Terror – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez (volume 1) & Macabras – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez (volume 2)

By Jayme Cortez, with Fabio Moraes & various, translated by Joe Williams (Korero Press)
ISBN: 978-1-912740-22-2 (PB Terror) & 978-1-912740-21-5 (PB Macabras)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Whatever the Season, All Nights Are Dark … 8/10

Please pay careful attention: this art book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption. Tomorrow I’ll write about something else – possibly more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then if incredible art, a dedicated career and rectifying oversights is not to your liking.

We comic book guys tend to think we invented and run the medium and art form of graphic narrative, but – gasps in shock! – other countries have been doing the same or similar all along. Moreover, so very much of it is so very good…

Britain and the US have, over decades, employed a select few master craftsmen (and they were mostly men as far as I can see) and I’ve done my bit to point them your way, but until very recently we haven’t seen much of Brazil’s monolithic comics output. That changes here and now with a two-book collection highlighting the breathtakingly prolific career of Jaime Cortez Martins – AKA Jayme Cortez. He was born in Lisbon, Portugal on 8th September 1926 and his life changed at age six when he first saw imported American newspaper strips: particularly Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon. Jaime’s first drawing was published when he was 11, and in 1944 he was apprenticed to children’s magazine O Mosquito under its art director Eduardo Texiera Coelho. The prodigy generated numerous groundbreaking strips before – having discovered the rich world of Brazilian comics – he emigrated to São Paulo to find great fame fortune and renown. Celebrated globally except in English-speaking countries, Cortez died in 1987.

For more biographic detail resort to the internet or best yet buy these books where editor/writer-compiler/art historian Fabio Moraes and appreciative guests such as Paul Gravett, and Paulo Montiero offer their own insights in Forewords and Intoductions. What’s really important is what follows: a magnificent treasury of a passionate creator’s output (albeit mostly his horror genre material) encompassing Brazil’s “golden age” of scary stories.

Cortez made himself master of countless artistic techniques and although there are ads and a few comic book stories included, these volumes primarily gather a mindboggling number of painted covers (as many as 4 per week!) in chronological order. Whether in colour or monochrome, these stunning retrospective compendia of gloriously designed and delineated imagery in a wealth of styles incorporate a staggering arsenal of artistic techniques – even photographic – to highlight a stunning and prolific career you and I were utterly unaware of.

Terror – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez properly opens with a comprehensive biographical essay ‘The Life of a Master Illustrator’ relating that dazzling career and offering candid photos, early works, magazine covers, strips and extracts, original artworks and commercial jobs before the serious stuff begins with his entire covers run for landmark publication O Terror Negro (The Black Terror).

This launched in September 1951 and ran until 1967, with Cortez generating the covers from #2 until the end and also the regular annual editions Almanaque de O Terror Negro. From January 1954 he added Sobrenatural to his commissions list: another 31 covers (plus another Annual) until September 1956 and (from February 1954 to July 1956) 35 more covers for Contos de Terror (Horror Tales), another Almanque and a brace of Frankenstein fronts. Throughout the book are many original art reproductions and dozens of reference photos the artist used as part of his process in bringing ghosts, ghouls, goblins, aliens, psycho-killers, devils, demons and witches to life, and making realistic the demise of countless maidens, wives and sundry other innocents…

Macabras – The Horror Comic Art of Jayme Cortez continues the gruesome gallery of dark delights by including some more of his beguiling strip work and another cartload of intoxicating covers. Following another context-packed biographical essay – ‘A Virtuoso of Illustration’The Portrait of Evil 1961 reprints and deconstructs what is considered Cortez’s signature sequential narrative masterpiece, before The Portrait of Evil 1973 does the same for the improved version the tireless quester produced when he returned to the subject in a more mature and philosophical frame of mind…

From there it’s a return to eye-catching images and bold typography in a welter of covers for his minor magazine efforts, beginning with 62 issues of Seleçóes de Terror (beginning in 1959 and going on until 1967), 28 for Histórias Macabras, 19 for Clássicos de Terror, an even dozen for Histórias Sinestras, as well as Histórias Do Alem (4), Super B?lso (3), Terror Magazine (3), and 10 for indie company Jotaesse.

Also on view are a chapter on the artist’s fascination with Edgar Allen Poe, a photo-essay on Creating a poster (for his other job working in films) and 14 chilling Black and White Illustrations to round out the fright fest.

This long-past-due celebration of a truly unique artistic pioneer is both compelling and shocking, and something no mature-minded devotee of graphic excellence should miss. Moreover, if the subject matter intrigues you, Korero also publish a stunning line of companion volumes of unknown (to you and me) art masters in their “Sex and Horror” collections: thus far highlighting the mastery of Emanuele Tagglietti, Alessandro Biffignandi, Fernando Carcupino, Roberto Molinio…

It’s never too late to be scared witless or stunned by magnificent comic art so let’s open our eyes and get a little international here.
First published in 2023 © Korero Press Limited. All rights reserved.

The Great Anti War Cartoons

By many & various, edited by Craig Yoe (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-150-3 (TPB)

After watching far too much news again, I dug this book off my shelves again. It seemed somehow appropriate. Again.

You’ll hear a lot about the pen being mightier than the sword regarding The Great Anti-War Cartoons, but sadly it’s just not true. Nothing seems able to deter determined governments, or stop outraged religions and/or rich, greedy – and apparently duly elected – raving mad ruthless bastards from sending the young and idealistic to their mass-produced deaths, especially those innocents still afflicted with the slightest modicum of patriotism or sense of adventure. It’s even worse when the sods at the top turn away or claim it’s self-defence whilst killing bystanders but not the ACTUAL other equally mad bastards really responsible.

Our own currently escalating and deteriorating global situation (but isn’t it always?) proves mankind is always far too ready to take up arms, and far too reluctant to give peace a chance, especially when a well-oiled publicity machine and vested media interests gang up on the men and women in the street going “yeah, but…” and “stop killing us…!”

We’re all susceptible to the power of a marching beat played on fife and drum, but at least here amongst these 220+ cartoons and graphic statements, we see that rationalism or conscientious objectivity – or pacifism or even simple self-interested isolationism – are as versed in the art of pictorial seduction as the power and passion of jingoism and war-fever.

All art – and most especially cartooning – has the primitive power to bore deep into the soul, just as James Montgomery Flagg’s iconic Uncle Sam poster “Your Country Needs You” and our own Lord Kitchener version by Alfred Leete in 1914 so effectively did for millions of young men during the Great War.

How satisfying then to see Flagg’s is the very first anti-war cartoon in this incredible compilation of images focusing on the impassioned pleas of visual communicators trying to avoid body-counts or at least reduce bloodshed. The Great Anti-War Cartoons gathers a host of incredibly moving, thought-provoking, terrifying, but – I’m gutted to say – ultimately ineffective warnings, scoldings and pleas which may have moved millions of people, but never stopped or even gave pause to one single conflict…

Editor Craig Yeo divides these potently unforgettable images into a broad variety of categories and I should make it clear that not all the reasons for their creation are necessarily pacifistic: some of the most evocative renderings here are from creators who didn’t think War was Bad per se, but rather felt that a specific clash in question was none of their homeland’s business.

However with such chapters as Planet War, Man’s Inhumanity to Man, The Gods of War, Profiteers, Recruitment and Conscription, The Brass, The Grunts, Weapons of War, The Battle Rages On, The Long March, Famine, The Anthems of War, The Horrors of War, The Suffering, The Families and Children of War, The Aftermath, Victory Celebration, Medals, Disarmament, Resistance and Peace, we witness immensely talented people of varying and even conflicting beliefs responding on their own unique terms to organised slaughter. For every tut-tut of the Stay-at-Homers, there are a dozen from genuinely desperate and appalled artists who just wanted the horror to end.

With incisive examinations of shared symbology and recurring themes, these monochrome penmen utilised their brains and talents in urgent strivings to win their point (there is also a fascinating section highlighting the impact and energy of the Colors of War), but the most intriguing aspect of this superb collection is the sheer renown and worth of the contributors.

Among the 119 artists include (120 if you count Syd Hoff and his nom-de-plume “Redfield” as two separate artists) are Sir John Tenniel, Caran d’Ache, Bruce Bairnsfather, Herbert Block, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Ron Cobb, “Ding” Darling, Billy DeBeck, Jerry Robinson, Albrecht Dürer, Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Rube Goldberg, Honore Daumier, Goya, George Grosz, Bill Mauldin, Gerald Scarfe, Ralph Steadman, Thomas Nast and most especially the incredibly driven Winsor McCay.

I’ve scandalously assumed that many of the older European draughtsmen won’t be that well known, despite their works being some of the most harrowing, and their efforts – although perhaps wasted on people willing to listen to reason anyway – are cruel and beautiful enough to make old cynics like me believe that maybe this time, THIS TIME, somebody in power will actually do something to stop the madness.

A harsh, evocative and painfully lovely book: seek it out in the hope that perhaps one day Peace will be the Final Solution.

The time has never been more right for cynics like me to be proved wrong.

The Great Anti-War Cartoons and the digitally remastered public domain material are © 2009 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc. All rights reserved.

Red Harvest – A Graphic Novel of the Terror Famine in 1930’s Soviet Ukraine

By Michael Cherkas (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-320-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-323-3

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Truth is the Greatest Gift… 10/10

Generally this month varies between Halloween scary stories and material pertinent to Black History month, but today we’re looking at something that is best described as a true horror story.

In 1954 Michael Cherkas was born in Oshawa Ontario. He grew up, studying cartooning at Sheridan College in nearby Oakville, before delving deeper into the art world through Illustration and Design courses at The Ontario College of Art in Toronto. A professional graphic artist, cartoonist and art director for over three decades, he has also – with associates Larry Hancock, John van Bruggen, John Sabli’c – winningly blended social commentary with subversion and paranoic science fiction in comics and books like The Silent Invasion quartet and spin-offs The Purple Ray, The New Frontier and Suburban Nightmares.

Cherkas’ family came to Canada from Ukraine, and Red Harvest is a far more personal comics narrative: one he has taken fifteen years to tell…

The deeply personal passion project details how one prosperous, self-sufficient farming village – Zelenyi Hai – was caught up in and destroyed by the doctrinaire and utterly botched “collectivization of farming” program initiated by Josef Stalin in 1931. That triumph of dogma over logic, common sense and physical practicality stated that the principles of industrialisation be applied to farming to maximise yields, with the resultant increase being sold to the rich-but-failing capitalist nations to secure much-needed funds and resources.

It didn’t work out that way and – aggravated by inefficiency and abetted by levels of regional featherbedding and root-&-branch institutional corruption unmatched until the current British Government started handing out contracts during the Covid crisis – resulted in a wholly man-made famine that killed over five million and displaced millions more.

Ukrainians call that time in 1932 and 1933 the “Holodomor” (literally “death/murder by hunger”). The policy (or naked landgrab) was forcibly applied to the Soviet-controlled (and non-Russian) regions of eastern and central Ukraine, northern Kuban and Kazakstan, with cautious modern estimates reckoning their populations diminished by 35%. However, thanks to decades of Party gag-orders, news-editing and fact-suppression, barely anywhere else knows it ever happened…

How this graphic novel came about – and particularly the powerful illustrative style used – is discussed in Cherkas’ Introduction, and the tale is preceded by a Glossary of language used to add impact and colour to this bleak monochrome masterpiece.

A targeted investigation rather than a straight memoir, the fictionalised saga opens in 2008 as aging Canadian citizen and recently-retired farmer Mykola Kovalenko prepares for his first visit to Ukraine since leaving in 1942. The big event has made him anxious and he’s started dreaming of the past and remembering…

What follows is a compelling yet engaging narrative exposing a war crime and systematic genocide the world has been happy to forget. Rendered with wit, tact and great reserve, it adds meat to history’s bones, tracing the slow, gradual, hopeless decline and repercussions very much in the manner later employed in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. That author also knew human nature, political chicanery; he has painful inescapable truths and a bit of history…

Cherkas is astoundingly adept at giving the many contributory factors and factions human faces: by turn hopeful, enthusiastic, stoic, enduring, fanatical, ruthless, crushed, despondent and ultimately hopeless. By blending Mykola’s contemporary return with the concatenation of cozening deceptions, betrayals, mismanagements, brutally enforced separations, family divisions and stupid changes applied with ruthless inefficiency by Party Officials local and Russian, the author has shone a light on a story that never goes away and never ends happily.

Couched in terms of a family drama, Red Harvest is potent, and unforgettable: a dish we should all dip into and accept that sometimes bitterness is the best we can aspire to.

Red Harvest is © 2023 by Michael Cherkas. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Red Harvest will be released on November 14th 2023 and is available for digital and physical copy pre-orders now.

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

Master of Mystery: The Rise of The Shadow (Will Murray Pulp History Series)

By Will Murray, illustrated by Frank Hamilton, Rick Roe, Colton Worley, Joe DeVito, Edd Cartier & various (Odyssey Publications)
ISBN: 979-8-54I38-708-7 (PB/Digital edition)

In the early 1930s, just as the Great Depression hit hardest, a new kind of literary (and ultimately multimedia) hero was born …or more correctly, evolved. The Shadow afforded thrill-starved Americans measured doses of extraordinary excitement via cheaply produced periodical novels and over eerily charged airwaves via an iconic radio show.

Made exceedingly cheaply and published in their hundreds for every style and genre, “Pulps” bridged stand-alone books and periodical magazines. Results ranged from unforgettably excellent to pitifully dire, and amongst originals and knock-offs of every conceivable stripe, for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others in terms of quality and sheer imagination.

The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier relentless creature of the night darkly dispensing grim justice was the enigmatic vigilante/ultimate detective discussed here.

As seen in Dark Avenger: The Strange Saga of The Shadow (successor to this book) the enthralling enigma grew out of a combination of sources: radio show Detective Story Hour and the Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine it promoted; a succession of scary voices variously deployed by Orson Welles, James LaCurto and Frank Readick Jr.) but above all a Depression-era populace in dire need of cathartic entertainment.

From the very start on July 31st 1930, that narratorial “Shadow” was more popular than the stories he highlighted…

How that aural phenomenon was translated into an iconic literary/media sensation and exactly who was responsible forms the basis of this compelling testament as prolific author, scripter and historian Will Murray turns his spotlight on those who contributed to the amalgamated marvel of mystery and imagination.

Following his reminiscence-fuelled Introduction, Murray restates the origin of the character in photo-filled feature ‘The Five O’clock Shadow’ and details how the Street & Smith campaign to make a voice and a feeling real and remunerative spawned a landmark of broadcast entertainment, before ‘Out of the Shadows: Walter Gibson’ offers an engaging and revelatory interview with the magician-turned-crime writer conducted by Murray and Jim Steranko at the 1975 New York Comic Art Convention.

That interview was in a public forum, and the transcript omitted a lengthy digression comprising Gibson’s oral history of the Shadow’s signature fire opal ring. Here – in its entirety – it comprises ‘The Purple Girasol’, after which it’s the turn of ‘Heroic Editor: John L. Nanovic’ to be rediscovered and awarded his share of the acclaim.

Prolific and underrated, successor scripter ‘Theodore Tinsley: Maxwell Grant’s Shadow’ is celebrated all his many works after which we concentrate on illustration as cover artist ‘Graves Gladney Speaks’.

‘Walter B. Gibson Revisited’ revisits an interview with the author from PulpCon 5 (Akron Ohio, July 1976) conducted by Murray and Bob Sampson, discussing his working stance and fellow creatives at Street & Smith, whilst his connection to, expertise and excellence in conjuring and legerdemain are celebrated in ‘Walter Gibson’s Magical Journey’

Back in the realm of visions, an appreciation of a true master of pulp art exploring the mysterious ‘Edd Cartier: Master of Shadows’ is augmented by acknowledgement of the Dark Detective’s most obvious legacy in ‘The Shadowy Roots of Batman’, with ‘Memories of Walter’ synthesizing the emotions stirred up by the author’s passing in December 1985.

Packed with fascinating detail and elucidatory anecdotes, plus plenty of pictures and photos, this beguiling documentary of bygone times and appreciation of the giant shoulders we all stand on, this so readable tome also includes biographies ‘About the Author’ and ultra-fan Tim King, whose crucial role is covered in ‘About our Patron’.

If heroes and history are important to you this Master of Mystery: The Rise of The Shadow is truly unmissable.
© 2021 Will Murray. All rights reserved. Artwork © Condé Nast & used with permission.

Shazam! The Golden Age of the World’s Mightiest Mortal

By Bill Parker & C.C. Beck, Roscoe Fawcett, Marcus Swayze, Pete Costanza, Otto Binder, Jack Binder, Mac Raboy, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Chad Grothkopf, Kurt Schaffenberger, and many & various: compiled & written by Chip Kidd and photographed by Geoff Spear (Abrams ComicArts/Harry N. Abrams, Inc.)
ISBN: 978-0-8109-9596-3 (2010 HB) 978-1-4197-3747-3 (2019 PB)

One of the most venerated and beloved characters in American comics was devised by Bill Parker & Charles Clarence Beck as part of a wave of opportunistic creativity following Superman’s debut in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett Comics character moved swiftly and solidly into the realm of light entertainment -and even broad comedy – whilst, as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly put whimsy aside in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan and thoroughly good kid Billy Batson was selected by an ancient wizard to battle injustice: granted the powers of six gods and mythical heroes. By speaking aloud the mage’s name – an acronym for the patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury – Billy transformed from scrawny boy to brawny adult Captain Marvel.

At the height of his popularity, “the Big Red Cheese” significantly outsold The Man of Steel – published twice monthly and topping 14 million copies per month. Before eventually evolving his own affable personality the full-grown hero was a serious, bluff and rather characterless powerhouse, whilst alter ego Billy was the true star: a Horatio Alger archetype of impoverished, resourceful, boldly self-reliant youth overcoming impossible odds through gumption, grit and sheer determination…

However, as the decade moved on, tastes changed and sales slowed. A court case begun in 1941 by National Comics contesting copyright infringement was settled. Like many other superheroes, Cap disappeared, reduced to a fond memory for older fans. A big syndication success, he was missed all over the world…

In Britain, a reprint line had run for many years, so creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product. His solution was to reimagine the franchise with atomic age hero Marvelman and Co. continuing to thrill readers well into the 1960s.

As America experienced another superhero boom-&-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base increasingly dependent on collectors and fans rather than casual or impulse buyers. DC needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unlikely places. Following a 1953 court settlement with Fawcett, DC ultimately secured the rights to Captain Marvel, his spun-off extended Family and attendant strips and characters.

Despite the actual name having been taken by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous route and quirky robotic hero published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), the home of Superman opted for tapping into that discriminating, if aging, fanbase. In 1971, they licensed the dormant rights to the character stable (only fully buying them out in 1991) and two years later, riding a wave of national nostalgia on TV and in movies, DC resurrected and relaunched the entire beloved cast in their own kinder, weirder, completely segregated and separate universe.

To circumvent intellectual property clashes, they named the new/old title Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’): the unforgettable trigger phrase used by the majority of Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had entered the American language thanks to the success of the franchise (especially an excellent movie serial) the first time around.

Issue #1 carried a February 1973 cover-date and generated mixed reviews and unconvincing sales, but was pushed hard by DC. It even briefly scored the big prize in the publisher’s eyes. Adapted as live action Saturday morning TV series Shazam!, it ran three season (28 episodes) from 7th September 1974 to October 1976…

The comics are universally welcoming and wonderful and you should read them all, but we’re looking at a different aspect of the phenomenon here. Like any multi-media property, the Marvel Family franchise spawned tons of merchandise and this compendium sublimely showcases those tantalising collectables and examples of ephemera from the first 14 years – 1940-1953.

Most gems reproduced here come from the truly enviable personal collection of Harry Matesky as photographed by Geoff Spear (Batman Collected, The Peanuts Poster Collection, Mythology: The DC Art of Alex Ross). The multi-media melange is compiled, arranged and curated by frequent collaborator and acme and everyman of design fascinations and armchair indolences Chip Kidd (Cheese Monkeys, Batman: Death by Design, Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts, Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design, Batmanga!: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits).

This celebration of comics’ true magic was first released in 2010 as an epic oversized (235 x 310mm) hardback jam-packed with 3D cutaways, gatefolds and other print technology “bells & whistles”, and re-released in paperback (260 x 190mm) to tie-in with the first modern Shazam movie in 2019.

It’s a virtual wonderland for anyone who’s still a kid inside (AKA all men), overflowing with letters from the Captain Marvel Club, dynamic blow-ups of key characters such as Dr Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, classic covers, early toys, models, games, action figures and even candid shots of happy kids in their Captain and Mary Marvel costumes.

In its heyday, the Captain Marvel Club boasted a membership topping 400,000, serviced by a steady stream of priceless – and exclusive – tat to acquire: buttons, watches, key chains, paper rockets, tin toys, figurines, clothing, patches, transfers and more. Its inclusive and commercially canny model was repeated by later stars like Mary Marvel and others.

These feature amidst a wealth of mouth-watering displays of old comics, covers, original art, movie posters, apparel, toys, games and far rarer items – like Fawcett’s outreach material for potential manufacturers and merchandising partners and in-house writing guidelines.

Publishing house Fawcett first gained prominence through an immensely well-received light entertainment magazine for WWI veterans. From Captain Billy’s Whiz-Bang they branched out into books and general interest magazines. Most successful publication – at least until Batson hit his stride – was ubiquitous boy’s building/activity bible Mechanix Illustrated. As the 1940s unfolded, scientific and engineering discipline and can-do demeanour underpinning MI suffused and informed both art and plots of Marvel Family titles.

On show here are long-lost treats like the Captain Marvel Magic Whistle (complete with packaging), secret codes and decoders, the Captain Marvel Magic Membership Card, gewgaws and gimcracks, house ads, prize competitions and editorials, interspersed with a terse but informative history of the company, the creators, characters and entire beguiling phenomenon,

The star and his spin-offs sparked a huge campaign of coordinated ancillary merchandising, especially once the Big Red Cheese made a spectacular leap to the silver screen in 12-part chapter play The Adventures of Captain Marvel. That luminous landmark provides some rousing stills featuring star Tom Tyler as the Good Captain…

As detailed in ‘Hey Kids! See Capt. Marvel in the Movies’, in 1940 Republic Pictures reached out to Detective Comics Incorporated with the notion of turning Superman into a movie serial. No deal was struck and a year later Republic catapulted Fawcett’s big gun onto screens and into history. This essay is augmented by biographies, lobby cards, posters from many countries, contemporary ads and write-ups from magazines and comics of the period.

The only complete comics yarn included here is a corker. In the formative years as the feature rocketed to the first rank of superhero superstars, there was a scramble to fill pages. Following his Whiz Comics residency and epic one-shot Special Edition Comics, the indomitable innocent was promoted to his own solo title, but with Beck and his studio overstretched, Captain Marvel Adventures #1 (cover-dated March 1941, and on sale from January 17th) was farmed out to up-and-coming whiz-kids Joe Simon & Jack Kirby. With inker Dick Briefer they produced the entire issue in a hurry from Beck and Parker’s guides. Apparently they did it in two weeks whilst finalising the launch of Captain America

‘Captain Marvel versus Z’ remains a visually impressive action-drama with the irrepressible Sivana creating a hulking android brute designed to be the Captain’s equal. Despite numerous clashes and subsequent upgrades, after one last brutal knock-down, drag-out, Kirby-co-ordinated dust-up, it is apparent that Z isn’t…

The hero soon spawned sidekicks and assistants aplenty. The two most successful were Captain Marvel Junior and Mary Marvel who each have their own sections, replete with merch and memorabilia – both American made and from syndicating publishers who reprinted them around the world. There are also short sections devoted to other Fawcett stars Spy Smasher (who also had a Republic movie serial and club – the “Victory Battalion”) and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny.

Toys, stationary, puzzles and games include Captain Marvel Lightning Racing Cars (glorious tin toys!), Captain and Mary Marvel Wristwatches (plus ads and packaging), keychains, a Captain Marvel Fun Kit, Helicopter and Power Siren (“world’s mightiest whistle!”). There are images of Captain Marvel’s Radar Racer, Rocket Raider and Magic Eyes (all with some assembly required); a compass-ring, Shazam board game, 3-D Magic Picture, a jigsaw, paper “punch-out book, and ceramic figurines ready to illuminate in the Captain Marvel Adventures in Paint set.

Throwable toy Hoppy the FLYING Marvel Bunny also needs assembling before launch, as does his Musical Evening Miracle Toy of Today, and there are examples of ultra-rare velveteen stuffed dolls of both the rabbit and his human inspiration…

As well as painting and colouring books, pencils, plastic statuettes, buzz bomb paper planes and Christmas tree decorations, are projects and covers from all across the globe, like lead figures and assorted Pre-Mick Anglo comics from Britain, plus a (gloriously painted) trading card set from Spain. There’s even a bootleg trading card album set from Havana, Cuba, based on the 1941 Republic serial.

Ready to wear items include novelty shirts, braces, neckties and a cape; bean bags, tie-clips, beanie-hats, vinyl saddlebag, bike/wall pennants, “overseas style” hats and caps, skin tattoo and iron-on tee-shirt transfers, illustrated soap (!?), numerous Premium postcards, patches and badges with even Billy and Hoppy the Marvel Bunny proudly included amongst the regular costumed heroes…

Leasing his fame, the Captain appears in strip ads for Coola Cola and other salient sales points (illustrated by Costanza) and proudly confirms his patriotic zeal via many inspirational war-time covers and with the Comics Canteen! packs (comics distributed gratis by Fawcett to US servicemen in 1942).

The titanic tome terminates with an examination of the end as ‘Twilight of the Golden Age’ reveals details of the court settlement, and reviews extracts from trial transcripts.

All items cited here are merely the tip of an iceberg of fabulous stuff no fan could resist, and an evocation to the simple pleasure of youth, making this book an unparalleled package of pure weaponised nostalgia impossible to resist. So don’t…
© 2010, 2019 DC Comics. All rights reserved.

Queen in Comics

By Emmanuel Marie (narrative) & Sophie Blitman (articles); illustrated by Bast, Riccardo Randazzo, Céline Olive, Antonio Campofredano, Samuel Wambre, Julien Huggonard-Bert, Lauriane Rérolle, Jean-Jacques Dzialowski, Alex-Imé, Francesco Colafella, Samuel Figuiére, Antoine Pédron, Arnaud Jouffroy, Toni Cittadini, Carmelo Zagaria, François Foyard, Paulo Loreto, Dario Formisani, Nicolò Laporini, Luigi Ziteli, Enzo Gosselin & various: translated by Christopher Pope (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-311-0 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-312-7

It’s time for another stunning rock biography: released continentally in 2021 but which will certainly appeal to readers all over the English-speaking world. Another entry in NBM’s superb “…in Comics” sub-strand, it unlocks and unleashes the history of another musical sensation that shook the planet, focussing in particular (how could you not?) on a unique performer who changed popular culture and modern society…

Gathered in this fetching account are context-providing, photo-packed essays bracketing individual comics sections. Here chronological article researched and documented by French journalist/educator Sophie Blitman and sociologist/graphic novelist Emmanuel Marie dramatise those dry facts for a horde of artists to spectacularly realise in comics vignettes…

Our baroque journey begins with the scene stealing front-man as ‘Farrokh’s Childhood’ – limned by Riccardo Randazzo and fleshed out by colourist Luigi Ziteli – views the schooldays of Farrokh Bulsara (September 5th 1946 – November 24th 1991) leaving his childhood home in the British Protectorate of Zanzibar. Son of a well-to-do Parsi family at the tail-end of the British Empire, in 1954 he transferred to St. Peter’s Boys Boarding School in what was then Bombay, India. Dubbed “Freddie” by his classmates, the boy excels at the piano and boxing.

In 1958, he hears Little Richard for the first time and adds Rock ‘n’ Roll to his eclectic love of Bollywood singers and classical opera. With his band – The Hectics – he plays constantly, honing his skills whilst pursuing his studies until 1964, when revolution creates the nation of Tanzania, forcing the entire Bulsara family to relocate to England…

Following Blitman’s context-packed essay on the geo-political and cultural status quo prior to the move to London, Céline Olive takes us to Kensington in 1969 to experience ‘Youth in London’. Here recent graduate in Graphic Arts Freddie Bulsara makes a living selling clothes on a market stall and tries to break into the big time with his band Ibex. His partner in the rags venture is Roger Taylor, who plays with guitarist Brian May in Smile. One night in September, both bands play in Liverpool and a jam session creates a kind of magic…

A text piece covering college days and tentative early moves in the burgeoning music scene segues into Antonio Campofredano’s bold rendition ‘Everything Starts With a Smile’ (colour by Nicolò Laporini) in 1970 as almost-hitmakers Smile take on pianist Freddie (call me “Mercury”) and discover a voice beyond compare…

A feature on the music biz and Smile precedes a leap to cartoon creativity in 1971 as Samuel Wambre reveals how a mix, match, merge and classified ad brings bassist John Deacon into play even as Freddie doodles out the ‘Birth of an Esthetic’ and Smile become Queen…

A prose feature detailing that transition in the era of Glam-Rock is accompanied by a detailed deconstruction of the band’s iconic “Royal Coat of Arms” before Julien Huggonard-Bert & colourist Laporini explore ‘First Album, Little Success’ as the up-&-comers cut their first LP and sign with EMI in 1972. After a discussion of Queen I, Lauriane Rérolle details the first days of an epic stage and performing legend in ‘We Want a Show!’ seeing Freddie consult fashion force Zandra Rhodes to ensure a once-seen, never-forgotten stage presence all round, duly supplemented and photographically augmented in another informative article…

Laporini’s hues boost Jean-Jacques Dzialowski trip to 1975 as ‘Queen Takes Off’ supported by a feature on the early albums and singles, after which Alex-Imé revisits landmark release Bohemian Rhapsody and how the record company tried to stifle it in ‘6 Minutes Too Long!’, which also offers a rather technical assessment of why it’s so gosh-darned great!

Francesco Colafella & Laporini examine the individual bandmates’ many side-projects and coping methods for too much time in each other’s company. ‘Roger Taylor Goes Solo’ is bolstered by a text feature adding detail and tenor, before Samuel Figuiére explores the supergroup era of ‘Legendary Hits’. Focusing on stadium-shaking anthems takes us to Montreux in Switzerland where Antoine Pédron further details a time when outrageously “decadent” Queen could not do a bad thing in ‘Get on Your Bike!’

A feature on Europe’s Jazz mecca and music the band conceived there precedes Arnaud Jouffroy’s graphic question ‘But Who Was Freddie Mercury Really?’: probing the flamboyant star’s scrupulously guarded private life and astoundingly broad friend network, and is again expanded upon in its prose accompaniment. Next comes the tremor-inducing, fan-polarising shift in musical stance of the Eighties, with its repercussions revealed and detailed by Toni Cittadini & Laporini in ‘Disco Never Dies!’ An attendant article exploring the band at the height of its fame and power is an intro to Figuiére’s graphic interlude as a return to Montreux in 1981 leads to a confrontational collaboration with David Bowie in ‘Under Pressure’ with Blitman’s supporting article detailing the bandmembers’ need to express their individualism.

That theme is further explored in Carmelo Zagaria’s ‘Search for Freedom’: an illustrated interview/skit on how the video for I Want to Break Free scandalised macho nations across the Earth, with the text support explaining the situation and how it all started with the band watching Coronation Street

François Foyard limnsThe Works, Rock and Controversy’ as 1984 saw Queen return to its raunchy rocking roots with global tours and 11th album leading to reinvention via the Live Aid benefit event, as a text piece reviews those events and the band’s controversial tour of South Africa (at that time a UN-sanctioned pariah state due to its Apartheid regime)…

Randazzo & Ziteli take an anachronistic peek at ‘History-Making Concerts’ – suitably expanded upon in prose – before Paulo Loreto tackles the beginning of the tragic end in ‘A Final Album Amidst Suffering’ as the vivacious, attention-attracting frontman becomes a recluse due to a mystery disease, and his bandmates organise one last musical hurrah…

The article on HIV and AIDs at that moment in time is a sobering preamble and overture to the star’s final days and recordings – as visualised by Dario Formisani & Laporini – in ‘“Was it all Worth It?” Yes!’ and an abridged overview of everything that has happened since in ‘The Show Must Go On!’ each accompanied by comprehensive prose features.

With beguiling ‘endpapers’ by Enzo Gosselin and an iconic cover from Bast, this graphic appreciation offers a tantalising glimpse at true legends of mass entertainment and an evocative exploration of a one-man cultural and social revolution, who was at once known by all and truly seen by no one.

In so many ways, Queen and Freddie Mercury inspired and united people of disparate views and did so by example and not listening when they heard the words “no” or “but”…

Queen in Comics is an astoundingly readable and beautifully rendered treasure for narrative art and music fans alike: one to resonate with anybody who loves to listen and look. If you love pop history and crave graphic escape, this will truly rock you.

© 2021 Editions Petit à Petit. © 2022 NBM for the English translation.
Queen in Comics is scheduled for UK release May 4th 2023 and available for pre-order now. Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other wonderful reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium II

By Rick Geary (NBM/ComicsLit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-907-6 (Digest HB)

Master cartoonist Rick Geary is a unique presence in both comics and true crime literature. His compelling forensic dissections – in the form of graphic novel reconstructions – of some of the most infamous and groundbreaking murder mysteries since policing began never fail to beguile or entertain.

Although outrageously still unavailable digitally, for many years Geary’s unblinking eye powerfully probed the last hundred years or so in his Treasury of XXth Century Murder series. Prior to that, he first began graphically capitalising on a fascination with Mankind’s darker aspects way back in 1987, via a delicious anthologised tome entitled A Treasury of Victorian Murder.

That initial volume and 3 of the 8 that succeeded it (Jack the Ripper, The Fatal Bullet and The Beast of Chicago) were combined and re-issued in 2012 as a splendidly morbid monochrome deluxe hardback – because, after all, bloody murder is always a black and white affair…

More of his most compelling past triumphs were gathered into a second blockbusting 400-page monochrome hardback to delight fans of the genre and, without a shadow of a doubt, make new converts out of the as yet unconvinced…

Combining a superlative talent for laconic prose, incisive observation and meticulously detailed pictorial extrapolation with his gift for recounting the ruthless propensities of humans throughout history, Geary ceaselessly scoured police blotters, newspaper archives and even history books to compile more irresistibly infectious social sins and felonious infractions.

His unique cartooning style is the perfect medium to convey starkly factual narratives in a memorable, mordant and undeniably enjoyable manner. Each epic endeavour is accompanied by an Introduction and scholarly Bibliography, with most adaptations also offering splendidly informative maps and diagrams to set the stories firmly in place.

Starting off this largely ladykiller-laden catalogue of crime is The Borden Tragedy, digging through an abundance of details surrounding one of the most infamous – if not mythic – crimes ever perpetrated.

In Fall River, Massachusetts on August 4th 1892, prosperous self-made man Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby were found slain inside their own home. Death in both cases was caused by multiple axe blows.

Rather than his later neutral narrative stance, here Geary illustrates the “first-hand account” of an acquaintance of youngest daughter Lizzie Borden who – after much inept investigation and public speculation – was settled upon by the authorities as the likeliest suspect.

Many and various suppositions, theories, scandals and gossip-points are scrupulously examined as she stands trial for the crimes – a case muddled by a subsequent axe-murder whilst Lizzie was actually in custody – and the spotlight follows her through the much-protracted case, past her acquittal and to her eventual death in 1927…

The graphic re-enactment is accompanied by a copious photo and text section featuring a wealth of ‘Press Clippings of the Time’ as well as a reproduction of ‘Borden’s Indictment’ and The Boston Advertiser article on her eventual “Not Guilty” verdict.

The Mystery of Mary Rogers concerns the assault and murder of a New York City cigar shop girl which mesmerised the citizenry in 1841. Such was the furore that author Edgar Allen Poe appropriated the events for his C. Auguste Lupin tale The Mystery of Marie Roget: a rather unwise move, since he knew the deceased and thereby opened himself up to loudly-voiced suspicions of complicity…

The facts are that on the 28th July 1841, a number of well-to do-citizens left stifling Manhattan Island for the Jersey Shore and there discovered the body of the “Segar Girl” floating in the Hudson; battered, strangled and with her hands tied across her chest.

A hasty autopsy and even quicker inquest, held under insultingly cavalier circumstances, produced no culprits or suspects but somehow managed to throw suspicion on everyone from the men who pulled her out of the water to her drunken suicidal fiancée and even her own mother…

A talking point for all and sundry from the highest society paragon to the lowliest street trash, her death produced ever-more scandalous revelations and groundless lewd rumours – all scrupulously explored by Geary – over the next few years, but the case remains unsolved still…

The Saga of the Bloody Benders began in largely unsettled Kansas, during the period immediately following the American Civil War, when a family of German-speaking immigrants settled near the Osage Trail. There they built a General Store-&-Hotel equidistant between the nascent townships of Cherry Vale, Parsons and Thayer.

By the time they vanished four years later, provably ten but probably many, many more travellers and settlers had been robbed and murdered. Thereafter, the insalubrious Benders simply vanished from the sight of man…

Geary, with supreme style and dry wit, presents the facts and the best of the rumours in his inimitable style to create yet another unforgettable masterpiece of Gothic whimsy.

The Case of Madeleine Smith focused on the true and scandalous secret affair between Emile L’Anglier, a low-born French clerk, and prim, proper, eminently respectable Miss Madeleine Smith, daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant.

The slow poisoning of the Gallic Romeo led to a notorious trial in the 19th century and the eventual verdict shocked everyone and satisfied nobody…

The entrancing chronicle of carnage and venality concludes with the epic account of The Murder of Abraham Lincoln, covering the 62 days from 4th March to May 4th 1865, when actor John Wilkes Booth and a band of like-minded Confederate diehards schemed to murder the President (and other Northern politicians they held responsible for the destruction of the South), and how their wild plot came to startling, implausible fruition…

Following the Inauguration Ceremony for his second Term of Office, the normally fatalistic and security-disparaging President Lincoln was troubled by unease, disquiet and dreams of assassination. They might have been possibly generated by the sack-full of death threats stashed away by his Secretary John Hay.

Elsewhere, Secessionist sympathiser Booth was planning a blow for revenge and personal immortality, but increasingly found his co-conspirators a disappointing bunch. Driven and desperate, he persevered for his cause…

All the many players are scrutinised in Geary’s careful examination, with the peculiar circumstances that left Lincoln vulnerable counterbalanced by insights and minutiae provided into his less-than-fanatical nemeses.

Only one of the many assassinations planned by the Secessionist cabal came to anything, and following that foul deed, grisly death-watch and post mortem, Geary’s depiction of the bold but inept manhunt which followed is capped here by Booth’s satisfyingly dramatic end, leaving nothing but the artist’s masterful summing up to ask the questions nobody has answered yet and leave us all with the certain knowledge that this too is a murder still largely unexplained if not unsolved…

These compelling cold cases are a perfect example of how graphic narrative can be so much more than simplistic fantasy entertainment, and such merrily morbid murder masterpieces as these should be mandatory reading for every mystery addict and crime collector.

Such seductive storytelling, erudite argument and audacious drawing produce an irresistible dash and verve which makes for unforgettable reading: Geary is a unique talent in the comic industry, as much for his style as his subject matter and methodology in telling tales. Always presenting both facts and the theories – contemporary and modern – with chilling graphic precision, captivating clarity and devastating dry wit, he attacks criminology’s greatest mysteries with a force and power even Oliver Stone would envy, and every true crime podcaster should admire…
© 1997-2007, 2015 Rick Geary.

Dark Avenger: The Strange Saga of The Shadow (Will Murray Pulp History Series)

By Will Murray, illustrated by Frank Hamilton, Rick Roe, Colton Worley, Joe DeVito & various (Odyssey Publications)
ISBN: 979-8-36971-672-4 (PB/Digital edition)

In the early 1930s, just as the Great Depression hit hardest, The Shadow afforded thrill-starved Americans measured doses of extraordinary excitement via shoddily produced periodical novels and over eerily charged airwaves via an iconic radio show.

The “Pulps” were a blend of book and monthly magazine, made exceedingly cheaply and published by their hundreds in every style and genre. The results ranged from truly excellent to pitifully dire, but for exotic or esoteric adventure-lovers there were two stars who outshone all others in terms of quality and sheer imagination. The Superman of his day was Doc Savage, whilst the premier relentless creature of the night darkly dispensing grim justice was the enigmatic vigilante discussed here.

Detective Story Hour licensed and dramatised stand-alone crime yarns from Street & Smith publication Detective Story Magazine, deploying a spooky-toned narrator (variously Orson Welles, James LaCurto or Frank Readick Jr.) to introduce each tale and set the scene and mood. Think of it as just like our Jackanory, but for grown-ups and rather toned down….

The anonymous usher absolutely obsessed listeners and became known as “the Shadow”. From the very start on July 31st 1930, he was more popular than the stories he highlighted…

Dark Avenger: The Strange Saga of The Shadow is a beguiling and utterly compelling history of how the phenomenon occurred: revealing exactly how that voice evolved through sheer popular demand, smart business acumen and the writing find of a generation, to manifest as proactive character/brand The Shadow: solving instead of narrating mysteries, defending the innocent and punishing the guilty, and reshaping how the public viewed its leisure and entertainments.

Thanks to fervent and incessant demand, on April 1st 1931, the sepulchral stranger began mastering newsstands in his own adventures, mostly written by incredibly prolific and astounding gifted Walter Gibson. He was a journalist, author, historian and aficionado of stage magic and legerdemain who broke records and sired legends under the house pseudonym “Maxwell Grant”.

On September 26th 1937, the radio show was officially rebranded as The Shadow and the menacing call-&-response motto “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Men? The Shadow knows!” resonated out unforgettably over the nation’s airwaves and into common cultural currency.

Over the next 18 years, 325 novels were published, usually at the rate of two a month. The uncanny crusader infested comic books, movies, newspaper strip and all the hoopla and merchandising paraphernalia you’d expect of an indisputable superstar.

The pulp series officially ended in 1949, although Gibson and others added to the canon during the 1960s when a pulp/fantasy revival gripped the world. This trend generated reprinted classic yarns and new contemporary stories in paperback novels from Belmont Books, catapulting the sinister sentinel back into print in both books and especially comics.

In graphic terms The Shadow had always been a major player. His national newspaper strip – by Gibson & Vernon Greene – launched on June 17th 1940 and, when comic books really took off, the Man of Mystery had his own four-colour title; running from March 1940 to September 1949. Stablemate Doc Savage was also present in his own solo strip…

Archie Comics published a controversial contemporary reworking in 1964-1965, crafted by Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, John Rosenberger & Paul Reinman under their Radio/Mighty Comics imprint. In 1973, DC acquired the rights, producing a captivating, brief and definitive series of classic sagas unlike any other superhero comic on the stands. Thereafter, DC periodically revived the venerable vigilante and even made him an official influencer of Batman

After the triumph of Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, Howard Chaykin was allowed to utterly overhaul the vintage vigilante for an audience at last acknowledged as mature enough to handle some sophisticated fare. This led to further, adult-oriented iterations and one cracking outing from Marvel, before Dark Horse assumed the license for the latter half of the 1990s and beyond.

There’s been another movie (1994) and the promise of still another, whilst Dynamite Entertainment secured the comic book option in 2011: reissuing much of those other publishers’ earlier efforts, and releasing fresh Shadow comics sagas closely adhering to the tone, timing and continuity of the pulp epoch.

In prose, new novels by the author of this mighty monograph have followed, including a fan’s dream teaming of the Man of Mystery and Man of Bronze…

Just as compelling as the stories themselves is how the Dark Avenger was born and precisely how he changed the world. This dossier details how it all came about in fascinating detail, beginning in a ‘Preface’ revealing how Will Murray’s 1970’s fanzine Duende has been retooled and remastered. Sharing the secrets and setting the scene, ‘The Men Who Cast The Shadow’ recounts precisely how The Shadow came to be: introducing the hidden men who made him and telling the tale of wonder scribe Walter Gibson.

What follows is a critical appreciation and outline of the publishing phenomenon, divided into discreet eras and tracked by cited individual issues. The formative cases are covered in ‘Phase One, 1931-1934: The Living Shadow to The Chinese Disks’, laying out how Gibson/Dent crafted fortnightly thrillers whilst building a supporting cast, core mythology, rogues gallery and new ways to enchant and confound readers.

The literary deconstruction continues with a period of confident experimentation in ‘Phase Two, 1934-1936: The Unseen Killer to Crime, Insured’, the pivotal payoffs of ‘Phase Three, 1933-1940: The Shadow Unmasks to Crime Undercover’ and confidant consolidation of ‘Phase Four, 1941-1943: The Thunder Kings to The Muggers’.

Firmly established and perhaps more risk-averse because of it, ‘Phase Five, 1943-1946: Murder By Moonlight to Malmordo’ deals with a managed decline. Wartime restrictions, substitute and auxiliary writers like Theodore Tinsley, as well as the series sheer age and ponderous back canon, augured a lack of assured spontaneity, even though the vigilante was now a cinema star too.

Another supplemental scripter signalled interim era ‘Phase Six, 1946-1948: The Blackest Mail to Reign of Terror’ as Noir-tinged, post-war attitudes and style infiltrated the established mystery detective oeuvre before the end came with a too-late return to first principles in ‘Phase Seven, 1948-1949: Jade Dragon to The Whispering Eyes’

Although the magazine was gone, certain shadows lingered in the place where he’d begun. The 325th and final issue of The Shadow was cover-dated Summer1949, but his radio crusades against crime continued until December 21st 1954. As the Sixties unfolded he was back on the airwaves again, in comics and in new tales, whilst outside America he never went away. The British Shadow magazine, for example, kept on going until 1957…

Wrapping up the investigations, ‘Epilogue’ explores those later years and discusses that Batman connection and influences, before we learn a bit more of the backroom boys. That includes illustrator Joe DeVito in ‘About the Artist’, “angel” Dave Smith in ‘About our Patron’ and Murray himself in ‘About the Author’.

If you’re addicted to classic pulp fiction but need more than just the stories, you really need to check out Will Murray. New prose stories continue the primal legends of Doc Savage – including sidebar novels starring his phenomenal kinswoman Pat Savage; The Spider; the C’thulu mythos; Sherlock Holmes; King Kong; The Green Lama; The Bat; The Avenger; The Shadow; The Destroyer (Remo Williams); and Tarzan even as his astoundingly accessible scholarly books about the characters, era and especially creators, published as the Will Murray Pulp History Series.

You’ll probably want to see – or may already enjoy – Murray’s comics too: gems like The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (co-created with Steve Ditko), Spider-Man, Hulk, The Destroyer, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Secret Six, The Spider, The Gray Seal, Ant-Man, Green Hornet, Zorro, The Phantom and many more…

When Sherlock Holmes wrote such informational tracts like this one, they were called monographs. These days we just call them unmissable.
© 2022 Will Murray. All rights reserved.

Frida Kahlo – Her Life, Her Work, Her Home

By Francisco de la Mora, translated by Lawrence Schimel (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-914224-10-2 (HB)

The creation and crafting of an image is infinitely variable and the response to it even more so: dependant entirely upon the mood, status, attitude and temperament of the viewer. Even that interaction is absolutely certain to shift and change from moment to moment.

The wedding of image to text is a venerable, potent and astoundingly evocative discipline that can simultaneously tickle like a feather, cut like a scalpel and hit like a steam-hammer. And again, repeated visits to a particular work will generate different reactions according to the recipient’s emotional and physical snapshot state.

The art of comics is a nigh-universal, overwhelmingly powerful medium lending itself to a host of topics and genres, but the area where it has always shone brightest is in its chimeric capacity for embracing incisive biography or autobiographical self-expression. Whether fictionalised narratives or scrupulously candid personal revelations, such forays inevitably forge the most impressive and moving connections between reader/viewer and author.

That alchemy is further enhanced when the subject under scrutiny is also fundamentally chimeric, fascinating, infinitely engaging and revelatory. Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 and died in 1954. In between those years, she lived an extraordinary life: one filled with pain, triumph, loss, silently-suffering endurance, astounding creativity and, always, passion.

She travelled the world many times over, yet barely escaped her bed for months at a time; joined with modern legends, and added immeasurably to the culture and beauty of existence. She is at once a modern deity and icon of her beloved Mexico and a universal example of the power and perseverance of female creativity and determination. Frida is an inspirational role model whose influence grows stronger every day…

Designated part of SelfMadeHero’s Art Masters imprint, Frida Kahlo – Her Life, Her Work, Her Home is a visually resplendent celebration of what made and shaped her, devised with great care by cartoonist Francisco de la Mora – who also gave the same treatment to her male counterpart and occasional husband in the award-winning companion volume Diego Rivera.

De la Mora’s other efforts include a regular monthly graphic residency in the Hackney Citizen, tales like El Infierno: Bienvenido Paisano and an 8-volume Brief History of Mexico

Here, the author uses Kahlo’s paintings as a springboard for leaping headlong into her momentous, contradictory life. Her images become a fulcrum balanced on her beloved family home Casa Azul (“the Blue House”) and her story is told in diary extracts and quotes from her biographers and the great and the good. Completed works and contemporary historical accounts reconstruct and demonstrate how a vivid and vivacious child at the centre of pivotal political events overcame a lifetime of hard knocks. Kahlo faced polio, life-altering crash injuries, untrustworthy, unfaithful men, miscarriage, constant gender iniquity and inequality, isolation and a life of constant unrelenting pain, reshaping the world of painting and restoring pride to and in her country…

Augmenting the visual odyssey is a forthright and effusive Foreword by Circe Henestrosa (Head of the School of Fashion, LaSalle College of the Arts, Singapore) preceding a range of added extras at the rear: a highly detailed and informative illustrated chronology of ‘Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)’, a full ‘Bibliography’, commentary ‘Notes’ on specifics images used in the text and a fulsome ‘Acknowledgements’ section.

Kahlo has become a household name since her death and her images and life have become common cultural currency and a symbolic especially amongst women, the socially disenfranchised, fringe dwellers, outsiders fighting against ingrained toxic masculinity and in fact anyone attuned to narratives of endurance, resistance, suffering, othering and simple common cruelty. Her life of pain has blossomed into a stunning lexicon of beauty that for many will begin by picking up this colourful but challenging chronicle of coping and comfort.
© 2023 Francisco de la Mora/Sara Afonso. Foreword © Circe Henestrosa. All rights reserved.

Frida Kahlo – Her Life, Her Work, Her Home is published on 16th March 2023 and available for pre-order now.

The Mental Load – A Feminist Comic

By Emma, translated by Una Dimitrijevic (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-918-8 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-60980-919-5

It’s never been a fair world, although until relatively recently (if our choice of leaders can be seen as contrarily evidential) that’s a situation we all apparently aspire to create and maintain. Simultaneously in that nebulous “recent” period, many have sought to address imbalances between the roles and burdens of men and women in a civil and cohesive society, but the first problem they all hit was simply how to state the problems in terms all sides could understand. We have a lot more names and concepts to utilise now in discourse, but the difficulties don’t seem to have diminished at all…

In 2010, software engineer Emma had a revelation and first joined the public debate: crafting and curating a book of strips reflecting upon social issues impacting women, from long hours to workplace politics and getting on with partners… and how unfair and unjust the world was.

The daughter of two mathematicians from Troyes – in the North-eastern region of France – she studied computer science, grew older and lived like most adults: work, fun (when possible), relationships, family. Things changed after she had her first child…

At age 30 she became an avowed feminist, having been compelled to closely observe and re-assess her life in society even as she discovered the concept of “collective intelligence”. Her approach to formalising her thoughts was to identify and deftly dissect components of behaviour – hers and everyone else’s – and the result was The Mental Load. This was her term for all the unacknowledged, unpaid, incessant, invisible crap (mostly thanks to men, absolutely to partners in relationships, but also to many other women) that comprises and comes with almost every relationship.

Those observations were translated into activism, initially as self-published and distributed pamphlets, and in 2016 she started adding cartoons and drawings to the mix. The extreme positive response led her to launch cartoon blog Emmaclit, focussing on issues of racism, capitalism and police violence as well as feminism, following up a year later with sister webcomic Fallait demander (“You only had to ask”) which first posited the notion of an inescapable relational imbalance… a mental load…

In the webcomic, Emma used her own domestic and work life to provide biographical examples of how an unfair, unspoken – and often unrecognised – distribution of labour and responsibility falls on women in even the most equitable and ostensibly harmonious heterosexual relationships. The material went viral and struck a global chord…

Delivering her thoughts as a series of pictorial essays/lessons, Emma convincingly and compellingly argues that the vast majority of the overwhelming, relentless, inescapably burdensome life-tonnage had somehow settled on one side of the bed in most households…

The book – and sequel The Emotional Load (strips from them subsequently appeared in British newspaper The Guardian) – caused something of a commotion and as much trollish kickback as you’d expect from all the usual (and usually wrong) places…

Because a large proportion of humans who won the gender (genital?) lottery don’t really give a damn about other people’s woes – especially if the food keeps coming and the appropriate drawers magically refill with clean clothes and groceries – I fear there’s a segment of truly needy folk who will never benefit from this selection of treatises, anecdotes, statistics and life-changing stories.

Nevertheless, since many guys are genuinely clueless and baffled but willing to adapt, maybe enough of us will give change and thought a chance, even at this late stage. It’s certainly clear that there’s quite some way to go yet…

Best of all, most women reading this will realise that it’s not just them feeling the way they do and may even risk starting a conversation with their significant others, or at the very least, start talking to other women and organising together…

Working in the manner of the very best observational stand-up comedy, Emma forensically identifies an issue and dissects it, whilst offering advice, suggestions and a humorous perspective. Here that’s subdivided into a dozen comical chapters, preceded by an autobiographical context-setting Introduction, before ‘You Should’ve Asked’ finds sexism and discrimination at work heaped upon anyone bold enough to use their legal right to maternity leave, whilst cataloguing who does what around the house in terms of cooking, cleaning, provisioning, time managing, general “adulting”, noticing and remembering stuff needs to be cooked and cleaned, and providing clear-cut alternatives even an old geezer like me could understand, As always telling examples are offered…

‘Violence of the Oppressed’ offers a non-establishment view of 2016s protests against the dismantling of the French Labor Code and citizens’ rights, supplemented by a history of how women got them in the first place, followed by shocking facts about childbirth experiences and time-saving tactics of some medical practitioners in ‘The Story of My Friend C.’

What guys have always claimed they can’t control is carefully explored in ‘The Male Gaze’ and more fully explored in ‘Show Me That Bosom’ (via a deliciously barbed allegory of a land where bared breasts are mandatory).

‘The Wonderful Tale of Mohamed’ singles out one case to detail the treatment of immigrants and brown people in general. It examines what happens when police can use terrorism threats as justification for overreaction, whilst ‘The Wait’ explores individual freedoms and action in committed relationships with specific attention to Emma’s own life and who usually gets left holding the baby. ‘Work!’ then lays out a possible solution and alternatives to the rat race roles if only we ensure time and resources could be more evenly distributed. There’s also plenty of revelations on the way women have messed up the value of the work market…

Other than making men uncomfortable, ‘Check Your Pussy!’ then offers a public service announcement on knowing oneself for all women, setting out actual facts – and even biological route maps! – before social iniquity returns in the form of another exposé on police treatment of non-whites after the death of ‘Just Another Guy from the Hood’…

The ultimate male shield is the concept of “banter” and most effective weapon is the concept of “just kidding”. Both get a well-deserved and thoroughly effective kicking in ‘Chill Out’ before – to celebrate a year of the blog – Emma opted to share a formulative experience that triggered her late-found militancy. The upshot was personal anecdote ‘The Holidays’: describing her bout of childbirth and how it changed her life in all the ways absolutely no one had warned her about…

Now a full-time cartoonist, broadcaster and columnist, Emma continues to poke and probe an unfair world, but this subversively smart, amusingly addictive, slickly convincing, plausibly rational discussion of the way things should not be is undoubtedly a high point in her work and our communal advancement. It may still be a largely male-centric society, but amidst the many moments that will have any decent human weeping in empathy or raging in impotent fury, there are decisive points where a little knowledge and a smattering of honest willingness to listen and change could work bloody miracles…

Buy this book, learn some stuff. Be better, and please accept my earnest apologies on behalf of myself and my entire gender.

Dial it down and literally Man Up guys!
© 2017 by Emma. English translation © 2018 by Una Dimitrijevic. All rights reserved.