Pogo – The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 3: Evidence to the Contrary


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly & Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-694-2 (HB)

Books of this stature and calibre are worth buying and reading at every moment of every day, and rather than waste your valuable time with my purely extraneous blather, you could just hit the shops or online emporia and grab this terrific tome right now.

If you still need more though, and aren’t put off by me yet, I’m honoured to elucidate at some length…

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and began his cartooning career whilst still in High School as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935 he moved to California and joined the Disney Studio, working on animated short films and such features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio.

His steady ascent was curtailed by the infamous animator’s strike in 1941. Refusing to take sides, Kelly quit, moving back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell who held the Disney rights license – amongst many other popular properties – at that time.

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

For the December 1942-released Animal Comics #1 he created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum, wisely retaining the copyrights to the ongoing saga of two affable Bayou critters and their young African-American pal Bumbazine. Although the black kid soon disappeared, the animal actors stayed on as stars until 1948 when Kelly moved into journalism, becoming art editor and cartoonist for hard hitting, left-leaning liberal newspaper The New York Star.

On October 4thth 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive, ridiculously exuberant characters began their strip careers, appearing in the paper six days a week until the periodical folded in January 1949.

Although ostensibly a gently humorous kids feature, by the end of its New York Star run (reprinted in Pogo: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmerings of an astoundingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary had begun to emerge…

When the paper folded Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, debuting on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets across the nation. A colour Sunday page launched January 29th 1950 and both were produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 and thereafter by his talented wife and family until the feature was at last laid to rest on July 20th 1975.

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

In this third volume (available as a hardback and in eBook editions) of a proposed full dozen reprinting the entire Kelly canon of the Okefenokee Swamp critter citizenry, undoubtedly the main aspect of interest is the full-on comedic assault against possibly the greatest danger and vilest political demagogue America ever endured (at least in the 20th century…) but the counterattack against witch-hunter Senator Joe McCarthy is merely one of the many delights in this stunning mix of free expression and wild and woolly whimsy…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (boasting three-hundred-and-fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome ‘Daily Strips’ from January 1st 1953 to December 31st 1954, and the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 4th to December 26th of the same years.

Supplemental features this time comprise a Foreword from award-winning cartoonist Mike Peters (Mother Goose & Grimm); a wealth of deliriously winning unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly and utterly invaluable context and historical notes in R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ . This last also compellingly, almost forensically, details the rise and fall of rabblerousing “red-baiter” Joe McCarthy and how Kelly courageously opened America’s fight back against the unscrupulous, bullying chancer (and the movement for which he was merely a publicity-hungry figurehead) with an unbeatable combination broadside of ridicule and cool disdain…

The closing biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ by Mark Evanier is supplemented by a comprehensive ‘Index of the Strips’ and a gloriously inspired selection of ‘Noteworthy Quotes’ to fill out the academic needs of the readers, but of course the greatest boon here is the strips and characters themselves.

Kelly was a masterful inventor of engaging and endearing personalities, all of whom carried as many flaws as virtues. The regular roll call (some commentators reckon to be as many as 1000!) included gentle, perpetually put-upon and bemused possum Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous, sensitive Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompously ignorant know-it-all Howland Owl, sveltely seductive skunk Miz Mam’selle Hepzibah, long suffering matron Miz Beaver, maternal Miz Groun’chuck and her incomprehensible, bitey baby Grundoon plus all the other bugs, beasts and young’uns of the swamp, but the author’s greatest strength lay in his uniquely Vaudevillian rogues, scoundrels and outright villains.

The likes of Tammanany Tiger, officious Deacon Mushrat, sinister, sycophantic beatnik communist Catbirds Compeer and Confrere, sepulchral Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred were perfect confections to illustrate all manner of pestilential pettifogging, mean manners and venal self-serving atrocities as they intermingled and interfered with the decent folk volubly enduring the vicissitudes of such day-to-day travails as love, marriage, comicbooks, weather, rival strips, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, cadging food, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other…

In this volume the topics of exotically extravagant conversation include the longevity and worth of New Year’s Resolutions, the scandalous behaviour of Porkeypine’s kissing-thief Uncle Baldwin, a get-rich scheme involving dirt and opening shots at the burgeoning phenomenon of commercial television. However, the gradual conversion of the Deacon’s Boy Bird Watchers society into a self-policing vigilante committee looking out for strangers and making sure all the citizens are right-thinking and proper-looking would quickly insinuate itself into every corner of the feature…

The anti-foreigner sentiments peak following the arrival of Deacon Mushrat’s old pal The Hon. Mole MacCarony; a blind, self-aggrandizing politico determined to root out all (undisclosed) threats, enforce conformity and stamp out the diseases obviously carried by strangers.

The xenophobic dirt-digger was based on Nevada Senator Patrick McCarran who briefly shaped paranoid public opinion on a platform of severely restricting immigration and implementing the speedy deportation of all communists and non-Americans. Clearly and sadly, his poisonous legacy and methodology remains a valuable asset to many politicos and opinion-shapers today…

Things got much darker – and therefore more effectively ludicrous – with the arrival of Mole’s malicious and ambitious associate Simple J. Malarkey – whose bullying tactics soon began to terrify his fellow bigots as much as the increasingly outraged, off-balance citizens…

Eventually the villains fall out and trigger their own downfall, with the mortified Deacon sheepishly denying his part in the fiasco. Peace and (in)sanity return and with sunny days ahead weather-prognosticating frog Picayune debuts, only to suffer a great loss when Albert accidentally ingests the amphibian’s pal Halpha – an amoeba who actually did all the meteorological messing about…

Voracious Albert generally swallowed a lot of things, but his biggest gaffe probably occurs after meeting Roogey Batoon, a pelican impresario who – briefly – managed Flim, Flam and Flo: a singing fish act billed as the Lou’siana Perches

Many intriguing individuals shambled into view at this time: Ol’ Mouse and his tutorial pal Snavely (who taught worms how to be cobras and rattlers), cricket-crazed British bugs Reggie and Alf and family icons Bug Daddy and Chile, but the biggest mover and shaker to be introduced was undoubtedly a sporty Rhode Island Red chicken named Miss Sis Boombah.

The formidable biddy is a physically imposing and prodigiously capable sports enthusiast (and Albert’s old football coach), who wanders in as survey taker for “Dr. Whimsy’s report on the Sectional Habits of U.S. Mail Men” (a brilliant spoof of the societally sensational Kinsey Report on sexual behaviour in America) but her arrival also generates a succession of romantic interludes and debacles which eventually lead to a bewildered Mushrat proposing marriage before leaving her in the lurch and disappearing into the deepest parts of the swamp…

Mole reared his unseeing head again, causing merely minor mischief, but when the marriage-averse Deacon encounters the terrifying Malarkey lurking in hiding with sinister acolyte Indian Charlie (who bears a remarkable resemblance to then-current US Vice-President Richard Milhouse Nixon) the scene is set for another savage and often genuinely scary confrontation…

That’s also exactly what Miss Boombah has in mind as she sets out – accompanied by Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred – to hunt down the scoundrel who left her in the lurch at the church…

Other story strands and insane interludes include such epic mini sagas as the search for an abducted puppy – lampooning TV cop series Dragnet – and a long session on the keeping and proper sharing of secrets, much ado about gossip and the art of being a busybody.

Most memorable of all though, are Churchy’s sudden predilection for dressing up as a pretty little blonde girl, perpetually visiting Martians and poor Pogo’s oddly domestic recipe for A-Bombs…

In his time, satirical supremo Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast upon many other innocent, innocuous celebrity sweethearts such as J. Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as lesser leading lights likes Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon B. Johnson and – with eerie perspicacity – George W. Romney (U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Governor of Michigan and father of some guy named Mitt), but nothing ever compared to his delicious and devilish deconstruction of “Tailgunner Joe” in the two extended sequences reprinted here…

Kelly’s unmatched genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, if not vivaciously, portray through anthropomorphic affectation and apparently frivolous nonsense language comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human.

He used that gift to readily blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre. However, he usually toned down the satirical scalpels for the magnificently imaginative ‘Sunday Funnies’: concentrating instead on fantastic and unfailingly hilarious serial fables and comedy romps.

Some of the best he ever conceived conclude this volume, beginning with the epic saga of little faun Melonbone whose search for the Fountain of Youth inadvertently causes Sam Duck to revert to an egg. The distraught drake’s wife is not best pleased at having to hatch her own husband out at her age (after all, she’s no spring chicken)…

Churchy and Albert endure the ire of sharp toothed tot Grundoon as the kid’s inability to converse leads the alligator to accidentally swallow his turtle pal, after which the animal crackpots all get very lost for a long time in their own swampy backyard…

Howlan Owl’s latest get-rich-quick scheme – digging to China – results in his and Albert’s reluctant consultation of an Atlas and the shocking conclusion that the Russians have taken over Georgia…

The panicked reaction of the chumps precipitates their accidentally awakening an oversleeping bear who opts to celebrate Christmas in the middle of August. Eventually, everybody catches up to him just in time for the true Yule event…

After the usual New Year’s shenanigans, 1954 truly takes hold as everyone’s favourite alligator tries to recount the amazing exploit of ‘King Albert and the 1001 Arabian Knights of the Round Table’ – despite each listener’s evident and express disinterest – before Howlan and Churchy became compulsively embroiled in a furious feud over pugilism.

Soon thereafter Albert is mistaken for a monster after getting his head stuck in a cauldron. Sadly, once he’s finally extricated from the calamitous cookpot, other unhappy folk become the infernal alembic’s unwilling method of locomotion…

No sooner does that culinary catastrophe conclude than the whole sorry fiasco promptly kicks off again with a lovesick octopus now playing transient chapeau to a succession of unfortunate and duly startled swamp critters …

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

This stuff will certainly make you laugh; it will probably provoke a sentimental tear or ten and will certainly satisfy your every entertainment requirement. Timeless and ineffably magical, Pogo is a giant not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent third tome should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the others.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the all politically astute critters – “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.

Pogo Vol. 3: Evidence to the Contrary and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2014 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2014 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Cave Girls of the Lost World,


By Richard Sala (Fantagraphics Books Digital Exclusive)
No ISBN: ASIN: B07H487P65

Richard Sala is a lauded and much-deserving darling of the Literary Comics movement (if such a thing exists), blending beloved pop culture artefacts and conventions – particularly cheesy comics and old horror films – with a hypnotically effective ability to tell a graphic tale. His compelling pictorial sagas appeal greatly to kids of all ages.

He grew up in Chicago and Arizona before earning a Masters Degree in Fine Arts. Soon after beginning a career as an illustrator he rediscovered his early love of comicbooks and icons of popular mass culture, such as cop shows and horror movies. He’s never looked back…

The release of potentially metafictional and self-published Night Drive in 1984 led to appearances in legendary 1980s anthologies Raw and Blab! and animated adaptations of the series on Liquid Television.

His work is welcomingly atmospheric, dryly ironic, wittily quirky and mordantly funny; indulgently celebrating childhood terrors, gangsters, bizarre events, monsters and manic mysteries, through iconic lead characters as girl sleuth Judy Drood and the glorious trenchant storybook investigator Peculia: to date the most well-known and utilised of his gratifyingly large repertory of characters.

Sala’s art is a joltingly jolly – if macabre – joy to behold and has also shone on many out-industry projects such as his work with Lemony Snickett, The Residents and even – albeit posthumously – Jack Kerouac; illustrating the author’s outrageous Doctor Sax and The Great World Snake. At the moment he’s devoting time to extended mystery webcomics Super-Enigmatix and The Cardinal. Oh, and this…

A (thus far) digital only release, Cave Girls of the Lost World is a marriage of text blocks and full-page illustrations cheekily referencing 1960s dinosaur cheesecake themes (as seen in One Million Years BC or When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) with the plucky bonhomie of schoolgirls novels and comics of the same era. Think of The Four Marys in Conan Doyle’s Lost World and channelling the funnier parts of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies

Actually, no, don’t. Think of very fetching cartoons heaving with gleeful irony…

The saga unfolds in four chapters as a young boy wanders a beach and finds a message in a bottle. It is a diary detailing the extraordinary fate which befell 30 female college applicants whose plane crashed onto a strange plateau where giant saurians, extinct precursor races of mankind and vegetable horrors still thrived and relates how the castaways learned to kill or perish…

Fans of Super-Enigmatix will be delighted to discover that some of the characters from that unfolding drama play a crucial part here, too…

    Beguiling, clever, and staggeringly engaging, this yarn blends nostalgic escapism with the childish frisson of children scaring themselves silly under the bedcovers at night and will leave every unrepentant fantasy fan hungry for more…
    Cave Girls of the Lost World © 2018 Richard Sala. This edition © 2018 Fantagraphics Books, Inc. All rights reserved.

Der Struwwelmaakies


By Tony Millionaire and guests (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1560976547 (HB)

As a career and lifestyle, cartooning has far more than its share of individuals with a unique view of and response to the world. Ronald Searle, Charles Addams, George Herriman, Gerald Scarfe, Rick Geary, Berke Breathed, Ralph Steadman, Bill Watterson, Matt Groening, Gary Larson, Steve Bell, Richard Thompson – the list is potentially endless. Perhaps it’s the power to create entire sculptured worlds, coupled with the constant catharsis of vented spleen that so colours their work – whether they paint or draw – or maybe it’s simply the crucible of constant deadlines that makes their efforts so addictive and effective.

Der Struwwelmaakies is the fourth collection (featuring material from 2003-2004 and available in both landscape hardback and digital formats) of the magnificent Tony Millionaire’s impossibly addictive and distressingly wonderful weekly newspaper strip which ran in America and selected international venues from February 1994 to December 2016. Client papers included The New York Press, and the feature was widely syndicated in US alternative newspapers such as LA Weekly and The Stranger, and comics magazines such as Linus and Rocky. There was even an animated series on Time-Warner’s Adult Swim strand.

It’s clear that Time never withered his infinitely grotesque variety and perspectives one little bit. It seems he was always Like That

The man loves to draw and does it very, very well; referencing classical art, timeless children’s book illustration, Moby Dick and nautical adventure novels as well as an eclectic mix of pioneering comics draughtsmen like George McManus, Rudolph Dirks, Cliff Sterrett, Frank Willard, Harold Gray, Elzie Segar and George Herriman. The result of seamlessly blending their styles and sensibilities with European engravings masters from the “legitimate” side of the storytelling picture racket is a uniquely bracing cartoon experience…

Born Scott Richardson, he especially cites Johnny (Raggedy Ann and Andy) Gruelle and English illustrator Ernest H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) as definitive formative influences.

With a variety of graphical strings to his bow – such as his own coterie of books for children (including the superbly stirring Billy Hazelnuts series) – animations and his legendary Sock Monkey stories – Mr. Millionaire folded his strip when he felt that there were no longer enough newspaper and magazines to support it, but in its heyday Maakies was a deliciously deeply disturbing weekly treat detailing the riotously vulgar, violent, scatalogical and absurdly surreal adventures of an Irish monkey called Uncle Gabby and his fellow macro-alcoholic and nautical mis-adventurer Drinky Crow.

They are abetted but never aided by a peculiarly twisted, off-kilter cast of reprobates, antagonists and confrontational well-wishers, such as Drunken Cop, old Wachtel, The Captain’s Daughter and avian Aunt Phoebe whilst constantly opposed by a nefarious French crocodile dubbed The Frenchman. Or not. It depends…

Also on hand and all at sea are a legion of monsters, devils and horrible hangers-on…

In the grand tradition of the earliest US newspaper cartoon features, each episode comes with a linked mini-feature running across the foot of the strip – although often that link is quite hard to ascertain.

Notionally based in a nautical setting of rip-roaring 19th century sea-faring situations, replete with maritime perils and stunning vistas, the dark-and-bitter comical instalments vary from staggeringly rude and crude through absolutely hysterical to conceptually impenetrable, with content and gags utterly unfettered by the bounds of taste or any acquiescence to wholesome fun-squelching decency.

Millionaire cheekily promoted his other creative endeavours in his Maakies pages, digressed into autobiography and personal rants, brought in selected guest creators to mess with his toys and invited the readership to contribute ideas, pictures and objects of communal interest to the mix – especially any tattoos his dedicated readership could be bothered to despatch…

This penetratingly incisive, witty and often poignant cartoon arena was his personal playground and if you didn’t like it, you should leave… but quietly please, ‘cause there’s a hangover going on here most days…

Continuity plays second fiddle to an avalanche of inventive ideas and outré action, so the strips can be read in almost any order, and the debauched drunkenness, manic ultra-violence (in the manner of the best Tom & Jerry or Itchy & Scratchy cartoons), acerbic view of sexuality and deep core of existentialist angst still finds a welcome with Slackers, Laggards, the un-Christian and all those scurrilous, lost Generations after X, as well as everyone addicted to bad taste tomfoolery.

This sizzling sampler provides – in indisputable monochrome – still more of the wonderful same with such spit-take, eye-watering, drink-coming-out-of-your-nose moments as how to sabotage and scupper circumcisions with Faux-Skin™, Zen Master’s Secret to Life, the danger of widdling in rivers during thunderstorms, Maakies Foto Funnies, The Amazing Spider-Fly, Albert Einstone, the Neanderthal Genius and numerous other reasons to welcome the inescapable alcoholocaust to come…

Guest artists this time around include Rick Detorie, Phoebe, Jim Campbell and Kaz and all the timeless themes Millionaire specialises in are on show: mandatory variations of sordid sexual encounters, ghastly interspecies progeny, assorted single entendres, bodily function lectures and misfires and gory death-scenes share space with some of literature’s greatest poets and sots – who never knew what hit them. There’s even room for a wealth of anti-war commentary from the early days of America’s 21st century Middle East misadventures…

If you’re not easily upset this is a spectacularly funny and rewarding strip, one of the most consistently creative and entertaining in existence, so if you can thrive on gorge-rousing gags and mind-bending rumination this is an experience you simply cannot deny yourself.
© Tony Millionaire. All rights reserved. This edition © 2005 Fantagraphics Books.

Death Threat


By Vivek Shraya & Ness Lee (Arsenal Pulp Press Vancouver)
ISBN: 978-1-55152-750-5

Vivek Shraya is a poet, musician, educator, writer and performer of immense creativity, as can be appreciated in books such as God Loves Hair, even this page is white, The Boy & the Bindi, I’m Afraid of Men and She of the Mountains or her many albums and films.

On her 35th birthday Shraya publicly announced her status as Trans and requested that she be henceforward addressed with female pronouns. That seems inoffensive enough to me and you, and nobody’s business but hers, but sadly it inspired the by-now pro forma response from certain quarters: a tirade of vitriol and harassment from nasty busybodies hiding behind and tainting social media…

Unevolved old jerks like me just get angry and hunger to respond in kind – with vituperative counterattacks – but happily, civilised people find better ways. This book is perhaps the best, as, in collaboration with Toronto-based artist and designer Ness Lee, Shraya transformed fear and disappointment into art with a heavy helping of surreal, satirical soul searching.

The liberating act of turning those unsolicited, unreasoning email assaults – couched in offensive terms by people who hide behind religions whose fundamental tenets they happily cherry pick – into a gloriously incisive and witty exploration of the inexplicable mindless aggression debasing so much of modern society is eyepopping and mind-blowing.

Unlike those who cower behind the supposed anonymity of their keyboards and phones, Shraya and Lee have proudly appended their names to this vibrant voyage, which details how the bile of ignorant bullies (you won’t believe just how dumb some bigots are until you see the hate mail here!) inspired beautiful images and empowering inclusivity.

My generation’s parents told us to ignore bullies or strike back, but today’s ostracised, oppressed and unfairly targeted have found a far better way: turn their hate into beauty and take ownership of it.
Death Threat: Text © 2019 Vivek Shraya. Illustrations © 2019 Ness Lee. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus Volume 8 Asterix and the Great Crossing; Obelix and Co.; Asterix in Belgium


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Children’s Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-837-1 (HB) 978-1-44400-838-8 (TPB)

One of the most popular comics features on Earth, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with a dozen animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys, merchandise and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…); all stemming from his gloriously absurd exploits.

More than 325 million copies of unforgettable Asterix books have sold worldwide (not counting the five non-canonical tomes most fans also own), making his joint originators France’s best-selling international authors. There is even the tantalising yet frightening promise of a new – 38th – volume sometime this year by follow-up creative team Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad…

The diminutive, doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Pride was created by two of the industry’s greatest masters, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo, as a weekly strip in Pilote, swiftly becoming a national success and symbol. Although their inspirational collaborations ended in 1977 with the death of the prolific scripter, the creative wonderment continued until 2010 from Uderzo and assistants – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

After nearly 15 years as a comic strip subsequently collected into compilations, in 1974 the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first to be published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long anticipated, eagerly awaited treat for the strip’s countless aficionados…

The comics magic operates on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in the action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps where sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world. (pour moi, though, a perfectly produced physically poetic “Paf!” to the phizzog is as welcome and wondrous as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipes…)

More than half of the canon occurs on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where, circa 50 B.C., a small village of cantankerous, proudly defiant warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul. The land had been divided by the conquerors into the provinces of Celtica, Aquitania and Amorica, but the very tip of the last-cited just refused to be pacified…

The remaining epics take place in various legendary locales throughout the Ancient World, as the Garrulous Gallic Gentlemen visited all the fantastic lands and corners of civilisations of the era…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat the last bastion of Gallic insouciance, futilely resorted to a policy of absolute containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet was permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The Gauls don’t care: daily defying the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. Moreover, following the civil unrest and nigh-revolution in French society following the Paris riots of 1968, the tales took on an increasingly acerbic tang of trenchant satire and pithy socio-political commentary…

La Grande Traversée was the 22nd saga and second original book release in France, premiering in 1975, with a British hardcover edition – Asterix and the Great Crossing – launching here the following year.

It begins with another typical village kerfuffle as to the true and relative vintage of Unhygienix the fishmonger’s wares before descending into the standard-issue, boisterous, all-comers-welcome brawl.

However, the situation is rather more serious this time as Druid Getafix needs really fresh fish for the magic potion that keeps them all free of Rome…

A merchant but not a fisherman, Unhygienix refuses to catch his own stock so Asterix and Obelix eventually volunteer to take to sea in old Geriatrix’s dilapidated skiff to replenish the wizard’s stores, even though a big storm is brewing. Sadly, our heroes aren’t fishermen either, and after losing the nets the neophyte seamen are blown far from home…

Lost at sea and starving, they encounter their old pals the Pirates, but Obelix eats all their provisions in one go and soon the mismatched mariners – and faithful mutt Dogmatix – are in even direr straits as another storm blows them ever further westward.

Just as death seems inevitable, the Gauls wash up on an island of the Empire they have never seen before. In this strange outpost the Romans have red skins, paint their faces and wear feathers in their hair. Most terrifyingly, there are no wild boar to eat, only big ugly birds that go “gobble, gobble”…

After the usual two-fisted diplomacy with the “Iberians, or perhaps Thracians?”, Asterix and Obelix settle down comfortably enough, but the situation changes when the chief decides the big paleface is going to marry his daughter. Desperately, the Gauls steal a canoe one night and strike out across the Big Water towards home but only get as far as a little islet where they’re picked up by Viking explorers Herendethelessen, Steptøånssen, Nøgøødreåssen, Håråldwilssen and their valiant Great Dane Huntingseåssen, who are all jointly looking for unmapped continents…

Convinced their odd discoveries are natives of this strange New World, the Danes try to entice the oddly eager indigenes to come home with them as proof of Herendethelessen’s incredible discovery. Braving icy Atlantic seas, the dragon ship is soon back in cold, mist-enshrouded Scandinavia where gruff, dismissive Chief Ødiuscomparissen is suitably amazed and astounded…

However, when Gaulish slave Catastrofix reveals they are from his European homeland, tempers get a bit heated and another big fight breaks out…

Taking advantage of the commotion, Asterix, Obelix and Catastrofix – an actual fisherman by trade – steal a boat and head at last for home, picking up some piscine presents for Getafix en route…

This is a wittily arch but delightfully straightforward yarn, big on action and thrills, packed with knowing in-jokes and sly references to other French Western strips such as Lucky Luke and Ompa-pa (Oumpah-pah in French) as well as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and ultimately formed the basis of the animated feature film Asterix Conquers America.

Strong, stinging satire was the foundation of the next saga. Obélix et Compagnie debuted in 1976 with English-language hardcover Obelix and Co. launching in 1978: once again dealing with frustration-wracked Julius Caesar’s attempting to end the aggravating resistance of the indomitable Gauls.

To that effect the most powerful man in the world dispatches a bold, brash go-getter from the Latin School of Economics to destroy their unity forever. Financial whiz-kid Preposterus has a plan that simply can’t fail and will incidentally pay huge dividends to the Empire.

Meanwhile, the replacing of the Totorum Garrison with fresh troops has allowed the Gauls to give Obelix a truly inspired birthday gift. After beating up the entire contingent on his own and without having to share the soldiers, the delighted big man goes back to carving and delivering Menhirs before meeting a strange young Roman.

Preposterus – a cruelly effective caricature of France’s then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac – intends to destroy the villagers by making them as greedy, lazy and corrupt as any Roman Patrician, all through the introduction of Capitalism and Market Forces…

To that end he pretends to be a Menhir buyer, willing to pay any amount for the giant stone obelisks (which have no appreciable use or worth and were normally swapped for small treats or favours), telling the big gullible oaf that money makes men important and powerful.

Without really understanding, easygoing Obelix begins accepting ever-larger sums for each standing stone, forcing himself to work harder and never stop. He doesn’t know what to do with the money but is caught up in an ever-hastening spiral of production.

Too busy to have fun hunting wild boars or play with Dogmatix, he begins hiring his equally gullible friends and neighbours: first to hunt for him and later to help sculpt Menhirs. All does is work and spend his growing mountain of cash on increasingly daft fancy clothes as he drives himself to miserable exhaustion.

Before long most of the village is caught in the escalating economic bubble, all except wily Asterix, who attempts to bring his old pal to his senses by suggesting to his friends that they set up as rival Menhir manufacturers. The little man is inadvertently helped in this by the status-obsessed village wives who push their men to become as “successful and influential” as the fat oaf…

In Totorum, the megaliths are beginning to pile up as Preposterus proceeds to exhaust all Rome’s funds purchasing Menhirs. Centurion Ignoramus is ecstatic that the plan to destroy the Gauls through cutthroat competition is working, but wants the growing mountain of shaped stones out of his camp, so Preposterous has them shipped back to Rome and starts selling them to rich trendies as indispensable fashion accessories.

The whiz-kid has nearly emptied Caesar’s coffers but his swish and intensive advertising campaign looks sets to recoup the losses with a folk-art sales boom… until sleazy Italian entrepreneur Meretricius starts selling cut-rate Rome-manufactured Menhirs and the Boom leads to a ruthless price war and inevitable Bust which almost topples the Empire…

Meanwhile, success has not made Obelix happy and he’s thinking of quitting, just as the desperate Preposterous returns and inconsiderately, immediately stops buying Menhirs. Of course, being simple peasants the Gauls don’t understand supply and demand or the finer principles of a free market: they’re just really annoyed and frustrated.

Luckily there’s lots of Romans around to help deal with their pent-up tensions…

Soon the air is cleared and the villagers have returned to their old-fashioned ways so Asterix and Getafix can laugh at news of a financial crisis wracking Rome…

This hilarious and telling parody and unashamed anti-Capitalist tract shows Goscinny & Uderzo at their absolute, satirical best, riffing on modern ideologies and dogmas whilst spoofing and lampooning the habits and tactics of greedy bosses and intransigent workers alike. Many politicians and economists have cited this tale – which is as always, stuffed with cameos and in-joke guest shots. I’m reliably informed that the beautiful page 36, which featured Preposterus explaining his ad campaign, was also the 1000th page of Asterix since his debut in 1959.

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner. Such was certainly the case with Astérix chez les Belges, the 24th adventure and Goscinny’s last. The indefatigable writer passed away in 1977 halfway through the book’s completion. You can even commemorate the tragic event as just as Uderzo did, by drawing sullen, stormy skies for the rest of the tale he was completing: marking the moment, and incorporating one last wry shared dig at Belgian weather…

The story is a grand old romp of friendly rivalries – released in Britain in 1980 as Asterix in Belgium – and begins when a relief troop takes over the garrison of Laudanum. These soldiers are delighted to be in Amorica, because it means they are no longer fighting the Belgians. Those barbarians are even worse than the indomitable villagers in Amorica. Caesar himself has called them “the bravest of all the Gaulish Peoples”…

Perplexed by the laid-back attitude of the new occupiers, who consider their new posting a “rest cure”, Asterix and Obelix question one of the replacement Romans. They report his unbelievable news to Vitalstatistix, who is beside himself with indignation. Most of the others don’t really care, but when the furious Chief storms off for the border to see for himself, the old pals follow to keep him out of trouble…

Soon they have crossed the border and encounter the fabled warriors, led by their chiefs Beefix and Brawnix. They are indeed mighty fighters but awfully arrogant too, and soon Vitalstatistix has become so incensed with their boasting that he proposes a competition to see who can bash the most Romans and prove just who are the Bravest Gauls.

Obelix doesn’t mind: the Belgians are just like him. The only thing they like more than hitting Romans is eating and they seem to do the latter all day long…

Before long, however, there are no more Roman forts in the vicinity and the matter of honour is still unsettled. What they need is an unbiased umpire to judge who is the greatest and – fortuitously – Julius Caesar, moved to action by the terrible news from Belgium and rumours that the Amoricans (three of them at least) are also rising in revolt, has rushed to the frontier with the massed armies of the Empire…

Against such a force the squabbling cousins can only unite to force Caesar to admit who’s best…

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured joshing over cherished perceived national characteristics and celebrating the spectacular illustrative ability of Uderzo, this raucous, bombastic, bellicose delight delivers splendid hi-jinks and fast-paced action, and is perhaps the most jolly and accessible of these magical all-ages entertainments: a fitting tribute to the mastery of Goscinny and Uderzo.
© 1975-1979 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2005 Hachette. All rights reserved.

Speechless – World History without Words


By Polyp (New Internationalist/Friends of the Earth International)
ISBN: 978-1-906523-19-0 (Multilingual edition!)

No one can contest or dispute the sheer naked power and immediacy of pictures. A sequential narrative can muster all the force of a Perfect Storm and target hearts and minds the way no manner of high-tech, satellite-enhanced laser-directed ordnance or poorly worded plebiscite ever could…

Hopefully this startlingly bold pictorial treatise from the enigmatic and exceedingly talented Polyp (www.polyp.org.uk) can still shake a few entrenched bastions and rattle some cages as it offers an alternative view of our progress as a species, using the monstrous tragedy of 9/11 as its starting point before scrolling back to the very beginning to show how it all went so wrong for us talking apes…

In vivid primary colours, a jaundiced look at our 6 billion-year relationship with the planet -and the mistakes we keep on making – unfolds with wry, surreal wit, patient exasperation and not a little frantic desperation as our guides and companions. The delivery system is a boldly accessible cartoon style that blends a thousand childhood influences from Vaughn Bode to The Clangers, all the while whispering a warning and offering some few potentially last-minute suggestions via unforgettable imagery.

As it says on the cover, this book eschews words in favour of a broad humorous parade of “dumb-show” and mime: a brave and marvellously effective technique that really pays off. And besides, as a species we’ve been talking a good fight for ages and we’re now at a stage where words simply aren’t enough anymore…

The old adage has it that history is written by the winners, but in this graphic exploration on how the world got into its current state, we have a sharp, incisive and universal tome produced for those of us that have always demanded a recount – and almost probably not, no, never, a new referendum. Buy this book. Give copies to your friends. But most of all read, inwardly digest and just do something. It’s a dead cert those we’ve let make the rules for us so far won’t……
© Paul Fitzgerald 2009. All rights reserved.

Willie and Joe: The WWII Years


By Bill Mauldin, edited by Todd DePastino (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 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 devastatingly, intimately effective and authentic material for his Company periodical, 45th Division News. He also produced work for 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 – offering their trenchant and laconic view of the war from the muddied tip of the sharpest 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 exposing in all ways and manners the stuff upper echelons of the army would prefer remained top secret. Not war secrets, but how the men at arms lived, felt and died.

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 certified War Hero, Mauldin’s increasingly political cartoon work fell out of favour (those efforts are the subject companion volume Willie & Joe: Back Home). Mauldin left the increasing hostile and oversight-ridden business to become a journalist and illustrator.

He was a film actor for a while (appearing, amongst other movies, in Red Badge of Courage with veteran war hero Audie Murphy); 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. He 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 from 1969 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 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 (with some very rare colour and sepia items) softcover compendium comes in at 704 pages, (229 x 178mm for the physical copy or any size you want if you get the digital edition): assembling all his known wartime cartoons – as originally released in two hardback editions in 2008. It features 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 shared 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. George Patton was perennially incensed at the image the cartoonist presented to the world, but fortunately Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, if not a fan, knew the strategic and morale value of Mauldin’s Star Spangled Banter and Up Front features with those 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. They highlight equally the miraculous perseverance and unquenchable determination of ordinary guys to get the job done while defending their only inalienable right – to gripe and goof off whenever the brass weren’t around…

Most importantly, Mauldin never patronised civilians or demonised 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…

Alternating crushing 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 that 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 distant brass-hats and politicians 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 the man and his works to the forefront of graphic consciousness, because tragically, it looks like his message is never going to be outdated… or learned from by the idiots in charge who most need to hear it…
© 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. volume 1 This is What They Want and volume 2 I Kick Your Face


By Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen & Wade Von Grawbadger (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2278-4 (Vol. 1 HB); 978-0-7851-1910-4 (Vol. 2 TPB)

Even for the most dedicated fans, superhero comics can become a little samey and pedestrian, so when gifted big- name creators such as Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen decide to have a little fun with the fringes of such a ponderous continuity as Marvel’s, expectations are always understandably high.

In 2006 Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. (Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort) launched for a breathtaking and controversial 12 issue run and happily proved to be everything a jaded old fan could hope for…

The series has been compiled into one complete volume, these two collections (re-presenting #1-6 and #7-12 respectively) as well as in digital formats. That’s the illusion of choice right there, that is…

Wry, cynically Post-Modern and malevolently mischievous, the saga borrowed shamelessly from kid’s bubblegum pop culture – especially trans-pacific animation. There was even a theme-song you could hear online and a variant-issue that readers could colour in to win prizes – as well as the forgotten contents of the daftest corners of Marvel’s decades of accumulated continuity to captivatingly satirise the genre, the medium and itself.

Best of all, it was hilariously anti-globalisation, counter-capitalist, rude, sexy and excessively ultra-violent…

H.A.T.E. is another of those numerous acronymic quasi-governmental, covert high-tech agencies dedicated to keeping us all safe in our overpriced, indolent beds – at least that was what their eccentric team of operatives initially believed.

When they discovered that their employers were in fact a fully owned subsidiary of the Beyond Corporation© and the latest iteration of diabolical terrorist cabal S.I.L.E.N.T., former Avengers Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel II/Photon/Spectrum, etc…) and artificial individual Aaron (Machine Man) Stack rightly rebelled.

With ex-X-Man Tabitha Smith (Meltdown/Boom Boom); stroppy immortal monster-hunter Elsa Bloodstone and hyper-powered, unimaginative enigma The Captain in tow, they went AWOL, intending to stop their former paymasters at all costs.

Incidentally, the last-cited was formerly Captain $#!£ until ostracized by all the other military-monickered mystery-men, after which Captain America punched his foul-mouthed head in and washed his mouth out with soap.

Further investigation disclosed that the terrorist conglomerate was actually planning to product-test potentially lucrative BWMDs (Bizarre Weapons of Mass Destruction) on American soil and ordinary folks, so the disgruntled quintet promptly stole a super-ship and all the plans, determined to stop the callous campaign and take down the despicable Beyond©-ers forever…

With their increasingly deranged, suicidal and sexually outré former commander Dirk Anger in hot pursuit, the team begins its fightback in Abcess, North Dakota where the legendary giant dragon-in-underpants Fin Fang Foom has been awakened and… stimulated… into going on a rampage of destructive frustration…

On the streets of Abcess, hordes of Beyond©’s mass-produced vegetable warriors are attacking the citizenry and exacerbating the chaos until Elsa and The Captain intervene with their signature lack of restraint and disregard for human life or private property.

As municipal damage and general unrest spiral upwards, Monica devises an unsavoury plan and orders Aaron – a fantastic, military-created robot who despises human “fleshy ones” and has reprogrammed himself to crave vast amounts of beer – to get himself swallowed and deal with the dragon from the inside…

With no rest for the Wicked-crushers, the renegade revengers then head to Sink City, Illinois where brutally corrupt cop Mac Mangel has been infected with a mechanistically mutating program, transforming him into a colossal flesh-and-steel beast hungry to eat metal and/or children…

With mounting carnage everywhere, the Captain still gets distracted into an origin flashback, leaving Tabitha to deal with the Transformer-ed Mangel in her stylishly simple yet permanent manner…

In Wyoming, the Nextwave discover a Beyond© War Garden and set about destroying the next crop of broccoli berserkers and cabbage crusaders, just as Dirk Anger and his other – still-loyal – agents of H.A.T.E. arrive in their flying citadel to unleash all the insane instruments of doom in their arsenal. However even the Drop Bears of Cuddly Koala Death, a flock of Assault PterosaursSamurai Robots and Homicide Crabs cannot contain the righteous indignation of the forgotten heroes, and when Aaron counterattacks by stealing Dirk’s chic-est most secret possession the deviant Director has no choice but to retreat…

To Be Continued…

 

Nextwave Agents of H.A.T.E. volume 2: I Kick Your Face

The action barely pauses for a primer recap before Beyond©orp’s follow-up BWMD event sees the terrorist entrepreneurs summon an extremely minor and rather juvenile Elder God, Rorkannu, Lord of the Dank Dimension. The malefactors trade that for access to a deadly invading army of mystic behemoths that Dr. Strange fans will recognise as merciless “Mindless Ones” to decimate the town of Shotcreek, Colorado.

Ready to back-up the embattled townspeople are Monica and her crew, but things take a decidedly surreal turn as the monolithic marauders prove to be not all that mindless after all…

In the blistering last-stand battle, Elsa becomes lost in fond reminiscences of her truly unique and bloody childhood, before, against all odds, the Captain stumbles onto Rorkannu and -contrary to everyone’s expectations – finally does something right…

When Steve Rogers became Captain America in 1941, nobody realised that a second Nazi spy stole his urine sample. Now, through a most torturous and arcane path, that last remnant of the original Super-Soldier serum has allowed the ruling elite of the Beyond© group to create whole battalions of customised metahuman champions…

When Nextwave finally track the terrorists to their inverted floating fortress, they are confronted by an army of esoteric adversaries derived and developed from the misappropriated hero-pee and aligned in specifically themed teams such as The Surgery, The Vestry and The Homosexuality, but even such lethally dedicated foes as Dr. Headless, Father Pain, Dr. Nosexy, Sun King, Red Rosary and Slightly Creepy Policewoman pale into feeble insignificance beside the reality-altering threat of Forbush-Man and his eerily familiar comrades the New Paramounts

Once again plunged into horrifically violent combat, the Nextwave are slowly making bloody headway until the diminutive demon plunges the team into depressing and dreary alternate lives from the worst recesses of their inner visions. Tragically for Forbush-Man, nobody had ever found any evidence of intellect or imagination in Tabitha, just an overwhelming vacuity, urge to steal and need to blow stuff up…

With the end in sight, the triumphant heroes invade the Beyond Corporation©’s hidden HQ State 51 just as Dirk Anger, transformed and degraded beyond imagination, arrives, culminating in an even more spectacular clash before finally confronting the utterly macabre mastermind behind the monstrous marketing campaign of destruction. The elation is non-existent as the team discover an even more bizarre kingmaker behind it all and finally bring the hammer down once and for all…

As action comics in their purest form, the tales are laced with light-hearted lethality and superbly smutty innuendo, with hints of Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s Hitman, Ben Edlund’s The Tick, Pat Mills & Kevin O’Neill’s Marshall Law and Keith Giffen’s Ambush Bug, with all the verve, panache and invention of the Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory, all wrapped up in pithy corporate sloganeering a la Better Off Ted, Corporate and Joseph Goebbels…

Jam-packed with in-joke extras, this is a glorious comic series – in every sense of the word – and an experience no, fun-loving fan could possibly find fault with.

“Healing America by Beating People Up” and making us laugh by taking the piss…

© 2006, 2007, 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Asterix Omnibus volume 7: Asterix and the Soothsayer; Asterix in Corsica; Asterix and Caesar’s Gift


By Goscinny & Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion Books)
ISBN: 978-1-44400-835-7 (HB), 978-1-44400-836-4 (PB)

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, the collected chronicles of Asterix the Gaul have been translated into more than 100 languages since his debut in 1959, with animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted games, toys and even a theme park outside Paris (Parc Astérix, unsurprisingly…) all stemming from his glorious exploits.

More than 325 million copies of Asterix’s many albums have sold worldwide, making his joint creators France’s bestselling international authors.

The doughty, potion-powered paragon of Gallic Insouciance was created by two grandmasters of comics: René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. Although their inspirational collaborations ended with the death of the prolific scripter in 1977, the creative wonderment continued until relatively recently from Uderzo, assistants and ultimately his successors – albeit at a slightly reduced rate.

The wonderment works on multiple levels: ostensibly, younger readers revel in action-packed, lavishly illustrated comedic romps wherein sneaky, bullying baddies get their just deserts, whilst we more worldly readers enthuse over the dry, pun-filled, sly satire, especially as enhanced for English speakers by the brilliantly light touch of translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who played no small part in making the indomitable Gaul and his gallant companions so palatable to the Anglo-Saxon world.

(Moi, I still rejoice in a perfectly produced “Paf!” to the phizzog as much as any painfully potent procession of puns or sardonic satirical sideswipe…)

The stories were set on Uderzo’s beloved Brittany coast, where a small village of warriors and their families resisted every effort of the Roman Empire to complete the conquest of Gaul, or alternately, anywhere in the Ancient World, circa 50 BCE, as the Gallic Gentlemen wandered the multifarious provinces of the Empire and even beyond its generally-secure borders…

When the heroes were playing at home, the Romans, unable to defeat this last bastion of Gallic insouciance, resorted to a policy of containment. Thus, the little seaside hamlet is permanently hemmed in by the heavily fortified garrisons of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium.

The truculent Gauls don’t care: they daily defy the world’s greatest military machine simply by going about their everyday affairs, protected by the magic potion of resident druid Getafix and the shrewd wits of the diminutive dynamo and his simplistic, supercharged best friend…

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix the Gaul continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold.

Le Devin was the 19th serialised epic, originally running in Pilote #652-673 throughout 1972, first translated into English album Asterix and the Soothsayer in 1975, and begins ominously whilst the village’s venerable mystic protector Getafix is away at his annual Druiding conference.

During a torrential storm, a nefarious soothsayer named Prolix turns up seeking shelter. His dark predictions instantly spread disharmony amongst the hospitable, hot-headed, painfully superstitious and credulous Gaulish stalwarts… except for level-headed, canny little Asterix.

As Prolix leaves, Chief’s wife Impedimenta sneaks after him, keen on a personal prediction, and the crafty charlatan soon discovers he’s on to a good thing and profitably cushy number…

Before long the entire village is under the soothsayer’s grimy thumb, but when he vanishes the ladies of the village accuse Asterix of driving him away.

In actuality, the unsavoury sage has been arrested by the Romans who have standing orders to deal harshly with all non-Roman prognosticators and troublemakers. Wily Prolix barters for his life with Centurion Arteriosclerosus, who sees a way to end his Indomitable Gaul problem by using the obviously fraudulent fortune-teller as a wedge to drive out the obstreperous resistors. Prolix returns to the village uttering a doom-laden pronouncement: the place has been cursed by the Gods and a pestilential stench will precede plague. Inevitable death will be their fate if they remain…

Panicked, the gullible Gauls head for the beach and take refuge on an off-shore island – all that is, except for Asterix, Obelix and chivalrous canine companion Dogmatix

With the Romans at last in possession of the village – and all Gaul finally conquered – the bold last rebels make their plans until Getafix returns. On his arrival the three men and a dog embark on an elaborate scheme to take back their home and teach their foolish fellows a much-needed lesson.

Concocting a stunningly malodorous vapour which drives the occupiers from the village, the druid convinces the Romans that Prolix is a real soothsayer and ambitious Arteriosclerosus sees a chance to become the next Caesar. Increasingly baffled, conman Prolix begins to believe his predictions are real…

After dressing down the refugee Gauls, Getafix leads them back to their beloved homes where the incensed and wiser villagers top up on magic potion before rushing off to teach the invaders – and Prolix – a much needed lesson. On this occasion, Impedimenta and the village women accompany their men, determined to expiate their embarrassing gullibility with a little cathartic violence of their own…

This delightfully arch and acerbic attack on gullibility and superstition is a splendid and long-overdue chance to see the minor characters play to their strengths and weaknesses, with Asterix and Obelix almost relegated to walk-on parts…

First translated two years earlier in England but chronologically following on from The Soothsayer in the original French serialisations, Astérix en Corse (Pilote #687-708, in 1973) was the 20th adventure and the best-selling French-language album of the series.

Another globe-trotting yarn, it begins with the Romans of the four occupying garrisons “deploying for manoeuvres” to avoid having to deal with Gauls’ painfully exuberant celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Gergovia. Unfortunately for Centurion Hippotamus and his men, they are delayed by the arrival of a party from Praetor Perfidius, Governor of Corsica, escorting a dangerous prisoner into exile. They are all still in Totorum when the high-spirited villagers (and many guest-star friends from previous tales) arrive, keen for a punch-up and a little annoyed that all the other Roman camps are deserted…

When the dust settles and the groans of pain subside, Asterix discovers and liberates the prisoner Boneywasawarriorwayayix and invites him back to the village for a slap-up feed. Over boar and beer, the Gauls hear how Perfidius had the popular Corsican leader exiled to prevent him revealing how the Praetor has been over-taxing the people and embezzling the gold for himself instead of sending it to Caesar in Rome.

Corsica is officially the most troublesome spot in the Empire and the exile is determined to return and expose the hated Governor, so proud, haughty Boneywasawarriorwayayix is delighted when Asterix and Obelix – with faithful canine companion Dogmatix – determine to help him sneak back to his fiercely over-fortified and contained island (most volumes of this album have a map of Corsica instead of the traditional Gaulish village, and the tiny nation contains four towns and forty-six Roman camps)…

Hilariously obtaining passage on the pirate ship of Redbeard, the voyagers soon find themselves on the island – but by no means unnoticed…

Soon the dissolute and lazy soldiery are hunting the heroes as they make their way inland to the exile’s home village to rally the populace, whilst in the city of Aleria Perfidius reckons the jig is up and prepares to flee with his ill-gotten gains…

Attempting to rally the natives, Boneywasawarriorwayayix comes up against the age-old dilemma: most Corsicans are involved in centuries-long vendettas and would much rather fight each other – at least when they’re not taking a siesta – than unite to attack the invaders. However, eventually – and almost too late – a determined band of warriors march on Aleria. Perfidius has been secretly loading his loot onto a ship, but when his soldiers discover the riches, they realise their leader is planning to abandon them to the fiercely furious Corsicans – at least if overtaxed diplomatic Asterix can keep the natives from killing each other first…

Asterix travel epics are always packed with captivating historical titbits, soupcons of healthy cynicism, singularly surreal situations and amazingly addictive but generally consequence-free action, always illustrated in a magically enticing manner.

Stuffed with sly pokes and good-natured trans-national teasing of perceived (and generally treasured) national characteristics; celebrating the terrifying power of Corsican cheeses and liberally served up with raucous hi-jinks and fast-paced action, this is another magical titbit of all-ages entertainment.

In 1974 Le Cadeau de César was the first tale to be published as a complete album prior to being serialised, with British translation Asterix and Caesar’s Gift appearing in 1977. The saga begins in Rome where two 20-year veteran legionaries drunkenly celebrate being honourably discharged. Tremensdelirious and Egganlettus eagerly look forward to being given their service reward: a parcel of land each.

Unfortunately, Tremensdelirious is overheard disparaging Caesar, but the sardonically cruel Emperor does not punish the old soldier or even withhold his pension. In fact, he gives the veteran a lovely portion of the Gaulish coast in Armorica: all he has to do is shift a few recalcitrant Gauls from their village on his new small holding…

A drunk but not a fool, the old soldier knows his fate is sealed and soon trades his dispensation to Lutetian inn-keeper Orthopaedix to settle his outstanding and prodigious bar-bill…

The first that the Indomitable Gauls know of this is when Orthopaedix, wife Angina and daughter Influenza roll up in their cart and try to take possession. After some hilarity the villagers go back about their business and the inn-keeper is left to suffer the fury of his wife at the uprooting of the family to a barbaric hovel where nobody acknowledges their claim.

No stranger to such a tongue-lashing, Chief Vitalstatistix takes pity on Orthopaedix, offering to let them stay and open an inn in the hamlet, but the standoffish villagers are angered by Angina’s superior airs and a riot breaks out on opening night…

The world-weary publican is ready to quit, but now humiliated Angina is in a status duel with Impedimenta and, determined to stay, forces Orthopaedix to challenge Vitalstatistix for the post of village Chief. As the campaign to win the support of the always-argumentative villagers intensifies, all manner of shoddy tactics, dubious lobbying and outright bribery takes place, with each party frantically trying to curry political favour from the fickle but extremely astute potential voters who know the value of their own support…

Meanwhile, simple, gentle, oafish Obelix has fallen under the spell of the lovely Influenza, and she leads him on cruelly to help out her mother’s naked ambition, leading to a clash with his best friend. Only Asterix seems aware that the discord could well be the death of the village and lead to Caesar’s ultimate triumph and before long the waters are further muddied when elderly Lothario Geriatrix declares himself a third party, splitting the potential vote even further.

The political crisis reaches boiling point when Tremensdelirious turns up, demanding his land-grant back: after all it’s illegal to sell them to Gauls, and Orthopaedix has no say in the matter…

When the ex-legionary turns violent, Asterix steps in to save the day and the old sot is driven off at sword-point. He doesn’t go far – only to the garrison of Laudanum where old comrade Egganlettus has re-enlisted – and together they blackmail Centurion Tonsillitus into attacking the Gauls to uphold Roman law and get back that “official” pension land which is every soldier’s right…

That kind of military intervention usually ends disastrously, but this time the village is hopelessly divided by political intrigue and backstabbing and even Asterix cannot unite them against their real and common foe. It seems that the Gauls must lose everything until Orthopaedix makes a supreme sacrifice to save the day…

Brittle, barbed and devilishly sharp, this outrageous political thriller and satire on modern electioneering is as pertinent and punchy as it ever was, proving once again that these Gallic graphic masterpieces are perfect comics which everyone should read over and over again.
© 1972-1974 Goscinny/Uderzo. Revised English translation © 2004 Hachette. All rights reserved.

The Silent Invasion: The Great Fear


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-206-9 (TPB)

During the vast expansion of opportunity and outpouring of innovation that graced comics during the 1980s, much of the “brain-rotting trash” or “silly kid’s stuff” stigma which had plagued the medium was finally dispelled. America started catching up to the rest of the world; acknowledging sequential narrative as an actual Art-Form, and their doors opened wide open for foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the most critically acclaimed and just plain fun features of the period came from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which set up shop in the USA and began publishing at the very start of the black & white comics bubble in 1984. They quickly established a reputation for excellence, with a strong line of creator-based properties and some genuinely remarkable series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Flaming Carrot, Normalman, and the compulsively backwards-looking Cold War/UFO/paranoia-driven The Silent Invasion.

That last was a stunningly stylish saga, bolting 1950s domestic terrors (invasion by Reds; invasion by aliens; invasion by new ideas…) onto Film Noir chic and employing 20-20 hindsight to produce a phenomenally fresh and enticing delight for the strangely similar Reagan era.

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes (a whopping 298 x 2058 mm), re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock concocted a delightful confection combining all the coolest genre elements of classic cult sci-fi, horror, spy, conspiracy theory, crime, romance and even comedy yarns…

Now, after far too long a wait – and with America once again enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption (but no collusion!!), cover-ups at every level of government and the press under attack from the people and traditions it seeks to inform and safeguard – the series has been remastered, marginally revised and re-released in a more manageable paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format) with the express intention of catching up and finally completing the tensely compelling epic. The Great Fear (gathering the moodily monochrome lead story from issues #7-12) is the second and, unless the Deep Government intervenes, we can anticipate two more…

The re-education process resumes with a heartfelt plea in the Introduction: ‘UFOs, Conspiracies, and the Deep State (There are 187 Aliens in Congress! Who did YOU vote for?)’ by Cherkas & Hancock…

The 1950s in American were a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incredible scientific and cultural advancements, great wealth and desperate, intoxicating optimism inexplicably arose amidst an atmosphere of immense social, cultural, racial, sexual and political repression with an increasingly paranoid populace seeing conspiracy and subversive attacks in every shadow and corner of the rest of the world.

Such an insular melting pot couldn’t help but be fertile soil for imaginative outsiders to craft truly incisive and evocative tales dripping with convoluted mystery and taut tension, especially when wedded to the nation’s fantastic – and then-ongoing – obsessions with rogue science, flying saucers, gangsterism and espionage…

They were also obsessed with hot babes and bust sizes, but more of that elsewhere…

Remember When?: In April 1952, famed Union City private eye Dick Mallet saw a strange light in the night sky. Next morning the cops found his empty, crashed car. A month later reporter Matt Sinkage was still getting grief from Frank Costello, his Editor on the Union City Sentinel. Matt wanted to expose “The Truth behind Flying Saucers” but was quickly becoming a laughing stock. He was also starting to think his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov was a Russian spy….

Sinkage was alienating his family and worrying his fiancée Peggy Black. All he could think about was that night six months back in Albany when he saw a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a crazy night everyone but him remembers…

Getting drunk, Matt broke into Ivan’s apartment where a quick glance revealed the foreigner and others in front of a huge, weird machine. It confirmed his suspicions that they were Atomic spies!

Days later Matt collided with Mr K’s pretty friend Gloria Amber, and asked her out to lunch. Things developed when Gloria begged him to save her from what she claimed were Red operatives. They subsequently claimed to be Federal agents…

Hiding out at his brother’s Walter’s place, Matt was still seeing flying saucers everywhere and could not understand why everybody else thought they were just jets. Back in Union City, Frank was being pressured by FBI Agent Phil Housley: an old acquaintance who regularly forced him to suppress news items…

This time though, he wanted Sinkage. What no newsman knew was that Housley was also working for a shadowy agency calling itself The Council. What Housley didn’t know was that he was not their only operative…

Back in suburbia, Walter’s wife Katie – convinced Matt and his new floozy were up to no good – contacted the FBI. Fugitives Matt and Gloria were heading out in Walter’s car when Peggy showed up. She couldn’t understand why her man was with a flashy trollop even though Gloria had told Matt the Reds were after Kalashnikov’s memoirs and files. Although Matt knew Gloria was playing a double game, he agreed to go with to a remote town where a “contact” could protect them both…

Mr K called in his own heavies to hunt them, all equally unaware that the FBI had visited Katie and a net was closing around Sinkage and his mystery woman…

When the Council learn Sinkage was involved in the “Albany event” near-panic ensued. Matt meanwhile had succumbed to suspicion. Gloria kept vanishing and refused to acknowledge it: Later, helping Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst to abduct her and rough up Matt. When the FBI interviewed Walter and Katie about Matt, they let slip that they were the only Feds working the case, denying any other government officials were involved…

Katie spilled all she knew and the agents went into overdrive, marshalling all their resources and heading for sleepy Stubbinsville. As Housley’s team flew in, Matt pushed on, hitchhiking to a rendezvous with destiny. En route, he reunites with oddly-compliant Gloria, and they battled on together in a stolen car. With less than 100 miles to go, she fell ill but made him promise to get her there at all costs…

As the assorted pursuers converged, she directed Matt to a lonely wilderness region. The net closed around them as a fantastic and terrifying light-show ignited the dark skies. By the time Housley reached them Gloria had vanished and Sinkage was slumped in a coma. Days later, Matt was freed and all charges dropped. He was strangely content. Despite another blatant cover-up and no clue as to whom all the various parties hounding them really were, Sinkage knew what he had seen when Gloria vanished. Now he could only wait for her inevitable return…

Now it is three years later: time Sinkage has spent much of the time locked in an asylum. Recently released, he has moved to bucolic small town Rockhaven and taken up his old career as a journalist. It is September 1955…

In ‘No Secrets’ the older but no wiser outsider has tentatively established himself in the little town but his job sucks and life in the boarding house he shares with a remarkably hostile cast of characters is far from a comfortable fit. The journalism job at The Ranger pays a pittance and offers no satisfaction at all, but Sinkage earns extra cash writing fanciful fake news for spurious tabloid The Tattler.

His dissatisfied life edges over into crazy again after a proposed piece on cattle mutilations leads him to a quasi-religious space cult in his own backyard. The Sirian Utopia Foundation is the obsession and pet project of wealthy widow/local philanthropist Gladys Tanner. She devoutly believes the world is heading for imminent Armageddon and that her mentors and gurus are in contact with a benign cosmic council promising enlightenment and global paradise. And they can also reunite her with her departed husband…

The townsfolk are surprisingly defensive of her and her eccentric but harmless views…

They are a lot less tolerant of Sinkage when he decides to investigate after connecting her followers – who include a number of prominent Washington politicians – with a bunch of missing scientists and Housley suddenly turns up acting all buddy-buddy.

Unable to let go, Sinkage lapses into his old suspicions and starts snooping, prompting mounting aggression from the townsfolk, culminating in a beating after he “discovers” the extremely unconvincing fake flying saucer Tanner’s associates are building in her barn…

Convictions of a gullible old lady being conned are revised in ‘The Rockhaven Conspiracy’ after Tanner’s daughter Janet shares her own fears. For some reason, powerful Washington types are also applying pressure to the reporter’s boss and the Council’s top thug Brennan resurfaces, spouting his drivel about a commie conspiracy at the Tanner farm. He even thinks the long-gone Kalashnikov has returned…

When Sinkage attends a giant weekend conclave of the Sirian Foundation faithful – and almost the entire population of Rockville – he almost falls under the mesmerising oratory of spooky demagogue Jeffry Simpson the Third, but his resistance only leads to more prosaic means being employed to capture him and strap into the same alien mindwiping device he so vividly remembers… before being made to forget…

Apparently, it doesn’t work (or does it?) and in ‘Tarnished Dreams’ events spiral out of control as the ever-vigilant Feds suddenly swoop in just as Simpson boards a real saucer. The result is both explosive and inconclusive with Sinkage again sidelined, excluded and buried in official cover-ups…

At least now though, he sure of what’s really going on, and, even though he’s being driven out of Rockville, realises only he can oppose ‘A Real and Ever Present Danger’ of alien conquest. The first step is joining Housely Investigations back in Union City, even if it means moving back in with brother Walter and his despicable sister-in-law Katie…

By May 1958, Sinkage has become a phantom celebrity, a flying saucer freak and Ufologist frequently quoted by the media, but seldom seen, warning of invasion and stalking political rising star and Presidential hopeful Senator Harrison T. Callahan. In ‘Forces Beyond Our Control’ the hunt takes him to a crucial interview with a political aide who reveals the strange circumstances of Callahan’s meteoric rise and how a string of sudden fatal heart attacks underpins it all…

By 1959 Sinkage is an anonymous presence on television, stridently warning how aliens can seize minds and program brains, sitting dormant in the back brains of unsuspecting innocents, waiting for the order to take control. His campaign against Callahan continues unabated and soon develops into open warfare. Now the Senator decides to put an end to the harassment even as The Council re-enter the life of Phil Housley, declaring the alien problem a Soviet plot to destabilise America. Over Walter’s most strenuous objections Katie manoeuvres to get Sinkage back into the asylum and he disappears from their lives…

In August 1959, as Callahan announce his candidacy Sinkage makes his last move, determined to preserve ‘The Will of the People’ at the cost of his life if necessary…

To Be Continued…

Potently evocative, impeccably tailored and fabulously cool, The Silent Invasion remains a unique, boldly imagined and cunningly crafted adventure: one whose time has finally come. Rendered in a style then considered revolutionary and even today still spectacularly expressionistic, this classic epic is bizarre, Byzantine and compellingly bewildering, and has never been more relevant than now.

The Great Fear offers an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” which no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore and the best is still to come…
© 1987, 1988, 2019 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. All rights reserved.

The Silent Invasion: The Great Fear will be published on May 15th 2019 and is available for pre-order now. Most NBM books are also available in digital formats. For more information and other great reads see http://www.nbmpub.com/