Last Gender: When We Are Nameless volume 1 (of 3)


By Rei Taki translated by Rose Padgett (Vertical/Kodansha)
ISBN: 978-1-6472191-4 (Vertical tank?bon PB) Digital edition 978-1-68491-721-1

A woman goes into a bar.

That’s usually shocking enough for Japanese fiction, but in Rei (Tada Ooki na Neko ni Naritai, Love-Kyo: Kateikyoushi ga xx Sugite Benkyou Dokoro ja Nai) Taki’s deft exploration of sexual diversity, it’s merely the start of a well-intentioned, honest appraisal of what infinite variety in human experience and being actually means. The tale is especially extraordinary as it comes from a country and culture currently involved in a (very polite and restrained) war of past and future and tradition vs. change, where gender and gender roles have always been cast in stone and a hot button topic…

After a short stand-alone try-out tale was reworked and developed (which is included at the end of this edition), Last Gender: Nani Mono demo nai Watashi-tachi debuted in 2022. Its brief interlocking vignettes eventually filled three volumes, employing a picaresque format – in many ways thematically similar to US sitcom Cheers – to peruse those people who generally inhabit the margins of society… either through choice or more often than not due to fear and shame.

In such a strictly formalised society those judgements are most likely to be self-inflicted and imagined, and painfully concrete and condemnatory, as we will see…

Chapter 1 opens with one person’s candid ruminations on what is gender before ‘Welcome to BAR California’ finds nasty, preachy gossip and media scandalmongering hanging in the air as assistant manager Yo prepares to open up for the evening. Checking bottles are full, glasses clean, rooms ready and restocked and all lube, fresh underwear and condom dispensers are full, they are soon distracted by a nervous and curious young woman. She has come in to the venue where “all are welcome” carrying her husband’s membership card and very much wanting to know what it exactly entitles her spouse to…

An explanation of facilities, by-laws, responsibilities, duties and potential rewards – further clarified by a new friend – results in Manami addressing her prior pre- and mis-conceptions, and signing up to discover lots more she didn’t know about herself…

With frequent subtle reminders, asides and dissertations on what staff and patrons consider constitutes gender, sexualities statuses, consent and suitable behaviour, the vignettes continue with ‘An Orchid Blooming in the Fog’. Transgender bisexual Ran shares with Yo early unhappy encounters (incidentally providing us with mindboggling factual detail on insurance cover and finance for gender affirmation surgery in Japan), and happy-go-lucky, persistently pally pansexual Mao adds his own unique perspective and past moments. Ultimately his benign attentions and upbeat manner manifest more revelations of his own unsettled life and its pressures…

The forces of expectation and tradition shaping Mao are more closely monitored in ‘Family of Mannequins’ even as stolid salaryman Sawada Masanori and college girl Amiru debut with their own individual flavours of difference. It’s a risky road to travel but bigender Sawada will only really be content once his wife and child can understand how and why he is also Marie and that will only happen if they can affirm their ‘True Love’, whilst the student still struggles to accept that any boundaries exist…

Amiru steps into the spotlight for closing episode ‘Aromantic Fairy Tale’ delving deeper into her innate belief that sex and love have nothing to do with each other and explaining how all the stories society train us with need to be re-examined if not revoked. Of course, nothing has worked yet to stop her yearning for “the one”, and some of the test candidates have been a bit extreme to say the least. Just look at Yukihiro, with his odd provisos and props… and just what is the secret he shares with only Yo?

To Be Continued…

Filling up this initial tome are ‘Translation Notes’, house ads, a featurette on sex bars and how the clientele adopts aliases in ‘BAR California’s Back Yard #1’ as well as an afterword from Rei Taki, prior to that aforementioned ‘Prototype Story: A Self For All Seasons’ showing how the initial explorations of spousal abuse and similar reasons for such sex bar venues was dialled down for a more subtle and forensic investigation of the people who need them…

There are – even by manga standards – fairly explicit and frequent sex scenes amidst all the character interplay, and the occasionally blunt yet potent evaluations, clarifications and reiterations of gender issues, minorities and status through the lens of Japanese frankness can be a bit breathtaking if we westerners aren’t braced. Nonetheless, Last Gender: When We Are Nameless is a compelling and intriguing foray into gender & sexual diversity, pansexuality, propensities, individuality and autonomy that needs to be seen by anyone still breathing and still dating. Over to you then…
© 2021 Rei Taki. English translation © 2022 Rei Taki. All rights reserved.

Grosz


By Lars Fiske (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-041-6 (HB/digital edition)

As we in Britain and France enter the final stretch of our elections and seeming agreement to abandon consensual truth and classical democracy, lets revisit a born dissident, repeat immigrant and visual vigilante who lived through painfully similar times and trials as our own. His generation’s party chic, desperate searches and minimal resistance led to some pretty bad outcomes. I for one can’t wait to see how this “year of elections” treats us…

Although I bang incessantly on and on about the communicative power of word and pictures acting in unison, I will never deny the sheer efficacy and raw potency of the drawn image. Therefore, whenever an author makes the extra effort to create a narrative that stands or falls on vision alone, I’m ready to applaud mightily and shout “oi, look at this!”…

Today that means taking a little lesson in art history and social awareness via a truly radical pictorial biography of Dadaist anti-fascist, caricaturist, artist and commentator Georg Ehrenfried Groß AKA George Grosz.

He was a complex and amazing man, risking his life for his beliefs but also deeply, dangerously flawed at the same time, and this cartoon confection really captures the feel of him and his tempestuous, self-annihilating life…

Devoid of verbal narrative, an edgy and uncompromising picture play adds reams of emotional kick to the history of a radical non-conformist who grew up in Imperial Germany, found his true calling during the Great War and fought a seditious and dangerously lonely struggle against the growing National Socialist (Nazi) party in the post-war Weimar Republic, all while embracing the heady sexual decadence of that pre-apocalyptic era…

In brief visual sallies supported by brief quotes from his writing – such as ‘Pandemonium: “I am up to my neck in visions”’, ‘Amerikanismus: – day by day my hate for Germany gains, new, blazing nourishment…’, ‘America: New York: The City!!!”’ and ‘Nationalsocialismus: “The Devil alone knows how things will turn out”’ – Lars Fiske traces the one-sided conflict and follows the artist as he relocates to his long-loved-from-afar USA. He then reveals what happened next in notional comic strip excursions that conclude with return to Berlin at the height of the Cold War as wryly seen in ‘Kaputt: Ugh! I have spoken’

Just like life and our current predicament, with this book there’s no half-measures. Oddly, I suspect the reader will be best served if you know a lot about Grosz or nothing at all, but if he’s an artist you vaguely recall, there may be many rapid consultations of Wikipedia before you come away awed and amused…

The same seems to apply to the voting conundrum. Apparently the only wrong thing to do is nothing at all…
© 2017 Lars Fiske, by arrangement with No Comprendo Press.

Leonard & Larry 3: Extracts From the Ring Cycle at Royal Albert Hall


By Tim Barela (Palliard Press)
ISBN: 978-1-88456-805-3 (Album PB)

We live in an era where Pride events are world-wide and commonplace: where acceptance of LGBTQIA+ citizens is a given… at least in all the civilised countries where dog-whistle politicians, populist “hard men” totalitarian dictators (I’m laughing at a private dirty joke right now) and sundry organised religions are kept in their generally law-abiding places by their hunger for profitable acceptance and desperation to stay tax-exempt, scandal-free, rich and powerful.

There’s still too many places where it’s not so good to be Gay but at least Queer themes and scenes are no longer universally illegal and can be ubiquitously seen in entertainment media of all types and age ranges… and even on the streets of most cities. For all the injustices and oppressions, we’ve still come a long, long way and it’s and simply No Big Deal anymore. Let’s affirm that victory and all work harder to keep it that way…

Such was not always the case and, to be honest, the other team (with religions proudly egging them on and backing them up) are fighting hard and dirty to reclaim all the intolerant high ground they’ve lost thus far.

Incredibly, all that change and counteraction happened within the span of living memory (mine, in this case). For English-language comics, the shift from illicit pornography to homosexual inclusion in all drama, comedy, adventure and other genres started as late as the 1970s and matured in the 1980s – despite resistance from most western governments – thanks to the efforts of editors like Robert Triptow and Andy Mangels and cartoonists like Howard Cruse, Vaughn Bode, Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs. Gerard P. Donelan, Roberta Gregory, Touko Valio Laaksonen/“Tom of Finland” and Tim Barela.

A native of Los Angeles, Barela was born in 1954, and became a fundamentalist Christian in High School. He loved motorbikes and had dreams of becoming a cartoonist. He was also a gay kid struggling to come to terms with what was still judged illegal, wilfully mind-altering psychosis and perversion – if not actual genetic deviancy – and an appalling sin by his theological peers and close family…

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, and cooking strip (!) The Puttin Gourmet… America’s Favorite Low-Life Epicurean in Biker Lifestyle and FTW News. Four years later, the cartoonist unsuccessfully pitched a domestic (AKA “family”) strip called Ozone to LGBTQA news periodical The Advocate. Among its proposed 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 remodelled new feature was a huge success, included in many successive issues and became the solo star of Gay Comix Special #1 in 1992.

Leonard & Larry also showed up in prestigious benefit comic Strip AIDs U.S.A. before triumphantly relocating to The Advocate in 1988, and – from 1990 – to its rival publication 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. In the 1990s their episodic exploits were gathered in a quartet of wonderfully oversized (220 x 280 mm) monochrome albums which gained a modicum of international stardom and some glittering prizes. This third compendium compiled by Palliard Press between 1996 -2000, follows Domesticity Isn’t Pretty and Kurt Cobain & Mozart Are Both Dead, whilst paving the way for last volume (to date) How Real Men Do It.

As previously stated, as well as featuring a multi-generational cast, Leonard & Larry is a strip that progressed in real time, with characters all aging and developing accordingly. 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. Triumphantly skewering hypocrisy and rebuking ignorance with dry wit and superb drawing, episodes cover various couples’ home and work lives, constant parties, physical deterioration, social gaffes, rows, family revelations, holidays and even events like earthquakes and fanciful prognostications.

Following an Introduction from Animation historian Charles Solomon and Lief Wauters potted history of the strip ‘The Life and Times of Leonard & Larry’, a ‘Leonard & Larry Timeline’ provides a crucial curated recap in copious detail, including reintroducing the vast Byzantine, deftly interwoven cast, with past highlights and low points and reminds readers that this strip passes in real time and the players are aging just like we are…

Star couple Leonard Goldman and Larry Evans live together despite vast family circles and friend groups all apparently at odds with each other. The feature also prominently and increasing plays with fantasy as dream manifestations – or are they actual ghosts? – of composers Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and his bitter frenemy Johannes Brahms plague cast members: acting as a vanguard for even odder occurrences to come…

This family saga is primarily a comedy of manners, played out against social prejudices and grudging gradual popular acceptances, but it also has shocking moments of drama and tension and whole bunches of heartwarming sentiment set in and around West Hollywood.

The extensive Leonard & Larry clan comprise the former’s formidable unaccepting mother Esther – who still ambushes him with blind dates and nice Jewish girls – and the latter’s ex-wife Sharon and the sons of their 18-yeat marriage Richard and David. Teenaged Richard recently knocked up and wed equally school-aged Debbie, making the scrappy couple unwilling grandparents years (decades even!) before they were ready. The oldsters adore baby Lauren but didn’t need to relive all that aging trauma when Debbie announced there would soon be an older sister…

Maternal grandparents Phil and Barbra Dunbarton are ultra conservative and stridently Christian, spending a lot of time fretting over Debbie and Lauren’s souls and their own social standing. They’re particularly concerned over role models and what horrors she and her brother Michael are being exposed to whenever the gay guys babysit. Their appearances are always some of funniest and most satisfying as the deviant clan expands exponentially in this volume…

David Evans is as Queer as his dad, and works in Larry’s leather/fetish boutique store on Melrose Avenue. That iconic venue provides loads of quick, easy laughs and many edgy moments thanks to local developer/predatory expansionist Lillian Lynch who still wants the store at any cost. It’s also the meeting point for many other couples in Leonard & Larry’s eccentric orbit. Their friends/clients enjoy greater roles this time, offering other perspectives on LA life.

Flamboyant former aerospace engineer Frank Freeman lives with acclaimed concert pianist Bob Mendez and is saddled with an compulsive yen for uniforms. It comes in handy again when Bob’s sex-crazed celebrity stalker Fiona Birkenstock breaks jail to re-kidnap him – at least until she switches affection to a certain celebrity judge sentencing her…

Larry’s other employee is Jim Buchanan whose alarming dating history stabilised when he met a genuine cowboy at one of L & L’s parties. Merle Oberon was a newly “out” Texan trucker who added romance and stability to Jim’s lonely life. Sadly, it got complicated in other ways once Merle became a Hollywood soap star and his agents, managers and co-star convinced him his career needed Oberon back in that closet…

Jim, by the way, is the original and central focus of the overly-critical dead composers’ puckish visits…

Also catching attention this time are heated discussions on the supernatural as the ghost composers graduate from dream-based plot device to active participants, playing pranks on many more of the minor cast members. Their games re balanced with ever-kvetching aging-averse Larry painfully adapting to being a doting grandad/perennial babysitter. Jim and Merle meanwhile engage a psychic to exorcise their haunt housemates, blithely unaware that she’s an undercover tabloid hack looking for a juicy exposé…

Younger players take centre stage, offering the author opportunity to spike not just anti-gay bigots but take on good old-fashioned racism too, even delivering a gleefully potent poke at American fundamentalism when the “Christian Coalition” relentlessly pursues good old white, Texan celebrity Merle to be the face of their next “decency campaign” and just won’t take no for an answer…

A surprisingly hard-hitting – if deviously velvet-gloved – storyline sees Jim discovering he was adopted: in fact the child of an unwed catholic girl exploited by the Irish Church’s baby-selling scandal (you really should look up Ireland’s Mother & Baby Homes). Reeling and despondent, his downward spiral is resolved by Merle who secretly arranges a trip to Ireland and a family reunion no-one wanted but everyone benefitted from…

David is Larry’s gay son and not expected to cause chaos and consternation, but that ends when he and his bestie Collin help their lesbian roommate Nat get pregnant and our freaked out oldster contemplates becoming a grandfather yet again…

That hilariously potent arc is compounded when ex-wife Sharon attends one of their frequent dinner parties and gets off with the still-sore former spouse’s only straight acquaintance (classical violinist Gene Slatkin). The liaison sparks incomprehensible jealousy and primeval macho ownership behaviour in Larry, but it’s so much worse when he learns the result is geriatric pregnancy and his becoming an unpaid baby sitter for another family addition…

Extended saga ‘The Baby Shower’ finds the entire conflicted and in many parts intolerant extended family in one room and scoring points As first Sharon and then Nat go into labour it sparks fourth wall shenanigans as Larry again has a meltdown and flees from the hospital, archenemy Mike the midwife, all semblance of parental responsibility and general biological “ickiness”.

The feature provides plenty of moments of wild abandon too, such as when Larry loses a friend’s beloved dog and finds an enormous python with a very full stomach, fun with tarantulas and a startling dream sequence wherein grandkids (7-year-old Lauren and 3-year-old Michael) take over “creating” strip a few times, ultimately confirming grampy’s crazed conviction that he’s nothing but a character in a comic strip crafted by a sadist. Further hallucinogenic riffs – including cowboy antics and a rebellion of Barbie dolls – leads finally to a major emotional growth spurt and Larry’s return to the hospital just in time to join the happy events…

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, appetising fully fleshed out characters, Leonard & Larry was always about finding and then being yourself and remains an irresistible slice of gentle whimsy to nourish the spirit and beguile the jaded. If you feel like taking a Walk on the Mild Side now this tome is still at large through internet vendors. So why don’t you?
Excerpts from the Ring Cycle in Royal Albert Hall © 2000 Palliard Press. All artwork and strips © 2000 Tim Barela. All rights reserved The Life and Times of Leonard & Larry © 2000 Lief Wauters.

After decades of waiting, the entire ensemble is available again courtesy of Rattling Good Yarns Press. Sublimely hefty hardback uber-compilation Finally! The Complete Leonard & Larry Collection was released in 2021, reprinting the entire saga – including rare as hens’ teats last book How Real Men Do It (978-1955826051). It’s a little smaller in page dimensions (216 x280mm) and far harder to lift, but it’s Out There if you want it…

Safer Places


By Kit Anderson (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-77-6 (PB)

If you get a holiday this year and you’re one of those folk that like to read, here’s something a bit different that will certainly add to the desired sense of getting away from it all…

If you’re open to the idea, there’s wonder all around us. It’s not a new notion but remains a potently beguiling one that confirms its power in these interconnected vignettes exploring memory, imagination, inner worlds, nature, secrets, self-help solutions and isolation.

Explored over an initially undisclosed set of parameters and across myriad places and times, these are moments of shared-yet-exclusive realities that appear to be an example of a growing creative vogue/creative zeitgeist – as you’ll see when we imminently review similar but so different Avery Hill release Infinite Wheat Paste: Catalytic Conversions.

Here, however, cartoonist and tale-teller Kit Anderson merges mundane momentary travails with commonplace entertainment escape routes (wizard’s worlds, haunted houses, cyber-realities, alien mindscapes, fresh starts) to explore “liminal spaces and small magic”: digging deep to find the “something greater” we all crave and that must be waiting just out of our sight and other perceptions. Master of short form graphic narratives – you can just call them comics if you want – she hails from Boulder, Colorado but now lives near Zürich. Anderson was ceaselessly making graphic stories even before earning an MFA from The Center for Cartoon Studies in 2022. You can look for her stuff at Parsifal Press and The Rumpus for greater elucidation and edification…

Taking a year to complete, over 18 brief tales Safer Places melds inquisitive inspirations to contemplative cartooning and builds an interlocking sampling of other worlds, times and existences which all lead back to a common core. Blending pedestrian and surreal, employing a variety of art styles and colour palettes, it all begins with ‘Quest I’ as unseen critics speculate upon an old guy who seems to be a wizard who favours the wilds over civilisation, before a bereft boy looking for his cat finds something strange, wondrous and ultimately unsustainable in ‘The Basement’

Tantalising travelogue ‘Wonders of the Lost City’ carries us to ‘Sleep Tape: Country Lane’ and a loving couple under strain and in need of calming talk therapies before the wizard – still moving in mysterious ways – pops back into view for ‘Quest II’, after which a boy in very uncharted waters takes a revelatory ‘Deep Breath’

More calming tactics and rural idyls manifest in ‘Sleep Tape: Forest Walk’ for a woman too wedded to a Wi-Fi-enabled “Smart” world, whereas work pressure taking its toll on a watcher of post dystopian woodlands cannot be as readily assuaged in ‘Lookout Station’. At least the poetic ruminations of ‘Morning’, ‘Hills’ and ‘Waves’ carry us gently into ‘Quest III’ and the wizard’s dramatic interaction with a forest fox, prior to ‘Fallow’ detailing the shocking behaviour of an aged, burned out farmer making amends… and one last lifestyle change.

A computer nerd’s close encounter with digital ‘Wallpaper’ quietly segues into floral terrors as a student succumbs to transformative life-changing illness in ‘Weeds’ whilst ‘Quest IV’ sees a darker day dawn for the wizard before a harassed and lonely wage-slave finding solace and companionship thanks to ‘Sleep Tape: At the Seaside’

‘Whump’ offers a contemplative laugh before a solitary walking tour takes a lonely wanderer to ‘The World’s Biggest Ball of Twine’ even as another recluse escapes connections by grabbing a bike and going for a ‘Ride’, all before the wizard heads home to recharge in ‘Quest V’

Bemusing and seductive, these interlocking voyages reveal the cathartic force of creativity and therapeutic siren call of world-making. Come visit soon, yes?
© Kit Anderson 2024. All rights reserved.

Anarchy Comics – The Complete Collection


By Jay Kinney, Paul Mavrides, Clifford Harper, Gerhard Seyfried, Spain Rodriguez, Melinda Gebbie, Gilbert Shelton, Épistolier, Volny, Michel Troblin, John R. Burnham, Ruby Ray, Steve Stiles, Sharon Rudahl, Peter Pontiac, Guy Colwell, Matt Feazell, Gary Panter, Donald Rooum, Albo Helm, Adam Cornford, Norman Dog, Greg Irons, Steve Lafler, David Lester, brooke Lydbrooke, Pepe Moreno, Harry S. Robins, R. Diggs, S. Zorca, Byron Werner, & various, compiled and edited by Kinney (PM Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60486-531-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

During the “anything goes” 1960s and early1970s issues of personal freedom, sexual liberation, mind-altering self-exploration, questioning of authority and a general rejection of the old ways gripped the young and terrified the establishment. Artists and cartoonists especially began creating the kind of comics and art they wanted and an “Underground Commix movement” became the forefront for “radicalisation” (that’s “The Man’s” terms not mine) of many young intellectuals in America and throughout the world. It consequently led to the rise of and acceptance of comics narrative for adults.

Whenever anybody discusses the history and influence of the Underground and Counter-Culture movements, focus is generally on the exuberant and often racially or sexually offensive expressions of comedic or violent excess – especially in regard to sex and drugs – but that’s a rather cruel and biased oversimplification. The whole phenomenon stemmed from rebellion and the exercise of new-found freedoms. Equally apparent was a striving for new ways of living one’s life – and that’s Politics, Baby, pure and simple…

By 1978 that unchecked artistic flourishing had died back in every sphere – especially the wholesale creation of comics – and the mainstream world, having assimilated what it liked of the explosively fresh thought and deeds, appropriated or adopted some of the tone and tenets of the movement before getting back to making money and suppressing masses in a “new normal”…

However, once creative passions have been aroused and stoked they are hard to suppress. There is no more powerful medium of expression or tool of social change than graphic narrative – although music and poetry come close – and some kids found it harder to surrender their ideals than others. In 1977, as Disco, indolence, hedonism and the pursuit of money increasingly obsessed media and populace, a bunch of left-leaning liberal intellectual cartoonists got together in San Francisco. They wanted to create a comics anthology dedicated to propounding ideals of willing co-operation, personal responsibility and a rejection of unwanted oppressive authority – governmental, religious or corporate. By entertaining and educating through cartoons they intended to highlight issues of inequality and iniquity: in short, they went to bat for Anarchy…

Just as the global Punk movement began to take hold in a new generation of angry, powerless and disenfranchised Youth, West Coast cartoonist, satirist designer, editor and socialist political activist Jay Kinney – who had co-created the seminal underground title Young Lust (and yes that was a pun; so sue me!) – reached out to like-minded old associates like Paul Mavrides with the intention of creating an international comic book to promulgate their world view.

Kinney had been corresponding with British Anarchist artist Clifford Harper (Class War Comics) and had similarly-inclined West German cartoonist Gerhard Seyfried kipping on his floor at that time, so the idea of a forum for graphic expression of political ideas must have seemed like a no-brainer…

Of course, there’s no such thing as slavish doctrinaire consensus in Anarchist idealism – that’s pretty much the whole point – and the comic was envisioned more as a platform to present wide-ranging Left-Libertarian ideas through satire and historical reportage as a basis for further debate.

How the project developed from there and its ultimate effects and influence is fully described in author/historian Paul Buhle’s ‘Anarchy Comics Revisited’ and Kinney’s own expansive, evocative ‘Introduction’ before the entire 4-issue, 9-year run is re-presented in all its monochrome glory. beginning with Anarchy Comics #1 from 1978. It sports a witty cover by Kinney and deliciously wry intro page Inside Cover by Kinney & Seyfried. The editor then opened the attack with ‘Too Real’: using collage images from comic book ads to spoof the American Dream of prosperity and suburban bliss, after which counterculture legend Spain Rodriguez recounts the story of ‘Nestor Makhno’ whose fight for independence led to his betrayal by his Soviet allies in the early days of their Revolution.

Kinney’s ‘Smarmy Comics’ presents a decade of strip spoofs dedicated to exposing ‘Fascism: the Power to Finance Capital Itself’, after which the amazing Melinda Gebbie constructs a strident feminist call to arms against female oppression in educational diatribe ‘The Quilting Bee’ before Spain returns with a brutal true tale of the Spanish Civil War ‘Blood and Sky’ and an Underground superstar offers a frightening prognostication in ‘Gilbert Shelton’s Advanced International Motoring Tips’

For someone with no appreciable budget or resources, Kinney was astonishingly successful in securing international contributions. From France’s L’echo Des Savannes #29 came a translated tale of more Bolshevik perfidy in ‘Liberty Through the Ages: Kronstadt’ by Épistolier (Yves Frémion) & Volny (Françoise Dupuy) wherein a local dispute escalates into an horrific early instance of merciless repression in the People’s Paradise, before Bay area cartoonist John R. Burnham challenges the future with his polemical ‘What’s the Difference?’

True Brit Clifford Harper offers a moving and witty account of grass roots resistance in the tale of ‘Owd Nancy’s Petticoat’ (set in the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre), after which Kinney delivers wry Comic Strip parodies ‘Safehouse’, ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘Today’s Rhetoric’ – complete with faux ad – before Mavrides hilariously attacks the utopian/dystopian debate with ‘Some Straight Talk about Anarchy’. The issue ends with a stylish ad for like-minded publications from Kinney & Seyfried, which last also crafted a humorous depiction of a mass anarchist demonstration in Tiananmen Square 11 years before the tragic, monstrous real thing…

Issue #2 didn’t appear until 1979 and opened with a photographic punk cover by Ruby Ray & Kinney, with the latter & Seyfried collaborating on another hilarious introductory page before the fireworks kicked off with Steve Stiles’ chilling account of his brush with Military Intelligence. Once the brass realised he might have had associations with turn-of-the-century Labour Movement The Industrial Workers of the World, the baffled soldier-boy found himself suspected of crimes he didn’t know existed. How the ‘Wobblies!’ could subvert a hapless GI in 1967 is still unclear to the author of this smart but scary tale…

‘Believe It!’ by Sharon Rudahl exposes true but crazy beliefs from history whilst

‘Kultur Dokuments’ (Kinney & Mavrides) brilliantly blends styles and metaphors to harangue the working world in a clever tale that starts as pictograms and ends as a vicious swipe at Archie Comics. Harper then adapts “Bert” Brecht’s grim ballad ‘The Black Freighter’ (perhaps better known in English as “Pirate Jenny” via Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera), Spain details the life of Civil War freedom-fighter Buenaventura ‘Durruti’ and Dutch artist Peter Pontiac exposes sexual fantasy and other anti-spontaneity heresies in ‘Romantic! Anarchy’ before Kinney dryly restores order with spoof talk-show ‘Radical Reflections’.

Épistolier & Michel Trublin relate how radicals Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman changed the smugly complacent nature of Wall Street in ‘Liberty Through the Ages: The Yippies at the Exchange’ before Gebbie potently limns illustrated ‘Quotes from Red Emma’ (Goldman) after which ‘The Bizarre yet Familiar World of Commodity Fetishism!’ (Kinney) embellishes a Seyfried Inside back-cover ad with the glorious whole finished off in a painted Black Velvet portrait of Chairman Mao by Mavrides.

Anarchy Comics #3 arrived in 1981, sporting a traditional anarchic rampaging rogue by Pontiac & Guy Colwell and – after a clever introduction by Kinney & Mavrides – proceeds with the duo’s hilariously dark time-travel tale ‘No Exit’ showing how even the perfect future can’t please some activists. Next is Épistolier & Trublin’s trenchant examination of Church repression of workers in ‘Anarchy in the Alsace: The Revolt of the Rustauds’ and a welcome appearance for Donald Rooum’s iconic feline thought-experiment Wildcat.

Rooum was a spectacularly talented, gentle, fiercely pacifist freedom-fighter, educator and eternal knowledge seeker who contributed brilliant cartoons to British comics, magazines and the Anarchist press for over 60 years. His Wildcat cartoons have been collected continually and are a must have item whatever your political leaning…

The merriment continues in ‘The Act of Creation According to Bakunin’ by Dutch cartoonist Albo Helm, giving the genesis myth a thorough re-evaluation, after which Harper interprets French politician/philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s pointed ‘What is Government?’ with telling graphic savagery.

More of Kinney’s ‘Radical Reflections’ follow before Spain (with Adam Cornford & Kinney) examines the rise of the Red Brigade through Italian labour agitation and student unrest via ‘Roman Spring’, whilst Steve Laffler restores much-needed absurdity through deployment of rude, anti-Capitalist superhero the ‘Naked Avenger’.

Seyfried crafts a sharp display of police mentality in ‘Walkie Talkie’ before then relative newcomer Gary Panter plays with traditional bomb-throwing view of anarchists in his vicious comedy ‘Awake, Purox, Awake!’, whilst Gebbie & Cornford collaborate on a psychedelic tribute to ‘Benjamin Peret: Poet as Revolutionary and Rudahl supplies a slyly effective castigation of workers’ children-turned-capitalists in ‘The Treasure of Cabo Santiago’.

Comix iconoclast Greg Irons is represented here with moodily scary tale ‘Who’s in Charge Here?’ and Canadian cartoonist David Lester tackles sexual politics and the New Man in ‘Men Strips: Men March On’, ‘The Amazing Colossal Men’ and ‘The March of Men’ before Marian (now just brooke) Lydbrooke spoofs marital oppression in ‘At Home With…’ with Kinney exploring similar territory in ‘New Age Politics’.

Matt (Amazing Cynicalman) Feazell debuted here with an impressive bug-eyed view of class warfare and divisive manipulation by the bosses in the excellent ‘Pest Control’ before Kinney & Seyfried cobble together an inside back-cover ‘Bulletin Board’ and the garrulous German ends the issue with a classy spoof ad touting ‘New! Improved! Anarchy’ to end all our global pest woes…

After this issue Kinney’s time was increasingly taken up with other projects, and it wasn’t until 1987 that new editor Mavrides released Anarchy Comics #4, with both cover and introduction page products of his sublimely prolific satirist’s pen. He nonetheless joined with Kinney on apocalyptic parody on the End of Days ‘Armageddon Outahere! before the always challenging Harper contributes a terrifyingly true case regarding British poet Jimmy Heather-Hayes’ death in police custody at Ashford Prison, Kent ‘On the Night of March 3, 1982’.

Norman Dog creates a choose-your-own-ending role-playing strip in ‘You Rule the World!’ and Spain details the fall of Emperor Napoleon III, the entire Franco-Prussian War and the meteoric coming and going of the Communards in ‘1871’, after which Gebbie relates her own clash with British censorship in magically metaphoric fable ‘Public Enemy’.

‘Mr. Helpful’ is a more traditional cartoon quandary posed by Norman Dog whilst S. Zorca’s prose vignette ‘Executive Terrorism’ take a hefty swipe at Presidential Privilege and R. Diggs goes for the jugular in his logical extension of economic Darwinism ‘Korporate-Rex’.

The final issue closes with Harry S. Robins tapped into his Church of the SubGenius roots, addressing the apparent dichotomy of the philosophy in ‘Anarchy = Panarchy’ before Byron Werner’s ‘One-page strip’ suggests the only way we can rationally deal with intelligent extraterrestrial life, Mavrides & Kinney clashwith the Military-Industrial Complex in ‘Cover-up Lowdown’ and a final Back Cover offers a photo of Hiroshima after all the dust settled…

As you’d expect, this fabulous collection doesn’t stick to tradition, and after a standard section of contributing Cartoonist Biographies, and a sumptuous colour section including all covers, Outtakes, Sketches Roughs and a fulsome photographic Anarchy Comics Family Album, a New Comix addendum features a stunning new strip which would certainly have been in a fifth issue… if there had been one.

‘The Amazing Tale of Victoria Woodhull’ by Rudahl depicts the life of the most incredible woman you’ve never heard of: a libertine, suffragette, opportunist and crusader for women’s rights and female emancipation who started out as an American white trash huckster and died the wife of a British aristocrat.

This is followed by Sketchbook Drawings and Outtakes from Kinney, revealing abortive ideas and graphic dead ends such as Anarchy Chic, Shoot-Out at the Circle A Ranch, Revolt, Sectarianism, Marx my Words, spoof political mags, the Amazing Rhetoric Translator and the marvellous Oppressive Dichotomies – all strips that might well have found fans… if…

A stunning reminiscence of a time when we thought the world could still be changed and, hopefully, a stark example for the current generation who just won’t take it anymore, Anarchy Comics is still, funny, powerful, inspirational and out there.

And that’s not up for debate…
© 2013 Jay Kinney, Paul Mavrides and respective writers & artists. All rights reserved.

George Sand: True Genius, True Woman


By Séverine Vidal & Kim Consigny, translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-20-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

It’s a sad but inescapable fact that throughout history men have constantly belittled, gaslit, constrained, oppressed, repressed and sabotaged women, presumably in some misguided, malign and apparently pointlessly dick-fuelled campaign to keep them in their place and at our beck and call. It’s also a wonderful truism that over and again, despite personal danger and inevitable pain of consequences endured, many remarkable women have found ways to escape the trap.

Quite a few have done it by guile: simply pretending to one of the guys…

One such was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin de Francueil (1st July 1804 – 8th June 1876) who defied, dodged and practically avoided almost all the arbitrary constraints of being a rich, propertied heiress in a strictly codified society where women (just like minors, criminals and imbeciles) had no rights.

Employing her brains, innate diplomatic acumen and passion for storytelling, Aurore made her own way all her life: writing books, plays, articles, literary criticism, and memoires whilst employing her growing influence and ever-expanding net of contacts to fight for social equality – and generally scandalise Europe – as “George Sand”.

She was also bold a pioneer in Gender Expression, defiantly smoking in public and drinking, dressing and acting as a man – an actual legal offense from 1800 onwards, albeit one typically ignored by the Parisian intelligentsia. This wilful civil disobedience won Sand access to many venues expressly barring women, as she also flouted the nation’s ethical foundations with “libertine” behaviour: exploring true sexual liberation and parity through a reputed “host” of male and female partners…

Daughter of a flighty Bohemian, raised by her autocratic paternal grandmother and married off to an appallingly typical rich husband (Baron Casimir Dudevant), Aurore rebelled and lived her own way. She became a staunch proponent of radical ideas, especially women’s rights to full equality under law, and freedom to love as they chose. She even claimed everyone had a right to self-declare a preferred gender and railed against Church-sanctioned strictures of marriage and over tumultuous decades, publicly risked everything to champion social freedoms. She battled bourgeois reactionary governments and sought to elevate the lower classes during the most politically volatile time in France’s history.

Internationally revered and reviled, but – partially – insulated by wealth and position, Sand only wanted to tell stories and live free, but – because that right was universal – became a powerful social commentator, agitator, noteworthy journalistic gadfly. An effective player of power politics at a time when women were relegated to a decorative but always submissive role (generally a means of transferring property and wealth from one man to another) Sand was a tireless reformer who at heart just wanted to live an unshackled life.

Aurore ceaselessly challenged the system: using as example the way she lived; employing rabble-rousing tactics and direct action; instigating subtle intrigue and debate amongst her intellectual peers, and in any other way that came to her – all whilst living a s guilt-free, hedonistic existence. Meanwhile, a steady stream of groundbreaking books and plays confronted these issues and made converts one reader at a time…

First released in Europe as George Sand, fille du siècle in 2019 and as closely detailed and diligently depicted by author Séverine Vidal (A Tale Off the Top of My Head, Le Manteau, J’ai une maison) and illustrated by frequent collaborator Kim Consigny (Forte, À l’orée du monde, L’été de mes 17 ans), this compelling and charming monochrome biography reads far more like a sprawling generational dramatic saga in the manner of Wuthering Heights, Vanity Fair or Le Colonel Chabert rather than a dusty historical tract. Interleaved with excerpts from her own “tell-all” book Story of My Life: The Autobiography of George Sand, her books and other scholarly sources such as The George Sand-Gustave Flaubert Letters, the epic chronologically traces her torrid life, agonising mistakes, family struggles, literary and political successes: a riches to rags to riches story arc peppered with a tantalising smattering of enemies made at a time when France struggled against cultural annihilation and civil chaos.

Along the way George Sand wrote 70 novels, 13 plays, and 50 volumes worth of collected writings and speeches that are more relevant today than ever…

What’s most significant here is just how contemporaneous and readable modern audiences will find this true story. The subject and narrative are a treat for fans of racy modern bodice ripper dramas like Bridgerton or Succession – with a healthy helping of Les Misérables seasoning the mix. Incidentally, Victor Hugo numbered amongst her many intellectual – if not amatory – conquests. Other “close friends” and/or foes guest starring in these pages include Chopin, Liszt, Delacroix, Balzac, Baudelaire, the Emperor Louis Napoleon, Jules Sandeau, Prosper Mérimée, Marie Dorval, Flaubert and more. However, amidst trauma and tragedy are many moments of lasting true love and rewarding contentment – such as George’s idyllic 15-year relationship with adored partner “Mancel” – which counter any notion of this being a moralistic warning tale.

Although Sand’s astounding life was filled with enough drama, setbacks, family feuding, skulduggery, glamour, global travel and sheer celebrity cachet to make her a proper modern icon, with the added allure of being absolutely true and shaped by iniquity, inequality, triumph and heartbreak, this is ultimately the history of a winner beating the system and whose uncompromising life was lived triumphantly on her own terms: confirming that life doesn’t have to be endured on any terms but your own…
© Editions Delcourt 2019. All rights reserved.

Marble Cake


By Scott Jason Smith (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-47-9 (TPB/Digital edition)

I read a lot of graphic novels. Some are awful, many are mediocre and the rest – great, good, noteworthy or just different from the mass, commercially-driven output of a global art form and industry – I share with you.

Some publishers have a proud policy of championing that last category (Top Shelf, Drawn & Quarterly, NBM, Oni Press, Fantagraphics and others) – even though there’s seldom any real money in it. My favourite of these bold pioneers at the moment is British-based Avery Hill Publishing. I truly have not yet seen a duff or homogenised release from them.

Scott Jason Smith hails from the seamy south side of London (as all the best folk do) and quickly forged a solid reputation with self-published comics and stories like ‘Blossom the tall old lady’ and in collaborations with mainstream-adjacent contemporaries in tomes such as 69 Love Songs Illustrated.

Scott is skilled in depicting people and mundane life and possesses a sharp sense of humour, honed by spending a lot of time listening to how ordinary folk talk. Knowing what we all have in common allows for an extremely deft use of dialogue to build character and construct scenarios at once drearily familiar and subtly tweaked and twisted. This all adds a potent veracity to this particular brand of everyday adventuring which here seamlessly slips from a soap-operatic drama of the mundane or “Commedia dell’plebia” to a suitably underplayed terror-scape mirroring the Theatre of the Absurd as envisioned by Samuel Beckett or Daniel Clowes…

Marble Cake was a debut novel-length tale, relating intersecting moments of a bunch of strangers and casual near-acquaintances who all interact with till girl Tracy at the local Smartmart store. Her job leaves plenty of time to fantasize about what “her” customers do when she’s not around, but she really has no idea of what’s really going on. In fact, no one does…

Life and death, joblessness and social standing, malice and sexual desire, intolerance and ennui, but especially hopelessness and general distrust tinge every real or imagined home-life that Tracy ponders – even her own. However, when genuine threat and mystery – such as a string of baffling disappearances – increasingly grip the community, no one has any idea how to respond…

This compelling, tale challenges notion of self-worth and universal rationality in a wryly acerbic manner that will intrigue and charm lovers of slice-of-life yarns as well as surreal storytelling, and who don’t mind doing a bit of the cerebral heavy lifting themselves.
© Scott Jason Smith 2019. All rights reserved.

Self-Esteem and The End of the World


By Luke Healy (Faber)
ISBN: 978-0-571-37560-8 (HB)

Ireland’s multi-award-winning low-key iconoclast Luke Healy studied journalism at Dublin University and earned an MFA in Cartooning from the Center for Cartoon Studies (Vermont, USA). An occasional stand-up comedian, his previous cartoon works – such as Americana, Permanent Press and How to Survive in the North – have won prizes and acclaim, and he’s also done gallery shows in places like Manhattan’s Museum of Comics & Cartoon Art.

His aforementioned comics for VICE, The Nib, A24, Medium, Nobrow and Avery Hill are exceptionally good and, as I hinted, he apparently likes exposing himself to ridicule on stage. But not so much, these days.

By combining all that trauma, weltschmerz and experience into tales exploring basic big stuff like life, friends, and how to keep your head above emotional water, he has kept many of us wonderfully entertained and himself alive for a decade. Here and now, that self-excoriating journey manifests as bursts of small-scale prediction and prognostication. By looking inwards and backwards, Healy has unlocked a doorway to our probable mutual future…

As seen in prior books (like The Con Artists) our absolutely Unreliable Narrator is London-based, Irish, gay, formerly Catholic, clinically anxious and helplessly honest. He’s still undergoing treatment for his head problems and other self-diagnosed personal issues whilst perennially building pre-emptive stress for the next Big Bad Thing. Incisive, sentimental absurdist, pedestrian and casually surreal, the collective appointments with destiny are delivered in three acts each entitled Luke Healy is…’ with the first preceded by tone-setting prelude ‘fig (i) Self (ish)’.

Here the aging worry-wort consults his treatment advisor and grudgingly accepts a new tactic to process feelings and responses. The first prophetic episode then sees him making Plans’ as a moment of elation at a family gathering plunges him back down and confirms his gloomy assessment of everything after he attends twin brother Teddy’s engagement party and endures a major disappointment. Retreating if not exactly retrenching, Luke immerses himself in a tidal wave of self-help books and runs away to a hotel where he indulges in some unwise acts. And then Teddy tracks him down…

The narrative digresses for ‘Interlude (i) Luke brings a date back to his flat’ after which hilarious encounter we jump ahead five years to reveal ‘Luke Healy is…’ a paid writer scripting a work-training play for a major company. Sadly, devising ‘L’hotel du Murder’ as a whodunnit was a doomed proposition from the start.

The country is on viral lockdown again, Wye Valley’s Regional Hereford Gotel experiences an actual real murder the night before the premiere and with his Mam in the invited audience, Luke has to stage-manage rubbish players, his own stress, a deadly flood and the revelation that he’s subconsciously made the entire story all about him and his bosses and now faces inevitable exposure and humiliation. It never rains but it pours…

Another strange break comes with ‘Interlude (ii) Luke has a video conference with his former agents’ and he learns his books have been re-optioned. The pittance paid means the studio still aren’t making the film they’ve already “bagsied” – and so no one else can – but his reps are keen to sell something else. Surely he must have some old comics or small press stories they can push?

Another five years go by and ‘Luke Healy is…’ in Lefkada. The Greek island – like much of the planet – is mostly submerged now. Although officially working as a telemarketer at and from home, Luke has come to the expanded Aegean on a deeply personal mission. Soon he’s adopted by fellow traveller Beth: there to explore the unearthed archaeological detritus of the past.

Framed from the start in deceit, the jaunt ends painfully for all concerned and – after returning to England – ‘Interlude (iii) Luke receives a phone call’ which promises to change his life forever. Following another ‘fig (ii) Self (ish)’ moment, ‘Luke Healy is… OTMPOW’ finds the bewildered failed author and his Mam five years further on: whisked to Palm Springs (the new Hollywood ever since Los Angeles slipped beneath the seas) where a sleazy producer is turning Healy’s old comic about whale-watching into a mega blockbuster. It’s such a shame the cetaceans aren’t real and the filmmaker is hiding his secret agenda…

An ‘Epilogue’ details the sorry aftermath of all that and is accompanied by ‘appendix (ii) Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales’ which “reprints” the college mini comic notionally adapted into that ludicrous and conniving movie, with young teens in Reykjavik hanging out, having sex and making mistakes on an Icelandic whale-spotting boat: a terse and grittily witty romance I’d certainly watch…

It seems fittingly ironic that this wry and introspective examination of the fustercluck that has become the totality of All Human Endeavour is released on the day much of Britain goes to the polls to choose the minor nabobs who will mis-guide and mis-lead us until our next general election, but that’s really just a peculiar and coincidental facet of publishing schedules. There’s certainly nothing conspicuously covert or conspiratorial. Nope. Nu-uh. No sirree-bob. Read nothing into it, but please do read this book…
© Luke Healy, 2024. All rights reserved.

Self-Esteem and The End of the World is published today.

Prez: The First Teen President


By Joe Simon, Jerry Grandenetti & Creig Flessel, with Cary Bates, Neil Gaiman, Ed Brubaker, Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Art Saaf, Mike Allred, Bryan Talbot, Mark Buckingham, Eric Shanower & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-6317-1 (TPB/Digital edition)

At a time when American comic books were just coming into their adolescence – but not maturity – Prez was a hippie teenager created by industry royalty. In the early 1970s, Joe Simon made one of his irregular yet always eccentrically fruitful sojourns back to DC Comics, managing to sneak a bevy of exceedingly strange concepts right past the usually-conservative powers-that-be and onto the spinner racks and newsstands of the world.

Possibly the most anarchic and subversive of these postulated a time (approximately 20 minutes into the future) when US teenagers had the vote. The first-time electorate – idealists all – elected a diligent, honest young man every inch the hardworking, honest patriot every American politician claimed to be.

In 2015 that concept was given a devilishly adroit makeover for post-millennial generations. The result was a superbly outrageous cartoon assessment of the State of the Nation – Prez: Corndog-in-Chief. Once you’re done here, you should read that too and then ferociously lobby DC to release the concluding chapters in that saga…

Back here, however, and still in 1972, Simon (Captain America, Fighting American, The Fly, Black Magic, Young Romance) was passionately doing what he always did: devising ways for ever-broader audiences to enjoy comics. This carefully curated compilation gathers every incidence of the best leader they never had, from original run Prez #1-4 (September 1973 – March 1974), through unpublished tales from Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, guest cameos and revivals in Supergirl #10, The Sandman #54, Vertigo Visions: Prez #1, The Dark Knight Strikes Again and The Multiversity Guidebook #1.

It all begins in the little town of Steadfast where average teen Prez Rickard makes a minor splash by fixing all the clocks and making them run on time. Throughout the rest of the USA, dissent, moral decay and civil breakdown terrify the populace in an election year. Corrupt businessman and political influencer Boss Smiley wants to capitalise on a new amendment allowing 18-year-olds to vote. He picks Rickard as a perfect patsy, but his chicanery comes awry when newly-elected Prez turns out to have a mind, backbone and agenda of his own…

With early – if heavy-handed – salutes to ecological and native rights movements, ‘Oh Say Does That Star Spangled Banner Yet Wave?’ by Simon, veteran illustrator Jerry Grandenetti set the scene for a wild ride unlike any seen in kids’ comics. Equal parts hallucinogenic political satire, topical commentary and sci-fi romp, the mandate mayhem expanded in ‘Invasion of the Chessmen’, as a global goodwill tour threatens to bring worldwide peace and reconciliation… until America’s grandmaster provokes an international incident with the chess-loving Soviet Union. Cue killer robots in assorted chess shapes and a sexy Russian Queen and watch the fireworks…

‘Invasion of America’ tackles political assassination and social repercussions after Prez decides to outlaw guns. I think no more need be said…

The original run ended with the fourth episode, spoofing international diplomacy as Transylvania dispatches its new Ambassador to Washington DC: an actual werewolf paving the way to devious conquest which led briefly to a ‘Vampire in the White House’ (inked by Creig Flessel).

Although the series was cancelled if not impeached, a fifth tale was in production when the axe fell. It eventually appeared with other prematurely curtailed stories in 1978’s Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2 and appears here in monochrome as ‘The Devil’s Exterminator!’ with a bug infestation in DC tackled by a mythical madman. When Congress refuses to pay his sky-high bill ($5 million or three lunches in today’s money!), Clyde Piper abducts all the children, and PotUS is forced into outrageous executive action…

There was one final 1970s appearance. Supergirl #10 (October 1974 by Cary Bates, Art Saaf & Vince Colletta) featured ‘Death of a Prez!’ wherein the Commander in Chief was targeted for assassination by killer witch Hepzibah, using an ensorcelled Girl of Steel to do her dirty work – with predictable results…

Prez Rickard vanished in a welter of superhero angst and science fiction spectacle after that, but made a quiet cameo in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman story arc World’s End. Illustrated by Michael Allred, Bryan Talbot & Mark Buckingham, ‘The Golden Boy’ (The Sandman #54 October 1993) offers a typically askance view of the boy leader’s origins, his enemies, the temptations of power and the ends of his story. It generated enough interest to spark follow-up one-shot Vertigo Visions: Prez #1 (September 1995) as Ed Brubaker & Eric Shanower crafted ‘Smells Like Teen President’. After being missing for years, America’ youngest President is being trailed by a young hitchhiker who might well be his son…

The moving search for family, identity, belonging and purpose is followed by a typically iconoclastic vignette by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley taken from The Dark Knight Strikes Again (December 2001) with the Leader of the Free(ish) World exposed as a computer simulation after which the history lesson concludes with Grant Morrison, Scott Hepburn & Nathan Fairbairn’s page on Hippie-dippy ‘Earth 47’ and its comic book landmarks (Prez, Brother Power, The Geek, Sunshine Superman and others) as first seen in The Multiversity Guidebook #1 (January 2015).

I used to think comics were the sharpest reflection of popular culture from any given era. That’s certainly the case here, and maybe there are lessons to be learned from re-examining them with eyes of experience. What is irrefutable, and in no way fake news, is that they’re still fun and enjoyable if read in a historical context. So read this, vote if you can and get ready. I can guarantee not even funnybook creators can predict what’s coming next.
© 1973, 1974, 1978, 1993, 1995, 2001, 2002, 2015, 2016 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Ruins (Paperback Edition)


By Peter Kuper (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-18-8 (TPB/Digital edition)

Multi award-winning artist, storyteller, illustrator, educator and activist Peter Kuper was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1958, before the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was six. Growing up there he (briefly) met iconic Underground Commix pioneer R. Crumb and at school befriended fellow comics fan Seth Tobocman (Disaster and Resistance: Comics and Landscapes for the 21st Century, War in the Neighborhood, You Don’t Have to Fuck People Over to Survive).

As they progressed through the school system together, Kuper & Tobocman caught the bug for self-publishing. They then attended Kent State University together. Upon graduation in 1979, both moved to New York and whilst studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and The Art Students League created – with painter Christof Kohlhofer – landmark political art/comics magazine World War 3 Illustrated. Separately and in conjunction, in comics, illustration and via art events, Kuper & Tobocman continued championing social causes, highlighting judicial and cultural inequities and spearheading the use of narrative art as a tool of activism.

Although a noted and true son of the Big Apple now and despite brushing with the comics mainstream as Howard Chaykin’s assistant at Upstart Associates, most of Kuper’s singularly impressive works are considered “Alternative” in nature, deriving from his regular far-flung travels and political leanings. Moreover, although being about how people are, much of his oeuvre employs cityscapes and the natural environment as bit players or star attractions.

When not binding his own “Life Lived in Interesting Times” into experimental narratives – such as with 2007’s fictively-cloaked Stop Forgetting To Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz – or bold yarns like Sticks and Stones (2005), Kuper created The New York Times’ first continuing strip (1993’s Eye of the Beholder) and regularly adapts to strip form literary classics like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1991), Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (2019), Kafka’s short stories  Give It Up! (1995) and Kafkaesque (2018) as well as longer works like The Metamorphosis (2003), all while creating his own unique canon of intriguing graphic novels and visual memoirs.

Amongst the so many strings to his bow – and certainly the most high-profile – was a brilliant stewardship of Mad Magazine’s beloved Spy Vs. Spy strip, which he inherited from creator Antonio Prohias in 1997, and he also chases whimsy in children’s books like 2006’s Theo and the Blue Note or experimental exercise The Last Cat Book (1984: illustrating an essay by Robert E Howard). Whenever he travelled – which was often – he made visual books such as 1992’s Peter Kuper’s Comics Trips – A Journal of Travels through Africa and Southeast Asia. Three years later he undertook a bold creative challenge for DC’s Vertigo Verité imprint: crafting mute, fantastically expressive thriller/swingeing social commentary The System.

Kuper’s later comics – all equally ambitious and groundbreaking – had to make room for his other interests as he became a successful commercial illustrator (Newsweek, Time, The Nation, Businessweek, The Progressive, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly and more), lecturer in Graphic Novels at Harvard, a teacher at Parsons School of Design and The School of Visual Arts and – since 1988 – co-Art Director of political action group INX International Ink Company. Translated into many languages, he has built a thriving occupation as a gallery artist exhibiting globally and scored a whole bunch of prestigious Fellowships and Educational residencies as a result.

He still finds time to pursue his key interests – such as contributing to benefit anthology Comics for Ukraine: Sunflower Seeds and cultivates a lifelong passion for entomology. This hobby infused 2015’s fictionalized autobiographical episode Ruins: an Eisner Award winning tome now available again in an enthralling trade paperback edition.

A passionate multilayered tale of crisis, confrontation and renewal infused by his ecological concerns, political leanings, rage against authoritarianism and love of Mexico, it draws from the same deep well as 2009’s Diario De Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico. Between 2006 and 2008, Kuper, his wife and young daughter lived in Oaxaca, absorbing astounding historical and cultural riches, beguiling natural wonders, hearty warmth and nonjudgemental friendliness. They also witnessed how a teacher’s strike was brutally and bloodily suppressed by local governor/dictator Ulises Ruiz Ortiz – AKA “URO” – in a series of events with a still heavily disputed death toll scarring the region and citizens to this day.

Part travelogue, part natural history call to arms and paean to the culture of Oaxaca, Kuper’s tale details a marriage in crisis played out against a disintegrating crisis of governance. Recently unemployed, socially withdrawn and emotionally stunted museum illustrator/bug lover George finally capitulates and voyages to the Mexican dreamland his wife Samantha has been pining for since before they met. Under the aegis of a sabbatical year taken to write a book on pre-conquest Mexico, she has dragged him out of ennui and churlish career doldrums to a place where he can indulge his abiding love of insects, if not her…

For Samantha, it’s a return to a paradisical place and magical time, albeit one where she loved and lost her first husband. That’s not the sole cause of growing friction between the increasingly at odds couple. The lengthy trip’s overt intention of reuniting them falters as she is drawn deeply into stories of how the Conquistadors destroyed Mesoamerican cultures they found and highlights parallels to her own plight. There are other earthier distractions she just can’t shake off too…

Slowly, George’s intransigence melts as he meets people willing to tolerate his ways, see beyond his shell, and share the history, geology, geography and serenely easy-going culture that eventually penetrates his crusty exterior. All manner of distracting temptations – like the infinite variety of cool bugs! – are endless and constant as he makes friends and finds healthier ways to express himself. He even tries to renew his constrained relationship with Samantha, but there will always be one impossible, impassable barrier to their future happiness…

… And then they’re caught up in the Teachers’ strike and extra-judicial methods Governor URO employs to end it even as George achieves the milestone life goal he never thought possible and visits the Michoacan forest where Monarchs come to breed and die.

… And finds it expiring from human intrusion…

Acting as thematic spine and tonal indicator for the unfolding story, each chapter follows – with snapshot scenes of changing, degrading landscapes – the epic flight of a lone Monarch butterfly, from its start in Canada, across America to the forest’s lepidopteran devotee George ostensibly left his comfort zone home to see.

With overtones of Peter Weir’s film The Year of Living Dangerously (and Christopher Koch’s novel too), Ruins layers metaphor upon allegory, distilling political, ecological and personal confrontation into a powerfully evocative account of people at a crossroads. Inspirationally visualised in a wealth of styles by a true master of pictorial narrative and classic drama, this new paperback edition also includes an ‘Afterwords’ where the author adds context to the still ongoing saga of the civil war crime underpinning his story.

Clever, charming, chilling and compulsively engrossing, this delicious exercise in interconnectivity is a brilliant example of how smart and powerful comics can and should be.
© Peter Kuper 2015. All rights reserved.