Vintage Geek

By Marshall Julius (September Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-91283-602-4 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: For The Man Who Has Grandchildren Who Never Know What To Get Him… 9/10

I’m notionally interrupting our eldritch Occultoberfest ramblings to offer a “heads up” on a splendidly accessible book that will bring joy and frustration to a good many of you and even, at least tangentially, counts as a celebration of spooky doings. Read on…

It’s sometimes hard to appreciate, but the world has in some ways improved. When I was a kid, those fringe-&-border youngsters who obsessed over weird stuff like comics or shows like Thunderbirds or Star Trek mostly got beaten up by the Normal Kids who only spent passion and brain cells on pop star names, sports statistics and the right shoes to wear.

Not me, of course. I was able to hide my otherness under a shell of sporting excellence, barbed wit and by occasionally uterly tuoghing up the odd swot or two (that was a test just there, and you’ll only know if you passed it by being already in the know…), Hem Hem…

Anyway, these days the terms Geek – and its concomitant sub-rankings Nerd and Wonk – are badges of affectionate honour (well, alright, not honour, but tolerable enough to have people accept and even grudgingly admire the obsessively tenacious striving for pedantic accuracy and stultifying clarity in subjects of supposedly minimal general interest): enough so that said topics of interest have become appropriate nostalgic fare for family gatherings, game shows and pub quizzes. Some of these forbidden subjects even get blockbuster movies made out of their clunky antecedents…

Knowing stuff other than football and cricket stats and showing off are acceptable activities these days, so uber-fan Marshall Julius – who has expertise and appropriately vast memorabilia collections in many separate disciplines of past pop culture and confesses to being a “film critic, blogger, broadcaster, quizmaster and collector of colourful plastic things” – has compiled a traditional quiz book to do his boasting in print: creating quite possibly one of the most family-friendly group-socializing books of the century.

After Sunday lunch or a during a party, whip out this missive containing 1000 questions and suitably detailed answers and just watch the armchair experts strive to display their personal proficiency whilst reliving their cherished but distant childhoods…

All topics stem from the 20th century (certainly the most entertaining one we’ve had thus far) and offer 50 questions only the most sagacious aficionado and savant could know. Each section even includes brain-busting interrogatives from star guests such as George Takei, Carrie Henn, Sam Neill, Louise Jameson, Mark Hamill, Dan Slott, Pat Mills, James Arnold Taylor and dozens of others. If you don’t know at least four of these celebs then your other excuse for buying the book is for educational purposes…

If you or yours think they know about James Bond: The Roger Moore Years; The Simpsons: The First Ten Years; George A. Romero: Night, Dawn and Day; The Mighty Marvel Age of Comics; The Force is Strong With These Three: Star Wars!/Empire/Jedi or Doctor Who: The Tom Baker Years they can proudly and loudly prove it now.

They might even have puissant affinity for the serried secrets of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy; The 2600: Atari’s Electric Dream; Retrofuturistic: Fifties’ Sci Fi Cinema; Crossing Over into The Twilight Zone; Walt’s Wonderful World of Disney; Stephen King: Carrie to Christine and Ray Harryhausen’s Creature Features, but can even they complete the testing to mental abstraction that lies within Star Trek: The Original Series; If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: Eighties’ Action Classics; 2000AD: The First 500 Thrill-Powered Progs; Universal Monsters Unleashed!; Hanna-Barbera: The General Motors of Animation; Steven Spielberg: Jaws to Jurassic Park and – toughest of all – Batman: The Animated Series?

Preceded by a photo-packed Introduction by the author and an effulgent Foreword from The Simpsons writer Michael Reiss, Vintage Geek is the ultimate “Dad” book and will give all oldsters their best chance to prove they once had a life…

Sort of…
© Marshall Julius 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson

By Bernie Wrightson, with Howard Chaykin, Nicola Cuti, Bill Dubay, Carmine Infantino, Bruce Jones, Budd Lewis & various (Dark Horse Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-809-5 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Masterfully Macabre Masterpieces… 9/10

Once upon a time the short complete tale was the sole staple of the comic book profession, where the intent was to deliver to the reader as much variety and entertainment fulfilment as possible. Sadly, that particular discipline is all but lost to us today…

Towards the end of the turbulent 1960s, a lot of fresh talent was trying to break into the comics industry at a time when a number of publishers were experimenting with cheaper black & white magazines rather than four-colour comic books. Companies like Warren, Skywald and a minor host of imitators were hiring kids who then honed their craft in public – just like their forebears had to.

A respectable number of those Young Turks – such as Bruce Jones, Mike Kaluta, Jeff (now Catherine) Jones, Al Weiss and “Berni” Wrightson (a young man who soon became a living legend even in that prestigious cabal), grew into major talents whilst crafting pastiches of the EC Comics they had loved as kids – and paved the way when the comics market again turned to shock, mystery and black comedy to sell funny-books.

Bernard Albert Wrightson was born a few days before Halloween (October 27th) 1948 in Dundalk. Maryland. His artist training came via TV, reading comics and a correspondence course from the Famous Artists School, and his first professional publication was fan art, printed in Creepy #9 (June 1966). Around that time, he was toiling as an illustrator for The Baltimore Sun, and after meeting his EC idol Frank Frazetta at a convention gravitated to New York City. Hooking up with the above-cited band of newcomers, and other hopefuls like Al Milgrom and Walter Simonson, Wrightson was soon crafting short horror tales for National/DC, Marvel and other eager publishers. His first rank reputation was cemented with the co-creation (beside writer Len Wein) of Swamp Thing.

His close and productive association with DC ended in 1974, as he left to work at Warren on more adult-oriented tales allowing him to try different techniques: a bountiful period of experimentation that culminated with his joining Jeffrey/Catherine Jones, Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith in expressive narrative arts collective The Studio. During this period, he also produced commercial commissions, film material and humorous strips for National Lampoon whilst creating a series of astoundingly complex plates for his signature work: an illustrated rerelease of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

In later years he illustrated posters, trading cards and graphic novels such as Creepshow, Cycle of the Werewolf and Freakshow (with Bruce Jones) among other print collectibles, before returning to mainstream comic books. His notable successes include The Weird and Batman: The Cult with Jim Starlin, and Spider-Man: Hooky and The Hulk and the Thing: The Big Change as well as a number of Punisher miniseries and OGNs.

Wrightson died in 2017. At the time he was working with Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) on a new Frankenstein miniseries, and almost finished it. The ultimate professional to the last, Bernie made provision for another artist to complete the job before passing. We’ll be reviewing that particular wonder later on this month…

This stellar compendium – available in hard copy and digital incarnations – gathers Wrightson’s monochrome, two-colour and full-colour offerings – stories, illustrations and frontispieces – from Creepy #9, 62-64, 66-71, 73, 75-77, 83, 86, 87, 95, 113 & 138 and Eerie #57, 58, 60-68, 70-72, 68 spanning 1966-1982.

The uncanny yarns and portentous depictions appeared in black-&-white magazine anthologies Creepy and Eerie, and those Warren stories have been gathered into a spectacular oversized (284 x 218 mm) hardback compendium – part of a series of all-star artist compilations which also includes superstars Rich Corben and Steve Ditko amongst others.

The terrors begin here with the short shockers from Creepy, but only after fellow raconteur and horror stylist Bruce Jones shares his memories of the great man and those early days in his evocative Foreword

The dark visions commence with Wrightson’s gripping adaptation of ‘Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat’ (Creepy #62): a man slowly going mad enters into a deadly war of wills and nerve with his wife’s pet…

Moving from his signature linework into deft grey-marker tones for Bruce Jones’s ghastly tale of mutant madness and deviant sexual seduction, Wrightson delivers a potent shocker with the tale of ‘Jenifer’ in issue #63 and compounds the horrors of existential loneliness for his next doomed hero’s icy obsession with ‘Clarice’ (also scripted by Jones in #77)

He inked Carmine Infantino on Jones’ ‘Country Pie’ in #83, a wry variation on both serial killer modernity and American Gothic sensibilities, after which Bill DuBay joins the unlikely artistic duo to expose an Edwardian-era Dime-novel hero in moving sentimental mystery ‘Dick Swift and his Electric Power Ring’ (Creepy #86).

Thematic shades of Ray Bradbury inform Nicola Cuti’s ‘A Martian Saga’ in #87, but the bleak dark humour is all Wrightson – as is the stylish pen-&-ink drawing – whereas the Jones-penned fable of ‘The Laughing Man’ (#95) – which sees a white hunter’s brutal deeds come back to haunt him – comes via stunning grey tones and manic shock that is pure poetic karma…

The Eerie escapades are fewer but just as memorable and start with classic beast hunting fervour as greedy chancer George Summers attempts to capture ‘The Pepper Lake Monster’. Written and drawn by Wrightson from Eerie #58, the stark, heroic chiaroscuro conceals a deliciously mordant and sardonic sting in the tale, after which DuBay details the fears of children who see monsters in the moodily grey-toned vignette ‘Nightfall’ (#60), before Wrightson fulfils a lifetime ambition in issue #62.

A huge fan of classical horror writers, the artist chillingly adapted H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘Cool Air’, detailing the uncanny fate of bizarre lodger Dr. Munoz who warmly befriends a young writer but cannot find a home cold enough to suit him…

Budd Lewis, Wrightson & Howard Chaykin combined to craft a strange tale of ‘Reuben Youngblood: Private Eye!’ who finds himself trapped in a world of intrigue, zeppelins and Nazi vampires in a rambunctious romp entitled ‘Beware the Scarlet Combine’

Although largely a black-&-white magazine outfit, Warren occasionally sprang for full-painted colour and the all-Wrightson saga of ‘The Muck Monster’ in #68 gave the artist the opportunity to flex his painterly muscles and revisit past glories in a tale of cometary catastrophe to complete the narrative section of our celebrations.

Happily, that’s not the end of the visual valuables, as a ‘Creepy and Eerie Frontispiece and Illustration Gallery’ delivers a selection of images (33 in total, including covers and back covers) designed to introduce the anthological treats of the magazines via narrators Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie: allowing Wrightson’s sense of macabre humour full rein in panels, pages and other concoctions in assorted media and various degrees of seriousness…

This voluminous volume has episodes which terrify, amaze, amuse and enthral: utter delights of fantasy fiction with lean, stripped down plots and a dark yet always playful wit which lets the art set the tone, push the emotions and tell the tale, from times when a story could end sadly as well as happily and only wonderment was on the agenda, hidden or otherwise.

These stories display a sharp wit and dark comedic energy which seems largely lacking these days, channelled through Wrightson’s astounding versatility and storytelling acumen: another cracking collection of his works not only superb in its own right but also a telling affirmation of the gifts of one of the art-form’s greatest stylists.

This is a book serious comics fans would happily kill, die or be lost in a devil-dimension for…
Creepy, the Creepy logo and all contents © 1966, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1982 2011 by New Comic Company. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Captain Pugwash: Best Pirate Jokes

By Ian D. Rylett & Ian Hillyard (Red Fox/Random House)
ISBN: 978-1-862-30793-3

The problem with pirates is that they don’t know when enough’s enough, so here’s another review to reconnoitre: tangentially celebrating the greatest buccaneer of all…

John Ryan was an artist and storyteller who straddled three distinct disciplines of graphic narrative, with equal qualitative if not financial success.

Born in Edinburgh on March 4th 1921, Ryan was the son of a diplomat, served during WWII in Burma and India and – after attending the Regent Street Polytechnic (1946-48) – took up a post as assistant Art Master at Harrow School from 1948 to 1955.

It was during this time that he began contributing strips to Fulton Press publications, in the company’s glossy distaff alternative Girl, but most especially in the pages of the legendary “boys’ paper” The Eagle.

On April 14th 1950, Britain’s grey, post-war gloom was partially lifted with the first issue of a new comic that literally shone with light and colour. Avid children were soon understandably enraptured with the gloss and dazzle of Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future, a charismatic star-turn venerated to this day.

The Eagle was a tabloid-sized paper with full-colour inserts alternating with text and a range of various other comic features. “Tabloid” is a big page and one can get a lot of material onto each one. Deep within, on the bottom third of a monochrome page was an 8-panel strip entitled Captain Pugwash – The story of a Bad Buccaneer and the many Sticky Ends which nearly befell him. Ryan’s quirky, spiky style also lent itself to the numerous spot illustrations required throughout the comic every week.

Pugwash, his harridan of a wife and the useless, lazy crew of the Black Pig ran (or more accurately capered and fell about) until issue 19 when the feature disappeared. This was no real hardship for Ryan who had been writing and illustrating Harris Tweed – Extra Special Agent as a full-page (tabloid, remember, an average of twenty panels a page, per week!) from Eagle #16. (I really must reinvestigate the solidly stolid sleuth too sometime soon…)

Tweed ran as a page for three years until 1953 when it dropped to a half-page strip and was repositioned as a purely comedic venture

In 1956 the indefatigable old sea-dog (I mean old Horatio Pugwash but it could so easily be Ryan) made the jump to children’s picture books. He was an unceasing story-peddler with a big family, and somehow also found time to be head cartoonist for The Catholic Herald for forty years.

A Pirate Story was first published by Bodley Head before switching to the children’s publishing specialist Puffin for further editions and more adventures. It was the first of a vast (sorry, got away with myself again there!) run of children’s books on a number of different subjects.

Pugwash himself starred in 21 tomes; there were a dozen books based on the animated TV series Ark Stories, plus Sir Prancelot and a number of other creations. Ryan worked whenever he wanted to in the comics world and eventually the books and the strips began to cross-fertilise.

The primary Pugwash is very traditional in format with blocks of text and single illustrations to illuminate a particular moment. But by the publication of Pugwash the Smuggler (1982) entire sequences were lavishly painted comic strips, with as many as eight panels per page, and including word balloons. A fitting circularity to his interlocking careers and a nice treat for us old-fashioned comic drones.

After A Pirate Story was released in 1957 the BBC pounced on the property, commissioning Ryan to produce five-minute episodes (86 in all from 1957 to 1968: later reformatted in full colour and rebroadcast in 1976). In the budding 1950s arena of animated television cartoons, Ryan developed a new system for producing cheap, high quality animations to a tight deadline.

He began with Pugwash, keeping the adventure milieu, but replaced the shrewish wife with a tried-and-true boy assistant. Tom the Cabin Boy is the only capable member of a crew which included such visual archetypes as Willy, Barnabas and Master Mate (fat, thin and tall – and all dim), instantly affirming to the rapt, young audience that grown-ups are fools and kids do, in fact, rule.

Ryan also drew a weekly Captain Pugwash strip in The Radio Times for eight years, before going on to produce a number of other animated series including Mary, Mungo and Midge, The Friendly Giant and the aforementioned Sir Prancelot. There were also adaptations of some of his many other children’s books and in 1997 Pugwash was rebooted in an all-new CGI animated TV series.

The first book – A Pirate Story – sets the scene with a delightful clown’s romp as the so-very-motley crew of the Black Pig sail in search of buried treasure, only to fall into a cunning trap set by the truly nasty corsair Cut-Throat Jake. Luckily, Tom is as smart as his shipmates and Captain are not…

A 2008 edition of A Pirate Story from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books came with a free audio CD, and just in case I’ve tempted you beyond endurance here’s a full list of the good (ish) Captain’s exploits that you should make it your remaining life’s work to unearth…:

Captain Pugwash: A Pirate Story (1957), Pugwash Aloft (1960), Pugwash and the Ghost Ship (1962), Pugwash in the Pacific (1963), Pugwash and the Sea Monster (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Ruby (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Treasure Chest (1976), Captain Pugwash and the New Ship (1976), Captain Pugwash and the Elephant (1976), The Captain Pugwash Cartoon Book (1977), Pugwash and the Buried Treasure (1980), Pugwash the Smuggler (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Fancy Dress Party (1982), Captain Pugwash and the Mutiny (1982), Pugwash and the Wreckers (1984), Pugwash and the Midnight Feast (1984), The Battle of Bunkum Bay (1985), The Quest of the Golden Handshake (1985), The Secret of the San Fiasco (1985), Captain Pugwash and the Pigwig (1991) and Captain Pugwash and the Huge Reward (1991). They are all pearls beyond price and a true treasure of graphic excellence…

Although currently out of print, the assembled Pugwash canon (the only sort this band of rapscallions can be trusted with) are still widely available through online vendors and should be a prize you set your hearts on acquiring.

As you might expect, such success breeds ancillary projects, and cleaving close to the wind and running in the master’s wake is this minor mirthquake that no sassy brat could possibly resist. Compiled by Ian D. Rylett and copiously illustrated by Ian Hillyard in stark monochrome, it’s a fairly standard cartoon joke book as beloved by generations of youngsters and loathed beyond endurance by parents, guardians, older siblings and every other adult whose patience is proven quite exhaustible…

Divided into themed chapters ‘The Captain’s Crackers’, ‘Jakes’ Jests’, ‘Blundering Bucaneersk, KHysterics in the Harbour’, ‘Fishy Funnies’ and ‘All Aboard’, the level of wit is almost lethal in its predictability and vintage (Q: why did the irate sailor go for a pee? A: he wanted to be a pirate.) but the relentless pace and remorseless progression is actually irresistible in delivery.

With the world crashing down around us and the water levels inexorably rising, we don’t have that much to laugh at, so why don’t you go and find something to take your minds off the chaos to come? Your kids will thank you and if you’ve any life left in your old and weary soul, you will too…
Pugwash books © 1957-2009 John Ryan and (presumably) the Estate of John Ryan. All rights reserved.
Best Pirate Jokes © Britt-Allcroft (Development Ltd) Limited 2000. All rights worldwide Britt-Allcroft (Development Ltd) Limited.

Shazam! The World’s Mightiest Mortal volume 1

By Denny O’Neil, Elliot S. Maggin, E. Nelson Bridwell, C.C. Beck, Kurt Schaffenberger, Dave Cockrum, Bob Oksner, Dick Giordano & various (DC)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8839-6 (HB)

One of the most venerated and loved characters in American comics was created by Bill Parker and Charles Clarence Beck as part of the wave of opportunistic creativity that followed the successful launch of Superman in 1938. Although there were many similarities in the early years, the Fawcett character moved swiftly and solidly into the area of light entertainment and even broad comedy, whilst as the 1940s progressed the Man of Steel increasingly left whimsy behind in favour of action and drama.

Homeless orphan and good kid Billy Batson is selected by an ancient wizard to battle injustice and subsequently granted the powers of six gods and mythical heroes. By speaking aloud the wizard’s name – itself an acronym for the six patrons Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury – he can transform from scrawny boy to brawny (adult) hero Captain Marvel.

At the height of his popularity Captain Marvel hugely outsold Superman and was even published twice a month, but as the decade progressed and tastes changed sales slowed, and an infamous court case begun in 1941 by National Comics citing copyright infringement was settled. Like many other superheroes the “Big Red Cheese” disappeared, becoming a fond memory for older fans. A big syndication success, he was missed all over the world…

In Britain, where an English reprint line had run for many years, creator/publisher Mick Anglo had an avid audience and no product, and transformed Captain Marvel into atomic age hero Marvelman, continuing to thrill readers into the early 1960s.

As America lived through another superhero boom-and-bust, the 1970s dawned with a shrinking industry and wide variety of comics genres servicing a base that was increasingly founded on collectors and fans rather than casual or impulse buyers. National – now DC – Comics needed sales and were prepared to look for them in unusual places.

After the court settlement with Fawcett in 1953 they had secured the rights to Captain Marvel and his spin-off Family. Now and though the name itself had been taken up by Marvel Comics (via a circuitous and quirky robotic character published by Carl Burgos and M.F. Publications in 1967), the publishing monolith decided to tap into that discriminating if aging fanbase.

In 1973, riding a wave of national nostalgia on TV and in the movies, DC brought back the entire beloved cast of the Captain Marvel crew in their own kinder, weirder universe. To circumvent the intellectual property clash, they named the new title Shazam! (‘With One Magic Word…’): the memorable trigger phrase used by myriad Marvels to transform to and from mortal form and a word that had already entered the American language due to the success of the franchise the first time around.

Now the latest star of film and TV is back in print in this stylish Hardback and digital compendium, collecting the first 18 issues (spanning February 1973 – May/June1975) of a glorious revival. It’s by rapturous and informative introduction With One Magic Word… by Jerry Ordway, writer and artist of latter day reinvention The Power of Shazam!

Back in 1972, the company tapped editor Julie Schwartz – instigator of the Silver Age of Comics and the go-to guy for hero revivals – to steer the project. He teamed top scripter Denny O’Neil with original artist C.C. Beck for the initial re-introductory story. ‘…In the Beginning…’

Delivered in grand old self-referential style, the engaging yarn reprised the classic origin after which ‘The World’s Wickedest Plan’ relates how the entire cast were trapped in a timeless “Suspendium” trap for twenty years after their arch-foes the Sivana family (Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana and his vile but equally brilliant children Georgia and Thaddeus Jr.) attacked them all at a public awards ceremony.

Two decades later, they were all freed, baddies included, to restart their lives. That first issue also included a text-feature/score-card by devotee E. Nelson Bridwell to bring new and old readers up to speed, and ‘Shazam & Son: The Story of the World’s Mightiest Mortal’ is included here to again bring new readers up to super speed.

With issue #2, a format of two stories per issue was instigated. ‘The Astonishing Arch Enemy’ heralds the return of super-intelligent Venusian worm Mr. Mind and a running gag about how strange people in the 1970s are. Written by Elliot Maggin, the second tale introduces eerily irresistible, scrupulously honest Sunny Sparkle who lives awash in the generosity of others who can’t resist giving stuff to ‘The Nicest Guy in the World’. Once again, the fun is counterpointed by a Bridwell text feature listing the many heroes sharing the powers of the gods in ‘Shazam and Family’.

For #3, O’Neil wrote ‘A Switch in Time’ wherein scrofulous underage magician Shagg Nasté disrupts the puny-boy-to-super-adult gimmick for young Billy, whilst Maggin & Beck craft a wry spy tale of daffy inventors in ‘The Wizard of Phonograph Hill’. Next issue evil Captain Marvel analogue ‘Ibac the Cursed’ disastrously re-emerged, courtesy of O’Neil & Beck, with Maggin again opting for a human-interest yarn in ‘The Mirrors that Predicted the Future’.

In the ‘70s economics dictated costs in comics be cut whenever possible so there was really no choice about filling pages with reprints, which had been an addition from the start. A huge benefit, however, was that those stories were unknown to the general readership and of a very high standard. Although not included in this volume, I mention them simply because they kept the page-count of most issues to around fifteen pages of new material per month (Shazam! was actually published eight times a year so the savings were even greater). Hopefully DC will get around to reprinting the Fawcett stories too – perhaps in the same format as their excellent Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman Golden Age collections…

Maggin took the lead slot with #5’s ‘The Man who Wasn’t’ (a potentially offensive tale of leprechauns with a rather heavy-handed racial stereotype as the magical foe) as well as a back-up which sees the return of Sunny Sparkle. Here, his obnoxious cousin Rowdy briefly becomes ‘The World’s Toughest Guy!’

O’Neil returned in #6, as did Sivana in time bending tale ‘Better Late than Never!’ whilst Maggin reintroduced a 1940’s boy-genius in the charming ‘Dexter Knox and his Electric Grandmother’. The following issue, loquacious science experiment Tawky Tawny took centre-stage in O’Neil’s ‘The Troubles of the Talking Tiger’ before uber-fan and wonderful guy E. Nelson Bridwell finally got to write a script with the delightfully zany and clever ‘What’s in a Name? Doomsday!

Shazam! #8 was the first of many 100-Page Spectaculars stuffed with great Golden Age reprints, but as such it’s only represented here by the C.C. Beck cover, whilst normal-sized #9 provides us with O’Neil’s ‘Worms of the World Unite’ – another clash with scurrilous dictator Mr. Mind – and the first solo adventure of Captain Marvel Jr. in over twenty years.

‘The Mystery of the Missing Newsstand! is an action-heavy romp and fine tribute to the works of early Fawcett mainstay (and Flash Gordon maestro Mac Raboy); written by Maggin and illustrated by young Dave Cockrum. It is truly lovely to look upon. A third original story completes the issue and Maggin & Beck clearly had heaps of fun on ‘The Day Captain Marvel Went Ape!’ when a mystic jewel deflects Shazam’s magic lightning into a chimpanzee.

Beck, notoriously opinionated, had been unhappy with the stories he was being asked to draw and left the series with #10. He was a supremely understated draughtsman with a canny eye for caricature and gag-timing, and his departure took away some of that indefinable charm. Many other gifted artists continued the strip but a certain kind of magic left the strip with him. He wasn’t even the lead or cover artist on the issue.

Bob Oksner & Vince Colletta illustrated Maggin’s mediocre flying saucer yarn ‘Invasion of the Salad Men’, but happily, Mary Marvel’s solo debut ‘The Thanksgiving Thieves’ is a much better effort with Bridwell’s script handled by Oksner alone (if ever an artist should ink himself it was this superb stylist). Beck bowed out with Bridwell’s ‘The Prize Catch of the Year’ which featured the reappearance of formidable octogenarian villainess Aunt Minerva – one of the most innovative rogues of the Golden Age and here again on the prowl for a new husband…

Issue #11 kicks off with ‘The World’s Mightiest Dessert!’ (Bridwell, Oksner & Colletta) wherein a new sweet treat goes berserk, but the real gem of this comic is ‘The Incredible Cape-Man’. Written by Maggin it saw the long-awaited return of Kurt Schaffenberger, a brilliant and highly accomplished artist who, by his own admission, considered drawing Captain Marvel the best of all possible jobs.

He began his career at Fawcett before moving to DC, ACG and others when the company folded. When the Big Red Cheese returned, his resumption of the art-chores was inevitable. In this tale of a mail man who becomes a Mystery Man, the art positively glows with joyous enthusiasm. This end-of-year issue then concludes with a good old-fashioned Yule yarn featuring the entire extended cast in Maggin & Schaffenberger’s ‘The Year Without a Christmas!’, with our heroes again clashing with the wicked Sivana clan to save the season.

The 12th issue was another 100-Page Spectacular but included 3 all-new stories: modern-day Midas menace ‘The Golden Plague’ (Bridwell & Oksner); another glorious Captain Marvel Jr. adventure ‘The Longest Block in the World!’ (Maggin & Dick Giordano), and cheerfully daft Kung Fu spoof ‘Mighty Master of the Martial Arts!’ by Maggin, Oksner & Colletta. Also included are clip-art features detailing the boy hero’s heroic heritage in ‘Billy Batson’s Family Album’ and his divine sponsors in ‘The Shazam Gods and Heroes’.

The next six issues retained this same format, combining around 20 pages of new material with a superb selection of Fawcett reprints, but once the character was picked up for a children’s TV show, the comic was again slimmed down to a cheaper standard format and increased publication frequency.

Maggin and Oksner led in #13 as ‘The Case of the Charming Crook!’ revealing how a felon manages to synthesise “essence of Sunny Sparkle” to make his crimes easier. This is followed by clip-art historical features ‘The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man!’, ‘Friends of the Shazam Family!’ and ‘Mary Marvel’s Fashion Parade!’ before Oksner returns to familiar ground as an illustrator of beautiful women in Bridwell’s Mary Marvel solo strip ‘The Haunted Clubhouse!’

The entire Marvel Family was needed in the next issue when O’Neil & Schaffenberger crafted ‘The Evil Return of the Monster Society’: a splendid action thriller serving to remind us that the Original Captain Marvel Shazam was never just about charm and comedy…

You know what fans are like: they had been arguing for decades – and still do – over who is best (for which read “who would win if they fought?”) out of Superman or Captain Marvel, so it’s amazing that a face off meeting took as long as it did to materialise.

However, despite the cover, the lead strip in #15 wasn’t it. Instead fans had to be content with a notoriously familiar guest villain when Mr. Mind and ‘Captain Marvel Meets… Lex Luthor!?!’: the work of O’Neil, Oksner and veteran inker (Phillip) Tex Blaisdell, who had worked un-credited on many DC strips over the decades, as well as drawing Little Orphan Annie, On Stage and many others.

Bridwell & Schaffenberger closed the issue with an excellent crime-caper in ‘The Man in the Paper Armor!’, preceded by clip features ‘Shazam’s Scientists and Inventors’ and ‘A Tour of American Cities with Captain Marvel!’

Schaffenberger kicked off #16 with Maggin’s ‘The Man who Stole Justice’; a taut thriller involving the incarnation of the one of the iconic Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Sins to you and me) and a key part of the legend since the strip’s inception. Bridwell & Oksner utilised another Deadly Enemy in Mary Marvel solo story ‘The Green-Eyed Monster!’, but aliens and a Hippie musician were the antagonists in the feature-length tale leading off #17, the last 100-page issue. ‘The Pied Un-Piper’ is a tongue-in-cheek thriller from O’Neil & Schaffenberger, whereas a slightly more modern tone tinged the whimsy in #18’s ‘The Celebrated Talking Frog of Blackstone Forest!’ (Maggin & Oksner) and Bridwell & Schaffenberger’s CM Jr. clash with Sivana Jr. in ‘The Coin-Operated Caper’, albeit not enough to deaden the charm…

DC pulled out all the stops with their new baby. Production ace Jack Adler teamed with illustrators such as Nick Cardy, Murphy Anderson, Beck and Oksner to create a string of amazing photo/drawn art covers. The experiments ended with 7, but even so, it gave the title a unique presence on newsstands of the time and you can also enjoy them here.

Although controversial amongst older fans, the 1970’s incarnation of Captain Marvel has a tremendous amount going for it. Gloriously free of angst and agony, beautifully, simply illustrated, and wittily scripted, these are clever, funny, wholesome adventures that would appeal to any child and positively promote a love of graphic narrative. There’s a horrible dearth of exuberant fun superhero adventure these days so isn’t it great that there’s somewhere to go for a little light action again?
© 1973, 1974, 1975, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Henry Speaks for Himself

By John Liney, edited by David Tosh (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-733-8 (TPB)

Created by veteran cartoonist Carl Anderson as a silent, pantomimic gag-panel first seen on March 19th 1932, Henry was one of the most venerated and long-lived of American newspaper comics strips.  It was developed for The Saturday Evening Post before being picked up by legendary strip advocate and propounder William Randolph Hearst.  He brought it and the then-69 year old Anderson to his King Features Syndicate in 1934. The first comic strip appeared on December 17th with a full colour Sunday half-page following on March 10th 1935.

The Saturday Evening Post had to content itself with a new feature entitled Little Lulu by Marjorie Henderson Buell. I wonder how that worked out…?

Being a man of advanced years, Anderson employed Don Trachte to assist with the Sundays whilst John J. Liney performed the same role for the Monday to Saturday black and white iteration. This continued until 1942 when arthritis forced Anderson to retire. Trachte and Liney became de facto creators of the feature – although the originator’s name remained on the masthead for the next two decades.

Liney (1912-1982) had started as a staff cartoonist on the Philadelphia Evening Ledger and began selling gag ideas to Anderson in 1936 before landing the full-time assistant’s job. After assuming the illustrator’s role in 1942 he took over sole writing responsibilities for the daily in 1945, continuing Henry until 1979 when he finally retired.

His own name had been adorning the strip since 1970.

Liney was also a passionate teacher and educator on comics and cartooning, with a position at Temple University. Nevertheless, he still found time to write and draw a comicbook iteration of the mute and merry masterpiece from 1946 to 1961.

Major licensing monolith Western Publishing/Dell Comics had been successfully producing comicbooks starring animation characters, film icons and strip heroes since the mid 1930s, and when they launched Henry – first in Four Color Comics #122 and #155 (October 1946 and July 1947) and then in his own 65 issue title from January 1948 – they successfully argued for a radical change in the boy’s make-up.

The newspaper strip had always been a timeless, nostalgia-fuelled, happily humour-heavy panoply of gags and slapstick situations wherein the frankly weird-looking little bald kid romped and pranked in complete silence, with superb cartooning delivering all the communication nuance the vast international audience needed.

Now however, with children seen as the sole consumers, the powers-that-be felt that the little mutant should be able to speak and make himself understood. Liney easily rose to the challenge and produced a sublime run of jolly, wild, weird and often utterly surreal endlessly inventive adventures – some approaching “Stream-of-Consciousness” progressions that perfectly captured the ephemeral nature of kids’ concentration. He also introduced a captivating supporting cast to augment the boy, and his appealingly unattractive, forthright and two-fisted inamorata Henrietta.

This splendid softcover (and ebook) collection gathers some of the very best longer tales from the comicbook run in the resplendent flat primary colours that are so evocative of simpler – if not better – days and begins after a heartfelt reminiscence in the Foreword by Kim Deitch, after which Editor, compiler and devotee David Tosh outlines the history of the character and his creators in ‘Henry – the Funniest Living American’.

He then goes on to explain ‘The Dell Years’ before offering some informative ‘Notes on the Stories’.

The magical story portion of this collection is liberally interspersed with stunning cover reproductions; all impressively returning to the quiet lad’s silent comedy gag roots, a brace of which precede a beautiful double-page spread detailing the vast and varied cast Liney added to mix.

Then from issue #7 (June, 1949) we find ‘Henry is Thinking Out Loud!’ as the boy keeps his non-existent mouth shut and explores the medium of first person narrative, inner monologues and thought-balloons whilst getting into mischief looking for odd jobs to do…

October’s edition, Henry #9, introduced the good-natured, cool but increasingly put-upon Officer Yako in ‘You Can’t Beat the Man on the Beat!’ in an escalating succession of brushes with the law, bullies, prospective clients and darling Henrietta.

That bald boy still hadn’t actually uttered a sound, but by #14 (August 1950) he had found his voice, much to the amusement of his layabout Uncle (he never had a name) who eavesdropped on the assorted kids comparing their ‘Funny Dreams’.

After a quartet of covers Henry #16 (December 1950) found Liney playing with words as ‘Rhyme Without Reason’ found all the characters afflicted with doggerel, meter, couplets and all forms poetic with Liney even drawing himself into the madcap procession of japes and jests, whilst ‘A Slice of Ham’ from issue #22 (December 1951) cleverly riffed on Henry’s ambitions to impress Henrietta by becoming an actor. This yarn includes a wealth of Liney caricatures of screen immortals such as Chaplin, Gable, Sinatra and more, whilst introducing a potential rival for Henry’s affections in cousin Gilda

In #24 (April 1952) Henry ‘Peeks into the Future’ by outrageously pondering on his possible careers as an adult, before plunging into Flintstone or Alley Oop territory – complete with cave city and dinosaurs – as a result of studying too hard for a history test in ‘The Stone Age Story’ from issues #29, February 1953.

After four more clever funny covers, growing up again featured heavily with ‘Choosing Your Career’ (#45, March 1956) as the little fool road-tested a job as a home-made cab driver and accidentally slipped into law enforcement by capturing a bandit.

In #48 (December 1956) Henry attended a fancy dress party and became ‘The Boy in the Iron Mask’, and this completely charming compilation closes by reprising that sojourn in the Stone Age with #49 (March 1957)’s ‘Rock and Roll’

Concluding the comedy capers is fond personal reminiscence ‘Henry and Me’ by David Tosh; a man justifiably delighted to be able to share his passion with us and hopefully proud that this book gloriously recaptures some of the simple straightforward sheer joy that could be found in comicbooks of yore.

Henry Speaks for Himself is fun, frolicsome and fabulously captivating all-ages cartooning that will enthral anyone with kids or who has the soul of one.
Henry Speaks for Himself © 2014 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All comics and drawings © 2014 King Features, Inc. All other material © its respective creators. This book was produced in cooperation with Heritage Auctions.

The Flash: The Silver Age volume 4

By John Broome, Gardner Fox, Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-8823-5 (TPB)

The second iteration of the Flash triggered the Silver Age of American comicbooks and – for the first ten years or so – in terms of creative quality and sheer originality, was always the book and hero to watch.

Following his meteoric launch in Showcase #4 (October 1956), police scientist Barry Allen – transformed by a lightning strike and accidental chemical bath into a human thunderbolt of unparalleled velocity and ingenuity – was uncharacteristically slow in winning his own title, but finally (after three more cautiously released trial issues) finally stood on his own wing-tipped feet in The Flash #105 (February-March 1959).

He never looked back, and by the time of this second commemorative compilation was very much the innovation mainstay of DC/National Comics’ burgeoning superhero universe. This fourth trade paperback (and digital) collection re-presents Flash #148-163 – spanning November 1964 through August 1966 – robustly confirming the Vizier of Velocity as the pivotal figure in the all-consuming renaissance of comicbook super-heroics.

Shepherding the Scarlet Speedster’s meteoric rise to prominence, the majority of stories are written by the brilliant John Broome and Gardner Fox with pencils from the infinitely impressive and constantly innovating Carmine Infantino. Their slickly polished, coolly sophisticated rapid-fire short stories set in a welcomingly suburbanite milieu – constantly threatened by super-thieves, sinister spies and marauding aliens – displayed our affable hero always triumphant whilst expanding and establishing the broad parameters of an increasingly cohesive narrative universe. The comicbook had gelled into a comfortable pattern of two short tales per issue leavened with semi-regular book-length thrillers, although in this period that format would slowly switch to longer complete tales.

By this time, it was clear that the biggest draw to the Flash was his mind-boggling array of costumed foes, but there was still time and space for straight adventure, complex quandaries and old-fashioned experimentation, as evidenced by the odd yarn that follows Broome’s Captain Boomerang tale in Flash #248.

‘The Day Flash Went into Orbit!’ (illustrated by Infantino & Murphy Anderson) sees the Monarch of Motion caught in the crossfire after the Ozzie felon becomes a helpless patsy for a nefarious hypnotist…

With the back-up tale in this issue Broome proved creative heart and soul still counted for much. Inked by Joe Giella, ‘The Doorway to the Unknown!’ is the moving story of an embezzler who returns from the grave to prevent his brother paying for his crimes: a ghost story penned at a time when such tales were all but banned and a pithy human drama of redemption and hope that deservedly won the Academy of Comic Book Arts Alley Award for Best Short Story of the year. It still brings a worthy tear to my eyes…

Broome also scripted #149’s ‘The Flash’s Sensational Risk!’: an alien invasion yarn co-starring the Vizier of Velocity’s speedy sidekick Kid Flash, whilst Fox penned the Anderson inked ‘Robberies by Magic!’ featuring another return engagement for future-born stage conjuror Abra Kadabra, before going on to produce #150’s lead tale of a bizarre robbery-spree ‘Captain Cold’s Polar Perils!’ Giella returned for Fox’s second yarn, another science mystery as ‘The Touch-and-Steal Bandits!’ somehow transform from simple thugs to telekinetic terrors…

Flash #151 was another sterling team-up epic co-starring the original Scarlet Speedster. Fox once more teamed his 1940’s (or retroactively, Earth-2) creation Jay Garrick with his contemporary counterpart, this time in a spectacular full-length battle against the black-hearted Shade in ‘Invader From the Dark Dimension’, whilst #152’s Infantino & Anderson double-header consisted of our hero stopping ‘The Trickster’s Toy Thefts’ after which Broome’s light-hearted thriller ‘The Case of the Explosive Vegetables!’ offered another engaging comedy of errors starring Barry Allen’s father-in-law to be: absent-minded Professor Ira West.

Giella settled in for a marathon inker stint as Flash #153 has Broome reprise the much-lauded ‘Our Enemy, the Flash!’ in new yarn ‘The Mightiest Punch of All Time!’

Here villainous Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash again attempts to corrupt reformed and cured Al Desmond – a multiple personality sufferer who was also Flash-Foes Mr. Element and Doctor Alchemy. The next issue then saw Fox’s medical mystery ‘The Day Flash Ran Away with Himself!’ and Broome’s old-fashioned crime caper ‘Gangster Masquerade!’ which brought back thespian Dexter Myles and made him custodian of an increasingly important Central City landmark: the Flash Museum.

It had to happen – and it finally did – in Flash #155: Broome teamed six of the Rogue’s Gallery into ‘The Gauntlet of Super-Villains!’, a bombastic Fights ‘n’ Tights extravaganza, but one with a hidden twist and a mystery foe concealed in the wings, whilst the following issue revealed Broome’s ‘The Super-Hero Who Betrayed the World!’: an engrossing and exciting invasion saga with the Flash a hunted man accused of treason against humanity…

Fox provided both stories in #157: ‘Who Stole the Flash’s Super-Speed?’ – a return visit for Doralla, the Girl from the Super-Fast Dimension – plus another titanic tussle with the nefarious Top in ‘The Day Flash Aged 100 Years!’ The scripter repeated the feat in #158, beginning with a rather ridiculous and somewhat gross alien encounter in ‘Battle Against the Breakaway Bandit!’ and far more appetising thriller ‘The One-Man Justice League!’, wherein Flash defeats the power-purloining plans of JLA nemesis Professor Ivo without even noticing…

The cover of Flash #159 features his empty uniform and a note saying the hero is quitting, in a tale entitled ‘The Flash’s Final Fling!’ It was written by Fox, and guest-starred Kid Flash and Earth-2 hero Dr. Mid-Nite in a time-busting battle against criminals from the future…

At that time, editors and creative staff usually designed covers that would grab potential readers’ attention and then produced stories to fit. For this issue Julie Schwartz tried something truly novel and commissioned Robert Kanigher (first scripter of the new Scarlet Speedster in Showcase #4) to write a different tale to fit the same eye-catching visual…

Scripted by Broome, ‘Big Blast in Rocket City!’ filled out #159 with another humorous Professor West espionage escapade after which Flash #160 is represented by its cover – highlighting an 80-Page Giant reprint edition.

The first story in issue #161 is where that novel experiment culminated with Kanigher’s gritty, terse and uniquely emotional interpretation in ‘The Case of the Curious Costume’ before the high-octane costumed madness continues with Fox, Infantino & Giella’s portentous Mirror Master mystery ‘The Mirror with 20-20 Vision!’

The tone of the times was gradually changing and scarier tales were sneaking into the bright and shiny Sci Fi world of super-heroics. Flash #162 featured a Fox-penned moody drama entitled ‘Who Haunts the Corridor of Chills?’ in which an apparently haunted fairground attraction opens the doors into an invasion-mystery millions of years old. The resultant clash stretches the Scarlet Speedster’s powers and imagination to the limit…

The next issue – the final entry of this collection – carries two tales by globe-trotting author Broome, beginning with ‘The Flash Stakes his Life – On – You!’ which takes a hallowed philosophical concept to its illogical but highly entertaining extreme after criminal scientist Ben Haddon makes the residents of Central City forget their champion ever existed. That has the incredible effect of making the Flash fade away… if not for the utter devotion of one hero-worshipping little girl who still believes…

By contrast ‘The Day Magic Exposed Flash’s Secret Identity!’ is a sharp non-nonsense duel with a dastardly villain after approbation-addicted illusionist Abra Kadabra again escapes prison and trades bodies with the 64th century cop sent to bring back to face future justice, leaving the Speedster with an impossible choice to make…

These tales were crucial to the development of modern comics and, more importantly, remain brilliant, awe-inspiring, beautifully realised thrillers to amuse, amaze and enthral both new readers and old lags. As always, the emphasis is on brains and learning, not gimmicks or abilities, which is why the stories still work more than half-a-century later.

This is a captivating snap-shot of when science was our friend and the universe(s) a place of infinite possibility. This wonderful compilation is another must-read item for anybody in love with the world of words-in-pictures.
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2019 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Broons and Oor Wullie: The Roaring Forties

By R.D. Low & Dudley D. Watkins (DC Thomson)
ISBN: 978-0-85116-804-3 (HB)

The Broons is one of the longest running newspaper strips in British history, having run almost continuously in Scottish newspaper The Sunday Post since its delirious debut in the March 8th 1936 edition: the same issue which launched mischievous and equally unchanging wee laddie Oor Wullie.

Both the boisterous boy and the gregariously engaging working-class family were co-created by journalist, writer and editor Robert Duncan Low in conjunction with DC Thomson’s greatest artist Dudley D. Watkins. Moreover, once the strips began to be collected in reprint editions as Seasonal Annuals, those books became as much a Yule tradition as plum pudding or shortbread.

Low (1895-1980) began at DC Thomson as a journalist, rising to the post of Managing Editor of Children’s Publication and launching, between 1921 and 1933, the company’s “Big Five” story papers for boys: Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur.

In 1936 his landmark notion was the “Fun Section”: an 8-page pull-out comic strip supplement for national newspaper The Sunday Post. This illustrated accessory launched on 8th March and from the outset The Broons and Oor Wullie were the headliners…

Low’s shrewdest notion was to devise both strips as comedies played out in the charismatic Scottish idiom and broad unforgettable vernacular where, supported by features such as Auchentogle by Chic Gordon, Allan Morley’s Nero and Zero, Nosey Parker and other strips. These pioneering comics then laid the groundwork for the company’s next great leap.

After some devious devising in December 1937 Low launched the first DC Thomson weekly comic. The Dandy was followed by The Beano in 1938 and early-reading title The Magic Comic in 1939.

War-time paper shortages and rationing sadly curtailed the burgeoning strip periodical revolution, and it was 1953 before the next wave of cartoon caper picture paper releases. The Topper started the ball rolling again with Oor Wullie in the logo and masthead but not included in the magazine’s regular roster. In that same year Low & the magnificent Ken Reid created Roger the Dodger for The Beano

Low’s greatest advantage in the early days was his prolific illustrator Dudley Dexter Watkins, whose style – more than any other – shaped the look and form of DC Thompson’s comics output, until the bombastic advent of Leo Baxendale shook things up in the mid-1950s.

Watkins (1907-1969) had started life in Manchester and Nottingham as an artistic prodigy before entering Glasgow College of Art in 1924. Before too long he was advised to get a job at expanding, Dundee-based DCT, where a 6-month trial illustrating prose boys’ stories led to comic strip specials and some original cartoon creations.

Percy Vere and His Trying Tricks and Wandering Willie, The Wily Explorer made him a dead cert for both lead strips in the Sunday Post’s new Fun Section. Without missing a beat, Watkins quickly added The Dandy’s Desperate Dan to his weekly workload in 1937, and The Beano’s placidly outrageous Lord Snooty seven months later.

Watkins soldiered on in unassailable triumph for decades, drawing some of the most lavishly lifelike and winningly hilarious strips in comics history. He died at his drawing board on August 20th 1969.

For every week of all those astonishingly productive years, he had unflaggingly crafted a full captivating page each of Oor Wullie and The Broons, and his loss was a colossal blow to the company.

DC Thomson reprinted old episodes of both strips in the newspaper and the Annuals for seven years before a replacement was agreed upon, whilst The Dandy reran Watkins’ Desperate Dan stories for twice that length of time.

An undeniable, rock-solid facet of Scots popular culture from the start, the first Broons Annual (technically Bi-Annual due to wartime paper rationing) had appeared in 1939, alternating with Oor Wullie – although, due to those same resource restrictions, no annuals were published between 1943 and 1946 – and for millions of readers a year cannot truly end without them.

So What’s the Set Up?: the multigenerational Broon family inhabit a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street, in the timelessly metafictional Scottish industrial everytown of Auchentogle (sometimes Auchenshoogle); based in large part on the working class Glasgow district of Auchenshuggle. As such, it’s an ideal setting in which to tell gags, relate events and fossilise the deepest and most reassuring cultural archetypes for sentimental Scots wherever in the world they might actually be residing.

As is always the case, the adamant, unswerving cornerstone of any family feature is long-suffering, understanding Maw, who puts up with cantankerous, cheap, know-it-all Paw, and a battalion of stay-at-home kids comprising hunky Joe, freakishly tall Hen (Henry), sturdy Daphne, pretty Maggie, brainy Horace, mischievous twins Eck and the unnamed “ither ane” plus a wee toddler referred to only as “The Bairn”.

Not officially in residence but always hanging around is gruffly patriarchal buffoon Granpaw – a comedic gadfly who spends more time at Glebe Street than his own quaint cottage, constantly seeking to impart decades of out-of-date, hard-earned experience to the kids… but do they listen…?

Offering regular breaks from the inner city turmoil and a chance to simultaneously sentimentalise, spoof and memorialise more traditional times, the family frequently repair to their But ‘n’ Ben (a dilapidated rustic cottage in the nearby Highlands): there to fall foul of the weather, the countryside and all its denizens: fish, fowl and farm-grown…

As previously stated, Oor Wullie also debuted on 8th March 1936 with his collected Christmas Annuals appearing in the even years.

The basic set-up is sublimely simply and eternally evergreen, featuring an imaginative, good-hearted scruff with a talent for finding trouble and no hope of ever avoiding parental retribution when appropriate…

Wullie – AKA William MacCallum – is an archetypal young rascal with time on his hands and can usually be found sitting on an upturned bucket at the start and finish of his page-a-week exploits.

His regular cast includes Ma and Pa, long-suffering local bobby P.C. Murdoch, assorted teachers and other interfering adults who either lavish gifts or inflict opprobrium upon the little pest and his pals Fat Bob, Soapy Joe Soutar, Wee Eck and others…

The Roaring Forties was released in 2002 as part of a concerted drive to keep earlier material available to fans: a lavish hardback compilation (sadly not yet available digitally) which proffers a tantalising selection of strips from 1940-1949, covering every aspect of contemporary existence except a rather obvious one.

Although for half the book World War II was a brutal fact of life, it barely encroached upon the characters’ lives except perhaps in the unexplained occasional shortages of toys, sweets and other scrummy comestibles…

The parade of celtic mirth begins with – and is regularly broken up by – a number of atmospheric photo-features such as a celebration of film stars of the period in ‘A Nicht at the Picters’ (in three glamour-studded showings) and ‘Cartoon Capers’, which reproduces a wealth of one-off gag panels from The Sunday Post by such luminaries as Carmichael, Eric Cook, Campbell and Housley, whilst ‘Whit’s in The Sunday Post Today?’ gathers a selection of the era’s daftest news items.

The endless escapades of the strip stars comprise the usual subject-matter: gleeful goofs, family frolics and gloriously slapstick shenanigans. Whether it’s a visit with family or just trying to keep pace with the wee terror, highlights include plumbing disasters, fireplace fiascos, food foolishness, dating dilemmas, appliance atrocities, fashion freak-outs, exercise exploits and childish pranks by young and old alike…

Punctuated by editorial extras, such as ‘Correction Corner’ – offering an intriguing look into the strips’ creative process – and ‘Dinnae Mention the War’ which reprints a selection of morale-boosting ads and items, are rib-tickling scenes of sledding and skating, stolen candies, torn clothes, recycled comics, visiting circuses, practical jokes, and social gaffes: stories intended to take the nation’s collective mind off troubles abroad, and for every thwarted romance of poor Daphne and Maggie or embarrassing fiasco focussed on Paw’s cussedness, there’s an uproarious chase, riotous squabble and no-tears scrap for the little ‘uns.

With snobs to deflate, bullies to crush, duels to fight, chips to scoff, games to win and rowdy animals (from cats to cows) to avoid at all costs, the timeless gentle humour and gently self-deprecating, inclusive fun and frolics make these superbly crafted strips an endlessly entertaining serving of superbly nostalgic an unmissable treat.

So why not return to a time of local blacksmiths and coalmen, best china and full employment, neighbours you knew by first names and trousers that always fell apart or were chewed by goats? There are even occasional crossovers to marvel at here, with Wullie and Granpaw Broon striving to outdo each other in the adorable reprobate stakes…

Packed with all-ages fun, rambunctious slapstick hilarity and comfortably domestic warmth, these unchanging examples of happy certainty and convivial celebration of a mythic lost life and time are a sure cure for post-modern glums…
© D.C. Thomson & Co., Ltd. 2002.

Beyond Mars – The Complete Series 1952-1955

By Jack Williamson & Lee Elias (IDW Publishing)
ISBNs: 978-1-631404-35-1 (HB)

The 1950s was the last great flourish of the American newspaper strip. Invented and always used as a way to boost circulation and encourage consumer loyalty, the inexorable rise of television and spiralling costs of publishing gradually ate away at all but the most popular cartoon features as the decade ended, but the earlier years saw a final, valiant, burst of creativity and variety as syndicates looked for ways to recapture popular attention whilst editors increasingly sought ways to maximise every fraction of a page-inch for paying ads, not fritter the space away with expensive cost-centres. No matter how well produced, imaginative or entertaining, if strips couldn’t increase sales, they weren’t welcome…

The decade also saw a fantastic social change as a commercial boom and technological progress created a new type of visionary consumer – one fired up by the realization that America was Top Dog in the world.

The optimistic escapism offered by the stars above led to a reawakening in the moribund science fiction genre, with a basic introduction for the hoi-polloi offered by the burgeoning television industry through such pioneering (if clunky) programmes as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet or Captain Video and movies from visionaries like Robert Wise (Day the Earth Stood Still) and George Pal (Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide, War of the Worlds and others).

For kids of all ages, conceptual fancies were being tickled by a host of fantastic comicbooks ranging from the blackly satirical Weird Science Fantasy to the affably welcoming and openly enthusiastic Strange Adventures and Mystery in Space. In the inexorably expiring pulp magazines, master imagineers such as Heinlein, Bradbury, Asimov, Clarke, Sturgeon, Dick, Bester and Farmer were transforming the genre from youthful melodrama into a highly philosophical art form…

With Flying Saucers in the skies, Reds under every Bed and refreshing adventure in mind, the multifarious Worlds of Tomorrow were common currency and newspaper strips wanted in on the phenomenon. Established features such as Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford and Flash Gordon were no longer enough and editors demanded bold new visions to draw in a wider public, not just those steady fans who already bought papers for their favourite futurian.

John Stewart “Jack” Williamson was one of the first superstars of American science fiction writing, a rurally raised, self-taught author with more than 50 books, 18 short story collections and even volumes of criticism and non-fiction to his much-lauded name. Born in Arizona in 1908, he was raised in Texas and in 1928 sold his first story to Amazing Stories.

Williamson created a number of legendary serials such as the Legion of Space, The Humanoids and the Legion of Time. He is credited by the OED with inventing the terms and concepts of “terraforming” and “genetic engineering.” He was one of the first literary investigators of anti-matter with his Seetee novels.

“See Tee” or “Contra Terrene Matter” is also at the heart of the strip under discussion here, completely collected in this magnificent full colour volume and available in positive matter Hardback and the ethereal pulses technique we dub digital publication.

Following a damning newspaper review of Seetee Ship, Williamson’s second novel in that sequence – which claimed the book was only marginally better than a comic strip – the editor of a rival paper was moved to engage Williamson and artist Lee Elias to produce a Sunday page based in the same universe as the books.

Leopold Elias was born in England in 1920, but grew up in the USA after his family emigrated in 1926. He studied at the Cooper Union and Art Students League of New York before beginning his professional comics illustration career at Fiction House in 1943. He worked on Captain Wings and latterly western strip Firehair. His sleek, Milton-Caniff-inspired art was soon highly prized by numerous publishers, and Elias contributed to the lustre of The Flash, Green Lantern, Sub-Mariner, Terry and the Pirates and, most notably, the glamourous Black Cat strip for Harvey Comics.

Elias briefly left the funnybook arena in the early 1950s after his art was singled out by anti-comicbook zealot Dr. Fredric Wertham. He traded up to the more prestigious newspaper strips, ghosting Al Capp’s Li’l Abner before landing the job of bringing Beyond Mars to life.

He returned to comicbooks after the strip’s demise, becoming a mainstay at DC in the 1960s, Marvel in the 1970s and Warren in the 1980s. He died in 1998, having spent his final years teaching at the School of Visual Arts and the Kubert School.

The glorious meeting of the minds is preceded here by an effusive and informative Introduction from Bruce Canwell – ‘When “Retro” Was Followed by “Rocket”’ – packed with cover illustrations, original art pages and illustrations that set the scene and share lost secrets of the strips genesis and ultimate Armageddon.

With Dick Tracy strip maestro Chester Gould as adviser for the early days, Beyond Mars ran exclusively and in full colour in the New York Daily News every Sunday from 17th February 1952 to May 13th 1955: a gloriously high-tech, high-adventure romp based around Brooklyn Rock in 2191 AD.

This bastion was a commercial space station bored into one of the rocky chunks drifting in the asteroid belt “Beyond Mars” – the ideal rough-and-tumble story venue on the ultimate frontier of human experience.

Although as the series progressed a progression of sexy women and inspired extraterrestrial sidekicks increasingly stole the show, the notional star is Spatial Engineer Mike Flint, an independent charter-pilot based on the rock, and the first tale begins with Flint selling his services to plucky Becky Starke who has come to the furthest edge of civilisation in search of her missing father. A student of human nature, she cloaks that motivation as a quest for a city-sized, solid diamond asteroid floating in the deadly “Meteor Drift”…

Soon Mike and his lisping ophidian Venusian partner Tham Thmith are contending with Brooklyn Rock’s crime boss Frosty Karth, a fantastic raider dubbed the Black Martian, a super-criminal named Cobra and even more unearthly menaces in a stirring tale of interplanetary drug dealers, lost cities, dead civilisations…

There’s even a fantastic mutation in the resilient form of a semi-feral Terran boy who can breathe vacuum and rides deep space on a meteor!

With that tale barely concluded the crew, including the rambunctious space boy Jimikin, fell deep into another mystery – Brooklyn Rock has gone missing!

However, Flint has no time to grieve for the family and friends left behind as he intercepts an inbound star-liner and discovers both an old flame and a smooth-talking thug bound for the now-missing space station. One of them knows where it went…

Unknown to even this mastermind, the Rock, stolen by pirates, is out of control and drifting to ultimate destruction in a debris field, but no sooner is that crisis averted than the heroes are entangled in a “First Contact” situation with an ancient alien from beyond Known Space. Perhaps that might actually be more correctly deemed becoming snared by the devilish devices he/she/it left running…

Ultimately, Mike, Tham, Jimikin and curvaceous Xeno-archeologist Victoria Snow narrowly escape alien vivisection from robotic relics before the tragic, inevitable conclusion…

Snow’s brother Blackie is a fast-talking ne’er-do-well, and when he shows up, old enemy Karth takes the opportunity to try and settle some old scores, leading Flint into a deadly trap on Ceres and a slick saga of genetic manipulation, eugenic supermen and bonanza wealth…

Meanwhile on an interplanetary liner, a new cast member “resurfaces” in the shape of crusty old coot – and Mercurian ore prospector – Fireproof Jones, just in time to help Flint and Sam mine their newfound riches.

As ever, Karth is looking to make trouble for the heroes but he wins some for himself when his young daughter suddenly turns up on the Rock, accompanied by gold-digging Pamela Prim. Suddenly, the murderous raider Black Martian returns to plague the honest pioneers of the Brooklyn frontier…

Glamour model Trish O’Keefe causes a completely different kind of trouble when she lands, looking for her fiancé. Naturally, Tack McTeak isn’t the humble space-doctor he claims to be but is a cerebrally augmented criminal mastermind, and his plans to snatch the biggest prize in space lead to a sequence of stunning thrills and astonishing action.

The scene switches to Earth as the cast visit “civilisation” and find it far from hospitable, so the chance to battle manufactured monsters and the mysterious Dr. Moray on his private tropical island is something of a welcome – if mixed – blessing.

By this time, the writing must have been on the wall, as the strip had been reduced to a half page per week. Even so, the creators clearly decided to go out in style. The sheer bravura spectacle was magnificently ramped up and all the tools of the science fiction trade were utilized to ensure the strip ended with a bang. Moray’s plans are catastrophically realised when the villain employs an anti-gravity bomb to steal Manhattan; turning it into a deadly Sword of Damocles in the sky…

The series abruptly ended when the New York Daily News changed its editorial policy: dropping all comics from its pages. The decision was clearly unexpected, as the saga finished satisfactorily but quite abruptly on Sunday 13th March 1955.

Beyond Mars is a breathtaking lost gem from two master craftsmen that successfully blended the wonders of science and the rollicking thrills of Westerns with broad, light-hearted humour to produce a mind-boggling, eye-popping, exuberantly wholesome family space-opera the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again until Star Wars put the fun back into futuristic fiction.

Thankfully, after years of frustrated agitation by fans, the entire saga has been collected into a this beautiful oversized (244 x 307 mm) hardback edition that no lover of futuristic fun and frolics can afford to be without.
© 2015 Tribune Content Agency LLC. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2015 Bruce Canwell.

Will Eisner’s Hawks of the Seas

By Will Eisner & various
ISBN: 1569714274 (Dark Horse)

ISBN: 0-87816-022-1 (HB) ISBN: 0-87816-023-X (TPB) (Kitchen Sink Press)

It is pretty much accepted today that Will Eisner was one of the prime creative forces that shaped the comicbook industry, but still many of his milestones escape public acclaim in the English-speaking world. This is one long overdue for fresh efforts and digital immortality.

From 1936 to 1938 Eisner worked as a jobbing cartoonist in the comics production firm known as the Eisner-Eiger Shop, creating strips to be published in both domestic US and foreign markets.

Using the pen-name Willis B. Rensie he wrote and drew the saga of the mysterious American adventurer known only as “The Hawk”, who sailed the 18th century Caribbean seas with his piratical band. An intellectual and dreamer, the freebooter had been taken as a slave, and now dedicated his life to destroying the slave trade and punishing injustice.

With a stalwart and scurvy crew of characters at his back, this charismatic blend of Robin Hood, Sir Francis Drake and the Count of Monte Cristo captivated readers all over the world in single-page instalments of swashbuckling thrills delivered via spectacular bravura art and narrative ingenuity: appearing in newspapers and weekly magazines as far apart as England, South America, France, and Australia.

After years as a lost classic, it was gathered into an awesome collected edition (measuring 376 x 270) by Dennis Kitchen, thanks mainly to happenstance and the good graces of another comics legend, Al Williamson. He had been a huge fan of the strip when it ran in Paquin – a weekly strip anthology magazine he’d read growing up in Bogota, Colombia.

Years later, now revered professional artist Williamson acquired an almost complete run of publisher’s proof sheets – in Spanish – which when translated and re-lettered would form the basis of this volume. Fellow well-wishers in France, England and Australia also contributed pages for an almost complete run.

Almost lost again, Hawks of the Seas was re-issued in 2003 by Dark Horse as part of their Will Eisner Library (although at a more modest and bookshelf-friendly size) and stands as a fascinating insight into this creator’s imaginative power, moral and philosophical fascinations and spellbinding ability to tell a great story with magical pictures. It’s also a thumping good tale of pirates and derring-do that will captivate kids of all ages, so let’s some savvy publisher makes the necessary moves soon.

Forget Jack Sparrow: get on the trail of The Hawk…
© 1986 Kitchen Sink Press. 2003 Will Eisner. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Blake and Mortimer: The Yellow “M”

By Edgar P. Jacobs, translated by Clarence E. Holland (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-21-2

Master storyteller Edgar P. Jacobs pitted his distinguished duo of Scientific Adventurers Captain Francis Blake and Professor Philip Mortimer against a wide variety of perils and menaces in stunning action thrillers which merged science fiction, detective mysteries and supernatural thrillers in the same timeless and universally engaging Ligne Claire style which had done so much to make intrepid boy reporter Tintin a global sensation.

The strip debuted in Le Journal de Tintin #1 (26th September 1946): an anthology comic with editions in Belgium, France and Holland. The new anthology was edited by Hergé, with his eponymous star ably supplemented by a host of new heroes and features…

Le Marque Jaune was the third astounding exploit of the peerless pair, originally serialised from August 6th 1953 to November 3rd 1954, before being collected as the sixth drama-drenched album in 1956.

This moody stand-alone extravaganza was the first in the modern Cinebook sequence with the True Brits for once on home soil as they struggle to solve an eerie mystery and capture an apparently superhuman criminal…

The tale begins a few days before Christmas on a night raining cats and dogs. The guards at the Tower of London are dutifully going about their appointed tasks when a sudden power cut douses all the lights.

By the time Beefeaters and Yeomen can find alternative lighting the damage is done. The Jewel Room is ransacked, the Imperial Crown missing and the wall is defaced: emblazoned with a large letter M in a bold circle of yellow chalk.

The shocking travesty is but the latest in an outrageous series of incredible crimes by a mysterious malefactor the newspapers have taken to calling The Yellow M

Incensed and humiliated by the latest outrage, the Home Office assigns MI6 to the case and their top man Blake is seconded to assist Chief Inspector Glenn Kendall of Scotland Yard. So serious is the matter that Blake instantly cables his old comrade Professor Mortimer, dragging the bellicose boffin back from a well-deserved vacation in Scotland.

London is ablaze with rumour and speculation about the super-bandit. The crafty old warhorses adjourn to the Centaur Club in Piccadilly to discuss events, but as they settle in for a chinwag, Mortimer gets a fleeting impression that they are being spied upon…

Suddenly they are interrupted by four fellow members also hotly debating the case. Sir Hugh Calvin is a judge at the Central Criminal Court; Leslie Macomber edits the Daily Mail and Professor Robert Vernay is a prominent figure in the British Medical Association. They are all hotly disputing Dr Jonathan Septimus – of the Psychiatric Institute – who propounds a theory that the phantom felon is a prime example of his pet theory of “The Evil Influence of Cellular Development”…

The enlarged group continues the verbal back-and-forth into the small hours, and when they finally break up Vernay follows his habit of walking home. He does not make it. The police find only his hat and a chalked letter in a circle…

The flamboyant rogue seems to be everywhere. When Blake and Mortimer interview Macomber, Calvin and the terrified Septimus next day, the invisible enigma somehow gets close enough to leave his mark on the MI6 officer’s coat, before sending a mocking cable warning the Mail’s Editor that more and worse is coming…

That night Macomber is abducted from his office in plain view of his staff and Kendall is found in a dazed state after failing to protect Judge Calvin from a mystery intruder…

Septimus concludes that he is next and convinces Blake to get him out of London. The pair board a train for Suffolk with a complement of detectives, but even these precautions are not enough. The psychiatrist is impossibly plucked from the Express before it is wrecked in a horrific collision with another train.

In London, cerebral Mortimer has been researching another angle with the assistance of Daily Mail archivist Mr. Stone. The veteran investigator has found a decades-old link between the missing men…

It all revolves around a controversial medical text entitled “The Mega Wave” and a scandalous court case, but when the Professor tries to secure a copy of the incredibly rare volume from the British Museum Library, he is confounded by the Yellow M who invisibly purloins the last known copy in existence…

That evening Mortimer shares his thoughts with the returned Blake, unaware that his house has been bugged. Hours later, a mysterious cloaked intruder breaks in but has a fit after passing some of Mortimer’s Egyptian souvenirs. The noise arouses the household and the masked burglar is confronted by Blake, Mortimer and burly manservant Nasir. Incredibly, the villain defeats them all with incredible strength and electrical shocks, even shrugging off bullets when they shoot him…

Exploding through a second story window, the M laughs maniacally as they continue futilely firing before running off into the London night. In their shock the adventurers return to the drawing room and trip over the intruder’s listening devices…

Later, the recovered Kendall visits just as a package arrives. It contains an anonymous note from someone wishing to share information and directs Blake to a late-night rendezvous at Limehouse Dock. The message also contains a desperate note from the missing Septimus begging Blake to comply…

Well aware that it’s a trap and over Mortimer’s strenuous protests, Blake and Kendall lay plans to turn the meeting to their advantage. Left at home, the Professor is surprised by a late visit from Stone. The remarkably efficient researcher has found a copy of The Mega Wave and rushed over to show Mortimer.

As Blake manfully braves the foggy waterfront and walks into deadly danger, Mortimer is reading the tome, deducing who is behind the plot and perhaps even how the malign miracles are pulled off…

In Limehouse, the empty commercial buildings become a spectacular battleground as Blake and the police confront the masked man. The villain easily holds them all at bay with incredible feats of speed and strength, before breaking out of the supposedly impenetrable blue cordon and escaping.

However, in his destructive flight he tumbles into the frantic Mortimer who is dashing to warn his old friend. Changing tack, the boffin gives chase, doggedly following the superhuman enigma through parks and sewers. Eventually the pursuit leads underground and he finds himself in a hidden basement laboratory being assaulted by mind-control devices devised by the sinister mastermind actually behind the entire campaign of vengeance and terror…

As the smirking villain gives an exultant speech of explanation, triumph and justification, Mortimer sees the fate of the abducted men and meets the human guinea pig who has been terrorising London at the behest of a madman. It is the very last person he ever expected to see again, but even as he reels in shock, Blake and Kendall are on his trail, thanks to the efforts of an avaricious cabbie with a good memory for faces…

As Christmas Day dawns, Blake and Kendall lead a raid on the hidden citadel to rescue Mortimer, but the wily savant has already taken dramatic steps to secure his own release and defeat his insane, implacable opponent…

Fast-paced, action-packed, wry and magnificently eerie, this fabulously retro weird science thriller is an intoxicating moody mystery and a sheer delight for lovers of fantastic fiction. Blake & Mortimer are the graphic personification of the Bulldog Spirit and worthy successors to the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Professor Challenger, Richard Hannay and all the other valiant stalwarts of lost Albion: All valiant champions with direct connections to and allegiance beyond shallow national boundaries…

In 1986 this story was reformatted and repackaged in a super-sized English translation, the last of six volumes with additional material (mostly covers from the weekly Tintin added to the story as eye-catching splash pages): part of a European push to win some of the lucrative Tintin and Asterix market here. They failed to find an audience and there were no more translations until January 2007 when Cinebook released this tome to far greater approval and much success. We’re now at 25 translated volumes and counting…

Gripping and fantastic in the truest tradition of pulp sci-fi and Boy’s Own Adventures, Blake and Mortimer are the very epitome of dogged heroic determination; always delivering grand, old-fashioned Blood-&-Thunder thrills and spills in timeless fashion and with astonishing visual punch. Any kid able to suspend modern mores and cultural disbelief (call it alternate earth history or bakelite-punk if you want) will experience the adventure of their lives… and so will their children.

This Cinebook edition – available in paperback album and digital formats – also includes a selection of colour cover sketches and roughs, plus a biographical feature and chronological publication chart of Jacobs’ and his successors’ efforts.
Original editions © Editions Blake & Mortimer/Studio Jacobs (Dargaud-Lombard s.a.) 1987 by E.P. Jacobs. All rights reserved. English translation © 2007 Cinebook Ltd.