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/

Stabbed in the Front – Post-War General Elections through Political Cartoons


By Dr. Alan Mumford (Centre for the Study of Cartoons & Caricature, U of K, Canterbury)
ISBN: 978-1-90267-120-8

True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else” – Clarence Darrow

From its earliest inception cartooning has been used to sell: initially ideas or values but eventually actual products too. In newspapers, magazines and especially comicbooks the sheer power of narrative with its ability to create emotional affinities has been linked to the creation of unforgettable images and characters. When those stories affect the daily lives of generations of readers, the force that they can apply in a commercial or social arena is almost irresistible…

In Britain the cartoonist has held a bizarrely precarious position of power for centuries: the deftly designed bombastic broadside or savagely surgical satirical slice instantly capable of ridiculing, exposing and always deflating the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped-charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally understandable visual metaphor.

For this method of concept transmission, literacy or lack of education is no barrier. As the Catholic Church proved millennia ago with the Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and a pantheon of idealised saints, a picture is absolutely worth a thousand words…

More so than work, sport, religion, fighting or even sex, politics has always been the very grist that feeds the pictorial gadfly’s mill. This gloriously informative book (sponsored by the marvellous Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature, University of Kent at Canterbury), offers a fantastic overview of political adaptability and cultural life as Britain moved from Empire to mere Nationhood in the latter half of the 20th century, examined through General Elections and the wealth of cunningly contrived images and pictorial iconography they provoked and inspired. It’s one of my favourite things ever and crucially in need of updating and re-release…

After an effusive Foreword by professional politician and celebrated cartoon aficionado (the Rt. Hon.) Lord Kenneth Baker of Dorking, author Alan Mumford – a specialist in management training – covers the basic semiology and working vocabulary of the medium in his copious Introduction.

Designating definitions and terms for his splendid treatise, he subdivides the territory into ‘Origins’, ‘Criteria for Selection’, ‘Newspapers and Magazines’, ‘The Longevity of Political Cartoonists’, ‘References, Symbols and Metaphors’, ‘The Impact of Cartoons on General Elections’ and ‘Savagery in Political Cartoons’ as a very effective foundation course in how to best contextualise and appreciate the plethora of carefully crafted mass-market messages which follow.

The format is extremely ergonomic and effective. Thus, Philip Zec’s iconic cartoon and caption/slogan “Here You Are. Don’t Lose it Again!” begins the Great Endeavour with historical background in The Run-up to the General Election of 1945, followed by Election Issues and the 1945 Campaign, Major Personalities of the 1945 General Election, Results of… and finally a nominated “Cartoonist of the Election” whose work most captured the spirit of, or affected the outcome of, a particular contest.

This methodology then proceeds to efficiently and comprehensively recreate the tone of each time, augmented whenever possible by a personal interview or remembrance from one of the campaigners involved. These telling vignettes include contributions from Frank Pakenham/Lord Longford, Barbara Castle, Edward Heath, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins, Kenneth Baker again, Jim Callaghan, Jim Prior, Margaret Thatcher, David Steel, Norman Tebbit, John Major and Tony Blair

Each fact-packed, picture-filled chapter then dissects every succeeding campaign: 1950’s tame ‘Consolidation not Adventure’ which resulted in Labour and Clement Attlee’s second victory by the narrowest – practically unworkable – of margins, Churchill’s resurgence in 1951 as ‘The Grand Old Man Returns’ and a slow steady decline in fortunes and growth of a New Politics as Anthony Eden’s star rose for the 1955 General Election when ‘The Crown Prince Takes Over’

In an era of international unrest Harold McMillan eventually rose to become Tory top gun and in 1959 was ‘Supermac Triumphant’, but domestic troubles – race, unionism and the always struggling economy – wore away his energies. In a minor coup, he was ousted and Sir Alec Douglas Home took over mid-term, consequently losing to glib, charismatic new Labour leader Harold Wilson.

This entire era is one of aged and infirm Big Beasts passing away suddenly with too many lesser lights to succeed them; further complicated by both Labour and Conservative parties rent by infighting and jockeying for position with wannabe upstarts such as the Liberals cruising the room looking to pick up what scraps they could (so it’s not a new thing, OK?).

In 1966 “Labour Government Works” took Labour to a second term but social turmoil in the country, with unions demands spiralling out of control, enabled Edward Heath to lead the Conservatives into the most dangerous and turbulent decade in modern British history. The General Election of 1970 proved ‘Wilson Complacent, Heath Persistent’

There were two General Elections in 1974.

A massive ongoing crisis in industrial relations and the growing racial tension caused by maverick Tory Enoch Powell’s continual cries to “end Immigration or face rivers of blood in the streets” forced Prime Minister Heath to ask in February ‘Who Governs Britain?’ He was informed by the disaffected electorate “Not you, mate.”

Even though Wilson and Labour were returned to power, the majority was miniscule and by October the people were compelled to do it all again and ‘Vote for Peace and Quiet’.

Although he’d again narrowly led them to victory, Wilson’s time was done and he abruptly resigned in 1976 to be replaced by deputy Jim Callaghan.

Heath too was reduced to the ranks and relegated to the Tory Back Benches, replaced by a rising star from Finchley. As Britain staggered under terrifying economic woes in 1979, Callaghan called an election and lost to Margaret Thatcher who had famously said “No Woman in My Time” would ever be Prime Minister. I think that was the last time she ever admitted to being wrong…

Despite horrifying and sustained assaults on the fabric of British society – and great unpopularity – she enjoyed two more election victories: in 1983 “The Longest Suicide Note in History” and again in 1987 as ‘Thatcher Moves Forward’ before finally being turned on by her own bullied and harried Cabinet.

The best political cartooning comes from outrage, and the Tory administrations of the 1980’s provided one bloated, bile-filled easy mark after another. Just look at TV’s Spitting Image which grew fat and healthy off that government’s peccadilloes, indignities and iniquities (as well as Reagan’s America and the Royal Family) in just the way that millions of unemployed and disenfranchised workers, students and pensioners didn’t. The election cartoons reproduced here from that period come from a largely Tory Press, and whilst contextualised and accurate don’t approach the level of venom she engendered in certain sections.

For a more balanced view one should also see Plunder Woman Must Go! by Alan Hardman, Drain Pig and the Glow Boys in Critical Mess, You are Maggie Thatcher: a Dole-Playing Game or even Father Kissmass and Mother Claws by Bel Mooney & Gerald Scarfe, not to mention any collection of the excoriating Steve Bell’s If…

In 1992, the only thing stopping a Labour landslide was the party itself, which had so dissolved into factional infighting and ideological naval-gazing that not even the fiery oratory of Welsh Wizard Neil Kinnock could pull them together. Once again, however, the newspapers claimed the credit when Tory consensus/concession leader John Major pulled off a surprising ‘Triumph of the Soapbox?’

That Labour Landslide had to wait until 1997 and the ‘Teeth and Sleaze’ of Tony Blair (although at that time we all thought the latter term only applied to corrupt Tory MPs selling parliamentary time and attention to business interests) which brings this incredibly appealing tome to a close. I said it before and I’m saying it again: since then a whole lot has happened and I think its long past time for a new, revised and updated edition…

As well as making addictively accessible over half a century of venal demagoguery, hard work, murky manipulations, honest good intentions and the efforts of many men and women moved in equal parts by dedication and chicanery, this oversized monochrome tome is also literally stuffed with the best work some of the very best cartoonists ever to work in these Sceptred Isles.

The art, imagination, passion and vitriol of Abu, Steve Bell, Peter Brookes, Dave Brown, Michael Cummings, Eccles, Emmwood, Stanley Franklin, George Gale, Nick Garland, the Davids Gaskill and Ghilchik, Les Gibbard, Charles Griffin, Graham High, Leslie Illingworth, Jak, John Jensen, Jon, Kal, David Low, Mac, Mahood, Norman Mansbridge, Sidney Moon, Bill Papas, Chris Riddell, Paul Rigby, Rodger, Stephen Roth, Martin Rowson, Willie Rushton, Peter Schrank, Ernest Shepard, Ralph Steadman, Sidney Strube, Trog, Vicky, Keith Waite, Zec and Zoke are timeless examples of the political pictorialist’s uncanny power and, as signs of the times, form a surprising effecting gestalt of the never happy nation’s feeling and character…

None of that actually matters now, since these cartoons have performed the task they were intended for: shaping the thoughts and intentions of generations of voters. That they have also stood the test of time and remain as beloved relics of a lethal art form is true testament to their power and passion, but – to be honest and whatever your political complexion – isn’t it just a guilty pleasure to see a really great villain get one more good kicking?

Stuffed with astounding images, fascinating lost ephemera and mouth-watering tastes of comic art no fan could resist, this colossal collection is a beautiful piece of cartoon history that will delight and tantalise all who read it… and it’s still readily available through the University of Kent’s website…
© 2001. Text © 2001 Alan Mumford. All illustrations © their respective holders or owners. All rights reserved.

Pogo Bona Fide Balderdash: The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 2


By Walt Kelly, edited by Carolyn Kelly (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-584-6 (HB)

Now is a strange, insane and dangerous time in politics and world affairs… but when hasn’t that been true?

Walter Crawford Kelly Jr. was born in 1913 and started his cartooning career whilst still in High School, as artist and reporter for the Bridgeport Post. In 1935, he relocated to California and joined the Disney Studio. He worked on short cartoon films and such major features as Dumbo, Fantasia and Pinocchio until the infamous animator’s strike in 1941.

Refusing to take sides, Kelly moved back East and into comicbooks – primarily for Dell Comics who held the Disney funnybook license, amongst so many others – at that time.

Despite his glorious work on such popular people-based classics 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 the other Walt created Albert the Alligator and Pogo Possum: sagaciously retaining the copyrights in 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 4th 1948, Pogo, Albert and an ever-expanding cast of gloriously addictive characters began their second careers, in the more legitimate funny pages, 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 run (reprinted in full at the back of Pogo: the Complete Syndicated Comic Strips volume 1) the first glimmers of the increasingly barbed, boldly satirical masterpiece of velvet-pawed social commentary began to emerge…

When The Star closed Pogo was picked up for mass distribution by the Post-Hall Syndicate, launching on May 16th 1949 in selected outlets. A colour Sunday page debuted January 29th 1950: both produced simultaneously by Kelly until his death in 1973 (and even beyond, courtesy of his talented wife and family).

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 began…

In this second of a proposed full dozen volumes (available in resoundingly comforting hardcover editions and as eBook tomes) reprinting the entire canon of the Okefenokee Swamp citizenry, probably the main aspect of interest is the personable Possum’s first innocently adorable attempts to run for Public Office. This was a ritual which inevitably and coincidentally reoccurred every four years, whenever the merely human inhabitants of America got together for raucous caucuses and exuberant electioneering.

It’s remarkable – but not coincidental – to note that by the close of this two-year period, Kelly had increased his count of uniquely Vaudevillian returning characters to over one hundred. The likes of Solid MacHogany, Tamananny Tiger, Willow McWisper, Goldie Lox, Sarcophagus MacAbre, sloganeering P.T. Bridgeport, bull moose Uncle Antler and a trio of brilliantly scene-stealing bats named Bewitched, Bothered and Bemildred, amongst so many others, would pop up with varying frequency and impact over the following decades…

This colossal and comfortingly sturdy landscape compilation (three-hundred-and fifty-six 184 x 267mm pages) includes the monochrome Dailies from January 1st 1951 to December 31st 1952, plus the Sundays – in their own full-colour section – from January 7th 1951 to December 28th 1952: all faithfully annotated and listed in a copious, expansive and informative Table of Contents.

Supplemental features comprise a Foreword from pioneering comedy legend Stan Freberg, delightful unpublished illustrations and working drawings by Kelly, more invaluable context and historical notes in the amazing R.C. Harvey’s ‘Swamp Talk’ and a biographical feature ‘About Walt Kelly’ from Mark Evanier.

In his time, satirical mastermind Kelly unleashed his bestial spokes-cast on such innocent, innocuous sweethearts as Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, the John Birch Society, Richard Nixon and the Ku Klux Clan, as well as the less loathsome likes of 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…

This particular monument to madcap mirth and sublime drollery of course includes the usual cast: gently bemused Pogo, boisterous, happily ignorant alligator Albert, dolorous Porkypine, obnoxious turtle Churchy La Femme, lugubrious hound Beauregard Bugleboy, carpet-bagging Seminole Sam Fox, pompous (doesn’t) know-it-all Howland Owl and all the rest: covering not only day-to-day topics and travails like love, marriage, weather, fishing, the problem with kids, the innocent joys of sport, making a living and why neighbours shouldn’t eat each other, but also includes epic and classic sagas: the stress of Poetry Contests, hunting – from a variety of points of view – Christmas and other Public Holidays, incipient invasion, war and even cross-dressing, to name but a few…

As Kelly spent a good deal of 1952 spoofing the electoral race, this tome offers a magical, magnificent treatment of all the problems associated with grass (and moss) roots politics: dubious campaign tactics, loony lobbying, fun with photo ops, impractical tactical alliances, glad-handing, a proliferation of political promos and ephemera, how to build clockwork voters – and candidates – and of course, life after a failed run for the Presidency…

As the delicious Miz Ma’m’selle Hepzibah would no doubt say: plus çachange, plus c’est la même chose

Either I heard it somewhere or I’m just making it up, but I gather certain embattled Prime Ministers and Presidents are using the cartoons as tactical playbooks and there’s a copy in every gift bag handed out at Davos…

Gosh, I hope so…

Kelly’s uncontested genius lay in his seemingly effortless ability to lyrically, vivaciously portray – through anthropomorphic affectation – comedic, tragic, pompous, infinitely sympathetic characters of any shape or breed, all whilst making them undeniably human. He used that blessed gift to blend hard-hitting observation of our crimes, foibles and peccadilloes with rampaging whimsy, poesy and sheer exuberant joie de vivre.

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. Tragically, here at least, 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 magical, Pogo is a weeny colossus not simply of comics, but of world literature and this magnificent collection should be the pride of every home’s bookshelf, right beside the first one.

…Or, in the popular campaign parlance of the critters involved: “I Go Pogo!” and so should you.
POGO Bona Fide Balderdash and all POGO images, including Walt Kelly’s signature © 2012 Okefenokee Glee & Perloo Inc. All other material © 2012 the respective creator and owner. All rights reserved.

Road to America


By Baru, with colour by Daniel Ledran (Drawn & Quarterly Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-89659-752-2

We privileged ones live in a world where gratification – if not instant – is far from arduous to attain or hard to enjoy. For us the only struggle is choosing how best to indulge ourselves and, if you’re a comics nut like me, the biggest mystery in a hedonistic existence is why so many truly superb artistic efforts get sidelined or forgotten, when relative immortality is merely a matter of scanning and publishing/posting.

Here’s a lost treasure that proves my point. I’ve got this in its paperback form, but I’d happily pay again to get it digitally. That won’t feed one single starving kid, but reading it in a freely accessible form might inspire them…

Sport, despite being a world obsession, has oddly dropped out of the remit of most comics storytellers these days which is both odd and a shame. The Road to America, by Baru, uses the fervour of the immigrant’s dream and the fierce metaphor of struggle as depicted in the boxing ring to create a compelling tale of adversity against a true historical backdrop.

Set in Algeria in the 1950s – when the country was struggling to achieve independence from France – it’s the story of the bloody rise of impoverished street urchin, Said Boudiaf. Becoming a boxer, he literally smashes his way out of the slums to the glittering lights of Paris, even as his less utilisable brother turns to bombs and a more permanent form of bloodletting as a freedom fighter determined to overthrow French Colonial rule.

Said is an unstoppable force in the ring, and becomes a sporting hero, but in the real world he’s a leaf in the wind. Civilised, cultured (white) French citizens despise his ethnicity whilst capitalising on his achievements, and he’s regarded as a puppet by the Algerian resistance forces. Nevertheless, both sides want him for his propaganda value….

Said wants nothing more than personal freedom. His fights are non-political, as is all sport, but when his successes mount, and his unstoppable rise culminates in him winning the French Championship, politics claims him anyway as a race-riot between native Algerian and French spectators erupts in the stadium.

The tragic culmination occurs when Said makes it to America, and qualifies for the World title, but on returning to Paris to train for the bout he is sucked into the events of October 17th 1961 – the day when a protest march against anti-Algerian policies and heavy-handed police suppression leads to a bloody riot and a terrible massacre…

This beautifully executed tale is both blunt and subtle: weaving threads of ambition, morality, freedom, sacrifice and prejudice, both personal and social, into a compelling if sometimes chaotic narrative that is a joy to behold but often a bitter pill to swallow.

Doesn’t that sound like something we should all be reading in the current world climate?
© 2002 Baru. All rights reserved.

Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost


Adapted by Harvey Kurtzman & expanded by Gideon Kendall, Josh O’Neill, Shannon Wheeler & various (ComiXology Originals)
No ISBN, ASIN: B01LZAATMD

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Reverential Revisitation of a Cornerstone Christmas Classic… 9/10

Harvey Kurtzman is probably the most important cartoonist of the latter half of the last century – even more so than Jules Feiffer, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert or Will Eisner.

His early triumphs in the fledgling field of comicbooks (Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales and especially the groundbreaking, game-changing Mad) would be enough for most creators to lean back on, but Kurtzman was also a force in newspaper strips (Flash Gordon Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953) and a restless innovator, commentator and social critic who kept on looking at folk and their doings and just couldn’t stop making art or sharing his conclusions…

He invented a whole new format when he converted the highly successful colour comicbook Mad into a black-&-white magazine, safely distancing the brilliant satirical publication from the fall-out caused by the 1950s comics witch-hunt which eventually killed all EC’s other titles.

He then pursued comedy and social satire further with newsstand magazines Trump, Humbug and Help! all the while creating challenging and powerfully effective humour strips such as Little Annie Fanny (for Playboy), Nutz, Goodman Beaver, Betsy and her Buddies and many more. He died far too soon, far too young in 1993.

As recounted in Denis Kitchen’s appendix ‘The Origins of the Marley’s Ghost Graphic Novel’, despite helming a huge and influential comicbook sensation, by 1954 Kurtzman was looking to expand the influence and appeal of the medium even further.

Mad was reaching millions but he wanted to get to everybody and he wanted his efforts to be treated with respect…

His notion was to adapt – properly, faithfully, and not as an abridged, bowdlerized kiddie’s version such as seen in Classics Illustrated – a global masterpiece of literature. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was the perfect vehicle and Kurtzman feverishly set to in his spare time, producing more than 70 tightly laid out thumbnails and seven colour layouts, plus a complete page rendered by EC/Mad comrade Jack Davis.

The luxurious coffee-table book he’d envisioned foundered due to the timidity and short-sightedness of publishers – and quite possibly the toxic fug around comicbooks caused by Senate Hearings and Frederick Wertham’s hysterical campaign against teenage culture and fun…

Kurtzman shelved the project, but his papers and notes were discovered after his death and the result – adapted by writers Josh O’Neill & Shannon Wheeler and compellingly illustrated by Gideon Kendall – is a splendidly engaging addition to the novel’s legion of cross-media iterations. Just like Kurtzman knew it would be…

The tale is augmented here by Kurtzman’s original thumbnails and layouts, the Davis page and a wealth of development sketches generated by Kendall in completing the project.

Moreover, Marley’s Ghost is even more groundbreaking than Kurtzman ever imagined. Released as a digital book, it has garnered acclaim and awards even before its inevitable transition to physical form… which means, as long as you’re connected you can buy this as the most literal of last-minute gifts…

The Story? It’s what you’d expect and want, all executed with warmth, with and sublime grace. Scrooge Mean. Ghosts! Revelations! Scared Scrooge! Change of Heart! Happies all around! God bless us every one!

And if that was a spoiler in any manner, you have no right to be reading this review…

Here is a superb work long overdue and a comics god’s dream at long-last realised: a new old master of our art form no true devotee can afford to be without. And it’s fun and engaging enough to be an introducer to youngsters looking for comics to love.

Marley’s Ghost as adapted by Harvey Kurtzman is published by Kitchen, Lind & Associates, LLC. Adaptation © 2017 by Gideon Kendall, Josh O’Neill, & Kurtzman Properties LLC. All rights reserved.

The Other Side


By Jason Aaron, Cameron Stewart with Dave McCaig & various (Image: Vertigo)
ISBN: 978-1-53430-222-8 (Image HB)                     978-1-4012-1350-3 (Vertigo PB)

The Viet Nam conflict scarred the American psyche the way no other war has – not even the still somehow-technically-ongoing debacle in Iran, Afghanistan and all points pointless.

Depending on your politics you will either agree or disagree with that statement. These days there are no shady areas or topics of nuance to debate.

What is indisputable is the effect Viet Nam still has on the American consumer. So, it was intriguing to see an attempt to portray that earlier conflict less in term of “Us and Them” and more as “You and Me”.

This superb and deeply memorable tale contrasts the journey from happy home to bloody combat of surly average teen Billy Everette, his counterpart, farmer’s son Vo Binh Dai, and their predestined clash at the Battle of Khe Sanh.

Drafted from his Alabama home, Everette is a reluctant screw-up turned into an average Marine by the sheer hell of Boot Camp, where even the terrifying and very real hallucinations and delusions he suffers from can’t keep him from that dreaded Tour of Duty.

In contrast, patriotic, dutiful Vo Dai enlists in the People’s Army of Vietnam and endures starvation and disease on his long march south, determined to sell his life dearly to free his country from oppression. He too is plagued both by doubts of his worth, and terrifying hallucinations…

This simple tale, powerfully told and subversively drawn, is a sensitive, darkly magical, horrific parable about war, politics and insanity, if indeed they aren’t all the same thing in the end.

The paperback book also contains sketches and artist Cameron Stewart’s photo diary of his research trip to modern Viet Nam – a compelling bonus greatly amplified in the 2017 deluxe hardcover edition from Image comics as well as the various digital editions – and hopefully those gentle counterpoints to history’s blunders from a later if no less wise era can offer a shred of hope to soldiers and families currently reliving the traumas of another age.
© 2007 Jason Aaron & Cameron Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

The Complete Peanuts volume 3: 1955-1956


By Charles Schulz (Canongate Books/Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84767-075-5 (Canongate HB):             978-1-56097-647-9 (Fantagraphics HB)

Peanuts is unequivocally the most important comics strip in the history of graphic narrative. It is also the most deeply personal. At its height, the strip ran in 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries, translated into 21 languages. Many of those venues are still running perpetual reprints, as they have ever since Schulz’ departure. Book collections, a merchandising mountain and television spin-offs made the publicity-shy artist a billionaire.

Cartoonist Charles M Schulz crafted his moodily hilarious, hysterically introspective, shockingly philosophical epic for half a century. During that time he published 17,897 strips from October 2nd 1950 to February 13th 2000, and died – from the complications of cancer – the day before his last strip was printed…

None of that is really the point. Peanuts – a title Schulz loathed, but one the syndicate imposed upon him – changed the way newspaper strips were received and perceived, and proved that cartoon comedy could have edges and nuance as well as pratfalls and punch lines.

Following a heartfelt and clearly awestruck Foreword from contemporary cartoon genius Matt Groening, this third gargantuan landscape hardback compendium (218 by 33 by 172 mm in the solid world and infinitely variable in its digital iterations) offers in potent monochrome the fifth and sixth years in the life of Charlie Brown and Co: an ever-evolving bombardment of cruel insight and bitingly barbed hilarity.

Here our increasing browbeaten but resolutely optimistic little round head and his high-maintenance mutt Snoopy respond with increasing bewilderment to the rapidly changing world of TV, sports, games and especially peers who seem designed only to vex, belittle or embarrass the introspective everyboy.

Gaining far greater prominence is obnoxious “fussbudget” Lucy who, with her infant sibling Linus – an actual architectural idiot savant – are getting more and more of the best lines and set-ups. Another up and comer settling in (amidst a cloud of dust and detritus) is hapless toxic innocent ‘Pig-Pen’: a sad clown in the grand manner, buffeted by a cruel condition but manfully persevering throughout…

Bombastic Shermy and mercurial Patty are slowly being eased out, and brusque Violet is slowly losing ground to gags starring Beethoven-obsessed, long-suffering musical prodigy Schroeder. Linus’ mystic tranquiliser the Security Blanket also gains greater prominence, but his anxiety peaks exponentially whenever raucous, strident newcomer Charlotte Braun ambles by…

The daily diet of rapid-fire gags had now successfully evolved from raucous slapstick to surreal, edgy, psychologically honed introspection, crushing peer-judgements and deep rumination in a world where kids – and certain animals – were the only actors, although even inanimate objects occasionally got into the action with malice aforethought…

The relationships, however, were ever-evolving: deep, complex and absorbing even though “Sparky” Schulz never deviated from his core message to entertain…

The first Sunday page had debuted on January 6th 1952: a standard half-page slot offering more measured fare than the daily. Both thwarted ambition and explosive frustration became part of the strip’s signature denouements and continue to develop here. There are some pure gem examples of running gag mastery in here too, regarding Lucy’s ongoing relationship to certain snowmen of her own macabre devising and mounting jealousy that her predestined inamorata would rather look at plaster busts of Beethoven than upon her living form…

Perennial touchstones on display herein include playing, playing pranks, playing sports, playing golf, playing baseball, playing in mud, playing in snow, playing musical instruments, playing marbles, the rules of croquet, learning to read, coping with increasingly intransigent if not actually malevolent kites, teasing each other, making baffled observations and occasionally acting a bit too much like grown-ups.

New themes include America’s fascination with flying saucers, ditto for TV sensation Davy Crockett, art appreciation and Snoopy’s growing desire to be anything but a maligned and put-upon little dog. Especially one starved of tasty treats and bonbons…

The soft-soap ostracization of Charlie Brown and his expressions of alienation are well explored but in truth Lucy is the real star here, with episodes seeing her seeking to become Mayor of the United States, duelling Snoopy with skipping ropes and investigating the mystery of why the planet is getting smaller…

More exploration of Snoopy’s incredible inner mindscape can be seen here and there are plenty of season-appropriate gags about summer sun, winter snow and the Fall of leaves as well as riffs on festive events such as Halloween, Easter and Christmas. During this time Good Ol’ Charlie starts getting those stress-induced head and stomach aches…

And best of all, auteur Schulz is in brilliant imaginative form crafting a myriad of purely graphic visual gags any surrealist would give their nose-teeth to have come up with…

Now and forevermore Charlie Brown – although still a benign dreamer with his eyes affably affixed on the stars – is solidly locked on the path to his eternal loser, singled-out-by-fate persona and the sheer diabolical wilfulness of Lucy starts sharpening itself on everyone around her…

Adding to the enjoyment and elucidation, a copious ‘Index’ offers instant access to favourite scenes you’d like to see again, after which Gary Groth reviews the life of ‘Charles M. Schulz: 1922-2000’, rounding out our glimpse of the dolorous graphic genius with intimate revelations and reminiscences…

Still readily available, this volume offers the perfect example of a masterpiece in motion: comedy gold and social glue gradually metamorphosing in an epic of spellbinding graphic mastery which became part of the fabric of billions of lives, and which continues to do so long after its maker’s passing.

How can you possibly resist?
The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956 (Volume Three) © 2004 Peanuts Worldwide, LLC. Foreword © 2005 Matt Groening. “Charles M. Schulz: 1922 to 2000” © 2004 Gary Groth. All rights reserved.