First Names: Nelson (MANDELA)


By Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl & Nicole Miles (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-097-3 (PB)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

David Fickling Books provides other types of reading matter: novels, graphic novels and a newish imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

First Names introduces young readers to noteworthy achievers rightly deemed role models and adds now to its roster an absolute legend: the man who defied modern society’s greatest tyranny, defeated an entrenched oppression and changed the lives and minds of millions if not billions of people.

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed, and are generally bright, breezy, easily-accessible hagiographies with the emphasis on graphics. That doesn’t mean that they pull any punches when the facts warrant, though…

Written by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl, First Names: Nelson (MANDELA) details the astounding life and ultimate triumph of the rational, gentle-minded freedom fighter who endured decades of personal hardship while shepherding his nation through an all-but-bloodless revolution to a tolerant liberation.

The amazing story begins with Introduction ‘Nelson Arrives At The Great Place’, describing how the 12-year old lad arrives at the royal residence of the acting king of the Thembu people. It is 1930 in the Transkei region of South Africa…

The full story begins then with the antecedents and early childhood of small boy Rolihlahla as winningly described in chapter 1: ‘Nelson is Named’ before encompassing school, family joy and heartbreak and relating how a carefree cattle boy with few clan connections grows into a scholar of promise in ‘Nelson Gets Some Boots’ and rejects tribal plans to seek personal independence as ‘Nelson Heads For The City’

Studies, setbacks, marriage and political transformation are deftly covered as 4‘Nelson Joins The Fight’ and 5‘Nelson Stirs Things Up’, whereafter the forthright but breezy tone takes a darker turn as the struggle against South Africa’s white minority rulers starts to bite.

Chapter 6 reveals ‘Nelson Goes On Trial’ and covers life on the run in ‘Nelson Undercover’ before the more public stages of this remarkable life are covered in ‘Nelson Makes His Plea’ and the concluding Chapter 9: ‘Nelson Casts His First Vote’, after which an ‘Epilogue’ deals with the later years of rule, reconciliation and retirement.

This is a subject with plenty of controversial and complex issues for kids to unpack, but the author has illustrator Nicole Miles putting faces to the names and places in smart cartoon collations such as ‘Didn’t you ever lose faith?’, ‘The Awful Passbook Laws’ ‘South Africa’s Horrible Racial Divide’ and brilliantly deals with potentially contentious issues by clever visual essays such as ‘Nelson Explains: Apartheid’ and ‘Nelson Explains: Life on Robben Island’.

There’s also plenty of visual sidebars detailing the basics with background detail like ‘My Tribe and Ancestry’, ‘How South Africa was Conquered’, ‘Circumcision’, and ‘Arranged Marriages’.

Ending the fun is a cool and crucial ‘Pronunciation Guide’ as well as a detailed Timeline (1918-2013), full Glossary and Index appendices for those eager to check out the facts and educate themselves even further…

Working in tandem with delicate sensitivity, the creators have constructed a superb introduction into the most remarkable man of modern times: a book any kid would be proud to share with interested adults.
First Names: Nelson (MANDELA) Text © Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl 2021. Illustrations © Nicole Miles 2021. All rights reserved.

Freddy Vs School


By Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-143-7 (PB)

Great characters are hard to pin down in the modern-multi-media world – even if they’re relatively new. Here’s a delightful and extremely entertaining sideways move for a favourite comics character – oddly, from ultra-modern full-colour cartoon pages to the hoary hallowed traditions and trappings of illustrated prose…

Neill Cameron (Tamsin of the Deep, How to Make Awesome Comics, Pirates of Pangea) has charmed and enthralled kids of all ages with another serial originating in the picture-perfect pages of wonderful weekly The Phoenix. This one is the Mega-Robo Brothers, set in a charmingly inclusive and diverse futuristic London (at least 3 months from now…) and featuring a pair of marvellous metal-&-plastic paladins who are not like other kids – no matter how much they try…

Now he’s a stalwart of proper literature, let’s dip into this superb romp in the grand manner of Just William or Billy Bunter thanks to the smaller of those rather unique lads…

Welcome to the Future!

In a London much cooler than ours Alex Sharma and his younger brother Freddy are (mostly) typical kids: boisterous, fractious, always arguing, but devoted to each other and not too bothered that they’re adopted. It’s no big deal for them that they were constructed by mysterious Dr. Roboticus (before he vanished from all human knowledge) and are considered by those in the know as the most powerful robots on Earth.

That includes Mum and Dad, but though Mr Sharma may be just your average working guy, it’s clear Mum is a bit extraordinary herself. As renowned boffin Dr. Nita Sharma, she harbours some surprising secrets of her own, and occasionally allows her boys to be super-secret agents for R.A.I.D. (Robotics Analysis Intelligence and Defence).

It’s enough for the digital duo that Mum and Dad love them, even though the boys are a bit more of a handful than most kids. They live as normal a life as possible; going to school, making friends, putting up with bullies and hating homework: it’s all part of the Mega Robo Routine combining boring lessons, fun with friends, playing games, watching TV and training in the covert combat caverns under R.A.I.D. HQ…

When occasion demands, the lads undertake missions, but mostly it’s just home, games, homework and School. At least that’s how it seems to Freddy: a typical, excitable 10-year-old (well, except for the built-in super-strength, flight rockets and lasers). Alex may be at the age when self-doubt and anxiety begin to manifest, but Freddy is insufferably exuberant and over-confident. And that’s where the trouble starts today…

Some kids just find themselves at the centre of unfortunate events, even without a suite of onboard tactical weaponry, and it all begins with another fraught parent-teacher conference between Deputy Head Mr. Javid and Freddy’s Mum. As usual it involves an unfortunate use of the metal boy’s unique gifts, subsequent destruction of property and trauma for the staff, but this time the repercussions are severe. Cash-strapped and at the end of his tether, Mr Javid imposes a draconian Code of Conduct forbidding students from using Super-strength, Booster Rockets or Lasers on school property. Obviously, it’s not a sanction that affects every pupil, and Mum is offended but, in the end, really wants her sons to grow up in a social environment and not be excluded or home-schooled…

Sadly, Freddy is wilful and easily led, especially by his best friend Fernando. He also hates boring learning and loves excitement. Dr. Sharma calls him an “instigator”, and hopes the influence of sporty Anisha or quietly studious new boy Riyad will have a calming effect on her son. She has no idea of the trouble lurking, hulking bully Henrik is planning, or the devasting consequences that will result from Freddy’s inability to do what he’s told…

Stuffed with monochrome cartoons and bouncy graphics, this is unmissable entertainment for kids of all ages and vintage: a splendidly traditional school days comedy romp, amped up on sci fi and superhero riffs and carrying a powerful message that no one is beyond saving. Freddy vs School is wonderful adventure for younger readers and one you’ll adore too.
Text and illustrations © Neill Cameron 2021. All rights reserved.

Freddy vs School will be published on 7th January 2021 and is available for pre-order now

Paul Robeson for Beginners


By Paul Von Blum, illustrated by Elizabeth Von Notias & Ramses (For Beginners)
ISBN: 978-1-934389-81-2 (PB)

The For Beginners book series produces heavily illustrated text primers: graphic non-fiction foundation courses in a vast variety of subjects from art to philosophy, politics to history and much more, all tackled in an accessible yet properly respectful manner. This particular volume was written by Paul Von Blum, author and Senior Lecturer in African American Studies and Communication Studies at UCLA with a wealth of strips and illustrations by graphic design specialist Elizabeth Von Notias and self-taught multi-media creator Ramses.

If remembered at all, Paul Robeson (April 9th 1898 – January 23rd 1976) is thought of by most people as that African American singer/actor with an incredible bass voice. Maybe some will recall that he was a left-wing political activist who fell foul of Senator Joe McCarthy during America’s infamous “Red-baiting” witch-hunting period.

That’s true enough, but he was also one of the most accomplished and gifted individuals in the nation’s history: a true Renaissance man cheated of his ultimate potential simply because his skin was the wrong colour…

The Introduction lists Robeson’s astonishing accomplishments – all the more amazing when you realise the lack of opportunities if not outright repression facing negroes in segregated America at the time of his birth, and not truly confronted until the Civil Rights movement began gaining traction in the late 1950s.

As told in more telling detail – both in word and pictures in ‘The Early Days’, ‘Paul Robeson the Athlete’, ‘Paul Robeson the Stage Actor’, ‘Paul Robeson the Screen Actor’ and ‘Paul Robeson the Singer’ – the unheralded superman was born in Princeton, New Jersey; the son of a preacher. He was the last of five children in a time and place rigidly defined by class and race divisions.

A brilliant student, Robeson graduated Somerville High School in 1915 and won a four-year scholarship to Rutgers University where, despite initial hostility and actual physical assaults, he became the star of the Football, Baseball, Basketball and Athletics squads, and was twice designated “All-American”.

From there he attended New York University Law School, before transferring to Columbia University Law School. Talented and seemingly tireless, he turned an interest in the dramatic arts into a part-time stage career and also became a professional Football player in 1920. He got married, acted, sang, played Pro ball and kept on studying. Graduating from Columbia in 1923, he worked as a lawyer at a prestigious law firm until the bigotry he experienced from his own subordinates became too much.

In 1924 he switched from stage acting to movies, but still carried on a glittering international career: starring as Othello in London and playing in many hit plays and musicals such as Showboat, Emperor Jones, Stevedore and All God’s Chillun’s Got Wings

Politically active, he visited the Soviet Union in 1934, spoke out against Fascism during the Spanish Civil War, co-founded the anti-colonial Council on African Affairs and used his name and fame to agitate for social and legal changes in such contentious areas as Southern lynch law and trade union legislation. These activities made him a prime target in the USA and in 1941 J. Edgar Hoover ordered the FBI to open a file on him…

In 1950 the US government took away Robeson’s passport because he refused to recant his pro-Soviet, pro-socialist stance and he became an exile in his own country. He was unable to leave America for eight years, until a Supreme Court ruling decreed the State Department had no right to revoke passports due to an individual’s political beliefs.

Robeson’s life was filled with such social and cultural landmarks. Once free to travel again, he became an international political celebrity and social commentator, using his concerts and stage appearances in places as disparate as Wales, Australia, Russia, East Germany and elsewhere to promote a dream of World “Freedom, Peace and Brotherhood”…

His beliefs, struggles achievements and failures are examined in ‘Paul Robeson the International Activist’, ‘Paul Robeson the Domestic Political Activist’ before culminating in a thorough appreciation of ‘The Final Years and His Lasting Legacy’

Augmented by a ‘Bibliography’, ‘Selected Chronology’ and creator biographies, this absorbing documentary – available in paperback and digital editions – proves again the astounding power of visual narrative when wedded to the life story of a truly unique individual.
© 2013 Paul Von Blum. Illustrations © 2013 Elizabeth Von Notias & Ramses. All rights reserved. A For Beginners Documentary Comic Book © 2013.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus


By Greg Cox (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1789093339 (PB) eISBN: 978-1789093346

After a few half-hearted and ultimately abortive attempts in the 1960s and a more strategic – but no less enduring – attempt at the close of the 1970’s, Marvel finally secured a regular presence on prose bookshelves in the 1990s with a select series of hardback novels. Since then, those fans who want to supply their own pictures to gripping MU exploits have enjoyed a successive string of text thrills in all formats…

In recent times, British publisher Titan Books have been repackaging and rereleasing many of those powerhouse prose publications. Latest on the list in their Novels of the Marvel Universe line is this hefty paperback representing a trilogy first released in 1999.

Written by adaptions and licensed properties specialist Greg Cox (all iterations of Star Trek; Buffy The Vampire Slayer; Batman: The Court of Owls; Daredevil; Iron Man, Fantastic Four; Underworld; Warehouse 13; The Librariansand many more) this Titanic tome bundles linked novels Gamma Quest: Lost and Found, Search and Rescue and Friend or Foe? into a vast, action-packed thrill ride.

Although newcomers and casual fans won’t notice, all three books comprising Gamma Quest are deeply embedded in the minutiae of Marvel’s comic book continuity, and relate how mutant sorceress Wanda Maximoff AKA the Scarlet Witch, power parasite Rogue and immortal berserker Wolverine are abducted by a deranged super-scientific megalomaniac and his secret ally, eager to master the genetic anomalies that fuel their incredible powers.

With such prominent members of the world-famous Avengers and outlaw heroes the X-Men, missing it’s not long before their comrades and allies are on the trail.

Tragically, thanks to deviously-planted false clues, both teams are soon erroneously hunting the Gamma-generated gargantuan know as the Incredible Hulk whilst battling each other…

The issue is further complicated when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury is forced to admit that top secret, illegally-constructed mutant hunting Sentinels have been stolen from his helicarrier…

Starring Iron Man, Captain America, The Vision, The Beast, Cyclops, Storm, Iceman and a wealth of guest stars, this riotous page-turner offers tons of twists, stacks of suspense and an abundance of action as both squads first battle then unite to hunt their true enemies, visiting the most outlandish locations both on and off Earth before everything concludes in the kind of cataclysmic clash Marvel fans and movie buffs expect…

Strong, accurate characterisation, fast-paced, non-stop super-powered conflict and ever-ratchetting tension make this impossible to put down, but picture lovers might be disappointed that there’s no room for interior illustrations this time out…
© 2019 Marvel.

The X-Men and the Avengers: Gamma Quest – a Marvel Omnibus will be released on 21st January 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

The Light


By Jim Alexander, edited by Kirsten Murray (Planet Jimbot)
ISBN: 978-1-9164535-2-4 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-9164535-3-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Decidedly Different Spooky Saga for the Season… 9/10

Apparently tireless raconteur and comics veteran Jim Alexander is back with another prose novel (available in paperback and a variety of eBook formats).

His pictorial back-catalogue includes Star Trek the Manga, Calhab Justice and other strips for 2000AD, licensed properties such as Ben 10 and Generator Rex as well as a broad variety of comics and strips for The Dandy, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse Comics, Metal Hurlant Chronicles, and loads of other places including his own publishing empire Planet Jimbot. He’s imminently due back in the mainstream too, with a forthcoming Marvel Graphic Novel in the offing…

Everyone dies. That’s biology. How they die isn’t as important as how they lived, right?

That’s an assumption that is devilishly challenged in The Light as a world so very much our own takes a path less travelled after a global catastrophe in 1998.

Here and now, twenty years after the event, humanity has gained an eerie new ability: unfailing certainty in the knowledge of when your time is up.

It’s not a proper super power: decedents only know from the moment they wake up that it’s their Last Day and not everyone is sure – or convinced – until they place a palm on the ubiquitous domestic device (also available on all street corners and in every lamp post) and a purple hue tells them its time…

Socially, things haven’t changed much: Capitalism has devised new ways to monetise the change and the elites and powers-that-be have found fresh ways to restrict the thinking and spending of the masses. Someone has turned Last Day into the world’s most debauched, powerful and unavoidable religion, and on dark fringes of the planet, outsiders try to live beyond the newly-established margins and avoid collaborating with the system that demands that all citizens test their light every day…

The rest of us? We just comply, testing ourselves every 24 hours and going about our lawful business until it’s that day and we have a decision to make: lie down and die or rebel and act out…

Told through a string of narrative viewpoints from the highest and mightiest to the most excluded and lowly, how The Light works – and how it ultimately fails – is beguilingly exposed in a wry and mordant, satire-saturated tale that delves like a forensic exam into the nature of what it means to be human and truly alive…

And when this has sufficiently blown your mind, you really should really read the author’s first novel GoodCopBadCop and track down the superb comics by Alexander and his confederates Luke Cooper, Gary McLaughlin, Will Pickering, Aaron Murphy, Chris Twydell & Jim Campbell.

The Jims – Alexander & Campbell – have been providing challenging, captivating and enthralling graphic narratives for ages now and you owe it to yourself to catch them too.
© 2019 Jim Alexander.

Planet Jimbot has a splendid online shop so why not check it out? Conversely why not go to:

UK
Amazon (print) (ebook)
Kobo

US
Amazon (print) (ebook)
Kobo
Barnes & Noble
 

Captain America: Dark Designs – a Novel of the Marvel Universe


By Stefan Petrucha & various (Titan Books)
ISBN: 978-1789093483 (PB) eISBN: 978-1789093490

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Fights ‘n’ Tights Adventure… 8/10

After a few half-hearted and ultimately abortive attempts in the 1960s and a more strategic – but no less enduring – attempt at the close of the 1970’s, Marvel finally secured a regular presence on prose bookshelves in the 1990s with a select series of hardback novels. Since then, those fans who want to supply their own pictures to gripping MU exploits have enjoyed a successive string of text thrills in all formats…

In recent times, British publisher Titan Books have been repackaging and rereleasing many of those prose powerhouse publications, and this handy paperback from 2016 is the tenth in their Novels of the Marvel Universe line.

Scripted by novelist, educator and comics writer Stefan Petrucha (X-Files, Walt Disney Comics & Stories, Nancy Drew: Girl Detective, Time Tripper) this explosive thriller also manages to pile on mood and psychological pressure in a tale of the Star-Spangled Avenger that addresses one of the biggest fears of modern times…

Although newcomers and casual fans won’t notice, Captain America: Dark Designs is deeply embedded in the minutiae of Marvel’s comic book continuity, as the WWII hero – who was frozen in ice for decades – faces the horror of voluntarily returning to the icy isolation of hibernation when, in the course of his hectic crime-busting, terrorist-thrashing activities, he is diagnosed as carrier of a deadly virus that can wipe out all life on Earth…

However, even as he contemplates his fate from a quarantine cage, his greatest enemy The Red Skull is planning one last hurrah. The Nazi fiend has previously survived his own death by occupying a clone of Steve Rogers but has subsequently developed an advanced form of the virus riddling Cap’s genetic structure.

With oblivion and increasing helplessness tormenting him, the swiftly-fading Skull unleashes Adolf Hitler’s last battalion of robotic Sleepers, resolved that his hated enemy will precede him to the grave, even if all Earth burns in the process…

Despite the assistance of Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D., Iron Man and a host of other guest stars, the onus of saving himself and preserving humanity ultimately rests on the broad shoulders of the indomitable Sentinel of Liberty whose tireless efforts always seemed able to extract miracles from the most hopeless of situations.

However, it’s a devilish twist of fate that truly saves the day this time…

Strong, accurate characterisation, fast-paced, non-stop yet feasible action and ever-ratchetting tension make this a book impossible to put down, and supplementing the high-octane thrills are a wealth of monochrome illustrations by cap artists Steve Epting, Jackson Guice, Michael Lark, Jay Leisten, Steve McNiven, Mike Perkins, Dexter Vines and Patrick Zircher, making this compulsive page-turner a solid example of how comics books can transfer to prose and why they should…
© 2019 Marvel.

Where’s My Cow?


By Terry Pratchett, illustrated by Melvyn Grant (Doubleday)
ISBN: 978-0-38560-937-1

Here’s a charming little thing. Not strictly a comic strip or a graphic novel, but rather a beautifully illustrated picture book. Originally a plot device from Thud!, one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld prose fantasy novels, until some bright spark wisely decided to manufacture the thing for real. They also pulled the same trick for The World of Poo, as seen in Snuff

What’s it all about?: Watch Commander Sam Vimes is the best copper in Anhk Morpork (the most unpleasant city in all fact and fiction), and his day job ranges from colourful to sheer hell. What makes worth living for him is to get home, kick off his boots and breastplate, and read his baby boy their favourite bedtime story – and do all the noises too.

And so can you if you get this wonderful book (sadly only available in hardback, not digital editions) which manages to be both an engaging, clever side-bar to the novels and also a superbly illustrated easy reader for the very young.

If you’re a fan of the Discworld you’ll want this, if you’re not, buy the novels and become one, and if you have small kids get them one of the prettiest picture books on the market. It’s the first sure step to getting them hooked on pictorial wonderment, and a darn fine thing besides.

Text © 2005 Terry Pratchett & Lyn Pratchett. All Rights Reserved.
Illustrations © 2005 Melvyn Grant. All Rights Reserved.W

Flember – the Secret Book (Advance galley proof copy)


By Jaimie Smart (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-46-3 (PB Illustrated novel)

There are precious few perks in the high stakes, cut & thrust world of writing about graphic novels and books, but one is getting to see great stories before you all do and then acting all smugly know-it-all and blasé about how good they are, as if I’m in with the In Crowd.

This review of Flember is based on a proof copy and I’ll probably review the proper book too when it comes out in Early October. It’s that good…

Unlike writer/artist Jamie Smart’s previous outings (Fish Head Steve!, Space Raoul, Bunny vs. Monkey, Looshkin – the Adventures of the Maddest Cat in the World!!, Corporate Skull and bunches of brilliant strips for The Beano, Dandy and others), this is an illustrated novel, not comics strips, but that only means he’s really good at the wordy stuff too, and even so his dynamic cartoons, diagrams and maps are lavished all over the text and act as an integral part of the storytelling.

Here’s a little digression that might assuage any confusions I’ve inadvertently caused…

The old demarcations – whether in format or content – between comics and books are all but gone these days but once the items of printing were reckoned as different as chalk and chuck wagons.

From the pre-print era of illustrated manuscripts, books always possessed a capacity (time, manpower and budgets permitting) to include images in the text. As the book trade evolved, pictures were generally phased out of cheaper, mass-market editions because they required costly, time-consuming extra effort by skilled technicians. Most artists and illustrators wanted payment for their efforts too, so volumes with pictures were regarded as extra special, most often crafted for children, students or aficionados of textbooks…

Comics strips grew out of cartoon images, beginning as static illustrations accompanied by blocks of printed text before gradually developing into pictorial sequences with narration, dialogue and sound effects incorporated into the actual design. Print procedures and physical strictures of manual typesetting often dictated that pictures (printed on the pages or added as separate plates) frequently appeared nowhere near the snippets of text they illumined).

These days digital print processes are speedy, efficient and flexible, and many creative bright sparks have realised that they can combine all these tangential disciplines into a potent synthesis.

Gosh, wasn’t that lecture dull?

What I’m saying is that these days, the immediacy of comics, the enchantment of illustrated images, the power of well-designed infographics and the mesmeric tone and mood of well-written prose can all be employed simultaneously to create tales of overwhelming entertainment. Flember – The Secret Book does it with aplomb, imagination, dexterity and sundry other fruit and veg you’ve never heard of. That’s an inside joke until you read the book…

But what’s it about, Win?

I’m giving little away but suffice to say that somewhere far away the island of Flember houses a rather rural and backwards facing community who live in a little walled village called Eden. The citizens are an odd bunch, set in the old traditional ways and they don’t particularly like inventors anymore.

Young Dev Everdew doesn’t really fit in. His brother is a snarky would-be leader of the local Guild and Mum doesn’t like to cause a fuss. Dad used to be Mayor but he’s gone now…

Life on the island depends on a seemingly-mystical force called Flember: an energising life force that animates the trees, living creatures and crops and even people. Did I mention that Dev’s addicted to inventing? He is, and all his contraptions always go wrong and cause the fuss previously mentioned.

The boy can’t stop himself, though, and just knows his devices can make life better for everybody. Despite the pleadings, help and advice of his young pals, Dev keeps making things and accidentally hurting people, but the situation gets completely out of hand after he builds a giant bear that absorbs all the Flember and comes shockingly alive. Sadly, that puts the little genius on the trail of a colossal secret underpinning everything and teaches him the consequences of rash actions…

Fast-paced, astoundingly inventive, raucously hilarious, deeply moving even while sagely exploring how carefree childishness grows into empathy and responsibility, this is a marvellous romp and an ideal example of words and pictures acting in harmony… almost like a well-oiled machine.

Just to be clear here though; never oil books or any digital reading device, ok? Just use them to acquaint yourself with tales as good as this one…
Text and illustrations © Jamie Smart 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Flember – The Secret Book is scheduled for release on October 3rd 2019 and is available for pre-order now. It’s a perfect item if you’re already stuck for options about Great Big Gift-Giving Season…

First Names: Malala Yousafzai


By Lisa Williamson & Mike Smith (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-047-8 (PB)

Since its premiere in 2012, The Phoenix has offered humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a traditional-seeming weekly comics anthology for girls and boys. The vibrant parade of cartoon fun, fact and fantasy has won praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – a dedicated legion of totally engaged kids and parents who read it avidly…

David Fickling Books provides other types of reading matter: novels, graphic novels and a newish imprint of cartoon and strip illustrated biographies highlighting historical and contemporary groundbreakers and earthshakers.

First Names introduces young readers to noteworthy achievers rightly deemed role models and adds now to its initial offerings (Emmeline Pankhurst, Elon Musk, Amelia Earhart and Harry Houdini) an utterly modern, indomitable young woman who has defied tyranny, defeated oppression and changed the lives of millions if not billions of young people.

Devised along the lines of the mega-successful, eternally-engaging Horrible Histories books, these prose paperbacks come with a superabundance of monochrome cartoon illustrations to keep the pace of learning fast and fact-packed, and are bright, breezy, easily-accessible hagiographies with the emphasis on graphics.

Written by Lisa Williamson, Malala Yousafzai presents a rather darker tale than we’re used to, as it details the astonishing accomplishments of a knowledge-hungry schoolgirl who stared death in the face, defying terrorists and religious bigotry to defend the rights of all girls to enjoy the fruits of proper education.

The amazing story begins with a moody ‘Introduction’ describing the events of 9th October 2012, when two deluded zealots boarded a school bus in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. They were hunting an outspoken advocate of female education who had defied the edicts of their leader for years. Finding teenager Malala Yousafzai, they opened fire…

Malala was born in 1997 and was blessed with amazingly brave and progressive parents. In ‘No Party for Malala’, we meet teacher Ziauddin Yousafzai and his wife Toor Pekai, who refused to consider their firstborn child a disappointment and financial burden simply because she was a girl. Their struggles against the wider family and the attitudes of the local community reveal the child to be precocious but decidedly everyday and straightforward… Except that she loved books and learning…

As the country descended into religious civil war, Ziauddin opened his own school and in ‘Malala Makes Some Decisions’ and ‘Malala Gets Angry’ the descent into chaos is detailed as his forthright daughter begins to show her true self: helping him, pushing herself and attempting to secure schooling for the poorest children and outcasts of her town…

The unrest was fomented by a self-appointed extremist spokesman named Maulana Fazlullah using local gangs and a pirate radio station. His arcane demands that people abandon all western trappings – such as televisions and radios – and live according to his interpretation of Islam spread fear and dissent far and wide. When he proclaimed that girls should not go to school Malala saw red and began speaking out…

The story unfolds in great but easily accessible detail in ‘Malala And the Taliban’, ‘Malala Spreads the Word’, ‘Malala On the Move’, before culminating in the horrific attack mentioned earlier.

Somehow, thanks to the efforts of surgeons in Pakistan, Malala did not die and the great and the good of the outside world – already listening to her brave stand – acted to remove her from the troubled region as expediently as possible. ‘Watch Out, Malala’, ‘Malala Loses a Week’, ‘Malala Wakes Up’ and ‘Malala Moves Out’ takes us from the battleground of the Swat Valley to her recuperation and rehabilitation in Britain, where she was – for a while – one more girl in the English school system.

As seen in ‘What Malala Did Next’, during that time of new friends and exams, she was also feted by kings and presidents and her outspoken criticism of those who oppress women and suppress universal education never faltered. Lauded (almost) everywhere, she eventually became the youngest ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. She donated her prize money to rebuild bombed schools in Gaza…

A truly inspirational person, Malala’s story has barely begun, and this summation of it should affirm to kids everywhere that they have rights, a voice and power if they seek to use it. Moreover, in clear, simple terms, author Williamson has worked marvels in explaining complex issues and condensing critical history and context into a story that’s easy to read and impossible to forget.

Naturally, for such a scholarly endeavour, this book also contains fulsome Timeline, Glossary and Index appendices for those eager to check out the facts and educate themselves even further…

Aiding and abetting, illustrator Mike Smith tirelessly crafts engaging and contextualising pictorial aids and chats with Malala herself, whilst clarifying contexts and social technicalities, whilst putting faces to the names and places in smart cartoon collations such as ‘Pakistan in 1988 Explained’, ‘Toor Pekai’s First (and Last) Day at School’, ‘Schools in Pakistan Explained’, ‘The Pashtun People Explained’ and ‘The Taliban Explained’.

There’s also plenty of visual sidebars detailing the basics of ‘Sharia Law’, ‘Madrasas’, ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ and ‘Girl Power Goes Global’ as well as brief but comprehensive potted biographies of the demagogue ‘Fazlullah’, and Malala’s own inspiration idol ‘Benazir Bhutto’…

Working in tandem with delicate sensitivity, the creators have constructed a crucial appreciation to a young woman who has changed the world and proved to bigots and bullies that common decency will always triumph in the end.

First Names: Malala Yousafzai Text © Lisa Williamson 2019 and illustrations © Mike Smith 2019. All rights reserved.
First Names: Malala Yousafzai will be published on August 1st 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold


By Adam Stower (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-78845-052-2 (PB)

The old demarcations – whether in format or content – between comics and “proper books” are all but gone these days and the results are, quite frankly, long overdue and simply intoxicating…

Since the pre-print era of illustrated manuscripts, books have always possessed the capacity (budgets permitting) to include images in the text. As the book trade progressed, pictures were generally phased out of cheaper, mass-market editions because they required costly and time-consuming extra effort by skilled technicians. Most artists and illustrators wanted payment for their efforts too, so books with pictures were regarded as extra special, most often crafted for children, students or aficionados of textbooks…

Comics strips grew out of cartoon images, beginning as static illustrations accompanied by blocks of printed text before gradually developing into pictorial sequences with narration, dialogue and sound effects incorporated into the actual design.

These days print processes are speedy and efficient, and many creative bright sparks have realised that they can combine all these tangential disciplines into a potent synthesis.

Gosh, wasn’t that lecture dull?

What I’m saying is that these days, the immediacy of comics, the enchantment of illustrated images, the power of well-designed infographics and the mesmeric tone and mood of well-written prose can all be employed simultaneously to create tales of overwhelming entertainment.

A perfect example of this is artist Adam Stower’s (Bottom’s Up!, Spymice, The Dragons of Wayward Green, The Secret Country) second adventure of Ben Pole and his fabulous companion King Coo.

When Ben was being pitilessly persecuted by bullies at school, one desperate attempt to escape took him to a vast and fantastic forest that lay somehow hidden at the bottom of a hole in a tatty alleyway between skyscrapers in the city. Here he met capable wild-child King Coo: a spear-carrying, crown-wearing girl who builds incredible, impossible inventions and lives in a tree house with her wombat chum Herbert. Most of the time, Coo is covered from her nostrils to her sturdy bare feet in a luxuriant, all-encompassing beard.

She soon helped him sort out his bullying problem once and for all…

Now, as summer holidays end, Ben is heading back to school, just as his mum starts her new job as a security guard at the City Museum. As if having a massive new exhibition featuring the priceless golden treasures of mummified medicine-man Mighty Ozozo of the Blue-Foots Tribe isn’t enough to worry about, many other museums and galleries have recently been plundered by the sinister and mysterious Midnight Mob

Sadly for Ben, his homebody dad’s culinary escapades haven’t gotten any better either…

Ben’s desire to continue having life-&-limb threatening adventures with Coo and her bizarre gizmos is slightly lessened after his class is introduced to substitute teacher Professor Pickering and his attendant transfer students: the oddly fascinating pupils of the Lilly Lavender Private Academy for Exceptional Girls

And thus unfolds a thrill-stuffed, action-packed romp involving vile villains, daring robberies, a hostage situation, dastardly deception and the terrifying prospect of supernatural revenge from beyond the grave. Happily, King Coo has a plan… but then again, she always has a plan, and blueprints and prototypes and…

Fast-paced, astoundingly inventive and laugh-out-loud hilarious, this brilliant kids’ caper merges compact effective prose with beguiling monochrome pictures, comic strips, breathtaking double-page spreads, explanatory diagrams, informative info-pages, mini-posters and all the visual gimmicks that give comics their overpowering immediacy.

This is a book kids of all ages will adore, so why not grant yourself and your entourage a personal audience with King Coo at your earliest convenience?
Text and illustrations © Adam Stower 2019. All rights reserved.

King Coo: The Curse of the Mummy’s Gold will be released on 6th June 2019 and is available for pre-order now.