Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly


By Abraham Martínez, translated by Montana Kane (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-268-7 (HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-269-4

Do you want to read something that is really scary?

Almost everybody loves a good cathartic chiller, but every one of us also has a point where it stops being safe entertainment and becomes instead disturbing, unsettling and extremely unwelcome. For me – and Spanish author Abraham Martínez – it’s clearly the terrifying prospect envisioned in his 2017 graphic novel translated for profitable outreach by those fine folk at NBM.

Of course, the concept of a corporate superstate is not new, but I’ve never seen it better thought out or more crushingly realised down to the finest penny-pinching detail than here… and I’ve been reading Judge Dredd since 1977…

Rendered in drear industrial tones (mostly neutral greens and basic blues) and shapes very reminiscent of bog-standard informational stencil forms in a devastatingly underplayed agitprop manner, Plutocracy ostensibly follows one insignificant drone through a corporate landscape as he breaks free and begins digging for answers in a world where profit is everything.

After years of closer and closer ties between big business and national governments, in 2051 the last corporations swallowed each other and merged into one all-encompassing unit – “the Company” – that simply bought out nationhood and established a system to cost-effectively run the world. Everybody worked for, were paid by and bought goods and services from the same entity: a perfect perpetual motion machine for society.

They even managed to remain democratic, though there was only ever one party or candidate to vote for on any occasion.

Detective Homero Durant grew bored when the majority of police work became desk-based investigations involving fraud and deception. With precious little to do, he took a career sidestep and eventually became a writer.

Growing increasingly interested in how the world has reached its present state, he applies to write a book about it, and is astounded to discover, instead of closed ranks and obfuscation, the powers that be welcome his project and provide every possible access, even to personal interviews with the far-sighted mogul who had single-handedly engineered the death of nations and triumph of the Plutocracy…

As the deeply suspicious investigator plunges on meeting nothing but cooperation at every step, his resolve begins to falter, but his tell-all exposé has taken on a life of its own, and nothing can stop it from becoming the biggest sensation in The Company’s past history or projected profit forecasts…

Dark, bleak and brimming with mordant satire, this trenchant tale is an ideal metaphor and warning for our times and one no contemplative rational consumer can afford to miss.
© Text & illustrations Abraham Martínez 2017 © Bang. ediciones, 2017. © 2020 NBM for the English translation.

Plutocracy: Chronicles of a Global Monopoly is scheduled for release in hardback on November 19th and digitally on December 15th 2020, and is available for pre-order now.

NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

In a Glass Grotesquely – Selected Picture Stories


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-797-0 (PB)

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to weave a graphic tale.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters in Fine Arts and, after beginning a career as an illustrator, rediscovered his early love of comicbooks. The potentially metafictional self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! as well as animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, with girl sleuth Judy Drood and the gloriously trenchant storybook investigator Peculia probably the most well-known characters in his gratifyingly large back-catalogue.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake.

In a Glass Grotesquely is one of his very best: an irresistible tract of baroque pictorial enchantment, deftly combining a 2014 webcomic with a triptych of visceral and saturnine delusions from the end of the last century, all exploring the bleakest corners of the modern world’s communal fantasy landscape and applying his truly skewed raconteur’s gifts to giving us a thrill, a chill and a chortle…

The majority of this spookily sublime confrontation with the cartoon dark side is taken up with the gripping saga of ultimate enemy of America ‘Super-Enigmatix’, a diabolically inspired super-villain determined to avenge himself upon America for slights both imagined and tragically real… and no, he has never run for political office, and it’s too late for the “write-in” option…

Delivered in punchy alternating doses of surreal full-colour splashes and moody monochrome subplots, the story details how the brilliant weird-scientist – served by an army of beautiful female zealots and hidden race of mole people – tries to destroy modern society, only opposed by disenchanted ex-cop Natalie Charms and a dedicated band of “conspiracy nuts”…

The struggle against a self-created monster hiding behind a smoke screen of urban legend is fast-paced, Byzantine, and insidiously politically charged: a mesmerising chase-caper and delight of post-modern paranoia meeting classic pulp-fiction melodrama…

Like a bleakly mordant reinvention of the Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross, ‘It Will All Be Over Before You Know It…’ is a sequence from single panel monochrome epigrams building to a tableau of modern terrors for women seeking work, after which 1998’s ‘Stranger Street’ silently details the building tension as a psycho-killer haunts the streets of an already chilly town…

The cracked chronicle then concludes with a Kafkaesque shaggy bird story delivered in barrage of grey wash, as an ineffectual nobody receives – and loses – a once-in-a-lifetime boon in ‘The Prestigious Banquet to Be Held in My Honor’

Available in paperback and digital formats, In a Glass Grotesquely amusingly exposes the seamy, scary underbelly of existence with these enigmatic, clever, compelling and staggeringly engaging yarns, blending nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of kids scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night. It will therefore make an ideal gift for the big kid in your life – whether he/she/they are just you, imaginary or even relatively real…
In a Glass Grotesquely © 2014 Richard Sala. This edition © 2014 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.

Grosz


By Lars Fiske (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-041-6 (HB)

Although I bang incessantly on and on about the communicative power of word and pictures acting in unison, I will never deny the sheer efficacy and raw potency of the drawn image. Therefore, whenever an author makes the extra effort to create a narrative that stands or falls on vision alone, I’m ready to applaud mightily and shout “oi, look at this!”

Today that means taking a little lesson in art history and social awareness via a truly radical pictorial biography of Dadaist anti-fascist, caricaturist, artist and commentator Georg Ehrenfried Groß AKA George Grosz.

He was a complex and amazing man, risking his life for his beliefs but deeply flawed at the same time, and this cartoon confection really captures the feel of him and his tempestuous, self-annihilating life…

Devoid of verbal narrative, an edgy and uncompromising picture play adds reams of emotional kick to the history of a radical non-conformist who grew up in Imperial Germany, found his true calling during the Great War and fought a seditious and dangerously lonely struggle against the growing National Socialist (Nazi) party in the post-war Weimar Republic, all while embracing the heady sexual decadence of that pre-apocalyptic era…

In brief visual sallies supported by brief quotes from his writing – such as ‘Pandemonium: “I am up to my neck in visions”’, ‘Amerikanismus: “Day by day my hate for Germany gains, new, blazing nourishment”’ and ‘Nationalsocialismus: “The Devil alone knows how things will turn out”’ – Lars Fiske traces the one-sided conflict and follows the artists as he relocates to his long-loved-from-afar USA… and what happened next…

With this book there’s no half-measures. Oddly, I suspect that the reader will be best served if you know a lot about Grosz or nothing at all, but if he’s an artist you vaguely recall, there may be many rapid consultations of Wikipedia before you come away awed and amused…
© 2017 Lars Fiske, by arrangement with No Comprendo Press.

School Spirits


By Anya Davidson (Picturebox)
ISBN: 978-1-939799-02-9 (HB)

Sometimes art – and especially comics – defy dull ration analysis and, just like the music your parents didn’t like, grabs you way below any conscious level. Such is the case here as prodigious printmaker, mini comics auteur and cult musician Anya Davidson (Barbarian Bitch/Kramer’s Ergot, Child of the Sun, Coughs & Cacaw, Band for Life) who emerged into the major leagues with this cool, cruel monochrome hardback which lifts the lid on those terrible teenager people through a wry and macabre quartet of tales defining modern School Spirits.

Through freewheeling progressions, flashbacks, daydreams and conceptual digressions, David carries her girl of the moment Oola and BFF Garf through vicious, monstrous, demonic, occasionally surreal stream-of-consciousness hallucinatory everyday escapades which eerily recapitulate and invoke the best of underground commix and modern independent cartoonists from S. Clay Wilson to Johnny Ryan…

It all begins with a quick pictorial introduction in ‘School Spirits Picturebox Brooklyn’ before ‘Ticket Thicket’ introduce our cast when radio DJ Weird Wally Walczac galvanises a generation by offering a pair of phone prize tickets to the hottest gig in town: Hrothgar’s Halloween concert…

At ‘Vinyl Command’ we get a quick glimpse at the imagined, nigh-mythological life of the rock god Renaissance Man who wrote Blasphemous Corporeal Stench and Rotting Abortion before Oola wakes up and faints, after which the largely silent ‘Battle for the Atoll’ reveals the powers and mysteries of Primal Woman and leads us to a seat of learning…

‘No Class’ opens with a frantic chase before retreating to school where Oola’s hunger for knowledge and passionate drooling over class stud-muffin Grover is ruined by mouthy dick Jason, who spoils Art and Ceramics only to die hideously in our heroine’s fevered thoughts…

Further bouts of noxious reality – such as the affair between teachers Miss DeLeon and Mister Kirbowski – fall prey to imagination and horny supposition, all similarly despatched and destroyed in dreamscape, until break when the girls can continue planning the big magic spell they’re concocting to really shake up the town…

And thus the time passes progress until the day of the gig when Oola is caught shoplifting and stabs a guard before fleeing into another miasmic multi-reality chase which culminates at the life-changing Hrothgar show ‘In the Great Riff Valley’

Like some fervent Archie Comics of the Damned, School Spirits readily blends the profane with the arcane, and the regimented tedium of waiting to be in charge of your life with the terrors and anticipation of the moment it all becomes Your Own Fault, in a rollercoaster ride of eclectic images Davidson describes as ‘“Beavis and Butthead” meets James Joyce’s “Ulysses”’. What I know is this: the pace, style and sheer ingenuity of this book is brutally addictive and, despite constantly playing with the vertical and horizontal holds of Reality, never slips up and never loses narrative focus.

Strong, stirring stuff, full of sex and violence, and outrageously amusing all round. So, if you’re one of the millions of parents agonising over whether your kids are safe back at school, just remember they never have been…
© 2013 Anya Davidson. All rights reserved.

Black Panther: Panther’s Quest


By Don McGregor, Gene Colan, Tom Palmer & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1302908034 (TPB)

The loss of Chadwick Boseman is a terrible blow to fans of film and every supporter of the rights and inherent dignity of all humanity. Whatever the reason, it seems that black people are just not allowed to have living role models. Our condolences and best wishes go out to his family and all who knew or were affected by him.

The pettiest part of that tragedy is that his iconic role as T’Challa of Wakanda is also ended. Having read about the kind of man he was, I’m shamelessly taking the opportunity to review the Black Panther story I suspect he would most have liked to realise on film…

Lauded as the first black superhero in American comics and one of the first to carry his own series, the Black Panther’s popularity and fortunes have waxed and waned since the 1960s when he first attacked the FF (in Fantastic Four#52; cover-dated July 1966) as part of an extended and elaborate plan to gain vengeance on the murderer of his father.

T’Challa, son of T’Chaka was revealed as an African monarch whose hidden kingdom was the only source of a vibration-absorbing alien metal upon which the country’s immense wealth was founded. Those mineral riches – derived from a fallen meteor which struck the continent in primeval antiquity – had powered his country’s transformation into a technological wonderland.

That tribal wealth had long been guarded by a hereditary feline-garbed champion deriving physical advantages from secret ceremonies and a mysterious heart-shaped herb that ensured the generational dominance of the nation’s warrior Panther Cult.

Lyrical intellectual Don McGregor had already immortalised T’Challa in a stunning 1970s periodical run which produced the revered Panther’s Rage saga and the controversial Panther vs the Klan storyline. After years away from the mainstream, creating groundbreaking graphic novels such as Sabre: Slow Fade of an Endangered Species and Detectives Inc., series such as Ragamuffins and Nathaniel Dusk, he was lured back to his roots to spin a shocking tale of contemporary intolerance and the end-days of Apartheid…

He was joined by a semi-regular collaborator whose credentials in crafting human-scaled tales of adventure, horror and empathetic emotional drama were second to none. He was also one the industry’s earliest exponents of strong black characters…

Eugene Jules “Gene” Colan (September 1st 1926 – June 23rd 2011) was one of comics’s greatest talents: a quietly professional artist who valued accuracy and authenticity in his work, whether it was science fiction, horror, war, satirical humour of the vast number of superheroes he brought to life.

A devotee of classic adventure strips, Colan studied at the Art Students League of New York, before beginning his own illustration career in 1944 (on Wings Comics) before military service in the Philippines. The war had just ended and Colan had spare time to draw for local paper The Manilla Times.

By 1946 he was a civilian again, and working for Stan Lee’s Atlas outfit on crime and supernatural stories. He illustrated the last Golden Age Captain America (Captain America’s Weird Tales #75; February 1950), an all-horror issue that had no superhero material at all. It was like a sign…

As the industry radically transformed, he began freelancing at DC/National Comics as well as remaining a mainstay of Atlas. His assignments increasingly focused on the new genres of War Stories and Romance.

As Superhero stories returned, he moved exclusively to Marvel (except for a range of monochrome horror stories done for Archie Goodwin at Warren Magazines), where his dynamic realism offered a powerful alternative to the graphic styles of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and Don Heck.

Colan became renowned for his work on Daredevil (where he created blind black detective Willie Lincoln), Captain America, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Avengers, Sub-Mariner and Howard the Duck. During this period he co-created the Guardians of the Galaxy, two Captain Marvels (Mar-Vell and Carol Danvers), drew all of Tomb of Dracula – thereby introducing Blade the Vampire Slayer to the world – and was responsible for another black comic book icon and the nation’s first African American costumed hero, The Falcon.

In the 1980s he moved to DC, working on Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Spectre, co-creating Night Force, Silverblade, Jemm, Son of Saturn and period private eye Nathanial Dusk before expanding into independent comics at the forefront of innovation that marked the rise of the Direct Sales Market.

His later career was blighted by health issues, but he continued drawing whenever he could, for many companies. On one of his periodic returns to Marvel he reunited with McGregor for this astounding tale which was originally serialised in in 25 chapters in fortnightly anthology Marvel Comics Presents # 13-37 (February to December1989). Here, the entire affair is preceded by ‘To Follow the track of The Great Cat with renewed wonder on his Panther’s Quest (From “Panther’s Rage” to “Panther’s Prey”)’ a typically effulgent and informative Introduction from author McGregor…

One of the most thought-provoking mainstreaming comics tales ever released, Panther’s Quest added pressure to the ever-growing Anti-Apartheid movement in comics and western media, by examining not only the condition of racial inequality but also turning a damning eye on sexual oppression. Whether in his numerous solo series or as part of super-teams such as the Avengers, Fantastic Four or the Ultimates, Black Panther has always been one of Marvel’s most politically strident and socially-crusading characters. This is a book I’m certain Chadwick Boseman would have admired and supported…

Inked in its entirety by perfect partner Tom Palmer, it begins on a dark night as the Panther infiltrates neighbouring totalitarian South Africa where a white minority still oppresses the millions of blacks who live there. T’Challa has heard ‘A Rumour of Life’ and has come seeking his stepmother Ramonda. His father’s second wife had raised the bereaved boy when T’Challa’s birth mother died, but one day when he was only three, she vanished and no one would speak of her.

Now, he’s invaded the most dangerous land on Earth – for his kind – in search of answers from unscrupulous information peddler Patrick Slade

‘Forgotten Corpses’ sees that clandestine meeting savagely interrupted by white paramilitaries who seek to kill them – but without alerting the police or security services…

McGregor has always a fascination with the real effects and consequences of violence, and this tale contains some pretty shocking moments that will make many readers wince. Suffice it to say I’m staying vague throughout this review, but will say that vicious brute Elmer Gore graphically tortures the Panther with barbed wire in ‘Lost Blood in Copper Dust’, leading to the maimed hero staggering into the arms of ‘The Man Who Loved Sunrise’.

Oppressed miner and narrative everyman Zanti Chikane is a black miner and second class citizen crushed by his intolerable life, but he still overcomes his understandable caution to offer assistance to torn, bleeding T’Challa. That leads to his own brush with death as white killers employ what they consider ‘Reasonable Force’ against the suspects, before being trounced by the still fighting cat-man…

The scene changes with ‘Naked Exposures’ as government Magistrate of Communications Anton Pretorius orders his battered and furious minions to capture an invading masked terrorist dubbed Black Panther. This invader is a threat to national security but the mercenaries need no other reasons to kill the treacherous “kaffir”. Just to be sure, though, Pretorius also uses his position to send out a nationwide TV alert…

‘Battered Artifacts’ finds T’Challa tracking Slade to an impoverished township, unaware that he’s under surveillance and about to step into the other side of the deadly politics that wracked South Africa at this time.

‘Hatred under Tears’ sees the mercenaries attack, uncaring of the small children they are endangering. As the Great Cat stops to aid a tear-gassed toddler, ‘Justifiable Action’ sees him shot for his efforts and arrested in ‘Personal Risk’ before breaking free and escaping…

‘The Official Version’ gives T’Challa a lesson in realpolitik from Slade’s wife even as the State intensifies its hunt for him, with Security Minister Doeke Riebeek officially branding the entire emergency a communist plot…

In the township ‘Voices Heard, Voices Ignored’ sees Zanti pondering the terrifying dangers to his family before returning to aid the Panther whilst ‘A Right to Kill’ shows Riebeek beginning to suspect Pretorius might have ulterior motives for his actions. Meanwhile, the enraged township men are moving against a suspected traitor determined ‘Somebody’s Going to Pay’. They’re carrying petrol and tyres needed for the appalling punishment they call “necklacing”. Do not google it or buy this book if you have a weak stomach…

When the Panther acts to save a life, he is horribly burned but events escalate to total tragedy as ‘Last Night I Wept for Freedom’ shows how the boy he helped returns the favour and pays the ultimate price, despite his own superhuman efforts and the initially-reluctant intervention of a white doctor in ‘Lost Promises’

Traumatised and repentant, T’Challa returns to Slade whose ‘Dark Maneuvers’ lead them into a trap laid by Pretorius’ mercenaries in ‘So Many Nameless Enemies’. The battle is brief but results in a crucial clue in the true quest, as the trader reveals how, years ago, he learned of a black woman held in glittering bondage for decades at the home of a high-ranking government official…

‘Chances’ see Riebeek and his forces closing in as T’Challa follows his fresh clue to Johannesburg to confront one of the mercs in ‘The Great Cat in the City of Gold’. Now focused on finding Pretorius, the Panther and Zanti attempt to save his precious stealth-ship from being captured by Riebeek in ‘Losing Control’… but at a terrible cost…

After ‘Saying Goodbye’, the Panther’s quest moves into its endgame as T’Challa assaults Pretorius’ luxurious citadel, circumventing deadly ‘Barriers’, and crushing human and canine ‘Opponents’ (still more grimly authentic action in need of a strong stomach advisory…), to ultimately rescue Ramonda from the luxurious cell she has inhabited ever since Pretorius abducted her years ago.

The tyrannical hypocrite’s obsessive, abusive passion for her was also his downfall: a secret capable of destroying him in a nation and government that decreed interracial mixing immoral and illegal…

Ultimately, it’s Ramonda who decrees his fate whilst enjoying a ‘Dawn Reunion’ with her long-lost child…

Available in trade paperback and digital editions and augmented by a full cover gallery and pinups from Marvel Fanfare#47 (by Bill Reinhold & Linda Lessman) and #45(Steve Rude & Steve Oliff) this is the most important Black Panther tale you’ll ever read. So do.
© 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Storm


By Tim Minchin, DC Turner, Tracy King & various (Orion)
ISBN: 978-1-4091-5209-5 (HB), 978-1-4091-5625-3 (TPB), eISBN: 978-1-4091-5210-1)

The world is a magical, wondrous place stuffed with miracles and mysteries.

However, there’s not one single atom of it that depends on the eldritch or supernatural and none of it – or even the greater universe around it – is wrought from the efforts of supreme beings. Nor does it operate on principles of forgotten lore denied us common folk…

It’s all explainable, utterly rational and absolutely subject to revision by us every time we find out or disprove something that previously has been a puzzle or misunderstood. To do otherwise is nothing less than a crime against humanity.

No gods, no ghosts, no witchcraft, no magic crystals. Got it?

It’s amazing how many people haven’t and how the latest anti-science fad or fashion can cause genuine harm to the world, deprive generally sensible folk of their money and too often make dinner parties a theatre of war. That’s especially relevant at a time when a new lifeform is predating upon large sections of humanity in a manner we haven’t anticipated or properly categorised yet…

Tim Minchin is an Australian creative whirlwind and multi-media entertainment polymath who performs musical stand-up comedy, acts in edgy sitcoms, composes award-winning stage musicals like Matilda and acts in hit shows like Jesus Christ, Superstar.

He’s very smart, very funny and doesn’t believe in goblins or faith-healing.

In 2006 his 90-second diatribe ‘If You Open Your Mind Too Much Your Brain Will Fall Out (Take My Wife)’ – a “refutation of the plausibility of astrology, psychics, homeopathy and an interventionist God” impressed and delighted fans.

In 2008, after a close encounter with a pontificating new-agey nitwit at a party where the reasonable, rationalist Mr. Minchin politely opted not to contest a stream of bubble-headed nonsense, he took his ire and indignation and turned it into a piece of true inspiration: a beat poem, Socratic dialogue and “anthem for critical thinkers”…

It’s a very funny, edgy slice of entertaining refutation and I-wish-I’d-said-that-ism which was used as the closer for the Ready For This? Tour for more than two years.

In Britain animators/illustrators/producers Dan “DC” Turner and Tracy King saw that show and determined that at all costs they must turn that paean to logic and sense into an animated film. As described in Minchin’s Introduction to this book (available in trade paperback and eBook formats as well as a 1000 copy Limited Edition Deluxe Hardback with extra content) and the Afterword by Turner and King, after some wheeler-dealing, they did just that…

Storm became an internet sensation with many million hits on YouTube after its launch in 2011. The artists and Mr. Minchin then completely reworked that cartoon sensation into an astoundingly compulsive and scathingly funny graphic novel which opens at an intimate soiree in North London where the narrator and his wife sit down to sup with friends and are force-fed a stream of nonsensical blather by a beautiful girl with a tattoo of a fairy.

Her name is Storm and this time the quiet man she inanely and arrogantly lectures is not going to hold his tongue…

By turns tense, barbed, hilariously evocative and furiously cathartic, this stunning visual feast delivers the barrage of scathing sense we’ve always wanted (but been too polite) to unleash on evolution-deniers, pseudo-scientists, astrological aromatherapy advocates, vaccination-withholders, ghost-chasers and every other stripe of pontificating irrationalist in a graphic tumult of colour, line and typography that will simultaneously stun and galvanise.

This magnificent reinterpretation includes a Foreword by Neil Gaiman, Biography pages for Minchin, Turner & King and – because it’s all about the fun – a selection of variant covers by Ricky Earl, Freya Harrison, Andy Herd, Dave “Swatpaz” Ferguson and Stuart Mason & Rachael King which might have graced the issues had this yarn been serialised as comic periodicals rather than released as a complete book…

There has been and always will be a valuable and cherished place for fantasy, imagination and all the wild and woolly boggles and phantasms of a rich realm of tradition and ignorance. Indeed I believe it’s absolutely necessary for every child to be fully acquainted with all aspects of fairies and spectres and wish-fulfilling rings and lamps, but there comes a time when they must retire to a place of nostalgia and fun, regularly revisited for amusement but never, never, never used to dictate the content of school curricula, divert funds from genuine medical research or be employed as justification to persecute whole sectors of society or even one single “different” individual…

Storm is an edgy pictorial tour de force to delight and enchant readers who love the funny and fantastic but never forget where the horizons of fantasy end and the borders of imagination begin…
Text © Tim Minchin 2014. Illustrations © Tracy King and Daniel Charles Turner 2014. All rights reserved.

The Flood That Did Come


By Patrick Wray (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-53-0 (PB)

We have a proud tradition in this country of using fiction and fantasy – especially those presented in the aspects of kids’ books – to hold up a light to political and social dystopias. It works for Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm and dozens of comics and graphic novels. This is one more and it’s supremely, chillingly good at what it does…

Patrick Wray is an artist, writer and musician who studied at the Dartington College of Art and took a long time living before crafting this telling and subtle exploration of property laws and the role of the people in how they’re governed…

Mimicking the narrative tone of children’s reading primers (and many kids’ comics) The Flood That Did Come is set in the hilltop village of Pennyworth in the year 2036. It’s all the home little Jenny and her brother Tom know, but they’re happy innocent days end when it starts to rain heavily… and never stops. Soon, all of Kingsby County and the entire country are under water, with only a few high-lying hamlets remaining above water.

The kids and their friends make the best of the new normal and enjoy the changes to the wildlife around them, leaving the adults to worry about the details such as being resupplied by airdrops…

One day, however, the holiday ends when a sailing boat arrives from nearby industrialised town Brooks Falls. The children aboard have come to warn the Pennyworth residents that the adults of their drowned conurbation are coming, armed with the latest technologies and the law. It transpires that long ago back in 1851, Pennyworth was merely an outlying district of the metropolis and still remains part of the greater whole. Now that it’s the only part above water, the Mayor and council of Brook Falls intend to move their operation here and carry on their business as usual…

Sadly, as always when politicians and big business want something, the rights and feelings of ordinary people don’t count for much…

Simple, breezy and chilling to the core, this tale of resistance and capitulation is made all the more effective by Wray’s cunning choice of art style and faux children’s book feel. The result is reminiscent of school workshops and protest marches supplied with stencil screens; of street-rebel print slogans and tagging-inspired found imagery. The industrial-flavoured visuals magnificently disguise the potency of the political allegory and make this a tale no tuned-in, socially aware grown up will want to miss.
© 2020 Patrick Wray. All rights reserved.

The Flood That Did Come is scheduled for release on September 10th 2020 and available for pre-order now.

The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff


By Emma, translated by Una Dimitrijevic (Seven Stories Press)
ISBN: 978-1-60980-956-0 (TPB) eISBN: 978-160980-957-7

It’s never been a fair world, although that’s a concept we all apparently aspire to create. In recent years, many people have sought to address imbalances between the roles and burdens of men and women in a civil cohesive society, but the first problem they all hit was simply how to state the problems in terms all sides could understand. We have a lot more names and concepts to utilise now in discourse, but the difficulties don’t seem to have diminished…

In 2018, software engineer, cartoonist and columnist Emma crafted a book of strips reflecting upon social issues affecting women: dissecting The Mental Load – all the unacknowledged, unpaid invisible crap that makes up and comes with most modern relationships and revealing how almost all of that overwhelming, burdensome life-tonnage inescapably settled on one side of the bed in most households…

The book – and the strips as seen in The Guardian – caused something of a commotion and as much trollish kickback as you’d expect from all the wrong places, so she’s back with further explanations and revelations in brilliant follow-up The Emotional Load and Other Invisible Stuff.

Because a large proportion of humans who won the genital lottery don’t really give a damn about other people’s woes – especially if the food keeps coming and the appropriate drawers magically refill with clean clothes and groceries – I fear there’s a segment of truly needy folk who won’t benefit from this selection of treatises, anecdotes, statistics and life-changing stories, but since many guys are genuinely clueless and baffled but willing to adapt, maybe enough of us will give change and thought a chance.

Best of all, most women reading this will realise that it’s not just them feeling the way they do and may even risk starting a conversation with their significant others, or at the very least, start talking to other women and organising together…

Working in the manner of the very best observational stand-up comedy, Emma forensically identifies an issue and dissects it, whilst offering advice, suggestions and a humorous perspective. Here that’s subdivided into a series of comical chapters beginning with the autobiographical ‘It’s Not Right, But…’

This explores the concept of consent for women and reveals how, at age 8, she first learned that it was regarded as perfectly normal for men to bother girls…

The debate over sexual independence and autonomy in established relationships is then expanded in ‘A Role to Play’

Seemingly diverging off topic (but don’t be fooled) ‘The Story of a Guardian of the Peace’ then traces the life of honest cop Eric and how he fared over years trying to treat suspects and villains as fellow human beings in a system expressly created to suppress all forms of dissent and disagreement, after which the oppressive demarcation of family duties and necessary efforts are dissected into Productive and Reproductive Labor roles via the salutary example of Wife and Mother ‘Michelle’

‘The Power of Love’ explores how women are expected to police the emotional wellbeing of all those around them and the crushing affect it has on mental wellbeing before the irrelevant “not all men” defence shabbily resurfaces – and is powerfully sent packing – in ‘Consequences’, with a frankly chilling reckoning of the so-different mental preparations needed for men and women to go about their daily, ordinary lives…

As stated above The Mental Load caused a few ructions when it first gained mass popular attention. ‘It’s All in Your Head’ deftly summarises the reactions, repercussions, defanging, belittlement, dismissal and ultimate sidelining of those revelations – particularly in relation to sexual choice and autonomy – with a barrage of damning quotes from France’s political, industrial elites, after which ‘Sunday Evenings’ traces the history of work by oppressed underclasses – like women – and the gaslighting headgames employed to keep all toilers off-balance, miserable and guilt-crushed…

The hopefully life-altering cartoon lectures conclude with an expose of the most insidious form of social oppression as ‘Just Being Nice’ outlines the tactics and effects of sneakily debilitating Benevolent Sexism (and yes, old gits from my generation thought it was okay to do it if we called it “chivalry” or “gallantry”)…

Backed up by a copious ‘Bibliography’ for further research (and probably fuelling some carping niggles from unrepentant buttheads) and packed with telling examples from sociological and anthropological studies as well as buckets of irrefutable statistics, this is a smart, subversively clever look at the roles women have been grudgingly awarded or allowed by a still largely male-centric society, but amidst the many moments that will have any decent human weeping in empathy or raging in impotent fury, there are decisive points where a little knowledge and a smattering of honest willingness to listen and change could work bloody miracles…

Buy this book, learn some stuff. Be better, and please accept my earnest apologies on behalf of myself and my entire gender.
© 2018, 2020 by Emma. English translation © 2020 by Una Dimitrijevic. All rights reserved.

The Adventures of Tintin – Breaking Free


By J. Daniels (Attack International/Freedom Press)
ISBN: 0-9514261-0-9; 978-0-9514261-0-4; 978-1-90449-117-0 (Freedom Press)

“Freedom of the Press is only guaranteed to those who own one” – Abbott Joseph Liebling.

Politics is always composed of and used by firebrands and coldly calculating grandees, but that’s the only guiding maxim you should trust. Most ordinary people don’t give a toss until it affects them in the pocket or it’s their families under judicial scrutiny. No matter to what end of the political spectrum one pledges allegiance, the greatest enemy of the impassioned ideologue is apathy. This forces activists and visionaries to ever-more devious and imaginative stunts and tactics…

Crafted by the enigmatically anonymous J. Daniels, concocted and released by the anarchist faction Attack Internationalin 1988, The Adventures of Tintin – Breaking Free is a perfect exercise in the use of Détournement (“turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself”), utilising mimicry, mockery, parody and satire to counter the seductive subversion of the Monied Interests policing the status quo.

It also reads rather particularly well – even today – as social documentary and human drama, for all its earnest worthiness and fiercely dogmatic posturing…

The gimmick is this: the comforting cosy style and iconic images of Hergé’s immortal adventurers are transferred into our pedestrian oppressive, corrupt world and co-opted to incite a revolution in thinking and action…

In Chapter 1, ‘We’ve Had Enough!’ sees unemployed hothead, disenfranchised youthful dole-queue outcast and petty thief Tintin visit his uncle on the run-down-and-dying council estate (remember those?) where the once-vital, fulfilled salt-of-the Earth good bloke and his wife Mary now strive on the breadline. The lad needs cash, so The Captain suggests a labouring job beside him on the new building site.

It’s not an easy option: although there’s work to be had, tensions are high on site: dangerous working conditions, shoddy management practices and subsistence wages for the desperate men crafting luxury flats for more of the rich and gentrified types steadily pushing real people out of the community…

Another alienated faction joins the swell of discontent as squatters break in to the flat next door and the Captain helps them sort out the utilities and other necessities. Everybody knows the council is letting the estate die of neglect so that corrupt councillors can sell it off, so these lesbian activists are welcomed as fellow fighters against the powers that be.

Tensions mount as the National Front (and whatever happened to them, hmm?) recruit in broad daylight, skinheads carry out racist attacks and trendy wine bars push out good old-fashioned workingmen’s pubs. Soon Tintin is striking back whenever he can: vandalising posh cars and pickpocketing rich poseurs. Of course, all proper men need are jobs, beer, football and a decent life, but the boy soon has his eyes opened – if not his opinions changed – when he is made painfully aware of how even those lower-class paragons treat their own women…

Events come to a head when a worker dies on the building site and the supervisor is clearly more concerned about lost time. He even suggests poor Joe Hill was drunk and not the victim of negligent, non-existent safety procedures…

‘One Out, All Out!’ finds a wildcat strike seeking compensation for Joe’s widow escalating into a national furore after trade union officials strike a shady deal with the calculating property developers forcing the incensed workers to reject their useless official action in favour of measures that will actually work.

Soon bosses and unions are conspiring together to break the unsanctioned, unofficial action as ordinary people of the community rally around the strikers, providing food, money and – most important of all – encouragement.

The authorities quickly resort to their tried and true dirty tricks: picket-breaking riot squads, undercover agent provocateurs, intelligence-led targeted arrests of “ringleaders” and brutal intimidation.

Scab labour is harshly dealt with in ‘Let’s Get Organised’, as the hard-working, underappreciated women increasingly take up the challenge. The movement is growing in strength and national support. Soon other cities are in revolt too, with The Captain an unwilling and unlikely figurehead. Tintin, ever impatient, finds like-minded hotheads and secretly begins a campaign of literally explosive sabotage…

It all culminates in ‘Getting Serious’ as events kick into overdrive after the Captain endures a punishment beating from unidentified thugs and his family are similarly threatened. Scared but undeterred, the old salt carries on planning for a national march. With reports coming in of similar movements in Poland, Yugoslavia and other Warsaw Pact countries (the Soviet Empire was still very much in existence back then and continually crushing workers’ freedoms: at least nowadays Russia never interferes in the social or political affairs of other nations…), local groundswell becomes a national expression of solidarity and the underclass consolidates under a mass rallying call to arms…

When the riot squads are again deployed, it all turns ugly on a global scale, but in the aftermath The Captain has been “disappeared” or, as the authorities would have it, been “arrested for conspiracy”.

With half a million people on the streets of the city, the powers-that-be move to full military response, but it’s too late…

The later edition, published by Freedom Press in 2011, also includes the infamous early adventures of this extremely alternative Tintin (as first seen in polemical pamphlet The Scum in 1986) from the scallywag’s days sorting out Rupert Murdoch from the picket line at Wapping, during the infamous and now-legendary Printer’s Strike…

Passionate and fiercely idealistic, the initial release of Breaking Free unsurprisingly unleashed a storm of howling protest from the establishment, Tory Press and tabloid papers (especially News International) and by all accounts even Prime Minister Thatcher was “utterly revolted”.

That only meant the little guys had won: achieving a degree of publicity and notoriety such puny, powerless underdogs could only have dreamed of but never afforded by any traditional means of disseminating their message…

I’d call that “job done”…

More a deliciously enticing dream than a serious clarion call to end social injustice, this is a wickedly barbed, superbly well-intentioned piece, lovingly capturing the sublime Ligne Claire style and deftly redirecting its immense facility to inform and beguile…

First released in April 1988 by Attack International. This book proudly proclaims that no copyright has been invoked unless capitalists want to poach it…

The Sanctuary


By Nate Neal (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-388-0 (TPB)

Nowadays there’s a wonderful abundance of impressive and talented cartoonists crafting superbly thought-provoking comics all over the world. Moreover, they are all blessed with perfect timing, in that they’re more or less able to support themselves by their efforts, thanks to modern technology and markets. Formerly in America, the imaginative likes of Kirby, Ditko and even R. Crumb had to filter themselves through a system of editors, publishers and distributors to get their work to readers, surrendering control and rights in the process. Other countries also monetised talent and imagination in similar ways, always to the detriment of the creative force at the centre.

In our freshly liberated modern crucible, ideas can take you anywhere and religious ideologues, self-righteous pressure groups, blinkered editors and fear of lost sales have only negligible effect: indeed, assorted squeals of outrage or timid support for unconventional thoughts and images can actually help potentially contentious or uncommercial graphic material reach the audiences it was actually intended for.

Which is a very roundabout and longwinded way to introduce today’s golden oldie. Not that Nate Neal’s first graphic novel was ever particularly contentious or outrageous. Even though there is nudity, fornication, wanton violence and gleeful irreverence, what mostly comes through in The Sanctuary is the arduous effort and intelligent philosophical questioning in this primordial tale of a band of cave-dwellers living and dying at the nativity of our greatest inventions… language and art.

Neal (Spongebob Comics) is Michigan born and Brooklyn dwelling: one of the creative crew that launched splendid indie comics anthology Hoax with Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw & Hans Rickheit. He has crafted a string of impressive colour and monochrome pieces such as ‘Delia’s Love’, ‘Mindforkin’’ and ‘Fruition’ in Fantagraphics’ stunning and much-missed arts periodical Mome. His high-profile commercial gigs include Truckhead for Nickelodeon Magazine and Mad’s perennial favourite Spy Vs. Spy (originally created by Antonio Prohias and since covered by such diverse lights as Dave Manak and Peter Kuper).

Like kitsch movie masterpieces When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and 1,000,000 Years B.C. , this primeval parable is produced with a unique and supremely limited intrinsic language (which, if you pay attention, you will readily decipher) serving to focus the reader on the meat of the tale: how art and graphic narrative became a fundamental aspect of human cognition.

Please don’t be put off by my jokey references to classic bubblegum cinema; The Sanctuary has far more in common with the antediluvian aspects of Alan Moore’s Voice of the Fire than with any “big lizard meets busty cave-babe” flick (although if you’re a fan of Quest for Fire, that film’s gritty, grey and darkly sardonic ethos does eerily resonate here…)

Largely silent and broadly pantomimic, the snapshot episodes in this bleak black-&-white generational saga describe a small clan – or more properly “pack” – of brutal hominids eking out a squalid and desperate existence about thirty-two thousand years ago. The tribal equilibrium is forever altered when a young female is traded to them, affording the lowest-ranked male in the group a crumb of physical comfort. Prior to this, he was practically outcast, having to steal food from the alpha males – and females – who have been and continue to struggle for control of the group.

This omega-male has a gift and a passion. He obsessively commemorates the tribe’s hunts through art, but after the girl arrives, he discovers a new use and purpose for his propensities. However, life is hard and hunger and danger go hand in hand. The cold war between young and old, fit and maimed, male and female is inevitably boiling over…

This is a powerful tale about creativity, morality, verity and above all, responsibility which demands that the reader work for his reward. As an exploration of imagination, it is subtly enticing, but as an examination of Mankind’s unchanging primal nature The Sanctuary is pitilessly honest. Abstract, symbolic, metaphorical yet gloriously approachable, this devastatingly clever saga is a “must-see” for any serious fan of comics and every student of the human condition.
© 2010 Nate Neal. All rights reserved.