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.

Marney the Fox


By Scott M. Goodall & John Stokes (Rebellion Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-78108-598-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shocking, Unforgettable and Unmissable British Drama… 10/10

At first glance British comics prior to the advent of 2000AD seem to fall into fairly ironclad categories. Back then, you had genial and fantastic preschool fantasy, a large selection of adapted TV and media properties, action, adventure, war and comedy strands. A closer look though, would confirm that there was always a subversive undertone, especially in such antihero series as Dennis the Menace, The Spider or the early Steel Claw.

…And then there was Marney the Fox.

Created and scripted by prolific veteran Scott Goodall (Captain Hurricane, Kelly’s Eye, Cursitor Doom, Captain Scarlet and dozens more), the series ran in multipurpose anthology Buster from June 22nd 1974 to September 4th 1976 and – even in a weekly periodical notorious for its broad and seemingly mismatched mix of themes and features – stuck out like a sore thumb.

Not for any lack of quality, of course.

Compellingly scripted by Goodall and set in his beloved Devonshire country, the serial was lavishly, almost hauntingly illustrated by frequent collaborator John Stokes (Black Knight, Father Shandor, Maxwell Hawke, L.E.G.I.O.N., Aliens, Star Wars, The Invisibles), with whom the writer had already crafted for Buster seminal classics Fishboy and The War Children.

Marney the Fox was very much a passion project and a creature of its times. If you look at the ordering descriptions online or even revel in the gorgeous and serene cover embellishing this luxurious hardback or digital compilation, you might conclude it’s a natural history strip or animal adventure along the lines of Lassie or Black Beauty.

Don’t be deceived. The books you should be thinking of here are Ring of Bright Water, Tarka the Otter and A Kestrel for a Knave (or Kes, if you don’t read As Much As You Should, but do watch movies). The deftly-constructed atrocities beautifully limned in every 2-page monochrome instalment were – and remain – brilliant naturalist propaganda and should be mandatory reading for every person who lives in, near or with the natural environment…

For two years the trials and tribulations of barely-weaned orphan fox cub Marney the Wandering One were a painfully beautiful, harrowing account of the horrors rural folk – from poachers to soldiers on manoeuvres to roadbuilders to landed gentry and their bloody hounds – all casually inflicted on unwelcome wildlife and ones that must have traumatised and successfully indoctrinated a generation of kids.

From his first encounter with and narrow escape from despicable mankind, young Marney endures a ghastly litany of close shaves, bolstered by far too few happy, peaceful moments as he flees from crisis to crisis until mercifully finding refuge and contentment. I had to put that last bit in because this is a sublime piece of comics wonderment, that everybody should read, but the weekly cliff hangers and sheer mental and physical abuse the little guy barely survives every seven days would have Batman, Captain America and Judge Dredd rushing for Valium and comfort blankies in an instant…

So take it from me: the fox lives happily ever after, okay?

Augmented by an Introduction from John Stokes, this is magical and unique comics entertainment, suitably acid-coating the hard, harsh life of British wildlife and the ignorance and cruelty of many – but not all – people. It’s also a story you must see and will never forget.
™ & © 1974, 1975, 1976, & 2017 Rebellion Publishing Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Leaf


By Daishu Ma (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-853-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfectly Confirming Life and Liberty 9/10

Sequential Art – or “comics” as I stubbornly prefer to think of it – is generally typified as a marriage of text with a series of illustrations designed to tell a story and impart a mood, but it’s always been a nebulously open-ended venture with little time for hard and fast rules and happy to avoid definition.

For instance if a story has an overabundance of words in too few pictures, the result is little more than illustrated prose, but if you go the other way and minimise, or even completely exclude words, what you have is the absolute zenith in comics communication. And more often than not, it’s the best writers who use the least verbiage, whether they illustrate the story or not…

Daishu Ma is a Chinese cartoonist, artist and designer working in Barcelona. This, her first graphic novel Leaf, rapidly joined a rarefied band of international illustrative icons (Jim Woodring, Jason and our own Raymond Briggs being regularly amongst the most prominent) who frequently eschew and transcend the printed word and strictures of graphic narrative, allowing methodically crafted imagery to establish scenes, define characters, create nuance and carry a tale.

…Or rather here, a politically-edged, industrially-condemning eco-parable, since her sublime, meticulous and astonishingly beguiling pencil-tone art – enhanced by smartly applied splashes of mood-enhancing pastel colour – exposes a blandly bleak industrial environment on the brink of eradicating the last vestiges of the natural world…

This is a story you must experience for yourself so let’s content ourselves with the basic facts: when a young man on an excursion finds a fallen leaf which pulses with an uncanny, comforting radiance he covertly takes it back to the ever-sprawling city.

His teeming conurbation, bustling office of employment and even extremely basic, always empty apartment are all drab and dolorous despite the plentiful supply of monopolistic artificial lights and he realises that what he’s found is something special, even inspirational.

Increasingly obsessed, he roams the bustling city, seeking someone who can explain what he hides in his home. The revelatory journey takes him to unsuspected, people-packed enclaves of joy, wonder and despondency and into many folks’ lost memories of better times, when he encounters a young woman who has dedicated her life to understanding the rapidly vanishing flora of the world and a strangely timid old man who seems to know all the secrets of light-making…

And once the finder obsessively follows a convoluted trail to a hidden truth, how can he not risk everything in a bold act to change his overcrowded, oppressive, unhappy world?

Entrancing, subtle and seductive in a purely primal manner, Leaf offers a vision of hope for all lovers of beautiful simplicity and natural wonder.
© 2015 Daishu Ma. All rights reserved.

Vlad the Impaler: The Man Who Was Dracula


By Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colón (Plume/Penguin Group USA)
ISBN: 978-1-59463-058-3 (HB) 978-0-452-29675-2 (PB)

Here’s a handy “heads-up” Horrible History hint if you’re looking for something to set the tone for the Halloween we’re ALL NOT GOING TO ENJOY THIS YEAR, available in hardback, soft cover and digital editions.

As writer and editor, Sid Jacobson masterminded the Harvey Comics monopoly of strips for younger American readers in the 1960s and 1970s, co-creating Richie Rich and Wendy, the Good Little Witch among others, before working the same magic for Marvel’s Star Comics imprint, where he oversaw a vast amount of family-friendly material; both self-created – such as Royal Roy or Planet Terry – and a huge basket of licensed properties.

In latter years, he worked closely with fellow Harvey alumnus Ernie Colón on such thought-provoking graphic enterprises as The 9/11 Report: a Graphic Adaptation and its sequel, After 9/11: America’s War on Terror. In 2009 their epic Che: a Graphic Biography was released: separating the man from the myth of Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, universal icon of cool rebellion.

Ernie Colón was born in Puerto Rico in 1931: a creator whose work has been loved by generations of readers. Whether as artist, writer, colourist or editor his contributions have benefited the entire industry from the youngest (Monster in My Pocket, Richie Rich and Casper the Friendly Ghost for Harvey Comics, and many similar projects for Marvel’s Star Comics), to the traditional comicbook fans with Battlestar Galactica, Damage Control and Doom 2099 for Marvel, Arak, Son of Thunder and Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld, an Airboy revival for Eclipse, Magnus: Robot Fighterfor Valiant and so very many others.

There are also his sophisticated experimental works such as indie thriller Manimal and his seminal genre graphic novels Ax and the Medusa Chain. From 2005 until his death in 2019 he created the strip SpyCat for Weekly World News.

Jacobson and Colón together are a comics fan’s dream come true and their bold choice of biography and reportage as well as their unique take on characters and events always pays great dividends. Vlad the Impaler is by far their most captivating project: a fictionalised account of the notorious Wallachian prince who was raised by his enemies as a literal hostage to fortune, only to reconquer and lose his country not once, but many times.

The roistering, bloody, brutal life of this Romanian national hero and basis of Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula is a fascinating, baroque, darkly funny yarn, capturing a troubled soul’s battle with himself as much as the Muslim and Christian superpowers that treated his tiny principality as their plaything.

With startling amounts of sex and violence this book makes no excuses for a patriot and freedom fighter who was driven by his horrific bloodlust and (justifiable?) paranoia to become a complete beast: clearly the very worst of all possible monsters – a human one.

Sharp, witty, robust and engaging, with a quirky twist in the tale, this is a good old-fashioned shocker that any history-loving gore-fiend will adore.
Text © 2009 Sid Jacobson. Art © 2009 Ernie Colón. All rights reserved.