Sickness Unto Death volumes 1 & 2


By Hikaru Asada & Takahiro Seguchi (Vertical)
ISBN: 978-1-939130-09-9(tankōbon PB vol. 1) 978-1939130105(tankōbon PB vol. 2)

Here’s an intriguing and tragically underrated and sadly forgotten saga deftly examining the devastating effects of despair that still has plenty to say and much to offer…

Takahiro Seguchi’s gripping psychological melodrama Sickness Unto Death is a bleak and enthralling, emotionally complex tale of love, compulsion and dependency, transformed into spellbinding comics by artist Hikaru Asada.

Inspired by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s treatise Sygdommen til Døden (The Sickness Unto Death – a Christian existentialist examination of the “Sin of Despair”), this extremely accessible tale began in 2009 as Shi ni Itaru Yamai; serialised in Hakusensha’s fortnightly Seinen magazine Young Animal.

This translated version opens with a Professor standing beside a student over the grave of his first case – and greatest love…

A flashback begins revealing how, as a young man, Kazuma Futaba came to the city to study clinical psychology, and how he was lucky to find lodgings in an old house. However, on his way there he encountered a young girl with white hair suffering a crushing anxiety attack in the street. Although everybody ignored the crippled creature, he rushed to her assistance and happily complied with her desperate need to be held.

‘Emiru’ was impossibly cold to the touch and although both were merely 18 years old, she seemed inexorably gripped by an ancient despondency and overwhelming gloom…

After she recovered, he hurried on to find his new digs in a vast old house, meeting the butler Kuramoto who reveals the place belonged to the orphan Emiru Ariga, a beautiful, vivacious creature who had within the last two years suddenly succumbed to a crushing ‘Despair’ so great it had bleached her hair, triggered drastic weight-loss, weakened her heart and caused her body temperature to fall to far below normal. He describes it as a “terminal illness of the spirit”. She now spends most of her time locked in her room, drawing monsters and waiting to die…

Intrigued, desperate to help but painfully aware of how inexperienced he is, Futaba examines the compliant, barely-living corpse and determines to somehow help her. At least she shows some animation when he is near. Both Kuramoto and his young mistress want Futaba to fix her…

In ‘Haunted Mansion’ the relationship develops further as the student transfers what he learns by day at school into evening therapy. Emiru seems brighter, even though she believes the house harbours ghosts…

When Kuramoto is called away for a few days, he leaves Futaba in charge, but after the frail girl spends too long in a bath, the boy panics. Breaking in, he sees her painfully thin, nude form for the first time. Embarrassed and confused, he dashes away and stumbles upon a mystery room, its door nailed shut with heavy planks.

Emiru sees ghosts: a crying, lonely child and a monster with teeth but no face…

Her sleep is perpetually disturbed, and Futaba – after learning about Night Terrors in class – agrees to ‘Sharing a Bed’, even though he is no longer certain his own motives are strictly professional. Nevertheless, resolved to save her he begins a ‘Psych Assessment’, gathering facts and personal history, but learns little more than once she was normal and then, suddenly, she wasn’t…

Emiru is increasingly time-locked in lengthy periods of despair, weeping outside the barred room; her traumatic nights eased by Kazuma’s platonic presence, although she feels the spectral presence of ‘The One in the Mansion’ whenever he goes away…

In the present, Professor Futaba and student Minami – who thinks she too can see a ghost in the abandoned dwelling – explore the deserted, decrepit mansion which housed his greatest regret. When they stop at a monster drawing scrawled on a wall, it takes him back to those troubled years…

A setback in Emiru’s recovery occurs when another ghost sighting unleashes a wave of depression and young Futaba learns of her carefree ‘High School Years’ from fellow psych student Koizumi – a former classmate of Emiru when she a healthy, happy, raven-haired ball of wild energy, fun and adventure…

Koizumi ardently believes she became burdened with some terrible secret that overnight transformed her into the frail, fading creature Futaba describes, prompting the floundering lad to confer with his tutor Professor Otsuki. The mentor responds by lending him a copy of Kierkegaard’s infamous tract…

For such a weakened patient, even a cold might be fatal, but with Futaba at her side Emiru pulls through. However, after recovering, she entices him into crossing a ‘Forbidden Line’ but neither as therapist nor lover is young Futaba assured of securing her ‘Happiness and Beauty’ until and unless he can her unburden her obsessive soul of the dark secret strangling it from within…

Beguiling and hypnotic, this exceptional medical mystery/ghostly love story is far from the familiar – to Western eyes at least – explosive bombast and action slapstick normally associated with Japanese comics. As such it might just make a few manga converts amongst die-hard holdouts who prefer sensitive writing, deep themes and human scale to their comics.

Moody, moving and far more than just another adult manga, Sickness Unto Death is that rarest of things: a graphic novel for people who don’t think they like comics…
© 2010 Hikaru Asada. © 2010 Takahiro Seguchi. All rights reserved.

A City Inside


By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-541-7 (HB) 978-1-91039-520-2 (TPB)

Transitions are important. In fact, they are literally life changing. Here’s another one captured and shared by the amazing Tillie Walden…

We usually attribute wisdom and maturity in the creative arts to having lived a bit of life and getting some emotional grit in our wheels and sand in our faces, but maybe that’s not the case for Texas-raised Tillie, whose incredible string of releases include I Love this Part, Spinning, On a Sunbeam, and Are You Listening? and award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer.

A City Inside is another seamlessly constructed marriage of imagination and experience to unflinching self-exploration, constructing a perfect blend of autobiography and fantasy into a vehicle both youthfully exuberant and literary timeless.

Opening in a therapy session, the story delves intimately into a woman’s past, from isolated southern days to bold moments of escape – or is that simply drifting away? – in search of peace and a place to settle. We all leave home and then grow up, and here that transition is seen through the tentative alliance with an ideal first love. That fumbles and fails, thanks to the dull oppression of the Happy Ever After part that no fairy tale ever warns you about…

Eventually life builds you into the being you are – hence the symbolism of a vast internal metropolis – and life goes on, or back, or away, or just somewhere else. That’s pretty much the point…

Supremely engaging, enticingly disturbing and ultimately utterly uplifting, this shared solo voyage to another county is a visual delight no lover of comics can possibly resist. Apart from the graceful honesty on show, the most engaging factor is the author’s inspired rearrangement of visual reality. These dictate mood and tone in a way a million words can’t, supplying a sense of grace and wistful whimsy to the affair.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

House of Clay


By Naomi Nowak (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-511-5 (TPB)

Not every story should be about overcoming great odds, or triumphing over the impossible. Sometimes it’s enough just to keep going…

Painter, illustrator and graphic novelist Naomi Nowak (Unholy Kinship; Graylight) crafts in painted style a dreamy yet potent exploration of the uses and abuse of love in her tale of a young girl who turns her back on a wealthy family and identity. Calling herself Josephine she journeys to the coast, taking a dreadful job in a sweatshop, amongst broken women and girls, and sewing clothes for unpleasant bosses. The only one she can truly confide in and share her thoughts with is a mute work companion…

Restless and roaming, Josephine’s off-duty wanderings bring her to an obnoxious old fortune teller while her unconfined fantasies lead into a romantic entanglement and some life-changing conclusions in a stylish tale of emancipation and empowerment that manages to stay firmly grounded in the unreal, but important.

Colourful, lyrical, sometimes bordering on the pretentious, but eminently readable and beautiful to look at, this different sort of graphic narrative has a great deal to offer the reader looking for more than fistfights or funny stuff.
© 2007 Naomi Nowak. All rights reserved.

Hi Score Girl


By Rensuke Oshikiri translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson (Square Enix Manga & Books)
ISBN: 978-64609-076-7 (Tankōbon PB)

I’ve been dreadfully longwinded of late so here’s a quick review of a book I didn’t expect to like at all, but which happily surprised me.

Let me start by admitting I’m old and slow and physically decrepit. Computer gaming of all stripes and sorts has completely passed me by, and even when I was a fit, demi-god-like Adonis, I was completely immune to the allure of moving screens, ghastly cartoon explosions and things that went blip or bleep. I knew other folk liked them, but I couldn’t care less.

I still don’t, but they’ve been around long enough to have entertained generations and acquire some vintage, and this delightful manga (and the usual anime and movie/TV spinoffs) cannily access that sense of time well spent and happy childhoods to splendid effect for a very human story.

Created by Rensuke Oshikiri, the strip Hai Sukoa Gāru began in October 2010 in Monthly Big Gangan, running until September 2018 and filling ten Tankōbon volumes with the collected adventures. There is talk of a sequel series soon…

It’s actually a slow-burning romcom that begins in 1991, concerning poor schoolboy Haruo “Mighty Fingers” Yaguchi. He hasn’t got much, but he’s the king of his local video game arcade – and any other he can find money to enter. At least, that is, until little perfect miss Akira Oona comes in and starts trashing his scores…

She’s in his sixth-grade class: pretty, rich, aloof. Everybody loves her – even the teachers – even though she never speaks to anyone. What right – or need – has she to invade his sordid dominions?

He hates her.

As she continually and constantly wrecks his rep on a variety of games that will cripple fans and cognoscenti with overpowering nostalgia, his ire grows. However, as shared interests and surprisingly similar domestic problems push them together, his attitudes begin to change. Hers are harder to fathom. Like Tommy in that rock opera, she only seems to come alive in front of a console…

Packed with the kind of technical detail and historical background all geeks – gamers, comics, whatever – and surprise features, this is a truly engaging yarn that ends on a potentially tragic cliffhanger that will have you clamouring for more…
© 2016 Rensuke Oshikiri/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD. English translation © 2020 SQUARE ENIX CO., LTD.

I Love This Part



By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-91039-532-5(HB) 978-1-91039-517-2 (TPB)

Happy St. Valentines’ Day. I’m stifling my usual curmudgeonly attitudes for a while and reviewing a book that’s solidly on the side of being in love, but not so disingenuous as to tell you that it’s all hearts and flowers…

Sweet but not calorific, I Love This Part deliciously pictorializes the happy, introspective, contemplative and aspirational moments of two schoolgirls who have found each other. Shared dreams, idle conversations, disputes and landmark first steps, even fights and break-ups are seen and weathered. Novelty, timidity, apprehension, societal pressure and even some unnecessary shame come into it, but generally it’s just how young people learn to love and what that inevitably entails…

Apart from the astoundingly graceful and inviting honesty of the tale, the most engaging factor is the author’s brilliant dismissal of visual reality. These interactions are all backdropped by wild changes in dimension and perspective, abrupt shifts in location and landscape and shots of empty spaces all adding a sense of distance and whimsy to very familiar proceedings.

Tillie Walden is a great admirer of Little Nemo so fellow afficionados will feel at home even if neophytes might experience the odd sensation of disorientation and trepidation. Like being in love, I suppose…

Glorying not just in the relationships but also in the sheer joy of drawing what you feel, Texas-raised Tillie is still a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific and immensely gifted one – who has garnered heaps of acclaim and awards. Whether through her fiction or autobiographical works (frequently combined in the same stories), she always engenders a feeling of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is a sheer delight.

Before globally turning heads with such unforgettable tales as On a Sunbeam, A City Inside, Spinning, and Are You Listening? she followed up on her Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer with this fluffy yet barbed coming-of-age tale.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject this comic masterpiece – available in hardback, softcover and digital formats – which no one should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2016. All rights reserved.

Liberty Meadows: Sundays Book One


By Frank Cho (Image/Monkey Boy Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-564-7 (HB)

It’s ALMOST too late to concoct a suitable St Valentine’s Day extravaganza worthy of the one who puts up with you, so let todays review serve to remind you that not only is love strange but it can also tolerate an incredible amount of unsavoury behaviour – it just shouldn’t have to…

Like many wonderful modern comics strips, Liberty Meadows grew out of a prototype college newspaper incarnation: specifically, the University of Maryland (College Park) student periodical The Diamondback.

Back then the strip was called University² but it still revealed the warped genius and stunning graphic virtuosity of native Marylander Frank Cho. As a syndicated strip Liberty Meadows launched on March 31st 1997, running until December 30th 2001. It also enjoyed a respectable run as a comic book released through Insight Studios.

The strip which won a hoard of awards before going on hiatus (hey, if Bloom County can come back after decades, so long as the artist’s still alive, I’m keeping the faith for this and Calvin & Hobbes), is a whimsical masterpiece of comedy appealing to anyone afflicted with a love of pop culture, wistfulness, slacker-ness and unrequited passions. This first hardcover (or digital) compilation of full-colour Sunday strips cover the first three years and is saucily appreciated by Cho’s great pal and confederate Mike McSwiggin in his Introduction.

What’s it About, I hear you enquire? Easier asked than answered…

Exhibiting elements of the aforementioned Berkely Breathed’s magnum about Opus, and cheekily pilfering and channelling every comicbook, TV, movie and trash culture icon you might imagine, the episodes occur in and around the animal sanctuary of Liberty Meadows and generally revolve around the ever-so-patient animal psychologist Brandy Carter as she blithely tries to circumvent her innate hottie-ness and get on with her job.

The major obstacles to this simple ambition include not just human impediments such as shyly adoring vet Frank Melisch, clumsily dangerous janitor Tony, sanctuary owner Julius, and Brandy’s super sexy roommate Jen (she’s a rocket scientist who loves to toy with men…) but also the scene-stealing frequently obnoxious smart alec talking animals such as midget circus bear Ralph, literally sexist pig Dean, hypochondriac frog Leslie, innocent waif – and duck – Truman, mute dachshund Oscar, OCD-suffering raccoon Mike, Khan the catfish and an evil cow dubbed The Cow

Further turning this small word upside down are conspiracy-theorist and local barkeep Al, Brandy’s ex Roger, her parents (say no more), and a couple of duplicates from a mirror universe: Evil Brandy and Alternate Frank

You’ll thank me for not giving away any of the 138 beautifully rendered, seditiously surreal gags, but I will push my luck by stating Cho insinuates himself into proceedings on a regular basis (as forth-wall busting chimpanzee Monkey Boy) and warning you to watch out for low flying dinosaurs, wandering daydreams, outbursts of 3-D, and constant outbreaks of strip and movie spoofs such as Prince Valium, Mighty Shmoe Pong, Jungle Gym and Flush Gordon

Frank Cho is a very funny guy and also one of the best dramatic illustrators in the business, so you’ll also appreciate the spiffy Sketch Gallery featuring pencils, inks, roughs and some delicious images of Brandy as your favourite female superheroes.

Magnificently redolent of (and proudly swiping from) Walt Kelly, Dave Stevens, Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Michelangelo (not the turtle), and others of their prestigious ilk as the gag demands, Cho’s blend of anthropomorphic anarchy, sublimely lavish glamour illustration and devilish wit means this is a timeless treat and treatise on love you simply must see…
™ and © 2012 Frank Cho, Monkey Boy Press. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk: Heart of the Atom


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Archie Goodwin, Len Wein, Bill Mantlo, Peter Gillis, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema& various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6212-4 (TPB)

Love is in the air and it’s a Leap Year too, so if you’re a typical guy you’ll want to pay attention. Don’t wait for February 13th. Start looking for a St. Valentine’s Day present for The One now. I’m reviewing romance-themed graphic novels sporadically between now and then as a prompt.

PAY EVEN MORE ATTENTION. A graphic novel – no matter how good – is not suitable as a romantic gift on its own. For Pete’s Sake buy something else – and more thoughtful – too.

Bruce Banner is a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result, any kind of stress causes him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury. He was one of Marvel’s earliest innovations and first failure but, after an initially troubled few years, finally found his size-700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of the company’s premiere antiheroes and most popular features.

As such a rambunctious, rampaging monster, it’s hard to imagine the Hulk as a heartbroken star of romantic tragedy but that’s just what this compilation – collecting stories from Incredible Hulk #140, 148, 156, 202-203, 205-207, 246-248, What If? #23 and pertinent pages from The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, collectively covering June 1971 to October 1980: the everyday love story of a meandering monster and a sub-atomic alien princess…

By the close of the 1960s the Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and satisfyingly effective formula: world-weary Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains. Artist Herb Trimpe made the character his own, adapting the “house” Jack Kirby-based art-style into often startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by his unmatched facility for drawing technology: especially honking great ordnance and vehicles…

And, of course, no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a great big “Hulk Smash!” moment…

The titanic trysts open with the concluding chapter of a landmark crossover that had opened in Avengers #88 (but not included here). In that missing fragment, Psyklop – insectoid servant of Elder Gods – abducted the Hulk to fuel their resurrection…

This leads directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (by Harlan Ellison & Roy Thomas, pencilled & inked by Sam Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Banished and imprisoned on sub-atomic world K’ai, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body are reconciled and form one unbeatable warrior champion. He becomes a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and lover of their perfect noble princess Jarella. However, at the moment of his greatest joy, the Green Goliath is snatched away by Psyklop and exacts justified vengeance even as his departure cause havoc on the microversal paradise….

For issue #148 (February 1972) Archie Goodwin debuted as scripter – with a little plotting assistance from a very junior Chris Claremont – in ‘But Tomorrow… the Sun Shall Die!’ Lost love Jarella travels to Earth and a longed-for reunion, just as Banner is cured of his curse by radical solar-energy experimentation. Unfortunately, she accidentally brings with her a super-assassin determined to end her life at all costs, which somehow triggers the sun into going nova…

Forced to return to her planet, Jarella becomes an object of obsession for the Jade Juggernaut – as detailed in a text précis of his months-long hunt for her – before we resume in Incredible Hulk #156 (October).

Having swallowed a defective shrinking formula created by the Astonishing Ant-Man in a forlorn attempt to rejoin Jarella in her subatomic world, Hulk reduces in sporadic bursts and is propelled into a succession of micro-worlds, before a shrinking spasm happily deposits him on Jarella’s world in time for ‘Holocaust at the Heart of the Atom!’(Goodwin, Trimpe & Sal Trapani) to pit him against his worst nightmare – himself – before once more losing his true love to the vicissitudes of cruel fate…

With Hulk #202-203 (August and September 1976) Len Wein, Sal Buscema & Joe Staton start bringing the romance to its inevitable close as a once more miniaturised man-monster plunges through micro-space before arriving in the promised land of his beloved and long-lost alien queen…

Havoc at the Heart of the Atom’ reveals how his previous visit rendered the world tectonically unstable, shattering the civilisation which once had the power to blend Banner’s mind with the Hulk’s body. Moreover, the once-civilised population have turned on the queen they hold responsible…

Reunited with his beloved, the simplistic brute swears to fix the problem but is soon embroiled again with the antediluvian horror who first stuck him in the microverse, and who still craves bloody revenge…

The ‘Assault on Psyklop!’ proves another crushing defeat for the vile insectoid and a guardedly happy ending for the man-brute as a coincidental rescue attempt from Earth brings Hulk home, carrying his astounded lover with him…

In Hulk #205, Wein, Buscema & Staton depict the most soul-shattering moment in the Green Goliath’s tortured life as ‘Do Not Forsake Me!’ finds Jarella adapting to life on Earth only to sacrifice herself to save a child from rampaging robbery robot Crypto-Man.

Stunned and bereft, the Hulk becomes ‘A Man-Brute Berserk!’: his grief-stricken trail of grief-fuelled destruction leading from Gamma Base, New Mexico all the way to New York City where even his closest friends and allies are unable to calm the green gargantuan, leading to a brutal battle ‘Alone Against the Defenders!’ who finally realise compassion is the only method that can work against their traumatised foe…

Another catch-up text page brings us to Incredible Hulk #246 (April 1980) for another traumatic experience. ‘The Hero and the Hulk!’ by Bill Mantlo & Buscema reveals that Jarella’s body has been kept for study by the military and opens with an infuriated Gamma Giant determined to take her back home for decent burial: a grim task made easier with the assistance of Kree-born Protector of the Universe Captain Marvel

Returned to ‘Jarella’s World’, Hulk finds a desolate planet on the edge of death, with only one solitary oasis of verdant life remaining. It is jealously guarded by wander Universal Elder the Gardener – who will brook no intrusions of any kind – but a combination of Banner’s empathy and the Hulk’s forceful nature eventually convince him to allow her interment: triggering an unexpected blossoming of new life in ‘How Green My Garden Grows!’

Completing this collected star-crossed tale of woe, is an alternate take originating in October 1980’s What If? #23. Concocted by Peter Gillis, Trimpe & Mike Esposito ‘What If… Hulk’s Girlfriend Jarella Had Not Died?’ posits what might have occurred if Jarella had not died and the lovers had returned to K’ai to liberate that world from the influence of the Elder Gods…

Packed with bonus features such as informational pages about Jarella and The Gardener (from the Marvel Universe Handbook), this potently passionate primer of love without limits is a vibrantly verdant delight to charm any savage beast…
© 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hobo Mom


By Charles Forsman – Max de Radiguès (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-176-5 (HB) eISBN

The most wonderful thing about the comics medium is that it is utterly transformative and variable; dependent upon the abilities of the individuals or teams of creatives involved. Hobo Mom is a sublime case in point, a single story crafted by two separate cartoonists working simultaneously and collaboratively, even though situated thousands of miles apart.

Forsman is a multi-award-winning graduate of Vermont’s celebrated Center for Cartoon Studies (founded at White River Junction by James Sturm and Michelle Ollie in 2004), whose previous releases include Celebrated Summer, The End of the Fucking World and I Am Not Okay with This. You should also be aware of his self-published mini-comics Snake Oil, Revenger and Slasher

Max de Radiguès hails from Belgium. He was born in 1982 and, when not creating books and comics for youngsters and adults, runs publishing houses L’employé du Moi (Ego Employee) and Éditions Sabarcane. In September 2009 he began a one-year residency at the Center for Cartoon Studies and turned his experiences into Meanwhile in White River Junction from Six Feet Under the Earth: a biography celebrated at the Angoulême International Comics Festival 2012.

During 2018, although divided by an entire ocean, these gentlemen used the magic of comics to seamlessly craft this poignant, understated examination of family break-up and possible renewal…

Single parent Tom lives a quiet life with his young daughter Sissy (and her pet rabbit Hazel). It’s not paradise, but it will do. Meanwhile, on a freight train, a bindlestiff heads toward them, practising what she’s going to say. It’s not an uneventful trip, but what lies ahead is far more daunting the hardship, privation and potential molestation and murder…

A little later, Sissy is playing when a woman introduces herself as Natasha and asks if her dad’s home…

That’s all you’re getting. You’ve already guessed what’s going on from the title, but you really must see for yourselves what happens when a compulsion for independence battles a need to renew maternal drives, and a need to keep moving wars with a hunger for love and even suffocating emotional ties…

And that’s not even considering how the stay-at-homes might feel and react…

Deceptively simple but devastatingly effective, Hobo Mom is a cunning and evocative exploration of humanity anyone with a heart must read.
© 2019 Charles Forsman – Max de Radiguès. This edition © 2019 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All rights reserved.

AEIOU or Any Easy intimacy


By Jeffrey Brown (Top Shelf Productions)
ISBN: 978-1891830716 (PB)

If you’re a fan of Jeffrey Brown’s cartoon exploits you might understandably admit to a small degree of confusion. In 2012 he scored his first global best-seller with a hilarious spin on the soft and nurturing side of the Jedi experience in Darth Vader and Son, following up with equally charming and hilarious sequels Vader’s Little Princess, Star Wars: Jedi Academy and others. He followed that up by contributing to the franchise’s dramatic comics canon with Star Wars Jedi Academy; Star Wars Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan and Star Wars Jedi Academy: The Phantom Bully (2013-2015).

He has also directed music videos, created film posters, worked for public radio and co-written the feature film Save the Date.

Before that another Jeffrey Brown was the sharply sparkling wit who crafted slyly satirical all-ages funny stuff for The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, Marvel’s Strange Tales, Incredible Change-Bots and similar visual venues.

There is yet another Jeffrey Brown: instigator and frequent star and stooge of such quirkily irresistible autobiographical Indy comics classics as Sulk, Kids Are Weird, Bighead, Little Things, Funny, Misshapen Body, Undeleted Scenesand the four-volume “Girlfriend Trilogy” (of which this is the third), comprising Clumsy, Unlikely, AEIOU and Every Girl is the End of the World for Me

Whichever Brown’s your preferred choice, he’s a cartoonist of rare insight and unflinching integrity who still makes you laugh out loud when not prompting you to offer a big consoling hug…

Brown was raised in Michigan; relocating to Chicago in 2000 to attend the School of the Arts Institute and study painting. Before graduating he had switched to drawing comics and in 2002 Clumsy was released. A poignant and uncompromising dissection of a long-distance relationship, it quickly becoming a surprise hit with fans and critics alike.

In both paperback and digital formats AEIOU describes a succession of painful torments, frustrations and moments of unparalleled ill-considered anticipation as Brown cherry-picks graphic mementos from another doomed relationship. Still it’s times like that which make us all who we are today…

The material is both delicious and agonising in its forthright simplicity: a sequence of pictorial snippets and vignettes detailing how a meek, directionless, horny, inoffensively average film-fan graduate art-student cautiously navigates his first grown-up intimate relationship after finally losing his virginity: that state of confused and constant longing for the “one and only” we all go through and never successfully navigate…

As is always the case, his prospective partner comes with baggage that is at first beguiling and acceptable but which soon becomes an increasingly major sticking point. Of course, what Jeffrey learns about himself in the process is also exceedingly illuminating…

Everyone who’s had itches to scratch and gone for broke with head and heart befuddled by longing and loneliness has been through this, and for every torrid romance that makes it, there are a million that don’t. Those would be you, me and him…

Drawn in his deceptively effective Primitivist monochrome style with masterful staging, a sublime economy of phrase and a breathtaking gift for generating in equal amounts belly-laughs and those poignant lump-in-throat moments we’ve all experienced and regretted forever-after, this is another potent procession of crystallised moments which establish one awful truth. There might not ever be a “The One”…

Through dozens of individual episodes with titles like We Think You’d Have A Lot of Fun Together’, But Does She LIKE ME Like Me’, ‘The Long Pause Before a First Kiss’,Prettiness’,Grass is Greener’,Between Lovers’, ‘The Difference Between Us’, Anybody Can Draw’, Did You’, Broken’, and Nothing Says I Love You Like’ or ‘Lingering’ we follow an eventful half year and a few portentous aftershocks and the life story moments come with a revelatory suggested Soundtrack Side ‘A’ and Soundtrack Side ‘B’

Brimming with remarkable discovery, hopeful confirmation and the shattering angst us oldsters can barely remember now let alone understand, Any Easy Intimacy is a powerful delight for everybody who has confused raging hormones, intimate physical contact and impatient wistfulness with love, and a sublime examination of what makes us human, hopeful and perhaps wistfully incorrigible…
© 2005 Jeffrey Brown. All rights reserved.

Showcase Presents Secrets of Sinister House


By Mary Skrenes, Len Wein, Jack Oleck, Frank Robbins, Mary DeZuñiga, Lynn Marron, Michael Fleisher, Sheldon Mayer, John Albano, Maxene Fabe, E. Nelson Bridwell, Steve Skeates, Robert Kanigher, John Jacobson, Fred Wolfe, Leo Dorfman, George Kashdan, Dave Wood, Don Heck, John Calnan, Tony DeZuñiga, Jack Sparling, Alex Toth, Frank Giacoia, Doug Wildey, Mike Sekowsky, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Alfredo Alcala, Sergio Aragonés, Ed Ramos, Bill Draut, Nestor Redondo, June Lofamia, Sam Glanzman, Lore Shoberg, Ruben Yandoc, Alex Niño, Abe Ocampo, Rico Rival, Gerry Taloac, Larry Hama, Neal Adams, Rich Buckler, Jess Jodloman, Romy Gamboa, Don Perlin, Vicente Alcazar, Ernie Chan, Ramona Fradon, Howard Chaykin, Sy Barry, Win Mortimer, Angel B. Luna, Murphy Anderson, Jerry Grandenetti, Gil Kane & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2626-8 (PB)

American comicbooks just sort of idled along until the invention of Superman provided a flamboyant new genre of heroes: subsequently unleashing a torrent of creative imitation and imaginative generation for a suddenly thriving and voracious new entertainment model.

Implacably vested in World War II, these Overmen swept all before them until the troops came home. However, as the decade closed, more traditional themes and heroes resurfaced and eventually supplanted the now passé and unbelievable Fights ‘n’ Tights crowd.

Whilst a new generation of kids began buying and collecting, many of the first fans also retained their four-colour habit, but increasingly sought out more mature themes in their reading matter. The war years had irrevocably altered the psychological landscape of the readership and as a more world-weary, cynical young public came to see that all the fighting and dying hadn’t really changed anything, their chosen forms of entertainment (film, theatre and prose as well as comics) increasingly reflected this.

As well as the trinity of Western, War and Crime comics, celebrity tie-ins, madcap escapist or teen comedy and anthropomorphic funny animal features were immediately resurgent, but gradually another of the cyclical revivals of spiritualism and a public fascination with the arcane led to a wave of impressive, evocative and shockingly addictive horror comics.

There had been grisly, gory and supernatural stars before, including a pantheon of ghosts, monsters and wizards draped in mystery-man garb and trappings (the Spectre, Mr. Justice, Sgt. Spook, Frankenstein, The Heap, Sargon the Sorcerer, Zatara, Zambini the Miracle Man, Kardak the Mystic, Dr. Fate and dozens of others), but these had been victims of circumstance: The Unknown as a power source for super-heroics. Now the focus shifted to ordinary mortals thrown into a world beyond their ken with the intention of unsettling, not vicariously empowering, the reader.

Practically every publisher jumped on the increasingly popular bandwagon, with B & I (which became the magical one-man-band Richard E. Hughes’ American Comics Group) launching the first regularly published horror comic in the Autumn of 1948, although their Adventures into the Unknown was technically pipped by Avon.

That book and comics publisher had released an impressive single issue entitled Eerie in January 1947 but didn’t follow-up with a regular series until 1951. Classics Illustrated had already secured the literary end of the medium with child-friendly comics adaptations of The Headless Horseman, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (both 1943), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1944) and Frankenstein (1945) among others.

If we’re keeping score, this was also the period in which Joe Simon & Jack Kirby identified another “mature market” gap by inventing Romance comics with Young Romance #1, (September 1947) but they too saw the sales potential for spooky material, resulting in the seminal Black Magic (launched 1950) and boldly obscure psychological drama anthology Strange World of Your Dreams (1952).

National, the company that would become DC Comics, bowed to the inevitable and launched a comparatively straitlaced anthology that nevertheless became one of their longest-running and most influential titles with the December 1951/January 1952 launch of The House of Mystery.

After the hysterical censorship debate which led to witch-hunting Senate hearings in the early 1950s was curtailed by the industry adopting a castrating straitjacket of self-regulation, titles produced under the aegis of the Comics Code Authority were sanitised, anodyne affairs in terms of Shock and Gore, but the audience’s appetite for suspense was still high and in 1956 National introduced sister titles Tales of the Unexpected and House of Secrets.

Stories were soon dialled back from uncanny spooky phenomenon yarns to always marvellously illustrated, rationalistic fantasy-adventure vehicles and eventually straight monster-busting Sci Fi tales which then dominated the market until the 1960s.

That’s when super-heroes – which had begun to revive after Julius Schwartz began the Silver Age of comics by reintroducing the Flash in Showcase #4 – finally overtook them.

Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom and a growing coterie of costumed cavorters generated a gaudy global bubble of masked mavens which forced even dedicated anthology suspense titles to transform into super-character books. Even ACG slipped tights and masks onto some of its spooky stars.

When the caped crusader craziness peaked and popped, superheroes began dropping like Kryptonite-gassed flies. However, nothing combats censorship better than falling profits and, at the end of the 1960s, with the cape-and-cowl boom over and some of the industry’s most prestigious series circling the drain, the surviving publishers of the field agreed on revising the Comics Code, loosening their self-imposed restraints against crime and horror comics.

Nobody much cared about gangster titles at that moment but, as the liberalisation coincided with yet another bump in public interest in supernatural themes, the resurrection of scary stories was a foregone conclusion and obvious “no-brainer.” Even ultra-wholesome Archie Comics re-entered the field with their rather tasty line of Red Circle Chillers…

Thus, with absolutely no fanfare at all, spooky comics came back to quickly dominate the American funnybook market for more than half a decade. DC led the pack by converting The House of Mystery and Tales of the Unexpected into mystery-suspense anthologies in 1968 and resurrected House of Secrets a year earlier.

However, horror wasn’t the only classic genre to experience renewed interest. Westerns, War, Adventure and Romance titles also reappeared and – probably influenced by the stunning popularity of supernatural TV soap Dark Shadows – the industry mixed a few classic idioms and invented gothic horror/romances.

The mini-boom generated Haunted Love from Charlton, Gothic Romances from Atlas/Seaboard and from undisputed industry leader National/DC Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love and sister ship Sinister House of Secret Love.

The 52-page Sinister House of Secret Love launched with an October/November 1971 cover-date, offering book-length graphic epics in the manner of venerated gothic romances such as Jane Eyre, before transforming into a more traditional anthology package as Secrets of Sinister House with #5 (June/July 1972): reducing to the traditional 36-page format with the next issue. The format remained until its cancellation with #18 in June/July 1974.

In keeping with the novel enterprise, the dark, doomed love stories were extra-long affairs such as the 25-page Victorian period chiller ‘The Curse of the MacIntyres’ (by Mary Skrenes & Don Heck) which opened issue #1; recounting how recently-bereaved Rachel lost her scientist father and fell under the guardianship of her cousin Blair. Moving into his remote Scottish castle she readily befriends Blair’s son Jamie but can’t warm to dwarfish cousin Alfie.

As days and weeks pass, she becomes increasingly disturbed by the odd household and the family’s obsessive interest in “mutations”…

There was even room for a short back-up and the Jane Eyre pastiche is nicely balanced by a contemporary yarn of hippies in love, undying passion and ghostly reincarnation in ‘A Night to Remember – A Day to Forget!’ by an unknown author, effectively illustrated by John Calnan & Vince Colletta.

Editor Joe Orlando and scripter Len Wein closely collaborated on the Tony DeZuñiga limned ‘To Wed the Devil’ in the next issue, wherein beautiful, innocent Sarah returns to her dad’s estate and discovers the place is a hotbed of Satanism where all the old servants indulge in black magic rituals.

Moreover, her father is forcing her to abandon true love Justin and wed appalling and terrifying Baron Luther Dumont of Bohemia to settle an outstanding debt. This grim bodice-ripper tale featured the return of Victorian demon-busting duo Father John Christian and Rabbi Samuel Shulman who appeared far too infrequently in succeeding years (see Showcase Presents the House of Secrets volume 1 and Showcase Presents the Phantom Stranger volume 2) whose last-minute ministrations save the day, quell an unchecked evil and, of course, kickstart the obligatory Happy Ever After…

Sinister House of Secret Love #3 is the most impressive of these early issues. ‘Bride of the Falcon’ is a visual feast from Alex Toth, Frank Giacoia & Doug Wildey, with author Frank Robbins detailing a thoroughly modern mystery. American proof-reader Kathy Harwood answers a “Lonely Hearts” ad in her own magazine and finds herself in Venice, Italy, trapped on the isolated Isola Tranquillo with tragic, scarred, lovelorn and heartsick Count Lorenzo Di Falco and his ever-present but paralysed mother.

Something isn’t right, though, and as the wedding day approaches, a series of inexplicable deaths occur. Soon, the romance-obsessed dreamer realises she is in deadly danger. Luckily, poor but handsome gondolier Roberto has constantly refused her demands that he cease pestering her…

The gripping psychological thriller is supplemented by anonymous (prose) ghostly romance ‘Will I Ever See You Again’ illustrated by Jack Sparling…

In #4, ‘Kiss of the Serpent’ by Mary DeZuñiga, Michael Fleisher & Tony DeZuñiga takes us to Bombay (you can call it Mumbai if you’re feeling modern and PC) where freshly orphaned teacher Michelle Harlinson takes a job arranged by her uncle Paul.

Dazed by loss and the sheer exoticism of India, she is soon drawn into a terrible vendetta between her gorgeous wealthy employer Rabin Singh and his jealous brother Jawah. As the American finds herself falling under the seductive sway of Rabin, she uncovers a history of murder and macabre snake-worship that can only end in more death and heartbreak…

With the next extra-sized issue (June/July 1972), the title transformed into Secrets of Sinister House and Lynn Marron, Fleisher, Mike Sekowsky & Dick Giordano produced the eerie ‘Death at Castle Dunbar’ wherein modern American Miss Mike Hollis is invited to a desolate Scottish manse to complete a history of Clan Dunbar. However, most of the family and staff are inexplicably hostile, even though they are unaware of the writer’s true agenda…

Mike’s sister Valerie was married to the Laird Sir Alec, and apparently drowned in an accident. The author is even more convinced when – whilst snooping in the darkened midnight halls – she meet’s Val’s ghost…

Certain of murder, Mike probes deeper, uncovering deeply-concealed scandal and mystery, and becomes a target. However, when there are so many suspects and no one to trust, how long can it be before she joins her sibling in the spirit world?

In #6 the transition to a standard horror-anthology was completed with the introduction of a schlocky comedic host/raconteur along the lines of Cain, Abel and the Mad Mod Witch.

Charity offers her laconic first ‘Welcome to Sinister House’ (presumably scripted by Editor Orlando and illustrated by the astonishingly gifted Michael Wm. Kaluta), before pioneering industry legend Sheldon Mayer – who would briefly act as lead writer for the title – replaced romance with mordant terror and gallows humour by asking ‘When is Tomorrow Yesterday?’ (art by Alfredo Alcala) for a genre-warping tale of time-travelling magic and medicine.

‘Brief Reunion!’ by John Albano, Ed Ramos & Mar Amongo has a hitman find the inescapable consequences of his life, and veterans Robert Kanigher & Bill Draut showed a murdering wife that Karma was a vengeful bitch in ‘The Man Hater’.

Issue #7 featured ‘Panic!’ by Mayer and the sublimely talented Nestor Redondo, who together teach a mobster’s chiselling bookkeeper a salient lesson about messing with girls who know magic; Sergio Aragonés opens an occasional gag feature of ‘Witch’s Tails’ before Mayer & June Lofamia futilely warn a student taking ship for America ‘As Long as you Live… Stay Away from Water!’

Sam Glanzman llustrated Mayer’s twice-told tale of ghostly millennial vengeance in ‘The Hag’s Curse and the Hamptons’ Revenge!’ after which cartoonist Lore Shober takes a turn at the ‘Witch’s Tails’ to end the issue.

‘The Young Man Who Cried Werewolf Once Too Often’ – art by Draut – in #8 finds a most modern manner of dealing with lycanthropes, after which Maxene Fabe & Ruben Yandoc’s ‘Playing with Fire’ sees a bullied boy find a saurian pal to fix all his problems and E. Nelson Bridwell & Alex Niño again featured a wolf-man – but one who mistakenly believed lunar travel would solve his dilemma during a ‘Moonlight Bay’

Secrets of Sinister House #9 shows what might happen if impatient obnoxious neighbours are crazy enough to ‘Rub a Witch the Wrong Way!’ (Mayer & Abe Ocampo), whilst Kanigher & Rico Rival reveal ‘The Dance of the Damned’ – wherein an ambitious ballerina learns to regret stealing the shoes and glory of her dead idol – before Jack Oleck & Rival relate how obsessive crypto-zoologists learn a hard lesson and little else whilst hunting ‘The Abominable Snowman’…

In #10, Steve Skeates & Alcala’s ‘Castle Curse’ sees a family torn apart by vulpine heredity, whilst Gerry Taloac’s ‘The Cards Never Lie!’ shows a gang turf war ending badly because nobody will listen to a handy fortune teller, and a greedy hunchback goes too far and learns too much in his drive to surpass his magician master in ‘Losing his Head!’ by Larry Hama, Neal Adams & Rich Buckler.

Following another Kaluta ‘Welcome to Sinister House’, Fabe & Yandoc craft a period tale of greedy adventure and just deserts in ‘The Monster of Death Island’, after which all modern man’s resources seem unable to halt the shocking rampage of ‘The Enemy’ (by persons unknown).

More Aragonés ‘Witch’s Tails’ then precede an horrific history lesson of the 18th century asylum dubbed ‘Bedlam’ by John Jacobson, Kanigher & Niño and generations of benighted, deluded exploited souls…

Sekowsky & Wayne Howard lead off in #12 with a salutary tale of a greedy, ruthless furrier who becomes ‘A Very Cold Guy’, after which Oleck & Niño explore ‘The Ultimate Horror’ of a hopeless paranoid whilst – following more Aragonés ‘Witch’s Tails’ – Bridwell & Alcala adapted W. F. Harvey’s classic chiller of ravening insanity ‘August Heat’.

Shock and awe are the order of the day in #13 when giant animals attack a horrified family in the decidedly deceptive ‘Deadly Muffins’ by Albano & Alcala, whereas Oleck & Niño wryly combine nuclear Armageddon and vampires in ‘The Taste of Blood’, before Albano & Jess Jodloman wrap everything up in a nasty parable of great wealth and prognostication: ‘The Greed Inside’.

‘The Man and the Snake’ is another Bridwell & Alcala adaptation, this time of Ambrose Bierce’s mesmerising tale of mystery and imagination, but the original thrillers in #14 are just as good. In ‘The Roommate’ – by Fred Wolfe, Sekowsky & Draut – a college romance is wrecked by a girl with an incredible secret, whilst ‘The Glass Nightmare’ (Fleisher & Alcala) teaches an opportunistic thief and killer the reason why you shouldn’t take what isn’t yours…

Issue #15 begins with ‘The Claws of the Harpy’ (Fleisher & Sparling), wherein a murderous human monster reaps a whirlwind of retribution, followed up with Oleck & Romy Gamboa’s proof that there are more cunning hunters than vampires in ‘Hunger’ before culminating with a surprisingly heart-warming and sentimental fable in Albano & Jodloman’s ‘Mr. Reilly the Derelict!’

Despite the tone of the times, Secrets of Sinister House did not thrive. The odd mix of quirky tales and artistic experimentation couldn’t secure a regular audience, and a sporadic release schedule exacerbated the problems. Sadly, the last few issues, despite holding some of the best original material and a few fabulous reprints, were seen by hardly any readers and the series vanished with #18.

Still, they’re here in all their wonderful glory and well worth the price of admission on their own.

An uncredited page of supernatural facts opens #16, after which George Kashdan & Don Perlin tell a tale of feckless human intolerance and animal fidelity in ‘Hound You to Your Grave’, whilst the superb Vicente Alcazar traces the career of infamous 18th century sorcerer the Count of St. Germain who proudly boasted ‘No Coffin Can Hold Me’ (possibly scripted by Leo Dorfman?), before Kashdan returns with newcomer Ernie Chan to recount the sinister saga of the world’s most inhospitable caravan in ‘The Haunted House-Mobile’.

Perhaps ironic in choice as lead, #17’s ‘Death’s Last Rattle’ (Kashdan & the uniquely marvellous Ramona Fradon) combines terror with sardonic laughs as a corpse goes on trial for his afterlife, even as an innocent living man is facing a jury for the dead man’s murder, whilst ‘Strange Neighbor’ by Howard Chaykin and ‘Corpse Comes on Time’ from Win Mortimer told classic quickie terror tales in a single page each.

To close the issue, the editor raided the vaults for one of the company’s oldest scary sagas.

‘Johnny Peril: Death Has Five Guesses’ by Kanigher, Giacoia & Sy Barry was first seen in Sensation Mystery #112 (November/December 1952), pitting the perennial two-fisted troubleshooter against a mystery maniac in a chamber of horrors. But was Karl Kandor just a deranged actor or something else entirely…?

The curtain – or axe? – fell with #18, combining Kashdan & Calnan’s all-new ‘The Strange Shop on Demon Street’ – featuring a puppet-maker, marauding thugs and arcane cosmic justice – with a selection of reprints. From 1969, ‘Mad to Order’ by Murphy Anderson is another one-page punch-liner and Dave Wood – as D.W. Holtz – & Angel B. Luna offer New Year’s Eve enchantment in ‘The Baby Who Had But One Year to Die’. ‘The House that Death Built’, by Dorfman & Jerry Grandenetti, then sees plundering wreckers reap the watery doom for their perfidy.

Once again, the best is left till last as ‘The Half-Lucky Charm!’ by an unknown writer and artists Gil Kane & Bernard Sachs (from Sensation Mystery #115, May 1953) follows a poor schmuck who can only afford to buy 50% of Cagliostro’s good luck talisman and finds his fortune and life are being reshaped accordingly…

With superbly experimental and evocative covers by Victor Kalin, Jerome Podwell, DeZuñiga, Nick Cardy, Kaluta, Sparling & Luis Dominguez, this long-overlooked and welcomingly eclectic title is well overdue for a critical reappraisal and reissue under modern repro techniques, and fans of brilliant comics art and wry, laconic, cleverly humour-laced, mild horror masterpieces should seek out this monochrome monolith of mirth and mystery.

Trust me: you’ll love it…
© 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 2010 DC Comics, Inc. All Rights Reserved.