of Zita take him to a travelling Egyptian antiquities exhibition, Dash is totally unprepared for the appalling consequences. Dash still has friends on the force – such as patrolman Sal McGillicutty – who is there to break the shocking news that “Plink” has been found dead in incredible circumstances. Moreover, he’s not the first. LA has become the hunting grounds for a ghastly beast…

A convenient suspect for bigoted detective Bruno Perez, Dash is eventually released and falls into a depression until Cindy and Sal get him moving on finding the real killer, but before long the trail leads to an ancient Egyptian heretic cursed by the gods and an undying predator active for ages. This terror has been methodically preparing to turn back time and remake the world and Plink was not only his latest meal but also deeply involved in the plot from the start…

As events spiral and supernatural Hell inescapably comes to Earth, Dash is thrust into the role of mystic avenger and saviour of humanity, but it’s a job the grieving shamus neither wants nor feels qualified to handle…

Augmented by an effusive Introduction and appreciation from Steve Orlando, the book also includes a background-packed ‘Interlude’ from Ebersole and artist Vinnie Rico, as well as a trio of brief ‘Further Cases’.

‘The Case of the Man in the Mask’ (art by Sean Von Gorman) sees Dash dismantle a devious blackmail scheme, whilst Rico’s ‘The Case of the Best Friend on the Police Force’ traces the story of LAPD officers Malone and McGillicutty before Cindy’s origins are explored in ‘The Case of the Wisecracking Secretary’ (Rico again). Rounding up the fun is early promotional art, Afterwords and thank-yous, plus a recipe section inviting you to “make the cocktails you just read about” in ‘You Don’t Have to Drink, But If You Do… Drink Well!’

A superbly engaging romp in the manner of The (1999) Mummy whilst tipping its battered, dusty fedora to classics of film noir and latter-day pulp homages like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Hooten and the Lady, this is a splendid excursion categorically proving that not all rugged he-men get the girl in the end…
© 2020 Dave Ebersole. Dash co-created by Dave Ebersole and Delia Gable. All rights reserved.