Fifty Freakin’ Years with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers


By Gilbert Shelton & various (Knockabout Comics)
ISBN: 978-0-86166-261-6 (TPB)

Because you’re all decent, deity-fearing, upstanding citizens you’re probably utterly unaware of the extensive sub-culture which has grown up around the recreational abuse of narcotic pharmaceuticals – and so, of course, am I – but it must be said: those counter-culture chaps certainly know how to craft a comic tale.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers first appeared in Texas local paper The Rag, shambling out of the gradually burgeoning Underground Commix counter-culture wave in 1968. They jumped to Berkeley Print Mint’s Feds ‘n’ Heads, and New York tabloid The East Village Other before creator Gilbert Shelton and a few friends moved to California and founded their own San Francisco based Rip Off Press in 1969.

This effective collective continued to maximise the madness as the hilarious antics of the “Freaks” (a contemporary term for lazy, dirty, drug-taking hippy folks) captured the imagination of the open-minded portions of America and the world.

In 1971, they published the first compilation: The Collected Adventures of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers – which has been in print all around the planet ever since – and soon assorted underground magazines and college papers were joined by the heady likes of Rip Off Comix, High Times and Playboy (as well as numerous foreign periodicals) in featuring the addictive adventures of Freewheelin’ Franklin, Phineas T. Freakears and Fat Freddy Freekowtski (and his cat): siblings in sybaritic self-indulgence.

Always written by Shelton and, from 1974 illustrated by Dave Sheridan (until his death in 1982) and latterly Paul Mavrides and others, the disjointed strips (sorry; drug-humour is just irresistible…) combined canny satirical cynicism, surreal situations, scatological sauciness and an astounding grasp of human nature in brilliantly comedic episodes that cannot fail to amuse anyone with a mature sense of humour.

All the strips have been collected in various formats (in Britain by the equally fine and fabulous folks of Knockabout Comics) and have been happily absorbed by vast generations of fans – most of whom wouldn’t read any other comic.

Despite the hippy-dippy antecedents and stoner presentiments, Shelton is irrefutably a consummate professional and born storymaker. His ideas are always enchantingly fresh yet deviously skewed, the dialogue is permanently spot-on and his pacing perfect. The stories, whether half-page fillers, short vignettes or full-blown sagas, start strong and relentlessly build to spectacular – and often wildly outrageous, hallucinogenic yet narrative-appropriate – climaxes.

And they’re so very, very funny.

Without Shelton and the Freaks, the whole sub-genre of slacker/stoner movies, from Cheech and Chong’s assorted escapades to Dude, Where’s My Car? and all the rest – good, bad or indifferent – wouldn’t exist. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you…

Freewheelin’ Franklin is the tough, street-savvy one who can pull the chicks best, Phineas T. is a wildly romantic, educated and dangerous (to himself) intellectual, whilst Fat Freddy is you and me; weak-willed, greedy, not so smart, vastly put upon by an uncaring universe but oddly charming (you wish…)

One last point: despite the vast panoply of drugs imbibed, both real and invented, the Freaks don’t ever do heroin – which should tell you something…

This commemorative paperback album – now also available digitally – celebrates the trio’s astounding popularity and longevity, opening with a little look back in astonishment via Shelton’s Introduction ‘Fifty Freakin’ Years’ which offers fascinating historical insights and context in an Authorised History that wonderfully shares and captures the tone of those times, augmented by commentary, sketches, posters and found art, candid photos and loads of wry reflections.

Combining classic tales with 28 pages of new material by Shelton, plus loving spoofs and parodies from select cartoonists, the parade of seditious smut and filth opens with full-colour fiasco ‘Phineas Becomes a Suicide Bomber’, wherein the sensitive soul seeks to impress a rabble-rousing feminist icon and accidentally disrupts a glitzy convocation of smug one-percenters…

A pin-up of ‘Flora & Fawna the Jailbait Twins’ (don’t fret; these drawings admit they’re actually over 18 and only look younger…) is followed by more uproarious mayhem when one of our heroes is mugged by kids. Not at all overreacting, ‘Franklin got his Gun!’ when he stumbles into a right wing (aren’t they all?) Gun Show and accidentally triggers a bloodbath…

Following a transcendental moment from 2013 when ‘Mr. Natural meets Fat Freddy’, eternal quester Freekowtski goes on an all-out quest for enlightenment in the hilariously blasphemous ‘Fat Freddy Gets Religion’ revealing the holy power of alcohol – specifically ‘Tall Toad’ beer…

First seen in 2009, ‘The Adventures of the Fabulous Fat Freddy’ combines his search for love and understanding with an unsuspected appreciation of great art before diverting to a beguiling illustrated prose anecdote about storytelling from Shelton.

A selection of homages spoof and parodies follow, beginning with ‘Geek Brothers!’ by Jay Lynch from Bijou Funnies, backed up in stark monochrome by ‘The Feminine Furry-Legged Freek! Sisters’ and its accompanying bottom strip ‘Fat Frieda’s Ass’; both courtesy of Willy Murphy & Ted Richards from The National Lampoon Book of Comical Funnies.

In living colour, the cover of Shelton tribute book Fabuleux Furieux! is followed by Hunt Emerson’s parody ‘Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ as seen within it, preceding original strip ‘Scotland Yardie vs the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ by Bobby Joseph & Joseph Samuels.

Unused art for a Flash animation, ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brother’s Strut March’ opens a selection of found art and commissioned works, including 2008 art by Shelton for the 40th Anniversary of comic phenomenon Lambiek; Freak Brothers bank notes; illustrations of Mort Walker’s Comic Strip Lexicon, an Amsterdam Street Scene, Armadillo Rodeo, Street Freaks, poster for a Paris music store and more.

Other stuff includes personalised birthday cards, posters, film festival graphics and covers, sticker art, excerpts from Shelton’s Motoring Tips series, a tribute page to the many artistic co-contributors who added to the grubby lustre of the Freaks over the First Fifty Years and much, much more.

Anarchically sardonic and splendidly ludicrous, the madcap slapstick of the Freak Brothers is always an irresistible and joyously innocent tonic for the blues and this book – available in paperback and digital editions – should be a compulsory experience for any fan of the comics medium. However, if you’re still worried about the content, which is definitely habit-forming, simply read but don’t inhale…
© 2017 Gilbert Shelton. All rights reserved.

Pocket Full of Rain and Other Stories


By Jason, edited and translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-934-0 (TPB)

John Arne Sæterøy works under the pen-name Jason. He was born in Molde, Norway in 1965, and exploded onto the international cartoonists scene at age 30 with a series of short – often autobiographical – strips and graphic novels. His anthological first book, Lomma Full av Regn won the Sproing Award (Norway’s biggest comics prize) and forms the meat of this review. This is it translated into English and you can read it in paperback or digital editions.

He followed up with the series Mjau Mjau (winning another Sproing in 2001) and in 2002 turned almost exclusively to producing graphic novels. He is now an international icon, basking in fame and critical status, winning seven major awards as far afield as France, Slovakia and the USA and all areas in-between.

Later stories utilise a small repertory cast of anthropomorphic animal characters (as well as occasional movie and pop culture monsters), delivered in highly formal page layouts telling dark, wry and sardonically bleak tales – often pastiches, if not outright parodies – rendered in a coldly austere and Spartan manner. This seemingly oppressive format somehow allows a simply vast range of emotionally telling tales on a wide spectrum of themes and genres to hit home like rockets whether the author’s intention was to make readers smile or cry like a baby.

Drawing in a minimalist evolution of Hergé’s Claire Ligne style, Jason’s work bores right into the reader’s core, but here fans and students can see the development of that unique vision in a series of pictorial tales – many clearly experimental in nature from – taken from Mjau Mjau, Forresten, Fidus, TEGN, Lomma Full av Regn and Humorparaden as the young artist grasps his muse but still hunts for a style vehicle to carry his thoughts…

An Introduction by novelist and educator James Sturm is preceded by an observational encounter with a human derelict and followed by short absurdist slice-of-life moments including an unpleasant confrontation in the desert and a manhunt across the world and beyond it that evolves into an examination of love.

The experimental procession is followed by edgy cartoon hijinks and therapeutic café discourses in anthropomorphic yarn ‘Carl Cat in What Time is It?’, after which an age-old masculine dilemma is covered in ‘What Shall I Do When I Lose My Hair?’

Autobiographical introspection informs single pagers ‘Film’, ‘Night’ and an untitled gag about playing solitaire, before ‘Bus’ and croquet-playing nuns give way to the tragic tale of ‘Edwin!’ whilst ‘Two Yrs’ deals with isolation and meagre youthful aspirations and ‘Invasion of the Giant Snails’ offers an early mash-up of genre movie scenes before we see that the Truth is not necessarily Out anywhere in spoof strip ‘XPilt’.

‘Corto Meowtese’ provides a loving salutation to classic European strips before ‘Space Cat’ offers similar tribute to Basil Wolverton’s legendary Space Hawk, whilst echoes of Samuel Beckett shade a tense situation involving Earnest Hemingway in ‘Papa’. Mordant laughs trace ‘My Life as a Zombie’ and penal absurdity triumphs in extended act of whimsy ‘10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …Lift Off!’ before relationship woes and human interaction are scrutinised in ‘Falling’.

Nightmarish surrealism underpins vignettes ‘Kill the Cat’, school shocker ‘Chalk’, home invasion chiller ‘Glass’ and police drama ‘the thief’ to conclude the narrative efforts but there’s still plenty to enjoy. The tales thus far have been monochrome strips interspersed with pin-up style images and found art and they are now supplemented with a wealth of multihued material including Colour covers for Mjau Mjau (#2, 4, 5), hilariously irreverent strip ‘Playing Trivial Pursuit with God’, Sleppefest and so much more.

A full Table of Contents then lists the origins of each offering with publishing information and author’s commentary.

Jason’s comic tales are strictly for adults but allow us all to look at the world through wide-open childish eyes, exploring love, loss, life, death and all aspects of relationship politics without ever descending into mawkishness or simple, easy buffoonery.

He is a taste instantly acquired and a creator any true fan of the medium should move to the top of their “Must-Have” list.
All characters, stories, and artwork © 2008 Jason. Lomma Full av Regn and Mitt Liv Som Zombie published in Norway by Jippi Forlag. All right reserved.

James Bond™ volume 3: Black Box


By Benjamin Percy, Rapha Lobosco, Chris O’Halloran, Simon Bowland & various (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-5241-0409-2

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 masterful creation – your own vision of what he looks like and what he does. That’s what dictates how you respond to the latest 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 is one of the most recent, compiling a 6-issue miniseries from licensing specialists Dynamite Entertainment. Their take was originally redefined by Warren Ellis & illustrator Jason Masters, who jettisoned decades of gaudy paraphernalia accumulating around the ultimate franchise hero, opting instead for a stripped-down, pared-back, no-nonsense iteration who is all business.

Benjamin Percy accepted the poisoned chalice of following on, and here blends the austere power of the reboot with his own tributes to the movie contributions of the Roger Moore era. Capably and effectively handling the visuals is Rapha Lobosco, with colours and letters supplied by Chris O’Halloran, and Bowland respectively.

It begins with Bond in the French Alps, stalking an assassin, but his licence to kill proves unnecessary as his target is lethally excised by another sharpshooter, who then escapes him in a rollercoaster ski race down the mountain slopes. Perhaps 007 was distracted by her skill or maybe her great – albeit slightly scarred – beauty…

Returning to MI6 HQ in Vauxhall Cross, Bond picks up his next assignment: eradicating the perpetrators of a hack which has captured vital Crown political information and recovering the stolen data.

The hack originated in Tokyo and soon Bond is executing Operation Black Box, supported and supplied by department armorer Boothroyd. The wily technician is also – unofficially – helping to ascertain the identity of the woman who bested Bond in the Alps…

The hacker’s trail leads to the nefarious Shinjuku District and a plush Yakuza gambling den, where the British agent meets and calamitously clashes with aging billionaire Saga Genji. The tech wizard is the proud culprit of the data grab and almost succeeds in gruesomely removing the interfering agent until the mysterious woman resurfaces to murderously intervene…

When CIA comrade Felix Leiter shows up, the terrifying global scope of Genji’s plans becomes apparent and a race to secure the Black Box (for the rulers of a host of greedily ambitious nations) turns allies into merciless competitors with the entire world’s dirty secrets as the prize.

Meanwhile, Genji has supplemented his loyal army of thugs with a barely human serial killer dubbed No Name: an unstoppable psychopath who takes faces for his keepsakes and is now utterly devoted to adding Bond and his annoying female accomplice to his tally at any cost…

With the clock ticking down to international information Armageddon and bloody death and destruction constantly dogging them, Bond and his enigmatic ally overcome all odds to invade Genji’s secret base and secure all the World’s dirty laundry, only to discover at the end that their aims are not entirely similar…

Packed with all the traditional set-pieces such as exotic locales, spectacular car chases and astoundingly protracted fight sequences, this is a rip-roaring romp fans will love, supported by Bonus Material including a gallery of covers by Dominic Reardon and a host of variants from John Cassaday, Jason Masters, Goni Montes, Moritat, Lobosco, Giovanni Valletta, Patrick Zircher and Matt Taylor; an interview with author Percy by Will Nevin first seen in the Oregonian and the full script for issue #1, accompanied by its equivalent line art.

This thrill-filled espionage episode is fast, furious and impeccably stylish: in short, another perfect James Bond thriller.

Try it and see for yourselves…
© 2017 Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. James Bond and 007 are ™ Danjaq LLC, used under license by Ian Fleming Publications, Ltd. All rights reserved.

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns


By Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson (Limerance/Oni Press)
ISBN: 978-1-62010-499-6 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-62010-500-9

Comic strips have long been acknowledged as an incredibly powerful tool to educate, rendering tricky or complex issues easily accessible. They also have an overwhelming ability to affect and change behaviour and have been used for centuries by politicians, religions, the military and commercial concerns to modify how we live our lives.

Here’s a splendid example of the art form using its great powers for good…

Despite what the old adage might say, words are not only harmful, but also shape how people react to or regard… well, everything.

Semantic shading is prevalent in all aspects of human communication, and predisposes us to respond in certain manners; frequently in contradiction to all other data. I still have a scar on my finger from when I was nine and picked up a cute, cuddly, playfully welcoming kitten, clearly in a manner it found inappropriate and uncomfortable.

In the social contract we all live under, every person (and almost all of the animals and some complex machinery) should expect to be treated with courtesy and in terms they find comfortable and acceptable. I have used nine different pen-names in a long and undistinguished creative career and respond to them equally, as readily as my own name (no matter how badly mangled it might be by people I don’t expect to possess any facility or familiarity with the Eastern European pronunciation or syntax it stems from).

I don’t even care if people call me “madam” or late for dinner.

I’m somewhat less sanguine about rude or aggressive people using “oi, mate”, “baldy” or “hey you”. I have no patience at all for those who smugly tell me I’m saying my own name wrong…

At least I’m fortunate enough to fall into a broad category of cisgendered folk who unthinkingly share appropriately-gendered pronouns. That’s not a situation everybody enjoys, but is one that can and should be rectified. Misgendering (intentional or otherwise) is arrogant, lazy, impolite and selfish: It’s 2019 and we should all be accepted on our own terms by now.

All it takes is willingness and a little effort… and – if these concepts are new to you – this extremely engaging little paperback guide, crafted by two lifelong friends addressing the issue from the most different of positions.

Archie Bongiovanni is non-binary: identifying as a genderqueer artist who feels “Him” and “Her” are not pronouns that apply or are relevant. As part of a widely diverse and continually diversifying society, they (that was me doing the gender pronoun thing, there) feel those terms can – and should – be supplemented by other, neutral words: in this specific case “They” or “Them”.

Tristan Jimerson is a cisgendered man who works as a copywriter and runs a restaurant. As part of an inherited social majority he had no choice in originally defining, he is keen to adjust the way he refers to people so as be inclusive, polite and non-discriminatory.

The book they created together is inexpensive, informative, great fun and available in physical and digital editions (so you should get loads of copies and start giving them to everybody you know).

It also means the only terms you’re getting for free here are the aforementioned Non-Binary – meaning someone who does not identify as either male or female – and Cisgender – which translates as a person who agrees and accepts the gender they were assigned at birth. If you need clarification on terms like “gender” or “pronoun” that’s what books and search engines are for; and check back to what I just said about being lazy…

As well as simple, affable explanations, tips and hints, you’ll find here cartoon reference charts and lists clarifying what to say, to whom and when, with examples and suggestions for why you should rethink your viewpoint if you’re feeling reluctant, or recalcitrant. Readers will be gently introduced to concepts such as ‘YOLO’, ‘Why Pronouns Matter’ and ‘How to use They/Them pronouns in Everyday life: A Practical Guide!’ as well as profiting from sections ‘For Folks Identifying with Alternative Pronouns’ and much more…

A handy guide to simple courtesy and common human decency, this is a marvellous attempt to help us all get along a little more easily. Maybe we should find an equivalent publication dealing with climate change, commercial expediency and political short-termism…?
A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns ™ & © 2018 Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson. All rights reserved.

I Am Going to Be Small


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1-891830-86-0 (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 nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels such as Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He added contributions to the expanded Star Wars franchise’s dramatic comics canon and has 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 had 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. His current big thing is the Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series of books.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenes and the 4-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” 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. That’s what this landscape landmark (available in paperback and eBook editions) is about – “a collection of gag and humour cartoons 1997-2006”…

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 became a surprise hit with fans and critics alike. A little later – and in the same vein – he produced Unlikely (or How I Lost My Virginity) a True Love Story: “250+ pages of young love, sex, drugs, heartbreak & comedy” involving the long and agonisingly extended process of “becoming a Man”….

Here, those evergreen themes are constantly revisited and expanded upon: a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled joy, but rubbing pimply shoulders with straight-up whimsy, surreal and gross-out gags, observational comedy and anything the swiftly-developing cartoonist deemed worthy of his brief attention. The result is painfully funny…

Here you will find uplifting homilies gone awry, college days captured in all their bleakness, sports – and sportsmen – dissected, movies reviewed and trashed, faux ads and products, the magic of boxes, religion, excess and guilt, god and Jesus, animal crackers, food, dining, unicorns, atrocious puns, the wonder of toys, war and the military, ex-girlfriends, babies, torture and mutilation and lots of observations on the dating arena.

There, at the rear end of the book, is a selection of anthropomorphic yet sophisticated mishaps featuring of a bunch of animals – Bunny, Bear, Bird and Cat – enduring the torment of interspecies attraction (and repulsion), all gathered together under the umbrella title ‘Cuticle’

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: brimming with shameful glee and subversive wit, this a fabulous voyage of graphic and comedic self-indulgence for everybody who has passed the raging hormones stage of existence and is happy to enjoy the plight of others still suffering…

It is to laugh…
© 2006 Jeffrey Brown.

The Rolling Stones in Comics


By Céka, Marin Trystam, Patrick Lacan, Dimitri Piot, Kyung-Eun Park, Domas, Clément Baloup, Dominique Hennebaut, Amandine Puntous, Lapuss, Bast, Patès, Filippo Néri & Piero Ruggeri, Anthony Audibert, Bruno Loth, Aurélie Neyret, Sanzito, Sarah Williamson, Joël Alessandra & Carine Becker, Mao Suy-Heng & various: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-198-7 (HB)

Graphic biographies are all the rage at the moment and this one – originally released on the continent in 2017 – is another instant classic likely to appeal to a far larger mainstream audience than comics usually reach. It certainly deserves to…

Like its thematic companion and predecessor featuring The Beatles, The Rolling Stones in Comics is designed to evoke the same nostalgic excitement via cannily repackaged popular culture factoids, contemporary quotes and snippets of celebrity history – accompanied by a stunning assemblage of candid photographs, posters and other memorabilia – in brief, themed essays with cartoon vignettes chronologically highlighting key moments in the development of a band comprising remarkable men of wealth and taste…

Scripted throughout by author and advertising copywriter Céka (with the strips illustrated by an army of top talent) the saga begins with a brief biography of Michael Phillipe Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts in featurette ‘The Stones, Before the Stones’, before Marin Trystam takes us back to Kent in June 1960 where two youngsters with a love of American Blues albums meet on a train in ‘Blessed Be the Vinyl’

‘Make Way, Here Come the Blues Boys!’ then details the music scene in England at that time and offers a definition of R&B, after which Patrick Lacan takes us back further in time to reveal the slave roots of a name and the ‘Rollin’ Stones Blues’, whilst ‘Rags Before Riches’ recalls the band’s early poverty, scarce gigs and squalid first creative den, vividly realised in Dimitri Piot’s strip depiction of life in August 1962 at ‘102, Edith Grove’.

The early line-up solidifies in 1963 as ‘Crank Up the Amp!’ covers the contributions of Charlie and Bill, with Kyung-Eun Park limning Brian Jones’ attempts at being a manager in ‘Screw You!’ before Publicist Supreme and Soho Svengali Andrew Loog Oldham takes the band in hand in photo-essay ‘The Man Who Created the Stones’, with Domas recapturing in comics form a defining moment from September 1963 when Stones met Beatles in ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’

With Oldham as manager, the climb begins in earnest as the band meet the man who infamously turned down the Beatles and seal a record deal in ‘Make Mine Decca’, whilst illustrator Clément Baloup reveals the secrets of Ian Stewart… ‘The Sixth Stone’.

The story of how Jagger and Richards evolved from musicians into songwriters is covered in ‘Singer, Songwriter’, with Dominique Hennebaut capturing that struggle pictorially with the harsh debut of ‘The Glimmer Twins’, after which the dark side manifests in a recapitulation of felonies and misdemeanours in ‘Drug City’, as Amandine Puntous illustrates the police raid on the band now known as ‘The Redlands Affair’.

The band’s growing status as rebels of youth culture is dissected ‘Rock and Role?’, with Lapuss capturing a few shameful truths about the seductive power of wealth and the “Richest Hippie in England” in cartoon vignette ‘Rebel in a Bentley’, after which the tragic life and death of Brian is explored in ‘Light Hair and Dark Thoughts’, before Bast illuminates the 1969 demise of the ‘Fallen Angel’

The arrival of Mick Taylor and the search for a new sound is covered in ‘Back to the Future’, and Patès accompanying strip explains the intricacies of guitar chord techniques for Keith’s invention of ‘Open Tuning’, even as ‘The End of the Sixties’ manifests in more death and tragedy as Filippo Néri & Piero Ruggeri recapture the shocking debacle of rock festival ‘Altamont’

After Drugs and Rock and Roll, the Sex part of the unholy trinity comes under the spotlight in photo-essay ‘Some Girls’, whilst Anthony Audibert illustrates the bizarre practices of Jagger’s filmic debut in Nick Roeg’s ‘Performance’, before winding back to making music withy explorations of ‘Harmonica, Sitar, etc.’, as Bruno Loth traces the ultimate love story in ‘Keith and his Electric Guitars’.

The bad times are spotlighted in ‘Smog Over Stone Land’, with Aurélie Neyret encapsulating the release of “the Greatest Slow Song of All Time” in ‘Summer of ‘73’ before another momentous personnel change occurs as detailed in ‘Bye Bye The Kid, Hello Ronnie!’, after which Sanzito illumines the most important aspect of the newcomer’s contribution in ‘Dr. Wood’

Individual – and often ignominious – career paths are traced in ‘Oh, Solo Mio’, and Sarah Williamson draws us into the infamous Jagger/Jeff Beck Nassau album in ‘Erase It!’, before reconciliation and the era of live touring is tackled in ‘Thrills and Chills’, with Joël Alessandra & Carine Becker capturing the band’s rituals and coping mechanisms in strip catalogue ‘Sex, Drugs and… Ping Pong’.

The death of Ian Stewart and resignation of Bill Wyman are marked in ‘The Rolling Stones, Minus Two’, after which Sanzito explores the mind of Wyman in ‘Stone Alone’, whilst silent, diffident Jazz wizard Charlie Watts gets his solo moment in essay ‘Who’s the Guy in the Back?’ and Patès illustrative tribute to ‘The Silent Stone’, before the saga culminates in a status check and a few prognostications in ‘The Stones, Are STILL Rolling’, and Mao Suy-Heng’s strip glorifying the ‘Century Tour’.

This engrossing time capsule concludes on a suitably whimsical note as ‘Nine Fun Facts About This Legendary Band!’ offers engaging anecdotes and factlets to delight – but surely not surprise? – everyone who loves to hear of classic Rock & Roll hedonism. The Rolling Stones in Comics is an astoundingly readable and craftily rendered treasure for comics and music fans alike: one that resonates with anybody who loves to listen and look. Sometimes, you can actually get what you want…

It’s only ink on paper but I like it… and so will you. Satisfaction guaranteed.
© 2017 Editions Petit as Petit. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Bloody Mary


By Garth Ennis, Carlos Ezquerra & various (Image)
ISBN: 978-1-63215-761-4

Let’s go back to a future that never happened… yet…

Fleetway veterans Garth Ennis and Carlos Ezquerra have a long association with British war comics and the apocalyptic visions of alternate lifestyle bible 2000AD, so combining those sensibilities in a near-future World War III adventure must have seemed a natural for the fledgling DC science fiction imprint Helix when they began publishing at the end of the last century.

Since the first 4-part miniseries spawned an almost immediate sequel, they must have been more or less correct, but as Helix folded in the space of a year, with its surviving projects being absorbed by sister/parent imprint Vertigo, this compilation comes to us via them and their championing of creator rights but actually courtesy of creator-owner outfit Image Comics.

Confused yet? Surely not?

In 1999, Europe went back to war: massive, bloody conventional war with the bankrupt and barmy US of A and it’s grovelling toady ally Great Britain, ostensibly over economic and religious differences, but actually because our creators needed a backdrop for the world-weary Mary to display her exceptional talent for slaughter in the signature arena of idiot Generals and venal politicians whose sole reason for existing seems to be to prune back the surplus of the current generation of decent folk.

My other screen is currently updating me on the escalating tariff clashes between the orange office of Trumplestiltskin and the EU, China and probably any country without a national golf course, but I’m sure that’s coincidence, not the late-running of a prediction from a comicbook Nostradamus or two…

Now imagine it’s 2012 again. Under the guise of a mission to secure a biological super-weapon, American commando Corporal Mary Malone – who affects the look of a very mean nun – and a crack team of expendables including her only friend “The Major” spectacularly and gratuitously battle a spectre from her gore-splattered past and the EU’s top psychotic hit-man. Carving a swathe of destruction through Europe’s few remaining landmarks, their mission is to secure the key to immortality (a parasitic organism dubbed the Blood Dragon), but, of course, their superiors have been less than candid in what it actually does or what it’s for and have only themselves to blame when Mary – and her opponents – go off-mission…

Violently engaging, sublimely cathartic and painfully accurate in far too many prognostications, this first tale (released in 1996) was followed by an equally engaging follow up.

Bloody Mary: Lady Liberty was issued a year later and sees an older, wiser Malone return to a devastated America. With the Major in tow she agrees to wrest New York City from the half-million religious maniacs who have captured it. The messiah du jour is Achilles Seagal: a bigoted, populist raving lunatic with the common touch, a unique manner of phrasing complex issues who knows just what to say to make people do what he wants…

Trenchant, savagely satirical, gripping and never less than totally thrilling, this slice of dark, edgy fun shows Ennis and the much-missed Ezquerra at their anarchic irreverent best, ably assisted by letterer Annie Parkhouse and colourists Matt Hollingsworth & Chris Chuckry , giving you an everyman view of all the hell-and-stupidity our leaders happily drag us ordinary mortals through far too often.

Grown-up comics at its very best and long overdue for its rightful place on your bookshelf or in your digital library.
© 2016 Garth Ennis & Carlos Ezquerra. All rights reserved.

Luba


By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-960-9

In the 1980s a qualitative revolution forever destroyed the clichéd, stereotypical ways different genres of comic strips were regarded. Most prominent in destroying these comfy pigeonholes we’d built for ourselves were three guys from Oxnard, California; Jaime, Mario (occasionally) and Gilberto Hernandez.

Love and Rockets was an anthology comics magazine featuring the slick, intriguing, sci-fi-ish larks of punky young things Maggie and Hopeylas Locas – and the heart-warming, terrifying, gut-wrenching soap-opera fantasy of Palomar. These gifted synthesists captivated us all with incredible stories that sampled a thousand influences conceptual and actual – everything from Archie Comics and alternative music to German Expressionism and masked wrestlers. The result was pictorial and narrative dynamite.

Palomar was the exclusive playground of Gilberto, created for the extended serial Heartbreak Soup: a poor Latin-American village with a vibrant, funny and fantastically quotidian cast. Everything from life and death, adultery, magic, serial killing and especially gossip could happen in those meta-fictional environs, and did, as the artist explored his own influences. Fascinatingly they included post-punk, comics, all manner of music, drugs, comics, strong women, gangs, sex, family and comics, in a style that seemed informed by everything from the Magical Realism of writers like Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez to Saturday morning cartoons and the Lucy Show.

Beto, as he signs himself, returned to the well of Palomar constantly, usually with tales centred around the formidable matriarch – or perhaps Earth Mother figure – Luba, who ran the village’s bath house, acted as Mayor (and sometimes police chief) as well as adding regularly and copiously to the general population.

Her children, brought up with no acknowledged fathers in sight, are Maricela, Guadalupe, Doralis, Casimira, Socorro, Joselito and Concepcion. A passionate, fiery woman who speaks her mind and generally gets her own way, Luba keeps a small claw-hammer with her at all times…

Luba is a character who defies easy description and I don’t actually want to: As one of the most complex women in literature, let alone comics, she’s somebody you want to experience, not learn of second-hand. You will probably notice that she has absolutely enormous breasts. Deal with it. These stories are casually, graphically, sexually explicit. Luba’s story is about Life, and sex happens, constantly and often with the wrong people at the wrong time. If harsh language and cartoon nudity (male and female) are an insurmountable problem for you don’t read these tales. It is genuinely your loss.

After a run of spectacular stories (all of which have been collected in a variety of formats and like An American in Palomar, Human Diastrophism and Poison River), the magazine ended. Luba and her extended family graduated to a succession of mini-series which concentrated on her moving to the USA and reuniting with her half-sisters Rosalba (“Fritz”) and Petra, taken when her mother Maria fled from Palomar decades previously.

Which brings us to this delightfully massive and priceless tome: Luba collects in one monumental volume her later life as a proud immigrant who refuses to learn English (or does she?): over 80 stories covering 596 emphatically monochrome pages ranging from lengthy sagas to sparkling single-page skits which originally appeared in Luba, Luba’s Comics and Stories, Luba in America, Luba: The Book of Ofelia and Luba: Three Daughters. The tone and content ranges from surreal to sad to funny to thrilling. The entire world can be found in these pages…

Although in an ideal world you would read the older material first, there’s absolutely no need to. Reminiscence and memory are as much a part of this brilliant passion-play as family feeling, music, infidelity, survival, punk rock philosophy, and laughter – lots and lots of laughter. Brilliantly illustrated, these are human tales as coarse and earthy any as any of Chaucer’s Pilgrims could tell, as varied and appetising as any of Boccaccio’s Decameron and as universally human as the best of that bloke Shakespeare.

I’m probably more obtuse – just plain dense or blinkered – than most, but for years I thought this stuff was about the power of Family Ties, but it’s not: at least not fundamentally.

Luba is about love. Not the sappy, one-sided happy-ever after stuff in chick-flicks designed to anesthetise and brainwash, but LOVE: that overwhelming, hungry, sneaky beast that makes you always protect the child that betrays you, that has you look for a better partner whilst you’re in the arms of your one true love, and hate the place you wanted to live in all your life.

The love of cars and hair-cuts and biscuits and paper-cuts and stray cats that bite you or jump on your bloody keyboard just when you think you’re writing your best ever stuff: selfish, self-sacrificing, dutiful, urgent, patient, uncomprehending, a feeling beyond words.

Just like the love of a great comic.

Hunt this down and never let it go…
© 2009 Gilbert Hernandez. All Rights Reserved.

Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand


By Hiroaki Samura translated by Dana Lewis & Toren Smith (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-56971-239-9

Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1970, manga master Hiroaki Samura differs from many of his contemporary colleagues in that he actually pursued classical art training before abandoning oil paints and easels for the monochrome freedom and easy license of the “whimsical drawings” industry.

He was, however, plucked from college in the early 1990s before finishing his degree, to find huge success creating the astonishing fantasy saga Mugen no Jūnin (The Inhabitant of Infinity) for Seinen magazine Afternoon.

The series ran from June 25th 1993 to December 25th 2012, a total of 30 volumes which spectacularly blended ubiquitous Samurai comics themes and scenarios with vengeful supernatural plots, political intrigues, existential philosophy and punk-era nihilism. Its driven, murderously efficient antihero constantly deployed his outrageously eccentric arsenal of fanciful edged weapons, whilst pondering the merits of salvation and the meaning and point of living too long…

The series was picked by Dark Horse in 1996 and released as Blade of the Immortal, first as a monthly comicbook series (the first six issues of which comprise this monochrome masterpiece) and, from 2007 onwards, exclusively in collected graphic novel editions. These days you can take the creative anachronism one step beyond and enjoy the high-energy antics in digital fashion…

One note of caution for purists: the series’ dialogue is written in an updated, quirkily moderne literary style which strives for emotional veracity rather than (faux) period authenticity, so it might all be a little disconcerting at first…

Set in middle of the Tokugawa Shogunate (between 1600 and 1868 CE), this first sublimely engaging volume opens with ‘About the Translation’ – a prose section explaining the translation process and the symbology of the piece – before the graphic miracles begin with ‘Prologue: Criminal’; introducing debased and unsavoury ronin Manji: one-eyed outlaw and weary killer looking for peace and redemption in all the wrong places…

The “Slayer of 100 Good Men” – including his own peacekeeper brother-in-law – Manji is currently stalking Gyobutsu “Johnny”: a mass-murderer who kills his victims whilst disguised as a priest.

When a cunning trap goes wrong, the debased ronin manfully ignores a pistol shot through his brain to finish his sacrilegious quarry.

This ronin is no longer as other men. There are worms in his head, and as they knit his inexplicably non-fatal wound back together, Manji broods.

In his despicable past he was a cheap sell-sword who killed as he pleased. When his misdeeds brought him into conflict with his “cop” brother-in-law he simply butchered him. The shock drove his sister Machi mad.

She was the only thing Manji ever cared about…

Yaobikuni has no problem with living forever – she won’t die until she’s saved every soul in Japan – and when the unkillable reprobate again meets the 800-year old nun who inflicted on him the sacred Kessen-chu bloodworms which can heal any hurt, she draws him into the old pointless discussion about salvation.

Yaobikuni urges him to give up the sword, but all he wants to do is die….

Even if he could, it’s no longer an option now that he has to care for his grievously damaged sister Machi…

The problem is savagely solved when the vengeful brother and 20-strong gang of “Johnny” abduct her, determined to make her murderous brother pay emotionally and physically for the death of their leader.

Manji’s botched rescue attempt leaves him triumphant above a sea of corpses and utterly alone in the world…

Pushed too far, he finds Yaobikuni and offers her a deal: if he kills one thousand truly evil men, she must remove the Kessen-chu and let Manji rest at last.

Despite misgivings that he’s just found another way to keep on killing, the nun agrees…

‘Conquest’ debuts young Rin, whose father Asano was targeted for slaughter by a merciless gang of anarchist thugs calling themselves the Ittō-ryū.

Long ago, the grandfather of their leader Anotsu Kagehisa had been shamefully and unjustly expelled from Asano’s Mutenichi-ryū fencing dojo, and the grandson resolved to destroy all such schools and the socially stratified, arrogantly smug advocates of privilege who populate them.

Gathering an army of similarly aggrieved, like-minded rebels and outcasts, Anotsu murdered many Swords-masters: destroying their legacies and accumulating a powerful army before seeking his ultimate triumph over a despised ancestral enemy…

After ending Rin’s father, Anotsu gave her mother O-Toki to his men, but told them to leave the little girl alone.

Rin never saw her mother again and now, aged sixteen, the last sword of the Mutenichi- ryū School is in the metropolis of Edo looking for payback. What she finds is a jolly little nun who suggests she seek out a maimed-and-mangy, mean-looking ronin to act as her bodyguard…

They don’t hit it off. Manji is condescending and patronising and wants her to prove her contention that members of Ittō-ryū are genuinely evil before he subtracts them from his target tally of 1000 human monsters…

Reaching an agreement of sorts, the pair join forces, unaware that Rin has been followed by Anotsu’s macabre lieutenant Kuroi Sabato. The deranged psycho-poet has been sending taunting verses to the girl ever since that fateful night, whilst secretly treasuring his macabre keepsake of her mother O-Toki all these lonely years…

Now he’s ready for Rin to complete a ghastly set of horrific personalised trophies, but the satanic stalker has never met – or killed – anyone like Manji before…

The eerie epic closes here with ‘Genius’ wherein the decidedly odd couple seek aid and assistance from an old friend of Rin’s father. Retired samurai Sōri has dedicated his remaining years to becoming an artist, but still struggles to master the tricky discipline of “sword-painting”.

The uncouth Manji can barely contain his scornful taunts, especially as the artist seems unwilling to assist a lady in distress, apparently far more concerned with the trivial problem that he can never get the reds right in his compositions…

Of course, the revenant ronin has no idea that once Sōri was the Shogun’s Ninja …

More of Anotsu’s psycho-killer goons have followed Rin and Manji to the painter’s lodgings however, looking for the blade-wielding girl genius who killed the lethally adept Kuroi. When they attack the sleeping Rin, they soon discover to their everlasting regret the mettle of her new allies…

In the stillness after the slaughter, Rin and Manji move on to continue their vendetta against the Ittō-ryū, but Sōri regretfully remains behind to pursue his art. At least now he knows what pigments suit him best…

‘An Interview with Hiroaki Samura’ and a selection of cover illustrations from the comicbook iteration complete this viscerally brutal, staggeringly beguiling first volume of mythic martial mastery…

Although crafting other works such as the western Emerald, romantic comedies, erotic works and horror stories such as Night of the Succubus and Bradherley’s Coach, Blade of the Immortal is unquestionably Mr. Samura’s signature creation and a truly unparalleled delight for fans of not just manga but for all lovers of dark fantasy.
© 1996, 1997 Hiroaki Samura. All rights reserved. English translation rights arranged through Kodansha Ltd. New and adapted artwork & text © 1996, 1997 Studio Proteus and Dark Horse Comics Inc. All other material © 2000 Dark Horse Comics Inc. All rights reserved.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula


By Bram Stoker & Fernando Fernández (Catalan Communications/Del Rey Books)
DLB: 18118-1984 (Catalan) ISBN: 978-0-34548-312-6 (Del Rey)

Here a gloriously OTT example of Anglo-European collaboration long overdue for reconsideration and another go-round. I don’t mean anything by it; I’m just saying…

Multi-disciplinary Spanish artist Fernando Fernández began working to help support his family at age 13 whilst still at High School. He graduated in 1956 and immediately began working for British and French comics publishers.

In 1958 his family relocated to Argentina and whilst there he added strips for El Gorrión, Tótem and Puño Fuerte to his ongoing European and British assignments for Valentina, Roxy and Marilyn.

In 1959 he returned to Spain to begin a long association with Fleetway Publications in London, producing mostly war and girls’ romance stories.

During the mid-1960’s he began to experiment with painting: selling book covers and illustrations to a number of clients, before again taking up comics work in 1970, creating a variety of strips (many of which found their way into US horror magazine Vampirella), the successful comedy feature ‘Mosca’ for Diario de Barcelona and educational strips for the publishing house Afha.

Increasingly expressive and experimental as the decade passed, Fernández produced ‘Cuba, 1898’ and ‘Círculos’ before, in 1980 beginning his science fiction spectacular Zora y los Hibernautas for the Spanish iteration of fantasy magazine 1984. It eventually made it into English in Heavy Metal magazine as Zora and the Hibernauts.

He then adapted this moody, Hammer Films-influenced version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the Spanish iteration of Creepy, before (working with Carlos Trillo) moving on to mediaeval fantasy thriller La Leyenda de las Cuatro Sombras , after which he created Argón, el Salvaje and a number of adaptations of Isaac Asimov tales in Firmado por: Isaac Asimov and Lucky Starr – Los Océanos de Venus.

His last comics work was Zodíaco begun in 1989, but mounting heart problems soon curtailed the series and he returned to painting and illustration. He passed away in August 2010, aged 70.

For his interpretation of the gothic masterpiece under review here, Fernández sidelined the expansive, experimental layouts and lavish page design that worked so effectively in Zora and the Hibernauts for a moodily classical and oppressively claustrophobic, traditional page construction, trusting to his staggering mastery of colour and form to carry his luxuriously mesmeric message of mystery, seduction and terror.

The story is undoubtedly a familiar one and the set pieces are all executed with astounding skill and confident aplomb as, in May 1897, English lawyer Jonathan Harker is lured to the wilds of Transylvania and horror beyond imagining wherein an ancient bloodsucking horror prepares to move to the pulsing heart of the modern world.

Leaving Harker to the tender mercies of his vampiric harem, Dracula travels by schooner to England, slaughtering every seaman aboard the S.S. Demeter and unleashing a reign of terror on the sedate and complacent British countryside…

Meanwhile, in the seat of Empire, Harker’s fiancée Mina Murray finds her flighty friend Lucy Westenra fading from troublesome dreams and an uncanny lethargy which none of her determined suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Texan Quincy P. Morris and Arthur Holmwood – the future Lord Godalming – seem capable of dispelling…

As Harker struggles to survive in the Carpathians, in Britain, Seward’s deranged but impotent patient Renfield claims horrifying visions and becomes greatly agitated…

Dracula, although only freshly arrived in England, is already causing chaos and disaster, as well as constantly returning to the rapidly declining Lucy. His bestial bloodletting prompts her three beaux to summon famed Dutch physician Abraham Van Helsing to save her life and cure her increasing mania.

Harker survived his Transylvanian ordeal, and when nuns summoned Mina she rushed to Romania where she married him in a hasty ceremony to save his health and wits….

In London, Dracula renews his assaults and Lucy dies, only to be reborn as a predatory child-killing monster. After dispatching her to eternal rest, Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward and Morris – joined by recently returned and much-altered Harker and his new bride – resolve to hunt down and destroy the ancient evil in their midst, following a chance encounter in a London street between the newlyweds and the astoundingly rejuvenated Count…

Dracula, however, has incredible forces and centuries of experience on his side and having tainted Mina with his blood-drinking curse flees back to his ancestral lands. Frantically, the mortal champions give chase, battling the elements, Dracula’s enslaved gypsy army and the monster’s horrific eldritch power in a race against time lest Mina finally succumb forever to his unholy influence…

Although the translation to English in the Catalan version is a little slapdash in places – a fact happily addressed in the 2005 re-release from Del Rey – the original does have the subtly enhanced benefit of richer colours, sturdier paper stock and a slightly larger page size (285 x 219mm as opposed to 274 x 211mm) which somehow makes the 1984 edition feel more substantial. This would all be irrelevant if a digital edition were available…

This breathtaking oft-retold yarn delivers fast paced, action-packed, staggeringly beautiful and astoundingly exciting thrills and chills in a most beguiling manner. Being Spanish, however, there’s perhaps the slightest hint of brooding machismo, if not subverted sexism, on display and – of course – plenty of heaving, gauze-filtered female nudity which might challenge modern sensibilities.

Nevertheless, what predominates in this Dracula is an overwhelming impression of unstoppable evil and impending doom.

There’s no sympathy for the devil here – this is a monster from Hell that all good men must oppose to their last breath and final drop of blood and sweat…

With an emphatic introduction (‘Dracula Lives!’) from noted comics historian Maurice Horn, this is a sublime treatment by a master craftsman that all dark-fearing, red- blooded fans will want to track down and savour.
© 1984, 2005 Fernando Fernández. All rights reserved.