SAM volume 1: After Man


By Richard Marazano & Shang Xiao, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-218-8 (Album PB)

Wow. People really love stories about robots. Well then, here’s another you might want to peruse…

Robots are a beloved theme of fiction, and many stories seem to work on the dichotomy of their innately innocent yet potentially deadly double nature. With elements of Terminator and A Boy and His Dog, here’s one that’s a cut above from French polymath (artist, critic, historian, astrophysicist, politician, and comics author) Richard Marazano (The Chimpanzee Complex; Cuervos; Zarathustra and much more) and Chinese artist, illustrator and animator Shang Xiao (Midsummer Park).

Told in four volumes, Après l’Homme details a heady tale of trust and survival between apparent natural enemies…

It’s just been the End of the World as We Know It, and in the scattered, shattered rubble of our technological advancements gangs of desperate kids forage for food, vitamins and ordnance to help them fend off the robots that have all but eradicated biological life.

Terse flashbacks reveal the armed rebellion of the mechanised realm and how the mostly subterranean youngsters scavenge and scrounge, with roaming mechs hunting them day and night. Tensions are high and emotions fraught, so if someone is a little bit different, negligent or disobedient – like dreamer Ian – it’s a problem for everybody…

Ella looks out for him as much as possible but Ian is destined for doom unless he shapes up…

Sadly, he instead takes a step in the other direction after one dusk raid to the surface sees him instants from annihilation when cornered by a towering killer robot.

Thankfully Russ disables it with his bazooka, but just for a moment there, Ian was sure he had experienced an emotional connection with the droid. It was like it chose not to kill him…

Increasingly obsessed, Ian cannot let the notion go and eventually breaks security to sneak out and examine the remains. They will be easy to find, with the letters SAM boldly painted on the carapace…

When he comes back, it’s all Ella can do to stop the others killing him. Ultimately, though, tempers subside, but Ian has not learned his lesson. After sharing his earliest memories of his father, fleeing and the lucky escape that saved him, the troubled boy seems to buckle down to the basics of survival, but he’s still gripped by crazy notions, like abandoning their tunnels and heading out to the fabled suburbs…

With defiance growing and rebellion brewing, the kids head out on another daylight hunt, but again Ian goes looking for “his” robot. When Ella catches him and starts yelling, they are both targeted by a roving mech, but inexplicably saved by another killer machine: “SAM”!

The victorious monster is badly damaged and as Ella watches in horror, Ian starts repairing it…

When the others find them, more arguing results in Ian getting a deadline: if he can’t make SAM fully operable in two days, he must let them destroy it. The frantic boy stives for the entire time and succeeds, only to pass out at the end. When he wakes and races to the site, the robot has vanished. Bereft and furious, Ian allows Ella to drag him away, but both are unaware that coldly-calculating optic systems are watching them from hiding…

Beguiling and powerfully engaging, this vivid take on an old plot is surprisingly compelling and promises a big payoff in volumes to come.
© Dargaud Paris 2011 by Marazano & Shang. All rights reserved. English translation © 2014 Cinebook Ltd.

Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy


By Dan Parent, Bill Galvan, Rich Koslowski & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-936975-58-7 (TPB)

Following the debut of Superman, MLJ were merely one of many publishers to jump on the mystery-man bandwagon, generating their own small but inspired pantheon of gaudily-clad crusaders.

In November 1939 they launched Blue Ribbon Comics, and swiftly followed up with Top-Notch and Pep Comics. The content was the era’s standard mix of masked champions, clean-cut, two-fisted adventurers, genre prose pieces and gags.

Not long after, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit and John Goldwater (hence MLJ) spotted a gap in the blossoming yet crowded market. In December 1941 the Fights ‘n’ Tights, heaving he-man crowd were gently nudged aside by a far less imposing hero; an ordinary teenager having everyday adventures just like the readership, laden with companionable laughs, good times and budding romance.

Goldwater developed the youthful everyman protagonist concept, tasking writer Vic Bloom & artist Bob Montana with making it all work. Inspired by and referencing the successful Andy Hardy movies (starring Mickey Rooney), their new notion premiered in Pep Comics #22. The unlikely star was a gap-toothed, freckle-faced, red-headed kid desperate to impress the pretty blonde girl next door.

A 6-page untitled tale introduced hapless boob Archie Andrews and wholesomely fetching Betty Cooper. The boy’s wry, unconventional best friend and confidante Jughead Jones also debuted in that vignette, as did idyllic small-town utopia Riverdale. The piece was a huge hit with readers and by the winter of 1942 the kid had won his own series and latterly a solo-starring title.

Archie Comics #1 was MLJ’s first non-anthology magazine and with it began an inexorable transformation of the company. With the debut of ultra-rich, raven-haired Veronica Lodge, all the pieces were in play for the industry’s second Genuine Phenomenon…

By 1946, the kids were in charge and MLJ officially reinvented itself as Archie Comics, retiring the majority of its costumed characters years before the end of the Golden Age to become, to all intents and purposes, a publisher of family-friendly comedies.

The hometown settings and perpetually fruitful premise of an Eternal Romantic Triangle – with girl-hating Jughead to assist or deter and scurrilous love-rat rival Reggie Mantle to test, duel and vex our boy in their own unique ways – the scenario was one that not only resonated with fans, but was somehow infinitely fresh and engaging…

Like Superman, Archie’s success forced a change in content at every other US publisher (except Gilberton’s dryly po-faced Classics Illustrated), creating a culture-shifting multi-media brand encompassing TV, movies, newspaper strips, toys and merchandise, a chain of restaurants and – in the swinging sixties – a pop music sensation when Sugar, Sugar (taken from the animated TV cartoon) became a global summer smash hit. Clean and decent garage band “The Archies” has been a fixture of the comics ever since just waiting for the comeback hit…

The perennial eternal triangle has generated thousands of charming, raucous, gentle, thrilling, chiding and even heart-rending humorous dramas expressing everything from surreal wit to frantic, frenetic slapstick, with the kids and a constantly expanding cast of friends (boy genius Dilton Doily; genial giant jock Big Moose and occasional guest Sabrina the Teenage Witch amongst so many others): growing into a national institution and part of America’s cultural landscape.

The feature thrives by constantly refreshing its core archetypes; boldly, seamlessly adapting to a changing world outside its bright and cheerful pages, shamelessly co-opting youth, pop culture, fashion trends and even topical events into its infallible mix of comedy and young romance. Each and every social revolution has been painlessly assimilated into the mix and over the decades the company has confronted most social issues affecting youngsters in a manner both even-handed and tasteful.

Constant addition of new characters such as African-American Chuck Clayton and his girlfriend Nancy Woods, fashion-diva Ginger Lopez, Hispanic couple Frankie Valdez and Maria Rodriguez, student film-maker Raj Patel and spoiled home-wrecker-in-waiting Cheryl Blossom all contributed to a wide, refreshingly diverse and broad-minded scenario.

In 2010 Archie jumped the final hurdle – for decades a seemingly insurmountable one for kids comicbooks – when openly gay student Kevin Keller joined the gang: becoming an admirable advocate capably tackling and dismantling the last major taboo in mainstream comics.

Created by writer/artist Dan Parent and inker Rich Koslowski, Kevin Keller debuted in Veronica #202 (September 2010), a charming, good-looking and exceedingly-together young man who utterly bowled over the rich go-getter. Ronnie was totally smitten with him, but Kevin was far more interested in food, sports and hanging out with Jughead

When he finally explained to Veronica why she was wasting her time, she became Keller’s best buddy as they had so much in common – stylish clothes, shopping and cute guys…

Immensely popular from the outset (Veronica #202 was the first comic book in the company’s long history to go into a second printing), Kevin struck a chord with the readership. Soon, frequent guest shots evolved into a miniseries before the new kid on the block inevitably won his own ongoing title.

Trade paperback & digital compilation Kevin Keller: Drive Me Crazy collects issues #5-8 of his groundbreaking solo title and opens with an effusive Introduction from actor, author and rights activist George Takei, in anticipation of his walk-on part in the opening chapter here.

Sacrificing chronological order for star attraction, ‘By George!’ comes from Kevin Keller #6 (January 2013) wherein a class project about inspirational heroes leads to the kids invading a local comic convention headlined by the Star Trek star, after which Mr. Takei surprises all concerned by returning the favour at Riverdale High. If only Kevin wasn’t so distracted by the return of old flame Brian and the promise of new romance…

Eponymous tale ‘Drive Me Crazy!’ (Kevin Keller #5 December 2012) then targets the next milestone in a young man’s life as the affable pedestrian finally gains independence with the arrival of his first car. It is, in fact, an old jeep belonging to his dad (a retired army colonel) and the fun really hits high gear after Moose and Dilton offer to spruce it up and make it roadworthy in their own inimitable manner… just in time to play havoc with Kevin’s date with old pal Todd.

Back on track for #7 (March, 2013), ‘Decisions, decisions!’ finds Kevin dating aggressive bad boy Devon: a student determined to keep his status as a macho hetero male. Patience, love and understanding only go so far though, and when Kevin convinces Devon to finally come out, the misunderstood lout faces repercussions from his family and friends that Kevin never anticipated…

Piling on the pressure, an old secret admirer who remained anonymous chooses this moment to identify himself to the ever-popular Mr. Keller…

Everything boils over in concluding episode ‘Play by the Rules!’ (Kevin Keller #8, June 2013) when Veronica cons Kevin into starring in her self-penned stage drama Teenagers: The Musical! His proximity to former secret admirer Pauldrives Devon to jealousy and stalking, but thankfully in the unavoidable denouement, the only real casualty is Ronnie’s atrocity of a show…

Following the compelling comics is an ‘Official Kevin Keller Bonus Features’ section offering ‘Kevin, Betty and Veronica Fashions’, to supplement a cover gallery that includes modern cartoon masterpieces, remastered classic Archie images retrofitted to suit our 21st century all-star and variant covers spoofing Star Trek and Superman.

Drive Me Crazy is superbly diverse, hilariously welcoming and magically inclusive collection for you, your kids and grandparents to enjoy over and over again…
© 2013 Archie Comics Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

August Moon


By Diana Thung (Top Shelf)
ISBN: 978-1-60309-069-8 (PB)

Here’s a mysterious thing. For a while, a few years back, Diana Thung was a glittering name and shining prospect in graphic storytelling, but after two brilliant all-ages fantasy triumphs she dropped out of sight. I don’t know why – or to be honest have any right to. But it is a shame as her work was superb. I hope she’s well and happy, but I’m not going to stop recommending her delightful creations…

Thung was born in Jakarta, and grew up in Singapore before eventually settling in Australia. She is a natural storyteller, cartoonist and comics creator of sublime wit and imagination with a direct hotline to infinite thoughtscapes of childhood. Every single thing populating her astonishingly unique worlds is honed to razor sharpness and pinpoint logical clarity, no matter how weird or whimsical it might initially seem.

The sentiment is pure and unrefined; scenarios are perfectly constructed and effectively, authentically realised …and when things get tense and scary they are excessively tense and really, really scary…

After SLG published debut series Captain Long Ears in 2010, Thung catapulted to (relative) fame two years later following the release of her first graphic novel. August Moon is a magnificent blending of eastern and western comics influences that remixed many standard elements of fantasy into a superbly fresh conjunction for young and old alike.

Rendered in stunning, organically enticing black and white, the scene opens in the Asian township of Callico: an isolated little metropolis in the midst of lush jungle verdure, and a place with a few strange secrets…

Accessible only by one solitary bridge, generally cut off from the wider world by dense surrounding forests and innate unchanging dullness, the town moves at its own pace. Life is slow, existence is bucolic and the biggest deal for the people is the perennial debate over whether the strange dancing lights seen in the trees at night are actually Soul Fire dead ancestors watching over the town – or just some unexplained scientific phenomenon…

Answers start coming for a select few after ugly, business-suited strangers begin buying up empty shops for a company named Mon & Key. Some older street vendors are understandably anxious, but only Grandma and her peculiar little associate Jaden know the appalling threat these interlopers pose…

Events start spiralling out of control when the newcomers murder a hitherto unknown “animal” and news of the bizarre beast’s corpse leaks out into the wider world. The amazing discovery brings college biologist Dr. Gan back to the town his dead wife grew up in for the first time in years, dragging unhappy teenaged daughter Fiona with him.

Reluctant to be there, Fi keeps to herself; spending time snapping photos with her instamatic camera. The dull old backwater suddenly becomes far more intriguing after she captures a candid shot of a boy leaping like a grasshopper over the rooftops…

When she finally meets the incomprehensibly enigmatic Jaden, Fi is quickly drawn into his bizarre struggle against the ape-like invaders. After meeting the clandestine forest creatures who are the true source of Soul Fire, she makes their struggle her own…

The cruel and cunning interlopers of Mon & Key worship commerce and progress. Their agenda involves destroying forests to build factories. Ruthless and multi-resourced, they retaliate by killing all objectors, whilst attempting to dissuade and eventually assassinate Fi’s father.

However, with the aid of Callico’s street children – and a few clued-in, sympathetic adults like her Uncle Simon – Fi and super-powered, magic moon-boy Jaden spearhead a spirited secret war to destroy the rapacious deforestation machines of Mon & Key.

As the holiday season nears its end, the town prepares for its annual Soul Fire Festival and parade. As Mon & Key’s forces assemble for one final deforesting assault, they have totally underestimated Jaden’s resolve, Fi’s ingenuity and Callico’s communal desire to remain unchanged and unchanging…

A funny, scary, magical and thrilling modern fable, August Moon seamlessly stitches together ecological themes with beguiling myth to create a captivating tale of youthful empowerment and rebellious wonder. This is a fabulously enticing young reader’s epic every lover of comics and storytelling should take to their hearts.
© 2011 Diana Thung.

The Hidden


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-385-6 (HB)

One of the cruellest side-effects of the current pandemic is its power to cut you down emotionally and fill you with guilt over things you have no power to control. Prime offender for me is finding out people I like admire or just simply know have gone, and I’m probably the last to know. Just like this guy…

Richard Sala was a lauded and brilliantly gifted exponent and creator of comics who deftly blended beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale.

A child who endured sustained paternal abuse, Sala grew up in Chicago and Arizona. Retreating into childish bastions of entertainment he eventually escaped family traumas and as an adult earned a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. He became an illustrator after rediscovering the youthful love of comic books and schlock films that had brightened his youth.

His metafictional, self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw, Blab! and Prime Cuts and animated adaptations of the series were produced for Liquid Television.

His work remains welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia the most well-known characters in his gratifyingly large back catalogue.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

One of my personal favourites is The Hidden which revels in the seamy, scary underbelly of un-life: an enigmatic quest tale following a few “lucky” survivors who wake up one morning to discover civilisation has succumbed to an inexplicable global Armageddon. The world is now a place of primitive terror, with no power, practically no people and ravening monsters roaming everywhere.

Trapped on in the fog on a mountain, Colleen and Tom emerge into the world of death and destruction before promptly fleeing back to the wilderness. As they run, they encounter an amnesiac bum, who uncomprehendingly leads them to other young survivors – each with their own tale of terror – and together they seek a place of sanctuary in the desert and the shocking true secret of the disaster…

Clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging, this fabulous full-colour hardback (also available in digital formats) is a perfect introduction to Sala’s world: a sublimely nostalgic escape hatch back to those days when unruly children scared themselves silly under the bedcovers at night. It is an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she/they are just you, imaginary or even relatively real…
© 2011 Richard Sala. All rights reserved.

No Country


By Patrice Aggs & Joe Brady (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-183-3 (PB)

This is the scariest book I’ve read in decades.

That’s an odd thing to say about a collection of strips from a wholesome children’s comic like The Phoenix, but true nonetheless, so I’ll qualify that statement by adding that it’s beautifully illustrated by Patrice Aggs with a complete absence of gore, supernatural terror or zombies of any kind, casting its chilling pall thanks to a subtle, understated script by Joe Brady, who convincingly speculates on the current global and national political situation…

Just imagine a Britain where the Prime Minister ignores the law, suspends Parliament and rules by ministerial fiat. Consider curfews and lockdowns, shortages in the shops and direct monitoring and control of what teachers can say and do. Further ponder on what happens when strident, impassioned protestors organise into militant groups and start systematically and violently resisting daily interventions and oppressions doled out by an ever more heavy-handed police force and too-readily deployed army…

No Country is set in Britain and follows middle schooler Bea, her little brother Dom and frequently bossy older sister Hannah as they daily adapt to a draconian new reality. Their dad used to work as a local councillor, but now looks after the kids and spends his downtime in quiet secret meetings with other adults with worried faces…

Mum has been gone for a while now, but still talks to them via the internet whenever there’s enough electricity. She’s in another country somewhere, trying to get exit visas and paperwork so the family can be reunited… somewhere safe.

Daily tensions ratchet up when the long-declared Martial Law edict is shockingly enforced by new army divisions who occupy the town and “requisition” everything not nailed down. Hannah just got her first boyfriend and is acting really weird, especially after he reveals he’s part of the patriotic rebel front called the Free Kingdom – the other side in a rapidly escalating, ideologically fanatical civil war, ripping sedate stuffy Britain apart.

As hunger grows, home raids and “searches” intensify and friends and teachers start disappearing, Mum finally contacts them that the documents are ready and the family must act immediately. Tragically, not everyone is there to get the message but there’s no time to wait. This is the moment to run…

To Be Continued…

A superb and gripping exploration of the refugee crisis with the comfy, cosy UK all-too-convincingly substituting for Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar (please feel free to look up why I chose those countries). This is a brilliant introduction to real world problems any kid can grasp and be moved by, in exactly the same way books like Animal Farm, A Kestrel for a Knave, Ring of Bright Water or Lord of the Flies ushered in a new, transformational understanding for generations of youngsters.
Illustrations © Patrice Aggs 2021. Text © Joe Brady. rights reserved.

Bad Girls


By Steve Vance, Jennifer Graves, Christine Norrie, J. Bone & Daniel Krall (DC comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2359-5 (TPB)

Ever since English-language comics proudly proclaimed they weren’t “just for kids anymore” the industry and art form has struggled to produce material to appeal to young consumers and a general teen readership.

Girls. We’re talking about girls. We’ve never been able to keep enough girls reading comics – or even talking to us, if I’m brutally honest. Flooding the market with derivations of popular shows, or adaptations of movies, toys and trends, has never addressed the issue.

Haunted by a terrifying suspicion that the core buyers were a specific hooked generation who aged with the passing years and would die out without renewing or replenishing the buying base, mainstream companies have, since the 1990’s, frantically sought ways to make the medium as attractive to new and youthful buyers and potential fans.

Fighting a losing battle on format – it’s always going to be sequential pictures, whether on a screen or in some kind of book or pamphlet, requiring a basic ability to read – and never able to combat the vibrant, bells-and-whistles immediacy of TV, DVDs, streamed video or games consoles, comic producers, apparently distrusting the basic innate strengths of our medium, could only repeatedly attempt to appeal to young consumers’ other sensibilities and interests.

Leaving aside the obvious – and ancient – failed tactic of making comicbook iterations out of their perceived rival entertainments, the only other way to entice newbies into our playground has been to widen the genre divides and offer fresh or imported ideas, stories and art styles that (like manga) might appeal to people who don’t normally think of comics as entertainment.

Sadly most of those – good, bad or indifferent – went unread anyway, because they were only advertised in comics and retailed through dedicated in comicbook stores – infamous as impenetrable girl-free zones…

One such delightful yet tragically lost experiment was released by DC as a 5-part miniseries in 2003. Author Steve Vance’s best comics work is child-accessible, with long and intensely enjoyable runs on the animation-inspired Adventures in the DC Universe and Simpsons Comics (among others) and in this witty blend of high school comedy and science fiction conspiracy movie, he and artist co-creator Jennifer Graves had a huge amount of sly fun producing what could still be a perfect Teen Movie in the manner of Heathers, Bring It On, Mean Girls, John Tucker Must Die or even Teen Wolf.

As a comic book, however, it just never found the wide audience it deserved. Yet here I am, telling you to track it down and give it a shot…

Apparently, almost every American kid endures the savage crucible of organised education, and the youthful attendees of San Narciso High are a pretty typical bunch. Even in a brand new institution opening for its very first day, there are the faceless majority and nerds and jocks and the popular ones: all part of the mythically perennial melting pot.

… And then there’s Lauren Case, a forthright, sensible young lady who has changed schools many, many times.

In ‘Girl Power’ she starts off well-enough, safely lost in the crowd, but before the first morning is over, an acrobatic and painful encounter with science geek Ronald Bogley leads to a face off with the community’s ultra-spoiled princesses Tiffany, Brittany, Destinee and Ashley.

Ms Case suffers the hallowed punishment of a crushing snub from the haughty Mean Girls whilst the Jock Squad – ever eager to impress the de facto rulers of the roost – treat poor Ronald to the traditional watery going-over in the restrooms. However a dunking in the oddly purple toilet water results, for just a split second, in the nerd gaining the strength to smash walls in his bare hands. Alert to all sorts of possibilities, Ronald fills a drinking bottle with the lavender lavatory liquid for testing in his lab…

Later in science class Lauren is partnered with Ronald and inadvertently blows up the lab, but at least she makes friend out of quick-thinking Simone who puts out the resultant conflagration.

At the end of a very trying first day Lauren offers a hand of peace and guiltily patronising friendship to the bespectacled geek – who is utterly smitten with her – when the Princess Pack turns up, intrigued that the new girl’s propensity for mischief and mayhem might make her eligible for their condescending attention. She might even, with a lot of hard work, become one of them…

Knowing anything they want is theirs by divine right, the girls drink the strange purple juice Ronald left and invite Lauren to join them at a club that night…

With their departure Ronald comes out of hiding and shows her his science project; lab mice Snowie and Doodles who are demonstrating increased vitality after drinking the purple potion he “discovered”…

Hating herself, Lauren joins the Popular People at Club Trystero and strikes up a conversation with Simone, but quickly drops her when the anointed ones show up. Soon she is lost in the swirl of drink, music and attentive, fawning, testosterone-fuelled boys but gets a severe unreality check when the spoiled ones abruptly begin demonstrating super-powers (Brittany – shape-shifting, Destinee – invisibility, Tiffany – flight and Ashley – super-strength), trashing the place with sublime indifference and their usual casual disregard to consequences.

Knowing that the insanely entitled girls will be more vile and malicious than ever, she tells Ronald, who reveals that after closely observing his beloved mice, he’s discovered that the liquid only imparts permanent abilities to females.

He then suggests that Lauren become a superhero to battle Tiffany and her terrible tarts, but naturally she hotly rejects his insane suggestion. Realising only he can now stop the bad girls, Ronald rushes to the toilets for more of the purple water only to find a repair crew fixing the damage he caused and the water there is fresh, clear and very, very, normal…

In ‘Party Girls’ (illustrated by Christine Norrie & J. Bone) the Petty, Pretty Things are going firmly off the rails, with stealing test answers and framing others for indiscretions – just because they can – quickly graduating to raiding ATMs, purloining booze and shop-lifting.

Meanwhile Ronald accidentally stumbles upon the true source of the purple power juice and begins more testing, unaware that a Federal investigation team is covertly examining the damaged washroom and other odd occurrences in San Narciso…

At an unsanctioned party the girls go wild, at last realising that their incredible abilities can make them… celebrities!

In her egomaniacal smugness Tiffany causes one boy severe injury but when the police arriveBrittanyturns into a cop and “escorts” her sinister sisters out of custody…

Narrowly escaping arrest herself, Lauren awakes the next morning feeling awful and gradually realises that she can read minds…

With her new cacophonous and distracting ability it doesn’t take long to discover that Ronald has dosed her with the mystery fluid, but ‘Mindfield’ offers temptation beyond endurance, as her power – once she gets the hang of it – makes Lauren’s life so much easier. Still a probationary member of Tiffany’s clique, she also becomes privy to the terrified intimate thoughts of Destinee, Ashley and Brittany, and what they really feel about themselves and their self-obsessed leader. Aware of how close to the dark side she has drifted, Lauren confides everything to Simone. Meanwhile Agents Osgood and Buckner are keenly watching the Bad Girls’ every move and when Destinee is caught shoplifting again a frantic chase results in the invisible girl’s death…

‘Girl, Intercepted’ (art by Norrie & Daniel Krall) opens at the funeral with Destinee, Ashley and Tiffany far more concerned about how they’re dressed than the fate of their departed… associate… uncaring of the rumours now circulating. Lauren decides to use her power to surreptitiously help her school mates and teachers – although for some reason she cannot read science teacher Mr. Heisenberg’s mind – but Ronald has his own problems: Snowie and Doodles have broken free of their cage and escaped…

At least that’s what Heisenberg wants the geeky kid to believe…

Events come to an unbelievable head after the girls finally discover Lauren’s sneaky secret power and throw her out of a skyscraper, before going on one final petulant rampage. In a torrent of frantic revelation the agents’ true aims are exposed, the origin of the power-potion disclosed, Heisenberg’s schemes are uncovered and a few more astounding surprises unleashed in ‘All Bad Things Must Come to an End’: a thrilling and cynically satisfying conclusion that will delight fun-loving readers and viewers alike.

This fabulous engaging tome also includes the gallery of spiffy covers by Darwyn Cooke and a Sketches section of Jennifer Graves’ production designs.

© 2003 Steve Vance and Jennifer Graves. All Rights Reserved. Cover, text and compilation © 2009 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Amazing Athletes – 50 Remarkable Athletes of History


By Till Lukat, translated by Cecil Bronswear (Centrala)
ISBN: 978-1-912278-13-8 (HB)

We’re all in need of role models and actual heroes – these days more than ever. Here’s a charming little (245x x 330 mm) hardback compendium aimed squarely at kids but delivering a mighty sardonic kick for all lovers of competition and achievement.

Comics and graphic novels have an inconceivable power to deliver information in readily accessible form, and – like all the best teachers – can do so in ways that are fascinating, fun and therefore unforgettable. Berlin-born world traveller Til Lukat splits his time between there and Bristol these days, crafting award-winning comics such as Tuff Ladies and this compilation of sporting memorabilia.

Listed here, with no patronising division into sex-based niches, is a wittily engaging primer of the greatest exponents of victory, defeat and all aspects of sporting accomplishment, delivered as a portrait, minicomic and fact-packed text block. The fun begins with an introductory spread recalling the ‘Good Old Times’ of ‘Milo of Croton’ before jumping to 19thcentury cyclist ‘Henri Desgrange’ and mountain climber ‘Alexandra David-Néel’.

Other entrants include the proud, famous, notorious and simply tragic such as ‘Francisco Lázaro’, ‘Johnny Weissmüller’or ‘Yuliya Stepanova’ as well as the generally unsung like ‘Alfonsina Strada’, ‘Helene Mayer’, ‘Jesse Owens’, ‘Fanny Blankers-Koen’, ‘Toni Stone’, ‘Barbara Buttrick’, ‘Tamara Tyshkevich’, ‘Wilma Rudolph’, ‘Katherine Switzer’, ‘Florence Griffith-Joyner’, ‘Tonya Harding’, ‘Ellen MacArthur’ and many others.

Crucial moments in sporting history are précised in spreads such as ‘Christmas on the Front’, ‘Equality: 1 Disability: 0’, ‘A Clean Game’, ‘Kicking Apartheid’ and ‘The Dark Side’ while adding intrigue if not lustre is the ‘Sibling Rivalry’ of Rudolf and Adolf Dassler (you should look them up, or better yet buy this book) to seal a superbly entertaining deal combining comics dash with athletic glory.
© Till Lukat & Cambourakis 2017. All rights reserved.

The Magical History Tour volume 1: The Great Pyramid


By Fabrice Erre &Sylvain Savoia translated by Joseph Laredo (Papercutz)
ISBN: 978-1-54580-633-3 (HB)

Here’s the first instalment of a superb European export designed to make history even more compelling for kids. Originally edited by the fabulous Lewis Trondheim and Frédéric Niffle, Le Fil de l’Histoire is a series of handy introductions to pertinent periods starring an all-wise older sister and her little brother who visit key moments and learn lots.

This kiddies’ hand-sized hardback tome was originally Tome 2: La Pyramide de Khéops, and sees Annie turn young Nico’s Lego-building triumph into an immersive teaching moment, whisking them back to see the great Pyramid in all its glory, detailing how and why it was built and conducting a tour of the interior most Egyptologists would give their last scarab cartouche for…

Responsible adults are author/educator/newspaper columnist and Doctor of History Fabrice Erre while illustration honours go to diligent comics pro Sylvain Savoia, who will be further entertaining later this month when I review his magnificent Marzi series. Trust me, you can’t wait…

Today’s treat also offers building techniques, comparisons of other mastabas, mausoleums and tombs and traces the history of the magnificent edifice through the centuries. Herodotus’ misreading of facts, the Caliph of Baghdad’s brutal desecration of the site, tomb robbers, Napoleon’s obsession and others interactions are all covered as well as a peek into possible future of the site.

Adding extra value are biographies of Imhotep, Cheops, Hemiunu, Herodotus, plans of the Giza Plateau, the Six Other Wonders of the World (now lost) and a comprehensive Timeline.

History is fun and comics are great. This book is both. Add it to your shelves and brace yourself for the chronicles to follow.
© 2018- DUPUIS – Erre – Savoia. All other material © 2021 Papercutz.

The Underground Abductor (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales)


By Nathan Hale (Abrams/Amulet Books)
ISBN: 978-0-4197-1536-5 (HB)

Author/cartoonist Nathan Hale has a famous namesake and has been riffing on him, with great effect, for over half a decade now. I don’t know if he – and his familial collaborators – have any genealogical connection to the American spy and war hero of the same name, but the lightly comedic cartoon history books (such as One Dead Spy and Alamo All-Stars) that bear their shared name are a sheer, educative delight: making some pretty tough and harrowing material palatable and memorable by mixing fact and happenstance with a witty veneer of whimsy…

First released in 2015, The Underground Abductor traces the astounding life and exploits of Delaware slave Araminta Ross and how she saved countless black lives, ferrying them so safety in Canada in the days prior to the American Civil War on the “Underground Railway”. You probably know her as freedom fighter, abolitionist and secret agent Harriet Tubman

Rendered in welcoming, comfortable but fact-intense muted color and monochrome cartoon strips with beguiling overtones of the Horrible History books, her incredible exploits will delight and charm you and your kids and – like the other volumes of this wonderful series – ought to be a treasured part of every school library… once we have those again…
Text and illustrations © 2015 Nathan Hale. All rights reserved.

Bogart Creek volume 1


By Derek Evernden (Renegade Arts Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-98890-349-1 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-98890-355-2

Fancy a laugh? Not one of those genteel chuckles, but a big hearty guffaw laced with a heaping dose of old-fashioned guilt because the subject matter might be a bit cruel or near-the-knuckle. Hilarity evincing undertones of nervous titters because the whole thing is just a bit strange and surreal?

If so, Derek Evernden has got you covered…

You know that old line about writing/drawing what you know? Evernden grew up in actual Bogart Creek, Ontario, so let’s all hope at least some of this stuff is just made up, right? He’s Canadian, so is polite and sympathetic, but clearly, he’s also the other sort of Canadian: someone with a lot to laugh at, plenty of time to sit up and take notice and probably perfused with that slow-burning, ever-mounting rage everyone gracious and well-mannered has boiling inside, because of the nonsense the rest of us get up to…

The strip Bogart Creek is a daily single panel gag delivered in a variety of artistic styles; turning a mordant, trenchant and cruelly satirical eye on modern life. It deftly offers the lighter side of suicide, philosophy, crime, psychiatry, the natural (!?) world, murder, movies, fashion, vengeance, sports, cryptozoology, popular culture and anything else two strangers might feel compelled to discuss at a water cooler or bus stop in deference to social convention…

The strip is also hopelessly addicted to painful punning on a mega “dad-joke” scale, absurdist revelation and surreal slapstick. The creator has mastered the art of marrying funny notions to effective dialogue and efficient, smart cartooning. Evernden proudly admits his debt to and influence of Gary Larson’s The Far Side, but he can’t blame that guy for all of this stuff…

Sick, inventive, witty: instantly addictive and charmingly outrageous, this is a collection (in paperback or digital editions) to delight any weary adult in need of tension release and a therapeutic slice of schadenfreude.
Cover illustration, book design and cartoons all © 2019 Derek Evernden. All rights reserved.