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.

Alone volume 1: The Vanishing


By Gazzotti & Vehlmann, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-849181-96-9 (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, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Le Journal de Spirou, he 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 major-league property Spirou and Fantasio

Bruno Gazzotti is Belgian, born in 1970 and was a student of Institut Saint Luc in Liège. Another artist addicted to comics from his earliest years, he started being 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

Released in January 2006, Seuls – La disparition is a superb example of a kids’ thriller suitable for all ages: 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.

Translated as The Vanishing, the first chapter show us peeks of an ordinary bustling town, with simple folk going about their business. Our swift glimpses show us a cross section of kids: Ivan, an imaginative child of wealth who wants for nothing but never sees his dad any more and Leila, a born engineer, inventor and tinkerer. Her poor but honest dad always has time to play and critique her latest gadget…

Camille is studious and over-focussed on exams and achievement and Terry is pretty much still a baby. He certainly acts like one, trying to stay up late, binge watching TV and throwing tantrums if he doesn’t get his way.

Sadly, not all children in town have such typical lives. Dodzi has just been taken into the system. His early life has made him tough and resilient but won’t stop the other young inmates handing him a beating on this ominous, odd-feeling night…

Next morning dawns overcast and forbidding. The city is quiet. Roaming empty streets, Dodzi calls out to anybody who can hear and is met – or actually run over – by Leila and Terry on her bike. They are all pretty scared and have seen nobody else at all…

No one else is around. All the adults have gone, and all their child pals. The internet is down, television and radio only blare out static. Above, fearsome storm clouds gather. Within minutes fear turns to panic and violence but eventually Dodzi brutally enforces calm and leads them away, only to stumble into Camille being attacked by a dog. As the tough guy tries to fight it off, the rabid beast senses something in the shadows of an alley and flees…

As they wander, someone watches the waifs and after they joyously blow off steam in a fountain, they meet final lost boy Ivan. He invites them back to his mansion on the edge of town where they find food while being subjected to his theories on what’s happened: everything from a shared dream to an extinction event to the possibility that they’re dead and in hell…

Needing more information, Dodzi and Leila try to drive one of many cars on the estate while the smaller ones sort out a proper meal, but neither task goes well. The cooking is a disaster while the near-lethal reconnaissance only finds more empty streets, wrecked shop fronts and wild animals in the streets. While the motoring minors seek to evade two rhinos, Terry and Camille are almost eaten by a white tiger that’s got through the estate gates…

When Dodzi and Leila return – and following a burst of viciously released tensions – the kids modify and weaponize a 4 by 4 and head back to town. Ivan’s dad owns the tallest building in the city: somewhere stuffed with resources and easily fortified and defended…

As the first day alone ends, the kids are bloated with vending machine snacks and playing in the vast office block’s upper reaches, but de facto leader Dodzi is still uneasy.

When Leia reports little Terry is missing, he heads out to search and finds to his horror where all the animals have come from: a scene of destruction that distracts him enough that a hidden stalker almost takes him.

Thankfully, the others have ignored his orders and followed so it isn’t Dodzi that dies…

Thus begins a spooky, powerful and often shocking tale of mystery and imagination with the bereft children facing increasingly daunting physical hazards and an escalating series of events which can have no logical or rational explanation…

Alone rapidly 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 soon be buying this and seeing why for yourself…
© Dupuis 2006 by Gazzotti & Vehlmann. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

I Love This Part



By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-532-5(HB) 978-1-91039-517-2 (TPB)

Happy St. Valentines’ Day. I’m stifling my usual curmudgeonly attitudes for a while and reviewing a book that’s solidly on the side of being in love, but not so disingenuous as to tell you that it’s all hearts and flowers…

Sweet but not calorific, I Love This Part deliciously pictorializes the happy, introspective, contemplative and aspirational moments of two schoolgirls who have found each other. Shared dreams, idle conversations, disputes and landmark first steps, even fights and break-ups are seen and weathered. Novelty, timidity, apprehension, societal pressure and even some unnecessary shame come into it, but generally it’s just how young people learn to love and what that inevitably entails…

Apart from the astoundingly graceful and inviting honesty of the tale, the most engaging factor is the author’s brilliant dismissal of visual reality. These interactions are all backdropped by wild changes in dimension and perspective, abrupt shifts in location and landscape and shots of empty spaces all adding a sense of distance and whimsy to very familiar proceedings.

Tillie Walden is a great admirer of Little Nemo so fellow afficionados will feel at home even if neophytes might experience the odd sensation of disorientation and trepidation. Like being in love, I suppose…

Glorying not just in the relationships but also in the sheer joy of drawing what you feel, Texas-raised Tillie is still a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific and immensely gifted one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works (frequently combined in the same stories), she always engenders a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is a sheer delight.

Before globally turning heads with such unforgettable tales as On a Sunbeam, A City Inside, Spinning, and Are You Listening? she followed up on her Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer with this fluffy yet barbed coming-of-age tale.

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.

The Wolf of Baghdad


By Carol Isaacs/The Surreal McCoy (Myriad Editions)
ISBN: 978-1-912408-55-9 (TPB) eISBN: 978-1-912408-71-9

Contemporary history is a priceless resource in creating modern narratives. It has the benefits of immediacy and relevance – even if only on a generational level – whilst combining notional familiarity (could you tell the difference between a stone axe and a rock?) with a sense of distance and exoticism. In comics, we’re currently blessed with a wealth of superb material exploring the recent past and none better than this enchanting trawl through a tragic time most of us never knew of…

Carol Isaacs is a successful musician (just ask the Indigo Girls, Sinead O’Connor or the London Klezmer Quartet) and – as The Surreal McCoy – a cartoonist whose graphic gifts are regularly on show in The New Yorker, Spectator, Private Eye, Sunday Times and The Inking Woman: 250 Years of Women Cartoon and Comic Artists in Britain. She found her latest inspiration in a two-thousand-year old secret history that’s she been party to for most of her life…

British-born of Iraqi-Jewish parents, Isaacs grew up hearing tales of her ancestors’ lives in Baghdad: part of a thriving multicultural society which had welcomed – or at least tolerated – Jews in Persia since 597 BCE.

How 150,000 Hebraic Baghdadians (a third of the city’s population in 1940) was reduced by 2016 to just 5 is revealed and eulogised in this potently evocative memoir, told in lyrical pictures and the curated words of her own family and their émigré friends, as related to her over her growing years in their comfortably suburban London home.

Those quotes and portraits spark an elegiac dream-state excursion to the wrecked, abandoned sites and places of a socially integrated and vibrantly cohesive metropolis she knows intimately and pines for ferociously, even though she has never set a single foot there…

As well as this enthralling pictorial experience, the art and narrative have been incorporated into a melancholy motion comic (slideshow with original musical accompaniment) that also demands your rapt attention.

The moving experience is supplemented by an Afterword comprising illustrate text piece ‘Deep Home’ (first seen in ‘Origin Stories’ from the anthology Strumpet) which details those childhood sessions listening to the remembrances of adult guests and family elders and is followed by ‘The Making of The Wolf of Baghdad’ which explains not only the book and show’s origins, but also clarifies the thematic premise of ‘The Wolf Myth’ which permeates the city’s intermingled cultures.

‘Other Iraqis’ then reveals some interactions with interested parties culled from Isaacs’ blog whilst crafting this book, whilst the comprehensive ‘Timeline of the Jews in Iraq’ outlines the little-known history of Persian Jews and how and why it all changed, before ‘A Carpet’s Story’ details 1950’s Operations Ezra and Nehemiah which saw 120,000 Jews airlifted to Israel.

Wrapping up the show is a page of Acknowledgements and Suggested Reading.

Simultaneously timeless and topical, The Wolf of Baghdad is less a history lesson than a lament for a lost homeland and way of life: a wistful deliberation on why bad things happen and on how words pictures and music can turn back the years and make the longed for momentarily real and true.
© Carol Isaacs (The Surreal McCoy) 2020. All rights reserved.

The Wolf of Baghdad will be published on January 30th 2020 and is available for pre-order now. Isaacs will be touring the motion-comic throughout 2020 at various venues and festivals around England. For more information please check her blog.

Saint Young Men volume 01


By Hikaru Nakamura, translated by Alethea & Athena Nibley (Kodansha)
ISBN: 978-1-63236-936-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: ‘Tis the Season to be Thoughtful… 9/10

Here’s a divine treat and global sensation with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild eclecticism to boost its appeal, all neatly released in English just in time to make your day and make you think…

Born in April 1984 in Shizoku Prefecture, Japan, Hikaru Nakamura is one of the world’s most successful manga creators, thanks mostly to her thought-provoking yet inviting conceptions such as Arakawa Under the Bridge and the bizarrely engaging buddy-comedy under review today.

In September 2006 Seinto Oniisan began as an occasional gag feature in Morning 2 magazine where, due to its rapturous reception, it grew into an unmissable regular narrative strip that remains to this day. The divine comedy has filled 17 tankōbon collections plus all the usual mass-media iterations that follow such popularity: a brace of anime DVDs and films, a live-action series and much more.

In this premiere stunning and sturdy hardback English compilation (or its ethereal digital equivalent), more extensive detail and context can be found in the effusive Foreword Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men Power’ by Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere (who curated a Japanese Exhibition at the British Museum in which Saint Young Men played a major role). Whilst this aids overall comprehension, the book also graciously provides a comprehensive set of Translation Notes for each chapter episode, offering cultural comparison points, theological points of interest and even general notes on modern life in the East.

It sounds like the opening of a joke – and, in fact, it is – but the narrative premise is simple: one day after a particularly arduous millennial turnover, Jesus Christ and Guatama Buddha opt to take a break from Paradise/Nirvana/the Great Beyond and indulge in a kind of gap year experience by re-manifesting as two young guys in Tokyo: living as anonymous mortals; chasing rent, getting picked on, playing with fashions and new technologies and just generally being human. What could possibly go wrong?

The trials begin in ‘Buddha’s Day Off’ as the impoverished pair settle into their tawdry dwelling and ardently discuss the unexpected ways other people respond to them, after which they try adjusting to culture shock but endure even stranger reactions and responses on overcrowded trains and subways in ‘Most Holy Travels’

Man-Toys, gadgets and fashions are perennial fascinations for the pair – their near-infinite logo T-shirt collection often acts as a barometer and commentary for what’s about to occur – but it’s hard to leave their pasts behind and the pair as often visit shrines and churches as theme parks. Sometimes – such as in ‘Another Paradise’ – it’s hard to tell them apart. Moreover, although earthbound, their transcendental natures still adversely affect everything around them, leading to unearthly surprises when they become overfocussed on mundane delights such as shopping in ‘Debut Performance’

‘Oh My Hobby’ finds the holy goofs seeking further homogeneity as Buddha tries screen printing to round out his days whilst Jesus further pursues his dream of being a comedian whilst attempting to curtail his unhappy tendency to make miracles if his concentrates too hard or laughs too much…

Cooling down and discussing their slow assimilation leads to more confusion in ‘Summer Jam at the Community Center’when their oblique mutterings convince a mobbed-up eavesdropper that he’s stumbled into two Yakuza princes trying to get out of “The Life”, after which ‘Buddha and Jesus’s “Can I Do It?”’ reveals how their escalating heavenly energies compel the pair into staying home and trying new pastimes such as drawing manga and throwing pottery…

There’s another innocently bewildering clash with celebrity, commercialism and gangsterism when the inquisitive waifs attend a ‘Sacred Fall Festival’ before Christmas (in its thoroughly formulated Japan-ised form, and celebrated here by a partial conversion to full-colour for their generally monochrome exploits) intersects with an unfortunate ‘Holy Birthday’for Jesus.

That debacle leads to dabbling with disguises to attend the ‘New Year’s Self-Worship’ ceremony, segueing into a nasty brush with human frailty and disease in ‘Hospital Fever’.

Manly vanity rears its inevitable head when Buddha rashly responds to accusations of becoming a ‘Portly Prince?!’, but it’s his scatty roommate who makes an unlikely public scene by losing concentration in ‘The Park Nearest Heaven’. This leads to a necessary but unwise ‘Pilgrimage’ to the shopping mall before these initial devotions conclude with a catastrophic bout of tonsorial ablutions and accidental miracle-making for the ‘Thrice Stranded Bath Drinker’

It’s true to say that in fiction, there are precious few original ideas whereas tone and treatment are everything. Whilst not a new notion, the concept of divine beings popping back to Earth is one that has plenty of antecedents but also infinite appeal and permutations, and here at least, there’s been a vast amount of research undertaken to confirm canonical veracity and deep thinking to keep the jokes fresh and outcomes original.

Charming, funny, brash and subtly challenging, Saint Young Men is a delightful peek into other realms that will leave you hungry for further scriptures and might even lead to a lifelong conversion…
© 2008 Hikaru Nakamura. English translation © 2009 Hikaru Nakamura. All rights reserved.

Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.
Saint Young Men volume 01will be released on December 19th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.