The Killer Condom and Down to the Bone

By Ralf König: translated by Jim Steakley and Jeff Krell (Northwest Press/Ignite! Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-0-96563-238-6 (Killer Condom PB) 978-0-96563-239-3 (Down to the Bone PB)
Digital editions by Northwest Press – no ISBN

Standard Disclaimer: These comedy stories contain rude words, explicit nudity, depictions of graphic and hilarious sexual situations and normal non-Biblical lifestyles. If any of these are likely to offend, what the hell are you doing here anyway?

I’d like to think that most social problems humanity suffers from can be fixed by a little honesty and a lot of communication – especially when it comes to relationships. Being able to laugh together probably helps too. In regard to sexual politics and freedom it’s an attitude Germany adopted decades ago. As a result, the country has an admirable record of acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community and a broad penetration (yes, I’m awful! And Not Funny!) of gay comics into the general population.

Undisputed king of home-grown graphic novels is Ralf König, a multi-award-winning cartoonist, filmmaker and advocate with almost fifty titles – such as Suck My Duck; Santa Claus Junior; Prototyp; Archetyp; Antityp and Stehaufmännchen– under his belt.

He was born in August 1960 and came out in 1979, crafting an unceasing parade of incisive and hilarious strips and sagas set in and around the nation’s ever-evolving gay scene. Much to his own surprise, he discovered that his work had vaulted the divide from niche market to become a staple of popular mass market book sales. Many of his works have been rereleased as eBooks from Northwest Press.

The two volumes covered here were major sellers all over the world: blending the sordid shock-chic of 1970s American crime films and TV shows like Dirty Harry, The Warriors or Kojak and schlocky Sci Fi-horror (as in Scanners or Critters) with absurdist humour and the delicious notion of New York’s toughest Top Cop being Out, Loud and obnoxiously Proud…

First released in Britain in 1991 and wholly embracing the conceit of being an art house movie, The Killer Condom originally debuted in 1987 as Kondom des Grauens: a whole-hearted genre spoof introducing disgraced and disgraceful New York detective Luigi Macaroni, called on by his reluctant and harassed boss to solve a rash of gory emasculations plaguing the area around the notorious pay-by-the-hour Hotel Quickie.

Brash, gruff and deliberately sleazy, Macaroni is too good a cop to get rid of, despite his brazen attitude, and begins to work just like in every other case his straight colleagues won’t touch. However, as he investigates the brutal street scene he quickly realizes that no human agency is biting the dicks off an escalating stream of unfortunate sinners…

When he picks up a rent boy for a little relief, they too go to the Quickie and soon face terror beyond imagination and every man’s darkest nightmare…

Crafted at a time when HIV/AIDS was ravaging the gay community and scaring the pants off the wider world, this darkly trenchant satire adds a bizarre codicil to the still-ongoing debate about safe sex and condom use, but remains at its core an outrageously funny romp for grown-ups. In 1996, it and sequel Down to the Bone were adapted as a German comedy horror movie, latterly released in America as Killer Condom.
The Killer Condom © 1988 by Editions Kunst der Comics/Ralf König. Revised Edition © 2009, Published by Ignite! Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Down to the Bone emerged in 1990. As Bis Auf die Knochen, it heralded the triumphant return of Detective Inspector Macaroni – an even-more embittered man following his failure to maintain a loving relationship. It’s New Year’s in New York and the city is darker and nastier than ever. In the dead of winter, a fresh horror stalks the streets…

When a man hungry for negotiable affection encounters an oddly familiar “leatherman” hooker, it turns into the last trick of his life. Meanwhile, celebrity restauranteur Joe Baluga meets a similar fate, as does another hapless John triggering another campaign of atrocity in the mouldy, worm-infested Big Apple.

This time, it’s not dicks that are disappearing: now entire bodies are being instantly reduced to bleached skeletons and the Captain needs the department’s top Queer to stop the rot. As the third victim is the wealthy son of an infamous billionaire, and just to be safe, the embattled chief assigns painfully straight whitebread Detective Brian Plumley to assist him – affording Macaroni an irresistible opportunity to play pranks and reaffirm his reputation as a total bastard…

As they trawl the leather bars and other outposts of “the scene” they quickly establish an apparent link to the gay porn industry. But other than providing the inspector with a celebrity hook-up, the investigation stalls until a bizarre find proves that what they’re all hunting is far from human…

From there the pieces swiftly fall into place and the escalating horror leads back to an old case involving carnivorous latex prophylactics. With bodies still dropping, Macaroni and a far-more woke Plumley track down an old mad scientist and his ghastly creation and encounter a deranged fundamentalist determined to enforce Biblical mandates at all costs…

Wry, witty, coarsely hysterical, these books marry the surly, unsavoury thrills of urban cop fiction with a bawdily outrageous whimsy that sadly won’t appeal to everybody, but if you love big raucous ludicrous belly laughs with your thrills and chills, these might well become some of your favourite reads.
Down to the Bone © 1990 by Editions Kunst der Comics/Ralf König. Revised Edition © 2011, and published by Ignite! Entertainment. All rights reserved.

David Boring

By Daniel Clowes (Pantheon/Jonathan Cape)
ISBN: 978-0-37540-692-8 (Pantheon HB) 978-1-022406-323-4 (Jonathan Cape PB)

One of the greatest assets of the comics medium is the ostensibly straightforward nature of its storytelling. With pictures wedded to text, what you see is so clearly what you get. So, whenever a master creator deliberately subverts that implicit convention, the result might be occasionally obscure or confusing, but is always utterly engrossing.

At the forefront of comics storytelling for almost four decades Daniel Clowes is, for many, an acquired taste. However, once he’s in your brain there’s certainly no shaking the things he can do with pen and ink, motive, character and the special kind of situational magic that inhabits the world of pictures and words on paper.

Born in Chicago in 1961, he began his career as a cartoonist with humour magazine Cracked before creating uniquely skewed short comic tales for Fantagraphics. His first piece debuted in Love and Rockets # 13 (September 1985): an introductory prelude to his retro-chic detective magazine Lloyd Llewellyn which launched soon after and ran in various incarnations for three years.

In 1989 he created anthology vehicle Eightball and began producing a variety of tales – short and serial-lengths – ranging from social satire, nostalgic absurdist anthropomorphic yarns to surreal, penetrating human dramas, all viewed through the lens of iconic popular cultures and social motifs. All that material has since been collected into graphic novels and two of these, Ghost World and Art School Confidential, have been adapted into critically acclaimed feature films.

His experiences in Hollywood combined with deep-seated childhood influences of noir movies and comics books combined and resulted in ‘David Boring’ – originally serialised in Eightball #19-21 before being collected by Pantheon Books in America and Jonathan Cape in Britain.

David Boring is the narrator of his own story, living a life of unsatisfactory gratification, harassed by his mother and obsessed by his absentee father – a second rate cartoonist and comic book artist who disappeared decades previously. David spends his days with his only real friend, a lesbian named Dot he has known since High School. David is listlessly indulging in his life’s work by searching for his perfect woman when an old friend suddenly shows up, triggering a series of bizarre events that should make his life a living action movie, but instead just steers him into increasingly unpalatable and mundane tragedies and horrors…

Set against a backdrop of impending catastrophes, ranging from murder to the end of the world, David’s progress is trenchantly plebeian and low-key: an odyssey rendered drama-free by the protagonist’s relentless lack of – or rather resistance to – passion and unwillingness to fully engage in events occurring around him.

His world is full of sexual encounters, assaults, murders, chases and even global holocausts, but he passively accepts and adapts to it all.

Clowes has stated that he crafted this stunningly engaging and challenging tale as an exercise in writing an un-filmable comic. He has, but it was still optioned by Hollywood…

This is another of those too-rare productions that shouldn’t really be reviewed, just read, with themes of adolescence, maturity, quest for self and the impending end of life delivered via a landscape of comics, film noir, mock-heroics and the irreducible knowledge that families make individuals; sublimely combining in a truly personal experience for every reader.

Be warned: the most telling narrative device used here is uncertainty. A tremendous amount of the story is left unstated: this is a saga littered with reader’s conclusions not the characters’ actions. Events are set in motion and consequences are noted, but the course of intervening actions if not experienced by David can only be surmised or extrapolated: David Boring is a protagonist with few of the overt drives of a regular narrative hero and his story is one that can’t happen to any one of us…

Brilliant, compelling, utterly wonderful? That’s up to you…
© 2000, 2002 Daniel Clowes. All rights reserved.

Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy

By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-58-7 (TPB)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were merely one of many publishers to jump on the mystery-man bandwagon, generating their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily-clad crusaders.

In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut, two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving he-man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having everyday adventures just like the readership, laden with companionable laughs, good times and budding romance.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it all work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid desperate to impress the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry, unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The piece was a huge hit with readers and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and latterly a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the company. With the debut of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946, the kids were in charge and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring the majority of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans, but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dryly po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and – in the swinging sixties – a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar (taken from the animated TV cartoon) became a global summer smash hit. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since just waiting for the comeback hit…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, thrilling, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas expressing everything from surreal wit to frantic, frenetic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily; genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others): growing into a national institution and part of America’s cultural landscape.

The feature thrives by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly, seamlessly adapting to a changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide, refreshingly diverse and broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller joined the gang: becoming an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together young man who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. Ronnie was totally smitten with him, but Kevin was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead

When he finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became Keller’s best buddy as they had so much in common – stylish clothes, shopping and cute guys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comic book in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership. Soon, frequent guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Trade paperback & digital compilation Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy collects issues #5-8 of his groundbreaking solo title and opens with an effusive Introduction from actor, author and rights activist George Takei, in anticipation of his walk-on part in the opening chapter here.

Sacrificing chronological order for star attraction, ‘By George!’ comes from Kevin Keller #6 (January 2013) wherein a class project about inspirational heroes leads to the kids invading a local comic convention headlined by the Star Trek star, after which Mr. Takei surprises all concerned by returning the favour at Riverdale High. If only Kevin wasn’t so distracted by the return of old flame Brian and the promise of new romance…

Eponymous tale ‘Drive Me Crazy!’ (Kevin Keller #5 December 2012) then targets the next milestone in a young man’s life as the affable pedestrian finally gains independence with the arrival of his first car. It is, in fact, an old jeep belonging to his dad (a retired army colonel) and the fun really hits high gear after Moose and Dilton offer to spruce it up and make it roadworthy in their own inimitable manner… just in time to play havoc with Kevin’s date with old pal Todd.

Back on track for #7 (March, 2013), ‘Decisions, decisions!’ finds Kevin dating aggressive bad boy Devon: a student determined to keep his status as a macho hetero male. Patience, love and understanding only go so far though, and when Kevin convinces Devon to finally come out, the misunderstood lout faces repercussions from his family and friends that Kevin never anticipated…

Piling on the pressure, an old secret admirer who remained anonymous chooses this moment to identify himself to the ever-popular Mr. Keller…

Everything boils over in concluding episode ‘Play by the Rules!’ (Kevin Keller #8, June 2013) when Veronica cons Kevin into starring in her self-penned stage drama Teenagers: The Musical! His proximity to former secret admirer Pauldrives Devon to jealousy and stalking, but thankfully in the unavoidable denouement, the only real casualty is Ronnie’s atrocity of a show…

Following the compelling comics is an ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ section offering ‘Kevin, Betty and Veronica Fashions’, to supplement a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces, remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star and variant covers spoofing Star Trek and Superman.

Drive Me Crazy is superbly diverse, hilariously welcoming and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

John Constantine, Hellblazer volume 3: The Fear Machine (New Edition)

By Jamie Delano, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Mark Buckingham, Alfredo Alcala & various (Vertigo/DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-3519-2 (TPB)

You’ve either heard of John Constantine by now or you haven’t, so I’ll be as brief as I can. Created by Alan Moore during the early days of his groundbreaking run on Swamp Thing, John Constantine is a mercurial modern wizard, a dissolute chancer who plays like an addict with magic on his own terms for his own ends. He is not a hero. He is not a nice person. Sometimes though, he’s all there is between us and the void…

Given his own series by popular demand, he premiered in the dying days of Reaganite Atrocity in the US but at the height of Thatcherite Barbarism in England, so as we’re singing the same song now – but with second-rate Britain’s Got Talent cover-artist wannabes as leaders – I thought I’d cover a few old gems that might be regaining relevance in the days ahead…

In 1987 Creative Arts and Liberal attitudes were dirty words in many quarters and the readership of Vertigo was pretty easy to profile. Jamie Delano began the series with relatively safe horror plots, introducing us to Constantine’s unpleasant nature, chequered history and odd acquaintances but even then, discriminating fans were aware of a joyously anti-establishment political line and wildly metaphorical underpinnings.

Skinheads, racism, Darwinian politics, gender fluidity, plague, famine, gruesome supernature and more abound in the dark dystopian present of John Constantine – a world of cutting edge mysticism, Cyber-shamanism and political soul-stealing. In Delano’s world the edges between science and magic aren’t blurred – they simply don’t exist.

Some terrors are eternal and some seem inextricably tied to a specific time and place. The Fear Machine (available in paperback and digital formats and collecting issues #14-22 spanning December 1988-September 1989) is an engrossing extended epic which begins in ‘Touching the Earth’ (by Delano, Richard Piers Rayner & Mark Buckingham) as the wizard goes on the run thanks to the tabloid press pillorying him as a sex-crazed Satanist serial killer.

Forced to flee his London comfort-zone, Constantine is adopted by neo-pagan Travellers and journeys through the heartland of Britain. Apparently, these dangerous non-conformists are responsible for all the ills plaguing society of the 1980s and 1990s, just like fat people, the poor and immigrants are today…

Going native amongst the drop-outs, druggies, bath-dodgers and social misfits, Constantine buddies up with an immensely powerful psychic girl named Mercury and her extremely engaging mum, Marj, but even amidst these freewheeling folks he can feel something nasty and unnatural building. The first inkling occurs in ‘Shepherd’s Warning’when Mercury discovers an ancient stone circle has been fenced off by a quasi-governmental company named Geotroniks. It seems someone is trying to shackle Mother Earth’s circulatory system of Ley lines.

Meanwhile elsewhere, people are compelled to kill and mutilate themselves while Geotroniks boffins watch and take notes…

Mercury is abducted when police raid the Travellers’ campsite in ‘Rough Justice’. Imprisoned in a secret complex where the mind’s limits and the Earth’s hidden forces are being radically tested, she witnesses horrors beyond imagining and cutting-edge science. If only the subjects and observing scientists can be persuaded to stop committing suicide…

Mike Hoffman illustrates fourth chapter, ‘Fellow Travellers’ wherein Constantine heads back to London for help in finding Mercury and uncovering Geotroniks’ secrets. He gains one horrific insight when the train he’s on is devastated by a psychic assault which forces the passengers to destroy themselves…

With Buckingham & Alfredo Alcala assuming the art duties, ‘Hate Mail & Love Letters’ begins two months later. Marj and the travellers are hiding in the Scottish Highlands with a fringe group called the Pagan Nation, led by the mysterious Zed – an old friend of the wily trickster. Constantine keeps digging, but across the country, suicide and self-harm are increasing. Society itself seems diseased, but at least the Satanist witch hunt has been forgotten as the bloody pack of Press vultures rage on to their next sanctimonious cause celebre

Touching base with his precious few police contacts and pet journalists, the metropolitan mage soon stumbles into a fresh aspect of mystery when a Masonic hitman begins removing anyone who might further his enquiries in ‘The Broken Man’. Constantine saves journalist Simon Hughes from assassination in a particularly exotic manner guaranteed to divert attention from his politically-damaging investigations, and discovers new clues. It all points the psychic horror and social unrest being orchestrated by reactionary factions of the government employing a sinister and all-pervasive “Old Boy network”…

And somewhere dark and hidden, Mercury’s captors are opening doors to places mortals were never meant to go…

As the Pagan Nation’s priestesses work subtle magics to find the missing girl and save humanity’s soul, a disgusting, conglomerate beast-thing is maturing, made from fear and pain, greed, suffering and deep black despair: provoking a response from and guest-appearance by Morpheus, the Sandman, which prompts Constantine, Hughes and possibly the last decent copper in London to go hunting…

After picking up another recruit in the form of KGB scientist Sergei in ‘Betrayal’, events spiral ever faster as the Freemasons – or at least their “Magi Caecus” elite – are revealed as organisers of the plot to combine Cold War paranormal research, economic imperialism, divisive Thatcherite self-gratification and the Order’s own quasi-mystical arcana to create a situation in which their guiding principles will dominate society and the physical world. It’s nothing more than a greedy, sleazy power-grab using blood and horror to fuel the engines of change…

All pretence of scientific research at Geotroniks is abandoned in ‘The God of All Gods’ as Masonic hitman Mr. Webstergoes off the deep end, ignoring his own Lodge Grandmaster’s orders to abort the project amidst an escalating national atmosphere of mania. He is determined to free the fearful thing they’ve created and unmake the modern world at all costs. Constantine’s allies are all taken and the wizard is left to fight on alone.

Knee deep in intrigue, conspiracy and spilled guts, humanity is doomed unless Constantine’s band of unhappy brothers and a bunch of Highland witch-women can pull the biggest, bloodiest rabbit out of the mother of all hats in spectacular conclusion ‘Balance’

The heady blend of authoritarian intransigence, counterculture optimism, espionage action, murder-mystery, conspiracy theories and ancient sex-magic mix perfectly to create an oppressive tract of inexorable terror and shattered hope before an astounding climax forestalls – if not saves – the day of doom, in this extremely impressive dark chronicle which still resonates with the bleak and cheerless zeitgeist of the time.

This is a superb example of true horror fiction, inextricably linking politics, religion, human nature and sheer bloody-mindedness as root cause of all ills. That our best chance of survival is a truly reprehensible, exploitative monomaniac seems a perfect metaphor for the world we’re locked into…

Clever, subversive and painfully prophetic, even at its most outlandish, this tale jabs at the subconscious with its scratchy edginess and jangles the nerves from beginning to end. An unmissable feast for fear fans, humanists and political mavericks everywhere…
© 1989, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Menkui! Volume 1

By Suzuki Tanaka (Blu/TokyoPop)
ISBN: 1-59816-358-2 (Tankōbon PB)

It’s Pride Month and not all comics are about earthdoom and racial slaughter. Here’s a lost diamond long overdue for another run in the sun – or at least a new English language revival on paper or in digital form…

Here’s a Yaoi story, (romanticised fantasy relationship tales of beautiful young men created for female audiences; like Shonen-Ai but with a more explicit erotic content) although very mild – to the point of chaste gentility – by that standard.

Kotori is a shyly demure young man living in the big shadow of his older brother Kujaku, who’s smarter, prettier and much more successful, however that’s measured in terms of school life. This gentle tale of first love recounts Kotori’s growing confidence and closeness with “Boy-Hottie” Akaiwa whose attentions, though heartfelt, are constantly questioned by the insecure second son.

Set in the crucible of a Japanese high school, populated with a lovely-looking, manipulative bunch of gossips and back-stabbers – Yaoi guys are apparently all the same sort of snotty mean-yet-popular princesses beloved by TV teen soap operas – the tentative pair meander down the path of true love, hampered by eternal obstacles of misapprehension, misunderstanding and the impossible dream of a little privacy.

Funny, unassuming, charmingly and painfully romantic, the main narrative tells a very familiar story but tells it exceedingly well, with minor characters adding to the mix in their own sub-adventures in separate chapters, rather than as scene-stealers in the major text. This can seem a little disconcerting to western sensibilities, but these drastic jumps soon resolve into the big picture, so bear with it.

I personally couldn’t grasp the oddly unwholesome concentration – an almost veiled sexual subtext – regarding the physical attraction between brothers, but I might be reading too much into the family relationships of another culture, so you should really decide for yourselves or trade siblings like I did…

Menkui translates as “shallow” or “superficial” and although this everyday saga of pretty-boy angst might seem to condemn itself with this title, these characters had the potential for a genuinely moving tale. Sadly, the series never got the chance. After running in from July 2000 to June 2003, the series closed abruptly. The tales were released in English as three volumes and are still available if you are a grown-up romantic and desire to continue…
© 2000 Suzuki Tanaka. All Rights Reserved. First published in Japan by BIBLOS Co., Ltd. English text ©2006.

They Called Us Enemy

By George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steve Scott & Harmony Becker (Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-603094-50-4 (TPB) 978-1-603094-70-2 (Expanded HB)
eISBN 978-1-684067-51-0

Graphic biographies are a relatively new form for English-language comics, but the wealth and variety of material already available is truly breathtaking and laudable. This exemplary example is a subtly understated but deeply moving chronicle exploring the events and repercussions of a truly shameful moment in American history, recalled and relived by a global icon of popular culture who also happens to be one of the USA’s most ardent advocates of democracy, justice and equality and top-level activist in the arenas of LGBTQ and Asian-American rights.

Although George Takei has celebrated and commemorated his life in prose autobiography To the Stars, here – in collaboration with writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and illustrator Harmony Becker – the Hollywood star slyly shifts focus to explore in painful and revelatory detail the early years of his life: a formative period spent as a non-person behind barbed wire in his own country.

Recounted as non-linear, non-chronological episodes, the history and self-serving actions of American leaders (like Lt. General John L. DeWitt or Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron) who systematically stripped people of Japanese ethnicity of their rights, livelihoods, possessions and autonomy are seen through the eyes of a small child: observations which inevitably shaped the actor into a crusading defender of democratic principles of later life.

I’d love to say that’s simply a thing of the past, but kids are still being locked in cages and families split up…

On February 19th 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, dividing the country into military zones and effectively declaring all American citizens of Japanese origins enemy aliens. This led to their internment for the duration of the war in 10 isolated camps between the West Coast and Mississippi river.

In surprisingly fond recollections of camp life, we share the notions of baffled children (George, brother Henry, sister Nancy Reiko and many new pals) and the lasting, post-war consequences of divisively authoritarian stunts such as legally-binding loyalty pledges, de-fanged and counterpointed by modern day discussions and triumphant moments of past injustices finally addressed.

As well as exposing the human costs of a shameful period of state-sanctioned, opportunistic profiteering and proud racism, this tale is a testament to human endurance, perseverance and innate dignity, with moments of delightful warmth and genuine humour, bolstered by actions of unsung humanitarian heroes like Takei’s own parents and pioneering civil rights lawyer Wayne M. Collins. Their tireless fortitude and resistance to oppression, along with the efforts of countless others, offers inspiration and hope for all suffering similar restraint and abuse while sadly proving that some battles may never end.

They Called Us Enemy is a compelling, charming and informative account of injustice and unchecked ignorance endured with plenty of points as pertinent now as they ever were.

In 2020 and expanded edition was released with 16 pages of extra material and is also available as both a physical hardback and in digital formats.
They Called Us Enemy © 2019 George Takei. All Rights Reserved.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

By Mannie Murphy (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-410-0 (HB)

How does memory work? Are your recollections neatly sorted and filed away: dry, dusty documents effortlessly relating time, place, event and response, or is the act of personal recall mired in apparently extraneous passions and seemingly irrelevant sidebars of emotion, pulling you from the topic far and away before circling back to what originally set you thinking?

Mine’s that last one, and it’s a phenomenon used to devasting effect by Mannie Murphy as they pull together deeply intimate musings on famous – but presumably unrequited – imagined inamorata who endured tragic fates, peppered with youthful school experiences and personal philosophies while powerfully delivering a chilling expose of the proudly racist and white supremacist history of hometown Portland, Oregon.

Rendered as a personal diary with sometimes-impenetrable cursive script married to wash-&-ink images, Murphy details long-distance, strictly hands-off relationships with teen icons River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves (specifically as observed in Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho); Kurt Cobain and less well-known or admired personalities: all while deftly dissecting the far-from-savoury development and current state of a region long considered the promised land for Far Right fantasists and dreamers.

Available in hardback or various digital formats, the meandering masterclass opens with ‘My Own Private Portland’setting the scene for a mesmerising journey through the city and state through the lens of damaged, disenfranchised and frequently doomed youth. Second chapter ‘Ken Death is Dead’ expands the discussion detailing the career of a beautiful poster child for Nazi extremism and convicted mass killer, who was just another pawn in a cruel game played by older, nastier Machiavellians, after which the story of Oregon and its awful record of racism, exclusion and mass murder – much of it permitted or committed by a complacent and compliant police force – is covered in ‘Flood’.

A hard-earned, personal view of the educational set-up and its grim consequences is related in ‘Victims of Groupthink’with perspective supplied by further reference to celluloid Lost Boys and their connections to bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other notable outsiders, all cleverly married to distressing accounts of tragedies and disasters that systematically shaped the city and the kids growing up the Oregon way.

The miraculous transport of curated memories then closes with a chilling Epilogue as ‘Young Hatemongers’ revisits the Ken Death trial and media storm around it with revelations that came to light during the later stages of this book’s creation.

Dark, brooding, deeply upsetting while brimming with potent immediacy and rough-hewn passion, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is an apparently rambling but carefully steered narrative of seemingly random remembrances that serve as a warning from history and heartfelt plea for people to be better than they are…
© 2021 Mannie Murphy. This edition © 2021 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon

By Mohammad al-Mohamed Muhammad, Youssef Fakish & various (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 378-1-9387202-9-1 (PB)

Let’s get one thing straight here. This is a satirical spoof, ok?

A jape, a jest: witty sequential pictorial banter with pointed points to make on sexual, religious and geopolitical politics. If you’re feeling unnecessarily singled out, I’m fat, bald, old, disabled and white: feel free to have a go back, on citing whatever misperceived grounds you feel you’re entitled to, but do not believe for one moment you’ve been singled out for exclusion or special attention…

Crafted during the heady and contentious era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – way back when what you did with your bits (whenever a deadly foe wasn’t trying to blow them away, at least) somehow affected your ability to kill people on command – Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon hilariously goes sufficiently too far in extrapolation.

In their hidden caves, the vile masterminds of the subversive enemy realise the American military is critically vulnerable to seduction by dedicated martyrs willing to give their all, and rapidly trains up 16 super-hunky guys to destroy all those agents of the Great Satan from within…

Beautifully realized, packed with glamour, action, proper jokes and a fair slice of sentiment, this is a definitely demented but brilliant Carry On movie plot taken to fabulous extremes that will leave you helpless with laughter.

Oh, there’s also EXPLICIT GAY SEX, all over this book – available in paperback and digital formats – so don’t read it if you’re likely to be offended by that, rather than the killing, explosions, nuclear armageddon and all-denominational blasphemy.

Adding to the fun are a set of paper dolls and costumes to play with, pin-ups and it even comes with a free ‘Trans-Denominational, Pre-Emptive Fatwa’ too, signed off by globally-renowned Pastor Brett Pirkle, so you know you can sleep safe in your bed… or anyone else’s…

Sing along now, “it’s the End of the World as we know it, and I feel f…”
© 2013 David J. Zelman. All rights reserved.

Biscuits Assorted

By Jenny Robins (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-91240-82-90 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Utterly Captivating Human-Scaled Enticement… 10/10

There’s a 1944 Powell & Pressburger film called A Canterbury Tale, where a group of disparate but loosely associated characters weave in and out of each other’s klives for a defined period, gradually proceeding towards a shared denouement. It’s about far more than that and is really good. You should see it.

Biscuits Assorted is a bit like that, but also completely different. You should read it. It’s really, Really good.

Artist, teacher, Small Press artisan and author Jenny Robins is clearly a keen observer and gifted raconteur deftly attuned to nuance and ambiance and quite possibly hopelessly in love with London. Her award-winning debut graphic novel is a paean to modern living in the city, recounted through overlapping snapshots of many women’s lives in the months of June, July and August of a recent year (and don’t worry about which one).

If you need the metaphor explained, there are different varieties and, occasionally, they don’t do what it says on the tin…

Seriously though, here in captivating monochrome linework are a plethora of distinct and well-round individuals of differing ages and backgrounds working, playing, living, dying, risking, winning, failing and constantly interacting with each other to a greater or lesser extent, all united by place, circles of friends, shared acquaintances and enjoying – for once – full access to their own unexpurgated voices.

Strangers or intimates, life-long or Mayfly-momentary, this addictively engaging collection of incidents and characters all share locations and similar pressures as they go about their lives, but the way in which they all impact upon each other is truly mesmerising. I’m a bluff old British codger and I’ve met these very women and girls all my life, except for those who are completely new to my white male privileged experience. Now, however, I know what they’re like and what they’ve been thinking all this time…

And it’s outrageously funny and terrifying elucidating, rude in all the right ways and places and able to break your heart and jangle the nerves with a turn of a page.

Biscuits Assorted is a brilliant and revelatory picaresque voyage that is impossible to put down and certain to become a classic of graphic literature. It’s also the most fun you can have with your brain fully engaged.

Yesterday we published our Top Ten of 2020. Be sure to add this to the list. We did.
© Jenny Robins 2020. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent

By Isabella Rotman with Luke B. Howard (Limerance Press/Oni Press-Lion Forge Publishing Group)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-794-2 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-815-4

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Crucial Companion for Every Social Gathering of More Than 1 Person… 9/10

It’s going to be a seasonal holiday unlike any in living memory for most of us. In Britain, we’ve stringently locked down, been let loose to run rampant in dangerously close proximities and then locked down even harder and with more targeted complexity. For Christmas, as we’ve been not-so-good, the populace can now mix and mingle as we see fit, with no real curbing of contact. What could possibly go wrong?

All that preamble is my convoluted way of introducing what should the ideal accompaniment to the party season or any relationship…

I’ve frequently argued that comic strips are a matchless tool for education: rendering the most complex topics easily accessible and displaying a potent facility to inform, affect and alter behaviour. Here’s another superb example of the art form using its great powers for good…

The Quick & Easy Guide series has an admirable record of confronting uncomfortable issues with taste, sensitivity and breezy forthrightness: offering solutions as well as awareness or solidarity.

Here, Maine-based cartoonist Isabella Rotman (Wait What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies and Growing Up; You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STIs) and New Orleans colourist Luke Howard collaborate on a cogent and compelling primer covering the irrefutable basics When, Where, Why and most especially What can be taken as Consent.

This is such a charged issue that the light and informative lecture is preceded by a very clear and well thought out Content Warning defining terms and the specifics of situations, with firm regard to gender, scope and even an Informational Disclaimer… that’s how hot a topic this is …

Terms are examined and situations explored during a tenuous first encounter between two healthy young adults, but as things heat up, a phantasmal guide pops in to steer the participants and give voice to their suppressed concerns, through chapters such as ‘What is Consent?’, ‘Consent is Simple’, ‘What is Sex?’ and ‘Consent Must be Freely Given!’ all emphasised through sidebars like ‘Tell Them What Turns You On!’ and an enumeration of what definitively ‘Have Nothing to do With Consent!’

The dialogue and show-&-tells are punctuated by quotes from professional Sexual Consent Educators, augmented by role plays, quizzes and a section outlining and defining the current (US only) ‘Age of Consent’ laws, before asking ‘Is Everyone Fully Informed?’ This last is primarily about all the many factors – physical and emotional – potential partners should always be apprised of, but also broadmindedly enquires ‘What About Kink?’ and even tackles the ever-present ‘Fear of Rejection’

In closing, the convivial confrontation offers a list of potential faux pas in ‘So Don’t…’, a summation ‘In Review…’ before providing a ‘Yes. No. Maybe So Checklist’ as well as a selection of ‘Safer Sex: Contraception’, ‘…STI Risk Reduction’and ‘…Activities’ suggestions.

Being wise beyond her years and probably acutely aware of how inventive humans are, the author closes with sagacious questionnaire ‘Anything Else?’ plus a fulsome Bibliography and list of Resources to contact including Sex & Relationship Education, appropriate Hotlines and inline Checklists

I hail from a fabulous far-distant era where we happily ravaged the planet without a qualm and believed emotional understanding led to universal acceptance. At the same time, it seems most of us never really stopped being the greedy cave monkey obsessively snatching whatever it wanted with no consideration of others or even consequences. We’re apparently a little more in tune with the planet now, and finally learning to share and play well with others…

This witty, no-nonsense treatise offers sage advice on becoming our best selves by dealing with our selfish natures – something that really should have been bred out of humanity eons, if not centuries, ago. It should be made compulsory reading in every school and college (and pub, and nightclub, and scenic natural beauty spot, and cinema and waiting room and…)
A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent ™ & © 2020 Isabella Rotman. All rights reserved.