Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

By Hergé (Egmont)
ISBN: 978-1-40521-477-3 (HB)                    978-1-40526-651-2 (PB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created a true masterpiece of graphic literature with his many tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates. Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and the Hergé Studio, Hergé completed 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

Like Charles Dickens with the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Hergé died while working, so final outing Tintin and Alph-Art remains a volume without a conclusion, but still a fascinating examination – and a pictorial memorial of how the artist worked.

It’s only fair though, to ascribe a substantial proportion of credit to the many translators whose diligent contributions have enabled the series to be understood and beloved in 38 languages. The subtle, canny, witty and slyly funny English versions are the work of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner.

On leaving school in 1925, Remi worked for Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle where he seems to have fallen under the influence of its Svengali-like editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. The following year, the young artist (himself a dedicated boy scout) produced his first strip series – The Adventures of Totor – for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of Le XXe Siécle’s children’s weekly supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was unhappily illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette (written by the staff sports reporter) when Abbot Wallez urged Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who would travel the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues? And also, perhaps highlight and expose some the Faith’s greatest enemies and threats…?

Having recently discovered the word balloon in imported newspaper strips, Remi decided to incorporate this simple yet effective innovation into his own work. He would produce a strip that was modern and action-packed. Beginning on January 10th 1929, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets appeared in weekly instalments in Le Petit Vingtiéme, eventually running until May 8th 1930.

The boy-hero – a combination of Ideal Good Scout and Remi’s own brother Paul (a soldier in the Belgian Army) – would be accompanied by his dog Milou (Snowy to us Brits) and report back all the inequities from the “Godless Russias”.

The strip’s prime conceit was that Tintin was an actual foreign correspondent for Le Petit Vingtiéme

Arriving in Russia, the dog and his boy are constantly subjected to a series of attacks and tricks in a vain scheme by the Soviets to prevent the truth of their failed economic progress, specious popular feeling and wicked global aspirations being revealed to the Free World.

In a manic, breathless progression of fights, chases, slapstick accidents and futile attempts to bribe and corrupt him – or worse –  a hint of Tintin as a capable, decent and resourceful hero can be seen to gel on every progressive page as he thwarts the plots of the Bolsheviks and Moscow’s ubiquitous Secret Police…

Week by week, page by page, Tintin “gets away clean” in all manner of fast and flashy machines – all lovingly rendered in a stylised, meta-realistic manner not yet used for the human characters. This is a clear forerunner of Hergé’s Ligne Claire drawing style which develops rapidly as the plucky lad makes his way back across Europe to a rapturous welcome in Belgium, and with every kilometre covered, the personalities of the characters move beyond action-ciphers towards the more fully realised universal boy-hero we all know today.

The strip itself is very much a work-in-progress, primitive both in narrative and artistic execution. But amidst the simplified line, hairsbreadth chases and grossly simplistic anti-communistic polemic there is something… an intriguing hint of things to come.

Rendered in sleek monochrome, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was one of the last adventures to be published in English and is still available in both hardback and paperback editions.

Although possibly still a little controversial (and not ideal for the stated target market of eight years old and up), this is a highly readable, joyously thrilling, exuberant and deeply informative romp for any fan of the comic strip medium.

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets: artwork © 1999 Editions Casterman, Paris& Tournai.
Text ©1999, 2007Casterman/Moulinsart. All Rights Reserved.

Growing Old with B.C. – A 50 Year Celebration

By Johnny Hart (Checker BPG)
ISBN: 978-1-905239-63-4 (HB)                    978-1-933160-68-9 (PB)

John Lewis Hart was born in Endicott, New York in 1931, and his first published cartoons appeared in military newspaper Stars and Stripes while he served with the US Air Force during the Korean War. On returning to Civvy Street in 1953, he sold a few gags to The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers Weekly and elsewhere, but had to earn a living as a general designer.

In 1958, for some inexplicable reason, caveman jokes were everywhere in magazines and comics (even latterly creeping onto TV and into movies). Despite all the dawn-age foofaraw, General Electric draughtsman and still-wannabe cartoonist Johnny Hart hadn’t sold a single one. He also desperately wanted to create a syndicated newspaper strip but couldn’t think of an idea.

And then one of his co-workers said why not do a strip feature one about Cavemen? Just like Alley Oop, but different…

Hart took a good look at the state of the world, and especially the people around him and the wryly outrageous social commentarians supporting and harassing hapless nebbish lead B.C. quickly took shape…

The concept sold instantly to the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate and the strip rapidly became a global hit, with the first of 41 collected editions (Hey! B.C.) released in 1959.

In 1964 Hart started collaborating with fellow cartoonist Brant Parker on a new strip. The Wizard of Id also became a monster hit. The features won Hart an astounding host of awards over the years: making him one of only 4 American cartoonists to produce two strips appearing contiguously in more than 1000 newspapers.

Hart died of a stroke on April 7th 2007. He was working at his drawing board. Brant Parker passed away eight days later.

Hart became a devout Christian during the mid-1980s – something which increasingly and controversially manifested in later strips – but his urgent need to preach and share took a long time to impact the trenchant, whimsically surreal wit and primal by-play of his primordial playpen…

B.C. is a modern everyday kind of guy: a general slob just getting by, but he has some odd and interesting friends breaking up the monotony of the pre-civilised world. These include self-proclaimed genius Peter, superstitious misogynist Wiley, proto-prime nerd Clumsy Carp, pre-human missing-link Grog, uber-sarcastic Curls and rakish lady-killer Thor.

Apparently, all of them are based on actual people – life-long friends of Hart’s – and their candid reminiscences provide a charming and poignant insight into the life of one of the most revered and successful cartoonists of modern times.

Other materialised regulars include a variety of talking beasts and inanimate objects: chatty, snappy dinosaurs, ants and ant-eaters, clams, snakes, turtles, birds and an apteryx – but I’m guessing they never had analogues with day-jobs in Eisenhower’s America…

This magnificent tome – available in hardcover, paperback and digital editions – offers a decade-by-decade selection of the best and most memorable B.C. strips, supplemented by a listing of its many awards, and comes stuffed with photographs and observations. This is a delightful commemoration of a truly great and very funny strip.

Hart died during the finishing stages of this book’s creation, making this the best way to celebrate his achievements. His legacy of brain-tickling, absurdist lunacy will never date, and creative anachronism has never been better used to raise a smile or an eyebrow in this lush collection of timely and timeless fun.
B.C. © 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc. B.C.© 1958-2006 John L. Hart Family Limited Partnership.

The Boondocks: Fresh for ’01… You Suckas!

By Aaron McGruder (Andrews McMeel)
ISBN: 978-0-7407-1395-8

Unlike editorial cartooning, newspaper comic strips generally prosper by avoiding controversy. Other than a few notable exceptions – such as the mighty Doonesbury – daily and Sunday gag continuities aim to keep their readers amused, complacent and mostly uncomplaining.

Such was not the case with Aaron McGruder’s brilliant and much missed The Boondocks.

The strip ran from February 8th 1996 and ended – despite promises of a swift return – with the February 28th 2006 instalment. You might have seen the adapted and animated version on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim a few years ago…

The feature was created for pioneer online music website Hitlist.com and quickly began a print incarnation in Hip-Hop magazine The Source. On 3rd December, the strip started appearing in national periodical The Diamondback before, following an editorial bust-up, McGruder pulled the strip in March 1997.

Nevertheless, it thrived after it was picked up by the Universal Press Syndicate. Re-launched nationally, The Boondocks had over 300 client subscribers, reaching – and regularly offending – millions of readers every day. Such was the content and set-up that the strip was constantly dropped by editors, and complaints from readers were pretty much perpetual.

What could possibly make a cartoon continuity such a lightning rod yet still have publishers so eager to keep it amongst their ever-dwindling stable of strip stars?

The Boondocks was always fast, funny, thought-provoking, funny, ferociously socially aware and perfectly honed for a modern black readership.

And it was Funny. Very, very Funny.

Most amazingly, after all these years, it still is, even though – not so shockingly – the social ills regularly highlighted in its panels remain undiminished to bedevil the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave…

The series never sugar-coated anything – except intemperate language – whilst bringing contemporary issues of race to the table every day. This was a strip many African American readers always wanted to read… even if they didn’t necessarily agree with what was being said and seen…

The narrative premise is deceptively, deliciously sitcom-simple, yet conceals a potent surprise in its delivery. Huey Freeman is an incredibly smart, well-informed black youngster who spent his formative years on Chicago’s South Side, immersed in black history, the philosophy of power, radical and alternative politics and most importantly The Streets.

His little brother Riley is mired in Hip-Hop and the trappings of Gangsta Rap. Yet suddenly one day they are both uprooted and whisked out of their comfort zone as their grandfather Robert assumes custody of them and moves the entire family to the whiter-than-white suburb of Woodcrest in semi-rural Maryland.

It’s mutual culture shock of epic proportions on all sides…

Huey (proudly boasting that he’s named for Black Panther co-founder Dr Huey Percy Newton) perpetually expounds his strident brand of radical rhetoric and pointedly calls out hypocrisy from the well-meaning but inherently patronising all-Caucasian township, but also finds equal amounts of hilarious disgust and venomous opprobrium for those overbearing, overhyped aspects of modern Black Culture our young rebel deems stupid, demeaning or self-serving…

Riley mostly likes scaring the oh-so-polite white folks and dreaming of the days he’s gonna have fast cars and shiny guns…

The Norman Rockwell picture-postcard setup really freaks them out: the air is clean, there are no tagged walls or take-out stores and old white people keep coming up to say hello…

The first recognizable semblance of normality occurs after another new family moves in next door. Thomas and Sarah Dubois are dyed-in-the-wool woolly liberals: yuppies, lawyers and Woodcrest’s first interracial couple.

Moreover, – and although she doesn’t understand any of the stuff Huey taunts her with – their daughter Jazmine is the suburb’s third black child… like, ever…

Even though Jazmine never thought of herself as any colour, Huey is determined to raise her consciousness… when he’s not taking her establishment-conditioned black dad to task on what colour his soul actually is…

Huey’s far less keen on the stalker-like attentions of Cindy McPhearson: a girl from school who has fallen under the mesmerising spell of network TV’s version of Black Culture. She wants to meet – or actually be – Snoop Doggy Dogg. Cindy hasn’t heard the term “Wigga” yet and Huey ain’t doing nothing but avoiding her: a tricky proposition since she sits behind him in class asking ever-dumber questions.

The boys’ enrolment at Edgar J. Hoover Elementary School caused many sleepless nights for Principal Williams but he cleverly borrowed a few videos (Menace II Society; Shaft’s Big Score) to get him up to speed on the special needs of “inner city ghetto youth” and is now assured that his terrified teachers can handle any possible hurdles the vast variance in backgrounds might cause…

In this second monochrome paperback (or eBook) collection, the class, race and generational conflict resumes with Huey and Grandpa squaring off over beloved cultural icons such as Otis Redding against Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, before a new school year and an imminent Presidential Election throw a whole new swathe of injustices and potential disaster in Huey’s face…

However, the media’s dumbing-down of all important issues, the cultural atrocities playing on the radio from Woodcrest’s “only black station” or the excruciating embarrassment of poor Mr. Petto negotiating the hurdles of trying to teach Black History Month classes are as nothing compared to Cindy’s latest obsession: dreary, corporate music sell-out Sean Puffy Puff Daddy Combs…

Huey’s trenchant, non-stop spleen and ire eventually find suitable outlet after he creates his own newspaper – The Free Huey World Report – but just as the saccharine oppression seems most potent: when Huey and Riley have apparently assimilated as much as they’re ever going to in whiter-than-white Woodcrest, another black kid transfers to the school and tips the balance of power again.

Michael Caesar is from Brooklyn and brings his own unique attitudes to the ever-destabilised status quo and is more than happy to spend some time working to bring about The Revolution…

Peppered with hilarious and outrageous commentary on the many forgettable candidates in the 2000 election (anybody remember Alan Keyes or Ralph Nader?), highlights here include Huey agreeing to teach clueless Thomas Dubois to access in his inner blackness, Riley’s constant applications to join the NRA (because they can probably get him guns) and Huey exposing subliminal messages in candidate George W. Bush’s campaign ads…

And then Grandpa Robert sells out: beginning a part-time job with the Census Bureau, taking names and spying on the people as an agent of the counter-revolutionary, pro-establishment forces of oppression…

Don’t go away with the misapprehension that The Boondocks is a declamatory polemical diatribe, drowning in its own message. First and foremost, this is a strip about kids growing up, just like Bloom County or Calvin and Hobbes. Some of the most memorable riffs come from the boys’ reactions to the ongoing travesties of the revived Star Wars franchise or black actors in superhero movies; Cindy’s wholehearted adoption of television advertising tropes and sacrosanct cultural touchstone “The Blues” and Huey’s procrastinating war with himself over mowing the lawn…

Bonkers, hilariously sharp, charmingly addictive and still with a vast amount to say, The Boondocks is a strip you need to see if you cherish speaking Wit as well as Truth to Power…
The Boondocks © 2001 by Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Breaking the 10 volume 2

By Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-117-8

If God exists, why does he hate us?

It’s a question that has been asked countless times and – naturally – there has never been a universally satisfactory answer, but it’s made for plenty of philosophical and theological debate. It’s also provided many superb dramatists, satirists and comedians with a platform to create challenging and engaging stories of what might happen when the specimens in the cosmic Petri dish start complaining about the way we’ve been treated…

Scottish émigré and citizen of the world Seán Michael Wilson is a past master of “Deep” comics confronting real issues (Portraits of Violence – An Illustrated History of Radical Thinking; Goodbye God? – an Illustrated Examination of Science Vs Religion with Hunt Emerson) but is equally at home with more mainstream strip material such as The Story of Lee, Sweeney Todd or AX: Alternative Manga.

In the first volume of Breaking the 10 he combined fundamental life questions with an enticing manga sensibility to craft a powerfully absorbing tale of crushed hope, bitter disillusionment and grief-filled reaction. Simultaneous funny and thought-provoking, Breaking the 10 shared the tale of bereaved survivor and (formerly) devout Christian David

Compounding the heretical soul-searching here is award-winning illustrator Michiru Morikawa, who previously collaborated with Wilson on Yakuza Moon, Demon’s Sermon, Musashi and The Faceless Ghost and affords a sleek, seductive pictorial allure to the sordid affairs…

When David’s wife and child were cruelly taken from him by a hit-&-run driver, the tragic survivor broke inside. Grieving and enraged, he demanded a meeting with God and a chance to force Him to explain His actions and motivations. With no response to prayer and no other recourse, David resolved to become a sinner, methodically and systematically breaking the Ten Commandments.

Regardless of the harm he inflicted upon others around him, the aggrieved apostate meticulously contravened the first five – Thou shalt not… steal; …Covet your neighbor’s house, wife, male servant, female servant, ox, donkey, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s; Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy; Thou shalt not make for yourself a graven image’ and ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbors’ – despite the unwarranted and repeated interventions of two strangers fostering their own agendas…

As the campaign of heresy unfolded, these two antithetical gentlemen moved from merely watching David to actively offering counsel and unwelcome advice. Mr. Black and Mr. White are as different as two people can be: each propounding a harsh, doctrinaire and unequivocal stance at opposite ends of the emotional and religious spectrum…

David listens but will not heed either one, nor does he believe them the supernatural advocates they seem to be. Whilst they bicker over him or debate with him, it’s clear that they don’t know what the true game plan actually is and – as his celestial attention-getting antics escalate – they are proved to be utterly ineffectual in influencing him one way or the other…

Nothing is as it appears: White may well be the agent of an Interventionist creator, but his opposite number claims to be a simple disciple of a modern humanist rationalism rather than an operative of any supernatural Infernal Antagonist…

David doesn’t really care: his first assaults upon scripture might have offended all the Abrahamic religions and gained him a certain notoriety in the media but he’s no closer to God than before. It’s time to up the ante and hope the intransigence silence ends before he gets to the Tenth Commandment…

In Chapter one, while still pondering his course, David is approached by Mr. Black who helpfully points out that the sinner is labouring under an accounting error and has actually broken six Commandments thanks to how he dealt with the Coveting one. David will not hear it, and carries on planning how best to tackle ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, but the heated arguments Mr. Black makes are irrefutable…

With his mind shredding as much as his life has, David heads for the local church for ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’, but is intercepted and physically contained by Mr. White. Shrugging off the beating, David fitfully shares his doubts with the scripture-spouting intercessionary: in a world where profanity and blasphemy are commonplace and ubiquitous how can he break this one? Lulled into a discussion on how politicians might use god and religion to further their own ambitions, Mr. White inadvertently gets lured onto other Christian “hot-button” topics and provides David with his answer and plan of attack, leading directly into the truly appalling and sacrilegious actions necessary to destroy the edict ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’

With God still a no-show David then must steel himself for what is an incomprehensibly difficult task. Having overcome his scruples to harm innocents is one thing, but the things he says to his own parents before satisfactorily flouting ‘Honor your father and your mother’ leaves him dazed and furious…

With only one Commandment left unsullied, David again demands his meeting with the Supreme Being and is astonished when he finally has a vision. Sadly, after debating with God he wakes up in hospital and cannot accept that his unsatisfactory hallucination counts…

After Black and White contentiously visit him and sow more discord and confusion, David realises he must go the distance…

This is in many ways the most straightforward Commandment to break. Obtaining a gun, David heads for the local primary school, with ‘Thou shalt not kill’ burning in his brain…

Merging theosophy, political critique, a razor-sharp crash-course in ethics and responsibility whilst confronting faith, rationalism and religion in a genuinely funny and scary tragedy of everyday melodrama, Breaking the 10 asks hard questions in a deceptively easy-going manner.

Moreover, unlike previous graphic novels addressing this timeless theme – such Eisner’s A Contract with God or Garth Ennis & Warren Pleece’s True Faith – David’s eventual epiphanies and ultimate fate come more from pliable, tractable human nature than resolute divine order or intervention

Enquiring, engaging and utterly entertaining, this is a parable no saint or sinner should miss and every questing thinker should consider.
© 2018 Seán Michael Wilson & Michiru Morikawa.
Breaking the 10 volume 2 will released on February 2nd 2018 and can be pre-ordered now. It is also available in all e-book formats.
For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/

The World of Pont

By Graham Laidler, with an introduction by Richard Ingrams (Nadder Books)
ISBN: 0-90654-038-0

Graham Laidler was born in Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne-on July 4th 1908, son of a prominent painter and decorator. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory school and Glenalmond in Perthshire, he was 13 when his father died and the family relocated to Buckinghamshire. Always captivated by cartooning, he channelled his artistic proclivities into more traditionally profitable avenues to support his widowed mother: training as an architect at the London School of Architecture from 1926-1931.

Perpetually dogged by ill-health, Laidler moonlighted as a cartoonist and in 1930 began a long-running domestic comedy strip entitled The Twiffs for The Women’s Pictorial. In 1932 he was diagnosed with a tubercular kidney and advised to live in healthier climates than ours. By August of that year he had sold his first cartoon to that most prestigious bulwark of British publishing: Punch.

Laidler was so popular that editor E.V. Knox took the unprecedented step of putting him under exclusive contract. With financial security established and his unique arrangement with Punch in place the artist began travelling the world. On the way he drew funny pictures, mostly of “The English” both at home and abroad, eventually generating 400 magnificent, immortal cartoons until his death in 1940, aged 32.

A charmingly handsome and charismatically attractive young man, Laidler visited Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, America and many other exotic, exceedingly not British places. He won his nickname and nom-de-plume in Rome during an incident with two “Vestal Virgin” travelling companions after which he was forevermore “Pontifex Maximus” or “Pont” to the likes of you and me…

His greatest gift was an almost-surgical gift for observation of social and cultural minutiae: gleaning picaresque detail and broad attitude which he disingenuously translated through his gently humorous graphic commentaries into simultaneously incisive and genteel, baroque and subtle picture-plays encapsulating the funniest of moments on every subject pertaining to the great Enigma of Being English in Public and Getting Away with It…

His work was collected into a number of books during his lifetime and since, and his influence as humourist and draughtsman can still be felt in many areas of comedy and cartooning.

Although he excelled in the strip cartoon format, Pont’s true mastery was in telling a complete story with a single perfect drawing. His carefully crafted images exemplified the British to the world at large and – most importantly – to ourselves.

During World War II the Nazis, with typical sinister efficiency, used his drawings as the basis of their anti-British propaganda when they invaded Holland, further confirming to the world the belief that Germans Have No Sense of Humour.

As Pont, for eight far-too-brief years, Graham Laidler became an icon and global herald of English life and you would be doing yourself an immense favour in tracking down his work. If you like Ealing comedies, Alistair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, St. Trinian’s and the Molesworth books or the works of Thelwell, Ronald Searle or Flanders and Swann, you won’t regret the effort.

Incomprehensibly, despite his woefully small output there still doesn’t seem to be a definitive archival collection of Pont’s work. One again I implore any potential publisher reading this to take the hint, but until then, for the rest of us there’s just the thrill of the hunt and the promised bounty in seeking out slim tomes such as The British Character, The British at Home, The British Carry On, Most of us are Absurd, Pont or this particularly rare magical compendium.

The World of Pont is the perfect primer of his historical hilarity; sampling the best of Laidler’s drawn divinations from his themed Punch series’ ‘The British Observed’; ‘The British at War’; ‘Popular Misconceptions’; ‘The British Woman’ and last but certainly not least, ‘The British Man’.

If you love great drawing and excoriating observational wit you’ll thank me. If you just want a damn good laugh, you’ll reward yourself with the assorted works of Pont.
© 1983, 2007 the estate of Graham Laidler.

Comics at War

By Denis Gifford (Hawk Books)
ISBN: 978-0-96824-885-6

Very often the books we write about our comics are better than the stories and pictures themselves: memorable, intensely evocative and infused with the debilitating nostalgic joy that only passing years and selective memory bestows.

That’s not meant in any way to denigrate or decry the superb works of the countless -generally unrecognised and generally unlauded – creators who brightened the days of generations of children with fantastic adventures and side-splitting gags in those so flimsy, so easily lost and damaged cheap pamphlets, but rather because of an added factor inherent in these commemorative tomes: by their very existence they add the inestimable value and mystery of Lost, Forgotten or Buried Treasures into the mix.

A perfect example is this copious chronicle released as an anniversary item in 1988 to celebrate the wartime delights rationed out to beleaguered British lads and lasses, compiled by possibly the nation’s greatest devotee and celebrant of childish pastimes and halcyon days.

Denis Gifford was a cartoonist, writer, TV show deviser and historian who loved comics. As both collector and creator he gave his life to strips and movies, acquiring items and memorabilia voraciously, consequently channelling his fascinations into more than fifty books on Film, Television, Radio and Comics; imparting his overwhelming devotion to a veritable legion of fans.

If his works were occasionally short on depth or perhaps guilty of getting the odd fact wrong, he was nevertheless the consummate master of enthusiastic remembrance. He deeply loved the medium in concept and in all its execution, from slipshod and rushed to pure masterpieces with the same degree of passion and was capable of sharing – infecting almost – a casual reader with some of that fierce wistful fire.

With hundreds of illustrative examples culled from his own collection, this volume was released to commemorate the outbreak of World War II and revels in the magnificent contributions to morale generated by a battalion of artists and (usually anonymous) writers, covering the output – in breadth if not depth – of an industry that endured and persevered under appalling restrictions (paper was a vital war resource and stringently rationed), inciting patriotic fervour and providing crucial relief from the stresses and privation of the times.

Abandoning academic rigour in favour of inculcating a taste of the times, this book reprints complete sample strips of the period beginning with the affable tramps and Jester cover stars Basil and Bert (by George Parlett), covering the start of the war in four strips from January to November 1939, before dividing the collection into themed sections such as Be Prepared: with examples of Norman Ward’s Home Guard heroes Sandy and Muddy from Knock-Out and John Jukes’ Marmaduke, the Merry Militiaman from Radio Fun.

At War With the Army displays the ordinary Englishman’s perennial problem with Authority – with episodes of Koko the Pup and Desperate Dan (respectively by Bob MacGillivray and Dudley Watkins from D.C. Thomsons’ Magic and The Dandy); Weary Willie and Tired Tim (from Chips and superbly rendered by Percy Cocking), as well as stunning two-tone and full colour examples from Tip-Top, The Wonder and others.

Tanks a Million! offers selections from the height of the fighting, and brings us head-on into the controversial arena of ethnic stereotyping. All I can say is what I always do: the times were different. Mercifully we’ve moved beyond the obvious institutionalised iniquities of casual racism and sexism (maybe not so much on that last one though?) and are much more tolerant today (unless you’re obese, gay, a smoker, or childless and happy about it), but if antiquated attitudes and caricaturing might offend you, don’t read old comics, or watch vintage films or cartoons – it’s your choice and your loss.

The strip that sparked this tirade is an example of Stymie and his Magic Wishbone from Radio Fun (a long-running strip with a black boy-tramp in the tradition of minstrel shows) from a chapter highlighting the comic strip love-affair with armoured vehicles and including many less controversial examples from Tiger Tim’s Weekly, Knock-Out, Chips and The Dandy, featuring stars such as Our Ernie, Our Gang, Stonehenge, Kit the Ancient Brit and Deed-A-Day Danny.

…And if you think we were hard on innocent and usually allied non-white people just wait till you see the treatment dealt to Germans, Italians and Japanese by our patriotic cartoonists…

At Sea with the Navy! highlights nautical manoeuvres from Casey Court (Chips, and by Albert Pease); Rip Van Wink (Beano, James Crichton); Lt. Daring and Jolly Roger (from Golden by Roy Wilson; Billy Bunter (Knock-Out by Frank Minnitt); Hairy Dan (Beano, Basil Blackaller) and Pitch and Toss (Funny Wonder, Roy Wilson again) whilst Sinking the Subs takes us below the surface with Our Ernie, Desperate Dan, Koko, Pansy Potter, Alfie the Air Tramp and Billy Bunter.

Britain’s fledgling flying squad takes centre-stage with In the Air with the R.A.F. featuring Freddie Crompton’s Tiny Tots, Korky the Cat from Dandy, The Gremlins (Knock-Out, by Fred Robinson) and yet more Koko the Pup.

Awful Adolf and his Nasty Nazis! demonstrates and deftly depicts just what we all thought about the Axis nations and even indulges in some highly personal attacks against prominent personages on the other side, beginning with Sam Fair’s riotously ridiculing Addie and Hermy, (Beano’s utterly unauthorised adventures of misters Hitler and Goering), whilst Our Ernie, Lord Snooty, Pitch and Toss, Big Eggo (Beano, by Reg Carter), Plum and Duff (Comic Cuts, Albert Pease) and the staggeringly offensive Musso the WopHe’s a Big-a-Da-Flop (Beano, Artie Jackson and others) all cheered up the home-front with macerating mockery.

Doing Their Bit then gathers wartime exploits of the nation’s stars and celebrities (turning Britain’s long love affair with entertainment industry figures into another True Brit bullet at the Boche. Strips featuring Tommy Handley, Arthur Askey, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Warner, Flanagan and Allen, Haver and Lee, The Western Brothers, Sandy Powell, Old Mother Riley (featuring Lucan & McShane), Claude Hulbert, Duggie Wakefield, Joe E. Brown, Harold Lloyd, Lupino Lane and Laurel and Hardy included here were collectively illustrated by Reg and George Parlett, Tom Radford, John Jukes, Bertie Brown, Alex Akerbladh, George Heath, Norman Ward and Billy Wakefield.

The kids themselves are the stars of Evacuation Saves the Nation! as our collective banishment of city-bred children produced a wealth of intriguing possibilities for comics creators.

Vicky the Vacky (Magic, George Drysdale), Our Happy Vaccies (Knock-Out, by Hugh McNeill) and Annie Vakkie (Knock-Out, by Frank Lazenby) showed readers the best way to keep their displaced chins up before Blackout Blues! finds the famous and commonplace alike suffering from night terrors…

Examples here include Grandma Jolly and her Brolly, Will Hay, the Master of Mirth, Ben and Bert, Barney Boko, Crusoe Kids, Grandfather Clock, Constable Cuddlecock and Big Ben and Little Len after which Gas Mask Drill finds the funny side of potential asphyxiation with choice strips such as Stan Deezy, Hungry Horace, Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, Good King Coke and Cinderella all encountering difficulties with Britain’s most essential useless fashion accessory…

Barrage Balloons! lampoons the giant sky sausages that made life tricky for the Luftwaffe with examples from Luke and Len the Odd-Job Men (Larks and by Wally Robertson), It’s the Gremlins, Alfie the Air Tramp, and In Town this Week from Radio Fun whilst Tuning Up the A.R.P.! deals out the same treatment to the valiant volunteers who patrolled our bombed-out streets after dark. Those Air Raid Precautions patrols get a right (albeit roundly good natured) sending up in strips starring Deed-A-Day Danny, Big Eggo, P.C. Penny, Ben and Bert, Marmy and His Ma, Lord Snooty and his Pals, The Tickler Twins in Wonderland, Our Ernie, Tootsy McTurk, Boy Biffo the Brave and Pa Perkins and his Son Percy.

The girls finally get a go in the vanguard with Wow! Women of War! starring Dandy’s Keyhole Kate and Meddlesome Matty (by Allan Morley and Sam Fair respectively); Dolly Dimple (Magic, Morley again), Tell Tale Tilly, Peggy the Pride of the Force, Pansy Potter the Strongman’s Daughter, Big Hearted Martha Our A.R.P. Nut and Kitty Clare’s Schooldays whilst the Home Guard stumble to the fore once more in a section entitled Doing Their Best with examples from Tootsy McTurk (Magic, John Mason), Casey Court, Lord Snooty, Deed-A-Day Danny and Big Eggo.

The peril of imminent invasion was always in the air and the embattled cartoonists sensibly responded with measured insolence. Hop It, Hitler! displays our pen-pushers’ fighting spirit with examples such as Bamboo Town (Dandy, Chick Gordon), Sandy and Muddy, Pansy Potter, the astonishingly un-PC Sooty Snowball, Hair-Oil Hal Your Barber Pal and Stonehenge Kit, before espionage antics are exposed in I Spy Mit Mein Little Eye! in Laurie and Trailer the Secret Service Men plus even more Sandy and Muddy, Herr Paul Pry, Big Eggo and Lord Snooty.

Wireless War! celebrates both radio stars and enemy broadcasts with a selection from Tommy Handley, Troddles and his Pet Tortoise Tonky-Tonk, Happy Harry and Sister Sue, Crackers the Perky Pup, Our Gang and a couple of examples of John Jukes’ sublimely wicked Radio Fun strip Lord Haw-Haw – The Broadcasting Humbug from Hamburg.

To Blazes With the Firemen! is a rather affectionate and jolly examination of one of the toughest of home front duties with a selection of strips including Podge (whose dad was a fire-fighter, drawn by Eric Roberts for Dandy), Casey Court, Pansy Potter and In Town This Week.

Rationing was never far from people’s minds and an art-form where the ultimate reward was usually “a slap-up feed” perfectly lambasted the necessary measures in many strips. Examples here include The Bruin Boy from Tiny Tim’s Weekly; Freddy the Fearless Fly (Dandy, Allan Morley), Cyril Price’s vast ensemble cast from Casey Court (courtesy of Chips), Our Ernie and Dudley Watkins’ Peter Piper from Magic, all in need of Luvly Grub!

Under the miscellaneous sub-headings of Salvage!, Comical Camouflage!, Workers Playtime! and Allies, strips featuring Ronnie Roy the India-rubber Boy, Ding Dong Dally, Desperate Dan, Tin-Can Tommy the Clockwork Boy, Big Hearted Arthur and Dicky Murdoch and other stalwarts all gather hopeful momentum as the Big Push looms and this gloriously inventive and immensely satisfying compilation heads triumphantly towards its conclusion.

V for Victory! sees a telling gallery of strips celebrating the war’s end and better tomorrows; featuring final sallies from Casey Court, Weary Willie and Tired Tim, a stunning Mickey Mouse Weekly cover by Victor Ibbotson, It’s That Man Again – Tommy Handley, Laurel and Hardy and – from Jingles – Albert Pease has the last word with ‘Charlie Chucklechops Speaking… About New Uses for Old War materials’

Some modern fans find a steady diet of these veteran classics a little samey and formulaic – indeed even I too have trouble with some of the scripts – but the astonishing talents of the assembled artists here just cannot be understated. These are great works by brilliant comic stylists which truly stand the test of time. Moreover, in these carefully selected, measured doses these tales salvaged from a desperate but somehow more pleasant and even enviable time are utterly enchanting. This book is long overdue for a new edition and luckily for you is still available through many internet retailers.
Text and compilation © 1988 Denis Gifford. © 1988 Hawk Books. All rights reserved.

Willie and Joe: the WWII Years

By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-838-1 (HB)                                978-1-60699-439-9 (PB)

During World War II a talented, ambitious young man named William Henry “Bill” Mauldin (29/10/1921 – 22/01/2003) fought “Over There” with the 45th Division of the United States Infantry as well as many other fine units of the army. He learned to hate war and love his brother soldiers – and the American fighting man loved him back.

During his time in the service he produced civilian cartoons for the Oklahoma City Times and The Oklahoman, and intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News, as well as Yank and Stars and Stripes: the US Armed Forces newspapers. Soon after, his cartoons were being reproduced in newspapers across Europe and America.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” (a term he popularised) giving their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the pointiest of Sharp Ends. Willie and Joe, much to the dismay of the brassbound, spit-and-polish military martinets and diplomatic doctrinaires, became the unshakable, everlasting image of the American soldier: continually revealed in all ways and manners the upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret.

Willie and Joe even became the subject of two films (Up Front – 1951 and Back at the Front – 1952) whilst Willie made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23-year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize.

In 1945 a collection of his drawings, accompanied by a powerfully understated and heartfelt documentary essay, was published by Henry Holt and Co. Up Front was a sensation, telling the American public about the experiences of their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands in a way no historian would or did. A biography, Back Home, followed in 1947.

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge-of-War views became increasingly unpopular during the Cold War and despite being a War Hero his increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour and those efforts are the subject of companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean War and – after an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1956 – finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958.

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and award-studded career. Mauldin only drew Willie and Joe four times in that entire period (for an article on the “New Army” in Life magazine; for the funerals of “Soldier’s Generals” Omar Bradley and George C. Marshall; and to eulogize Milton Caniff). His fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripes vetoed it.

The Willie and Joe cartoons and characters are some of the most enduring and honest symbols of all military history. Every Veterans Day in Peanuts, from1969 to 1999, fellow veteran Charles Schulz had Snoopy turn up at Mauldin’s house to drink Root Beers and tell war stories with an old pal.

When you read Sgt. Rock you’re looking at Mauldin’s legacy, and Archie Goodwin even drafted the shabby professionals for a couple of classy guest-shots in Star-Spangled War Stories (see Showcase Presents the Unknown Soldier).

This immense mostly monochrome compendium (with some very rare colour and sepia items) comes in hardback, softcover and even as an eBook: collecting all Mauldin’s known wartime cartoons and featuring not only the iconic dog-face duo, but also the drawings, illustrations, sketches and gags that led, over 8 years of army life, to their creation.

Mauldin produced most of his work for Regimental and Company newspapers whilst under fire: perfectly capturing the life and context of fellow soldiers – also under battlefield conditions – and gave a glimpse of that unique and bizarre existence to their families and civilians at large, despite constant military censorship and even face-to-face confrontations with Generals such as George Patton, who was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world.

Fortunately, Supreme Commander Eisenhower, if not an actual fan, at least recognised the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with indomitable everymen Willie and Joe

This far removed in time, many of the pieces here might need historical context for modern readers and such is comprehensively provided by the notes section to the rear of the volume. Also included are unpublished pieces and pages, early cartoon works, and rare notes, drafts and sketches.

Most strips, composites and full-page gags, however, are sublimely transparent in their message and meaning: lampooning entrenched stupidity and cupidity, administrative inefficiency and sheer military bloody-mindedness whilst highlighting the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of the ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Moreover, Mauldin never patronises the civilians or demonises the enemy: the German and Italians are usually in the same dismal boat as “Our Boys” and only the war and its brass-bound conductors are worthy of his inky ire…

Let’s just hope that in these tense, “ten-seconds-to-doomsday” times the latest batch of brass-hats and political ass-hats keep that in mind and remember what’s always at stake here…

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, absurdist observation, shared miseries, staggering sentimentality and the total shock and awe of still being alive every morning, this cartoon catalogue of the Last Just War is a truly breathtaking collection no fan, art-lover, historian or humanitarian can afford to miss.

…And it will make you cry and laugh out loud too.

With a fascinating biography of Mauldin that is as compelling as his art, the mordant wit and desperate camaraderie of his work is more important than ever in an age where increasingly cold and distanced leaders send ever-more innocent lambs to further foreign fields for slaughter. With this volume (and the aforementioned Willie & Joe: Back Home) we should finally be able to restore Mauldin and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, his message is never going to be out of date…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Father Kissmass and Mother Claws

By Bel Mooney & Gerald Scarfe (Hamish Hamilton Ltd.)
ISBN: 978-0-24111-700-2

If you’ve finally grown up, Christmas is traditionally a time for tales of monsters and horrors so I’ve dredged up and re-exhumed this wonderful and superbly chilling graphic slice of satire from a time when horrific ghastly beasts stalked through Britain, sowing discomfort and dread where e’er they trod, without a clue what they were doing or a thought for the poor souls they stepped on and destroyed.

In this cold, dark country, the brittle, demonic and so very cruel Mother Claws broods and frets. It’s time once again to put something in the stockings of the Nation’s inhabitants, but she Doesn’t Want To.

She would rather cut things from their stockings – and so she does, with her corpulent, greedy Father Kissmass egging her on.

So very carried away are they, that her herd of Tamedeer – sycophantic self-servers though they be, even Tebbie and Hestle – rebel.

On Christmas Eve they ignore her whips and pull her sleigh to a hovel with a star above it. A homeless couple, with a special newborn baby, reach out to her needing just a little help…

Father Kissmass And Mother Claws was produced at the height of the Thatcher regime and uses dark, strident imagery from brilliant ethical Rottweiler Gerald Scarfe to concoct a savage sidebar to the nativity story for devastating satirical effect.

This swingeing allegory of Thatcher’s Britain is infested with her cabinet’s “Big Beasts” tellingly depicted as cowed pack animals by Scarfe’s flick-knife art, whilst Bel Mooney’s prose is as comforting as a velveteen cosh. This is the best of what graphic satire can do. It’s just a pity today’s leaders don’t warrant the same loving attentions…

No wait, look at the papers! It’s a Christmas miracle! They bloody do. Just squint a bit and tell yourself the names have been changed to protect the far-from-innocent…
Text © 1985 Bel Mooney. Illustrations © 1985 Gerald Scarfe. All Rights Reserved.


By Cathy Malkasian (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-323-1

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a charismatic leader drags an entire nation into a phony war, manipulating facts, twisting good people’s lives, destroying their innocence and fomenting an atmosphere of sustained paranoia and unthinking patriotism – if not literal jingoistic madness.

Then he shuffles out of the picture and lets his – generally incompetent – successors deal with the mess he’s created: those remnants divided equally into well-meaning but clueless ditherers and now-fanatical disciples who think only they can run the show…

The land is in turmoil. Pa is raising a ruckus trying to get his monstrous ark built before the ruthless invaders begin the final attack. Eldest girl Peggy and little Minerva follow as he carves a wake of destructive energy through the landscape. Pa has galvanised the local villagers and they await his command to enter the fortress-city within the monolithic edifice, dubbed “Blessedbowl.”

When Pa begins once more to assault his oldest lass, only hapless Minerva and the trees are witness to the unleashed savagery. Suddenly, a young man rushes to Peg’s rescue, captivating forever the cowering Min. His name is Lester, but despite a terrific struggle the rescuer is no match for Pa’s maniacal vigour. The young man is left brain-damaged and maimed.

Pa bids Min see to Lester. The Doomsayer is lost in his preparations again. The Crisis has arrived…

Three decades pass. Min has married Lester and a thriving community exists within Blessedbowl, a permanent subsistence/siege economy built on paranoia: isolated and united by a common foe that has never been seen and is therefore utterly terrifying.

Moses-like, Pa remained behind when the ark was sealed, to fight a rearguard action. Min is now his regent, efficiently running the closed ecology and economy, bolstered by the devoted attention of Lester, the amnesiac war-hero who lost so much when the invisible enemy launched their final assault…

Min controls the community through reports from the distant front and Lester guards the city within Blessedbowl’s hull. But now his befuddled memory is clearing, and Min, hopelessly in love with him, faces the threat that all that has been so slowly built may come crashing swiftly down…

And this is just the tip of the iceberg in a vast story that – despite being almost a decade old – could well be the best thing you’ll read this year. Created during America’s longest-running war (9 years and by some assessments still running but with another name…) this multi-layered, incisive parable examines how families and countries can be twisted by love, fear and the craziest lies leaders can concoct and yet still seemingly prosper.

As much mystical generational fantasy as veiled allegory, Temperance will open your eyes on so many levels. As events spiral beyond all control the astounding outcome, whilst utterly inevitable will also be a complete surprise… and just wait until you discover the identity of the eponymous narrator…

Mythical, mystical, metaphorical, lyrical, even poetic, here is a modern, timeless tuned-in epic blending Shakespearean passions with soft Orwellian terrors. King Lear and 1984 are grandparents to this subtly striking tale of freedom and honour – personal and communal – foolishly but willingly surrendered to a comfortable, expedient slavery.

Combining trenchant social commentary with spiritually uplifting observation, illustrated in the softest pencil tones – reminiscent of English World War II cartoons (particularly Pont and Bateman, but also the animations of Halas and Batchelor) – this is joy to read, a delight to view and a privilege to own.

We must all do so …
© 2010 Cathy Malkasian. All right reserved. This edition © 2010 Fantagraphics Books, Inc.


By Vehlmann & Kerascoët, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-143-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Daring Dip into the Dark Underside of Life… 9/10

Vehlmann was only born in 1972 yet his prodigious canon of work (from 1998 to the present) has earned him the soubriquet of “the Goscinny of the 21st Century”. As Fabien Vehlmann, he entered the world in Mont-de-Marsan and grew up in Savoie, growing up to study business management before taking a job with a theatre group.

In 1996, after entering a writing contest in Spirou, he caught the comics bug and two years later published – with illustrative collaborator Denis Bodart – a mordantly quirky and sophisticated portmanteau period crime comedy entitled Green Manor. From there on his triumphs grew to include amongst others Célestin Speculoos for Circus, Nicotine Goudron for l’Écho des Savanes and major league property Spirou and Fantasio.

Since then his star has grown brighter and brighter, especially on his collaborations with husband-&-wife team Kerascoët: Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, who work in advertising, animation and fashion when not rendering such glorious comics treats as Beauty, Beautiful Darkness, Miss Don’t Touch Me and the epically expansive Dungeons franchise of inter-linked albums.

Their most recent joint escapade is Satanie, translated into English as the equally disquieting Satania. A seemingly bright and shiny bauble, the tale offers a dark glimpse into inner worlds both physical and psychical as troubled Charlie convinces a disparate band of potholers to help her find her missing brother Christopher.

Rendered in a captivating primitivist style that conceals a potent emotional punch, the unfolding saga finds young Charlotte, elderly priest Father Monsore, Mr Lavergne, Legoff and a handful of other intrepid souls delving deep beneath a mountain in search of the young scientist.

Scientist Christopher held radical evolutionary theories positing that Hell is real and exists far beneath the earth, populated by corporeal beings adapted over eons of natural selection to their harsh subterranean existence. The devils and demons of history and superstition are simply fellow creatures awaiting our discovery and classification and extended arms of friendship and welcome…

However, when a flash flood fills the caverns and forces the explorers deep into uncharted regions, an incredible series of tribulations and revelations begin. A fantastic underground odyssey with lost human civilisations, incredible monsters and unimaginable macro-organisms is boldly undertaken, but as ill-fortune and death constantly dog the party, the survivors quickly realise that although the fantastic creatures they encounter may not be supernally evil, the god-fearing humans have brought their own demons with them into a fresh kind of hell …

An astounding voyage of discovery with breathtaking vistas and inventions, Satania explores the human condition in ways both uncomfortable and wondrous.
© Editions Soleil/Vehlmann/Kerascoët 2016. © 2017 NBM for the English Translation.

For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/