Die Laughing


By Andre Franquin, translated by Jenna Allen (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-68396-091-1 (HB)

Like so much in Franco-Belgian comics, it all starts with Le Journal de Spirou. The magazine was first seen on April 2nd1938, with its engaging and eponymous lead strip created by Rob-Vel (François Robert Velter). In 1943 publishing giant Dupuis purchased all rights to the comic and its titular star, after which comic-strip prodigy Joseph Gillain (“Jijé”) took the helm.

In 1946 Jijé’s assistant assumed the creative reins, gradually side-lining the previously-established short gag vignettes in favour of extended adventure serials. He introduced a broad, engaging cast of regulars: adding to the mix phenomenally popular rare beast and animal marvel Marsupilami (first seen in Spirou et les héritiers in 1952 and eventually a spin-off star of screen, plush toy store, console games and albums in his own right).

He continued crafting increasingly fantastic tales and absorbing Spirou sagas until his resignation in 1969. Throughout that period the creator was deeply involved in the production of the weekly Spirou comic and increasingly beset by depression and other mental health issues.

André Franquin was born in Etterbeek, Belgium on January 3rd 1924. Drawing from an early age, the lad only began formal art training at École Saint-Luc in 1943. When the war forced the school’s closure a year later, he found work at Compagnie Belge d’Animation in Brussels where he met Maurice de Bévère (AKA Lucky Luke creator “Morris”), Pierre Culliford (Peyo, creator of The Smurfs and Benny Breakiron) and Eddy Paape (Valhardi, Luc Orient).

In 1945 all but Peyo signed on with Dupuis, and Franquin began his career as a jobbing cartoonist/illustrator, producing covers for Le Moustique and scouting magazine Plein Jeu. During those early days, Franquin and Morris were being tutored by Jijé, who was the main illustrator at Le Journal de Spirou. He turned the youngsters – and fellow neophyte Willy Maltaite (AKA “Will” – Tif et Tondu, Isabelle, Le jardin des désirs) – into a smoothly functioning creative bullpen known as La bande des quatre or “Gang of Four”. They later reshaped and revolutionised Belgian comics with their prolific and engaging “Marcinelle school” style of graphic storytelling…

Jijé handed Franquin all responsibilities for the flagship strip part-way through Spirou et la maison préfabriquée (Spirou #427, June 20th 1946). The new kid ran with it for the next two decades; enlarging the scope and horizons of the feature until it became purely his own. Almost every week fans would meet startling new characters such as comrade/rival Fantasio or crackpot inventor and Merlin of mushroom mechanics the Count of Champignac.

Spirou & Fantasio became globe-trotting journalists, travelling to exotic places, uncovering crimes, exploring the fantastic and clashing with a coterie of exotic arch-enemies. However, throughout all that time Fantasio was still a full-fledged reporter for Le Journal de Spirou and had to pop into the office all the time.

While there he conceived another landmark icon, a comedic foil and meta-real alter ego who was an accident-prone, big-headed junior in charge of minor jobs and dogs-bodying. His name was Gaston Lagaffe and through him Franquin expressed his unruly dissident opinions and tendencies…

Gaston – who debuted in #985, (February 28th 1957) – grew to be one of the most popular and perennial components of the comic. In terms of entertainment schtick and delivery, older readers will certainly recognise beats of Jacques Tati and timeless elements of well-meaning self-delusion British readers will recognise from Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em or Mr Bean. It’s slapstick, paralysing puns, pomposity lampooned and no good deed going noticed, rewarded or unpunished…

In a splendid example of good practise, Franquin mentored his own band of apprentice cartoonists during the 1950s. These included Jean Roba (La Ribambelle, Boule et Bill/Billy and Buddy); Jidéhem (Sophie, Starter, Gaston Lagaffe) and Greg (Comanche, Bruno Brazil, Bernard Prince, Zig et Puce, Achille Talon), who all worked with him on Spirou et Fantasio. In 1955, a contractual spat with Dupuis saw Franquin briefly enlist with rivals Casterman on Le Journal deTintin, where he collaborated with René Goscinny and old pal Peyo whilst creating the fashion/lifestyle domestic comedy gag strip Modeste et Pompon. Franquin almost immediately  patched things up with Dupuis and returned to Spirou, subsequently co-creating Gaston Lagaffe (known in Britain these days as Gomer Goof) in 1957, but was obliged to carry on his Casterman commitments too…

From 1959, writer Greg and background artist Jidéhem assisted Franquin, but by 1969 the artist had reached his Spirou limit. He quit, taking his mystic yellow monkey with him…

Later creations include fantasy series Isabelle, illustration sequence Monsters and this arcane convergence of bleak gallows humour, adult conceptual nihilism and impassioned social and ideological frustration lensed through comedy. If you’re aware of the later work of Spike Milligan, you’ll know instinctively what I mean. The strip and original series title Idées Noires has entered into common usage in French-speaking countries, as a term for gloomy or negative thoughts: dark ideas daily obsessing people in crisis expunged and expressed through strident manic humour…

It began as he recuperated from a heart attack in 1975. Idées Noires was part of an insert comic – Le Trombone illustré – he and Yvan Delporte produced for weekly Le Journal de Spirou beginning with the March 17th 1977 issue. After 30 mini-issues, and with the global situation looking increasingly fraught, a revitalised Franquin took the strip to mature reader magazine Fluide Glacial where it ran until 1983.

Plagued throughout his life by depression, Franquin passed away on January 5th 1997, but his legacy remains: a vast body of work that reshaped the landscape of European comics.

In 2018, Fantagraphics gathered and translated the strips, releasing them as Die Laughing.

As seen in Cynthia Rose’s erudite and informative Introduction – ‘Liberty, Audacity, Hilarity: André Franquin’ – the peripatetic feature gave Franquin room to address his allegiances with issues of environmentalism, animal cruelty, political duplicity and plain old human insanity and strike back with the best weapons in his arsenal: sarcasm, mockery and despairing outrage.

To further demarcate the series from past works, the images are delivered in scratchy, shocking lines and solid blacks, with elements reversed out: it’s a world of silhouettes, deep shadows and brooding forward spaces and middle-grounds, with no extraneous detail: all delivered in eerie evocative, expressionist monochrome, rather than the shining and substantial Disney-inspired colour of Spirou and the Marsupilami…

This hardback and digital compilation consists of half and full page shorts plus a few longer cartoon strips lampooning and spearing, smug pomposity, business greed, military-industrial chicanery and ruthlessness, planetary abuse such as inflicted by oil companies and the global arms race. There are many mordant observations on sport, war for profit, the death penalty (still the guillotine, for Pete’s sake!), alien abduction, the rat race, sheer random surreal absurdism, all skewered by a sense of cosmic justice acknowledged, if not satisfied…

A constant theme returned to with merciless regularity is bloodsports and the kind of arsehole who finds fun and feels magnified by pointless slaughter. Especially singled out are those French “traditionalists” who simply must slaughter songbirds in their thousands every year as they migrate to and from Europe…

Franquin was a master of comedy in all its aspects from whimsically light to trenchantly black-edged. Come see how and why…
Die Laughing © 2018 by Fantagraphics Books, Inc. Comics © Editions Audie/Franquin Estate. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2018 by Cynthis Rose. Afterword © 2018 Gotlib Estate. All other images and text © 2018 their respective copyright holders. All rights reserved.

Iznogoud the Infamous


ISBN: 978-1-84918-074-0 (Album PB)

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of – if not the – most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course, Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery perpetually proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to those hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to detail the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However, it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup…

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; with the first episode appearing in the January 15th1962 issue. A minor hit, it jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was artfully refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little ratbag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all great storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: for youngsters it’s a comedic romp with adorably wicked baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a-cropper, whilst older, wiser heads can revel in pun-filled, witty satires and marvellously accessible episodic comic capers. Just like our Parliament today.

This same magic formula made its more famous cousin Asterix a monolithic global success and, just like the saga of the indomitable Gaul, the irresistibly addictive Arabian Nit was originally adapted into English by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge, who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to British tastes. As always the deliciously malicious whimsy is heavily dosed with manic absurdity, cleverly contemporary cultural critiques and brilliantly delivered creative anachronisms which serve to keep the assorted escapades bizarrely fresh and hilariously inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going Caliph of Ancient Baghdad Haroun Al Plassid, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or – as he is always declaiming – “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”…

The retooled series launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly growing into a massive European hit, with 31 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and a live-action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Tabary started scripting his own sublimely stylish tales (from the 13th album onwards), switching to book-length complete adventures, rather than the compilations of short, punchy vignettes which typified the collaborations.

Originally released in 1969, Iznogoud l’infâme was the fourth Dargaud collection, the second volume published by Methuen in 1977, and the seventh splendid Cinebook album; offering a wry and raucous quintet of short tales with the Vile Vizier on top form as he schemes to seize power from his oddly oblivious Lord and Master.

The eternal drama begins with ‘The Sinister Liquidator’, which finds Iznogoud and his bumbling, long-suffering henchman and strong-arm crony Wa’at Alahf making their way through a malodorous swamp in search of a Djinn with the power to reduce all he touches to unliving liquid. Enduring the evil Ifreet’s ghastly manners and painful punning, the devilish diplomat strikes a bargain which spells doom for the Caliph… but first he has to get the demon back to the palace.

Since the Djinn cannot completely leave his fetid fluid environment and glorious bustling Baghdad is beyond the Great Desert, Iznogoud and Wa’at Alahf must Djinngerly transport their secret weapon home. Moreover, as under no circumstances can they afford to be moistened by the monster themselves, a succession of buckets, bowls, bottles and vials inexorably diminish the watery wonder and the Vile Vizier’s chances of success until – as you’d expect – the inevitable occurs…

The pun-punctuated comedy of errors is followed by a sneaky dose of inspired iniquity dubbed ‘The Invisible Menace’wherein the dictator-in-waiting learns a magic spell which will banish his imperial impediment from the sight of man. Of course, he still has to find and keep his target still long enough for the magic to work…

Sheer broad slapstick-riddled farce is the secret ingredient of the next craftily convoluted saga. When Iznogoud deliberately accepts a cursed gem which brings catastrophic misfortune in the expectation that he can palm it off on his unsuspecting boss, he greatly underestimates the power of ‘The Unlucky Diamond’.

As soon the ghastly gem latches on to a truly deserving victim and unleashes a succession of punitive calamities, it determines to never let go…

A state visit by an African potentate allows the Vizier plenty of time to confer with his opposite number in ‘The Magic Doll’. Sadly, the bemused Witch Doctor has no idea that his numerous demonstrations of voodoo magic with a clay figurine are Iznogoud’s dry runs for a stab at the throne.

Of course, for the sorcery to work, the Vizier has to somehow obtain a lock of Haroun Al Plassid’s closely guarded and held-as-holy hair…

The manic mirth concludes by descending into sheer surreal absurdity (granting Tabary license to ascend to M.C. Escher-like heights of graphic invention) as an itinerant magician known as ‘The Mysterious Billposter’ crafts a magic advert which can transport people to an idealised paradisiacal holiday destination.

Iznogoud is far more interested in the fact that, once in, no-one can get out again…

Just for a change the plan succeeds perfectly and the blithely unaware Caliph is trapped in an inescapable, idealised extra-dimensional state. Then again – due to his extreme eagerness – so is his not-so-faithful Vizier…

Just such witty, fast-paced hi-jinks and craftily crafted comedy set pieces have made this addictive series a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common term for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently a little lacking in height.

When first released in Britain during the late 1970s (and again in 1996 as a periodical comicbook) these tales made little impression, but certainly now these snappy, wonderfully beguiling strips have found an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…

And Hansard…
Original edition © Dargaud Editeur Paris, 1969 by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved. This edition published 2011 by Cinebook Ltd.

Willie & Joe: Back Home


By Bill Mauldin (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-351-4 (HB)

Throughout World War II William Henry “Bill” Mauldin fought “Over There” with the United States Infantry whilst producing cartoons about the fighting men and for the fighting men. He told as much of the real nature of the war as his censors and common sense would allow and became an unwilling international celebrity as much because of his unshakable honesty as his incredible artistic talents.

He was incontrovertibly “one of the guys” and American soldiers and civilians loved him for it. During his time in the service he produced cartoons for the folks back home and intimately effective, authentic and quirkily morale-boosting material for military publications 45th Division News, Yank and Stars and Stripes.

They mostly featured two slovenly “dogfaces” – a term he made his own and introduced to the world at large – giving a trenchant and acerbically enduring view of the war from the point of view of the poor sods ducking bullets in muddy foxholes and surviving shelling in the ruins of Europe.

Willie and Joe, to the dismay of much of the Army Establishment, gave an honest overview of America’s ground war. 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.

Willie even made the cover of Time Magazine in 1945, when 23 year old Mauldin won his first Pulitzer Prize. Like so many other returning soldiers, however, Mauldin’s hard-won Better Tomorrow didn’t live up to its promise…

Mauldin’s anti-war, anti-Idiots-in-Charge, anti-bigot views never changed, but found simply new targets at home. However, during the earliest days of the Cold War and despite being a bone fide War Hero, Mauldin’s politically strident cartoons fell ever more out of step with the New America: a place where political expediency allowed racists to resume repressing ethnic sections of the nation now that their blood and sweat were no longer needed to defeat the Axis.

This new America expected women to surrender their war-time freedoms and become again servants and consumers and baby machines: happy to cook suppers in return for the new labour-saving consumer goods America now needed to sell, sell, sell. This nation was far too eager to forget the actual war and genuine soldiers in favour of massaged messages and conformist, inspirational paper or celluloid heroes.

The New America certainly didn’t want anybody rocking their shiny new boat…

When Sergeant Bill Mauldin mustered out in 1945, he was notionally on top of the world: a celebrity hero, youngest Pulitzer Prize winner in history, with a lucrative 3-year syndicated newspaper contract and Hollywood clamouring for him.

Unfortunately for him, Mauldin was as dedicated to his ideals as to his art. As soon as he became aware of the iniquities of the post-war world, he went after them. Using his newspaper tenancy as a soapbox, Mauldin attacked in bitterly brilliant barrages the maltreatment and side-lining of actual combat veterans. During the country’s entire involvement in WWII, less than 10% of military men actually fought, or even left their home country, whilst rear-echelon brass seemed to increasingly reap the benefits and unearned glory of the peace.

Ordinary enlisted men and veterans were culture-shocked, traumatised, out of place and resented by the public, who blamed them disproportionately for the shortages and “suffering” they had endured. Black and Japanese Americans were reduced to second class citizens (again, for most of them) and America’s erstwhile allies were pilloried, exploited and demonised, whilst everywhere politicians and demagogues were rewriting recent history for their own advantage…

Mauldin’s fondest wish had been to kill the iconic dogfaces off on the final day of World War II, but Stars and Stripesvetoed it, and the demobbed survivors moved into a world that had changed incomprehensibly in their absence…

Always ready for a fight, Mauldin’s peacetime Willie and Joe became a noose around the syndicate’s neck as the cartoonist’s acerbic, polemical and decidedly non-anodyne observations perpetually highlighted iniquities and stupidities inflicted on returning servicemen and attacked self-aggrandising politicians. He advocated such socialist horrors as free speech, civil rights and unionisation, affordable public housing and universal medical care for everybody – no matter what their colour, gender or religion. The crazy cartoonist even declared war on the Ku Klux Klan, American Legion and red-baiting House UnAmerican Activities Commission: nobody was too big. When the Soviet Union and United Nations betrayed their own ideological principles, Mauldin went after them too…

An honest broker, he had tried to quit early, but the syndicate held him to his contract so, trapped in a situation that increasingly stifled his creative urges and muzzled his liberal/libertarian sensibilities, he refused to toe the line and his cartoons were incessantly altered and reworked.

During six years of War service his cartoon had been censored three times; now the white paint and scissors were employed by rewrite boys almost daily…

The movie Up Front – which Mauldin wanted to reflect the true experience of the war – languished unmade for six years until a sappy, flimsy comedy bearing the name was released in 1951. The intended screenplay – by Mauldin, John Lardner and Ring Lardner Jr. – vanished: deemed utterly unsuitable and unfilmable …until much of its tone reappeared in Lardner Jr.’s 1970 screenplay M*A*S*H

As the syndicate bled clients – mostly in segregationist states – and contemplated terminating his contract, Mauldin began simultaneously working for the New York Herald-Tribune. With a new liberal outlet. His tactics changed in the Willie and Joe feature: becoming more subtle and less bombastic. He still picked up the best of enemies, however, adding J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to the roster of declaimers and decriers…

When his contract finally ended in 1948, neither side wanted to renew. Mauldin left the business to become a journalist, freelance writer and illustrator. He was a film actor for a time (appearing in Red Badge of Courage with Audie Murphy, among other movies); a war correspondent during the Korean Conflict and an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1956.

He only finally returned to newspaper cartooning in 1958 in a far different world: working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before moving to the Chicago Sun-Times, winning another Pulitzer and a Reuben Award for his political cartoons

He retired in 1991 after a long, glittering and properly-appreciated 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).

Also available digitally, this magnificent hardback companion volume to Willie and Joe: the WWII Years covers the period of work from July 31st 1945 to 31st December 1948, supplemented by a brilliant biographical introduction from Todd DePastino: a superb black-&-white compendium collecting the bittersweet return of the forgotten heroes as they faced confusion, exclusion, contention and disillusion, but always with the edgy, stoic humour under fire that was Mauldin’s stock in trade.

Moreover, it features some of the most powerful assaults on the appalling edifice of post-war America ever seen. The artist’s castigating observations on how a society treats returning soldiers are more pertinent now than they ever were; the pressures on families and children even more so; whilst his exposure of armchair strategists, politicians and businessmen seeking to exploit wars for gain and how quickly allies can become enemies are tragically more relevant than any rational person could wish.

Alternating trenchant cynicism, moral outrage, gallows humour, sanguine observation and uncomprehending betrayal, this cartoon chronicle is an astounding personal testament that shows the powers of cartoons to convey emotion if not sway opinion.

In Willie & Joe: Back Home we have here a magnificent example of passion and creativity used as a weapon of social change and a work of art every citizen should be exposed to, because these are aspects of humanity that we seem unable to outgrow…
This edition © 2011 Fantagraphics Books. Cartoons © 2011 the Estate of William Mauldin. All right reserved.

The Detection Club parts 1 & 2


By Jean Harambat, coloured by Jean-Jacques Rouger translated by Allison M. Charette (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: BA Perfect Portion of Post-Prandial Perplexity… 9/10

What’s the Holiday Season without a devilish mystery to chew on? Not nearly as much fun, I’m sure, and with that in mind here’s a brace of superb cartoon conundrums from the continent, based on an unlikely but actual historical convocation.

As seen on Wikipedia – please use often and make a large a supporting financial donation, if you can – The Detection Club was a literary society of British crime writers, founded in 1930, with the likes of G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie as early Presidents. In 1936, American émigré John Dickson Carr became the first non-Brit elected to the august body.

They did stuff, wrote stories, held events and upheld (Ronald) Knox’s Commandments which detailed the rules of mystery writing. The group is the basis of later media McGuffin’s such as Batman’s Mystery Analysts of Gotham City.

I’m pretty sure the story here collected in two volumes by award-winning cartoonist, screenwriter, graphic novelist, historian, philosopher and journalist Jean Harambat (Les Invisibles, Ulysses, the Songs of Return, Operation Copperhead) is apocryphal, but you never know…

Originally released in 2019, our story opens in a prologue with the reciting of those commandments and the confirmation of Mr. Dixon Carr at a slap-up feed at London hostelry Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – a pub that doesn’t seem to mind the odd celebratory gunshot…

Present are President Chesterton, Dixon Carr, Christie, Sayers, Baroness Emma Orczy, Major A.E.W. Mason and Monsignor Ronald Knox himself, and – as the repast winds down – proceedings are somewhat disturbed by the arrival of a flying, talking robotic bird bearing a strange invitation…

Eccentric man of means Mr. Roderick Ghyll wishes the company of the sagacious society at his extraordinary domicile on April 1st. Briarcliff House is situated on a private island where Ghyll wishes to celebrate the future through his latest contrivance, promising “challenges”, “enchantments” and “the renaissance of crime fiction”…

Chapter I opens with the scribes and scribblers approaching ‘An Island in Cornwall’ and still heatedly debating the motives of the mystery man. Ghyll greets them effusively before whizzing off in a bizarre electric unicycle leaving them to make their way to his palatial manse which is a gleaming tribute to sleek, tripped down modernism – if not actual futurism…

Apart from the domestic staff chef Alphonse, maid Madeline, implacable Asian manservant Fu, and stepdaughter Millicent, the only other human present is technical assistant Dr. Zumtod and Ghyll’s haughty beautiful wife Honoria. A future generation would call her a “trophy”…

The old plutocrat is a deeply unpleasant and overbearing host who boasts of one more personage that the sharp-minded, brain-testing authors must meet. With smugness and great ceremony he introduces Eric: a mechanical man with more than human insight who can outwit any mortal and easily determine the culprit in any tale they might concoct…

Although challenged with the details of a string of classic novels – which Eric easily and correctly concludes with the name of the perpetrators – the writers remain insulted and unconvinced. Dixon Carr even oversteps the bounds of polite decency by probing the automaton in search of a pre-prepped dwarf or amputee and the display is halted for dinner where Ghyll continues to advocate a world filled with his “metal friends”…

The evening wears on with the usual social distractions balanced by heated argument on many topics sparked by Eric’s existence and the magnate’s pronunciations that art and literature must make way for a machine-run world. At last, the affair breaks up with the guests retiring to their assigned rooms in a state of high dudgeon…

That all ends in esteemed literary tradition, with screams and the writers breaking into Ghyll’s savagely disarrayed bedroom to discover Eric inert in a chair and clear evidence of ‘The Billionaire Out the Window’. Far below, a dressing gown sinks beneath choppy waves and frantic searches can find no sign of their host…

Well-versed if not actually experienced in investigation, the writers set about interviewing the staff and then the residents. Soon Zumtod suggests the painfully obvious: turning Eric loose on the problem. The response is as rapid as the answer is shocking…

While waiting for the outer world to re-establish contact with the isolated isle, Agatha bonds with the presumed widow and probes the step-daughter, whilst Chesterton continues to scour the entire vicinity. He’s suspicious of everything – including whether there has been any crime at all – and soon unearths many unsuspected secrets even as each writer cleaves to their particular speciality and makes their own assessment and forms a hypothesis…

And then a body washes ashore…

The Detection Club’s second volume begins with third chapter ‘Seven Amateur Detectives’ and an armada of late-arriving constabulary led by Inspector Widgeon to interview the drawing room sleuths. Mounting tensions, contrary theories and wounded pride quickly drive all concerned to fractious conflict even as Millicent’s banished and outcast twin Watkyn re-emerges. Has he only returned because of his despised step-father’s demise or was he actually back just before it happened?

Events seemingly come to a head when Christie expounds her latest theory and provokes a minor hostage crisis until the villain is apprehended through unlikely team work. As the police step in with the handcuffs however, new evidence emerges that sets the cogitators back on the murder-trail until straightforward ratiocination leads one author to the only possible solution…

Wry, witty, and decidedly well-plotted, with devastatingly sharp, catty dialogue (kudos to translator Allison M. Charette) and smart characterisations, this lovely lark is also charmingly limned: a superb tribute to days gone by and superb stylists who tested our wits and expanded our entertainment horizons. This is tale no  whimsically-inclined crime fan can afford to miss

© 2020 – DARGUAD – HARAMBAT. All rights reserved.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter


By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112-283-0 (TPB) eISBN 978-1-68112-284-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Sinister, Seductive, Superb… 10/10

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 Capital “A” Art Form, and their doors opened wide open for foreigners to make a few waves too…

One of the era’s most critically acclaimed and inescapably intoxicating features sprang from semi-Canadian outfit Renegade Press which set up shop in the USA at the start of the black & white comics bubble in 1984. They quickly established a reputation for excellence offering a strong line of creator-based properties including some genuinely remarkable series such as Ms. Tree, Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire, Flaming Carrot, Normalman, and a compulsively backwards-looking Cold War/UFO/paranoia-driven delight: The Silent Invasion.

That last was a stunningly stylish conspiracy 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. From here and now, it’s never seemed more distressingly likely that politics, if not all history, is cursed to repeat certain cycles and strategies…

The series was eventually collected as four superbly oversized monochrome tomes, re-presenting the lead story from the first dozen issues of The Silent Invasion wherein inspired co-creators Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock designed 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, as the world again teeters on the edge of a multiple-choice test of imminent dooms – and with America once more enduring internecine struggle amongst the citizenry, corruption, 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 is remastered, revised, re-released and continued in a handy trade paperback size (or fully adjustable eBook format)…

Gripping and utterly addictive, The Silent Invasion is incomprehensibly charming and challenging. Rendered in a compelling, spectacularly expressionistic style it is an epic of perpetual twists and turns, leaving readers dazed, dazzled and always hungry for more, and its Machiavellian contortions and observations have never been more relevant than now. After all, doesn’t the news confirm every day that infiltration is complete, assimilation is near-total and utterly non-human tyrant-morons have already co-opted earthly corridors of power…

1950s America remains a hugely iconic and paradoxical time. Incomparable 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 incisive, 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 that’s not really a mystery, is it?

What Has Gone Before: In April 1952, infamous Union City private eye Dick Mallet saw a strange light in the night sky. Next morning, cops found his empty, crashed automobile. A month later reporter Matt Sinkage was still getting grief from Frank Costello, Editor of the Union City Sentinel. Matt was frantic to expose “The Truth behind Flying Saucers” but became an ostracised laughing stock, especially since he also suspected his foreign-sounding neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov was a Russian spy….

Sinkage alienated his family and drove his fiancée Peggy Black to distraction. All he could think about was the night six months ago in Albany when he witnessed a UFO and impetuously chased after it: a crazy night everyone remembers… except him.

When Matt broke into Ivan’s apartment, he saw 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 cunningly asked her out to lunch. Things developed and Gloria begged him to save her from what she claimed were Red agents, even though the thugs subsequently claimed to be Federal agents…

Hiding out at his brother Walter’s place, Matt was still seeing flying saucers everywhere and couldn’t understand why everybody else thought they were just jets. In Union City, Costello was pressured by brutish FBI Agent Phil Housley: an old acquaintance who regularly forced him to suppress unwelcome or troubling news items…

This time he wanted Sinkage. What no newsman knew was that Housley also worked for a shadow agency: The Council. What Housley didn’t know was that he was only a pawn…

Back in suburbia, Walter’s wife Katie – convinced Matt and his new floozy Gloria were up to no good – reached out to the FBI. The fugitives were heading out in Walter’s car when Peggy showed up. She couldn’t understand why her man was with a flashy trollop, and wouldn’t accept that Matt only wanted the lowdown on the Reds and access to Kalashnikov’s memoirs and files. Matt knew Gloria was playing a double game, but 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 factions equally unaware 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 eventually succumbed to suspicion. Gloria kept vanishing and refused to acknowledge it and Kalashnikov’s hoods Zanini and Koldst abducted her and roughed up Matt.

Events spiralled and came to a head in sleepy distant Stubbinsville. Housley and the FBI tracked the runaways, meeting up with the Reds and what might well have been aliens in the isolated region. The net closed around them as a fantastic, terrifying light-show ignited the dark skies. By the time the G-Men reached them, Gloria had vanished and Sinkage was in a coma. Days later, he was free 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…

Three years later, in September 1955, he was still waiting. He’d spent much of that time in an asylum. On release, he moved to bucolic Rockhaven and resumed his old trade as a journalist. The uncaring outsider had tentatively established himself in the small town, but his job at The Ranger paid a pittance and offered no satisfaction. Sinkage earned extra cash writing fake news for spurious tabloid The Tattler.

His life spiralled again after a proposed piece on cattle mutilations led to a quasi-religious space cult in his own backyard. At first journalistic sight, the Sirian Utopia Foundation was a long con gulling wealthy widow Gladys Tanner. She devoutly believed the world was heading for imminent Armageddon and that her new gurus were in contact with a benign cosmic council promising enlightenment and global paradise, and could reunite her with her departed husband…

Her followers included prominent Washington politicians who Sinkage connected to missing scientists. When Housley turned up, acting friendly, Matt lapsed into old suspicions and started snooping, “discovering” a fake flying saucer in the Tanner barn was a prop disguising the real thing…

The Council’s top thug Brennan resurfaced, spouting drivel about commie conspiracy at the Tanner farm but again, drastic action by the Feds ended the investigation convincing Sinkage that America and the world are in the midst of a sly alien conquest only he can expose.

Sinkage joined his nemesis as part of Housley Investigations in Union City, even though it meant moving living with Walter and despicable Katie. By May 1958, he was a phantom celebrity: a flying saucer freak regularly cited by the media, yet seldom seen. Cassandra-like, he warned of invasion, and stalked Presidential hopeful Senator Harrison T. Callahan – a candidate he believed to be a mind-controlled alien puppet.

By 1959, he was an anonymous star on TV, stridently declaring how aliens seized minds. When Senator Callahan sought to stifle Sinkage’s campaign, The Council reactivated Housley, claiming the entire alien issue a Soviet plot to destabilise America. Over Walter’s objections Katie manoeuvred to get Sinkage back into the asylum and he subsequently vanished from their lives…

In August, Callahan officially announced his candidacy and Sinkage made a desperate move, resolved to save humanity whatever the cost…

He was foiled by Housley who briefly became a minor celebrity, but by 1965 the grizzled world-weary Private Eye was old news. Nobody cared anymore how he saved the life of America’s next president in August or that he killed a crazy reporter. Housley’s life was all about making ends meet, accommodating estranged wife Vivian while still seeing his kids, and keeping secretary/girlfriend Meredith Baxter happy. Union City, meanwhile, reeled from a string of bizarre serial killings…

With life constantly kicking him hard, Phil found an unexpected upside after predatory, exceedingly generous client Sarah Finster hired him to find her husband, Howard. He was an attorney at prestigious Phelps, Finster and Phelan: a simple, uncomplicated guy who started suffering blackouts, He’d been disappearing for days at a time and reappearing with no knowledge of where he’d been or that time has passed. That truly intrigued Housley, since he’d been experiencing exactly the same problems lately…

Diligent investigation led Phil to a shrink named Jeffrey Plunck, and more than he bargained for. Apparently, Howard had been disappearing and experiencing memory problems for a year, and claimed he’d been abducted by aliens…

Officious Dr. Plunck stonewalled in a manner Phil thought only Feds could pull off, and for some reason Housley had a chilling dream about Matt Sinkage. When an envelope arrived, containing a note and recent photo of Plunck and the impossibly still-alive Sinkage, Phil sought out Nora Marsh: Howard’s girl on the side and another regular alien abductee. Abruptly ambushed, he regained consciousness to find Nora gone, leaving a list of names that led him to Howard. When he took the bewildered lawyer home, Housley was blasted by blazing light and awakened having lost more time and memories…

Revisiting all he knows about Sinkage and confronting the reporter’s former boss Frank Costello, Housley learned Nora’s list is people who have recently died or been murdered in uncanny circumstances. Walter Sinkage then added fuel to the insane alien nonsense by expounding a raft of crazy suppositions about Canada’s Flying Saucer programme – and their football exploits – which left the weary detective more baffled than ever and blithely unaware of how many different people have him under observation…

When bodies start piling up and circumstantially pointing to Phil, his increasingly troubled homelife and those oh-so-convenient memory black-outs only add fuel to a well-built fire of conspiracy, and as witnesses and potential allies vanish or die, a procedural net he was very used to holding closed around him.

Shifting into furious overdrive, Phil went on the run, determined to find answers. Raiding Plunck’s office, he stumbled upon an incredible nest of secrets, provoking a massive, deadly response which precipitated a savage clash with resurgent Council forces and the irresistible powers behind them…

The chilling campaign reaches 1970 in new volume Dark Matter, where (after ‘Previously in The Silent Invasion’ – a far more succinct précis of past events) dull and boring Walter Sinkage steps up to the paranoia plate after moving to suburban ‘Willowdale’.

Status-hungry wife Katie finally sees her life back on track, but the move proves her downfall as it causes Walter to look through brother Matt’s copious files, which have festered in the basement since before he died. It also overlaps the moment Walter experiences his first – but not last – flying saucer sighting…

Soon and inevitably, Walter is drawn into a beguiling web of intrigue and cautiously joins AAA – Alien Abductees Anonymous – run by creepily unctuous Reverend Wilson Monroe Parsons on behalf of the remarkably ubiquitous Xylotec Research Foundation. As “Steve”, Sinkage learns there are two kinds of abductee: the usual whacko attention-seekers and people like Charlene Bathgate – and himself – who have clearly been changed by something uncanny. Parsons can tell the difference and assigns Charlene to watch the new guy…

Home and work life deteriorate as Walter sinks further into obsession. Time and memories slip as the AAA crowd becomes his sole focus, and a tipping point comes when he’s introduced to gleaming and scary Pam and Sam, Missionary vanguards for the Cosmic Fellowship of Our Lady of the Spaceways temple (think Scientologists with even better teeth, and sparkles) who insist Steve has “the Gift” and give him their utmost attention. It translates into inviting themselves into Walter’s home and converting Katie into a braindead zealot. Events have meanwhile moved far beyond Walter’s control and he’s being dragged somewhere strange: seeing more lights in the sky and worse…

When he’s snatched by government-type heavies who want to take him to Stubbinsville, he’s saved by the miraculous appearance of Matt Sinkage before being drawn into the heavens for Enlightenment…

The Council return in a dominant position, executing plans that will reshape human society in ‘Camp X’ as Walter’s disappearance triggers a police missing persons investigation. For Detective Sawchuck it’s just another case, but his partner Eddy Dime is utterly overwhelmed by Walter/Matt’s files and irretrievably sucked in to the mystery. After talking to Reverend Parsons and Charlene, Dime cannot let go, especially after pressure from on high forces his boss to shelve the case…

Eddy doesn’t care. After finding Walter’s car in Stubbinsville and talking to town historian Sydney Ellsworth, he’s determined to examine a supposedly-decommissioned military base everyone knows is still active and the reason for so many UFO sightings. Ellsworth knows it’s just a lab for mind-control experiments by the Military-Industrial Complex that controls the government…

Whilst reporting to Katie Sinkage, Dime meets Pam and Sam, experiences headaches and disorientation and wakes up days later with jumbled memories. Refusing to drop the case he then realises he’s being watched by trench-coated strangers…

Enigma and intensity exponentially expand in ‘Feints and Fumbles’ as the web closes around Dime, who goes off the reservation, stashing Sinkage’s files. While Katie shills for the Cosmic Fellowship temple and predicts Walter’s imminent return, Charlene seemingly opens up to Dime: moving into his apartment to hide from the army of conspirators closing in. Soon after, Eddy sees lights in the sky and has his own inexplicable experience, and when Feds try to confiscate his findings, quits the force…

As the Council exerts its power over the police and city leaders, with many old faces like Dr. Plunck or Frank Costello in attendance, ‘Return to Stubbinsville’ finds Dime in business as a PI and finally face-to face with back-but-baffled Walter Sinkage. The abductee can’t remember much beyond probes and lights, but is convinced brother Matt was there. Hungry for answers, Dime enrols in the Cosmic Fellowship church and undergoes an orientation process that changes him forever, even as Charlene endures her own comeuppance. And then Ellsworth phones, urgently suggesting Dime come to Camp X if he wishes to achieve ‘Enlightenment’

The truth might well be out there, but it’s not what anybody expects or is ready to accept…

Supplemented by a fascinating selection of ‘Sketches and Layouts’; riddled throughout with in-joke DC Comics creators Easter eggs, and contemporary critiques like a delicious swipe at a former President and legendary sore loser, this is another impeccable brush with mindboggling paranoia-as-entertainment you won’t be able to put down.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter provides an unforgettable gateway to an eerily familiar yet comfortably exotic era of innocent joy and a million “top secrets” no fan of fantastic thriller fiction should ignore – and the best is still to come…
© 2021 Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock. All rights reserved.

The Silent Invasion: Dark Matter will be released on December 16th 2021 and is available digitally and for physical copy pre-order now.

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

Christmas Treat: the entire saga thus far can be yours for a bargain festive price. Just head to…
THE SILENT INVASION Bundle (Includes VOLS. 1-4)
By Michael Cherkas & Larry Hancock

Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden – Life is Full of Pricks


By Nathalie Tierce (Indigo Raven)
ISBN: 978-1-73783-260-7 (PB) eISBN: 978-1-734174-4-1

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Particularly Pointed Party Favours for all those Imminent, Inescapable Get-togethers… 8/10

The marriage of image and text is a venerable, potent and astoundingly evocative discipline that can simultaneously tickle like a feather, cut like a scalpel and hit like a steam-hammer. Moreover, repeated visits to a particular piece of work can even generate different responses depending on the recipient’s mood.

If you’re a multi-talented artist like Nathalie Tierce, who’s excelled in film and stage production for everyone from the BBC to Disney and Tim Burton to Martin Scorsese; music performance design for Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Rolling Stones; gallery art; painted commissions and latterly, graphic narratives such as Fairy Tale Remnants, challenges must be a hard thing to find.

Thankfully, human-watching is frequently its own reward, resulting in books like this slim, enthrallingly revelatory paperback (or digital digest) which forensically dissects human nature: exploring modern times and unchanging human nature through a lens of Lockdown and via the immortal truths of folklore as expressed in Aesop’s Fables.

On show in this handy art boutique are stunning paintings in a range of media, but all rendered in the bizarrely baroque classical manner of Breughel or Bosch, albeit blended with the quixotic energy of cartoon satirists Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman.

Each condemnatory visual judgement is deftly wedded to moving, querulous and frankly often quite terrifying epigrams capturing contemporary crisis points of isolation, confusion, despondency and simple surrender to fate: summarised in fractured haikus and weaponised odes such as ‘Lost in a Supermarket’, ‘Domestic Bliss’, ‘Thoughts on the Outside’,‘Destiny Guides Our Fortunes’, ‘Say No Meore’, ‘The Lamb and the Wolf’, ‘Clown Adrift’, ‘Plucked Grumpy Chicken’,‘Speeding Back to the Comfort of Hell’, ‘Tragic Circus’ and more.

Blending wicked whimsy with everyday paranoia and neighbourly competitiveness, Pulling Weeds from a Cactus Garden is a mature delight for all students of human nature with a sharp eye and unforgiving temperament – and surely, isn’t that all of us?
© 2021 Indigo Raven. © 2021 Nathalie Tierce. All rights reserved.

A Sea of Love


By Wilfrid Lupano & Grégory Panaccione (Lion Forge/The Magnetic Collection)
ISBN: 978-1-942367-45-1 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because Words Just Aren’t Enough… 10/10

The sheer breadth, variety and creative ambition of comics holds me breathless sometimes. It feels like there’s no subject or blend thereof; no tone or trope; no limits and absolutely no style or admixture that talented individuals can’t turn into heartrending, hilarious, thrilling, educational, evocative, uplifting and/or infuriating stories.

This completely silent saga from prolific French writer Wilfrid Lupano (Old Geezers; Azimut; Blanc Autour; Le Loup; Valerian spin-off Shingouzlooz Inc. and many more) and illustrator Grégory Panaccione (Someone to Talk To; Toby Mon Ami; Match; Âme perdue) somehow offers all of those in one delicious hardback or digital package.

Originally seen au continent as Un Océan d’amour in 2014, this wordless yet universally comprehensible pantomime is an unforgettable saga celebrating the timeless resilience of mature love. Here it is craftily concealed but constantly displayed in a tale of tetchy devotion between an aged diminutive fisherman and his quiet, timid, overly-flappable but formidably indomitable wife.

Every morning before the sun lights their rustic hovel, she makes him a wonderful breakfast before he heads out into the big ocean in his little boat. They have their fractious moments and he can be a trial sometimes, but their relationship is rock solid and never-ending.

This particular morning, however, the old coot finally falls foul of a changing world, when his little vessel is snagged in the nets of a vast trawler factory ship. Saving his idiot apprentice, the old git is soon swallowed up and gone…

At least, that’s what the sole survivor believes when he washes up ashore. However, the matronly fresh widow refuses to accept that and – disregarding decades of homey domestic programming – goes looking for him.

Oh, the incredible adventures she has and the people she meets…

He, meanwhile, is still very much alive. Stranded on his little tub, with nothing but tinned sardines and memories to sustain him, he is washed uncontrollably across the world. Befriended by a sardine-loving gull, he experiences first hand and close up the way we’ve befouled the seas and meets a wide variety of people he’s casually misjudged all his life, before eventually fighting his way back to his little cottage and the faithful one who’s waiting for him. At least, he complacently assumed she is…

Epic, hilarious, terrifying, shocking and sublimely satisfying, this is masterpiece of graphic narrative with so very much to say. Why not give your eyes a treat and have a good listen?
A Sea of Love © 2018 Editions Delcourt. All rights reserved.

Methods of Dyeing


By B. Mure (Avery Hill Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-62-2 (TPB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Mesmerising Magnum Opus Actively Unfolding Before Your Very Eyes… 8/10

Most forms of fiction depend on strong memorable characters and heaping helpings of tension, suspense and of action to hold the attention. You need to be really good and quite brave to try anything outside those often-infantile parameters. B. Mure is that good.

The Nottingham based artist and storyteller’s other notable work to date is the remarkable webcomic Boy Comics. You should check that out too.

In 2018, B. Mure pulled together threads and ideas from years of planning, dreaming and doodling, to begin building an epic fantasy saga. It started with Original Graphic Novel Ismyre, introducing a strange ancient city of song and tired wonders, unsettled by magical eco-terrorists and weaponised flora, where a sculptor’s works inspired and moved the strangest of folk. This magical city was entering a period of “interesting times”…

That was closely followed by sequel Terrible Means, which seemingly had very little to do with the protagonists of the first, but instead took readers back to a time when wizardly green rebels Niklas, Henriett and Emlyn were simply researchers whose studies divined a growing imbalance in the natural ecosystem…

The Tower in the Sea focused in on a different point in time and tale, providing a fresh approach to what is shaping up to be a vast and expansively multi-layered saga.

Contemporary Ismyre is more dictatorship than civil metropolis, and for years gifted children were spirited away from it by a clique of outlaw magicians and taken to a hidden island to be schooled in magical arts. That haven of learning was not proof against intrigue and plots, however, and before long unscholarly events upset lots of apple carts…

Now, fourth volume Methods of Dyeing returns us to the Big City, but sticks to educational themes and macabre mysteries as potential scandal rocks staid and stolid Ismyre University. Mere moments before the delivery of a much heralded lecture, visiting Professor Detlef of rival city-state Belsithan is murdered. The renowned botanist, textile expert and master dyer was discovered in bushes just outside the lecture hall…

The event manifests the usual journalistic scavengers, but both the Chief of Police and University Dean are suspiciously keen to shut down sordid speculation and all enquiries as rapidly as possible.

All hope of that outcome ends with the arrival of a forceful and enigmatic detective from Belsithan. She quickly assumes jurisdiction and begins to make herself extremely unwelcome in every stratum of college and city life. Her diligent, persistent investigations uncover plenty of secrets and suspects as well as possible motive: Detlef had accommodated the beliefs of the Eco-anarchist movement increasingly disrupting Ismyre’s economy and politics…

However, as the detective zeroes in on the truth, her own big secret is about to be exposed…

The word “tapestry” is one much overused but it really fits the gradual unpeeling of layers comprising the history of Ismyre: beautiful images coming together, small self-contained stories unfolding depending upon where you start from, yet all part of a greater whole, promising more and clearer revelations further ahead. You must read all these books but (so far) it really doesn’t matter where you start from. So, it might as well be here, right?

Sadly, this deliciously genteel, sublimely illustrated cosy murder-mystery is not available digitally yet, but that just means you can give physical copies to all your friends, suitably gift-wrapped and properly appreciated by the tactile senses as well as cerebral ones…

An anthropomorphic, luscious and compellingly realised world of wonder to savour and ponder over is waiting for you – and if you’re quick, you can exploit the publisher’s sagacious generosity by visiting the Avery Hill website and buying all four Ismyre books in one big sales bundle…
© 2021 B. Mure. All rights reserved.

Methods of Dyeing will be released on November 11th 2021 and is available for pre-order now.

Gaia Blues


By Gud (Europe Comics)
No ISBN: digital release only

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Because it’s never too soon and not quite too late… 8/10

Assuming you don’t live in a bubble – and maybe we’ll all be doing that soon – you know the planet is in a parlous state whilst those we put in charge are refusing to do anything meaningful to fix it.

Comics and creators have a great deal of soft power but we can’t do much to mend a planet – more’s the pity. However, we can keep banging on about the crisis, capturing hearts and minds until some sort of tipping point – or spontaneously assembled citizens’ committee of eco-assassins dedicated to primal justice – removes the political and business interests sabotaging the path to salvation. Aah, it’s good to dream…

Gaia Blues was first released in 2011, an epic journey and painful odyssey painted in comely cartoons by Italian artist, animation designer and storyteller Gud (Gentes; Heidi, Mon Amour; Timothy Top)

It details in a beguiling rollercoaster ride of images, an endless journey around our increasingly befouled and besieged world, rendered in an inviting wealth of primary colours and images bereft of text: a tragic silent movie with adorable characters pantomiming the end of the world so simplistically even the youngest of kids and most dissembling and disingenuous of world leaders will get the message. It even offers a tantalising spark of hope at the end.

You should read it while we still have time…
© 2016 TUNUÉ (Tunué S.r.l.) – Gud. All rights reserved.

Can’t Get No


By Rick Veitch (Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1059-5 (TPB)

The terrorist atrocity of September 11th, 2001 changed the world and in our own small corner, generated a number of graphic narrative responses of varying quality, not to mention deep emotional honesty. Rick Veitch’s 2006 entry Can’t Get No was as powerful and heartfelt as any, but benefited greatly from a little time and distance.

Chad Roe’s company sold the world’s most permanent and indelible marker pen, the “Eter-No-Mark”. Everyone was flying high but then the lawsuits hit all at once. A cheap, utterly irremovable felt-pen is a godsend to street-artists and the most virulent of vandalistic weapons to property owners…

As his universe collapses on him, Chad goes on a bender, picks up two hippie-artist-chicks in a bar and wakes up a human scribble-board, covered literally from head to toe in swirling, organic, totally permanent designs.

Even then he tries so very hard to bounce back. A walking abstract artwork, he is ostracized by mockery, unable to conceal his obvious “otherness”, and neither self-help philosophies, drugs, nor alcohol can make him feel normal again. Defeated, reviled and eventually crushed in spirit, he’s trapped in a downward spiral. He meets the pen-wielding girls again and finds solace and uncomplicated joy in the artist’s world of sex, booze and dope.

Lost to “normal” society, Chad goes on a road-trip with the women, but they haven’t even left the city before they’re all arrested. It is morning on September 11th and as the girls violently resist the cops an airplane flies overhead, straight towards the centre of Manhattan…

With no-one looking at him, just another part of the shocked crowd, he watches for an eternity, and then no longer anything but another stunned mortal, Chad drives away with an Arab family in their mobile home.

And thus begins a psychedelic, introspective argosy through America’s philosophy, symbolism and meta-physicality. With this one act of terrorism forever changing the nation, Chad is forced on a journey of discovery to find an America that is newborn both inside and out. His travels take him through vistas of predictable cruelty and unexpected tolerance, through places both eerily symbolic and terrifyingly plebeian, but by the end of this modern Pilgrim’s Progress, both he and the world have adapted, accommodated and accepted.

Born in 1951, Rick Veitch is a criminally undervalued creator who has lived through post-war(s) America’s many chimeric social revolutions. He has a poet’s sensibilities and a disaffected Flower-Child’s perspectives informing a powerful creative consciousness – and conscience. Can’t Get No is a landmark experiment in both form and content which deserves careful and repeated examination.

Black and white in a landscape format, and eschewing dialogue and personal monologues for ambient text (no word balloons or descriptive captions, just the words that the characters encounter such as signs, newspapers, faxes etc.) this graphic narrative – in paperback and digital editions – screams out its great differences to usual comic strip fare, but the truly magical innovation is the “text-track”, a continual fluid, peroration of poetic statements that supply an evocative counterpoint to the visual component.

Satirical, cynical, strident: Lyricism is employed for examination and introspection, in perhaps occasionally over-florid, but nonetheless moving and heartfelt free verse and epigrams don’t make this an easy read or a simple entertainment. They do make it a piece of work every serious consumer of graphic narrative should attempt.
© 2006 Rick Veitch. All Rights Reserved.