Putin’s Russia – The Rise of a Dictator


By Darryl Cunningham (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-91-7 (TPB)

Artist and journalist Darryl Cunningham was born in 1960, lived a pretty British life (didn’t we all back then?) and graduated from Leeds College of Art. A regular on the Small Press scene of the 1990s, his early strips appeared in legendary paper-based venues such as Fast Fiction, Dead Trees, Inkling, Turn amongst many others. In 1998, he & Simon Gane crafted Meet John Dark for the much-missed Slab-O-Concrete outfit. It is still one of my favourite books of the era. You should track it down or agitate for a new edition.

Briefly putting comics on the backburner as the century ended, Cunningham worked on an acute care psychiatric ward: a period which informed 2011 graphic novel Psychiatric Tales, a revelatory inquiry into mental illness delivered as cartoon reportage.

When not crafting web comics for Forbidden Planet or working on his creations Uncle Bob Adventures, Super-Sam and John-of-the-Night or The Streets of San Diablo, he’s been steadily consolidating his position at the top of the field of graphic investigative reporting; specifically science history, economics and socio-political journalism through books such as Science Tales, Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy, Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery, The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality and the Financial Crisis and Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful.

His latest offering is his boldest yet, particularly as the subject of these investigations and revelations has a scary track record of suddenly outliving every critic, commentator, judge and denouncer. Of course, part of that murderous mystique also includes ludicrous gaffes, fumbles and cock-ups, so perhaps it’s a fair risk for a potential big reward…

Simply put, what’s on show here is another sublimely forensic and easily digestible dissection of one more major cause of global concern, in the form of a mediocre Soviet spy who became the biggest crook on Earth.

Cunningham methodically traces the path of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin from childhood in a St Petersburg (then Leningrad) communal apartment to the world’s most tasteless billionaire mancave (“Putin’s Palace” at Gelendzhik), translating dry facts and shocking atrocities into irrefutable, easily assimilated data snippets, tracing the Dictator-in-Chief’s cunning rise in the shadow of and on the coattails of far more flamboyant and unwise would-be leaders until suddenly he’s the last man standing…

A much-curated personal life is unmade and remeasured against a historical yardstick as the Soviet Union stumbles into oblivion: broken up and its riches redistributed by pirates and brigands in suits amongst a cabal of soon-to-be Oligarchs only marginally less unsavoury than their notional leader.

Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Sobchak and a flurry of Western appeasers and greedy bankers are all indicted for their failings as Putin climbed a greasy pole soaked in the blood of opponents, competitors and particularly journalists and critics. Especial attention is rightly paid to manufactured and proxy wars, terrorist acts and inept interventions; modern imperialism and global calamities, weaponized bigotry, harnessed ancient grudges and sheer unrelenting opportunism at every possible juncture. That’s a big bill to lay on one person, but the arguments are all there in black and white and magenta and green and…

You will also be sagely reminded of assassinations as acts of petty spite; western money laundering of a nation’s pilfered assets, the suborning of national leaders (and we’re not just talking about orange hairpiece #45, here!) and the sadly pathetic ongoing quest for validation of a self-described hard man…

A heady mix of cold fact, astute deduction and beguiling visualisation, this deft examination of a bandit who stole a nation and how at last his comeuppance is at hand is a delicious blend of revelation and confirmation, and Cunningham even has the courage to offer bold – and serious – suggestions on how to rectify the current state of affairs, all backed up with a vast and daunting list of References from print, media and other sources for everything cited in the book.

Comics have long been the most effective method of imparting information and eliciting reaction (that’s why assorted governments and militaries have used them for hard and soft propaganda over the last century and a half), and with Putin’s Russia you can see that force deployed against one of today’s greatest threats…
© Darryl Cunningham 2021. All rights reserved.

Putin’s Russia will be released on September 16th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Love Me Please – The Story of Janis Joplin (1943-1970)


By Nicolas Finet, Christopher & Degreff: translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-681122-76-2 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-681122-77-9

The list of people who lived hard, died young and changed the world is small but still, somehow, painfully overcrowded. Possibly the most tragic, influential, yet largely unknown is a born rule-breaking rebel who defied all conventions and became almost inevitably THE icon of doomed youth-with-big-dreams everywhere…

Author, filmmaker, journalist, publisher, educator and music documentarian Nicolas Finet has worked in comics for more than three decades and also generated a bucketload of reference works – such as Mississippi Ramblin’ and Forever Woodstock. His collaborator on that last one was veteran author, journalist and illustrator Christopher (The Long and Winding Road; many other music-centred tomes and adaptor of Bob Dylan).

Their compelling treatise on misunderstood and self-destructive Janis – just like her music, poetry and art – is something to experience, not read about, but I’ll do my best to convince you anyway…

After a quick dip into early life and influences, the story proper opens in Texas in 1947 as ‘Forget Port Arthur’ zeroes in on key childhood traumas and revelations around the homelife and schooling of little Janis Lyn Joplin at the start of the most culturally chaotic and transformative period in American history…

Brilliant, multi-talented, sexually ambiguous, starved for love whilst desperately directionless, her metamorphosis through Blues music mirrors that of many contemporaries (a fair few of whom comprise the infamous “27 Club” of stars who died young). However, as this book shows, although something indefinable was always just out of Joplin’s reach, her response was never to passively accept or ever surrender…

After wildly rebellious teen years, an uncomfortable educational life, a brief brush with conventional conformity and a near-lethal counter-culture encounter in San Francisco – as detailed in ‘The Temptation of Disaster’ – her meteoric rise in the era of flower power, liberal love and drug experimentation and record company exploitation lead to her return to California and triumphant breakthrough in 1966, all carried along by ‘Spells and Charms’

Stardom with hot band Big Brother and the Holding Company, a host of legendary encounters and even greater personal dissipation makes wild child into living myth at Monterey and other landmarks of the Summer of Love, before success and acceptance prove to be her darkest nightmare in ‘Lost and Distraught’

Global stardom and media glorification are balanced by heartbreak, betrayal and too-many brushes with death. As Woodstock confirms her status and talent to the world, the landscape inside her head turns against Janis. Endless exhausting tours and brief amorous encounters further destabilise the girl within and the end – when it comes – is no surprise to anyone…

With a moving Preface from comics legend and childhood friend Gilbert Shelton, a huge and star-studded Character Gallery and suggested Further Reading and Viewing, this forthright, no-nonsense yet extremely imaginative interpretation of the too-short flowering of “the Rose” offers insight but no judgement into a quintessentially complex, contradictory and uncompromised life…

NBM’s library of graphic biographies are swiftly becoming the crucial guide to the key figures of modern history and popular culture. If you haven’t found the answers you’re seeking yet, then you’re clearly not looking in the right place…
© Hatchette Livre (Marabout) 2020. © 2021 NBM for the English translation. All rights reserved.

Love Me Please – The Story of Janis Joplin 1943-1970 is scheduled for release on July 15th 2021 and is available for pre-order in both print and digital editions.

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

Positive


By Tom Bouden, translated by Yves Cogneau with Charles “Zan” Christensen (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 978-0-98459409-2 (PB)

Here’s something short, sweet and utterly, comfortingly satisfying. Please enjoy.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus is a Lentivirus that attacks the jbody’s immune system. If untreated, the infection usually leads to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome – commonly known as AIDS. For the longest time, the condition was a killer, but can be controlled quite successfully now through a variety of medications, treatments and lifestyle modification.

At its height, the disease ravaged the world, and has killed approximately 38 million people and completely changed global society.

Sadly, how those testing positive for HIV were treated also revealed a lot about the people around them…

This powerful but truly uplifting graphic tome was created in 2008 by Belgian cartoonist Tom Bouden (Max and Sven; The Importance of Being Earnest; In Bed with David & Jonathan; Queerville): a means of exploding idiotic myths and explaining how a positive diagnosis actually changes the life of a someone with the disease and affects those around them.

Subtitled “A Graphic Novelette of Life with Aids”, the charming tale is rendered in a traditional and welcoming Ligne Claire (like Tintin or Blake and Mortimer) style, and laced with plenty of warm humour to balance the tension, fear and pain, and begins eight years ago as young marrieds Sarah and Tim’s latest row is interrupted by a visit from their doctor…

He has results that explain Sarah’s recent bout of assorted maladies, but needs her to take a second, confirmatory test…

And so begins a methodical discourse as the couple carefully share her diagnosis with friends, family and past intimates, delivered with compassion and sensitivity and braced with actual facts throughout. Navigating various treatments, dealing with work issues and living as normal as life as feasible, Sarah and Tim build support networks, while moving ever onward, embracing bucket lists and pill packs, discarding despair and fostering hope until they reach the stage where they can consider the next positive step… having a child…

Fronted by an emphatically positive Introduction from activist and Gay League executive Joe Palmer, this is a lovely, sensible and above all straightforward examination of HIV in the real world, but parents might want to police these pages if young children are around, as it contains forthright depictions of nudity and lovemaking.
© 2013 Tom Bouden. All rights reserved.

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier


By , translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-278-6 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-279-3

It seems there’s nothing you can’t craft compelling comics about if you’re talented and inspired, as this spellbinding catalogue of the chocolatiers’ art proves. Originally released au Continent as Les Secrets du Chocolat in 2014, it’s a combination history, travelogue, docudrama and recipe book wherein Bande Dessinée star Franckie Alarcon is invited to spend a year shadowing a celebrated chocolatier at the Jacques Genin Chocolate Workshop. In a scintillating and oddly moreish manner he imparts his sheer joy at discovering how new sweetmeats are created; subsequently learning the history of the wonder stuff and even travelling to South America with a maker to source a new supply of the magic beans…

It all kicks off in December 2013 as the artist s recaps his recent past, detailing moments in his lifelong love affair with chocolate and revealing how he landed his ultimate passion project. Offered exclusive all-access to a literal chocolate factory, Alarcon began at Genin’s glamorous store/outlet, meeting dedicated apprentices and journeymen and absorbing the basic skills of production while being subtly retrained in how to eat and appreciate the subject of his dreams…

With positively lascivious renderings of classical chocs, and the secret recipes for making Candies, Truffles, Pralines,Chocolate Tart, Ganache, Hot Chocolate and Chocolate Mendiants, Alarcon learns under a true inventive master in ‘Chocolates’ with each new taste sensation triggering a positively Proustian Madeleine moment in the gobsmacked artist…

The next phase of the journey of discovery follows in ‘Stephane Bonnat, From Bean to Bar’ as Alarcon explores the history and processes of chocolate production from France’s most prestigious manufacturer before celebrating with elan an industry holy day in ‘Valentine’s Day: Love in the Form of Chocolate’

Another big deal demanding the mastery of new skills is covered – or is that “enrobed”? – in ‘Easter: Art on Chocolate’after which May 20th 2014 sees the artist become fully-fledged as an ‘Intern: A Difficult Learning Experience’ mastering ‘Taste: The Source of Pleasure’ under Genin’s patient tutelage…

Making good on an earlier offer, Alarcon then joins Bonnat on a resource-hunting trip to the Amazon rainforest in search of a new kind of bean in ‘Cocoa: The Origins of Chocolate’ before the voyage of gustatory discovery concludes in September 2014 with some laudatory thoughts and even more tantalising visuals in ‘Parting Words: An All-Consuming Passion’

Beguiling, seductive and simply delightful, this is an inviting comics divertissement that will surely be to practically everyone’s taste…
© Editions Delcourt 2014. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through a Top Chef’s Atelier will be released digitally on June 15th2020 and published in hardback on June 17th. It is available for pre-order now. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Orwell


By Pierre Christin & Sébastien Verdier, with André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch, Isabelle Merlet, Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal & more: translated by Edward Gauvin (SelfMadeHero)
ISBN: 978-1-910593-87-5 (TPB)

We all have our heroes. One whom I apparently share with another of my most admired and revered favourites is Eric Arthur Blair, who you’ll know as George Orwell.

One of the most significant literary, societal, cultural and political figures of the 20th century, Orwell is also a particular fascination of comics icon Pierre Christin, co-creator of epically barbed, venerable sci fi masterpiece Valerian and Laureline. A seditiously canny political commentator in his own right – as seen in such thought-provoking graphic subversions as The Town That Didn’t Exist, The Black Order and The Hunting Party – Christin began this particular piece of literary reportage after completing a personal project investigating the world’s various functioning – if not necessarily functional – Communist regimes…

A writer to his core, Eric Blair was a true and ardent democratic socialist: an author, critic, essayist and unflinching observer of humanity saddled with a loathing of privilege and an inescapably, embarrassingly obvious upper-class education.

Blair was a solitary individual who loved people, and an angry humanist vehemently opposed to greed, stupidity, totalitarianism, extremism and oppression (equally from the Left, Right and religious alike). He fought for his ideals during the Spanish Civil War and loathed Stalin, Hitler and probably his own and all other national leaders with equanimous passion.

The complex man’s fascinating private life is brilliantly and addictively detailed in Orwell: Old Etonian, copper, prole, dandy, militiaman, journalist, rebel, novelist, eccentric, socialist, patriot, gardener, hermit, visionary: Christin’s compelling graphic biography and appreciation primarily illustrated by Sébastien Verdier (Ultimate Agency; Le marathon de Safia; Zodiaque) with additional visual contributions from André Juillard, Olivier Balez, Manu Larcenet, Blutch, Juanjo Guarnido, Enki Bilal, colourist Isabelle Merlet and more.

Divided into ‘Orwell Before Orwell’, ‘Blair Invents Orwell’ and ‘Orwellian Orwell’, with an assessment of the world ‘After Orwell’, the narrative message and potent documentary depictions are bolstered with adapted snatches from Orwell’s groundbreaking stories and non-fiction, plus plenty of quotes taken from the cultural witness/prophet’s diaries.

Moving, revelatory, potent and supplemented by a methodological Afterword from Christin, this is a captivating graphic triumph no fan of graphic biography or devotee of the only man to provably predict the future should be without.
Orwell © DARGAUD 2019, by Christin, Verdier. All rights reserved. English translation © 2021 SelfMadeHero.

This Was 2020


By Peter S. Conrad (attemptednotknown.com)
ISBN: 979-8-589501-56-8 (Digest PB)

Peter Conrad (Markdown Dreams; Love, Death and DRIVING; Vidrio Café) is an artist, designer and author working in San Francisco, and one of those bold, diligently disciplined creative souls who maintain some form of cartoon journal. Last year was pretty remarkable for everyone, so rather than keep all those pictorial observations to himself and his intimate circle, he opted to publish and share his experiences.

The result is this captivating monochrome paperback (available through Amazon and on Kindle) which invites us into the life of a rather sedentary couple, who became – like all of us in non-critical occupations and services – passive observers and commentators on life in a total bollock of a year…

In gentle tones, and while never really surrendering a sense of wondrous bewilderment, Conrad details the intimate side of enforced self-internment for people like all of us, with the reader doubtless remarking “yep, we did that” or “nope! Not us”, while also detailing that other stuff happened too…

While remarking on celebrity fatalities – as opposed to disease-induced deaths – such as Kobe Bryant, and personal losses he lists other inescapable communal acts we all mostly lived through. There’s civic insouciance; cancelled plans; loss of social contact, murder hornets (!); the social niceties of quarantining; new hobbies and occupations; unexpected consequence of “staying fit” and the general lulling of human expectation, before the artist hones in on how everything changes after the murder of George Floyd seized the world’s attention…

Certainly, for the Conrads and their neighbours, life was a little more dramatic. Having to sit pat for riots on the streets of San Francisco (Black Lives Matter), endure how stressed people legally owning guns relieve tensions, vote in another – hopefully final – election involving the Orange Idiot in Chief, and barely escaping California’s worst fire season since the last – or next – one, totally trumps my part of scenic Kent enduring Brexit-inspired traffic chaos, but I suspect we all feel each other’s pain here…

Or maybe not.

Simultaneously encompassing and embracing stifling ennui and radical change, mass death and truly global lack of leadership, this superb graphic memoir laves on a laudable everyman perspective to the best and worst of times; serving to confirm that when we finally reach the actual apocalypse, we won’t have learned a damn thing and will still make the same mistakes again…

With any luck, there will also be books like this on to remind us that empathy, grace and hope are also parts of the human condition.
© 2021 by Peter S. Conrad. All rights reserved.

Race to Incarcerate – A Graphic Retelling


By Marc Mauer & Sabrina Jones (The New Press)
ISBN: 978-1-59558-514-7 (TPB)

When I first read it, this book made me really, really angry.

That’s okay though; it was supposed to.

I read it again yesterday. Still angry, so it’s your turn…

Marc Mauer has worked to end criminal inequality since 1987. In 2005 he became Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organisation working for nearly 35 years to establish “a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration”.

The Project provides training for American defense lawyers; explores methods of changing the ferociously slanted legal system in regard to socially disadvantaged and racial minorities; seeks to debunk politically advantageous myths about the efficacy of incarceration, and works towards reducing the USA’s reliance on prison sentences through advocacy and by affecting policy on how best to safeguard the citizenry and punish criminals.

Highlighting disturbing trends and inequities in the criminal justice system since 1986 – especially in the treatment of non-white and juvenile offenders – the organisation has been consulted by Congress, The United States Sentencing Commission, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and other Federal Agencies, subsequently overseeing changes to national drug policy guidelines and helping shape The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

I’m assuming they were not contacted by the Trump Administration when Orange Donnie decided to free up all those Federal Cells on Death Row at the end of his regime…

The Sentencing Project particularly concerns itself with combating racial disparity in detention, cataloguing various forms of felony disenfranchisement and has led campaigns to end the still-widespread practice of condemning juveniles to life without parole, as well as working to beef up the mandate of The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act.

All of which made Mauer the perfect person to write 1999’s landmark exposé Race to Incarcerate, which shockingly detailed the causes and minutia of the meteoric rise in America’s prison population since 1970.

Mauer followed up in 2002 with Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment (co-edited by Meda Chesney-Lind). A telling indictment of a flawed, cruel, unfair and unscrupulous system, Race to Incarcerate was re-released in 2006, and in 2013 the powerfully polemical tract was brilliantly updated, revised and adapted by cartoonist Sabrina Jones into a ferocious pictorial broadside, re-positioned to engage and inform the general public and especially older kids who were most likely to experience the wrong arm of the Law.

Jones is a painter, illustrator, scenic artist, writer and activist whose evocatively lush and organically primitivist work has graced such politically aware publications as Studs Terkel’s Working, FDR and the New Deal for Beginners, The Real Cost of Prisons, graphics collective World War 3 Illustrated and autobiographical anthology GirlTalk amongst many others. Her most notable solo project to date is the beguiling Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography.

Following an evocative Foreword from Civil Rights lawyer and author Michelle Alexander, and heart-rending yet hope-filled Preface by author Mauer, the bare, bald facts are starkly presented in ‘Introduction: U.S. Prisons from Inception to Export’: tracing the invention of penitentiaries by the Puritans to the current situation where America has the disturbing honour of being number 1 country in the field of locking up citizens. The USA still boasts the highest rate of incarceration in the world – despite heavy and ever-increasing competition from old rivals Russia and China.

Perhaps that’s because they don’t just execute their criminals… no, wait…

The stunningly effective visual history lesson is followed by the American sector’s political background and lowdown on ‘The Rise of the “Tough on Crime” Movement’ from 1973: examining the divisive policies and calculated duplicity of Nixon and the Republicans in the wake of the triumphant Civil Rights Movement, and tracking the switch from programs of rehabilitation to specious but vote-winning punitive prison policies.

The situation culminated with ‘The Triumph of “Tough on Crime”’ which casts a spotlight on the disparities in dealing with increasing drug abuse during the rise of the Black Power movement and focuses on the draconian, tragically trend-setting policies of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who instigated the harshest drug laws in the USA when ‘The Rock Gets Rolling’

With prison populations rising rapidly and disparately, things took a turn for the worst from 1980, as seen in ‘Crime as Politics: The Reagan-Bush Years’, after which a particularly heinous travesty of justice is spotlighted in ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’.

The problem was not simply the self-serving prejudice of one party as poignantly, frustratingly illustrated in ‘Crime as Politics: The Clinton Years’, but plumbed new depths of hypocrisy in 2000 as ‘Crime as Politics: The George W. Bush Years’ stomach-churningly reveals…

Over the last 60-odd years, the whole situation seems to have been predicated upon a few fallacious, if not deliberately disingenuous dictums clearly exposed in ‘The Prison-Crime Connection’ which inexorably led to a monumental, institutionalised injustice system generating ‘Color-Coded Justice’: a concentration on profiling or criminality as seen in ‘The War on Drugs and African-Americans’.

The biggest shock however comes in ‘A New Direction’ as the authors reveal that – despite all the rhetoric and entrenched biases – the situation was actually improving as more and more States abandoned old, costly, failing punishment policies to try something new and humane – and more cost-effective. I wonder how the years 2016 to 2020 affected those policies?

After decades where States stopped building schools to pay for bigger and bigger prisons – with no appreciable effect other than depriving kids of an education – various localities tried different approaches; finding that where costly incarceration and harsh punishments don’t work, social programs, rehabilitation projects and investment in people do…

Coda:  Also included in this (long overdue for an update) book are details of outreach projects asking readers to contribute books to prisoners or become pen-friends with inmates, illustrated by Carnell Hunnicutt, a long-term inmate whose comics about his penal experiences and prison issues initially inspired Mauer to release Race to Incarcerate as a graphic novel (now available in paperback and digital editions).

Packed throughout with shocking, well-documented, specific cases and backed up by an eye-watering torrent of shameful statistics, this is a work with the potential to change society, so, with British politicians increasingly emulating idiotic mistakes and politically-advantageous, socially destructive criminal justice policies of our oversea friends, Race to Incarcerate remains a book every school library and home should have.

Moreover, if you care about people and justice it’s one you must read…
© 2013 by The New Press, based on Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer © 1999, 2006 by The Sentencing Project. ‘Kemba Smith: a Case of Extreme Sentencing’ © 2013 by Sabrina Jones. Foreword © 2013 by Michelle Alexander. Preface © 2013 by The Sentencing Project. All rights reserved.

Goodbye God? – An Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion


By Sean Michael Wilson & Hunt Emerson (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-226-0 (TPB)

I don’t mind if you like Love Island. Why do you care that I don’t?

Faith is the ability to accept as true (believe in) things you can’t prove.

Belief is a choice to have faith (implicit trust) in certain things. Many people choose to believe evolution doesn’t exist, but that won’t protect them from a new strain of virus, rats that have developed immunity to Warfarin or even a Strep bug which has bred beyond the capabilities of contemporary antibiotics to kill it.

I choose to trust – call it “believe” if you want – in physically measurable, quantifiable, repeatable phenomena which work irrespective of what I want or how much I beg them to change.

I want to believe that I’m in no way socially, developmentally, biologically or genetically connected to racists, homophobes, abusers or idiots but – just like I wish I had superpowers – praying will not make it true.

You can choose to think of evolution as something that’s open to debate and refuse to believe you’re descended from an unending chain of constantly changing and developing animals, but that only makes you more a horse’s arse than a monkey’s uncle.

The comforting notion that any book, belief system or unverifiable opinion is infallible and that you are of more significance to the universe than a bee, a rock or a bad odour is equally wrong – and completely pointless too. However, if a sense of superiority helps you sleep at night, fine. Just stop killing bees, crushing rocks and making a nasty smell for the rest of us, whether it be Christians painting over erotic murals at Herculaneum and Pompeii or fanatical Islamic splinter groups pillaging and destroying temples in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq…

And don’t even get me started on the kinds of monsters and morons who think their faiths afford them the right to inflict institutionalised cruelty upon animals or their own children, or justifies desecrating art and destroying artefacts of history…

I believe/know that the above statement was a rant – but a heartfelt and honest one.

I choose to rant and shout and shoot off my mouth because I’m not smart, patient or reasonable, unlike author Sean Michael Wilson and master cartoonist Hunt Emerson who diligently gathered data, arguments, opinions and those pesky imps we call “facts” into a superbly even-handed and open-minded graphic narrative discourse.

Taking up the most commonly employed arguments of Big Religion, Wilson & Emerson carefully arranged and scrupulously countered them, resulting in a plausibly inviting examination of issues dividing Faiths (all of them, not any one faction which might prefer to profit by thinking of themselves as persecuted intellectual “martyrs”) from the world as it appears to the rest of us and shining a warm yet uncompromising light of rationality upon them.

It makes for gripping and genuinely revelatory reading.

All religious organisation and faith workers – from the Catholic Church to TV ghost hunters to that shoddy charlatan medium/spiritualist conning your aunty out of her pension – derive approval, power and money from their highly organised activities, but whereas we officially godless may sell a book or two and cop an appearance fee from the occasional chat show, Humanists (people who don’t believe in God and generally can’t even agree with each other) gain nothing from pointing out that – based on the evidence – we are on our own in the world and bear sole responsibility for taking care of the place and all its inhabitants and fittings.

That’s something to sincerely meditate on…

Following an Introduction by Professor Lawrence M. Krauss (Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University), the dissection of Big Questions and how people choose to react to them opens with Part 1: Evolution and Creationism wherein ground rules of serious discussion are laid down before ‘Creationism v Evolution’ systematically lists and methodically shoots down the major claims used to “disprove” and cast doubt on the nature of reality beginning, of course, with a clear, concise definition of the terms of reference of each side…

A quick précis of the development of Darwin’s discoveries and principles is compared with Christian Creationism’s contention that the world is significantly less than 10,000 years old. Outrageous things many Americans believe are counterbalanced by helpful facts from Richy Thompson of the British Humanist Association, before a number of Creationist claims (such as Earth’s declining magnetic field, slowing rotation and that all humanity and planetary life stem from a survivors of a global flood 4,000 years ago) are dealt with…

A hilarious aside explaining just why such fallacious arguments are harmful leads into a skilful dissection of “Intelligent Design” with helpful interjections and clarifications from Philosophy Lecturer Stephen Law (with other cognitive heavyweights such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Noam Chomsky piling in to explain why such notions are so harmful to children).

Following a lecture on the damage the proliferation of such propaganda has had on American education and government policy, Richy Thompson pops back to expose the situation in British schools before going on to deliver his own description of the difference between Belief and Fact. The section then ends with a description of the gloriously wry scientific response to Creationism that is Project Steve

This is followed by a review of the wider universe (as we understand it at this moment, and Creationists never will) and concludes with a detailed examination of Law’s Eight Mechanisms, by which all religions – and a goodly proportion of New Age Tomfoolery – introduce, promote and promulgate their particular brand of Revelation and Salvation.

Part 2: Science and Religion then expands the discussion into a broader examination of the debate, pictured as the sporting contest ‘Science v Religion’ and running down the inherent fallacies manipulated by theistic proponents.

Historical examples and contemporary scenes are followed by definitions of Humanism from the likes of Albert Einstein, Albert Schweitzer, Isaac Asimov, Gloria Steinem and Kurt Vonnegut, as well as AC Grayling, Hitchens and the wonderful Dawkins – who offers his own joyous antidote to slavish acceptance of other peoples’ unproven opinions as well as few much-needed debunkings of such religious Whited Sepulchres as the obnoxious contention that people cannot be moral or “good” without God (seen in ‘Darwin = Fascism’).

There’s mention of the Catholic Church’s connections to many tyrants and arguments pointing religion’s role in the rise of Hitler, Stalin and too many others…

Incorporating a gallery of prominent Humanists from John Stuart Mill to Katherine Hepburn and a delicious selection of pertinent and elucidating jokes from Hitchens, this section concludes with lawyer and Democrat politician Sean Faircloth’s ‘10 Practical Points for a Secular America’

This appetisingly sensible treatise also includes essays on both The American Humanist Association (“Good Without a God”) and The British Humanist Association (“For the one life we have”) offering general glimmerings of good tidings for common sense as well as Bios and contact details of the creators.

Any “fact” that comes with a price ticket and pledge of allegiance isn’t worth knowing, and sometimes it’s hard to see any space for compromise in this argument, but Goodbye God? is not bloodymindedness in action or the theological equivalent of bear-baiting.

The purpose of this book and the only thing most Humanists want is simple. We’re not telling anyone what to believe or how to act: all we want is to teach nothing but science and scientific principles in science classes.

It would be nice if political and social decisions affecting all humanity were made solely on the basis of rational exploration and logical conclusion, but we’ll settle for giving descendant generations all the intellectual tools needed to deal with the increasingly unforgiving and extremely inhospitable planet we’re leaving them, rather than blinkering them and having everybody wait for a miracle… which will not be forthcoming.

By all means keep your Intelligent Design or Creation Myths if you need them so badly, but present them in Religious and Social Studies classes where they belong and where, quite frankly, they can be examined and debated on their own merits and contrasted with other equally baseless suppositions, rather than unquestioningly delivered to developing minds with the same unshakable conviction and intensity which correctly states “fire hot” and “stuff falls downwards when let go of”. You could even hopefully add “some people and animals only want sex within their own gender” and “climate change is real and is going to kill us all”…

If only the rationalists weren’t so patently “preaching to the converted” too…

But don’t you dare take my word for it: examine the book for yourselves and draw your own conclusions…
© Sean Michael Wilson. All rights reserved.

The End


By Anders Nilsen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 987-1-60699-635-5 (HB)

Cartoonist and educator Anders Nilsen graduated from the University of New Mexico with an arts degree in 1996. After quitting his Masters course in 1999, he began winning awards for his strips and graphic novels. There are a dozen or so superb graphic tomes out there you can delight in.

Cheryl Weaver and Anders Nilsen were a couple. They were engaged and together forever and then in 2005 she died.

Her passing wasn’t sudden or dramatic and he had time to say goodbye. He carried on doing so for the next year, while his sketchbooks filled with questions and notions and helpless, hapless, hurt responses as he adjusted to his new, so very much unwanted, normal; all expressed in the form of his other reason for living – sequential narrative art.

Born in Minneapolis in 1973, Nilsen lives in Chicago – when not travelling the world – producing such thought-provoking, comics as Dogs and Water, Poetry is Useless, Rage of Poseidon, Monologues for the Coming Plague, Big Questions and Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow – the heartbreaking thematic companion to today’s featured recommendation.

Much of that sketchbook material – collected in this astoundingly frank and distressingly intimate hardcover and digital memoir – first appeared in the author’s therapeutic 2007 comic book The End #1, whilst other portions of this much-expanded record originated in such disparate places as much-missed anthology Mome (Spring 2007) and even from screen-prints created in the months and years encompassing Nilsen’s slow voyage to acceptance.

The uncomfortably earnest eulogy begins with a poetic ‘Prologue’, before ‘Is That All There Is?’ wordlessly depicts an all-engulfing sense of loss and isolation, interrupted only by the text soliloquy ‘Love Story’.

The heart-rending catalogue of painful solitary moments ‘Since You’ve Been Gone I Can Do Whatever I Want To Do All the Time’ leads into inspirational prose observation with ‘I Have Two Lives’ after which the artist coolly examines the simple equation of loss and emotional paralysis with ‘Solve for X’

Poem ‘In the Future’ and cartoon pantomime ‘Pulling a Giant Block’ precede harsh but ultimately uplifting debate in ‘25 Dollars’ (originally seen in Mome as ‘It’s OK, You Have Everything You Need’), after which diagrammatic epigram ‘Eternity Analogy’ offers welcome hope and advice to fellow sufferers…

Primitivist drawing and photographic collage colourfully and philosophically combine in ‘You Were Born and So You’re Free’ before stark, simple lines return to illustrate an extensive imaginary conversation with the memory of love in ‘Talking to the Dead’ whilst print photomontages resume for the wistfully querulous ‘How Can I Prepare You for What’s To Follow?’ – created to welcome a newborn into the world…

The painful truism “life goes on” is reinterpreted in one final chat with the inevitable truth to close this memento mori in quiet contemplation with ‘Only Sometimes’

To say this is a deeply moving book is grotesquely trite and staggeringly obtuse, but it’s also true. Every loss is always completely unique and utterly, selfishly personal, but most of us also have some capacity to empathise, share and see our own situation in the emotional disclosures of others. That’s never been more true than in these past months and the unknowable times to come.

When such commemorations are undertaken as honestly, effectively and evocatively as here, the result is simply, devastatingly, unforgettably magical.
© 2013 Anders Nilsen. All rights reserved.

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals 2


By Martin Brown (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-788450-39-3 (HB)

Look! Over there!! What’s that?

It looks like animals, but ones that don’t have really good managers or top-flight publicity teams!

A couple of years back, artist Martin Brown crafted a brilliant, award-winning cartoon catalogue of Earth’s least celebrated creatures: those beasts and fowls less well-represented in mainstream media or in environmental and ecological campaigns, but certainly a match for any panda, porpoise or koala in fauna favourites league: but only if we actually know about them…

Brown started life in Melbourne, Australia before backpacking his way around the world (he’d done some growing up, learning and earning a living by then, though). Fetching up in Britain, he established himself as a designer, cartoonist and illustrator, making his living by drawing greetings cards, cartoons, magazines and book illustrations. The books included Coping with Parents (by Peter Corey), Philip Pullman’s New Cut Gang and a series of popular children’s tomes written by Terry Deary entitled Horrible Histories. Those latter light-hearted factoid files sold upwards of 20 million copies, and they’re still on sale if you need more fact-based fun and frolics…

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals was a compulsively entertaining bestiary highlighting and introducing a raft of fabulous animals and he has – finally – come back with a second stunning selection in this glorious full-colour hardback tome. Here abide mysterious things with odd names, all described and delineated with wit, empathy and proper facts like Size; What they eat; Where they live; their Status (from Data Deficient to Extinct) plus a specific fact on each that will delight or disgust, depending on your age or intellectual maturity…

Kindly introduce yourself to and be beguiled by engrossing and unmissable, candidates such as the Dingiso, Forest Musk Deer, Two Gliders (aerial possums the Yellow-Bellied and Feathertail), Black and Rufous Sengi, the astonishing Blainville’s Beaked Whale, Tamandua, Grey Slender Loris, Indian Giant Squirrel (and it so is!!), Forest Buffalo & Red River Hog, Three Bats (Pied, Painted and Honduran White Bat), Patas Monkey, Yellow-Throated Marten, Giant Kangaroo Rat, Ribbon Seal, Mountain Tapir, Syrian Brown Bear, Ringtail Cat, Maned Wolf, Gerenuk & Dibitag, Altai Argali and Celebes Crested Macaque: once more accompanied by an extremely accessible Glossary

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals 2 (More Brilliant Beasts you never knew you needed to know about) is a wonderful, joyous celebration of quirky animal underdogs we just cannot see enough of, so let’s get BBC wildlife programming off the Blue Planet and into some Lost Worlds, pretty please…
© 2019 Martin Brown. All rights reserved.

Martin Brown’s Lesser Spotted Animals 2 will be published on April 4th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.