Commando Annual 1989


By various (DC Thomson & Co)
ISBN: 0-85116-422-6

Dundee-based DC Thomson is probably the most influential comics publisher in British history. The Beano and The Dandy revolutionised children’s reading, the newspaper strips Oor Wullie and The Broons (both created by the legendary Dudley D. Watkins) have become a genetic marker for Scottishness and the uniquely British “working class hero” grew from the prose-packed pages of Adventure, Rover, Wizard, Skipper and such action-packed  picture papers as Victor, Hotspur and Warlord.

Their comics for girls also shaped generations and still evoke passionate memories – don’t take my word for it either – just ask your mum or grandmother about Judy, Bunty, Diana, Mandy and the rest.

In 1961 the company launched a digest-sized title called Commando. Broadly similar in dimensions to a slim paperback book, it offered 68 black and white pages per issue and an average of two panels a page. Each issue told a complete war story (generally based in World War I or II – although all theatres of conflict have featured since) and told tasteful yet gripping stories of valour and heroism in stark dramas which came charged with grit and authenticity. The fully painted covers made them look more like novels than comics and they were a huge, instant success. They’re still being published.

A number of these stirring sagas have recently been collected in sturdy, capacious hardback volumes, re-presenting  a dozen classics at a time – and I highly recommend them (see for example Commando: True Brit in our own archive section) but in its decades of unflinching service Commando has occasionally produced other collections such as this redoubtable annual from 1989 (the first of two) which contains shorter stories in a more traditional panel format, rendered in varying degrees of colour and offering all new stories.

Because of previous company policy these tales are all uncredited, (happily not the case nowadays) but as I’d rather not prove my ignorance by guessing who did what, I’m saying nothing and you’ll have to be content with the work itself, although the many fan-sites should be able to provide information for the dedicated researcher. Typically when looking at British comics Gold, this book is readily available through a number of online retailers and wonderfully reasonable in price.

Behind the stunning wraparound cover by Ian Kennedy lie seven cracking yarns. In full colour ‘The Young ‘Un!’ follows coal ship crewman Joe Simes as he struggles to come to terms with his father’s death; a victim of the Royal Navy’s foolish, doctrinaire policies – or at least that what he thought until he joined up… whilst ‘No Surrender’ sees intransigent troublemaker Angus McKay fight his own comrades and Germans with equal passion during a mission to Norway and ‘Duel in the Sun’ pits rebellious Australian pilot Mark Hudson against his own commanders when all he really wants is to kill the Japanese genius shooting down allied pilots as if they were sitting ducks…

‘Killed in Action’ is the part-colour tale (black, white, grey and yellow) and sees cruel, cowardly lieutenant Vivian Fawcett-Bligh challenged by a common soldier who knows all his secrets. Set in the African desert in 1941, it doesn’t end the way you might expect… ‘Big Bird, Little Friend’ is another spectacular full-colour air adventure featuring two rival pilots – one British and the other an American – whose bitter quarrel is finally resolved in the flak-blistered skies over Europe and ‘The Good Soldier’ looks at the war through German eyes as Panzer commander Martin Winter becomes increasingly disaffected and appalled by SS atrocities on the Russian Front…

The strips conclude with another half-colour adventure ‘The Three Musketeers’: wherein three boyhood chums are reunited with explosive results on the beaches of Dunkirk, and this classy package also contains a wealth of feature pages and many brilliant painted pin-up pages.

So ubiquitous and effective were Thomson’s war publications that they moulded the character of three generations of boys – and continue to do so eight times every month. This magical slice of the Blitz Spirit is a wonderful example of purely British comic-making: rousing, passionate and winningly understated, so if you’re looking for a more home-grown comics experience, well-written and wonderfully illustrated, get some in and check this out…
© 1988 D.C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard volume 7


By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-583-2

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by truly wicked monsters with properly evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy was in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with stunning humanity when necessary. So it’s a huge pity that, for the moment at least, the delightfully outrageous cast of Boneyard are going on indefinite hiatus.

Young Paris – don’t call him Michael, he hates it – after years of crappy living and poor fortune finally had a lucky break. Not only did he inherit property from his reclusive grandfather, but the residents of picturesque little hamlet Raven Hollow were desperate to buy it from him, sight unseen. When he took possession he found once more that if anything looks too good to be true There’s generally a sound reason for it.

The property was a cemetery named The Boneyard and not everything within its walls was content to stay dead. Firstly there’s Abby, a beautiful, lovely, pretty and so very capable vampire chick, as well as a sex-starved, foul-mouthed skeleton, a demon with delusions of grandeur, a werewolf who thinks he’s a James Dean, a witch, a hulking Frankensteinian monster and even smart-ass talking gargoyles over the gate. Most worrying of all: There’s even the voluptuous, married amphibian who adds worlds of meaning to the phrase “man-eater.”

The place is a refuge for the restless dead and every sort of Halloween horror, but somehow they all seem more human and friendly than the off-kilter townsfolk and the succession of unpleasant characters, supernatural and otherwise, determined to close down the corpse-filled playground.

Overcoming all odds – including the devil himself – and surviving the cosmic embarrassment of ruining the formal ball of the supreme Over-God of the universe

Paris and Abby are seconds away from taking their painfully coy and cautious relationship to another level – maybe even “the next one” – when the imaginary playmate from his lonely childhood appears.

It appears that not only is Lita real, real cute and a princess of Faerie, but since her dad has ordered her to wed the evil Dark Prince of the Unseelie Court, she wants sanctuary and to marry the one being that really loved her.

Of course Paris was only eight then…

When the Faerie warriors turn up thing get rather nasty and Paris and Lita are captured and imprisoned in the Elvin Kingdoms, and Abby and her Boneyard helpmates have to rescue him – Lita too, if he asks nicely – but first they’re going to need a few allies of their own…

This seventh and momentarily final volume reprints the final issues of the independent comic book in stunning black and white as this charming, sly and irresistibly addictive series comes to a natural pause (one day to return in all its warm-hearted, comedy-of-terrors glory: I wish, I hope, I pray…) but until then Boneyard remains a must-have for Horrorists, Humorists and especially Romantics with an open mind.

One the best humour series to come out of the States since Charles Addams first started reporting from that spooky old house in the 1940s, this touching and wickedly funny epic should grace every fan’s bookshelf.

© 2010 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Dolltopia


By Abby Denson (Green Candy Press)
ISBN: 978-1-931160-70-4

Not everybody is comfortable with whom they are and most of us don’t like to be assumed one thing when we’re another. Lulu Award winner Abby Denson is a brilliant, magically subversive cartoonist and journalist with such disparate notches in her belt as the graphic novel Tough Love: High School Confidential (relating the Coming Out story of two suburban teens) and The City Sweet Tooth: a culinary cartoon column about the New York desserts scene currently running in L Magazine. She teaches and her script credits run from Scooby Doo and Power Puff Girls to Spider-Man and the Simpsons.

This entrancing shocking pink parable is an edgy, deceptively naivist fairy tale about gender, place and identity; making telling points in a clandestinely gentle manner. Kitty Ballerina is a doll who escapes from The Factory, refusing to be what her makers tell her to be. During her escape she meets Army Jim, another maverick toy who refuses to conform.

Together they make their way to the Promised Land of Dolltopia, where you can wear, and look like and be whatever you want. With the comradeship and assistance of the cat Mr. M, fashion Divas Candy X and Candy O and the slightly off-kilter, self-taught “plastic surgeon” the Doctor, the renegades make themselves at home and truly free…

However freedom demands effort, vigilance and sacrifice. Some freed individuals seem to crave their previous cultural indenture, and raids to liberate more dolls suffer when the apathetic conformists refuse to cast off their social shackles, but the real threat comes when humans threaten to take away and destroy the hard-won oasis of security the disappointed rebels strived so long and hard to win…

Charming and cleverly controversial, if a little heavy-handed at times, this eclectic black, pink and white tome – complete with cut-out-and-dress paper dolls – is a winning and culturally important addition to the world of adult cartooning. You’d be an idiot not to take a good long look – but of course you don’t have to be what I say you are…

© Abby Denson. All right reserved.

Pink Flamingos Book 1: Bring Down the Night and Pink Flamingos Book 2: Maybe Next Time… Maybe Never


By John R. & Carol Q. Sansevere, illustrated by William Rieser (Octopus)
ISBN’s: 978-0-70643-186-5 and 978-0-70643-307-4

Let’s all pop back once or even twice more to the ever-so-now 1980s with these stylish, radically different and frankly peculiar experimental graphic novels that pretty much typified and encapsulated the dichotomies of the age of Big Hair and Brash Money, and layered them lavishly over a pastel-tinted attempt to glam up the old formulas that worked so well for the Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.

The Pink Flamingos are a close clique of fashionably attractive Palm Beach teens whose taste for glamour and adventure draw them into some pretty tricky situations. These Chic Chicks are Lana the model, Carla the singer, Amber the waitress/biker babe, Jackie the TV intern and Jody the spoiled rich one…

In volume 1: Bring Down the Night the quirky quintet first get together when a mutual friend commits suicide. As with everything in that swank locale, sophisticated, connected drug-dealer Joey De Silva is at the heart of the web of temptation, corruption and death and the feisty females decide that if the cops won’t touch him then they’ll take him down in their own unique way…

The in-your-face, unashamed hedonism and seductive shoulder-padded indolence continues in Maybe Next Time… Maybe Never as the Material Girls follow Carla to New York City and her big break in the music biz, but sadly, behind the glitz and glamour, drugs and depravity are never too far way… Meanwhile as romance rears its well-coiffed hunky head for one of the Flamingos, Poor Little Rich Girl Jody discovers that for some families money never could buy love…

Originally published by Shuster & Shuster in the US these books appear to be more fashion sketches and studies than straight comics narrative and the oddly removed, if not outright distant writing style looks uncomfortably like an actual recycled unsold pitch “bible” and shooting script for a proposed TV show (and believe me I’ve worked on far too many of those to mistake the feel) but even so the overall effect is not unpleasant or lacking in entertainment value when considered as graphic novels.

Rieser’s bold and vivid storyboard-based illustrations blends well with the faux-TV script narrative captions, and despite a rather static, lifestyle-mag, fashion shoot feel to the action, if you’re a fan of Miami Vice, 21 Jump Street, Dallas, Dukes of Hazzard or even early Neighbours there’s a nostalgic buzz to be gleaned from these rather wholesome adventures for Young Adults.
™ & © 1987, 1988 Angel Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

James Patterson’s Maximum Ride Book 1


Adapted by NaRae Lee (Arrow Books)
ISBN: 978-0-099-53836-3

When young Max dreams of being chased by mysterious beastmen her method of escape is to sprout wings and fly like an angel. However, when she wakes up and rejoins the rest of the little gang of juvenile misfits she lives with we discover that Maximum Ride’s nightmares are merely memories…

Among his many works James Patterson’s has written seven teen novels (beginning in 2005 and still proceeding) starring a band of human/bird hybrid kids on the run from mysterious forces. This manga adaptation gets underway as we’re introduced to that band of youngsters hiding out in a dilapidated house, whilst “the Erasers” – artificial werewolves and high-tech mercenaries – hunt them down.

Four years previously they were brought to their isolated hideaway by Jeb Batchelder who rescued them from their creators in the sinister complex known as “The School”. After years in hiding with them, one day Jed disappeared and Max, as the eldest, became a sort of den-mother for the brood…

Although beautifully illustrated and captivatingly well-paced, too much of this first adapted volume is spent trying not to not reveal the secret of the human/avian heroes, but for the sake of expediency I’m going to risk a little spoiler. They have highly efficient and totally concealable wings, hollow bones, improved lungs, hearts, muscles and eyesight. They are human hawks, and may even have other dormant powers and abilities…

The kids are the result of rogue scientific research but have fled from their creators, who want them back and are slowly closing in. When Eraser raiders capture the youngest girl, Angel, the rest of “The Flock” – Fang, Iggy, Nudge and Gasman – stop hiding and decide to get her back. With Max leading they return to civilisation and begin the search for their sister and their origins…

Along the way Max is separated from the rest and wounded, but finds help in the form of Ella Martinez and her mother. As a vet, Ella’s mum has access to some impressive equipment and while patching up Max’s wing discovers that the little hawk-girl has an electronic transmitter embedded deep within her, far too deep for anyone to remove…

Hard on the heels of this revelation the Erasers move in and the entire Flock is captured. Looked in an interrogation cell, Max fears the worst when suddenly a face from the past surprises her with the biggest shock of all – the incredible purpose for which the hybrids were created…

The scenario and atmosphere of Patterson’s series about The Flock will feel very familiar to any comics fan who has read X-Men and its myriad mutant offshoots, and this book is compiled of chapters that originally appeared in the manhwa magazine Yen-Plus. The tale is a fine example of the sort of “Us against the World” orphan-fiction young readers seem naturally drawn to: fast-paced, emotive, evocative, cute and thrilling.

Accompanied by a welcome cartoon afterword by Korean artist Narae Lee, who can’t be much older than the target audience, this is a solid read and great fun, but be warned, is only the trip of a huge iceberg. There’s lots more to come before just the first prose novel is completely adapted, so impatient readers might want to wait until they can pick up a bunch of the graphic novels all at once (volumes #3 and 4 are still forthcoming from a scheduled set of 10). However if you want to beat the rush before the forthcoming movie franchise kicks off you could get a flying start by buying this book now…

© 2009 SueJack, Inc. Illustrations © 2009 Hachette Book Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper


By Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic)
ISBN: 978-0-439-84681-3

Picture books and illustrated stories for children have been a staple of the publishing game since the Victorians, so the modern trend towards actual graphic narratives was an inevitable but nonetheless welcome accomplishment. However the wholesome and comfortable adventures of Babar, Tim All Alone, Captain Pugwash and their like have new rivals these days, thanks mostly to the cultural invasion of Japanese anime to our TV screens and a long-overdue Western acceptance of manga-style storytelling.

For example this delightful little strip saga, cut fully from the same cloth as The Spiderwick Chronicles and spookily touching base with darkest Narnia and the best of Alan Garner, joins a growing library of trans-Atlantic, pan-Pacific fantasy thrillers for younger readers, albeit with lush, glossy colours to lure in European consumers still uncomfortable with the linear purity and monochrome aesthetic of traditional Eastern comics.

Amulet is the first in a sequence of junior graphic novels, and opens with a horrific personal tragedy as little Emily sees her father die in a ghastly car crash. Two years later she and her little brother Navin are taken to live in their great grandfather’s ramshackle, spooky old house. Still grieving, the family are making a go of it, but the dilapidated pile is just not right: there are eerie voices, odd noises and happenings – and far too often the kids are seeing something moving at the furthest corners of their eyes…

Great Grandpa Silas vanished one night never to be seen again, and Emily is convinced that she can see cloudy phantoms just when and where she isn’t looking. Whilst helping mom clean, the kids happen upon an ingeniously hidden necklace which Emily swiftly appropriates. She begins to think twice when its ornate stone starts talking to – or rather lecturing – her…

Soon the house goes into full-on haunted mode and when mom investigates the cellar she is consumed by a monster and stored for later digestion. Emily and Navin give chase and soon are lost in a fantastic subterranean world where they encounter incredible beasts, dark elves and a giant figure who turns out to be Miskit, a cute helpmate built by the missing Silas.

Long ago the solitary inventor crossed over to this land of Alledia and learned the secrets of The Stones; mighty mystical artifacts that could be more curse than blessing. Building himself a small army of companions he decided to stay, but the land was a place in turmoil. Whoever holds the Stones could rule this entire world and do anything they wanted. That’s good to know since Emily’s Amulet is becoming more bossy than helpful, and the more she uses its incredible forces the more it needs her to…

This time Emily has the ability to save her mother: even if she might have to fully embrace the power of the amulet, and take on a destiny she doesn’t want…

This is a dark and compelling adventure blending traditional children’s story elements such as fairies and magic with contemporary kids-scape paraphernalia like giant robots, cartoon animals, rocket-ships, bug-eyed monsters, cute-eyed bugs and alternate Earths in a zippy rollercoaster ride of laughter, tears and terrors. This volume is a self-contained tale but the ending of this adventure leads directly to the next…

And you will want to see them all. Stirring stuff for older readers and any fantasy fan with a tinge of darkness in their collector’s souls…
© 2008 Kazu Kibuishi. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard, Volume 5

Boneyard, Volume 5

By Richard Moore (NBM)
ISBN 1-56163-479-4

Boneyard goes from strength to strength. This black and white collection (there’s also a line of books collecting these self-same issues of the comic book series in full colour) features the young guy who inherited a cemetery and the extremely engaging gang of goblins, monsters and out and out weirdoes who inhabit it in more sharp, funny and endearing horror comedy for the lost generation.

Michael Paris shares his life with a hot vampire chick, a werewolf, an over-sexed fish-woman, assorted demons and monsters. But somehow, these are the good guys and they are often beset by really nasty types who have evil intentions. For example, there’s the US government, or the creature that keeps beheading counsellors at the kid’s summer camp across the way, or what about that creepy Pumpkin head guy who magics you unconscious then desecrates your dreams?

The peculiar sub-genre of horror/comedy is in safe hands with Richard Moore, whose light, deft touch combines traditional cartooning with spot-on slapstick, surreal humour, and a touch of contemporary cynicism. He can also imbue his abhuman cast with genuine humanity when necessary. And he’s disarmingly honest too, apparently, as this book begins with the last chapter of the previous story-arc, which he seemingly “forgot” to include at the end of the previous volume. Doesn’t someone like that deserve your money? Especially if he’s going to plough it back into making more great comic stories?

© 2004, 2005 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Boneyard in Color, Volume 2

Boneyard in Color 

By Richard Moore

(NBM)  ISBN 1-56163-487-5

Richard Paris is pretty average. Or at least he was until he inherited that cemetery. You know the one: out by Raven Falls — where that sexy vampire chick and those monsters and ghosts and demons all hang out. Yeah that’s the one. And now that he’s living with all those weirdos, strange stuff just keeps on happening to him. No sooner has he sent Belzebub packing back to the inferno than the Internal Revenue Service has come after him. And they won’t be content with blood, souls or eternal damnation. They want half a million dollars! How can Richard and his peculiar cast of reprobates get out of this crisis?

There’s a great tradition of combining horror and comedy, and Richard Moore has shown that there is still much fun to be had in this vein. Combining traditional cartoon drawing with a wicked sense of slapstick and screwball humour, filtered through a modern lens of cynical modernism, this is an absolute joy of a funnybook.

This edition is printed in colour for all those fools who wouldn’t buy it when it was first released in the original black and white. Still damned funny though.

© 2002 Richard Moore. All Rights Reserved.

Blackmark — 30th Anniversary Edition

Blackmark

By Gil Kane

(Fantagraphics Books)  ISBN 1-56097-456-7

Gil Kane was one of the pivotal players in the development of the American comics industry, and indeed of the art form itself. Working as an artist, and an increasingly more effective and influential one, he drew for many companies since the 1940s, on superheroes, action, war, mystery, romance, movie adaptations and most importantly perhaps, Westerns and Science-Fiction tales. In the late 1950s he became one of editor Julius Schwartz’s key artists in regenerating the super-hero. Yet by 1968, at the top of his profession, this relentlessly revolutionary and creative man felt so confined by the juvenile strictures of the industry, that he struck out on bold new ventures that jettisoned the editorial and format bondage of comic books for new visions and media.

His Name Is Savage was an adult oriented black and white magazine about a cold and ruthless super-spy in the James Bond/Matt Helm/Man Called Flint mould, a precursor in tone, treatment and subject matter of many of today’s adventure titles. The other venture, Blackmark, not only ushered in the comic book age of Sword and Sorcery, but also became one of the first Graphic Novels. Technically, as the series was commissioned by fantasy publisher Ballantine as eight volumes, it was also envisioned as America’s first comic Limited Series.

Volume 1 was released in 1971, and volume 2 just completed when the publisher cancelled the project. Long term collaborator Roy Thomas reprinted the tales in Marvel’s black and white magazines Savage sword of Conan and Marvel Preview, with the artwork rejigged to accommodate the different page format.

Enough background. Blackmark tells the tale of a boy born into a war-ravaged and primitive future where atomic holocaust has resulted in a superstitious society that has shunned technology and science. Feudal lords rule by might and terror, whilst rebel technophiles are hunted like dogs. Whilst fleeing persecution a married couple encounter a dying scientist king who pays the woman to impregnate her with a son pre-programmed to be a messiah of science.

Blackmark is born into a life of poverty and toil. When his parents are killed by a wandering warlord he devotes his life to vengeance, and learns the physical skills necessary when he is taken for a gladiator slave. It is sadly very familiar to us today, simply because it was so influential at the time – albeit with those few original purchasers who seem to have been the next generation of comic and literary creators.

Although the tale may seem old-hat the beauty on power of the illustration has never been matched. Kane designed the pages with blocks of text as part of the whole, rather than with willy-nilly blurb and balloons to distract the eye, and his evocative figure drawing has never been as taut, tense and passionate. The script, over Kane’s story is provided by the incomparable Archie Goodwin, as much a master as Kane himself.

This compilation collects the original volumes 1 and 2 and presents them in a size much larger than the original standard paperback. As well as a fantasy masterpiece, and a spectacular comic romp, it preserves and presents a literal breakthrough in comic story-telling that should be on every fan’s must-read list.

© 2002 Fantagraphics Books & the estate of Gil Kane. All Rights Reserved.