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.

Ofelia – A Love and Rockets Book: 11


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-806-9 (TPB)

Please pay attention: this book contains stories and images of an extremely adult nature – specifically designed for consumption by mature readers – as well as coarse vulgar language most kids are fluent in by the age of ten.

If reading about such things offends you, please stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll do something with violence and explosions, so come back then.

In addition to being part of the ongoing graphic literary revolution that is Love and Rockets (where his astonishingly compulsive tales of Palomar gained vast critical acclaim), Gilbert Hernandez has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Girl Crazy, Julio’s Day and Hypnotwist: all distinguished by his bold, simplified line artwork and sensitive use of the literary techniques of Magical Realist writers Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has added to and made his own.

Love and Rockets – by Gilbert and brothers Jaime and Mario – was/is an anthology comics publication featuring sleek, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks, heart-warming, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasies, terrifying manic monster stories and experimental comic narratives that pretty much defy classification. To this day, the Hernandez boys continue to captivate with incredible stories sampling a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers.

Originally conceived for extended serial Heartbreak Soup, Palomar was a conceptual playground and cultural toybox; an impoverished Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life, death, adultery, alien infiltration, magic making, hauntings, serial-killing and especially gossip happened in its meta-fictional environs as Gilbert plundered his own post-punk influences – comics, music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics – in a style informed by everything from Tarzan strips to Saturday morning cartoons and The Lucy Show.

Beto – as he signs himself – returns to Palomar constantly, usually with tales involving formidable matriarch Luba, who ran the village’s bath house and cinema; acted as Mayor and sometimes law enforcer – as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population. Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Conchita.

Luba is a character who defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you need to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will certainly notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit, and appalling violence is also never far from the players lives…

Luba’s story is about Life, and sex and death happen, casually and often, usually to and with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you, don’t read these tales; but it is genuinely your loss.

Throughout all those eventful years, normally always in the background and frequently sidelined, was Luba’s cousin Ofelia: confidante, babysitter, surrogate mum, family conscience and keen – if not especially detached – observer…

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and editions which I really must get around to reviewing in their entirety), the first incarnation of Love and Rockets ended. Luba and her extended family graduated to a succession of mini-series which focussed on her relocation to the USA to reunite with her half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra Martinez. The tone and content ranged from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in those pages.

Although in an ideal world you would read that aforementioned older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and the force of memory are as much a part of this potent passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter.

Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as earthy any as any Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare…

This particular monochrome family album – available in paperback and digital editions -compiles assorted material first seen in Luba #3-9; Luba’s Comics and Stories #2-5 and Measles #3 and sees so-often sidelined “sister” Ofelia notionally promoted to headliner. Following a pictorial reintroduction to ‘Luba’s Family’, the ever-unfolding saga resumes with ‘Remember Me’ as the youngest kids swap tales of the fathers they have never known.

‘Luba and the Little Ones’ finds the ferocious matron calming down her very excitable progeny, beforeSocorro…’details that girl’s educational problems. Apparently, she is too smart and her teachers want her transferred to a special school…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part One’ sees Luba and her mute, maimed and possibly former gangster husband Khamo reeling from the news that their faithful major domo is considering writing a book based on her cousin’s drama-drenched life. With friction mounting, the frustrated author and perennial babysitter casts her mind back to Palomar, where she sacrificed her relationship with lover Rico (“call me Ooli”) to raise a wild toddler called Luba.

Back in the now, wise-beyond-her-years Casimira knows her quiet guardian is in contact with an old flame on the internet…

‘The Book of Ofelia Part Two’ expands on the theme as the prospective writer recalls years of fighting with her wilful, almost elemental charge, whilst pondering a too-long deferred decision…

‘Spot Marks the Ex’ then exposes more family scandals as entrepreneurial Pipo tries to get rid of her former husband Gatoand deal with the ongoing problems caused by Luba’s daughter Doralis.

Much to the sponsors’ horror the teen star of Pipo’s popular Spanish-language kid’s show plans to come out as a lesbian, someone at the studio is giving the newspapers salacious scandals for their holier-than-thou gossip pages and her beloved son Sergio Jimenez (a soccer superstar and celebrity bad boy) is having an affair with Fritz Martinez – the very woman Pipo cannot get out of her own libidinously supercharged mind…

Fritz is a terrifyingly complex creature: psychiatrist, therapist, B-Movie actress, belly dancer, amorous drunk, gun-fetishist, sexually aggressive and a manipulative serial spouse. Beautiful, enticingly emotionally damaged, her “high soft lisp” more likely an affectation than genuine speech impediment, she sashays from crisis to triumph and back again, and (almost) everybody who wants hers can apparently have her – except increasingly impatient Pipo…

Moreover, as strident accountant Boots signs on to save Pipo’s company, the stressed and busy businesswoman begins to suspect Sergio and his stepfather Gato have some strange connection and are up to no good…

‘El Show Super Duper Sensacional Fantastico de Doralis’ reveals the controversial gay star’s story of the irresistibly beguiling merfolk who live in secret amongst us, after which ‘Snail Trail’ introduces well-meaning young Hector who rescues Socorro and Joselito after they steal and crash a car.

He sees and is instantly enchanted by their Tia (that’s Aunt in Spanish, hombre) Fritz in ‘Bromear’ and in ‘Meeting Cute, Fucking Cuter’ falls hopelessly for the sexual predator: so much so, in fact, that he agrees to her request to date her quirky, buff, bodybuilding older sister Petra, thus leaving Fritz free for a sordid secret affair with toyboy acquaintance Sergio…

Sadly, whipped Hector finds he has more in common with Petra’s little daughter Venus. They both love the same comicbooks, movies and music and she doesn’t make him do things he’d rather not…

A garden party bids ‘Buen Viaje, Socorro’ and sees the smart girl’s last family fun before heading off to smart kid boarding school, after which ‘Luba One’ finds the downhearted mum dragged to a fetish party by Fritz and Pipo where she finds blonde sex god Fortunato: a man no woman can resist and a perfect lover who derives no joy from his conquests…

Boots, mindful of the merman legend, speculates on his origins in ‘The Fortunato Files’ after which ‘The Goddess and the Goof’ finds Hector finally capitulating to pressure and taking gloriously gorgeous, Amazonian Petra out only to discover she is every inch as bewitching and satisfying as her sister. Conflicted by a surfeit of physical riches he ponders a big decision…

After a little dance madness in ‘El Biale’, Venus and Doralis share a moment with one of the fallen star’s fans in ‘The Glamorous Life’ whilst ‘Boots Takes the Case’ has the tenacious little accountant assume a larger role. With Gato exposed as the source of the leaks and sorrowfully reaping his reward in ‘And So…’, Boots proceeds to pry out more secrets in ‘Kisses for Pipo’; appraising key moments since the entrepreneur entered America as a teen, disclosing her past interactions with Sergio, Gato (and his current wife Guadalupe), Fortunato and Pipo’s latest fling Igor

‘In Bed with Pipo’ targets her bizarrely twisted relationship with gun-obsessed Fritz, the men they occasionally share and a terrifying past experience when both were stranded in a country in the midst of an anti-Christian genocide…

Revelations include the horrific tale of how High-School junior Rosalba fell into an abusive relationship with a middle-aged cop, offering telling insights for her modern personas…

‘Luba Two’ delves deep into Khamo’s off-kilter arrangements with both cops and drug dealers whilst – after surreal sight-gag ‘Uno Dos Tres’‘The New Adventures of Venus’ proves the latest generation can be just as determined and violently forceful. When the little comics lover discovers her best friend is a potential romantic rival, Venus takes excessive punitive action on the soccer field…

With the entire world on tenterhooks as a colossal meteor hurtles towards Earth, Fritz’s exploitative ex-husband Scott gets up to his old tricks in ‘The Beloved and the Damned’. He couldn’t have expected the savage beating a mysterious stranger delivers after ripping off kickboxing Petra’s baby sister though.

Unfortunately, the Avenger in question gets a taste for vigilantism and begins looking for other jerks in need of straightening out…

Khamo’s underworld connections then lead to a disquieting abduction and ‘Luba’s Science Lesson’ before ever-more conflicted Hector returns, still unable to choose between Petra and Fritz but currently distracted by his ex-girlfriend taking him to court as part of a whacko ploy to get him back in ‘And Justice for Some’.

That plan goes badly wrong after a stranger beats her to a pulp in the parking lot of the strip club she works at…

Boot’s ongoing investigations resurface as she explains ‘The Tao of Doralis’ before a very stoned ‘Hector’ rescues non-English-speaking Luba from a bar, leading into flashbacks of ‘Khamo’ and her early days. That long, weird walk home also delivers more revelations about the enigmatic Fortunato before Luba and her taciturn husband at last reconcile in ‘Lovers and Hector’

Events then take a dark turn in ‘Sergio Rocks’ as the wild child is targeted by gangster gamblers, even as belly-dancing novice ‘Guadalupe’ strives to escape the overwhelming influence of her charismatic Tia Fritz…

Receding Ofelia resurfaces in ‘Luba Again’ as the cousins bitterly and violently argue over the proposed warts-and-all book and, after visual aside ‘Click!’, the determined author visits Socorro in ‘La Luba’ whilst long ostracised Maricela has a rather one-sided chat with step-dad Khamo in ‘Burning for You’

‘Pipo’s Burden’ revisits her still-growing obsession with Fritz whilst ‘Of Two Minds’ highlights Hector’s suspicions when he attends one of Petra’s boxing bouts and Fortunato works his magic on schoolteacher Guadalupe and Ofelia in ‘But the Little Girls Understand’ after which ‘Luba Three’ ushers in the beginning of the end of this family’s affairs…

‘Fritz and Pipo, Sittin’ in a Tree’ sees Sergio growing aggressively intolerant of his mother’s dilemma whilst still making casual use of Fritz himself. Soon the still-active vigilante has hospitalised the entrepreneur, and more tragedy strikes when Ofelia has a heart attack in ‘God Willing’

Once the violence begins it seems impossible to stop and in ‘Luba Four’ the so-dysfunctional family splinters even further when an abduction and punishment beating goes too far…

I’m certainly more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was all about the force of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally. Palomar is about love. Not the sappy one-sided happy-ever-after stuff in chick-flicks, but LOVE, that mighty, hungry beast that makes you instinctively protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life. The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words. A Love that can hurt and even kill…

A bit like the love of a great comic…

Funny, deeply moving, compelling and deftly capable of delivering shock after breathtaking shock, Ofelia is remarkable and unmissable: no true fan of the medium can afford to forego this treat.

All contents © 2015 Gilbert Hernandez. This edition © 2015 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.

Positive


By Tom Bouden, translated by Yves Cogneau with Charles “Zan” Christensen (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-0-98459409-2 (PB)

Here’s something short, sweet and utterly, comfortingly satisfying. Please enjoy.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a Lentivirus that attacks the jbody’s immune system. If untreated, the infection usually leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome – commonly known as AIDS. For the longest time, the condition was a killer, but can be controlled quite successfully now through a variety of medications, treatments and lifestyle modification.

At its height, the disease ravaged the world, and has killed approximately 38 million people and completely changed global society.

Sadly, how those testing positive for HIV were treated also revealed a lot about the people around them…

This powerful but truly uplifting graphic tome was created in 2008 by Belgian cartoonist Tom Bouden (Max and Sven; The Importance of Being Earnest; In Bed with David & Jonathan; Queerville): a means of exploding idiotic myths and explaining how a positive diagnosis actually changes the life of a someone with the disease and affects those around them.

Subtitled “A Graphic Novelette of Life with Aids”, the charming tale is rendered in a traditional and welcoming Ligne Claire (like Tintin or Blake and Mortimer) style, and laced with plenty of warm humour to balance the tension, fear and pain, and begins eight years ago as young marrieds Sarah and Tim’s latest row is interrupted by a visit from their doctor…

He has results that explain Sarah’s recent bout of assorted maladies, but needs her to take a second, confirmatory test…

And so begins a methodical discourse as the couple carefully share her diagnosis with friends, family and past intimates, delivered with compassion and sensitivity and braced with actual facts throughout. Navigating various treatments, dealing with work issues and living as normal as life as feasible, Sarah and Tim build support networks, while moving ever onward, embracing bucket lists and pill packs, discarding despair and fostering hope until they reach the stage where they can consider the next positive step… having a child…

Fronted by an emphatically positive Introduction from activist and Gay League executive Joe Palmer, this is a lovely, sensible and above all straightforward examination of HIV in the real world, but parents might want to police these pages if young children are around, as it contains forthright depictions of nudity and lovemaking.
© 2013 Tom Bouden. All rights reserved.