Walking Distance


By Lizzy Stewart (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN:978-1-910395-50-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Heartwarming and Thought Provoking… 9/10

Assuming you do still think, where do you go and what do you do to get in touch with yourself? I only ask because, in these days of a million and one ways to chemically, digitally functionally and emotionally sedate the mind, one the most effective ways to process information is still a good long walk…

Thirty-something artist Lizzy Stewart lives in London and Shanks’ Pony is not only how she manages city life but is also a physical act which seemingly obsesses her. She even keeps a list of favourite movie walks by a host of female stars that fit all her personal criteria for moments of perfection…

Walking Distance is a meandering meditation on right here, right now, utilising a stunning sequence of painted views of what she sees on her various perambulations – a stunning travelogue of London literally at ground level – wedded to tracts of text graciously sharing her innermost, scattershot thoughts and deliberations on notions that trouble women (and perhaps the odd man or two) today.

All the bugbears trot along: getting by, success and failure, body issues, direction and achievement, growing up and growing old, family pressures, norms of behaviour, unfair expectations, balances of power in gender relationships and what the future holds in store…

Naturally – and shamefully for us men – a large proportion of that menu includes concerns about personal safety and a right to privacy and agency in public. There’s isn’t a woman anywhere who hasn’t had a walk marred at some moment after apprehensively anticipating what a complete stranger in the vicinity might abruptly say or do…

Happily, the grim is balanced by the delightful: ponderings on art and work, a sense of home space and just the sheer joy of observing the fresh and new as well as the comfortingly familiar. There’s even room for intimate views of personal history and opinion, yet the overall progress is always hopeful, tending towards examination rather than hasty judgement or solutions and in the direction the walker chooses…

This beguiling stroll offers a blend of philosophy, anxiety and anticipation, all brainstormed as she – and you, if you can keep up – strides ever onward.

Clearly, walks do anything but clear your head, but can result in beautiful visual ruminations like this one: no glib sound-bite responses, no roles modelled and no solutions, but you can consider this a privileged personal chat while she walks and you don’t.
© Lizzy Stewart, 2019. All rights reserved.

Walking Distance will be published on October 24th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

The Thirteenth Floor volume 01


By John Wagner, Alan Grant & José Ortiz (Rebellion)
ISBN:978-1-78108-653-7 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eerie Seasonal Sensation… 9/10

It’s time for another shamble down memory lane for us oldsters whilst, perhaps, offering a fresh, untrodden path for younger fans of the fantastic in search of a typically quirky British comics experience.

This stunning paperback (and eBook) package is another knockout nostalgia-punch from Rebellion Studios’ superb and ever-expanding Treasury of British Comics, collecting the opening episodes of seminal shocker The Thirteenth Floor.

The strip debuted in the first issue of Scream and ran the distance – spanning all 15 issues from 24th March – 30th June 1984. It then survived the comic’s premature cancelation and subsequent merger, continuing for a good long while in Eagle & Scream – with the remaining stories here taking us from 1st September 1984 to 13th April 1985.

Although arguably the most popular – and certainly most lavishly illustrated – of Scream’s fearsome features, The Thirteenth Floor is actually the third strip to be gathered, having been preceded by Monster in 2016 and The Dracula File in 2017. We’ll get to those in the fullness of time…

This book carries out its terrorising in stark, shocking monochrome but does include at the end a gallery of full-colour wraparound covers by series artist José Ortiz, and then-newcomer Brett Ewins, plus introductory contextual notes from editor Ian Rimmer and a darkly dry history lesson from co-author Alan Grant. With regular writing partner John Wagner, he wrote all the electronically eldritch episodes as enigmatic “Ian Holland”.

Grant maintains the strip derived in part from his own time of residence on the 11th floor of a similar tower block, and, having done my own time in a south London multi-story edifice, I can imagine why the sojourn was so memorable for him…

The series benefitted tremendously from the diligent mastery of its sole illustrator – sublime José Ortiz Moya – a veteran creator with a truly international pedigree. He was born on September 1st 1932 in Cartagena in the Spanish region of Murcia and started professional illustration early, after winning a comics competition in national comic Chicos.

Whilst working on comics digest books and strips like as Sigur el Vikingo, he gradually transitioned to the better-paying British market to draw newspaper strip Carolynn Baker for the Daily Express in 1962. He also worked for many kids’ comics here before making a wise move to America in 1974, to become a mainstay of Warren Publishing on horror magazines Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella.

In the early 1980s Ortiz returned to Spain, joining Leopold Sánchez, Manfred Sommer and Jordi Bernet in short-lived super-group cooperative Metropol even as he worked with Antonio Segura on a number of long-lasting strips such as post-apocalyptic action-thriller Hombre.

Metropol’s failure brought him back to British comics where he limned The Tower King and The House of Daemon for Eagle, Rogue Trooper and other strips for 2000AD and this macabre masterpiece…

Ortiz continued to excel, eventually settling in the Italian comics biz, with significant contributions to Tex Willer, Ken Parker and Magico Vento. He died in Valencia on December 23rd 2013.

Because of the episodic nature of the material, originally delivered in sharp, spartan 4-page bursts (eventually dropping to a standard 3), I’m foregoing my usual self-indulgent and laborious waffle and leaving you with a précis of the theme and major landmarks…

A little way into the future (as seen from dystopian yet still partially civilised Britain in 1984), a council tower block is equipped with an experimental computer system to supervise all the building systems and services whilst monitors the welfare and wellbeing of tenants. Maxwell Tower (just one of the names we creative contributors waggishly called the offices of IPC’s comics division at the time) looms into the rather bleak urban night.

Within, however, novel computer-controlled systems assure everyone lives happy lives. The servers also manifest a congenial personality offering advice and a bit of company. Dubbed “Max” by tenants, it – like $%*£!! Alexa today – increasingly inserts itself into every aspect of their lives through its constantly active monitoring systems. For their own good, naturally…

Because humans are fallible and a bit silly, the builders and architects fancifully never designated a 13th floor. Cognizant of human superstition, they designed the block to arbitrarily transit straight from 12 to 14. A human onsite controller/concierge/handyman lives in the penthouse. His name is Jerry and everything is just hunky-dory… until one day it isn’t…

The troubles apparently begin when a mother and son move in. They are trying to make a new start after losing the family breadwinner, but are plagued by a particularly persistent and violent debt-collector. After Mr. Kemp threatens the bereaved Henderson family, he stalks into an elevator and is later found on the ground floor, having suffered an agonising and fatal heart attack. The police write it off as an accident or misadventure, but they don’t know the truth.

Over-protective Max is far more powerful than anyone suspects and can turn his lifts into a terrifyingly realistic arena of terror, judgement and retribution at will. He calls it his “Thirteenth Floor”…

Over the weeks and months that follow, Max detects outrages and injustices and subjects assorted vandals, hooligans, burglars, bailiffs, lawyers, conmen, extortionists, shoddy plumbers, shady workmen, and even a family of problem tenants preying on their own neighbours, to the varied and impossibly realistic terrors of the damned.

Equally vexatious to the monitoring machine is the useless bureaucrat from its own housing department who treats people like subhuman trash. Max devises a very special hell for him after his lazy blunders temporarily make one of Max’s families homeless…

Sometimes these experiences are enough to modify behaviour and ensure silence, but too often the end result is simply another death. It happens so often that Max is reluctantly forced to brainwash husky tenant Bert Runch into acting as his agent: a mindless servant hypnotically conditioned to act as Max’s arms and legs, excising incriminating evidence – or bodies – before forgetting what he’s done.

Sadly, veteran policeman Sergeant Ingram suspects something is amiss and doggedly persists in returning to Maxwell Tower over and over again, ultimately forcing the coddling computer into precipitate action…

Moreover, as Max’s actions grow increasingly bold, even Jerry starts to suspect something is wrong. When he checks the hardware and finds a cracked Integrated Function Module, Jerry calls in council computer experts and Max has to act quickly to preserve his newfound intellectual autonomy. This triggers a cascade of uncontrollable events with Max taking ever-crazier risks, resulting in the tower being stormed by an army of police determined to shut down the AI murder machine…

And that’s where this moody masterpiece pauses with a great big To Be Continued, but there’s a second volume coming soon…

These strip shockers are amongst the most memorable and enjoyable exploits in British comics: smart, scary and rendered with stunning imagination and skill. Don’t believe for a moment that the seemingly limited set-up restricts the visual impact. The eerie punitive illusions of The Thirteenth Floor incorporate every possible monster from zombies and dinosaur to hell itself and history’s greatest villains, whilst the settings range from desert islands to the infinities of time and space. This a superb example of sophisticated suspense, leavened with positively cathartic social commentary that is impossible to dismiss.
© 1984, 1985 & 2018 Rebellion Publishing IP Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Bakemonogatari volume 1


By OH!GREAT & NISIOISIN, translated by Ko Ransom (Vertical Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-947194-97-7 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Fabulously Fresh Fear-Fest… 8/10

Here’s a rare treat with a lot of timely punch and just a touch of wild exoticism to boost its appeal…

Based on his own immensely popular “Light Novel” series Monogatari – 25 volumes since November 2006 with at least three more imminently pending – the incredibly prolific NISIOISIN (sometimes called Nisio Isin and creator of Katanagatari, Kubikiri Cycle and prose adaptations of Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata’s Death Note) here oversees the transformation of his biggest hit serial into manga form by artist OH! Great (AKA Ogure Ito: best known for Air Gear, Tenjo Tenge, Biorg Trinity, Soul Calibur IV and assorted outbreaks of Tekken)…

Phenomenally successful, the Monogatari series began their transformation into manga in Kodansha’s Weekly Shonen Magazine in 2017 with this retelling of the first adventure. In fact it’s the first of two books and ends on a cliffhanger, but English-language publisher Vertical have slated the concluding book for early January release, so you won’t be on tenterhooks for too long…

Third-year high school student Koyomi Araragi is not normal. That’s mostly to do with having been targeted by a vampire and almost joining the ranks of the undead. Thankfully, he was saved by weird hobo priest Meme Oshino, who has made his life quite interesting ever since…h

The story begins with ‘Hitagi Crab’ as hopeful amorously overachieving Araragi meets a cute but violently defensive (perhaps “murderously psychotic” is more accurate after she almost kills him with the lethal stationery and pencil case tools in her bag!) girl and discovers she weighs practically nothing. Hitagi Senjōgahara‘s density and earthly grounding have been taken by a giant invisible crab monster…

Eager to help – she’s damaged and dangerous, but also incredibly vulnerable and beautiful – Araragi arranges a meeting with Meme, but the outsider priest knows there’s more going on than is being admitted. His harsh response in ‘Bakemono Gatari’ reveals not only the workings and motives of the gods and monsters which still infest the physical modern world, but also the concomitant burden of human sin and misery which attracts them. When cured and liberated Senjōgahara finally admits the long-buried secrets which have twisted and changed her, she makes a seemingly impossible request of her saviours…

To Be Concluded…

Aiding comprehension, the book graciously provides a comprehensive timeline feature with ‘Bakemonogatari in Detail’ offering comparison points between prose and manga iterations, plus lists of other media versions to track for total immersion and enjoyment.
© 2018 – NISIOISIN/Oh!great. All rights reserved.
Available in in both paperback and digital formats, this book is printed in ‘read-from-back-to-front’ manga format.

1066: William the Conqueror


By Patrick Weber & Emanuele Tenderini, translated by Pierre Bison and Rebekah Paulovch-Boucly (Europe Comics)
No ISBN:

Although I’ve never for a moment considered history dry or dull, I can readily appreciate the constant urge to personalise characters or humanise events and movements, especially when the job is undertaken with care, respect, diligence and a healthy amount of bravado.

Excellent case in point is this superb, digital-only retelling from 2011, postulating on individual motives and actions whilst relating the events leading up to the most significant moment in English – if not full-on British – history (apart from all the other ones). Other individual and national opinions may apply…

In case you were one of those who were asleep, surreptitiously ogling a classmate who didn’t even acknowledge your existence, or carving your name into a desk or a body part: on October 14th 1066, a force of French invaders led by William, Duke of Normandy clashed with the forces of Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson in East Sussex near Hastings (most historians agree that the actual bloodletting happened in a place later dubbed “Battle” and commemorated thereafter by the edifice of Battle Abbey).

Translated into a compelling and lovely digital edition thanks to the benevolence of the collective imprint Europe Comics, 1066: William the Conqueror opens with historian and author Patrick Weber’s foreword ‘Before Setting Sail’, revealing how the magnificent Bayeux Tapestry closely inspired the fictionalised account he crafted with veteran comics illustrator Emanuele Tenderini (Dylan Dog, Wondercity, World of Lumina).

The story is gripping and savvy, putting flesh and bones on a wide range of complex characters all trapped in a web of royal intrigue and savage power politics, long before Halley’s comet appeared in the skies over northern Europe more than a millennium ago. The war of nerves between the kings and kingmakers of proto-England, machinations of the ferocious Godwinson clan and untrammelled ambitions of the Norman Duke play out against the pitiful backdrop of a rich and powerful country suffering for lack of coherent – or even barely capable – leadership. The parallels to today are painful to behold and we all know how it turned out.

Here though is a possible explanation of why…

Most marvellous of all, this is also a brilliantly compelling adventure yarn with readers not sure who to root for before the big action finish…

Adding lustre to the tale is bonus section ‘Deep Within the Inner Stitchings’: an accessible exploration of the Tapestry accompanied by character sketches and designs.

Potent, beguiling, evocative and uncompromising, this a retelling any fan of history and lover of comics will adore,
© 2015 – Le Lombard – Tenderini & Weber. All rights reserved.

Melusine volume 1: Hocus Pocus & volume 2: Halloween


By Clarke (Frédéric Seron) & Gilson, coloured by Cerise and translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-20-5 (PB Album Hocus Pocus) 978-1-905460-34-2 (PB Album Halloween)

Teen witches have a long and distinguished pedigree in fiction and one of the most engaging of all first appeared in venerable Belgian magazine Le Journal de Spirou in 1992. Mélusine is actually a sprightly 119 years old and spends her days working as an au pair in a vast monster-packed chateau whilst studying to perfect her craft at Witches’ School…

The feature ranges from one-page gag strips on supernatural themes to short tales detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and her large circle of peculiar family and friends.

Collected editions began appearing in 1995, with the 26thEn rose et noir – published in 2018. Five of those have thus far made it into English translations thanks to the fine folk at Cinebook.

The name derives from European folklore: in olden days Melusine or Melusina was term for a flighty female spirit or elemental inhabiting a sacred spring or well…

The strip was devised by writer François Gilson (Rebecca, Cactus Club, Garage Isidore) and top flight cartoon humourist Frédéric Seron – AKA Clarke – whose numerous features for all-ages Spirou and acerbic adult humour publication Fluide Glacial include RebeccaLes Cambrioleurs, Durant les Travaux, l’Exposition Continue… and Le Miracle de la Vie.

Under the pseudonym Valda, Seron also created Les Babysitters and, as Bluttwurst, Les Enquêtes de l’Inspecteur Archibaldo Massicotti, Château Montrachet, Mister President and P.38 et Bas Nylo.

A former fashion illustrator and nephew of comics veteran Pierre Seron, Clarke is one of those insufferable guys who just draws non-stop and is sublimely funny. He also doubles up as a creator of historical and genre pieces such as Cosa Nostra, Les Histoires de France, Luna Almaden and Nocturnes and apparently is free from the curse of having to sleep…

Hocus Pocus was the 7th Mélusine album, originally released in 2000, and offers a fine place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content is 1- or 2-page gags which – like a young, hot Broom Hilda – make play with fairy tale and horror film conventions and themes.

When brittle, moody Melusine isn’t being bullied for her inept cleaning skills by the matriarchal ghost-duchess who runs the castle, or ducking cat-eating monster Winston and frisky vampire The Count, she’s avoiding the attentions of horny peasants, practising her spells or consoling dreadfully unskilled classmate Cancrelune. Her boyfriend is a werewolf, so she only sees him a couple of nights a month…

Her days of toil are occasionally spiced up with and put in perspective by sports days such as blindfolded broom-flying contests and there’s always dowager Aunt Adrezelle who is eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries…

After a splendid succession of quick-fire japes and jests, things take on a touch of continuity here and even tension when scandalous cousin Melisande pops in for an extended visit.

Spurning the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan, Melisande becomes a Fairy Godmother: all sparkles, fairy-cakes, pink bunnies and love. She’s simplicity, sweetness and light itself in every aspect, so what’s not to loathe…?

No sooner does the twinkling twit start to grow on everybody, however, than she falls victim to one of The Count’s periodic bite-fests and slowly metamorphoses into a true witches’ witch: skin-tight black leather, batwings and always ready for wicked transformations and sorcery duels at the drop of a pointed hat…

The situation comes to a head and the cauldron boils over in eponymous extra-long episode ‘Hocus Pocus’ wherein Melusine and Melisande finally face off to decide which witch is worst…

Clever, wry, sly, fast-paced and uproariously funny – whether physically printed on traditional paper or in digital incarnations – this compendium of arcane antics is a great taste of the magic of European comics and a beguiling delight for all lovers of the cartoonist’s art…

The second English-language collection happily offers more of the same. Mélusine is still a sprightly 119-year old, spending the days au pairing in a vast monster-packed, ghost-afflicted chateau whilst diligently studying to perfect her hereditary craft at Witches’ School…

The long-lived feature and attendant books have become an annual event, with a new collection every year: always offering everything from single page gag strips to full-length comedy tales on supernatural themes detailing her rather fraught life, the impossibly demanding master and mistress of the castle and a large circle of exceedingly peculiar family and friends.

Halloween was the 8th European Mélusine album, originally released in 2001: gathering a wealth of superb seasonally sensitive strips, and another great place for newcomers to start as the majority of the content comprises short gags starring the sassy sorceress.

Daunting dowager Aunt Adrezelle is always eager and happy to share the wisdom of her so-many centuries but so, unfortunately, is family embarrassment cousin Melisande who still spurns the dark, dread and sinisterly sober side of the clan to work in Fairy Godmothering field. She’s all insufferable sparkles, bunnies, love, it’s so hard not to loathe such a delirious confection of simplicity, sweetness and light itself…

This turbulent tome riffs mercilessly on the established motifs and customs of Halloween. Here, kids fill up to lethal levels on sweets and candies, monsters strive to look their worst, teachers try to keep the witches-in-training glued to their books and grimoires. Their over-excitable students rashly experiment on what to do with pumpkins – including how to grow, breed or conjure the biggest ones – all whilst the fearfully pious local priest and his flock endeavour to ruin all the magical fun…

Even ghastly Melisande gets in on the party atmosphere – in her own too nice-to-be-true manner – illuminating the happy shadows with too much sunshine and saccharine before the collection ends with extended, eponymous ‘Halloween’ wherein Melusine and Cancrelune learn the true meaning of the portentous anniversary after they inadvertently join the creaky, clacking cadavers of the Risen Dead as they evacuate their graves on the special night to fight and drive away for another year the Evil Spirits which haunt humanity…

Read before bedtime on paper or screen – and don’t eat any hairy sweets…
Original edition © Dupuis, 2000 by Clarke & Gilson. All rights reserved. English translation 2007 © Cinebook Ltd.

Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batman: Haunted Knight


By Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1 401-28486-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Timeless Seasonal Wonderment… 9/10

The creative team of Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale have tackled many iconic characters in a number of landmark tales, but their reworkings of early Batman mythology – such as The Long Halloween – must certainly rank amongst their most memorable.

Set during the Batman: Year One scenario created by Frank Miller, and originally released as a 13-part miniseries (running from Halloween to Halloween), it detailed the early alliance of Police Captain Jim Gordon, District Attorney Harvey Dent and the mysterious vigilante Batman, to destroy the unassailable mob boss who ran Gotham City: Carmine Falcone – “The Roman”.

However, even before that epic undertaking, the creators worked together on another All Hallows adventure; one that grew like Topsy to eventually become a triptych of Prestige One-Shot Specials under the aegis of Archie Goodwin’s most significant editorial project…

After the continuity-wide reset of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and with DC still in the throes of re-jigging its entire narrative history, a new Batman title launched, presenting multi-part epics refining and infilling the history of the post-Crisis hero and his entourage.

The added fillip was a fluid cast of prominent and impressively up-and-coming creators…

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight was a fascinating experiment, even if ultimately the overall quality became a little haphazard and hit-or-miss.

Most of the early story-arcs were quickly collected as trade paperback editions – helping to jump-start the graphic novel sector of the comics industry – and the moody re-imaginings of the Gotham Guardian’s early career gave fans a wholly modern insight into the ancient yet highly malleable concept.

As explained in ‘Trick or Treat’ – Editors Goodwin’s reproduced introduction from the 1996 compilation – the first Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special began life as a story-arc for the monthly series before being cannily promoted to a single, stand-alone publication released for October 1993. Its success spawned the two sequels also included in this volume and the aforementioned Long Halloween epic…

Collected in one spooky stripped-down paperback and/or eBook compilation, those three scary stories comprise a raw and visceral examination of an obsessive hero still learning his trade and capable of deadly misjudgements as seen in initial yarn ‘Fears’.

Here, after spectacularly capturing terror-obsessed psychopath Jonathan Crane, the neophyte Caped Crusader leaves him to mere policemen ill-equipped to cope with the particular brand of malicious insanity cultivated by The Scarecrow

It’s fair to say that the man behind the bat mask is distracted; still attempting to reconcile his nocturnal and diurnal activities, young Bruce Wayne is currently floundering before the seductive and sophisticated blandishments of predatory social butterfly and matrimonial black widow Jillian Maxwell. Faithful major-domo Alfred Pennyworth is not so easily swayed, however…

Left too much to his own devices, Scarecrow has run wild through Gotham, but when he abducts Gordon, he at last makes a mistake the Dark Knight can capitalise upon…

One year later another Halloween brings ‘Madness’ as rebellious teen Barbara Gordon choses exactly the wrong moment to run away from home: a night when her dad’s mysterious caped pal is frantically hunting Jervis Tetch – a certified nutcase abducting runaways to attend decidedly deadly Tea Parties orchestrated by a truly Mad Hatter

Steeped in personal nostalgia as a maniac rampages through his city, inadvertently trampling upon some of Bruce Wayne’s only happy memories (of his mother’s favourite book), the heroic pursuer almost dies at the hands of the Looking Glass Loon, only to be saved by unlikely angel Leslie Thompkins – another woman who will loom large in the future life of the Batman…

The final fable here pastiches a Christmas classic by Charles Dickens as ‘Ghosts’ sees a delirious Bruce Wayne uncharacteristically taking to his bed early on the night before Halloween.

After socialising with young financier Lucius Fox, eating bad shrimp and crushing baroque bird bandit The Penguin, our sick and weary playboy lapses into troubled sleep, only to be visited by three spectres…

Looking like Poison Ivy, The Joker and the corpse of Batman himself, whilst representing Past, Present and inescapable Future, these phantoms prove that only doom awaits unless the overachieving hero strikes a balance – or perhaps truce – between his two divergent identities…

Trenchant with narrative foreboding – long-time fans already know the tragedies in store for all the participants, although total neophytes won’t be left wondering – these eerily enthralling Noir thrillers by Loeb perfectly capture the spirit of the modern Batman, supremely graced with startlingly powerful images of Mood, Mystery and rampant Mayhem from the magic pencil and brush of Tim Sale, vividly augmented by the colours of Gregory Wright and lettering of Todd Klein.

Adding lustre to these moody proceedings are a gallery of prior covers culled from earlier collections as well as a Sale Batman sketch, making this one of the very best Batman books you could read.
So, do…
© 1993, 1994, 1995, 2014, 2018 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Golden Sheep Book 1


By Kaori Ozaki (Vertical Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-947194-80-9 (PB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Moving and Evergreen Family Drama… 9/10

Manga maestro Kaori Ozaki (An Angel Above the Piano, Immortal Rain, The Gods Lie) started her professional comics making at in 1993, aged 15. Since then has she become a byword for smart, compelling, sensitive storytelling, whether in the realms of high-flying fantasy or in more grounded, rationalistic human scaled stories.

Originally published in Japan as Kin no Hitsuji in Kodansha’s Afternoon magazine, The Golden Sheep falls into the latter category: examining bonds of friendship, burdens of family, dreams of success and the eternal youthful drive to escape and get away from the past. The serial began in September 2017 and ran until April 2019.

Childhood friendships are pure and earnest and wholehearted, but as Tsugu Miikura discovers, not always clearheaded or totally open. Growing up in a rural mountain community, she and classmates Sora, Yuushin and Asari swore lifelong fidelity – even burying a time-capsule of their secret wishes for the future in their favourite spot – but when the Miikuras moved to Osaka things changed. Now, six years later, with her dad gone, the large brood have been forced to move back and live with an aunt.

Although on the surface the high school pals are just bigger, there are deeply hidden and constantly growing divisions. Big city girl Tsugu now talks funny and has become a world-class rock guitarist, but doesn’t believe her soul is any different. Nevertheless, she can’t understand what has happened to her besties.

Studious Asari is superficially the same, but shows signs of becoming a really mean and backbiting sneak, whilst manga-obsessed, anime-loving Sora is now sullen, perpetually skips school and has frequent accidents that leave him battered and bruised. The biggest change is valiant Yuushin. Once a noble, honest, champion of the underdog, he’s become a cool, aloof bad boy leading a pack of young thugs and possibly even involved in criminal acts…

As Tsugu attempts to resume her place in the group, the changes they’ve all experienced push her further away from them and even her own family.

When she thwarts a suicide attempt by one of her beloved companions – at huge personal cost – she decides to run away to Tokyo with the despondent survivor. Penniless and without shelter, they skirt the fringes of a sordid world, only to stumble into another shocking surprise to her already-reeling sense of self and worth…

Alternating winning jolly charm with moving glimpses of the crisis besetting Japan’s directionless youth, The Golden Sheep promises to become a classic modern romance and survival testament for Young Adults: a book with lots to say and in a most captivating manner.
© 2018 Kaori Ozaki. All rights reserved.

Internet Crusader


By George Wylesol (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-51-6 (TPB)

I did consider saving this nifty novel enterprise for our upcoming Occultoberfest (not a Real Thing, except right here) month of horror and supernatural samplings, but – just like a sugar-deprived, axe-wielding kid in fancy dress – I simply couldn’t wait…

Baltimore-based George Wylesol (Ghosts, Etc.) is a cartoonist with lots to say and divers ways of doing so, and in Internet Crusader he channels his avowed fascinations (old computer kit and livery, religious iconography, the nostalgic power of commercial branding and signage) with his ongoing faith in the narrative power of milieu and environment – as opposed to characters – into a spookily sublime tale of demonic incursion and plucky outsider kids saving the world…

You won’t see them, however, except via their actions, as this gripping yarn is told in the form of a diabolically delightful epistolary novel, with all the action taking place on craftily reconstructed computer pages, packed with all the distracting screen furniture, intrusive pop-ups, message pings and emails and barrages of ads that infest modern tech interfaces.

And that the cleverest part here as the kid answering to the handle “Internet Crusader” is a typical, anti-social 12-year old drawn by Christian-supported porn-site come-ons into playing a game devised by the Devil to cripple Heaven through Denial-of-Service attacks and subvert humanity’s free will through similar modern arcana.

Thankfully, God still has a back door or two in reserve, and a desperate plan to save his creation from itself using the “insane gaming skillz” of select youngsters…

But in the eternal war of lies and willpower, can anyone, any message be taken at face value…?

A smart and compulsive experience seamlessly wedding plot to graphics and employing modern cinema’s ubiquitous (if perhaps comfortably obsolescent) computer interface imagery as narrative device is further enhanced for readers by the addition of a comics insert freebie: a faux users guide of the Evil One’s Portal 2 Hell Crusader’s Manual, layering in further immersive context to your reading gestalt.

Ignore the big words: this is clever and witty and fun, but not – as yet – available in electronic formats. Maybe that’s God’s Will too…

Supremely enjoyable, this is a book and experience that’s hard to fault, a joy to read and ideal to give as gift in the fraught months to come…
© George Wylesol 2019. All rights reserved.

Toys in the Basement


By Stéphane Blanquet, translated by Kim Thompson (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-402-6 (HB)

It’s a bumper time if you have kids who love the grimmer side of storytelling.  Here’s a superb slice of macabre all-ages Euro-whimsy, courtesy of the wildly talented and incredibly prolific Stéphane Blanquet (more than 64 art books, graphic novels, collaborative works and books for kids published since 1994 including Dungeon: Monstres volume 2, Kramer’s Ergot, and Zero Zero).

Do you remember the heart-wrenching scene in the 1964 stop-motion television classic Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer when he finds the Island of Misfit toys? Do you recall how all they wanted was children to love them? Hold on to that thought…

At a Halloween fancy-dress party a disgruntled little boy is sulking. In his heart he’s a vicious pirate king, but his cheapskate mother would only pay for a pink bunny costume nobody else wanted…

As the other kids tease and bully him, he retreats to a corner where he meets a geeky kid in a chicken suit.

Poultry boy has a broken leg and a raging thirst, but his friend – a girl in a kitten outfit – has been down in cellar fetching drinks for ages. After some pleading, Pink Bunny, keen to avoid further embarrassment, or to be seen with a nerd dressed like a chicken, goes after her.

At the bottom of the stairs he finds her paralysed with fear: the basement is filled with maimed and broken toys, alive, angry and determined to wreak bloody vengeance on the cruel children who maltreated and abandoned them. Luckily, because of their stupid outfits, the toys assume the kids too are dolls, because if they were real children…

Playing for time, Catgirl and Bunnyboy follow the maladjusted playthings to a vast underground cavern where all broken toys are massing, readying for the day they will rise and take over. The children gasp in horror at the artificial army’s secret weapon – a gigantic ravenous Frankensteinian beast named Amelia, cobbled together from thousands of discarded toy fragments, all hungry for righteous slaughter…

It’s at that moment Chicken-boy stumbles upon them and blows their cover…

Dosed with dry, mordant wit and just the right tone of macabre Ghost Train suspense, Toys in the Basement is a simply terrific goose-bumpy thriller rendered magical by the wildly eccentric, brilliantly imaginative and creepily fluid artwork of Blanquet. This dark delight – sadly only available in physical hardback form – also has the perfect moral message for loot-hungry, attention-deprived youngsters – and their kids and grandchildren too.
© 2005 Editions La Joie de Lire SA. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books. All rights reserved.