Contraband


By Thomas J. Behe & Philip Elliott(Markosia)
ISBN: 978-1913802608 (TPB)

For old geezers like me, the world is a rapidly changing, increasingly dangerous, infinitely incomprehensible and ultimately uncomfortable place. Thankfully, there are still a few things I recognise and understand – like human nature and good comics.

Those are the prime points of graphic salutary warning Contraband, as crafted by doodling veteran Phil Elliott (Tales from Gimbley; The Real Ghostbusters; Illegal Alien and many more) and hopefully not-too prescient scribe Thomas J. Behe. Here they communally invite you into a very imminent tomorrow (heck, it actually feels like the proverbial “20 minutes into the future”, in some places), proving that no matter how much things change, they basically stay the same…

Quite soon now, the utter ubiquity of mobile phones, cameras, social media platforms, greed and human hunger for attention will create a new industry. Everybody films stuff on their phones – and criminal lawyers and cops are all too grateful for that – but when video clips can be uploaded for untraceable cash and kudos to dark web app Contraband, that content is increasingly skewed towards cruel, erotic, violent, humiliating or simply disgusting criminal acts.

Successful contributors earn plenty, but the true draw is the cachet of topping the highly-competitive chart of Likes, with the public being the truly democratic arbiters of modern taste and morality…

The world is still recovering from spirit-crushing and corporation-enhancing middle eastern wars, but back in ostensibly unshaken London, all anyone can think of is getting something juicy onto social media. One of those ambitious dreamers is self-styled citizen-journalist Toby, whose recording of an illegal act propels him into the middle of a secret war for control of the voyeurs’ underworld.

His brief moment of fame leads to his being targeted by villainous wideboy Tucker, who – since his return from Afghanistan – has embraced private enterprise as boss of Contraband, aided only – it would seem – by his hulking, deceptively deep henchman and technical adviser Plugger.

Their sordid lives are not all sunshine, roses and sleaze. A bill is going through Parliament to limit online abuse, and an anti-violence campaign led by charismatic demagogue Jarvis Stevens is stirring up the wrong kind of muck and attention. Most importantly, Tucker’s former Afghan associate Charlotte is in hiding. She has access to very damaging dirt that the internet entrepreneur needs to neuter now…

That’s where Toby comes in. For absolutely inexplicable reasons, Tucker believes the baffled neophyte can prise her from whatever bolthole she’s in and makes life extremely uncomfortable until he agrees to try. However, as he sets to, the digital innocent is swamped by conflicting stories and vile revelations, quickly learning no one can trust anyone else…

That’s especially after discovering a rogue program is loose out in the wild, able to switch absolute control of Contraband’s codes, cash resources and library to one person. Now, rivalling the hunt for Charlotte, is a desperate race to find the magic gimmick and become king of the ghastly hill…

Oppressive, paranoid, violent and disturbing, this sublimely inventive yarn combines crime thriller with spy mystery and delivers a splendid sequence of byzantine futuristic shocks, deliciously delineated in a potently understated fashion.

First published by Slave Labor Graphics in 2008, this dark and timely construction gets a fresh lease on life – and possible repeat fees – thanks to Markosia, so don’t miss the opportunity to safely see the world that’s coming… before it sees you.
™ & © Thomas Behe & Phil Elliott. All rights reserved.

Contraband is scheduled for publication on May 10th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

The Stringer


By Ted Rall & Pablo Callejo (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-272-4 (Album HB) eISBN: 978-1-68112-273-1

How many times have you heard it? “Print is dead”, “there’s no money in news” and other crass judgements solving a thorny problem by simply dismissing and diminishing it.

Thankfully folk like Ted Rall don’t always accept what they’re told in the way they’re meant to and have the ability to counterpunch with counterpoints…

Frederick Theodore Rall III was born in 1963, so he’s grown up with the gradual defanging and commercial contamination of journalism in an era of increased distrust of democracy and unchecked political malfeasance. A figure of constant controversy, he works widely as an editorial cartoonist, columnist and author of such books as Waking Up in America, The Year of Loving Dangerously, Meet the Deplorables: Infiltrating Trump America, To Afghanistan and Back and many more.

Equally adept with outrageous but well-reasoned fantasy as compelling non-fiction, Rall has reunited with Pablo Callejo (Bluesman, The Castaways, The Year of Loving Dangerously) for a frighteningly convincing extrapolation of the way things are, that is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in the last decade.

Mark Scribner is a highly experienced, world-weary investigative journalist who has also grown old in the above-cited decades. A veteran observer of conflicts, police actions, interventions and wars, with contacts from every stratum of all those zones and scenes and bars. He literally knows everyone in the global conflict game while viewing the advance of citizen reportage and click-bait editorialising with increasing despair.

However, when a crisis of conscience finally comes in a crisis barely making headlines anywhere, Scribner – always somehow in the right place at the right time – makes a bold new decision and picks a path far less, if indeed ever, travelled…

However, although his new lifepath carries incredible rewards as well as danger, Scribner is still tied to his old self and the values that elevate or destroy all humans alike, and his successes carry seeds of awful destruction…

Gripping, smart and scarily plausible, this potent dose of realpolitik is a supremely engaging yarn no news junkie or comics addict can afford to miss. Maybe you can’t handle the truth, but you should definitely handle this…
© 2021 Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo. © 2021 NBM for the English translation.

The Stringer is scheduled for physical release in the UK on May 25th 2021, with digital editions available now. For more information and other great reads please see http://www.nbmpub.com/

Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon


By Mohammad al-Mohamed Muhammad, Youssef Fakish & various (Northwest Press)
ISBN: 378-1-9387202-9-1 (PB)

Let’s get one thing straight here. This is a satirical spoof, ok?

A jape, a jest: witty sequential pictorial banter with pointed points to make on sexual, religious and geopolitical politics. If you’re feeling unnecessarily singled out, I’m fat, bald, old, disabled and white: feel free to have a go back, on citing whatever misperceived grounds you feel you’re entitled to, but do not believe for one moment you’ve been singled out for exclusion or special attention…

Crafted during the heady and contentious era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – way back when what you did with your bits (whenever a deadly foe wasn’t trying to blow them away, at least) somehow affected your ability to kill people on command – Al Qaeda’s Super Secret Weapon hilariously goes sufficiently too far in extrapolation.

In their hidden caves, the vile masterminds of the subversive enemy realise the American military is critically vulnerable to seduction by dedicated martyrs willing to give their all, and rapidly trains up 16 super-hunky guys to destroy all those agents of the Great Satan from within…

Beautifully realized, packed with glamour, action, proper jokes and a fair slice of sentiment, this is a definitely demented but brilliant Carry On movie plot taken to fabulous extremes that will leave you helpless with laughter.

Oh, there’s also EXPLICIT GAY SEX, all over this book – available in paperback and digital formats – so don’t read it if you’re likely to be offended by that, rather than the killing, explosions, nuclear armageddon and all-denominational blasphemy.

Adding to the fun are a set of paper dolls and costumes to play with, pin-ups and it even comes with a free ‘Trans-Denominational, Pre-Emptive Fatwa’ too, signed off by globally-renowned Pastor Brett Pirkle, so you know you can sleep safe in your bed… or anyone else’s…

Sing along now, “it’s the End of the World as we know it, and I feel f…”
© 2013 David J. Zelman. All rights reserved.

The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson: volume 1: Pirates in the Heartland


By S. Clay Wilson, edited by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-747-5 (HB)

Once more, I’m altering the fixed schedules to note the passing of a giant. Everybody’s losing loved one in far greater numbers than we can really afford or cope with, but this one is even more poignant and powerful: the death of one of the most vital and vigorous cartoonists we’ve ever been privileged to enjoy. Here’s a parental warning to prove it…

This book is filled with dark, violent sexual imagery and outrageous situations intended to make adults laugh and think. If that hasn’t clued you in, please be warned that this book contains images of nudity, extreme violence, sexual intimacy and excess – both hetero- and homosexual – and language commonly used in the privacy of the bedroom, drunken street brawls and school playgrounds whenever adults aren’t present.

If the thought of all that offends you, read no further and don’t buy the book. The rest of us will just enjoy some of the most groundbreaking cartoon experiences ever created without you.

Steve Clay Wilson was a pioneering light of America’s transformative Underground Commix movement: an uncompromising, controversial, in-your-face pioneer of the counterculture, constantly challenging attitudes and sensitivities whilst telling the kind of cartoon tales he wanted – or perhaps had – to.

Something of a contradiction to those who knew him, charming, charismatic Wilson lived life to the full and took his art seriously.

And what art! Stark, complex, shocking, incredibly detailed tableaux jumping with modern Rabelaisian content: mesmerising scenes packed with intense multi-layered busyness, crammed with outrageous, iconic characters in constant surging motion – mostly combative and hilariously violent.

The manly, hedonistic exuberance of frantic fighters rejoicing in the wild freedom as exemplified by bikers, cowboys, pirates, bull dykes and devils, augmented by other violent ne’er-do-wells, grotesques, human-scaled beasts and things which could be drawn but never described…

His work seethed and abounded with excess: monsters, mutilations, booze and drug-fuelled romps populated with priapic plunderers and ravening beasts, dangerous and disturbed women and always, always unsettling scenes of society’s biggest taboos – sex and personal freedom.

All Americans already worshipped violence; Wilson just pushed the visuals for that sacrament as far as he could into surreal parody. Everybody who knew Wilson adored him, but around him they were usually a little nervous and stepped lightly…

The modern successor to Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch moved on to other artistic arenas when the Underground movement foundered, but he never toned down his visions. In 2008 he suffered massive brain damage in mysterious circumstances and underwent full-time palliative care ever since. He died aged 79, on Sunday February 7th 2021.

This intimate and informative oversize (286 x 202mm) hardcover biography and graphic overview – also available in digital formats – is compiled from previous writings and extensive interviews with the people he grew up with and who shared his eventful life.

Moreover, each telling anecdote and reminiscence is augmented with photos, paintings, illustrated letters and private or previously-unpublished artworks, and each chapter offers a wealth of gloriously outrageous strips: comprising all of his published comics work from the heady days of America’s counterculture explosion in 1968 to its virtual demise in 1976.

It opens with a warm, picture-packed, fact-filled Introduction by college pal and flatmate John Gary Brown before the hagiography of horrors begins with ‘Wilson’s Childhood’.

Described by Robert Crumb as “the strongest, most original artist of my generation” Steven Clay Wilson grew up in down-home Lincoln, Nebraska, thriving on a diet of EC comics (especially Piracy), post-war prosperity and Great Plains sensibilities. His early life was filled with good family, cool pets, cycling, school and drawing.

Lots of drawing (much of it impressively included in the first chapter) takes us out of High School and into college, but before that unfolds there’s a gory welter of early triumphs in the black and white comics section which includes such classics as ‘Shorts in the Bowl’ (from Gothic Blimp Works #1), ‘River City Shoot-Out’ from the second issue and ‘No Loot for You, Captain Namrooth’ from Gothic Blimp Works #6, all circa 1969, followed by a ‘Goodtimes Front Cover’for May 1st 1970.

The entirety – 26 images – of the mega-successful arts project which became ‘S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix’ leads into the strip ‘Afterwards’ (Hydrogen Bomb Funnies, 1970) and the tableaux ‘It’s a Thrill to Kill’ from Thrilling Murder Comics, 1971 and ‘The 137th Dream of Lester Gass’ (Illuminations, 1971).

A productive strip period begins with ‘Insect Paranoia’ (Insect Fear #1),‘Insect Angst’ (#2, both 1970) and ‘Insomnia Angst’ (#3, 1972), followed by ‘Boogie Boogie Horror Yarn’ (Laugh in the Dark, 1971) and closes with ‘Whip Tip Tales’and ‘Soft Core Porn Yarn’ from San Francisco Comic Book issues #1 and #3 in 1970.

Wilson’s turbulent brush with art school and academia at the University of Nebraska is detailed in ‘Higher Education’ as is his understandably less than glorious military service and adoption of the drop-out life style, topped off by more manic strips and panels (he called them “Deep Scenes”) beginning with ‘The Hog Ridin’ Fools’ (Zap Comix #2, 1968 and featuring a very early appearance of Wilson’s signature character the Checkered Demon). That issue also supplies ‘Just as you said Madge… He’s Shitting’ and ‘Head First’, whilst from the third comes ‘Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates’, ‘Gilded Moments’, ‘Captain Edwards St. Miguel Tilden Bradshaw and his crew come to Grips with bloodthirsty foe pirates’, ‘Come Fix’ and ‘Arnie, my bra ain’t on’.

Wilson drew at a phenomenal rate and Zap Comix #4 1969 unleashed ‘A Ball in the Bung Hole’, an untitled phantasmagorical double-spread, ‘Leather Tits’ and the debut of his occasional lewd lead ‘Star-Eyed Stella’. Zap #5 (1970) barely contained ‘Lester Gass the Midnight Misogynist’, ‘Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman’ and ‘Snake Snatch Tale’.

At the end of 1966 Wilson relocated to ‘Lawrence, Kansas’: a burgeoning Midwestern oasis of countercultural thought and self-expression, and a useful place to concentrate creative energies before his inevitable move to the West Coast. This chapter is abutted by another wave of glorious filth and ferocity, comprising non-biblical epic ‘The Felching Vampires Meet the Holy Virgin Mary’ (Felch Cumics, 1975), adult fairy tale ‘Puducchio’ from Pork (1974), which also offers a quartet of single-frame gags, after which Bent (1971) provides Deep Scene ‘Dwarf Snuffing Station #103’, ‘Pendants’; a return engagement for ‘Star-Eyed Stella’ and ‘Nail Tales’.

Declaring “Art is Therapy”, Wilson always saw its creation as a collaborative process: one which demanded a response. On reaching the golden lands of ‘The Barbary Coast’ his artistic jams with the likes of Crumb – who claims the flatlander inspired him to completely release all his artistic inhibitions – and creative compadrés like Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Victor Moscoso, made them royalty in the San Francisco heart of the revolution.

That star-studded, astounding period and how it began to fade makes up the last revelatory chapter in this initial volume (of three) and concludes with one last selection of colour and monochrome masterpieces including eye-popping ‘Deranged doctors perform operational experiments on mutated patients under the antiseptic incandescent gaze of the Big Daddy Devil Doctor’ from Arcade #3, 1975; illustrations for William Burroughs’ seminal short story ‘Fun City in Badan’ (Arcade #4), ‘The Corpse Gobblin’ Ogre of Columbite Mountain’(Arcade #5), ‘Monster Bride’ (Arcade #6) and ‘Vampire Lust’ (Arcade #7, 1976).

Also on show are multi-hued strip ‘Last Foe’ (Apple Pie July 1975), the cover from Zap Comix #3, front-&-back covers from S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix, Bent and Pork; ‘It’s a treat to blast away the flat foot’s feet’ from Tales of Sex and Death #1 (1971), 8-page, in-record minicomic insert ‘The Saga of Yukon Pete’ from the vinyl platter of the same name by Son of Pete and the Muffdivers, wrapping up in fine style with the infernally euphoric ‘Surfsup’ strip from Tales from the Tube #1, 1972.

Scholarly yet surprisingly engaging, this superb collation, contrived and shepherded by Patrick Rosenkranz, offers an amazingly and unforgettable close-up view of one of the most important cartoonists in American history. This is a book no serious lover of the art form or devotee of grown-up comics can afford to miss.
The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson volume one: Pirates in the Heartland © 2014 Fantagraphics Books. All comics and images by S. Clay Wilson © 2014 S. Clay Wilson. All biographical text © 2014 Patrick Rosenkranz. All other material © 2014 its respective creators and owners. All rights reserved.

Fight the Power – A Visual History of Protest Among the English-Speaking Peoples


By Seán Michael Wilson, Benjamin Dickson, Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, Adam Pasion with additional cartoons by Polyp (New Internationalist)
ISBN: 978-1-78026-122-5 (PB)

Politics is composed of and utilised equally by firebrands and coldly calculating grandees, and that’s probably the only guiding maxim you can trust. Most normal people don’t give a toss about all that until it affects them in the pocket or impacts their kids and, no matter to what end of the political spectrum one belongs, the greatest enemy of the impassioned ideologue is apathy. This simple fact forces activists and visionaries to ever-more devious and imaginative stunts and tactics…

However, all entrenched Powers-That-Be are ultimately hopeless before one thing: collective unified resistance by the very masses they’re holding down through force of arms, artificial boundaries of class or race, capitalist dogmas, various forms of mind control like bread, circuses and religion, divisive propagandas or just the insurmountable ennui of grudging acceptance to a status quo and orchestrated fear that unknown change might make things worse.

Perhaps you can see how such musings might be of relevance in these sure to be unforgettable days?

From its earliest inception, cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comic books 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 lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial, social or especially political arena is almost irresistible…

The compelling power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information and seductively advocate complex issues with great conviction through layered levels has always been most effectively used in works with a political or social component. That’s never been more evident than in this stunning and scholarly graphic anthology detailing infamous and effective instances of popular protest.

In Britain the cartoonist has always occupied a perilously precarious position of power: with deftly designed bombastic broadsides or savagely surgical satirical slices ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally comprehensible visual metaphor …or sometimes just the plain and simple facts of the matter…

For this universal and welcomingly basic method of concept transmission, levels of literacy or lack of education are no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised, sanitised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words, and as William the Conqueror saw with the triumphalist Bayeux Tapestry, picture narratives are worth a few million more…

Following a thought-provoking Introduction by author, journalist and filmmaker Tariq Ali, this procession through the history of dissent compiled and scripted by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson begins with an agenda-setting ‘Prologue’ – illustrated by Adam Pasion – best described – without giving the game away – as “Uncle Sam, John Bull and the Statue of Liberty (AKA ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’) walk into a bar…”

Their heated discussion on the value and need of people using their right to dissent is then captivatingly illustrated through a series of erudite, fascinating, shocking and deliciously funny tutorial episodes, beginning with a compelling account of ‘The Luddites and the Swing Riots, 1811-1832’ written by Wilson and rendered both palatable and mesmerising by comics legend Hunt Emerson.

The artist then turns his talents to recreating the horrific events and aftermath of ‘The Battle of Peterloo, 1819’ from Dickson’s script before, with Wilson, cataloguing a wave of ‘Colonial Rebellions, 1836-1865’ which the British Empire dealt with in its traditional even-handed, temperate manner (and in case you were wondering, that’s me doing sarcasm).

Wilson & Pasion then detail the global impact of the ‘Irish Rebellions, 1791-1922’ whilst Dickson & Emerson’s account of ‘The Suffragettes, 1903-1918’ follows the story of Votes for Women right up to the present. Practically forgotten and brutally savage, ‘The Australian General Strike, 1917’ (by Wilson & Pasion) and the equally appalling landmark events of ‘The Boston Police Strike, 1919’ – as told by Dickson & John Spelling – reveal a pattern to modern labour conflicts, with working folk ranged against intransigent and greedy commercial interests.

The age-old struggle escalated during the ‘UK General Strike and the Battle of George Square, 1918-1926’ (Wilson & Spelling) and reached an intolerable strike-busting peak in Ohio during ‘The Battle of Toledo, 1934’ (Wilson & Spelling): a struggle which cemented management and labour into the intractable ideologically opposed positions they still inhabit today in the aforementioned English-speaking world…

The championing of Human Rights is commemorated by Dickson & Pasion in ‘Rosa Parks and the Bus Boycott, 1955-1956’ followed by a deeply moving account of ‘The Trial of Nelson Mandela, 1964’ whilst the modern American soldier’s method of combating unwelcome or insane orders is reviewed in the brilliantly trenchant ‘Fragging’ by Wilson & Emerson…

Back home and still etched in many peoples’ memories, Dickson & Spelling’s ‘The Poll Tax Riots, 1989-1991’ offers a surprisingly even-handed account of Margaret Thatcher’s greatest political blunder, before hitting recent headlines with the origins and outcomes of ‘Occupy, 2011-’

Returning to that bar and Lady Liberty, Dickson, Wilson & Pasion draw a few telling Conclusions to close the cartoon course in mass resistance, after which the writers discuss their process in Authors Notes: Why This Book? before then listing the truly phenomenal rewards of all those campaigns and protests with a long list of Rights Won. These range from Women’s Suffrage to the universal formal acknowledgement of the Human Right to Protest.

Understanding the value of a strategically targeted chuckle, this fabulous monochrome chronicle concludes with one last strip as Dickson & Emerson hilariously reveal ‘The Four Stages of Protest’ courtesy of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. Of course, cartooning can only accomplish so much, and whilst Fight the Power! recounts a number of instances where physical and intellectual action were necessary to achieve or maintain justice, at least comics can galvanise the unconvinced into action and help in the useful dissemination of knowledge about protest: the Who, Where, When, and How.

If you don’t understand What or Why then you’re probably already on the other side of the barricades – and complaining about who gets what vaccine…
© 2013 Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson. Illustrations © 2013 Hunt Emerson, John Spelling and Adam Pasion. Cartoons © 2013 Polyp. All rights reserved.

Inner City Romance


By Guy Colwell (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-0-60699-813-7 (TPB)

Please pay careful attention: this book contains stories and images of an explicit nature, specifically designed for adult consumption, as well as the kind of vulgar language most kids are fluent in by age ten.

If reading about such material is likely to offend you stop now and go away. Tomorrow I’ll write about something more socially acceptable, with mindless violence and big explosions, so come back then if you want.

Guy Colwell is an artist, activist and occasional cartoonist whose works are deeply personal and immensely passionate. As such they have often been controversial. An early stalwart of Underground Commix, his output at that time was graphically sexual, ferociously pro-change and subtly anti-establishment.

A conscious objector and political activist during the time of the Vietnam War (the US government preferred the creepily draconian term “Non Co-operator”) he was prepared to serve two years at McNeil Island Federal prison rather than compromise his principles. Already tenuously starting a long and prestigious career as a gallery painter, Colwell’s incarceration was the spark for a second creative path as a cartoon journalist and comics creator. His later works are mostly political paintings including Litter Beach and The Abuse, and wildlife murals, such as a monumental rainforest wall for the Oakland Zoo.

It’s important in today’s world to plainly point out he is not African-American …

Inner City Blues re-presents a seminal 5 issue underground classic he crafted between 1971 and 1978, blending open minded exploration of alternative lifestyles with keen observation of the life of the nation’s disenfranchised and marginalised underclasses, all thoughtfully argued through beguiling depictions of sex, drugs, crime, socio-political rebellion and ecological radicalism.

They’re compelling and beautiful to look at too…

Lavishly augmented by more than 30 of Colwell’s gallery paintings; candid photos; a selection of his magazine illustrations and even historically significant examples of his time as a courtroom sketch artist, the commemorative paperback celebration (also available digitally) opens with a little history and philosophy in ‘Good Times and Bad: The Evolution of Revolution’ by Patrick Rosenkranz – who also provided the ‘Epilogue’ and an effusive overview of ‘The Artist’ at the end of the book.

The monochrome cartoon blasts from the past open with the epochal ‘Choices’ from Inner City Romance #1 as three convicts are released on the same day…

Marvin and token white guy Paddy can think of nothing more than getting high, getting laid and making money the way they used to, but for black power activist James – who’s leaving the joint even more radicalised than when he went in – all that is secondary to reuniting with his political brothers and sisters to resume taking the war to “The Man”…

Driving to San Francisco in a stolen car the trio rave on about what they’re going to do and all too soon Marvin and Paddy are indulging in an orgy of sex and drugs. After touching base with a most willing soulmate at the Street Defense Committee, James eventually rejoins his debauched jail buddies. However, as he watches their excesses, he realises he’s come to a crossroads in his life…

For many readers the political message was electrically clear, and the astoundingly explicit sexual antics serve here as a nothing more than powerfully distracting sleight of hand…

The comic was a huge counter culture hit (going through four printings and selling thousands of copies) so the saga notionally continued a year later in issue #2 with ‘Radical Rock’

As Rosenkranz explains in a brief introduction, in the intervening time Colwell had been drawing a strip for the San Francisco Good Times newspaper, but when that organ of infinitely free expression folded, he recycled his paean to peace and anti-war sentiment into a new comic book, adding in powerful overtones highlighting the increasingly oppressive nature of policing in the city.

The result was a strangely intoxicating brew akin to a rock opera with dialogue delivered in scintillating rhyming couplets and quatrains as The People combat authoritarian excesses and illegal imprisonment of activists by attempting to hold a benefit concert in the park.

The “Powers That Be” have their own agenda of course and plan a major bust, but when James is gunned down in the street all bets are off…

The same issue also contained ‘Part Two (Adagio)’ which deftly shifts scene to carnally explore the reactions of the previous generation of poor folks. Colwell has viewed sex as something joyous to be indulged in by young and old, pretty or plain, and this moving affirmation that “everybody does it” acts as a powerful counterpoint to the unfolding drama as the creaky lovers are interrupted by news that their son has been arrested and mercilessly beaten.

By the time they get to the police station the drama is set to escalate into horrific tragedy…

Inner City Romance #3 was released in 1977 and is the artist’s personal favourite. Largely devoid of dialogue, it thematically returns to the prison system: following the escape into dreams of three very different inmates, resulting in some of Colwell’s most inventive, erotic and phantasmagorical artwork…

Released the same year, #4 and returned to real-world activism by fictionalising the scandal surrounding the abandonment and eventual eviction of the elderly, handicapped, ethnic minorities and just plain poor residing in the International Hotel, San Francisco (go google it, Maa-aaan…).

Colwell’s sensitive take on the Humans vs. Money affair is an intensely evocative and surprisingly even-handed affair, highlighting need for change and the ultimate price of life as a young boy perishes due to the short-sighted addition of ‘Ramps’ to a rickety, ramshackle ghetto complex local government is just too mean to fix…

With Vietnam over and social crusading giving way to an era of sexual liberation, Colwell’s final Inner City Romance explored the liberation of libido in a quintet of short tales which still found space and time to question the effects of freedom and progress on different strata of society. It begins with the unabashed joy of loving in ‘Good for You’ before a different stroke focuses on recreational drug-taking and the budding Punk Scene in ‘DownUp’

Arson and deprivation mark the experiences of a loose association of urban youngsters in ‘Interkids’, whilst the unluckiest woman in town experiences three different kinds of hellish horror when she becomes the victim of ‘Sex Crime’ before the fables conclude with sheer exuberance and impassioned release for two young lovers ‘All Over the Clover’

Still crusading, Colwell ends the festival of life in this magnificent tome with a stunning gallery of his best paintings proving that old campaigners never die, they just get sharper…

For decades the publicity-shy Colwell was thought by his fans and contemporaries to be a black artist, so strident, effective and authentic was his narrative voice. Even today his ethnicity is unimportant; what counts is that he’s human and urgently begs us all to be human too. Why not dabble in a little Inner City Romance of your own and see for yourself?
Inner City Romance © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc. All contents © 2015 Fantagraphics Books Inc unless otherwise noted. All comics stories, illustrations and paintings © 2015 Guy Colwell. All rights reserved.

yeht: they


By Anonymous Busch & Michael A. Reed
ISBN: 978-3-9524704-6-6 (PB)

It’s been a fraught few years just recently, and if I’ve learned anything from them, it’s that anxiety is habit-forming. With that in mind here’s a fascinatingly compiled dossier offering a glimpse at how the world really runs, cunningly disguised as a science fiction thriller…

Crafted with subversive passion and loads of alternative data by Anonymous Busch with superb rendering in stark monochrome and oodles graphic aplomb by the clearly-pseudonymous Michael A Reed (who’s a dab hand with both typography and cruel caricature), there’s probably a wealth of covert meaning behind this ripping yarn of a dedicated journalist pulled into a cascade of fox-&-hound events just “20 minutes into the future”…

Young, but an old-school rebel at heart, Melissa “Missy” Anthrop is facing the end of her career before it starts because she won’t get the implants everybody else welcomes. Things suddenly change when a mystery phone and credit card wind up in her hands, ordering her to investigate certain events and people…

Soon she’s enmired in the network of 1-percenters, Faith leaders, politicians and celebrities who really run the world, escaping from faceless thugs and saving harvested children in a frantic dash to expose all the secrets. Especially, and most notably, who sent her the phone and card in the first place?

Whimsical, waspish, drenched in paranoia and riffing on every conspiracy theory doing the rounds, this is either a delightful and engaging adventure spoof, or a real deal exposé I’m too rich, complacent and evil to spot.

Maybe it’s best that you read it yourself – while you still can – and make your own mind up?
© 2017 Anonymous Busch & Michael A. Reed. All rights reserved.

#SAD! – Doonesbury in the Time of Trump


By Gary Trudeau (Andres/McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-4494-9864-7 (HB)

The thing about some buttheads when they’re down, is that the very worst of them are just so darned appealing if you feel like carrying on kicking…

Buh-bye, Donnie. Happy New Year.

As you hopefully saw yesterday, the most recent former POTUS has experienced a lengthy adversarial relationship with certain satirists and cartoonists over the years.

Doonesbury proceeds in real time and incorporates a vast, broad cast of regulars who have aged over the decades and through withering lampoonery as the strip references news, trends and causes célèbre of the moment. This had made cartoonist Trudeau a handsome raft of enemies through enlisting many real-world oafs and bugbears amongst his long-lived itinerary of returning characters. Generally, these flesh-&-blood interlopers are represented by an icon – such as a waffle for Bill Clinton, a lit bomb for Newt Gingrich or a Stetson (later a Roman helmet) for George W. Bush – but that’s not always the case.

One of the most vocal – if not necessarily intelligible – targets over the years has been Donald J. Trump – usually depicted as a decadent, fat and latterly smug and confused old white guy. This superb full-colour collection gathers some of the very best moments of jocularity covering the moments he actually began running for President, up until about two years into accidentally winning it…

It all begins with a Preface from Trudeau laying out the rules of satire as applied to the Orange in Chief before dividing into themed chapters starting with ‘The Gathering Storm’ in 2015 as the race for the Whitehouse commences, concentrating on minor peccadilloes such as blatant racism and intellectual (in)capacity, and offering a ground-floor “in” for TRUMP the Game

The plot sickens in ‘American Carnage’ as planet Earth learns the true force of twitter-storms and we all discover the value of facts, after which the cartoon range finder focuses on the ‘Team of Deplorables’ and encounters increasingly ‘Stormy Weather’ to bring this fabulously biting history to a close.

And remember, much of the baffling blather in these world balloons still originated with the big orange blowhard himself…

Hilarious, alarming, seditiously informative and gut-bustingly outrageous, #SAD! is another devastating tool of political instruction and character assessment any student of incipient Armageddon can enjoy, because it has loads and loads of really well rendered, easily comprehensible pictures in it.

As the countdown to a new old America goes on diminishing, feel free to buy this book as a warning for 2024. It’s the only real way to make your voice heard in a modern plutocratic democracy…
© 2018 G. B. Trudeau. All rights reserved.

Yuge! – 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump


By G. B Trudeau (Andrews and McMeel)
ISBN: 978-1-44948-133-9 (PB)

I’ve always considered myself the bigger man in most disputes: able to see the other side and above gloating. Turns out, I’m not…

According to someone currently looking for new accommodation somewhere over the Pond, Garry Trudeau is a “sleazeball” “third-rate talent” who draws “overrated” comic strip Doonesbury, which “very few people read.”

The target of the calumny (guess who might have to look that up?) lives in New York City with his wife Jane Pauley, who “has far more talent than he has.”

For those who prefer recorded facts to illiterate, made-up gibber-jabber from the terminally biased and proudly uninformed, Garry Trudeau converted his comic strip Bull Tales – which ran in the Yale University student newspaper Yale Daily News from 1968 to 1970 – into a satirically comedic commentary on politics and contemporary society. He then managed to make it one of the most popular syndicated strips in the world…

“Starring” an everyman liberal college grad, Doonesbury debuted on October 26th 1970, consequently getting to immortalise, lampoon and pass judgement on some of America’s least finest moments and personages; casting a jaundiced eye over domestic and global events, slyly converting them into wry, trenchant comedy gold. He is despised by many conservatives and im-moderates on the Right of America’s political spectrum…

Over the years, as well as amusing millions of folks over there and around the world, the strip has aroused the ire of plenty of political, sporting and media figures – you can call them celebrities if you’re so inclined – whilst winning for the cartoonist acclaim, fame and praise from some quite unlikely sectors of the society he perpetually regards with his gadfly’s eye.

Trudeau’s strip was the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning, and he was awarded Certificates of Achievement from the US Army for strips dealing with the first Gulf War.

In 1995 he won a Reuben Award from the National Cartoonists Society and in 2006 was given the US Army’s Commander’s Award for Public Service for strips about his character BD’s recovery following the loss of a leg in Iraq.

His Mental Health Research Advocacy Award came from the Yale School of Medicine for depiction of mental-health issues facing soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Doonesbury strip proceeds in real time and his large, broad cast of regulars has aged over the decades, whilst always interacting with the causes célèbres of the moment. As such, he has made a fair few enemies through enlisting many real-world oafs and bugbears amongst his long-lived itinerary of returning characters.

Generally, these flesh-&-blood interlopers are represented by an icon – such as a waffle for Bill Clinton, a lit bomb for Newt Gingrich or a Stetson (later a Roman helmet) for George W. Bush – but that’s not always the case.

One of the most vocal – but not necessarily intelligible – targets over the years has been Donald J. Trump (usually depicted as a decadent, fat old white guy) and this superb collection gathers most of the best moments of cartoon lampoonery from three decades of less than cordial interaction.

It all begins with a Preface describing a rather fractious relationship and just why “The Donald” had to become a semi-regular in a comedy feature. The not-so-moneyed-as-he’d-like-us-to-think bully has never been slow to react to any perceived criticism, and he and his lawyers first became acquainted with Doonesbury after Trump’s original timid “Kidding, I was only kidding!” dalliance with running for President in 1987.

That came to nothing, then but the big wind kept blowing and Trudeau kept pointing out a life of hubris, bad taste and excess played out on the screens and in the headlines of the Land of the Free.

Divided into discrete decades, Trudeau’s razor-sharp wit and crushing comedy critiques are re-presented here in full colour, spotlighting the vaulting ambition, sordid deals, shady landlord practises, tawdry hucksterism, serial misogyny, juvenile sexual bragging, grotesque bullying and blind narcissism of “the most unqualified candidate to ever aspire to the White House” over the numerous occasions he almost ran for office before perpetually bottling out at crunch time.

Capping all that cartoon japery is 2016 when he finally put other people’s money where his mouth was and found himself actually in contention for the most important job in the world… one even his own bewildered, terrified party faithful didn’t want him to have…

And the best of all is that Trudeau has had an unwitting collaborator for so much of this material. Most of the baffling blather in those world balloons coming out of cartoon Donald’s mouth originated with the big orange blowhard himself…

Outrageous, alarming, more informative than any cartoon collection has a right to be and side-splittingly funny, Yuge! is a devastating tool of political instruction and character assessment which even the most deplorable basket case can enjoy, because it has loads and loads of really good, simple to understand pictures in it.

Most of us in the rest of the world are breathing Yuge! sighs of relief with only 20 days until everything changes again, but we can still buy this book as a warning for 2024. It’s the only real way to make your voice heard in a modern plutocratic democracy…
™®© 2016 G. B. Trudeau. All rights reserved.

Bloom County: Real, Classy, & Compleat 1980-1989

By Berkeley Breathed (Little, Brown & Co./IDW)
ISBN: 978-1-63140-976-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it Ain’t Seasonal Without Svelte Yet Approachable Waterfowl… 13/10

This review is a blatant deception. As usual, I’ve cited a specific release you should have – especially if you’re a hedonistic sucker for the comfortingly tactile and simultaneously intoxicating buzz of a sturdy, well-bound block of processed tree, glue, stitches and inks containing wonderful stories and images – and it’s worth every penny, but I’m really telling you to take a look at one remarkable creator’s entire output…

For most of the 1980s and half of the 1990s, Berké Breathed dominated the American newspaper comic strip scene with his astoundingly funny, edgy-yet-surreal political fantasy Bloom County (8th December 1980 – August 6th 1989) – and latterly, its Sunday-only spin-off Outland (3rd September 1989 – March 26th 1995)

They are all fully available digitally – so don’t wait for my reviews, just get them now!

At the top of his game and swamped with awards like Pulitzers, Breathed retired from strip work to concentrate on a series of lavish children’s fantasy picture books – such as Red Ranger Came Calling and Mars Needs Moms! They rank among the best America has ever produced. Get them too.

His first foray into the field was 1991’s A Wish for Wings That Work: a Christmas parable featuring Breathed’s signature character, and his most charmingly human. Opus is a talking penguin, reasonably well-educated (for America), archaically erudite, genteel, emotionally vulnerable; insecure yet unfalteringly optimistic. His two most fervent dreams are to be reunited with his absent mother one day, and that one day he might fly like a “real” bird…

From 2003 to 2008, Breathed revived Opus as a Sunday strip, but eventually capitulated to his career-long antipathy to manic deadline pressures in newspaper production and the often-insane, convoluted contradictions of editorial censorship. It seemed his ludicrous yet appealing cast of misfits – all deadly exponents of irony and common sense residing in the heartland of American conservatism – were gone for good.

And then the internet provided a platform for Breathed to resume his role as a gadfly commentator on his own terms. Since 2015, and thanks to Facebook, Bloom County has returned to mock, expose and shame capitalism, celebrities, consumerism, popular culture, politicians, religious leaders and people who act like idiots.

These later efforts, unconstrained by syndicate pressures to not offend advertisers, are also available in book collections. You’ll want those too, and be delighted to learn that all Breathed’s Bloom County work is available in digital formats – fully annotated to compensate for the history gap if you didn’t live through events such as Iran-Gate, Live-Aid, Star Wars (both cinematic and military versions), assorted cults and televangelists experiencing less that divine retribution and the other tea-cup storms that have made us Baby Boomers so rude and defensive…

Once more, I find myself recommending an entire canon of work rather than a specific volume, but Bloom County, Outland, Opus and – oh, Joy of Joys, unbound! – the triumphant second coming of Bloom County in recent years are absolute classics of comics creation: political, polemical, sardonic, surreal, groundbreaking, witty, acerbic frequently angry and always, ALWAYS cripplingly funny.

I barely survived those years and can honestly admit it’s probably the best treatise of modern history and social criticism you will ever see.

Set firmly in The Heartland – what we’ve recently accepted as Trump’s fact-resistant base territory – the strip lampoons fads, traditions and icons through the lens of young kids and a menagerie of astute talking animals all living in or around the Bloom Boarding House. Also adding to the confusions are bastions and bulwarks of American society: horny ambulance-chasing jock lawyer Steve Dallas, Vietnam survivor Cutter John, liberal feminist school teacher Bobbi Harlow, New Age hippie Quiche Lorraine, corrupt Senator Bedfellow and many more lampoonable archetypes…

The true stars though are the kids and beasts who perpetually vex, perplex and test them, asking questions and taking actions to set the old order “all higgledy-piggledy” – such as their creation of a third force in politics: The Meadow Party that has (unsuccessfully, thus far) fought every presidential election since 1980…

Hilarious, biting, wildly imaginative and crafted with a huge amount of sheer emotional guts and empathy, these strips are simply incomparable. If you love laughter, despise chicanery and adore unique characters and great art, this is a universe you simply must inhabit.

And while you’re at it, get those other books I mentioned. It can’t be Christmas without them. When the family have almost ruined the holiday, of if you find yourself somewhere other than where you’d want or expect to be, this is what you want to restore your spirits. Kids too…
© 2017, 2020 Berkeley Breathed. All Rights Reserved.