The Wolf of Baghdad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Young Men volume 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mimi and the Wolves volume 1

By Albaster Pizzo (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-548-6 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A New Fairy Tale with Plenty of Bite… 9/10

Alabaster Pizzo is an animator and cartoonist who hails from New York, but these days makes her living in Los Angeles. A graduate of the School of Visual Arts, she’s been intermittently releasing episodes of an epic anthropomorphic post-modern fantasy since 2013.

When not animating or storyboarding for major companies you or your kids are quite familiar with, she crafts her own comics such as Ralphie and Jeanie, Hellbound Lifestyle and more of the one under consideration here…

Those early Mimi minicomics – three thus far – have been lavishly compiled into a sturdy hardback monochrome tome by the astute powers-that-be of British publisher Avery Hill and comprise the opening salvo in what I trust will be a potent and lengthy allegory for personal empowerment… as all the best fairy tales are…

Preceded by a handy and informative map of the bucolic Hilly City region and a roll call of the major characters, Mimi and The Wolves Act I ‘The Dream’ opens with enigmatic, voyeuristic magician Severine chiding her attendant spirits in snow-draped forests before herbalist Mimi goes gathering plants and herbs for the constructions, concoctions and confections she makes.

Times are tough for her and partner Bobo, but they have good friends in the same boat and each other, so the treehouse they live in is all they really need…

The couple spend a lot of time helping out old farmers Cato and Ceres. Shady Island Farm is getting to be too much for them, so trading toil for food is always a welcome standby option…

Thankfully, Saffron at the general store is always ready to trade for Mimi’s creations and the farm’s dwindling produce, but the sensitive artisan is painfully aware that unrelenting strain is getting the better of her fellow workers. Tough but happily idyllic, life would be perfect for Mimi if only she wasn’t plagued by horrific dreams and terrifying nightmares…

Determined to get to the bottom of her traumas, Mimi distils a brew to provoke a lucid dream and is “rewarded” with an audience: a face to face confrontation with a seeming goddess calling herself the Holy Venus. The ethereal visitor tells her to seek out like-minded others and reveals to her a strange symbol by which she will know them…

As spring turns to summer, the image obsesses her and becomes part of her artistic output, much to the growing discomfort and increasing resentment of Bobo. Evermore distracted, Mimi forages deeper into the woods around the village and one day comes face to face with a huge wolf…

For small woodland creatures like her and Bobo, the giant predators are a constant terror, but this one is different. His name is Ergot and he is a dedicated follower of the Holy Venus. In Mimi he sees not lunch, but a fellow congregant. Before long she is invited to join his pack and share knowledge. Hungry for answers – and new experiences – the little artisan slowly falls under Ergot’s sway, and her life changes forever…

Act II ‘The Den’ was included in Best American Comics 2015 and reveals how life has treated Mimi since Bobo turned into an abusive controlling dick and she moved in with the wolves. Ergot and his mate Ivy have been sharing history and doctrine with her, but other than her former lover Mimi still maintains contact with hr other friends in Hilly City.

That circle expands when Ceres and Cato take in wandering musician Kiko, and all but implodes when Mimi finally introduces them all to Ergot. Some prejudices are hardwired and cannot be placated or ameliorated…

Life becomes even more bewildering after she meets other wolfpacks. Cobalt, Copper and Opal are friendly enough – although they have unspoken problems with Ergot – but night-dark Nero and Galena live up to every scary stereotype the city folk hold dear… and they seem to have an unsettling, unspecified interest in Mimi…

Events take a dark turn in Act III ‘The Howl’ after the revelation that constantly-observing Severine has a foreboding connection to the Holy Venus and is gradually enacting a long plan. Mimi, however, is now fully inducted into the pack, but blithely unaware that she is a highly desirable pawn in plans between rival groups who act more like cult “Families” than simple kin.

When Nero approaches her, she is so terrified that she flees back to her city friends, but soon returns to the lupine lair and agrees to attend a large gathering of packs.

And in the unnoticed background, Kiko quietly observes all…

Joining the Howl is a big mistake. Mimi is attacked by Nero and given to the Holy Venus as an offering. Although possibly an induced hallucination, in the aftermath allegiances amongst the smaller packs are now twisted and shifted. When Ergot reverts to his true nature, the Goddess makes her move and Mimi comes into her true power…

One common notion of Paradises, Edens and Utopias is that they are always under imminent threat of ending. Life in the allegorical Hilly City and evergreen woods is a rural and a small town ideal, but it’s never portrayed as immutable and stable. Amidst the cunning social echoes of Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons – as plain and simple rustic folk eke out a hard but generally rewarding life – comes an implicit awareness that things beyond the group are disrupting and potentially harmful. Dissent is bad, change is bad, we trust only ourselves are proven truisms but they don’t mean a thing if the society harbours – and hinders – a rebel who needs to find their true self…

Bewitching and enticing, this is a magical mystery tour of self-discovery that will charm and reward readers, so why not start your own quest for knowledge by joining this pack?
© Alabaster Pizzo. All rights reserved.

Tamba, Child Soldier

By Marion Achard & Yann Dégruel & various; translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-236-6 (HB album)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Potent, Powerful, Unmissable… 9/10

It may be a wonderful world but modern Earth is far too often a terrible place, especially if you’re weak and powerless.

The global scandal and shame of children forcibly co-opted into paramilitary and terrorist groups is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history boys and girls have fought in adult wars. Comic books are full of them, but there’s two big differences: they all “volunteer” without being groomed by cruel power-obsessed scum and THEY’RE NOT REAL.

So prevalent and pernicious was the practise of African and Asian militias, religious groups and other factions (even governments), that in 2000 the civilised world agreed to an Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in Armed Conflict. The OPAC accord restricts armed forces recruitment to adults of 18 years or over and has become known as the Straight 18 standard.

It’s a good start but hasn’t stopped ambitious war-criminals and monsters raiding villages for kids, who they drug, beat and starve; enslaving and brutalising them to use as cannon fodder and shock troops in hope of securing their own evil ends.

Rather than concentrate on any specific case or example (there are so damned many) this stunning oversized (216 x 279 mm) full-colour hardback and/or digital book gathers and synthesises many true incidents into the dramatised testimony of Tamba Cisso: taken aged eight from his African village – along with all of his young friends – and forcibly inducted into a scavenging band of killers.

The specifics of the tragically documented events he participated in – and the unhappier fates of his fellow abductees – are revealed through the venue of his later testimony to an initially hostile crowd at a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation. Tamba’s account of everyday life as a reluctant warrior for a jumped-up rebel warlord is no less harrowing for being one step removed from our own world’s actual atrocities…

Acutely examining the greater effect of kidnappings on generations of citizens, Young Adults author Marion Achard (Je veux un chat et des parents normaux, Pourquoi je suis devenu une fille) brings bitterness, barely harnessed anger, righteous indignation and potent empathy to an appalling subject. Tamba, l’enfant soldat is her first graphic novel – hopefully not her last – rendered with vivid virtuosity and great subtlety by artist and animator Yann Dégruel (Genz Gys Khan, Sans Famille).

Augmenting their visual narrative is Achard’s text essay Child Soldiers: describing what happens to these shunned victims of violence and sharing some extremely disturbing facts and figures, and is augmented by features on Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Professor Laure Borgomano’s (Department of Defense, NATO) breakdown of the purpose and functions of The UN High Commissioner for Refugees: UNHCR…

Compellingly engaging and boldly, beautifully illustrated, this is a chilling, sobering yet ultimately encouraging reading experience everyone with a stake in a less toxic future must seek out and share.
© 2018 Edition Delcourt. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

For more information and other great and challenging reads see

Batman Begins – the Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight

By Scott Beatty, Denny O’Neil, Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham, Kilian Plunkett, Dick Giordano, Rick Burchett, Scott McDaniel, Tom Fowler & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0440-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Blockbuster Bat Fun… 8/10

It looks like I’m just destined to be wrong. Do you remember flared jeans, or even bell-bottoms? From which time? As the 1970s gasped to a close I said that we’d never see those again. Horribly, tragically, I was wrong.

I was seven when the Batman TV show first aired, and I loved it. By the time I was nine I had learned the word ‘travesty’ and loathed the show with a passion. When it was all over and the “Camp” fallout had faded from my beloved comics, giving way to the likes of Frank Robbins, Denny O’Neil and the iconoclastic Neal Adams, I was in seventh heaven and praised pantheons of deities that I should never see ‘Batmania’ again. I was, of course, doubly wrong.

The Caped Crusader reconquered the world in 1989 and only the increasing imbecility of its movie sequels stopped that particular multimedia juggernaut. Now there’s a been a whole new sequence of films (some not half-bad – though that’s beside the point) spin-offs and a new iteration beyond that beckons. Each of these cinematic milestones generated its own host of print (and latterly, digital) tie in Bat Products.

Originally released in 2005, this crafty marriage of an inevitable “Official Movie Adaptation” of Batman Begins with a well-considered selection of thematically similar stories is one of the best I can recall and a nice prospect if you’re looking for a great read or ideal gift option…

The lead feature – creditably handled by Scott Beatty on script with Kilian Plunkett & Serge LaPointe illustrating – is an intensely readable reworking of the myth, so much so that I was able, for once, to stifle the small, shrill and incessant comic-fan voice that always screams “why do they keep mucking about with this?”, and “why isn’t the comic version good enough for those movie morons?”

I do, however, still question the modern hang-up with having to start from origin stories at all. Was Star Wars: A New Hope a relative flop because we didn’t know how Darth Vader got Laryngitis? Which Bond movie tells us how he got to be so mean and sardonic? Why can’t film-makers assume that an audience can deduce motivation without a brand-spanking-new road-map every time? Although to be painfully honest, most modern comics seem to be afflicted with this bug too…

Could it be that it’s simply a cheap way of adding weight to the villain du jour, who can then become a Motivating Force in the Birth of the Hero? Said baddies this time out are the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul, but I’m not going to speak any more about the cinema or plot of a movie that’s already being superseded by this generation’s Gotham Guardian. Batman fans will have already passed judgement…

Accompanying the filmic iteration, and following a pin-up by Ruben Procopio, is ‘The Man Who Falls’ by the aforementioned O’Neil and veteran Bat-artist Dick Giordano and taken from Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Heroes. This is a skilful, engaging comics retooling of the so-pliable natal legend, created to address the media mania around the 1989 movie.

Hard on its heels and prefaced by a pin-up courtesy of Bill Sienkiewicz comes one of the better stories of recent vintage. ‘Air Time’ is by Greg Rucka, Rick Burchett & Rodney Ramos from Detective Comics #757 in 2001. It’s a taut countdown thriller that in many ways presages the style adopted for the wonderful procedural series Gotham Central.

KReasons’ (Batman #604, 2002), by Ed Brubaker & Scott McDaniel, revisits Batman’s origins in a tale seeking to redefine his relationship to inimical amour Catwoman, before the volume concludes with the brilliant ’Urban Legend’ from Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #168.

In a grim and unsettling tale of frailties, Tom Fowler illustrates a wickedly sharp Bill Willingham script stuffed with the dark humour and skewed sensibilities that made his Fables stories such a joy for grown-ups who love comics.

This is a smart package for any casual reader the films might send our way, with a strong thematic underpinning. In an era of streaming and ultra-rapid home release, I’m increasingly unsure of the merit of comic adaptations, but if you are into such things it’s probably best they’re done well, like here…
© 1989, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2012 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Who Killed Kenny? – 45 Cases to Solve

By Pera Comics (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-6811-2224-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Compelling Crime Cartooning… 8/10

There’s an irreverent, adult-oriented animated TV show about really unpleasant kids that’s quite popular around the world. It’s got a number of catch-phrases that people in the know often quote to each other. This book is nothing to do with that show in any way at all and besides, imitation as the cheapest sincerest form of flattery…

Seriously though, this tiny (130x 160 mm) hardback – or digital – diversion is as much game and quizbook as comics extravaganza, and although tipping its hat to the iconic South Park, is in fact a hugely popular fair play mystery game developed by cartoonist Alessandro Perugini and unleashed periodically on Instagram.

As “Pera Comics”, the artist explains it all in ‘Who is Pera’ and ‘Who is Kenny?’ but unless I’ve already convinced you to dash off and buy, I’ll blather on a bit and describe how the eponymous latter is a perpetual victim cast adrift in time and space and how each easily-accessible cartoon adventure finds him dead. From clues visual and verbal, participants must decide whether his fate is accident, suicide or murder. You get points for correct answers and rise up the rankings from Simple Agent through various Detective grades to, ultimately, a Pera Detective!

The eccentric exploits begin in ancient Rome with lengthy introductory adventure ‘The Ides of Kenny!’, to be followed by a flood of rapid-fire, funny, quirky brain-teasers such as ‘Who Killed Kenny? Devil or God?’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? Beethoven or Mozart’, ‘Who Killed Kenny? A, B, or C?’, ‘Homicide or Suicide?’, and ‘Who Killed Kenny? Zombie or Vampire?’.

The enjoyment and bloodletting never seem to end!
Deliriously daft, morbidly macabre and insanely addictive, this is a splendid treat for the easily bored with idle hands and will make for an ideal stocking-stuffer.
© 2018 Pera Comics/Tunué S.r.l. © 2019 NBM for the English translation.

Who Killed Kenny? will be published on November 14th 2019 and is available for pre-order now.
For more information and other great reads go to NBM Publishing at

Showcase Presents the House of Mystery volume 1

By Joe Orlando, Otto Binder, Jack Miller, Bob Haney, Neal Adams, Arnold Drake, John Albano, Marv Wolfman, Howie Post, E. Nelson Bridwell, Gil Kane, Mike Friedrich, Bob Kanigher, Jack Oleck, Joe Gill, Gerry Conway, Len Wein, Virgil North, Alan Riefe, Francis X. Bushmaster, Lee Elias, Doug Wildey, Carmine Infantino, Mort Meskin, Sergio Aragonés, Bernard Baily, George Roussos, Jack Sparling, Sid Greene, Bill Draut, Jim Mooney, Win Mortimer, Jerry Grandenetti, Bernie Wrightson, Wally Wood, Wayne Howard, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, John Celardo, Tony DeZuñiga, Leonard Starr, Tom Sutton, Ric Estrada, Jim Aparo, Gray Morrow, Don Heck, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, Nestor Redondo, Lore Shoberg, John Costanza & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0786-1 (TPB)

These days DC – particularly its prestigious Vertigo sub-division – are acknowledged leaders in comic book horror and dark fantasy fiction, with titles and characters like Swamp Thing, Sandman and Hellblazer riding high beside anthological and creator-owned properties all designed to make readers think twice and lose sleep…

As National Periodical Publications, the company was slow to join the first horror boom that began in 1948, but after a few tenuous attempts with supernatural-themed heroic leads in established titles (Johnny Peril in Comic Cavalcade, All Star Comics and Sensation Comics and Dr. Terry Thirteen, The Ghostbreaker in Star-Spangled Comics) bowed to the inevitable.

The result was a rather prim and straitlaced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles. The House of Mystery launched with a December 1951/January 1952 cover date and neatly dodged most of the later flak aimed at horror comics by the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency (April- June 1954). When the industry adopted a castrating straitjacket of self-regulatory rules, HoM and its sister title House of Secrets were dialled back into rationalistic, fantasy adventure vehicles, without any appreciable harm. They even became super-hero tinged split-books (with Martian Manhunter and Dial H for Hero in HoM, and Eclipso sharing space with mystic detective Mark Merlin – latterly Prince Ra-Man – in HoS)…

Nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and when the Silver Age superhero boom stalled and crashed at the end of the 1960s, it led to the surviving publishers of the field agreeing to loosen their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics. Nobody much cared about gangster titles, but as the liberalisation coincided with another bump in global interest in all aspects of the Worlds Beyond, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.” Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their tasty line of Red Circle Thrillers

Thus with absolutely no fanfare at all issue #174, cover dated May-June 1968 fronted a bold banner heading demanding “Do You Dare Enter The House of Mystery?” whilst reprinting a bunch of – admittedly excellent – short fantastic thrillers originally seen in House of Secrets from the heady days when it was okay and quite profitable to scare kids…

Incomprehensively, these classic yarns are still unavailable in digital compilations, although there’s a new (and rather expensive) hardback Bronze Age Omnibus edition out if you aren’t afraid of wrist strain. If cost is an issue and you don’t mind monochrome reproduction, this classic trade paperback – collecting the contents of The House of Mystery #174 -196 (May 1968 to September 1971) – is still easy to find and impossible to not enjoy…

Starting off with The House of Mystery #174, the opening shot is ‘The Wondrous Witch’s Cauldron’, by an unknown writer and compellingly illustrated by the great Lee Elias. It comes from 1963’s HoS #58, as does the tale that follows it. Equally anonymous, ‘The Man Who Hated Good Luck!’ is limned by Doug Wildey and leads to the only new feature of the issue – one which would set the tone for decades to come.

Page 13 was a trenchantly comedic feature page scripted by Editor and EC veteran Joe Orlando, suitable cartooned by manic genius Sergio Aragonés. It states quite clearly that, whilst the intent was to thrill, enthral and even appal, it was all in the spirit of sinister fun, and gallows humour was the true order of the day.

The comic then continued with an Otto Binder/Bernard Baily tale of the unexpected: ‘The Museum of Worthless Inventions’ (from HoS #13) and concluded with Jack Miller, Carmine Infantino & Mort Meskin’s fantasy fable ‘The Court of Creatures’ (a Mark Merlin masterpiece from HoS #43).

The next issue can probably be counted as the true start of this latter-day revenant renaissance, as Orlando revived the EC tradition of slyly sardonic narrators by creating the Machiavellian Cain, “caretaker of the House of Mystery” and wicked raconteur par excellence.

Behind the first of a spectacular series of creepy covers from Neal Adams lurked another reprint, ‘The Gift of Doom’ (from HoM #137, illustrated by George Roussos) followed by ‘All Alone’, an original, uncredited prose chiller.

After another Page 13 side-splitter, Aragonés launched his long-running gag page ‘Cain’s Game Room’ before the issue closed with all-new new comic thriller ‘The House of Gargoyles!’ by veteran scaremongers Bob Haney & Jack Sparling.

With winning format firmly established and commercially successful, the fear-fest was off and running. Stunning Adams covers, painfully punny introductory segments, interspersed with gag pages (originally just Aragonés but eventually supplemented by other cartoonists such as John Albano, Lore Shoberg & John Costanza).

This last feature eventually grew popular enough to be spun off into bizarrely outrageous comicbook called Plop! (but that’s a subject for another day…) and supplied an element of continuity to an increasingly superior range of self-contained supernatural thrillers. Moreover, if ever deadline distress loomed, there was always a wealth of superb old material to fill in with.

HoM #176 led with spectral thriller ‘The House of No Return!’ by writer unknown and the great Sid Greene after which young Marv Wolfman (one of an absolute Who’s Who of budding writers and artists who went on to bigger things) teamed with Sparling on paranoiac mad science shocker ‘The Root of Evil!’

Reprinted masterpiece of form from Mort Meskin, ‘The Son of the Monstross Monster’ – having previously appeared in House of Mystery #130 – leads off #177, and a 1950’s fearsome fact-page is recycled into ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ before Charles King and Orlando’s illustrated prose piece ‘Last Meal’ segues into dream-team Howie (Anthro) Post & Bill Draut produce a ghoulish period parable in ‘The Curse of the Cat.’

Neal Adams debuts as an interior illustrator – and writer – with a mind-boggling virtuoso performance as a little boy survives ‘The Game’, after which Jim Mooney’s spooky credentials are affirmed with ‘The Man Who Haunted a Ghost’ (first seen in HoM #35) and E. Nelson Bridwell, Win Mortimer & George Roussos delineate an eternal dream with ‘What’s the Youth?’ before ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Ghostly Miners’ closes the issue.

Bridwell contributes the claustrophobic ‘Sour Note’ as lead in #179, rendered by the uniquely visionary Jerry Grandenetti & Roussos.

A next generation of comics genius begins with Bernie Wrightson’s first creepy contribution. ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Man Who Murdered Himself’ was scripted by Wolfman and is still a stunning example of gothic perfection in Wrightson’s Graham Ingels-inspired lush, fine-line style.

This exceptional artist’s issue also contains moody supernatural romance ‘The Widow’s Walk’ by Post. Adams & Orlando: a subtle shift from schlocky black humour to terrifying suspense and tragedy presumably intended to appeal to the increasingly expanding female readership. The issue ends with another fact feature ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Tell Tales’.

Going from strength to strength, House of Mystery was increasingly drawing on DC’s major artistic resources. ‘Comes a Warrior’, which opened #180, is a chilling faux Sword & Sorcery classic written and drawn by da Vinci of Dynamism Gil Kane, inked by the incomparable Wally Wood, and the same art team also illustrate Mike Friedrich’s fourth-wall demolishing ‘His Name is Cain Kane!’

Cliff Rhodes & Orlando contribute text-terror ‘Oscar Horns In!’ and Wolfman & Wrightson return with prophetic vignette ‘Scared to Life’ before an uncredited forensic history lesson from ‘Cain’s True Case Files’ closes proceedings for that month.

Scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by the quirkily capable Sparling, ‘Sir Greeley’s Revenge!’ is a heart-warmingly genteel spook story, but Wrightson’s first long tale – fantastical reincarnation saga ‘The Circle of Satan’ (scripted by horror veteran Bob Kanigher) – ends #181 on an eerily unsettling note before #182 opens with one of the most impressive tales of the entire run.

Jack Oleck’s take on the old cursed mirror plot is elevated to high art as his script ‘The Devil’s Doorway’ is illustrated by the incredible Alex Toth. Wolfman & Wayne Howard follow with ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Grave Results!’, after which an Orlando-limned house promotion leads to nightmarish revenge tale ‘The Hound of Night!’ by Kanigher & Grandenetti.

In collaboration with Oleck, Grandenetti opens #183 with ‘The Haunting!’ after which, courtesy of Baily ‘Odds and Ends from Cain’s Cellar’ returns with ‘Curse of the Blankenship’s’ and ‘Superstitions About Spiders’ before Wolfman & Wrightson contribute ‘Cain’s True Case Files: The Dead Can Kill!’ and the canny teaming of Kanigher with Grandenetti and Wally Wood results in the truly bizarre ‘Secret of the Whale’s Vengeance.’

The next issue features the triumphant return of Oleck & Toth for a captivating Egyptian tomb raider epic ‘Turner’s Treasure’ whilst Bridwell, Kane & Wood unite for barbarian blockbuster ‘The Eyes of the Basilisk!’

House of Mystery #185 sees caretaker Cain take a more active role in the all-Grandenetti yarn ‘Boom!’, Wayne Howard illustrates the sinister ‘Voice from the Dead!’ and prolific Charlton scribe Joe Gill debuts with ‘The Beautiful Beast’: a lost world romance perfectly pictured by EC alumnus Al Williamson.

The next issue tops even that as Wrightson limns Kanigher’s spectacular bestiary tale ‘The Secret of the Egyptian Cat’, whilst Adams produces some his best art ever for Oleck’s ‘Nightmare’: a poignant tale of fervid imagination and childhood lost. Nobody who ever adored Mr. Tumnus could read this little gem without choking up… and as for the rest of you, I just despair and discard you…

Kanigher & Toth deliver another brilliantly disquieting drama in ‘Mask of the Red Fox’ to open #187, and Wayne Howard is at his workmanlike best on ‘Cain’s True Case Files: Appointment Beyond the Grave!’, before John Celardo & Mike Peppe render the anonymous script for period peril ‘An Aura of Death!’ (although to my jaded old eyes the penciller looks more like Win Mortimer…)

Another revolutionary moment occurs with #188’s lead story. Gerry Conway gets an early credit scripting ‘Dark City of Doom’: a chilling reincarnation mystery simultaneously set in contemporary times and Mayan South America, as the trailblazer for a magnificent tidal wave of Filipino artists debuted.

The stunning art of Tony DeZuñiga opened the door for many of his talented countrymen to enter and reshape both Marvel and DC’s graphic landscape and this black and white compendium is the perfect vehicle to see their mastery of line and texture…

Wrightson was responsible for time-lost thriller ‘House of Madness!’ which closes the issue whilst Aragonés opens the proceedings for #189, closely followed by Kanigher, Grandenetti & Wood’s ‘Eyes of the Cat’ and ‘The Deadly Game of G-H-O-S-T’ (from HoM #11: a 1953 reprint drawn by Leonard Starr) before another Charlton mystery superstar premiers as Tom Sutton illustrates Oleck’s ‘The Thing in the Chair’.

Kanigher & Toth team for another impeccable graphic masterwork in ‘Fright!’, Albano fills Cain’s Game Room and Aragonés debuts another long-running gag page with ‘Cain’s Gargoyles’ before this issue ends with Salem-based shocker ‘A Witch Must Die!’ by Jack Miller, Ric Estrada & Frank Giacoia.

HoM #191 saw the debut of Len Wein, who wrote terrifying puppet-show tragedy ‘No Strings Attached!’ for Bill Draut, as DeZuñiga returns to draw Oleck’s cautionary tale ‘The Hanging Tree!’ before Wein closes the show, paired with Wrightson on ‘Night-Prowler!’: a seasonal instant-classic that has been reprinted many times since.

Albano wrote ‘The Garden of Eden!’, a sinister surgical stunner made utterly believably by Jim Aparo’s polished art, Gray Morrow illustrates Kanigher’s modern psycho-drama ‘Image of Darkness’ and superhero veteran Don Heck returns to his suspenseful roots drawing Virgil North’s monstrously whimsical ‘Nobody Loves a Lizard!’

Wrightson contributes the first of many magnificent covers for #193, depicting the graveyard terrors of Alan Riefe & DeZuñiga’s ‘Voodoo Vengeance!’, whilst Draut skilfully delineates the screaming tension of Francis X. Bushmaster’s ‘Dark Knight, Dark Dreams!’

For #194, which saw House of Mystery expand from 32 to 52 pages (as did all DC’s titles for the next couple of years, opening the doors for a superb period of new material and the best of the company’s prodigious archives to an appreciative, impressionable audience), the magic commences with another bravura Toth contribution in Oleck’s ‘Born Loser’, swiftly followed by Russ Heath-illustrated monster thriller ‘The Human Wave’ (from House of Secrets #31), Jack Kirby monster-work ‘The Negative Man’ (House of Mystery #84) before Oleck and the simply stunning Nestor Redondo close the issue and this volume with metamorphic horror ‘The King is Dead’.

These terror-tales captivated the reading public and comics critics alike when they first appeared, and it’s no exaggeration to posit that they may well have saved the company during the dire downward sales spiral of the 1970. Now their blend of sinister mirth and classical suspense situations can most usually be seen in such series as Goosebumps, Horrible Histories and their many imitators. However, if you crave beautifully realised, tastefully, splatter-free sagas of tension and imagination, not to mention a huge supply of bad-taste, kid-friendly creepy cartooning, The House of Mystery is the place for you…
© 1968-1971, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Halloween Tales

By O.G. Boiscommun & D-P Filippi, translated by Montana Kane (HumanoidsKids)
ISBN: 978-1-59465-654-5 (HB)

The trauma-tinged, gluttonously anarchic ceremonies of Halloween are celebrated far and wide these days, and although the basic principles are fairly homogenised now, different regions can throw up a few enticing variations that are well worth noting.

A graphic series that proved a huge European best-seller when released in 2017, the three stories comprising this magnificent hardback compilation are also available digitally in the original 3-album format, albeit translated into English for your delectation and approval.

Snob and eco-supporter that I am, these days, I’m going to say buy or gift the book if you like: I’m reviewing the electronic editions here…

Devised by writer/artist Olivier Boiscommun (Renaissance: Children of the Nile) and full-time screenwriter/scenarist Denis-Pierre Filippi (Gregory and the Gargoyles, Muse, Fondation Z, John Lord), the overlapping adventures focus on a band of kinds in an oddly archaic city of indeterminate vintage. It’s a place of towers and cathedrals, strange moods and winding streets, perfectly captured by Boiscommun’s exaggerated painting style…

The first album – Halloween Tales: Halloween – finds a gaggle of adolescent children gathering to celebrate the night with frolics and mischief: elaborately costumed and frightening each other. However, gauntly-garbed Asphodel remains gloomy and aloof and soon heads off alone. Her thoughts are locked on death, until she is accosted by a strange clownish figure who seems barely real and seeks to alter her mood and mind with a strange philosophy…

Second volume Halloween Tales: The Story of Joe is delivered in eerie monochrome tones and hues and returns us to the mountainous outskirts of that dreaming city where little Bea can’t understand why her playmate Joe is being so mean. As they idle about on the rooftops, the boy and his new pet cat survive a close encounter with a huge bat that leaves Joe scarred and bleeding.

His doting dad is too busy working these days, so it’s Bea who first notices the bizarre changes – physical as well as emotional – that afflict her friend and culminate in him dealing with the bullies who persecute them with terrifying power…

Only when Joe’s awful transformation is nearly complete do Bea, the cat and his father find a way to challenge the tainted child’s descent into nocturnal isolation and monstrosity…

Scripted by D-P Filippi, Halloween Tales: The Book of Jack completes the trilogy with a return to vibrant colour as a pack of children led by overbearing Stan dare little runt Jack to break into a spooky haunted mansion. As the group approaches the dilapidated pile through a statuary-infested overgrown garden – or is it a graveyard? – lanky Sam tries to reason with her little companion. She has plenty of misgivings and a really bad feeling about all this…

Bravado and peer pressure win out though, and Jack enters the derelict building and soon discovers the biggest library in the world in its centre.

Suddenly panicking, he snatches up a tatty tome to prove he succeeded and dashes for the door. Only when they are all safely back outside the gates does Sam realise there’s something odd about the book. Many pages are blank, but gradually filing with spindly writing every moment – each unfolding line magically recording what Jack is doing as he does it.

Mean, jealous Stan sees an opportunity for mischief…

Next morning the book has vanished, and Jack is slowly transforming into a gigantic savagely uncontrollable beast. Sam instantly knows what’s happened and starts searching the city for the miraculous chronicle, determined to get it and literally rewrite her friend’s appalling future…

With All Hallows festive celebrations inexorably installed in so many modern cultures, it’s grand to see an alternative to the almost-suffocating commercialising and movie tropes where heart, sentiment and yes, unease and outright fear can be safely experienced and expunged.

These moody escapades are a true treat, in darkness or in light, and that’s no mean trick …
© 2017 Humanoids, Inc. Los Angeles (USA) All rights reserved.

Archie Horror Presents Chilling Adventures in Sorcery

By Harry Doyle, Gray Morrow, Marvin Channing, Don Glut, Steve Skeates, Mary Skrenes, Carol Seuling, Phil Seuling, Larry Hama, Bob Holland, Stan Goldberg, Vicente Alcazar, Dick Giordano, Carlos Pino, Dan DeCarlo, Howard Chaykin, Alex Toth, Bruce Jones, Ed Davis, Frank Thorne & various (Archie Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-62738-990-7 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Shockingly Wicked Chronicle of Chills… 9/10

For nearly 8 decades Archie Comics have epitomised good, safe, wholesome, fun but the company has always been a surprisingly subversive one. Family friendly – and not – iterations of superheroes, spooky chills, sci fi thrills and genre yarns have always been as much a part of the publisher’s varied portfolio as the romantic comedy capers of America’s cleanest-cut teens.

As you probably know by now, the eponymous Archie has been around since 1941, but the publisher has other wholesome stars – such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Josie and the Pussycats – in their stable, almost as well known… and just as prone to radical reinterpretation.

To keep all that accumulated attention riveted, the company has always looked to modern trends with which to expand upon their archetypal storytelling brief. The contemporary revival in horror across all media has thus resulted in a few supernatural sidebar titles such as Afterlife with Archie and Jughead: The Hunger.

Moreover, in times past the publisher have cross-fertilised their pantheon through such unlikely team-ups as Archie Meets the Punisher, Archie Vs Sharknado and Archie Vs Predator, whilst every type of fashion fad and youth culture sensation has invariably been accommodated into and explored within the pages of the regular titles.

Following-up the stunning success of aforementioned zombie apocalypse Afterlife with Archie, they took another boldly controversial step: radically reinventing their saccharine-TV teen witch in astoundingly sophisticated Chilling Adventures of Sabrina after playwright, screenwriter and comics scribe Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (whose many hits include The Mystery Plays, 4: Marvel Knights Fantastic Four, Stephen King’s The Stand and Afterlife with Archie amongst others) pitched the idea to re-imagine the saucy sorceress in terms of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

Archie Comics was no stranger to such material. In the 1970s the company created sub-imprint Red Circle for anthology terror tales during a previous supernatural boom time, before gradually converting the line to superhero features as the decade progressed and the fad faded. They even had resident witch-girl Sabrina narrating Chilling Tales of Sorcery for the first two issues…

The title dropped subhead “…As Told by Sabrina” for #3, and with #6 (April 1974) became Red Circle Sorcery until folding in February 1975’s issue #11.

In a great example of circularity, the newly-wicked 21st century Sabrina features snippets from the ‘70’s anthology, sparking this edgy compilation of many of those lost classics in a spiffy monochrome collection, available in paperback and digital formats.

Following a fervent Introduction by letterer and fright-fan Jack Morelli, the vintage terrors open with Chilling Tales of Sorcery …as Told by Sabrina #1 (September 1972): a rather standard anthology of short thrillers with twist-endings, little different from those churned out by DC, Gold Key or Charlton at the time and crafted by Archie’s on-staff comedy creators.

‘Behold the Beast’ by Frank Doyle & Stan Goldberg, revealed the fate of a lonely and misunderstood deformed lad, after which ‘The Boy Who Cried Vampire’ (Doyle & Dan DeCarlo) deals out ironic justice to a pesky kid and ‘Assignment in Fear’ (Doyle & DeCarlo) sees a teacher with a secret sort out a class bully in horrific style.

Anonymous prose yarn ‘A Real Hot Talent’ gets under the skin of a juvenile firestarter after which Doyle & DeCarlo return to exhibit ‘Quick Justice’ in an art gallery before Doyle & Goldberg reveal how ‘Curiosity Kills’ in a story of an accursed inheritance.

Issue #2 opens with Doyle & Goldberg’s ‘The Ultimate Cure’ wherein a waiting bride’s tragic misapprehension destroys her man and her sanity, and text tale ‘Look Upon Your Legacy’ warns of the dangers of an over-active imagination. Pictorial perils resume with ‘Sonny’s World’ (Doyle & Dan DeCarlo) with a little brat learning how to make all reality his plaything after which ‘The Measure of a Monster’ Doyle & Goldberg) sees mad science unleash a colossal creature and (almost) find a safe conclusion and the same creators outline the fate of a jewel-obsessed lass succumbs to ‘The Cameo’s Curse’

A massive shift in style and tone began with issue #3 (October 1973) as writer/artist Gray Morrow came aboard, personally crafting or supervising far more mature fare that seemed closer to Warren’s adult horror magazines than contemporary newsstand fare such as House of Mystery, Ghostly Haunts or Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery.

Dwight Graydon “Gray” Morrow was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1934 and studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. After serving in the army he moved to New York City in 1955 and began a steady career contributing strips, covers and illustrations to Cracked, Classics Illustrated, Atlas Comics (pre-Marvel), numerous children’s books and pulps such as Galaxy.

A master of graphic realism, his art and stories graced a vast array of comics titles, magazines such as Space: 1999 and alternative vehicles such as Wally Wood’s Witzend. He freelanced for dozens of companies (he co-created DC’s El Diablo and Marvel’s Man-Thing, and revamped Archie’s Black Hood into a gritty urban avenger during his tenure at Red Circle), as well as drawing the newspaper iterations of Tarzan and Buck Rogers. He won numerous awards – including three Hugos – over a long and extremely wide-reaching artistic life. He died in 2001.

His influence on the title was instantaneous. With the imprint renamed Red Circle Comics for the third (almost all-Morrow) issue, the new chief introduced a growing band of fresh writers and master artists, as the title unleashed a wave of terror tales that owed much to movies and TV of the period.

It began with ‘…Cat’ (written, drawn & lettered by Morrow) wherein a ruthless, misogynistic society burglar targets the wrong gem-bedecked senorita and lives to regret it forever.

Following prose thriller ‘A Stab in the Dark’ – exposing a plot to murder by witchcraft – a thematic diversion into EC-tinged science fiction finds a time traveller accidentally become an evolutionary ‘Missing Link!’ whilst a bereaved man investigates the death of a sister and discovers that a new ‘Immortality Factor’ is anything but.

An embezzler then pays the price for his betrayal in ‘Haunted Gallery’ before the issue closes with fact-page ‘Essays into the Supernatural’: a featurette by Phil Seuling & Morrow exploring timeless rituals of magic and the use of ‘Familiars’

Due to his prestige and sheer artistic quality, Morrow could call upon a lot of high-end associates to fill pages and #4 (December 1973) introduced an internationally famous master of mood as Spaniard Vicente Alcazar (Jonah Hex, Commando Picture Library, Star Trek, Space: 1999) began his association by writing and illustrating ‘Suicide… Maybe’: a saga of Faustian tragedy wherein a lifelong failure makes a fool’s bargain and discovers politics is the Devil’s playground…

Text vignette ‘Loophole’ also explores such contracts before Don Glut & Dick Giordano highlight the ‘Horripilate Host’ whose TV show excesses lead to infernal doom, after which Morrow adds a sinister tweak to the legend of Midas when a greedy creep gains the legendary ‘Golden Touch!’

The power of a Hebrew Golem deals poetic justice to a modern oppressor in ‘A Thousand Pounds of Clay’ by Glut & Alcazar before the issue ends with another fictive factoid as ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ finds Morrow exploring truths and fictions of ‘The Witch’

Cover-dated February 1974, #5 opens with a vivid pastiche of Arabian adventure courtesy of writers Morrow and Larry Hama. Limned by Alcazar ‘The Two Thieves of Baghdad’ exposes the fatal flaw of overconfidence before the all Alcazar ‘Esme’ details the fate of a hit-&-run victim whose vision is horrifically enhanced by her accident.

Morrow brings his lifelong affinity for baroque, barbaric science fantasy to the creepy epic ‘Barometer Falling…’ after which Alcazar’s ‘The Choker is Wild’ reveals the shocking history of blood-drinking sovereign Queen Maleena and the ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ featurette – by Seuling & Morrow – catalogues the totemic value of ‘Dragons’.

Red Circle Sorcery #6 (April) opens with ‘Warrior’s Dream’ by Steve Skeates, Mary Skrenes & Morrow as a lusty barbarian finally pays the price for all that wenching and, following an ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ page detailing legends of ‘The Werewolf’ (by Marvin Channing & Morrow), sees a conjuring upstart destroyed by a sagacious warlock in ‘Out of Practice’ by Seuling & Ed Davis.

British comics stalwart Carlos Pino was Alcazar’s studio partner for years (often collaborating as “CarVic”) and here he solos in Channing’s tale of vengeance-by-witchcraft ‘Death Goes to a Sales Convention!’, before Carol Seuling & Howard Chaykin go full medieval in epic saga of demonic manipulation and feline vengeance ‘The Patience of a Cat’

Futuristic sensory-inundation tech is the driving force in T. Casey Brennan’s extended prose mystery ‘Black Fog’ – illustrated by Morrow – after which Channing & Alcazar serve out just deserts to a serial womaniser in ‘Face of Love – Face of Death’ to close the issue.

Red Circle Sorcery #7 commences with ‘A Twist in Time’ by Skeates & Pino as an ancient wizard is drawn into Fate’s plan to punish a modern-day murderer after which Channing & Morrow explore legends of ‘The Dibbuk’ in another gripping ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ featurette before Channing & Alcazar memorably reveal the dangers of owing ‘The Knife of Jack the Ripper’

Channing scripts a rare but welcome artistic foray for Bruce Jones as ‘The Rivals’ follows two kids from mid-western poverty to dizzying heights and their grim, witchcraft assisted ends after which Brennan & Alcazar showcase the frustrating fate of ‘The Benefactor’ nobody will listen to…

Closing the chronological portion, ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ then offers a featurette by Morrow detailing ‘Possession and Exorcism’ which happily leads not to the end, but rather a selection of Bonus Stories from later issues.

From #9 (October 1974) comes ‘…If I Were King’ by Channing & the magnificent Alex Toth, wherein a meek nobody gets his greatest wish fulfilled – with the usual regrets – before #8 (August 1974) offers a compelling ‘Essays into the Supernatural’ featurette by Channing & Frank Thorne, detailing the tricks of pesky ‘Poltergeists’ and closure via illustrated calligraphic ode ‘The Spectre’ by Bob Holland & Morrow.

The company’s recent resurgence on TV and in the comics has seen a variety of alternate iterations of the timeless pantheons and this no-frills massively monochrome trade paperback (or digital download) is a perfect complement to those aforementioned horror-tinged titles.

Please don’t be put off by the black-&-white reproduction here: these tales are crafted by masters of line art and tonal values and their efforts actually benefit from the subtraction of the cheap colour used in the original releases. These are superb voyages into the bizarre unknown that no lover of dark fiction should miss.
© 2017 Archie Comic Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.