Stabbed in the Front – Post-War General Elections through Political Cartoons


By Dr. Alan Mumford (Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature, U of K, Canterbury)
ISBN: 978-1-90267-120-8

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

In Britain the cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. This gloriously informative book (sponsored by the marvellous Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature, University of Kent at Canterbury), offers a fantastic overview of political adaptability and cultural life as Britain moved from Empire to mere Nationhood in the latter half of the 20th century, examined through General Elections and the wealth of cunningly contrived images and pictorial iconography they provoked and inspired. It’s one of my favourite things ever and crucially in need of updating and re-release…

After an effusive Foreword by professional politician and celebrated cartoon aficionado (the Rt. Hon.) Lord Kenneth Baker of Dorking, author Alan Mumford – a specialist in management training – covers the basic semiology and working vocabulary of the medium in his copious Introduction.

Designating definitions and terms for his splendid treatise, he subdivides the territory into ‘Origins’, ‘Criteria for Selection’, ‘Newspapers and Magazines’, ‘The Longevity of Political Cartoonists’, ‘References, Symbols and Metaphors’, ‘The Impact of Cartoons on General Elections’ and ‘Savagery in Political Cartoons’ as a very effective foundation course in how to best contextualise and appreciate the plethora of carefully crafted mass-market messages which follow.

The format is extremely ergonomic and effective. Thus, Philip Zec’s iconic cartoon and caption/slogan “Here You Are. Don’t Lose it Again!” begins the Great Endeavour with historical background in The Run-up to the General Election of 1945, followed by Election Issues and the 1945 Campaign, Major Personalities of the 1945 General Election, Results of… and finally a nominated “Cartoonist of the Election” whose work most captured the spirit of, or affected the outcome of, a particular contest.

This methodology then proceeds to efficiently and comprehensively recreate the tone of each time, augmented whenever possible by a personal interview or remembrance from one of the campaigners involved. These telling vignettes include contributions from Frank Pakenham/Lord Longford, Barbara Castle, Edward Heath, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Kenneth Baker again, Jim Callaghan, Jim Prior, Margaret Thatcher, David Steel, Norman Tebbit, John Major and Tony Blair

Each fact-packed, picture-filled chapter then dissects every succeeding campaign: 1950’s tame ‘Consolidation not Adventure’ which resulted in Labour and Clement Attlee’s second victory by the narrowest – practically unworkable – of margins, Churchill’s resurgence in 1951 as ‘The Grand Old Man Returns’ and a slow steady decline in fortunes and growth of a New Politics as Anthony Eden’s star rose for the 1955 General Election when ‘The Crown Prince Takes Over’

In an era of international unrest Harold McMillan eventually rose to become Tory top gun and in 1959 was ‘Supermac Triumphant’, but domestic troubles – race, unionism and the always struggling economy – wore away his energies. In a minor coup, he was ousted and Sir Alec Douglas Home took over mid-term, consequently losing to glib, charismatic new Labour leader Harold Wilson.

This entire era is one of aged and infirm Big Beasts passing away suddenly with too many lesser lights to succeed them; further complicated by both Labour and Conservative parties rent by infighting and jockeying for position with wannabe upstarts such as the Liberals cruising the room looking to pick up what scraps they could (so it’s not a new thing, OK?).

In 1966 “Labour Government Works” took Labour to a second term but social turmoil in the country, with unions demands spiralling out of control, enabled Edward Heath to lead the Conservatives into the most dangerous and turbulent decade in modern British history. The General Election of 1970 proved ‘Wilson Complacent, Heath Persistent’

There were two General Elections in 1974.

A massive ongoing crisis in industrial relations and the growing racial tension caused by maverick Tory Enoch Powell’s continual cries to “end Immigration or face rivers of blood in the streets” forced Prime Minister Heath to ask in February ‘Who Governs Britain?’ He was informed by the disaffected electorate “Not you, mate.”

Even though Wilson and Labour were returned to power, the majority was miniscule and by October the people were compelled to do it all again and ‘Vote for Peace and Quiet’.

Although he’d again narrowly led them to victory, Wilson’s time was done and he abruptly resigned in 1976 to be replaced by deputy Jim Callaghan.

Heath too was reduced to the ranks and relegated to the Tory Back Benches, replaced by a rising star from Finchley. As Britain staggered under terrifying economic woes in 1979, Callaghan called an election and lost to Margaret Thatcher who had famously said “No Woman in My Time” would ever be Prime Minister. I think that was the last time she ever admitted to being wrong…

Despite horrifying and sustained assaults on the fabric of British society – and great unpopularity – she enjoyed two more election victories: in 1983 “The Longest Suicide Note in History” and again in 1987 as ‘Thatcher Moves Forward’ before finally being turned on by her own bullied and harried Cabinet.

The best political cartooning comes from outrage, and the Tory administrations of the 1980’s provided one bloated, bile-filled easy mark after another. Just look at TV’s Spitting Image which grew fat and healthy off that government’s peccadilloes, indignities and iniquities (as well as Reagan’s America and the Royal Family) in just the way that millions of unemployed and disenfranchised workers, students and pensioners didn’t. The election cartoons reproduced here from that period come from a largely Tory Press, and whilst contextualised and accurate don’t approach the level of venom she engendered in certain sections.

For a more balanced view one should also see Plunder Woman Must Go! by Alan Hardman, Drain Pig and the Glow Boys in Critical Mess, You are Maggie Thatcher: a Dole-Playing Game or even Father Kissmass and Mother Claws by Bel Mooney & Gerald Scarfe, not to mention any collection of the excoriating Steve Bell’s If…

In 1992, the only thing stopping a Labour landslide was the party itself, which had so dissolved into factional infighting and ideological naval-gazing that not even the fiery oratory of Welsh Wizard Neil Kinnock could pull them together. Once again, however, the newspapers claimed the credit when Tory consensus/concession leader John Major pulled off a surprising ‘Triumph of the Soapbox?’

That Labour Landslide had to wait until 1997 and the ‘Teeth and Sleaze’ of Tony Blair (although at that time we all thought the latter term only applied to corrupt Tory MPs selling parliamentary time and attention to business interests) which brings this incredibly appealing tome to a close. I said it before and I’m saying it again: since then a whole lot has happened and I think its long past time for a new, revised and updated edition…

As well as making addictively accessible over half a century of venal demagoguery, hard work, murky manipulations, honest good intentions and the efforts of many men and women moved in equal parts by dedication and chicanery, this oversized monochrome tome is also literally stuffed with the best work some of the very best cartoonists ever to work in these Sceptred Isles.

The art, imagination, passion and vitriol of Abu, Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Dave Brown, Michael Cummings, Eccles, Emmwood, Stanley Franklin, George Gale, Nick Garland, the Davids Gaskill and Ghilchik, Les Gibbard, Charles Griffin, Graham High, Leslie Illingworth, Jak, John Jensen, Jon, Kal, David Low, Mac, Mahood, Norman Mansbridge, Sidney Moon, Bill Papas, Chris Riddell, Paul Rigby, Rodger, Stephen Roth, Martin Rowson, Willie Rushton, Peter Schrank, Ernest Shepard, Ralph Steadman, Sidney Strube, Trog, Vicky, Keith Waite, Zec and Zoke are timeless examples of the political pictorialist’s uncanny power and, as signs of the times, form a surprising effecting gestalt of the never happy nation’s feeling and character…

None of that actually matters now, since these cartoons have performed the task they were intended for: shaping the thoughts and intentions of generations of voters. That they have also stood the test of time and remain as beloved relics of a lethal art form is true testament to their power and passion, but – to be honest and whatever your political complexion – isn’t it just a guilty pleasure to see a really great villain get one more good kicking?

Stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering tastes of comic art no fan could resist, this colossal collection is a beautiful piece of cartoon history that will delight and tantalise all who read it… and it’s still readily available through the University of Kent’s website…
© 2001. Text © 2001 Alan Mumford. All illustrations © their respective holders or owners. All rights reserved.

Pogo Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB)

Now is a strange, insane and dangerous time in politics and world affairs… but when hasn’t that been true?

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he relocated to California and joined the Disney Studio. He worked on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take sides, Kelly moved back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics who held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others – at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics as the Our Gang movie spin-off, Kelly preferred and particularly excelled with anthropomorphic animal and children’s fantasy material.

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 the other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sagaciously retaining the copyrights in the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine.

Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, in the more legitimate funny pages, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge…

When The Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, launching on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family).

At its height the strip appeared in 500 papers in 14 countries and the book collections – which began in 1951 – eventually numbered nearly 50, collectively selling over 30 million copies… and all that before this Fantagraphics series began…

In this second of a proposed full dozen volumes (available in resoundingly comforting hardcover editions and as eBook tomes) reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, probably the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This was a ritual which inevitably and coincidentally reoccurred every four years, whenever the merely human inhabitants of America got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering.

It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of this two-year period, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The likes of Solid MacHogany, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, bull moose Uncle Antler and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and impact over the following decades…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: all faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents.

Supplemental features comprise a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly, more invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as the less loathsome likes of Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery of course includes the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

As Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, this tome offers a magical, magnificent treatment of all the problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics: dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the Presidency…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: plus çachange, plus c’est la même chose

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Davos…

Gosh, I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

The hairy, scaly, feathered slimy folk of the surreal swamp lands are, of course, inescapably us, elevated by burlesque, slapstick, absurdism and all the glorious joys of wordplay from puns to malapropisms to raucous accent humour into a multi-layered hodgepodge of all-ages delight. Tragically, here at least, we’ve never looked or behaved better…

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement.

Timeless and magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Road to America


By Baru, with colour by Daniel Ledran (Drawn & Quarterly Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-89659-752-2

We privileged ones live in a world where gratification – if not instant – is far from arduous to attain or hard to enjoy. For us the only struggle is choosing how best to indulge ourselves and, if you’re a comics nut like me, the biggest mystery in a hedonistic existence is why so many truly superb artistic efforts get sidelined or forgotten, when relative immortality is merely a matter of scanning and publishing/posting.

Here’s a lost treasure that proves my point. I’ve got this in its paperback form, but I’d happily pay again to get it digitally. That won’t feed one single starving kid, but reading it in a freely accessible form might inspire them…

Sport, despite being a world obsession, has oddly dropped out of the remit of most comics storytellers these days which is both odd and a shame. The Road to America, by Baru, uses the fervour of the immigrant’s dream and the fierce metaphor of struggle as depicted in the boxing ring to create a compelling tale of adversity against a true historical backdrop.

Set in Algeria in the 1950s – when the country was struggling to achieve independence from France – it’s the story of the bloody rise of impoverished street urchin, Said Boudiaf. Becoming a boxer, he literally smashes his way out of the slums to the glittering lights of Paris, even as his less utilisable brother turns to bombs and a more permanent form of bloodletting as a freedom fighter determined to overthrow French Colonial rule.

Said is an unstoppable force in the ring, and becomes a sporting hero, but in the real world he’s a leaf in the wind. Civilised, cultured (white) French citizens despise his ethnicity whilst capitalising on his achievements, and he’s regarded as a puppet by the Algerian resistance forces. Nevertheless, both sides want him for his propaganda value….

Said wants nothing more than personal freedom. His fights are non-political, as is all sport, but when his successes mount, and his unstoppable rise culminates in him winning the French Championship, politics claims him anyway as a race-riot between native Algerian and French spectators erupts in the stadium.

The tragic culmination occurs when Said makes it to America, and qualifies for the World title, but on returning to Paris to train for the bout he is sucked into the events of October 17th 1961 – the day when a protest march against anti-Algerian policies and heavy-handed police suppression leads to a bloody riot and a terrible massacre…

This beautifully executed tale is both blunt and subtle: weaving threads of ambition, morality, freedom, sacrifice and prejudice, both personal and social, into a compelling if sometimes chaotic narrative that is a joy to behold but often a bitter pill to swallow.

Doesn’t that sound like something we should all be reading in the current world climate?
© 2002 Baru. All rights reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost


Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman & expanded by Gideon Kendall, Josh O’Neill, Shannon Wheeler & various (ComiXology Originals)
No ISBN, ASIN: B01LZAATMD

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Reverential Revisitation of a Cornerstone Christmas Classic… 9/10

Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the latter half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on, but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He then pursued comedy and social satire further with newsstand magazines Trump, Humbug and Help! all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

As recounted in Denis Kitchen’s appendix ‘The Origins of the Marley’s Ghost Graphic Novel’, despite helming a huge and influential comicbook sensation, by 1954 Kurtzman was looking to expand the influence and appeal of the medium even further.

Mad was reaching millions but he wanted to get to everybody and he wanted his efforts to be treated with respect…

His notion was to adapt – properly, faithfully, and not as an abridged, bowdlerized kiddie’s version such as seen in Classics Illustrated – a global masterpiece of literature. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was the perfect vehicle and Kurtzman feverishly set to in his spare time, producing more than 70 tightly laid out thumbnails and seven colour layouts, plus a complete page rendered by EC/Mad comrade Jack Davis.

The luxurious coffee-table book he’d envisioned foundered due to the timidity and short-sightedness of publishers – and quite possibly the toxic fug around comicbooks caused by Senate Hearings and Frederick Wertham’s hysterical campaign against teenage culture and fun…

Kurtzman shelved the project, but his papers and notes were discovered after his death and the result – adapted by writers Josh O’Neill & Shannon Wheeler and compellingly illustrated by Gideon Kendall – is a splendidly engaging addition to the novel’s legion of cross-media iterations. Just like Kurtzman knew it would be…

The tale is augmented here by Kurtzman’s original thumbnails and layouts, the Davis page and a wealth of development sketches generated by Kendall in completing the project.

Moreover, Marley’s Ghost is even more groundbreaking than Kurtzman ever imagined. Released as a digital book, it has garnered acclaim and awards even before its inevitable transition to physical form… which means, as long as you’re connected you can buy this as the most literal of last-minute gifts…

The Story? It’s what you’d expect and want, all executed with warmth, with and sublime grace. Scrooge Mean. Ghosts! Revelations! Scared Scrooge! Change of Heart! Happies all around! God bless us every one!

And if that was a spoiler in any manner, you have no right to be reading this review…

Here is a superb work long overdue and a comics god’s dream at long-last realised: a new old master of our art form no true devotee can afford to be without. And it’s fun and engaging enough to be an introducer to youngsters looking for comics to love.

Marley’s Ghost as adapted by Harvey Kurtzman is published by Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. Adaptation © 2017 by Gideon Kendall, Josh O’Neill, & Kurtzman Properties LLC. All rights reserved.

The Other Side


By Jason Aaron, Cameron Stewart with Dave McCaig & various (Image: Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-53430-222-8 (Image HB)                     978-1-4012-1350-3 (Vertigo PB)

The Viet Nam conflict scarred the American psyche the way no other war has – not even the still somehow-technically-ongoing debacle in Iran, Afghanistan and all points pointless.

Depending on your politics you will either agree or disagree with that statement. These days there are no shady areas or topics of nuance to debate.

What is indisputable is the effect Viet Nam still has on the American consumer. So, it was intriguing to see an attempt to portray that earlier conflict less in term of “Us and Them” and more as “You and Me”.

This superb and deeply memorable tale contrasts the journey from happy home to bloody combat of surly average teen Billy Everette, his counterpart, farmer’s son Vo Binh Dai, and their predestined clash at the Battle of Khe Sanh.

Drafted from his Alabama home, Everette is a reluctant screw-up turned into an average Marine by the sheer hell of Boot Camp, where even the terrifying and very real hallucinations and delusions he suffers from can’t keep him from that dreaded Tour of Duty.

In contrast, patriotic, dutiful Vo Dai enlists in the People’s Army of Vietnam and endures starvation and disease on his long march south, determined to sell his life dearly to free his country from oppression. He too is plagued both by doubts of his worth, and terrifying hallucinations…

This simple tale, powerfully told and subversively drawn, is a sensitive, darkly magical, horrific parable about war, politics and insanity, if indeed they aren’t all the same thing in the end.

The paperback book also contains sketches and artist Cameron Stewart’s photo diary of his research trip to modern Viet Nam – a compelling bonus greatly amplified in the 2017 deluxe hardcover edition from Image comics as well as the various digital editions – and hopefully those gentle counterpoints to history’s blunders from a later if no less wise era can offer a shred of hope to soldiers and families currently reliving the traumas of another age.
© 2007 Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-075-5 (Canongate HB):             978-1-56097-647-9 (Fantagraphics HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since Schulz’ departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. During that time he published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000, and died – from the complications of cancer – the day before his last strip was printed…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate imposed upon him – changed the way newspaper strips were received and perceived, and proved that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a heartfelt and clearly awestruck Foreword from contemporary cartoon genius Matt Groening, this third gargantuan landscape hardback compendium (218 by 33 by 172 mm in the solid world and infinitely variable in its digital iterations) offers in potent monochrome the fifth and sixth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving bombardment of cruel insight and bitingly barbed hilarity.

Here our increasing browbeaten but resolutely optimistic little round head and his high-maintenance mutt Snoopy respond with increasing bewilderment to the rapidly changing world of TV, sports, games and especially peers who seem designed only to vex, belittle or embarrass the introspective everyboy.

Gaining far greater prominence is obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy who, with her infant sibling Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant – are getting more and more of the best lines and set-ups. Another up and comer settling in (amidst a cloud of dust and detritus) is hapless toxic innocent ‘Pig-Pen’: a sad clown in the grand manner, buffeted by a cruel condition but manfully persevering throughout…

Bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty are slowly being eased out, and brusque Violet is slowly losing ground to gags starring Beethoven-obsessed, long-suffering musical prodigy Schroeder. Linus’ mystic tranquiliser the Security Blanket also gains greater prominence, but his anxiety peaks exponentially whenever raucous, strident newcomer Charlotte Braun ambles by…

The daily diet of rapid-fire gags had now successfully evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically honed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, although even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought…

The relationships, however, were ever-evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continue to develop here. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, regarding Lucy’s ongoing relationship to certain snowmen of her own macabre devising and mounting jealousy that her predestined inamorata would rather look at plaster busts of Beethoven than upon her living form…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing golf, playing baseball, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, playing marbles, the rules of croquet, learning to read, coping with increasingly intransigent if not actually malevolent kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

New themes include America’s fascination with flying saucers, ditto for TV sensation Davy Crockett, art appreciation and Snoopy’s growing desire to be anything but a maligned and put-upon little dog. Especially one starved of tasty treats and bonbons…

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown and his expressions of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the real star here, with episodes seeing her seeking to become Mayor of the United States, duelling Snoopy with skipping ropes and investigating the mystery of why the planet is getting smaller…

More exploration of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and there are plenty of season-appropriate gags about summer sun, winter snow and the Fall of leaves as well as riffs on festive events such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas. During this time Good Ol’ Charlie starts getting those stress-induced head and stomach aches…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

Now and forevermore Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’, rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956 (Volume Three) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2005 Matt Groening. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.

Pride of Baghdad


By Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-0314-6 (HB)                    978-1-4012-0315-3 (PB)

It would be far beyond crass to suggest that anything good at all ever came out of the monstrous debacle of the Iraq invasion, but trenchant-critique-masquerading-as-parable Pride of Baghdad at least offers a unique perspective on a small, cruel and utterly avoidable moment of that bloody mistake.

Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, Runaways, Paper Girls) and Niko Henrichon (Barnum!, Fables, Sandman, Spider-Man), combining the narrative tools of Walt Disney and George Orwell, reconstruct an anthropomorphised tale of a family of lions who are unwillingly liberated from the city zoo during the taking of Baghdad, and then left to run loose in the deadly streets until their tragic end. Throughout the entire debacle the beasts are scared, hungry, under attack and convinced that everything will be great now that they are free…

This is not a spoiler. It is a warning. This is a beautiful, uncompromising, powerful, tale with characters who you will swiftly come to love. And they die because of political fecklessness, commercial venality and human frailty. The seductively magical artwork makes the inevitable tragedy a confusing and wondrous experience and Vaughan’s script could make a stone, and perhaps even a Republican, cry.

Derived from a news item which told of the lions roaming the war-torn Baghdad streets, here we are made to see the invasion in terms other than those of commercial news-gatherers and government spin-doctors, and hopefully can use those different opinions to inform our own. This is a lovely, haunting, sad book: a modern masterpiece which shows why words and pictures have such power that they can terrify bigots and tyrants of all types.

Read this book. Maybe not to your kids, or not yet, but read it.
© 2006 Brian K Vaughan & Niko Henrichon. All Rights Reserved.

Celeb


By Charles Peattie, Mark Warren & Russell Taylor (Private Eye/Corgi)
ISBN: 978-0-55213-858-1

In terms of taste, as in so many other arenas, our modern world seems to be determinedly heading for Heck in a hand-basket, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to cover a little lost gem of British cartooning delight that’s increasing re-relevant in these appalling days of fame campaigns, dodgy talent show democracy and overwhelming Celebritocracy.

Celeb was a strip which ran in that evergreen gadfly and cultural attack dog Private Eye. Created by Mark Warren and the team of Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor (who were simultaneously crafting the abortive first iteration of greed-glorifying mini-classic Alex for Robert Maxwell’s short-lived London Daily News), it began in May 1987.

For years credited to the pseudonymous “Ligger”, the pithy and hilarious episodes followed the day to day life of Swinging Sixties survivor and disgracefully declining rock-legend Gary Bloke as he dealt with a changing world, thinning hair, parenthood and inexorable middle age.

These days, with 24/7 reality shows, desperate Nonabees enduring career-resuscitating humiliations in locked houses and jungle clearings and a host of other self-inflicted, double-edged B-list exposé freak-shows everywhere on the interweb, the outrageous pronouncements and antics of Gary seem pretty tame, but in those days before Ozzy Osbourne became more famous for parenting and not singing whilst footballers’ performance off the field took precedence over goals scored on it, the sozzled, crass, befuddled, and pitifully pompous cocky cockney-boy-made-good was the very epitome of affably acceptable, ego-bloated, publicity-seeking, self-aggrandizing, drug-fuelled idiocy.

Within this collection from 1991 the legendary “Man of the Peeple” distributes kernels of his hard-won wisdom to the likes of Michael Parkinson, Terry Wogan, Clive James, Cilla Back, Ruby Wax, Barry Norman, Anne Diamond, Selena Scott, Michael Aspel and other interviewers of lesser longevity. Interspersing the almighty interviews, Gary tackles world poverty and the environment head-on (and with eyes tight shut), learns how to cope with those new-fangled rock videos, adapts to the needs of his burgeoning family and, of course, consumes a phenomenal quantity of recreational pharmaceuticals…

Including a selection of interviews from the Sunday Times (October 1989), The Sun (Wednesday August 3rd 1988) and candid shots of Gary with Bob Geldof and George Michael at Live Aid, the collection concludes with the infamous days during which Gary was dead of an overdose and met both God and Elvis. Also revealed is the sordid truth behind his numerous brushes with the law, leading to his 18-month stretch At Her Majesty’s Pleasure and subsequent key role in a terrible prison riot for better conditions and macrobiotic food…

The heady cocktail of drink, sex, drugs, money, sport, music, adoration and always-forgiven crassness is perhaps the reason so many folks are seduced by celebrity. If you want to see another side to the fame-game and have a hearty laugh into the bargain Gary Bloke is your man…
© 1991 Peattie, Taylor & Warren. All Rights Reserved.

Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01


By John Wagner, Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Ian Gibson, Mike McMahon, Brian Bolland & various (Rebellion)
ISBN: 978-1-90426-579-5

Britain’s last great comic icon could be described as a combination of the other two, combining the futuristic milieu and thrills of Dan Dare with the terrifying anarchy and irreverent absurdity of Dennis the Menace. He’s the longest-lasting adventure character in our admittedly meagre comics stable, having been continually published every week since February 1977 when he first appeared in the second issue of science-fiction anthology 2000AD – and now that The Dandy’s gone, veterans Korky the Cat and Desperate Dan might one day be overtaken in the comedy stakes too…

However, with at least 52 2000AD strips a year, annuals, specials, a newspaper strip (in the Daily Star and later The Metro), the Judge Dredd Megazine, numerous reprinted classic comics collections, some rather appalling franchised foreign comicbook spin-off titles, that adds up to a phenomenal amount of material, most of which is still happily in print.

Judicial Review: Dredd and his dystopian ultra-metropolis of Mega-City One – originally it was to be a 21st century New York – were created by a very talented committee including Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Carlos Ezquerra, Mike McMahon and others, but with the major contribution coming from legendary writer John Wagner who has written the largest portion of the canon under his own name and several pseudonyms.

Joe Dredd is a fanatically dedicated Judge in the super-city, where hundreds of millions of citizens idle away their days in a world where robots are cheaper and more efficient than humans, and jobs are both beloved pastime and treasured commodity. Boredom has reached epidemic proportions and almost everybody is just one askance glance away from mental meltdown. Judges are peacekeepers who maintain order at all costs: investigating, taking action and trying all crimes and disturbances to the hard-won equilibrium of the constantly boiling melting pot. Justice is always immediate…

Dredd’s world is a polluted and precarious Future (In)Tense with all the key analogues for successful science fiction (as ever a social looking-glass for the times it’s created in) situated and sharply attuned to a Cold War Consumer Civilisation. The planet is divided into political camps with post-nuclear holocaust America locked in a slow death-struggle with the Sov Judges of the old Eastern Communist blocs. The Eastern lawmen are militaristic, oppressive and totalitarian – and that’s by the US Judges’ standards – so just imagine what they’re actually like…

The Judges are necessary fascists in a world permanently on the edge of catastrophe, and sadly, what far too many readers never realise is that the strip is a gigantic satirical black comedy with oodles of outrageous, vicarious cathartic action.

Such was not the case when the super-cop debuted in 2000AD Prog (that’s issue number to you) #2 on March 5th 1977. He was stuck at the back of the new weekly comic in a tale finally scripted – after much intensive re-hashing – by Peter Harris and illustrated by Mike McMahon & Carlos Ezquerra.

The blazing, humourless, no-nonsense (all that would happily come later) action extravaganza introduced the bike-riding Sentinel of Order in the cautionary tale of brutal bandit Whitey, whose savage crime spree was ended with ferocious efficiency before the thug was sentenced to Devil’s Island – a high-rise artificial plateau surrounded by the City’s constant stream of lethal, never-ending, high-speed traffic…

In Prog 3 Dredd investigated ‘The New You’ in a cunning thriller by Kelvin Gosnell & McMahon wherein a crafty crook tries to escape justice by popping into his local face-changing shop, whilst #4 saw the first appearance of the outcast mutants in ‘The Brotherhood of Darkness’ (Malcolm Shaw & McMahon) as the ghastly post-nuclear pariahs invade the megalopolis in search of slaves.

The first hints of humour began in Prog 5’s ‘Krong’ by Shaw & Ezquerra, with the introduction of Dredd’s little-old-lady Italian cleaner Maria, wherein deranged horror film fan and hologram salesman Kevin O’Neill – yes it’s an in-joke – unleashes a giant mechanical gorilla on the city. The issue was the first of many to cover-feature old Stone Face (that’s Dredd, not Kev)…

‘Frankenstein 2’ pits the Lawman against an audacious medical mastermind, hijacking citizens to keep his rich aging clients in fresh, young organs, whilst #7 sees ruthless reprobate Ringo’s gang of muggers flaunting their criminality in the very shadow of ‘The Statue of Judgement’ until Dredd lowers the boom on them…

The first indications that the super-cop’s face is somehow hideously disfigured emerge in #8, as Charles Herring & Massimo Belardinelli’s ‘Antique Car Heist’ finds the Judge tracking down a murderous thief who stole an ancient petrol-burning vehicle, after which co-creator John Wagner returned in Prog 9 to begin his staggering run of tales with ‘Robots’, illustrated by veteran British science fiction artist Ron Turner.

The gripping vignette was set at the Robot of the Year Show, and revealed the callous cruelty indulged in by citizens upon their mechanical slaves as a by-product of a violent blackmail threat by a disabled maniac in a mechanical-super chair… This set the scene for an ambitious mini-saga comprising #10-17.

Those casual injustices paved the way for ‘Robot Wars’ (alternately illustrated over the weeks by Ezquerra, Turner, McMahon & Ian Gibson) wherein carpenter-robot Call-Me-Kenneth succumbs to a mechanical mind meltdown and emerges as a human-hating steel Spartacus, leading a bloody revolution against the fleshy oppressors.

The slaughter is widespread and terrible before the Judges regain control, helped in no small part by loyal, lisping Vending droid Walter the Wobot, who graduated at the conclusion to Dredd’s second live-in comedy foil…

With order restored, a sequence of self-contained stories firmed up the vision of the crazed city. In Prog 18 Wagner & McMahon introduced the menace of mind-bending ‘Brainblooms’ cultivated by another little old lady (and career criminal), and Gerry Finley-Day & John Cooper described the galvanising effect of the ‘Muggers Moon’ on Mega-City 1’s criminal class before Dredd demonstrated the inadvisability of being an uncooperative witness…

Wagner & McMahon then debuted Dredd’s bizarre paid informant Max Normal in #20, whose latest tip ended the profitable career of ‘The Comic Pusher’; Finley-Day & Turner turned in a workmanlike thriller as the super-cop tackles a seasoned killer with a deadly new weapon in ‘The Solar Sniper’ and Wagner & Gibson showed the draconian steps Dredd was prepared to take to bring in mutant assassin ‘Mr Buzzz’.

Prog 23 comfortably catapulted the series into all-out ironic satire mode with Finley-Day & McMahon’s ‘Smoker’s Crime‘ when Dredd stalks a killer with a bad nicotine habit to a noxious City Smokatorium, after which Malcolm Shaw, McMahon & Ezquerra reveal the uncanny secret of ‘The Wreath Murders’ in #24.

The next issue began the feature’s long tradition of spoofing TV and media fashions as Wagner & Gibson concoct a lethal illegal game show in ‘You Bet Your Life’ whilst #26 exposes the sordid illusory joys and dangers of the ‘Dream Palace’ (McMahon) before #27-28 offer some crucial background on the Judges themselves when Dredd visits ‘The Academy of Law’ (Wagner & Gibson) to give Cadet Judge Giant his final practical exam. Of course, for Dredd there are no half measures or easy going and the novice barely survives his graduation…

With the concluding part in #28, Dredd moved to second spot in 2000AD (behind brutally jingoistic thriller Invasion) and the next issue saw Pat Mills & Gibson tackle robot racism as Ku Kux Klan-analogue ‘The Neon Knights’ brutalised the reformed and broken artificial citizenry until the Juggernaut Judge krushes them…

Mills then offered tantalising hints on Dredd’s origins in ‘The Return of Rico!’ (McMahon) as a bitter criminal resurfaces after twenty years on the penal colony of Titan. The outcast is looking for vengeance upon the Judge who had sentenced him., but from his earliest days as a fresh-faced rookie, Joe Dredd had no time for corrupt lawmen – even if one were his own clone-brother…

Whitey escapes from Devil’s Island (Finley-Day & Gibson) in Prog 31, thanks to a cobbled-together contraption that turns off weather control, but doesn’t get far before Dredd sends him back, whilst the fully automated skyscraper resort ‘Komputel’ (Robert Flynn & McMahon) becomes a multi-story murder factory that only the City’s greatest Judge can counter before Wagner (using his frequent pseudonym John Howard) took sole control for a series of savage, whacky escapades beginning with #33’s ‘Walter’s Secret Job’ (Gibson).

Here the besotted droid is discovered moonlighting as a cabbie to buy pwesents for his beloved master….

McMahon & Gibson illustrated the two-part tale of ‘Mutie the Pig’: a flamboyant criminal and bent Judge, and performed the same tag-team effort for ‘The Troggies’, a debased colony of ancient humans living under the city and preying on unwary citizens…

Something of a bogie man for wayward kids and exhausted parents, Dredd does himself no favours in Prog 38 when he bursts in on ‘Billy Jones’ (Gibson) and exposes a vast espionage plot utilising toys as surveillance tools.

On tackling ‘The Ape Gang’ in #39 (19th November 1977 and drawn by McMahon), the Judge seamlessly graduated to the lead spot whilst quashing a turf war between augmented, educated, criminal anthropoids in the unruly district dubbed “the Jungle”…

‘The Mega-City 5000’ was an illegal and murderously bloody street race the assembled Judges were determined to shut down, but the gripping action-illustration of the Bill Ward drawn first chapter is sadly overshadowed by hyper-realist rising star Brian Bolland, who began his legendary association with Dredd by concluding the mini-epic in blistering, captivating style in Prog 41. Bolland, by his own admission, was an uneconomically slow artist and much of his later Dredd work would appear as weekly portions of large epics with other artists handling other episodes, to give him time to complete his own assignments with a minimum of pressure…

From out of nowhere in a bold change of pace, Dredd is then seconded to the Moon for a six-month tour of duty beginning in Prog #42. His brief is to oversee the rambunctious, nigh-lawless colony set up by the unified efforts of three US Mega-Cities there. The colony was as bonkers as Mega-City One and a good deal less civilised – a true Final Frontier town…

The extended epic began with‘Luna-1’ by Wagner & Gibson, with Dredd and stowaway Walter almost shot down en route in a mysterious missile attack before being targeted by a suicide-bomb robot before they can even unpack.

‘Showdown on Luna-1’ introduces permanent Deputy-Marshal Judge Tex from Texas-City, whose jaded, laissez-faire attitudes get a sound shaking up as Dredd demonstrates he’s one lawman who isn’t going to coast by for the duration of his term in office.

Hitting the dusty mean streets, Dredd starts cleaning up the wild boys in his town by outdrawing a mechanical Robo-Slinger and uncovering yet another assassination ploy. It seems that reclusive mega-billionaire ‘Mr. Moonie; has a problem with the latest law on his lunar turf…

Whilst dispensing aggravating administrative edicts like a frustrated Solomon, Dredd chafes to hit the streets and do some real work in #44’s McMahon-limned ‘Red Christmas’. An opportunity arises when arrogant axe-murderer ‘Geek Gorgon’ abducts Walter and demands a showdown he lives to regret, whilst ‘22nd Century Futsie!’ (Gibson) finds Moonie Fabrications clerk Arthur Goodworthy cracking under the strain of over-work and going on a destructive binge, with Dredd compelled to protect the future-shocked father’s family from Moonie’s over-zealous security goons…

The plotline concludes in Prog 46 with ‘Meet Mr. Moonie’ (Gibson) as Dredd and Walter confront the manipulative manufacturer and uncover his horrific secret.

The feature moved to the prestigious middle spot with this episode, allowing the artists to really open up and exploit the comic’s full-colour centre-spreads, none more so than Bolland as seen in #47’s ‘Land Race‘ as Dredd officiates over a frantic scramble by colonists to secure newly opened plots of habitable territory. Of course, there’s always someone who doesn’t want to share…

Ian Gibson then illustrated 2-part drama ‘The Oxygen Desert’ (#48-49), wherein veteran moon-rat Wild Butch Carmody defeats Dredd using his superior knowledge of the airless wastes beyond the airtight domes. Broken, the Judge quits and slides into despondency, but all is not as it seems…

Prog 50 featured the debut of single-page comedy supplement Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd – but more of that later – whilst the long-suffering Justice found himself knee-boot-deep in an international interplanetary crisis when ‘The First Lunar Olympics’ (Bolland) against a rival lunar colony controlled by the Machiavellian Judges of the Sov-Cities bloc escalates into assassination and a murderous, politically-fuelled land grab.

The conflict was settled in ostensibly civilised manner with strictly controlled ‘War Games’, yet there is still a grievously high body-count by the time the moon-dust settles…

This vicious swipe at contemporary sport’s politicisation was and still is bloody, brutal and bitingly funny…

Bolland also illustrated the sardonic saga of ruthless bandits who were up for a lethal laugh in #52’s ‘The Face-Change Crimes’, employing morphing tech to change their appearances and rob at will until Dredd beats them at their own game.

Wagner & Gibson then craft a 4-part mini-epic (Progs 53-56) wherein motor fanatic Dave Paton’s cybernetic, child-like pride-and-joy blows a fuse and terrorises the domed territory: slaughtering humans and even infiltrating Dredd’s own quarters before the Judge finally stops ‘Elvis, The Killer Car’.

Bolland stunningly limned a savagely mordant saga of a gang of killer bandits who hijack the moon’s air before themselves falling foul of ‘The Oxygen Board’ in #57, but only managed the first two pages of 58’s ‘Full Earth Crimes’, leaving Mike McMahon to complete the tale of regularly occurring chaos in the streets whenever the Big Blue Marble dominates the black sky above…

It was a fine and frantic note to end on as, with ‘Return to Mega-City’, Dredd rotates back Earthside and resumes business as unusual. Readers were probably baffled as to why the returned cop utterly ignored a plethora of crime and misdemeanours, but Wagner & McMahon provide the logical and perfect answer in a brilliant, action-packed set-up for the madcap dramas to come….

This first Case Files chronicle nominally concludes with Wagner & McMahon’s ‘Firebug’ from Prog 60, as the ultimate lawgiver deals with a seemingly-crazed arsonist literally setting the city ablaze. The Law soon discovers a purely venal motive to the apparent madness…

There’s still a wealth of superb bonus material to enjoy before we end this initial outing however, and kicking off proceedings is the controversial First Dredd strip (illustrated by Ezquerra) which was bounced from 2000AD #1 and vigorously reworked – a fascinating glimpse of what the series might have been.

It’s followed by the eawliest Walter the Wobot: Fwiend of Dwedd stwips (sowwy – couldn’t wesist!) from 2000AD Progs 50-58.

Scripted by Joe Collins, these madcap comedy shorts were seen as an antidote to the savage and brutal action strips in the comic and served to set the scene for Dredd’s later full-on satirical lampoonery.

‘Tap Dancer’ was illustrated by Gibson and dealt with an embarrassing plumbing emergency whilst ‘Shoot Pool!’ (Gibson) has the Wobot again taking his Judge’s instructions far too literally…

Bolland came aboard to give full rein to his own outrageous sense of the absurd with the 5-part tale of ‘Walter’s Brother’: a bizarre tale of evil twins, a cunning frame-up and malign muggings that inevitably result in us learning all we ever needed to know about the insipidly faithful and annoying rust-bucket.

Dredd then had to rescue the plastic poltroon from becoming a pirate of the airwaves in ‘Radio Walter’ before the star-struck servant finds his 15 seconds of fame as the winner of rigged quiz-show ‘Masterbrain’ before this big, big book concludes with a trio of Dredd covers from Progs 10, 44 and 59, courtesy of artists Ezquerra, Kev O’Neill and McMahon.

Always mesmerising and beautifully drawn, these short, punchy stories starring Britain’s most successful and iconic modern comics character are the constantly evolving narrative bedrock from which all the later successes of the Mirthless Moral Myrmidon derive.

More importantly, they are timeless classics no real comic fan can ignore – and just for a change something that you can easily get your hungry hands on. Even my local library has copies of this masterpiece of British literature and popular culture…
© 1977, 1978, 2006 Rebellion A/S. All rights reserved. Judge Dredd & 2000AD are ® &™

Oh, Wicked Wanda!


By Frederic Mullally & Ron Embleton (Penthouse)
No ISBN

Not all comics are for kids nor ever were they. The men’s magazine trade has often featured graphic narratives, usually sexually explicit in nature, often highly satirical, invariably of a much higher quality than their mainstream contemporaries, and always much better regarded and financially rewarded.

Where Playboy had Little Annie Fanny (created by Harvey Kurtzman & Will Elder: it ran intermittently from 1962 until 1988, and revived in 1998, illustrated by Ray Lago & Bill Schorr), publishing rival Bob Guccione wanted the same but better for his own publication Penthouse.

Used to getting his way, he hired journalist, editor (of left-wing magazine Tribune), columnist, novelist and political writer Frederic Mullally to script the ongoing exotic, erotic adventures of Wanda Von Kreesus, the richest woman in the world. The sultry star would be accompanied by Candyfloss, her insatiable jailbait paramour and an outrageous coterie of faithful employees including an all-girl army, a mad scientist and a brutal looking thug with the soul of a poet.

To illustrate he secured the talents of oil painter and comic strip veteran Ron Embleton (who had astounded comic readers with his lush and vibrant strip Wulf the Briton in Express Weekly and his numerous stunning illustrations in weekly fact-based periodical Look and Learn).

Oh, Wicked Wanda! was originally a prose serial illustrated by Bryan Forbes, beginning in 1969 before becoming, in 1973, the unbelievably lavish and torrid strip reprinted here, continuing until 1980 when it was replaced by Sweet Chastity, also painted by Embleton, and scripted by proprietor Guccione himself.

The bored and mischievous hellion on parade here is a sexually adventurous woman from a time when sexual politics and liberation were huge issues (not like now, of course), and therefore prime targets for low comedy and high satire.

Mullally peppered his scripts with topical references (many of which, sadly, would escape today’s casual reader, I’m sure) and the phenomenal Embleton would depict them with hyper-realistic accuracy.

Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, Ted Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson, Spiro Agnew, Mao Tse-tung, showbiz icons such as John Wayne or Bob Hope, and even comic strip greats like Pogo, Mutt and Jeff or Krazy Kat, all meandered through the glossy pages, a cross between a Greek Chorus and pictorial ad-libs.

Many celebrities were actively parodied participants. Henry Kissandrun, mafia Don Marlon Blondo/Burpo, Jane Fondle and demented California Governor Ronald Reekin’ all found themselves victims of the wilful minx and her team. Also, classical and contemporary erotic allusions abound ranging from a little “nymphette” lounging about reading William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch to visual and verbal references to Shelley’s Leda and the Swan.

This slim album reprints the earliest adventures as Wanda collects the rich and the famous for a Museum of Deviancy, takes on the Mafia, the CIA and the Cubans and does her bit to solve the Oil Crisis.

Later adventures saw her romp through the ages in a time machine but to my knowledge these tales have never been reprinted – although they really, really should be.

Perhaps a little dated, definitely for easy-going adults only, Oh, Wicked Wanda! is nonetheless still a funny read and inarguably one of the most beautiful British strips ever made. It is a tragedy that such work is unavailable to aficionados of comic art.
© 1973, 1974, 1975 Penthouse International Ltd. All Rights Reserved.