School for Extraterrestrial Girls volume 1: Girl on Fire


By Jeremy Whitley & Jamie Noguchi (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-492-6 (HB) 978-1-54580-493-3 (TPB)

Once upon a time, stories designed to enthral and entertain young girls were a prolific staple of comics output. By the end of the 20th century the sector had all but faded from the English-speaking world, but enjoyed a splendid resurgence – particularly in America – as the graphic novel market expanded to its current prominence.

Based in New York, Papercutz are committed to publishing comics material for younger readers – especially girls – and combine licensed properties such as The Smurfs, Gumby and Nancy Drew with intriguing European imports like Brina the Cat and compelling new concepts such as The Wendy Project. This supremely enticing premier volume from Jeremy Whitley (The Unstoppable Wasp, Princeless) & Jamie Noguchi (Erfworld) is home grown, but magnificently captures a few contemporary zeitgeists that seem certain to generate huge interest and probably a TV series…

Tara Smith is 15-years old, smart, diligent and extremely hard-working. She obeys her rather strict, cold parents and strives at all times to be good and succeed in all her endeavours. In her most private moments, she stares at the stars and feels that one day she will be extraordinary, especially if she manages to fulfil her longed-for destiny…

She is admittedly a bit odd. Her life is totally regulated and Tara takes special medicine every day. She also wears an electronic medical alarm bracelet 24/7 as well as an heirloom necklace. She never, ever takes them off…

However, even though her life is one of unremitting routine, one day the alarm clock doesn’t go off and Tara will never be the same again…

As a result of the timing malfunction and rushing for the school bus, Tara forgets to take her pills. It’s a day for disasters. She trips, breaks her bracelet and, even after frantically making it to school on time, feels weird all day. After terrorising her classmates and making an exhibition of herself, Tara ends the day by catching on fire, rushing through the school like a human torch and passing out in the showers…

When she awakens, she’s in a freezer with her bracelet missing and confronted by the formidable presence of female MIB Agent Stone. When she makes Tara remove the necklace the terrified girl instantly transforms into a reptilian being and catches fire again. Suspicions confirmed, Stone swiftly explains some unsavoury facts of life to her shellshocked captive…

Before long Tara is despatched to a very special top-secret school built to house and safeguard girls just like her: young alien refugees abandoned or trapped on Earth and educated under the directives of numerous clandestine treaties, all unsuspected by the greater mass of humanity which still believes itself to be the only life in the universe…

Thus begins a thrilling epic as Tara gradually assimilates into her new school (Blacksite 513 AKA The School for Extraterrestrial Girls), making friends, enemies and many, many mistakes as she slowly uncovers the secrets of her hidden past and an awful truth regarding her own existence on Earth…

And as if just surviving being the new girl isn’t hard enough, as she continues hiding in human form and denying her true saurian self, events spiral out of control when Tara’s “parents” stage a deadly raid to reclaim their “property”. That’s when the confused reptilian finally learns who her real friends are…

Moreover, in the aftermath Stone decides the campus has been fatally compromised and that for security she must move students and faculty into a facility already occupied by Extraterrestrial boys…

To Be Continued…

Championing diversity and tolerance, whilst subtly addressing issues of gender, puberty and peer acceptance, this rollicking action romp successfully blends and updates the traditional girls boarding school/extraordinary chums model that was the backbone of British girls comics for decades and now seems set to shape the lives of another generation of youngsters looking for understanding and a few appropriate role models.

Irresistible fun no one should miss and available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is drama and thrills in perfect balance to delight any young adult or wistfully nostalgic parent or guardian.
© 2020 Jeremy Whitley and Jamie Noguchi. All other editorial material © Papercutz.

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina volume 1


By Jougi Shirashi illustrated by Itsuki Nanoa: character design by Azure: translated by Taylor Engel (SQUARE ENIX)
ISBN: 978-1-64609-035-8 (TPB)

Written by Jougi Shiraishi, Majo no Tabitabi began in 2014 as an original eBook on Amazon’s Kindle service. Initially the book struggled, but diligent politicking on message and bulletin boards built a solid fanbase and the series was picked up in 2016 by SB Creative for their ranobe (Light Novel) division. With illustrations and designs by Azure the stories of the Wandering Witch took off – with ten volumes thus far – and ultimately led to an online manga adaptation by Itsuki Nanao. That launched in November 2018 as a smartphone app and on Square Enix’s Manga UP! website. April 2019 saw the release of a paperback tankōbon collection in Japan which now comes to the English-speaking world in anticipation of a TV series slated to launch in October 2020.

Firmly entrenched in the whimsical, joyous and exceedingly popular arena of benevolent magic-users operating in comfy medieval other-verses, these are engaging episodes starring a capable young woman just getting to grips with her mystic gifts. Moreover, Elaina is a lass who loves to travel, meaning she can help folk of many interesting places…

Her peregrinations begin when she arrives in ‘The Land of Magicians’: a walled city filled with mages and sorcerers…

Elaina fondly recalls how her love of books – especially the saga of travelling witch Nique – set her own childhood ambitions firmly on following her idol’s path. Now a freshly-graduated full sorceress dubbed the Ashen Witch, her progress is stalled after an apparently accidental crash involving neophyte student Saya. Somehow, in that fateful collision, Elaina loses her potent Brooch of Office and cannot move on without recovering it. As she seeks, however, the Ashen Witch discovers that all is not as it seems…

A tone of menace and thwarted romance permeates ‘The Land of Flowers’ as Elaina encounters an eerie field of blossoms and unwisely agrees to deliver a bunch of blooms for the young maiden reclining there. Strangely, it doesn’t matter who accepts the bouquet, only that someone from the nearby city does. Even more peculiar is that no one will and that flowers have been ruled illegal in the conurbation. Ever-inquisitive, Elaina soon learns of a fantastic situation and is embroiled in a fantastic tragedy before moving on…

Smart and self-sufficient, the Ashen Witch arrives in a nondescript kingdom and faces an unprecedented crisis as ‘Raising Funds’ find her trapped in a land where runaway inflation ripples the populace and drains her of her own living capital. Struggling to meet basic expenses, she soon uncovers an incredible plot against the new king and must take dramatic action to help him and escape with her travelling cash intact…

The dramas conclude with an origin tale as she recalls her time as ‘Apprentice Witch Elaina’: a talented but naive acolyte striving to please her ferociously eccentric mentor Fran the Stardust Witch. It was quite some time before the student divined the method behind her tutor’s apparent madness…

Rounding out this jolly grimoire are brief prose vignette ‘What Would You Take to a Desert Island?’, taken from Elaina’s student days with Fran, plus a selection of short strips concerning ‘The Tale of the Muscle Man Who’s Looking for his Little Sister On the Road’, ending the fun on a suitably bizarre note…

Engaging and wry, this superbly illustrated slice of fanciful fluff will delight lovers of the genre and offers plenty of potential for developing into a true all-ages fan phenomenon. Why not check it out, if you’re looking for something light and frothy to balance life’s darker realities…
Wandering Witch volume 1 © Jougi Shiraishi/SB Creative Corp. Character Design by Azure. © 2019 Itsuki Nanao/ SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. All rights reserved.

Bluebeard – A Feminist Fairy Tale


By Metaphrog (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-5458-0412-4 (HB)

The power of fairy tales lies in their ability to reach every generation and impart timeless truths, usually at an age when we’re just starting to grasp how big and wide and scary the world is…

Franco-Scots couple Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers began crafting amazing and beguiling comics in 1995 with their superb series Strange Weather Lately. Garnering much praise and many awards, the Glasgow-based duo continued elevating the status and quality of the medium through their graphic novel series starring Louis and via creative collaborations both within and outside the industry as well as through lectures around the world.

In 2015 they began updating classic fairy tales. Papercutz published The Red Shoes and Other Tales and followed up in 2017 with The Little Mermaid. Now their latest effort takes a jaundiced modern look at one of fiction’s earliest misogynist serial killers in Bluebeard – A Feminist Fairy Tale

Written by Chalmers and painted by Marrs in eerily enchanting, luxuriously vivid hues, the story is told from the point of view of young Eve, in the summer she turns eighteen. A child of a large but poor family, she lives in a bucolic hamlet dominated by a large castle on a high peak. This is the home of wealthy mystery man Bluebeard – a gentleman of frightful repute who engenders many unpleasant stories among the village gossips…

Eve has loved Tom for as long as she’s known him. They played in the dangerous woods and even saved and reared a fallen dove chick together. When her grandmother died, only Tom and older sister Anne could comfort her, even though her parents and brothers did their best…

The village was never really enough to support the population and hunger was common, but nothing like the time when constant rains destroyed both crops and wild foods. That’s when a liveried servant arrived with an invitation. The entire family was to enjoy the benefits of Bluebeard’s castle for a week.

It was glorious, but over far too soon, and while they were enjoying the lavish hospitality father endured a discrete and unwelcome conference with the lord and was given a stark choice. In return for supplies to sustain them all, the Count required the hand in marriage of one of his daughters. Either Eve or Anne, it mattered not to him…

A quirk of chance and the denial of choice ends Eve’s dreams of life with Tom, but she fulfils her familial duty. However, her new husband is everything his reputation portends and her fate seems grim and certain, until she defies his commands and begins to chart her own course…

Charming and chilling by turns, this modern interpretation – available in hardback and digital editions – celebrates the classic tale whilst offering a more assertive competent role for the leading ladies and will delight reads of all ages who need to know that change is possible and control is worth the effort.
© 2020 Metaphrog.

Fires Above Hyperion


By Patrick Atangan (NBM/Comics-Lit)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-986-1 (TPB)

Bad times for human beings, these days. With people dying in incalculable numbers and denied the simple solace of friendly or familial contact at the end, with most of the world’s leaders fumbling the ball as the planet dies from commercial abuse and exploitation and with haters and bigots proudly – and without a trace of shame – spreading their bile again, it seems odd to moan about comparatively minor issues.

Nevertheless, I’m adding another sin to the menu. Perhaps the cruellest and most pitiful of the minor horrors besieging us at the moment is the simple absence of a chance to congregate with friends and assert the right to live life your own way (hypocritically, that’s a right I’d happily deny every racist, fascist and homophobe in existence, but hey, I’m “complicated”)…

After millennia of struggle, a large proportion of mankind eventually decided it was okay for men to love men, women to love women and in fact every variety of person to enjoy the company of any other person or persons as long as it was consenting.

I know it’s hard for some to let go of hate and fear, but we’d made a good honest start. Over time people even convened in vast, colourful bustling parades and parties: a rowdy affirmation of a struggle that was generally being won.

That’s not happening this year, but LGBTQ+ folk are resilient and have adapted. Go join an online or distanced event if you can. And then there’s books and comics. The fraternity is superbly proficient at using art and narrative and the Queer comics genre is vast, expansive and astoundingly worthwhile and entertaining. Here’s one of my favourites, still available in paperback and many digital formats that you really should see…

It’s long been an aphorism – if not outright cliché – that LGBTQ+ comics are the only place in the graphic narrative game where real romance still thrives. As far as I can see though it’s true; an artefact, I suppose, of a society which seems determined to demarcate and separate sex and love as two utterly different – and even opposite – things.

I’d prefer to think that in the 21st century – at least the more civilised bits which actually acknowledge and welcome that times have changed – we’ve outgrown those juvenile, judgemental, religion-blighted bad old days and can simply appreciate powerful, moving, wistful, sad and/or funny comics about ordinary people without any kind of preconception. That battle’s still not completely won yet, but hopefully thoughtful, inspirational memoirs such as this will aid the transition…

Californian Patrick Atangan (Songs of Our Ancestors, Invincible Days) is a multi-talented Filipino-American creator with many strings to his creative bow: as deft and subtle in his computer-generated comic tales and retellings of Asian myths as with the tools he uses to craft high-end designer furniture.

Here, to his printed canon for youngsters, he’s added a wry, charming yet deeply moving collection of short intimate musings and recollections on his “romantic gaffes and failures” and the results are enough to make the toughest cookie crumble…

Pitched as if “Sex and the City had been created by a gay Charlie Brown” these utterly compelling, seditiously humorous slices of a life lived a little too much inside one’s own head kick off with chronological logic as the still-closeted Patrick attends his ‘Junior Prom’. The problem is that he is escort to obsessive beard Mildred, whose attention to detail and determination to make the event “absolutely perfect” cannot help but fail. At least the string of disasters the fervent Promzilla endures takes the spotlight off his own failings, petty jealousies and perceived inadequacies…

‘Secrets’ skips ahead to the emotional liberation of college as our introvert resolves to reinvent himself and begins an ongoing process of Outing which gradually encompasses friends, family and everybody new in his life. Sadly, that in turn leads to a sort-of romance with Calvin who never really comes to terms with his own sexual identity…

On leaving academe, another character-building debacle involves ‘Gary’; someone our author judged far too lovely for a dweeb like himself – and therefore something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – before eponymous vignette ‘The Fires Above Hyperion’ turns the screws even tighter.

The tale finds Patrick coolly contemplating the now-annual forest fires threatening Los Angeles whilst foolishly attempting to rekindle or reinvent the three-year relationship he has just ended with Roger

Eschewing his usual ‘New Year’s Eve’ ritual, the narrator attends a big party and suffers inebriation, gastric trauma and the humiliation of mistakenly putting the moves on a chain-smoking straight guy before ‘APE Shit’ reveals the sorry fallout of a trip to San Francisco to attend his first Alternative Press Expo in a decade: a concatenation of domestic disasters comprising old friends with new children, commuter congestion and a total change in the way Indy comics are sold.

At least he connects with gorgeous, seemingly ideal Bryan – before Fate and Patrick’s own conscience play a few pranks to spoil what might have been a perfect moment…

More notionally self-inflicted trauma comes out of ignoring the custom of a lifetime and attending a wedding as a ‘Plus One’. Naturally he didn’t mind his “date” Julia going off with a guy, but when Patrick zeroes in on wonderful, apparently available Peter, events and the author’s own treacherous tuxedo conspire to make the soiree memorable for all the wrong reasons…

A heartbreakingly harsh assessment of Patrick’s failings then lead to the awful conclusion that he is ‘Nobody’s Type’before the excoriating romantic recriminations end with another ill-fated, self-sabotaged first date that founders because of too much introspection and an accumulation of ‘Baggage’

Insightful, penetrating, invitingly self-deprecating, guardedly hopeful and never afraid to be mistaken for morose when occasion demands, this collection of misjudged trysts and missed chances offers a charming glimpse at the eternally hopeful way most folks of every persuasion live their love-lives and the result is magical and unforgettable.

This is a must-have item for anyone graced with heart and soul…
© 2015 Patrick Atangan.

Alone volume 2: The Master of Knives


By Gazzotti & Vehlmann, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-206-5 (PB Album)

Fabien Vehlmann was only born in 1972, yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. He entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, studying business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, Vehlmann caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on, his triumphs grew to include – many amongst others – Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and a stint on major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Bruno Gazzotti is Belgian, born in 1970 and a former student of Institut Saint Luc in Liège. Another artist addicted to comics from his earliest years, he started getting paid to draw them in 1988, after being hired by Spirou editor Patrick Pinchart on the strength of his portfolio alone. Before long he was illustrating Le Petit Spirou with Tome & Janry.

In 1989, he and Tome created New York Cop Soda, which kept Gazzotti busy until 2005, when he resigned to co-create award-winning feature Seuls

Originally released in January 2006, Seuls – La disparition began a superb example of how to craft a thriller suitable for kids: evoking the eerie atmosphere of TV series Lost and the most disturbing elements of Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In a post-virus, Lockdown-besieged world, it also has eerie echoes of how humans deal with enforced isolation…

Debut volume The Vanishing showed us how an ordinary bustling town, with simple folk going about their business overnight became an empty mausoleum, with a small cross-section of kids left behind to survive or die.

The scant remainers comprise Ivan, an imaginative child of wealth who wants for nothing but never saw his dad and Leila, a born engineer, inventor and tinkerer. Her poor but honest dad always found time to play and critique her latest gadget…

Studious Camille was over-focussed on exams and achievement whilst Terry is pretty much still a baby: refusing to obey orders and throwing tantrums if he doesn’t get his way.

Typically, even in an ideal environment, not all children lived comfortable lives. Dodzi was in the protective services system. His early life made him tough and resilient but couldn’t stop the other young inmates handing him a beating on this ominous, odd-feeling night before everything changed…

When it happened, the kids wandered a terrifyingly quiet and forbidding city until finding each other. All the adults were gone, and all their child pals. The internet was down, with only static from TVs and radios. Above, fearsome storm clouds hung low and ominous. As they went wild with freedom and panicked from anxiety, eventually Dodzi brutally enforced calm and lead them away to find a succession of temporary – albeit palatial – refuges to regroup and think… After an uncanny series of encounters with escaped circus animals, the little band settle in the towering Majestic Hotel and Master of Knives (originally released as Seuls: Le Maître des couteaux) opens with Dodzi scouting the empty metropolis and helping Leila consolidate supplies for a long stay in the lap of luxury. His nervousness remains high as there are still close calls with the liberated beasts in the streets, but the younger kids seem to have adapted well. It certainly helps that they are hoarding every toy and treat they can find in abandoned shops and houses…

Ivan has a plan to occupy him too: systematically calling every phone number in the phone book. No luck yet, though…

Things start to go south swiftly after he finds his father’s pistol and tempts Leila into a spot of target practice on the roof. As Dodzi furiously confiscates the lethal toy, he has no idea that he has become the chosen prey of a mysterious stalker. As the cloaked pursuer slowly enacts a chilling campaign of terror, the stressed leader agonisingly discovers he is not the only obsession of the terrifying, nebulous figure clad in cloaks and draped in blades and daggers…

As the other kids obliviously fritter away the day, Dodzi is remorselessly hunted over the rooftops by the manic killer. When he briefly eludes the hunter, the Master simply doubles back to menace the children in the hotel. A shocking confrontation then ensues, which sees the tables turned but only at the cost of Dodzi’s closely withheld secrets being exposed to all…

In the painful aftermath, the days of innocence are discarded and the little orphan family prepare to hit the open road to find out if other cities have been emptied too…

To Be Continued…

This spooky, powerful and often shocking tale of mystery and imagination sees bereft children facing increasingly daunting physical hazards and an escalating series of events which can have no logical or rational explanation, and the tension simply amplifies with every instalment. Alone became one of the biggest critical and commercial comics hits of the decade and if you love eerie enigmas and powerful tale-telling, you’ll buy this and successive releases to see why…
© Dupuis 2007 by Gazzotti & Vehlmann. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-698-3 (HB)

I’m feeling the urge to big up the transformative and informational aspect of comics, so expect a few educational reviews – the books, not my blather about them – over the forthcoming days. Here’s an old favourite to start you off…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training is the comic strip.

For well more than a century, advertising mavens have exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply – unless you’re a graph designer for the British government.

Since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. The magnificent Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with his webcomic Raw Materials and such seasoned tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced the occasional tract myself. The medium has also been used to sublimely and elegantly tackle the greatest and most all-consuming preoccupation and creation of the mind of Man…

In 1972, Margreet de Heer was born into a family of theologians and despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life – fascinatingly covered in the ‘Know My Self’ section of this fabulous graphic primer – studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999, she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there – and before becoming a full-time professional in 2005 – she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics. In 2007, with commissions in publications as broad and varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next, she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw. These prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was first released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM two years later as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

This gloriously accessible tome – available in hardback and digital editions – is crafted by a gifted writer with a master’s grasp of her subject, and opens with the core concept ‘What is Thinking?’, examining the processes of mind through a number of elegantly crafted examples before moving onto ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’

Those paradigms of ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Logical Thinking’, ‘Language’, ‘Symbols’, ‘Abstract Thinking’ and ‘Humor’ are captivatingly and comprehensively covered before the history and cognitive high points of civilisation are disclosed with ‘The Foundation of Western Philosophy’.

This potted history of ‘Dualism’ relates the life stories, conceptual legacies and achievements of ‘Socrates’ and the ‘Socratic Discourse’; his star pupil ‘Plato’ and the universal man ‘Aristotle’: all winningly counterpointed by a balancing sidebar autobiography in ‘Know My Self’ plus some cogent observations and a few comparisons with the Eastern philosophy of ‘Unity’

‘Medieval Philosophy’ then deals with the influence of the Christian Church on ‘Augustine’ and ‘Thomas Aquinas’; the “Great Thinkers” of early Europe by examining the warring concepts of ‘Free Will’ and ‘Predestination’ and explores the lives of ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Humanism’; ‘Descartes’ and his maxim ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ and ‘Spinoza’, whose consummate faith-based dictum was ‘Know Thyself’

The charming, beguiling foundation course continues with ‘What is Reality?’ bringing us up to the modern age with ‘And Now’ comprising another brilliantly clever diversion as de Heer includes the ‘Personal Philosophies’ of families and friends.

Her husband – and this book’s colourist – Yiri bases his outlook on the incredible life of outrageous comedian ‘George Carlin’; her aged friend Gerrit looks to ‘Nietzsche’, mother-in-law Yolanda modelled herself on Cambridge lecturer and intellectual ‘George Steiner’ whilst De Heer’s little brother Maarten prefers to shop around, picking up what he needs from thinkers as varied as ‘Aldous Huxley’ to cartoonist ‘Marten Toonder’. The author bravely puts her money where her mouth is and reveals her own thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything before asking again ‘What Do You Think?’

This is a truly sharp and witty book – the first of a trilogy also examining Religion and Science – which adroitly reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly enthralling experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy, comics fans or not.
© @2010 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2012 Margreet de Heer & Yiri T. Kohl.

An Age of Reptiles Omnibus volume 1


By Ricardo Delgado with colours by James Sinclair & Jim Campbell (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-59582-683-1 (TPB)

As we’re confronted with the prospect of our own extinction-level event – yes, that’s hyperbole, but tell that to the scared millions who can’t actually envisage a world without themselves in it – let’s enjoy ourselves whenever and however we can. For me that’s comics, so let’s look at a classic paperback tome now available in digital editions…

There’s an irresistible, nigh-visceral appeal to dinosaurs. Most of us variously – and too often haphazardly – over-evolved apes seem to be irresistibly drawn to all forms of education and entertainment featuring monster lizards of our primordial past.

Designed as a purely visual experience, this hypnotically beguiling series of sequences from Ricardo Delgado still represents one of the most honestly enchanting brushes with prehistory ever imagined. Age of Reptiles opens a window onto distant eons of saurian dominance and – completely devoid of sound or text – provides a profound, pantomimic silent movie that focuses on a number of everyday experiences which simply have to be exactly how it was, way back then…

Crafted by one of the most respected concept and storyboard men in Hollywood (with credits for Men in Black, The Incredibles, WALL-E, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Matrix and much more) these dino-dramas and sauro-sagas offer – even in comics – a unique reading experience that must be seen to be believed, which is why I’m forgoing my usual laborious forensic descriptive blather in favour of a more general appreciation…

The tales originally appeared as a sequence of miniseries between 1993 and 2010 before being subsequently collected as individual compilations. In 2011 this titanic tome, part of Dark Horse’s excellent and economical Omnibus line, gathered the material into one handy Brachiosaur-sized book to treasure forever.

Following the expansive praise of Animator, Director and Producer Genndy Tartarkovsky in his Foreword, the original introductions to initial outing ‘Tribal Warfare’ (from Ray Harryhausen, Burne Hogarth and John Landis) precede a fantastic extended clash between a pack – or perhaps more properly clan – of Deinonychus and a particularly irate opportunistic and undeterrable Tyrannosaur.

The savage struggle, literally red in tooth and claw, takes both sides to the very edge of extinction…

As in all these tales, the astoundingly rendered and realised scenery and environment are as much leading characters in the drama as any meat and muscle protagonists. Moreover, all the other opportunistic scavengers and hangers-on that prowl the peripheries of the war, are ever-eager to take momentary advantage of what seems more a mutual quest for vengeance than a simple battle for survival…

That theme is further explored in ‘The Hunt’ (with then-Disney chief Thomas Schumacher offering his observations in the attendant introduction) wherein the eat-or-be-eaten travails of a mother Allosaurus end only after she dies defending her baby. The culprits are a determined and scarily-organised pack of Ceratosaurs who latterly expend a lot of energy trying to consume the carnosaur’s kid amidst scenes of staggering geographical beauty and terrifying magnificence.

Their failure leads to the beast’s eventual return and a bloody evening of the score. Think of it as Bambi with really big teeth and no hankies required…

The theme of unrelenting and ruthless species rivalry and competition is downplayed or at least diverted for the final episode. ‘The Journey’, with introduction and appreciation by educator and illustrator Ann Field, concentrates on an epic migration across the barren surface of the world as millions of assorted saurians undertake a prodigious and arduous trek to more welcoming feeding and spawning grounds. Because that’s how life works, they are dogged every step of the way by flying, swimming and remorselessly running creatures looking for their next tasty meal…

Supplementing the feral beauty of these astonishing adventures is a full Cover Gallery from the assorted original miniseries and earlier book compilations; Delgado’s fulsome and effulgent Essays on his influences (‘Ray Harryhausen and the Seventh Voyage to the Drive-In’, ‘Desi Arnaz and the Eighth Wonder of the World’, ‘Real Dinosaurs: the Art of Charles R. Knight’ and ‘Zen and Zdeněk Burian’) plus a fabulous, copious and – if you think you’re an artist – envy-invoking Sketchbook section, with everything from quick motion studies to full colour preliminary pieces for the final artwork..

Although occasionally resorting to a judicious amount of creative anachronism and historical overlap, Delgado has an unquestioned love for his subject, a sublime feel for spectacle and an unmatchable gift for pace and narrative progression. Coupled to the deft hand which imbues the vast range and cast of big lizards with instantly recognisable individual looks and characters, this always ensures that the reader knows exactly who is doing what. There’s even room for some unexpectedly but most welcome rough-love humour in these brilliantly simple forthright, primal dramas…
© 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2009, 2010, 2011 Ricardo Delgado. All rights reserved.

Thorgal volume 5: The Land of Qa/The Eyes of Tanatloc


By Rosiński & Van Hamme, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-80-9 (Album PB)

One of the very best and most celebrated fantasy adventure series ever created, Thorgal deftly accomplishes the seemingly impossible: pleasing critics and selling in vast quantities.

The prototypical Game of Thrones saga debuted in iconic weekly Le Journal de Tintin in 1977 with album compilations beginning three years later. The far-reaching, expansive generational saga has won a monolithic international following in numerous languages and dozens of countries, generating a flotilla of spin-off series, and thus naturally has found a strong presence in the field of global gaming.

In story-terms, Thorgal offers the best of all weird worlds, with an ostensibly historical setting of bold Viking adventure seamlessly incorporating science fiction elements, magic, horrendous beasts, social satire, political intrigue, soap opera, Atlantean legends and mythically mystical literary standbys such as gods, monsters and devils.

Created by Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme (Domino, XIII, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer) and Polish illustrator Grzegorz Rosiński (Kapitan Żbik, Pilot Śmigłowca, Hans, The Revenge of Count Skarbek), the feature grew unstoppably over decades. The creative duo co-completed 29 albums between 1980 and 2006 when Van Hamme moved on. Scripting duties fell to Yves Sente who collaborated on a further five collections until 2013.

In 2016, Xavier Dorison wrote one and in 2018 Yann (Yannick Le Pennetier) another, after which the latter remained as scripter whilst Rosiński took a break with Fred Vigaux illustrating 2019’s L’Ermite de Skellingar: the 37th tome in the sequence…

By the time Van Hamme departed, the canon had grown to cover not only the life of the titular hero and his psionically-gifted son Jolan, but also other indomitable family and cast members through a number of spin-offs (Kriss de Valnor, Louve, La Jeunesse de Thorgal), gathered under the umbrella title Les Mondes de Thorgal – with each eventually winning their own series of solo albums.

In 1985, American publisher Donning released a brief but superb series of oversized hardcover book translations but Thorgal never really found an English-speaking audience until Cinebook began its own iteration in 2007.

What Has Gone Before: As a baby Thorgal was recovered from a ferocious storm at sea and raised by Northern Viking chief Leif Haraldson. Nobody could possibly know the fortunate foundling had survived an interstellar incident which destroyed a starship full of super-scientific aliens…

Growing to manhood, the strange boy was eventually forced out of his adopted land by ambitious Gandalf the Mad who feared the young warrior threatened his own claim to the throne. For his entire childhood, Thorgal had been inseparable from Gandalf’s daughter Aaricia and, as soon as they were able, they fled together from the poisonous atmosphere to live free from her father’s lethal jealousy and obsessive terror of losing his throne…

Danger was always close but after many appalling hardships, the lovers and their new son finally found a measure of cautious tranquillity by occupying a small island where they could thrive in safety…

The original series wanders back and forth through the hero’s life and Cinebook’s fifth double-album edition (comprising 10th epic Le pays Qâ and sequel saga #11 Les Yeux de Tanatloc from 1986, and available in both paperback and digital formats) reveals how Thorgal Aegirsson’s dreams of a life of splendid and secure isolation are forever ended by an old enemy…

The Land of Qa opens in the deepest winter as Thorgal and Aaricia’s island home is invaded by a band of mercenaries. The warrior and his wife are hosting new friends Argun Tree Foot and his tempestuous nephew Tjall the Fiery but the idyllic holiday ends in rage and humiliation as vicious pirates abduct the aged armourer and Jolan.

Before the enraged father can head after them, he is intercepted by a former acquaintance: ruthless thief Kriss of Valinor. She has taken a profitable commission and ensured Thorgal’s assistance despite their past animosities and potential objections. Gloatingly enjoying the upper hand, Kriss even acquiesces when Aaricia forcefully insists on coming with them…

The situation escalates into madness when Kriss’ allies/clients arrive, sailing a boat through the winter skies, held aloft by a series of vast balloons. Jolan and Tree Foot are already far out at sea, in a more conventional vessel, but their ultimate destination is anything but familiar…

Aboard the sky-ship, Thorgal and his companions, having been rendered unconscious by alien technology, are given a subliminal history lesson by a high priest of the distant Land of Qa – a region resembling pre-Columbian Central America. Since his own memories of his alien origins have been suppressed, the astounding tale of two warring men of godlike power who elevated savage primitives into warriors able to subjugate a continent means nothing to Thorgal…

He has no conception that he is the son of one of those pale deities and grandson of the other. All he knows is that he must steal the magic mask of one of them for the other, and his despised partner-in-crime Kriss cannot be trusted…

The mission seems doomed from the start. As Jolan and Tree Foot are unceremoniously marooned in a strange, arid land by their captors, far away and high above them the sky-ship is ambushed by enemy vessels. The horrific skirmish leaves Thorgal, Aaricia, Tjall and Kriss stranded in wild jungles miles from their target-destination: the imperial city of Mayaxatl and the almighty Ogatai who is their destined victim…

Compounding the crisis, Jolan and Tree Foot have also discovered a lost city. Xinjin is the capital of Ogatai’s puissant alien enemy, and holds secrets that somehow trigger strangely familial intuitions in Thorgal’s psychically precocious son…

And in the lush jungles, the father too experiences unwelcome premonitions and vague memories of people he has never met…
The saga continues – but does not conclude – in The Eyes of Tanatloc as the distanced and separated family works to reunite, driven by unknown and inexpressible forces. After endlessly battling horrific beasts, enduring and defeating deadly swamps and the perils of their own motivations, Thorgal’s party finally escapes the green hell and begins their assault on Mayaxatl. It has left them all exhausted and changed…

All the while, in Xinjin, dying Tanatloc has been subtly training little Jolan, trying to explain to his wary descendent the nature of the powers they share and their unearthly origins. The tutelage is sadly wasted, as high priest Variay subverts and derails his God’s efforts for his own reasons and with the intention of installing the boy as the new god-king of Xinjin…

To be Concluded…

A rousing generational fantasy epic, Thorgal is every fantasy fan’s ideal dream of unending adventure: by turns ingenious, expansive, fierce, funny, phenomenally gripping and incredibly complex. this cunningly crafted, astonishingly addictive tale offers a keen insight into the character of a true, if exceedingly reluctant, hero and the waves he makes in a fabulous forgotten world. What fanatical fantasy aficionado could possibly resist such barbaric blandishments?
Original editions © Rosiński & Van Hamme 1986, Les Editions du Lombard (Dargaud-Lombard SA). English translation © 2009 Cinebook Ltd.

Black Widow: Web of Intrigue


By Ralph Macchio, George Pérez, Gerry Conway, Paul Gulacy, George Freeman & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-78514-474-8 (HB) 978-1-3029-0026-7 (TPB)

The Black Widow started life as a svelte and sultry honey-trap Soviet Russian agent during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days. As superhero fever mounted, Natasha Romanoff was subsequently redesigned as a supervillain, fell for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – and finally defected; becoming an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder leader of superteam The Champions and occasional commander in chief of The Avengers.

Throughout her career she has been considered efficient, competent, deadly dangerous and somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that she had undergone experimental procedures which had enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological processes which had messed up her mind and memories…

Always considered a minor fan favourite, the Widow only really hit the big time after appearing in the Iron Man and Captain America movies, but for us unregenerate comics-addicts her print escapades have always offered a cool, sinister frisson of delight.

This particular caper compilation originally surfaced in 2010 but was revived for the post-Avengers movie crowd, compiling an extended adventure from Marvel Fanfare #10-13 (August 1983-March 1984), a landmark mission from Bizarre Adventures #25 (March 1981) and 1990’s Marvel Graphic Novel – The Coldest War.

Leading off the espionage entertainment is Ralph Macchio’s introduction ‘For Your Eyes Only’, extolling the virtues of the genre and reminiscing about his time as Natasha’s scribe scripter, and an Al Milgrom pin-up before the action and intrigue kick off with a convoluted yarn by Macchio and George Pérez, with inkers Brett Breeding, Jack Abel, Joe Sinnott, Milgrom & John Beatty as ‘Widow’ finds the superspy tapped by SHIELD to rescue an abducted asset – her beloved  mentor Ivan Petrovich.

As she tracks and trashes assorted killers and crazies, we get a potted rundown of her complex origins before she arrives ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’, infiltrating a top-secret science project and facing the assemble killer elite of a mystery madman with a grudge…

As the mercenary assassins close in, ‘The Web Tightens!’ until a last-minute rescue by SHIELD agent Jimmy Woo and frenzied clash with mad killer Snapdragon at last leads to revelation and full disclosure after ‘The Widow… Alone!’ faces a foe long believed dead and spectacularly triumphs…

That superheroic struggle is followed by an iconic appearance from 1981, seen in mature-reader monochrome magazine Bizarre Adventures #25 featuring short tales starring female heroes. Here Macchio scripted a far more devious spy yarn of double and triple cross with agents betraying each other while trying to ascertain who might be working for “the other side”…

‘I Got the Yo-Yo… You Got the String’ finds the Widow despatched by SHIELD to assassinate her former teacher Irma Klausvichnova in an African political hot spot, but as the mission proceeds, Natasha learns that she can’t trust anybody and everything she knows is either a lie or a test with fatal consequences…

The chilling, twist-ridden tale is elevated to excellence by the powerful tonal art of Paul Gulacy who fills the piece with ironic tributes to many movie spies and the actors – such as Michael Caine and Humphry Bogart – who first made the genre so compelling.

The book concludes with intriguing superhero spy-romp The Coldest War.

Set in the last days of the US/Soviet face-off – with what looks to be an epilogue added to address the collapse of the Soviet State – the entire affair was clearly scripted as a contemporary thriller (probably for fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents) before events overtook the time-consuming process of printing a comic. The afterword – set after the fall of the Berlin Wall – doesn’t jar too much and must have lent an air of imminent urgency to the mix at the time.

Gerry Conway provides a typically complex, double-dealing tale set in the dog-days of Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Perestroika” (“openness”) government where ambitious KGB upstarts undertake a plan to subvert Natasha (nee NataliaRomanova) and return her to Soviet control. Their leverage and bait is husband Alexei Shostokoff – whom she has believed dead for years. Naturally, nothing is as it seems, nobody can be trusted and only the last spy standing can be called the winner…

Low key and high-tech go hand in hand in this sort of tale, and although there’s much reference to earlier Marvel classics this tale can be easily enjoyed by the casual reader or movie convert.

And what art! George Freeman is a supreme stylist, whose drawing work – although infrequent – is always top rate. Starting out on the seminal Captain Canuck, he has excelled on Jack of Hearts, Green Lantern, Avengers, BatmanAnnual #11 (with Alan Moore), Wasteland, Elric, Nexus and The X-Files (for which he won an Eisner Award). Here, inked by Ernie Colon, Mark Farmer, Mike Harris, Val Mayerik & Joe Rubinstein with colours from Lovern Kindzierski, he renders a subtle and sophisticated blend of costumed chic and espionage glamour that make this tale to a “must-have” item all by itself.

Augmented with original art by Arthur Adams, previous collection cover by Yancy LaBat, Mark Morals, Steve Buccellato and Pérez, this epic Primer into the world of the Widow is a dark delight no fan should miss.
© 1990 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

A City Inside


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-541-7 (HB) 978-1-91039-520-2 (TPB)

Transitions are important. In fact, they are literally life changing. Here’s another one captured and shared by the amazing Tillie Walden…

We usually attribute wisdom and maturity in the creative arts to having lived a bit of life and getting some emotional grit in our wheels and sand in our faces, but maybe that’s not the case for Texas-raised Tillie, whose incredible string of releases include I Love this Part, Spinning, On a Sunbeam, and Are You Listening? and award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer.

A City Inside is another seamlessly constructed marriage of imagination and experience to unflinching self-exploration, constructing a perfect blend of autobiography and fantasy into a vehicle both youthfully exuberant and literary timeless.

Opening in a therapy session, the story delves intimately into a woman’s past, from isolated southern days to bold moments of escape – or is that simply drifting away? – in search of peace and a place to settle. We all leave home and then grow up, and here that transition is seen through the tentative alliance with an ideal first love. That fumbles and fails, thanks to the dull oppression of the Happy Ever After part that no fairy tale ever warns you about…

Eventually life builds you into the being you are – hence the symbolism of a vast internal metropolis – and life goes on, or back, or away, or just somewhere else. That’s pretty much the point…

Supremely engaging, enticingly disturbing and ultimately utterly uplifting, this shared solo voyage to another county is a visual delight no lover of comics can possibly resist. Apart from the graceful honesty on show, the most engaging factor is the author’s inspired rearrangement of visual reality. These dictate mood and tone in a way a million words can’t, supplying a sense of grace and wistful whimsy to the affair.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.