Shadowland


By Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN 978-1-56097-771-1 (PB)

Roll, up! Roll, up!

Kim Deitch has been one of the leading lights of America’s Comix Underground since its earliest days, although as with Harvey Pekar and American Splendor, it was only relatively late on that he has won wider acclaim: in his case for 2002’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams and 2010’s The Search for Smilin’ Ed. For much of his cartooning career he has crafted occasional short stories about a down-at-heel carnival and the shabby, eccentric no-hopers that have populated it through-out the 150 years. Shadowland – available in paperback or digital formats – was the first complete collection, and also features a splendid colour gallery of supplemental artwork.

Combining science-fiction, conspiracy theory, urban history and legend, show-biz razzmatazz, Film Noir and an outrageously honed sense of the absurd, Deitch weaves an irresistible spell that charms, thrills and disturbs whilst his meticulous black and white drawing holds the reader in a deceptively fluffy grip.

Dripping authentic loving nostalgia and oozing the sleazy appreciation everyone secretly harbours for trashy entertainments, the story of clown and Carny Al Ledicker Jr. as he shambles his way through the sleaziest parts of the 20th century in this wonderful compendium and critique of the “Americana Way” is a truly unmissable, fabulously guilty pleasure. Fill yer boots, folks!
Text, art & characters © 2006 Kim Deitch. All rights reserved.

Invisible ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist


By Bill Griffith (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-895-3 (HB)

Starting life as an underground feature in 1971, Bill Griffith’s absurdist commentary on American society Zippy the Pinhead has grown into such a prodigious and pervasive counter-culture landmark that it’s almost a bastion of the civilisation it constantly scrutinises and ridicules.

What I never suspected before and – according to the revelations stunningly catalogued and depicted in this powerful and absorbing Graphic Memoir, nor did he – was the subtle influence the gods of cartooning had been constantly exerting upon his family’s lives for generations…

As much a detective yarn and fond memorial to simpler (but just as complex) times as a straight biography, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist reveals how the cartoonist and social commentator (already long-schooled in the proud achievements of artistic ancestor and photographic pioneer William Henry Jackson) uncovered further pictorial predecessors and briefly became an impassioned genealogist and investigator after an elderly uncle decided it was time to pass on a boxful of dusty family memorabilia.

An uneventful yet evocative journey from Connecticut to North Carolina – miles slowly passing as the traveller is immersed in internet research – starts memories flowing and when Uncle Alan hands over a historical treasure trove the naturally contemplative cartoonist’s childhood memories are triggered and his instincts for a good story are piqued…

Griffith’s thoughts continually return to his own childhood in Levittown when he and his passionate, beautiful, aspiring-author mother regularly posed for neighbour and legendary pulp illustrator Ed Emshwiller’s many magazine covers. By the time the voyager stops discussing the past, Bill is powerfully aware of just how real and earthy and fallibly human his relatives were. As yet, however, the discourse still offers no insight into why his own cold, abusive father turned out the way he did…

Meticulous Alan is a mine of useful minutiae with his catalogue of familial foibles and passed-down stories, but even he is un aware of Barbara Griffith (nee Jackson)’s greatest indiscretion: a 15-year, full-on, tempestuous love affair with cartoonist, cartooning-teacher, publisher, comicbook pioneer, crime-writer and indefatigably restless entrepreneur Lawrence Lariar: an innocuously smooth operator who, although moderately successful for his entire life, was, in many ways, the Forgotten Man of Comics.

With the flow of information now going both ways, Bill shares the day in 1972 when word came of his dad’s imminent death and of how, in a moment of overwhelmed, grieving guilt  – and with the family all gathered at the hospital – his mother-the-widow of mere minutes confessed that she had been wife in all but name to another man since 1957…

As Bill further re-examines his own memories, cross-referencing with pictures, diaries and his mother’s epic unpublished novel which clearly and cleanly transfers her complicated life into the refuge of putative fiction, a series of pictures begins to form…

Startlingly frank, scrupulously detailed, diligently analytical and brilliantly reconstructed using a variety of styles, this is a fact-filled, graphic tour de force elevating the players to the rank of archetypes whilst still leaving them authentic, living creatures we are convinced we know.

Superbly applying the techniques of fiction to the discipline of documentary, Invisible Ink (available in hardback and digital editions) is a wonderful exemplar of real-world comics and one no serious reader can afford to miss.
© 2015 Bill Griffith. 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.

Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics


By Gahan Wilson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-612-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: One Last Hard-Earned Laugh in the Face of the Toughest Holiday Season in Living Memory… 9/10

Born on February 18th 1930 and dying a year ago today, Gahan Allen Wilson was an illustrator, cartoonist, essayist and author who always had his eyes and heart set on the future. According to Gary Groth’s Afterword in this sublime collection, he and grew up reading comic strips as much as fantasy fiction.

It always showed.

The mordantly macabre, acerbically wry and surreal draughtsman tickled funnybones and twanged nerves with his darkly dry graphic confections from the 1960s; contributing superb spoofs, sparklingly horrific and satirically suspenseful drawings and strips and panels as a celebrated regular contributor in such major magazines as Playboy, Collier’s, The New Yorker and others. He also wrote science fiction for Again Dangerous Visions, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Twilight Zone Magazine and Realms of Fantasy as well as contributing criticism, book and film reviews for them all.

In an extremely broad and long career he wore dozens of creative hats, even embracing the modern digital universe by creating – with Byron Preiss – his own supernatural computer game, Gahan Wilson’s the Ultimate Haunted House.

When National Lampoon first began its devastatingly satirical (geez, do modern folk even recognize satire anymore?) all-out attack on the American Dream, Wilson was invited to contribute a regular strip to their comics section. His sublimely semi-autobiographical, darkly hilarious paean to lost childhood ran from 1972 and until 1981 and was collected as Nuts, another superb compilation from this publisher that you should own and share.

Few people – me included – knew that during that period he also, apparently more for fun and relaxation than profit, produced his own syndicated Sunday strip feature. For two years – beginning on March 3rd 1974 – Gahan Wilson Sunday Comics appeared in a small cross-section of newspapers from Boston to Los Angeles and, as with all his work, it bucked a trend.

At a time when most cartoonists were seeking a daily continuity strip, building a readership and eking jokes out with sensible parsimony, Wilson let himself go hog-wild, generating a half-dozen or so single-shot gags every Sabbath, blending his signature weird, wild monsters, uncanny aliens and unsavoury scenes with straight family humour, animal crackers, topical themes and cynically socio-politically astute observations.

Looking at them here it’s clear to me that his intent was to have fun and make himself laugh as much or even more than his readership; capturing those moments when an idea or notion gave him pause to giggle whilst going about his day job…

I’m not going to waste time describing the cartoons: there are too many and despite being a fascinating snapshot of life in the 1970s they’re almost all still outrageously funny in the way and manner that Gary Larson’s Far Side was a scant six years later.

I will say that even whilst generating a storm of humorous, apparently unconnected one-offs, consummate professional Wilson couldn’t restrain himself and eventually the jokes achieved an underlying shape and tone with recurring motifs (clocks, beasts, wallpaper, etc), guest appearances by “The Kid” (from Nuts) and features-within-the-feature such as The Creep and Future Funnies

Collected in a gloriously expansive (176 pages, 309x162mm) full-colour, landscape hardback, as well as in digital formats, this complete re-presentation of a lost cartooning classic offers a freewheeling, absurdist, esoterically banal, intensely, trenchantly funny slice of nostalgia. These fabulous joke page compendiums range from satire to slapstick to agonising irony and again prove Wilson to be one of the world’s greatest visual humourists.

This is a book no fan of fun should miss and, with Christmas oppressively bearing down on us, could be a crucial solution to the perennial “what to get him/her/them/they” question…
All comic strips © 2013 Gahan Wilson. This Edition © Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wally Gropius


By Tim Hensley (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-355-2 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it’s the Thoughts That Count… 9/10

Comics are the most subversive means of communication yet devised. If you’re a creator at the top of your game with no editorial restrictions you can depict and say one thing, in a manner that even the primmest censor would approve of and adore, whilst surreptitiously advocating the most unsavoury, improper and civilisation-threatening dogma. In comics there are no “tells” to give the game away and the manner in which an author writes and draws can actually enhance the propaganda or outright lies…

Have you met Tim Hensley?

A gifted musician, cartoonist and second-generation comics fan, Hensley’s graphic narrative work began popping up all over the alternative scene following his minicomics series Ticket Stub (9 issues published between 2000 and 2006). He subsequently appeared in such magazines as Kramer’s Ergot, Smoke Signal, Dirty Stories, The Believer, Comic Art, Duplex Planet Illustrated, special editions of The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics’ sublime anthology Mome from where the intensely sly, brash, revolutionary and mind-bendingly beguiling Wally Gropius emerged to challenge our every precept of Capitalist culture. This book collects all those Mome moments and also includes – at no extra charge – new and revised material.

Available digitally and as a colossal 64-page 260 x 320 mm hardback potently reminiscent of the earliest English-language Tintin albums, the compilation is illustrated in a starkly jolly, primary-coloured pastiche of Baby-Boomer kids comics – and not just the obvious and overt Richie Rich or Archie Andrews trappings, but with a tip of the pen to lost classics of a once ubiquitous, now nearly-forgotten 1960s graphic style ranging from Mort (Spider, Beetle Bailey) Walker, Irving Tripp and John Stanley to the animated creations of Jay Ward and all those unnamed geniuses who drew such Dell/Gold Key classics as The Little Monsters and Thirteen Going on Eighteen.

Wally Gropius is barbed and edgy teen satire. The wealthiest teenager on Earth and scion of a petrochemical dynasty, Wally can have anything he wants. He sings in his band The Dropouts and doesn’t have a care in the world – until his father orders him to marry “the saddest girl on Earth.” With every girl in range tearfully throwing herself at him, Wally suddenly notices the stand-offish and highly hard-to-get Jillian Banks

Wally Gropius is a devastating, vicious and subversive cartoon assault on the modern bastions of Commercialism, Celebrity, and Casual Power. Wally tries everything money can buy to win Jillian, but there’s something he’s blithely unaware of…

A madcap, screwball and incredibly surreal comedy with many hidden and time-delayed laugh-traps cunningly concealed for later effect by a keen observer with a disturbingly-honed intellect and a laudable absence of taste, this a subversive treasure no thinking being should miss – especially at this time of year. Take note: Money isn’t Everything and Subtext über Alles

Wally Gropius is Even Cleverer Than It Thinks It Is. Invest in it and enjoy a thoroughly mature modern masterclass in mercantile mockery and morbidly Infantile Analysis.
© 2010 Tim Hensley. All rights reserved.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott


By Zoe Thorogood (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-56-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Topical Tale of Tragedy and Triumph Over Adversity… 9/10

I almost included this stunning debut in our Halloween horror program, but decided that no matter how disturbing the concept, this is essentially a very upbeat and joyous tale and one in need of being read on its own terms…

Zoe Thorogood is a young freelance artist and concept designer from Middlesbrough, who pays attention and thinks through what she conceives. That sounds overly obvious, but – speaking as an extremely aged freelance artist and concept designer from the halcyon days of social equality, equal opportunities and a sense of responsibility – it’s a rare level of consciousness that usually takes decades of mistakes to attain.

Having branched out into graphic novel storytelling, Thorogood has sagely stuck to what she knows for irony-drenched The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott. Here a struggling artist doubting and second-guessing her life in a poverty-afflicted northern town suddenly realises her greatest dream at the beginning of her career. After – incredibly – winning the “2020 New Artist of the Year Competition”, Billie is awarded her own gallery show of new works in London, and a guaranteed entrée to the shimmering world of the Art Business glitterati.

After an understandable moment of confusion and prevarication, she gets to work on the ten new paintings only to learn that she is going to abruptly, rapidly and incurably lose her sight in mere months…

Confronting her past and future, Billie packs up the bare essentials and heads on a pilgrimage to London, encountering and embracing the lowest tawdry dregs and survivors of modern society as she races to complete the last and most meaningful images she will ever see herself create…

Will she make it? Is it even worth the effort?

The concept isn’t new, but this delightful and evocative take on the Trials of Job is at its heart a delicious celebration of simple humanity and the fact that people are complex and must not be reduced to talking points for the worthy or used as PR fodder for governments who seek to equate being poor or nonconformist with criminality, deviancy, otherness or antisocial “unworthiness”.

…And, as every sanctimonious plutocrat, pious reformer or obsequious political self-server always seems to forget, if you push us too far for too long, eventually we rise…

In equal parts an examination of the creative impulse, indictment of Post-Austerity Britain and affirmation of the human spirit, this book is also a captivating tale beautifully rendered in smart line, restricted palettes and – when most impactful – glorious full colour. Positively Dickensian in tone, sublimely modernistic in delivery and splendidly displaying the community we all need to be, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott is a damn fine read we all need to share.
© Zoe Thorogood 2020. All rights reserved.

Two Dead


By Van Jensen & Nate Powell (Gallery 13/Simon & Schuster)
ISBN: 978-1-50116-895-6 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Dark Winter’s Tale you must not miss… 9/10

It’s been a while since we covered a crime yarn and this new release looks like making a few well-deserved waves, so let’ go back a lifetime or two and look at events that have passed into history while regrettably remaining all too fresh, familiar and immediate… like any wound…

Before moving into screen scripting and writing comics and graphic novels such as Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer, Cryptocracy and Valkyrie Beer Delivery – as well as established properties like The Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman and James Bond, Van Jensen worked as a crime reporter for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. It was there and while palling around with local cops that he first learned of this case. The facts never let go of him and, years later, with the stunning collaboration of multi award-winning cartoonist Nate Powell (March, Come Again, About Face, Any Empire, Swallow Me Whole, The Silence of Our Friends) the events were dramatized here as Two Dead.

Even after separating the True Crime nature of the story, this is a chilling and unforgettably potent crime noir examining institutional racism, police bias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders through the lens of history. It’s set in Little Rock, Arkansas where recently demobbed war hero Gideon Kemp is starting his new job as a police detective. It’s October 1946 and the FBI-trained family man just wants to put his past behind him and do good.

He cannot, however, escape the pressure of a crushing and tragic mistake made during his service that still haunts him, blighting his days and nights…

From the start, the new job is a trial. Secretly enlisted by Mayor Sprick, Gideon is supposed to fight a deeply entranced organised crime presence in the town as a detective, while secretly getting the goods on his own boss. Veteran old school cop Abraham Bailey hasn’t met a problem yet that couldn’t be solved with volleys of gunfire and – despite being popular with the white voters in town – he’s becoming a problem for the powers that be.

Just how much so, and what ghosts and demons drive the ethically-challenged hardliner, neither conspirator can truly guess…

Little Rock is prosperous, growing and segregated, with a strong but hidden Klan presence. Across the poverty-ridden tracks, the coloured citizens live separate lives. Esau Davis makes ends meet here running errands and taking bets for mob chief Big Mike. He is well aware of the dangers of upsetting – or even being noticed by – white cops.

Originally the police had tried recruiting blacks into the force, but as they kept turning up dead, the authorities eventually let the program drop. Now Esau’s war hero brother Jacob tries to keep the peace in their part of town with an unpaid, unarmed volunteer militia, but they’re no match for gangsters or self-righteous police looking for easy arrests. They are especially unprepared for gun-happy Chief Bailey, who has an obsessive hatred of all criminals, likes keeping trophies of all his “justified” kills, and never met a door he couldn’t kick down or anybody who wasn’t guilty of something…

Every player is tormented by their own ghosts, but as Kemp and Bailey warily test each other out while successfully dogging the footsteps of the murderous mobster – who has his own appallingly bloody peccadillo to assuage – an uneasy trust is formed. Rather than expeditiously doing the Mayor’s bidding, by-the-book Gideon stalls and prevaricates as the war of decency against crime escalates, exposing corruption among the city’s leaders and dragging in honest Jacob, who is soon just another gun in Bailey’s relentless war.

With blood running and the death toll mounting, Gideon and Jacob are powerless to head off a brutal confrontation. It seems no one can atone or win achieve redemption here…

The ending is one you won’t forget…

Rendered by Powell in sepia and black line utilising a style gloriously reminiscent of classic Will Eisner, Two Dead is a superb and upsetting thriller, made irresistibly compelling by Jensen’s deft use of language, gift for building suspense and multiple narrative perspectives and, like all the great noir tales, revels in a world of villains with no heroes to balance them…
© 2019 by Blue Creek Creative, LLC and Nate Powell. All rights reserved.

Maids


By Katie Skelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-368-4 (HB)

Sorry for the brief interruption. Disease and deadlines are things you just don’t dick with…

With Halloween pretty much on hold this year, our annual humour/horror fest has been pretty much decimated too. However, if you stretch a point, most of the recommendations over the next few days will qualify…

Illustrator Katie Skelly hails from Brooklyn by way of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and caught the comics bug early, thanks to her newsstand owner dad. Her Barbarella inspired series Nurse, Nurse began after graduating from Syracuse University with a BA in Art History and becoming a postgrad at City College of New York.

Thanks to her inquisitive insights, striking art style and potent narrative voice, Skelly has been the subject of many gallery shows and is a star on the global lecture circuit.

Her first graphic novel – again inspired by Jean-Claude Forrest but also horror-meister director Dario Argento – was My Pretty Vampire (2017), supplanted by the collection Operation Margarine and The Agency. All her works ask uncomfortable questions about the role and permitted position of women in society as seen through exploitation genres of mass entertainment, and that’s never been more effectively seen than in this “semi-autobiographical” tome (available in present-worthy luxury hardback and accessible eBook formats) recounting the true-crime story of the Papin sisters.

History says that on February 2, 1933, former convent girls Christine and Léa (working as maids for the wealthy Lancelin family in Le Mans) one night bludgeoned and stabbed to death Madame Léonie to and her daughter Genevieve. The case was open and shut but became a Cause Célebre in France after reports of the killers’ early lives and years of service and physical abuse became public. Intellectuals championed them and the case was cited as a perfect example of the dangers of inequality and privilege…

Here, Skelly brings her own incisive interpretation to the case, and it’s a little gem that you will find hard to put down and impossible to forget…
© 2020 Katie Skelly. This edition © 2020 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

City of Crocodiles


By Knut Larsson (Borderline Press)
ISBN: 978-0-99269-725-9 (PB)

Born in 1972, Swedish cartoonist, artist, filmmaker and teacher – at the prestigious Comics Art School of Malmö – Knut Larsson is blessed with a unique vision and talent to spare (just check out his graphic albums Canimus, Lokmannen (Locomotive Man), Biografmaskinisten (The Projectionist), Kolonialsjukhuset – En kolonialläkares anteckningar (Colonial Hospital – A Colonial Doctor’s Notebook) or the tract Triton.

If you’re a keen devotee of Euro-comics you’ll have seen his stories in C’est Bon Anthology, Electrocomics, Galago, Glömp, Rayon Frais, Strapazin, Stripburger, Turkey Comix, or Bild & Bubbla amongst others, and may well have visited his international exhibitions as far afield as Angoulême, Tokyo, Erlangen or St. Petersburg. Typically, he is not a household name in Britain or America…

Sadly, that means a lot of brilliant works – like this book – are also unavailable in digital formats yet…

Back in 2008 Larsson crafted Krokodilstaden: an eerie, post-apocalyptic, horror-tinged love story devoid of all dialogue or sound effects: a neo-symbolist paean to the end times (Gee, I wonder when those are due?) combining brutish, callous survivalism, ghostly mysticism, unchanging human passions, stubborn self-inflicted loneliness and the tenacious capacity of life to adapt to changing situations. Borderline Press released it in an English Edition as the deliciously eerie City of Crocodiles

Rendered in muted greys and brown monotones, one panel per page, the tale focuses on a drowned Earth where the waters have risen, relegating humanity to the top floors of buildings whilst toothy amphibians have proliferated all around and below them. Adamant Mankind is still hanging on, turning crocodiles into the primary natural resource: affording food, clothing, tooled utensils and even objects of cultish worship.

The saurians are everywhere and everybody and everything – humans, birds, surviving mammalian pets – are missing limbs or appendages…

In this world, one particular croc-hunter ekes out his solitary existence, trading reptiles for booze and gasoline, haunted by his memories until the day he captures a strangely enticing woman in his nets. She is young, beautiful, exotic… and has a vestigial reptilian tail.

Avoiding the spooky, crazy crocodile cultists that also proliferate, he takes her back to his place and endeavours to dress her in the garb and form of his dead lover before she seduces him…

Sadly, that’s when his dearly departed darling returns, bristling with malice and ready for some spirited revenge…

Wry, moving, nightmarish yet ethereally lovely, City of Crocodiles is a masterpiece of visual storytelling that will astound and delight all lovers of the weird and macabre. If you love to be disturbed and distressed, this is a treat you must track down…
© 2008, 2014 Knut Larsson.

Umbrella Academy volume 1: Apocalypse Suite


By Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50671-547-6 (HB) 978-1-59307-978-9 (TPB)

Superheroes have been around long enough now that they’ve even evolved into different sub-sets: straight Save-the-World continuity types as championed by DC and Marvel, obsessively “real” or realist iterations such as Marvelman,Masked Man, Crossfire or Kick-Ass, comedy versions like Justice League International, Ambush Bug, Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl, Deadpool, She-Hulk or Gwenpool and some truly rare ducks that straddle a few barstools in between.

Cut from the same cloth of Edgy, Catastrophic Absurdism as Scott McCloud’s Zot!, Brendan McCarthy’s Paradax and especially Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo, the archly anti-didactic antics of The Umbrella Academy offers readers a subtly subversive take on the idiom which impressed the heck out of everybody and lured many disillusioned fans back to the pitifully tired and over-used genre when first released in 2012…

The debut collected volume gathers the initial 6-issue miniseries as well as a 2-page online tease from MySpace Dark Horse Presents and an introductory short story from the company’s Free Comic Book Day issue in 2007.

Once upon a time a strange event occurred. All across Earth 43 babies were unexpectedly born as the result of apparent immaculate conceptions – or perhaps some kind of inexplicable parthenogenesis. The births even surprised the mothers, most of whom abandoned or put up for immediate adoption their terrifying newborns.

Seven of these miracle babies were acquired by esteemed inventor and entrepreneur Sir Reginald Hargreeves. The inventor of the Levitator, mobile umbrella communicator, Clever Crisp cereal, Televator and a process which enabled chimps to speak was, in actuality, an over-achieving alien with a secret plan, and he raised the children to become superheroes to enact it.

He was not a good or caring parent…

The callously experimental family, after a number of early spectacular successes such as ‘The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk’, soon proved to be unmanageable and the Umbrella Academy – created and trained “to save the World” – sundered in grief and acrimony, but not before poor Ben, Number 6 or “The Horror”, pointlessly lost his brave young life, and Number 5 – “The Boy” – took a short trip into the future and never came back…

An utterly dysfunctional superhero team, the children parted, but now, twenty years later, the surviving members gather again at the news that Hargreeves – whose nom de crime was The Monocle – has died…

In the interim, Number 1 son Luther became an off-earth defender and pioneer, but was hideously damaged on a doomed journey to Mars. To save him, The Monocle grafted his head onto the body of a colossal Martian Gorilla, but the “Spaceboy” found it far easier to live alone on the Moon than stay with his saviour and family.

Poor, neglected Vanya however – whose musical gifts Hargreeves deemed utterly useless – became a drop-out and wrote a scandalous tell-all book before becoming a voluntary exile amidst Earth’s lowest dregs…

In ‘We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals’, the disparate clan gathers and Luther discovers The Boy has returned, looking not a day different. He isn’t – but his mind is 60-years old and has experienced horrors beyond all imagining…

Made welcome by technologist, housekeeper and talking chimp Dr. Pogo, Luther is startled by the return of Allison(Number 3, The Rumor). She’s changed a lot since her marriage – although she’s now single again – but Diego (Number 2, The Kraken) and Klaus (Number 4, The Séance) are just the same: physically mature but still completely, scarily demented…

The interment ceremony is a complete fiasco and descends into a brawl, but the savage bitterness the family exhibits towards each other is as nothing compared to the carnage caused by the arrival of merciless robotic Terminauts tasked with stopping the Umbrella Academy reforming at any cost…

Across town, poor forgotten Vanya has an audition with some very special musicians. The Orchestra Verdammten need only the best if their unconventional maestro, The Conductor is to perfectly premiere his latest opus – The Apocalypse Suite

As the reluctantly reunited Academy fall into old habits and dash off to save innocents from slaughter, The Boy drops his final bombshell: in the future he’s returned from, Earth was destroyed three days after the Monocle died…

Built by a long-vanquished foe, the killer mechanoids are ‘Dr. Terminal’s Answer’ to the pesky kids who ruined his plans, although they don’t fare well against Spaceboy, Rumor, Séance and The Kraken.

Dr. Pogo has stayed to examine The Boy and finds him exceedingly strange: a 60-year old mind wearing a 10-year old body that hasn’t aged a single second since it reappeared. There’s even stranger stuff going on which the monkey medic can’t detect, though…

Diego never stopped fighting monsters and has become a darkly driven vigilante, who even now has ignored the flamboyant threat of the robots to save imperilled kids. However, when Vanya – fresh from fleeing the deranged Conductor – stumbles into the conflagration he disparages her; calling her useless, just like Hargreeves used to.

As her strange siblings wrap things up and return to puzzle out exactly how the Earth will end in a matter of days, dejected, rejected Number 7 returns to The Orchestra Verdammten…

Subjected to outrageous experiments in ‘Baby, I’ll be Your Frankenstein’, Vanya is quickly transformed into a finely-tuned instrument to shatter reality, even as Pogo and The Boy stop for coffee and meet time-travelling trouble.

…And at the Icarus Theatre, the once disregarded and discarded White Violin makes her deadly, devastating debut…

At a certain Diner, distressed waitress Agnes tells Police Inspector Lupo how a veritable army of futuristic thugs were reduced in seconds to scarlet shreds and tatters by a little boy who politely said ‘Thank You for the Coffee’ before leaving with his chimpanzee friend. Lupo has endured a long and difficult unofficial association with ruthless avenger Kraken which has kept the city’s worst criminals from running riot, but when the old cop casually remarks that a lot of violinists have suddenly vanished, even he is quite unprepared for the vigilante’s reaction…

The family gathers at the Academy: Luther and Rumor slowly rekindling a long suppressed relationship even as The Boy makes the huge mistake of looking through Hargreeves’ trademark Monocle just as prodigal sister Vanya knocks on the door – with shattering, killing force…

The shocked stunned survivors quickly marshal their forces for ‘Finale or, Brothers and Sisters, I Am an Atomic Bomb’, but even though they achieve some sort of victory and save reality, it’s at a terrible, World-shattering cost…

Following Editor Scott Allie’s Afterword on the trials, tribulations and triumph of working with a big-name rock-star (yes, that Gerard Way: multi-talented musician/writer/artist/designer who once fronted My Chemical Romance…) whilst trying to maintain a comicbook schedule, illustrator Gabriel Bá and the author then reveal a host of production secrets in ‘Designing the Umbrella Academy’.

But that’s not all: the introductory ‘Short Stories’ – with notes and commentary from Bá – follow, revealing a lighter side to the team in ‘“Mon Dieu!”’ and a surprisingly deft surreal murder mystery in‘…But the Past Ain’t Through with You’(first seen in MySpace Dark Horse Presents and Dark Horse Free Comic Book Day 2007 respectively).

Whilst happily swiping, homaging, sampling and remixing the coolest elements from many and varied comics sources, The Umbrella Academy created a unique synthesis and achieved its own distinctive originality within the tired confines of the superhero genre. Maybe because it stylishly combines the tragic baroque tone of a La Belle Époque scenario with an ironic dystopian fin de siècle sensibility and repackages it all as a wittily post-modern heroic fable, or perhaps more likely simply because it’s all just really damned good, darkly sardonic fun, conceived with love and enthusiasm and crafted with supreme skill and bravura by extremely talented people who love what they do…?

A few years ago, the saga was adapted to television and became 2019’s most watched Netflix show. In response, a spiffy deluxe oversized hardcover was released, boasting an extra 50 pages of sketches and such. So you could opt for that or the digital edition if you love trees…

Read The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite if you’re smart, read it if you’re bored, read it because I said so, but if you too love the medium and the genre, read it, read it, read it.
™ © 2008 Gerard Way. All rights reserved.