Chicken Fat: Drawings, Sketches, Cartoons and Doodles

By Will Elder (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-704-9 (PB)

Wolf William Eisenberg was born in The Bronx on September 22nd 1921, and you probably have never heard of him. He became a cartoonist, illustrator and commercial artist after changing his name to Will Elder.

Tragically, for many of you, that name won’t ring any bells either, even though he was one of the funniest and most influential cartoonists of the 20th century. Another of those slum kids who changed comics, “Wolfie” studied at New York’s High School of Music and Art – as did future comrades in comedy Al Jaffee, Al Feldstein, John Severin & Harvey Kurtzman.

An artist of astounding versatility, he served in WWII as part of the 668th Engineer Company (Topographical) of the US First Army, instrumental in assuring the success of the Normandy landings. After returning to America, he changed his name and set up the Charles William Harvey Studio with Charles Stern and Kurtzman, operating as a comics shop providing strips and other material for Prize Comics and other publishers.

Elder inked old pal John Severin at EC, and in 1952 when Kurtzman created satire comic Mad, he became a regular contributor of pencils and inks. The spoofs and parodies he crafted for the landmark comic book and sister publication Panic were jam-packed with a host of eye-popping background gags and off-camera shtick, all contributing to the manic energy of the work. He called those extras “chicken fat” and to learn why you should pick up this slim yet satisfying companion collection to comprehensive bio-tome Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art. On offer here is a delightful peek at his working process (and outrageous, never-suppressed sense of humour) through roughs, sketches, architectural studies, test runs and abortive strip projects (such as The Inspector, Luke Warm and Adverse Anthony) for numerous clients over the decades, rendered in every medium from loose pencils to charcoal portraits to fully painted finished works, all supplemented by a fulsome Foreword from his son-in-law Gary Vandenbergh and even art from his grandson and successor Jesse Vandenbergh.

A certified touchstone for budding artists, here you’ll see technical illustrations and colour studies, landscapes and murals, as well as candid photos. There are EC model sheets, pop studies confirming Elder’s status as a cultural sponge and perfect mimic of other artist’s styles – a gift Jaffe claimed could have made the cartoonist the “world’s greatest forger”…

Straight magazine illustration lies with a host of sketch research on hundreds of subjects but what most comes out is a never-ending parade of gags and jests, many of which turned up in general interest magazines such as Pageant or Playboy. Elder loved to laugh and he had a very broad and earthy sense of humour so be careful to always swallow what you’re drinking before turning pages here…

As a jobbing cartoonist, Elder was always looking for the next gig and included here are a wonderful assortment of mock – and racy – sci fi pulp covers, star caricatures, political portraits, Time and Newsweek cover roughs and a section devoted to his and Kurtzman’s Goodman Beaver and scathing satirical masterpiece Little Annie Fanny – which Elder limned for 24 years, as well  as wealth of spoofs starring the great and good of comics and the media from Dick Tracy to Popeye to Prince Charles and Lady Diana

A visual tour de force, this is a perfect illustration of how and why cartoonists are and why we’re so lucky to have them.

All material, unless otherwise noted, is © 2006 Will Elder. Little Annie Fanny © 2006 Playboy Enterprises, Inc. Text © 2006 Gary Vandenbergh. All rights reserved.

AEIOU or Any Easy intimacy

By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1891830716 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He followed that up by contributing to the franchise’s dramatic comics canon with Star Wars Jedi Academy; Star Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan and Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Phantom Bully (2013-2015).

He has also directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Sulk, Kids Are Weird, Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenesand the four-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” (of which this is the third), comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

In both paperback and digital formats AEIOU describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled ill-considered anticipation as Brown cherry-picks graphic mementos from another doomed relationship. Still it’s times like that which make us all who we are today…

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, directionless, horny, inoffensively average film-fan graduate art-student cautiously navigates his first grown-up intimate relationship after finally losing his virginity: that state of confused and constant longing for the “one and only” we all go through and never successfully navigate…

As is always the case, his prospective partner comes with baggage that is at first beguiling and acceptable but which soon becomes an increasingly major sticking point. Of course, what Jeffrey learns about himself in the process is also exceedingly illuminating…

Everyone who’s had itches to scratch and gone for broke with head and heart befuddled by longing and loneliness has been through this, and for every torrid romance that makes it, there are a million that don’t. Those would be you, me and him…

Drawn in his deceptively effective Primitivist monochrome style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase and a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and regretted forever-after, this is another potent procession of crystallised moments which establish one awful truth. There might not ever be a “The One”…

Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like We Think You’d Have A Lot of Fun Together’, But Does She LIKE ME Like Me’, ‘The Long Pause Before a First Kiss’,Prettiness’,Grass is Greener’,Between Lovers’, ‘The Difference Between Us’, Anybody Can Draw’, Did You’, Broken’, and Nothing Says I Love You Like’ or ‘Lingering’ we follow an eventful half year and a few portentous aftershocks and the life story moments come with a revelatory suggested Soundtrack Side ‘A’ and Soundtrack Side ‘B’

Brimming with remarkable discovery, hopeful confirmation and the shattering angst us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Any Easy Intimacy is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones, intimate physical contact and impatient wistfulness with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2005 Jeffrey Brown. All rights reserved.

On a Sunbeam

By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-37-0 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic and Groundbreaking Space Saga… 10/10

Just for a change, here’s a short review and recommendation for a lengthy but unmissable treat. You could just buy it now and not bother with what follows…

No matter its trappings or content, Science Fiction is about human relationships. The genre is the perfect vehicle to explore them and test the limits of what it means to be human – often to the point of destruction, beyond and even back again.

That said, it’s truly heartening to see that even after more than a century of categorisable SF in prose, comics, film and other art forms it’s still possible to say something fresh in a distinct and moving way.

After all, once you accept the premise that technology is not what it’s all about, you can ask some truly searching questions…

Tillie Walden is a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works, she always presents a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is a sheer delight.

After turning heads with shorter pieces such as The End of Summer, I Love This Part, A City Inside and Spinning, in 2018 her webcomic On a Sunbeam made the jump to print in a massive and monumental tome that might well be one of the most intriguing and engaging sci fi yarns I have ever read.

Vast and complex but easily accessible, it tells of pensive outsider Mia, who roams the stars with a collective of artisans, repairing dilapidated homes, buildings, space stations and other magnificent structures as a kind of celebration of communal past glories. Each of the workers has their own occluded backstory, but Mia’s is the one we share through a series of flashbacks detailing her time at an intergalactic boarding school.

A girl tainted with rebellion and destined for trouble, her life turned around after meeting exotic new student Grace: an actual princess from a fabled and troubled lost interstellar kingdom known as The Staircase…

Now, years after their slowly-developing relationship was abruptly curtailed by cruel fate, Grace returns to Mia’s life, compelling her and her comrades to undertake a hazardous rescue mission to a terrifying and uncanny forbidden planet…

Blending romance, soul-searching, the innate hunger to see what’s over the next horizon and drive to belong into a miraculous voyage filled with wonders and imagination, On a Sunbeam is a warm, sensitive, funny and ultimately gratifying excursion, mercifully free of pointless action and manufactured conflict, that will delight any mature reader whose sense of longing has remained somehow unfulfilled, even after all these years…
© Tillie Walden 2018. All rights reserved.

The Graphic Canon volume 2: From “Kubla Khan” to the Brontë Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray

By many and various, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-378-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A “Worthy” Present That’s Actually a Joy to Receive and Devour… 10/10

Once upon a time in the English-speaking world, nobody clever, educated or in any way grown-up liked comics. Now we’re an accredited really and truly art form and spectacular books like this can be appreciated…

The Graphic Canon is an astounding literary and art project instigated by legendary editor, publisher, anthologist and modern Renaissance Man Russ Kick, which endeavours to interpret the world’s great books through the eyes of masters of crusading sequential narrative in an eye-opening synthesis of modes and styles.

The project is divided into three periods, roughly equating with the birth of literature and its evolution up to the rise of the modern novel. Debut volume From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons covers literature from ancient times to the end of the 1700s in stories and poetry, and this sequel edition takes us up to the end of the 19thcentury and the rise of mass-market fiction and (nigh) universal literacy…

Much of the material for the project has been taken from already extant or ongoing projects: as editor Russ Kick explains in his Introduction, it was the realisation that so many creative individuals were attempting to publish their own graphic responses to global heritage literature that led him to initiate this mammoth project in the first place…

Rather than simply converting the stories, the artists involved have enjoyed the freedom to respond to texts in their own way, producing graphics – narrative or otherwise, monochrome or something else, sequential or not – to accompany, augment or even offset the words before them and the result is simply staggering…

Make no mistake: this is not a simple bowdlerising “prose to strip” exercise like generations of Classics Illustratedcomics, and you won’t pass any tests on the basis of what you see here. Moreover, these images will make you want to re-read the texts you know and hunger for the ones you haven’t got around to yet. You will of a certainty marvel at the infinite variety of the artistic responses the canonical works inspired.

Available in mammoth paperback and digital formats, each piece here is preceded by an informative commentary page by Kick, and the wonderment is presaged by a barrage of micro-comic ‘Three Panel Reviews’ by Lisa Brown (specifically Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; Gustav Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter) before Alice Duke sets the ball properly rolling with a stunning painted interpretation of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’.

National treasure Hunt Emerson has already wonderfully and hilariously adapted the poet’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and here loans ‘Part the Second’ to this tome wherein the foolish sailor realises why he shouldn’t have shot that damn sea bird…

Straight text-&-picture juxtapositions by Aidan Koch of William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’, lead to a formal and most mannerly adaption in ‘A Selection from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 2’ by Huxley King with designer Terrence King, after which George Gordon, Lord Byron reminds us ‘She Walks in Beauty’, courtesy of David Lasky.

The period poesy corner continues and briefly concludes with Percy Bysshe Shelley and ‘Ozymandias’ as interpreted by Anthony Ventura, William Wordsworth’s ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ via a futuristic vision from PMurphy before enjoying another Hunt Emerson gem re-examining John Keats’ ‘O Solitude’

The novel makes its first appearance here with a gothic classic as Jason Cobley & Declan Shalvey precis a key moment from Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ after which, a selection of Fairy Tales begins with text-heavy original extracts from ‘The Valiant Little Tailor’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Little Snow White’ by the Brothers Grimm, all deliriously illuminated by S. Clay Wilson.

The Grimm kids’ stuff then translates to comic strip form as Shawn Cheng adapts ‘How Six Made Good in the World’before Neil Cohn pictorializes Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ and William Blake’s own words and images are combined to bring to life ‘Jerusalem: The Emancipation of the Giant Albion’.

‘The Confessions of Nat Turner’ is a contemporary account of a southern slave rising as narrated, prior to his execution, by Turner himself to lawyer Thomas R. Gray, adapted by controversial artist John Pierard, whilst Lance Tooks devilishly tackles a lost classic by Mary Shelley in ‘The Mortal Immortal’ before another tranche of Fairy Tales commences with more original text limned by S. Clay Wilson.

Here Hans Christian Andersen is represented by ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, ‘The Nightingale’ and ‘The Little Match Girl’ after which Ellen Lindner presents ‘Rondeau (Jenny Kiss’d Me)’ as first conciev’d and craft’d by James Henry Leigh Hunt.

Hysterical history cartoonist Kevin Dixon concocts a beautifully bonkers snippet from Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’, a delightful prelude to a dose of Victorian nonsense as seen in Hunt Emerson’s depiction of Edward Lear’s ‘The Jumblies’ and Sanya Glisic’s bombastic treatment of a selection from Heinrich Hoffman’s moralizing cautionary tales collection Der Struwwelpeter: specifically ‘Struwwelpeter: the Story of Shock-Headed Peter’, ‘The Story of the Inky Book’ ‘The Story of the Man that went out Shooting’ and ‘The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb’.

Literary giant Edgar Allen Poe is celebrated in a haunting Poe Montage by Gris Grimly and fuller adaptations such as‘The Raven’ by Yien Yap as well as original text extracts from ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’, ‘The Raven’, ‘The Bells’, ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ – all grotesquely illustrated by Maxon Crumb – before we switch themes and tone for Elizabeth Watasin to open a Brontë section with stylish interpretation of Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’, whilst Tim Fish adapts Emily’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, after which Ali J in one image encapsulates Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and Matt Kish offers a post-futurist and quite disturbing vision of Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’

John Porcellino offers a compelling and effective cartoon analogue of Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ after which Walt Whitman is addressed through two vastly different depiction of ‘Leaves of Grass’: one by Tara Seibel’s and Dave Morice’s cheeky ‘Leaves of Grass: The Adventures of Walt Whitman’.

Tinges of literary modernism coincide with John Pierard’s hallucinatory adaptation of Fitz Hugh Ludlow’s ‘The Hasheesh Eater’ after which Michael Keller & Nicolle Rager Fuller lavishly and magnificently illuminate and interpret Chapter 4 from Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ (or if you’re a pedant like me On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) and Seth Tobocman re-delivers former slave, equal rights advocate and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass’ thoughts on the Nature of Power from ‘The Message from Mount Misery’.

More exploration of social justice issues comes via Tara Seibel’s lengthy treatment of portions of Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables’, before Dame Darcy leads off a brace of entries celebrating Emily Dickinson with ‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death’. Diana Evans then responds visually to ‘I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed’, before Corinne Mucha adapts Gustave Flaubert’s Letter to George Sand ‘Dear Master’ and Darcy returns to delineate a wild interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass’ and Eran Cantrell compellingly details his monstrous epic ‘Jabberwocky’.

Such is the impact of Carroll (AKA Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) – on artists and creators, if not the entire wider world – that a host of submissions led to the ‘Alice Gallery’ that follows, with inclusions by Alice and Mad Bill Carman, Kim Deitch, John Coulthart, May Ann Licudine, Andrea Femerstrand, Olga Lopata, Natalie Shau, Emerson Tung, Peter Kuper, John Ottinger, David W. Tripp, Christopher Panzer, Jasmine Becket-Griffith and Molly Kiely: all letting their imaginations run wild and proving the infinite power of a good book…

Another one such is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, starkly and paranoically envisioned here by Kako, before Molly Keilly delivers details from Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s long-forbidden classic ‘Venus in Furs’ and Arthur Rimbaud’s pioneering drama ‘The Drunken Boat’ is adapted by Julian Peters…

Shifting to more sedate climes and themes, Megan Kelso deliciously delves into George Elliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ before Carroll pops up again, thanks to Mahendra Singh’s treatment of The Hunting of the Snark in ‘Fit the Second: The Bellman’s Speech’, before Ellen Lindner channels Leo Tolstoy with stylish extracts from ‘Anna Karenina’ whilst J. Ben Moss offers a key moment from Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’

Laurence Gane & Piero impressively summarize Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ in a sequence of short, sharp graphic lectures after which we enter the first moments of modernity with the accent on suspense and terror as Danusia Schejbal & Andrzej Klimowski open Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, whilst Sandy Jimenez effectively and chillingly recounts Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’ before John Coulthart epically and experimentally ends our literary excursions by uniquely adapting Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.

Wrapping up the elucidatory experience are background, context and suggestions in ‘Further Reading’ from Jordyn Ostroff, regarding all the works contained herein, a full list of ‘Contributors’, details of ‘Credits and Permissions’ and an ‘Index to Volume 2’.

Although no replacement for actually reading as much of the source material as you can find, this astonishing agglomeration of visual interpretations is a magnificent achievement and one every fan of the comics medium should see: a staggering blend of imperishable thoughts and words wedded to and springing from sublimely experimental pictures.

This type of venture is just what our art form needs to grow beyond our largely self-imposed ghetto, and anything done this well with so much heart and joy simply has to be rewarded.
© 2012 Russ Kick. All work © individual owners and copyright holders and used with permission. All rights reserved.

Lala Albert: Seasonal Shift – Comics 2013-2019

By Lala Albert (Breakdown Press/The Library of Contemporary Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-911081-09-8 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Not All Beautiful Things are Pretty… 9/10

All right-thinking people know that graphic narrative is the most expressive and expansive medium to work in, right? The range of themes explored, stories told and varieties of delivery are pretty near infinite if created by an inspired artisan.

The act of stringing pictures and/or words together is something almost everybody has done at some stage of their lives. It’s a key step in the cognitive path of children and, for an increasing number of us, that compulsive, absorbing euphoria never goes away.

Whilst many millions acquiesce to the crushing weight of a world which stifles the liberation of creativity, turning a preponderance of makers into consumers, a privileged, determined few carry on: drawing, exploring, and in some cases, with technology’s help, producing and sharing.

That emotional and creative volatility has never been better realised than in the modern crop of storymakers, many of whom are being rightly-celebrated in collections of minicomics and collections such as this compilation of works by Brooklyn-based Lala Albert as part of the Library of Contemporary Comics, which is collecting shorter works by the best cartoonists currently working in the medium right now.

Opening with a forthright ‘Interview’ conducted by Michael DeForge, this sequence of tales, vignettes and self-publications addresses body issues, human relationships, and most especially interactions with society and the ever more imperilled environment through terse short stories, generally framed in science fictional, fantasy and horror terms of reference.

Gathered from Albert’s last six years, the raw, primitivist, questing revelations begin with ‘Morning Dew’: a self-published moment of luxurious hedonism in natural circumstances from 2019 that lapses into a glimpse at the inevitable, if improbable, consequence of plastic saturation, first seen in Future Shock #7 (2014), before ‘Starlight Local’ – part of Alien Invasion volume 3, 2013 – details the disturbing outcome of a casual hook-up during an interstellar commute…

Consumerism and self-determination get a handy heads-up when a girl orders a ‘nu device’ (Trapper Keeper volume 4, 2016) after which a new kind of surveillance society dystopia is explored and overturned in ‘R.A.T.’ (crafted for Latvia’s Kuš Comics in 2015).

These tales are delivered in a range of styles and palettes, but for me, pure stark monochrome is always a blessing, so the ferocious attitude of ‘Brainbuzz’ (Weird Magazine volume 5, 2014) only intensifies the disturbing exploration of bodily invasion undertaken here…

Masks and the mutability of personas are thoroughly, forensically questioned in kJanus’’:a voyage of intense personal discovery first released by Breakdown Press UK in 2014, before a distressing fascination of what lurks under our skins is displayed in ‘Flower Pot’! courtesy of Marécage, Revue Lagon, France, 2019.

An epic of ecological combat and fairy survival is revealed in multi-chapter saga of survival ‘Wet Earth’ (Sonatina, 2017), pitting ethereal pixies against the lower ends of an uncaring food chain, before a modicum of sanity – but never safety or true security – returns via comforting self-assessment in ‘Pinhole’ (Over the Line, Sidekick Books UK, 2015). After everything, it’s always good to check back in with your own skin…

Dark but never hopeless, and always avoiding slick, glib professional sheen, these tales bore right in to the heart, asking questions we all have. Whether you find any answers truly depends on you…
All work © Lala Albert 2019. This edition © Breakdown Press 2019. All rights reserved.

The Artist: The Circle of Life

By Anna Haifisch (Breakdown Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91108-107-4 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Picture Perfect Grown Up Fun… 9/10

Like Norwegian émigré and cartoon superstar Jason, Anna Haifisch is a compulsive visualiser and raconteur with a devastating touch of whimsy that is impossible to resist.

Born in 1986 in Leipzig, the illustrator and screen printer is a truly dedicated purveyor of captivating comics that exude charm and wit whilst tackling big issues in accessible ways. She’s also very sly, and very funny. It’s made her something of an international celebrity…

In 2017 her book The Artist introduced an effete intellectual avian utterly in love with the fashionable concept of being a creator and this long-awaited sequel delivers another clutch of wry, vainglorious, heartfelt, pompous and charming episodes detailing how tough it is to dedicate one’s life to the Muse… especially if you only want to draw birds and snakes…

A vivid hardback collation, sequel volume The Circle of Life collects strips from 2016 that first appeared online at Vice.Com and shares even more insights in powerful line and flat colour combinations, beginning with an eponymous self-deprecating introduction…

Delivered as short 2-3 page cartoon colloquies, the drama dioramas open on a wearying, pharmaceutical-fuelled night out with Owl, leading to an origin of sorts and a challenging confrontation with that bane of all artists, the wealthy but clueless collector/sponsor…

Most episodes are brief and untitled but some earn themselves notoriety and utility through names such as ‘Art Rap’ which follows a deliriously engaging vignette about St. Luke (Patron Saint of artists). After that blending of imagery with devious street patter, an idealised day segues into a faux documentary on lost painter Edzard Fünfhauser, an incident of excoriating self-recrimination, a visit to the psych ward and a restorative trip down memory lane…

A fanciful sojourn amidst Art’s Great Ones and a historically significant moment of letter-writing leads to a temporary abandonment of dreams and principles before a sordid session of tool fetishism restores equilibrium via a period of Japanese impressionism and Haiku drafting.

There follows and Interlude: On Birds enquiring ‘What Happened to All the Aspiring Cartoon Birds’ (such as Donald, Woodstock and Tweety), after which a dissertation on being online and painful interactions with a non-artistic relative lead to a re-examination of favourite themes and a brief commission in frozen Greenland.

A sad tryst with a cage bird triggers ‘3 Jolly Autumn Strips’; a visit to the Jail built for Artists and the horrors of tawdry commercialism and hawking your work to the public (so clearly autobiographical, as Haifisch is co-founder of Germany’s The Millionaires Club Indie Comics Festival in Leipzig) before concluding on an uplifting high note with an illustrative paean to creativity and a singalong tribute to ‘Sorority’

Outrageous and charming, these exploration of the fabled life and anxiety-drenched traps of the creative spirit are a delight for everyone who’s ever picked up a pencil or looked at a masterpiece and thought “I can do that”…
© Anna Haifisch Breakdown Press 2019.

The Light

By Jim Alexander, edited by Kirsten Murray (Planet Jimbot)
ISBN: 978-1-9164535-2-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-9164535-3-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Decidedly Different Spooky Saga for the Season… 9/10

Apparently tireless raconteur and comics veteran Jim Alexander is back with another prose novel (available in paperback and a variety of eBook formats).

His pictorial back-catalogue includes Star Trek the Manga, Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, licensed properties such as Ben 10 and Generator Rex as well as a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, and loads of other places including his own publishing empire Planet Jimbot. He’s imminently due back in the mainstream too, with a forthcoming Marvel Graphic Novel in the offing…

Everyone dies. That’s biology. How they die isn’t as important as how they lived, right?

That’s an assumption that is devilishly challenged in The Light as a world so very much our own takes a path less travelled after a global catastrophe in 1998.

Here and now, twenty years after the event, humanity has gained an eerie new ability: unfailing certainty in the knowledge of when your time is up.

It’s not a proper super power: decedents only know from the moment they wake up that it’s their Last Day and not everyone is sure – or convinced – until they place a palm on the ubiquitous domestic device (also available on all street corners and in every lamp post) and a purple hue tells them its time…

Socially, things haven’t changed much: Capitalism has devised new ways to monetise the change and the elites and powers-that-be have found fresh ways to restrict the thinking and spending of the masses. Someone has turned Last Day into the world’s most debauched, powerful and unavoidable religion, and on dark fringes of the planet, outsiders try to live beyond the newly-established margins and avoid collaborating with the system that demands that all citizens test their light every day…

The rest of us? We just comply, testing ourselves every 24 hours and going about our lawful business until it’s that day and we have a decision to make: lie down and die or rebel and act out…

Told through a string of narrative viewpoints from the highest and mightiest to the most excluded and lowly, how The Light works – and how it ultimately fails – is beguilingly exposed in a wry and mordant, satire-saturated tale that delves like a forensic exam into the nature of what it means to be human and truly alive…

And when this has sufficiently blown your mind, you really should really read the author’s first novel GoodCopBadCop and track down the superb comics by Alexander and his confederates Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin, Will Pickering, Aaron Murphy, Chris Twydell & Jim Campbell.

The Jims – Alexander & Campbell – have been providing challenging, captivating and enthralling graphic narratives for ages now and you owe it to yourself to catch them too.
© 2019 Jim Alexander.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out? Conversely why not go to:

Amazon (print) (ebook)

Amazon (print) (ebook)
Barnes & Noble

The Pits of Hell

By Ebisu Yoshikazu (Breakdown Press)
ISBN: 978-1-91108-108-1 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Momentous, Unmissable… 8/10

Please be warned: I’ll be using some harsh language further down: if you of your dependents are likely to be offended, please skip this review. You certainly won’t be comfortable reading the book we’re reviewing here…

If you’re one of those people who’s never read a manga tale, or who’s been tempted but discouraged by the terrifying number of volumes these tales can run to, here’s a delicious feast of fantasy fables complete in one book revealing all that’s best about comics from the East in one darkly digestible big gulp.

Although an industry of immense, almost incomprehensible variety, much of Japan’s output is never seen in western translation, so for us, most manga – divided into story genres we easily recognise – can be lazily characterised by a fast, raucous, over-stylised, occasionally choppy style and manner of delivery, offering peeks into the quirks of a foreign culture through coy sensuality, carefully managed action and “aw shucks” conviviality.

It’s not all like that.

This volume gathers emphatically eerie and definitely disturbing short stories for adults that originate from the nation’s rebellious heta-uma movement (equivalent to but not the same as our late 1970s Punk revolution), all crafted by a fringe creator who became a true national treasure…

Ebisu Yoshikazu began as an outsider: a self-trained manga maker who shunned the sleek polish of mainstream Japanese comics to craft deeply personal ant-art yarns, initially for avant-garde counter culture anthology style icon Garo and landmark experiment Jam, but later for many other magazines after his harsh material struck a chord with 1970s-1980s readers, increasingly reeling from social and economic change.

Mr. Yoshikazu was born in Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture in October 1947 and raised in Nagasaki, where he was fatefully shaped by the post war trauma that permeated the region and the country. Drawing comics from early on, he was especially influenced by the fantasy works of Osamu Tezuka and Mitsuteru Yokoyama, but as a teenager his life changed when he discovered the gekiga (“Dramatic Pictures”) comics sub-genre as well as American action movies.

He moved to Tokyo in 1970 and – while working menial jobs – began submitting stories to Garo in 1973. His bleak, violently surreal, dream-based efforts featured bizarre, antisocial situations and outcomes and found a welcome – if unpaid – home in the magazine. He became a fan favourite without his knowledge and when years later he finally released a compilation of his tales, was astonished to see it become a huge hit with many reprintings.

The creatively-driven working-class manga-maker – think more Harvey Pekar than Harvey Kurtzman – parlayed his growing fame as an outsider artist and misfit into mass-media celebrity, but latterly suffered a great loss of fame, prestige and revenue following a gambling scandal.

In Japan, commercial betting is illegal except in certain, highly proscribed and policed situations. That doesn’t bother Ebisu Yoshikazu who remains a proud advocate and champion of what many people consider a shameful addiction. His passion for wagers has shaped his life and continues to …

Heta-uma transliterates to “bad-good” or “bad but nice”: glorying in the power of raw, primitivist graphics and narratives that are seductively seditious whilst exploring uncomfortable themes, so please be warned that most of these nine early vignettes are brutally violent and also distressing on other, more intimate levels. If you’re looking for Western equivalents, go no further than the more excessive outings of Gary Panter and Johnny Ryan…

This potent tome reprints that first compilation in English and is preceded (or followed by – depending on your graphic orientation, as the comics portion of the book is traditional manga right to left, end to beginning format) by a series of text features including ‘Why is This So Good?’: a deconstruction of the stories by Garo editor Minami Shinbō from the 1981 original compilation.

‘About these Comics’ offers the author’s own thoughts on the material from 2016 and is followed by extended essay ‘Damn All Gamblers to the Pits of Hell’ by translator/editor Ryan Holmberg affording us not only history, context and insight into the artist but also gauging the effects of his works on the industry and society.

The stories begin with a shocking answer to classroom inattention in ‘Teachers Damned to the Pits of Hell’ after which a poor family hungrily await the results of father’s latest addictive session at the pachinko parlour in ‘Fuck Off’.

Many stories take a hard but always off-kilter look at employment and wage earning. ‘Workplace’ deals with a time when Yoshikazu worked as a sign designer’s much-abused assistant and vicariously, cathartically, depicts what the menial wanted most, whereas ‘Wiped Out Workers’ details a plague of selective narcolepsy that grips salarymen and other hapless toilers during their daily travails.

‘Tempest of Love’ addresses the imbalance and inequality of the sexes as a job-enhancing abacus class devolves into a ghastly crime scene, whilst a punter’s obsessive attention to the sanctioned boat races and his crucial bets result in a strange series of events that can only be explained by ‘ESP’…

More uncomfortable sexual tension is dangerously unleashed at the ‘Late Night Party’ provided by a smug boss before the spiralling cost of living sparks civil unrest and deadly consequences in ‘Battles without Honor and Humanity: A Documentary’.

The walk on the weird wild side then concludes with a phantasmagorical deluge of uncanny situations and crises as a worker takes his son for a walk in ‘Salaryman in Hell’

By no means a work of universal appeal, The Pits of Hell provides a stunning and revelatory look at the other side of Japanese comics: one no fan of the medium can afford to miss.
English edition © 2019 Breakdown Press. Translation and essay © 2019 Ryan Holmberg. All rights reserved.

James Bond: Hammerhead

By Andy Diggle, Luca Casalanguida & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-52410-322-4 (HB) 978-1-52410-713-0 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Blockbuster Entertainment… 10/10

James Bond is the ultimate secret agent. You all know that and have – thanks to the multi-media empire that has grown up around Ian Fleming’s novel creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to every new movie, game or novel.

Amongst those various iterations are some exceedingly enjoyable comicbook and newspaper strip versions detailing the further exploits of 007 which have never truly found the appreciation they rightly deserve. This collection – available in hardback trade paperback and digital iterations – is probably one of them. It originates from 2017, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment.

Their fabulously engaging take on the veteran antihero was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia that had accumulated around the ultimate franchise star, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense agent who is all business. Successive creative teams have maintained that sleek, swift efficiency and at last Andy (The Losers, Green Arrow: Year One, Shadowland, Gamekeeper, Uncanny) Diggle: a British writer seemingly born to extend the adventures of 007.

Deftly and effectively handling the stunning visuals is Luca Casalanguida whose art – in combination with colourist Chris Blythe and letterer Simon Bowland – stirs wonderfully potent echoes of illustrator Yaroslav Horak who made the original newspaper strip such a heady delight.

This high-tech terrorism tale opens with Bond in Venezuela, bloodily failing his assignment to capture lethal hacker-for-hire Saxon and gather intel on enigmatic terrorist Kraken. Hauled – after the opening credits, of course – back to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, London, the agent is suitably carpeted by M before being fobbed off with a babysitting job.

His charge is Lord Bernard Hunt, a British Arms magnate currently upgrading the UK’s tired old Trident Nuclear arsenal. Hunt’s company is also a major exporter of cutting-edge weaponry, and Bond is to shadow him at an arms fair in Dubai…

Thankfully there’s compensation of a sort as the gunsmith’s luscious daughter Victoria is also the firm’s Vice President. A dedicated patriot and anglophile, “Tory” finds plenty of ways to amuse the bodyguard: everything from a guided tour of the company’s new super toy – a colossal rail gun dubbed Hammerhead – to drinking and games…

Tragically, Kraken is again one step ahead of Bond and the mission goes disastrously wrong…

Meanwhile back in Blighty, an attack on a Hunt helicopter in Scotland results in the loss of a mothballed Trident warhead…

With Tory’s help, Bond is soon on the track of the suspected perpetrators. After a great deal of research, battle and bloodshed, a trail leads to Yemeni smuggler Karim Malfakhar. However, despite being responsible for most of the bodycount, Bond is not content with how the mission is unfolding. Something is not right…

Black Crannog is Hunt’s Nuclear Reprocessing Facility: a sea platform in the Outer Hebrides where Tory welcomes M, Miss Moneypenny and Defence Secretary Simon Wallis to discuss the crisis. When Kraken springs a trap, not all of them survive…

Happily, in the interim, Bond has put all the piece together correctly and is heading for the rig in a Royal Navy Ballistic Missile Submarine with a full team of SBS (Special Boat Service) commandos. As Kraken proudly initiates the final stage of a plan to nuke London and usher in a new era of warfare, Bond makes another spectacular last-ditch assault to save the day and kill his latest foe.

Luckily, Black Crannog is literally packed with super weapons…

Offering all the traditional Bond set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rousing mystery romp fans will adore, supported by a gallery of eye-catching variant covers by Francesco Francavilla, Robert Hack & Ron Salas, plus art features detailing Casalanguida’s process from layout to finished line art and character design sketches.

This riotous espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another ideal James Bond thriller, that will leave you both shaken and stirred…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

Mata Hari

By Emma Beeby, Ariela Kristantina, with Pat Masioni & Sal Cipriano (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
ISBN: 987-1-50670-561-3(TPB) eISBN: 987-1-50670-590-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because History is Never Straightforward or Straitlaced… 9/10

Until relatively recently (some would argue that should read “hopefully soon”), History has never really treated women well or even fairly. When not obscured, sidelined or just written out, they have been cruelly misunderstood and misrepresented.

Moreover, we’re all painfully aware these days, a bold lie or convenient fabrication has far more veracity that simple, muddled, messy truth.

Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod (née Zelle) was born on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, in the Dutch Netherlands, to milliner and later industrialist Adam Zelle. She was the eldest of four children and raised in wealth until her father lost it. Her life became more troubled and remarkable after that, before she died on 15th October 1917 in front of a French Firing Squad.

In between, she had married, lived in the East Indies, had children she never really knew and remade herself as a rather scandalous dancer and performer. Margreet adopted the stage name Mata Hari (it means “eye of the dawn” in Malay) and her gifts led to her becoming a courtesan in the highest circles of privileged society, with princes, ambassadors, tycoons and generals all clamouring for her attention. She was also courted by some countries – including France and Great Britain – to act as an espionage operative…

After a chequered life during a period when European society welcomed strong independent women, she was accused on meagre evidence of spying for the Germans during the Great War, and convicted.

Deemed to have caused the death of 50,000 men, and the moral ruination of countless others, Mata Hari has become the purest and most enduring symbol of the deadly, cunning femme fatale…

In the last few decades, serious historical investigation has cast a rather different, and far fairer complexion on the mythical spy in film, song, ballet, books, musicals and all arenas of popular culture, none better than an imaginative 5-issue miniseries from Dark Horse’s Berger Books imprint, a collaboration of writer Emma Beeby (Judge Dredd, Doctor Who, Judge Anderson), artist Ariela Kristantina (Wolverine: The Logan Legacy, Deep State, Insexts), colourist Pat Masioni and letterer Sal Cipriano.

Blending hard fact with emotive supposition and informed extrapolation, the sorry episode unfolds in the flashbacks and daydreams of a prisoner held at the Saint-Lazare Prison for Prostitutes in Paris in October 1917. Opening chapter ‘Bare Faced’ introduces Margreet as she desperately struggles to complete a book that will tell her story in her own words…

Against a backdrop of political and military manipulation resolved to make an example of her, ‘Bare Breast’ details her disastrous, life changing marriage and its terrible consequences whilst ‘Bare Heart’ relates her fight back to independence and notoriety after which ‘Bare Teeth’ moves on to the war and the great love for a Russian soldier that leads to her ultimate downfall in ‘Bare All’…

Real life doesn’t work the way narrative would like and the people there aren’t actors. This contemplative tale (packed with documentary photos and available in paperback and digital formats) carefully acknowledges that frustrating complexity in an account scrupulously devoid of heroes and outright villains whilst exposing centuries of institutionalised injustice – in an extremely entertaining manner. It closes with a series of textual Codas (offering many more intimate photos of the woman and her times) with ‘Mata Hari’s Conviction’ relating the oddities and strange events regarding the disposal of her body and an authorial opinion by Beeby in ‘Was Mata Hari a Martyr?’…

In both word and imagery, Mata Hari is a potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising retelling of a murky and long-misconceived historical moment that any fan of history and lover of comics will adore…
Mata Hari text and illustrations © 2019 Emma Beeby and Ariela Kristantina. All rights reserved.